Listen up- The last school shooting

listenLet’s make the Parkland shooting the last school shooting said one of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school students interviewed after 17 of his school classmates were slaughtered.

The last school shooting took the lives of 17 Parkland, Florida students and educators and traumatized the entire nation. The injured will recover, some with life long debilitating injuries, others left with only the trauma. We are all traumatized.

The thing is, Columbine should have been the last school shooting. Virginia Tech should have been the last school shooting. Sandy Hook for sure should have been the last school shooting. Our kids are sitting ducks. But ducks are better protected from bullets than kids given that duck hunters must use a plug to prevent a hunter from using more than 3 shots at a time. It’s to sustain the duck population for future hunters.

Who is sustaining the population of our children?

Something is different this time. Teachers, students, parents, law enforcement and the media- all speaking out in stronger and more urgent voices asking the “adults” in Congress to act on behalf of our children.

Insanity is the word that comes to mind.

We are all exhausted but we are not numb and we are not stupid. We understand what is going on here. We get that our loose gun laws are killing our precious human resources and snuffing out the potential of dozens of kids to live a productive life with their friends and family.

Last night 300 people came out for a vigil outside of NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. Some of my friends were there.

1000 people came out in Parkland to honor the victims. But without action, none of this matters.

Speaking of the NRA, I can’t even begin to add up the media articles and stories about how much that organization has contributed to the mayhem and carnage. The time has come to turn on the corporate gun lobby, whose profit motive has become the main reason for existence. It is not your father’s or your grandfather’s NRA any more.

Listen to the voices of gun owners and former NRA members.

Listen to the voice of just one teacher:

Don’t tell me teachers should be carrying weapons in the classroom — we’re not police.

It’s our job to assign books, create lessons and lead discussions that make students think critically and help them see the world a little differently: I want them to read “The Outsiders” in my class and remember it when they’re adults and their kids are reading it.

Don’t tell me there’s nothing we can do about guns. Yes, Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms — but it’s not limitless. And we all have the right to live.

Listen to the voice of the Broward County Sheriff:

““If you’re an elected official, and you want to keep things the way they are ― if you want to keep gun laws as they are now ― you will not get re-elected in Broward County,” Israel told a crowd that erupted in cheers.”

Listen to the voice of just one parent:

“Stop accepting blood money.”

Listen to the students. They are our future. They are being massacred in every more frequent mass shootings. But they are fighting back:

“Please, this is the 18th one this year. That’s unacceptable. We’re children. You guys are the adults,” David Hogg said during an interview on CNN.

And well they should. Read this frightening article about real and not so real threats made by students after the Parkland shooting.  My God. What is going on? Where are the adults in the room?

Remember that every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult.

Talk about the influence of even the Russians in our gun violence epidemic in America.

The NRA has a connection with the Russians.

The NRA has connections with our President. The Brady Center went to court to get a white paper written with the help of the NRA presented to the President right before his inauguration.

So can we talk?

Talk about Brady background checks.

Talk about Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

Talk about Assault Rifles:

Equally important for a gunman looking to do a lot of damage in a hurry: AR-15-style weapons are fed with box magazines that can be swapped out quickly. The standard magazine holds 30 rounds. Equipped in this way, a gunman can fire more than a hundred rounds in minutes.

The Parkland shooter had “countless magazines” for his AR-15, the local sheriff said. And there is still one more reason the weapons are so popular in states like Florida: They are easy to buy — and for Nikolas Cruz, 19, the shooting suspect, far easier to obtain than a handgun.

The Washington Post goes further about another assault weapons ban:

He calls the results “staggering.” Compared with the 10-year period before the ban, the number of gun massacres during the ban period fell by 37 percent, and the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43 percent. But after the ban lapsed in 2004, the numbers shot up again — an astonishing 183 percent increase in massacres and a 239 percent increase in massacre deaths. (…)

On a scale of effectiveness ranging from 1 (not effective) to 10 (highly effective), the expert panel gave an average score of 6.8 to both an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines, the highest ratings among the nearly 30 policies surveyed. (…) More strikingly, substantial numbers of gun owners supported the measures as well: 48 percent of gun owners in that poll said they would support a ban on assault style weapons, and 44 percent said they favored a ban on high-capacity magazines. A Quinnipiac poll conducted later in the year showed similar numbers.

