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?




Time to stop trying to keep your job and start doing your job

Whether it is a national or state legislative position, the money needed to get elected is obscene. It also has corrupted the ability for politicians to focus on doing their job, as they spend far too much time trying to keep their jobs. And, in politics, that means doing what your funders beckon more so than what makes sense to do or what your constituents want you to do. The only time politicians will come close to doing the right thing is when something bad has happened or they are shamed or threatened by industry.

In the case of gun deaths, we apparently cannot have enough bad things happen to get Congress or the various state general assemblies to act like adults and parents. They are so scared of the NRA (and their ability to bring fervent folks out to vote when more reasonable sit home), they will not do obvious things that would move us down the right path. Not only are they scared of the NRA, they court the NRA asking what is on its wish list that will facilitate the greater sale of guns in America. What many fail to realize, is the NRA does not represent most gun owners who responsibly own weapons and would like to see common sense gun laws implemented.

Per a Pew survey, 81% of Americans want background checks on all purchases of weapons. This same survey also notes that elongated waiting periods would also be desirable by more than not. These numbers jive with a survey conducted by Elon University two years ago. Note, neither of these changes would infringe upon the perceived  sacrosanct right for someone to own two dozen AK47s. What these surveys are saying is gun ownership is OK, but let’s make sure we know where the guns are, who owns them and maybe who should not.

Critics will say that won’t stop the gun violence. Well, neither will doing nothing. There are responsible gun owners who have joined with others to support common sense gun laws. I recognize this is more than a gun issue. We need to treat people with more civility in disagreement, we need to be mindful of the role poverty and crime play in gun deaths, we need to understand that some mental illnesses should preclude the right to own a gun due to the number of suicides that occur each year (more on that below) and we cannot underestimate the role training plays, so kids cannot get access to weapons.

The greater tragedies in America are not the mass shootings. The greater tragedies are what happen everyday. Pick up any newspaper in any city on any day and count the number of gun death or shooting stories. Google “six-year-old shoots four-year-old” and count the stories. But, even those do not do justice to the greater tragedies that happen everyday. You see the number one reason for gun deaths in America is suicide with two-thirds of the approximate 33,000 annual gun deaths due to this reason.

In North Carolina, we wanted to make it a crime for a doctor to ask if a patient has a gun. Let’s say this doctor is prescribing medicine for depression. And, someone thought it was a good idea to make it against the law to ask if he or she owns a gun. In our state, we made it easier for guns to be on playgrounds, in bars and on college campuses. Go in any college counseling building and see the line of people being helped. The propensity for depression is higher on college campuses than in general society, since kids expect it to be nirvana and it is not. Folks, all it takes is one impulsive act and your child is dead.

And, to illustrate further the NRA’s reach, the House just passed a law to not fund gun death studies. Our Speaker of the House noted guns are not a disease and need not be studied. With 22,000 deaths per year by suicide, I would call that the final act of someone who has some depressive tendencies, which is a disease. I find this decision absolutely appalling and prima facie evidence of the undue influence of the NRA. God forbid we study why Americans are needlessly dying.

To be brutally frank, we can still support the Second Amendment rights without being foolish. And, we need not pass laws that are dubious the day they are announced. Responsible gun owners agree with non-gun owners on this issue as evidenced by the survey data and advocacy group participation. So, legislators please do your job and worry less about keeping your job. As very little useful legislation comes from focusing on the latter motivation.

As a white man with a few years under his belt

I wrote recently about context being lost in the discussion about Ferguson and the many other cities where dark-skinned males were killed by uniformed officers. I mentioned it is difficult for a white man, like myself, to understand what a black man goes through on what should be more routine occurrences. But, let me start with what I do know. As a white man, I have witnessed if I dress cleanly and neatly, I pretty much can go anywhere I please and not be questioned. The older I have gotten makes it easier as I look I am above-board in today’s society. Even if I look less than my best, I am typically not viewed as a threat, even when stopped by a patrolman.

The converse is true for a black man. Many black men of wealth and success have written when they are stopped today by a patrolman, even if well dressed, the thought that they need to move very deliberately comes to the forefront of their minds. The thought that this might be the last thing I do on earth comes to mind. I wrote recently about the example of a successful black man dressed for a funeral was stopped and treated as a potential felon. Black men or youth who are not clean-cut do not stand a chance at being treated fairly. They are profiled before they open their mouths.

