Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.
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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Back to school, machine guns and other gun news

I have been traveling with my family along the shores of Lake Superior and to a lodge on the Gunflint Trail in the wilderness area of Northern Minnesota. It was a great get-away- from all things technology related. No cell phone service. Only WiFi at the resort building but not anywhere else on the property. No T.V. It was the last family vacation before school starts. But before I left I saw the awful news about the 9 year old girl who accidentally shot the gun instructor at an Arizona Bullets and Burgers Gun Range. He died. First of all, this is a top tourist attraction. I'm not sure I know anyone who would go to such a place. Secondly, burgers with your bullets? Why not? Anything to get people shooting and then perhaps, buying. Follow the money.

This news is all over the media. It should be. Why in the world do 9 year old girls need or even want to shoot a machine gun? This is the American gun culture gone very wrong. I am guessing that this girl did not ask her parents to shoot a machine gun. There is something wrong when parents believe they should take their young children to a gun club to learn how to shoot a machine gun. Why does anyone need to learn how to shoot a machine gun? Machine guns are weapons of war and should only be used for that purpose. There is no reason at all for anyone to shoot a machine gun. Just because someone wants to doesn't mean they should. Aren't there some things that are off limits to the crazed gun nuts in our country?

The New York Times is thinking the same thing in this editorial about the heinous incident:
The familiar national ritual that inevitably accompanies these tragedies, wherever and however they occur, has already spun forth — first the how-could-this-happen-reaction (is it really not clear?), followed by a stultifying (actually, astonishing) conversation in which it is solemnly debated whether it’s a good thing to teach youngsters to fire battlefield arms (if they’re “properly instructed,” say the yeas).
It seemed particularly repugnant that the National Rifle Association put up a feature on its women’s Twitter account — “7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range” — two days after the tragedy. It was taken down within an hour without explanation, according to The Huffington Post. Sadly, the public probably has low expectations in the way of greater gun safety laws after the latest outrage, however irresponsible and preventable it obviously was. After all, the gun lobby made Congress heel after 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., were murdered in a shooting spree two years ago.
Indeed. Those 20 children are not starting school yet again this fall. 8 children and teens die from bullets every day in America. Does the corporate gun lobby, the group that pushes for young children to shoot guns, have their own guns, and go to shooting ranges care? Apparently not. Another article deals with the typical NRA response to children and guns: 
The NRA headed by Wayne Lapierre with Ted Nugent on its board of directors doesn’t see a problem with giving 9 year olds Uzis or giving domestic abusers as many guns and bullets as they want.  They are on record saying they believe in forcing children to shoot their way to the next grade.  We already know that Lapierre’s real job is to promote gun sales in the name of pleasing his only real constituency: the gun manufacturers.  It’s also taking what’s good for gun manufacturers is good for the NRA to unimaginable levels of the macabre and the absurd and to the detriment of responsible gun owners who are members of the NRA.
The notion of training a nine year old to use an automatic weapon or a machine gun is crazy to most people, but not the NRA.  Life isn’t complete unless you are surrounded by the whole spectrum of guns.  And hey, let’s not make such a big deal about this story.  Kids just wanna have fun and there is no fun unless it includes a warm and fuzzy uzi.
Remember when the NRA was promoting mandatory gun training proficiency classes for children that must be passed before they move to the next grade? Of course you do. But when the natural push-back came, they took down their ludicrous video. What next for this group? There's not much the gun lobby doesn't push for in the interest of profit. Profit over common sense is the modus operandi of this group. Kids dying every day from bullets? No matter. Kids shooting machine guns? What's the problem?

Cliff Schecter wrote this article about the incident and gets it just right:
Needles to say, no other high-income country behaves like this with deadly weapons. The United States itself would never do so with any other item that caused so much murder and mayhem. 
Just last week a mom in Connecticut was charged with 10 counts of risk of injury to a minor for throwing a party for her 15-year old daughter and her friends where a condom was handed out and booze was readily available. Meanwhile, the parents of the 9-year old at Bullets & Burgers are free as birds. Too bad for the Connecticut party mom that she didn’t have the good sense to hand out shotguns instead.
The horrific shooting accident is not even the first incident of its kind. In 2008, an 8-year old boy shot himself in the head while also attempting to fire an Uzi at a target. This time the watching gun instructor escaped injury.
Worse than these newsworthy accidents, is what we allow to happen every day in this country. 
This is just plain nuts. And now, this little girl, the same age as my granddaughter, is going back to school having just killed another human being. How do you get over something like that? I say it's going to take a good long time, if ever. The parents of this girl have some serious thinking to do. The girl wouldn't go on her own to a shooting range to shoot an Uzi. This was her parents idea. And now she will forever live with what happened on a late summer day before school started in 2014.

Parents have a responsibility to keep their children safe from accidents and potential tragedies. Exposing them to machine guns is just plain stupid and dangerous. And it was no "accident" that a child with a machine gun would have trouble controlling it. How many kids die from guns every year? This story is also about this latest bit of gun insanity and quotes Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign:
We can accomplish a lot more by educating parents about the risks associated with kids having access to guns, we believe, than we can talking about changing policies at gun ranges.
Gun range owners can stop allowing children to shoot Uzis at gun ranges in an instant if they decided to do it. But the chances are slim to none because if people can't bring their kids for an afternoon of "family fun" the profit margin will be affected. Never mind safety. Policies can change. The loss of a life can not change. Once a life is taken, everyone's lives are changed forever. And the thing is, this one was avoidable as so many of them are. What needs to change is our gun culture. Guns and kids do not go together.

