The epitome of our gun culture

JCC shooting15 years ago today, a White Supremacist shot up a Jewish Community Center day care center and injured small children. This is the shooting that caught the attention of Donna Dees Thomases who then went on to organize the Million Mom March in May of 2000. Since that time, thousands of Americans have been involved in the issue of gun violence prevention. And since that time, about 200,000 more Americans have died from gunshot injuries with Congress taking the back seat instead of driving the conversation that we need to have.

And so , the American gun culture keeps giving us shooting after shooting, mass shooting after mass shooting, and more dead and injured citizens. Americans are numb to the carnage because it is happening too often. People feel helpless to do anything about it since our politicians are so afraid to take the bully pulpit they have and speak out for change.

Let’s take a glimpse at what went on in our country over the past few days if you don’t believe me.

A shooting in a small North Carolina city is the epitome of the American gun culture. A young father, drunk, shot and killed his two young sons and then himself. In reading the story, several things jumped out for me. The man told neighbors he was paranoid about someone breaking into his house. He was constantly shooting guns in his back yard, bothering and frightening the neighbors and often while drinking. Are there laws about stuff like this? Can people shoot off their guns in the city limits? If so, why? If not, why didn’t someone call law enforcement? Should this man have been allowed to have guns? Shooting while drunk just has to be against some law- reckless endangerment? Or is this just an example of the gun culture we have that people are willing to accept this dangerous and stupid behavior?

Now 2 innocent little children are dead. Senseless. Avoidable.

New research (from the Armed With Reason blog)  is showing that shootings by people who are under the influence of alcohol are more frequent than shootings by those with dangerous mental illness:

Several studies have established the relationship between alcohol abuse and firearm-related crimes. Just as an individual is severely handicapped while operating a car under the influence, these studies found that similar failures in judgment and impulse control manifest during the operation of a firearm. Research shows that the risk of homicide, suicide, and violent death by all causes is significantly elevated with chronic alcohol abuse. Another studyfound a causal relationship between alcohol abuse and “impulsive” crimes such as assault and property damage.

Garen Wintemute, a professor of emergency medicine who runs the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, has conducted two recent studies on alcohol use among gun owners and how it might impact their behavior. In 2011, using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System — an annual survey of risk-related behaviors conducted by the Centers of Disease Control — for eight states and more than 15,000 respondents, he found that gun owners are significantly more likely than non-firearm owners to have five or more drinks on one occasion, to drink and drive, and have 60 or more drinks per month.

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.”

Our country is awash in guns. It’s inevitable that a father who has abused alcohol and is fascinated with guns, will eventually shoot and kill people he loves. It happens. It doesn’t have to but in our American gun culture the unspeakable happens.

This past week-end there were several mass shootings not being talked about by national media.  A Texas man who shouldn’t have had a gun got upset when an ex partner changed the locks on the house. That’s a good reason to shoot and kill 8 people right? Why not? Guns are dangerous weapons designed to kill other people. And kill they do. Guns in the hands of guys like this are more than dangerous. Given that this guy had a record and was likely on the prohibited purchasers list, how did he get his gun?

This is the American gun culture.

And up in Vermont, 4 were shot and killed by a disturbed woman upset with the social services department. Have gun, will shoot. 3 were relatives of the shooter. 1 was a Social Worker. From the article:

Sobel was shot and killed after work Friday outside a state office building in Barre. She handled a case for the state Department for Children and Families in which Herring lost custody of her 9-year-old daughter, authorities said.

“I think all Vermonters are as shocked, dismayed, horrified and grief-stricken as all of us are,” Shumlin said. “I cannot remember, in my lifetime, four people being murdered by the same alleged perpetrator.”

The person in the quote needs only tune in to the national media to find out that 4 people are killed by the same alleged perpetrator all the time in this American gun culture.

Arguments about who owns a $20 dresser resulted in a shooting incident in Oklahoma- with an AR-15 for goodness’ sake.

This is the American gun culture.

3 people are dead in a presumed domestic shooting in Kileen, Texas.

This is the American gun culture.

Sigh.

In yet another “officer involved shooting” at the one year anniversary of the Michael Brown shooting, a man was shot and injured in Ferguson. A demonstration turned violent and law enforcement reacted. A young man started running and fired at police resulting in the shooting. This is unfortunate all the way around. Again, where do these young people get their guns? This one was, as many are, stolen. From the article:

On Monday, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch denounced the shootings, saying that “violence obscures any message of peaceful protest and places the community, as well as the officers who seek to protect it, in harm’s way.

“The weekend’s events were peaceful and promoted a message of reconciliation and healing,” Ms. Lynch said in a statement. “But incidents of violence, such as we saw last night, are contrary to both that message, along with everything that all of us, including this group, have worked to achieve over the past year.”

