Let’s fix the larger gun death problems

Mass shootings are very tragic and heart wrenching. Homicides are also tragic. Yet, the biggest gun problem and another tangible and avoidable problem make up between 60% and 70% of annual gun deaths in America. The lion’s share of gun deaths in America are suicides. Last year, over 23,000 of the 38,000 plus gun deaths were suicides. This ratio is not unusual and tracks pretty well year in and year out.

The other much smaller, but more avoidable gun death problem is accidental shootings. And, tragically the ones doing the shooting or getting killed are children who come across a weapon. To lose a child is the worst nightmare I could possibly imagine. But, to lose one because you did not put away your gun, is even more traumatic. The gun owner has to live with the guilt. While accidental shootings are about 2% of gun deaths, they seem to be ones we should be able to avoid irrespective of one’s fervor for the 2nd Amendment.

After each mass shooting, there is concern registered by kids and parents about not letting this happen again. The people for and against more gun control go into camps with some saying now is not the time, while the others asking when is the time. I must give a huge amount of credit to the Parkland kids and others around the country who are forcing action. But, outside of a little lip service in Washington, nothing tangible happens. They may regret inaction come November.

These past few months, the barest of minimum change was done, but there was the President of the United States speaking before the NRA convention last week. He was the one who taunted Congress representatives for not standing up to the NRA. These were obviously just words, which we should be used to by now. With this said, I do give kudos to Florida who acted a little more demonstrably than DC.

To prevent more suicides, background checks on all sales with elongated waiting periods are needed. Doctors must be permitted to ask patients if there is a gun in the house as the propensity for suicide is much higher than one without. All it takes is an impulse and it is over. We must add more psychologists and counselors to schools. The greater gun risk is a depressed student taking his or her life. And, we should expand Medicaid in the remaining 18 states along with its mental health benefits.

As for the accidental shootings, the majority of states require guns to be locked up at home, but why do not all states have such a requirement? I have shared this before, but I asked my father-in-law to lock up his weapon, as I did not want his grandkids around a loaded weapon. He did so. One idea that has merit is requiring a finger printed trigger, where only the owner can use the weapon.

Please note that none of the above speaks of taking weapons away. These steps would help reduce the number of suicides and accidental shootings. Even if the number is only 100, 500 or 1,000, those are lives saved. Isn’t this what it’s all about?

 

 

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I am evidence – real sexual assault cases are lagging

One of the longest running shows on American television is “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit” starring Mariska Hargitay and a terrific ensemble cast. The SVU investigates and hopefully solves heinous sex crimes in New York City. Unfortunately, real life SVUs are woefully understaffed, underfunded and behind.

It is not ironic that Hargitay has co-produced with co-director Trish Adlesic a documentary film called “I am evidence,” which focuses on efforts to remedy a US backlog of over 200,000 untested rape kits. That is not a misprint. The film is co-directed by Geeta Gandbhir and focuses on efforts in Detroit, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Only eight states require the testing of every rape kit – Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. This boggles my mind as women who have been sexually assaulted and beaten went to great pains to be tested after being raped.

Two of the focal points of the film are Wayne County (Detroit) Prosecutor Kym Worthy and a reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland named Rachel Dissell, who each brought attention to the backlogs in their two cities. With a spotlight on these travesties, gained funding and oversight, they are making huge headway in their local problems. But, it is more than local as many of the DNA samples have revealed serial rapists and repeat offenders  across state lines.

Many of these untested kits are ten years and more overdue. It also became clear by not testing these kits, more woman were raped. One rapist was a truck driver who raped many women across the country for years. And, in one chilling example, one serial rapist would abduct, hold, abuse and kill his victims. When arrested, the police found multiple women’s bodies in his home. One of the victims was able to escape an earlier abduction.

