“Good” grief

Charlie BrownI often use the words “good grief” to describe my anger, frustration, distaste, exasperation, disbelief and any number of other emotions when other words do not suffice.

Charlie Brown, the iconic character in Charles Schultz’s  Peanuts cartoons, which also became television specials, used this term often to express his frustration.

So how do these words find themselves into my post today? How does the funeral of a friend, a summit on gun violence as a public health issue, a hunting accident, an officer’s response to tragedy,  a racist incident at a Minnesota college, a road rage incident, the acquittal of a St. Louis police officer, tabling at a local festival and a gun suicide intersect?

Grief. Anger. Victims. Awe. Inspiration. Organizing. Keeping children safe from gun injuries and death.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a friend. We met his family at church many years ago and his wife, in particular, became my friend and a member of my church book group. As she always does at funerals, my minister wove his story of love, compassion for his family and community, his humor, his fun loving life style and his courage in the face of his cancer diagnosis into the sermon. He was a volunteer firefighter and a Viet Nam veteran. No one was left without a tissue. We were all touched by his 3 adult daughters telling us about their dad and his 3 sons-in-law reading the verses. There were so many things we hadn’t known about our friend and it took his death for us to find out. He was an avid hunter, fisherman, outdoorsman, volunteer, grandparent to 6, and good man who made his mark on his circle of friends and the community at large. The grief of this family over the loss of a man who died too young will continue through their lives and they will live with the hole left by his death.

Grief is grief no matter how a death happened. With my friend it was cancer. There are many causes of death, of course. Suicides take the lives of way too many Americans and are on the rise in Minnesota. In Minnesota suicides by gun account for about 75% of gun deaths.

One of the topics of the Protect Minnesota 2 day summit I attended last week about gun violence and public health was the prevalence of gun suicides across the country and in Minnesota. There was much discussion about access to loaded guns, discussions about how much mental illness contributes to suicides and about other conditions or behaviors that contribute to suicides and suicides by gun.

An article in the Washington Post written by the wife of a gun suicide victim says it all:

I believe my husband’s decision to end his life two years ago was made seconds before it happened. His fate was sealed only when he reached for one of his guns for the last time. Once the hammer started to fall, that was it.

When our American gun culture doesn’t consider the risks of guns to those who should so clearly not have them, we have a serious public health crisis. Yes, it is a crisis.

I do not oppose the Second Amendment, but we desperately need to start changing the conversation about gun ownership in this country. My husband was a casualty of a jacked-up marketing fable that convinces men, women and children that their castles are unsafe unless they are guarded with guns.

Far more guns kill people in suicides, accidents, mistakes or fits of rage than from an intruder in the night. Families, partners and friends must acknowledge this reality when discussing having guns in the home. We also need politicians to support policies that give families the power they need to save their loved ones.

We can save our loved ones by enacting sensible and common sense measures such as requiring a Brady background check on all gun sales and Gun Violence Protective Orders. In fact, these make so much common sense that the majority of Americans and even gun owners agree. We can prevent at least some of the grief of gun deaths and injuries.

At the Protect Minnesota summit we heard from a panel of survivors, each of whom had lost a loved one to gun violence or had survived a shooting. To say the least, it was powerful and emotional and full of the grief of the survivors. This is why those in the gun violence prevention movement do what we do. We really don’t want others to feel the grief we have all felt.

survivors

There is a lot of grief to go around and some of it is actually in the form of anger. At the Protect Minnesota summit mentioned above there were local and national speakers highlighting ways in which we can reduce and prevent urban gun violence. Much of it was based on the racism associated with shootings in urban areas. And a lot of time was spent on how and why young men of color “need” guns that often end up in the wrong hands or in gun crimes, and worse, gun tragedies.

So when the “shooting” incident reported by a security guard at St. Catherine’s College in St. Paul made the media rounds, it first appeared to be another school shooting. A campus was locked down and law enforcement were called to the scene looking for the perpetrator. As it turned out, the perpetrator was the security guard himself who had irresponsibly brought his own firearm to work and “accidentally” discharged it, shooting himself in the shoulder.  He said he was afraid he would lose his job if he reported the truth and so he fabricated a shooter- of course a young black man wearing a hoodie:

Police arrested Ahlers, 25, on Wednesday, after he told investigators during questioning that he accidentally shot himself with his handgun and lied about it because he feared losing his job, according to St. Paul police. St. Kate’s prohibits people, including security guards, from carrying guns on campus.

St. Kate’s terminated Ahlers on Thursday. University President Becky Roloff said in a statement that the university “strongly condemns racial discrimination, racial stereotyping, and racial profiling of any kind. The statements attributed to the former employee concerning the race of an alleged suspect are deeply troubling and do not reflect our values.”

The man lost his job. A campus was locked down for nothing. Police were involved in an unnecessary search for a black man. And there are no “accidental” shootings. There is irresponsible handling of a deadly weapon however.

A St. Catherine University security guard put African-American men at risk of being hurt or killed during an intense manhunt in St. Paul, after he allegedly falsely accused a black male of shooting him, community leaders said Friday.

There were real implications to what Brent Patrick Ahlers told police, said community activist Robert McClain. He received calls regarding three people stopped by police during the search for the “suspect” Tuesday night, including by officers with guns drawn.

