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Some beacons of light amidst the darkness on guns

Some beacons of light amidst the darkness on guns

Even as we lose our way at the national level in the quest for stronger firearm controls in the wake of the Newtown massacre and the appalling level of gun violence in America, the legislatures and governors of a handful of states have demonstrated political courage and leadership in passing sensible restrictions on military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and tougher background checks on gun buyers.

Kudos to New York, Connecticut, Colorado, and Maryland (the latter’s to be signed into law shortly). All of them deserve enormous credit but Colorado, in particular, should be singled out for praise because, as the resident of another western state, I know how especially tough it is to overcome the opposition of gun zealots in this region. Here in Washington, for example, efforts to pass meaningful changes recently met with a dismal and shameful failure.

Laudable as the efforts of individual states are, however, they cannot substitute for tougher national regulations and here the picture is bleak and becoming bleaker. In the US Senate, the bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are unlikely to even get a vote, but are dead anyway whether they do or not. The expanded background check’s fate is uncertain but the NRA’s opposition to even that commonsense measure means it faces an uphill fight.

In fact, if any bill at all emerges from the Senate, it’s likely to be so watered down and toothless as to be virtually worthless. And then the GOP-led House will probably kill or change it so drastically that it will make things worse rather than better.

By acting in a meaningful way, New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland have remembered and honored the victims of gun violence in America, including the small children and their teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary whose awful deaths were the catalyst for change. Shame on Congress for its failure to do the same.

Write your US Senators about keeping Mandatory Background Checks in the Gun Control Bill

Write your US Senators about keeping Mandatory Background Checks in the Gun Control Bill

I read an article in The Washington Post today that explains the differences in the gun bill yet to be resolved by the Chuck Schumer, representing the Democrats, and Tom Coburn, representing the Republicans. It all gets down to the issue of keeping records of background checks. Without a requirement to keep the background checks on file, how would we know that anyone actually complied with the law? How would law enforcement be able to track guns used in crimes?

Fear mongerers like Wayne LaPierre say that if people keep records, then the government will collect all the records and eventually send armed government agents to the homes of gun owners and confiscate all their guns. No rational person actually believes that – not in this gun-culture country.

To me the recordkeeping requirement is no different than the law that says when I go to a pharmacy to buy cold pills like Sudafed that contain ingredients criminals can extract to make meth, I have to show my ID, provide my address, and sign a purchase log at the pharmacy. The government doesn’t collect information about every transaction. If there is a crime and the police need to investigate the distribution of pills used to make meth, then they go to pharmacies and look at records. Same thing is true if I purchase a keg of beer. I have to provide the same information, but the police don’t bother with collecting the data from stores unless they bust a party where the beer in the keg I bought was served to minors. Then they want to know who bought the keg.

The Democrats believe that background checks must be done for all gun sales, and records of the checks and sales must be kept on file. Otherwise the law is absurd and useless.

So let your senators know that no matter what the NRA or Ted Nugent says, you think background checks must be required for all gun sales.

If you aren’t sure what to write on their contact pages, well here’s what I wrote, and you are free to use it and edit it to fit your own personal style.

Senator [insert name here],

I read today how Senator Schumer and Senator Coburn are at an impasse in moving a gun-control bill forward because many Republicans have the completely irrational idea that a law requiring the keeping of records of background checks for gun purchases would enable the government to collect all the data and send armed government agents to the homes of law-abiding citizens to confiscate their lawfully procured firearms. Really that’s what they think because that’s what Wayne LaPierre tells them to think. Well they are so wrong it’s not even worth discussing but, being a US Senator, I guess you have to. So please speak clearly, often, and loudly about how background checks would be used to keep firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, and that law-abiding citizens are in no danger of having their guns confiscated by government agents no matter what Wayne LaPierre or Ted Nugent says.

It is of utmost importance that our country adopts reasonable, rational laws to try and prevent as many people who should not have firearms because of criminal records or known mental problems from obtaining them.

And yes I know that banning assault weapons again is just crazy, because everybody should be allowed to own whatever kind of gun they want. That’s the American way! Right? No it’s not. You know it and I know it, and we both know that a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammo clips that are designed to kill the most people in the most efficient way won’t get through the current congress.

So let’s start with background checks and let’s stand OUR ground.

Cheers,

[Your Name here]

GOP is no more serious about curbing gun violence as it is in addressing the nation’s other problems.

GOP is no more serious about curbing gun violence as it is in addressing the nation’s other problems.

