Now Is Exactly The Time To Talk About Guns.

Each time there’s another mass shooting event, the GOP is quick to say, “Now is not the time to talk about politics.” In other words, “Let’s address the symptoms, but not the cause.” That happened after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando…after every single mass shooting.

The motive, of course, is to delay discussion until memories of the event become faded – only to be replaced with the trauma of the next shooting.

It is precisely the result of this strategy that more than 15,000 people died in 2016 as the result of gun violence; a figure that does not even include suicides. And that’s why 2016 saw more than one mass shooting per day (a mass shooting defined as events during which at least 4 people are injured or killed).*

Republicans must not be allowed to get away with it this time!

And it’s not just the inaction of Republicans that has allowed the gun violence to continue. It’s also their collusion with the gun lobby which has resulted in easy access to weapons of ever-increasing lethality. Thanks to the GOP and the NRA, people have been allowed to purchase weapons of war. They have made it legal for virtually anyone to carry a semi-automatic handgun without obtaining a license. They have made it legal to purchase .50 caliber sniper rifles that can blast a hole through a vehicle’s engine block at a distance of hundreds of yards.

The GOP made it illegal for the Centers for Disease Control to track gun deaths. The GOP made it illegal for physicians to discuss gun safety with parents. And the GOP made it illegal for the gun registry to create an electronic database for guns. That means the registry will have to sort through hundreds of thousands of paper documents to track the sale of the guns used by the Vegas shooter.

More recently, Trump repealed a rule designed to prevent certain mentally ill from buying guns. After all, who would want to deny the mentally ill their 2nd Amendment rights?

Even as the shooting in Las Vegas was unfolding, the GOP Congress was preparing to vote on a bill that would legalize the sale of silencers and armor-piercing ammunition! For what purpose?

Imagine if the shooter holed up in the Mandalay Bay Hotel had access to silencers. Instead of taking 15 minutes to locate and disrupt the shooter, it may have taken 2-3 times as long. How many more people would he have been able to kill in that time? How many of the SWAT team would have died as the result of the ammo penetrating their body armor?

The GOP and its NRA sponsors must not be allowed to ignore the impact of their actions any longer. They must not be allowed to continue to place profits above lives. It’s long past time for common sense gun legislation for universal background checks; to implement a one-week waiting period for all gun purchases; to create an electronic gun registry; to ban large capacity magazines; to limit the quantity and type of ammunition; to ban the open carry of guns.

This mass shooting is the fault of the shooter, the NRA and the GOP. If we do nothing, the next mass shooting will be our fault.

*Statistics from the Gun Violence Archive

Our Present And Future With Guns.

According to Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center, only 22% of Americans are gun owners. Yet there are an estimated 300 million guns in the US, not including those owned by our military. More than 6 million Americans own 10 or more guns. 10 or more? Seriously? Let’s see…a small gauge shotgun for small birds, a large gauge shotgun for larger birds, a small caliber hunting rifle for small game, a large caliber hunting rifle for large game, a small caliber handgun for accuracy, a large caliber handgun for “stopping” power, a military-style assault weapon for potential government tyrants, a .50 caliber sniper rifle for assassinations and blowing holes in the occasional engine block, and…??? That’s only 8. What am I missing? I’m at a loss to explain what more a 2nd Amendment-spouting, freedom-protecting “patriot” could need to arm themselves for any eventuality.

Obviously, the US has a love affair with guns. But though we all face the consequences, that love affair is far from universal.

As previously stated, the majority of guns are in the hands of a few. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, consider this: A large percentage of those 300 million guns are in the hands of the members of the 784 hate groups as recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center, including KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Nationalists, Skinheads, Black Separatists, Neo-Confederates, Anti-LGBT, Christian Identity and other assorted general hate groups and individuals, such as the Sovereign Citizen Movement. Shockingly, a not insignificant percentage of their members are ex-military, active-duty military, former law enforcement officers and border patrol…even active-duty law enforcement (which may help to explain the increase in police brutality against minority populations)!