Talk about research on the causes and effects of gun violence.

Talk about how much money our leaders are getting from the NRA.

Ask all candidates what their plans are for preventing shootings and saving lives.

And yes, talk about the Second Amendment:

Ideally we would also rethink the Second Amendment in an age where firearms are far more lethal than in the 18th century and where we no longer require minutemen to protect our liberties from the redcoats. But it’s not necessary to repeal the Second Amendment. The courts have consistently upheld gun regulations in the past, including a federal assault-weapon ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004 and a Maryland ban that went into effect in 2013.

Yet instead of instituting such common-sense safeguards, Congress is moving in the opposite direction. Early in 2017, Congress passed and President Trump signed a bill that revoked an Obama-era regulation that would have made it harder for mentally ill people to buy guns. Toward the end of the year, the House passed legislation that would force every state to honor concealed-carry permits — meaning that a resident of Oklahoma could pack heat in the District of Columbia or New York City.

And talk about all of these things with common sense conversations and actions.

Talk about the insanity of American gun laws and shootings as the rest of the world is watching this insanity unfold. This article highlights an Australian perspective into our shootings.

Do we love our children as much as we love our guns? That is a very important question that needs an answer.

Make this the last school shooting. Because the last one has started a movement and a conversation that is not going away. The accumulation of bodies and inaction by Congress and state legislatures if finally just too much for a nation that sees more gun violence than any other democratized country not at war. Our kids are the victims of knock-off military style weapons used in war. As one friend said, our children have become war correspondents, live streaming a shooter killing their friends and texting parents as the shooting occurs.

With the help of adults, students are going to take national action as the Women’s March has organized a national student walk-out set for March 14th.

We shouldn’t have to do this. This is an American tragedy.

Listen up Mr. President. Spend more than 6 minutes “listening” to the victims of the shooting at the Parkland hospital. Your tone deaf anemic, robotic statement a day after the shooting did not even mention the word guns or gun violence. Your lack of passion and empathy was disheartening and disturbing. Have a nice week-end on the golf course at Mar-a-Lago.

We are better than this.

We have had #Enough.

Guns in airports- the new normal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this the new normal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is common sense?

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

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

Insanity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will not be stopped.

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

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

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

garbage-truck

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

Responsible gun owners?

Clipboard with Rules And Regulations Concept. 3D.All gun owners should be responsible with their deadly weapons. Unfortunately for way too many victims, they are not. With rights come responsibilities but you wouldn’t know it by the actual incidents of gun deaths and injuries. And, of course, the dangerous and false insinuations and rhetoric coming through the corporate gun lobby makes the situation worse. 

Most countries recognize the dangers and risks of guns in the home and/or carrying loaded guns around in public. As a result, there are many laws and regulations making sure that those who do get permission to buy guns know what they are doing and are not those who shouldn’t be able to come near a firearm.

And gun deaths are few and far between in countries that have strong laws and regulations.

Not so in the good old U. S. of A. Shamefully and tragically, we let just about anyone buy and carry guns. What’s the big deal right? Until suddenly it is a big deal.

Take this one example ( and it IS just one of thousands). A Portland, Maine columnist and physician was showing a teen-ager his gun and is now dead as a result of his carelessness:

Harmon, a steadfast defender of gun rights and champion of conservative viewpoints, was a longtime Maine Sunday Telegram and Press Herald editor and columnist. He worked for the newspapers for 41 years before retiring in 2011, although he continued writing a weekly column.

The teenage boy and his father, both from North Berwick, were visiting Harmon’s home at the time of the shooting, police said. Detectives said they have been cooperating with the investigation and will be undergoing more questioning on Thursday.

Harmon’s wife, Margaret Harmon, declined Thursday to discuss details of the shooting, calling it an “accidental tragedy.”

There are no accidents when it comes to gunshot injuries. Or at least they should be at a minimum instead of almost every day stories in the news. Guns are the only product on the market designed specifically to kill another human being ( or an animal). What is it that we don’t get about that in America?

Actually most people do get it and want more strong regulations on gun owners and the guns themselves. They don’t want them taken away. They just don’t want people getting shot to death.

