Excuses for no gun safety reform

Yesterday a group from our Northland Brady chapter associated also with Protect Minnesota stood on a busy corner near our Congressman’s district office. We were there as part of Brady’s and other national gun violence prevention groups’ Week-end of Action. The actions were to demand that the Senate come back early from their summer break to pass the laws that the House passed in February- namely the universal background check and Charleston loophole bills. My Congressman Pete Stauber voted against these 2 life saving measures.

Thus we were there, after gathering only one and half weeks ago in a local rally against hate and violence which was a well attended plea for action and to ask our leaders to #DOSOMETHING about the carnage. Several mass shootings in a row have changed the conversation ( again) and more of the public are demanding action.

But now, the House Judiciary Committee will be coming back from recess early to consider several common sense gun bills. The Extreme Risk Protection Order bill and perhaps an Assault Weapons Ban and/or restrictions on the size of ammunition magazines will be discussed.

After standing with our signs on the corner and getting mostly positive honks and waves, we went to Congressman Stauber’s office with a packet of information and a letter stating what we wanted him to do. We ended up having an impromptu meeting with his staffer. It was a good meeting- informative and revealing.

We spoke about all kinds of things as victims, a veteran, a clergy member, several health care providers, a woman of color, grandparents, parents and concerned citizens expressed our frustration and outrage over the do nothing Senate and the lack of votes in favor of bills that would make a difference. In the discussion we made it clear that we don’t believe that any one of these measures on their own will “cure” the epidemic of gun violence. But the fact that we have done nothing for decades has fueled the current epidemic and made it more lethal.

And then we heard some of the usual Republican and gun lobby excuses for why these bills won’t work or why the Congressman doesn’t believe the bills before him are the right ones ( in spite of research showing the effectiveness of them and the overwhelming public support for the measures that passed in the House). The first of these is the idea that we can’t deal with the gun problem until we deal with mental illness. President Trump himself said that mental illness pulled the trigger in the latest mass shooting, not the guns. That is absurd on its’ face but it is also patently not true. It’s not mental illness. It’s mostly angry white men who have access to guns they should not have.

Here’s the truth about mental illness and shootings:

In response, mental health experts repeated what they have said after previous mass shootings: Most people with mental illness are not violent, they are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators, and access to firearms is a big part of the problem.
“Until we begin to have our political leaders speaking more accurately to these issues, it’s up to us to put the facts out there,” said Arthur Evans, chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association.
Evans agreed that red flag laws , also known as extreme risk protection orders, are a worthwhile step. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have such laws, according to the nonprofit Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and some have used the laws to temporarily disarm people who have threatened violence.
But Evans and others said terms like “monsters” add to stigma that keeps people from getting treatment. (…)

A country’s rate of gun ownership is a far better predictor of public mass shootings than indicators of mental illness, said Adam Lankford, a University of Alabama criminologist who published a 2016 analysis of data from 171 countries.
“If mental illness were the driving factor, we would expect the countries with highest suicide rates to have higher rates of public mass shootings. That’s not what we see,” Lankford said.
Instead, Lankford found, gun ownership per person is the best predictor.
Lankford called Trump’s emphasis on mental illness “too simplistic.”

It’s the guns.

Since our rally last week, another mass shooting occurred in Philadelphia where 6 officers were injured by one man with an assault rifle ( again). The shooter was a man who should not have had a gun in the first place given numerous firearms charges against him. So how did he get that gun? From the article:

The suspect was identified by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner as Maurice Hill, 36. Krasner said Hill had an extensive criminal history, including drug, gun and robbery charges. Krasner said Hill should not have been on the streets but stopped short of saying there was any specific failure by law enforcement.

My Congressman is a former police officer. He, of all people, should be more concerned that officers are at great risk when they are outgunned on the streets. This year alone 31 officers have been killed by shooters. 175 have been injured. And yesterday yet another officer shooting occurred where 2 Missouri officers were shot while delivering eviction papers.

And aren’t you tired of other lame and shameful excuses or blaming from Republicans to deflect the reality of our national public health epidemic? They even have memos showing how to respond to constituents such as this one, blaming the left, when we know that most of the politically motivated shootings have come from people with far right political views. In fact, Trump has been mentioned by criminals as a reason for their crimes:

But a nationwide review conducted by ABC News has identified at least 36 criminal cases where Trump was invoked in direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault.
In nine cases, perpetrators hailed Trump in the midst or immediate aftermath of physically attacking innocent victims. In another 10 cases, perpetrators cheered or defended Trump while taunting or threatening others. And in another 10 cases, Trump and his rhetoric were cited in court to explain a defendant’s violent or threatening behavior.

White supremacy, hate crimes and other acts of political violence are American terrorism. We have to face that reality. There is no excuse for not doing anything about this.

And yes, we can stop some of these shooters from getting guns in the first place. If we close some loopholes making it easier for them to buy guns themselves or get them from others who may buy them legally ( and private sales with no background checks are legal in many states, including my own) we can stop some sales. If we enforce straw purchasing laws more stringently, we can stop some guns from going where they shouldn’t. If gun owners safely store their guns, we can stop some of the guns from being stolen and ending up where they shouldn’t. If we pass Red Flag laws, we can temporarily remove guns from people who could be dangerous to themselves or others. If we pass restrictions on ammunition magazines, we can, at the least, prevent shooters from taking dozens of lives at a time in a short time period. If we make sure the ATF can do their job properly with adequate funding and personnel, gun dealers will be held more accountable for bad behavior. If we litigate cases where gun dealers have sold guns knowingly to those who shouldn’t have them, we can stop some shootings.

