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, February 12, 2015

Do the guys with the guns get to make the rules?

It's true that criminals don't obey laws. That is what makes them criminals. Sometimes otherwise law abiding citizens forget or unintentionally break a law, resulting in a fine or worse. And sometimes otherwise law abiding individuals or groups make up their own laws or purposely break or not follow written laws for their own agenda. One of the infamous and tired old phrases used by the corporate gun lobby is- "just enforce the laws already on the books." There are some examples of "loopholes" in laws or plea bargaining, for example, that end with lesser penalties or a criminal walking free from being held responsible for a crime. But we also need to strengthen these laws to make sure those loopholes don't exist because we will be safer as a result. That is what our justice system is all about and that is what a democracy is. For some, the definition of justice and democracy is what they decide it is and not what the laws actually say.

In November, 2014, Washington state passed a voter initiative requiring background checks on all gun sales. Since that time, the gun extremists have gone public with ridiculous shows of intimidation by carrying their guns into the Capitol and various rallies with photos on social media sites showing these "law abiding" gun owners with arsenals openly carried. One such photo was of a small child with his hand on the stock of an assault rifle presumably carried by his own father. They don't like the law passed by a strong majority of their fellow voters so they want to make their own rules. Good idea, right?

Now there is a plan to hold a gun show in June where there will be no compliance with the new Washington law. This will be interesting to say the least. It's just what these folks want- a showdown with law enforcement. What about the law now on the Washington state "books"? From the article:
And it promises “no background checks, no paperwork, no infringement.”
“We will be exercising what I would refer to as constitutional sales where there’s no background check of any sort,” organizer Sam Wilson said.
Wilson said anyone who attends the expo and sells or purchases a firearm without a background check does risk arrest. But he predicts law enforcement won’t intervene.
Phil Watson with the Second Amendment Foundation criticized the “we will not comply” movement as a “clique of gadflies.” His organization is challenging portions of the background check law in federal court.
What could possibly go wrong? Making your own laws is not a good idea to say the least.

And then there are the Texas Open Carry extremists, many of them already law breakers, preaching that anyone who supports strengthening gun laws is committing treason. This article by Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence exposes the reality of this movement and their leaders. From the article:
Needless to say, there is good reason that Texas legislators are considering only allowing the open carry of handguns with a permit or not at all. Texas State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican who chairs the State Affairs Committee,said that "she was heeding concerns from law enforcement and constituents that allowing unlicensed open carry [of handguns] 'could create some chaos in an ordered society.'" Those concerns have arisen because individuals carrying long guns in public have engaged in aggressive and dangerous behavior, confronting and harassing police on the streets during the discharge of their duties. You might also recall a tense encounter that occurred last month in the office of Texas State Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D-74th) when Watkins and other pro-gun activists stopped by to visit. Nevárez and his family received so many death threats in the wake of that incident that Texas Department of Public Safety officers have now been assigned to guard him. (...) Watkins, Open Carry Texas leader C.J. Grisham and others have criminal records stemming from this type of behavior, and there is speculation that they might not be able to meet the requirements necessary to obtain an open-carry permit for handguns if a new law requires it. 
And more from the Horwitz article:
I am struck by Watkins' insistence that they have an individual right to determine what laws in our country are constitutional or not. Anyone with a basic grasp of civics understands that it is the role of our courts to make such determinations under the Constitution. It is rather ridiculous to watch Watkins ramble on about what constitutes treason when Article 3, Section 3 of our Constitution specifically states that "treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." I know Watkins dislikes the democratic process, but passing a law regulating firearms hardly constitutes treason. 
The extremists in the gun rights community appear to believe that anything goes regarding their personal rights to own and carry guns. Apparently they have forgotten this inconvenient truth- when just anyone can own and carry guns with no regulations, just anyone will. And that includes some of their own fine "law abiding" citizens. These are people, some of whom couldn't pass a background check, who want others like themselves, or worse, to be able to purchase and carry loaded guns around in public places. What could possibly go wrong?

Vigilante "justice" is on the increase and it's the "good guys with guns" who are practicing it. Remember the showdown at the Cliven Bundy ranch? In the name of his own definition of freedom, Bundy is still flaunting federal law and getting away with it. He has the gun rights extremists on his side who have already shown that they will bring their guns to a fight with government agents and disobey the law.

In Texas, the Open Carriers are following police around to video them at crime scenes and interfering with the justice system. Their claim is that the police need watching and after what happened in Ferguson, Missouri last summer a lot of attention has been paid to relations between police and communities of color. It bears watching but not the way Kory Watkins of Open Carry Tarrant County wants to do it:
Watkins’s ill-advised video is just the latest incident from a man who claims to be a supporter of Second Amendment rights, but who has actually been the most successful proponent of gun control in the United States in the past two years.
Can we say that things are not going so well for Watkins and his minions? Sometimes the "guys with the guns make the rules" philosophy doesn't work out so well.

