Another anniversary-Columbine

Columbines blooming fresh in the springtime. Colorado state flower.In my recent post, I wrote about the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech mass shooting. That mass shooting occurred on April 16, 2007- ten years ago.

“April is the cruelest month” wrote T.S. Eliot.  The poet could never have predicted how true that has become for America. The poem deals with depression and what April can mean for those who are suffering from depression. Eliot’s poem takes on new meaning considering those who suffer from grief and loss over loved ones shot and killed and/or injured in the month of April. There are too many to count since 1999.

Today is the anniversary of the Columbine shooting. Yes, remember that mass shooting? It was the first school shooting to really capture Americans as it unfolded almost in real time. It was the first one that made people wonder how it could have happened and also what in God’s name could we do to stop school shooters from randomly shooting classmates.

An article with facts about Columbine provides us with the basics about the shooting. There are facts in the article but they were not fast. It was a slow moving shooting that day. The grief of the families and friends has not healed fast. Grief is under the surface until something triggers the day. A birthday. A holiday. And today, an anniversary of that day.

The article names the victims. They were somebody’s son, daughter, niece, nephew, sister, brother, father, uncle, friend. They were real people who in an instant became named victims.

Cassie Bernall, 17
Steven Curnow, 14
Corey DePooter, 17
Kelly Fleming, 16
Matthew Kechter, 16
Daniel Mauser, 15
Daniel Rohrbough, 15
William “Dave” Sanders, 47
Rachel Scott, 17
Isaiah Shoels, 18
John Tomlin, 16
Lauren Townsend, 18
Kyle Velasquez, 16

We must also remember that 20 were injured and now live with their memories and injuries- physical and emotional.

Some have already forgotten and don’t want us to remember. Others will never forget. Just as I will never forget the night I learned that my sister had been shot and killed. That memory never goes away.

And those of us who have lost a loved one look back and wonder what could have stopped the event? Was there anything anyone could have done? Can we make sure other families don’t have to remember these anniversaries?

We could, at the least,  try to stop the shooters from easily accessing guns they shouldn’t have in the first place.

Here is how the Columbine shooters obtained their guns, being too young to purchase on their own:

Robyn Anderson, a friend of Klebold and Harris, bought the shotguns and the Hi-Point 9mm Carbine at The Tanner Gun Show in December of 1998 from unlicensed sellers. Because Anderson purchased the guns for someone else, the transition constituted an illegal “straw purchase.” Klebold and Harris bought the TEC-DC9 from a pizza shop employee named Mark Manes, who knew they were too young to purchase the assault pistol, but nevertheless sold it to them for $500.

They planned ahead. Nobody knew. That is often the case but also too often someone knew that something was not right but didn’t report it or do anything about it. From the “fast facts” article above, a statement from the mother of one of the shooters:

In the first television interview since her son Dylan killed 13 people at Columbine High School, Susan Klebold speaks to Diane Sawyer. Klebold states that “If I had recognized that Dylan was experiencing some real mental distress, he would not have been there,” she says. “He would’ve gotten help. I don’t ever, for a moment, mean to imply that I’m not conscious of the fact that he was a killer, because I am.”

We have done little or nothing to change gun laws and our gun culture in spite of horrendous mass shooting after mass shooting. We see the same things. We talk about the same things. We watch the coverage of shootings repeatedly on the news but nothing changes. The gun lobby says it’s not the guns,stupid and we couldn’t stop these shootings no matter what we do. And Presidents attend memorial services. And families grieve. And politicians put their heads in the sand and hope no one asks them what they want to do to stop shootings from happening so families don’t have to continue remembering the day their loved ones were shot. And we go on and on and on……

This article urges passage of stronger laws and points out that states that have laws requiring all gun sales to go through a background check have fewer shootings. In other words, laws do matter. Facts matter. From the article:

Research shows that background checks are effective when it comes to saving lives. States with universal background check laws experience 48 percent less gun trafficking, 47 percent fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners, and 17 percent fewer firearms involved in aggravated assaults. States with universal background check requirements also have a 53 percent lower gun suicide rate, and 31 percent fewer suicides per capita than states without these laws.

We CAN do something. We can pass stronger gun laws such as requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales. We can pass Gun Violence Protection Orders so that families and friends can ask that guns be taken from those who could be dangerous to themselves or others. We can pass stronger laws against straw purchasing. We can wake people up to the fact that if something doesn’t seem right, it isn’t and action is necessary. We can identify that there are risks to owning guns and casually selling them to just anyone. We can hold “bad apple gun dealers” accountable and make sure guns are not being sold or exchanged with people who clearly should not have them and end as crime guns.

We can’t let Columbine be forgotten. That is what the gun lobby wants. If we forget the victims- their names and faces, maybe we will just go along and do nothing to cause “trouble” for politicians. They want to avoid the unavoidable. They want to gain the favor of the gun lobby who represent an increasingly small group of Americans who think that the “guys with the guns make the rules.”  Or they just don’t want to deal with what has become a national public health epidemic. It is not and will not be easy. But that does not mean we shouldn’t do it.

Victims continue to speak out but who is listening to them? Tom Mauser, father, of  Columbine victim Daniel Mauser, has reached out to the NRA and wants them to listen. To no avail. With every subsequent mass shooting, he will comfort other parents if they ask for him to do that. He understands. He is active in the movement to prevent gun violence. In his words ( from the article):

“For the first 10 days, I didn’t speak to the media at all. I was just in shock. […] And then suddenly, I was so angry knowing that the NRA was meeting in town that I went and spoke in front of 12,000 people.

[…]It can be shocking. After I spoke, I suddenly realized I’m going to start getting calls from the media, I’m going to start getting people who are angry at me. You really have to be prepared for that.