It’s a package and it needs to be. But as we discussed at our meeting yesterday, we can’t say criminals won’t follow the laws anyway as an excuse not to pass laws. If that is the case, why have laws at all? People do wear their seat belts for the most part. It’s the law. People don’t smoke in public places. It’s the law. People stop on red lights because it’s the law. If you don’t follow the law, you may become a felon. But we are not a lawless society. That’s no excuse.

And then there was this given as an excuse. We all must work hard to keep illegal guns from coming into our country from the Canadian and Mexican borders. I had to ask again if that is what I heard. This is an excuse. We don’t need to do anything about our own country’s gun laws because the guns are coming across the borders into our country?

I was astounded at this one because it is the exact opposite of what is true. The guns flowing into Mexico and Canada are coming mainly from the U.S because our gun laws are so much weaker than theirs. Check out this article in the Christian Science Monitor about what is actually happening:

American guns bought from vendors in the U.S. and then smuggled illegally abroad are a fact of life across the Americas. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, using data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), some 70% of guns recovered by law enforcement in Mexico and sent to the ATF for tracing between 2011 and 2016 were originally purchased from a licensed dealer in the U.S. Some estimates put the number of U.S. weapons smuggled from the U.S. into Mexico at over 200,000 a year.
Mexican officials, in their fight against drug violence, have long pleaded with the U.S. to stem the southward flow of guns. Former President Felipe Calderón famously had a billboard erected in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, that read “No More Weapons,” spelled out with confiscated, destroyed weapons. (…)

That is also despite research showing that when the U.S. assault weapon ban expired in 2004, Mexican municipalities on the border with the U.S. saw a spike in homicides, he says.

“I do see some recognition now that this is beyond drugs, and that guns play a major, major role,” Mr. Weigend says. That includes think tanks, students, and civil society groups speaking out more against the implications of U.S. gun flows to Mexico. (…)

Weaker gun regulations in the U.S. have long undermined Canada’s much stricter rules, as guns get trafficked north. Last week Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said Canada could reduce violence with more money towards stopping guns from the U.S., which he called “the greatest arsenal in the world.”

So no. We don’t have a problem with illegal guns coming into our country from the nations who share our border. It is the other way around. And further, the fact that so many guns make into Mexico and other Central American countries have caused violence there which many are trying to flee to get into our country. And then if they get into our country their lives are at risk here because of the hate and racist rhetoric against people of color fomented right from the top.

It is also part and parcel of our illegal drug problem.

These are flimsy excuses designed as cop-outs. What our Congress members who are beholden to the NRA, as mine is, are trying to do is to deflect the conversation away from the truth. We have a problem with guns in America. Such easy access makes it easier for just about anybody to get a gun.

Minnesotans and Americans ( and this includes Republicans and gun owners by the way) support stronger gun laws. We want our Congress members to represent the majority of people in their districts. Just because the gun rights advocates make more noise does not mean they are the majority. In fact they are a small minority of the constituents all over the country.

There are no excuses. There never have been but now, more than ever, we are sick and tired of the carnage affecting almost all of us.

#DO DOMETHING.

Gun lobby distractions

Motivational speechThis post has been edited to update it since it was first posted.

 

Ever since Donald Trump was elected, chaos and distractions have been the rule and the name of the “game.” Lies, tweets, providing false news stories, ignoring or denying some very real dangers to our democracy from the Russian interference in our election, National Security Advisor fired, failed immigration orders, failed health care plan, etc. Not one department or policy area has been left alone. The long tentacles of those in absolute power are reaching far and wide. Gun policy is no exception. Licking their chops, the corporate gun lobby has pursued with some success an agenda that includes getting more guns into the hands of more people in more places. On the face of it, you have to wonder why anyone would want this. It makes no common sense that as a culture and civilized society we would choose to have loaded guns everywhere carried by just about anyone.

Executive VP of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre knows the rules well. He once said this and he meant it:

No Wayne. You made up the rules. This is not how Americans want our gun culture and our gun policy to be.

It seems to be of utmost importance to a minority of Americans who make claims that the second amendment gives them a right to do whatever they want with their guns because…. inalienable rights to own a gun.

Let’s talk a minute about rights. What are they? Is the meaning of the word clear to us all? I took a look at this Wikipedia article about the word rights:

There is considerable disagreement about what is meant precisely by the term rights. It has been used by different groups and thinkers for different purposes, with different and sometimes opposing definitions, and the precise definition of this principle, beyond having something to do with normative rules of some sort or another, is controversial.

And herein lies a basic problem with the arguments over gun rights. The several sides of the issue of gun rights and gun violence prevention would meet in the middle of the issue because that is where the majority stands and has stood for decades at least. In the interest of saving lives, the two sides approach it from different angles. One side, the majority, believes that people can have rights to own their guns but those rights come with responsibilities and common sense. The other side, claiming rights to the same life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness believes that that includes owning and carrying guns in order to protect their rights and lives.

Unfortunately for the one side, gun deaths are not decreasing and instead are staying the same year to year or increasing. More guns in more places carried and owned by more people who should not have them has not made us a safer nation. Those are facts. In states with more gun ownership and weaker gun laws, gun deaths are higher than in others on average. From the report from the Violence Policy Center:

“Year after year, the evidence is clear that states with fewer guns and strong gun laws have far lower rates of gun death,” says VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “States with strong gun violence prevention laws consistently have the lowest gun death rates in the nation. In states with weak gun laws and easy availability of guns, the rates of death by gunfire are far higher.”