“When they look for someone who they assume is an active shooter, they don’t look in a nice way,” McClain said. “They don’t stop and ask questions in a nice way, so you victimize people who haven’t done a thing.

Good grief.

Law enforcement officers are a part of our communities and there to serve us and protect us from harm. Sometimes that does not work out well and there are plenty of recent incidents of officer involved shootings of young black men gone wrong that have left families and communities grieving. The latest outcry has come in St. Louis where the last two days have seen protests after the acquittal of an officer who shot and killed a black man.

We have a lot of work to do regarding relationships between law enforcement and communities of color. It is understandable that people of color are angry over the acquittals of officers after shootings of black men. This is a uniquely American problem and it is because of all of the guns in our communities. Officers are armed and citizens are armed. It doesn’t work out well and racism plays a part. When everyone is armed, too many people do not feel safe.

But officers are often involved in non-violent support of their communities. A story in the Duluth News Tribune caught my attention this morning. It is written by a female officer who comforted a young girl during the rescue of her father and sister in their drownings in Lake Superior. Officers are often traumatized by tragic incidents and sometimes even leave the force. But this officer chose to write a beautiful story about how she spent hours with a young girl who had lost her father and sister. Thanks goodness for officers like this one and their dedication to their communities and the victims of tragic incidents.

There was a law enforcement panel at the Protect Minnesota summit last week. All participants were caring, dedicated and educated individuals who cared a lot about how gun violence affects their communities and they are working to lessen the impact of gun crimes and gun violence. They all agreed that they saw too many gun suicides and too much urban violence and they want to work with us to solve important problems and lessen the grief that devastates families and communities.

And we know that many officers are themselves victims of shootings when trying to intervene in incidents or in actual ambushes by people who hate officers or have a grudge of some kind.  We have our very own home-grown terrorists. This is yet another element to our gun violence epidemic that we are ignoring at the risk of losing lives.

Good grief.

The grief that comes with a violent and sudden death never goes away. Another story in the Duluth News Tribune this morning was so poignant and difficult but I am grateful for the man who told his story of grief over an accidental shooting that took the life of his son while hunting decades ago:

He allowed Mark to move ahead a few steps. Just then, a grouse flushed along the trail.

“When a grouse flushes, your instinct is to be quick,” Kern said.

He was. He shouldered his shotgun and swung on the fleeing bird. In that split-second, he wasn’t aware that Mark had moved directly into the path of his shot.

“I shot him right in the back of the head,” Kern said. “Killed him instantly.”

He speaks openly about that day, not without showing some emotion. He shares his story with others from time to time. He hopes it might serve as a powerful reminder to other hunters about the importance of safe gun handling, about being aware of where one’s hunting partners are, about understanding the finality of an ill-advised shot.

…”the finality of an ill-advised shot.” Bullets are often final.

Hunting season is happening right now in Minnesota. Every year we hear of hunting accidents involving guns and too often it is one family member or a friend shooting another family member or friend. The guilt and pain that comes with that must be unimaginable. But this man goes on with his life as best he can and lives forever with his grief. More from the linked story:

Over the years, Kern has regained his inner strength and a sense of who he is. He believes strongly that each of us has “a force” within. A kind of energy. A spirit.

He cannot, of course, forget what happened on that long-ago September day. He doesn’t try to bury the memory. He fully acknowledges the reality of what he did.

“This happened to me,” he says.

The loss of a child is too painful to consider but it has happened to members of my family and to friends. Most have thankfully not been due to gun deaths. Yesterday my chapter set up a table at a local event to educated the public about how they can reduce the chances that a child will be “accidentally” shot in the home of friends. The ASK campaign encourages parents and gives them the language to ask that awkward question. Most gun owning families actually think this is a good idea and if they are storing their guns unloaded and secured, they can avoid the awful tragedy of an “accidental” shooting. It was ( and is) well received and allowed us to have many great conversations with parents and others about the risks of unsecured guns and other issues related to guns and gun violence.  ASK

Every day in America about 7 children a day die from gunshot injuries. Some survive and survive with lifetime physical and emotional injuries and PTSD. (PTSD was a topic of discussion also at the Northstar conference on gun violence and public health.) A road rage shooting that is now being reported in the media has left one innocent little boy with terrible head injuries but hopefully not with long term disabilities related to the shooting. The article is titled: ” Children Under Fire”.

Good grief.

How can this be a title for a story? It can be because in America, people carry guns around with them in their cars. And stupidly and tragically, they shoot other people when they get angry over their driving.  From the article:

“Stop!” Hill screamed, turning to check on her son, who, just before midnight on Aug. 6, had become one of the nearly two dozen children shot — intentionally, accidentally or randomly — every day in the United States. What follows almost all of those incidents are frantic efforts to save the lives of kids wounded in homes and schools, on street corners and playgrounds, at movie theaters and shopping centers.

Good grief.

(…) On average, 23 children were shot each day in the United States in 2015, according to a Post review of the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s at least one bullet striking a growing body every 63 minutes.

In total, an estimated 8,400 children were hit, and more died — 1,458 — than in any year since at least 2010. That death toll exceeds the entire number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan this decade.

Many incidents, though, never become public because they happen in small towns or the injuries aren’t deemed newsworthy or the triggers are pulled by teens committing suicide.

