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.

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.


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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Too many questions

Why all the shootings? Why all the heartache? Why the chaos on the streets of one Missouri town after the shooting of a Black teen by a police officer? Why the huge funeral of a Minnesota police officer after being shot by a man who said he hated the police and would shoot an officer if he was stopped by one? Why the shooting of a young girl by her own law enforcement father when he thought she was trying to break in to their house? Why the open carrying of guns on our streets as a show of manhood and and a display of power? Why the militarization of our police forces all over the country?

In Ferguson, Missouri the situation has escalated to the point of the National Guard now being called in by the Governor to quell the now violent protests. Why? One shooting incident has turned this city into a war zone with Molotov cocktails, tear gas, military equipment, curfews, guns, looting, vandalism and all of the things that come with out of control mobs of angry people. This all started of course with the shooting of Michael Brown, a Black teen who was stopped by a Ferguson officer a week ago. The community reaction came about because of what appeared to be an unjustified shooting by a police officer. There is much more information to come out about what actually happened that we may not know for months as the justice system sorts this out. What the Ferguson community, and now the nation, are concerned about is the violence that has erupted as a result of the shooting. We should all be concerned about and have questions about the propensity for police officers to target young people of color. This Mother Jones article explores the truth of the matter:
The killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, was no anomaly: As we reported yesterday, Brown is one of at least four unarmed black men who died at the hands of police in the last month alone. There are many more cases from years past. As Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Missouri chapter put it in a statement of condolence to Brown's family, "Unarmed African-American men are shot and killed by police at an alarming rate. This pattern must stop."
But quantifying that pattern is difficult. Federal databases that track police use of force or arrest-related deaths paint only a partial picture. Police department data is scattered and fragmented. No agency appears to track the number of police shootings or killings of unarmed victims in a systematic, comprehensive way.
Here's some of what we do know:
Previous attempts to analyze racial bias in police shootings have arrived at similar conclusions. In 2007, ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter investigated fatal police shootings in 10 major cities, and found that there were a disproportionately high number of African Americans among police shooting victims in every one, particularly in New York, San Diego, and Las Vegas.
"We need not look for individual racists to say that we have a culture of policing that is really rubbing salt into longstanding racial wounds," NAACP president Cornell Williams Brooks told Mother Jones. It's a culture in which people suspected of minor crimes are met with "overwhelmingly major, often lethal, use of force," he says.
The linked article contains some revealing graphs as well that paint a picture of the problem in America. People of color have an understanding that they could be targets of their local police more often than White people. In a community like Ferguson where a majority of residents are Black and the overwhelming majority of officers are White, the potential for problems existed and then erupted after the shooting of an unarmed Black teen.