These people seem to believe that guns are the answer to most every conflict – a view endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and modeled in many US-made movies, television programs and video games. But our choices of entertainment are, most certainly, not the root of our gun problem. In fact, the source of our problem is the NRA and the gun manufacturers it represents, which have flooded our communities with guns – guns that are becoming increasingly more lethal. Though other nations share our taste in entertainment and celebrate our culture, and though many other nations are less religious than the US, no other advanced country rivals the US when it comes to the number of gun deaths (including homicides)!

The glaring difference between the US and those other countries is the availability of guns.

For example, in a recent attempt to determine how easy it is to obtain guns in the US, a reporter for The Guardian found that it took just 2 hours for him to be offered an AK-47, an illegally-modified fully-automatic AR-15 and numerous handguns – some of which had been smuggled and some of which had been purchased legally. His experience is hardly unique. In many neighborhoods in many of our nation’s cities, you can purchase a gun within a few minutes, local gun laws be damned. For example, many of the guns used in crimes in Chicago are originally purchased legally in Indiana and cities along the I-35 corridor where gun laws are weak. They are then resold in Chicago to individuals wishing to avoid background checks. This pattern is supported by studies that show the majority of guns used in crimes are purchased illegally from unlicensed gun dealers or uncaring dealers in states with the greatest gun culture and the weakest gun laws.

And, thanks to the NRA’s stated belief that the best solution for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, there is a growing vigilante movement in the US exemplified by the armed woman who took it upon herself to shoot at shoplifters in the parking lot of The Home Depot in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Contrary to the gun lovers’ beliefs, such behavior is the worst nightmare of most law enforcement officials. After all, imagine you’re an officer responding to an active shooter situation and you see several armed people shooting at one another. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Are they all bad guys? You simply have to treat them all as threats.

And what about the legal implications of the “good guy” behavior? Disregarding the fact that few crimes are stopped by armed citizens and that armed citizens are more likely to be shot with their own guns than to stop a crime, such vigilante behavior poses problems. Police are supposed to be restricted from shooting at a suspect in a non-life-threatening situation. What about the armed “good guys?” Is it acceptable for a private citizen to shoot and kill a shoplifter? If the criminals are not armed and not threatening others, is it legally permissible to shoot to kill? If an unarmed shoplifter is subject to lethal force, is a bully engaged in a fistfight? How about a citizen engaged in a shouting match? An unarmed robber? An armed robber? Where do we draw the line?

The fact is, this nation is being held hostage by the gun lobby. We have allowed the NRA to write Conceal and Carry, Open Carry and “Stand Your Ground” laws that encourage people like George Zimmerman to shoot innocent, unarmed people. The NRA wants even more people to be armed. And it refuses to consider common sense gun safety laws. Despite a large majority of its members supporting more thorough, universal background checks, the NRA leadership has drawn a bright line in the sand. Any restriction on gun ownership is seen as a violation of the Constitution (if you choose to ignore the first phrase of the 2nd Amendment). Moreover, mass shootings are good for business as demonstrated by the gun shop owner in Roseburg, Oregon who stocked up on guns and ammo following the shooting at nearby Umpqua Community College. She knows that there is always a run on guns and ammo following mass shootings. Such greed aside, more guns are not the answer to gun violence. In fact, numerous studies have clearly shown that more guns equal more gun violence. Not less.

More important, the blatant lies of the NRA which pronounce guns the solution, not the problem, may well lead to a breakdown in our legal system. Vigilante “justice” could soon replace our courts. The entire US could resemble the Old West – only with more shootings and less shame.

You Don’t Need To Pull The Trigger To Be A Mass Murderer.

There are many examples of such people – the friends and family of mass shooters who ignore warning signs of impending violence, the people on social media who encourage potential shooters, the National Rifle Association for pushing laws that benefit gun manufacturers at the expense of shooting victims, courts that have twisted the Second Amendment (which was intended to provide for a well-regulated militia in the absence of a standing army) to mean that anyone can own and carry guns, gun dealers who fail to perform background checks and sell guns to felons and the mentally ill, politicians who bow to the wishes of the NRA instead of their constituents, and citizens who prefer to bury their heads in the sand rather than call for action after another mass shooting.

These people are all responsible. They all deserve to be known as mass murderers.