Letting the previous paragraph sink in will likely make you ill. The scarcity of resources is appalling. It also led to a prioritization of cases often based on race and notoriety of the victim. Worthy noted rape kits should be tracked, since these victims went to a lot of effort and remained unclean for hours as they were subject to tissue and semen sampling and verbal examination. One women said she was made to feel guilty as she answered questions – why were you there at that time, eg?

Worthy noted “If you can track a package when you order something from Amazon, then certainly you should be able to track a victim’s rape kit through the criminal justice system.” Is that too much to ask?

The good news is the progress that is being made. It is never too late and it goes without saying lives are being saved, some dignity restored to the victims and future rapes can be avoided. Please download “I am evidence,” and watch this important film. We owe it to the current and potential victims. And, as one oversight committee member noted, the success rate on testing the kits made every dime well spent as the DNA data leads to convictions and takes a rapist off the streets.

 

Knife wielding suspect subdued (and lives)

The title gives the climax away, but that is not the whole story. A man wielding two knives was threatening people in the halls of his apartment complex.

Three police officers showed up and told the man they had a taser and asked him to put down the knives. After a lengthy discussion and pleas, one officer moved toward the man who lunged at the officer and was tased. Remarkably, the man kept trying to knife the officer, who was able to avoid getting stabbed. The man was taking away to face a court date and jail time.

There are two other keys to this story. It was in Australia, not the US. In Charlotte last year, a man wielding a knife was shot dead by police with nine shots. I understand police have a difficult job, but the eagerness and frequency in which assailants are shot seems much higher here on the US. Plus, the number of shots stymies me – nine, eleven, sixteen shots are too representative.

The other issue worth noting is the man was white. I often use the story of how a 65 year old white man was disarmed by Detroit police after an hour conversation. Tamir Rice, an adolescent black boy, was killed within two seconds due to the toy gun he was carrying. Why? Why is there such haste to unload a weapon when the alleged perpetrator is black?

We must do better at addressing these issues. The police are doing a hard job, made harder as they don’t know who is packing heat and what firepower such heat has. I believe this adds even more tension to any police encounter where there is uncertainty. And, race plays a huge factor. Another black man was gunned down at a Walmart by police yesterday.

We cannot overtrain police at identifying threats and de-escalating tense situations. And, we must treat every shooting like the pilots investigate crashes. We must be transparent and learn how to avoid poor or hasty decisions. Other western countries do not have our overall and police gun death rates. We must do better.

Saturday is a good day for a march

Saturday is a big day for teens and young adults who will be showing what democracy looks like. A crowd larger than the inauguration attendees is expected to protest gun violence and advocate for change. Whether you agree with their position, which I support, you have to admire their resolve.

Change is difficult, especially when those who hold the playing cards are sponsored by an entity who does not want any. But, the majority of Americans want change, so we shall see what transpires. The legislators in Florida deserve credit for a first step. The ones in DC did as little as possible in the spending bill which included some lower hanging fruit.

With that said, one of pieces of fruit was something that should have been done all along and that is funding the CDC to measure gun deaths, which has not been done for twenty years. You cannot measure success of initiatives if you don’t measure anything.

Join me in applauding these kids for raising their voices. And, to use a favorite line uttered after gun massacres with a subtle change, “my thoughts and prayers are with the legislators as they look for that misplaced moral compass.”

Trying to solve that gun death thing

I am hopeful, but not optimistic that tangible change will be enacted by Congress to reduce the risk of gun deaths in America. The kids who are protesting have already brought on some change with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger announcing changes on gun sales policy and other companies eliminating discounts offered NRA members.

If change occurs it will likely be the result of the retailers paving the way and dragging Congress along. What we may end up seeing is something like integrated background checks and an age 21 restriction on assault weapons. We may see some funding for more security in schools. While these changes would help,  they are not near enough to help reduce most gun deaths and respond to what the significant majority of Americans want per repeated surveys. Here are a few thoughts:

– Let’s start with data and ask the CDC to track gun death data, which has been forbidden by Congress since the late 1990s. Then, we can measure progress of various initiatives.

