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“The Guns We Don’t Talk About”: The One On The Nightstand Whose Most Likely Victim Is Yourself Or Someone You Love

It was a good day to die.

In early September 2003, I spent the morning shuffling my children off to school, used our last 10 dollars to put gas in the tank, folded a basket of laundry, and tidied up the tiny motel room we lived in. And then, I went to my car and pulled the small, .22 caliber revolver from the locked glove compartment.

I sat in the dimly lit room—for minutes or hours, I do not know—surrounded by the remains of my life, haunted by a broken marriage that was nearly 10 years gone, a failed business, a pile of overdue utility bills, and a string of eviction notices. We were living, if you could call it that, on $150 a week in child support and a few hundred dollars each month in food stamps. What was left of our furniture was in storage, paid for by our church benevolent fund. There had been two flat tires, but no job interviews that week. The weekly motel rent was due again and there wasn’t a dime left on my credit card to cover it.

I placed my gun on the bed and kneeled down on the carpet to pray. I listed my complaints and my failings. “Father, help me.”

I remember feeling tired when I turned on my old desktop computer, logged in to AOL, and started to type out what I intended to be a final message to family and a few close friends. “I want to thank you,” I started.

I sat there a while longer, realizing there was nothing I really wanted to say, until an instant message popped up on the screen.

“Hi, Mom! How are you?”

“Hey, Katie Lady…”

“I’m in the computer lab and guess what?”

“What is it sweetie?”

“I won the election!”

“That’s great, honey.”

“I’ll see you after school!”

“See you then…”

Tonight, as the country continues a national conversation on gun control, I am thinking about my old gun. I purchased it and two others over the years. They were handguns, bought legally, as a means of personal protection.

Each year, there are some 30,000 victims of gun violence in the U.S. Nearly half of those deaths come at the hands of another. Whether it is the Bushmaster that cuts down a classroom of schoolchildren, an assault-style weapon used to carry out a massacre in a church basement or a movie theater, or one of the thousands of cheap, illegal handguns that flood our streets, gun violence continues to capture national headlines. When we talk about gun control, invariably we are talking about those guns.

We don’t talk about the gun in the nightstand. We don’t talk about the one in the lockbox in the top of a bedroom closet. We don’t talk about the one, like mine, secured in the glove compartment of a car.

And even when we do discuss mental health as a factor, we rarely—if ever—mention the nearly 15,000 Americans who commit suicide each year. When we talk about expanding access to mental health care, we mean for the mass shooter who wipes out an entire kindergarten class. We mean for the loner who walks into a movie theater and shoots indiscriminately into the darkness. We mean for the man who targets a Planned Parenthood clinic.

We don’t mean the uninsured, unemployed, single mother battling depression, who begs the heavens for a reprieve.

The president has proposed a myriad of solutions, including expanded background checks. Taken together, his planned executive actions may work to dampen the tide of guns. Closing the so-called gun show loophole may hamper a straw-purchaser’s ability to buy firearms in a state like Indiana and later sell them on the streets of Chicago.

I lost my father and two brothers to gun violence and all were killed with illegal handguns that were used in other crimes. Growing up, it was all too easy to get a gun in our neighborhood in East St. Louis. Placing reasonable restrictions on the most dangerous consumer product on the market isn’t a violation of the Second Amendment. It’s common sense.

However, in this country, suicides outnumber homicides almost two to one. We should not forget that when an individual owns a gun they are more likely to kill themselves and/or someone they love. Survival rates among those who attempt suicide by other means, such as a pill overdose or hanging, are higher than for those who use a gun. It is no accident that states where guns are most prevalent also report higher suicide rates. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, people who live in homes with firearms are two to three times more likely to be murder victims or commit suicide.