Products are recalled or not sold if they are found to be potentially dangerous to children. My daughter just told me something I did not realize. Kids' hooded sweatshirts don't have ties in them any more. It's too risky because kids can be strangled. But guns? Go ahead. Give your child one for Christmas. Teach them how to shoot an AR-15 or an Uzi. What's the problem? The total irony of one woman getting herself arrested for letting her 9 year old girl stay home and play by herself because she couldn't afford child care and the parents of a 9 year old girl allowing her to shoot an Uzi resulting in the death of the instructor should be enough for all of us to do some screaming.

Another irony is the fact that machine guns are heavily regulated in our country. And the NRA supported the law that made the sale and ownership of machine guns difficult. I wonder why. From the linked article:
These federal firearms laws imposed high taxes and registration requirements on certain classes of weapons—those used in gang violence like machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers—making it all-but impossible for average people to own them. Gun makers and sellers had to register with the federal government, and certain classes of people—notably convicted felons—were barred from gun ownership. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld these laws in 1939.
The legal doctrine of gun rights balanced by gun controls held for nearly a half-century.
That is the reason we don't see more shootings with machine guns. I'm sure that today's corporate gun
lobby and the minions they have managed to scare with their predictions of fear and paranoia would just love to allow just anyone to be able to buy a machine gun for "daily use"- yes, even young kids. The image on the right is what we should be scared of.

Speaking of kids and guns, check this one out. What can be said when guns are found in the midst of children's toys in a Cincinnati home? This happened. What are people thinking? Guns are dangerous weapons designed to kill other human beings. Leaving them around with toys is an accident waiting to happen and totally irresponsible. How many more will I write about before things change?

We have a serious problem with guns in America and it's not going away any time soon. There are things we can do to change laws and change the conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in our communities. Why don't we? Instead, we make it easy for people to get guns, to shoot guns and take another human beings' life. Crazy.

In most states anybody can buy any kind of gun without a background check. This article is written to expose the easy availability of assault rifles on the Internet and specifically on Facebook. Given that no background checks are required for these gun sales, even teens could buy a gun this way. But no matter. Only in America are we so lax that kids and teens are encouraged to shoot and own guns.

I say that our children should be able to go back to school without fear of being shot in their schools, at gun ranges, at home or on our streets. We should enjoy peace in our neighborhoods. I know that some believe that shooting guns is pleasurable and entertaining. It is also noisy and potentially dangerous. After spending some time in the quiet wilderness, broken by the sound of Loons, Eagles soaring over head, waves lapping on the shore of a wilderness lake, chipmunks, an occasional boat motor, canoe paddles, children's happy voices, campers having conversations, the wind blowing through the tall pines, dogs barking and the other sounds of living without the sound of gun fire, I'll choose that.

And yes, in the fall, there will be the sound of hunters shooting their guns. Hunting is a sport that my family loved. I grew up around hunting guns as did many of the people working in the gun violence prevention movement. But most of us did not grow up around AK-47s or Uzis. They weren't readily available in the first place. In the second place, the hunters I knew were people who loved being outdoors doing something that gave them pleasure. They didn't need to prove anything by shooting off 30 or more rounds of bullets.

Let's let kids be kids and do the things kids do. Exposing them to machine guns is a bad idea and not for kids. Further, what kind of communities do we want for our children? Too many of them are dying every day in senseless shootings. The little 9 year old girl who unintentionally shot a gun instructor is growing up way too fast and will have the weight of the world on her shoulders instead of being able to just play with her friends and go back to school to learn about what kids should be learning.

It's time to do some serious work to stop the senseless shootings. Let's get to work. We just have to be better than this as a country.

UPDATE:

My readers will be interested in knowing that the Bullets and Burgers gun range in question has been closed indefinitely. I ask you to read the interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes and a friend of the victim. What he says is so out of touch with reality it's enough to make one sick. For example:
CH: "... why would you let an eight year old shoot an uzi?  I mean what's the possible upside? The downside is so horribly clear. What do you say to people that just look at this and their jaws are on the floor?"
SS: "Well, you know I tell you we've had probably 100,000 people shoot on our two ranges combined, and we've had of that probably 1500 to 2000 have been kids. The kids rent a lot of automatic weapons, we do birthday parties for children here, we do bachelor and bachelorette parties...
... we've got first aid kits and the god-darned things are brand new. Never had an injury in the place."
A first aid kit? You just can't make this stuff up.

