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.

Reactions and inertia after too many shootings

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

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

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

There’s the Tamir Rice shooting.

There’s the shooting of Walter Scott.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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