We can debate the notion that more “good guys with guns” is the answer to violent crime or if the cast of solutions proposed by the president will make a difference in practice. There are no easy answers. But we should try everything within the confines of the Constitution if it will make it harder for criminals to stockpile guns. We should impose more meaningful barriers to high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire weaponry, if it means curtailing a mass shooter’s ability to slaughter and maim. If it means more children will be safe walking to school in America, that people can enjoy a prayer service at church or join their family for a night at the movies, we should do it. Maybe, as Chicago’s Father Pfleger suggested during tonight’s town hall on CNN, we should “title” guns like we title cars.

Tonight’s broadcast focused almost solely on the potential for homicide, with little or no conversation about the thousands of people who take their own lives each year. But, make no mistake: A self-inflicted gunshot wound is an act of violence.

My oldest daughter Katie was in the eighth grade the day I decided to die and I know that her message saved my life. That year, she would go on to be valedictorian of her graduating class and give an incredible speech at the ceremony. Today, she is an Ivy League alum, an extraordinary schoolteacher, and expecting her first child this fall.

When we talk about gun violence we almost always focus on the criminal aspects, and forget the public health questions. We forget that there are thousands of gunshot victims who die by their own hand. The president briefly broached the topic, saying that while the majority of young homicide victims are black or Latino, the overwhelming majority of suicides by young people are white. If we are to truly host a national conversation about gun violence and commit ourselves to real solutions, we cannot forget the people who die alone in the dark. They rarely make the news and, like tonight, too little attention is paid to their pain.

I am grateful for this life, thankful for my children who are now taking the world on their own terms. I cannot wait to hold my second grandchild. Too many Americans will miss moments like these.

We can do something about that.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, January 8, 2016

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns, Suicide | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“An Inept Congress”: Two Years After Aurora, Where’s The Gun Reform?

It’s been two years since the tragic Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, which killed 12 people and injured 70. But although many politicians, including President Obama, vowed that the nation would finally do something to strengthen gun regulations, Congress still hasn’t passed a single gun control law since. In fact, Congress hasn’t passed any major gun reform since 1994’s Assault Weapons Ban, which expired 10 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that nothing has changed, however. Months later, after the Newtown elementary school shooting in December 2012, the president set up a task force to address the issue. He promised to send Congress proposals for strengthening gun control, and he urged lawmakers to ban assault weapons, pass a universal background check law, and limit high-capacity ammunition clips.

He then signed 23 executive orders into law in January 2013. These included reducing barriers to background checks, researching the causes of gun violence, and improving mental health services. As Forbes explained at the time, “It does not appear that any of the executive orders would have any impact on the guns people currently own – or would like to purchase – and that all proposals regarding limiting the availability of assault weapons or large ammunition magazines will be proposed for congressional action.”

In other words, Congress still needed to act. In April 2013, the Senate voted to expand the background check system, a reform that 90 percent of Americans supported. But the amendment failed to to gain the 60 votes it needed to advance, due to pressure from the National Rifle Association and the lack of support from some red-state Democrats such as North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp.

President Obama called the vote “a shameful day in Washington.”

Obama took two more executive actions in August 2013. He banned military weapons that the United States had sold or given to allies from being imported back into the country. These weapons, however, are rarely used at crime scenes.

The president also attempted to close a loophole that allows felons and anyone else who can’t legally purchase a gun to register firearms to a corporation. The new rule requires anyone associated with that corporation to go through a background check. But that rule only applies to guns regulated under the National Firearms Act, which only regulates very deadly weapons such as machine guns.

Meanwhile, Congress still hasn’t passed any major gun legislation. The only step in the right direction was in May 2014, when the House passed an amendment that would increase funding for the country’s background check system.

In June, 163 House Democrats wrote an open letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), asking him to allow a vote on legislation to address gun violence. If he doesn’t allow a vote, it could resurface as a major issue in the midterms.

Even though there hasn’t been substantive national action to reduce gun violence, some states have taken gun control into their own hands.