The nationwide gun death rate in 2014 was 10.54. The total number of Americans killed by gunfire dipped to 33,599 in 2014 from 33,636 in 2013.

America’s gun death rates — both nationwide and in the states — dwarf those of other industrialized nations. The gun death rate in the United Kingdom was 0.23 per 100,000 in 2011, and in Australia the gun death rate was 0.93 per 100,000 in 2013. (These are the most recent years for which data is available. Data for these countries is available at GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia.)

State gun death rates are calculated by dividing the number of gun deaths by the total state population and multiplying the result by 100,000 to obtain the rate per 100,000, which is the standard and accepted method for comparing fatal levels of gun violence.

Another report from the Violence Policy Center about the impacts of gun violence:

VPC research finds that in 2014, gun deaths even outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, motor vehicle deaths are on a steady decline thanks to proven public-health based injury prevention strategies informed by consumer product safety regulation standards designed to reduce death and injury.

To reduce the toll of gun violence in America, a similar public health approach is urgently needed. Today, guns are the only consumer products in the United States that do not have to meet federal health and safety standards. The federal government should regulate firearms for health and safety just like any other consumer product.

I met with a young man last week who had attended a meeting at which I spoke in January. He was interested in the issue of gun violence prevention from the point of view of a gun owner who agrees with background checks on all gun sales and other reasonable  measures. Several people he knows and even relatives have died in hunting accidents and gun suicides. He did not think of these as gun violence but has changed his thinking and understands that his involvement would be instructive for the cause of gun violence prevention.

On the same day as this man attended one of the Protect Minnesota trainings he also attended a conceal carry permit class. His take? He never wants to carry a gun. When the permit trainer and a lawyer explained the responsibility of a gun carrier if they decide to aim their gun at someone or actually shoot someone, he determined that that was not for him.

This gun owner does not see things as black and white but rather he sees the world from the point of view of someone who likes to hunt and own guns but understands that his rights are limited in the interest of public safety.

But some do see this as black and white and getting their way. A recent article from The Trace does a good job of outlining why the gun absolutists want to trample on the rights of the rest of us to be safe:

“We’re the Trumps,” he said. “We’re the grassroots.”

Like President Trump and his top advisor, Stephen Bannon, constitutional-carry activists are unconcerned by any wider distress their agenda may cause. Like the new White House, they see the trampling of existing norms as the removal of obstacles.

“Once you cross over this PC concept,”  Harris said, “then you have an enormous number of issues that come out of the gate.”

Those issues include the abolition of gun-free zones in schools, and deregulation of tightly controlled weapons categories, like suppressors and machine guns, which have been subject to strict laws for nearly a century. Rather than a drastic break with current public safety standards, he said, such changes would merely represent government “getting back on sound fundamental principles.”

This sums it up. Like Trump and his extreme advisors who want to disrupt just about everything our country has done or stood for in the last few decades, these gun absolutists want their way no matter what. No matter the lives lost as a result. No matter that public safety will be in danger. No matter that the majority of Americans don’t want what they want. No matter that over 32,000 Americans die every year from gunshot injuries. No matter that about 90 Americans a day die from gunshot injuries in gun suicides, homicides and “accidental” gun discharges.

No matter common sense.

This is where we are now. No compromising. No discussion. Executive orders or bills passed with no hearings, no expert testimony, no input from citizens. Just pass things and get your way no matter whose rights you trample or what process you didn’t follow.

People identified with severe mental illness and can’t manage their affairs can now purchase guns. People who don’t have permits to carry loaded guns around in public being able to carry everywhere and anywhere. Does any of this make any sense even with rights?

The answer, of course, is NO.

We are being distracted from the gun violence epidemic before us that we can actually address with strong gun policy and good research about the causes and effects of gun violence. We are being distracted by the agenda of the gun absolutists whose view of the world and the gun culture is far different from what Americans actually want and need.

Here is a great article from Peter Ambler of Americans for Responsible Solutions about the need for research and understanding the risks of owning guns:

It’s time for Congress to stop serving at the will of the gun lobby and to start providing the resources our institutions of public health need to understand our country’s gun violence epidemic so that we can do something about it.

Gun violence robs communities of their leaders, schools of their students, and families of their loved ones. We know that if we gave our scientists and researchers the opportunity, they would produce results. How much longer will we have to wait before we let them try?

That is what we should be talking about now.

With their very own nominee , Neil Gorsuch, about to take the oath of office for the next Supreme Court Justice, the gun lobby and gun abolutists must be feeling jubilant at getting their way once again. Time will tell if that works out for the absolutists.

Meanwhile, we need to work on the real problems and not the solutions looking for a problem.

We are better than this.

Let’s get to work. Join an organization that is working on gun violence prevention and gun safety reform. Listen to the facts and act when you see that your voices are not being heard. Make noise. Speak up. Stand up for the victims and their families and friends and ask your elected leaders to do the same. Ask them to hear the real stories of victims.

Just as Trump seemed to have changed his mind about his policy in Syria after seeing the photos and videos of children strangled after exposure to serin gas, show your leaders photos of those whose lives were lost to senseless gun violence. Here is my photo (of my sister who was shot in a domestic related shooting incident by her estranged husband):

photo of Barbara

 

 

Unlucky gun stuff and Irish gun laws

shamrockAs you know, today is St. Patrick’s Day. It’s also my daughter’s birthday. Neither my husband nor I have any Irish heritage but because of her birthday, we always feel a kinship. We used to dress our daughter in green clothing which she really didn’t like. There are many photos of her looking a bit unhappy until she got old enough to decide for herself what she was going to wear on her birthday. I don’t think she wears green much any more on this day.

