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.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The opening "shots" in the debate

Well, here we go. It will a wild ride. Any time there is a discussion about guns and how to prevent them from being used to massacre people or kill Americans on a daily basis, the rhetoric gets hot and heated. The NRA lobbyists bring out their "big guns" and irrational fears and paranoia. For far far too long, it has worked. As Americans have died from bullets at the rate of 30,000 a year for the past many years with nary a change in the numbers, our Congress has avoided the topic for fear of Wayne LaPierre and the other NRA lobbyists and leaders.. But after 12/14 everything changed. You'd never know that after listening to the testimony at yesterday's Senate Judiciary hearing on gun violence-the first since the 12/14 Newtown massacre.  LaPierre used the same old talking points and hysteria, unsupported by actual facts. This time, though, those who want to prevent the daily carnage were ready. They came with the facts. They came with their new found realization that the NRA is only a paper tiger and they are not going to be intimidated any more. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote about how this worked out for LaPierre yesterday:

When he and his colleagues stepped off the elevator in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday morning and found TV cameras waiting in the hallway, LaPierre’s bodyguards swung into action. One of them, in blatant violation of congressional rules, bumped and body-checked journalists out of the way so they couldn’t film LaPierre or question him as he walked.
“You don’t have jurisdiction here!” a cameraman protested as an NRA goon pushed him against a wall. After the melee, congressional officials informed the NRA officials that, in the halls of Congress, they had to follow congressional procedures — which prohibit manhandling.
This must have come as a surprise to the gun lobbyists, whose swagger seems to suggest that they are, in fact, in control of Congress. In their world, nothing trumps the Second Amendment — not even the First Amendment.
From beginning to end, LaPierre’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee was a study in vainglory. The written testimony he submitted to Congress came with a biography describing him as a “Renaissance man,” a “skilled hunter,” and an “acclaimed speaker and political force of nature” as he preserved freedom. “There has been no better leader of this great cause than Wayne LaPierre!” the bio boasted.
After his decades with the group, LaPierre is the public face of the NRA, and the man gun-control advocates most love to hate. His unsmiling manner, his snarling statements and even his memorable name are from villainy central casting. “Mr. LaPierre, it’s good to see you again,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said from the dais, recalling bygone fights with her nemesis. “We tangled — what was it? — 18 years ago. You look pretty good, actually.”
Usually, LaPierre comes out the victor in these tangles, and on Wednesday he was so confident of another win that he boldly declared that the NRA would oppose the most innocuous of proposals to reduce gun violence: criminal background checks.
Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) reminded LaPierre that the NRA once supported checks with “no loopholes anywhere, for anyone.” So does the NRA favor closing the “gun-show loophole” that allows people to avoid background checks?
“We do not,” LaPierre replied.
His reasoning, as always, is that existing gun laws aren’t being enforced — but he seems to have pulled the evidence out of his gun barrel. “Out of more than 76,000 firearms purchases supposedly denied by the federal instant check system, only 62 were referred for prosecution,” LaPierre declared in his opening statement.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) looked up the actual statistic. “In 2012 more than 11,700 defendants were charged with federal gun crimes,” Whitehouse said, “a lot more than 62.”
LaPierre had been caught. “So those — the 62, senator, statistic, was for Chicago alone,” he clarified, a salient fact omitted from his original testimony.
His logic failed him as badly as his facts. “My problem with background checks is you’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks,” he argued, unwilling to admit that deterring criminals from buying guns is a good thing, even if some eventually get theirs on the black market. (...) The NRA chief made all the well-known arguments against gun laws; he reminded senators that the founders didn’t want Americans to “live under tyranny,” and he agreed with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) that the proposed ban on assault weapons merely targets “cosmetic features” of guns. LaPierre also added the novel idea that people may need guns if they are “abandoned by their government if a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits.”
Most people don’t have such apocalyptic paranoia. But LaPierre’s job is to stir up the active minority who are frightened and resentful. “If you’re in the elite, you get bodyguards,” he told the senators. “You get high-cap mags with semiautomatics protecting this whole Capitol. The titans of industry get the bodyguards.” He said it’s only “the hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying American that we’re going to make the least capable of defending themselves.”
Minutes after that denunciation of the well-protected elites, LaPierre rejoined his bodyguards, who were waiting in a back room. 
LaPierre's demeanor and arguments were taken apart in this editorial by New York Times writer Charles Blow as he wrote:
So LaPierre’s argument, if I can follow this spiral of spuriousness, is that if we don’t prosecute “bad guys,” then there is no use in checking buyers in the first place so that “bad guys” could be identified and prevented from making the purchases. As best I can tell that seems to be it, and if that is it then I say: you can’t be serious.
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, shot back:
"Mr. LaPierre, that’s the point. The criminals won’t go to purchase the guns because there’ll be a background check. We’ll stop them from original purchase. You missed that point completely. It’s basic."
The room erupted in applause.
Universal background checks would seem a basic and exceedingly reasonable proposal. I would add that there should also be universal prosecutions for being intentionally misleading during those checks. But LaPierre is a different kind of person. His interests are not the same as most Americans’. His organization and the majority of so-called “pro gun rights” groups are in the business of unfettered gun proliferation as a means of increasing gun industry profit.
This is about money, pure and simple.
Wednesday morning, before LaPierre’s testimony, the Republican Joe Scarborough of MSNBC said on his show:
“You know what the greatest danger to that Second Amendment right and that guarantee is right now? Extremism from the survivalist wing of the N.R.A. that impacts Republicans’ policies nationwide and moves the Republican Party so far away from mainstream America that they lose the House, they lose the Senate again in ’14, and they lose the presidency again. And the next president will be Democratic.”
I would have to agree with that.
LaPierre is fanning paranoia because it helps grow the N.R.A.’s membership rolls and helps the N.R.A.’s friends and benefactors in the gun industry. And the N.R.A. uses its war chest to scare cowering politicians into taking unreasonable positions.
But extreme resistance to change is no longer acceptable with most of the public. People want action. They’re demanding it. Extreme resistance in this climate could prove more politically poisonous, particularly to some Republicans, than upsetting the N.R.A.
At this moment you have an outraged public against the gun profiteers and the gutless politicians. I believe in the end the people will win.
I could write reams about what has been said in the past few days. It is overwhelming really. Things are moving fast, as they should. Hearings are happening. The NRA lobbyists are now accountable for their language of fear and paranoia because they have to answer to Congress and the public, not just their small group of gun rights extremists who believe every word of it without checking to see if there are facts to support the claims. Facts matter.