And this, too, is the American gun culture. Young people with guns are in our neighborhoods shooting each other, shooting innocent people, shooting at police officers. Young people with guns obtained illegally most likely. Police officers are outgunned on our streets and sometimes overreact to the young people, some unarmed- some armed. And it seems that most of this is happening to black youth.

We cannot ignore this gun culture. It is killing our young people of all colors but mostly young black youth. It is a national tragedy that we are not addressing. It’s an issue of racial injustice and racial disparity. And it is an issue of too many guns accessible to people who should not have them.

Though I am not addressing gun suicides and “accidental” shootings in this post, those, too, are all part of our American gun culture. This is not a culture of which we should be proud. It should be a national embarrassment that we are not addressing  like other countries have done in the face of a public health and safety problem.

Is the epitome of our gun culture dead children? Small children being led across a street in a human chain after a crazed gunman tried to kill them? Drunk people firing off their guns in their yards every day? An angry woman shooting 4 people over losing custody of her child? An angry domestic abuser shooting 8 people because of a change of a door lock? Young black kids being shot by police officers? Police officers outgunned on our streets? Stolen guns leading to crime guns used in shootings?  Someone shooting off an AR-15 over a $20.00 dresser? PSTD suffered years after being shot at a day care center by a mad man?

What is the cost of our American gun culture?

Where is common sense?

Anniversaries and actions

photo of BarbaraAnniversaries are important. Couples know that it’s important to remember each other on their anniversary. Forgetting is not a good idea for obvious reasons. My wedding anniversary is in August. It just happens that it’s on the same day our 3rd grandchild was born so we never forget this one.

August is a month, like all months, of shooting anniversaries. The one that is most important to me is the day my sister was shot and killed by her estranged husband. That would be Aug. 5th- 23 years ago. It might seem like it was really a long time ago. It was. But I can remember the details as if it were yesterday. I can remember the phone call. I can remember the feeling of disbelief and then of a slow reality that this was happening to my family- to my family. Not someone else’s. But mine. How could that be? Things like this only happen to someone else.

I can remember how painful it was to have to inform my mother that her oldest child had been murdered. That was for me. Only I couldn’t do it. She was at her cabin far away in a remote place with a visiting relative. It was night time. It was a 3 hour drive. What to do? We waited until morning and my husband made the call. It was so difficult. She was brave. And she came right home to be where she needed to be. With family. Now what?

We huddled. We cried. We railed. We read the newspaper accounts since the shooting was committed by someone well known in the city where he lived. They were getting a divorce. He was resisting. He was in contempt of court for refusing to cooperate. This had been going on for several years. My sister was moving on to a new relationship. He had already moved on to a new relationship. Things were not going well legally. She and her new guy were delivering legal papers that came to my sister’s house ( he had moved out some time before the shooting). He must have asked them to come inside. They did. She felt protected by her man friend. That didn’t work. He shot and killed them both.

But I try not to remember these kinds of details. What good does it do? My sister is not here any longer to enjoy the grandchildren she would never know and love or my grandchildren that she will never know. She didn’t get to be at her oldest son’s wedding or be the beloved aunt at my own children’s weddings. She didn’t get to see her life through to actually be divorced from the man who shot her and move on to a relationship with a man who loved her and was ready to be with her as they grew old together. Her potential was never reached. Lives lost are lives not lived and lives of people who had much to give to the world and their families and communities. Memories can’t make a difference in the world.

My sister was a beautiful woman- an actual beauty queen. She was intelligent, athletic, educated, caring, daring, creative and loving. She was an artist. She was a pilot. She played tennis well. She was a biker. She loved music and plays. She loved her children and her family and welcomed everyone in. She was a bit frenetic, talking as she did other things and creating some chaos in her wake. It was always interesting and exciting being around her. She attracted a lot of attention and was loved by many. She was a strong and independent woman as well. And she knew her marriage needed to end. She stood up for herself in the divorce process and that is what makes for trouble sometimes. She was trying to leave this relationship. It often takes women 7 or 8 times to get out of an abusive relationship and it is while they are trying to leave that can be dangerous for women. Abuse takes many forms. It was not physical abuse in my sister’s relationship. It was rather more emotional and financial abuse. You can check out the Power and Control wheels developed at Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs for more information.

The majority of women killed in domestic disputes are killed with a gun.

So it is in my sister’s memory that I do what I do. Her shooting death changed the lives of her family and friends forever. For me, it launched me into advocacy to prevent senseless gun violence. I have been working towards common sense gun laws and changing the gun culture for the last 15 years since I marched in the original Million Mom March on the National Mall. It’s been an interesting ride. There have been challenges, some defeats and some victories. I am part of a movement that is changing every day.