When there are so many guns around there will be so many gun deaths and injuries. This is not rocket science. It is real and it’s common sense. In this crazy and frightening world of fake news and denial of actual facts that make a difference to our health and well being, we just can’t afford to have irresponsibility with deadly weapons.

Until we change the conversation and make it perfectly clear to anyone who walks out of a gun shop that what they do with that gun could affect their own or someone else’s life forever, there will be irresponsible behavior with guns. But then, folks who get their guns on-line or at a gun store from a private seller don’t even undergo a Brady background check, for goodness sakes.

What kind of country and what kind of communities do we want? Do we want to excuse the death of a loved one because he/she was reckless or irresponsible with a gun and just say it was an accident so never mind?

Do we want shootings in our urban neighborhoods to become normalized and pretend there is nothing we can so let’s not? I don’t think so. Check out this article about the uptick of shootings in some Chicago neighborhoods:

“We should be embarrassed as a city, every single one of us, that we’ve allowed this city to become the poster boy of violence in America,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, an activist and pastor of a Catholic church on the South Side. “Are we just going to shake our heads and say, ‘What a terrible year in Chicago?’”

Father Pfleger, who often spars with elected officials, said he was searching for fresh ways to draw attention to the plague of gun violence. He is planning a rally on Saturday on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, a downtown avenue lined with high-end shops and restaurants, that will be attended by marchers carrying two-foot-high wooden crosses bearing the names of victims. Some victims’ relatives are expected to attend.

And yet, where is the shame? Where is the embarrassment? Where is the action? Where are the responsible gun owners and elected leaders?

Where is common sense?

Responsibility means passing laws that will keep us safer from gun violence. Responsibility means stronger regulations on people who can buy and own guns. Responsibility means not letting your brother have a gun if you know he is experiencing alcoholism, severe mental illness, a marriage or relationship break-up, anger or some other problem that may cause him to use a gun to “solve” whatever it is that is bothering him. Responsibility means safely storing guns away from the hands of small children and teens. Responsibility means making sure all who carry guns in public are regulated to make sure they are not prohibited persons and properly trained to carry  deadly weapon in public. Responsibility means stopping “bad apple” gun dealers from getting away with selling guns knowingly to those who shouldn’t have them. Responsibility means asking if there is an unlocked, loaded gun where your children play. Responsibility means not handling your gun inside of your house or letting someone else who doesn’t know anything much about guns handle one in your presence. Responsibility means knowing where your gun is at all times.

I know that our next President rails at rules and regulations. But they are there for a reason. Mostly it is for the health and safety of the public. Regulations on businesses are there so we don’t get screwed. Remember the financial crisis of 2008? I do. All too well. Regulations on energy companies are there so we don’t have the kind of pollution seen in Beijing almost every day. Regulations on speed limits, seat belts, air bags and other car safety measures are there to stop and lower injuries or deaths from auto accidents. Regulations about smoking in public places are there go protect us from deadly diseases. Regulations on poisons, outlet covers, cribs, toys and other products that could harm young children are there for a reason.

Without regulations, laws and rules, it’s a free for all. Leaving it up to private industry to regulate themselves only serves their own bottom line and interests. What happens to the rest of us?

The Trace has a year-end report with some gun violence statistics that should make everyone understand that we need to do much more about our gun culture and guns in our country. This publication is responsible for a good deal of research in the area of gun violence that others cannot or are not doing. If we are to do the responsible thing and try to prevent and reduce gun deaths and injuries, these are to what we need to turn our attention. There is no denying these facts:

We’re hungry for the data that can help us better understand gun violence in America, and when we find something that informs our thinking, we are eager to share it with our readers. Here are 10 facts and figures that helped shape our reporting this year.

You can read the ten facts, including about domestic gun violence and the effect on women, the effect of shootings on black communities, many Americans falsely think background checks are required on all gun sales, why people buy guns, etc.

Unless we are allowed and/or demand to have hearings and discuss this national public health tragedy, things will not change. You may remember that some Democrats in Congress held a sit-in last June to call attention to the fact that the Republicans had not allowed discussions or votes on gun violence prevention. The result?  A lot of attention to some brave leaders who actually went against the rules in desperation to try to get some new laws and regulations.

