Are there stray bullets?

I have been thinking about all of the shootings since I last wrote and shooting anniversaries ( 5 victims remembered one year after the Annapolis Capital Gazette newspaper office). We have a mass shooting every day in America and could be doing a memorial every day as well. This is the sad state of gun violence in America in the week leading up to our nation’s July 4th celebration.

Is there such a thing as a stray bullet? Every bullet shot out of a firearm finds a place to land. Most often they land in the bodies of innocent humans going about their everyday business. Take, for example, the headline of an article in today’s Duluth News Tribune- “Drive-by shooting in St. Paul injures 5“:

The shootings in the Payne-Phalen area happened about two hours after a man was killed in a shooting, also on the city’s East Side, but Sgt. Mike Ernster said police don’t believe the cases are related.

Officers responded to a two-story house at 909 Desoto Street about 10:30 p.m. on a report of shots fired and found four people injured.

Note that there was a shooting homicide a few hours earlier. No doubt we will learn more about this shooting of 5. No matter who they were or what the circumstances, we know that bullets are flying in our neighborhoods and homes, injuring or killing about 100 a day.

These are daily headlines all over America. They are commonplace enough that most people just shrug and move on. In another country, people would be outraged about it and do something about it or have already done something about it so these are not headlines in their media outlets.

We are an America in love with our guns. Other countries have hunters and recreational shooters but do not own handguns for protection. Other countries also do not have a second amendment or powerful and influential gun lobby making the rules for gun ownership. That could change in America because the once powerful gun lobby has been exposed for the corrupt organization it is and is having so many financial difficulties that there hateful and fear mongering NRATV has been canceled. Dana Loesch’s voice will be silenced for the moment and her terrible screeds against those of us who want common sense gun laws and a gun culture that includes gun safety reform will not be heard by the gun rights extremists.

Her lies and deceptions have been influencing the far right for several years and fomenting the people with guns who are waiting for their insurrection moment. From the Media Matters article above:

The morning after the first Democratic primary debate, Loesch took to Fox & Friends to criticize Democratic presidential candidates’ positions on gun violence prevention. Loesch claimed the candidates hide their “confiscation” plans by calling them “mandatory buybacks.” 

The former NRA spokesperson went on to baselessly claim a new Gallup poll shows “there are more people who think that 9/11 was an inside job” and “more people believe the moon landing was fake than actually want gun control.” 

Fake news. Some people can be controlled by lack of understanding and education about issues. Facts actually do matter. Basing policy and public opinion on false information and lies is dangerous to our country. We have a President who lies with almost every word that comes out of his mouth. So to attribute lies about guns and gun safety reform to those who were telling the truth in the Democratic primaries is the height of hypocrisy. So far it has worked for a certain segment of the population who also call themselves patriots.

Do guns = patriotism? No, is the answer. But on July 4th and other holidays like New Years Eve, some people believe they can do whatever they want with their guns and fire them into the air in celebration. They forgot or never thought of the fact that bullets don’t know where to stop until they hit something. Celebratory gunfire takes the lives or injures innocent people every year when stray bullets go up and then, as is inevitable, come back down. My friend Joe Jaskolka, is one of the innocent victims of such a stray bullet.

Joe’s life and those of his loved ones and friends were forever changed by a stray bullet.

Another stray bullet found its’ way into the body of a Minnesota motorcyclist just traveling innocently and trying to enjoy his ride. A reckless and irresponsible gun owner was target shooting nearby not thinking that bullets actually fly around in the area:

Good advice. The funny thing about this statement ( not funny really) is that too often shooters are sure of their targets which is why so many Americans have died from bullets. And the other bit of hypocrisy is that even people who are trained to use weapons such as law enforcement officers and military members frequently miss their intended targets.

And we want teachers to have guns in schools to protect our children? Do we want this teacher to carry her gun in her classroom after pulling it out to threaten someone who got in front of her at a McDonald’s drive through line? I think not.

Guns are dangerous weapons designed to kill. They should not be owned, stored or carried cavalierly as they too often are.

We are at our cabin for the week of July 4th. We have heard someone target shooting across the lake and not too far from the road that goes past our lake. We think it is the sound of a shotgun which would be less dangerous to others. But it isn’t even close to hunting season so why be shooting now? But then we do hear the sound of a rifle which means there are bullets flying around that could actually hit someone else. And yes, people have a right to shoot off guns in rural areas on property they own or at gun ranges, But if they are not careful, innocent people could be their targets.

Speaking of innocent victims there have been a number of “accidental” shootings of children by children. Two children were injured in Texas when another got access to a shotgun and shot it, as children will do. Yes, even shotguns need to be stored safely away from ammunition. Or this grandmother whose purse was the “holster” for a concealed carried gun:

Kayden Stuber was staying with his grandmother and aunt while his parents were at work, and according to local authorities, the child went into his grandma’s purse — which was sitting on the bed — and “in some way retrieved, was handling the gun when it discharged,” Greenville County Coroner Kent Dill says. Deputies and emergency responders rushed to the scene, but Kayden was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital.