Four bills that seek to curb gun violence in America made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee where they confront an uncertain fate in the full body. It is unclear which, if any, will prevail in an up or down vote even if Republicans don’t decide to filibuster.

Only one of them received significant GOP votes in committee, a relatively non-contentious bill that would increase funding for school safety measures. The most muscular bills, to expand background checks to private sales and a reinstatement of the assault weapon ban which includes curbs on large capacity magazines, received no Republican votes and face a particularly hard struggle.

The story has been the same in states such as Colorado, Connecticut, New York, Oregon and Washington State where gun control legislation proposed by Democrats has won minimal to non-existent support from Republicans. Some such as New York, Connecticut and Colorado have managed to pass meaningful and commonsense restrictions regardless, or seem close to doing so. In Oregon the struggle goes on. And in Washington, my home state, the effort failed.

Most states of course aren’t even bothering to try to strengthen their gun laws and, truth be told, while state laws are laudable and worthwhile, they cannot substitute for tough national laws. And the NRA has little to fear on that score, not with a GOP essentially in its pocket and a Democratic Party still fearful of the gun lobby’s power.

The ultimate responsibility for the looming failure in the other Washington, however, rests with the people of this nation. Even in the wake of the most horrendous mass shooting in our history, we have failed to generate the outrage and demand for action that is surely warranted. No political or electoral consequences will accrue to Republicans and the handful of Democrats who will, shamefully, join them, who will tow the NRA line to defeat even the most sensible restrictions such as banning military-style semi-automatic rifles and high capacity magazines that afford a deranged gunman or criminal inordinate firepower, or a universal background check.

We will prove to the world once again that we are a dysfunctional nation that has lost the ability to agree upon much less address our greatest problems, whether it is the budget, health care or our stunning level of gun violence.

Fault for this lies in part with arcane senate rules that require super majorities to get anything done and a GOP willing and able to abuse those rules to an unprecedented degree. And thanks to a supine United States Supreme Court, the GOP’s gerrymandering ways have managed to win them a 33-seat majority in the House of Representatives despite the fact that they lost the popular vote.

However, it is also true that we have become a nation tyrannized by a minority of fanatics whether it is the Tea Party who dominate today’s GOP or the NRA and fellow gun-zealots, whose power to paralyze our public policy apparatus is disproportionate to their numbers but highly destructive to the nation’s well-being.

Unless and until we are willing to confront and defeat the extremists in our body politic, we will never make this a better country for our children.

Tyranny of the Gun Toting 34%

Tyranny of the Gun Toting 34%

In the wake of the mass shooting of primary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, we were told that legislative reforms of our gun laws would be hard given the 47% of households with firearms.

It turns out that this number was inaccurate and that the correct figure is 34%. Interestingly the percentage has declined from 50% in the 1970s and has been particularly marked in southern and western states where the gun culture is strongest.

This means that 66% of households in America don’t have a gun of any sort, yet their voice in the gun-control debate is all too often drowned out by the screams, squawks and histrionics of the gun zealots.

Now it’s true that not all of the 34% are as unreasonable as the NRA leadership and the more fanatical elements of the gun lobby, and are open to some new restrictions. Similarly, there are undoubtedly some among the 66% who do not own firearms who nonetheless oppose government regulation.

Nonetheless, we hear way too much about the rights of the 34% and too little about the effect of lax regulation of firearms on the lives of the 66%. The Second Amendment is not an absolute right, and the gun lobby will be sorely disappointed if they believe even this conservative Supreme Court will set aside laws aimed at curbing the firepower of deranged gunmen or criminals and making it more difficult for them to arm in the first place.

We should applaud the political courage of legislators in New York who passed tough new common-sense restrictions, and the continuing efforts of legislators, in Connecticut, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State. We should also salute the ongoing efforts in the United States Senate. In all cases, it is Democrats who are striving to bring at least some sanity to this issue and Republicans providing the head wind as lapdogs of the NRA gun-zealots.

But when the next mass-shooting massacre happens as it surely will, which side will be able to look in the mirror and honestly say they did their best to prevent it?

Gun Fight at Obama’s State of the Union Address

Gun Fight at Obama’s State of the Union Address

Both sides of the aisle have invited guests to President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight to highlight their positions on controversial gun-control measures put forth in congress.

