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.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Stray bullets and collateral damage

Of late, I have been writing more than a few articles about children  (or mostly children) killed by stray bullets. Two of them happened in Minneapolis. This one, that killed 3 year old Terrell Mayes, remains unsolved. And this more recent shooting of 5 year old Nezzel Banks who was killed in his Minneapolis home while sleeping on a couch, reminds us of the fact that there are bullets flying in our communities almost every day. There should be no bullets flying around on our city streets. There should be no children or no Americans killed by a bullet that comes through a house wall or a window. In my last post, I wrote about some folks who were shooting at targets set up at a makeshift gun range in a man's back yard. One of the bullets flew through the walls of a nearby house and landed in the bedroom of a teen-ager living in the home who was freaked out by seeing a bullet going through his bedroom wall.

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:
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 injuries
The 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: "(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:
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."
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.

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:

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."
 Also from this article:

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.
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. 

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.


I rest my case. Here is yet another article about a senseless shooting of an innocent girl by a stray bullet:
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.
Little girls should not be shot while sitting in their homes.


  1. The NRA talks about enforcing gun laws, but they do little to make it truly possible to do so.

    First off, the gun laws are written to be unenforceable.

    Secondly, they won't properly fund the agency tasked with enforcement while demonising them for trying to do their job.

  2. "the gun laws are written to be unenforceable." Could you give an example of this?

  3. Hey, Robin, ever READ 18 USC 922?

    5) for any person (other than a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector) to transfer, sell, trade, give, transport, or deliver any firearm to any person (other than a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector) who the transferor knows or has reasonable cause to believe does not reside in (or if the person is a corporation or other business entity, does not maintain a place of business in) the State in which the transferor resides; except that this paragraph shall not apply to
    (A) the transfer, transportation, or delivery of a firearm made to carry out a bequest of a firearm to, or an acquisition by intestate succession of a firearm by, a person who is permitted to acquire or possess a firearm under the laws of the State of his residence, and
    (B) the loan or rental of a firearm to any person for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes;

    6) for any person in connection with the acquisition or attempted acquisition of any firearm or ammunition from a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector, knowingly to make any false or fictitious oral or written statement or to furnish or exhibit any false, fictitious, or misrepresented identification, intended or likely to deceive such importer, manufacturer, dealer, or collector with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale or other disposition of such firearm or ammunition under the provisions of this chapter;

    (b) It shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector to sell or deliver—
    (1) any firearm or ammunition to any individual who the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe

    Notice the words know and believe. 18 USC 921 et seq. as well as most US firearms laws are full of them.

    Prove that someone does these things beyond a reasonable doubt without being a mind reader.

    Firearms laws

  4. How this plays out from Hardy's THE FIREARMS OWNERS' PROTECTION ACT: A HISTORICAL AND LEGAL PERSPECTIVE, 17 Cumb. L. Rev. 585-682 (1986)


    As might be expected, the details of the enforcement powers were extensively discussed during the negotiations. The January 1983 Treasury proposals sought to strike insertion of the word "willfully" in the penalties clause of the bill, noting:

    The requirement that only a willful violation of the Act's provision[s] would be a criminal offense would make knowledge ... of the law an element of the offense. Consequently, this new element would make it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully prosecute any case under the Act. For example, in the absence of evidence that the defendant had specific knowledge that his conduct violated Federal law, he would not violate the Act by receiving or possessing a firearm as a felon....[159]

    An apparent deadlock was broken by suggestion that some offenses be made to require proof of a "knowing" state of mind, while others would require proof of a "willful" violation.[160] At the January meeting, it was suggested that violations of 18 U.S.C. sections 922(g), (h), (i) or (j) require only (p.616)"knowing" violation: these barred sales to or receipt by prohibited persons and transportation or receipt of stolen firearms.[161] The NRA's explanation, referring to Treasury's January objections, noted:

    [O]bjection was that this would require proof of knowledge of law for offenses such as receipt of stolen guns, possession by felon, etc. This draft requires only "knowing" violation of those sections, and "willful" for the rest. (Sections relating to transportation with intent to use in a crime and use in a federal crime are not affected by this section, 924(a) in any event, since their intent and punishment is separately set out in 924(b) and (c)).[162]

    The knowing-willful dichotomy was adopted in Treasury's February 1983 proposal, albeit with a suggestion that the "knowing" category be expanded,[163] and ended in a compromise[164] embodied in the Reagan Administration amendments.[165] As it turned out, Senator McClure, sponsor of S. 914, was less than happy with the Reagan Administration proposals. Concerned that a "knowing" standard might allow prosecution for negligent violations, McClure demanded and received an amendment in committee that expressly precluded prosecution for "simple negligence."[166]

