Guns and the midterm elections

FrightenedThe primary election in my state is history now. Many Democrats who have decided it is in their best interest to support reasonable gun safety reform were elected. I am happy about this. All over the country, (mostly) Democrats ran on the issue of guns safety reform or at the least decided not to run away from it:

 

 

 

“To win campaigns you need to have candidates who are their district. And so candidates should most certainly talk about the economic issues that we face,” said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), the head of the Democrats’ gun-violence prevention task force. “But they also need to talk about things that are important to the people they want to represent, and keeping your kids alive is certainly one of those issues.”

Minnesota candidates for Governor in the primary election ran on the gun issue or changed their minds about their previous positions to get elected. The candidate who had the worst record on gun safety reform and an A rating from the NRA came in third- for many reasons but her A rating did not sit well with Minnesotans. From the article:

“I’ve always gotten an F from the NRA, and Minnesotans need to know who is going to stand with them on this issue,” Murphy said in the final pre-primary ­debate this week.

Walz has said he has evolved on the gun issue and always been a pro-labor liberal on other issues. “The NRA you see now is not the NRA when they were teaching us gun safety classes when we were growing up,” he told the state news website MinnPost last year. On the trail, he says his experience attracting votes in a part of the state that little resembles the urban center of Minneapolis will help him not just win, but build consensus when he does.

The race heated up with the last-minute candidacy of Lori Swanson, the state’s longtime attorney general, who usually received positive NRA ratings. Dogged by accusations over whether she politicized her office, Swanson does not portray herself as a moderate; her final ad blitz includes one accusing Walz of failing to “stand up to Trump” by skipping House votes, and a super PAC supporting her campaign has sent out mail that pairs the years of Walz’s NRA endorsements with the years of deadly school shootings.

Tim Walz won the primary. He will need to stand firm and have a spine.

The Minnesota gun rights  folks ran this dark ad against Joe Radinovich who won the 8th Congressional district DFL primary. It’s so full of bull puckey I hardly know where to start. But this is the fear and paranoia that the NRA is instilling in its’ members and the false attacks we can expect from now until November.

Eek- a mouse! Run.

Joe and his family have been touched by gun violence in a major way. He owns guns, he hunts but he understands that gun safety reform does not lead to gun confiscation and registration as is claimed because he has common sense. He also knows that gun safety reform and gun rights are not mutually exclusive.

Joe’s opponent Pete Stauber, “having been grazed by a bullet in the head as a police officer” is running on gun rights. 

Go figure.

When Mr. Stauber was a police officer, he came to a vigil held by our chapter a few years ago. He rang the bell for officers who had been shot and injured or killed while in the line of duty. More guns have not made police officers feel safer. This year is no exception to the shootings of officers in the line of duty.

Let’s see how much corporate money Mr. Stauber will take from the NRA.

The thing is, officers would be safer if common sense gun laws were passed. Requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales would keep guns away from those who should not have them in the first place. Tightening up straw purchasing and trafficking laws would keep guns out of the hands of many who should not have them. Passing Extreme Risk Protection Orders would allow for law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from those who could be a danger to themselves or others ( including officers). Many deaths of officers come when answering calls about domestic abuse. These are among the most dangerous calls for officers, not to mention the women on the other side of that gun.

Safe storage of guns is also a key ingredient to preventing shootings and keeping stolen guns from getting onto the streets of our communities. There is so much that can be done to save lives without stepping on the rights of people to own guns if they are responsible and law abiding. I wrote about this in my last post.

It’s such a simple thing that can save lives and talking about this and the risk of guns in homes is not something from which to run but something that must be talked about in order to change the culture and the conversation. Candidates who speak honestly about keeping our kids and families safe will win elections.

On election night I spoke with a group of Democrats about this and mentioned for how many decades I had personally been working to get the party to embrace what the majority of Minnesotans and American voters have said they want. Many thousands of us have been diligently working with our own elected leaders to give them a spine about the issue of gun safety reform. It is beginning to work.

Republicans are running on opposing any gun safety reform life saving measures. If you think this seems perverse, you are right. Why would this be? What is the problem with life saving measures that will both keep us safe and allow law abiding Americans to have guns if they so choose?

Oh yes, the NRA is the Republican party.

The Republican party is afraid of the corporate gun lobby which is now enmeshed in the national scandal involving a Russian women, Maria Butina,, who infiltrated the NRA. Oh, and then there’s the issue of Russian money in the NRA coffers. Oh, and then there’s the problems with the NRA providing insurance to gun carriers ( Carry Guard) just in case, you know, a shooting happens while you are carrying a gun.

And this is who some of our lawmakers fear?

Get a spine.