But the Republicans ( House Speaker Paul Ryan) want to silence them and any kind of protest regarding controversial issues. Shame on them. What goes around may come around. Representative Ryan doesn’t want a vote and he doesn’t apparently want to do anything about gun violence. He is willing to silence those who do. And those who ar making noise are speaking for those who have been silenced by a gun.

These same leaders have been shamelessly blocking the usual rules in the House and Senate for the last 8 years to try to keep President Obama from governing and doing something about gun violence and a whole lot of other important issues. I guess they only like their own rules.

Surely we are better than this. If you believe as I do that no one wants to be shot or have a loved one or good friend shot to death or injured, then you ought to be making noise and not being silent or being silenced.

Let’s get to work. Lives depend on it.

 

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?

 

 

We are at war with each other

crossIt’s no secret. The political atmosphere was hateful and angry before the Orlando shooting. Now it’s worse. We are war with each other. History will look back on the America of the 2000s and write about how we turned our backs on the millions of victims of gun violence and their families. Historians will write about how a country allowed the massacre of 20 first graders to happen without trying to do something to prevent the next one. History will not be kind when it comes to America and mass shootings and gun violence in general.

If we lined up the crosses of all Americans killed by gun violence since 1968, they would form a field larger than that at Normandy (France), Gettysburg, Appomattox, Arlington and other cemeteries combined where fallen American military personnel are buried.

Are we at war?

Today is the first anniversary of the Charleston church shooting that took the lives of 9 innocent Americans while praying at Mother Emanuel church. History will write about how our weak gun laws allowed a young man with hate and racism in his heart to buy a gun in spite of his prohibited purchaser status. Thanks to the corporate gun lobby and their minions in Congress, a three day default proceed provision was written into the Brady law. What that means is that if the record keeping and data bases don’t communicate with each other and get information into the law enforcement system by 3 days after the purchase of a gun, the purchaser can walk away with the gun anyway.

Nine precious lives were taken because of that provision in our law that makes absolutely no common sense. But in America, sales and profits of selling guns takes precedent over saving lives.

Today, the families of the 9 killed in Charleston are remembering their loved ones. Here is one article written by the brother of one of the victims in remembrance.:

We may be back here again soon. Not in Charleston, not in a church, but somewhere in our country someone is going to experience some type of pain simply because of the proliferation of guns, and the Achilles heel of our country, racism, that we can’t seem to get past. So we got to not just forgive and forget, but we have to remember to continue to fight for those things that make our society better today than it was yesterday.

What will historians write about how we responded to this crime of hate and racism?

I wrote in my last post that things were changing concerning guns and the conversation about gun violence after the Orlando shooting. No sooner had I posted my article than a filibuster broke out in the U.S. Senate led by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Senator Murphy was in attendance when the families of the first graders massacred at Sandy Hook learned that theirs were the 20 who didn’t come out alive. He is not going to forget or let us forget about that heinous and bloody day in American history.

Has the accumulation of all of the mass shootings in recent years just been too much? Are we, at long last, ready to do something?

It looks like there may be a vote now on some gun safety reform provisions as a result of that filibuster. At the least, the conversation changed for 15 hours when 40 Democratic Senators, 2 Republicans and 1 independent joined in and articulately and passionately talked about our national gun violence scourge. They stood with the victims. They spoke for the victims’ families. They spoke for the majority of Americans who can see that change has to happen in order to stop the daily war in our streets and our homes and public places.

Even the generals are weighing in. General Stanley McCrystal wrote this piece for the New York Times today. From his opinion piece comes something very important to the conversation about guns in America:

Here at home, many of us are alarmed by the carnage. We are alarmed by loopholes that let felons and domestic abusers get hold of guns without a background check. We are alarmed that a known or suspected terrorist can go to a federally licensed firearms dealer where background checks are conducted, pass that background check, legally purchase a firearm and walk out the door.

Now veterans are speaking out. Last Friday, two days before the tragedy in Orlando, a new initiative, the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense, led by the Navy combat veteran Capt. Mark Kelly and his wife, the former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was announced. Those of us serving on its advisory committee come from every branch of our military and virtually every rank. We are trained in the use of firearms, and many of us have served in combat. And we all think our country must do more to save lives from being cut short by gun violence.

