A Pyyhric Victory

Since my return home from my trip to Greece, the Minnesota House of Representatives has passed an Omnibus Public Safety Bill containing both background check and Extreme Risk Protection Order provisions. The vote happened at about 2:00 a.m. last Tuesday after the gun rights Republicans tried every trick in their tired old bag to weaken the bills. Stand Your Ground and Constitutional Carry- ever favorites of the now imploding NRA were tried but failed. One Representative suggested that, in the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill, other things besides firearms should be taken from those who could be dangerous to themselves or others. He suggested cars, knives, golf clubs and bats for just a few. Yes. He said that.

He is wrong of course since the other items, except for auto accidents, don’t come anywhere near to killing as many people as guns. But never mind the facts.

This is the first time ever that a common sense gun safety reform bill has passed in a Minnesota legislative chamber. There was a rally on Monday which I attended and at which I spoke, to call attention to the bill and make noise about wanting it to pass. They heard us in chambers and knew we were there. Also there were a couple of obnoxious gun rights guys, dressed in suits can carrying their tripod with iPhone around on it to record the rally. Paranoid as they are, they must find out what we are doing and report it to their fearful followers in case we do something like spread out in the area and start confiscating their guns.

There was a group of students visiting from their school who these guys decided to record without asking permission. Several of us stood between the phone guy and the kids and answered questions about what we were doing. They were uniformly against the gun guys and understood the stakes for themselves when people who shouldn’t have guns use kids in schools as sitting ducks. Listen to the kids.

All in all it was a good day. We spoke with legislators and made our cause known. Speakers were inspiring, including Governor Walz who pulled his pen out of his pocket and said he was ready to sign the bill into law.

It was a Pyrrhic victory and we knew that. It will now be in the hands of a conference committee where the Senate, full of gun rights members, will not vote in favor unless a miracle happens. Why? Great question. No gun registration or confiscation will occur. No legal gun owners rights will be affected. There may be a few minutes of extra time involved in getting a background check from private sellers but so what? Not a reason to oppose. We know the reason. Follow the money and the influence of the corporate gun lobby.

From Minnesota DFL

The Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka declared the bills dead. My sister is dead. Hundreds of Minnesotans die every year. We can’t make them alive again but he can make the bills alive again. We can save lives and stop people from becoming dead in senseless and avoidable shootings.

The number of gun rights advocates calling and emailing the legislators are smaller by percentage than the majority of us who have demanded the passage of the bills. We are the majority but most of us are not single focused or paranoid and care about many things in our lives. To be more exact, the number of NRA members, the ones making the noise, in America compared to the total population is less than 10% of gun owners.

In fact, from the article above, after the Parkland school shooting, 97% of gun owners wanted to strengthen our gun laws. Remarkable. And also from the article:

A question remains. If gun owners across the country like Ware no longer identify with the organization, and polls show that they increasingly support gun control measures, who is the gun rights group fighting for?

Good question. And the other question that I asked on Monday in my speech was of whom are the legislators so afraid? This small group? The biggest problems is that the NRA is now an arm of the Republican party and part of the overall ideological bent of the party. It almost has nothing to do with guns anymore. They are a paper tiger but they have managed to wield a lot of influence anyway. Money talks. Corporations are people.

As the bodies pile up, our legislators will need to explain the real reasons they oppose reasonable gun laws. The archaic thinking that goes with their opposition is going out with those who are clinging to the old world order of mostly white guys having power and control. And when the NRA explodes, the road to victory will happen more easily.

Times are changing. Laws will change. The culture will change. Minnesota will change its gun laws. It may not be this year, though I still am hopeful. But it will change. Gun safety reform is here to stay and will be one of the most important issues of the upcoming campaigns and elections. We are not afraid any more of the “guys with the guns” who believe they make the rules.

Hearings in Congress

Congress has finally, after 2 years or more, begun the work they were elected to do. Previous Republican led committees have failed us. Democrats tried in 2013 after the shooting of 20 first graders. But the NRA choked that effort and Republicans refused. The issue of gun violence has turned partisan even though gun deaths take the lives of anyone no matter what their political stripe is. The NRA became an arm of the Republican party and made sure that Trump got elected. And Trump failed to even mention gun violence in his state of the union address. Unbelievable given the numbers and the mass shootings.

