Lasting effects of gun violence

Today is the “anniversary” of the attempt to assassinate President Reagan. As we know, President Reagan survived the shooting and was back at work leading the country within the following month. But it was never the same for James Brady, President Reagan’s press secretary who suffered grievous injuries on March 30, 1981:

Besides Reagan, White House Press Secretary James BradySecret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded. All three survived, but Brady suffered brain damage and was permanently disabled; Brady’s death in 2014 was considered a homicide because it was ultimately caused by this injury

His life became that of a survivor with continuing health and physical challenges. He retained his sense of humor and did the best he could to be cheerful. I met Brady once at a lunch for Brady United Against Gun Violence and spoke with him briefly. It was hard to understand him as his speech production was affected by his injuries. It was such an honor to be able to speak with him and meet him for the first time.

Sarah Brady became a force in the effort to get the Brady law eventually passed after 6 tries in 7 years. Because of her tireless and selfless efforts, we are safer now from gun violence. That is what drove her to keep going back to Congress to demand that something be done to stop people, like the man who shot her husband, from getting guns in the first place.

I served with Sarah on the Brady board and came to appreciate her wry humor, her feisty personality and plain spokenness. She was not afraid to speak up, to criticize when she thought something was wrong, to be appreciative when things were done right, and to engage in the important discussions about gun violence prevention. Sarah died in 2015 from cancer.

Since the shooting on March 30, 1981 that left Jim Brady permanently disabled, over one million Americans have died of gunshot injuries.

After the Brady Bill was enacted into law in 1993, a system of instant background checks on gun purchasers was set up by the FBI. The database includes the following:

  1. Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  2. Is a fugitive from justice;
  3. Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  4. Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  5. Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  6. Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  7. Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
  8. Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner, or;
  9. Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

These prohibited gun purchaser categories are used by federally licensed firearms dealers to check the status of someone who wants to buy a gun. At the point of purchase, the buyer completes a Form 4473 to complete the purchase.

Because of the passage of the Brady law, over 3 million people seeking to purchase a gun from a licensed firearms dealer have been prohibited from doing so because they fall into one of the above categories. There is no question that Brady background checks have and do save lives.

As of the time of Sarah Brady’s death she was working on, along with many others in the gun violence prevention movement, expanding this system of background checks to all private sellers. What is generally referred to as a loophole in the law allows for private sellers to sell guns to anyone without requiring a background check. This loophole is equivalent to allowing some physicians, some teachers, some public accountants, some other professionals to practice their careers without being checked out to make sure they are not a felon, a domestic abuser, an illegal drug user, etc. That is the way it should be.

Especially now with the coronavirus outbreak, we certainly want patients to be treated by licensed professionals. And especially now when the Health and Human Services Department has deemed that gunshops are essential businesses with a surge in gun sales, we should want all gun sales to have a background check. These are stressful, dangerous and perilous times in the history of our country. There is a lot of fear and misinformation floating around as well as anxiety, depression and anger. When President Trump pronounced on Saturday that we was concerned about the potential for suicides, he forgot to mention that he had not shut down gun shops to make the means for suicide less likely. Whether he is right or wrong doesn’t it make common sense to stop one of the most efficient methods of suicide by shutting down gun shops? Suicide by gun accounts for at least half of all suicides; suicide by gun accounts for the majority of our gun deaths.

Something does not make sense with passing a law that made so much common sense and then letting some gun sales go without the checks that save lives. Something does not make sense in letting people who could be dangerous to themselves or others to buy a gun from a private seller without making sure that person can be responsible and safe. Something does not make sense that in this time of uncertainty, some counties across our states are declaring themselves second amendment sanctuaries to law enforcement ostensibly will not have to enact laws already on the books or new laws passed in many states to save lives.

Some things do not make sense. The shooting of Jim Brady did not make sense. My sister’s shooting did not make sense. The mass shootings at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, El Paso, Virginia Beach, Red Lake, Parkland, and all of the others so frequently occurring in our country don’t make any sense. Something does not make sense about stockpiling guns in this time of uncertainty. Something does not make sense about a public health epidemic out of control not receiving the attention it deserved and deserves.

But in this time of another public health pandemic, most things are shut down and on hold, including actions in Congress and state legislatures to deal with gun violence prevention. We will not forget. We will keep working on keeping Americans safe long after the current epidemic slows. A piece written by Jonathan Lowy from the Brady Center explains why this is so crucial:

The risks are great that guns will be stored unsafely and accessible to children and others who should not have access to them. And your semiautomatic can’t fend off the coronavirus, no matter how large your ammunition magazine is.

But there is an even more fundamental problem that may be at play with at least some of the binge-buying of guns. Some have a sense, it appears, that society may break down under the weight of this pandemic, and Americans will end up fighting each other for supplies, or food, or to maintain safety.  

In this post-apocalyptic Hobbesian state, guns will be needed. This is the same worldview that the National Rifle Association has been stoking for decades to fuel the notion that a gun is necessary for self-protection, evidenced by an inflammatory tweet last week. Some will even add, that is what the Framers intended when they wrote the Second Amendment into our Constitution. (…) And when we come out of this coronavirus, we must recommit to repairing the breaches of our society and establishing a caring community in which Americans recognize we are in this together, as a nation and, indeed, a world. Stockpiling firearms is not the answer and is contradictory to the very notions of government and society upon which our nation was founded.

Lowy is so right. We will come out of this on the other side. Many hundreds of thousands will have died or been changed forever by this time in our history. It would be an added tragedy to add gun avoidable and senseless deaths to coronavirus deaths.

The toll will be more than we can imagine right now. The toll of gun deaths has been more than we can fathom for decades. The bell tolls for the hundreds of thousands who will die or be affected.