The testimony came from people on both sides and provided us with the viewpoints of both sides of the issue. One that stood out for me was from Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women's Forum who actually said this:
“For women, the ability to arm ourselves for our protection is even more consequential than for men because guns are the great equalizer in a violent confrontation,” Trotter said. “As a result, we protect women by safeguarding our Second Amendment rights. Every woman deserves a fighting chance.”
A fighting chance, yes, but not a chance to fight.
In June, Trotter published an op-ed that at face value was  about attacking the idea of allowing women to fight in combat, but was really taking issue with a woman’s role in the military in general.
“There are real reasons to avoid putting women in combat.  Many young single women are specifically recruited to serve in our military,” Trotter wrote. ”When you mix young women with fit young men, pregnancies are to be expected.”
Trotter went on to argue that a woman’s role as a mother was more important than a position in the military.
“Do the principles of women’s ‘liberation’ embrace jailing mothers for refusing to leave their kids behind with strangers?  If a woman is not free to care for her child, what kind of liberation does she have?” Trotter asked rhetorically.
Critics seeking to preserve the ban against women in combat have argued that women are inevitably less fit than their male counterparts.
Trotter’s testimony today followed that argument and continued to equate women with moms.
“If we ban these types of assault weapons, you are putting women at a great disadvantage, more so than men, because they do not have the same type of physical strength and opportunity to defend themselves in a hand-to-hand struggle,” Trotter told members of the Senate today. “And they’re not criminals; they’re moms. They’re young women. And they’re not used to violent confrontations.”
And a response to Trotter's testimony by Katie McDonough writing for Slate magazine:
But Trotter is wrong about women and guns, dangerously so. Far from making women safer, the presence of firearms in situations of domestic violence (which occur far more frequently than any other crime in the United States, Trotter’s “stranger danger” scenarios be damned) dramatically increases the likelihood a woman will be killed by her abuser. As Amanda Marcotte reported for Slate, the Violence Policy Center conducted research to quantify this point and found that 83 women were killed by an intimate partner for every woman who used a gun in self-defense.
Trotter added that, “Scary-looking” guns give women “more courage” when “fighting hardened violent criminals.” Here is something else that “scary-looking” guns do to women: Coerce, threaten and intimidate them into remaining in abusive, often deadly, relationships.
According to a recent study on firearms and intimate partner violence, “Even when guns are not fired at women directly, they are often used as a tool of intimidation to facilitate other types of physical and psychological violence,” with many women reporting that their abusers would “clean” their guns during arguments.
Paradoxically, Trotter’s tough talk on women’s safety dominated her testimony yesterday, but she has been a longtime opponent of the Violence Against Women Act. In an April 2012 editorial she wrote:
“Americans all want to deter violence, but we also need to protect that foundational principle of the presumption of innocence. Needed resources like shelters and legal aid can be taken by false accusers, denying real victims of abuse access to these supports. That result runs directly counter to the VAWA’s spirit.”
Deterring violence and VAWA’s spirit? Now what would a woman like Trotter know about that?
Not only that, but Trotter's testimony included the shooting of a man who broke into the home of a young woman, Sarah McKinley, who hid in a closet with her children with a shotgun. The problem was, Trotter was trying to say that that gun would be banned under the proposals made in Senator Feinstein's bill to restrict assault type rifles. It would not. That woman would have been able to defend herself even under a new assault weapons ban. And she did defend herself successfully without the need for an assault rifle. Assault rifles are not needed for self defense. Trotter did not make a believable case.This dishonest testimony has been debunked here , here and here and revealed the flawed arguments against the bill.