[…]It can get pretty overwhelming. When you become an activist, you tell your story a lot. You live that story every day anyhow, it’s not like you don’t think of your loss. But when you go in front of other people and speak about it, it’s so much more. “

We have our stories. We have the facts on our side. But the facts and our stories don’t seem to be enough. They should be but we are living in a world where big money speaks and makes policy that advantages corporations and thumbs its’ corporate and political nose at the victims and survivors.

The truth is that on April 20, 1999, 12 students and one teacher were brutally and shockingly and unexpectedly murdered for no reason other than two seemingly angry and possibly mentally ill young men wanted to shoot other kids. There is no other explanation.

What say you gun lobbyists and gun extremists? Is this OK with you? Is it just about mental illness? What if these two couldn’t have so easily accessed guns? What then?

The Columbine is Colorado’s state flower, thus the name of the school. Often names of flowers have significant meanings. For the Columbine flower there is a message:

Wherever your journey takes you stay steadfast in your faith, love and friendships. Believe in things that are not yet seen.

We have not yet seen the majority of America’s leaders step up to the challenge of gun violence. There is actually common ground on solving the issue of gun violence. The majority understands that doing something about this epidemic will save lives.

Where is common sense?

A stormy time for the gun lobby

tree damageWe were without power for 3 days following a terrible and violent summer storm in my city of Duluth. We were awakened at 3:30 a.m. on Thursday morning by hurricane force winds, violent thunder and constant and bright lightning. To say it was scary is an understatement. We heard trees cracking along with all of the other noises and were not sure if we would have to seek shelter. The photo here showing one tree down on a wire is minor compared to the destruction that happened all over in my part of town.

A majority of Duluth residents lost their power during the storm due to trees on wires and twisted power poles. Upon waking on Thursday morning, I checked on my friends to make sure all was well. Many had huge Spruce and other old growth trees down in their yards. A friend and I drove around a bit looking for coffee and were stunned at the awful damage done by this storm. Many streets were impassable because of downed trees and wires and debris was all over. Traffic lights were not working causing long lines of cars on the streets.

The city is recovering though many are still without power as I write. Neighbors are helping neighbors and the city has risen to the occasion. We are not used to these kinds of storms in our area. We have blizzards that cause power outages and sometimes downed wires. But this is something most of us have not seen in our lifetimes. The weather has been generally more tumultuous this summer. With many torrential rain falls and severe storms, I am convinced that climate change is real.

Also what is real is the summer of shootings of young black men and police officers. In Minneapolis, shootings have risen to one of the highest levels of recent years. This Star Tribune article revealed a different law enforcement policy to stop some of the straw purchasing that accounts for many crime guns getting into the wrong hands. From the article:

Amid signs of a rise in illegal firearms trafficking, federal prosecutors in Minnesota have hit on a novel strategy to crack down on gun violence and get shooters off the streets. Instead of prosecuting suspects for murder, where convictions can be difficult to obtain, they charge multiple defendants with conspiracy to buy and possess guns illegally.

The strategy is rooted in the successful prosecution of 11 gang members in 2014, after what authorities called an “all-out shooting gang war” in the Twin Cities. Prosecutors built a conspiracy case that produced 10 guilty pleas and a jury trial conviction of the gang’s leader, Veltrez Black, who was sentenced this spring to 15 years in prison.

Now a Minnesota prosecutor has been asked to share the strategy with Chicago authorities, who are grappling with near nightly volleys of gunfire throughout their city.

Such crimes often go unsolved because witnesses refuse to break a code of silence, prosecutors say, but firearms conspiracy cases can be easier to build.

What we know is that crime guns don’t fall from the sky. Guns start out as legal purchases and get into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them in various ways. It’s easy for anyone to buy guns legally or not, by not undergoing a background check at gun shows, flea markets or on-line sites such as Armslist or Facebook.

Straw purchasing is another way that allows the flow of guns into our streets and neighborhoods. We can do something about this if we have the will and think together about how to stop the guns that get used in shootings. Too many people are dying. There should be no excuses for not doing whatever it takes. More from the article:

The strategy is timely, given the recent surge in local gun violence. Minnesota gun deaths hit a 10-year high in 2015, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and represented a greater share of all homicides (61 percent) than in 1995, when Minneapolis was dubbed “Murderapolis.” (…)

And a new federal report shows that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recovered and traced 2,780 firearms in Minnesota last year — up 14 percent from a year before and also a 10-year high. That total doesn’t include all guns recovered by other law enforcement agencies; Minneapolis police inventoried an average of 681 guns as evidence per year from 2013 to 2015.

In the article there was mention of the problem of stolen guns. Some states have passed lost and stolen gun legislation to require people to report a stolen gun(s). We can see why from this: “The office also charged two people with buying up to 10 weapons for others in the group and later reporting the guns as stolen.”

And this, from the article, shows that many gun dealers are doing their jobs well:

At Bill’s Gun Shop & Range, owner John Monson is among the numerous Twin Cities sellers to occasionally find that a straw buyer passed through their doors. Monson said each of his five locations logs suspicious activity from any of the 100,000 customers who visit each year and passes along information to law enforcement agencies when necessary. Investigations can also evolve from mandatory reports to local police and the ATF whenever a customer buys two or more handguns in a week.

“We can’t stop all [straw purchasing],” Monson said. “But we can stop it in conversations in the process that happens before they do buy the gun.”

Prevention is what this is all about. If we can prevent guns from getting into the hands of those who intend harm, we can prevent some of the way too many shootings. Working with gun dealers is an important part of this process.

A new approach to preventing the proliferation of weapons onto our streets is needed given that many of our elected leaders are so beholden to the corporate gun lobby causing inaction in passing new laws or strengthening the ones we have. But we are seeing a new boldness amongst our politicians who are willing to speak out against the gun lobby publicly. One such statement was made by Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine on Saturday at his introductory speech. He spoke out and has spoken out before on the need for passing reasonable gun laws and has won all of his elections anyway.