Are we alarmed enough to do something at long last?

Listen to the voices of common sense and experience. Those on the side of the corporate gun lobby are most often also strong supporters of our military. Not that the rest of us aren’t but those who oppose reasonable gun measures can often be heard to proclaim themselves as patriotic Americans- more patriotic than the rest of us. What’s so patriotic about allowing our citizens to be massacred by people who shouldn’t have guns?

The inanity of the conversation about gun violence in our country has been taking place for far too long. Not any more. People are joining gun violence prevention organizations in large numbers asking what they can do to help. Spontaneous rallies have occurred. Monetary donations have been received. Hundreds of thousands of calls were made to Senators in 24 hours urging participation in the filibuster and what will hopefully be upcoming votes.

We have had #Enough. Action is needed. No more words and thoughts and prayers.

And no more blaming President Obama for what happened in Orlando. Shamefully Arizona Senator John McCain ( among others) has gone over the line of common sense and sanity to join in some of the lunacy regarding the Orlando shooting. From the article:

Sen. John McCain said Thursday that President Barack Obama was “directly responsible” for the massacre at the gay nightclub in Orlando, though McCain later said he “misspoke.” “Barack Obama is directly responsible for it because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures — utter failures, by pulling everybody out of Iraq, thinking that conflicts end just because you leave. So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies,” McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Really Senator McCain?

We are better than this.

There is a gun culture that has promoted the civilian ownership of weapons of war that is in part responsible for what happened in Orlando. For 10 years we had a ban on these kinds of guns but our weak politicians, with pressure from the gun lobby let it lapse. Since then these weapons designed for use in war time have been used to kill countless Americans. Sandy Hook. Aurora.San Bernardino….. It doesn’t have to be this way.

This Boston Globe editorial is asking for us to return to sanity and common sense when it comes to military style assault rifles:

There is nothing more American today than a mass shooting, the quickest way for the wicked among us to join the ranks of the reviled. Their motives are many, but their opportunity is limited only by their gun and ammunition magazine brand preference. In this country, the federal government limits duck hunters to weapons that carry only three shells, to protect the duck population. But you can buy an assault weapon in seven minutes and an unlimited number of bullets to fire with it. For every McDonald’s in the United States, there are four federally licensed gun dealers and an untold number of unregulated private dealers who can legally sell an unlimited number of guns out of their homes, backpacks, and car trunks without requiring a criminal background check or proof of ID.

These weren’t the guns, and this wasn’t the America, that the Founders foresaw. That is why we need a new assault weapons ban, written for the realities we face in 2016.

What did the founding fathers envision? Gun rights extremists tell us that what we have now is exactly what was meant by the founding fathers when they wrote the second amendment. That is, in part, responsible for what happened in Orlando.

There is a weak system of regulating who gets guns that is in part responsible for what happened in Orlando. Racism and hatred is in part responsible for what happened in Orlando.

Presidential politics and extreme rhetoric is in part responsible for what happened in Orlando. One of our Presidential candidates is fear mongering and hating certain groups even thought they aren’t responsible for what happened in Orlando. (“Trump’s discourse, both leading up to and following the Orlando shooting, begins with a pathos of fear but ends with an appeal to anger.”)

We are better than this.

Even tolerance of anti-government groups and support for them has allowed the current culture to get a foot hold in American and leads to other acts of violence. For example, the stand-off by armed Americans proclaiming it was all about the federal government taking something from them, was not only ignored but even supported by some on the right and Donald Trump himself:

That chummy relationship with extremists didn’t start with Malheur. In fact, Donald Trump expressed admiration for Cliven Bundy at the time of the 2014 confrontation between his armed supporters and law enforcement officers over Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees for his cattle on government land.

“I like him, I like his spirit, his spunk…I respect him,” Trump told Fox News in April that year. Bundy’s sons led the Malheur standoff, which eventually resulted in their arrest and the killing of one of the occupiers at a roadblock by state police.

“Republican Congressional leaders have done nothing to combat this growing threat,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) “Indeed, they ignored a Democratic request … to hold a Natural Resources Committee hearing on this issue.”

History will judge us for this kind of anti-government extremism.