Being profiled places a law officer on an alert status. As a result, they may be more prone to act with violence to apprehend a suspect. There is a predisposition to act. This is where the training needs to come in – how do I remain alert, without thinking violence is an inevitable action. Leonard Pitts, the national columnist who writes for the Miami Herald, noted a comparison to an older white man who was threatening people with a rifle. Over 45 minutes, the officers talked him into giving up his weapon. In Cleveland, a twelve-year-old black boy with a stun gun was killed inside of two minutes.

Think about that for a few minutes. That is context for why black men and women feel there is unfair treatment in the eyes of the law. They do because there is. And, that is what needs to change.

Only women bleed

If you were around in the 1970s, the name Alice Cooper conjures up a mental image of a hard rock star, who was one of the first performance artists. Yet, he also wrote and performed numerous hit songs. One of his more out of character songs is a poignant and troubling tribute to women who live a life they did not envision called “Only Women Bleed” which he wrote with Dick Wagner. Below are most of the lyrics, being shortened where he repeats the chorus.

Man’s got his woman to take his seed
He’s got the power – oh
She’s got the need
She spends her life through pleasing up her man
She feeds him dinner or anything she can

She cries alone at night too often
He smokes and drinks and don’t come home at all
Only women bleed
Only women bleed
Only women bleed

Man makes your hair gray
He’s your life’s mistake
All you’re really lookin’ for is an even break

He lies right at you
You know you hate this game
He slaps you once in a while and you live and love in pain

She cries alone at night too often
He smokes and drinks and don’t come home at all
Only women bleed
Only women bleed
Only women bleed (repeat)

Black eyes all of the time
Don’t spend a dime
Clean up this grime
And you there down on your knees begging me please come
Watch me bleed

Only women bleed
Only women bleed
Only women bleed (repeat)

I write this song today as the suspension of Ray Rice, the football player who decked his then fiancé and now wife, was overturned yesterday. I have written before that domestic violence happens far too often in our country (and world) and we look the other way. It starts as a control issue, where the man (almost always) exerts undue power and influence over his significant other. Eventually, it can lead to violence. And, it is not unusual for the woman to hide it from others, as she is ashamed. There is also an esteem issue, where victimized women feel they deserve this maltreatment.

The song’s lyrics speak to the lack of self-esteem. Women will continue in such a relationship, even when they end up bleeding or beaten black and blue. If you are in such a relationship, please get out now, especially if you have children. If you know or sense a friend or family member is in such a relationship, provide a voice and suggest where she can get help. He will not change. He will say he will, but he will not. He will eventually put you or your children in the hospital and could kill you. Please get out now, as that is the only antidote.

The agency I volunteer with for homeless families gets about 30% of its single female parent families as a result of domestic violence. They are referred to us from a domestic violence shelter for families. There are places that can help. I have shared the story of a friend who along with his siblings had no idea their brother-in-law was beating their sister until he killed her. He also beat the children. I have not shared that I had a neighbor who knocked on our door one night with her daughter, getting away from her husband who had beaten her for the last time.

Women, you deserve better than to be maltreated like this. Your children deserve better than to be maltreated like this. Get out. Get some help. And, if I have not convinced you, re-read Cooper and Wagner’s lyrics above. Only women bleed.

Domestic violence is nothing to play around with

The Ray Rice story is making the rounds the past twenty-four hours with his release from the Baltimore Ravens after a video showing him punching out his wife and then dragging her from an elevator. The National Football League denies having seen the video before, but now that it is in the public domain, moved quickly to suspend him. Rice’s wife Janay has blamed the media for causing her husband’s demise, which is unfortunate, but not unusual for the domestic violence victim to make excuses for her perpetrator. It is also not uncommon for the victim to blame themselves, because the perpetrator has told them such in an exercise to control. I feel for her and wish her friends will give her advice that I note below.

The sad truth is domestic violence is more than just the violent acts. It is one person controlling or dictating his power on another weaker person who lacks self-esteem. The violence tends to manifest itself at some point, but often it is demeaning put downs that are part and parcel with the equation. The victim’s esteem is so low, she blames herself and makes excuses for her perpetrator. If there are children around, they will normally be included in the violence. And, children who have experienced domestic violence will be prone to be involved in domestic violence as an adult, as a perpetrator or victim.