Please be safe and healthy. These are difficult times. Having a gun in the home right now can make households and families less safe. If you own a gun please store it securely and unloaded. Please don’t let children or teens get their hands on a gun right now or ever. End Family Fire is working on awareness of the risks of guns in homes.

Sarah Brady knew the risks of guns owned by those who shouldn’t have them. I know the risks of guns in homes with domestic and marital strife. Too many parents have found out the hard way about the risks of guns to children who accessed them in curious moments. Too many families have found that a suicide by gun has forever changed their lives. Too many mass shootings have proven why we need to continue this national discussion about gun violence.

Anniversaries of gun safety reform

On Thursday this week it will have been one year since the U.S. House of Representatives voted on and passed the universal background check bill.

It is also the anniversary of the enactment of the Brady background check bill on Feb. 28, 1994.

Federally and in many states, criminal background checks on the sale of guns are not required for all gun sales. There is a private sale loophole that is big enough for 22% of sales to go through. That means that anyone can purchase a gun through a private sale at a gun show, on-line or at a flea market (the most frequently used venues):

But as effective as the original Brady Bill has proven, its current structure has resulted in several loopholes in the background check system of today. Today, one in five gun sales are conducted without a background check — through gun shows, private sales, and over the internet in online sales. More than 90 percent of Americans agree that anyone who buys a gun — no matter where or how — should go through a Brady Background Check. But loopholes in our nation’s gun laws mean that too often guns fall into the wrong hands.

Gun rights advocates often argue that we already do background checks on all gun sales. They are wrong. Are they willfully wrong or do they just not know the facts? Or are they lying? Hard to know.

They also argue that criminals will get guns anyway no matter if we pass the law. Let’s look at that deceptive argument:

“Background checks work,” Rep. Mike Thompson of California, the lead Democratic author on the background checks bill, said on the House floor. “Every day, they stop 170 felons and 50 domestic abusers from getting a gun from a licensed dealer. But, in some states, those same people can go into a gun show or go online and buy a gun without a background check. This bill will help stop them from doing so.

“Some will argue that criminals won’t follow the law,” he said. “If that is the case, then why do we have laws against murder? People still commit murder. Why do we have laws against stealing? People still steal. This is flawed logic. Don’t fall for it.”

The truth is that the Brady background check bill was written with an exception for private sales of guns. In 1993 it seemed that the NRA won that point with the idea in mind that private sales would not result in selling to prohibited purchasers or if they did, maybe it didn’t matter? Who knows?

It matters. Now, private sellers often have collections as large as the federally licensed dealer next to them at a gun show. Or they advertise their guns, ammunition and other accessories like silencers on Armslist.com and make a sale without checking ID or doing a background check. For some reason there are gun rights advocates who don’t appear to know about Armslist.com. There are also elected representatives who don’t understand it. I have educated a few of them about on-line sales. When writing new laws, it’s key to know what is in them before either voting for or advocating against.

It is disingenuous to argue that we already do background checks on all gun sales. In case the opponents believe or lie about the reason people like me support bills to require a background check on all gun sales here is the real reason. Background checks can save lives.

Why not require a background check on all gun sales? What is the reason to be against it? Rights…..confiscation…..registration. All wrong. There is no reason that makes any common sense to be against requiring a simple background check that takes just minutes on a gun sale.

Now let’s look at the Charleston loophole bill. This bill, passed on 2/28/19, closes the loophole in current law that allows a default proceed of a gun sale. In plain language, it allows someone whose background is questionable but whose information doesn’t come into the NICS within 3 days to walk away with the gun. Thus did the shooter of 9 people at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, get his gun. He was a white supremacist and a prohibited purchaser. And he devastated the lives of 9 families in just a few seconds.

The bill would make the time longer before letting someone walk away with a gun if there are “red flags” in that person’s background:

Critics of the current system say the Charleston shooter would have been barred from obtaining the gun had investigators had more time to dig into his record and discovered his drug arrest.

We have been waiting a year now for Senator McConnell to take these bills out from under the dust of his desk and bring them to the floor of the Senate for a vote. Why won’t he? Ask him.

Does President Trump want the bills to pass? No. Does the NRA want the bills to pass? No. Do the far right extremists want the bills to pass? No. Does the American public want the bills to pass?

YES.

Coincidentally, Protect Minnesota will be holding a lobby day on Thursday to rally the House to pass the criminal background check bill and the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill- both of which will save lives. The Senate, of course, has refused to take up the bills so far. But we are pressing on and intend to keep pushing for common sense to happen sooner rather than later.

So let’s get on with it. According to the Gun Violence Archive, so far this year there have been over 6000 gun deaths and more injuries. That is more than last year at this time. And so, what will we do? Turn our backs on victims and survivors and say we don’t care? Or say we care and then do nothing? Or continue to take money and influence from the corporate gun lobby to stop the bills?

What will it be? Lives or rights? We all have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The time is now. The time is 20 or 30 years ago.

This is an American tragedy and a public health epidemic crying out for a solution.

Brady background checks- why not?

6 years ago about this time a group from the Northland Brady Campaign/Protect Minnesota chapter braved sub zero temperatures near the location of a gun show. The reason we came out for this in the freezing temperatures was because then, and now, private sellers at gun shows don’t have to do background checks on gun purchasers.

The photo shows our group holding our signs. We asked then and we ask now:

Why would we not make sure that every gun sale occurs with a background check? Since most do, why not all? About 1 in 5 guns are sold without a background check. It used to be more than that but because more states have passed laws to require background checks on all gun sales, we have made it harder for people who shouldn’t have guns to get their hands on them.

One of the interesting things about our protest on that cold day was the man who had been to the gun show and approached our group to talk to us. He claimed he had never talked to “gun control” activists before. Eventually the conversation turned to his worry that if a universal background check bill passed, the government would take his guns ( for sure). He had told us previous to this comment that he was a member of the National Guard. A friend in our group asked if he realized that he actually was the government who would go around confiscating guns if that gun lobby myth ever came to fruition. That was a surprise to him as he had never thought through what it would mean.

