A summit of gun violence prevention leaders and advocates

There are so many things to talk about.

I have just made a trip to Washington D.C. for the joint Brady Campaign, Americans for Responsible Solutions summit- A Nation United for a Safer Future.  I have been involved in this movement long enough to have met many leaders and victims from all over the country. Many of us met and continued our friendship through the Million Mom March and now Brady Campaign. I also have met and know people involved with Americans for Responsible Solutions. Social media has allowed us all to connect and become friends. Many victims and survivors attended the summit.

Here were just a few of the victims and survivors in attendance.

A mother whose daughter was shot at the Aurora Theater; a mother and father of a young woman reporter shot on live T.V.; a young woman whose mother was shot in the Clackamas Mall shooting just days before the Sandy Hook shooting; a mother and a father whose college students survived the Virginia Tech shooting; a father whose son was shot when a friend was handling a gun; a mother whose 13 year old daughter was shot by a gun stored openly and loaded in the home of a friend; a man whose mother shot and killed herself; the woman who kicked the ammunition away when the Tucson shooter stopped to re-load his gun; a father whose son was shot in the Isla Vista mass shooting; several women whose family members had committed suicide by gun; a woman whose brother was shot and killed many years ago; me- who lost a sister to bullets during a domestic shooting; Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign whose brother was shot and injured in the terror attack on the Empire State Building; a woman who had lost two children to shootings; two women whose children were shot and injured in the Jewish Day Care Center in Los Angeles; a man whose mother was shot and killed when a shooter was looking for someone else and mistakenly shot and killed her and wounded his father…….

Aside from victims and survivors, attendees included law enforcement officers, interested advocates, leaders of national and state organizations, clergy, staff members of the two organizations, politicians, lawyers, health care providers, NAACP leaders, film makers, a founder of the Women’s March, and many others.

Politicians who spoke to and with us:

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly.

Senators Cory Booker, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Connecticut Representative Esty, California Representative Mike Thompson, Rhode Island Representative Dave Cicilline, Representatives Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy from Florida and others.

Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General

Valerie Jarrett, former advisor to President Obama.

But we didn’t just listen and react to these amazing speakers. We took action.

Hundreds of participants lobbied on Capitol Hill and had great visits, “armed” with information about two concerning bills that would make us all less safe if enacted:

H.R. 38- Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 ( Arm Everyone bill). This bill would, if it became law, override steps that states have taken to protect public safety and put citizens at risk. It would leave states with no power to decide who carries hidden loaded guns ( or openly carried) within their own states and communities.

H.R.367- cynically called the Hearing Protection Act. This bill is meant to do what the gun lobby loves- increase sales of accessories to guns ( gun sales are down right now) and attempt to undo the 1934 National Firearms Act which requires individuals who purchase gun silencers and machine guns to undergo strict background checks, fingerprints, payment to register and license the gun/silencer and a waiting period. These regulations work. We just don’t see silencers used in crimes since that act became law. If this bill were to pass, we could expect to see silencers sold without Brady background checks through private seller internet sales and private sellers at gun shows. It also creates threats to law enforcement and would make it more difficult to respond to mass shooters as the sound of gunfire would be muffled and dispersed. There are many items sold to protect hearing while using firearms that make more sense.

Can we just talk about the fact that conceal carry weapons holders DO kill and threaten people with their guns even after going through a permitting process? Read the Violence Policy Center‘s report- Concealed Carry Killers. And can we also talk about the fact that 11 states now allow people to carry guns with no training or permit requirements.?Without a system of universal background checks, these people could be prohibited purchasers who will be allowed to carry their guns everywhere. How will we know the “good guys” with guns from the bad guys with guns? I have not heard an answer that makes any sense. The idea that it’s OK to normalize the carrying of guns everywhere by anyone is not only ludicrous, it is irresponsible and dangerous.

On “The Hill”, we had some great conversations, a chance to thank those who have voted against the gun lobby sponsored bills and who have led the charge and the conversation about the need to prevent gun violence. And we had a few victories when Congress members changed their positions after meeting with our groups of victims and advocates.

The importance of the summit and visits to Capitol Hill cannot be overstated. Advocates who had never attended a summit before were engaged and energized. They now know they can do this. People like me came away re-energized and encouraged that, in spite of the Republicans in charge, the issue of gun violence and the prevention of it has more support than ever before. It’s only Congress (doing the bidding of the corporate gun lobby) who stands in the way of common sense. And while they are doing that, 32,000 Americans ( give or take)- real people- someone’s family member or good friend- are killed by guns. It happens every day.

During the summit we all engaged our minds about legislation, other actions, and changing the conversation about this public health epidemic. There was much to think about and actual incidents that reminded us about why we were there. Among just a few:

Americans continue to die by bullets in alarming numbers. The Gun Violence Archive keeps track of shooting incidents. It’s not pretty.