Caring for children wounded by gunfire comes with a substantial price tag. Ted Miller, an economist who has studied the topic for nearly 30 years, estimated that the medical and mental health costs for just the 2015 victims will exceed $290 million.

Good grief.

There is nothing good about grief. In America, the grief of families because of gun violence is remarkable, avoidable, preventable, and a national public health epidemic. We can do something about all of this but a minority of gun extremists and the corporate gun lobby get in the way of common sense. I wonder if they read about these incidents or have experienced the grief associated with gun deaths? I don’t wish it on anyone but stories must be told in order to make change.

In this post I have told quite a few stories. They involve victims, law enforcement officers, survivors, the grief experienced by the family of my friend, children, communities and families.

And I haven’t even touched on domestic shootings like the one that took my sister’s life. But they, too, happen every day. More grief.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is October– soon. I will write more then.

We are better than this.

The perfect storm

sunThough the sun is out in my neck of the woods and we are about to have a gorgeous early fall day, it feels bad in much of the country. It feels unsettling and people are apprehensive.

Wildfires are consuming many areas of the western U.S., including in Glacier Park where I visited with my grandchildren last summer. The area around beautiful Lake MacDonald is experiencing flames and smoke and there is concern about the historic lodge there which we visited while we were in the Park. One other historic lodge, the Sperry Chalet, has already burned. Friends are posting photos on Facebook of ash from the fires in Washington and Montana falling on their decks and homes. Another friend told me that her son lives in the Columbia River Gorge and they are worried about his home. Some people can’t be outside because of the smoke and ash.

Here is my photo of the Lake MacDonald lodge.  IMG_3034

Ordinarily this news would occupy the 24/7 cycles but Hurricane Harvey came along devastating the Houston area. We hardly had time to digest that awful tragedy before the warnings came about Irma. The survivors of Harvey are still in shelters, many having lost their homes and belongings. It will be a very long time for recovery.

But Irma. I can’t come up with any words that haven’t already been used to describe this monster storm. I have been watching the news on and off all day as things unfold in front of our eyes. Surely this will be horrific for millions.

And so September has been a bad month so far. Oh- there was a major earthquake in Mexico while we were paying attention to Irma warnings.

Some friends and family members have homes or condos in Florida. I have spoken with many of them and so far they are safe but the fury has not yet begun. To be continued….

But hey, people can feel good about the fact that Governor Scott has made sure they can all carry their concealed guns without a permit during the emergency of the hurricane. That’s reassuring. Because why in the world does someone need a gun while hunkering down sheltered in place during one of the nation’s worst ever hurricanes? Because- rights……..

And as if on cue, a Sheriff had to warn Floridians not to actually shoot their guns at the hurricane because of a ludicrous “event” created urging people to do just that. Really sometimes you just can’t make up the lunacy of some gun rights enthusiasts. I can actually envision this happening, can’t you? Because that is how far afield gun rights extremists have gone. It would be great if shooting at a hurricane would make it go away. This is not funny. Lives are at risk.

Where is common sense?

It almost didn’t seem relevant to write about gun violence incidents which continue unabated in spite of the natural disasters around us. So I wasn’t going to write for a while. But then this story came to my attention from Columbia, South Carolina that just begs for our attention. A two year old found a loaded gun in his home and shot and killed himself. Unfortunately incidents like this happen far too frequently and often no one knows they have happened. The boy’s father, bereft at the shooting, then shot and killed himself.

This is unimaginable. There are no words to express the grief and heartache of this family.

Too easy access to loaded guns become everyday tragedies.

But there are words to express the total lunacy of some gun owners in our country. As I have said, most gun owners are responsible with their guns. But the gun culture encourages loaded guns around homes and people are not responsible with their guns. There is no mandatory training to operate deadly weapons designed to kill people. Owning a gun is an awesome responsibility. Firearms are deadly weapons and need to be treated with great respect. All it takes is an instant and a family is changed forever.

It is mandatory to go through driver’s education and to get a permit while learning to drive. It is mandatory to pass a test in order to drive a vehicle because of course, accidents can happen and it’s just plain a good idea to make sure people are as safe as they can be on the roads. We all know that this does not assure that there are no accidents. So on the other end, it is now mandatory for car manufacturers to install seat belts and air bags and other safety features and mandatory for us to wear those seat belts. It is saving lives. That’s a good thing.

Sadly we are not focused on the right thing when talking about gun violence. The conversation becomes polarized immediately with people on both sides blaming and making statements that don’t make common sense. What if we focused on the victims instead of on whose side politicians are on as they try to avoid or make policy? When we do focus on people instead of policy and objects, we understand that families all over America have suffered the devastation of gun violence. At some point they don’t care what the politicians or the the gun rights or gun violence prevention sides are saying. They just want their loved ones back. Impossible.

This article found that most articles about gun violence focus on policy instead of on the victims and survivors. 

There is much good advice at the end of this article but I picked out these to highlight:

Depoliticize gun violence by appealing to common values. Sidestep political opposition by crafting messages that emphasize universal values like safety, opportunity and freedom from fear. Focus on storytelling instead of data. Highlighting personal stories will bring statistics to life, create empathy and overcome stereotypes about who is impacted by gun violence.

This is about California but can be extrapolated to every state. The difference would be that California has strong gun laws which does cause some complacency. Other states with much weaker gun laws also seem to be complacent but unwilling to do something to save lives by not passing stronger gun laws.