The gun lobby is going to experience a stormy time now that their hypocrisy and rhetoric of fear are coming back to haunt them. Talk has turned to the nonsensical idea that citizens should openly carry assault rifles at public events and rallies such as the Dallas Black Lives Matter rally that turned violent. Others are wondering about conceal carry policies and how they work to protect people given that Philando Castile was armed with a legal gun when he was shot. There is some confusion over this confirmed by a local police officer at a meeting I attended about community safety. There are some interesting comments in the above linked article:

Thoughts on concealed carry: “If you’re a concealed-carry permit holder and you’re carrying, you assume some risk, you know? Things happen. Whether it’s on accident or intentional—you’re carrying a firearm. You’re assuming some risk in carrying a firearm. You have to assume some risk—it’s just like when you drive a car.”

How the Philando Castile situation will affect his work: “Will we change the way we do the training? No, because we believe we’re teaching it correctly. Will we emphasize this part of the training more? Yes. Will it come up for discussion? Guaranteed.”

It is undeniable that risk is involved when someone chooses to own and carry a gun. Guns are lethal weapons designed to kill others.

 

There is a perfect storm coming. More and more people are getting involved. This latest action to get in the way of Crossfit Reebok giving away Glock pistols to the winner of the  annual Crossfit games worked to call attention to the idea that gun giveaways are just not a good idea and obviously promote gun company profits. After the Orlando shooting, the GLBTQ community is not going to sit back and be silent. From the article:

“It is an outrage that an organization like CrossFit Reebok, who purport to be about health and fitness, are giving away a weapon of death and destruction as a prize,” said New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Executive Director Leah Gunn Barrett.

Why give guns away? Promotion of weapons of death just does not fit with exercising.

A new AP poll shows, again, consistent support from gun owners and non gun owners alike for universal background checks and stronger regulation of assault weapons.

From the above article:

Nearly two-thirds of respondents expressed support for stricter laws, with majorities favoring nationwide bans on the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons such as the AR-15 and on the sale of high-capacity magazines holding 10 or more bullets.

The percentage of Americans who want such laws is the highest since the AP-GfK poll started asking the question in 2013, a survey taken about 10 months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators.

High-profile shootings also appear to have taken a toll on Americans’ sense of safety. Strong majorities of those polled expressed some degree of concern that they or a relative will be a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting.

What I love about this poll is that it reveals that public opinion has not changed regarding support for doing something about the proliferation of guns in America. And when politicians and the public are in no mood for the increase in mass and every day shootings, things are going to change. The gun lobby may experience some stormy times and it would be past time for that to happen.

As my friend and writer, Sam Cook, wrote for the Duluth News Tribune, there is a hole in the sky left by the fallen trees.

But guns are not falling through that hole.

The public has shown over and over again over many years that they want our leaders to act to prevent at least some of the heinous shootings. More guns are clearly not making us safer.

I leave you with the latest mass shooting at another nightclub in Florida where teens were gathered for a pool party.  Two killed and 17 injured.

Teens should be able to attend a pool party without being shot and killed.  Guns make every situation more likely to end badly. They make for the perfect storm.

#Enough. We are better than this.

America’s new “OK Corral”

standing_cowboy_393It is becoming more and more difficult to narrow the topic for my blog posts because there are so many shooting incidents to write about. But this article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press gave me pause. From the article:

Jones said someone then threw a punch and “hell broke loose,” the complaint said.

“Jones said it was the OK Corral outside with everyone shooting,” the complaint said. “Jones said people were shooting everywhere.”

OK then. This quote is from a man, Jones, who we learn later in the article, cannot legally possess a firearm but had one anyway. And even though this incident in a local bar reminded him of the OK Corral. He was trying to “protect himself” he said. And so it goes in America. Bullets are flying everywhere and people feel like they need guns to protect themselves from others who have guns to protect themselves. And felons and others who are prohibited purchasers can easily get guns to add to the mayhem.

This is not OK.

Yesterday I attended my Senate district Democratic convention in Duluth. I ran into a man I had met recently at another event who wanted to talk to me about the gun issue. I was wearing my “Minnesotans Against Being Shot” tee shirt from Protect Minnesota which garnered a lot of attention and reaction because- who wants to be shot? Anyway, this man suggested that we write a resolution for next year’s party platform to lower flags to half staff for every mass shooting in our country. Though this is not amusing, it struck me as genius. Because, as we discussed, the flags would be at half staff almost every day.

For example, in the last few days there have been two heinous ( aren’t they all?) mass/spree shootings that have taken the lives of many innocent Americans, including children. The first, in Ohio, left 8 dead and several injured, including infants for goodness’ sake. From the article:

A fourth crime scene with an eighth victim, a 16-year-old boy, was established near Left Fork Road’s intersection with OH 772 in Pike County.

Three small children, a now 5-day-old, a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old survived the shootings. The Pike County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office have not said who is currently caring for the children.

Five days old? No words.Who does that? The shooter is still at large and the victims were related. This is likely another domestic shooting where the shooter and the victims knew each other. That is the most common type of homicide in our country- not a stranger shooting where a victim needed a gun for self defense. Most victims need to defend themselves from people they know as it turns out and trying to do so with a gun doesn’t work out well and is rarely done because victims are taken by surprise with little time to react

The next mass/spree shooting took place in Georgia. Five dead and the shooter shot and killed himself as too often happens. From the article:

In Columbia County, investigators say you can count the number of murders in a year on one hand. Although some of those murders have been violent in the past, Captain Andy Shedd says Friday night’s killing spree is something he’s never seen in all his years on the force.

“It is shocking and you try to wrap your head around it and you of course try to maintain your professionalism,” said Shedd.

Five people were killed Friday night by Wayne Hawes before turning the gun on himself.

Investigators are calling it a domestic violence attack involving his estranged wife and her family. Shedd tells News Channel 6 that the last time anything close to this happened within the county was back in the 1980’s.