Also, a lawsuit had been filed against the range before this by a citizen who was certain something was going to happen at the range:
8 News NOW checked on the Bullets and Burgers gun range and found out it had been scrutinized long before Monday's Uzi shooting death. 8 News NOW has uncovered a lawsuit filed against the gun range.
The man who filed the suit said he feared something like this tragedy would happen.
The Mohave County Sheriff's Office has not returned our phone calls since Tuesday. Sheriff Jim McCabe is not being made available for interviews.
The Bullets and Burgers gun range is now refusing to talk with us as well, but a man who sued over the gun range is talking.
"I stated on the record before the court, I said, ‘somebody is going to get killed up there," Lance Krig, who filed the lawsuit, said

UPDATE #2:

Sometimes sarcasm is the only way to go and Andy Borowitz wrote this about the shooting at the gun range:
Across the United States on Wednesday, a heated national debate began on the extremely complex issue of children firing military weapons.
“Every now and then, the nation debates an issue that is so complicated and tricky it defies easy answers,” says pollster Davis Logsdon. “Letting small children fire automatic weapons is such an issue.”
Logsdon says that the thorny controversy is reminiscent of another ongoing national debate, about whether it is a good idea to load a car with dynamite and drive it into a tree.
“Many Americans think it’s a terrible idea, but others believe that with the correct supervision, it’s perfectly fine,” he says. “Who’s to say who’s right?”
Similar, he says, is the national debate about using a flamethrower indoors. “There has been a long and contentious national conversation about this,” he says. “It’s another tough one.”


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Coming together about guns and gun violence

Will the shooting of a black teen in Ferguson, Missouri bring us together or leave us with more questions than answers and back to life as it was before the shooting? I found an article whose author believes that the shooting of Michael Brown may transform us as a country and lead to a better place. From the article:
""You have these moments in history where kairos time is speaking to us," said Williams, with a camera around his neck, seeking to document what he hoped would be a nationwide tipping point in how the nation treats African Americans. "Ferguson is this kairos moment."
Perhaps, he suggested, it would push America toward peace and civility.
Others have said as much.
"As Americans, we've got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that's been laid bare by this moment," President Obama said this week.
"What I'm seeing, hopefully, is a catalyst for change. Nothing wrong with protest. This country was founded on protest," said St. Louis County Det. Kevin Bentley as he worked crowd control last week, sounding more like a demonstrator than a peace officer.
One demonstrator, Torraquai Walker, 36, of Ferguson, this week summed up the nights of peaceful demonstrations. "I love it," Walker said. "This is the most unity I've seen in St. Louis in my adult life.... Everybody wants to be a part of it.""
People of good faith and good intentions can disagree about things. But in moments like we have had as a country watching what happened in Ferguson, Missouri there is an opportunity for us. Coming together with common sense on our minds and in our hearts to have the national discussion we deserve to have is necessary if we are to save lives and prevent senseless shootings.

There are many conundrums surrounding the Michael Brown case. There is evidence that black Americans are targeted more often than white citizens by law enforcement. I have written about that in previous posts. Just recently a San Diego man, who happened to be white, waved his gun around in public and he seemingly got different treatment than did Michael Brown who was unarmed. From the article:
Patrol personnel arrived to find Tamayo sitting in his car in a parking area near De Anza Cove. They contacted him by phone and spoke with him for about 15 minutes before he agreed to surrender. He got out of the vehicle, but soon returned to it and retrieved a loaded 9-mm pistol, the sergeant said. 
Tamayo then "pointed his gun recklessly at various people in the park," at a police helicopter circling overhead and at the nearby officers, prompting one of them to shoot him in the abdomen, Del Toro alleged. 
The suspect fell to the ground, but his gun remained within reach and he continued failing to comply with the officers' commands, Del Toro said. Finally, the personnel were able to subdue him with non-lethal rounds and take him into custody. 
This man was clearly a danger to himself and others and to the officers. He was shot but in the end he was subdued with "non-lethal" rounds. This incident was different from that in Ferguson but it seems to me that police could have chosen a different path and just shot to kill the man with as many rounds as it took. That is what happened in the Michael Brown shooting. The officer shot him with 6 bullets and seemingly shot to kill. We won't know all of the details in either case for a while obviously. But we do know that these two cases may just represent the disparity between how law enforcement treats people of color and how they treat white people in somewhat similar situations.

There is also the truth that officers' lives are in danger every day and because they are "outgunned" on the streets because of people with easy access to guns of all kinds, including military style assault weapons. Officers are also shot on a regular basis. The latest is the police chief of a small Texas town who was shot and killed during a routine stop:
A 24-year-old Texas man has been charged in the shooting death of a small-town police chief, a sheriff's spokeswoman said Sunday.
Joshua Manuel Lopez faces a charge of capital murder of a police officer in the killing of Elmendorf Police Chief Michael Pimentel, said Bexar County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Rosanne Hughes.
Pimentel was shot in the shoulder and abdomen while making a stop Saturday to serve an active misdemeanor warrant for graffiti. He was flown to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The conundrum here is that so many people are carrying guns with them that an officer has no idea whether he/she will be facing a "good guy" with a gun or a "bad guy" with a gun. That is the problem with guns everywhere. We are creating our own public health and safety problem rather than coming together to solve the problem in the best way for the majority who live and work in communities all over America. We need to decide what kind of country we want. At the least, we should expect that our law enforcement officers treat the citizens of their community equally no matter who they are. And we should also expect that in turn, the citizens of our communities treat law enforcement officers with respect.