One of the big changes that has not been achieved is making sure all gun sales go through background checks. The Brady background check law came into effect after my sister was shot. It would not have made a difference in her case because my now ex and dead brother-in-law would have passed one. He was a “law abiding” gun owner until suddenly he wasn’t. He was a “responsible gun owner”. Or was he? He had loaded guns sitting around all over his house- a fact we learned after the shooting. He was a gun nut. He loved his guns. My sister was nervous about this. No one thought anything about it because- well just because. Awareness of the danger of guns in the home came for me after this happened to my family. I grew up in a house with guns. Hunting guns. Not handguns or AR-15s. No one had those where I grew up. I learned to hunt. My husband is a hunter. We are gun owners. But we are more savvy now about the facts and we understand that a woman in the US is 11 times more likely to die of a gunshot injury if she lives in a home with a gun than women in other high income countries. We know that children are also at risk when loaded guns are accessible to them. Women and children were not being shot in the numbers they are today as when I was growing up. The organization founded to support hunting and gun safety has turned into a huge and well funded lobby organization in large part supported by the gun industry that makes profits with every gun sale.

But I digress.

Just because an expanded background check system would have unlikely affected the outcome in my sister’s shooting does not mean it won’t for many others. We also now know about the effect of the private sale “loophole” in the Brady law. Occasional sellers have become much more than occasional. It is estimated that about 40% of gun sales go without background checks through private sellers at gun shows, flea markets, classified ads, and now, on-line sales.

A great and informative article about how easy it is for people who shouldn’t have guns to get them anyway was written by a Tennessee woman. This woman goes through the process of how easy it is to get guns from sites like Armslist.com. We know now that the shooter in Chattanooga got 3 of his guns through this site- no background check, no questions asked. You can do your own research like this woman did and find out for yourself what she found out. The majority of gun sales on this on-line exchange are through private sellers.

I did my own exercise looking at the number of handguns for sale just in the Minneapolis area on Monday of this week. I narrowed my search to private sellers. I found that there were 45 handguns for sale in the area and 27 of them were private sellers. That means that 60% of the handguns for sale on Monday, August 3rd in Minneapolis alone were offered by private sellers. Who knows who the buyers might be? Private sellers don’t have to find that out. As the author of the above blog says, some private sellers sell guns to people they know shouldn’t have them and many sell these guns “inadvertently” to people who shouldn’t have guns. But when you are a private seller, you must understand that people who are buying from you could very well have an order for protection out for themselves and their intent just may be to use that gun to kill a spouse/partner. It happens every day. That person could be like the shooter of the Lafayette theater who was only voluntarily committed to a mental institution.

The only way someone like the Lafayette shooter gets his/her name into the FBI data base is when they are involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.  A voluntary commitment doesn’t rise to the level of concern apparently for a gun purchase. Who got that provision into our gun laws? Who got the provision about no background checks for private sellers? Who got the provision that a gun has to be handed over to a seller after 3 days even if a background check was not completed because of something called a “default proceed”?

These questions are finally being asked and some are being answered. What we have is a flawed system, in part written and supported by the gun lobby and its’ bought and paid for politicians, that is allowing guns to get into the hands of people who should not have them. All the way around, something is wrong. Something is wrong with all of the shootings happening every day in America no matter where the shooter got a gun or who the shooter is. The fact that this is not more alarming and immediate to our leaders is shameful and downright inexcusable.

So the effort to make families and communities safe from devastating gun violence goes on. People like me with stories to tell will keep telling them to call attention to the scourge of gun violence all over our country. Many groups and individuals are successfully pushing back efforts of the gun lobby to get guns everywhere and in the hands of anyone. We will succeed when politicians feel the pressure from even the gun owners and NRA members who are fed up with the shootings. Most gun owners are nice people who own guns for sport, recreation or maybe even for self defense. They are hopefully practicing responsible gun ownership. But even responsible gun owners have episodes of anger, depression, relationship problems, too much alcohol or leave a gun unsecured for a child or teen to find.

It’s about laws. It’s about culture. It’s about the guns. It’s about the memories of lost loved ones.

Today I dedicate my blog post to my beautiful sister who was shot and killed 23 years ago.

UPDATE:

I want to add that today is also the anniversary of the Sikh Temple shooting that took the lives of 6 inn0cent people in a terrible mass shooting. From this article:

Members of the Sikh community and the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin say they’re using the tragedy to teach others about understanding and compassion for others.

“We have a lot of shootings going on around the city, around the world, around the nation. How we can make a bigger impact — so that we can spread message of love and compassion?” Dubey said.