And surprise, surprise, another shooter who was a prohibited purchaser but was able to get a gun anyway because….. America. From the article:

According to the Columbia County court system, from 1989-2002 Wayne Anthony Hawes had been arrested and charged with Battery, Assault, Several Speeding charges, Shoplifting, Selling Cocaine, 2 DUI charges, Obstruction of Police, Fleeing or Attempting to Allude Police, Reckless Driving.

This is just not happening in countries where gun laws are strong and people who shouldn’t have guns have a very hard time getting them. But in America- no problem. Felon? Go to a private seller and buy one with no background check. Domestic abuser? Use a straw purchase to get someone to buy a gun for you. Adjudicated mentally ill? Steal a gun from a friend, relative, or anyone who has guns unsecured in their homes. Have a grudge with your estranged wife or a family member?  Get a gun and take care of it. That’s the American way. Every day in America is a “shoot out at the OK Corral.”

And back to the OK Corral comment, let’s look at what that was all about in the first place because there are myths about the American wild west and guns that need to be examined. Here is the history of the shooting at the OK Corral:

After years of feuding and mounting tensions, on this day in 1881, the “law and order” Earps and the “cowboy” Clanton-McLaurys engage in their world-famous shoot-out near the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, leaving three men dead and three more wounded.

By today’s standards of mass shootings, 3 dead is not a lot. Sadly that is the truth of the matter. But here’s the truth about guns in the wild western areas of America:

The 1881 gunfight in Tombstone, Ariz., was actually sparked by an effort to enforce the town’s Ordinance No. 9:  “It is hereby declared unlawful to carry in the hand or upon the person or otherwise any deadly weapon within the limits of said city of Tombstone, without first obtaining a permit in writing.”

That’s right, City Marshal Virgil Earp and his brother Wyatt were attempting to enforce a gun-control law that cowboys were evading — a law that was rather common in the West, according to historians.

“Carrying of guns within the city limits of a frontier town was generally prohibited. Laws barring people from carrying weapons were commonplace, from Dodge City to Tombstone,” said Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA’s School of Law and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. “When Dodge City residents first formed their municipal government, one of the very first laws enacted was a ban on concealed carry. The ban was soon after expanded to open carry, too. The Hollywood image of the gunslinger marching through town with two Colts on his hips is just that — a Hollywood image, created for its dramatic effect.”

…”ban on concealed carry”…. Yikes! That could not happen in today’s America because the corporate gun lobby got its’ way and convinced state legislators that it’s just a peachy idea for anyone to carry loaded guns around just about everywhere. It’s working out well, don’t you think? The American gun culture encourages gun ownership and self defense. And the result? Read what I wrote about above.

I grew up watching cowboy “shoot ’em up” movies. Gun Smoke. Palladin. Roy Rogers. Wyatt Earp. The Lone Ranger. It was mythical and fantasy given that we knew those kinds of incidents were not actually happening in our own communities. But then, something happened in my family to change that idea and I became aware of what was actually happening all over America to families like mine. After my sister was shot and killed in a domestic shooting, I got involved in how to prevent that from happening to other families. Since then we have experienced too many heinous mass shootings to count. This is the real America actually. The “Wild West” was nothing compared to what’s occurring today.

So let’s review shall we? In the last several days or week in America, shooters are shooting up bars like the mythical days of the OK Corral. But in reality, the America of today is more deadly than the America described by a man (who couldn’t legally possess a firearm) who was involved in a bar shooting where bullets were flying everywhere. A spree shooting in Ohio with the shooter still at large, appears to be a domestic shooting leaving behind 8 dead and infants who have somehow survived their gunshot injuries. A Georgia man shot up his family and also himself because of some kind of domestic dispute leaving 6 total dead.

And I am now amending this post because I have seen that there have been 8 mass shootings since Friday taking the lives of 19, injuring 23 according to the Gun Violence Archive- a credible new source for tracking gun incidents.

half staff flagLower the flags to half staff.

Where is common sense?

More anger in Minnesota

angry_manIn my last post I wrote about a road rage incident that left an innocent woman with gunshot injuries just because she honked her horn at another car. The shooter has still not been apprehended though I suspect that will eventually happen since there is a photo of the car now on the internet.

Since that last post, there was another shooting in Minnesota- a fatal shooting at a St. Paul law office involving an angry man who decided to “settle” his differences with his lawyer by shooting the law clerk sitting in the office. He was apparently so angry that he didn’t realize he allegedly shot the wrong person. But never mind. When people who shouldn’t have guns use them in the heat of an angry moment, nothing matters to them. I know that from personal experience.

The shooter in this case was  prohibited purchaser. From the article linked above:

Petersen has a lengthy and violent criminal past that includes convictions for drive-by shooting, second-degree assault, carrying a pistol without a permit, first-degree damage to property, aiding and abetting in the sale of narcotics, fleeing police in a motor vehicle, drunken driving and disorderly conduct, court records show.

Where did he get the gun and the ammunition given that he couldn’t buy it from a licensed dealer? There are many ways. From a private seller on-line or at a gun show. From a friend through a straw purchase. He could have stolen it. Or maybe someone who didn’t know his violent and criminal past just gave it to him? Or he bought it on the street from someone else who may have come by it illegally or legally, for that matter.

It is important to know these things if we are to prevent at least some of the daily shootings in America. Anger and guns don’t mix. A violent criminal past and guns don’t mix. Alcohol and guns don’t mix. Dangerous mental illness and guns don’t mix. But too often, this is the mix that ends in death.

A study was done recently about guns and anger. From the article:

Angry people with ready access to guns are typically young or middle-aged men, who at times lose their temper, smash and break things, or get into physical fights, according to the study co-authored by scientists at Duke, Harvard, and Columbia universities.

Study participants who owned six or more firearms were also far more likely than people with only one or two firearms to carry guns outside the home and to have a history of impulsive, angry behavior.