There is much to think about in the case of the shooting of Michael Brown. He was a human being and an American teen-ager who happened to be Black and living in a community representing similar communities all over our country.  This article ran also in my local paper today. We learn more about Michael Brown and his life and the life of many others who live like he did. Michael Brown was a person. He had a family who loved him. He had friends who hung out with him. He was not a perfect human being and he was trying to eke out a life in the circumstances he was dealt. His story is the story of too many and far too often there are tragic ends. More from the above linked article:
Many of the young have no work. Some have served time in prison for violent crimes, including clashes with police. The apartment complex community had a tense relationship with Ferguson officers.
In this mix, 18-year-old Michael Brown was known as a good kid — not an angel, but someone who had hope for the future.
It is part of the reason why his death has reverberated so strongly: He had hope, and he was killed.
“If his grandma said go upstairs, he went. He was respectful,” recalled neighbor Kevin Seltzer, 30. “He didn’t bother people. That’s why the community here in Ferguson, the real community of Canfield, we’re upset now.”
Brown stayed at Canfield with friends and earlier this year with his grandmother at the adjacent Northwinds apartments. He had just graduated from nearby Normandy High School — no small achievement here.
He was heavyset and quiet, but not shy. He recorded rap music with his best friend and smoked marijuana with other young men.
Everyone called him “Mike-Mike.” He’s so big, they said, you have to call him twice. His cousin, Christine Ewings, said Brown had played on the high school football team but stopped because he was afraid of hurting smaller students. (...) 
Brown didn’t have a car or his license. Like many here, he walked to nearby stores, including the day he was shot.
Seltzer watched him leave that day in a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops. Brown, who Seltzer teased as being “LeBron big,” was headed for a nearby minimart to buy cigarillos, cigars often used to smoke marijuana.
He stopped briefly to chat with two white landscapers who had been chopping down trees in the complex. They complained about the work, and Brown put it in perspective.
He told them “be thankful you have a job because some people don’t have jobs around here,” recalled Seltzer, who is among the unemployed.
Moments later, he said Brown departed with a friend, Dorian Johnson, 22, promising to be right back.
Police said that Brown then walked to a minimart and stole some cigarillos. Williams said he didn’t know if that was true, but he said in this neighborhood it wouldn’t have marked Brown as much of a criminal. “When you’re growing up in a rough situation, everybody makes mistakes,” Williams said.
Brown was later shot after being confronted on Canfield Drive by police Officer Darren Wilson in front of several apartment residents.
And then this story has been released revealing initial autopsy reports. From the article:
While Case declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation into Brown’s death, another person familiar with the county’s investigation told The Washington Post that Brown had between six and eight gunshot wounds and was shot from the front.
In addition, Brown had marijuana in his system when he was shot and killed by a police officer on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, according to this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. (...) Residents and protesters have noted that allegations of marijuana use have been used in the past by some in an attempt to disparage the character of shooting victims, including in the Trayvon Martin case.
The last sentence quoted from the article raises more questions, of course. Teens and marijuana use are not unusual. So what, if anything, did it have to do with the shooting of Michael Brown? We can't escape the fact that racial justice and gun violence prevention are linked. Whether communities of color experience officer shootings, gang shootings, shootings of Blacks by other Blacks or shootings of Black citizens by White citizens and vice versa, it is a problem that needs to be named and a problem that deserves our attention. As we struggle with the issue of shootings and trying to prevent them wherever they occur and to whomever they occur, racial justice must be on our minds.

And this will not be over soon. The death of Michael Brown has brought the fomenting problems of race and poverty, race and violence, race and our education system, race and housing and all of those things we get smug about as a country to the forefront as we try to make ourselves believe we are not a racist society. We have to deal with it all openly and frankly and come together to demand safe communities for all Americans. Some serious soul searching is way overdue.

The proliferation of guns on our streets and in our homes is making us all less safe wherever we live. The idea that more guns make us safer, promoted by the corporate gun lobby, is just not working. In the Ferguson case, it was the authorized gun by a police officer that was involved in a shooting that has caused a national uproar. In other cases it is a Minnesota man who hates police officers and decides to shoot one in a routine traffic stop that causes a community to come together. From the article:
While lying in a hospital bed at Regions Hospital earlier this week, the man suspected of killing Officer Scott Patrick looked another officer in the eye and said, “I hate cops and I’m guilty,” sources tell WCCO-TV’s Liz Collin.
Why hate police officers? Is it because they use too much force in some cases or what appears to be too much force? Is it the anti-government sentiment fomented by the extreme positions of the corporate gun lobby and some in the gun rights community that lead to this behavior? Could it be something personal in this man's life that led him to hate law enforcement? Lots of unanswered questions.

Why do police officers sometimes use what appears to be excessive force in situations that may or many not call for it? We all have some thinking to do. I don't have the answers. I just have lots of questions. There are too many gun related tragedies every day in communities all over America for us to ignore this problem of gun deaths and injuries. About one thing I am pretty sure. When guns are involved the potential for serious consequences increase dramatically.

Often incidents like the ones above give us opportunities to have a real national conversation that is necessary to get to some of the root causes of the violence demonstrated in Ferguson, Missouri, in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. Questions about the role guns play in our society also get asked in sad cases where guns become the first resort rather then the last resort as in the Virginia shooting of a 16 year old girl by her own father when he thought she was a burglar. From the article:
A police officer shot his 16-year-old daughter mistakenly believing her to be an intruder, then crashed his car on the way to the hospital, after the teenager came back home following a night out.
Sergeant Easton McDonald, who works for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia, was at home getting ready for work at roughly 3.30am on Tuesday when he heard the garage alarm sounding.
As he approached the interior of the garage he heard bangs and sounds coming from within, so grabbed a gun.
He opened the door and saw the dark figure of a person walking towards him and fired his weapon at her torso.
“The homeowner determined that he had just shot his 16-year-old daughter who was attempting the sneak back into the residence after sneaking out earlier that morning without the parent’s knowledge,” a statement from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office said.
And to make matters worse, the officer crashed his car while trying to transport his daughter to the hospital. I would think this officer has some questions and will hopefully think twice before shooting someone before being darned sure it is the right thing to do.

