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“Why Is America So Hostile To Gun Control?”: The Damage Isn’t Limited To Gun Deaths

The President of the United States and the mayor of the District of Columbia both used this week to address violence within the sphere of their responsibilities. And they are catching flak for it.

President Obama’s focus was on the weapons that now kill as many people as car accidents and on the need for gun-control measures. He said at the White House on Tuesday: “Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns — 30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents.” And he added this grabber: “In 2013 alone, more than 500 people lost their lives to gun accidents — and that includes 30 children younger than 5 years old.”

The next day, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) went to the city’s Eastern Market Metro station to announce the formation of a task force to combat gun robberies, which last year increased to 1,249, 10 percent more than the 1,112 recorded in 2014. This year isn’t off to a good start — 25 gun robberies in the first six days of 2016. Robberies without guns numbered 28.

Yet robberies aren’t the only crime on the rise in our nation’s capital. Last year ended with 162 murders. There were 105 in 2014.

Something, however, may get lost in these numbers. How can the toll taken by death be measured with any degree of accuracy? It’s impossible to quantify the sense of loss and grief that follows; the sadness, emptiness and loneliness that death leaves behind.

The families and friends of those 30,000 people whose lives were cut short by guns may have some idea.

The damage isn’t limited to gun deaths.

What is the impact of more than 3,000 total street robberies in a city? Gauge the distress of having possessions taken by force — imagine the fear, anger, insecurity and unwanted memories that robbery leaves behind.

The violence assailed by Obama and Bowser is disturbing. So is the opposition mounted against them for trying to do something about it.

Criticism of Obama’s proposed regulations to ensure that laws on the books are enforced as written and intended is sickening. Unlike the “he’s gonna take away your guns” rhetoric coming out the mouths of some gun enthusiasts and their sycophantic Republican presidential hopefuls, Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence is light stuff. It would:

  • Require all those in the business of selling firearms to be licensed and to conduct background checks.
  • Overhaul the FBI’s background check system to make it more efficient and effective and provide the bureau with more staff.
  • Beef up staffing of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to crack down on firearms trafficking.
  • Increase funding for mental-health treatment and mental-health reporting to the background check system and direct the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to pursue research into gun-safety technology.

Several law professors who looked at the constitutionality of Obama’s executive actions said that they “ensure robust enforcement of the law” and are “entirely compatible with the will of Congress and the President’s constitutional authority.”

But listen to the resisters.

Obama wants your guns,” says Ted Cruz’s campaign website.

Obama is “making an end-run around the Constitution” to “restrict one of the basic, fundamental principles of our country,” Donald Trump’s campaign manager told CNN.

“Just one more way to make it harder for law-abiding people to buy weapons to be able to protect their families,” said Marco Rubio on Fox News.

“Obama’s executive orders trample on the 2nd Amendment,” said a Jeb Bush tweet.

Obama “is advancing his political agenda,” a Ben Carson tweet said.

Forget about saving lives. Better to save political hides from National Rifle Association attacks.

The president’s proposals should triumph over demagoguery and plain stupidity. But don’t cut the gun lobby short. Fear of NRA money and power makes cowards out of congressmen.

The local climate for reform may not be any better.

This is a city where many people are afraid to venture out of their homes after dark, where going to and from school can be hazardous and where guns — and those who would use them — seem as plentiful as the air.

Though overall crime rates are down in the District, murders and gun robberies are up.

In August, Bowser proposed a public safety plan to combat the violence. She contended that if the D.C. Council had adopted her proposals — more money for more cops in high-crime areas, stiffer penalties for crimes on buses and subway trains and in D.C. parks, cracking down on repeat offenders — last year’s jump in homicides might have been avoided.

But Bowser is at loggerheads with key council members over the direction of crime-fighting and criminal justice reforms. And so? Nothing. Handwringing, finger-pointing . . .

Obama, urging action, cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words “the fierce urgency of now,” because people are dying. “The constant excuses for inaction,” the president declared, “no longer suffice.”

Even as national and D.C. lawmakers turn a deaf ear to that message.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 8, 2016

January 11, 2016 Posted by | District of Columbia, Gun Control, Gun Deaths | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Waiting For Justice In Local Jails”: Why More Americans Are Dying In Holding Cells

On Monday a special prosecutor announced that neither the sheriff’s office nor jailers in Waller County, Texas, would face criminal charges related to the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was arrested during a routine traffic stop last summer in Texas and was found three days later hanged in her cell.