And here are the reasons people get shot in Aor shoot others from Parents Against Gun Violence::

reasons people shot in April

And ISIS is telling its’ members to buy guns in America because it is so easy:

“The acquisition of firearms can be very simple depending on one’s geographical location,” the article read. “In most U.S. states, anything from a single-shot shotgun all the way up to a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle can be purchased at showrooms or through online sales — by way of private dealers — with no background checks, and without requiring either an ID or a gun license.”

The Rumiyah article specifically touted gun shows where these unregulated sales are often easiest.

And the officer who shot a black teen in Texas was fired and charged with murder. 

And Gander Mountain management bet wrongly on gun sales and lost. (Go figure. When Democrats are in office, the gun lobby scares people into buying guns in high numbers. When Republicans are in charge- no worries.)

“In 2016, at a rate of more than twice a week, a child under 18 years old was shot and killed with a loaded, unsecured gun”. This is from the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance, a new organization that presented information at the summit. One can look up current information of  shootings of and by children on this site. Who cares about the children?

And in just another average day in America, two young people are dead in a murder/suicide at a Texas college campus. Domestic disputes often spill over into public places and also way too often are the cause of mass shootings.

Asking about loaded, unsecured guns in homes can save lives. (ASK campaign)

And a health care bill passed in the House that will leave millions of Americans with no health care and lower taxes on the wealthy.

And those those with mental illness will have easier access to guns than health care.

Gun violence is a public health epidemic.

Many gun deaths and injuries are preventable and avoidable.

If we are to have the serious conversation we need and deserve to have, recognizing that there is a problem in the first place that can actually be fixed, or cured, or prevented or reduced in severity and frequency, is the most important thing we can do. Using some common sense in arguments and discussions will lead to responsible solutions.

On my plane back home from DC were at least a half dozen members of Congress, including my own, anxious to get back home for the recess ( didn’t they just have one?). While waiting to board, I spoke with my own Representative who introduced me to a Senator from a neighboring state- a Republican. We had a good discussion about health care and gun violence. We did not agree on much. But his main reason for being skeptical or against common sense solutions to save lives is one of the gun lobby’s myths. He actually believes that organizations such as the Brady Campaign and Americans for Responsible Solutions are out to get his guns. He is a lapdog for the gun lobby and will do their bidding no matter what anyone says to him.

As long as some of our politicians are in the pocket of the corporate gun lobby, we can expect to see bills that could become law that will actually make us less safe and lead to an increase in gun deaths and injuries. Is there anyone who thinks that is a good idea? The American public agrees that passing strong gun laws is a good idea.

Please make sure your own elected leaders are doing the bidding of the people and not the corporate gun lobby. We can make a difference if our voices are loud and clear about saving lives. For that is the bottom line.

Pope Francis on gun violence and Minnesota’s gun carnage

PM Pope imageThe Pope was right when he said in his remarks to Congress that: “We have to ask ourselves why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, we all know, is simply for money, money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.”

Now some could say these remarks were meant to apply to the trafficking of small arms around the world that result in deadly assaults on masses of people by terrorists and insurrectionists. But we can apply these remarks to what is happening right here in our own country and, as I have written about recently, right in my own state of Minnesota.

When the aim of the gun industry is to sell as many weapons as possible to make a profit, it’s too easy to look the other way when the daily carnage is reported in our media. They must not believe it has anything to do with them or their businesses. And maybe it doesn’t. Selling guns is a business like other businesses. The difference is, what they are selling are deadly weapons designed to kill human beings. One has to wonder what a gun dealer is thinking when someone comes in and buys 2, 3, 4 handguns or an assault rifle at one time. Do they believe this person will be careful and responsible with that gun(s) and not kill themselves or their wife, partner, child or a relative or friend? How can we know?

What if we actually had a much more rigorous process of deciding who should be able to walk out of a gun store with a gun or two? What if we had a waiting period after a gun sale so someone who does mean harm to themselves or someone else can cool down for a while? What if we required a background check on all gun sales to make darned sure that everyone who buys a gun is a legal and responsible person? What if we didn’t allow the sale of multiple guns at a time? What if we cracked down on straw purchasing and gun trafficking by strengthening our laws? What if we had stronger laws about who can actually carry loaded weapons in public- and where they can carry them? What if families could report someone they love to law enforcement because they are pretty sure that person is about to do harm to someone? What if we required smart gun technology and/or trigger locks and safe storage so small children, teens and thieves couldn’t pull the trigger accidentally or on purpose on a gun they shouldn’t have?

What if………?

But, alas, we are living in a country where the headlines look like the ones I am going to highlight below.