So, again, what kind of country do we want? What happened in Ferguson has revealed some things about America that have been in plain sight but we have chosen not to see them. This is more than Ferguson. This is about us all. A Huffington Post article presented some numbers for our consideration. Is this the America we want? Our children deserve more. People of color deserve more. People with economic difficulties deserve better. We are a country divided against itself and we are killing each other in numbers not seen in any other civilized country not at war. As the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone famously said, "We all do better when we all do better." We can do better for the sake of safe and peaceful communities.

Do we want guns everywhere? Do we want officers shooting our young people? Do we want our young people to have easy access to guns that end up on our streets causing mayhem and tragedies? Do we want small children finding loaded guns and shooting themselves, a sibling or a friend? Do we want our young people shooting themselves in daily suicides? Do we want domestic disputes to turn deadly when a gun is available?

And do we want parents and teachers walking around our schools with loaded guns?  For example, this Georgia Dad thinks he should force his daughter's elementary school to let him carry his gun there. Why? What does he think will happen if he is not carrying his gun? Is he so fearful and paranoid that he can't go anywhere without his gun? When the Georgia legislators passed the "guns everywhere" bill last spring, is this what they thought would happen? Did they come together to discuss the safety of the communities rather than the wishes of the corporate gun lobby? Did they put their heads together to foresee that when guns are allowed everywhere, they will be everywhere even if we don't want them everywhere we gather? If this father thinks he will stop a school shooting in progress he should think again. Otherwise, what is the danger in a school? Kids are actually safer in their schools than in their homes from gun violence. Figuring that out is an important factor in deciding where guns are allowed. But the corporate gun lobby and its' minions keep pushing for more guns carried by more people in more places.

Does the corporate gun lobby ever come together with other groups to pass bills that are deemed to make us safer from gun violence? Rarely. They did manage it in Minnesota and a few other states in the past legislative sessions when they agreed that domestic abusers should not have guns. It is possible to come together about the role of guns in domestic abuse and we should be able to do the same to make it harder for all who shouldn't have guns to get them. More guns will not and have not made us safer no matter what the corporate gun lobby says.

But back to Georgia ( again) can we all come together and agree that in this Georgia home a gun contributed to the senseless murder suicide of a young family, including a baby? This is another domestic dispute gone terribly wrong. There are too many of them everywhere and most domestic murders are committed with guns.

And speaking of Georgia ( again) and police officers, this officer served time for sexually assaulting a woman after a domestic call and now got his gun rights restored. I plan to write more about this later but from this article:
Krauss was convicted of sexual assault against a person in custody, and this one instance of sexual assault is far from the only allegation against him. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “[h]is record was filled with allegations of misconduct: that he beat a prisoner so severely the man’s brain bled; that he threatened to fabricate charges against a suspect so he could sleep with the man’s wife; that he pressured at least 10 women for sex to avoid arrest.” The former cop, for his part, is unrepentant. When asked about his sexual assault conviction, he claims that “[t]here wasn’t any crime,” and that “I was dealt a bad hand.”
And yet, in July of 2013, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles restored Krauss’ right to carry a firearm. According to a Journal-Constitution tally, he is one of 358 violent felons who regained these rights over a six year period. That includes 32 violent felons who killed someone, and 44 who committed sex crimes. One man regained his right to own a gun in 2012 after serving a 10 year sentence for child molestation and aggravated child molestation. Some offenders regained their gun rights after being convicted of crimes such as armed robbery, burglary or aggravated assault.
Can we at least come together and agree that restoring gun rights to this former police officer, now an ex-felon, is a bad idea?

And what are people thinking when they carry guns for self defense and the guns discharge? Did anyone put their heads together to talk about how many stupid and potentially dangerous things could happen when so many people carry guns in public places? An incident at a Hilton hotel in Rye Brook, N.Y.  showed once again that guns have not made us safer.
An Englishman staying at the Hilton Westchester suffered bruises from a bullet accidentally fired through the wall Saturday by another hotel guest in the room next door, village police said.
The two were in their respective rooms about 1 p.m. when one of the guests, described as an upstate New York man at the hotel to attend a wedding, unintentionally discharged his gun as he went to put it away, Rye Brook police said. The wall slowed the bullet and so, by the time it came out the other end and struck the other man's leg, it only bruised him, police said.
The upstate man had all the necessary permits to own and carry a gun, said police, who were at the hotel investigating until close to 4 p.m. Police released no further information on the shooting.
This is not the first time this has happened. Read the Ohh Shoot blog for many more. Be careful out there. You never know what the hotel guest in the next room will be up to. How do you defend yourself against another "law abiding" gun owner with a gun when bullets are discharged "accidentally" and fly through walls? Where was the man with the gun going to "put it away"? Did he need a gun at a wedding? I'm just asking....... It seems to me the gun is safer when worn at most times but I am guessing that many permit holders find carrying guns around with them to be burdensome, hot, uncomfortable, etc. So they take them off and voila- someone is shot. As it turns out more people carry guns now than have ever before been able to thanks to the loosening of state carry laws. This article writes about that and more. My readers know that I am not a fan of open carry or concealed carry. I don't believe we are all safer when people carry their guns around. It is what it is now and incidents like the above happen often enough to raise eyebrows. But here is what I do like, from the article:
“I have been through all the safety courses that are necessary,” said Bird, who calls himself a “middle-of-the-road” gun owner. He has no problem with background checks and gun laws for legitimate gun buyers, as long as they are not too restrictive, he said. Bird grew up hunting and target-shooting with his father and has been using guns since he was 4.
This is my kind of gun owner. He, like the majority of law abiding gun owners, have no problem with background checks and certain gun laws. That is what I call common sense. I am thinking it is possible to come together and pass some reasonable gun laws that even the majority of gun owners support.