And the last question I asked was why the need for some gun rights extremists to strut around in our neighborhoods as a show of force and manhood after all of the shootings we have had in the past few weeks. But never mind common sense. The Texas Open Carry folks were determined to make their latest ludicrous show of force in a majority black neighborhood in Houston last week-end. Even after being asked not to do so, they are determined:
Why? Well, things got pretty ugly last week when representatives of the Fifth Ward, led by Quanell X, head of the New Black Panther Party in Houston, and representatives of the Houston branch of Open Carry Texas, led by David Amad, sat down to hash things out. The original plan was to hold a rally to encourage people in the historically African American neighborhood to get armed and do some of that gun-toting stuff that is so near and dear to the hearts of those in the Open Carry movement. Amad says he sees the rallies a way of encouraging African Americans to exercise their Second-Amendment rights to carry guns. The problem is many representatives of the Fifth Ward don't exactly see things from that angle.
Amad still says that this whole thing isn't about race; it's about guns, the power they give to the people, and who has the power, or, you know, the guns. "The mission of Open Carry Texas is to promote the open carry of firearms in Texas in all the neighborhoods in Texas, and the Fifth Ward just happens to be the next neighborhood in Texas we plan on going to," Amad says. "We try and be as intelligent and reasonable as we possibly can. We're not here to make enemies." (...) A meeting last week in the Fifth Ward rapidly deteriorated into verbal scrapping while a bevvy of reporters looked on. After that members of the state branch of Open Carry Texas voted to cancel the Fifth Ward rally so they can sit down with some different Fifth Ward leaders to talk things out and see if there's a better way to handle the whole thing. "We haven't canceled anything. It's just been postponed," Amad insists. "The Fifth Ward leaders recommended that we meet with them in private, away from all the cameras, and then talk about this and see what we can do."
Really? After what is happening on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, does anyone think that adding more guns to the mix would result in a peaceful solution to the problems? It sounds to me like the Open Carry folks intend to force themselves into this neighborhood like bullies where they are clearly not welcome. And force their way in with their assault rifles slung over their shoulders. Is this the kind of communities we want or deserve to have in the midst of a serious emergency in one of our cities due to a shooting? Such insensitivity and cluelessness is not only stupid, it's potentially dangerous.

I have a lot of questions. I don't think we have a lot of answers. But if come together as a country to at least talk about the questions and deal with the issues presented with some common sense, we may actually be able to reduce and prevent gun deaths and injuries. There are some root causes of violence and some root causes about the culture that contributes to the violence. Everything needs to be on the table. It's time to get serious and get to work. It's time take seriously our commitment to making our communities safe so our young men and women and everyone else can walk the streets without fear of being shot by an officer, by another young person, by a stray bullet, by an intentional homicide or by a domestic dispute gone wrong. It's time for officers themselves to be safe from those who would shoot them simply because they are law enforcement officers. It's time for young children to be safe from the many instances of accidental shootings happening every day in our country. It's time to address the problem of guns and suicide. It's time to take a good long and hard look at the risks of owning guns for self defense which sometimes ends in unintended consequences. And it's time to seek the kind of safe communities we want and deserve to have.

Too many unanswered questions. Too many senseless deaths.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Scary gun stuff

It's not Halloween yet. But some scary things are going on in America concerning guns and gun violence. This will be a long post but I wanted to include some of the recent incidents and concerns that have been before us in the last week or so. There are enough to write a separate post for each but I don't have that much time so here goes....

Did you know that the TSA writes a blog about all of the guns and other dangerous things they find in traveler's carry-on bags? Yes indeed. It's true. People inconveniently "forget" they have loaded guns in their carry-ons. Most likely they remember not to take their water bottles and put their liquids in plastic bags, as required. They take off their shoes and coats, as required. But guns? Apparently those are not as important. Read more about this here and then check out the photos of what are found in people's carry-ons:
Last year, the TSA found a total of 1,813 firearms in carry-on baggage through checkpoints around the country. As of the end of June 2014, the TSA has already found 1,025. According to the TSA, people may travel with firearms only if they are unloaded, declared and checked as baggage in locked, hard-sided containers. If officers find a firearm in your carry-on, the result is a citation with fines of up to $7,500 or arrest.
At the bottom of the post, you can search to see the number of firearms found in carry-ons at all major airports. You’ll find that many of the airports included on this list cater to a lot of travelers, like No. 1, the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, which is the busiest airport in the U.S. Los Angeles’s LAX, which is the U.S.’s second busiest airport, however, is much further down the list."
Did you see the photo of the hand grenade? Unbelievable. They are supposedly hard to get but people have them for some reason that just can't be easily explained. This is scary stuff.