We need to make decisions made on facts and evidence, not myth.

Of course requiring the very same Brady background checks on private sales that are now required when purchasing from federally licensed firearms dealers would not result in confiscation. It hasn’t so far as long as the FBI’s National Instant Check system has been in existence- for the last 25 years.There is no logic to this gun lobby argument. But for too long this is what has persuaded our elected leaders to run away from passing a stronger background check law.

And therein lies the problem. There are myths rather than truths around the issue of requiring background checks on all gun sales.

Gun safety reform advocates understand that universal background checks will not cure the entire epidemic of gun violence. But that is no reason not to pass a law. Just as any law doesn’t solve the entire problem it is intended to fix. But we pass strong public safety laws for good reasons. And, as it turns out, most people follow the laws. Those who don’t get into trouble.

We also understand that lax gun trafficking laws, lax laws about stolen guns, lax laws about assault type rifles, lax laws about who can carry guns in public, lax laws about the sale of bump stocks, etc. contribute to the problem of too many gun deaths. Congress passed a law to deny funding for federal research into the causes and effects of gun violence. Congress passed a law to give immunity to the gun industry against lawsuits. Those, too, have contributed to our national gun violence epidemic.That’s why we are where we are- with close to 40,000 Americans a year losing their lives to bullets in the U.S.

That being the case, why would we not want to make everyone do the same thing when it comes to buying a gun? Lives can be saved. Every teacher gets a background check. No exceptions. Every health care provider gets a background check. No exceptions. Every person who works with children in a church or pre-school gets a background check. No exceptions. Everyone goes through the TSA check before boarding a plane- no exceptions. There are good reasons for these background checks. Why have any exceptions for buying a deadly weapons designed to kill people?

On Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee will have an official hearing on H.R. 8 to require background checks on all gun sales. This is the first hearing on a background check since 2011. There will be actual testimony about why requiring background checks on all gun sales is a really good idea. There will be evidence. There will likely be victims and survivors.It will likely pass out of the committee on a partisan vote unless a Republican on the committee decides to vote the way his/her constituents actually want. They will be held accountable by their constituents.

Common sense will happen this week at long last. I, for one, will be celebrating the hearing. I am quite sure that the corporate gun lobby will do their best to get their supporters to believe the usual myths about background checks on all sales leading to confiscation or registration. That’s a stupid and ludicrous untrue argument. But they will do it anyway. We will expect it.

Since most people understand that background checks on all gun sales make a lot of common sense, they already support the majority of the committee members. And the majority of the committee members will represent the 97% of Americans who want them to pass stronger gun laws.

Yesterday morning at my church I made an announcement and passed out stickers for members of the church to call our Representative to support H.R. 8. People couldn’t take them fast enough. I ran out. There were gun owners, parents, grandparents, community leaders, health care providers, educators, students, clergy- all who are sick and tired of letting the corporate gun lobby lead the conversation and intimidate their Congress members. They hate the daily carnage due to gun violence.

There are examples every day for the reason why we need to strengthen gun laws in our country.

A few days ago, a man in New Ulm, Minnesota gave his dying wife meth and had a death party for her. Clearly he is a man who should not have had any guns by the account in the article. But nonetheless, several guns were found in his home. The man reported that he had 47 guns, many of which were stolen. If true, why? Also from the linked article:

He has prior convictions for assault and DWI and is on probation for driving after license cancellation. A blood test taken after his DWI arrest in 2014 showed he had used methamphetamine, according to court records.

There really are people who should not have guns. Most likely this man could not purchase guns legally, explaining why most of his guns were allegedly stolen. Though he is under arrest for what occurred with illegal drugs and whatever else went on at his house, having guns accessible seems like a really bad idea. That is why we need stronger gun laws.

I just read this great editorial from the Star Tribune about the efforts of the Minnesota Medical Association to address gun violence. It’s heartening to see that health care providers are speaking out about gun violence as a public health issue. From the editorial:

Many cars now have backup cameras, which might have saved the child, the surgeon said. But when it comes to firearms, where are the technological advances and societal improvements — such as the widespread recognition of drunken-driving risks — that could prevent gun deaths?

The provocative question relayed by McClain provided just the right kickoff to the pioneering Minnesota workshop on gun-violence prevention put on by the state’s medical association. The MMA, which represents over 10,000 state physicians, merits praise not only for organizing it but for channeling members’ passion toward finding realistic solutions to a public health scourge. Beginning the discussion by considering the changes that have reduced motor vehicle deaths both inspired members and focused them on the workshop’s goal — proposing practical reforms.

The MMA has already taken a courageous stance on gun-violence prevention, one that not all members approved of. It issued a statement last March calling gun violence a “public health crisis” and then backed much-needed state reforms — such as criminal background checks on all purchases and transfers or exchanges of firearms. “Failure to intervene in the face of this significant epidemic is not an option,” the MMA said.

Exactly. It is not an option to not deal with gun violence. We have a crisis facing us and something has to be done about it. 

We will be a better country with the passage of H.R. 8. Will the Senate, with a Republican majority, many bought and paid for by the corporate gun lobby, hear a Senate similar bill?  Would the President sign any bill to strengthen gun laws given that the NRA spent more money on getting him elected than on any previous candidate? He owes them. If the Senate and the President want to be in partnership with an increasingly compromised organization they will be held accountable in the end.

Have a good week everyone. I will enjoy watching something positive happen for a change.


Happy Mother’s Day

pitcher_flwrs_csIt’s that day when we remember our mothers. Mothers deserve our respect. Everyone has one for one thing. My sister was shot and killed in 1992, leaving behind 3 children and 3 step children. Her grandchildren were born after her death so they never got to know her and her adult children do not have a mother to whom to send flowers and a card.

