Then there is the case of the young Minnesota girl, Tyesha Edwards. Tyesha was killed by a stray bullet while studying at her dining room table. No child should ever be killed by a stray bullet while doing what she was supposed to be doing. I have met her parents on several occasions and felt their pain as they spoke of their grief over this senseless shooting.
It's not just me who has noticed more incidents of shootings of innocent people by stray bullets. Dr. Garen Wintermute of the University of California Davis has released new research about this American phenomenon:
This bears repeating: "(68.2 percent) were indoors." So the majority of those shot by a stray bullet were inside, killed by a bullet coming from outside. That is stunning actually. Further, from the study:Most people killed or wounded in stray-bullet shootings were unaware of events leading to the gunfire that caused their injuries, and nearly one-third of the victims were children and nearly half were female, according to a new nationwide study examining an often-overlooked form of gun violence.Victims of stray-bullet shootings are often unaware of the events leading to the gunfire that caused their injuriesThe study by Garen Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center, examines mortality rates and other epidemiological aspects of stray-bullet shootings over a one-year period. It is published in the July issue of The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery."Stray-bullet shootings alter the nature of life in many American neighborhoods, creating fear and anxiety and prompting parents to keep children indoors and take other precautions," Wintemute said. "When we think about gun violence, we think about high-profile and tragic events like Virginia Tech or the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. But stray-bullet shootings affect entire communities every day, and there has been almost no research exploring them."Unlike the risk pattern for violence in general, which typically affects young males, most victims of stray bullets were outside the 15-to-34 age range, and nearly half (44.8 percent) were females, the study found. Many of the people shot (40.7 percent) were at home at the time of the incident, and of these, most (68.2 percent) were indoors.
This bears repeating: " "Victims of stray bullets are essentially 'collateral damage' and are usually disconnected from the events that lead to their injury or death," Wintemute said. "They are innocent bystanders who typically have no opportunity to flee or take any other preventive measures." So then a gun would be of no use to defend oneself from stray bullets. And, of course, many of the victims are young children so that is a moot point anyway. Further,"collateral damage" is a term usually reserved for war victims. As I have said way too often on this blog, "Are we at war?" I guess we are if we have collateral damage and stray bullets flying around on our streets.In one case that typifies the random nature of these events, a toddler in New York was standing in her grandparents' house, where her family had gathered to watch a football game, when a bullet fired by a hunter 378 feet away came through the home's wall and struck the child in the torso. She died soon after at a local hospital.In another case, a 51-year-old Ohio woman was paralyzed and later died when a bullet fired by a teenager shooting at two other fleeing teens struck her in the neck as she crossed the street near her home. Four days later, another woman driving on the same street was wounded by a stray bullet as two groups of teenagers fired at each other."Victims of stray bullets are essentially 'collateral damage' and are usually disconnected from the events that lead to their injury or death," Wintemute said. "They are innocent bystanders who typically have no opportunity to flee or take any other preventive measures."
So what is the solution to this uniquely American public health and safety problem? Wintermute has this to say: " Wintemute said he hopes the findings will raise awareness of stray-bullet shooting and help lead to the expansion of preventive measures, such as "hot-spot policing," which involves increasing enforcement of firearm laws in areas with high levels of gun violence.
"Wearing body armor or taking other extreme protective measures is just not practical on a widespread scale, so we need to look at other ways to help communities feel safe from such events," Wintemute said. "Given that these stray-bullet shootings are a byproduct of gun violence in general, it's plausible that if you prevent the violence, you'll prevent the stray-bullet shootings.""
Yes, body armor is not a solution. Prevention? Good idea. What about dealing with the illegal guns on our streets? This would not be easy given the immensity of the problem. We have a proliferation of small arms right here in America. Where do they come from? Guns don't fall from the sky. They most often start out as legal purchases since new guns coming from gun manufacturers get shipped to Federally licensed Firearms dealers (FFLs). From there, law abiding citizens ( those who can pass background checks) can purchase them. Some of the purchases are straw purchases ( which is illegal). Some guns are stolen and lead directly to senseless shootings as in this recent "sniper" copycat shooting to the DC sniper shooting. Scary stuff. A couple of guys with stolen guns who want to know what it feels like to shoot people! There are "bad apple" gun dealers who knowingly allow straw purchases or "fail to report lost and stolen guns." See DC Sniper shooting. Some are sold by private sellers who presumably bought the guns legally from licensed dealers or from someone else who bought the gun from a licensed dealer. Guns can be bought from unlicensed dealers ( private sellers) with no background check required. Who knows who is buying those guns and what happens to them once the sale is complete? Some of these guns end up carried by criminals, gang members, teens and others who should not have them. Guns get into the illegal market by one of the methods I have described. The bullets from these guns are responsible for many of the shootings on the streets of our communities-except in a few cases where hunters or people who are target shooting do stupid and dangerous things. Remember the shooting of the young boys in Texas who were playing basketball at a rural school playground when they were shot by stray bullets coming from some target shooters nearby? Remember the little girl in the St. Paul, Minnesota area who was shot by a stray bullet from a gun shot from almost a mile away? I don't have the time or the space to list them all.