The corporate gun lobby hides behind the second amendment whenever a bill or a suggest measure comes before their leadership. They pretend they might support such measures as in 2013 when Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey thought they had support for a watered down bill to require background checks on all gun sales.  They were blind -sided by the fake NRA support of the bill and have been afraid to bring it up again because…….. lapdog politicians who have no spine.

In the wake of the murder of 20 first graders and 6 educators at Sandy Hook elementary school, the Senate lacked the backbone to do the right thing.

The cynicism and spineless fear of the NRA continues in the wake of the Parkland shooting that came on the heels of the Las Vegas and Sutherland, Texas church shooting. Trump uttered empty words and nothing happened.

This is the country we have but not the country we want or deserve. This is the country that weakened our gun laws (spineless politicians) so just about anyone can carry a gun around wherever they go under the auspices of self protection. And yet, every day, irresponsible gun owners make deadly and serious decisions about how to use their guns.

This is the country where a silly argument about Aretha Franklin ( after her death yesterday) can lead to a shooting.

Without that gun, an argument would have been an argument. With that gun, an argument could have been deadly.

Thanks NRA and spineless politicians.

This is not who we are but at the moment, as long as certain of our elected leaders have no spine to stand up the corporate NRA and other gun rights groups, shootings will continue unabated. As long as certain of our elected leaders run away from what the majority of us want, we will see senseless and avoidable shootings.

Common sense has been replaced by fear and complacency. I don’t think Americans are going to let this happen in the long term. The Trump Presidency has made spineless politicians look like the cowards and controlling people they are. But it has also brought new energy to the Democrats who are standing up strong and tall for what is right and good about our country.

#Enough

Thanksgiving memories

Rowan branchSo many Americans will have empty seats at their Thanksgiving tables this year because of senseless acts of gun violence. Some will be because of gun suicides, the most common form of gun violence in America. I send my hugs and condolences to those families. But wishes, hugs and forms of sympathetic expressions are just not enough.

And for the families of the 4 officers who were shot in just one day, 2 of whom were allegedly targeted by some ill intentioned person with a gun, there will be no normal Thanksgiving and maybe not for many years. One officer died from his injuries. From the article:

McManus said he believed Marconi was slain because he was a police officer.

“I think the uniform was the target, and the first person who happened along was the person he targeted,” McManus said. (…)

In St. Louis, a police sergeant was hospitalized in critical condition but expected to survive after being shot twice in the face Sunday night in what the police chief called an “ambush.”

In America ambushes by armed people against armed law enforcement officers have happened with some regularity.  Tacoma. Philadelphia. Pittsburgh. Iowa. New York. And others. So much for having a gun for protection ( as do officers) keeping you from getting shot by someone else with a gun.

Families are grieving. They have lost sons, brothers, uncles, fathers. They have lost sisters, mothers, daughters and aunts. And many of the deaths were avoidable if we only would put our heads together to prevent a portion of the devastation. We can do it. Of course we can. But we haven’t. It is an American tragedy that has been playing out for decades.

Those of us who have lost loved ones to gun violence can be thankful for the memories that make us both sad and happy. We can be thankful that we still have other family members and friends and that we can make the most of what we have. I know I am thankful for all of the wonderful people I have met over the years through my volunteer work with various gun violence prevention organizations. I feel thankful that there is a network of victims and survivors nation-wide who can share their stories and help each other get through the bad times. And I am thankful that so many of them have become stronger people as a result of their stories and their advocacy.

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. If you were alive then, you can’t forget where you were or the aftermath of that tragedy. Just thinking about it now makes me anxious because the days right after the assassination were so potently sad and full of fear and anxiety for Americans. We watched much of it unfold on national television which made it all the more horrible.

The Kennedy family has suffered 2 such assassinations and have had empty seats around their Thanksgiving tables for a long long time. The pain and memories never go away. My family has had an empty chair for almost 24 years now. Holidays are always times that bring forth memories and now, we can mostly find happy ones. But the hole left in our hearts never goes away.

And so it is in America.

We could strengthen our laws to stop at least some people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them by requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales. But we aren’t doing that. We could do more about lost and stolen gun legislation and launching public health campaigns about the dangers of not storing guns safely at home. ( 400 guns were stolen by teens from the home of a felon who could not possess them.)

Does one person need 400 guns? What was the felon going to do with these guns? How and why did this felon even have these guns given that he can’t legally buy them from federally licensed firearms dealers? And what were the teens planning to do with them?

Sigh.

We could be talking more about the danger of unlocked, loaded guns in homes where children live. Why aren’t we doing more about this? The gun lobby doesn’t really like this kind of talk.

We could be talking more about the risk of loaded guns for people who may have mental or physical health problems that could make them dangerous to themselves or others. But we aren’t really doing much about that either.