The Democrats are in charge of the House now and this week there have been hearings on just about every major issue of our times. Thank goodness we are going to hear the truth and from expert witnesses. Some in Congress have not wanted the truth because it exposes inconvenient facts.

Of course my interest was on the H.R. 8 hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. It was, as one could expect, not without some fireworks and angry exchanges. It was the first hearing on expanding background checks to all gun sales since 2011. The first witness was Aalaya Eastmond, a Parkland shooting survivor. Aalaya saved herself by staying hidden under the dead body of a classmate. Just imagine that, if you can. This is a teen-aged girl who testified like the calm, articulate young adult she has become. You can watch the hearing here.

Other witnesses laid out the reasons why requiring a background check on all gun sales is one very good way to stop people who shouldn’t be able to get guns from getting guns anyway. Many other things can be done to stop this inane public health epidemic. Dr. Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon, survivor of a shooting and board member of the Brady Campaign testified to the committee using his experiences and expertise:

Firearm injury and death in America is not only a disease,1 but a public health crisis in the United States. Every day, an average of 109 individuals are killed and more than 240 people suffer injuries secondary to firearm violence.23 While the United States is a world leader in many arenas, we are failing when it comes to firearm injury prevention. Firearm-related injury and death is a public health problem creating a vast burden of disease across the spectrum of ages and socioeconomic groups in this country. Additionally, firearm-related violence has a substantial economic burden of over 229 billion dollars per year to the United States health care system.45 Most concerning despite advances in trauma systems and health care capabilities, the fatality rate secondary to firearms has not significantly changed or improved.67  (…)We have both the opportunity and responsibility to comprehensively address gun violence as the true public health crisis that it is. This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue. It’s a uniquely American issue and it is uniquely in each of your hands to help fix it.
The America I’m fighting for is one where parents no longer have to fear the phone call that my parents received, that the Parkland parents received, and literally hundreds of others in communities across this country are receiving every single day. As a trauma surgeon, I have to look into the eyes of these parents and it’s nothing less than heartbreaking. The medical community implores you: the time for action is now. There is no one solution to this complex health problem, which is why we must come together as a country to build consensus and support and develop a research informed, data-driven, approach so that we can help you, as our policy-makers, to ensure the public safety of Americans all across this great nation.

One would never know that the issue is not a Republican vs. Democratic issue during the hearing. Republican committee member Matt Gaetz threw in specious comments about illegal immigrants shooting Americans and even went to “the wall”. This set off a series of interruptions by some of the Parkland parents in the hearing room. In turn, Representative Gaetz pointed his finger at the aggrieved parents and wanted them thrown out. This was a low point of the hearing. The one year anniversary of the Parkland shooting is next week. Where is any kind of empathy or concern for those people?

Does Rep. Gaetz understand that if background checks on all gun sales are required, those illegal immigrants will have a much harder time getting their hands on guns. Since they are prohibited purchasers, they would no longer be able to get guns through private sellers. Yes, there are guns out there to be had but where do they come from in the first place? They don’t fall out of the sky. All guns start as legal purchases ( even those bought from private sellers in states that allow that since it is not so far illegal) . From there, they get into the illegal market or in the wrong hands through straw purchasing, through “bad apple” gun dealers, by being stolen, or trafficked on the street. Requiring background checks on all gun sales will stop some of these other ways that guns get into the wrong hands.

And further, of course Rep. Gaetz is wrong to try to compare any shootings by illegal immigrants with the overall shooting deaths of American citizens by American citizens. There is no comparison.

Other specious comments from committee members and expert witnesses alike caught my attention. In fact, outright lies were told. The following are those lies and deceptions:

Background checks on all gun sales will lead to gun registration. Actually since the Brady Law was enacted and started working to require background checks on sales at federally licensed firearms dealers, there has been no gun registration. The expanded background checks will be the same ones now already in existence. There will be no gun registration.