And can we all come together to agree that what this Iowa mother did was just plain not OK and stupid and dangerous?:
According to a police affidavit, 25-year-old Courtney Kie-Marie Owens had recently gotten a BB gun, and the 6-year-old boy repeatedly tried to play with it, the Quad City Times reported.
So on Tuesday, Owens decided to explain that the weapon was not a toy, and “purposely” shot him, the court document stated. The child was treated at scene for a red swollen hip, where he had been struck by a BB.
Where is common sense?

What happens to people when they have guns around? I'm just asking.......

The common thread in all of the above is a gun or guns. In some cases, the guns were shot intentionally to kill or injure another human being. In some, the guns were discharged accidentally, causing injury or death to another human being. But it's the guns and the bullets that caused the problems.

We have chosen not to deal with this problem in spite of yet another poll showing strong support for background checks on all gun sales. But the conundrum? If the word "gun control " is used, people are more divided. No one wants to be "controlled". But "gun control" is a term that means one thing to one group of folks and quite another to a different set of folks. And the corporate gun lobby has very cleverly associated any measure to keep us safer from gun violence with the term "gun control" rather than gun safety or gun violence prevention. From the linked article:
Ninety-two percent of voters, including 92 percent of gun owners and 86 percent of Republicans, support background checks prior to all gun sales, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.
The results indicate that, while the proposed shift to universal background checks has stirred intense partisan bickering inside the Beltway, it's not nearly as controversial throughout the rest of the country.
Supporters of tougher gun laws were quick to highlight the results, calling on House Republican leaders to take up legislation expanding background screenings to all commercial gun sales.
Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.), a gun owner who heads the House Democratic task force on gun violence, urged GOP leaders to consider his bill to do just that.
"The only thing standing in the way of it passing is the Republican Majority in the House," Thompson said in a statement. "It's time they listen to the 92 percent of American gun owners who support background checks and bring our bill up for a vote — because if the Republican Majority would allow a vote, my bill would pass." (...) 
The Quinnipiac poll suggests Republican leaders are at stark odds with the public on the issue. It found that voters support universal background checks by a margin of 92 to 7 percent; gun owners support the change 92 to 6 percent; and Republicans back the idea 86 to 11 percent.
The survey also suggested a reason for the disconnect between the public support and the congressional inactivity. In short, many voters simply don't equate mandatory background checks with "gun control." Indeed, only 50 percent of the same respondents said they support "stricter gun control laws," the poll found, with 47 percent opposed.
"Americans are all in on stricter background checks on gun buyers and on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill," Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said in a statement. "But when it comes to 'stricter gun control,' three words which prompt a negative reflex, almost half of those surveyed say 'hands off.'" 
So we have already come together about background checks. If 92% of Americans agree in poll after poll after poll, then Congress is afraid of their own shadows. It's time for them to come out of the shadows and do the right thing. Semantics should not stop us from doing the right thing in the name of public safety. After the Michael Brown shooting and all of the talk about guns and shootings, it really is past time to come together for an adult discussion based on facts and well thought out ideas. Let's get to work.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Georgia on my mind

In my last post I wrote about a Georgia man who unintentionally shot a woman across the street when his gun discharged. This was a "law abiding" gun owner, by the way. Today I write another supposed "law abiding" Georgia good guy with a gun. He threatened school kids who were waiting for a bus near his yard with his gun. Seriously. Is this what's meant by an armed society is a polite society? Is this what it means that more guns make us safer? Is this what the Georgia legislature envisioned when they passed their "guns everywhere" bill recently? I hope not. But this is what they've got. More from the article:
"While a group of students waited for a school bus at the intersection of Pasadena Boulevard and Burbank Street – officers said Zimmerman threatened the children for being loud.
“The man came out and he said move away from my damn lawn,” a sixth grade student said.
According to the student, that’s not all Zimmerman said.
“Then he said he got two names on his bullet,” the student said.
Rhonda Harris’s two children were at the bus stop. She was shocked to learn Zimmerman allegedly approached students with a gun.
“Well they said that a man came outside complaining that they were loud and he had a gun and said that there was a bullet with their names on it,” Harris said.
Officers interviewed close to 20 students on Friday.
“I thought he was going to shoot us,” the student said.
“Immediately, I was just outraged, I was upset and I just couldn’t understand why he would come outside with a gun to complain about noise,” said Harris."
Is this what is meant by guns for self defense? What is going on here? When crabby neighbors are provoked by small incidents like kids making too much noise, is a gun the way to take care of the anger or concern? Kids are kids. They make noise all the time. So now, some people believe kids should be shot for making noise? And when a gun is at the ready, it just may get used. Because every day small provocations and stray bullets result in tragic shootings.

