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.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tragedies for law abiding gun owners

Lots of homicides are actually committed by law abiding gun owners as it turns out. Of course we don't often find out in the news unless it happens to get mentioned, whether a shooter was a law abiding gun owner and/or permit holder. But we do know that many crimes of passion, many suicides, many "accidental" shootings are not committed by felons, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill people or other prohibited gun purchasers. Some people are keeping track of such stuff to the best of their ability. It's not easy because the corporate gun lobby has managed to keep some of the data from becoming public. Many permit to carry laws have provisions which state that information about whether someone was a legal permit holder cannot be released by law enforcement or other related agencies. I wonder why that is? Isn't a good idea for the public to know that those folks who were granted permits to carry loaded guns around with them in public just might not be the "straight shooters" they were supposed to be when they got their permits?

The thing is, it's incumbent upon this much needed common sense conversation about preventing gun deaths and injuries to deal with facts. That's why those of us in the gun violence prevention community are keeping track of what's actually happening. Facts matter. Lives matter. The Violence Policy Center keeps track of the permit holders who have murdered other people while they were permit holders. They have found that since May of 2007, 554 people have been murdered by conceal carry permit holders. That's close to the time that many states passed their conceal carry laws.

And then there's the Ohh Shoot blog which keeps track of "accidental" gun discharges, some of which result in a dead person- most of which happen because of law abiding gun owners.

The Kid Shootings blog is full of incidents of children either shooting off guns they never should have been able to access in the first place ( mostly from their law abiding family members) or being shot on purpose by family members, a friend or a stray bullet.

And, of course, there's Joe Nocera, New York Times writer, who keeps track of actual shootings of actual people in his regular Gun Report. He is doing us all a great favor by listing the shootings he finds in the news media reports. What he finds is stunning. Most often the list includes domestic shootings, shootings of and by children, and accidental shootings. The list includes also some justifiable self defense shootings and a few burglaries gone wrong as well as stray bullets in places where gun violence is rife. He reports them all. We need to know about them all in order to have a rational discussion about how to prevent the incidents about which he reports.

Many people are writing and talking about the recent Florida theater shooting. Ana Marie Cox wrote this article for The Guardian:

Curtis Reeves was a retired police officer, the very definition of a good guy. He may also prove to be unbalanced in a legally-applicable way, but that wouldn't have prevented him from getting a concealed carry permit in Florida. Since Florida grants concealed carry permits via its Department of Agriculture, rather than, say a criminal justice agency, the state cannot use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to screen applicants. To put that another way, Florida simply doesn't have the federal background check required in every other state that grants concealed carry permits.
Indeed, even if Florida had a more stringent conceal carry screening process – or if it didn't have a concealed carry law at all – Reeves could have had his weapon on him. Retired law enforcement personnel are allowed by federal law to carry a concealed weapon in any jurisdiction except where it's explicitly banned by law or the property owner. This is a loophole that may seem natural (again: good guys!), but it's actually a reflection of just how deeply we've bought into the myth that guns aren't the problem and we only need worry about who has them. That's not true: we need to worry about guns, no matter who has them.
The National Rifle Association likes to argue that criminals, or people intent on committing a crime, will obtain guns no matter what the law says. Among the 5,417 gun homicides in 2012 that the FBI assigns a circumstance to (3,438 are "unknown circumstances"), a mere 1,324 were committed in conjunction with another felony. Three times that (3,980) were committed by otherwise law-abiding citizens. Of that, over half (1,968) were the result of an argument that escalated fatally out of control. (...) To put it another way: otherwise unpremeditated murders, where people kill out of momentary rage, are the single most common type of gun homicide in America. More than gangland killings (822); more than murders committed during robberies (505) and drug deals (311) combined.
Much as with gun suicides (which account for a majority of all gun deaths), these are the deaths that the government has the most power to stop, simply by making guns harder to get a hold of. Any argument can end in violence, no one can stop that. But if there's a gun involved, the likelihood of someone dying is far greater.
So, "armed" with some facts and real life examples of what happens when a gun is available, we can understand that those guns thought to be for self defense and thought to be carried around to protect oneself from all of those druggies, gang members and burglars actually may end up being used in "momentary rage". Strengthening gun laws can prevent some of these deaths- like who gets a permit to carry a loaded gun in public and where those guns can be carried for just two.