“As we try to balance constitutional rights and public safety regarding people with mental illness, the traditional legal approach has been to prohibit firearms from involuntarily-committed psychiatric patients,” said Jeffrey Swanson, Ph.D., professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke Medicine and lead author of the study. “But now we have more evidence that current laws don’t necessarily keep firearms out of the hands of a lot of potentially dangerous individuals.” (…)

Kessler, Swanson and co-authors reason that looking at a prospective gun buyer’s history of misdemeanor convictions, including violent offenses and multiple convictions for impaired driving, could be more effective at preventing gun violence in the U.S. than screening based on mental health treatment history.

As for those who already own or have access to firearms, the researchers suggest the data could support “dangerous persons” gun removal laws, like those in Connecticut and Indiana, or a “gun violence restraining order” law like California recently enacted. Such laws give family members and law enforcement a legal tool to immediately seize guns and prevent gun or ammunition purchases by people who show warning signs of impending violence.

We should heed the results. One of the problems with our gun violence epidemic is that we don’t have enough data to show us who has the guns, how they got them, when they use them, if they carry them, why they use them, and who they shoot. Medical groups and some common sense Congress members are trying to fix that but, of course, the gun lobby will have none of it. Even though they claim that criminals should not have guns but will get them anyway, they do nothing to make sure they don’t get them in the first place.

Sigh.

It appears that an awful lot of shootings are done in moments of anger.

When I’m angry, I do feel like I want to do something to the person with whom I am angry or the person who wronged me. But what I want to do is to get them to stop what they are doing or apologize if an apology is due. Or I want them so suffer some consequence. But do I want them dead? No. If I had a gun, could I use it in an angry situation? Possibly.

Angry confrontations should not result in death. But too often they do. Guns happen to be the most effective weapon when it comes to killing or injuring others. When a gun is at the ready, it just may be used in the wrong way. Most gun owners are responsible with their guns and their guns. But since others are not, it’s time for all of us to get together and do something about this uniquely American problem where there is about one gun per person.

One of the things, aside from legislation, that can fix some of our problems with gun violence is education and awareness. Where are friends and family members when they know someone should not have a gun but has one anyway? Where are friends and family members when they see violent tendencies in someone they know and love and also know that person has a gun? Doing whatever is necessary to make sure guns are not in the hands of a person like this can save lives. Gun violence protection orders like the one introduced in the Minnesota legislature and other states as well, can help.

This is all about common sense and public health and safety. Anyone who thinks there are other motives needs to think about what has happened in Minnesota in the past week. It’s not OK and we’ve had #Enough of senseless shootings that devastate our families and our communities.

About flying bullets

bullet holesYes, it’s true. There are bullets literally flying around in some of our neighborhoods at will with no end in sight. Eventually they stop but they really don’t know where to stop and sometimes stop in an unintended place. Of course, if bullets stop at an intended target, that is also very bad and often deadly.

The gun rights advocates love to refer to Chicago and all of the gun deaths there to make their case that Chicago ( and Illinois) have strong gun laws, so why all the deaths? That’s a good question.

A recent senseless shooting, as if they all are not, points to the ease with which guns fall into the hands of those who intend harm. A young Chicago area teen who had participated in a campaign to end the violence, was shot in the back by a stray bullet in his neighborhood. The bullet was apparently intended for someone else who could have also been killed or injured. This young boy will never be the same. Nor will his family and friends. He was trying to stop the very thing that happened to him from happening. From the article with a quote from the shot boy- Zarriel Trotter:

In a 2015 public service announcement, Trotter spoke out against gun violence.

“I don’t want to live in my community where I have to keep on hearing of people getting shot and people getting killed,” Trotter said in the video.

Good grief.

Why are so many bullets flying in some of our communities? Where are the guns and bullets coming from?

For one thing, all guns start out as legal purchases. Guns go from manufacturers to licensed gun dealers where they are sold with background checks. Private sellers get their gun collections (hopefully) by undergoing background checks at a federally licensed firearms dealer and then often sell them to people who are not required to undergo a background check in most states. It’s easy. Just like that a transaction is made with no background check and the seller has no idea to whom he/she is selling a deadly weapon.

For some reason, the gun rights extremists love to claim that this does not happen. But in most states, in fact, it does. In Illinois, since I brought it up earlier, all gun sales require background checks or verification of a Firearms Owner Identification card at gun shows-even private sellers. So then, where are the guns coming from that are used in the many shootings in Chicago neighborhoods? Presumably the shooters and those committing crimes are not law abiding gun owners?

Gun trafficking from states with looser gun laws, is, of course, the undeniable answer to the question. This great article from The Trace shows the map of recovered crime guns and from where they enter the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois. A small number even come from my state of Minnesota. Apart from private no background check sales, straw purchasing and allowing illegal sales also provides guns to our streets. So “bad apple” gun shops like Chuck’s Gun Shop and Pistol Range in Riverdale outside of Chicago provide many of the crime guns used to kill innocent people inside the city of Chicago. A small number of gun shops like Chuck’s in states all over our country, knowingly allow straw purchasing or other bad practices that provide guns to those who shouldn’t have them. From the article:

The suit claims that the stores are not forced to be vigilant about sales to minors and to straw purchasers—those who buy guns for others who aren’t allowed to. The stores are immune from lawsuits for the results of their gun sales thanks to a law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, pushed through Congress in October 2005 at the behest of the gun industry. So the plaintiffs are going after the cities where the stores are located to force them to institute common sense rules to prevent improper gun sales. In Illinois, municipal governments, not the state, are responsible for making such laws.

But something can be done about this. So why not? If the gun lobby is correct that criminals can always get guns, why would they object to common sense measures to make sure they don’t get them?  Here are the measures demanded in the above mentioned law suit against the bad apple gun dealers:

The suit suggests several changes in the cities’ gun ordinances. As outlined by the Tribune, they are:

–Mandating background checks for all gun store employees;

–Deterring theft through adequate surveillance and exterior lighting;

–Training managers and employees to identify signs of straw purchasing;

–Requiring dealers to maintain an alphabetical log of all gun sales where the gun was later recovered at a crime;

–Requiring mandatory inspections of a store’s inventory to help detect theft and trafficking of guns, and;

–Requiring video cameras to record the point of sale to discourage buyers who may use false identification.