We can actually save people from dying or being injured from firearms with the right conversation and the right policies. The narrative needs to shift to how to save lives. That is what this is all about. Personally my family have been hunters and gun owners. My husband owns hunting guns which are locked safely away in a safe without the ammunition. This is just common sense. We don’t want grandchildren to find those guns. We don’t want them to be stolen and in the hands of those who should not handle them or can’t be responsible with them.

This is simple. It is not rocket science. It’s common sense. As I watch coverage of the coming wrath of Irma, I have heard those who have decided not to leave their homes or heed the warnings. I pray they will be safe but know that some will not because they opted not to be responsible. The same is true of firearms owners. Policy is made for all to protect us from ourselves and others. Laws and rules are not punitive on the front end. They are there to protect us.

Let’s protect our children and families. And let’s pray for the potential victims and survivors of Irma.

The sun will come out- maybe not tomorrow but it will come out in Florida and reveal the devastation. It will shed a bright light on what is needed from us as a country to help the millions affected by hurricanes, flooding, loss of property, belongings and most likely lives. As a country, we will work together to rebuild. Lives can not be replaced but belongings can. My sister’s life cannot be replaced after her shooting death. But we have our memories of her vivacious and beautiful personality and yes, a few of her belongings to bring us pleasure.

25 years later- unhappy anniversary

crying womanThis will be a long post. But then again, 25 years is a long time since the death of my sister. It’s a long time to have worked on gun violence prevention. It’s a long time living with the fact that we seem to be febile in the face of the gun lobby influence and have allowed lapdog politicians to do their bidding. And while the fight to prevent gun violence continues so do the deaths due to firearms injuries.

Too many families  mark the anniversaries of the death of a loved one to gun violence. What an unhappy anniversary. It brings back the memories of the phone call and/or the visit from law enforcement announcing that a shooting had taken the life of your child, parent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandchild or grandparent or a good friend. Gun violence has a ripple effect so the broader community and sometimes the entire country is affected by heinous shootings. It is in our consciousness and our collective memories and our collective culture.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the shooting death of my sister, Barbara. She was a beautiful lively, talented artist and pilot. She was a biker, a very good downhill skier, a tennis player, a beauty queen, a mother and step-mother, very involved in her community and a world traveler. In high school her friends called her Bugs. I still am not sure why. Because she grew up in Duluth, some of her friends still live here and I run into them occasionally. They always have fond memories to share of her as she was loved by many.

In spite of the fact that her estranged husband ( 2nd husband) killed her, the adult children from her first marriage and adult child from her second marriage along with the adult children from his first marriage remain close to each other. His first wife has taken on the role of grandmother to the grandchildren my sister never met. My husband, my children and I all remain close with all of them. It was because of my sister’s ability to love and draw people together that we have remained a close family.

We could have been angry and divorced ourselves from his family, but my mother was forgiving to a fault and kept them all close. The thing is, we loved them all and had no idea that my soon to be ex brother-in-law was capable of shooting and killing two people. That is how it often is. Family members are surprised proclaiming that the shooter was such a nice person or a quiet guy or the family seemed to be so happy. What went wrong? It was so unexpected. That is the risk of having a gun so accessible in situations of anger and domestic disputes.:

DID YOU KNOW?  Keeping a gun in the home raises the risk of homicide.

    • States with the highest levels of gun ownership have 114 percent higher firearm homicide rates and 60 percent higher homicide rates than states with the lowest gun ownership (Miller, Hemenway, and Azrael, 2007, pp. 659, 660).
    • The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms (Kellermann, 1993, p. 1084).
  • Higher gun ownership puts both men and women at a higher risk for homicide, particularly gun homicide (Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Injury Control Research Center, 2009).

Stunning.

I will always remember the night of the phone call about my sister’s death- actually on August 6 because her body and that of her friend were not discovered until the next day. When my nephew told me that my sister had died I assumed it was a plane crash since she was a pilot. Or anything else besides a shooting. How can one imagine that happening to a loved one? The violence. I often wonder how it would have been for her in the seconds before death after 1,2 and then a third bullet entered her body. Unimaginable. I can’t go there.photo of Barbara

Guns are deadly weapons designed to kill people. I won’t repeat the figures here again but we know that a lot of people die needlessly from firearm injuries. We also know that we are NOT helpless to change the trajectory of the number of gun deaths. More guns means more gun deaths. That is just a common sense fact.

We are not dealing in common sense though. Tragically we are dealing with a powerful and well funded corporate gun lobby that has become an arm of the extreme right wing of our nation. They use the second amendment as cover for their ever increasingly extreme agenda, aimed at arming anyone everywhere. We will not be safer as a country.

On this 25th anniversary of my sister’s death, I want to also remember the 5 year anniversary of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin,   6 died that day because of a hate filled white supremacist who killed just because. That is the American tragedy playing out regularly every day, week, month and year.

This shooting was just one of the very many mass shootings in America. Only in America is this a regular part of a nation’s culture. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I have some suggestions:

Stop making this about the second amendment. It is about preventing gun deaths and injuries.

Stop the ludicrous assertion that passing a universal background check to require Brady background checks for all gun sales will inevitably lead to gun confiscation. That is a lie.