Colorado’s state legislature passed laws that required universal background checks and limited gun magazines to 15 rounds of ammunition. Two Democratic state senators were recalled shortly thereafter, in an effort that was heavily supported by the NRA.

New York also passed new gun control and mental health laws. Other states have improved their background check systems, limited magazine capacity, and worked to prevent the mentally ill from accessing guns.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 64 laws have strengthened state gun regulations since the Newtown shootings, and 70 laws have weakened them.

 

By: Rachel Witkin, The National Memo, July 18, 2014

July 19, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie Vetoes Another Gun-Safety Measure”: It’s A Real Shame To See What Some Republicans Will Do In Advance Of A GOP Primary

In early 2013, not long after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) endorsed a series of gun reforms, including a ban on .50-cabliber weapons, saying there was no need for consumers to purchase these kinds of firearms. It was a sensible point – .50-cabliber weapons fire ammunition the size of carrots, have the capacity to pierce steel plate armor from several hundred yards away, and can even shoot down airplanes.

But when New Jersey’s Democratic legislature approved a ban on .50-cabliber weapons, Christie vetoed the bill. The pandering to the Republican Party’s far-right base had begun.

It’s an ongoing exercise.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a gun control bill on Wednesday that would have banned magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate called the restriction of the number of bullets “trivial,” and denied such a limit could prevent future mass shootings.

“Mass violence will not end by changing the number of bullets loaded into a gun,” Christie said in his veto message.

Well, no, of course not. But the point isn’t to end mass violence with one gun-safety reform; the point is to potentially reduce the number of casualties the next time a gunman goes on a rampage.

The governor must have some basic understanding of this, making his statement a classic example of willful ignorance.

I’ve never really understood why limits on high-capacity gun magazines are a problem for so many Republicans. These limits aren’t unconstitutional; they don’t affect hunters; and they don’t prevent Americans from buying firearms to protect themselves.

They might, however, help take the “mass” out of “mass shootings.” So what’s the problem? Other than the NRA telling Republicans that all reforms are bad reforms?

There’s some evidence that the shooter in Newtown paused to reload during the massacre. Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son Dylan was killed, said last year, “We have learned that in the time it took him to reload in one of the classrooms, 11 children were able to escape. We ask ourselves every day – every minute – if those magazines had held 10 rounds, forcing the shooter to reload at least six more times, would our children be alive today?”

It’s against this backdrop that Chris Christie vetoed a measure to limit magazine capacity, saying, “I will not support such a trivial approach to the sanctity of human life, because this is not governing.”

I haven’t the foggiest idea what that even means. What’s “trivial” about limiting magazine capacity in an attempt to save lives? If it’s “not governing,” what is it?

It’s a real shame to see what some Republicans have to do in advance of a GOP primary.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 3, 2014

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Too Complacent About American Bloodbaths”: Reasonable Laws Could Solve Shooting Rampages

Last week’s horror at the Washington Navy Yard barely interrupted the stale political chatter, the dueling poll-tested messages, the sensational reports on the latest celebrity divorce or stint in rehab. While the newest mass shooting did preoccupy reporters for a couple of days, its import — at least judged in headlines and cable hours — quickly faded.

It was just another day of horrifying gun violence in America. The public has grown inured to the death toll, complacent about the destruction. If 20 dead babies at Sandy Hook didn’t move us to act, well, what will? When will the United States recover from this insanity — this sense that we cannot or should not rein in guns?

The “rampage” shooting has become a feature of contemporary culture, a peculiarly American perversion. It occurs in a few other countries, but not with the frequency with which it strikes here. This sort of crime — this kind of atrocity — generally stars an angry and deranged man determined to take out his wrath on strangers before going out in a blaze of glory. And there has been a troubling uptick in bloodbaths like this over the last decade.

The gun lobby would no doubt point out that, overall, gun violence has declined over the last several years. That’s true. As crime of all kinds has decreased, so have murders and assaults with firearms. But the “rampage” mass shooting has become more deadly even as more routine gun violence, the sort associated with monetary gain or personal revenge, has decreased.