The thing is, most Americans have common sense and actually want something to be done. The Center for American Progress did a post election poll of Trump and Clinton voters. The results may surprise some people but not me. I know that all polling, at least about gun violence prevention measures, has been the same for decades. They show strong support from Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, non gun owners and even NRA members for requiring background checks on all gun sales.

102 Pass legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales, including those sold online or at gun shows. ……………………………………………………… 57 31 9 3 88 12 76 Trump Voters………………………………………………… 47 35 12 6 82 18 64 Clinton Voters ……………………………………………….. 68 25 5 1 93 7 87

What about this does the gun lobby and its’ minions in Congress and state legislators not get?

Oh right. It’s the gun industry and the corporate gun lobby that have those folks at their mercy. How sad is that? And Donald Trump says he’s going to “drain the swamp”?

I have my doubts. If he decides to stay beholden to the lobbyists of the gun industry who manage to get their way in spite of what the public wants and in spite of the continuing gun violence epidemic in our country, he will be adding swamp monsters and filling it up.

But victims and survivors move on with their lives. Many of them work hard for gun violence prevention measures and speak out against the deceptions presented by the corporate gun lobby. More guns do not make us safer. There is proof of that in every day incidents that leave innocent people dead from their gunshot injuries. An armed society is certainly not a polite society and gun free zones do not lead to more gun deaths.

Let’s be thankful for those who have common sense. Let’s be hopeful that our Congress and state legislators stop following the money and being lapdogs for the gun lobby. Let’s also be hopeful that President-elect Donald Trump will be willing to shake things up regarding the gun lobby’s influence on our country’s gun policies.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Be safe out there. As I often write, gun violence does not take a holiday.

Gunned down in America

Super Bald Eagle Character - 2America- the land of the free and home of the brave. Also the country of guns, guns, guns. The last few weeks have given us another full frontal view of what it means to “bear arms” in a country with almost as many guns as people. So here are just a few of the things that have happened that we need to think about:

So let’s review. Fewer Americans own the majority of guns in the land of the free. People are open carrying these guns in small numbers but have managed to pass laws to allow people without proper vetting to carry guns in public. And in states where standing your ground is considered to be brave, if a shooting should happen while the “law abiding” shooter claims self defense the shooter does not have to face the usual legal process for killing someone.

More mass shootings happen in the land of the free and home of the brave than in any other country and they have increased in frequency. Some lawmakers are willing to sacrifice common sense for their adherence to a powerful gun lobby that represents a distinct minority of Americans. Follow the money. Conceal and open carry laws allow for the proliferation of guns on our streets and in our neighborhood public places. And we have learned from a study cited in an article above that people who own and carry guns do so in fear of other people. Law enforcement officers can’t tell “good guys” with guns from “bad guys” with guns. And are black men legally carrying guns more likely to be deemed “bad guys” with guns than white guys with guns? I’m just asking.

“Law abiding” gun owners are not locking their guns safely away from being stolen by those who shouldn’t be able to get their hands on guns. We don’t pass laws that include mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns and we have no laws requiring that guns be locked securely away from ammunition. Guns make it to the streets and the illegal market when they are stolen. Of course the fact that we allow those very same people who are deemed to be prohibited purchasers at a federally licensed firearms dealer to buy those very same guns from private sellers on-line or at gun shows and flea markets is ludicrous and dangerous.

We are free to own and carry guns in America. But we should be free from devastating gun violence as well. We don’t have to sit by and let this happen. The corporate gun lobby, through it’s lapdogs in Congress,  has suppressed research about the causes and effects of gun violence. Luckily for the brave amongst us, there are non-government researchers who are showing us the real problem with guns. They are a risk to those who own and carry them and become a risk to other innocent people as a result. We know, thanks to research and surveys done by credible sources, that fewer Americans own guns but own a lot of them on average. That being the case, how do we get our elected leaders to stop bowing to a very well funded and vocal lobby which represents mostly themselves and not average gun owners in the land of the free?

Maybe exposing their votes and their acceptance of campaign contributions from the gun lobby will help. The Brady Campaign has released a new lapdog scorecard showing who are the lapdogs for the gun lobby in Congress. Check it out. You can click on your own state and find out. The thing is, the majority of Americans, gun owners or not, and even NRA members, support strengthening our gun laws. If this is the land of the free and home of the brave, the brave need to speak out and do the right thing in the name of saving lives.

The model of fear is a bad idea when dealing with deadly weapons. Some in our country have ramped up fear of others, fear of those who don’t look like us, fear of shadows lurking in every corner awaiting a chance to get us. If you don’t believe me, you can look at this new campaign ad made by the NRA about why gun owners should fear Hillary Clinton and vote for Donald Trump. It’s another big lie but it gets people to the gun stores. Follow the money.