And then there are the sovereign citizens who are becoming more prevalent in our country. Scary folks those. This Texas man lured police to an open place and opened fire. This home grown terrorist was ready for battle with law enforcement and who knows who else?

Domestic disputes have been resulting in gun injuries and deaths all over the country. This one in Ohio was a pretty bad idea. The incident has gained national attention and well it should. Listen to this man's voice on the police 911 tape. Come on. What a scary guy. From the article:
"The officers got there and (Blake) kept saying it was an accident, but (Misty) was saying something different," Madeira Police Chief Frank Maupin said. "We don't feel it was an accident."
Maupin said Blake, 36, waited until his wife turned her back before he purposely fired a shot in her direction in their driveway in the 5000 block of Windridge Drive at about 2:40 p.m.
The bullet ricocheted off the ground and struck Misty in the head, leg, stomach and neck, Maupin said.
But when Blake called 911, he had a different story.
"I shot my wife accidentally,” Blake told a 911 dispatcher after the gun fired.
When officers arrived at the scene, they said Misty, 28, was on the ground in her driveway, covered in blood and repeating the words, "He shot me. Get him away from me."
Maupin said it was later determined an argument took place between the couple before the shooting -- and when Misty turned her back, Blake fired a shot.
This man sounds like someone who will say anything to excuse himself from his responsibility in an alleged intentional domestic shooting. Is he a "good guy" with a gun? Guns are dangerous weapons designed to injure or kill another human being. Far too often they are used in arguments and someone is dead. In this case, the shooter's wife was injured and able to leave the hospital. Both were lucky this did not end differently.

A shooting incident in Virginia illustrates the fallacy that having a gun for protection in your home and being at the ready to use it and then ask questions later is a good idea. What scares the gun guys should be scary to the rest of us. From the article:
A Frederick County, Virginia man shot his 16-year-old daughter early Tuesday morning, mistaking her for an intruder. According to WHAG-TV Channel 4, the man then crashed his vehicle attempting to rush the teen to a local hospital.
Tuesday morning, at around 3:30 a.m., said police, the man was getting ready for work when his home alarm system said that the garage door had been opened, leading him to believe that an intruder was attempting to break into the house. In fact, his 16-year-old daughter was trying to sneak back in after breaking her curfew.
Captain Donnie Lang with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office said, “When he went to go investigate what had set off the alarm, he heard some banging and rustling around in the garage. At that particular point, he obtained a firearm that he had there in the kitchen area.”
Sensing that someone was “coming at him” in the dark garage, the man opened fire, striking his daughter in the torso. He quickly realized his mistake and tried to rush the girl to Winchester Medical Center nearby.
On the way, however, he crashed the car. Police and first responders to the crash scene took the girl to the hospital for treatment. She is currently listed as being in stable condition.
Good grief. I would say these two were very lucky. I hope the father with the gun thinks twice or three times the next time he gets scared of someone breaking in to his home. He should be more scared that he will shoot someone he knows or loves than a burglar. 

And then this domestic dispute in Minneapolis in a very public place during the daytime should scare a lot of people. Shooting another in a very public place is horrifying for all who are in the vicinity and sometimes bullets fly where they are not supposed to go. Taking domestic arguments to the streets happens often enough for us to be concerned. The linked article provides much information about what may have caused one man to turn a gun on another. Clearly, domestic and economic problems led to despair. But did it have to end violently? Desperate, angry or depressed people with guns can lead to gun violence that devastates way too many families. The family of the shooter in this case had already experienced a suicide by gun. Guns just make it all so much easier. And laws may or may not prevent incidents such as this one. But awareness and education about the risks of guns in homes and in public places could lead to a national conversation about the public health and safety epidemic in America. I suggest we have that conversation.

