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, September 12, 2014

Violence Against Women

September 15th will be the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Take a look at the photo on this post. This woman was shot and killed by her husband 4 years ago during the time she was trying to get out of her marriage. As happens far too often, it was too late for her. She didn't get away. Trying to get away is a dangerous time for women. Just as it was too late for my sister.

There has been much talk in the news about the problem of violence mostly perpetrated against women by men in partner/marriage relationships. Yes, there is some violence against men by women but the overwhelming number of domestic violence incidents are against women. And domestic violence also occurs in same sex relationships such as this shooting of a partner by a Minneapolis area man. The reason that VAWA was passed 20 years ago though was because most of the victims of the violence were and still are women. Vice President Joe Biden wrote this piece about why he sponsored the Violence Against Women Act:
"Twenty years ago, this was a right that few people understood and our culture failed to recognize. Kicking a wife in the stomach or pushing her down the stairs was repugnant, but it wasn’t taken seriously as a crime. It was considered a “family affair.” State authorities assumed if a woman was beaten or raped by her husband or someone she knew, she must have deserved it. It was a “lesser crime” to rape a woman if she was a “voluntary companion.” Many state murder laws still held on to the notion that if your wife left you and you killed her, she had provoked it and you had committed manslaughter.
That was the tragic history when, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990. We started out believing that the only way to change the culture was to expose the toll of domestic violence on American families. And I was convinced, as I am today, that the basic decency of the American people would demand change once they saw the scale of violence and the depth of the ignorance and stereotypes used to justify it."
News of domestic violence has been in front of us this past week as the story ( and video) of NFL Football player Ray Rice and the violent incident against his soon to be wife was released. This article in US News wrote about why we need to have laws against this kind of violence. From the article:
Twenty years after Congress passed the monumental Violence Against Women Act legislation, empowering advocates for abused women, the nation once again found itself with a painful reminder of the problem Congress tried to address. Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told the press, "Hitting a woman is not something a real man does" in response to a high-profile case of domestic violence involving NFL player Ray Rice.
The next morning, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation celebrating the passage of VAWA, and the strides the country has made in combating domestic violence since.
“VAWA has provided hope, safety, and a new chance at life for women and children across our nation,” the proclamation said. “With advocates, law enforcement officers, and courageous women who have shared their stories joined in common purpose, our country has changed its culture; we have made clear to victims that they are not alone and reduced the incidence of domestic violence.”
However the proclamation also acknowledged the problem of domestic violence is far from solved, a reality that the necessity of Earnest’s comments – coming in response to a video leaked Monday showing Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator – clearly demonstrates.(...) 
Since VAWA became law, the rate of violence between intimate partners has fallen by 64 percent, according to the Justice Department statistics through 2010 (though that decline was part of a broader drop in crime). It is widely praised not only for enhancing the tools law enforcement had to prosecute abusers, but changing the overall culture in how Americans perceived domestic violence, which was at times thought to be a private matter that didn’t warrant the intervention of outside authorities.
“It set a national standard, and it gave it the importance and the money and the funding needed to change policing and enforcement, and really to put national muscles behind the efforts to reduce violence against women,” says Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a women’s rights organization.
Its passage was the result of decades of work by feminists and domestic victims advocates, who had to overcome accusations that the bill would break up families. While those concerns have largely since been dismissed, the legislation has not been without its challenges. Most recently, its existence was placed in limbo when House Republicans appeared unwilling to reauthorize it over its expanded protections for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants and LGBT people.
Now the talk has turned to whether the National Football League has been remiss in its' failure to deal with not only Ray Rice but other players who have committed domestic abuse. Will the organization use some common sense or will it turn a blind eye to this problem? Sports figures are often given a pass and their behavior off the field gets excused as "boys will be boys". It is not acceptable any more and the pressure is on the NFL, and other professional sports organizations, to deal with their policies and hold players accountable for their "off the field" behavior. The sports industry has a lot of money and power and needs to protect profits, of course. Follow the money. And the players are paid a lot of money to entertain the rest of us. Many Americans love football or other sports. We admire the players for their talents and abilities and often make them heroes and role models. Domestic violence occurs everywhere but there seems to be a particular problem with professional athletes. That being the case, the NFL and other sports organizations have an opportunity to lead the way by providing a model for how to hold their players accountable for violent behavior. Ignoring it just makes everything worse and adds to this serious and potentially deadly problem.

There should be zero tolerance for the for domestic violence anywhere and the NFL has an opportunity to highlight the propensity for its' own players to perpetrate domestic violence. You can sign a petition here if you want to send a message that we want the NFL to take the lead and deal with their own problems.