On the safe-and-sane side we have representation by victims of gun violence who are in favor of congress implementing reasonable laws to require background checks for all gun purchases and setting up a federal database to track gun sales and registrations. (from Politico)

The White House and Democratic lawmakers have invited more than 30 shooting victims or their surviving family members and friends to attend Obama’s speech, including several people tied to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), severely wounded in a Jan. 2011 shooting, will be there. And first lady Michelle Obama will be accompanied by the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago teenager shot to death last month, shortly after she took part in the inaugural parade.

On the unsafe-and-insane side we have those who oppose nearly all proposed gun-control laws, because guns don’t kill people. Crazy people kill people. Among their ranks is Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) who has threatened to impeach President Obama if he carries out any executive orders that call for stricter action against people who lie on gun-sale background checks, strike limits on federal research into gun use, order tougher penalties against gun trafficking, and give schools flexibility to use grant money to improve safety.

And

[Stockman] has offered a ticket to the State of the Union to Ted Nugent — whose criticism of the president once resulted in a sitdown with the Secret Service.

And what was it he said that prompted a visit by the Secret Service?

“If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year,” Nugent said, according to a video that the NRA posted on YouTube. “If you can’t go home and get everybody in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil, America-hating administration, I don’t even know what you’re made out of.”

No matter, Stockman says:

“I am excited to have a patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber to hear from President Obama,” and “after the Address I’m sure Ted will have plenty to say.”

Nugent Gun Nut

I can’t wait to hear what Terrible Ted the Obama Hater has to say. And I’ll bet the Secret Service, who will no doubt be standing close by, can’t wait either.

Update:

Madman in the House

My reaction? I’m not allowed to do that because I’m supposed to keep my pants on. My reaction for the masses? It pains me to honestly give you my reaction. I just don’t believe a word the man says. I’ve heard this predictable, flowery, feel-good speech of denial before.

Watch here.

NRA wants to make America the stupid country

NRA wants to make America the stupid country

Listening to the leaders of the NRA and their congressional lapdogs spouting nonsense in their opposition to changing the legislative status quo regarding curbs on guns in America is a truly surreal experience.

Here we are living in a country awash in guns and with the highest murder rate in the industrialized world; where Americans are twenty times more likely to be shot to death than their contemporaries in other advanced countries; where mass shootings are a common occurrence and where you can’t turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without learning of a new tragedy involving firearms: a child abducted from a school bus after a deranged gunman shoots the bus driver; a teen in New Mexico shoots his parents and two sisters to death for who knows what reason; another teen who marched in a band at President Obama’s inauguration gunned down as she’s standing under a shelter in Chicago. And of course just a short time ago, we had the massacre of twenty Kindergarten and 1st grade children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.

And yet the country’s legislators listen with respectful solemnity to the insane ravings of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre as if he actually has something serious to say on the subject of gun violence in America; a man who would be the subject of ridicule and derision if he tried to peddle his drivel anywhere else but Somalia.

The gun lobby’s position can be boiled down to this: gun laws already on the books don’t work or are not enforced and, anyway, only inconvenience law-abiding citizens and are useless against criminals. It’s an incredibly weak argument for inaction that flies in the face of the experience of other countries, as any international comparison of murder rates and gun violence shows conclusively.

Yet unbelievably the prospect of a meaningful strengthening of national gun control laws grows dimmer by the day. Republicans embrace the power of the gun lobby while Democrats continue to fear it.

Thanks to a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that have made a mockery of the Constitution by making it perform pirouettes, hand stands, triple axels and all manner of gymnastic contortions to make it fit their ideological predilections, we have a deeply misguided 5-4 ruling that upholds the right to private ownership of firearms. One day perhaps they’ll explain how the right of the Newtown killer’s mother to amass an arsenal of weapons relates to the need for a well-regulated militia but I won’t hold my breath.

The gun fanatics and their GOP allies have tried to deflect attention from guns by focusing on violent video games and people with mental health issues, as though America has a monopoly on either (which is not to say we shouldn’t work hard to improve services to the mentally ill). The sole factor that sets America apart from all other industrialized nations in explaining our elevated levels of serious violence and murder, however, is our obsession with firearms and anyone who argues to the contrary is either ignorant or delusional.

Guns and people are like the parts of a binary weapon system. It is only when they combine that they have the capacity to become quickly lethal to multiple targets and with little or no risk to the shooter. That is what sets the gunman apart from, for example, the knife wielder.

With its ties to gun manufacturers, the fanatics who lead the NRA have a valuable stake in making America the stupid country. In the wake of the tragedy at Newtown and as witnesses to the ongoing gun violence that afflicts our country daily, it’s up to us to make sure they don’t succeed.