How else would you describe people who enable more than 3,000 shooting deaths each year, including the deaths of more than 500 children? How else would you describe people who stand idly by while more than 7,500 children are wounded by guns each year? How else would you describe people who ignore hundreds of mass shootings each year, including the 42 that have taken place on school campuses already this year?

How else would you describe politicians who refuse to permit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to track gun violence along with the other major causes of deaths? How else would you describe politicians who make laws that prevent pediatricians from discussing gun safety with parents; who have made it easy for anyone to own the weapons of war – assault rifles, 50-caliber sniper rifles, semi-automatic handguns, armor-piercing bullets…even silencers; who have refused to pass even the most benign gun safety laws?

How else would you describe politicians and manufacturers who have made our nation the world’s largest weapons dealer – weapons that are often turned on our own soldiers?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Not that many years ago, Australia’s conservative government reacted to a mass shooting by passing laws that banned most gun ownership and bought back guns from its once heavily-armed populace. Indeed, most other advanced nations restrict gun ownership. Even places like Dodge City and Tombstone in the Old West once had restrictive gun carry laws – that’s why historic events like the gunfight at the OK Corral still stand out. They once were far from commonplace.

But, now that nearly everyone is allowed to own and carry guns, gunfights are an everyday occurrence. Though the percentage of gun owners is declining, those who do own them own more guns than ever. These people have an irrational obsession with guns. They justify that obsession by claiming their guns are needed for self-protection from criminals, the government and “those people.” They carry them everywhere. In fact, many are so paranoid, they will not enter an establishment that prevents the carry of guns. But the reality is that guns are seldom successfully used for self-protection. More often, such guns are stolen or used for suicides. They are used in road rage incidents, in domestic disputes, in neighborhood disputes, in drive-by shootings, in theaters, in workplaces and in schools. They are used by the mentally ill, by frustrated loners, by jilted lovers, by angry husbands, by racists, and by rogue cops. They are used to threaten and intimidate. They are even used to threaten government officials who are carrying out their lawful duties.

What can be done to prevent more shootings?

We can start by improving mental health care to help the nearly one in four Americans who suffer from mental illness. We can improve our database of the criminally-ill and potentially criminally-ill. We can pass a law requiring universal background checks. We can require a 30-day waiting period for gun sales. We can make it illegal to open carry in public places. We can roll back our conceal-and-carry laws by requiring gun owners to show a need for a carry permit. We can ban large caliber weapons, such as .50 caliber sniper rifles and all other weapons of war. We can, once again, make the sale of silencers illegal. We can ban armor-piercing ammunition. We can ban large capacity magazines. And we can pass gun laws that are uniform nationwide so that rogue gun dealers in one state can no longer sell guns to residents from other states and other countries.

Finally…and this will be the most controversial suggestion…we can ban the sale and ownership of all semi-automatic guns. After all, these are not needed for hunting or even for self-defense. They are designed to make it easier to kill people. Period.

What’s A Black Man’s Life Worth?

In recent weeks we have seen a number of unarmed black men and children killed by police. We have seen video of a non-violent black man being choked to death in Staten Island for failure to pay cigarette taxes. We have heard testimony of a black teenager in Ferguson gunned down by 12 shots even though many eyewitnesses testified that he had raised his hands in a sign of surrender. We have seen a young father shot to death in a WalMart for carrying a pellet gun he intended to purchase. We have seen a 12-year-old murdered by two cops for playing with a toy gun. We have seen a mentally-ill black man armed with a small knife gunned down by two cops who opened fire within seconds of arriving on the scene. (A small knife is no threat to two police officers in a squad car who are wearing Kevlar vests and armed with Tasers, pepper spray, batons and guns.)

We have seen reports of police shooting unarmed black men and children in Arizona, California, Missouri, New York and Ohio.

These are not isolated incidents. They represent even more than a pattern. They represent an epidemic…a failure of law enforcement training and tactics, and a breakdown in the relationships of people of color with law enforcement. At best, it indicates a sense of fear and mistrust of any male of color. At worst, it indicates deep-seated racism within police departments combined with a shoot-first mentality intended to prevent any testimony that would conflict with police reports. (Dead men tell no tales.)

Likely, both are at least partially true.