It’s not President Obama. It’s those who hate him. More from the above article:

“This antigovernment movement has exploded since President Obama took office. In 2008, we documented approximately 150 radical antigovernment groups. Last year, we counted almost 1,000,” he added. “The movement is dangerous. It includes almost 300 armed militia groups committed to resisting what they see as a tyrannical federal government.”

Thompson pointedly compared the anti-government crowd with foreign, and foreign-inspired, terrorists. Domestic terrorists have the same goal, he said, “to harm and incite fear within our borders.”

Congress, he said, “must take this growing threat seriously and take action.”

Our politicians weak spines are in part responsible for what happened in Orlando. Individuals who have become self radicalized and terror groups who want us to be terrorized by actions of unstable angry young men who have troubled pasts and intolerance of others are in part responsible for what happened in Orlando:

Oppositional. Lacks remorse. Verbally abusive. These are some of the terms teachers and school counselors used to describe a young Omar Mateen, according to elementary and middle school records.

Mateen, who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday in the worstmass shooting in modern U.S. history, had a troubling record of behavioral issues throughout his elementary and middle school years, ranging from simply disrupting class to outright aggressive conflicts with classmates.

Our almost total ignoring of the hundreds of thousands of gun violence victims is in part responsible for what happened in Orlando. Fear and paranoia promoted by the corporate gun lobby and extremists on the right are in part to blame for what happened in Orlando.

All we know is that blame is not going to change the fact that too many Americans have been killed in mass shootings and every day shootings. We need to deal with fear, paranoia, hate, racism, misogyny, anti-gay sentiments, terror, intolerance, mental health and whatever else causes someone to kill others. But to ignore the guns is a national shame and putting our heads in the sand.

This can’t be the new normal. We can’t let it be. We will do whatever it takes. The nation is asking for our leaders to do something. Increased interest in strongly regulating assault style rifles and high capacity magazines has surfaced. The gun lobby hates any renewed discussion but we are not going to let the gun lobby lead that discussion. A majority of Americans want something to happen.

Something has changed. New ways of invoking terror in Americans has sparked a national conversation but I am concerned that it has further divided us and made the conversation more hate-filled and acrimonious than ever.

We are better than this.

Taking sides on guns

NRA with ear muffsWhen it comes to innocent people being shot or taking their own lives with a gun or a child shooting someone or him/herself with a loaded unsecured gun, I thought there was only one side- common sense and safety. That was, of course, before I got involved in the gun violence prevention movement. In this movement we are all on the side of people not getting shot for really much of any reason. But we also recognize that guns are made to kill people and so, when there a lot of guns around and many of them unregulated and many of their owners also unregulated, there will be a lot of deaths and injuries.

But the silence from the gun lobby is deafening when it comes to actual people being shot and the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Is it on purpose? Is it just lack of empathy and compassion? Is it only political and in the interest of profit? Is it really true fear and paranoia that the government will come knocking on the door for their guns? Is it fear of zombies and the other? Is it just the second amendment which doesn’t say anything about guns for anyone who wants them no matter what? Is it avoidance of the truth? Is it ignorance of the laws or willful refusal to believe that gun laws can work? Is it some sort of fear of freedom being taken away when the lives lost were freedoms taken? Is it all about profits over lives? Is it about a culture change happening and fear of that change as fewer people hunt and fewer households own guns?

I don’t know that answer. I think all of the above are true actually. All I know for sure is that too many lives are taken every day by bullets and we can change that if we have the will and the political courage to do so. From the linked article above:

Is it too much to hope that America may be nearing the point of progress over the urgent — and long overdue — issue of gun violence? More than 5,000 people have been killed by guns since the start of this year. More than 10,000 have been injured. There have been more than 112 mass shootings. Just this week, amurder-suicide claimed two lives on the UCLA campus. In 2013, the U.S. saw more than 30,000 gun-related deaths. There’s cause to believe that 2016 will see a similarly horrifying tally.

Whose side are you on? Stopping some of these shootings or turning away from the carnage under our noses every day?