Changing the conversation about our gun culture is also important to preventing senseless gun deaths and injuries. When people who buy guns for hunting or self defense have better training and knowledge about how risky those guns are to themselves and their family, they may just practice better gun safety. They may lock up their guns away from the ammunition to keep themselves and others from getting them out in momentary rage or thoughts of suicide or curiosity by young children. Maybe more families will ask their friends if there are unsecured guns in the homes where their children go to play or hang out. If someone asks, direct them to the Center to Prevent Youth Violence for how to do this. Maybe more families will decide that guns are not for them if there is a vulnerable child or adult in the home. That might make a lot of common sense. This New York Times article highlights just how many gun deaths and injuries come from unsecured guns in homes or other public places where otherwise law abiding gun owners have left them or carried them.

We can prevent gun deaths and injuries. But we need to do so "armed" with the facts. And the next time a gun rights advocate tells you that only "good guys" with guns can stop "bad guys" with guns, direct them to the facts. Because the facts are clear. It's not necessarily the "bad guys" with guns carrying out most of the daily gun deaths and injuries in our country.

Speaking of momentary rage, the bodies are piling up in Utah and the shootings have been committed by otherwise allegedly "law abiding" gun owners. How can you ever explain domestic shootings like these in Utah in the past few days? From the article:
A 34-year-old officer with a small Utah police department shot and killed his wife, mother-in-law and two young children and turned the gun on himself, authorities said Friday.
Spanish Fork police said the five were found dead about 11 p.m. Thursday, when co-workers reported Joshua Boren didn't show up for his night shift as a patrol officer at the Lindon Police Department. (...) 
Spanish Fork Lt. Matthew Johnson said the couple had been experiencing marital problems in the past few months, but co-workers say Boren appeared upbeat and didn't show signs of distress before the killings.
"There were no warning signs," Johnson said, adding that police had never been called to the home. "This was a total shock to everyone."
Officials said they didn't find a suicide note. Police didn't immediately have information on the events leading up to the shooting.
Spanish Fork is a city of about 36,000 people located 9 miles south of Provo, home of Brigham Young University. Officials at the Lindon Police Department said Boren worked for the Utah County Sheriff's Office for more than seven years before he was hired in October from a pool of more than 70 applicants.
"His conduct, behavior and professionalism were exemplary," Lindon Police Chief Cody Cullimore said in a statement. The Lindon department counts about 15 uniformed officers and patrols a city of about 10,000.
Boren also worked part-time at the Utah County Jail, was well-liked and had a lot of friends, according to Utah County sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.
So the shooter at the Florida movie theater was a retired police officer- presumably a law abiding gun owner, trained to do his job while armed. Was he still getting training to shoot that gun? Unlikely but we don't know that for sure. After 911, retired police officers are allowed to carry their loaded guns in public outside of their home state as "first responders", supposedly to keep us safe from terrorists? There are some problems with this law as highlighted in the linked article. And the Florida movie theater shooting is just one more example of how easily things can go wrong. Retired law enforcement officers are not, apparently, safer than others when presented with the daily life situations that can end in tragedy. Why do people want to be armed in movie theaters anyway? One of my readers wrote in a comment that it was not because he was afraid of being shot by someone in the theater but because he just wanted to carry his gun. Whatever. People who just want to carry their guns wherever they go shoot other people in places where they decide they want to carry their guns.

And so, did the young Utah police officer think ahead about killing his whole family and himself over marital difficulties? Is that why he wanted his gun, which was otherwise used for his job, to be out and loaded while at home? There have been other incidents of officers' guns being used in their homes in shootings that were avoidable. This very sad incident resulted in the death of the 3 year old child of an officer by his own gun. But I digress. Some on the gun rights side are more than happy to criticize police officers. My point here is that officers take their service guns home with them and sometimes make the same mistakes as other "law abiding" gun owners. "Accidental" shootings happen in their homes too as well as domestic shootings. Guns are dangerous and should be safely secured while in homes to avoid shootings. Officers should know this more than anyone else.