Challenge the NRA and other extreme gun rights groups when they cross over a line and stoke up lies and fear. Take this latest from Dana Loesch of NRA TV, for just one example:

Dana Loesch, spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, is yet again making headlines for controversial reasons. On Friday, during an interview with Grant Stichfield on the NRA TV channel, Loesch equated penalizing gun owners with shaming rape victims. Her comments were in response to a study conducted by the Center for American Progress indicating an increased rate of gun thefts in Southern states — with most of the stolen firearms ending up illegally trafficked and utilized in robberies and violent crimes. Texas, Georgia, and Florida topped the list with over 8,100 thefts of licensed firearms between 2012 and 2016. The Center for American Progress suggested implementing laws enforcing stricter storage guidelines for gun owners.

Loesch argued that focusing on gun owners rather than on those stealing the guns is analogous to shaming victims of sexual assault:

Good grief. What nonsense. No wonder some gun owners are moving away from this organization.

So we should encourage more reasonable gun owners who generally agree with the gun violence prevention groups to raise their voices. Many believe the NRA has become too extreme for them and have left the organization. Here is just one who wrote about his displeasure with the NRA:

As a gun owner and defender of the Second Amendment, I’m here to tell you the NRA has lost its ever-loving mind.

The nation’s largest firearms organization began its slide into moral degeneracy as late as the early 2000s, when actor Charlton Heston became its five-term president (a feat for which the NRA’s rules had to be changed to allow him to serve longer), before going public with his battle with Alzheimer’s disease and retiring. Under Heston’s firebrand leadership, the NRA’s rhetoric shifted its focus from working with lawmakers across the country to defend Second Amendment rights, to recasting the group as the front-line warrior in a crusade against the entire progressive movement in a culture war that they claimed had engulfed the country. (…)

A responsible NRA would be working for, not against, universal background checks on all firearms sales. As a responsible gun owner, it’s my job to ensure anyone I transfer a weapon to is in fact legally permitted to possess one. That’s the bare minimum due diligence that should be expected of me, and the vast majority of Americans and even gun owners agree. But not the NRA.

Pass the law to close the gap with Brady background checks that now allows private sellers to sell guns without knowing whether the buyer is a felon, a domestic abuser or someone dangerously mentally ill.

Pass laws to require safe storage of guns.

Strengthen gun trafficking laws.

Crack down on straw purchasing. The Brady Center won a settlement against a Florida gun dealer and announced it today. The message from the gun dealer who sold a gun through a straw purchase which was used in a fatal shooting:

“We must exercise great caution and due diligence with great responsibility in preventing firearms from getting in the wrong hands of people who seek to harm us all. I support laws that protect our Second Amendment and the laws that protect our society from criminal elements who would abuse that right to the detriment of others. I encourage all gun dealers, including the new owner of my gun shop, to implement such measures.”

Hold every gun dealer and every gun owner responsible for being safe with guns and business practices. Lives can be saved.

Educate parents about ASKing if there are loaded, unsecured guns in homes where their children play. One big question could save a life.

Form coalitions of like minded people who are interested in keeping people from shooting themselves or others such as faith groups, gun owners, law enforcement, mental health organizations, domestic violence associations, health care providers, communities of color, LGBTQ community, educators, parents, business leaders and other gun violence prevention groups.

Crack down on irresponsible gun dealers. (See above article about the Brady Center settlement against an irresponsible gun dealer)

Don’t loosen gun carry permit laws. New research suggests that the passage of the conceal (and open) carry laws have led to more gun violence.

Change the conversation about the risks of guns to families and communities. Push back when bad advice or faulty information is in the public domain like the recent Dear Abby column about kids and guns. After the Brady Campaign and other organizations and volunteers weighed in Abby wrote a column with new advice and changed her mind. 

Remember the victims and survivors and make sure their stories are told. They are the voices of the movement to prevent shootings.

Stop saying our thoughts and prayers are with you and do something about the gun violence epidemic. TAKE ACTION.

Join one of the many gun violence prevention groups working to end gun violence at the local, state and national level. Join them in sending emails, postcards, making phone calls, lobbying at offices, tabling, speaking out, going to rallies, bell ringings, other events. They need you.

Work together for common sense.

I will end by suggesting that the current culture of incivility, sometimes including our own friends, on social media is disturbing. It starts from the top. With a President who has mentioned violence at rallies and said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue without losing supporters, we have hit some new lows in civility. With trolls making rude and offensive comments when they disagree with someone, how can we have a civil society? It’s a frightening trend.

With members of both parties attacking each other and then the other party, how can we expect civility? With more armed people walking around with loaded guns in public, can we expect civility?

Social media allows a platform for organizing and promoting causes as well as keeping in touch with each other. But when it also becomes a platform for open criticism of even other friendly organizations or candidates or friends and family members, how can we expect people to settle disputes peacefully and without use of force? With the wide gap between Americans politically, the fear and paranoia is real. What we don’t need is ramping it up to include the idea of violence against each other and particularly with guns. Gun rights and the second amendment go only so far. The NRA’s leaders and lobbyists and other gun rights organizations have increasingly associated themselves with one political party in our country. The rhetoric has become more violent and suggestive of “second amendment remedies”. Why? The question should be asked and answered.