Thursday was #WearOrange day. By all standards, if counting many thousands of people participating in various events and posting photos of themselves on social media, it was a huge success. I was involved in organizing 2 of these events in my city. As always, we have speakers talking about why they are involved and why we need to deal with our public health epidemic. The Mayor issued a proclamation making my city orange for the day in memory and honor of gun violence victims. She held up a picture that a young boy had sent her with the words, “no more guns.” The Police Chief spoke about gun safety and the importance of storing guns safely to prevent them from being stolen and becoming crime guns. A woman spoke about the pain of losing her father when he took the gun he bought for self defense and used it to kill himself, leaving their family without a father.

And then a gun owner and hunter spoke about the need for putting our heads together and forgetting about our differences so we can save lives and prevent at least some of the gun violence. He is a strong proponent of requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales with the understanding that his own guns will NOT be taken from him nor will his rights to shoot those guns as long as he doesn’t shoot another human being.

It turns out that on the same day as our events, a Minnesota woman was found shot dead in her home, shot by the same man who had traveled to UCLA and shot a professor dead and then himself. The shooter had a hit list and he had 2 semi automatic guns, presumably bought legally. And that is the conundrum. Many people can buy guns legally and may never use those guns to shoot another human being or themselves. They may never bring it out to play with or show to someone and have it discharge. They may never drop their gun in a public place where it “accidentally” discharges. They may never leave that gun unattended, unsecured and loaded for young children or teens to find to use in a shooting.

But the fact is, far too many of these people are not safe with their guns. And we don’t know who will become unsafe or when they might become unsafe. That is the problem with our sides. My hunter friend spoke of how in other democratized countries that allow private ownership of guns, there just are not a lot of the incidents I described above. Does that mean that those folks are more careful and more safe? Maybe. But we do know that laws exist in those countries that make gun ownership a very awesome responsibility and difficult to get in the first place.

I maintain that stronger laws change the way in which people look at guns. People are less cavalier when their gun is harder to obtain and they have to go through more regulations to get a gun. They understand that they have to be safe given that they have been carefully vetted and can’t just get guns willy nilly with no background check through the internet or on the streets.

Let’s compare gun ownership to driving a car. We seem to have a common understanding that there are certain rules that everyone who wants to drive one has to follow- no exceptions. Everyone has to take drivers’ training. Everyone has to be at least 16. Everyone has to take a test. Everyone has to purchase insurance ( though some don’t). Everyone needs to wear a seat belt and follow the traffic laws. Most people actually do follow traffic rules as it turns out. Without laws and rules, our streets would be chaos.

And surely we can say that our gun culture causes chaos. Our inner city areas are chaos. Losing a loved one to a bullet causes not only grief, but chaos in one’s life. Mass shootings cause chaos. Shooting young children causes chaos. A gun suicide causes chaos in the family.

I spoke at our local event about the reason for the day, which I wrote about in my last post. Some of my readers will ask why there are so many gun deaths in Chicago like that of Hadiye Pendleton, when Chicago has strict gun laws. It’s the classic excuse given for doing nothing about stopping gun deaths because there are so many gun deaths. This illogical reasoning has been allowed to be a part of our discussion for far too long. It’s not difficult to understand when the neighboring states of Indiana and others flood the state with guns that can’t be bought in Chicago or Illinois. A brilliant article from The Trace shows us where the guns come from. From the article:

Not coincidentally, as the visualization above shows, in 2010, 2011, and 2014, the annual count of Illinois crime guns originating in Indiana topped 1,o00 guns per year. (In 2012 and 2013, there was a big dip in Illinois crime guns coming from Indiana, though the ATF isn’t sure why.) Mississippi was next in line, trafficking about a third as many guns into the state. At least four others exported more than 500 guns to Illinois during 2010–14. Five more states sent more than 400 each.

So if we follow the logical conclusion here, shouldn’t we make sure that there are uniform laws in all states to keep places like Chicago and some of our other large urban cities from providing the guns that kill innocent 15 year old girls (Hadiye Pendelton in Chicago)  and grandmothers (Birdell Beeks in Minneapolis) in their neighborhoods?

And then there’s Chuck’s gun shop in Chicago – a bad apple gun dealer. The shop has been the “target” of many protests over the past few years as the Brady Campaign and others have drawn attention to the loose practices of Chuck’s that allow crime guns to get into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. Shouldn’t we do something about bad apple gun dealers? People are getting shot. But the gun lobby has pressured Congress to underfund the ATF which is the agency responsible for monitoring gun dealers like Chuck’s to make sure they are following the laws. Let’s enforce the laws already on the books.