And of course the death of a black teen in the St. Louis area causing riots and protests is a pretty scary thing for all of us. Much more is to come out about the circumstances of the death of yet another black youth. But racial tension in that area, already allegedly fomenting, has added to the volatile situation. There is much to consider here. Black youth in America are affected by gun violence to a great degree . There are too many guns on the streets of our urban communities. Some of these young people feel as if they must have a gun because everyone else has one. Stray bullets flying in our streets are affecting innocent people as just one part of this problem. It has happened in the Minneapolis area here and here. And these are just a few of many. Gang activity is contributing to some of the violence. So one of our problems is dealing with gun violence from a racial justice point of view and to pass some laws and enact measures to get some of these guns off of the streets. Easy access to guns is just part of the overall problem of course. From the linked article just above:
My Crime Lab colleagues are exploring opportunities to disrupt underground gun markets. We believe that there are some real opportunities to deter straw purchasers, identify corrupt gun sellers, and more, Obviously, more work needs to be done there. (...)  
We can't use these fundamental factors as an excuse to wait in reducing crime. Indeed, crime reduction is essential to address business development and improved educational opportunities in our toughest neighborhoods. I take some heart from New York's experience. New York witnessed deep crime reductions in very poor neighborhoods that experienced many of the same economic and educational problems we see in Chicago.
It's not easy to figure out how to solve the problem of guns, gangs, youth and inner city violence. But some suggestions from the article include:
First, many of the people we most worry about getting hold of guns are pretty unsophisticated consumers. We have good opportunities to stop these often-young people with relatively simple measures such as reverse buy-and-bust operations.
Second, the criminal justice system has traditionally not taken the underground/illegal gun market all that seriously as a distinct issue. The legal risks are pretty low on straw purchasers and on people who sell guns to people they have reasons to know might be felons. It's easy to claim that a gun was lost or stolen if you give it to someone else who then uses it in a crime.
Committing a specific violent crime with a gun is taken very seriously. Yet just being caught with a gun -- or being involved in the supply chain of the illicit gun market -- isn't taken as seriously as it should be by many in law enforcement and the courts. If one hasn't specifically used that gun to commit (another) crime, we don't always respond with the urgency that we should. If judges don't take something seriously, and if the penalties are pretty light, these offenses will receive low-priority in the queue for police and prosecutorial resources. We must treat the illicit gun markets with the full range of tools and with the same determination applied to illicit drug markets. (...) 
When an 18-year-old kills someone with a gun, very often some adult had something to say about that young man having access to a gun, or whether, when and where that young man might be carrying a loaded gun when some otherwise manageable incident escalates into a shooting. If these young men are in some way gang-affiliated, homicides are often called gang homicides. Some homicides result from explicit conflict between criminal organizations. Yet in many, many cases, the actual altercation was over some personal or family beef quite peripheral to any larger gang issue.
I tell people that the typical Chicago murder follows the equation: Two young men + stupid beef + gun = dead body. Remove the gun from that equation, and you prevent many dead bodies.
There is some evidence that focusing on these adults can be helpful in reducing certain kinds of gun crime. If, for example, a young man is gang-affiliated, we want to ensure that the adults in leadership positions within these organizations understand that they will face personal consequences if that young person commits any kind of gun crime.
Finding out where the guns come from in the first place is key to interrupting the violence.

And the shooting in Missouri has raised a lot of questions that will eventually, hopefully be answered. But as a nation, we need to address the causes and effects of the violence that is affecting communities of color in ways that are different from other gun violence like domestic shootings, suicides and accidental shootings. What is happening in the Missouri town of Ferguson is scary stuff. This tragic incident is calling attention to overall race problems in America combined with law enforcement relationships with minority youth in areas where people of color form the majority. This problem also includes the propensity of law enforcement to single out minority people and the proliferation of guns in these communities. It all adds up to potentially tragic and now explosive situations. I have read quite a few articles about this incident but this piece struck me as particularly insightful. There is much to think about here and I hope the discussion about what happened in Missouri leads to some new and better communication and relationships as well as new thinking about our communities of color all over America.