Fear is not a good way to make laws and change the conversation. It is counter productive and leads us to fear the wrong things. Why are we not fearful that just about anyone can gain access to a deadly weapon and carry it around in public or use it for bad intentions? Why are we not concerned that those on a no-fly list are not on the no-buy list for guns? Though not a perfect solution, it sure seems like we ought to be able to stop at least some dangerous people from being to get guns.

If you think all of this is insane, please get involved to make the changes we all deserve. That would be changes to gun laws to make them stronger so we can prevent some of the daily carnage. It also means changing the conversation to make people think twice about whether or not a gun for self defense makes sense for them. And if it does, at the least, make sure these folks have good training in using a deadly weapon designed to kill other people and have the common sense to lock up their guns unloaded to avoid stolen guns or someone, like a child or teen, accessing the gun. And make darned sure that dangerous people or those who could become dangerous to themselves or others either can’t get guns or have them removed until the danger is over or permanently, whichever happens first.

We have work to do. But we also have to counter erroneous claims by the corporate gun lobby that have become common talking points in our country. If we are the land of the free and home of the brave, we need to be brave enough to stand up for the truth and against those whose claims about freedom do not reflect reality.

Comment storm about gun incident

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A few posts ago I wrote about active shooters and how we use the term. Little did I know that gun rights advocates would come so unglued about a post on the Protect Minnesota Facebook page that used the term active shooter because of a gun incident in a small town in Minnesota that was initially described that way. 

In the last few weeks, we have had far too  many instances of active shooters and shootings taking the lives of many. I guess some folks only consider active shootings to be mass shootings. In my previous blog post, I suggested that every shooting is an active shooter incident since by  their very nature, they involve the action of someone with a lethal weapon that shoots bullets from a gun, often at another human being.

So the post of the gun incident on the Facebook page of concern was one where a man went outside of his house, shot 2 shots from his gun into the ground and then went back inside. Of course, there was a report of shots fired. No one was sure what happened. Was it inside of the home? What was it about? Was anyone at risk? Who knew? Every day in America people are shot inside and outside of their homes. And hearing gunshots has become the new normal but also a reason for people who hear them to fear the worst.

In the end, the man was found asleep and drunk during the morning hours after the gun discharge and  was charged with a domestic disturbance. A 7 week old baby was inside.

Gunshots were, of course, fired recently in Minnesota leading to the death of a young black man named Philando Castile. Because of this shooting, protests have been happening all over America and now, as I write, there is a service in Dallas to honor the 5 police officers shot by a lone gunman who was upset by the shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. The news is full of stories about all of this and I have written before about them. There is so much to say and it is being written about and talked about every day all over our country.

But was the news full of the incidents like the one in north Minneapolis after the shooting of Philando Castile, when 2 babies were shot and one died? A 2 year old is dead and a 15 month old is injured. Another active shooting. More gunshots. More death.

There was some mention on the news of the shooting in a Michigan court house when an inmate grabbed an officer’s gun and shot and killed 2 bailiffs. In the ensuing gunfire, the shooter was also shot. Another active shooting. More gunshots. 3 more dead.

Whether or not the gun rights advocates object to the idea that shootings are active events is no matter really. The shooting incident n the small town of Elko in Minnesota could easily have ended in injury or death. When a gun is available in domestic situations, when someone has been drinking, when someone is angry, when someone wants to “solve a problem”, it often ends badly.

But some of the commenters on the Protect Minnesota Facebook page thought it was just another small town incident that should be ignored. Really? Should we ignore a drunk person who could have just as easily have injured or killed family members with that gun? Then what would we have called the incident?

Shootings are not passive. They are active.There is action when a bullet is activated by the gun trigger. The trigger pulled by someone who is actively pulling it causes the action of the bullet rapidly moving through the gun barrel in order to find its’ target.

I suggest that if someone does not like the idea of active shootings referring to all shooting incidents, they ought to consider, as many of them say, that guns don’t kill people. People kill people. They sure do. People with guns have taken action far too many times to kill others.

A little common sense, or a lot for that matter, will go a long way to making sure people aren’t being shot on a daily basis. There are no excuses for anyone shooting off a gun recklessly.

When I read some of the ugly comments made by some of the commenters it was pretty clear that they wanted to shout out their views and they were angry. Many were deleted by the page administrators for good reason. Who needs that kind of attack? That hatred? That kind of language? That anger? The untruths expressed with no facts to back them up? The attempt to take over the discussion as is often the case on blogs, Facebook pages and articles about gun violence prevention is common. And it is almost always ugly and offensive.