But in a depressing admission to reality, here is a quote from the article: “The suit will be a tough one to win, according to George Mocsary, a law professor at Southern Illinois University who specializes in firearms law. He told the Tribune that for a civil rights claim to work, there generally has to be an intent to harm a particular individual or community, such as African-Americans.  “I suspect that it will be dismissed,” he said.”

Sigh.

Further, the gun lobby has made sure that the ATF- the agency responsible for monitoring and regulating licensed dealers, is vastly understaffed and underfunded. Why? Good question for which I don’t have an answer. From the article:

“If you want an agency to be small and ineffective at what it does, the ATF is really the model,” says Robert J. Spitzer, author of The Politics of Gun Control. Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York College at Cortland, says the ATF’s critics, in particular the National Rifle Association (NRA), have been “extremely successful at demonizing, belittling and hemming in the ATF as a government regulatory agency.” The result, he says, is an agency with insufficient staff and resources, whose agents are “hamstrung” by laws and rules that make it difficult or impossible to fulfill their mission.

So we have an agency that could make this better but thanks to the ever deceptive gun lobby, they are “hamstrung” in their job. Lives are being lost every day thanks in part to these ludicrous efforts to actually stop us from preventing gun deaths and injuries.

The sad reality is that young people in communities of color in large urban cities are affected by gun violence in greater numbers than their counterparts. This is not OK. We know that gun violence can strike anyone of any race, age, or socioeconomic level. Domestic violence, suicides and homicides occur everywhere. But we also know that we must address the availability of guns in affected communities if we are to be serious about saving at least some lives. In my state of Minnesota, young children of color have been killed by stray bullets flying around in their neighborhoods, leaving families to mourn the lost potential of their children.

One June night of 2012, Terrell Mayes, Jr., 3 years old, of Minneapolis, was hit by a bullet that came through the siding of his home. He died. From the article:

“You keep ’em in, you keep ’em in, but yet and still that bullet, that devil, came right through the wall and took my baby,” said Marsha Mayes,…..”

Babies dying from bullets…..

This article suggests that gunfire is common in the neighborhood where 3 year old Terrell was shot and killed. Are we at war? Gunshots should not be common in any of our communities. Is there any explanation at all for how an 11 year old girl can be shot and killed by a stray bullet while she is sitting in her home doing her homework as happened to Tyesha Edwards of St. Paul in 2002?

There is no explanation for this kind of senseless violence. Even passing stronger gun laws will not change some of this. We don’t have throw- away lives. Our children are our future. We must protect them from violent and avoidable deaths.

A gun culture that has been formed over many years’ time and with the help of a corporate gun lobby that wields too much money and influence will be difficult to change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It’s past time for far too many. But lives can be saved with common sense and resolve. No one should be afraid to challenge the false notions that we shouldn’t do anything about our national public health epidemic because it won’t work. If that were the case, we wouldn’t try to solve any of our public health and safety problems. Life would be a free for all with no laws or rules for anything. People would be dying from all kinds of preventable diseases and accidents. That is not who we are as Americans.

It’s a ridiculous deception that nothing can change because of the second amendment. The second amendment to our Constitution was written before 90 Americans a day died from gunshot injuries due to homicides, suicides and “accidental” discharges or shootings. It was written before the common sale of semi-automatic assault type guns to average citizens. It was written before there were 300 million plus guns in the hands of Americans. It was written before regular mass shootings in our schools and public places. It was written before some of our leaders decided it was a good idea for just anyone to be able to buy guns without making sure they are people who should be prohibited from having a gun. It was written before the “wisdom” of the corporate gun lobby pushed our state legislators to pass laws to allow people to carry loaded guns around into every nook and cranny of our communities. You get the picture.

We’ve had #Enough of this. Communities and organizations working together can change the conversation and change the culture about guns and gun violence. As long as guns and bullets are so available and seen as “necessary” in some communities, our children will be at risk. Perhaps when children and teens see adults getting serious about addressing the violence epidemic, they will model what they see. For
every gun in the hands of a child or teen must first come through the hands of an adult.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Stand up and demand change.
  • Join an organization working for change.
  • Talk about the risk of guns in the home.
  • ASK if there are guns where your children or teens hang out.
  • Store your guns safely away from children and teens and to keep them from being stolen.
  • Talk to your friends during difficult domestic issues to make sure guns are not readily available.
  • Tell your legislators and Congress members that you expect them to support legislation to require background checks on all gun sales.
  • Support other legislation to make sure guns are not easily accessible to domestic abusers, felons, those adjudicated mentally ill, gang members, and others who should not have guns.

 

Together we can do this.

 

UPDATE:

Of course, it was a holiday week-end but one wouldn’t anticipate that 5 people were shot in Minneapolis over the holiday. It’s true. And some truly stunning facts:

The shooting comes as gun-related violence has risen in Minneapolis — much like in other Midwestern cities, such as Cleveland and Chicago.

Fifty-four people have been shot in Minneapolis through March 21, the last day for which police data were available, an 86 percent increase over the same period last year. In north Minneapolis alone, 43 people were injured in shootings, compared with 15 last year, police records show.

Meanwhile, the city is also coping with a rise in violent crime, which has jumped 5.3 percent compared to this time last year. In downtown, serious crimes like aggravated assaults and rapes have increased 21 percent, while the Second and Third police precincts have seen a sharp rise in the number of robberies, records show.

Bullets flew in Minneapolis last week-end. One dead and 4 injured. It’s time for that to stop.

Where do crime guns come from?

ПечатьThere is a balancing act between stronger gun laws and gun rights. The two are not mutually exclusive as the corporate gun lobby would love you to believe. The fact is, most gun owners and even NRA members agree that we need stronger gun laws. So why the opposition to laws that make common sense?