The other sad truth is the perpetrator will not be prone to change. He may say he will, but he will invariably fall back on bad habits. He may say he is sorry and he loves you, but that will be an echoing refrain each time. He is truly a powder keg waiting to explode. And, he will again and again. So, if you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, get out or help them get out. He will not change.

Rather than cite statistics, let me repeat a story I have told before about a friend. He came from a big Catholic family of several brothers and sisters. None of the siblings including my friend had any idea one of their sisters was being beaten by her husband. None of them had any idea that the outings she missed were due to her wanting to save face for her family and hide her cuts, bruises and broken bones. None of them knew until one day the husband killed their sister. What they found out later is he also beat his children, often taking the boys and banging their heads into the ceiling when they misbehaved in his eyes.

I feel greatly for Janay Rice, but someone needs to tell her to get out. And, to repeat what I said before, if you are in such a relationship, get out. If you know someone is such a relationship, help them get out.

Two excellent posts about this issue can be found with the following links. The first is by Hugh Curtler on the NFL’s possible cover up of the issue. The other by Diatribes and Ovations on an open letter to Janay Rice.





A few interesting gun tidbits

Last week, the state of Georgia decided it would become the wild west and allow guns pretty much anywhere. I am being facetious, but only to a certain extent. Unfortunately, Georgia is also the site of the terrible shooting at a Federal Express location that killed several people earlier this week. One did not lead to the other, but the irony is significant and unfortunate. I have written numerous posts regarding my concerns and those of reasonable gun owners, that we need to make some changes to make sure guns are in the hands of people who can exhibit responsibility and accountability.

If you did not see the article on investing entitled “10 Things the Gun Industry won’t Tell You,” I would encourage you to read it. Attached is a link to this brief piece:: http://money.msn.com/investing/10-things-the-gun-industry-wont-tell-you

A few highlights from the article would include a few statistics from reputable sources:

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the US has 85 gun deaths per day for a tally of 31,000 per year. This is highest rate of gun deaths among developed countries.

– In the January Journal of Annals of Internal Medicine, it is noted that people who live in a house where a firearm is present, the rate of suicide is 3 x the rate in households without a gun. The rate of a homicide in a house where a firearm is present is 2 x the rate of homicide in homes without.

I wanted to highlight those three data points because I think they speak volumes. In earlier posts, I have noted other data points that paint a similar picture. The gun death problem in America is primarily not the mass shootings, like the unfortunate Federal Express shooting of yesterday or the second Foot Hood tragedy of a few weeks ago. The greater tragedy in America is what happens every day. It is those 85 gun deaths per day that occur. It is the fact that we by far tally the most children and teen gun deaths in the world.  It is these accidental and intentional shootings around kids and done by kids as young as two years old, that break your heart.

As I have noted before, gun deaths are due to a multitude of problems and it will take a comprehensive effort to remedy the issue. It is a mental health issue. It is a crime issue. It is a poverty issue. It is a drug issue. It is an entertainment violence issue. It is an inability to have civil discourse or disagreement. But, make no mistake, it is also an access to gun issue. I know guns don’t kill people. It is people with access to guns that kill people.

With the data overwhelmingly showing Americans, including Republicans, want better gun laws, it is criminal that Congress will not act. It is also criminal that some states have loosened access and expanded places to carry guns, like Georgia and my own state of North Carolina. Carrying a loaded weapon into a bar or near kids on a playground is terribly unwise. Guns, testosterone and alcohol don’t mix. And, if you Google 6-year-old shoots 4-year-old, you will note that kids and guns don’t mix either. Plus, having guns on college campuses is not a great idea as the propensity for depression is higher in college students than that of general society.

But, what frustrates me is Congress and these states do not care what we think. They are so beholden to the NRA and a passionate army of gun fans, that they dare not make them mad. I heard earlier this week, that the NRA fans are a distributed base of fervent people. So, it is far easier for them to exude their passion in local and state races and legislation. That does not make them right, it just shows how adroit and powerful they are.

Every proposed law I have seen does not alter the constitutionally interpreted right to own a gun. It just speaks to extended background checks and waiting period. There have been proposals to limit rounds of ammunition and they should also get serious attention. However, there is another data point in the above article worth noting – 31% of the revenue of gun makers is ammunition. Money talks and right now, it is the only thing talking. Folks, it is long past time for better gun laws. And, they need to be more than just that. Listen to responsible gun owners and less to the NRA, so that we can make decisions like parents should.