Love and compassion rather than hate and intolerance of others can make a difference. Keeping guns away from those whose anger and intolerance is dangerous will make a difference.

Happy Anniversary Million Mom March

Million MOm MarchToday is the 15th anniversary of the Million Mom March. I have been writing about it and posting to Facebook pages about it. I want to share this video in the words of Donna Dees Thomases, founder of the Million Mom March, about why she decided to organize a march to end gun violence:

Donna was right. We weren’t doing enough to prevent the daily shooting incidents. When small children are attacked by a crazed gunman in a pre-school, something was ( and is) wrong with our American gun culture. Not long after the shooting incident at Granada Hills Jewish Community Center where young children were injured, the Columbine shooting happened. And then the shooting of 5 year old Kayla Rolland. They just kept coming and it was more than enough to get 750,000 plus Americans involved in one of the nation’s largest rallies on the Washington Mall.

We marched and we organized and we had hope. And then we learned that trying to break through the entrenched corporate gun culture was an uphill battle. We have had occasional victories, the latest of which is the passage of a new background check law in the state of Oregon.

We will continue working on passing stronger gun laws and countering the craziness of the corporate gun lobby. Why? Because lives depend on our staying the course and being there to get out the message that too many have died from gun violence and that we can save lives if we put our collective heads together to change the national conversation and tell the truth about the devastation of  gun violence in our communities.

In another article about the anniversary, Donna and other advocates talk more about the movement and about plans for the future. 

When I started this 15 years ago, 10 kids a day died from gunshot injuries. The number today is closer to 8. That is an improvement. But it’s not acceptable. What other public health epidemic gets treated like gun violence? It’s all about the fierce opposition of the corporate gun lobby and it’s bought and paid for politicians. That has not changed in the 15 years since the Million Mom March.

But never mind. We will continue working on safe storage, on getting parents to ASK if there is a gun where their children play and hang out, on laws to stop bad apple gun dealers from providing guns to dangerous people and to make sure all gun sales go through a Brady background check.

For this is the country most people want. It’s not what we have or deserve.

We are better than this.

Thanks to Donna Dees -Thomases and the many Million Mom March and Brady chapters all over the country for their devotion to this important cause. Thanks go to all of those politicians who have had the courage to speak up for common sense. Thanks to the physicians, lawyers, clergy, community activists, like minded groups, friends, families of victims and survivors for their willingness to support what we do. And thanks to those who have followed in our footsteps to make our country safer.

The gun nuts and nutty rhetoric and logic

nutsOregon just passed a new law requiring background checks on all gun sales. This makes 7 states plus the District of Columbia having now required that all gun sales have background checks. It’s more than interesting to watch the gun nuts go all nutty about the idea that everyone now needs to go through a background check when purchasing a gun. These folks take it all personally as if the law was meant to punish them. Think about it. How could a law that requires Brady background checks,which most of these folks already undergo when purchasing their guns at federally licensed firearms dealers, punish them? What about the tired old mantra that we need to enforce the laws already on the books?- an excuse to stop progress towards safer communities. It’s backwards thinking promoted by the corporate gun lobby. Don’t believe them. This law will only stop people who shouldn’t be able to purchase guns from purchasing them anyway.

Gun nuts have been getting away with these talking points for many years. Apparently they don’t like laws that get in the way of unfettered access to guns. They want their guns with no hassle, no laws in the way.

The thing is, this nutty way of thinking allows felons, adjudicated mentally ill people, domestic abusers, and others who shouldn’t have guns to get them easily. The Million Mom March and Brady Chapters have been advocating for expanding Brady background checks for the last 15 years. Even after the horrific shooting of 20 first graders at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, the gun lobby stood in the way of common sense. Our Senators couldn’t even muster support for something that made so much sense and was a compromise piece of legislation, after spending time with the parents of the nation’s most horrific shooting. Shame on them all.

Other groups have joined the fray since May 14, 2000 increasing the number of people advocating openly and loudly for Brady background checks and other measures to keep our children and our communities safe from devastating gun violence. Most of these got involved after the shooting in Newtown because they, like the rest of us, were horrified that something like this could happen in our country. They are getting a dose of the gun lobby’s nuttiness that the rest of us have experienced for many years. They are also experiencing the fierce opposition to even the smallest measures to make us safer.

Together we are having an impact however. We welcome the new folks who have joined us in the fray. We already know that the general public and even gun owners and NRA members are with us. For at least 15 years, polling has been consistent about that. We also already know that some of our politicians have been cowed by the corporate gun lobby whose minions speak of gun confiscation and taking away rights if we just but pass small but reasonable measures to keep the majority safe.