Mothers started a movement in 2000 with the Million Mom March which I attended. It was on Mother’s Day and was meant to call attention to the fact that mothers cared a lot about losing children, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and others to gunshot injuries. All we wanted were some common sense gun measures that would save lives. President Clinton and Hillary Clinton were there that day to support the mostly mothers in the crowd,

The mother who started the movement, Donna Dees-Thomases was so incensed about the shooting at the Jewish Community Day Care in 1999 that she got a permit for the march thinking that maybe 50,000 would show up. And then Columbine happened. And then the country was tuned in to school shootings and 750.000 showed up on the National Mall to demand changes to our gun laws.

Some of the mothers whose children survived the shooting at the Jewish Community Center marched in 2000 and have remained active in efforts to stop gun violence.

But Congress chose not to listen to the mothers who marched that day.

The Brady Campaign merged with the Million Mom March and its’ chapters continue to work for gun safety reform.

One small measure passed after the Virginia Tech shooting- to require states to send the records of those who were adjudicated mentally ill to the FBI data base so people like the shooter of 32 at Virginia Tech would be prohibited from buying guns at Federally Licensed Dealers only. Many mothers lost children on that day and some of them whose children survived have become activists for gun violence prevention.

Let us not forget though that this symbolic measure is not enough to stop someone intent on harming others from getting guns from private sellers at gun shows or on-line. Because…..rights?

And then the Aurora theater shooting happened. I have come to know one mother who lost her only daughter (Jessica Ghawi) in that horrific shooting. Her mother Sandy has been working ever since so that other mothers won’t suffer the pain she has suffered.

After that shooting, what did Congress do?

Right.

 

 

And then 20 small children were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2014. Mothers lost their precious children in what has become a marker for the cowardice of Congress failing mothers and others by not passing a background check bill that came before them.

The NRA opposed the bill. Enough said.

I know the mother of a young TV journalist, Allison Parker, who was shot on live TV by someone who should not have had a gun. Her anguish is palpable but Barbara is not deterred by the cowardice of our leaders.

The meaning of mother’s day for those mothers and the families of mothers who have lost their lives to gun violence is forever changed.

After Sandy Hook, Shannon Watts started a movement called Moms Demand Action. Shannon Watts is a mother. So are most of the members of MDA. They are also fathers, brothers, sisters, and others who work to prevent gun violence. She is also threatened and mocked by the NRA and others who must be quite unnerved by hundreds of thousands of mothers demanding change.

What has happened since then? Some states have passed universal background check laws. Some have passed assault weapons bans.. Some have passed Extreme Risk Protection Orders. 

But in defiance of the majority and of mothers, many states have also made it easier for people who shouldn’t have guns to get them. 

Shameful.

 

It’s more than a shame. Shame is not enough for the lack of leadership and courage by many of our leaders. The mothers and others in the groups I have mentioned represent the 97% of us who are asking for change in the name of the dead and injured. The corporate gun lobby and specifically the NRA represents about 7% of gun owners and even fewer of the entire nation.

 

Mothers and women continue their efforts to demand change. The Women’s March after the inaugural of our 45th President in protest the election of a man who does not support issues that affect most women and their families. Many mothers were there that day and our kids watched as we marched in DC and all over America in one of the biggest marches in DC. Gun safety reform was one of the issues and continues to one of the issues of concern for the Women’s March.

The student movement that began on Valentine’s Day of this year after the Parkland shooting has stirred up the country and changed everything. The mothers of those students are proud of their kids and the courage they exhibit that our leaders have not. Again- a record breaking crowd in DC came out on March 24th to March For Our Lives and let our leaders know that change must happen.

The President made some initial noise but as always, he sputters and spouts and preens for the cameras and then does nothing. Or worse, he goes in the opposite direction.

How can you raise the hopes of victims and survivors and then crash them after such a horrendous shooting?

Shameful and cynical.

We’ve collectively had #Enough. We know we are better than this but our leaders are failing us. They are letting mothers and others die senseless and avoidable deaths because they lack the courage of the mothers, students and others who are raising their voices and fighting back.

They are letting our children be sitting ducks in our schools. They are failing the next generation.

But change is coming. Mothers will not be silent. Remember the origin of this holiday:

The origins of Mother’s Day as celebrated in the United States date back to the 19th century. In the years before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children.

These clubs later became a unifying force in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War. In 1868 Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.

Another precursor to Mother’s Day came from the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe. In 1870 Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873 Howe campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Mothers and others just want our leaders to do the right thing. Doing it soon will save the lives of many.

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Star Tribune editorial board published this piece for today’s edition:

Gun violence is not a Democrat-vs.-Republican issue. It’s not a rural-vs.-urban issue. And despite what leaders are telling you, there is ample time left to pass legislation that would make a real difference. When they need to beat the clock, legislators pass massive bills in minutes with virtually no discussion. That’s not an ideal way to legislate, but make no mistake, it happens. Avoiding debate all session and then claiming a lack of time is cowardly and falls short of the leadership Minnesotans expect.

Republicans should pass their school security package as a stand-alone bill, knowing Gov. Mark Dayton would sign it. They should pass enhanced criminal-background checks. That issue has been discussed for years at the Capitol.

“What is it going to take in Minnesota and American society to curb gun violence?” Serier asked an editorial writer. “In our schools we have to have active-shooter drills for kindergartners. That is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever heard of. If that’s the world we’re living in, it’s time to change it.”

Will it take mothers losing more children and children losing more mothers?

The answer is yes since nothing is being done to stop the devastation.

Pass the bills supported by almost everyone. Give mothers a gift that will last forever. Give flowers and gifts but the lasting gift of knowing that we can prevent some of the senseless shootings in our communities will at the least give mothers peace of mind.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone. Enjoy your families. Keep working for common sense and making our families safe from gun violence.