There is some good news here, though. In spite of the gun industry immunity law (PLCAA) lawsuits filed against bad apple gun dealers (Badger Guns in Milwaukee) and others are winning in our courts.

Whose side are you on?

Watch here as President Obama answers a question from a man who is concerned about his gun rights, at a PBS Newshour town hall. His response is exactly mine and the millions of Americans who agree that doing something about people getting shot will not take away the rights of people to own guns. And this exchange shows the sides taken by Americans on the issue of guns and gun rights. There should be no sides when it comes to saving lives. But when it comes to guns, there are sides.

Whose side are you on?

Massachusetts is having a similar problem. Lots of the states crime guns are coming into the state from Vermont where gun laws barely exist:

Many local officials say inconsistent gun laws are fueling the trade. Most northeastern states have enacted laws that extend background check requirements for gun purchases to include firearms sold at gun shows and unlicensed dealers. But Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine do not require such checks on private sales, making it easier for people with criminal records to buy guns in those states, and move them around New England.

“We have good gun laws in Massachusetts, but our problem is most of the guns that seem to be coming in and being used in crimes are coming from other states,” Boston Police Commissioner William Evans tells The Trace. “It’s hard for us when so many come from our border states that have lax laws.”

The gun extremists like to talk about Vermont having few gun deaths in spite of loose gun laws. They are ignoring the fact that Vermont has high gun suicide and domestic shooting death rates. In addition, weak gun laws are allowing people to be able buy guns that end up in other states where it’s more difficult to buy a gun. From this article:

Again, in universal terms, the total number of homicides, domestic violence cases, and gun-related deaths is indeed small, which can make some of these rate statistics seem exaggerated. But the argument can be made that they’re also less deceptive than the happy reports of a Second Amendment oasis in the heart of New England. A truer picture lies in this final statistic: Vermont, which is virtually impossible to traverse without a car, is a state where firearms deaths outnumber traffic deaths.

So back to my original question- Whose side are you on? The side of public health and safety? Or on the side of allowing anyone to get a gun, including many who shouldn’t?- felons, domestic abusers, those adjudicated mentally ill, fugitives, terrorists, etc. Interestingly many on the side of unfettered gun rights actually don’t think criminals should have guns- or so they say. So how do they think we can stop them from getting guns if we don’t actually stop them from getting guns?

We don’t have to take sides. Gun owners and NRA members are actually on the side of common sense with me. You’d never know it though from the general rhetoric that the gun lobby spews and often gets away with because they go unchallenged. Why? Good question. Some of the arguments and statements by the gun lobby are being taken apart by more people who are doing the research the corporate gun lobby hates and has tried to stop. This is shedding bright light on the real problem in America. Too many people are getting shot.

Orange is a bold and bright color. It makes a statement. Hunters wear orange to protect themselves from being shot by other hunters while out in the woods. Last fall my grandchildren were at our cabin during deer hunting season. We could hear gunshots in the woods nearby. When they were outside, I insisted that they all wear bright orange hats which they happily did since it was also cold outside. We turned America orange to make a bold and bright statement on Thursday. Monuments all over America turned orange including the Enger Tower in my city of Duluth.  Enger tower orange

We rang the bell at Enger Park for victims of gun violence- domestic murders, suicides, a young Minneapolis girl who was just sitting in her house doing homework when a bullet flying in her neighborhood snuffed out her young life; and many others. We shouldn’t be surprised but always are at the number of people who ring the bell for relatives or people they know who have died from gunshot injuries. People who shouldn’t have been shot.

We just can’t continue on this trajectory or this level of violence. The time for action has long passed. My side of the issue can be blamed for some of this. But the bold and bright truth of the matter is that when people are getting shot and the problem is being ignored and the conversation is being stifled by those with a vested interest in selling their products, we have a big and deadly problem. No one wants to get shot. We will wear orange, have marches, turn monuments orange and continue to demand the changes in our laws and the conversation that all of the victims and their families deserve. We are Americans against being shot. #Enough now.