What we need now is for the gun nuttery to be openly recognized. We can look to this recent article in the Washington Post about a “constitutional” Wisconsin Sheriff and his extreme nutty views about guns and gun violence for what the minority is thinking. His views are crazy and unsubstantiated but somehow he continues to be re-elected. Let’s take a look:

Less than 24 hours after Officers Benjamin J. Deen, 34, and Liquori Tate, 24, of the Hattiesburg Police Department were gunned down during a traffic stop, Milwakuee County Sheriff David A. Clarke linked the deaths to events in Ferguson, Mo., and said in a series of tweets that the president is to blame.

[Four suspects in custody after shooting deaths of two Mississippi police officers]

“Obama started this war on police intentionally,” Clarke wrote. “Right in line with his community agitating.”

Clarke, a conservative folk hero who has predicted that a second American revolution will be fought over gun rights, is a regular Fox News guest with55,000 followers on Twitter. In 2013, he ran radio ads telling people to fight back against violent criminals instead of relying on 911, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

America’s 1st Freedom, an NRA publication, has called the outspoken Clarke “NRA’s Favorite Sheriff.” Earlier this year, he was presented with the Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Right then. The NRA leaders love this guy. He is a perfect foil for their extreme views about the world. And he is encouraging people to protect themselves from all of those violent criminals out there waiting to get them rather than to rely on his very own services as a Sheriff. You really can’t make this stuff up.  From this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. set off alarm bells Friday with a radio spot some view as a call for citizens to arm themselves.

In the radio ad, Clarke tells residents personal safety isn’t a spectator sport anymore, and that “I need you in the game.”

“With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option,” Clarke intones.

“You could beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back.”

Clarke urges listeners to take a firearm safety course and handle a firearm “so you can defend yourself until we get there.”

“You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We’re partners now. Can I count on you?”

The thing is, what Clarke says is simply not true. Continue reading the article. This is the fear and paranoia that the corporate  gun lobby needs in order to stay in business. It’s what we in the world of gun violence prevention movement have been fighting against. The fact that our politicians have been duped into believing this nutty rhetoric should be alarming and a lesson for why we need to keep working to advocate for what we know is right.

The gun lobby has actually become more nutty in the 15 years since I have been involved. They have gained ground by weakening gun laws all over the country claiming that any law to strengthen our safety is a violation of their rights. Their other specious claim is that any stronger gun law punishes their own. That, of course, is not true and ridiculous but they manage to get away with it because of our own lawmakers’ lack of backbone when it comees to challenging this “logic”. Here are just a few of the inane efforts to deceive gun owners, the public and lawmakers:

George Zimmerman made the news again. This time, he was on the other end of a gun nut who shot at him in a claimed road rage incident in Florida. The shooter has been in other disputes with Zimmerman and claimed “self defense.” Ha! You just can’t make this stuff up. It’s just plain nuts that Zimmerman was not held legally accountable for the death of an innocent Black teen-ager and even nuttier that he is out and about causing more trouble.

How many more incidents should be tolerated for the man who has already killed another human being?  This is the 4th one since he killed Trayvon Martin. Some people should not have guns and yes, they should lose their gun rights. This is a guy who is the poster child for what can go wrong in our twisted and dangerous gun culture. We don’t need Stand Your Ground laws so people like Zimmerman can walk away from a murder. We don’t need guns everywhere carried by anyone.

Maine’s Governor, along with 5 others, signed on to an amicus brief to attempt to repeal California’s strong conceal/carry law- claiming punishment for gun owners. Nuts.

The NRA’s own Wayne LaPierre is lying again- using a false conspiracy theory claiming that President Obama is out to ban all ammunition sales. He’s wrong but never mind. Nuts.

The Tennessee Governor signed a law also similar to one signed in Indiana to interfere with federal gun regulations because, you know, states shouldn’t follow federal law. How this benefits gun owners and law abiding citizens is not spelled out. It will actually benefit the felons and others who should not have guns. My theory is that this is on purpose so when felons have more guns, the gun lobby can hysterically cry that more citizens need their guns for self protection against the felons with guns. It’s nuts. What could possibly go wrong?

And in a cynical attempt to roll back “knife rights” the NRA is involved in legislative measures to allow possession of more dangerous knives for “law abiding” citizens. Nuts. From the article:

“I don’t see knives posing that big of a danger to the public,” Representative Harold Dutton Jr., who sponsored the bill, said in an interview. “Now that we’re going to let everybody have a gun, I think we ought to set knives free.”

This twisted “logic” is actually more nutty than we think. The gun nuts like to argue that knives take more lives than guns. They are wrong of course and it can be easily proven. The claim is that knives kill more people than long guns. That would be true. But total gun homicides in this FBI report from 2011 were 8523 compared to total knife homicides of 1694.