Speaking of "good guys" with guns, the Violence Policy Center has released a new report with new numbers for conceal carry permit holders killings. According to their numbers:
Individuals legally allowed to carry concealed handguns are responsible for at least 659 non-self defense deaths since 2007, a number that likely represents a fraction of the actual total, according to updated data released today by the Violence Policy Center (VPC).
Details can be found in the latest update to Concealed Carry Killers, an online resource that offers examples of non-self defense killings by private citizens legally allowed to carry concealed handguns in public. Overall, Concealed Carry Killers documents 493 incidents in 36 states and the District of Columbia since May 2007, resulting in the deaths of 659 people.
Because there is no comprehensive recordkeeping of deaths involving concealed handgun permit holders and many states in fact bar the release of such information, the examples on theConcealed Carry Killers website are taken primarily from news reports and most likely represent a fraction of actual events. 
“State laws allowing concealed handguns in public do not make us safer,” states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann. “Our database shows that individuals legally allowed to carry concealed handguns regularly use their guns in homicides, suicides, and mass shootings. In all likelihood, the fatal incidents we have documented are only a fraction of the total, and they also do not include the frequent non-fatal incidents perpetrated by concealed carry permit holders.” 
In the vast majority of the 493 incidents documented (408, or 83 percent), the concealed carry killer either committed suicide (190), has already been convicted (164), perpetrated a murder-suicide (40), or was killed in the incident (14). 

That's something to be considered by state legislators all over the country. When the loosening of the laws regarding who can carry guns, where they can carry them and what kind of training permit holders should have did anyone wonder if the result could be that the gun carriers just may shoot others? Those of us who were opposed to the loosening of the laws raised the concerns but they fell on deaf ears. The corporate gun lobby was fierce in their support of the laws. We are beginning to see the results.

Speaking of legislators, I have been volunteering at a table for the Brady Campaign at the National Conference of State Legislators. People are in Minneapolis from all over the country. It has been a real treat to talk to so many state legislators who support the work of the Brady Campaign and want to be involved. The NRA is just in the next aisle over. People are getting hats and backpacks. Great. We have some maps up at our table showing our state report card. This has attracted a lot of attention. Folks are very interested to see the grade given by the Brady Campaign in their annual report card for state gun laws. We've had some great discussions with supportive legislators from states like Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma whose grades are "F". They would like to change things but, alas, they live in states where the corporate gun lobby rules. Georgia, by the way, got an "F" on the report card.

Many legislators just walked by to offer condolences for the death of Jim Brady. People understand what a hero Jim Brady was and what he did for the gun violence prevention movement. It was great to have so many people remember Jim and take the time to let us know that they cared. We also heard from some how grateful they were for the work we are doing and many have worked with Brady chapters or the Brady Campaign. Legislators from Alaska came by to thank us and express their frustration at the gun culture in that state where overall gun deaths are high. Alaska has a high rate of suicide by gun. There are a lot of guns in Alaska. The homicide rate among children and women is also very high according to the linked article above. More guns have not made for fewer gun deaths.

We spent some time talking to an Illinois state Senator about gun violence in his area. He represents a part of Chicago and he is concerned, of course, about what's going on in his city concerning violence. It's been a bad year for Chicago gun deaths. This latest one involving a 9 year old boy represents the tragedy of too many guns on the streets and innocent people dying as a result. More about this sad story:
Antonio was shot around 4 p.m. in the 1200 block of East 71st Street, a few blocks from where he had lived with his mother, older brother and older sister, according to police and relatives. His body was found near a railroad embankment on a block lined with two- and three-flats and single-story yellow brick ranch homes.
Police said a dispute between two factions of the Gangster Disciples gang has recently flared in the neighborhood, but they don't believe Antonio belonged to a gang and said he came from a good family that recently moved into the area.
No arrests have been reported and no description of the gunman has been released by police.
Murry said her son had run out of the house not long before the shooting, angry that he couldn't have some cake. "I know he was a little upset with me. He was in trouble. He asked me for something and I told him no," she said. 

There is broad support for reasonable gun laws in polling taken in individual states and nationally. A recent Politico Poll one revealed that the support is still there:
Ninety percent of Democrats support stricter checks —as do 71 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of independents, the survey found. Three-quarters of the overall survey respondents said the issue was “important” in evaluating candidates in the midterm elections, including 68 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents. 
Combine broad support for reasonable gun laws with current events and high profile shootings and it should result in some sort of action. It's not just laws that matter. It's a culture. It's racial injustice. It's mental illness. It's domestic violence. It's suicide. All of it and we should be talking about all of it. But we aren't. It's hard not to keep the shooting of the black teen in Ferguson, Missouri in mind any time we are talking about gun deaths. Interestingly, something state legislators should consider before passing stronger gun laws, is that our country has more shootings of any kind than other democratized countries not at war. And police shooting incidents are off the charts compared to other countries. Police carry guns of course all over America. Not in other countries. This article about police shooting incidents in the UK is interesting;
The Economist reported last week, in an article on armed U.S. police, that “last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times.” The number three resonated when the private autopsy of Michael Brown, the teenager killed by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson this month, concluded that Brown was shot at least six times. Many tweets contrasted the numbers, saying Wilson had fired more shots at Brown than British police officers discharged in all of 2013.
It seems to me that we have a lot of work to do in America. The shootings of and by police, domestic shootings, suicides, accidental discharges, shootings of and by kids, gun homicides- all are American phenomena that are occurring in every state of the nation. Georgia just happened to have passed the latest of the corporate gun lobby's ideas that guns everywhere will make us safer. It's time to stop the deceptions and let our legislators deal with the facts rather than fear and paranoia. One legislator told me today that she couldn't even fill out the NRA questionnaire because the questions were so ludicrous and leading to only certain answers.