The question in the title of this post is the most important question we can ask. We actually know the answer but we’re not doing what we need to do to stop crime guns from getting into the hands of those who should not have them. Why not? The gun lobby opposes measures that would do just that. More on this later. And opposition from the gun lobby to research that could give us more answers has hampered solutions to our country’s national public health and safety epidemic.

Just one example of our weak gun laws is the Georgia woman who bought a gun in a straw purchase for someone else. The gun was used to kill an officer. From the article:

A Jonesboro, Georgia woman who bought the gun used to kill Omaha Police Officer Kerrie Orozco was sentenced on Monday.

Twenty-six-year-old Jalita Johnson was convicted in August after pleading guilty to lying when she bought the gun for her convicted felon boyfriend, Marcus Wheeler, who later used the gun to kill Officer Orozco in May while she was attempting to serve a warrant on Wheeler for his arrest. Wheeler was killed in the shootout with police during which Officer Orozco died from her wounds.

Johnson was given one year of probation, 40 hours of community service and 180 days’ home confinement.

Authorities say Johnson bought the Glock semiautomatic, a 50-round drummagazine and ammunition from a pawnshop in Jonesboro last April. At the time, she was required to fill out a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives form that requires the purchaser to disclose the identity of the true buyer or transferee of the gun.

Johnson stated on the form that she was the true buyer when in fact she was buying it for Wheeler, who was a convicted felon and couldn’t buy the weapon himself. Wheeler provided Johnson with the money to buy the gun and magazine. He also directed Johnson on which gun and magazine to buy.

Why did this woman only get probation and community service? She knew exactly what she was doing when she lied on the form to purchase that gun. She knew that her boyfriend was a convicted felon. She may not have known he would kill someone with that gun but felons are not allowed to own guns, period. Unless I missed something, the punishment did not fit the crime in this case.

We need to crack down on straw purchasing and gun dealers who are responsible for crime guns getting into the illegal market place.  There are no excuses for “bad apple” gun dealers and the Brady Center is calling attention to them in order to cut gun deaths caused by guns sold by them. About 5% of gun dealers account for about 90% of crime guns. That is not acceptable.

The Trace has a new article about where the crime guns that make themselves into the Chicago market come from. It’s stunning to see where they come from. Watching the animation of the guns flowing into Chicago is instructive. From the article:

Data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) backs up the president’s point. The agency cannot trace every gun taken in by law enforcement. But between 2010 and 2014, it was able to source between 40 and 60 percent of the firearms recovered in Illinois, the vast majority of which were crime guns. Statewide, most of those weapons came from elsewhere in Illinois, a pattern seen in other states. But thousands found their way into Illinois — and often, Chicago — from parts of the country with weaker gun laws. (…)

While the Windy City outlaws gun stores, straw purchasers can pick up firearms in neighboring suburbs that have track records of failing to police the gun sellers within their borders. Across the state line in Indiana, gun laws are loose enough to earn the state 17th place on Guns and Ammo‘s list of the best states for gun owners (Illinois ranks 43rd).

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. (…) Across the country, guns make their way across state lines, and into crime scenes, in similar fashion. In Chicago, it’s why police can seize an illegal gunevery 75 minutes but fail to stop the tide. And nationally, it’s why the chief of the ATF’s violent crime and intelligence division has compared trafficked guns to cockroaches in an apartment complex. If you aggressively treat the problem in one place, while leaving it unchecked elsewhere, the infestations will continue.

The gun nuts love to taunt gun violence prevention activists with the Chicago gun problem claiming that Illinois and Chicago laws are strict and yet Chicago still has a high rate of gun violence. So they want us to think that gun laws don’t work. It’s just the opposite actually. Most of the crime guns come from out of state where gun laws are weaker. And that is exactly why we need stronger federal gun laws.

From the linked article above about Chicago’s gun and shooting problem:

According to the Chicago Tribune, the number of people shot in Chicago so far this year is at least 2,300 — or about 84.5 per 100,000 residents. New York City has seen1,041 so far in 2015 — 12.3 per 100,000 people. In Detroit last year, there were 1,054 non-fatal shootings and 300 homicides, though it’s not clear how many of the homicides were gun-related. If all of the murders were involving firearms, that’s 199 incidents for every 100,000 people in 2014. Even excluding the murders, the non-fatal shooting rate was 154.9 incidents for every 100,000 Detroit residents — double Chicago’s rate.

The gun nuts love to hate President Obama and make claims ( unfounded and false) that the President intends to take guns away and create a national gun registry. There is no truth to this but Chicago is the President’s home town and so the claims about gun laws not working in Chicago take on a symbolic meaning. The gun lobby just loves symbolism and deceptions.

I am wondering if those who advocate for weaker laws actually care about crime guns and where felons and others who shouldn’t have guns get them? If they do, as they sometimes claim to do, why aren’t they working for stronger gun laws to require background checks on all gun sales and strengthening straw purchasing and trafficking laws? Instead, the gun lobby opposes potential live saving measures. This 2012 Salon article lays it at the feet of the corporate gun lobby:

No one honestly doubts that the NRA is the reason there is no serious debate about guns in Congress. So today we live under a series of  laws written or advanced by the NRA. Today a state can impose a death sentence or life in prison on someone who commits murder with a firearm. But the “What, me worry?” gun dealer, who supplies multiple murderers with guns he claims were “stolen” from his inventory, guns he never recorded on his books, or guns he sold to straw buyers with a wink and a nod, can operate with virtual impunity, thanks to laws written by the NRA.

One of these, passed in 1986, drastically reduced penalties for dealers who violate record-keeping laws, making violations misdemeanors rather than felonies. Another established an absurdly high standard of proof to convict dealers who sell to criminals. In 2003, Congress, at the NRA’s urging, barred the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the much-maligned agency responsible for enforcing federal gun laws, from forcing dealers to conduct inventory inspections that would detect lost and stolen guns. Car dealers like to know when inventory goes missing. Gun dealers? Not so curious.