This is no way to stop the shootings. It only adds to the divisiveness of any reasonable discussion about how to save lives and prevent shootings.

Comments and discussion are one thing if they are meant to openly discuss differences and come to solutions to our national gun violence epidemic. We are not just talking about a small problem here. We are talking about 90 Americans a day dying from gunshot injuries. We are talking about young black men being killed by officers and by other young black men. We are talking about police officers being killed by black men, white men, inmates and others. We are talking about domestic disputes that often end in death. We are talking about the thousands of people who take their own lives with guns every year. We are talking about our toddlers and children shooting others or themselves. We are talking about intolerant and angry young men shooting gay people, young children, theater goers and college students and shoppers with guns, often easily obtained. We are talking about people on known terror watch lists being able to access guns without our being able to stop them. We are talking about felons, domestic abusers, those who are dangerously mentally ill, fugitives and others who can buy guns every day with no background checks. We are talking about what should be peaceful protests over shootings turning violent themselves. We are talking about our police officers being outgunned on the streets and fearing for their own lives. We are talking about the fact that officers understand that almost anyone they encounter could be armed. We are talking about the fact that too many people have armed themselves out of fear of the government and/or law enforcement. We are talking about fear and paranoia and mistrust of others. We are talking about open carriers walking around during the Dallas protest with assault rifles over the shoulders confusing police when the shooting began. 

Who are the good guys with guns any more?

We have a serious problem. That is what comments should be about. How can we solve this problem together?

And speaking of action, there has been little of it in Congress regarding gun violence. Action is needed and needed immediately.

We are better than this. Americans are nearing a tipping point and becoming more and more impatient with the leaders at the state and federal level who could do something about our national crisis of active shootings but instead have become passive out of fear of the corporate gun lobby.

In fact, over 1 million petitions to Congress to act on a new ban on assault type rifles  were delivered today to Congress members on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Here is a tweet and photo of the petition delivery from MoveOn.org.

Americans are fed up. They want a change to the laws, a change to our gun culture, a change to our conversation and a change to the every day shootings.

#Enough.

#DisArmHate

It’s about the guns

little boyThe last few days have been difficult and heart-breaking to say the least. In my home state of Minnesota of course, a black man was shot to death by a police officer after being stopped for allegedly having a broken tail light. Really? So much to say here that I can hardly say it all. The victim had a legal permit to carry a gun around. He announced that he had that permit. Why? He didn’t have to according to Minnesota law. But he was a black man with a gun. Perhaps he was afraid that if he was found with a gun on his person, things would get hairy for him. He was right.

Would he have been alive had he not had that permit to carry and announced that he did to the officer? We don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud.

Philando Castile was his name. He was a beloved cafeteria worker in a St. Paul Montessori School. A role model to children.

Now he is dead.

So many unanswered questions. We don’t know why he kept saying that he had this permit to carry, or so his girlfriend said he was saying.

The gun lobby has been working hard to arm every American just in case….. Castile must have thought his gun and his legal permit would protect him from harm. It didn’t.

Where is the gun lobby’s outrage over these shootings? Are they standing with the Black Lives Matters protest in St. Paul because a man with a legal permit to carry was shot to death by an officer? Nope.

We don’t know why the officer fired his gun when Philando allegedly moved his hand towards his pocket for his ID.

We just don’t know everything. People react to situations in many different ways.

We do know that when a gun is present, things often go wrong.

We do also know that more guns are not making us safer.

We understand that there is racism abounding in our American communities fomented by fear and paranoia of “others”. We do know that the gun lobby is making it worse.

We do know that one Presidential candidate in the name of Mr. Donald Trump has said that the Orlando tragic shooting could have been lessened or averted if only someone had been armed.

Ludicrous.

And then came Dallas last night. Armed officers were gunned down by a couple of citizens ( or that is what we know so far) who seemed to have been upset by the peaceful Black Lives Matters protest over the Minnesota and Louisiana shootings of black men.

Four guys with assault style weapons and high capacity magazines were like snipers gunning down officers on purpose- armed officers.

We know that it is easy to get assault rifles and high capacity magazines in America- far too easy. We have made it easy. We allowed the Assault Weapons Ban to expire. What has happened since? Numerous shootings of innocent school children, movie goers, military members, officers, LGBTQ citizens, and others. That’s what our lack of common sense has done.

And, as a reminder to my readers, most of these guns were legally obtained by otherwise “law abiding” gun owners.

Hypocrisy.

Good guys with guns are as bad as bad guys with guns.

The least we can do is to keep guns away from the “bad guys”. But what do we do about the good guys?

