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.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Doing nothing is not an option

At yesterday's rally at the Minnesota state Capitol, several hundred people showed up to support reasonable gun laws. There was a lot of enthusiasm and energy in the crowd, who were ready for action and ready to demand that our legislators do something about the senseless loss of life that is devastating our communities. Some of the legislators get it and showed up in support:

They are not afraid to speak out for victims and public safety. I was one of the speakers. I spoke about my own loss of a sister who was murdered 20 years ago. And what has happened since? Virtually nothing. The Brady Law was passed and enacted in 1993 but left a gaping hole allowing for private sellers to sell their wares without requiring background checks on the buyers. That has become a problem unanticipated at the time the law passed. Now private sellers have become more numerous and with large stores of guns- the same guns sold just one aisle over at a gun show- but without a background check. The Internet has provided a new market for gun sales with no background checks. Flea markets and other private sellers can do the same. Check out Armslist.com for just one example:
The real numbers aren't known because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives does not track how many guns are sold online or how many of them are used in crimes. But gun control advocates suspect the market is large. Jon Lowy, director of the legal action project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, says, "The last figure we have is 40 percent of gun sales take place without a background check. That figure is probably low, because it dates from before the advent of the thriving internet market. Today the internet provides a mechanism to facilitate countless private sales without a background check, no questions asked."
Until April 2011, Armslist had operated largely under the radar, attracting attention only from gun enthusiasts. But that spring, Dmitry Smirnov brought the site its first widespread notice. Smirnov was a Russian immigrant living in British Columbia. As a foreigner, Sminrov, then 21, could not legally purchase a gun anywhere in the United States. (Canada's gun laws are even stricter.) But through Armslist, he connected with Benedict Ladera, a 31-year-old Seattle man who sold him a .40-caliber handgun outside a Washington casino. Ladera charged Smirnov an extra $200 because he couldn't prove he lived in the state. Smirnov then traveled to Illinois, and tracked down Jetka Vesel, 36, whom he'd had a brief relationship with after meeting her through an online gaming site a few years earlier. He'd been harassing her from afar ever since she broke up with him.
Once in Illinois, Smirnov stuck a GPS tracker on Vesel's car and followed her for a few days before finally ambushing her as she came out of the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum, where she'd been volunteering. He shot her a dozen times. He turned himself in a few hours later, and pleaded guilty to the crime. Ladera was also prosecuted and sentenced to a year in prison.
The Vesel case is not the only murder involving a weapon procured through Armslist. In Wisconsin in October, three days after his wife obtained a restraining order against him for domestic violence, Radcliffe Haughton purchased a gun from a private seller he contacted through Armslist, after posting a rather desperate ad on the site that read:.....
Since my sister was murdered, every state but one, Illinois, has passed a version of conceal and carry. Minnesota's laws allows guns into more places than many other states and was written with some large loopholes that are now being exposed in the flurry of media attention to our state's and nation's gun laws. If you think it's a good idea for domestic abusers, felons and others who were denied by local law enforcement to appeal the process and get their permit to carry a loaded gun in public anyway, raise your hand. Minnesota has a serious problem. From the article:
Minnesotans with histories of assaults, weapons violations, domestic violence and narcotics offenses are regularly denied a permit to carry a loaded firearm because sheriffs consider them a threat to themselves or the public.
Despite their backgrounds, many of them appeal. And win.  
Since 2003, at least 299 people deemed too dangerous or otherwise unfit for a gun-carry permit were able to obtain them on appeal to the sheriff or a judge, a Star Tribune analysis shows.
In a system that prosecutors say is heavily weighted in favor of permit seekers, it's nearly impossible to find out why the denials are overturned. State law protects the privacy of gun owners, prohibiting law enforcement from releasing any data that could identify them -- even if they have criminal records.
There's more in this article. I hope you will read the whole article. We need to fix these dangerous practices that the NRA lobbyists have managed to get written into our gun laws.

