Question for gun owners

Since legislators are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing their jobs, I felt the need to pose the issue on better gun governance to gun owners. Doing nothing is obviously not the answer, although that seems to be the course too many advocate. My newspaper was kind enough to print the following letter to the editor, with a few edits. Please feel free to adapt and use if you concur.

“After yet another mass shooting in America (this time in my home town), in addition to three shootings over two days in Charlotte, doing nothing to address this issue is not working. I believe we can still honor 2nd Amendment rights and enact better gun governance. I have shared with legislators the suggestions that have majority support in the country. My question is for gun owners – what do you suggest we do to govern the ownership of a device designed to kill? We govern car ownership to keep the driver, passengers and others safe. Surely we can add better governance to gun ownership.”

Since I wrote this, there was another shooting incident in Charlotte this morning at an elementary school. Fortunately no one was hurt. Our law enforcement do a highly credible job, but stopping gun violence is extremely difficult in America.

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Not a damn thing

What a surprise, yet another shooting in America. This one occurred in my home town at a place where I have visited. That disappoints me, but is irrelevant. It can happen anywhere in a America and the legislators will do what they tend to do – not a damn thing.

As I was learning of the Jacksonville Landing shooting, I saw three more stories about shootings where I live now. To witness the magnitude of the problem, just count the gun death stories in the news for a month. Gun deaths happen everyday and you know what will be done about them – not a damn thing.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome. It could be said about continuing to do not a damn thing and expecting a different outcome. It is apparent doing little to nothing is not working. Shootings occur everywhere, but the numbers bear out the US is a far more dangerous place to be than the other top twenty-two nations in the world.

Gun deaths in America occur for many reasons – suicide leads the pack by far, but the reasons include incivility, immaturity, hate-crime, drug crime, accident, mental health, entertainment violence and alcohol. But, the constant in all of this is access to a gun. Guns do not kill people, people with access to guns kill people.

Until recently, with the kids and teens making an ongoing statement after the Parkland shooting, not much happened. Their efforts to speak out got the Florida legislature to act, but not much happened at the federal level. And, what Florda’s legislature did was a first step, but more is needed.

The kids get it. Too many adults in leadership positions are paid to do not a damn thing. We will hear many reasons over the next few days how a certain action will not prevent a certain shooting. That may be the specific case, but not doing a damn thing is obviously not working. We must act.

The NRA has spoken with its money and marketing efforts. I understand where they are coming from, although I disagree with them on a number of fronts. But, now let legislators go in a room with real data, law enforcement and behaviorial psychologists and come up with well-thought out solutions.

The first thing we must do is admit we have a problem. Easy access to guns is a problem. We govern driving a car, driving a  semi-truck, driving a boat, inspecting these vehicles, fishing, hunting, and marriage. We can at least govern the ownership of guns better than we are doing.

We need our legislators to do more than not a damn thing. If they do not, vote them out of office.

 

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?

 

 

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.