In a time of heightened scrutiny following the highly publicized killings of black Americans by police, Bland’s arrest and untimely death renewed national debate over the inequitable, and sometimes brutal, treatment of black citizens by police.

Bland’s family members have since filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against authorities in Texas openly questioning the official cause of death as a suicide. Friends and family have disputed that Bland would have taken her own life, saying that she was “in good spirits” and looking forward to starting a dream job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.

While it may seem unthinkable to loved ones, statistics show that Bland’s grim fate is shockingly common.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in local jails. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (PDF), since 2000, 4,134 people have taken their own lives while awaiting justice in local jails.

In 2013, 327 inmates—a third of the total who died while in custody of local jails—died this way. The suicide rate per jail inmates increased 14 percent from 2012 to 2013, and 23 percent from 2009.

Roughly 60 percent of all suicides in jails involve inmates between the ages of 25 and 44. Bland was 28 years old.

Suicide is more of a problem for jails than prisons, with half of them occurring within the first week of admission. The reason for the disparity is twofold, says Lindsay Hayes, the project director for the nonprofit National Center on Institutions and an expert in suicide prevention in prisons: fear and bad policing.

This month in Roanoke, Virginia, 22-year-old Clifton Antonio Harper was found hanging by his bedsheet in his jail cell. Harper had been in jail since March on charges of burglary, grand larceny, and assault.

And a 35-year-old Indianapolis man jailed for theft and possession of paraphernalia reportedly killed himself while in custody, prompting a review of jail suicides in Marion County.

In jails, Hayes says, people are sometimes going in for the first time, facing uncertainty and fear. Some are intoxicated at the time of their arrest, which can trigger an emotional response.

It’s what corrections expert Steve J. Martin called the “shock of confinement.” In an interview with NPR, Martin explained the trauma of being in jail for the first time: “My life is going to end right now with this experience. Everything I’ve worked for, the way people view me, the way my parents view me’—all that stuff is suddenly and dramatically in jeopardy.”

Hayes says that, while jails are getting better, there are still many that lack good training and intake screening practices that prisons have worked to institute.

“The classic response used to be, ‘If an inmate wants to kill himself, there’s nothing you can do about it,’” Hayes said. “Fast-forward to today and jails and prisons are much better resourced, and have tools now to identify suicidal behavior and manage it.”

In fact, Bland’s death prompted the Texas legislature to call for a review of local jails and how potentially suicidal inmates are handled and treated. Such reviews have resulted in an increased emphasis on training jail staff and an improvement in screening procedures in the state. New intake forms that identify suicide risks were put into practice this month by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Death by hanging is by far the most common method of suicide in U.S. jails—either by bedding, or with clothing attached to an anchoring device such as a bunk, bars, or a cell door, according to a national study of jail suicide (PDF).

Critics have blasted Waller County jailers for failing to properly monitor Bland after she told them about a previous suicide attempt. While an intake form shows Bland answered “yes” to whether she had ever attempted suicide—as recently as 2014 by “pills”—her jailers left her alone in a cell with a plastic trash bag which she used to strangle herself.

 

By: Brandy Zadrozny, The Daily Beast, December 22, 2015

December 24, 2015 Posted by | Black Americans, Incarceration, Jail Deaths, Sandra Bland | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bush Family’s War On English”: It’s Not That “Stuff Happens”, It’s That “Stuff Happens” Here More Than Anywhere Else

And the Bush family’s War on English continues.

You are, by now, familiar with the astonishingly tone-deaf response by Jeb Bush, the nation’s would-be 45th president, to last week’s shooting at a community college in Oregon in which a gunman killed nine people. “Look,” said Bush, “stuff happens.”

Like a stink bomb in the flower bed, the dismissive-sounding words were buried in a longer comment about whether this latest massacre should spur new legislation. Said Bush: “…I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this … I had this challenge as governor, because we had … look, stuff happens. There’s always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

When a reporter asked about the wording afterward — perhaps trying to spare Bush some grief — the former Florida governor turned attitudinal. “No, it wasn’t a mistake,” he said. “I said exactly what I said. Explain to me what I said wrong.”

“You said, ‘stuff happens,’” said the reporter.

Whereupon, Bush hunkered deeper into his snit. “‘Things’ happen all the time,” he said. “‘Things.’ Is that better?”

Um … no.

And the pasting that followed was entirely predictable. Bush was slammed by Hillary Clinton and President Obama. In Mother Jones, the liberal magazine, his words were called “callous.” In Salon, they were dubbed “tactless, graceless and ham-handed.”