It’s been another deadly few days in Minnesota. There was an officer involved shooting in St. Paul that ended with the death of a man who was seriously mentally ill and had just been released from a hospital:

Philip Quinn knew he needed help. After recently telling St. Paul hospital staff that he planned to kill himself, Quinn tried to get into a long-term treatment program to address his schizophrenia and other mental health difficulties.

But Thursday night in St. Paul’s West End, Quinn’s long struggle with mental illness ended when police, responding to a call of a suicidal man, shot and killed the 30-year-old, who was armed with a screwdriver and had failed to obey police commands. (…)

Quinn had been released from St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul last week after being treated for a mental health concern, Tareeq said. While there, he told medical staff that he had a plan to hurt himself, she said. After returning home, he started telling Tareeq that “things weren’t making sense” to him, she said. (…)

Philip Quinn’s troubles are well-documented.

He floated in and out of the criminal justice system for years — his record includes convictions for auto theft, drugs and possession of a firearm by an ineligible felon, among other offenses. But a 2013 jailhouse letter indicated that he sought help for his demons and hoped to regain a foothold in the civilian world.

“… I’m trying to get my life back on track before I am released,” he wrote, asking a hearing officer to vacate fines in 10 citations for low-level offenses.

Quinn was released from prison in March, with supervision for a 2012 gun conviction.

In that case, Quinn had been arrested during a police investigation into the sale of guns and methamphetamine. He was initially found mentally incompetent to stand trial, but the decision was later reversed. While in prison, his brother said, Quinn once to tried to cut himself.

This was a troubled man who had been arrested and charged with illegal possession of a gun and drugs. Clearly he should have had more help. Some in the gun rights community believe we should do more with our mental health system. They are right. But we shouldn’t just deal with mental health issues and ignore the gun violence issue. And dealing with our mental health system will require all hands on deck and funding. It’s not easy to do. In this case, the man was armed with a screw driver and not a gun. One has to wonder what kind of damage may have been done had he had a gun instead of a screw driver.

There was another domestic related shooting in Minneapolis hat ended in the death of 2 people. Police have not released information about the details or the names but the “father” living in the home surrendered to police.

And finally one is dead and one injured in a shooting in downtown Minneapolis last night:

One man was dead and another was injured late Friday in Minneapolis in a shooting, police said.

The shooting happened about 10:35 p.m., according to authorities, who were alerted by the city’s ShotSpotter system.

When officers arrived, they found the dead man in front of a residence as well as a number of people in the area, police said in a statement early Saturday.

Among that group, the officers found the wounded man, who had been shot in a foot, the statement said. An ambulance took the hurt man to North Memorial Medical Center.

Another 4 dead and one injured in the course of 2 days in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. This on top of the 9 dead and one injured in the previous week as I wrote about in the above linked previous post on this blog.

Now what? Will we just watch as the shootings continue? Or will we take action and think about the words of the Pope in his visit to our country? We are the only country in the world that allows such awful and devastating carnage to continue unabated without taking immediate action. The gun lobby has an outsized and ludicrous influence on our political system that makes no common sense. It is way past time to act in the name of our moral values, our duty to provide safety, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to the citizens of our communities. For the sake of our children and our future as a country, we just have to be better than this. Pope Francis was trying to tell us something and asked an important question.

He has spoken out before on shootings and gun manufacturers after the shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston:

The Pope openly criticized arms manufacturers, referring to Christians who manufacture or invest in weapons as hypocritical. “It makes me think of … people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit of distrust, doesn’t it?” Pope Francis said at his speech in Turn, Italy, reports Reuters. (…) According to a report conducted by The Guardian, Italy averages 11.9 firearms per 100 people. The United States, on the other hand, has the world’s highest average at 88 guns per 100 people. The number of gun homicides is also relatively low in Italy, with 0.71 per 100,000 people compared to 2.97 per 100,000 people in the U.S. In the U.S., the pope’s negative comments about gun manufacturers might not have been received so warmly.

And finally, from the linked article above regarding the Pope and gun violence:

As Obama mentioned in his recent appearance on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast, gun sales often spike following tragedies like the one that occurred in South Carolina on June 17.

Ironically, the president mentioned, gun manufacturers benefit from high-profile mass murders due to citizens’ fears that gun rights may be revoked.

In the U.S., despite repeated instances of mass gun violence, it’s unlikely gun control laws will significantly change any time soon. Considering the pope’s influence in nations around the world, his outspoken comments about the violent nature of guns may continue. Perhaps at least the 69.4 million Catholics in the U.S. — 22 percent of the overall population — will heed his words.

The Pope can have a powerful influence and let’s hope his visit here will lead our religious leaders to get more involved and take action. Will we listen to the Pope’s words and will we answer his questions?