In Minneapolis, a "good guy" with a gun took out his iPhone and took video of a black man who was doing nothing but sitting in his car talking to a relative. There were no crimes, no drug deals, no guns. But the neighbor actually pulled a gun out when the black man started his own video. Please watch the video embedded in the article. Here are some comments from the article:
At the center of the debate is North Vent, a Facebook forum for North Side residents that has more than 4,000 members, most of whom post sometimes scathing, sometimes lighthearted updates about everything from crime, car crashes, graffiti, and abandoned mattresses to shootings. Police and city officials have been known to post to North Vent.
Some North Vent contributors “promote that cowboy-type behavior. They try to justify that cowboy-type behavior,” said Lisa Neal-Delgado, a longtime local resident. “This is not the wild, wild West. They’re going to instigate something and somebody is going to get killed.”
A more appropriate response for neighbors concerned about crime, Neal-Delgado says, would be to simply call the police. She added that the case mirrored that of Trayvon Martin, a black Florida teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.
“People have got to understand. They have got to call the police,” she said on Wednesday. “They cannot go out carrying guns or knives or other weapons to videotape a car.”
In recent months, there have been several encounters between residents and criminals. Longtime residents say there are more incidents of exasperated neighbors confronting suspected drug dealers, recording their activities and posting them onto online groups like North Vent.
At one point in the video, the black man is heard saying that he has “got the right to walk down the street and take pictures, just like him,” to which the other man responds that there has been “a lot of drug dealing going on.”
“I’m not dealing drugs,” the young man responds, adding that he was being singled out because of his race.
This incident to me is a frightening example of how people mistrust others living near them. If this is how we live, we truly are going to see more Trayvon Martin like shootings. Just because this man is black is no reason to pull a gun and start harassing him with an iPhone. Call the police, as the article said, and don't take the law into your own hands. When people are armed, they could very well become dangerous themselves and cause a tragic and avoidable injury or death. The corporate gun lobby has helped with this mistrust by invoking fear and paranoia of "the other" to get people to buy guns for self protection. This has created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust that will only lead to bad things. If we all obey the laws and enforce the laws we have and let law enforcement do their jobs, we will be safer. Yes, it's understood that sometimes even law enforcement is promoting this kind of behavior when they, themselves, are suspicious of someone because of their race and assume someone is dangerous when are not. This is a systemic problem in America. And guns elevate situations that could be dealt with in many other ways.

This is the result of a gun culture gone wrong. The corporate gun lobby has welcomed people like this in because the need for profits and power override any need to protect the public from devastating gun violence and worse. Horwitz wrote, above, about domestic terrorism. This is nothing to take lightly. Some of our country's mass shootings have been domestic terror acts. Let's look at them:

The Fort Hood shooting in 2009.

The Sikh Temple shooting in 2012.

The Las Vegas shooting in 2014.

And others.

And while I'm writing, I need to comment on the awful shooting of 3 Muslim students that took place yesterday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Was this a hate crime or act of terror? There is much discussion about this and time will tell if it was. So far it is said to have happened because of a dispute about parking spaces. Can we talk about that? When disputes over a parking space turn into a triple murder, we have a serious problem in our country. These kinds of incidents actually happen every day in America. The problem with the American gun culture is that some who have guns for self defense or sport use those guns to kill other people over simple matters that shouldn't end in death. But when a gun is available, things go terribly and tragically wrong. There are no excuses for this kind of behavior no matter what the motive for the shooting. But the optics on this one aren't good. And to be clear, the shooter was a "law abiding" gun permit holder- another "good guy with a gun."

An article in the New York Times raises some questions that need to be asked about this shooting:
Many Muslims in the area of North Carolina known as the Research Triangle, where universities and technology companies are major employers, said they had been on edge in recent weeks. Although the area is dotted with mosques and interfaith events are a staple at universities and houses of worship, tensions have been rising since the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, according to several Muslim leaders. Last month, Duke University abruptly canceled plans to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer on Fridays, citing security concerns, after Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham, raised vehement objections on Facebook. (...) Broadcasting the call to prayer from a church bell tower, intended as a symbol of religious inclusion, instead became a source of religious division. 
“There is a tendency to say, ‘This is a nice place, these eruptions of violence don’t belong here,’ ” said Omid Safi, the director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and a professor of Islamic studies. “And yet here we are. This is, in all of the heartbreak and violence and sadness, where we are.” 
Linda Sarsour, a longtime Arab-American activist in Brooklyn, who said she was working with the family, added that for those who fear mistreatment, the episode “sends a message to other young people in the Muslim community that the fear is valid.”
Whether or not this was a case of domestic terror or a hate crime, what we know for sure is that it was a tragic and senseless crime of passion and maybe hate. For how can an otherwise "law abiding" citizen turn into a man who hates someone so much that he is motivated to shoot and kill 3 innocent human beings? This is a discussion we need to have in our country. America is a "melting pot" of cultures and people of all races and color. What is happening here is concerning and should lead to some serious reflection about who we are as a nation. Atrocities and killings are happening all around the world. They are heinous and tragic.

Only in America, though, does weak gun policy and a gun culture where there is about one gun per person lead to domestic shootings that result in 32 Americans a day dying from gun homicides. If we include the suicides and accidental shootings, more than 80 Americans a day are dying as a result of gunshot injuries. This is not only not acceptable, it's insane. We need common sense discussion and a strengthening of our gun laws so we can begin addressing our own American tragedy. Weakening our laws to suit people who can't follow the laws already on the books is clearly a very bad idea. Without that discussion and the kind of regulations that keep people in civilized, democratized countries not at war safer from gun violence, our country is in trouble. We can expect to see more of the incidents I have written about in this post. It's unsettling and we should all be working very hard to assure that our country is not ruled by the "good guys with guns" or the bad guys with guns.

Where is common sense?


Here is more information on the man who is being held for shooting the 3 students in Chapel Hill:
Craig Stephen Hicks was feared by his neighbors. He obsessed over parking spaces and always appeared angry. He used to watch a movie about a man who goes on a shooting rampage over and over again. His ex-wife said he found the film hilarious.
There is something terribly wrong when people like this are considered fine to carry guns around in public places. We have some serious work to do. There are people who should not have guns and this guy is one of them. Not everyone has the right and now 3 young people who had the right to live a full live with their own jobs and children ahead are dead. As I said before, this is insane.

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