We are better than this. I am sure we all want to leave our country and the world a better and safer place for our children and grandchildren. That is what my sister would have wanted and that is why I am persisting. In her name I carry on. I stand on the legacy and lost lives of the 825,000 Americans who have died from gunshot injuries since 1992. That’s right. 25 multiplied by 33,000 is that much. In 1992 when my sister was shot and killed gun deaths were actually higher than 33,000 per year.

And last, I want to pay tribute to Jim Brady who died 3 years ago yesterday. I met him once and immediately was taken by his sense of humor and engaging personality even as he suffered from the decades long firearm injuries he suffered in the assassination attempt on the life of President Reagan. Jim and his wife Sarah persisted in spite of the terrible situation in which they found themselves, and got the Brady Law passed. Lives have been saved as a result.

I honor all victims of gun violence on this anniversary of my sister’s shooting death. Many things have changed since her death but one thing has not- gun violence is a thing. It’s a thing that needs fixing.

Shed a tear. Ring the bell. Light a candle. Pick a flower. Think for a minute the horror of losing a loved one in a shooting. And then take action and do something about it.

Why I #wearorange

Orange-square

I wear orange for the children. I wear orange for the victims of gun suicides. I wear orange for the women who didn’t realize how unsafe they would be in their homes with a loaded gun sitting around. I wear orange for the victims of school shootings, mall shootings, airport shootings, warehouse shootings, shootings in driveways and cars, shootings of innocent people from stray bullets. I wear orange from terror related shootings from those caused by mentally unstable young men, racist and intolerant men, indefensible self defense shootings, shootings of and by officers, shootings of kids and teens carrying “fake” guns, shootings of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, children, grandchildren, grandparents, cousins and friends.

I wear orange because we have a looney tunes gun culture that encourages people who have no business doing so, to buy, carry and own guns. I wear orange because our country’s gun laws are amazingly and dangerously lax. I wear orange because some of our elected leaders and the corporate gun lobby have no common sense. It’s all about power, control and profit over human lives and safe communities.

I wear orange for my sister, Barbara, who was shot and killed in a domestic shooting during a difficult and contentious divorce. I wear orange for Carin, for Shelly, Hadiya, Ben, Reema,  Carolyn,  Daniel,  Alison,  Jordan,  Christopher, Veronika, Jesse, Sam, Reuven, Daryl, Alicia, Neva, Jamar, Cindy, Matt, Laura, Jan, Alex, Michael,…………

Tomorrow my Brady Campaign chapter along with Protect Minnesota will hold a bell ringing at our Memorial Bell Garden, the only garden dedicated to victims of gun violence in the country. Our Mayor will issue a proclamation making it Gun Violence Victims awareness day in Duluth. There will be speakers representing clergy, health care, educators, parents of young children, gun owners and gay/lesbian people. We will ring the bell for victims of gun violence including the 49 victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting marking the upcoming one year anniversary on June 12th.

One of our landmarks will be lit orange tomorrow evening in honor of gun violence victims.

Enger Tower

We honor victims and survivors. We remember them. We will not forget and we will demand the change that will make our communities and families safe from gun violence. Orange calls attention to us. It is bright and loud and not easily missed.

You can check out wearorange.com for more information about the origin of the day and watch the video on the website. We are turning America orange. Join us. Post a photo of yourself on Facebook wearing orange. Attend a local event marking the day and the week-end. Contribute your time, talent and money to a gun violence prevention group of your choice in the name of a friend, survivor or loved one.

The only way change will happen is to work together with others to make it happen.

Make it happen.

Another anniversary-Columbine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is common sense?

Gun lobby distractions

Motivational speechThis post has been edited to update it since it was first posted.

 

Ever since Donald Trump was elected, chaos and distractions have been the rule and the name of the “game.” Lies, tweets, providing false news stories, ignoring or denying some very real dangers to our democracy from the Russian interference in our election, National Security Advisor fired, failed immigration orders, failed health care plan, etc. Not one department or policy area has been left alone. The long tentacles of those in absolute power are reaching far and wide. Gun policy is no exception. Licking their chops, the corporate gun lobby has pursued with some success an agenda that includes getting more guns into the hands of more people in more places. On the face of it, you have to wonder why anyone would want this. It makes no common sense that as a culture and civilized society we would choose to have loaded guns everywhere carried by just about anyone.

Executive VP of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre knows the rules well. He once said this and he meant it:

No Wayne. You made up the rules. This is not how Americans want our gun culture and our gun policy to be.

It seems to be of utmost importance to a minority of Americans who make claims that the second amendment gives them a right to do whatever they want with their guns because…. inalienable rights to own a gun.

Let’s talk a minute about rights. What are they? Is the meaning of the word clear to us all? I took a look at this Wikipedia article about the word rights:

There is considerable disagreement about what is meant precisely by the term rights. It has been used by different groups and thinkers for different purposes, with different and sometimes opposing definitions, and the precise definition of this principle, beyond having something to do with normative rules of some sort or another, is controversial.

And herein lies a basic problem with the arguments over gun rights. The several sides of the issue of gun rights and gun violence prevention would meet in the middle of the issue because that is where the majority stands and has stood for decades at least. In the interest of saving lives, the two sides approach it from different angles. One side, the majority, believes that people can have rights to own their guns but those rights come with responsibilities and common sense. The other side, claiming rights to the same life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness believes that that includes owning and carrying guns in order to protect their rights and lives.