    The issue of license revocation or property forfeiture following criminal proceedings proved less complex. As early (p.617)as the December 1981 meeting, alternative structures had been explored.[167] These were largely incorporated in S. 914 as introduced, alleviating need for their discussion during the 1983 meetings.[168] S. 914's restriction of forfeiture to firearms "involved in or used in," and exclusion of firearms allegedly "intended to be used in," was more difficult to resolve. At length, it was dealt with by requiring that claims of "intent to be used" be proven by clear and convincing evidence.[169] This proposal also became part of the Reagan Administration amendments.[170] Thus, by careful drafting of intermediate positions, it became possible for Treasury and NRA to protect their more vital interests even where those interests appeared most violently at odds.

    Again, prove intent, knowledge, and belief beyond a reasonable doubt.

  5. A practical application of the unenforcability of gun laws.

    Firearm shows up at a crime scene in Baltimore 8 months after purchase in "iron Pipeline2 State, ATF has tagged it to several crimes though ballistic fingerprints. Trace data comes back. Buyer says gun was stolen.

    Another gun shows up a few months later, same story from same buyer.

    We can play with this with either a similar seller or first legal purchaser.

    Question show when and how gun came into the black market without some form of firearm registration database? What part of 18 USC 922 can you prosecute under?

  6. Really? It was so hard to get a conviction of a strawbuyer that BATF rigged the system to allow convicted felons to buy guns directly from the FFL. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/07/25/feds-refuse-to-explain-why-proper-background-checks-werent-conducted-on-fast/

    The Feds can and do get convictions on strawbuying and put a number of dealers out of business every year, convict them and confiscate their inventory. Try an experiment. Go in a gun store with your husband, look at a gun with the clerk and then before you make the purchase turn to your husband and say "What do you think of this one?" and watch the sale end right there.

    I almost wasn't able to buy a gun because I asked my wife if I should put the purchase on the debit card or the credit card.

    It is actually very easy to make a straw purchase case. In the case of the buyer you observe them make the buy and you observe them turn over the weapon or you catch the felon with it.


    If you are trying to take down the dealer you have an agent make the buy and you say "this is for my brother in law from Mexico." If the dealer hands you the gun he goes to jail. You did notice that the dealers making these sales all let BATF know that they thought they were suspicious and the BATF told them to make the sale anyway.

    The thing is, if your goal is to make a conviction, you have to follow the guns which is what was not done in Fast and Furious. You cannot get a conviction if you observe the sale and then don't make any attempt to follow the weapon. Now, to fair on my side, they did try to get wire tap evidence that the get try to wiretap evidence and the person the strawbuyers were turning the guns over to was an FBI agent. You notice that they are now trying the strawbuyers.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/24/fast-and-furious-gun-scandal_n_1229124.html (ask yourself why are they only facing a five year charge when they could be facing five years for each weapon (79x5 or 109x5)?)

    My complaint is that the informant went ahead and turned the guns over to be taken to Mexico and no attempt was made to trace them at that point. Why weren't the guns stopped before they went across?

    More important still is not that the operation was botched but that the DOJ attempted to cover it up and is still doing so. Who approved the operation? Not known. Who approved the retaliation against the whistleblowers? Not known. Who wrote the letter lying to Congress? Not known.

    1. You're a little behind, Robin. Did you read the Fortune magazine article I posted about how the Fast and Furious ATF program as described in this old article isn't the way it happened? Have you heard of "beating a dead horse?"

    2. I did indeed read the Fortune magazine article. I have also been following the case since Mike Vanderboegh and David Codrea broke it. The Fortune article is just anti-gun spin to cover for the BATF. The thing I don't understand is that everything you supposedly stand for was trampled by the BATF and you are still carrying their water simply because pro-gun people are calling for accountability. You say that one gun death is too many yet you are willing to look the other way on the death of 300 Mexican citizens and 2 federal agents because pro-gun people want the DOJ called to account. I guarantee you if the shoe was on the other foot I would still be calling for justice. A criminal act and accessory to murder is wrong regardless of whether the people who commit it hold my ideology or not.

    3. Whose water are you carrying, Robin? If you believe Mike Vanderbough, the man who encouraged violence in 2010, then I can't help you. Anti-gun spin? What in the name of all that's right is Mike Vanderbough? He is a thug and a bully and no expert in anything but promoting the agenda of the most extreme views of the NRA.

  7. how does one 100% verify that a person is not prohibited, lives in the state ect.

