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.
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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Minnesota gun laws get a new look

Gun issues have been on the front burner, if you will, in Minnesota in the past few days. Yesterday, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill 111-15 that should make the lives of Minnesota women, children and others in domestic disputes safer. We will all hope that is the end result of the bill. It is not a perfect bill by any means. But surprisingly it brought groups and people together who are ordinarily on the polar opposite sides of the gun issue. That's a good thing. In the end, what all of us want is for our citizens to be safer in their homes and communities. It's how we get to that end that we usually don't come together about. Whether this bodes well for future discussions about guns and gun violence prevention is not known. But we are always hopeful. From the article, linked above:
"Minnesotans convicted of domestic abuse and stalking are closer to losing the ability to possess firearms as part of a measure that the state House overwhelmingly passed Wednesday.
House members approved the measure after months of sometimes dicey negotiations between two powerful and well-financed factions, gun owner-rights groups and organizations that favor tougher gun restrictions.
“It will keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers,” said state Rep. Dan Schoen, a St. Paul Park DFLer who was chief sponsor of the measure and a police officer.
Passing 111 to 15, the measure is widely considered a breakthrough on a historically divisive issue at the Capitol in which any measures to restrict firearms have been met with scathing and effective opposition. In the past years, gun advocates from both parties have beaten back proposals calling for broader background checks and restrictions on ownership semi-automatic rifles.
This time, some of the House’s toughest critics of gun restrictions lined up to support the measure.
“I find myself in a position to vote for a bill that actually has the world ‘gun’ it. I think that is progress,” said state Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake.
Dill said law abiding gun owners have nothing to fear in the measure, and it sends a strong message that “Domestic violence is not acceptable in any place, particularly not in the state of Minnesota.”"
Well said, Representative Dill. "Domestic violence is not acceptable in any place...". That is what this is all about. The majority of women ( and others) killed in domestic disputes are killed by firearms injuries. This is a problem staring us in the face and the time is long past to put our heads together to get it done. Thanks to the many organizations, legislators and others who worked together to make this happen. Now the companion bill will go to the Minnesota Senate floor for a vote so Minnesota can join Washington state and Wisconsin in passing bills to make families safer from domestic violence. 

At the same time as negotiations were occurring about the bill to deal with domestic violence, a high profile trial was going on about the shooting of two teen-agers on Thanksgiving of 2012. I wrote about it back then. The trial highlighted the differences in viewpoints about self defense and how far a home owner can go to protect him/herself in the home. The jury found earlier this week, that Byron Smith of Little Falls was guilty of First Degree murder.  From the article:
 When it was all over Tuesday, moments after he had been swiftly found guilty on four counts of murder for shooting two teenage intruders in his home, Byron Smith did not stand in respect for the jury.
Instead Smith, 65, sat at the defense table, silent.
Everyone around him rose to attention as jury members filed out of the Morrison County courtroom where during the tense, searing trial, they all had heard audio recordings of gunshots booming out, then of two teenagers groaning and screaming, then Smith muttering as they lay dead on his basement floor: “I don’t see them as human. I see them as vermin.”
Smith was sentenced immediately after the jury’s verdict to a mandatory term of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Though Smith had been free on bail during the trial, deputies took him into custody as he left the courtroom. (...)  
The verdict and immediate sentencing inside a packed courtroom brought the nationally watched trial to a close. Smith had become a symbol in the countrywide debate over so-called castle doctrine laws, raising questions about how far a homeowner can go to defend himself and his property.
Here are the arguments from the prosecutor and defense attorney which highlight the national debate about "Stand Your Ground" and "Shoot First" laws as well as the castle doctrine law, in place in Minnesota.
In closing arguments Tuesday morning, Orput said that Smith was setting a trap for a neighbor girl who he believed had been behind the break-ins.
The prosecutor contended Smith saw her drive on his street that morning and set the plan in motion: moving his truck to appear as if he weren’t home, activating an audio recorder in his basement, loading his guns and settling into a basement reading chair with water, snacks and a novel.
Orput said Smith had a tarp ready in his basement to wrap the body of Brady after he shot him.
“Some of you hunters will think this sounds like deer hunting,” Orput told the jury.
Later, showing a photograph of the chair where Smith sat in his basement, he called the scene Smith’s “deer stand.”
Orput questioned why Smith didn’t call police, why he didn’t shout a warning before shooting. “Is that reasonable?” he asked the jury.
Meshbesher said Smith was increasingly scared as burglaries increased at his home, then was frozen in fear once he saw shadows outside and heard someone break glass in his upstairs bedroom window the day of the shootings.
He said if Brady and Kifer hadn’t broken in, there would have been no trial.
“Homes are where we live to feel safe, and it’s our castle in this country,” Meshbesher said. Smith, he added, grew more and more afraid to live in his own home. He’d been carrying a gun around with him inside.
The thing is, people have a right to feel safe in their homes. But our American gun culture has carried this right to an extreme in pushing for laws and a culture that drums up fear and paranoia which, along with easy availability of guns can lead to bad decisions. Another recent case in Montana is drawing attention to our country's self defense laws and subsequent shootings that happen mainly in our gun crazed country. From the article:
A Montana man is accused of setting a trap and blindly blasting a shotgun into his garage, killing a 17-year-old German exchange student. A Minnesota man is convicted of lying in wait in his basement for two teenagers and killing them during a break-in.
The two recent cases take the “stand your ground” debate to a new level: Do laws that allow private citizens to protect their property also let them set a trap and wait for someone to kill?
“We don’t want it to be easy to be able to prosecute people. But we want to be able to hold individuals accountable when they have stepped outside the bounds of society,” David LaBahn, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said Wednesday. (...) 
The Montana and Minnesota cases involve homeowners who had been burglarized and said they were afraid of it happening again. Prosecutors say they lured intruders into fatal encounters.
Here is another article about the Montana case as it is also drawing international attention:
Germany has demanded justice today following the death of a 17-year-old exchange student who was shot in Montana on Sunday morning.
Diren Dede, from Hamburg, was killed when 29-year-old Markus Kaarma fired four shotgun blasts into his garage after Dede set off home intruder alarms inside. It is not clear what Dede was doing inside the garage.
Julia Reinhardt, spokesman for the German consulate in San Fransisco, said the investigation should make it clear it is illegal to kill an unarmed juvenile just because he is trespassing. (...) 
Just days before the fatal shooting, Kaarma told a woman that his house had been broken into  twice and he had been staying up at night, waiting to shoot an intruder, court records said.
Kaarma's attorney, Paul Ryan, said his client plans to plead not guilty to a charge of deliberate homicide because Montana law allows homeowners to protect their residences with deadly force when they believe they are going to be harmed.
There had been a number of break-ins in the neighborhood and Kaarma believed the police weren't doing anything about it, Ryan said.
'We know with no question the individual entered the garage. Kaarma didn't know who he was, his intent or whether he was armed,' Ryan said. (...) 
Prosecutors allege the 29-year-old wild land firefighter shot into his garage without warning after an intruder tripped sensors he had installed.
Are Stand Your Ground type laws, as written pretty much by the corporate gun lobby, what most Americans want? Are they necessary or do they give a license to kill to individuals such as the two shooters above who took matters into their own hands when death could have been avoided by handling the situation differently? For if a gun is at the ready and the mindset is that of fear and paranoia backed up by the idea that killing someone is OK, we have a gun culture gone wrong and young people ( it is mostly young people) being senselessly shot to death for trespassing. When a man sits up for 3 nights waiting to shoot someone, it seems like "overkill" to me. When another man sets up an easy chair in his basement waiting for intruders to come down his stairs so he can shoot them, it seems like "overkill" to me.