Here’s my theory. If we allow more dangerous knives we will certainly have a rise in deaths from knives. Then the gun lobby can say that knives are just as lethal as guns so what’s the problem?

The thing is, these measures increase the likelihood of deaths and injuries to innocent people all over our country. It’s just plain nuts.

We are better than this. But arguing with nuts is just nuts. It isn’t worth the argument. The problem is that our legislators refuse to use logic and get cowed by the nuts. They are bullied into taking positions counter to public health and safety. And what we will surely see is an increase in deaths and injuries. In states with strong gun laws and fewer guns, there are fewer gun deaths. The same is true in most other civilized, developed democratized countries not at war. We have the proof. We just need our elected leaders to speak the truth and not be afraid of the nuts.

Isn’t it past time to speak the truth and get on with ways to save lives? Why are the gun nuts winning the argument with our elected leaders? They shouldn’t be. If you believe, like most Americans do, that too many of our leaders are lapdogs for the gun lobby, please let them know how you feel. Also please join a group working on preventing gun violence. As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Million Mom March, I see a strong and committed group of Americans who are not going away. We are stronger than ever and we will call out the nutty gun logic so we can base policy on facts.

UPDATE:

I found this article that was written along the same theme that I wrote about in this post. That would be that the gun lobby’s fueling of fear and paranoia is a vicious circle. When the fear causes more guns and more guns cause fear, we have a serious problem. We are not talking about just any consumer product. We are talking about deadly weapons designed to kill people. From the article:

The gun rights movement warns of a society riddled with pervasive threats—increasingly, they come from police officers, or their absence, or their recklessness. And the NRA gets its way: there are more guns on our streets than ever. This in turn makes the job of policing that much harder—and the possibility of police violence more frequent. Perhaps police might retreat from criminal encounters, which increasingly risk turning out badly—where someone dies, or they are charged with a crime. Either way, the gun rights movement will bellow that we need still more guns and more armed citizens. Despairing in the face of criminal and police violence, African Americans appear to be joining this view.

We are mired in a classic negative feedback loop. The gun rights movement is good at making its predictions come true. It bemoans a society delivered unto violence, coming from every corner, and will make sure of that.

This is more than nutty. It’s dangerous and unacceptable. I know we can do better.

UPDATE:

I am going to update this post both as another example of the nuttiness and stupidity of the gun nuts and in response to a comment made that I shouldn’t call all hard core gun guys nutty. This is the new mantra from the NRA who do say they represent about 4 million members, more or less- Hillary Clinton is now going to take away the guns that Barack Obama didn’t manage to get his cold dead hands on. From the article:

The NRA then baselessly links this non-existent firearm registry scheme to gun confiscation, declaring, “Gun registration has been considered the holy grail — the queen on the chessboard and the key to the kingdom — by every gun-ban group, every genocidal regime and every would-be tyrant around the world since King George sent his redcoats to seize the colonists’ arms at Lexington and Concord. That’s not hyperbole. It’s history.”

The article concludes, “Hillary Clinton’s apparent ultimate aim is as direct and undeviating as an argon laser: ‘Universal’ background checks … which depend on universal gun registration … which inevitably, invariably, leads to gun confiscation.”

So we will now be hearing this for the upcoming election cycle because the NRA’s leaders have to find a way to gin up the fear and paranoia to make sure to protect gun sales and the industry. It’s just plain nuts. The worst of it is that so many people believe it. I suppose they didn’t notice that President Obama did not actually manage to get their guns. Never mind the facts and common sense.

Million Mom March, moms and guns

nra mothersDid you get your mother a gun for Mother’s Day? If not you can enter a gun give-away contest at the NRA website to make sure someone special to you has a gun for self defense on this special day. Perhaps someone is lurking outside of the restaurant where you will take your mother for brunch. Or maybe at church? Or at the park where you go for a picnic? Or maybe a mother in your life needs her gun while shopping? Remember this young mother who lost her life senselessly when her 2 year old sone found a loaded gun in her purse and “accidentally” discharged the gun? She died.

Would your mother really prefer a gun to flowers on Mother’s Day?

This is a wrong headed idea but the corporate gun lobby has no common sense when it comes to profits over safety. Women are more at risk for their lives in homes where there are guns than in homes without guns. Domestic disputes too often turn deadly when a gun is available. As a result, too many children are without their mothers on this day and too many mothers are also without their children as a result of deadly and avoidable gun violence. From the linked article:

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, has argued that firearms are a great equalizer between the sexes. In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee last year, he declared, “The one thing a violent rapist deserves to face is a good woman with a gun.” But the empirical reality of firearm ownership reflects anything but equality, particularly when it comes to intimate partner violence. Such fights become much more frequent and lethal when firearms are involved, and the violence is nearly unidirectional, inflicted by males upon females. This relationship holds true not only across the United States, but around the world.