In fairness, the proliferation and ever-increasing lethality of guns in our country has made the job of law enforcement more difficult. This causes police to draw their guns instead of relying upon less lethal options. But that is no excuse. Law enforcement has long assumed that citizens are armed. That fact hasn’t changed, but the reaction of officers has.

Before Darrell Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown, was hired by the Ferguson Police Department, he had been trained in a nearby city by a police department so inherently racist that it was disbanded by the city. Other officers involved in the shootings have been found to have posted blatantly racist comments on the Internet. Some police departments have been tied to the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations.

Given the distrust of police by minorities and the attitudes of some police officers, the unnecessary shootings are going to be difficult to stop. Body cameras may help restrain some behaviors and build trust, but they alone are not the answer. Videos of police violence taken by independent witnesses have resulted in few convictions. Grand juries are too likely to believe that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. They are too likely to prioritize police testimony over that of eyewitnesses. They are too likely to excuse police abuse because they understand that police work is dangerous. (It’s actually less dangerous than working as a logger, miner, fisherman, farmer, or laboratory worker. Police work is the 9th most dangerous profession in the US.) Moreover, the public is likely to excuse police excesses because they are frightened as a result of political fear-mongering. They expect the police to protect them from the bad guys and, if the police make some mistakes in doing so, they believe that’s better than the alternative.

The truth is that police seldom protect anyone. They usually arrive on the scene after the crime has already been committed. They are no longer the deterrent they once were. I believe they can only regain their effectiveness if they, once again, become a real part of the community; if they get to know the citizens they have been hired to serve; if they become a less threatening presence that encourages cooperation within the community to help prevent crimes and build trust. The police need to reflect the communities they are sworn to serve and protect. They need to rethink their training and apprehension techniques. They need to lose the military attitudes and equipment and focus on non-lethal controlling techniques.

They need to be reminded that guns are the weapon of last resort. Not a weapon of convenience.

The Only Thing We Really Need To Know About School Shooters.

After the most recent school shooting, the media and law enforcement are, once again, attempting to find out what motivated the shooting. They’ve analyzed his social media posts. They’ve interviewed his friends, family members and teachers. They’ve speculated that he was suffering from mental illness. They’ve explored his relationships. Everyone wants to know why he brought a gun to school and opened fire. Such analysis may be helpful in preventing future killers. But it overlooks the only thing we really need to know.

Like all of the other school shooters, he had easy access to a gun.

This was not a hunting rifle or a shotgun. That would be bad enough in the hands of an unsupervised 14-year-old, but at least hunting firearms are difficult to hide. This was an easily-concealed 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun – a weapon that does not belong on our streets, in our schools, or in the hands of a troubled 14-year-old boy. His access to such a weapon begs many questions: What kind of parents allow a 14-year-old access to a semi-automatic handgun? Why would he need one? Did they think he needed it to defend himself in school; after football practice; at a school dance, on the mean streets of Tulalip? Did they think he was going to defend us from Ebola-infected ISIS terrorists who might be crossing our border with Canada? Did they not know? Did they not care?

Had the shooter not had such easy access to a concealable weapon, he might still be alive today along with the girl he murdered. And other children would not be in the hospital fighting for their lives.

His ready access to weapons is most certainly not unique. In most states, children of any age can legally purchase guns from gun shows and individuals even as they are prohibited from buying tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets and most other items intended for adults. Want to buy a gun? No problem. The only questions are handgun or long gun? What caliber? How much ammunition? Would you like some extra clips with that? Greedy gun manufacturers represented and encouraged by the National Rifle Association are even marketing child-sized, but no less lethal, guns to kids. To make them more attractive to kids, they even offer such weapons in candy colors.

What normal human being thinks this is a good idea? For what social benefit? We’ve already seen what can happen when an Uzi is placed in the hands of a supervised child on a firing range. Have gun manufacturers ever considered the consequences of their actions? Of course, they have. But their judgment is blinded by visions of increased profits and higher share prices. Unfortunately, the more guns they sell, the more dangerous our streets and schools become. That generates more paranoia. And that, in turn, generates more sales.