Background checks on all gun sales will affect law abiding citizens who want to carry guns for self defense. How would that happen? If someone who is law abiding wants to carry a gun, they should not be affected by the requirement to get a background check on said gun. It’s only those who shouldn’t have guns in the first place who will be affected by H.R. 8.

There are millions of defensive gun uses every year, therefore guns are needed to protect people. Actually no. This has been debunked over and over and over again. It’s not true and it’s never been proven. But the gun rights advocates trot it out frequently. Professor Joyce Malcom of George Mason University School of Law came to the hearing with this information for the committee. If there were millions per year we would know about it and hear about it in media and police reports. The Gun Violence Archive is actually keeping track of these numbers and here is what they have found. So far this year there have been 130 defensive gun uses. These are the ones actually reported and verified. That’s the best way to use data. The professor who testified at the hearing admitted that her numbers were mostly anecdotal. Hmmm.

The reason gun deaths decreased after the mid 1990s is because so many states passed conceal and carry laws.  This was also claimed by Professor Malcom ( see above). There is no proof of this either. Those on the side of gun safety reform can also say that the Brady Law was enacted and began to work to require background checks on all gun sales during that time as well.

This great article published in the Scientific American ( yes-science, evidence, facts) counters most of the corporate gun lobby’s specious arguments about defensive gun use and crime and more guns leading to less crime and violence. From the article:

A closer look at the who, what, where and why of gun violence also sheds some light on the self-defense claim. Most Americans with concealed carry permits are white men living in rural areas, yet it is young black men in urban areas who disproportionately encounter violence. Violent crimes are also geographically concentrated: Between 1980 and 2008, half of all of Boston’s gun violence occurred on only 3 percent of the city’s streets and intersections. And in Seattle, over a 14-year-period, every single juvenile crime incident took place on less than 5 percent of street segments. In other words, most people carrying guns have only a small chance of encountering situations in which they could use them for self-defense. (…) The belief that more guns lead to fewer crimes is founded on the idea that guns are dangerous when bad guys have them, so we should get more guns into the hands of good guys. Yet Cook, the Duke economist, says this good guy/bad guy dichotomy is a false and dangerous one. Even upstanding American citizens are only human—they can “lose their temper, or exercise poor judgment, or misinterpret a situation, or have a few drinks,” he explains, and if they’re carrying guns when they do, bad things can ensue. In 2013 in Ionia, Mich., a road rage incident led two drivers—both concealed carry permit holders—to get out of their cars, take out their guns and kill each other.

This one I know for sure. An everyday ordinary argument during a contentious divorce and an armed estranged husband led to my sister’s death. A road rage incident in Minneapolis along the I35 freeway led to the shooting and injuring of a school bus driver. The shooter is claiming self defense which law enforcement has found to be totally untrue ( and I would say insane) This man is the poster child for what is wrong with our gun carrying minority of citizens who believe they need these guns for self defense and they are lowering the crime rate by having their loaded guns with them at all times.

Clearly the gun lobby and their spokespeople are wrong about what they are saying.

Women need guns to protect themselves from being raped.  A young woman testified to this at the committee hearing. She also claimed that expanding background checks would be a “financial burden”. She is wrong on both counts. Her first argument has also been debunked over and over again. The financial burden argument is also specious. Why is it not a burden to get a $25 (on average) background check when buying at a federally licensed firearms dealer. If one can afford to buy a gun, one can afford to get the background check. Just as if one can afford a car, one can afford to get the title, registration and insurance. If not, don’t buy one.

Just this one article explains:

However, since rape seems to be Dana Loesch’s main concern, we can focus more on that. When it comes to rape, well, it is most likely to occur in states that have the most relaxed gun laws. For every woman who could, theoretically, fend a man off with a gun, there is a man who could intimidate a woman into having sex with a gun. One woman, during debates about whether or not guns should be allowed on college campuses, claimed, “If my rapist had a gun at school, I have no doubt I would be dead.”
Even if the manufacturers make them a cute shade of pink, guns are not tools that are helpful to women. They kill far more women than they save. But Dana Loesch is right about one thing—the world can be a dangerous place for women. Rape is horrible. And one way to help make the world safer for women is to make weapons like guns harder for dangerous people to get.