    1. Good question, Anthony. Do you have a good answer? Or do you think we should just not bother because we can't verify 100% that they are adjudicated mentally ill even if their name has been sent to NICS as fitting that category? Isn't a felon a felon? What about a domestic abuser? What about a teen? Surely the records are incomplete and we can do better. If only your side didn't put up so many barriers to making sure we get those names to the right place and then do something about it once the names are in the data base. It's a crime that the names of all of those adjudicated mentally ill are not sent to NICS. Why aren't we making sure they are? Couldn't we work together to make sure they are? Or is it that in Florida, the names can't be sent because conceal and carry permits are issued by the Dept. of Agriculture which is not authorized to send names to NICS? Hmmm. Problems- most likely the law was passed that way on purpose.

    2. I just do not understand how the law would work any other way than the way it is written.

      1 Private sellers can not use NICS and even if you could as you point out that is not a perfect system.

      2 Even if you checked a DL and permit to purchase that is no guarantee that the person still lives in that state or that they have not become a prohibited person.

      I agree that the required information needs to be given FBI so the NICS can work properly.

  8. japete writes: "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. "

    A dealer, who is a person engaged in the business of buying and selling firearms, must hold the proper federal firearms license. There is no such thing as an "unlicensed dealer". If they are in this as a business, they must have a FFL and follow the applicable laws.

    1. A private seller is unlicensed by anyone and you know that, too, Bryan. They deal in guns and ammunition with no one monitoring what they are doing. They can sell guns to anyone. Often they don't even check IDs as we know from the many hidden camera videos. They are in business and don't necessarily follow the laws. We know that also from the hidden camera videos. No one made that up. The facts speak for themselves and you know that, too, Bryan.

    2. So Bryan, you know this isn't true. I wonder why you keep repeating it. A private seller is unlicensed and does not have to follow the laws. Many don't as we know from the many hidden camera videos. They are in a business all right. They make plenty of money without having to comply with the same rules the FFLs do. They do not get monitored by the ATF except in the few instances when they get caught selling to someone without asking for ID which also happens. No background checks are required by these folks. You know that as well.

    3. japete writes: "A private seller is unlicensed and does not have to follow the laws. Many don't as we know from the many hidden camera videos. They are in a business all right."

      If they are engaged "in the business" then they are a "dealer" and federal law requires them to have a federal firearms license.

      "No background checks are required by these folks"

      Depends on the state we're talking about.

    4. Of course. That goes without saying. The majority of states are like MN. They allow private sales with no background checks. But you knew this already.

  9. Laci writes: "Hey, Robin, ever READ 18 USC 922?"

    Yes, I'm quite familar with it.

    Laci writes: "Notice the words know and believe. 18 USC 921 et seq. as well as most US firearms laws are full of them.

    Prove that someone does these things beyond a reasonable doubt without being a mind reader."

    Almost all US criminal law at the federal, state, and local level contains similar language. It's far less difficult to make a criminal case around these things that you might choose to believe.

    The language around knowledge is there for a reason. We should not charge someone with a crime because they were presented with identification that led them to believe an individual was the resident of the same state as them in a private firearms transaction when in fact the ID was fake and the individual was from another state. That's the reason this sort of language is in criminal statutes such as these.


    1. And this is the prime example of gun laws gone wrong. If all sales were required to go through background checks, we wouldn't have this loophole that allows for exactly what you are saying. If someone isn't responsible because they don't have to be, they get away with selling to people they shouldn't be selling to. That is Laci's point. I can just turn the other way and ask for an ID but hey, I didn't know it was fake. I'm not responsible. That's the reason you guys put this language in the laws. Don't hold me responsible for selling guns to people who shouldn't have them. That's nonsense and that's what's wrong with the laws. Licensed dealers are held responsible for these things. Everyone who sells a lethal weapon should have to abide by the same rules. Why are some people exempt? People die every day from gun injuries. This is no small matter.

    2. I left an example of how difficult this it to prove which didn't get posted.

      Firearm turns up at a crime scene several months after purchase, ballistic fingerprinting tags it to multiple crimes. Last legal purchaser (or seller) is questioned and says gun was lost or stolen.

      Another firearm shows up a few months later from same purchaser/seller with same characteristics (found at crime scene, used in multiple crimes, etc.)

      We can rack up quite a few of these guns with similar characteristics--now, Bryan, how does one prove there was an illegal act where these firearms entered the black market?

    3. BTW, we have seen loads of videos of firearms dealers who willfully break the law by selling to people who say they shouldn't buy the firearms. We have sellers saying that the person needs to come back and make a straw purchase--yet it is hard to prosecute these people because of the "knowledge" requirement.

      Not only that, Bryan, you condone this by saying these laws should be designed so that it is hard to prosecute these crimes.

    4. Sorry. I missed some comments here. They are now posted.