Keep marching and keep advocating.

The yin and yang of gun policy

yinJust like the current political situation has left many of us, and I would suggest, the entire country reeling in confusion and chaos, so, too, gun policy has done the same. The gun  lobby is set to overturn just about anything that makes common sense when it comes to gun policy. A bill which passed through both houses of Congress and set to be signed by our current President, undid something our last President did to try to stem the tide of gun violence. President Obama’s executive order was meant to keep people with very serious mental health disabilities from being able to legally purchase guns by placing their names on the list of prohibited purchasers in the National Instant Check System. It was not meant as an evil attempt to confiscate guns or take away anyone’s rights to own guns who should be responsible with guns.

But, as these things go, it got caught up in the politics of gun policy. I found this article by Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence to be a very good summary of the provision and where we are now. Let me quote from what he wrote for Huffington Post:

I have felt this discomfort listening to the recent public debate about the Social Security Administration (SSA) rule that prohibited those with a mental health disability and an appointed representative payee from purchasing or possessing firearms. The policy, which Congress recently voted to repeal, was the Obama administration’s effort to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. President Obama deserves a lot of credit for doing everything in his power to reduce America’s gun violence epidemic. Unfortunately, by focusing the prohibition directly on a mental health disability, the rule furthered the mistaken belief that mental illness is a major cause of violence. (…)  I have felt this discomfort listening to the recent public debate about the Social Security Administration (SSA) rule that prohibited those with a mental health disability and an appointed representative payee from purchasing or possessing firearms. The policy, which Congress recently voted to repeal, was the Obama administration’s effort to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. President Obama deserves a lot of credit for doing everything in his power to reduce America’s gun violence epidemic. Unfortunately, by focusing the prohibition directly on a mental health disability, the rule furthered the mistaken belief that mental illness is a major cause of violence.

Certainly the efforts of the gun lobby to overturn a provision meant to be life saving are fraught with the past history and statements of those in the lobby who have claimed that we ought to just center our efforts to prevent gun violence on mental illness:

Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, envisioned people with “an eating disorder” being barred from buying a gun. To the contrary, the rule was focused narrowly on disabled individuals who require a trustee for personal management. They would have had the right to appeal. Senator Grassley himself noted last year the flaws in the background check database when he proposed greater cooperation among federal agencies with relevant information.

“The Republicans are so hypocritical on this issue,” said Senator Christopher Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. He has fought for both stronger gun controls and better mental health care in the aftermath of the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn. A mentally troubled individual used a legally purchased assault weapon and shot to death 20 children and six school workers. The disability rule was a response to that tragedy after Congress refused to tighten gun safety laws.

Ah- the hypocrisy.

Sigh.

And so, this provision, though not perfect, was centered on the concerns that some people are, indeed, potentially dangerous to themselves or others. There are ways to deal with this conundrum and public health and safety concern without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Horwitz suggests Gun Violence Restraining Orders or, in Minnesota, a proposed Gun Violence Protection Order bill, to deal with concerns that family members have about a loved one who could become dangerous if they have access to a firearm.

The article ends like this:

Prohibitions on gun ownership are critically important. The United States’ gun laws include far too many loopholes that allow dangerous people to do harm. But the laws we support should be based on research and focused on dangerous behavior – not genetics, not diagnoses. If we want our movement to succeed, a data-driven strategy is the only way forward.

Yes. We have work to do. It does not have be either/or. It should be a rational discussion about how we can save lives and protect families and communities from insidious gun violence that takes the lives of 33,000 of us- most due to suicide.

All of this is the opening salvo in what will surely be attempts by the corporate gun lobby to weaken gun laws in the states and through federal legislation. We will not be safer as a result.

And that is why we need to recognize the risk of guns in the home and guns in the hands of people who could become dangerous to themselves or others. So the other side of this week’s gun policy was a Florida court decision that overturned a previous Florida court decision that allowed the bill, nicknamed “Docs vs. Glocks”, to stop physicians and healthcare providers from talking to patients about the risks of guns to their families. Just as physicians, physician assistants, nurses ask questions about whether we feel safe in our homes when going for our annual physicals, they should be able to ask about guns. They ask about smoking, alcohol use, bike helmets, stored poisons, seat belts, child car seats, and many other things that could cause harm to our health or well being.

From the above-linked article:

Stop for a moment and consider that the Second Amendment injury here lies not in the possibility that a physician can do anything to take away anyone’s gun, but in the outside chance that she will use her knowledge of actual medical evidence to suggest that guns can kill people and her patient might listen to her. This is literally an argument for a constitutional right not to learn stuff from people who know stuff because you might then feel bad about the stuff you own.

It is a fact that firearms injuries take the lives of almost as many, if not more of us than auto accidents. Domestic shootings take the lives of far too many (mostly) women. Gun suicides are a very real risk to families.

So the recent ruling was a victory for common sense and first amendment rights of those who provide healthcare to practice their profession as they were taught and as they are charged to do by their Hippocratic Oath.

Lawyers for the Brady Center were involved in this case and did a great job of defending the rights of professionals to do their jobs and to keep us safe from devastating gun violence. More toddlers have shot Americans than terrorists. Isn’t this a national public health and safety epidemic? Is there any rational reason to keep this from happening however we can?

Below is from the Brady Center’s statement, in its’ entirety,  about the ruling:

Today, in a landmark decision with national repercussions, a federal appeals court struck down an NRA-backed Florida law that restricted doctors from talking to their patients about the risks of guns. The decision by the full panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta is a victory for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Ropes & Gray, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of doctors who believed the law violated their First Amendment rights.

Wollschlaeger v. Scott was filed on June 6, 2011, challenging the Florida law, under which doctors can be censored, fined, and have their licenses to practice medicine revoked if the Florida Board of Medicine found they violated the law.