– Next, we can ask for background checks on all gun transactions which should be a given since most Americans favor this. Plus, if someone is credibly reported on by a reasonable number of concerned citizens and a potential problem is deemed possible, the police must be able to seize weapons while more indepth review is undertaken via a legal process.

– Next, we could have an elongated waiting period, again favored by most Americans. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicide, with suicide being the top reason for gun death in most states. Waiting a few more days will hopefully reduce impulsive suicides and may flag something.

– Then, we can address the mental health aspects. We could start by changing the law passed by Congress last year adding mentally disabled Social Security recipients to the eligible gun rolls. We could stabilize the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act and encourage Medicaid expansion both which have mental health benefits. We could also add funding for more school counsellors and psychologists which many states pulled back on. This could go part and parcel with funding more security in schools.

– Finally, we could reduce accidental deaths with more required training and finger printed triggers, so kids won’t do damage with weapons they find.

Personally, I would ban all assault weapons and bump stocks, but that is a hard sell in America.  I would not arm teachers as the solution to school gun deaths is not introducing 700,000 weapons to campuses, which would increase risk and not solve a problem. Shooting at someone shooting back at you is not something many are up to, especially if outgunned and in a chaotic environment. Let’s add security staff and measures.

Whatever we do, we must holistically addresses all gun deaths. I did not touch on poverty, drug industry, entertainment violence and lack of civility that cause gun violence. But, we must invest in these areas. What do you think? Am I off base? Do you have other ideas?

You see something, say something only works…

It is hard to get involved when it could be indicting of someone. But, we are encouraged to do so, if we see looming danger, a threat to many people. The term often used is “if you see something, say something.”

On several occasions the last year or so, people called in to local or federal officials to register concern over the mass murderer who killed seventeen students in Parkland, Florida. Some even explicitly noted they feared he would shoot up a school. Yet, only a modicum of steps were taken.

Law enforcement needs to recognized how hard it is to get involved. It is harder when the possible backlash of the person being accused exists. I realize we have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. With that said, the specificity and rationale for the concerns had veracity.

As people dole out reasons and look for single answer solutions for these and other kinds of gun deaths, we must understand how the holes in the Swiss cheese aligned to let a killer pass through.

Finally, we should recognize that 2/3 of all 30,000 plus annual gun deaths in America are suicides. We must look at all reasons for gun deaths (not just the mass shooting of the month) to craft good solutions to make us safer, including better governing the requirements to get and own a weapon. So, if someone takes the time to call a law enforcement or social worker official with concern over a person who is a threat to themselves or others, please exhaust all means of investigation and make sure we have resources where most effective. Otherwise, people may die.

 

When adults act like kids and kids like adults

I am so proud of the teens and young adults who are leading the charge for better gun governance. I have long been advocating for such and am in a constant state of disbelief that legislators fail to act.

The best quote came from a teen being interviewed on PBS Newshour when she said “When the adults act like kids and the kids like adults, then something is wrong.”

The sad truth is many of these adults are in the pockets of the NRA who dictate their response. It is largely a Republucan stance, but the NRA funds some Democrats as well.

What I also don’t care for are the conspiracy nuts like Alex Jones, Rush Limbbaugh et all who purposefully detract from genuine concerns calling these kids actors and staged. We should not lose sight of Jones’ continual claim that Sandy Hook is a hoax. This is an egregious misuse of a license to communicate online and both need to be called on the carpet.

The kids have to push for change as well as deal with these so called adults questioning their veracity. That is a shame, as these kids should be applauded. I must confess I am not one who would encourage applause for either Limbaugh, Jones and their ilk.

Right now, these kids are rightfully calling attention to the legislators’ conflict of interest. They are on the side of the Angels on this.

We should consider solutions that address the holistic nature of the problem. Rather than highlight what should be considered as I have done in multiple posts, I would like to simply say these kids should be heard and heeded.

If the politicians fail to do so or respond with window dressing, they do so at their peril.