Don’t buy your mother a gun today.

The gun lobby needs to promote gun ownership among women, and even children, because fewer homes report owning guns and gun ownership is mostly among older white males living in rural America. But I digress.

Mother’s Day has become a profit maker for greeting card companies, florists, retailers and others. But the annual commemoration is not about that:

The earliest iterations of Mother’s Day in the U.S. were organized for several reasons, but celebrating mothers wasn’t among them. U.S. women’s groups in the late 1800s came together in West Virginia to tackle everything from infant mortality to disease and milk contamination. In 1870, a composer by the name of Julia Ward Howe issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” urging women to become politically active and to promote peace following the U.S. Civil War, according toNational Geographic.

And that is what mothers have been doing ever since- promoting peace, promoting safety for children, promoting public health and safety. Women are politically active but their voices are too often drowned out by a power structure that has not included women in leadership roles where they can make a difference. That is changing but not enough. Women in politics will be key to getting policy changes in the best interest of women, children and families.

15 years ago on Mother’s Day of 2000, which fell on May 14th that year, 750,000 mothers and others marched for sanity and common sense concerning gun violence. I was one of those who attended the Million Mom March and came away a changed person. I found my voice. Eight years after my sister was shot and killed in a domestic shooting, I found a way to talk about it and a way to tell my story. I also found that I was not alone. Unforgettable at the March were the many people carrying posters or wearing tee shirts or hats with photos of a MMM photoloved one lost to a bullet.

Over the years, as I got involved with the issue of gun violence prevention, I became acquainted with many victims and survivors nation-wide who are my friends to this day. We are in a club that we didn’t want to join. Some of them are moms who have lost children so Mother’s Day is difficult and a sad reminder that our nation is awash in guns and gun violence. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Moms are a force. Don’t mess with a mom who has lost someone to a violent and sudden death. 15 years after the first march against gun violence mothers are still marching. Yesterday hundreds marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, including many gun violence prevention groups, to show support for common sense. There were marchers from the Million Mom March and Brady Campaign chapters, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action and others in a show of unity to demand that our elected leaders stand up for the victims and survivors instead of the gun lobby.

My sister experienced the tragic loss of a young toddler in a drowning death at the lake behind their home. She never really got over the loss of her only daughter, who was a year older than my own. My daughter had a special relationship with my sister because of this loss. And yes, I also know that drownings are the cause of more deaths than shootings in very young children. But with the increase in the number of young children “accidentally” shooting themselves or others, that may change. As more data hopefully becomes available, we will know more about what causes death in young children. Mothers should not lose their children no matter to what cause. My mother, of course, lost her oldest daughter to a domestic shooting.

Today, I know that a gun did not make my sister safer from a domestic shooting. My sister never got to see her oldest son get married or to hold her grandchildren. She wasn’t in attendance at the weddings of my own children but was remembered lovingly at these occasions. I do what I do because of her and because of the many women who have lost their lives to a bullet.

The thing is, my sister is your sister. Just because this hasn’t happened in your family doesn’t mean it won’t. That is why it is so important to be involved in the movement to change the conversation about guns and the role they play in so much devastation to families all over America. Gun deaths and injuries happen in every neighborhood, to any age group, to any economic category, to any gender, to any and all races and usually in unexpected ways. Every one of us can be affected.

So what do we mothers who continue to march want?

We want people to know that if they choose to own guns, they should also choose to understand that those guns are a risk to themselves and others in the home.

We want mothers ( and others) to practice responsible gun ownership. Guns should be locked securely unloaded and separate from ammunition.

We want mothers ( and fathers) to ASK if there are guns in the homes where their children play and hang out.

We want mothers ( and others) to continue to advocate for background checks for all gun sales. In states where that has happened, women (and others) are safer from shootings.

We want domestic abusers to have fewer guns, not more guns. Some states , including my own state of Minnesota, have passed laws to make sure the guns of domestic abusers are required to be removed from them before they are used to kill a domestic partner.

We want mothers and women to run for political office and raise the issue of gun safety reform and then get the job done to make our communities safer.

We want mothers ( and others) to get involved and stay involved to change the conversation about the role of guns and gun violence. We can make safer communities for our families if we continue to march and continue to advocate for common sense.

We want mothers ( and others) to be loud and clear with elected leaders that the majority of Americans want stronger gun laws, not looser laws.

Happy Mother’s Day. Keep marching.