I know that there is the saying that the Irish have luck on their side. There’s the 4 leaf clover and the Blarney Stone, green beer, etc. But a lot of people are unlucky when it comes to guns no matter what day of the year it is. Every day close to 90 Americans die from gunshot injuries- many from suicide. It doesn’t have to be that way and anyone who is a survivor of a family member who has shot him/herself feels pretty unlucky that that person had access to a gun.

Veterans, after a vote in the House yesterday, will be unlucky enough to be able to legally purchase guns even if they have been identified as having mental illness severe enough to deem them prohibited purchasers. This makes absolutely no common sense. 

And what could possibly go wrong?:

“About 170,000 disabled veterans are deemed mentally incompetent by the VA,” NPR’s Quil Lawrence reports. “A guardian makes legal decisions for them, and their names go on an FBI list so they can’t purchase guns. House Republicans sponsored the Veterans’ Second Amendment Protection Act to change that.”

Opponents of the bill say that easing gun ownership for mentally disabled veterans would make them a greater threat to themselves. As recently as 2014, an average of 20 veterans per day died from suicide, according to statistics released last year by the VA Suicide Prevention Program. Between 2001 and 2014, the VA said, the suicide rate among U.S. veterans rose by more than 32 percent. (…)

On the other side of the issue, Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., said, “When a determination is made that a veteran is mentally incompetent or incapacitated — for whatever reason — that determination is made to protect them, not to punish or deprive them.”

Critics of the bill include retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army. Speaking to Quil about why he opposed the bill, Chiarelli said, “Every single study you can read on this shows you that people in crisis — because suicide is such a spontaneous event — when they separate themselves from personal weapons the incidence of suicide goes down tremendously.”

#factsmatter

America is unlucky enough to have a corporate gun lobby that doesn’t really care about what would be in the interest of public health and safety. If they did, they would not have pushed this ludicrous measure with their lapdogs in Congress. They claim to care about unfairness and rights but the bottom line is that there are some people who should not be able to access guns, period.

Many disagree with what the House just did but when you have absolute power, you think you can force anything on a country that doesn’t want this. Do the families of the Veterans who can buy guns even though they shouldn’t and then kill themselves with said gun feel lucky on this day?

You know the answer.

This article in The Trace highlights efforts to try to prevent suicides on military bases.:

Military suicides used to be rare. Throughout the 20th century, the suicide rate among active-duty service members was lower than the population at large. But after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the numbers began to climb. In 2006, for the first time, the Army’s suicide rate, routinely the highest among the branches of the armed services, surpassed that of the national population. By 2010, suicide had become a military crisis. That year, there were 163 suicides in the Army, an 87-percent increase from five years before.

It is a population that is especially vulnerable: many service members return from combat with some degree of post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, both of which can contribute to depression and suicidal thoughts. Easy access to guns, which prove fatal much more often than other means of attempting suicide, may exacerbate the problem.

While it is laudatory that the military has made efforts to deal with the problem of suicides among the military it is also disturbing that there is clear denial among some that suicide is a health problem faced by many in our military. Denying the facts does not lead to real solutions. And clearly the fact that the gun lobby lapdogs in Congress are willing to either deny the facts or knowingly reverse good policy that could prevent some military suicides is disturbing at most.

As I said, we are unlucky to live in a country where some of our leaders are either outright lying or denying the truth.

Ireland has had its’ own problems, of course, like all countries do. But one thing they don’t worry too much about is gun homicide and suicide. Why? Strong gun laws that prevent senseless shootings. Let’s take a look at the laws here:

Ireland has some of the least permissive firearm legislation in Europe. In order to possess a limited range of hunting and sport-shooting firearms,1 gun owners must renew their firearm certificates every three years.2 3 Although small arms-related death, injury and crime remain relatively low, rising rates of gun violence and firearm ownership in the Republic ― in particular the possession and misuse of handguns ― have become sources of national concern.4 In 2009, the private possession of handguns was curtailed. Licensing of all pistols and revolvers using centrefire ammunition was capped through ‘grandfathering,’ with new licences restricted to a limited range of small-calibre .22 rimfire handguns and .177 air pistols.3 5 The possession and use of realistic imitation firearms in a public place is prohibited.6 7 Ireland is an active supporter of the United Nations process to reduce gun injury (UNPoA).8

As a result, gun homicides, suicides and gun crimes are low according to these numbers:

Gun Homicide

Of the 84 homicides reported by police in 2007, 18 (21 per cent) involved firearms ― eight fewer than the 26 gun homicides in 2006.29 Although the rate of firearm homicide in Ireland remains comparatively low (0.61 per 100,000 population in 2006, and 0.41 in 2007),30 31 gun killings have increased markedly since 1991, when the rate was 0.03.32 From 1995 to 1999 the firearm homicide rate averaged 0.28.33 34

Gun Suicide

Of 8,547 suicides recorded in Ireland from 1980-2003, 725 (8.5 per cent) were completed with a firearm.35 In the years 2001-05, the proportion averaged seven per cent.36 If the average number of firearm suicides reported in 2001-07 (33 per annum) remained steady during 2008, the annual rate of gun suicide in Ireland that year would be 0.74 per 100,000 population,36 31 down from 0.94 in 1991.37

Gun suicide is six times more common in rural areas than in cities, and 94 per cent of victims are male.38 Although total suicides (all methods) rose in Ireland from 200 per annum in 1980 to nearly 500 in 2003, gun suicides remained relatively static, averaging 31 self-inflicted shooting deaths each year over 23 years, with an annual high of 50 and a low of 14.39