Earlier this year, the Congressional Research Service issued a report, “Public Mass Shootings in the United States,” that catalogued 78 mass shootings between 1983 and 2012. They accounted for 547 deaths and an additional 476 injuries. The Washington Post has pointed out that half of the deadliest of those — Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Binghamton, Fort Hood and the Navy Yard — have occurred since 2007.

Experts have begun to focus, appropriately, on missed signals about the mental state of accused shooter Aaron Alexis, who told Rhode Island police officers that he was hearing voices. Certainly, the United States needs to do much better in providing mental health care to every citizen who needs it.

But it would be much more practical to focus on reining in guns. As any therapist would tell you, it’s very difficult to predict which patients may turn to violence. Alexis reportedly saw doctors at the Veterans Administration, but he told them he didn’t present a danger to anyone.

Sensible firearms measures would fill in the gap that our mental health system can’t straddle. Such limits would curb the bloodshed without infringing on the rights of any citizen who wants to hunt wild game or defend his home. Shouldn’t it be at least as difficult to get a firearm as it is for me to get a prescription for a sinus infection?

Take the simple matter of a waiting period. Alexis apparently purchased his pump-action shotgun two days before the massacre. With a few more days, various law enforcement and military entities may have pieced together his arrests for firearms violations and a report of his auditory hallucinations, which was apparently forwarded to naval authorities.

Other sensible measures — including a ban on high-capacity magazines — might not have deterred Alexis, but they would have curbed the violence from other shootings. And they would not infringe on the rights of the average gun owner. The Second Amendment does not espouse unlimited freedom to own the most dangerous firearms on the market.

Is the mass shooter the biggest crime problem remaining in America? By no means. But gun deaths are still a huge public health concern.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. will see more deaths from firearms than from car accidents by 2015.

Since the 1960s, we’ve made a series of law and policy changes that have reduced the carnage on our highways. We’ve done the opposite with firearms as various states have approved laws allowing guns in bars, parks and even churches.

That’s a recipe for more bloody rampages.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, September 21, 2013

September 22, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Motivated Fanatics”: The Gun Control Debate And Our Civic Life

I Googled the phrase “stack them in the streets” because I was searching for a historical reference from 1968. I ended up stumbling on something else: an article from the far-right site MinutemanNews.com explaining what was really going on with the gun debate in Congress:

Once cowed at the thought of provoking Second Amendment supporters, leftists will soon attempt to ban ‘assault weapons’ (and much more) as legislation offered by Diane Feinstein makes its way to the Senate floor…. Maybe Democrats are confident that fallout from Sandy Hook will provide the floor votes necessary to disarm the American people. But if the left is willing to risk picking this fight with millions of American gun owners, it must also believe something far more important—that Americans who have spent years arming themselves against the ultimate expression of tyranny by their own government—the overthrow of the Second Amendment—will choose to not fight when the time finally comes.

It is illustrated with a Che-like logo of a machine gun’s silhouette and the legend “COME AND TAKE IT”—a slogan, which is crucial to know about if you want to understand the contemporary right, that I wrote about here.

And then, at MinutemenNews.com came the 420 comments:

“…we will run them like the british to the shores and they better hope theres a boat waiting for them to take there ass to Europe with rest of the sheeple. If not, the sharks are be eating good that week. They better hope we deside to show mercy long enuff for them to get on planes or ships to leave the usa….”

“thats right there could be a lot of dead LEFTIST!!”

Stack them in the streets like cordwood. There’s no room for prisoners.”

“Take members of Congress prisoner and hold them hostage because it is reported that many Federal Depts have ordered millions of rounds of hollow points supposedly to hold off civil unrest and insurrection. How long does the left think these Federal employees will hold out if many members of Congress are held as hostages…”

“Not hostage—Citizen Arrest. Their vote will provide the wanted list and their confession.”