No one deserves to be shot for texting and throwing popcorn in a movie theater. It doesn't matter whether the shooter is a police officer or whether it's someone who just wants to carry a loaded gun around in public. That is not the point. The point is that when a gun is at the ready, tragedy happens quickly and unexpectedly in moments of rage, jealousy, anger, etc. I know that from personal experience. And no one deserves to be shot over marital problems. There are other ways to solve these irritations and difficulties. But this is the American gun culture at its' worst.

Let's read more from the above linked article about what's going on in the state of Utah:
The five deaths come just days after another Utah murder-suicide that left three people dead.
Kyler Ramsdell-Oliva, 32, fatally shot her two daughters, 13-year-old Kenadee Oliva and 7-year-old Isabella Oliva, on Tuesday evening before killing herself at their home in Syracuse, police said.
The murder-suicide happened a day after the Ramsdell-Oliva's fiance packed up to move out of the house, authorities said.
There seem to be a rash of domestic shootings in America. One more of these family shootings is one too many. A South Carolina family suffered the same fate as the two Utah families in the above article. From this article:
A family of Jehovah's Witnesses have been found dead in their South Carolina home after what police say was a shocking murder-suicide.
The bodies of a couple - believed to be Sheddrick and Kia Miller - and their two young children were found Wednesday morning scattered throughout the family's two-story home near Irmo.(...) 
Each of the four was shot in the upper body and a handgun, the presumed murder weapon, was found near the father, Wilson said. 
He said initial evidence suggested a domestic disturbance. Investigators are checking records to see if there had been any prior domestic violence calls made to the house.
More domestic strife that ended in an entire family being shot to death. Good grief. This is just not normal. Why do we imagine that a gun in the home will make us safer? Did these law abiding folks, for they seem to be so, think for a moment that they would shoot their entire families and then themselves? Did they buy their guns with that in mind? If so, they knew that a gun would make it easy to accomplish. Or did they buy the guns for self protection for themselves and their families and then in a moment of rage decide to end it all? Or do officers of the law think that this would never happen to them even though they see it happen to others while on their job? These 3 incidents resulted in 12 senseless deaths.

It's time for a change. It's time to get busy and do something to prevent the daily devastation caused by gun violence in our communities. Lives depend on our getting this right.


  1. "one more example of how easily things can go wrong.' TRUE, That is why all of the self defense classes that I have had spend as much time and effort on prevention of "things going wrong" as they do on using a gun after they "go wrong".
    The state of Texas (http://www.dps.texas.gov/rsd/chl/reports/convrates.htm) gives the counts of all crimes committed by CHL holders compared to the population at large. Very interesting on how few crimes are committed by CHL holders.

    1. Yes. I hear this all the time. The thing is, CHL holders are not supposed to be committing any crimes. That is what the proponents of the bills said during the hearings. They would all be law abiding citizens. It has not turned out that way, as evidenced by the number of incidents involving gun permit holders in public places and even homicides. We are talking about people are legally allowed to carry loaded guns around in public. They should not be getting DWIs for example or being arrested for domestic abuse or harassment or assault or assault with a deadly weapon. Yes, I understand that you all are saying that CCW holders are only a small percentage of the general public being arrested and convicted of these things. But you are also a group who carry loaded guns possibly while committing those crimes. I am sure that some of the classes teach you these things you write about. But in many states, permits can be obtained with no in person training whatsoever. It's all on-line. Some states require no training. That's a big problem. Texas's CHL training program, I have been told by a friend who now lives in Minnesota and has had a permit in both states, is much better and more thorough than Minnesota's.

    2. Getting the permit is only a start for your training. As a person that carries a gun you never stop taking classes and practice. You never stop attempting to find better ways of avoiding conflicts. So, yes we can agree that some CHL people are not perfect, however, finding perfect people is not possible. I do not think anyone should be committing crimes with or without a gun. And abuse of substances is not something that we should ever consider OK. I have no problem with people using alcohol, however, using it to the point of being impaired is not OK, with or without a gun present.
      So, how do we prevent violent crime? If there was no violent crime, the gun issue would basically go away for both of us. In lots of ways the discussion becomes a "which came first the chicken or the egg?" argument.

    3. Perhaps we should be working together for stronger gun laws to protect gun owners and innocent victims alike. I think it's possible.