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham thought he would jump in and help out with the argument. Check it out here:
"Would I be a reasonable American to want my family to have the 15-round magazine in a semi-automatic weapon, to make sure, if there's two intruders, she doesn't run out of bullets?" he asked. "Am I an unreasonable person for saying that in that situation, the 15-round magazine makes sense?"
He also warned of the consequences of limiting gun magazines. "There could be a situation where a mother runs out of bullets because of something we do here," he said. "Six bullets in the hands of a woman trying to defend her children might not be enough."
Graham, who said he owns an AR-15, tweeted his argument as well.
The parents of the Sandy Hook school shooting victims are still trying to cope with the idea that their child's body was riddled with bullets from an AR-15 and Senator Graham thinks it's a good idea to brag about having one? His argument is as flawed as that of GayleTrotter. A mother running out of bullets? Good grief. Can someone name a situation where this is likely to happen? Maybe in the movies or a video game but in real life? Common sense tells us that these things are just not happening in real life. Instead, in real life, 20 children were massacred on 12/14 in Newtown, Connecticut. In real life, mass shootings, though more rare than every day shootings, take the lives of a bunch of innocent people all at once in a very short time. The public doesn't like the vision of lots of bodies laying dead with multiple gunshot wounds in a church, a school, a shopping mall, a parking lot or a place of business. There is not a sensible argument in favor of citizens owning and being able purchase military style assault weapons. The messaging is just all wrong.

The thing is, the public is overwhelmingly in favor of many of the gun violence prevention measures now proposed by President Obama. In one recent poll, at least 85% of Americans want background checks on all gun sales and between 75-85% of gun owners and NRA members want the same. Clearly, the public stands with former Representative Gabby Giffords when she spoke haltingly and emotionally at yesterday's hearing:

Thank you Representative Giffords for your own boldness and courage. If Congress intends to do the right thing for the public health and safety of our communities, they will follow your lead. For, as you said, "Americans are counting on you." Let's get to work.


I would like to add an editorial piece written by Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post about the testimony of Gayle Trotter ( above):
On the threat that guns pose to women, consider: Women are far less likely to be the victims of gun violence than men. But they are far more likely than men to be killed by someone they know, generally a spouse or partner.
Women with a gun in the home were nearly three times as likely to be the victim of homicide than women living in a home without firearms, according to a 2003 study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
“There’s good evidence that a gun in the home increases the likelihood that a woman in the home will die,” said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. “There is no evidence that a gun in the home is protective for the woman.”
So much for guns making women safer. Still, the Second Amendment grants women as well as men the freedom to take the risk of having one at home.
Then on to the second issue: whether various gun-control proposals — enhanced background checks, limits on magazine sizes, restrictions on assault weapons — would make it more difficult for women to defend themselves. (...) 
If anything, women should be clamoring for gun-control measures — in particular, for expanded background checks. Individuals convicted of domestic violence are prohibited from buying guns — but, of course, the porousness of the current background check system lets abusers dodge that rule. And, according to the National Institute of Justice, abused women are six times more likely to be killed when a gun is in the home.
“I speak on behalf of millions of American women across the country who urge you to defend our Second Amendment right to choose to defend ourselves,” Trotter proclaimed.
I’d say that I speak for millions of American women who reject this phony solicitude, but there is a better representative. She spoke at the hearing, too. “Too many children are dying,” she said, painfully enunciating each syllable. “We must do something.”
Her name is Gabby Giffords. Anyone dare tell her that guns make women safer?