The main theme and the word that came out of the mouths of many while chatting with us was "common sense." Where is it? It's time to insist that common sense approaches to the role of guns and gun violence are the ones that win approval in our legislatures. We can get that to happen if we work together and insist that legislators stand up to the corporate gun lobby and stand up for saving lives. Let's get to work.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Where are our safe communities?

One should really be able to walk down a street in a tourist town without fear of being struck by a stray bullet from an irresponsible gun owner. In Helen, Georgia, a woman was killed by a stray bullet when a handgun carried by a man across the street discharged. In the days not so long ago when many fewer people were allowed to carry guns on our streets, this kind of incident was not happening. But now it is. And of course Georgia just passed it's "guns everywhere" law so the folks in Georgia are surely safer now right? Wrong. The woman was a newly naturalized citizen of the U.S. Now she's dead thanks to a careless "law abiding" gun permit holder. Check out this article for more information about the victim and the incident.

That awful shooting was not the first as a result of a "law abiding" gun owner's gun accidentally discharging in public. I have written often on this blog about other incidents like it. Carrying guns in public places is an idea that has not received the scrutiny it deserves. But our state lawmakers caved to the pressure from the corporate gun lobby and we are seeing the results.

Do people actually feel safer when seeing someone carrying a loaded assault rifle strapped to their shoulder? The Open Carry stuff is not going well for those who choose to "exercise their Second Amendment rights" in public. Open Carriers have decided to "target" Kroger grocery stores after failing to make the public feel comfortable with folks with assault rifles carried in other venues. From the article:
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a national gun control organization backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will kick off a campaign on Monday that seeks to pressure the grocery giant to ban the open carry of firearms in all of its nearly 2,500 stores. The moms' group decided to take action in response to recent demonstrations by open carry activists in Kroger stores in Ohio and Texas, and after conducting research that identified more than a dozen shootings on Kroger property since 2012, said Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman.
"Kroger employees shouldn't have to determine whether the person holding a gun in the frozen aisle is someone dangerous or someone making a political statement," Lamb said. (...) 
In a letter sent to Kroger CEO Michael Ellis last week, Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts said those existing laws aren't sufficient to keep customers safe.
"In most states, gun laws are exceedingly lax, especially when it comes to the open carry of firearms," Watts wrote. "In many states, virtually anyone can openly carry a loaded gun without going through any licensing, permitting or training."
Moms Demand Action has logged a dozen shootings that have taken place inside a Kroger or in the parking lot of one since 2012.
In June 2013, a 2-year-old girl was shot in a Kroger parking lot in Stone Mountain, Georgia, after a customer tried to intervene in an attempted mugging.
In February, in another incident in Georgia, a 42-year-old man shot and wounded two Kroger customers at a store in Lawrenceville, east of Atlanta.
Last year a "confrontation" at a Virginia Kroger store was the subject of attention: 
Bob Girard had a craving for some ice cream last Sunday evening, so he stopped in at the Kroger on Hydraulic Road to pick up vanilla bean, extra chocolate, and strawberry, along with some Hershey's chocolate syrup. The last thing he expected to encounter was a fellow shopper with a rifle slung across his shoulder. 
"What are you carrying?" asked Girard, a well-known local musician, who originally recounted the now widely reported incident in a Facebook post.  
"An assault rifle," the guy said.
"What caliber?" asked Girard.
"A .308," he said. "An AR-15."
"Can I ask why you're carrying it around in Kroger?"
The guy told Girard it was his constitutional right to carry around a firearm.
"Here's really what you're doing," said Girard before he walked away. "What you're doing is bullshit." (...) 
After buying his ice cream, Girard says he happened to walk out of the store at the same time as the gun-toting young man. He noticed the man had not purchased anything. 
"Is your gun loaded?" Girard asked. 
"It's hot," said the young man.
"Does that mean it's loaded?"
"Yes." (...) 
Meanwhile, to prevent such incidents, Roberts says that businesses like Kroger can post signs indicating that no firearms are allowed.  
"I understand the different contexts in which the Second Amendment is interpreted and expressed," says Girard, "but I'm confused about the spectacularly stupid reasoning behind an armed promenade through Kroger, unless it's some sort of weird NRA membership dare or a narcissistic fantasy." (...) 
"I'm an ardent supporter of both the 1st and 2nd Amendments, and both should be vigorously defended," says local lawyer Todd Rich, but he thinks this incident was akin to someone in the grocery store parking lot with a megaphone screaming at people that they are going to hell.
"This nimrod is as bad or worse," Rich says. "The only point he proved is that our civil liberties even apply to morons."
Terry Mahoney, a former Marine the Hook spoke to, has some advice for gun toting Second Amendment advocates.
"If you want to walk around carrying a gun," he says, "join the armed forces and go to Afghanistan or some other place."
And to end, Girard says this ( from the linked article):
Days after the encounter, Girard reflects on all the ways this apparent "protest" could have gone wrong, from another shopper with a concealed weapon thinking he could prevent a mass shooting by killing the man, to the police overreacting. 
"The downside of an incident like this is potentially horrible," he says.
Indeed. "Potentially horrible" things happen every day in America with guns. Turn on the news. Read the paper. Check the internet. The thing is, when state legislators pass laws allowing, in some cases, people with no permits or training, to carry guns around in public, the result is not safer public places. When even law abiding gun carriers make mistakes with their guns in public places, are we safer in our communities? I just don't believe that an armed society is a polite society. The evidence just does not support that idea. You can read about the shooting incidents at Walmart stores on the Walmart shootings blog. Shootings happen everywhere of course. But carrying a gun into every public place is not going to result in stopping the shootings. The chances of accidents and other things going wrong are real. The chances of a gun carrier being in just the right place at the right time to stop a shooting are slim. Too often shootings in public places are the result of domestic disputes gone wrong or arguments taken into public places. Sometimes they are the result of the mix of alcohol and guns- never a good idea. More guns are not making us safer.

