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.

Pope Francis on gun violence and Minnesota’s gun carnage

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

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

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

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

What if………?

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

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

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

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

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

Philip Quinn’s troubles are well-documented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minneapolis shootings highlights access to guns

Basic RGBThe Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote an editorial that appeared in today’s version of the paper. The editorial focused on the latest round of shootings in downtown Minneapolis that left 9 people injured and one dead last week-end. I wrote about this in a previous post. From the editorial piece:

That’s a different kind of crime-fighting challenge, city officials said during a City Council Public Safety Committee this week. And, as one pointed out, combating it involves a strong focus on gun access — using current laws to prevent violent criminals from getting guns, prosecuting them to the maximum when they possess and use guns, and expanding efforts to take more firearms out of circulation.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and downtown police Inspector Mike Kjos said they are looking at additional traffic-flow and business-hour changes, understanding that those strategies only go so far. Therefore, doubling down on access to firearms can make a difference. It’s far too easy for those who intend to inflict harm to get guns. And once caught and convicted on gun charges, too many of them are back on the streets too soon. As Freeman noted, his office, the various law enforcement agencies and downtown stakeholders must continue to work together to bring brazen offenders to justice.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is an answer staring us in the face but our leaders are ignoring it. It’s clear that easy access to guns in our communities is causing senseless shootings and deaths and injuries. There really is no argument about it. Preventing easy access to guns has to be a solution. In an interesting article that came to may attention, Chicago criminals serving time were asked where they got their crime guns. From the article:

A survey of inmates in Chicago suggests most criminals don’t steal guns. Instead they get them from family or people they know.

“There are a number of myths about how criminals get their guns, such as most of them are stolen or come from dirty dealers. We didn’t find that to be the case,” says Philip J. Cook, a professor of public policy, economics and sociology at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

What the study found is that at least these criminals got their guns from their friends. (Where did their friends get their guns?) They didn’t try to buy them from a gun dealer. Why? They would likely not pass a background check and would be turned away. They didn’t steal them, though many crime guns do come from thefts of guns of law abiding gun owners. Though some of the guns come from straw purchases, many of the guns in the Chicago area came from out of state from someone who was able to get guns and bring them in to sell on the street. More from this article:

“This research demonstrates that current federal and local regulations are having a big effect on the availability of guns to criminals in Chicago,” he adds. “They can’t buy their guns from stores, the way most people do, and are instead largely constrained to making private deals with acquaintances, who may or may not be willing and able to provide what they want.

“Other studies we have done have found that in many cases criminals go without guns because they don’t know how to get one. We conclude that current enforcement is somewhat effective, and devoting more resources to enforcement would further constrain gun access by dangerous people.”

There’s a theme here. When there is easy access to guns for those who shouldn’t have them, shootings will likely happen. Crime will happen. People will die. Our streets will be less safe.

And laws matter. Just as laws matter for speeding, access to tobacco products, drunk driving and other public health and safety matters, gun laws do matter. But we need to expand the laws we have to include requiring background checks on ALL gun sales. Why wouldn’t we? Speeding laws include everyone. No one is immune. Everyone is required to wear a seatbelt. Access to tobacco products includes everyone. No one is excluded. Safety laws for baby cribs don’t exclude certain companies. Everyone has to go through the TSA screening before boarding a plane. No one is excluded. There is not a separate line for some people. All medicine containers now have safety caps that make it hard for kids to open. Even adults have problems opening these bottles.  Not one is exempt. All are included. If people or companies don’t follow the laws, there are penalties and responsibilities for breaking them.

And sometimes the end result of not following the laws is senseless deaths and injuries. That is why we, as a country, do as much as we can to prevent that from happening. But gun laws are the exception. It’s simply not true that criminals just don’t follow gun laws as a rationale for not bothering to pass any. That is a flawed and false argument.