There are fixes at state and national levels that will make us safer and free from gun violence. Check out, for example, this article, written by Republican David Frum, about things that can be done without legislation that make common sense:
Claims that homeowners often use guns for legitimate self-defense dwindle away on close examination.
What the gun owner claims as self-defense often looks, on closer examination, more like trigger-happy recklessness. (...) 
As for guns in the home, Hemenway reports studies find that "(G)uns are used far more often in the home to intimidate and frighten intimates than to protect against intruders."
These are facts about guns that are well-known to the social scientists who study gun injury but poorly understood by the general public. (...) 
Fifty years ago, Americans contended with similar public ignorance -- and similar industry misinformation -- about the hazards of cigarette smoking. The argument was settled by the famous surgeon general's report of 1964.
Congress in the mid-1990s forbade the federal government to fund its own research into the health risks presented by guns. By now, however, enough research has been done by privately funded scholars that the surgeon general could write a report based on existing material. Such a report would surely reach the conclusion that a gun in the home greatly elevates risks of suicide, lethal accident and fatal domestic violence. The first step to changing gun policy is to change public attitudes about guns, as Americans previously changed their attitudes about tobacco and drunken driving.
The surgeon general can lead that attitude change with more authority than any other public official.
The second step that might be taken -- again without the need for any congressional vote -- is for the Senate to convene hearings into the practices of the gun industry analogous to those it convened into the tobacco industry in the 1990s. (...) 
U.S. gunmakers have never been required to answer these questions. But one Senate subcommittee chairman with subpoena powers could cast much needed light on an industry whose record makes the tobacco industry look a paragon of transparency and accountability in comparison.
There's a gun agenda that need not depend on politics and that will not snatch a single weapon from any owner, whether law-abiding or not. If Congress stalls on the president's ambitious legislative schemes, the president should fall back on this Plan B to publicize what guns really do to those who carry them -- and what gunmakers do to their customers.
The gun industry needs to account for its' practices and contribute to the safety of the public. Guns are designed to kill. It's even more important to require the industry to make changes because the product they sell contributes to the deaths and injuries of about 100,000 people a year in America. Something will be done in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Doing nothing is simply not an option. And things are getting done. In Colorado, for instance, the legislature has understood that simple measures can be passed to save lives and not interfere with legal gun owners' rights. New Mexico is on its' way to passing some reasonable gun laws as well. New York already passed laws to make sure military style weapons are not on their streets and more.

More states will follow. Minnesota will pass some laws as well. It is not easy for legislators to change their previous mode of thinking that the NRA lobbyists get their way and nothing can be done because of outcries about second amendment rights. After the Sandy Hook shooting, the light of day has been shed on the NRA leadership and its' unwillingness to consider any new gun laws unless they are the laws they want to make it easier for the wrong people to get guns. This has been backwards thinking for so many years that it's hard to transition to the idea that the NRA is actually a paper tiger and is only in existence to keep the gun industry flush with money. Other industries have had to change when public outcry and public safety are at stake, changing the conversation. The tobacco industry suffered from law suits for their ignoring of public health and safety in pushing their product. The car industry screamed that they couldn't possibly maintain their profits if requirements to install seat belts, air bags and the environmental regulations put in place for the sake of public health and safety were put in place. And today, because of those requirements and more than a few legal actions, we are all better off.

The NRA lobbyists, of course, got a measure put in place in Congress, against all common sense, to give the gun industry immunity from certain law suits:
In 2005, when Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, granting the gun industry immunity in state and federal court from civil liability in most negligence and products liability actions, the National Rifle Assn. called passage "vitally important" and fought hard for it. Although there are exceptions in the law, it has been broadly interpreted to preclude most negligence lawsuits. The result is that — unlike the makers of chain saws, knives, automobiles, drugs, alcohol or even cigarettes — gun manufacturers and sellers have a lesser obligation to act with reasonable care for public safety.
When Congress passed the legislation, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the chief sponsor of the bill and, at the time, an NRA board member, stated that "this bill will not prevent a single victim from obtaining relief for wrongs done to them by anyone in the gun industry." In reality, several cases have been dismissed on the basis of the law, even when the gun dealers and manufacturers acted in a fashion that would qualify as negligent if it involved other products. Victims in these cases were denied the right to introduce evidence of negligence and seek justice.
No other industry has enjoyed such protection. Congress was afraid of the mythically powerful NRA back then. No more. The curtain has been lifted on the cozy and parasitic relationship between the NRA and the gun industry. Doing nothing is not an option. Enough is enough, as was the rallying cry at the rally in Minnesota yesterday. The public has had enough of our legislators and Congress members bowing down to the NRA lobbyists. The public is demanding action. Things are changing. The playing field is now in the process of leveling. Thanks to Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly's Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, money is coming from the side of the gun violence prevention side of the issue. This editorial in the Chicago Tribune highlights what is happening in the Chicago area:
Bloomberg is not interested merely in influencing a particular race. His spending is also about demonstrating to candidates across the country that the NRA is not the only group prepared to make an issue of gun control in political campaigns. It's about proving that being associated with the NRA can be a liability, not an asset. It's about creating a different political climate that could make sensible gun restrictions more achievable.
Bloomberg and Co. could be on a fool's errand. Most voters may be focused on other issues, like jobs and the economy. The ads may backfire by creating sympathy for Halvorson, pushing pro-NRA voters into her column, generating resentment of big-spending groups from elsewhere or eliciting anti-Kelly spending by gun-rights PACs.
So, to legislators and members of Congress who think they can avoid taking a stand on the issue of gun violence prevention, the message is loud and clear. The public lobby has spoken over the past many years and is speaking with a louder voice than ever. The public has had enough with scared politicians looking out for their own seats instead of standing for what's right. The thing is, taking a stand in favor of public safety is a winning vote, not a losing vote. We have all been fooled for way too long. The jig is up. Let's get to work and do the right thing. Enough is enough.