Domestic disputes often end with innocent people shot and sometimes the shootings happen, as I just wrote, in public places.  A police shooting involved a Maryland man who had already shot 2 people and then fled .

In a different article the reporter calls it a local family tragedy. Of course. It's a domestic dispute gone wrong resulting in 2 deaths, including a 3 year old child, and 2 seriously injured. From the article:
Police and community leaders are calling for family unity following an increase in domestic violence cases in Prince George's County.
The most recent case happened over the weekend when a man killed his 3-year-old daughter and wounded her relatives before he was fatally shot by police. 
...
The little girl is the 13th person to die at the hands of domestic violence in the county this year.
What is going on Prince George's County?

Things go wrong every day with loaded guns around in so many places. Yes, one can get shot from a half mile away by a stray bullet. This happened. A Kansas man was just walking around in his yard when a stray bullet fired by target shooters across a field hit him in the butt:
...
"When you're shooting rifles that are made for long distance shooting you definitely need to know what's behind your target when you shoot," Berry said.
The victim was treated for his non-life threatening injuries and was released from the hospital. The five target shooters were brought in for questioning Sunday afternoon and Berry said they could face aggravated battery charges, according to KAKE.
Where is common sense?

And then one more shooting of a young child-  A paranoid Florida grandmother shot her own grandson thinking he was a burglar. I wrote in a recent post about a father who accidentally shot his own daughter thinking she was an intruder. When people like the woman in the above incident are convinced that guns in the home will keep them safer because they are afraid, incidents like this are inevitable. What's with the shoot first, ask questions later mentality? Ah yes- the corporate gun lobby likes this idea. It's called Stand Your Ground. But when you "stand your ground" against your own children and grandchildren, it means something entirely different.

And I end with this- The entire country of Iceland is grieving over the first police shooting in the history of the country. What happened in Iceland is instructive ( from the article):
It's the first time someone has been killed by armed police in Iceland since it became an independent republic in 1944. Police don't even carry weapons, usually. Violent crime in Iceland is almost non-existent.
"The nation does not want its police force to carry weapons because it's dangerous, it's threatening," Arnorsdottir says. "It's a part of the culture. Guns are used to go hunting as a sport, but you never see a gun."
In fact, Iceland isn't anti-gun. In terms of per-capita gun ownership, Iceland ranks 15th in the world. Still, this incident was so rare that neighbors of the man shot were comparing the shooting to a scene from an American film. 
What a total contrast from that in Ferguson, Missouri where an unarmed black teen was shot by police. These shootings are much more regular occurrences in America because not only do police carry guns, so do "law abiding" Americans, felons, gangs, mentally ill people, domestic abusers, gang members, teens and even those who could be on the terror watch list. Many of them are people who shouldn't have guns but we make it easy for them to get them in our country. This is the America we have. Is this the America we want? Surely we are better than this. Let's get to work and make our American communities safer from the gun violence that is so devastating to families all over our country.

UPDATE:

An Oregon beach parking area where campers sometimes stay was the scene of yet more senseless shootings:
A gunman lured his father to a remote Oregon campsite and killed him, then drove to a beach where he shot five cars in a parking lot, killing a Michigan camper who was sleeping in his vehicle, a prosecutor said Tuesday. The gunman then killed himself.
Zachary Brimhall's father, 58-year-old William Ray Brimhall of Dillard, Oregon, had been shot multiple times, Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier said. The older man's body was found Tuesday near his vehicle on a remote logging road in the Coast Range about 50 miles from Bastendorff Beach, where the drive-by shooting took place earlier in the day.
Good grief.