An innocent two year old is dead and the entire family is traumatized. The ripple effect of gun violence is real.

These are American tragedies and not only senseless but avoidable.

The thing is, there are far too many irresponsible gun owners who have been convinced that owning a gun for self defense and maybe carrying one around for protection is a good idea. There is no training required when one purchases a gun for any reason. There should be.

And some states have loosened concealed carry laws to the point where no permits or training are required and want a national law that would recognize the permits from any other state regardless of the regulations.

So far the law has failed to pass. How can any politician even think this is a good idea? Simple- they are lapdogs for the corporate gun lobby.

Our politicians are not thinking through the facts and one fact should trump all others. Passing stronger gun laws is patriotic and will result in a safer America. Stronger gun laws will not infringe on our constitution or gun rights. It will make them stronger as well.

Back to my original thesis- there really are no stray bullets. There are bullets intended for someone else. There are bullets intended for someone loved or known by the shooter. There are bullets that are not locked away from children, suicidal adults, felons, burglars, domestic abusers, terrorists and others who should not have them. There are bullets shot by irresponsible gun owners who think it’s fun to target shoot or shoot into the air without bothering to think about the consequences and where the bullets might land.

Have a safe and happy July 4th however you celebrate. If your celebration includes guns, please use them safely and think about your surroundings. And for goodness sake, don’t let children use those guns or find them lying around loaded. Safe storage of guns saves lives. It keeps small hands from accessing them. It keeps people who are suicidal from accessing them. It keeps people who could be a danger to themselves or others from accessing them.

Being a patriot also means caring enough about our country to care about the safety of its’ families and communities. Being free from shootings is being a free country where we all feel safe in 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.

Happy bullet free New Year

Bingo lottery balls 2016 and fireworks

Every year there are senseless gun deaths and injuries due to celebratory gun fire. One has to wonder why those who shoot off their guns on New Years Eve don’t have common sense. Perhaps they don’t understand that bullets have a trajectory that ends somewhere. What goes up must come down. An article from The Trace explains how dangerous this practice is. From the article:

In the 48 communities where ShotSpotter’s equipment is deployed, the company reports, “Statistics show that there are strong seasonal gunfire periods, where approximately 15 percent of all annual gunfire incidents take place on the holidays around New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and the Fourth of July.” In the fourth quarter of 2014, according to ShotSpotter, “there were 16,597 incidents in ShotSpotter coverage areas, and of those, 3,556 (or 21.4 percent) took place during the New Year’s Eve period.” The overwhelming majority of those rounds will land harmlessly or lodge in roofs or other property. But in areas with high population density, some will inevitably hit human beings. And so, each year before the holiday season, police, city officials, and activists from California to Ohio to Texas to Florida are compelled to call on their communities to refrain from spraying bullets skyward.

The impoverishment of data notwithstanding, it’s safe to stipulate at this point that the odds of any single person’s being hit by a celebratory round are extremely low. Even contentious research on stray shootings in general acknowledges that celebratory gunfire (wounds from “falling bullets”) represents less than 5 percent of all firearm-related injuries.

Though the odds are low, tell that to the families of those who have been killed or injured by celebratory gun fire. Every year, my friend Joe Jaskolka and his father Greg have a press event to let people know that celebratory gunfire is, indeed, very dangerous. Joe was hit by a bullet in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1998 when he was just 11. Joe is living with the results of that bullet lodged in his head. He is now 28 years old and lives in a wheel chair suffering from ongoing physical disabilities. But he stays involved in the issue of gun violence prevention by warning others of the danger of celebratory gun fire. Joe’s a great young man and I’m happy to call him my friend and colleague. From the above article:

“This is very simple,” said Joe Jaskolka, “what goes up must come down.”

“We went from having an annual New Year’s Eve party to having an annual press conference,” his father, Gregory Jaskolka, said.

So this New Year’s Eve, please use common sense and don’t fire off a gun to celebrate the coming of 2016. For if 2016 is like other years, innocent people will be killed or injured tonight and every day of the new year. Bullets fired into the air or anywhere else cause trauma and devastating results for many American families. Let’s make 2016 a safer year than 2015. Below is a graph provided by the Gun Violence Archive showing the results of shootings in 2015.

2015 toll of gun violence

This does not include the many suicides which are not usually publicly available. The actual yearly numbers are over 100,000 total gunshot injuries of which about 33,000 have ended in death. It’s hard to keep track of all of the incidents given the amazingly large number of them.