Gun Crime

In the five years from 2001-2005, the Garda reported 1,690 robberies and aggravated burglaries committed with firearms, for an average of 338 per year. A peak year was 2004, with 428 armed robberies and burglaries.40 In the years 2003-2007, fewer than one in five gun crimes resulted in a conviction.41 In 2009, the Department of Justice reported a 31 percent decrease in crime involving discharge of a firearm, while the number of firearm possession cases increased by 8 percent.42

In addition there are some common sense policies in place to make sure public safety is protected:

It is illegal for any civilian to use, carry or possess a firearm or ammunition without a valid firearm certificate which correctly specifies the owner, the weapon, the ammunition and its maximum permitted quantity. (…) Applicants must prove ‘good reason’ for ownership of the firearm applied for, and the Garda must be satisfied that the applicant can be permitted to possess, use and carry the firearms ‘without danger to the public safety or security or the peace.’ If the ‘good reason’ for firearm possession is target shooting, the owner must belong to a police-approved rifle or pistol club. Where application is for a restricted firearm, the applicant must have ‘good and sufficient reason for requiring such a firearm’ and must additionally demonstrate that ‘the firearm is the only type of weapon appropriate for the purpose (….) An applicant must provide proof of identification and age, proof of competence with the firearm concerned, and proof of secure storage for weapons and ammunition while not in use. Potential gun owners must, when making an application for a firearm certificate, give written permission for the police to consult a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist to confirm the applicant’s good physical and mental health, and must nominate two additional referees to attest to the applicant’s character. Minimum qualifications for character referees are set out in the Garda Commissioner’s Guidelines as to the Practical Application and Operation of the Firearms Acts, 1925-2009.53 54 55

Though attesting to character can lead to conflicts and potential mistakes, at the least, the Irish government cares about people who have mental health issues getting access to guns. In America, we do not- at least some do not anyway.

The solution to the problem of people who cannot manage their affairs, Veterans with clear mental health difficulties and others who are known to family members or friends to be of a state of mind that having a gun would pose a potential risk to themselves or others is to find ways for these people not to have guns.

A gun violence restraining order or protection order is one solution that is not going anywhere in most states that have introduced a bill for public safety.

Never mind public health and safety. That is not on the top of the list these days in a Republican led government that is slashing programs, lying about serious matters and denying the true state of American people in need.

Back to the beginning of this post- there are a lot of unlucky people in America whose lives have drastically changed because a gun was available to someone who should not have had one or because of a totally avoidable accidental discharge. The incident below is just one of many occurring far too often in America:

The parents of a 12-year-old boy who was shot to death while home alone with his younger brother were charged Wednesday with involuntary manslaughter.

Damian Holmes, 12, and his brother, 9, were left home alone Tuesday night in the 3300 block of Michigan Avenue when they found a gun and started playing with it, police said.

A round struck Damian in the head about 10:35 p.m; police are not saying who fired the shot.

The boys’ father came home and took the 12-year-old to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Until we make it clear that loaded guns in homes pose a risk to those living in the home, this will continue to happen in unlucky America. Until we hold adults responsible for being irresponsible with guns, this will continue to happen in America. Until we insist that gun owners lock their guns up, unloaded, to insure that guns are not stolen, or accessed by young kids and teens, this will continue to happen.

Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult. Calling all responsible gun owners……

Even officers of the law need to follow these common sense ideas about guns. In Minnesota, an officer’s gun was stolen and used in a shooting. Now someone is dead as a result. This is all senseless.

It’s more than luck. It’s responsibility and changing and the conversation, the culture and the laws. Until we do that, we will be less safe- especially when Congress is in session. As Mark Twain once said:

  • “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”[3]Cscr-featured.svg   
Simple: No one’s life, liberty or property are safe while Congress is making laws.

May the luck of the Irish be with you today. Stay safe out there. And as we consider what Congress is all about concerning rolling back common sense gun laws, I would like to believe this:

Irish proverb

 

 

 

 

Reactions and inertia after too many shootings

inertiaOnly in America do we have 24/7 coverage of high profile shootings happening weekly or more often without the accompanying obvious national discussion about solutions. We lurch from one shooting to the other in just a few hours or days. Our Congress is hoping that people will forget about the daily carnage and not push them to do anything about it. It seems to be working if the goal is to ignore a very serious public health and safety epidemic. Inertia sets in. But the shootings continue unabated. It’s hard to even know where to begin.

Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer  Darren White in Ferguson, Missouri. How can we forget that time period after the shooting and the verdict of the grand jury to not charge White for the shooting, when Ferguson erupted and we all watched the damage happening before our very eyes? It was the birth of Black Lives Matter– a movement that continues to occupy space in our political and social networks. The fact that we even have to name a movement with this name says everything about where our country is in regards to racial justice issues.

What has happened since the Ferguson shooting of a black youth by a police officer? Since Ferguson, unfortunately “officer involved shootings” continue.  I am not making any accusations here aside from reporting the incidents.

There’s the Tamir Rice shooting.

There’s the shooting of Walter Scott.

According to this source, there were 100 shootings by officers of unarmed black people in 2014.

So this one just happened. An officer near Dallas shot an unarmed college football player an altercation that will get more investigation.

And officers themselves are being shot at and shot in increasing numbers.