And one other scary thing is the changing situations in both Afghanistan and Iraq concerning terrorists with guns. In Afghanistan, according to this article, guns provided by and left behind by the American military have gone missing and fall into the hands of terrorist groups. What is happening with ISIS in Iraq should also be a wake-up call to us about the easy access to small arms to groups like this that we have failed to stop. From the article:
While the U.S. supplies huge amounts of military aid across the globe, it has been less keen on developing nonproliferation programs with other U.N. member states to stop the illicit trade in small arms. In 2001, the U.S. and a small group of states including China, Cuba, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Russia voted to block the creation of a more comprehensive system for monitoring weapons proliferation. They argued that existing standards set up under international law were doing enough to check the illegal flow of weapons. But a look at the growing power of insurgencies over the past several years suggests otherwise. Infamous terrorist groups like ISIS have stunned the world by overpowering well equipped armies, often using illegally smuggled or captured weapons.
Ultimately, ensuring accountability over future arms sales may do more to counter terrorism around the globe than dumping huge shipments of weapons on foreign armies incapable of tracking them.
How easy would it be for just a few of these radicalized young men or women to bring their guns back to the U.S. or obtain them legally or not in our own country and use them to terrorize cities in our own country? Remember when American military found documents suggesting that terrorists should just go to American gun shows to get their guns? From the article:
The murderous terrorist advocating that his terrorist brethren simply get their weaponry of choice for attacking America at American guns show is, of course, absolutely right, and has not discovered anything that home-grown domestic terrorists haven't been exploiting for years. There are no background checks for purchasing assault rifles or anything else at American gun shows. And while we do check whether you're on the terrorist watch list before you can get on an airplane, they don't check whether you're on the terrorist watch list before selling you a gun and ammunition to do some actual terrorizing with.
Because, apparently, having even the slightest rule in place to prevent a known or suspected terrorist from purchasing a freakin' assault rifle would be an infringement.
So now that we know actual terrorists are planning to use this route to equip themselves, are we doing anything about it? Nope.
And worse:
In addition, people on terrorist watch lists are not forbidden from purchasing guns and many have done just that. Gadahn's instructions come in the wake of Associated Press reporting that showed that more than 200 people with suspected terrorist ties bought guns legally in the United States last year. Following the AP report Representative Mike Quigley introduced an amendment to the Patriot Act that would give the Attorney General the authority to block gun sales to individuals on terror watch lists. The amendment was voted down. 
We have done nothing to stop that from happening. Remember the DC Snipers? Remember Mumbai? Terrorists with guns can paralyze cities all over the world and now even countries. And we now have our very own home grown terrorists who are ready to attack even those in their own country. This is scary. It's time to re-look at ways to keep guns from known terrorists without the corporate gun lobby interference. Acting out of protecting citizens from terror attacks just makes common sense.

There's enough to be scared about concerning the American gun culture and lax gun laws that are in evidence every day in our communities. And the international situation is also volatile and frightening right now. What the corporate gun lobby and the far right has done and is doing is fomenting fear and paranoia and anti-government feelings in our own country. This is making people afraid of the wrong things. They ( and we) should be more afraid of the daily carnage affecting our families and communities and we should be trying much harder to address the problems with sensible solutions. And addressing the easy access to guns by people in our own country as well as those from outside who wish us harm should be at the top of our list of priorities. Isn't it time for us to demand that our elected leaders do something? Let's get to work.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Corporate gun lobby follies

This post has been edited since first posted.

In my last post, I wrote about some "believe it or not" gun incidents and points of view. I got some pushback from one of my readers who apparently does believe that a blind person ought to be able to carry a gun in public because it is that person's constitutional right to own guns. With rights come responsibilities. It would be irresponsible for a person who is blind to carry a gun around in public in my opinion and I am not alone. Another comment agreed with that point of view. Doesn't common sense come into play here? If not, it should. Guns are deadly weapons designed to kill another human being.

As the NRA and corporate gun lobby become more bold and extreme and as the public is taking notice, the true agenda of the gun lobby is under scrutiny. And the public isn't liking what they see or buying the fear, paranoia and extremism.