Dan Gross, President of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “The gun lobby and its lap dogs don’t want Americans to know the truth about the danger of guns in the home because it will hurt their bottom line. The fact is, guns are far more likely to kill a child or family member than protect them. We are pleased the Court recognized Americans have a constitutional right to hear the truth about guns, and the gun lobby has no right to silence doctors or keep patients in the dark. We will continue to work with the medical community to get the truth out, to protect American children and families from the scourge of gun violence.”

Jonathan Lowy, co-counsel in the case and Director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Legal Action Project, said: “Today’s ruling is an important victory for public safety and free speech rights, and a crushing defeat for the corporate gun lobby and the politicians who do its bidding. Politicians and special interest lobbies have no business standing between doctors and their patients, or keeping doctors from telling people the truth about the risks of guns or other products. Doctors have the right to decide how best to advice patients about risks that may endanger their families, and parents have a right to full information so they can make smart, informed decisions about how to keep their families safe.”

Ropes & Gray partner Doug Hallward-Driemeier said, “This decision is critical to the health and safety of Florida families. It makes clear that the First Amendment does not allow the government, on the basis of politics, to interfere with a doctor providing her best medical advice to her patient.”

Nancy Evans, Brady Campaign Sarasota Chapter president, said, “This is an incredible victory not only for Florida doctors but for our entire nation. I joined the fight a year ago because I believe our doctors should be able to have any conversations necessary to keep their patients healthy and safe. I am so thankful the court struck down this terrible law.”

The lawsuit was brought by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the firms law Ropes & Gray LLP and Astigarraga Davis, on behalf of individual Florida doctors, as well as organizations representing 11,000 Florida health care providers, including the Florida Pediatric Society/Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, Florida Chapter, and the American College of Physicians, Florida Chapter. Douglas Hallward-Driemeier of Ropes and Gray argued the case as lead counsel for the Plaintiffs.

In 2012, a trial judge in the Southern District of Florida held that the law was unconstitutional and granted a preliminary injunction. In 2014 a divided three judge panel of the 11th Circuit reversed. The full 11th Circuit heard the case en banc in 2016.

Numerous studies have proven that a gun in the home actually makes its residents less safe — 89% of unintentional shooting deaths of children occur in the home. The reality is that a gun in the home is more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or accidental shooting, than in self-defense. Recent research has shown that one third of all households with children under the age of 18 have a firearm, and more than 40% of these households store their guns unlocked.

So there we have it. The yin and yang of gun policy in America. I believe these opposing views of our world affect almost all of us. Who among us does not have a family member or a close friend who we feel could be, perhaps temporarily, potentially dangerous if they have access to a firearm? Who among us does not trust their physicians or healthcare providers to do what they were trained to do professionally to keep us healthy and safe?

If you want to understand the wide ranging ripple effect of gun violence and the financial, emotional and physical toll it takes on individuals, families, communities and our health care system ( which costs us all financially) take a look at this amazing story of a man who received a face transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota after attempting a gun suicide. Ironically his new face came from another young man who died from gunshot injuries in a gun suicide.

This is an emotional story at the least…. the ripple effect of gun violence.

There are no evil motives here. There are only sincere and fact-based attempts to prevent gun violence and the effects it has on our families and communities.

But we have a world where it’s us vs. them with no common sense conversation or policy in the middle. We are talking about our families and our children and grandchildren. Let’s look at what the true interests are on both sides of this issue and come down on the side of public health and safety, not profits or power.

 

 

Guns in airports- the new normal?

Sanity Insanity Means Health Care And AdvertisementAs it turns out 44 states allow permit holders to carry guns in the common unsecured areas at airports across the country. Coincidentally, Florida is not one of them. But that didn’t factor into the mass shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale airport yesterday.

I have been wondering ,since I assume the gun lobby reaction might be this-would someone with a loaded gun, assuming they had not been on a flight because guns are not allowed for passengers traveling on planes, had stopped the shooter? Very doubtful. As we have seen now after watching many videos and hearing from travelers, panic and chaos ensued. People ran, abandoning their luggage, wherever they could to save themselves from being shot. They ended on the tarmac, parking areas, hiding behind cars or luggage. They grabbed their children, their mothers, their friends and ran. That is the first response to an active shooter. Keep yourself and your family from being shot.

Adding one more person with a gun to the mix of panic and chaos would have assured even more confusion and possibly more deaths and injuries.

5 people are dead and 8 injured by bullets. Others were injured in the rush to escape. More families are grieving. More families are worried at the sides of hospital beds. More people affected by gun violence in America.

Minnesotans were affected by this shooting. Names of the victims have not been released yet. But we have heard from Minnesotans who were on the Delta flight that began in Anchorage, Alaska. They witnessed the shooting and the death and the chaos. Some were going on a cruise to take advantage of warmer weather during this frigid Minnesota January. Their cruise will now be different than they intended. Why?

Gun violence has a ripple effect. Those who were at that baggage claim area witnessed people dying after being shot in the head point blank. One man said he smelled the smoke from the bullets fired and thought the shooter was just behind him. He will never forget that. Some passengers spent hours on the tarmac or sheltered in place. Some passengers spent hours on planes parked on the tarmac.

Those at the baggage claim most likely thought that gun violence would never affect them. But in America, mass shootings happen at least every week and shootings happen every day. 90 Americans a day die from gunshot injuries from homicides, suicides and “accidental” gun discharges.

Gun violence affects more than those directly hit by a bullet and their loved ones and friends. As it turns out, it affects all of us. We watch, horrified, on a regular basis as mass shooting after mass shooting takes place on live TV. The coverage is 24/7. We are all traumatized. Some suffer from PTSD after every one of these events, thinking of their own loved one who was shot in the head or torso and died from the injuries.

Is this the new normal?