In reality, the only way to stop school shootings and other mass shootings is to limit the sales of guns to keep them out of the hands of the mentally unstable; to keep them out of the hands of criminals; and to keep them out of the hands of children. And the only sensible way to do that is to follow Australia’s lead. Like Australia, we should immediately pass legislation calling for a nationwide buy-back of the most lethal types of guns, such as rapid-fire semi-automatic handguns and semi-automatic assault rifles. We should immediately institute mandatory background checks on all transactions involving guns and ammo. We should ban guns in cities and other public places as was the custom in the Old West. We should limit the sale of the most lethal types of ammunition, especially so-called “cop killer” bullets. And we should ban the sale of guns to anyone under the age of eighteen.

In 2010, more than 30,000 Americans died from gunfire…nearly 3,000 of them children. That year, another 73,505 Americans recovered from gunshot wounds… more than 7,000 of them children. Yet Americans seem willing to accept those statistics. Indeed, the only response to our endless murder and mayhem has been for even more Americans to arm themselves. By contrast, our nation seems paralyzed by the fact that a single person in the US has died from Ebola…ONE! Yet our media and politicians are disproportionately reacting to the threats. While they ignore more than 100,000 shootings in a single year, they are demanding immediate action for…wait for it…Ebola.

Fear-mongering conservatives have raised alarms that we could all die if we don’t react to Ebola fast. Yet the very same people are unconcerned about mass shootings. They cower from the NRA. Instead of limiting access to guns, they pass laws making it easier to buy and carry firearms. They tell us that the Second Amendment is more important than the lives of thousands. They tell us that the number of gun victims doesn’t matter. They talk about freedom and call anyone who disagrees with them unpatriotic.

Keep that in mind as you go to the polls on November 4th.

Guns In The Neighborhood.

I live in a small development near several tourist destinations in Arizona. There’s absolutely nothing remarkable about the neighborhood other than it is primarily populated by retirees from California and snowbirds from New England and the Midwest. The neighborhood has virtually no crime and has never experienced a home invasion. Despite this, I have to assume the majority of my neighbors are gun owners. Arizona, after all, is a gun-friendly state. Many people come here to get their cowboy on. And it seems that our legislature values guns more than people.

If that sounds crazy, I assure you that it’s not as crazy as some of our laws.

In Arizona, you can carry a gun virtually anywhere…in your car, to the shopping mall, to your church, even to the bar. The state has even made it illegal for cities to destroy guns that have been confiscated from felons or used in crimes. The cities are mandated to sell them.

As a result of our gun-crazy culture, Arizona has more than its share of gun hoarders…those who have convinced themselves that the government and/or the UN is coming to take their guns. There is also a large number of so-called “sovereign citizens”…those who refuse to accept the rule of government.

I have no idea how many of my neighbors fit into these categories, but I do know of two. One is a retired electrical engineer who owned a large collection of handguns, shotguns and assault rifles until he got drunk one afternoon and threatened to kill his wife and himself. The sheriff;s deputies confiscated the weapons and the neighbor is now serving time in prison for that and a variety of senseless crimes associated with his drinking. Another arsenal of handguns and assault weapons belongs to a neighbor whose love of high-powered weaponry is exceeded only by his love of alcohol.

How comforting!

Knowing that a few yards away there is a large arsenal in the possession of such an individual does not make me feel more secure. Neither does knowing that there are dozens more who have guns at the ready. These people are exemplified by a neighbor who was convinced to purchase a handgun by one of his gun-loving paranoid friends. He told me the first time he fired it, the slide nearly amputated his thumb. He’s still uncomfortable with it, but that doesn’t prevent him from keeping the loaded weapon on the nightstand next to his bed. Even more disturbing is the fact that he keeps a round in the chamber, which means he is more likely to accidentally shoot himself or a friend than any potential intruder.

Rather than make our neighborhood more secure, all of these guns make it more dangerous; more likely that there will be an accidental shooting; more likely that the guns will be used in a shootout between neighbors than to shoot an intruder. But most suggested changes for gun control would fail to weed out these people. They all passed background checks. They all supposedly took at least one firearm safety class. Yet they are all armed and dangerous to themselves, their families and their neighbors.

These people clearly demonstrate that the only thing that can reduce the number of nincompoops who own guns is to reduce the number of guns. Period.