We must be better than this. Join us in 2016 to make our communities safer from devastating gun violence. There are many organizations working on this issue. Find one in your area or that interests you and add your voice to those demanding a change to the conversation and a change to our laws. You can be part of the solution to our nation’s public health and safety epidemic. It’s past time for change.

 

UPDATE:

The first reported case of someone struck by a stray bullet in celebratory gunfire has been reported. A Las Vegas area teen was struck by a bullet early this morning and was hospitalized.

Bullets and fireworks

Fireworks set to glow with hearts and stars on a black background
Fireworks set to glow with hearts and stars on a black background

July 4th is the iconic American holiday. I plan to spend it with my family at our cabin enjoying the sun and the water as well as time spent together. We will go to a nearby fireworks display as will millions of Americans. Every year, people are harmed by fireworks of some kind. Last year, several were killed, including this Detroit man. From the article:

It happened following a barbecue on Plainview. A witness says the victim picked up an explosive to set it off when it shot in his direction.

“I tried to notify the media, the legislature, anyone I could that legalizing these powerful professional-grade fireworks is wrong for Michigan,” said retired police sergeant David Malhalab. “There is no price you can put on a life, a hand, a child, an eye, a mother or a father.”

So legislatures also have regulated certain types of fireworks because of their potential to harm citizens. There are known risks, including fires started by fireworks. This report, including numbers for injuries, deaths and fires, shows the dangers of fireworks. In 2014 over 10,000 people were treated for fireworks related injuries and 11 people died. Young children were among the highest age group treated for injuries. Most of these were from misuse or malfunctioning of the fireworks.

So the take away here is that caution should be practiced when using fireworks. Because of dry conditions, the state of Oregon is warning citizens about potential fireworks bans if conditions become worse.

So we know that fireworks can be harmful and hopefully your own family will be safe from any injuries or problems associated with the usual fireworks displays or family celebrations with smaller fireworks.

We also know that guns can be harmful and celebratory gunfire on this holiday has caused “accidental” injuries and deaths. Given that gun owners should understand that bullets that are fired into the air must come down somewhere, it’s really hard to understand why celebratory gunfire still occurs. Warnings are already issued in some places:

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office will be taking a zero tolerance stance on any and all illegal gun use and gun crime during the holiday.

“There are many ways to safely celebrate with family and friends. Discharging  a firearm is NOT one of them,” said Sheriff Al Nienhuis.  “It’s just too easy for people to get hurt.  Leave the firearms at home, in a safe and secure location.”

Good advice. But it will not be followed by some who feel the need to bring their guns with them wherever they go. From the reports above, the risks of being injured by fireworks are greater than any risk of having to use a gun for self defense in a public place where families gather to enjoy the holiday celebrations.

For example, this Missouri woman was injured when someone at the July 4th celebration she was attending stupidly shot a gun into the air and the bullet that came down lodged in her face:

A stray bullet hit a Missouri woman just under her eye while she was watching fireworks on Independence Day.

The bullet is thought to have come from a rambunctious reveler who shot his gun into the air to honor our freedoms. Spoiler alert: Celebratory gunfire is not one of them.

“I’m sure they were celebrating,” Janet Brewer told the Daily News. “There was no one around us who had guns. It had to come from a distance.”

Brewer, of Fenton, is not against the Second Amendment but thinks irresponsible gun ownership is “way out of hand.”

“We are trying to get out there just how dangerous shooting something in the air can be,” she said. “I’m just lucky to be here. If it were an inch higher, it would have gone through my eye and gone through my head and killed me.”

The second amendment does not guarantee that one can do anything with one’s gun. With rights come responsibilities. Let’s look at more incidents involving stupid and dangerous behavior with guns on July 4th.

An 11 year old Kansas girl died when a bullet fired from over a mile away hit her and killed her during a July 4th celebration. Here is a quote from the girl’s mother:” “A gun is not a toy; it should not be out at any point of celebration, because that’s how my daughter lost her life. A bullet traveled quite a distance and hit her in the neck,” she said.”

A gun is not a toy. It’s a weapon designed to kill and needs to be treated as such. Here’s an article about a 7 year old Virginia child who was killed by July 4th celebratory gun fire and about celebratory gun fire in general. Gun rights advocates and gun violence prevention advocates all agree that people should not shoot guns into the air.

My state of Minnesota has passed some strict regulations about where certain kinds of fireworks can be used and which ones are banned. Some fireworks are not allowed in public places and some are banned for private citizens. So here’s a question? Most fireworks are not allowed in public spaces but loaded guns are. Does this make any sense? I say no. It’s time to think through what public safety actually means. If it’s not safe for fireworks in public, why is it safe to allow people to carry guns in public places? Isn’t it time for this to change?

July 4th should be a holiday for fun and time with families and friends. And it should be a safe time for all. So be careful out there with fireworks and take the advice of the Sheriff from the above article: “Leave the firearms at home in a safe and secure location.”

Happy 4th to all.