Guns and mass shootings- as American as apple pie and country music

apple_pie_american_flagIt’s the land of “milk and honey”. It’s the land of the free. It’s the land of rock and roll and country music. It’s the land of apple pie and barbecue. It’s the land of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It’s the land of wide open spaces and crowded cities. It’s the land of cowboys. It’s the land of slaves. It’s the land of Native American reservations. It’s the land of plenty and the land of slums. It’s the land of oceans, mountains, deserts and lakes. It’s the land of guns. It’s the land of school shootings. It’s the land of child shootings and gun suicides. It’s the land of domestic shootings and officer shootings. It’s the land of the corporate gun lobby.

An article about how America dealt with the Columbine shooting caught my attention this morning.  Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of that heinous shooting that seemed to be a marker for all that followed. It is why so many Americans showed up to march on Mothers’ Day of 2000 in the Million Mom March. Americans were horrified that they could watch a mass school shooting on TV and wanted not to do that again. We were hopeful that common sense would prevail and something would change. What seemed to change was the fervor of the gun rights extremists in the face of possibilities to do something about school shootings and everyday shootings. Instead of working together to stop the violence, the gun lobby dug in its’ heels and ever since has become more and more resistant and militant. Their iconic leader, Wayne LaPierre appears to be more unhinged with every passing NRA convention and every mass shooting.

But I digress. More from the first linked article, above:

After Columbine there was a general sense that something had to be done. That kids getting killed at school was a thing we weren’t going to be okay with. “Never again,” as they say.

It wasn’t some fanciful impossibility. The British did it after Dunblane. And so we did that. Everyone got together and passed sweeping gun control legislation and there was never another mass shooting in America.

Except not really. Because the “never again” response—though shared by many—was not shared by all. (…)

Both responses, “never again” and “don’t bother trying,” offer statements about the USA. The former says “America is the greatest country on Earth. We went to the moon. Surely, we can stop kids from getting shot to death at school! If the Brits can do it, so can we. ” The latter says, “No, we can’t. We’re America. The greatest country on Earth and the cost of the liberty that makes us so is that our kids may get shot to death at school.”

Every time there is another mass shooting and nothing happens it becomes a little easier to believe that the “don’t bother” crowd is right.

Don’t bother.

It’s OK by us if our kids may not come home on a day we put them on the school bus and expect to see them later that day at home. It’s OK by us if 3 year olds shoot one year olds. It’s OK by us if law abiding gun owners shoot themselves when adjusting bra holsters or guns fall out of pockets and shoot private parts. It’s OK by us if a 2 year old shoots his own mother after finding her loaded gun in a special purse for carrying a gun around  in public. It’s OK by us if stray bullets kill kids in their homes while they are sleeping. It’s OK by us if a gun nut father shoots and kills his own 3 year old daughter “accidentally”. It’s OK by us if domestic abusers use guns to kill their intimate partners. It’s OK by us if our young men of color are shooting each other on our city streets. It’s OK by us if police officers shoot to kill unarmed young Black men. It’s OK by us if police officers are shot and killed in ambushes. It’s OK by us if teens shoot themselves over a bad day with a gun found at home. It’s OK by us if innocent people are killed in road rage incidents. It’s OK by us if a grandpa shoots his own granddaughter when he mistakes her for a robber. It’s OK by us for a white guy patrolling a neighborhood to kill an unarmed black teen. It’s OK by us when a volunteer reserve sheriff’s deputy mistakes a taser for a real gun and shoots and kills a black man. It’s OK by us for gun nuts to carry assault rifles around in public places where families gather. It’s OK by us when……

And when someone bothers to do something about our nation’s public health and safety epidemic, it’s not OK with the gun rights extremists. It’s not OK with the gun lobby to suggest that gun safety reform will make us safer without infringing on their “God given” rights to do anything they want with their lethal weapons. Apparently it’s not OK for performers to have the freedom to perform benefit concerts for causes of their choice.

The gun nuts have come unglued over country singer Tim McGraw’s upcoming performance to benefit the Sandy Hook Promise organization. I wrote about this in my previous post but the furor is worse than ever. It’s bothersome that facts don’t matter in this case. Of course the Sandy Hook Promise is not “anti-gun” but that doesn’t bother the gun nuts.

So let’s be bothered by the extremism and myths about gun violence. We should be bothered enough to do something about this national epidemic. Changing the conversation is a first step. Even that would bother the gun extremists. Strengthening our laws to reduce and prevent some of our gun violence would not be bothersome to gun rights no matter what is hyped about it. Let’s make America the land of gun safety reform and the public health of our children and families. That we haven’t bothered to do that so far is a national tragedy.

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.