Only in America. It’s about the guns. It’s about a gun culture and a culture of fear and hatred that, when combined, leads to tragic shootings and senseless loss of lives. From this editorial in the Baltimore Sun:

We are in the deep end, my fellow Americans, drowning in anger and frustration, guns and violence. I don’t know about you, but when I woke up this morning and read the news from Dallas, I felt like the country had tipped toward anarchy.

The U.S. is an exceptional country, all right. Exceptional for its political, social and racial polarization. Exceptional in its acceptance of gun ownership.

You can feel despondent. You can feel hopeless.

I am despondent but not feeling hopeless. As someone who has lost a sister in a domestic shooting, I have been re-traumatized by these latest shootings. I watched the now viral video taken by the girlfriend of Philando Castile. I watched the blood ooze from his shirt. I heard his dying moans and breaths. What if there was a video of my sister’s last moans and breaths? What if?

What if this was your loved one as President Obama said in a speech given last night before the Dallas shooting. What if? What if our elected leaders were made to watch videos and see photos of the victims’ last dying breaths? What if this was one of theirs?

And who will protect the children as I asked in my last post? There was a 4 year old girl in the back seat of Philando Castile’s car who saw him shot and watched him die. How can we forget the children who witness such awful murder in their young lives?

What if Congress just straight up passed stronger gun laws without pandering to the corporate gun lobby as House Speaker Paul Ryan just did:

“We’re not going to rush it,” the Wisconsin Republican said at a news conference. “We’re going to get it right. And that’s what we’re working on with our members.”

No rush. Every day 90 Americans die from gunshot injuries.

No rush. 5 officers were just gunned down in Dallas.

No rush. 49 LGBTQ Americans were just gunned down at a nightclub in Orlando.

No rush, Speaker Ryan.

Shame.

Heartbreak.

Outrage.

Tears.

Sorrow.

Before the Dallas shootings but after the Minnesota shooting, the words of Protect Minnesota’s Executive Director Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, were sent out to supporters. She was urging us to look at the Philando Castile shooting from many perspectives. But in the end, it’s all about the guns. Here is the email sent out last night titled “Thoughts on the death of Philando Castile:

 July 7, 2016
Posted by Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, Executive Director

“Another terrible tragedy occurred last night, this time in our own backyard, when Philando Castile was shot dead by a police officer in Falcon Heights. Philando was a much loved 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor at a St. Paul Montessori school who was black. According to police reports, he was pulled over for a tail light violation and a handgun was “recovered at the scene.” According to his girlfriend, the officer shot Philando as he reached for his identification as per the officer’s request. Philando was armed, but had clearly announced that he had a permit to carry a handgun. His girlfriend, sitting next to him in the car with her young child in the backseat, streamed a video of Philando as he slumped over, bleeding, having been shot four times point blank. The video allows us to hear the officer yell at her and then handcuff and detain her, while she narrates, weeps and prays that Philando will survive. It is difficult to watch.

Because this awful incident involved gun violence, Protect Minnesota is expected to make a definitive statement and “take sides” on the issue. At this time, with so much still unknown, I am not prepared to do either. But I do have some thoughts to share. What follows isn’t short and pithy–I’m a pastor after all!– but I hope you’ll find it helpful.

1. On Racism
This was the second questionable shooting of a black man by police in the U.S. in as many days. According to the Washington Post, there have been 509 police killings in America so far this year, with African Americans being killed at a rate 2-1/2 times greater than whites. President Obama today said that African Americans are 30% more likely than whites to be pulled over and three times more likely to be searched by the police. Whatever other particulars arise, racism cannot be discounted as a key element of this tragedy. Often-hidden but always present, racism is like a strand of barbed wire woven into the fabric of our society. Its barbs catch, tear and hold back every institution, organization and individual as we strive to move forward towards justice. Since it would be naive to think that law enforcement does not reflect the racist attitudes that permeate our culture, this incident cries out for a full investigation by the Department of Justice. But nothing is black and white: according to Philando’s girlfriend in the video, the officer was Asian American. It’s safe to assume that he also experiences racial discrimination on a regular basis. At this time we cannot know how that factors into the equation.

2. On Police
There are approximately 1 million working police officers and law enforcement professionals in the United States, the vast majority of whom honorably serve and protect their communities. The risks they face have increased in recent years due to the ubiquity of firearms. More guns are being carried around in public now than at any time in our history, including during frontier times and the days of the “wild west”. Police officers now have to assume that anyone they detain may be carrying a gun and present a threat to their life. And the threat is real. According the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, shooting deaths of members of the U.S. law-enforcement community have increased significantly in recent years. For the first time in 2014, shootings comprised the leading cause of death for law enforcement personnel on the job, with ambush-style shooting attacks increasing the most. According to a 2010 press release issued by the San Mateo County, California, Sheriff’s Office,

“the law enforcement response is one of ‘hypervigilant urgency’… Should the gun carrying person fail to comply with a law enforcement instruction or move in a way that could be construed as threatening, the police are forced to respond in kind for their own protection. It’s well and good in hindsight to say the gun carrier was simply “exercising their rights” but the result could be deadly.”