It’s way past time to address the problem of easy access to guns. It takes the shooting of 10 people in one night in downtown Minneapolis for the public’s and law enforcement’s attention to focus on the problem of guns. There are other things that contribute to the problem. But the guns must be addressed. It’s the only common sense argument.

We can do much better than this if we focus on the real problem and not let the gun lobby distract us or scare us into thinking that guns are not the problem. They certainly are. At the national level we can Finish the Job started when the Brady law was passed and expand background checks to all sales. We can, if we have the will, require reporting of lost and stolen guns. We can strengthen straw purchasing and gun trafficking laws. We can make sure people who are a danger to themselves or others don’t have guns. Some states have passed laws to do just that. (California’s Gun Violence Restraining Order) We can remove guns from domestic abusers. Some states, including Minnesota, have done just that. We can hold bad apple gun dealers accountable. (The Brady Campaign is working on that) Revoking state pre-emption laws that keep cities from passing strong gun laws would help with easy access to guns in, especially, large urban cities. From the linked article from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence:

At the urging of the gun lobby, however, most states have explicitly removed authority from local governments to regulate guns and ammunition, thereby creating a dangerous exception to the traditional rule of local authority.

State preemption statutes threaten public safety because they prevent local governments from implementing customized solutions to gun violence in their communities and impede their ability to fill regulatory gaps created by inaction at the state and federal level.  Moreover, by mandating a one-size-fits-all approach to firearms regulation, preemption statutes deprive the public of a critical problem-solving resource:  local innovation.

The gun lobby has managed to stop local communities from exercising local control- something they like for anything else ( as mostly conservatives). But when it comes to guns, not so much.

We can, as the article about where criminals get their guns, make sure young people in affected communities of color have more to do than wander our streets with guns.

In other words, we can do this. It is beyond unreasonable and ludicrous that we haven’t already tried to stop at least some of the 33,000 gun deaths a year in America.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made a statement after one of his staffers died from gunshot injuries sustained in a random shooting on the streets of New York:

“This is not any Second Amendment fight, it’s not for the soul of the country,” Cuomo said. “That’s a lot of baloney. Nobody’s trying to take anybody’s gun. I am a gun owner. I have been a gun owner. I’m not anti-gun. I’m anti-gun for mentally ill people. I’m anti-gun for criminals.” (…)

Cuomo called on federal elected officials to summon the “guts and courage” to pass strict laws on the national level because of the guns that have flooded into New York from other states.

“The federal officials in my opinion are afraid of the political downside,” he said.

And he acknowledged he took a hit in popularity for the SAFE Act, passed in the wake of an elementary school shooting in Connecticut. The measure has angered gun-rights supporters and Republicans, especially upstate, and Cuomo’s popularity there has struggled to rebound.

“I paid the price. When I passed the law in New York, the people who were against any gun control got very, very angry at me and the don’t like me and they don’t vote for me,” Cuomo said. “I understand that. But, I was elected to do the right thing. The right thing is this nation needs a federal gun control policy.”

Thank you to Governor Cuomo for doing and saying the right thing. He does have the political courage to do the right thing in the face of strong resistance. That is what it will take in order to save lives. He gets it. Too many of our elected leaders don’t or won’t.

Shame on them all.

Strong laws, community responses to this concerning epidemic, public education and awareness about the risks of guns, enforcing the laws already on the books( which doesn’t preclude passing new ones), holding gun owners responsible for their own behavior, and many other measures, can make a difference. They have already made a difference in the states that have taken action and passes strong gun laws. The evidence is already in front of us.

Do we want to make a difference and make change happen? Or do we want to just have the status quo and let the corporate gun lobby be the deciding group in these important decisions? Do we want our elected leaders to listen to the majority of us who are concerned about our national public health and safety epidemic or will we let them get away with publicly announcing their adherence to the gun lobby’s view of the second amendment?

It’s time to do something and stand with the families of the 33,ooo victims of gunshot injuries. Who are we as a country if we fail our children and our communities in such a tragic way? We need to do #WhatEverItTakes.