Gun control opponents peddle a Lott of rubbish

Gun control opponents peddle a Lott of rubbish

John Lott is the National Rifle Association’s favorite gun researcher.

That’s because Lott uses his research, notably on the beneficial effects of concealed-carry permits on homicide rates, to peddle the manifestly false idea that gun possession makes Americans safer. His research has been effectively debunked by others.

The bigger problem with Lott’s research, however, is that it’s worthless. This is because it focuses only on national state and local murder rates without looking at the wider international picture.

For example, in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre we heard endlessly how strictly Connecticut regulates regulation of gun ownership. But compared to what? Other states, of course, many of whom hardly regulate firearms at all. And how strict are Connecticut’s laws when the weapon that pumped multiple bullets into the Kindergarten and 1st grade children of Sandy Hook Elementary and their heroic teachers was not a banned weapon, nor was the high capacity magazine that allowed the killer to do work without the inconvenience of reloading. And of course there was no law mandating safe storage of the weapons, all of which were purchased by his mother.

We should be clear on one thing: Research such as Lott’s is not designed to enlighten, elucidate or inform but to pursue an agenda that serves to obscure the truth about gun violence in the United States. The only comparison that matters is how America stacks up against other industrialized nations and here, the picture is crystal clear.

Since America has almost one firearm for every man, woman and child in the country, that 47% of households have a firearm, and that we have the least restrictions on gun ownership of any industrialized country, it follows that we should have the lowest murder rate among advanced nations according to the logic of Lott and the NRA. Instead, we have the highest. In fact Americans are twenty times more likely to be shot to death than the average among peer countries.

No other advanced country has mass shootings on a regular basis as does the US. And when countries such as the United Kingdom (1988) and Australia (1996) did suffer anything on the scale of Newtown they reacted, with public support, by focusing on the issue of access to firearms with the result that nothing like it has occurred in either country since.

This is the reality that the likes of Lott and the NRA want to conceal from the American public. Sensible restrictions on access to firearms do work to reduce gun violence, and other countries have proved it. We need look no further than Canada to see a country where gun ownership and common-sense restrictions go hand in hand.

So next time you hear some NRA mouthpiece saying that “studies” show that guns make us safer, just consign it to the garbage bin of your mind because it’s a Lott of rubbish.

Rushing to the sound of gunfire

Rushing to the sound of gunfire

Whenever I think of the events of 9/11, the image that always comes to mind, in addition to the horrific crash of the planes into the twin towers, is that of New York’s first responders stoically filing into the burning and doomed buildings from which most would never emerge. For me, their singular devotion to duty at enormous personal risk is the light in what was otherwise a dark moment in our history.

And so it is that when thoughts turn to the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting on  December 14th and the horror that occurred that day, I will always remember the unbelievable heroism of the principal, teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary as they sought to save their children from the evil of a deranged gunman.

Of how when the shots first rang out the teachers and staff protected the children by hiding them as best they could from the gunman or leading them to relative safety. Of the staff member who used the intercom to sound the alarm and the janitor who ran down corridors shouting a warning. These acts and many more displayed a courage that placed the lives of the students before any instinct to flee for safety. Uncommon valor was, indeed, a common virtue and if those words were coined in a different place and time*, they are no less appropriate to the actions of the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary on that terror-filled morning. After all, while we ask much of our children’s teachers, courage in the face of gunfire has never been part of the job description.

Those who made the ultimate sacrifice included 27-year-old Victoria Soto who hid as many of the children in her class as she could and then lied to the gunman telling him they were in the gym. She was shot standing between him and her children. Special education teacher’s aide Anne-Marie Murphy’s body was found covering those of a group of her students. And Principal Dawn Hochsprung who, along with school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, rushed to confront the gunman and, reportedly, lunging for him before being gunned down.

Some have lamented the fact that none of the staff were armed but this is insane and merely serves to trivialize the magnitude of their courage.

It seems unimaginable that any light can come from so much darkness. Yet even as the world saw us at our depressing worst with yet another unbalanced individual with access to an arsenal of lethal firepower murdering innocents, the actions of the principal and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary also showed us our best – the very best, in fact, we have to offer. And that at least is surely some comfort to a community and nation in grief.

And we as a nation, as a society can and must ensure that something worthwhile comes from this unspeakable tragedy that honors the memory of those who died at Newtown and ensures it will not be in vain. We, the sane majority, must take on the mindless fanatics who lead the NRA and their political enablers in congress, and steel the spines of our politicians to force through meaningful legislation that will ban the weapon that killed the children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary and all weapons like it, ban high capacity ammunition clips and strengthen background checks on all who want to purchase firearms, particularly semi-automatic ones. To fail in this will be to dishonor the dead of Newtown as well as the daily victims of gun violence in America, most of whom do not make the headlines, but above all, ourselves.