Also in this article is the commonly known fact that” Women are 100 times more likely to be fatally shot by a man with a gun than use one for self defense.”

There are facts. There are too many gun deaths. Too many guns are leading to too many people dying from gunshot injuries. Stronger gun laws have been shown to reduce and prevent gun deaths. It is undeniable.

In the end, common sense will lead us to stronger gun laws and safer communities. That is what this is about. It is not about registration, or charging people too much, or taking away the right to use a gun for self defense, or owning a gun to reduce crime and shootings. It is about making sure that guns are not used to harm others- mostly known to the shooters- or are used in absolutely senseless deaths like the many mass shootings, the “unintentional” shootings of and by children, suicides that can be prevented, in domestic disputes, to kill young men of color, in road rage and all of the other preventable uses of guns.

It’s about the guns. It’s about gun violence. It’s about public health and safety. It’s about facts and evidence. It’s about saving lives. Even one life. It could be someone you know or love next time.

Another shooting anniversary and NRA spies amongst us

yellow roseI want to start this post by recognizing that today is the day before the anniversary of the tragic murder of 12 and the injuring of 58 by bullets at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. My friends, Sandi and Lonni Phillips are grieving for their murdered daughter, Jessica Ghawi who was brutally shot that day 6 years ago.  They have gone through hell and back after that day. Who wouldn’t? I stand with them in their pain and their attempts to make changes to our gun laws and to support other victims. Thanks to the NRA, the shooter at the theater was able to purchase a hundred round drum magazine so he could carry out his massacre.

Remember the victims of that horrendous shooting: Jonathan Blunk, Alexander Boik, Jesse Childress, Gordon Cowden, Jessica Ghawi, John Larimer, Matt McQuinn, Micayla Medek, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, Alex Sullivan, Alexander Teves, and Rebecca Wingo. And let us also remember that the injured have and will suffer from life long injuries and likely PTSD after the horror of the shooting scene.

Thank you NRA. Thank you corporate gun lobby.

Since July of 2012, about 200,000 Americans have been killed by bullets and we have experienced multiple (1772) horrific mass shootings– Sandy Hook, Charleston, Las Vegas, Pulse Nightclub, Parkland, Sutherland, …………………………………………………………………………….

Our Congress has done nothing.

Thanks NRA.

And meanwhile, closer to to the present as the families of the Aurora shooting try to honor their loved ones’ deaths and both remember and try to forget what happened that day, the NRA is still at it. I assume you have read or heard the news about the arrested Russian spy and her connections to the NRA and Republicans.

Yes it’s true. There are Russian/NRA spies working on behalf of the Republicans and our very own President:

Amid the sprawling scandal over Russian interference with the 2016 election, there’s long been an odd subplot over Russian ties to, of all groups, the National Rifle Association — ties that, according to McClatchy, have been investigated by the FBI.

Now the arrest of 29-year-old Russian national Maria Butina on charges of conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign government has put those questions about the famous gun rights group on center stage.

But despite the new indictment (which is not part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe), the full extent of what happened here remains mysterious.

Odd subplot is right. It’s not normal and it’s more than odd. But the Russians knew that the NRA would be helpful… because that’s the kind of organization it has become.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

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I wrote a blog post on my former blog site about sleeping with an NRA spy. It seems that anything goes with the organization that is opposed to common sense laws that could save lives.

Now of course, the NRA has become an extremist organization where board members like Ted Nugent regularly speak hate and violence themselves.:

Ted Nugent dedicated a song during his concert on Tuesday in Virginia to “dumb f***” protesters like Andy Parker, who is the father of a gun violence victim.

The outspoken Republican rocker, who’s no stranger to controversy, said to the audience, according to the Roanoke Times, “If I get too political, f*** you.”

Nugent also dedicated his set to “everybody, including those dumb motherf*****s that were protesting me because they’re still grieving. When you lose a loved one, we pray for you when you lose a loved one. We all prayed for him, didn’t we? How the f*** do you hate the Nugent family when we’re praying for you? You dumb f****.”