  1. "Most of the permits are granted upon a second review by the sheriff, but some are decided by judges in closed hearings. Law enforcement agencies that lose an appeal are required by state law to pay for the applicants' legal fees."
    So at least 150 of these cases were granted by the Sheriffs that originally denied them, which would suggest inaccurate or out of date information being the cause of the denials. The Sheriff saw the error and granted the request. In fact, the interactive database that was included in the article gave several examples of cases where inaccurate data resulted in the original denial.
    As for the remaining number, they are appealed to a judge and he decides. This is called due process. So in reality a maximum of 149 appeals over the last ten years were granted by a judge.

    1. So, in other words, you have no problem with felons, domestic abusers or dangerously mentally ill people having gun permits. This is a serious problem which you are willing to leave unaddressed. We are talking about people's lives and public safety. Our legislators are charged with public safety and they will need to deal with this. It will not go unaddressed.

  2. "So, in other words, you have no problem with felons, domestic abusers or dangerously mentally ill people having gun permits."

    I didnt say that at all. Those convicted of domestic assault become prohibited persons under the Lautenburg Act. Felons are also prohibited persons to own firearms, or not depending on whether they get their rights back under a different Minnesota law that we've discussed. Or through some plea bargain where the felony is converted to a misdemeanor if they behave during probation.
    Those arent problems caused by the permit system, it's caused by the county prosecuters that do the bargaining. Being elected officials, they can be removed by the voters.
    Adjucated mentally ill people are also prohibited persons, and can not possess firearms, much less get a carry permit. If the Sheriff wants to deny someone who doesnt meet these criteria, he can deny. As the article says, 2/3rds dont appeal. If they do appeal, the Sheriff has to be able to convince a judge. This insures impartiality.
    The current permit system was a response to police chiefs and sheriffs arbitrarily making up their own rules for issuing permits. So now everyone has to follow the same rules and no one is discriminated against.

    1. Apparently you didn't read the article, Mark. " Most of the permits are granted upon a second review by the sheriff, but some are decided by judges in closed hearings. Law enforcement agencies that lose an appeal are required by state law to pay for the applicants' legal fees.

      "This is shocking," Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said after reviewing records the Star Tribune compiled. Paymar, who is leading the Minnesota House's efforts to control gun violence, said the appeals records provide another reason to re-evaluate the state's 10-year-old law that allows permits to carry.

      Under Minnesota's "shall issue" law, passed in 2003 as part of a national campaign by the National Rifle Association, applicants are presumed to have a right to carry a weapon unless sheriffs can document disqualifying reasons. Since then, about 96 percent of gun-carry permit applications have been approved.

      James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, said reversals can be a frustration to sheriffs.

      "There are cases where a judge has determined that a party will have a permit. Do we as law enforcement always agree with that? We may not. That's why we denied it in the first place," Franklin said. "Are we concerned? Sometimes you hold your breath. Other times you find that nothing happened.""
      "Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Toni Beitz said the reason for some reversals is that the carry-permit law puts a high burden on a sheriff to prove that someone shouldn't be issued a permit. Under the carry-permit statute, for example, criminal allegations that are not investigated and documented aren't grounds for denial.