Unfortunately for the one side, gun deaths are not decreasing and instead are staying the same year to year or increasing. More guns in more places carried and owned by more people who should not have them has not made us a safer nation. Those are facts. In states with more gun ownership and weaker gun laws, gun deaths are higher than in others on average. From the report from the Violence Policy Center:

“Year after year, the evidence is clear that states with fewer guns and strong gun laws have far lower rates of gun death,” says VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “States with strong gun violence prevention laws consistently have the lowest gun death rates in the nation. In states with weak gun laws and easy availability of guns, the rates of death by gunfire are far higher.”

The nationwide gun death rate in 2014 was 10.54. The total number of Americans killed by gunfire dipped to 33,599 in 2014 from 33,636 in 2013.

America’s gun death rates — both nationwide and in the states — dwarf those of other industrialized nations. The gun death rate in the United Kingdom was 0.23 per 100,000 in 2011, and in Australia the gun death rate was 0.93 per 100,000 in 2013. (These are the most recent years for which data is available. Data for these countries is available at GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia.)

State gun death rates are calculated by dividing the number of gun deaths by the total state population and multiplying the result by 100,000 to obtain the rate per 100,000, which is the standard and accepted method for comparing fatal levels of gun violence.

Another report from the Violence Policy Center about the impacts of gun violence:

VPC research finds that in 2014, gun deaths even outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, motor vehicle deaths are on a steady decline thanks to proven public-health based injury prevention strategies informed by consumer product safety regulation standards designed to reduce death and injury.

To reduce the toll of gun violence in America, a similar public health approach is urgently needed. Today, guns are the only consumer products in the United States that do not have to meet federal health and safety standards. The federal government should regulate firearms for health and safety just like any other consumer product.

I met with a young man last week who had attended a meeting at which I spoke in January. He was interested in the issue of gun violence prevention from the point of view of a gun owner who agrees with background checks on all gun sales and other reasonable  measures. Several people he knows and even relatives have died in hunting accidents and gun suicides. He did not think of these as gun violence but has changed his thinking and understands that his involvement would be instructive for the cause of gun violence prevention.

On the same day as this man attended one of the Protect Minnesota trainings he also attended a conceal carry permit class. His take? He never wants to carry a gun. When the permit trainer and a lawyer explained the responsibility of a gun carrier if they decide to aim their gun at someone or actually shoot someone, he determined that that was not for him.

This gun owner does not see things as black and white but rather he sees the world from the point of view of someone who likes to hunt and own guns but understands that his rights are limited in the interest of public safety.

But some do see this as black and white and getting their way. A recent article from The Trace does a good job of outlining why the gun absolutists want to trample on the rights of the rest of us to be safe:

“We’re the Trumps,” he said. “We’re the grassroots.”

Like President Trump and his top advisor, Stephen Bannon, constitutional-carry activists are unconcerned by any wider distress their agenda may cause. Like the new White House, they see the trampling of existing norms as the removal of obstacles.

“Once you cross over this PC concept,”  Harris said, “then you have an enormous number of issues that come out of the gate.”

Those issues include the abolition of gun-free zones in schools, and deregulation of tightly controlled weapons categories, like suppressors and machine guns, which have been subject to strict laws for nearly a century. Rather than a drastic break with current public safety standards, he said, such changes would merely represent government “getting back on sound fundamental principles.”

This sums it up. Like Trump and his extreme advisors who want to disrupt just about everything our country has done or stood for in the last few decades, these gun absolutists want their way no matter what. No matter the lives lost as a result. No matter that public safety will be in danger. No matter that the majority of Americans don’t want what they want. No matter that over 32,000 Americans die every year from gunshot injuries. No matter that about 90 Americans a day die from gunshot injuries in gun suicides, homicides and “accidental” gun discharges.

No matter common sense.

This is where we are now. No compromising. No discussion. Executive orders or bills passed with no hearings, no expert testimony, no input from citizens. Just pass things and get your way no matter whose rights you trample or what process you didn’t follow.

People identified with severe mental illness and can’t manage their affairs can now purchase guns. People who don’t have permits to carry loaded guns around in public being able to carry everywhere and anywhere. Does any of this make any sense even with rights?

The answer, of course, is NO.

We are being distracted from the gun violence epidemic before us that we can actually address with strong gun policy and good research about the causes and effects of gun violence. We are being distracted by the agenda of the gun absolutists whose view of the world and the gun culture is far different from what Americans actually want and need.

Here is a great article from Peter Ambler of Americans for Responsible Solutions about the need for research and understanding the risks of owning guns:

It’s time for Congress to stop serving at the will of the gun lobby and to start providing the resources our institutions of public health need to understand our country’s gun violence epidemic so that we can do something about it.

Gun violence robs communities of their leaders, schools of their students, and families of their loved ones. We know that if we gave our scientists and researchers the opportunity, they would produce results. How much longer will we have to wait before we let them try?

That is what we should be talking about now.

With their very own nominee , Neil Gorsuch, about to take the oath of office for the next Supreme Court Justice, the gun lobby and gun abolutists must be feeling jubilant at getting their way once again. Time will tell if that works out for the absolutists.

Meanwhile, we need to work on the real problems and not the solutions looking for a problem.

We are better than this.