It won’t be easy and the NRA will rely on time and a fading memory of the horrific events of December 14th to blunt the intensity of the call for action on guns and weaken the resolve of our politicians, as they have so many times before. But if the courage of our legislators begins to falter, and they place their political future ahead of the welfare of the nation, then they should be reminded what bravery really looks like: of Victoria Soto, shielding her 1st grade students with her body, of Anne-Marie Murphy, giving comfort to her special education kids in their last moments on earth, and of Dawn Hochsprung rushing to save the children of her school and towards the sound of gunfire.

The roll call of Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School:

  1. Charlotte Bacon, 6
  2. Rachel D’avino, 29
  3. Daniel Barden, 7
  4. Dawn Hochsprung, 47
  5. Olivia Engel, 6
  6. Anne Marie Murphy, 52
  7. Josephine Gay, 7
  8. Lauren Rousseau, 30
  9. Ana-Marquez-Greene, 6
  10. Mary Sherlach, 56
  11. Madeline Hsu, 6
  12. Victoria Soto, 27
  13. Dylan Hockley, 6
  14. Catherine Hubbard, 6
  15. Chase Kowalski, 7
  16. Jesse Lewis, 6
  17. James Mattioli, 6
  18. Grace McDonnell, 7
  19. Emile Parker, 6
  20. Jack Pinto, 6
  21. Noah Pozner, 6
  22. Caroline Previdi, 6
  23. Jessica Rekos, 6
  24. Avielle Richman, 6
  25. Benjamin Wheeler, 6
  26. Allison Wyatt, 6

*By Admiral Chester B Nimitz in characterizing the sailors and marines who fought on Iwo Jima, 1944, in World War II.

Bitter irony in Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre

Bitter irony in Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre

The indescribable agony of the people Newtown, Connecticut, in the wake of the horrible events of Friday are compounded by the knowledge that theirs is a community characterized by most as at once bucolic and safe. A place where violent crime is non-existent and criminal wrongdoing of any sort is rare.

Why then did the mother of Adam Lanza, the alleged perpetrator, have an arsenal of firearms? According to the latest reports, in addition to two semi-automatic handguns and a semi-automatic rifle recovered at the scene of the slaughter of young innocents, the police found other weapons in the Lanza home.

Which begs the question: if Newtown is as safe and secure as seems to be the case, a wonderful place to raise children in fact, why then did Lanza’s mother purchase an arsenal of firearms? Was she an avid fan of recreational shooting who visited gun ranges? Or did she simply feel safer with a bunch of handguns and rifles about the place? And how well were these weapons secured in the home – if at all?

This blog has advocated stronger gun controls in the past and believes we could benefit greatly from adopting more stringent Canadian-style regulations governing the ownership and storage of firearms.

The NRA is lying low at the moment as they always do in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. They will bide their time until emotions have cooled and then will launch their counterattack to the calls for stronger gun controls. The organization’s trained political lapdogs, mostly but not necessarily all Republicans, will be sent forth to mournfully express their sorrow at the events in Newtown but will opine that what we don’t need is more gun laws. They’ll be joined at the right moment by the NRA’s leading mouthpiece, Wayne LaPierre, who will yap on endlessly about how more gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy and what we really need is more armed citizens (maybe we should now lower the minimum age to five for owning a handgun?) to stop these events in their tracks. After all, if only the janitor had been packing a .357 magnum…

In this particular case, a Canadian-style requirement for firearms to be stored securely might have prevented this awful massacre. If Lanza’s mother had owned a secure safe for the storage of her weapons and if she knew that her son was struggling with anger or similar issues, she could have saved all those lives by simply locking her weapons away and hiding the key or combination from him. Best of all, of course, was if she had never purchased the guns in the first place.

And herein lays the great irony of this tragic event. The shooter’s mother had an arsenal of weapons that she clearly did not need for her safety, because Newtown is a safe community where people know one another, look out for each other. And now thanks to her son’s access to deadly weaponry, the name will be forever linked with one of the greatest, most heinous crimes in American history.

On the issue of guns, America has lost its perspective, its senses and its sanity – and now, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a precious group of its children and their courageous principal and teachers. May God give us the wisdom, the strength and the courage so that something good can still come from so much pain and anguish.