      "The statute is very limited as to what evidence the sheriff can look at. He's got a very short period of time, and there's only a very narrow room for him to use discretion," Beitz said. "That was the big shift when it used to be in the hands of chiefs of police. They had a lot of discretion to look at maybe whatever they wanted to look at."

    2. And further- "In Ramsey County, sheriff's spokesman Randy Gustafson acknowledged that some applicants who appeared to have criminal backgrounds were getting permits. But he said in many cases, the applicants were able to show that things that popped up on background checks did not disqualify them under the law.

      Among Ramsey County's successful appeals were an applicant who had several orders for protection against him in the county since 1994, another with an unspecified felony conviction in the county, and one arrested in the county for shooting at "law enforcement" -- though that person was never charged.

      In Olmsted County, three people have been able to successfully appeal since 2003, including one who was denied "due to documented past gang activity." Officials said they were forbidden from discussing the case, but pointed to a law saying suspected gang members can argue that they're no longer involved in a gang, or that it's a case of mistaken identity.

      The secrecy in the law extends to permit appeals decided by a judge. State law requires records of those hearings be sealed. Beitz said she was aware of no other adult court process in the state that had such restrictions on public access.

      The cost of fighting appeals in Anoka County has gone as high as $3,000, said Sommer of the Anoka sheriff's office. That's one factor in the decision on permits, said Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty.

      "If I'm going to deny it, especially if I don't have a statute behind me, I'm gonna make sure that I've got enough documentation to do it," he said."

      "In one of the cases in Anoka County, Sommer said the permit-holder went on to commit a felony gun crime, but said due to state law he was prohibited from saying anything else about it, out of concern for identifying him. "But he didn't hurt anybody," he said. The felon also lost his permit.

      Similarly, Minneapolis police have cited the law in refusing to say whether the man who killed six people and took his own life at Accent Signage in September was a permit-holder.

      Minnesota's permit-holders have committed at least 1,159 crimes since 2003, including 114 where a gun was used, according to the BCA. It's not known how many of them got their permits via appeals."

    3. "Apparently you didn't read the article, Mark."

      I read it with great interest. The law requires that a Sheriff needs a little thing called evidence in order to deny a permit, and the evidence needs to be sufficent to convince a judge that the applicant is a danger. The law requires "clear and convincing" evidence.
      Many of these successful appeals can be laid at the feet of the prosecuting attorney involved in the cases when they were tried. They make the calls on plea bargaining, and offer input to the judge in regards to sentencing.
      Both the judge and the prosecutor are answerable to the voters. It would be interesting to see records like these used by opponents in an election. And it would help inform the voters.

    4. You can try to spin this any which way, Mark. The fact is that people who shouldn't have guns and permits get them anyway. We need to fix the problem. Your resistance to any fixes to a bad law reveals your extremist views.

    5. Actually, Mark, the person who "makes the call" on a plea bargain is the defendant--not the prosecutor, not the defence attorney.

      There is a constitutional right to a trial, and a right to counsel in situations where the person is in jeopardy of losing their liberty (both guaranteed by the VIth Amendment). The right to jury is not absolute (fortunately). Guess who picks up the bill for these rights? The tax payer.

      Of course, the defendant might realise that making a plea to a lesser offense is advantageous because they can still have a "right to own a gun".

      Also, we can toss in arrests where the person was never convicted for whatever reason. Let's make it fun and say the reason was witness intimidation. Or the inner city culture of "no snitching".

      Thus, someone with a rather substantial criminal record without convictions and reputation to the police is guaranteed a permit to carry--Does that make sense to you, Mark?

      As for how many crimes are actually committed by these people--do we have any serious statistics on this number? One thing the gun lobby has been good about is making sure that no accurate data can be collected, but that appears to be ready to change. We may see the figure go way up on how many crimes are actually committed by CCW holders when that happens.

      Anyway, a criminal is an "otherwise law abiding citizen"--it's just those pesky laws that are the problem.

    6. "Actually, Mark, the person who "makes the call" on a plea bargain is the defendant--not the prosecutor, not the defense attorney."

      Laci, you are correct, the defendant does get the final say when it comes to accepting the bargain. However the prosecutor gets to decide what the initial offer and then comes the "haggling".
      In Minnesota, there is a yearly report published which documents