Let’s talk about guns at airports. Guns can be packed in checked luggage at U.S. airports. If you intend to do this you must declare that you have a gun packed in your checked luggage. It must be in a hard sided locked case without ammunition which must be separate. The shooter appeared to have grabbed his luggage off the carousel and gone into a bathroom where he unpacked the gun, loaded it and started randomly shooting- reloading twice.

Yes, someone could have walked into that baggage claim area with a loaded gun having parked a car or arrived by taxi and done the same thing. Guns everywhere is the norm in America and people are carrying guns everywhere. That is what the corporate gun lobby has imposed on Americans with the help of the lapdog politicians who believed in the lies and deceptions that more guns make us safer. And what we have is mass shootings in every public place in our country and also, actually more frequently, in private homes all over the country. They occur most often in guns allowed zones as it turns out.

The gun lobby yells that these shootings only happen in gun free zones. In the case of this particular shooting, they are right. But in most cases, they are wrong. Don’t believe them.

On a personal level, my sister’s shooting death happened in a guns allowed zone- a private home where most shootings occur actually.

Because gun carrying has increased with almost every state having passed laws to allow ordinary citizens to carry guns, people do carry their guns around. If they are responsible, they will know where that gun is at all times and make sure it does not fall out of their pants or their purse, etc.  That is why it is so ludicrous that so many airline passengers say they “forgot” they had a gun in their carry-on luggage. I urge you to read this TSA blog for more information.

The TSA reports that in the week between Christmas and Jan. 4th alone, they found 53 guns in carry-ons. In 2015, according to the linked blog above:

Also significant, 2,653 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country, averaging more than seven firearms per day. Of those, 2,198 (83 percent)were loaded. Firearms were intercepted at a total of 236 airports; 12 more airports than last year. There was a 20 percent increase in firearm discoveries from 2014’s total of2,212. Pictured are just some of the firearms discovered in 2015.

Wow. They have found many guns with rounds chambered and ready to go. Check out the photos provided on the blog. Grenades? Yes. Why not?

Where is common sense?

If you are a responsible gun owner, you will know where your gun is and you will also know that there are many things that cannot be brought on board airplanes. I travel enough to be very careful about what I take in my carry-ons because I don’t want to be stopped and frisked or have my carry-on luggage searched. It is annoying to me as a traveler when someone takes something they shouldn’t in their carry-ons because it slows the TSA line down and adds to the stress of traveling.

But I am happy that the TSA does such a good job of checking these things. I don’t want people armed on my flights nor do I want a grenade to go off on my flight. Remember that this happened after the terror attack of 9/11 to keep us safe. And yet, more people are terrorized by gun violence in a few weeks time than died in the attacks of 9/11. And, for goodness sake, more toddlers kill people with guns left for them to access by an adult than terrorists.

Insanity.

All of this is the result of our unique and deadly gun culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can actually prevent and reduce gun violence by enacting stronger laws about the people who buy and carry guns. I saw a recent meme using the gun lobby’s claim that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yes they do. That is why we need to keep some people from getting their hands on guns.

The shooter at the Ft. Lauderdale airport for example, we now know had some severe mental health problems. He had served in the National Guard and served a year in Iraq. He came back a changed man and even checked himself into a mental facility after telling the FBI in Alaska that he heard voices in his head.He had gone AWOL several times and got a general discharge ( likely for mental health reasons).  And yet, he was able to buy a gun. In Alaska a permit is not required to carry a gun. Good idea?

The shooter had domestic problems with his girlfriend in Alaska where he had lived and was a security guard. There were some misdemeanors on his record.

There has been a report that the shooter was a permit to carry holder. Some of the gun rights folks on Twitter feeds have disputed that. Alaska does not require a permit as such to carry a gun  for anyone over 21 who can legally possess a firearm so most likely the shooter could carry that gun, permit or not. No training requirements or classes required. Just carry a gun if you over 21.

Does this shooter look like someone who should be able to buy and carry a gun?

We can do something about this. The shooter’s family knew about his difficulties and mental health problems. There is a life saving measure that is called Gun Violence Restraining Order or Gun Violence Protective Order. Several states have passed such laws. In Minnesota it has been proposed but the legislature refused to hear it and take a vote.

The shooter’s guns could have been removed from his possession temporarily under a law like this and his name could have been placed on the list of prohibited purchasers through our FBI’s national instant check system. Of course, we also need to require that every gun purchase go through a Brady background check in order to fully save lives. Why? Because the NICS list is only for federally licensed firearms dealers. Private sellers do not have to require life saving background checks.

If we can save lives, why would we not? Do we really want those who are dangerously mentally ill carrying guns around in public places and shooting innocent Americans? If not, why do legislators refuse to hear bills that could prevent this?

We have a choice. Insanity or sanity. I know what I choose.

Ask your elected leaders to save lives. If they refuse to vote on this life saving measure, ask them why? They must be held accountable for refusing to consider options that could potentially save innocent lives.

What is normal shouldn’t be. In this year when a President who is turning everything upside down under the guise of shaking things up, we are experiencing abnormal behavior. We can’t normalize it because it could be dangerous for our democracy. Just as we can’t normalize gun violence and pretend we can’t do a thing about it.

Ask President-elect Trump if he has more than thoughts and prayers after mass shootings. He will be faced with as many, if not more, than President Obama faced during his 8 years in office. That is reality, not fiction. Tweeting about it is not enough Mr. Trump. Do something and stop tweeting.

But please do remember that the gun lobby supported President elect Trump by giving him tons of money and he owes them now. That’s called “draining the swamp” er uh……

President Obama’s response to this latest one at least mentioned the number of mass shootings we endure in our country:

“We’re heartbroken for families who have been affected,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

The president commented on the frequency of mass shootings in the US saying, “These tragedies have happened too often during the eight years that I’ve been president.