Several years ago, in a high profile shooting, Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs shot and killed his girlfriend and the mother of his child and then himself.  Have we so quickly forgotten about that tragic incident? From the linked article:
It is still chilling to even write these words. This should have been a story for our times and a reference point from where we measure every overblown “scandal” in sports. Instead, with a chilling uniformity, the NFL moved on like it was just a commercial break in the action. Every network, with the exception of NBC, barely touched on the horror in their pre-game and half-time shows that weekend. The name Kasandra Perkins went unsaid. As for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he made the Super Bowl media rounds the following month and Jovan Belcher’s name somehow didn’t come up once.
Kasandra Perkins' family hasn't forgotten nor has Belcher's. They are all living around the hole created by the sudden, violent and tragic loss of their loved ones. That should have been a wake-up call but apparently it was not. In America, shootings happen with such regularity that we just shrug our shoulders and then move on with our lives without realizing that a shooting like this one could actually happen to anyone. Domestic abuse becomes deadly way too often. The majority of domestic murders are committed with guns. A new report from the Violence Policy Center examines the 2011 numbers for domestic abuse and domestic violence. From the press release about this report:
“The sad reality is that women are nearly always murdered by someone they know,” said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “Already, many elected officials and community leaders are working tirelessly to reduce the toll of domestic violence. Yet despite these efforts, the numbers remain unacceptably high. We need new policies in place from local communities to the federal government to protect women from harm.”
“Nine women each week are shot to death by their husband or intimate partner,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “That's nearly 500 domestic gun violence deaths each year — more than twice the number of servicewomen killed in military conflicts since the Korean War. We urgently need better policies that protect women and their families from this senseless violence. No American, adult or child, should live in a perpetual state of fear. It’s inhumane.” (...)  
In 87 percent of all incidents where the circumstances could be determined, the homicides were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery. For homicides nationwide in which the weapon could be determined, more female homicides were committed with firearms (51 percent) than any other weapon. Of the homicides committed with firearms, 73 percent were committed with handguns.
So what are we doing about this? Six states, including my own state of Minnesota, have passed laws to get guns away from domestic abusers. Hopefully this will lead to fewer domestic gun homicides. Yes, there are other methods of homicide. But we know that in report after report, abusers with guns kill the most women.

There's just no excuse for violence against women and further, murdering women by any method. I was listening to an expert in the domestic abuse area speak about the latest domestic assault by an NFL football player. The way she put it was that domestic violence is a crime of pattern. A pattern starts with physical, emotional, financial or psychological abuse. The woman leaves but comes back because of fear or the economic reality or because of the children or even the pets. The man abuses again. The woman leaves or tries to leave but comes back. Or she makes excuses and denies reality until one of several things happen. Either the woman gets away and gets help and leaves her partner/spouse or she stays and puts up with the abuse. She may end up dead in this case. Or perhaps the man gets the help he needs because of a court order and actually stops abusing. The latter is why Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs works with groups of men and trains law enforcement and others who deal with abuse to do a better job of preventing it. It is possible to change the behavior and interrupt the pattern of abuse.

The incidents continue daily. Unfortunately a 10 year old Florida girl has been left without both of her parents in a domestic shooting. She will never be the same, as someone in the article commented. Children are greatly affected by domestic violence and are sometimes the victims as well. I write often about ( mostly) men who shoot their partner/spouse and their own children. From the article:
Deputies responding to 6250 Cornerstone Drive found a 10-year-old girl “obviously crying and extremely upset.” The girl explained that she had tried to get into the bedroom after hearing the gunfire, but the door was locked.
The Ledger reported that officers kicked in the door, and found Denny and his 41-year-old wife, Jenny, dead on the floor.
The case is being investigated as a murder-suicide.
Denny had been serving as Hardee County’s director of planning and zoning since Aug. 2, 2010. There had been no reports of domestic violence at the home, and Denny had no criminal record.
Denny was also serving his fourth year as vice president of the Parent Teacher Association at his daughter’s school.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Sheriff Grady Judd called Denny “a hard worker,” and a “very stable guy.”
Sometimes this is how domestic violence looks. There are no previous reports or knowledge of actual abuse. The signs are more subtle but obviously there is something not right. And when a gun is readily available incidents can turn deadly quickly and there is no second chance. That is what my family experienced in my sister's shooting death. There are risks to guns in homes that too often are denied or unrecognized in the American gun culture where any talk about guns and gun violence turn to rights rather than responsibilities. We can change that if we have the will.

I need to mention something that hasn't been talked about much in the discussions about domestic violence. Frequently the abuser is suicidal and so domestic shootings become homicide/suicides. That was the case with Jovan Belcher and in many other cases. This week is National Suicide Awareness week. We must pay attention to the signs and realize that suicide by gun is the majority of gun deaths in America. Firearms make suicide easier and more final than other methods. We can do something about this as well. Easy access to firearms can make suicides much easier. People with depression, involved in domestic disputes, anger issues and mental illness should not be around guns.

The photo on this post is of Kay Marie Sisto who was shot in the back of the head 4 years ago by her husband as they were experiencing marriage problems. The marriage was not going well but Kay's family, like mine, was shocked at the suddenness and unexpected nature of the shooting. There are many other families who have been devastated by domestic abuse and domestic violence. Kay's sister, Kim, has provided this image of her sister to call attention to the domestic abuse that ended the life of her sister and her best friend. I thank her for her advocacy and her passion in calling attention publicly to a problem that is happening every day in our country. We have work to do to make us all safer in our communities. Part of that work involves education and passing reasonable measures to make sure that women and others who are experiencing domestic abuse are kept safer from their abusers. This important work will continue to make us safer in our homes and our communities.

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