Too many guns mean too many shootings. Officers in other democratized countries don’t carry guns for the most part, but then neither do citizens:

The US, to be sure, is a different country. Some argue that the ubiquity of guns in America is a major reason that many seemingly innocuous incidents escalate into fatal shootings. At the same time, racial tensions in the US are more pronounced than in many other countries. Yet analysts believe that other nations have adopted a number of practices that contribute to less-contentious relations between police and residents – and might make a difference on US streets. These range from more-rigorous police training, to changing the way officers interact with residents, to requiring more education for cops.

The thing is, shootings are happening all over America every day. 88 lives are taken by gunshot injuries daily. For young black males, homicides are taking way too many lives:

For most young adults, aged 20 to 24, the No. 1 cause of death is car accidents, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. For black men in that age group, though, the top cause of death is gun violence; they are four times more likely to be shot and killed than they are to die in a car accident.

A young black man is nearly five times more likely to be killed by a gun than a young white man and 13 times more than an Asian American man. These numbers, dramatic as they are, actually understate the problem. If a black person is killed by a gun, it is judged a homicide 82 percent of the time. For the broad population, most gun deaths are ruled accidental or the result of suicide; only 34 percent of gun deaths are attributed to murder. (…) For all other races, the gun homicide rate went up in the 1990s, though not much, and then it came back down. For young black men, it more than doubled and still hasn’t completely recovered to earlier levels.

This is an American tragedy. Young black males are being killed in great numbers. Way too often we read about the shootings of gang members by other gang members in our large urban areas. Sometimes the bullets kill innocent people in cross fire. And we read about young black men who have accessed guns they may believe they need to protect themselves in their violent neighborhoods. It’s a vicious circle of violence.

Why are we not asking how these young people get their guns? A very sad story in St. Paul, Minnesota about a 16 year old black teen who was shot and killed by a gun permit holder in a robbery attempt highlights the stolen gun problem in our country that contributes to many crime guns. The victim had become a violent teen, involved in gang activity and crime. He and his “friends” had stolen a car earlier the day of the shooting that contained 2 loaded guns. This is a sad story all the way around. The shooter did appear to act in self defense and will apparently not be charged.

But what can we say about the guns stored in a car that ended up in the hands of a 16 year old who shouldn’t have guns? If we are to solve the problem of too many shootings, it is important to understand where the guns used in shootings come from in the first place. In this case, a 16 year old boy obtained a gun from someone else’s car. Every gun in the hands of a child or teen must first pass through the hands of an adult. The permit holder appeared to act in a responsible way though the investigation continues. He made sure a “911” call was made and then he tried to help the teen. The owner of the stolen car? Perhaps he will think twice about storing guns in a car away from himself where he could better keep an eye on them.

Stolen guns, according to this article, account for 10-15% of crime guns. The article then goes on to state that straw purchases actually provide the majority of crime guns. There was a recent case, also in Minnesota, of a woman straw purchasing guns for a Somali gang who used the guns in a crime spree in the Twin Cities area:

For months, authorities say, a young woman calmly walked into a Robbinsdale gun store and legally bought guns big and small, including a Lady Lavender model Charter Arms .38-caliber revolver.

She apparently didn’t keep them long. Investigators say she quickly — sometimes immediately — turned the weapons over to Fausi Mohamed, a member of the well-known Somali Outlaws gang, and some were used in a violent crime spree across the Twin Cities this summer. (…)

The federal search warrant states that there is probable cause to believe that between February and June the woman and Mohamed had unlawfully and knowingly made false oral and written statements intended to deceive the gun dealer about the lawfulness of the sale of firearms.

Charges are fairly uncommon against straw buyers, people who buy guns legally on behalf of people who cannot. But gang-related crimes involving guns bought that way are a recurring theme. In November, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger charged members of two rival Minneapolis gangs for receiving illegal guns used in some 15 killings or shootings.

A mentally unstable man who was shot and killed after firing at officers at New Hope City Hall in January received a gun from a straw buyer.

The Minnesota legislature voted to strengthen the Minnesota straw purchase law in another gun bill that passed and was signed by Governor Dayton.  This is timely given what is happening in real time. Gun laws can make a difference one way or the other. So when the gun lobby and the gun extremists say that stronger laws won’t make a difference, they are not telling the truth.
When there are so many guns in circulation it makes sense that there are more shootings and more gun crimes. Police officers are shooting people. People are shooting police officers. Gangs are shooting at themselves and others. Some officers and citizens are shooting at gang members. Young white males are shooting up movie theaters, schools, shopping malls, schools and churches. Older white males are also doing some of the mass shootings. People with anger issues can get guns and shoot others over things that shouldn’t result in death. People who are dangerously mentally ill can easily access guns and shoot up theaters or public shopping malls during a “Congress on your corner” event.
Men with domestic abuse charges or orders for protections can get guns and shoot their spouses, partners. Teens can access guns to kill themselves or others. Small children can find guns in their homes or the homes of others and shoot themselves, a sibling or a friend. People can discharge guns at a Ronald McDonald house where family can stay while a loved one undergoes cancer treatment. Dads can shoot their daughters while giving them gun safety lessons. And no arrests in either case. Good grief. Where is common sense? And where are responsible gun owners?
If this doesn’t sound like the definition of insanity, I don’t know what does. We have timid reactions to the many shootings in America because we are afraid to offend the corporate gun lobby. When money and votes are given in exchange for not passing common sense gun laws, that is insanity. Inertia sets in. Let’s move on shall we? We would hate to inconvenience our politicians with the raw facts and the names and faces of the victims.
Facts and research into the causes and effects of gun violence would be hugely important to discussing the problems and the solutions. If only the gun lobby hadn’t bottled up funding for the CDC to keep the agency from studying gun violence. 
Sigh.
But others have stepped in. This blog post at Armed With Reason discusses the insistence by the corporate gun lobby that if only we do something about those with mental illness we will solve our nation’s gun violence problem. This is their immediate reaction and if left alone without fact checking, it will be believable. But it’s not true. Let’s take a look from the post:

Additionally, in 2015, Wintemute discovered that firearm owners who drink excessively had a history of risky behavior, including higher rates of non-traffic offenses, an overall higher risk of arrest, and greater reported “trouble with the police.” Alcohol abuse, the 2011 study found, also leads to risky behavior with guns: For instance, alcohol intoxication is likely to impair a firearm owner’s “decision-to-shoot” judgment. And while Wintemute didn’t seek a direct link between alcohol abuse and gun violence, he did conclude that of the nearly 400,000 firearm-related deaths between 1997 and 2009, “it is probable that more than a third of these deaths involved alcohol.”

These findings have profound implications for crafting policy to avert future tragedies. In the wake of mass shootings, politicians from both sides of the aisle often call for including better mental health records in background checks. Though a worthwhile sentiment, the evidence suggests that these efforts would be better spent focusing on alcohol abuse instead.

Don’t let a red herring cause inertia in the important discussion about gun violence prevention. We need to be “armed” with research and facts.

We can do a lot more to make a difference in lowering gun deaths and injuries and the number of shootings. Some stronger laws have been passed and some weaker laws have been passed. They are all addressing issues mostly on the fringes of our gun laws but don’t get to the core of our problem with the proliferation of guns and the increased number of shootings. What about the suggestion offered by this writer to allow loaded guns inside of our national Capitol and the offices of our Representatives and Senators? Good idea? From the article:

These issues have not gained traction in Congress and this inertia claims responsibility for deaths. Political obstinacy has brought the issue into funeral homes across the nation. Congressional silence and inaction regarding the epidemic of gun violence have veered our gun control conversation rightward. Now, in too many states, white supremacists, mentally ill ideologues, and other threats to safety may purchase guns at their leisure. Inaction has acted to create a nation where hardly any person, save perhaps a Senator, can claim safety from a rogue gunman’s bullets. Moviegoers. Churchgoers. Malls. Elementary schools. Sikh temples. University students. Spas. This list, already extensive, excludes those people of color targeted every day by law enforcement agents. Most Americans do not have the capitol police, the secret service, and innumerable bodyguards to protect them from insane,predominantly white male mass shooters. Certainly they do not have the protection of a Congress whose tenderheartedness has been purchased by the National Rifle Association.

These Senators, so absolutely committed to extensive gun proliferation, should favor such measures. They have not thought fit to vehemently object to unthinkable access to guns in their constituents’ hometowns. What sets apart the Capitol building? The Congressional offices, for that matter? If NRA-owned senators truly believe in practically uninhibited access to guns and gun-positive spaces, they should extend that freedom to grateful constituents knocking on Congress’ literal doorstep, regardless of any potential security concerns. Proper senatorial self-defense lessons could certainly assuage any fears. Indeed, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) believes that a gun-carrying teacher could have prevented the Sandy Hook elementary school atrocity. Sen. Paul should then support mandatory mass-shooting bystander training for all senators. Perhaps then, when someone inevitably – as inevitably as they have in countless public spaces in this country – pulled a gun on the Senate floor, Sen. Paul could put his advice to use.

Why not? There are few public places where guns are actually not allowed. In general schools remain “gun free zones” but efforts to change that have been successful in some states. Luckily for the country, many of these proposals have been turned down because of the common sense thinking that our children really don’t need to see adults in their schools carrying guns around. There is no proof that this would work and, in fact, in instances of mass shootings, it is very rare that an armed citizen has stopped one.

Other “gun free zones” are allowed under state carry laws, such as some public buildings, private businesses, colleges and universities, hospitals, sports venues, etc. The gun extremists will say that posting a sign won’t stop them from carrying inside. Great. It won’t stop anyone from bringing a gun inside actually. But think about it. I recently attended a Minnesota Twins baseball game. There were metal detectors and paid employees checking bags and purses similar to airport screenings. So the safest places in our country are professional sports venues, airports and the US Capitol and office buildings.

The gun lobby of course, wants guns in all of these places. Why not? Because surely only law abiding citizens will carry their guns inside and if someone who is not law abiding dares to bring a gun in and attempt a shooting, those law abiding citizens will be in the right place at the right time to defend us all from being shot.

Consider this- who will defend children in their homes, not considered to be “gun free zones” since anyone can buy a gun and bring it home with them? Every day in America an average of 8 children die from gunshot injuries due to homicide, suicide or an “accidental “shooting. I write about them often on this blog. Here’s just one recent incident of an “accidental shooting” of a child in the state of Alaska where there are more gun owners than almost any other state and some of the weakest gun laws.

Who will save women from domestic shootings in their homes? For that is most often where they take place. Homes are not “gun free zones”.

Who will save us from ourselves? Police shootings or “officer involved shootings” are the highest in the US of any other high income country. Young black men are losing their lives in great numbers in our large urban cities in alarming numbers. Our streets are not “gun free zones.” Suicide by gun accounts for the majority of gun deaths in America. Many of these, again, occur in homes where guns are available and accessible. Some of these are mass shootings where the shooter shoots himself ( mostly male shooters).

Gun deaths and shootings are on the rise. Obviously the solution is not to allow more guns for more people in more places. We are over saturated with guns, many owned by law abiding citizens and almost all, if not all, originally legal gun purchases. More guns are accessible to more people who shouldn’t have them than in any other high income country not at war.