That is a perfect description of what appears to have happened last night. Philando Castile was exercising his right to carry a firearm in Minnesota with a legal permit. He was totally within his rights and fully complying with both the law and the officer’s instructions when he was shot. The officer seems to have reacted with lethal “hypervigilant urgency” when he heard Philando announce that he had a permit to carry. Sadly, this is not unusual in the circumstance. According to gun violence expert David Hemenway in his book Private Guns, Public Health,

“Police officers, who receive large amounts of training, are still often inadequately prepared to handle ambiguous but potentially dangerous situations. Intense stress, confusion and fear are inherent in most possible shooting situations. Heart rates skyrocket, and it’s difficult to think clearly and to act deliberately. Not surprisingly, even police make serious mistakes.”

So even as we demand justice for the killing of Philando Castile, we can have compassion for the frightened officer who shot him.

3. On the NRA and the gun lobby.
In its continuing efforts to arm America in order to generate more profits for the gun industry, the gun lobby has done much to perpetuate two distructive myths that I believe may have played a role in Philando Castile’s tragic death.

Myth number 1: Gun violence is really just a “black on black” violence problem.
The NRA loves to quote statistics about how many black people kill other black people. Why? Because it feeds the fear that blacks are dangerous so we must carry guns to protect ourselves against them. In reality, according to FBI’s most recent statistics, 84% of white murder victims are killed by white people, compared to 90% of black murder victims who are killed by black people. Whites are six times more likely to be murdered by another white person as by a black person. And here’s the kicker: 82% of gun deaths in Minnesota are suicides, an overwhelmingly white phenomenon. Unfortunately, we never hear about the epidemic of “white on white” gun violence, but the “black on black” myth has been swallowed whole by the media. The image of the scary black man with a gun has become a psychological meme in white America–and the gun lobby seems to be fine with that. How do I know? Listen to their deafening silence in response to Philando’s shooting. A permit-holding, law abiding American who was exercising his 2nd Amendment right was shot point blank by a police officer for no other reason than stating that he had a permit to carry. Where is the NRA’s outrage? Have they joined the Black Lives Matter protesters outside the Governor’s mansion?

Myth number 2: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
We hear the NRA trumpet that after every terrible shooting. Well, this time it was a “good guy” with a gun who did the terrible shooting. If a licensed police officer who has completed many hours of firearms training and testing on justified and unjustified shootings could over-react to such deadly effect, how can we expect untrained “amateurs” to respond with measured self-control when faced with a real or imagined threat? This is the aspect of Philando Castile’s death that falls within the missional scope of Protect Minnesota. Our task is to counter the myth that more guns equal more safety. They don’t. More guns equal more gun tragedies. More gun crimes. More mass shootings. More domestic gun murders. More black on black gun violence. More white on white gun violence. More gun suicides. More unintentional gun deaths of children. And yes, more police shootings. The common denominator is the gun.

We at Protect Minnesota join President Obama, Governor Dayton and the larger gun violence prevention community in expressing our deepest condolences to the family of Philando Castile. We grieve at the senseless loss of a good man who was loved by the children at the school where he worked. We weep at the thought of the trauma that his girlfriend and her young child have experienced and will relive every time the video is played. Our prayers are with all people of color in our community who have been wounded by yet another apparently unjustified shooting of a black man by law enforcement. Our hearts are open as well for the dedicated and honorable police officers throughout our state and nation who will now face greater suspicion and increased risks.

There is no easy, definitive statement to make except this: In the wake of this tragedy, we will continue to do our job. We will counter the false claims of the gun lobby. We will build a statewide network of people and organizations who support sensible gun legislation. We will speak out against and work to prevent gun violence in Minnesota. I invite you to join us.”

The false claims of the gun lobby have us in this position. How do officers deal with armed citizens? Often they are outgunned by people on the streets. How do communities deal with more heavily armed young men in their communities? How do the young men in affected communities get their guns so easily and why do they feel like they need them? Why are officers so quick to stop people of color for minor traffic violations? Why are officers more afraid of black people with guns than white people with guns?