Let’s get to work. Join an organization that is working on gun violence prevention and gun safety reform. Listen to the facts and act when you see that your voices are not being heard. Make noise. Speak up. Stand up for the victims and their families and friends and ask your elected leaders to do the same. Ask them to hear the real stories of victims.

Just as Trump seemed to have changed his mind about his policy in Syria after seeing the photos and videos of children strangled after exposure to serin gas, show your leaders photos of those whose lives were lost to senseless gun violence. Here is my photo (of my sister who was shot in a domestic related shooting incident by her estranged husband):

photo of Barbara

 

 

Thanksgiving memories

Rowan branchSo many Americans will have empty seats at their Thanksgiving tables this year because of senseless acts of gun violence. Some will be because of gun suicides, the most common form of gun violence in America. I send my hugs and condolences to those families. But wishes, hugs and forms of sympathetic expressions are just not enough.

And for the families of the 4 officers who were shot in just one day, 2 of whom were allegedly targeted by some ill intentioned person with a gun, there will be no normal Thanksgiving and maybe not for many years. One officer died from his injuries. From the article:

McManus said he believed Marconi was slain because he was a police officer.

“I think the uniform was the target, and the first person who happened along was the person he targeted,” McManus said. (…)

In St. Louis, a police sergeant was hospitalized in critical condition but expected to survive after being shot twice in the face Sunday night in what the police chief called an “ambush.”

In America ambushes by armed people against armed law enforcement officers have happened with some regularity.  Tacoma. Philadelphia. Pittsburgh. Iowa. New York. And others. So much for having a gun for protection ( as do officers) keeping you from getting shot by someone else with a gun.

Families are grieving. They have lost sons, brothers, uncles, fathers. They have lost sisters, mothers, daughters and aunts. And many of the deaths were avoidable if we only would put our heads together to prevent a portion of the devastation. We can do it. Of course we can. But we haven’t. It is an American tragedy that has been playing out for decades.

Those of us who have lost loved ones to gun violence can be thankful for the memories that make us both sad and happy. We can be thankful that we still have other family members and friends and that we can make the most of what we have. I know I am thankful for all of the wonderful people I have met over the years through my volunteer work with various gun violence prevention organizations. I feel thankful that there is a network of victims and survivors nation-wide who can share their stories and help each other get through the bad times. And I am thankful that so many of them have become stronger people as a result of their stories and their advocacy.

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. If you were alive then, you can’t forget where you were or the aftermath of that tragedy. Just thinking about it now makes me anxious because the days right after the assassination were so potently sad and full of fear and anxiety for Americans. We watched much of it unfold on national television which made it all the more horrible.

The Kennedy family has suffered 2 such assassinations and have had empty seats around their Thanksgiving tables for a long long time. The pain and memories never go away. My family has had an empty chair for almost 24 years now. Holidays are always times that bring forth memories and now, we can mostly find happy ones. But the hole left in our hearts never goes away.

And so it is in America.

We could strengthen our laws to stop at least some people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them by requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales. But we aren’t doing that. We could do more about lost and stolen gun legislation and launching public health campaigns about the dangers of not storing guns safely at home. ( 400 guns were stolen by teens from the home of a felon who could not possess them.)

Does one person need 400 guns? What was the felon going to do with these guns? How and why did this felon even have these guns given that he can’t legally buy them from federally licensed firearms dealers? And what were the teens planning to do with them?

Sigh.

We could be talking more about the danger of unlocked, loaded guns in homes where children live. Why aren’t we doing more about this? The gun lobby doesn’t really like this kind of talk.

We could be talking more about the risk of loaded guns for people who may have mental or physical health problems that could make them dangerous to themselves or others. But we aren’t really doing much about that either.

The thing is, most Americans have common sense and actually want something to be done. The Center for American Progress did a post election poll of Trump and Clinton voters. The results may surprise some people but not me. I know that all polling, at least about gun violence prevention measures, has been the same for decades. They show strong support from Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, non gun owners and even NRA members for requiring background checks on all gun sales.

102 Pass legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales, including those sold online or at gun shows. ……………………………………………………… 57 31 9 3 88 12 76 Trump Voters………………………………………………… 47 35 12 6 82 18 64 Clinton Voters ……………………………………………….. 68 25 5 1 93 7 87

What about this does the gun lobby and its’ minions in Congress and state legislators not get?

Oh right. It’s the gun industry and the corporate gun lobby that have those folks at their mercy. How sad is that? And Donald Trump says he’s going to “drain the swamp”?

I have my doubts. If he decides to stay beholden to the lobbyists of the gun industry who manage to get their way in spite of what the public wants and in spite of the continuing gun violence epidemic in our country, he will be adding swamp monsters and filling it up.

But victims and survivors move on with their lives. Many of them work hard for gun violence prevention measures and speak out against the deceptions presented by the corporate gun lobby. More guns do not make us safer. There is proof of that in every day incidents that leave innocent people dead from their gunshot injuries. An armed society is certainly not a polite society and gun free zones do not lead to more gun deaths.

Let’s be thankful for those who have common sense. Let’s be hopeful that our Congress and state legislators stop following the money and being lapdogs for the gun lobby. Let’s also be hopeful that President-elect Donald Trump will be willing to shake things up regarding the gun lobby’s influence on our country’s gun policies.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Be safe out there. As I often write, gun violence does not take a holiday.