In conjunction with the domestic violence bills passed or nearing passage in several states across the country, we have a chance to talk about the role of guns in our daily lives. Why don't we? There really should be no compromise when it comes to preventing the daily carnage happening before our very eyes every day. In yet another of The Gun Report columns, Joe Nocera lists for us the actual shootings of actual people. Of these, it looks like 1 was a self defense shooting.. Others included accidental discharge, people shot during burglaries, domestic disputes, drug disputes, mistaken identity, armed robberies, stray bullets and others. When we talk about gunfire erupting in our streets, doesn't that mean that something has gone terribly wrong? There shouldn't be gunfire on our streets as a daily event.

But Americans have come to tolerate the carnage, as ludicrous as this is. This article explores why that is:
On the specific issue of guns, the NRA has been remarkably effective at convincing large numbers of Americans (and at least five Supreme Court justices) to treat the Second Amendment to the Constitution as a Lockean bulwark against tyranny that establishes an absolute, nonnegotiable individual right to bear arms.
Many Americans believe passionately in this right. But they should be honest about the costs. Governments are indeed one source of injustice in the world, but private individuals and groups are another. In fixating on the danger of tyranny to the exclusion of other threats to the common good, gun-rights advocates have come to accept far too much injustice with far too much complacency.
It doesn't have to be this way. It's one thing for individuals to own and possess rifles and handguns for use on firing ranges and in their homes to protect against intruders. It's quite another for them to be permitted to purchase semi-automatic weapons and carry pistols in public — in blatant defiance of the first principle of politics, which is that government must have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. To deny that principle is to court anarchy and the chaos and violence that go along with it.
Only a people monomaniacally obsessed with a single form of injustice could find the status quo acceptable, let alone something to be venerated.
That's a form of exceptionalism that no American should be proud of.
If you are willing to accept the occasional but regular mass shooting, the shooting of innocent children by unsecured guns in homes, the high rate of gun suicide, the domestic disputes ending in death, people walking our streets with openly carried assault rifles slung over their shoulders, the killing of teens who walk around wearing a hoodie at night, the killing of teens who break into homes unarmed, the accidental gun discharges by those who should know better and the general idea that more guns make us safer in spite of the evidence, then you should sit up and pay attention. It doesn't have to be that way. We are better than this as a country.

And speaking of American exceptionalism and things going terribly wrong, Georgia's gun laws have been under scrutiny in the past few weeks as well they should be. But now, a Georgia family has been busted for running an illegal gun trafficking business to New York. I wonder how these folks got all of their guns so easily? From the article:
The apparently easy accessibility of these weapons threatened the safety and security of our Brooklyn communities,” said Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson.“We will remain vigilant in the fight against the trafficking and sale of illegal guns.”The defendants, except Quick’s wife, were charged with criminal possession of a firearm and conspiracy. Dowell was charged with conspiracy. They are all awaiting arraignment.
Georgia is not a shining example of common sense when it comes to guns, gun violence and gun laws.

It's time for a change to our conversation about the role guns play in our everyday lives. More and more evidence negates the idea that more guns have made us safer. And more guns in more places has not resulted in preventing gun deaths. In fact, I would argue it has increased gun deaths. Our laws make easy access to guns a national public health and safety problem not seen anywhere else in the world of civilized countries not at war. No wonder the father of the German exchange student spoke out about our laws. We are gun crazy and seemingly immune to the epidemic.

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