This article gets right to the nub of it:
This week the group yanked a much-mocked video in which “NRA news commentator” Dom Raso demanded that “Every law-abiding, blind individual should be able to have whatever guns they want.” Not everyone thought this was a brilliant idea, including the advocate for the blind who called it “disturbing.” And “misleading.” And “cynical.“
This new twist on “gun blind” followed another much-mocked NRA video in which another much-mocked “NRA commentator” — Billy Johnson — mused that firearms classes, like reading, writing and ’rithmatic, should be mandatory in elementary schools. The video prompted a fair amount of debate basically between those arguing that Johnson is a cynical tool of the gun industry and those contending he is more of a mad fool.
And, of course, the NRA’s recent spate of public-relations fiascos began on May 30, when it posted a criticism of Open Carry Texas, the group that keeps getting banned from restaurants on the grounds that they’re basically a bunch of scary guys carrying rifles. The NRA’s betrayal of the gun movement’s de facto creed — All Guns, All Places, All The Time No Matter How Reckless, Uncivil or Insane — resulted in an avalanche of public abuse from open-carry advocates and a shamed retreat by the NRA. (...) 
The NRA needs to keep up the appearance of corporate sanity on Capitol Hill. But when the NRA called the behavior of Open Carry Texas “weird,” it all but invited the Gun Owners of America to poach some more NRA members who fear the old guard is too establishment and soft.
The other problem is success. Having pushed guns onto campuses and into bars, parks and churches, the NRA is running out of virgin territory. In order to maintain the aura of panic, and the permanent war footing on which its vast fundraising apparatus depends, it must have villains (see Obama, Barack, gun seller in chief) but also new worlds to conquer. Once you’ve convinced legislators in Georgia to allow guns in bars, giving guns to schoolchildren and the blind isn’t all that much of a stretch.
Oh yes, and then there's NRA Board member Ted Nugent about whom I have written many times before on this blog. This time he met with more than a little resistance to his offensive remarks while playing at a concert sponsored by the Toledo ( Ohio) Blade newspaper. Here is an article about how that appearance went for Nugent and the Toledo Blade:
"According to an August 9 Blade article, Nugent "and about a dozen people protesting his appearance overshadowed" the festival, with the sign-toting protestors receiving "support from numerous honking motorists who drove by and a few who flashed a thumbs-up sign." During the festival, Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence founder Toby Hoover delivered more than 6,200 petition signatures collected by CSGV to the Blade's sales director, according to the group.
Nugent responded by lashing out at the protestors, President Obama, and the Blade from stage:
From the stage, Nugent blasted the protesters, calling them the "Barack Obama fan club." 
"How much crazier can you get than having a President of the United States who hates the United States?" he asked.
Neither Nugent nor the protesters were happy with the newspaper.
"The Toledo Blade hates you," Nugent told the crowd. "They hate your guts ...; They hate me. They hate freedom. So as long as you know the Toledo Blade hates you, you're a good American."
At least four Nugent concerts have been cancelled this year in response to Nugent's commentary, and several more have been subject to demonstrations. American Indian groups in particular have been protesting Nugent over his past racial comments, with tribes cancelling planned casino concerts and the president of the American Indian Movement Grassroots reportedly stating that the group "will always" protest the concerts.
Music industry experts say that Nugent's rhetoric has hurt his image to the point where he could seriously damage his music career."
His performance speaks for itself. If the NRA wants to keep this guy on their Board, they are doing so at their own expense. Nugent is creating his own problems and others are noticing. His behavior is on display and has been found to be offensive and incendiary.

And then there's this article with examples of reviews of a book written by two gun advocates, "My Parents Open Carry",  which I wrote about also in my last post. Here is just one review from the above article:
"Geofftoons - After saying our prayers to Jesus and Charlton Heston, I sat on the edge of my kids bed to read them this book, when I shifted my position and accidentally set off my 9mil that was strapped to my hip, shooting myself in the thigh. This wouldn't have been so bad,
(and it goes on hilariously in a macabre way from there)"
I checked out some more reviews on Amazon.com. Here are a few:
""This is a book the explains to little children that guns don't need to be feared. It sends the positive message that guns are our friends, that we should trust in guns. I can't wait for the sequel: "My little brother accidentally blew his head off."" 
And this:
""Jeffs and Nephew say they were moved to write the book because they "looked for pro-gun children's books and couldn't find any"."
Couldn't find any-pro-gun children's books? WTF, OBAMA???
Here wait a second-let me look...
Hmmm, nope! And you know what? I can't find any pro-brass knuckles children's books either!
And for some reason there's no pro-sword, pro-taser, pro-baseball bat, pro-noose or pro-hand grenade books on the market AT ALL!
And more:
"Republican Jesus came to me during my prayers and recommended this book.
My kids became fearful a few months back when our neighbor shot his wife in front of their children. Thank you white, middle aged, republican Jesus, this book has helped shown them to trust adult strangers with weapons and how natural it is to open carry AK-47s and now they sleep peacefully.
You don't need any training to carry semi automatic weapons and i'm glad this book is finally pointing that out to our children. I mean, we are Americans! Don't Tread on Me!!!
It was high time they realized that alongside the lord, fear and paranoia is an essential part of our life.
If you are a god fearing patriot it is time you stand your ground and get this book for your children."
It's hard to take a book like this seriously but apparently it is a serious attempt to explain to children why their parents have chosen to carry guns in public. One has to wonder why an explanation is needed.