Yes. It’s true. That is what he said. I know Andy and Barbara Parker. Their daughter Alison was shot and killed on live TV almost 3 years ago now. Why would Nugent attack the father of a young woman so brutally murdered by someone who should not have had a gun? The NRA must sanction this kind of totally offensive and crude rhetoric because they have not denounced it. What you don’t say is as important as what you do. The true agenda of the NRA is out there in plain site for all of us to see.

The irony of all of this is that the majority of NRA members do NOT agree with the agenda of the organization to which they have paid their membership dues. The majority want Brady background checks on all gun sales which the NRA has scuttled all attempts to pass in the U.S. Congress- even after the shooting of 20 6 and 7 year olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School:

Sixty-nine percent of NRA members expressed support for comprehensive background checks. A proposal to implement universal background checks would apply to all gun sales, rather than just purchases made at licensed retailers, according to the Giffords Law Center, a gun control advocacy group.

The other irony is that the outspoken and offensive Ted Nugent didn’t allow gun carrying concert goers to carry their guns into his latest Roanoke concert. What is he afraid of? I will remind my readers that Alison Parker was shot and killed in Roanoke. Is that why? Was he afraid of the Parker family? Because Andy is so scary when he speaks out against the violence that took the life of his daughter.

Or maybe some of the irresponsible gun owners who, on a regular basis, “accidentally” fire their guns and hurt or kill someone? Like this father? He shot and killed his 6 year old daughter while cleaning his gun. There are no accidents with guns. They are lethal weapons designed to kill. Everyone needs to

Or maybe someone who intentionally means harm. Remember the shooting at the Las Vegas concert?

There is really no question that Russia has been involved in our last Presidential election. Trump is having trouble publicly admitting it but he knows about it and has since before he was inaugurated our 45th President. Not sure what to call this but many words come to mind.

The NRA was also involved in the Presidential election in ways that we should all question. Answers need to come forth. We know that the NRA spent $30 million to get Donald Trump elected. But now it seems like more than just money was spent on the election:

The F.B.I. and special counsel Robert Mueller are investigating meetings between N.R.A. officials and powerful Russian operatives, trying to determine if those contacts had anything to do with the gun group spending $30 million to help elect Donald Trumptriple what it invested on behalf of Mitt Romneyin 2012. The use of foreign money in American political campaigns is illegal. One encounter of particular interest to investigators is between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian banker at an N.R.A. dinner.

The Russian wooing of N.R.A. executives goes back to at least 2011, when that same banker and politician, Alexander Torshin, befriended David Keene, who was then president of the gun-rights organization. Torshin soon became a “life member,” attending the N.R.A.’s annual conventions and introducing comrades to other gun-group officials. In 2015, Torshin welcomed an N.R.A. delegation to Moscow that included Keene and Joe Gregory, then head of the “Ring of Freedom” program, which is reserved for top donors to the N.R.A. Among the other hosts were Dmitry Rogozin, who until last month was the deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s defense industry, and Sergei Rudov, head of the Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, one of Russia’s wealthiest philanthropies.

Maria Butina apparently used sex to gain power and influence into the Republican party on behalf of the Russians. She inserted herself into CPAC, the religious right wing and the NRA to get information and to influence elected leaders and others to get Trump elected.

It worked. And now she is behind bars without bail.

It’s hard to fathom this intrigue. It reads like a spy novel but it’s happening in real life. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

The NRA is not your father’s NRA. The NRA is not an organization to support gun owners and hunters. It is an organization that is an arm of the Republican party and its’ intentions are to elect people who will support their agenda to loosen gun laws, to nominate Supreme Court justices who will help loosen gun laws and to make sure the country’s majority does not get what they want and need to be safe in their communities.

We ought to be better than this. The corruption is palpable and increasingly dangerous for our democracy. We just cannot let this be our country. We are the model of democracy for the world. If we become an autocracy and just another country beholden to corrupt leaders at the top and big money, we can expect to see bad things happen.

I, for one, am going to continue pushing for common sense and protesting the influence of Russians and the big money NRA in our politics.