  1. “In 2012 more than 11,700 defendants were charged with federal gun crimes,” Whitehouse said, “a lot more than 62.”

    I would hope you know proscuting all federal gun crimes and prosecuting people that lie on a background checks are 2 different things. It would be nice to see project exile enacted in all areas by sending felons to federal prison when caught with a firearm instead of ignoring the automatic federal time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Exile

    1. In combination with requiring background checks on all gun sales, fixing the NICS records so that all names who belong on the prohibited purchasers list actually get there, restricting ammunition magazines to no more than 10 bullets, and restricting some military style weapons the program would work great. We need to do it all. Our system is so broken that we must fix the problems in order to save lives in the first place. We can't just deal with the crimes after they have been committed. In order to save lives, we need to prohibit the sale of guns to certain people who may just go out and shoot someone or a whole bunch of someones.

  2. Wow, I wasn't aware of that first article by Dana Milbank. The NRA thugs.. I mean "bodyguards"... that assaulted the journalists sure fits the combative behavior of LaPierre to a T. I love that last line. "Minutes after that denunciation of the well-protected elites, LaPierre rejoined his bodyguards, who were waiting in a back room." Wow, what a hypocrit.

    And that hearing couldn't have gone better for those of us urging reasonable gun regulation. LaPierre is our best advocate, I'd say, with all of his extremist stances. I hope he keeps opening his mouth. I'm excited to hear what his next pro-gun statement will be. The polls just keep going up for us with each one!

    And it is relieving that, at last, the public has finally opened its eyes, and the politicians with them. It's horrifying and depressing that it took the deaths of 20 little children to do it, but at least we're finally at that point. Like you, I'm a tad overwhelmed with the huge outpouring of support. Practically everyone I talk to is *begging* for public events to show their support for gun regulation -- rallies, marches, gun turn-ins, ANYTHING, and the media requests keep pouring in. Every town meeting with politicians around here turns at some point to a discussion on the topic, and the support is so high that nary a gun extremist dares to chime in with their NRA slogan rhetoric. Change is coming, and it's coming quickly. Gun guys, the day of unfettered gun sales is just about over.

  3. I'm so afraid that we'll lose this opportunity to make game-changing laws in this country that will free us from the tyranny of guns. All this talk of compromise really gets me. How can you compromise about dead children? We need to make owning assault weapons and hand guns a federal felony. Shut down all gun manufacturers. Stop all production of bullets and ammunition. I honestly don't know why we even have these hearings in Washington. What is there to discuss any more? We know that people having guns -- any guns -- is just bad. I'll feel sick if all we can do is pass half-measures, and have to wait another 20 years before doing something more meaningful. I'm sorry to be a downer, but I just have to get that off my chest.

    1. Thank you Sam. I don't think we are going to lose the opportunity to make game changing laws. I am quite confident that the public has spoken and are demanding that something be done. Doing nothing or little is not an option. You could see by the testimony on Wednesday that the NRA lobbyists and leaders are not going to compromise. But their members want reasonable gun laws. The pressure is on them to do what their members want. And the pressure should be put on our elected leaders to what the public wants. When 85-92% of Americans want something like universal background checks, something will be done. There is hardly consensus or majority opinion like that about anything in this country.

    2. Oh, please don't get too confident. Anytime I hear the "90% of Americans" numbers, I fear that people will feel that someone else will take care of the problem. This is how 4 million NRA members -- 1% of our population -- stifle progress. I honestly believe that the vast majority of gun owners would surrender all their weapons, hunters included, if they didn't turn a blind eye to the horrors their "tools" cause. I am hoping a brave lawmaker will introduce a bill to urge all Americans to turn in their guns. Maybe a 1 year amnesty period where they could turn them in "no harm, no foul". Then every single one of us could live freely in a safe America -- "no guns, no fear". We must continue to spread the word.