In an interview published by the BBC in 2015, Obama called the rise in mass shootings during his presidency his biggest frustration.

And yes, those of us working on gun violence prevention comment after tragedies such as the Ft. Lauderdale shooting and take criticism for “using” a tragedy to further our agenda. What? There is not a day  when we don’t have gun violence. Mass shootings are so frequent that if we wait until a different time we will never be able to talk about gun violence. And that is the agenda of the gun lobby and it’s minions. They don’t want us to talk about gun tragedies and gun deaths. This does not fit into their own scenario that guns make us safer. And so they try to stop us.

We will not be stopped.

My agenda is saving lives and living in a sane country. What’s yours?

So we will write and talk about the inconvenience of gun deaths, mass shootings, suicides, domestic homicides, toddlers killing people in increasing numbers, guns found in carry-on bags, irresponsible gun owners, the effects of weak gun laws and whatever it takes to save lives. For if even one life is saved by our “agenda” we will have accomplished something important.

What we want is action- not thoughts and prayers. Check out the images below that were posted on Twitter feeds and Facebook yesterday.

garbage-truck

screenshot-2017-01-07-08-17-29

Americans agree about stronger gun laws

orange check mark with arrow

It’s a fact. Americans agree about requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales. Polling data over many years has been consistent. A recent Star Tribune poll showed that 82% of Minnesotans favor background checks on all gun sales. It’s unmistakable. This includes gun owners, non gun owners, rural and urban Minnesotans and people of all political persuasions.

Americans in general in polling taken over many years show anywhere from 90%-92% agreement about Brady background checks. Gun owners also support requiring background checks on all gun sales by large numbers. This recent polling shows 83% of gun owners support Brady background checks for all gun sales:

A new national Public Policy Polling survey of gun owners finds overwhelming support for background checks and a higher likelihood of supporting political candidates who move them forward. Gun owners also believe the National Rifle Association, or NRA, is out of touch with them on these issues, and many believe the organization has lost its way altogether. While the debate over gun policy starkly divides American politics, this poll shows that support for key gun violence prevention policies has remained strong for years, even among gun owners themselves. (…) “The big picture from this survey is clear: Gun owners overwhelmingly support background checks,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling. “And that includes gun owners who are Republicans and gun owners who are NRA members. Gun owners want politicians to take action on these issues, and if anything, they will reward them for it. Gun owners also send a clear message that the NRA has lost its way and does not represent them on this issue.”

In 2 previous Frank Luntz (Republican pollster) polls surveying gun owners, even 74% of NRA members support requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales.

To show this support using humor to get the point across, the Brady Campaign teamed up with “Funny or Die”. Check out this great video showing the things about which most Americans agree. Here it is on this You Tube video

 

It’s known that many gun owners still want to buy guns with no background checks. While that may be OK for those who are law abiding, it ignores the fact that some are not and can get guns through on-line sites and at gun shows with no background checks. After Facebook made its’ announcement that gun sales without background checks would not be allowed on its’ platform, some are finding other on-line sites to do their business.

Why do people NOT want to go through background checks? That’s a question that needs to be asked and answered. If it’s inconvenient, so be it. When applying for certain jobs, a background check is required. When adopting a pet, a background check is required. One usually stands in line to renew driver licenses or auto titles or licenses for many other things. That can be inconvenient. Why the fuss over going through a background check when purchasing a gun?

Most people to agree to go through background checks because they buy their guns through licensed sellers. If the buyer is law abiding, it most likely takes just a few minutes to wait to find that out when buying from a licensed seller. That’s what the word “instant” means in the National Instant Background Check system. This is a system that works but it needs to be expanded to include private sellers if we are truly serious about keeping guns away from those who should not have them.

So what’s the problem? It’s a mystery to me and most Americans. It shouldn’t be a mystery to our elected leaders who have become lapdogs for the corporate gun lobby. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can not only change our gun policies to reflect the majority views of Americans. But we must also change the conversation and the culture that allows tragedies like this one in Tennessee:

An 11-year-old boy has been sentenced to spend the rest of his childhood in custody after he was found guilty of the murder of an 8-year-old girl. (…)

MaKayla Dyer, a student at White Pine Elementary, was killed October 3, 2015, outside her home. Juvenile Judge Dennis “Will” Roach II, who presided over Tiller’s case, wrote in a court order that he was playing with MaKayla Dyer, her 11-year-old sister and her friend when he asked her to retrieve her puppies. After she said no, he went inside and came back with a 12 gauge shotgun and a bb gun, telling the girls he had guns.

“The victim then laughed at Mr. Tiller, and stated that she believed they were not real,” read the court documents. “Tiller then made certain the gun was loaded, cocked the hammer of the gun, and shot the victim just above the heart” from inside the window.

Dyer fell backwards and was later confirmed dead.

Day after day these incidents are happening. Most Americans would agree that this is not acceptable and that the 11 year old boy who shot an 8 year old girl should not have had that gun that day. Common sense is not always practiced by gun owners. Unless we raise the issue and talk about it as a matter of a public health epidemic, more children will die in the same way.

So we already agree that Brady background checks should be extended to all gun sales. Guns are the only product in the market place designed to kill others. We should all agree that we can do a much better job of keeping loaded guns out of the hands of children, teens, vulnerable adults and those who intend harm. The gun culture we have is not promoting the idea that more guns have not actually made us safer from devastating gun deaths and injuries. Reality matters. With rights come responsibilities and owning a gun is an awesome responsibility that should be taken very seriously. This is the conversation we should be having but thanks to the corporate gun lobby, it is not the conversation we are having.

It’s changing gun policy to reflect the majority public opinion and the public health and safety of Americans. It’s changing the conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in our country and how we can save lives.

Since you agree with me, let’s get to work on solutions to the problem.