Another Gun Death in America – x year old kills z year old

Here is a fill in the blank headline which will make it easier for the reporter to insert the single digit age of the shooter and victim. If you need more than one digit for the shooter or victim, you can modify as needed. Two days ago, we had yet another gun tragedy where a child came across a loaded gun. But, these are not headlines anymore as they happen too often – here is only a small sample.

Arizona  – two days ago: A surprise visit to a friend’s home with his young son on Friday ended up being a deadly decision for Justin Stanfield Thomas. The 35-year-old Army Special Forces veteran and former Green Beret was shot dead by his 4-year-old, who police say found an unsecured gun in the living room of the friend’s home.

Kentucky – April 2013: A 5-year-old boy accidentally shot his 2-year-old sister to death in rural southern Kentucky with a rifle he had received as a gift last year, authorities said. The children’s mother was home at the time of the shooting Tuesday afternoon but had stepped out to the front porch for a few minutes and “she heard the gun go off,” Cumberland County Coroner Gary White said. He said the rifle was kept in a corner and the family didn’t realize a bullet was left inside it.

New Jersey – April 2013: A 6-year-old New Jersey boy has died after being shot in the head by a 4-year-old playmate as their parents stood in the yard nearby, a local police chief said. Brandon Holt was pronounced dead at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, according to Toms River police Chief Michael Mastronardy.

Minnesota – December 2012:  A 4-year-old boy playing with a handgun apparently shot and killed his 2-year-old brother in their Minneapolis home Wednesday, police said. Police were called to the shooting at a town house in Minneapolis’ Riverside neighborhood just before 1 p.m. and found the 2-year-old with a critical gunshot wound. He died in an ambulance at the scene, police said.

Indiana – July 2011: A 4-year-old Cedar lake boy died Thursday after accidentally shooting himself and a 2-year-old Connersville boy died July 14 after being accidentally shot by his 5-year-old brother, police said. A 6-year-old Martinsville boy died June 30 after being shot by his 11-year old brother, officials said. In each case, officials said the children were able to gain access to a loaded deadly weapon inside their homes.

Huffington Post  – December 2012: Before 20 first-graders were massacred at school by a gunman in Newtown, Conn., first-grader Luke Schuster, 6, was shot to death in New Town, N.D. Six-year-olds John Devine Jr. and Jayden Thompson were similarly killed in Kentucky and Texas. Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, died in a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., while 6-year-old Kammia Perry was slain by her father outside her Cleveland home, according to an Associated Press review of 2012 media reports. Yet there was no gunman on the loose when Julio Segura-McIntosh died in Tacoma, Wash. The 3-year-old accidentally shot himself in the head while playing with a gun he found inside a car.

If you want to get further depressed, just Google “Four year old shoots two year old” and see the pages of stories that pop up. I pulled the above stories from that gaggle of Google results. I wanted names with these tragic and avoidable deaths. I have cited a statistic before that according to the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery and Medicine, of every 100 children and teen gun deaths in the Top 23 wealthiest nations, the US has 87 of the gun deaths. That means, the other 22 countries have 13 gun deaths.

In preparing for this article, I saw one from a website geared toward the Conservative Right that said children gun deaths were exaggerated as a problem in America. I am sorry, but these words offend me. My friend Momma E had a great post the other day,  http://dje1231.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/a-true-pro-life-stance/ , that said the GOP is not a pro-life party, they are a pro-birth party. There is a huge difference. Among other things, you cannot stand by and witness these children or any gun deaths and say it is not a problem. What good does it do to promote life before birth, but let kids gain access to guns? That is the ultimate contradiction.

Irrespective of what the NRA says, we are well past the tipping point. Responsible gun owners agree. 90% of Americans want background checks. We should not stop there. We need recurring background checks on all transactions, even if no money changes hands. We need mandatory training for use and storage of a weapon. We need highly restrictive usage of assault weapons and magazines. We need to register bullets as the police force wants to do this to solve crimes.

The NRA is right on the first part of the famous phrase, but wrong on the second part – guns don’t kill people; people with access to guns kill people. But, even worse, children with access to guns kill other children and adults. The time has come. We need adults and parents to start making decisions expected of them. The constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness overrides everything else in the document and please note that life is listed first If our leaders do not value the lives of our children, then they truly do not deserve to remain in office as they are sentencing our young to die for no damn reason. By the way, according to the Children Defense Fund, over 125,000 children and teens have died in gun deaths in the US since 1979. That is not an exaggeration.