Moving right along, I love this sarcastic article about a Colorado "open carry" activist roaming the streets of Aurora, of all places, with his shotgun over his shoulder. From the article:
Now these guns-ibitionists say they do it to help educate Americans that good guys wear guns, too, and that it’s legal, and that they can help protect y’all because the police just take too long to save you from Aurora’s hordes of marauding pirates. There are no laws in Colorado about kids carrying shotguns or rifles. “A 10-year-old could walk down the street with a rifle, there is no law (against it),” said Danielle Thompson, a spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. It’s going to happen. If this is starting to make your head spin, just wait. This special breed of whacktivist is congealing on YouTube and other websites, where they encourage and incite each other to get out there with the biggest, baddest, stupidest guns ever in the most controversial places they can find and share it with the world. A few members of this growing gun cult from Michigan have written a children’s book called, “My Parents Open Carry.” It’s a sinister, moronic attempt at propaganda, telling people that strapping on a heater before you head out for groceries is as responsible and practical as making sure your seat belt is buckled.
I’m not OK with this because people who get satisfaction from showing off their hog legs are the very people who shouldn’t be doing it. Since state lawmakers are increasingly cowardly about gun control laws in light of political extortion ploys by gun-rights extremists, our only hope is to enact meaningful laws keeping guns away from mentally unhealthy people. Problem solved.
With rights come responsibilities. In case the gun lobby thinks these kinds of antics are helping their cause, they should think again. They are actually hurting. No one wants to see folks with loaded guns wandering around their streets.Who knows if the gun carrier is the next James Holmes or Jared Loughner? We don't of course. I hate to use this cliché but they are "shooting themselves in the foot." The general public sees right through this stuff. But the gun rights extremists buy it- literally and figuratively. This is a minority of Americans and even a minority of gun owners who are trying desperately to stand by the Second Amendment as their excuse to get guns into the hands of just about everyone and also to bring them into all public places where families and members of the community hang out. It's not working out so well. The daily carnage continues all over America and we are sitting back and watching it happen without taking action.

And by action I mean figuring out where all of the guns are coming from on our streets. We know that some gun owners have decided to carry theirs around. But what about those who are not legally allowed to buy guns but get them anyway? Where do the guns come from? It's time to start talking about how easy access to guns is leading to more shootings. We haven't worked hard enough to make it harder for people who shouldn't have guns to get them. That is because any reasonable measure suggested is turned away by the gun lobby and our leaders have been intimidated rather than standing up for what's right. This letter from an Montana legislative candidate speaks the truth:
What got my goat more was the paragraph in bold letters that warned me that failure to reply to this questionnaire would be considered by the National Rifle Association as being against the Constitution of the United States of America.
In 1971, while still in high school in Libby, I took the oath to defend the Constitution from enemies, both foreign and domestic. I gave over 26 years doing just that. My military record will show that I honorably served Active and Reserve Naval Service and the Montana Army and Air National Guard. I refuse to be blackmailed by this organization. I would hope that other candidates feel the same.
So because a candidate doesn't choose to answer an NRA questionnaire, he/she is suddenly against the Constitution? Is there a First Amendment? And this, dear readers, explains at least in part why our leaders stand back rather than stand up to what's right. It's time for that to change. Lives are at stake. When 30,000 Americans a year ( give or take) die from gunshot injuries from gun homicides, suicides and accidental gun deaths, there is a national public health and safety problem. Any other cause of such death would be at the top of a list of problems that must be solved. In addition, another 70,000 a year are injured by bullets. This is not acceptable. We can have a different America where families are safe from devastating gun violence in their communities. The majority of Americans understand that. It is incumbent upon that majority to get involved and demand action. If the gun lobby and gun extremists continue to push their agenda of fear and paranoia into more public places, they might find themselves in a different position.

The real American folly here is the daily media reports of senseless shootings while we allow the extremists and the corporate gun lobby to deny it and keep us from doing the right thing in the name of common sense, common decency and public health and safety.