Most astonishingly, the same NRA-inspired law forces the FBI to destroy Brady background checks for gun purchases within 24 hours, which makes it harder for law enforcement to identify dealers who falsify their records and makes it impossible to cross-check purchases made by gun traffickers from multiple dealers. Although federal law requires a dealer who sells more than one handgun to a single individual in a five-day period to file a special report with the BATF, the agency is unable to cross-check purchases from multiple dealers, so gun traffickers can simply hop from one gun store to the next, buying a single handgun at each until they accumulate the arsenals they want. Put another way, the NRA and its backers in Congress created a law that forces the FBI to destroy evidence of crimes, evidence of illegal multiple gun purchases.

This is a national tragedy and more than that, it’s disturbing and outrageous.

We can act to change this if we let our elected leaders know that if they listen to the extreme gun lobby,they will be aiding and abetting gun trafficking which leads to crime guns in the hands of people who should not have them. Why is this allowed? Who are we more afraid of- prohibited purchasers with guns or the gun lobby? I know what my answer is.

A gun trafficking law has been lying dormant in Congress for several years now. In September of this year, a 2013 bill that failed to get enough support after the Sandy Hook shooting, was re-introduced by a bi-partisan group of House members.

We can get this done if we have the will and we demand change to public health and safety measures that will save lives. It’s past time for this to happen. 89 Americans a day die from gunshot injuries. Gun trafficking bills and expanding Brady background checks are 2 ways to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. It’s just plain too easy to access guns for young children, teens, felons, those who are adjudicated mentally ill, domestic abusers and others who should not have them. We can prevent some of the daily carnage in our communities. We’ve had #enough.

Let’s get to work.

The importance of facts about gun background checks

PrintThe gun lobby doesn’t want us to know that 40% of gun sales are made without background checks. It doesn’t fit with their mantra that only law abiding people will follow the laws and criminals won’t. What are we to think, then, when new research confirms older research about how many guns go without a Brady background check? I know what I think. It means that we must expand Brady background checks to make sure that all gun sales require background checks.

Arguments from gun rights extremists include that background checks are already required so we don’t need laws to require them on all gun sales. The public doesn’t believe that all gun sales don’t require background checks. When tabling at a recent conference, many people to whom I spoke were surprised to find out that some gun sales are made without background checks.

The only data we really had to go on until now was a 1994 study that found that about 40% of gun sales came from privates sellers with no background check. This is old because the gun lobby has made sure that the CDC and the NIH could not do research into the causes and effects of gun violence. 

But now, others are doing the research. A new study, highlighted in this article in The Trace, reveals that today, the number remains the same. Approximately 40% of gun sales are going without background checks. From this article:

Amid the controversy, a team of Harvard researchers are fast-tracking a major update to this fundamental gun debate statistic. Pulling data from a forthcoming study on gun ownership conducted by the university’s Injury Control Research Center, the scholars have landed on a figure set to corroborate the earlier finding: Harvard’s Dr. Deborah Azrael tells The Trace that of 2,072 gun owners the researchers surveyed, roughly 40 percent said they’d acquired their most recent firearm (through a sale or transfer) without going through a background check.

Will the gun lobby admit this to be true? If so, they should be pushing for expanding Brady background checks to all gun sales. Why? Because it’s obvious that if no background checks are conducted, sellers don’t know to whom they are selling guns. It could be a domestic abuser, a felon, someone who had been adjudicated mentally ill, a fugitive or others on the prohibited purchasers list who are prevented from buying guns through federally licensed firearms dealers.

If the gun lobby does not admit to this fact, why not? Are they not interested in stopping prohibited purchasers from getting guns? Or is it just too inconvenient to go through a background check for law abiding citizens? If so, why? It seems they are willing to undergo background checks when they buy guns through licensed sellers. And it’s just not true that criminals won’t follow the law and try to buy guns where background checks are required. 2.4 million people have been prevented from buying guns at licensed firearms dealers since the Brady Law was enacted in 1994. That means these purchasers are trying to get their guns this way. So why not stop them at the point of sale in the first place?

We all know that there are other ways for people who shouldn’t have guns to get them anyway. But guns don’t fall from the sky. They all start out as legal purchasers and get into the wrong hands through straw purchasing, stealing them from law abiding gun owners or dealers, or trafficking. Just take a look at how easy for guns to be stolen can be in this article about a UPS employee who stole 2 guns from a package at a Baltimore area facility. And straw purchases can also be stopped at the source if we are tougher on gun dealers who knowingly sell guns to people who shouldn’t have them. The recent case of the Milwaukee Badger Guns dealer found responsible for allowing a straw purchase should be a strong message to gun dealers to do the right thing. Guns sold knowingly to those who shouldn’t have them can result in death as it did in this case when on officer was shot by the gun straw purchased for the shooter.

But where do the guns that are trafficked come from in the first place? Someone bought the gun. Stopping one method of obtaining a dangerous weapon designed to kill another human being will save lives.

We now have facts, graphs, charts and reports indicating that stronger gun laws actually work to save lives. What more do we need? The news is full of stories of domestic shootings, mass shootings, shootings in our streets and homes and in public places, suicides and toddlers shooting themselves or others. What more do we need? These are real people losing their lives or suffering from life long injuries and disabilities and we are turning away from them. Where is our moral compass and our responsibilities as citizens and government to do the right thing?

It only makes common sense that we would stop the supply of guns into the pool that could become illegal. Turning off the faucet and draining the pool of illegal guns will keep our communities safer from the devastation of gun violence. Isn’t that what this is all about? Saving lives and public health and safety should be at the top of our priority list. The fact that gun safety reform isn’t at the top of the priority list for our Congress and many state legislatures is a national tragedy. It’s time for that to change. The public is now very engaged and in favor of stronger gun laws but yet, some of our elected leaders support the views of a small minority of Americans.

89 Americans a day are dying from gunshot injuries. 33,000 Americans a year are dying from gunshot injuries.

We are better than this.