“HELL NO, GITMOIZE THEM!”

“Bad time to be a politician. Dibs on shooting/hanging the President.”

How relevant should this stuff be, you ask, to one’s ordinary political reflections and calculations? After all, how many people can possibly read MinutemenNews.com? Well, let’s investigate. Deploying the algorithm at Ranking.com (and allowing that there’s no easily settled way to measure traffic), I compared the traffic there to some of the sites I read and have written for. CoreyRobin.com, the blog of the Brooklyn College professor who is my favorite political writer, ranks 144,234. The website of Campaign for America’s Future, where I published in 2007 and 2008, is at 41,870. Three of my regular lefty reading stops, the blogs Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Americablog, and Crooks and Liars—where I contributed regularly last year—rank 41,346 and 11,301 and 9,897, respectively. The homes of my online columnizing in 2006-07 and 2012, TNR.com and RollingStone.com, clock in at 8,481 and 7,263. TheNation.com? We are at 9,088.

MinutemenNews is in the middle of that pack: 12,600.

It is a reasonable surmise, then, that the author of “The Left Is Convinced Americans Won’t Fight for Second Amendment Rights” has at least as many or possibly more readers than I do. And look here: as much as I hate to admit it, its readers race leagues ahead of the lefty blog pack when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is: knocking on doors in campaigns, stuffing envelopes—and, don’t forget, showing up at political meetings with guns. As my favorite blogger Digby always reminds us, pissing in the wind as far as I can tell, committing politics while armed is the ultimate act of civic intimidation. I find it very hard to argue that the implicit threat by these people to shoot politicians and officers of the law who cross them—or better yet, to “stack them like cordwood”—does not provide some sort of unmeasurable advantage in political conflicts.

Gun nuts are the most motivated people in our politics. And now we’ve had a natural experiment to prove it: the first recall election in Colorado history was lost by two state senators who had the temerity to vote for legislation requiring background checks for firearms purchases and banning ammunition magazines over fifteen rounds.

A site called PolticusUSA.com pronounced with bafflement: “Colorado Voters Support Background Checks Yet Still Recall Lawmakers for Background Checks.” It headlined a nice roundup of data from the election last Tuesday. Senate president John Morse went down 51 to 49 in conservative Colorado Springs, and the other senator, Angela Giron, went down 56-44 in blue-collar Pueblo, both “not districts that lean heavily Republican.” Statewide, a Public Policy Polling survey found the weekend before the balloting that Colorado voters favored background checks by 68 to 27 percent. They concluded that this means Democrats might face trouble in the next statewide election, but I thought that was a dense conclusion. It was the issue here that was the issue—the issue of “politicians taking away our guns.”

“Intensity of commitment” is a difficult problem for political theory to analyze: is it a violation of the public will when fanatics motivate themselves so much more efficiently than moderates? (“The definition of ‘moderate,’” I once read a Barry Goldwater supporter noting in 1964, “is ‘someone who doesn’t knock on doors on election day.”) Is it “undemocratic” when a measure overwhelmingly favored by “ordinary” voters is defeated by conspiracy theorists who fear that a baby step designed to keep guns out of the hands of psychotics and criminals is actually a giant leap toward New World Order government? Or is it the essence of democracy?

I wish I knew.

But that’s an intellectual problem. The political answer is obvious. Don’t mourn. Expose the fact that the National Rifle Association and its acolytes violate all the bounds of civility that make democratic deliberation possible (most people simply don’t know this: the PPP found that the same Coloradans who want background checks by a margin of 68 to 27 percent also have a positive view of the NRA by a margin of 53 to 33 percent). Embarrass the pundits who refuse to recognize this. Tell the story that Digby’s been trying to tell: that guns at political events make democracy impossible. And don’t be moderate. Knock on doors on election day. Organize.

 

By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, September 13, 2013

September 15, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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