Governor Mark Dayton boldly said it like it is in his press conference yesterday:

“Would this have happened if … the driver and passenger were white?” he asked. “I don’t think it would’ve. So I’m forced to confront and I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”

Today, President Obama said it like it is in his statement:

“Let me just say, even as yesterday I spoke about our need to be concerned, as all Americans, about racial discrimination in our criminal justice system. I also said our police have an extremely difficult job and the vast majority do their job in outstanding fashion,” he continued. “We also know when people are armed with powerful weapons, unfortunately it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic. And in the days ahead we are going to have to consider those realities as well.”

Realities. More guns are NOT making us safer. The gun lobby is dead wrong.

This is about racism. This is about intolerance. This is about fear. And this is, at the least, about guns.

 

UPDATE:

We now know that there was a single gunman in Dallas. He had served in the military. He had lots of guns. He claimed he wanted to shoot white people ( he was black). One lone man with extreme  and out of the mainstream ideas( and a loner according to neighbors) could do this much damage because he could buy an assault style rifle with many rounds of high capacity magazines. He knew what he was doing. He knew he could inflict a lot of damage on a lot of people. From the article above:

Micah Xavier Johnson didn’t have a criminal record and apparently acted alone in the carefully planned ambush during a march downtown, a law enforcement official, who was not authorized to comment publicly, told USA TODAY earlier Friday. Seven other officers and two civilians were also wounded.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Dallas police confirmed the identity of the gunman and said he was described as a loner by some who knew him. Detectives were in the process of analyzing the information in the journal, the statement said. (…)

Johnson’s Facebook account included the names Fahed Hassen and Richard GRIFFIN or Professor Griff, the Dallas Police Department said in the statement. GRIFFIN, who embraces a “radical form of Afrocentrism,” police said, also authored a book titled A Warrior’s Tapestry.

Extremism of any kind and guns and ammunition are a lethal mix. We have proof of that over and over again. But we are still waiting to act.

Why?

 

 

Broken hearts

Divorce and death. Broken HeartIt’s easy for people to celebrate Valentines Day without thinking about the many broken hearts out there. Today in Minnesota and North Dakota, there are more families grieving over the sudden loss of a loved one because of a shooting. This past week a Fargo, North Dakota police officer lost his life in a shooting during a domestic dispute. Domestic incidents are the most dangerous for officers because they are coming between a desperate and angry person and their intent to take the life of someone they love(d) or someone they hate or someone they perceive to have done them wrong or someone they want to destroy because of a broken heart.

In the Fargo case, the gunman had a record and should not have been able to get a gun. From the article linked above:

Schumacher has a criminal history that includes a conviction for negligent homicide for the October 1988 shooting of a 17-year-old boy, Maynard Clauthier. Schumacher was sentenced in 1991 to five years in prison, court records show.

But we all know how easy it is to access guns in our country. And we also know that we have ignored this inconvenient fact in order to show some kind of “respect” or fear of the corporate gun lobby. Some people love them. Some people are not in love and want a divorce with a reasonable settlement. Common sense tells us that this shooter is one who, had we tried harder to keep him from getting a gun, may not have been able to shoot this officer.

Two nights ago in Plymouth, Minnesota, a man with a violent record, a “black” shotgun, rounds of ammunition and a bullet proof vest wreaked havoc on a public street while motorists watched him mow down a woman who had run from his car. In an apparent domestic dispute, a man threatened a woman with his gun and chased her on a busy suburban street until he killed her. Horrified drivers watched this unfold. The man fled to his apartment building where he threatened innocent people by ramming into their cars and pointing his weapon. Thank goodness the only person to die at that scene was the gunman. A couple with young children escaped narrowly.

The shooter had a record that prohibited him from getting guns (from the article):

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who appeared at the news conference with Goldstein, said the man had criminal convictions for violent offenses and was not legally in possession of the rifle, handgun, ammunition and “tactical vest” he was wearing.

This is nuts. One person dies every 16 hours in America due to domestic shootings:

For American women, those incidents amount to a typically fatal stretch. According to FBI and statecrime data analyzed by the Associated Press, at least 6,875 people were fatally shot by romantic partners from 2006 to 2014. Eighty percent of those victims were women. On average, that works out to 554 annual fatal shootings of an American woman by a current or former romantic partner during the nine years examined, or one every 16 hours.

These are the broken hearts. These are the broken families. This is our broken system.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do much much better at changing the statistics and changing the conversation. One way to do that is to change some laws to expand our Brady background check system to make sure felons and domestic abusers have a much much harder time getting their hands on guns. We can do better at changing the conversation about the risks of guns in homes. They are far more likely to be used in incidents like the ones I write about than in self defense.

Let’s get to work in the name of love. Let’s stop some of the daily carnage. Let’s do what Diana Ross and the Supremes, asks of us:

Reactions and inertia after too many shootings

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

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

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

There’s the Tamir Rice shooting.

There’s the shooting of Walter Scott.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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