This article summarizes where the illegal guns come from well:
Also from this article:
While many guns are taken off the street when people are arrested and any firearms in their possession are confiscated, a new study shows how easily arrestees believe they could illegally acquire another firearm. Supported by the National Institute of Justice and based on interviews with those recently arrested, the study acknowledges gun theft is common, with 13 percent of all arrestees interviewed admitting that they had stolen a gun. However a key finding is that "the illegal market is the most likely source" for these people to obtain a gun. "In fact, more than half the arrestees say it is easy to obtain guns illegally," the report states. Responding to a question of how they obtained their most recent handgun, the arrestees answered as follows: 56% said they paid cash; 15% said it was a gift; 10% said they borrowed it; 8% said they traded for it; while 5% only said that they stole it.
ATF officials say that only about 8% of the nation's 124,000 retail gun dealers sell the majority of handguns that are used in crimes. They conclude that these licensed retailers are part of a block of rogue entrepreneurs tempted by the big profits of gun trafficking. Cracking down on these dealers continues to be a priority for the ATF. What's needed, according to Wachtel, is better monitoring of the activities of legally licensed gun dealers. This means examining FFL paperwork to see where their guns are coming from, and making sure that those guns are being sold legally. But he says, "Let's be honest. If someone wants a gun, it's obvious the person will not have difficulty buying a gun, either legally or through the extensive United States black market."
The ATF is famously underfunded and understaffed by design of the NRA and its' supporters in Congress. Monitoring "bad apple" gun dealers could actually stop some of the illegal gun sales in our country. What are we doing about it? Not much. America has more guns per 100,000 than any high income country not at war. Yes, many of these are owned by law abiding gun owners who have them for hunting or self defense. But when you have that many guns in circulation, there are bound to be problems. The statistics about the rate of gun deaths and injuries in the U.S. bear that out.
The next biggest source of illegal gun transactions where criminals get guns are sales made by legally licensed but corrupt at-home and commercial gun dealers. Several recent reports back up Wachtel's own studies about this, and make the case that illegal activity by those licensed to sell guns, known as Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs), is a huge source of crime guns and greatly surpasses the sale of guns stolen from John Q. Citizen. Like bank robbers, who are interested in banks, gun traffickers are interested in FFLs because that's where the guns are. This is why FFLs are a large source of illegal guns for traffickers, who ultimately wind up selling the guns on the street.
According to a recent ATF report, there is a significant diversion to the illegal gun market from FFLs. The report states that "of the 120,370 crime guns that were traced to purchases from the FFLs then in business, 27.7 % of these firearms were seized by law enforcement in connection with a crime within two years of the original sale. This rapid `time to crime' of a gun purchased from an FFL is a strong indicator that the initial seller or purchaser may have been engaged in unlawful activity."
The report goes on to state that "over-the-counter purchases are not the only means by which guns reach the illegal market from FFLs" and reveals that 23,775 guns have been reported lost, missing or stolen from FFLs since September 13, 1994, when a new law took effect requiring dealers to report gun thefts within 48 hours. This makes the theft of 6,000 guns reported in the CIR/Frontline show "Hot Guns" only 25% of all cases reported to ATF in the past two and one-half years.
Another large source of guns used in crimes are unlicensed street dealers who either get their guns through illegal transactions with licensed dealers, straw purchases, or from gun thefts. These illegal dealers turn around and sell these illegally on the street. An additional way criminals gain access to guns is family and friends, either through sales, theft or as gifts.
So where are we? We are living in a civilized country that allows "collateral damage" from bullets on our streets. We have the highest rate of gun ownership among high income countries not at war. We have the highest rate of gun deaths and injuries among high income countries not at war. We have the most powerful lobby ( the NRA) of any other country which keeps our country less safe from gunfire. We don't do much about funding the agency assigned to monitor gun dealers and gun crime. We allow that very agency (the ATF) to go without a director. We don't pass common sense gun laws to do anything about our high rate of gun deaths and injuries. Our elected leaders, charged with protecting the citizenry from senseless gun deaths and with public health and safety, are under the influence of an organization whose agenda it is to keep gun sales up and make sure as many people as possible have loaded guns in as many places as possible. Raise your hand if you think this is all good.
I would like to share a story written in this morning's Star Tribune about how gangs use social media, most especially Facebook, to telegraph their intentions to retaliate against other gangs. These shootings have led to innocent children being killed by stray bullets:
It was this sort of online back and forth between two Minneapolis gangs that helped fuel a series of house shootings last month that culminated in the killing of 5-year-old Nizzel George, according to police. He was found on a sofa in the front room of his grandmother's house, which was struck by a hail of bullets fired from outside. Two teenage boys have been charged with murder in Nizzel's death.Sad, but true.
UPDATE #2- JULY 16
I rest my case. Here is yet another article about a senseless shooting of an innocent girl by a stray bullet:
Little girls should not be shot while sitting in their homes.11-year old Makalah Jones was in her home in Rome, New York, while her mother, April Donaldson, and April's boyfriend were outside on the porch.A car drove by, slowed down, and then shot at least four times. One of those bullets entered the home, going through a window, couch, and refrigerator before striking Makalah in the face, neck, and wrist.Makalah has now been released from the hospital. The shooter has not been caught.