No solutions are genuinely offered by those in charge of public safety. Instead, many of these folks in charge of our safety are voting in favor of weakening our gun laws in the face of rising numbers of dead Americans. And they don’t seem to care. The solutions will have to come from the public who favor doing something about our national gun violence epidemic. Don’t just sit there chewing on weeds. Get up and do something and demand a vote in Congress for a stronger background check system that could save lives.  That’s a start in the right direction.

The affects of Minnesota’s worst school shooting, Red Lake, 10 years later

broken heart

(This has been cross posted at commongunsense.com.)

Broken hearts. Broken dreams. Broken spirits. A broken community. It’s been 10 years since the worst school shooting in Minnesota- the Red Lake shooting. Ten years ago the teen shooter went to the home of his grandfather, stole his service weapons, killed his grandfather and his girlfriend and proceeded to his school. There he shot and killed 7 more and himself at the school. 5 were left injured.

This morning I heard a story on Minnesota Public Radio about the continued after effects of the March 21, 2005 Red Lake school shooting. The title of the article is what caught my attention- “Feeling scars at Red Lake, 10 years later”. From the interview ( which you can listen to as well as read):

The day has rippled across the Red Lake Indian Reservation since then. Today, about 6,000 tribe members live on the reservation, and just about every resident in those miles of stark landscape lost a friend or a family member, a loss that continues to sting.

At the time, it was the deadliest school shooting since Columbine, and it remains the largest mass homicide in Minnesota history. Including Weise, 10 people died. More, like May, were wounded, and many more saw things they can’t forget. (…)

Ten years ago, May was tall and strong and just getting to the age when people take you seriously in the Red Lake Nation. He played football and basketball, and he lifted weights in his free time.

By 18, he figured he’d have a real shot at a football scholarship, and a ticket off the reservation.

And he was in love. He planned to marry Alicia White, a girl in his class.

On the third Monday of March, his life shifted. Jeff Weise came into his classroom and shot five students and a teacher. May saw Alicia die. He saw his friend Dewayne Michael Lewis drop and then he charged Weise with a pencil, and was himself shot in the face. The bullet cut downward, ripping through nerves and lodging by his spine.

The last thing he remembers, he was on the floor with blood in his mouth.

Later in the story, one of the FBI agents, first on the awful scene said this as he reflected back on the day ten years ago:

“I learned that kids are capable of anything,” he said, “that they’re capable of planning.”

The fact that kids can get their hands on guns and cause this much tragedy and affect the lives of so many is an American tragedy.

Others are interviewed for this first part of a poignant series on the devastation left after a shooting that  took the lives of 10, including the shooter. It’s hard to read how the physical and emotional scars still remain- how the lives of so many were affected and how victims and survivors live with the trauma. Even law enforcement officers are traumatized and suffer life long problems after a mass shooting such as the one at Red Lake. Scenes like this are horrific and sometimes I wonder if the gun rights extremists recognize this. At some level they must. But their answer is so often that another gun would have solved the problem- particularly a “good guy with a gun”.

I am always puzzled and dismayed by this response to national mass shooting tragedies. Is there empathy for the victims? Do some on the side of gun rights believe this could never happen to them so why get upset and try to prevent more similar shootings? Since the Red Lake shooting in 2005 there have been dozens more deadly school shootings and many other gun incidents in our schools. Yet, we have been unable as a country to come together to have a civil national conversation about how we can prevent more of them. Surely passing some common sense gun laws such as requiring background checks on all gun sales would prevent some of the crime guns from getting into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. We do know that the majority of the public supports this idea and understands that a measure like this won’t interfere with their own rights to own a gun for self defense and hunting. And the benefit is that it could prevent at least some shootings. But the corporate gun lobby has instilled fear into our public leaders who then become complicit in lack of action.

But it’s more than lack of strong background checks. It’s a gun culture where those who have them often don’t take safety measures to prevent those who shouldn’t have them from getting them anyway. This gun culture is one of often cavalier attitudes towards guns as if they are not actually deadly weapons that can kill other human beings. Some say they are just “tools”. Tools for what? It turns out that they are tools for killing innocent people. Guns are deadly weapons designed to kill other human beings and pose a risk to those who own them.

The Red Lake shooter knew his grandfather had service weapons that were apparently unlocked so provided easy access. Way too often the gun used in a mass shooting or other shooting comes from the home of the shooter or a close relative. The other notorious 2003 school shooting in Minnesota at Rocori High School was also a case of the young shooter accessing the gun of his law enforcement father.

Both of these shooters were diagnosed at some point with mental illness by health care professionals. Mental illness, teens and guns have been a theme in American school and other shootings. What should we, as a country do to help prevent people like this from gaining access to guns? One simple measure is storing guns safely- locked securely, unloaded.

Obviously improving our mental health services to teens and adults would go a long ways towards stopping some tragedies before they happen. But the easy access of guns just has to be in the conversation. The fact that it is often shoved to the bottom of the list is the measure of how insidious is our gun culture.

Mass shootings haunt the victims, survivors and the communities in which they occur. Shootings cost Americans greatly, not only financially, but some suffer life long disabilities as a result, or PTSD and other emotional problems. In this story, addiction to drugs and alcohol and mental illness also have plagued some of the victims. Life goes on- but for some it is not at all the life they hoped for or were planning.

It is important to listen to and read about these poignant stories of survival. Gun violence is insidious and affects more than just the primary victims and their survivors. There is a huge cost to our gun violence epidemic. How many more will pay before we demand action and changes that can make a difference? We are better than this.