But let’s not miss what’s truly offensive here.

At one level, after all, this is just a new round of the gaffe gotcha game where you strip clumsy language of inconvenient context so as to imply the candidate said or meant something he never said or meant. So let’s be fair: Bush was not being callous toward the Oregon tragedy any more than Barack Obama was denying small businesspersons their due when he said, “You didn’t build that.” Rather, Bush simply offered an inarticulate statement of GOP orthodoxy: There are no legislative responses to mass gun violence.

And while that’s a point some of us would dispute, it is not what makes his words appalling. No, what makes them appalling is the surrender they imply.

“Stuff happens”?

That’s what you say about the hurricane or the earthquake, the hail storm or the flood, natural disasters beyond the power of humankind to prevent. It’s what you say about cancer or Alzheimer’s or dog droppings on the lawn, the major and minor challenges that are an inescapable part of being alive.

To say “stuff happens” about a mass shooting is to suggest that mass shootings are somehow inevitable and unavoidable. But that is simply not true. This “stuff” doesn’t happen everywhere — not with the numbing frequency it does here.

It doesn’t happen like this in Great Britain.

It doesn’t happen like this in Brazil.

It doesn’t happen like this in Israel.

It doesn’t happen like this in Japan, where gun ownership is strictly restricted, nor in Canada, where gun ownership laws are more liberal and there are, by one count, about 10 million firearms in private hands.

Ten million. Yet, you know how many gun homicides there were in Canada in 2013? A hundred and thirty-one.

Even as we mourn this latest mass murder, another is taking shape. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. That’s how predictable this “stuff” has become.

So it would behoove us to try and figure out what other countries know that we do not, what it is about our laws and/or our national character that returns us inevitably to this nexus of tragedy and recrimination week after week. You see, Bush is only half right.

It is not that “stuff happens.”

No, stuff happens here.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 7, 2015

October 10, 2015 Posted by | Gun Ownership, Gun Violence, Jeb Bush | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Firearms And The Romance Of Heroism”: How The NRA’s Proposal To Put Guns In Schools Became Credible

This week, the National Rifle Association is starting up its propaganda machine to argue in favor of using federal money to put armed guards in schools. They’re calling it the “National School Shield Program” – nomenclature that invites us to imagine guns as defensive barriers, only pointing outward against threats. But guns can point in any direction. What’s more, they can fire in any direction. That’s what makes them guns and not, you know, shields.

In the immediate aftermath of the NRA‘s disastrously received post-Sandy Hook press conference, the “National School Shield Program” was easy to mock (I did!). But as the weeks have worn away at support for gun control, the gambit appears increasingly, depressingly savvy. Public sentiment whipsawed between unimaginable grief and inchoate rage, and the NRA provided a concrete proposal whose very outlandishness contained a glimmer of hope: no one has ever before seriously proposed weaponizing public schools. It could work! At least it hasn’t failed!

While guns themselves took on some of the toxicity of the incident, the NRA’s idea neatly capitalized on the understandable human fantasy that accompanies any senseless death – “If only I could have done something” – as a way of re-imbuing firearms with the romance of heroism. When we hear, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the focus is on bad guy versus good guy, not “how did that bad guy get a gun?” What’s more, that reduces the problem of gun violence into “bad guys” and “good guys”, when the reality looks more like “good guys who believe they’re bad”: most gun deaths – about three out of five – are suicides.

In the context of school-age children, the math is not quite so bleak, even if the idea that they could be so hopelessness is all the more grim: for children and teens, 66% of gun deaths are homicides, 29% suicides. There is a simple reason for this reversal of proportions: adults have greater access to guns.

The National Rifle Association’s program to put guns in schools will change that.

For me, that is the end of the argument. Reams of documentation point to the correlation between access to firearms and the deaths of young people – most likely due to suicide. One study of state-level data, controlling for mental illness, substance abuse, income, family structure, urbanization and employment found that in the 15 states with the highest levels of gun ownership, the risk of suicide was double that of the six states with the lowest levels (though the total populations were about the same). Among those young people who have committed suicide with a firearm, another survey found that 82% used a gun that was legally obtained by a relative or someone else they knew.

Increasing the number of legally-obtained guns will increase the number of deaths. It’s almost a mathematical certainty, and these cold statistics point up the (literally) fatal error that’s made its way into the debate over gun violence: that these deaths are somehow the product of faulty laws, that if we could just figure out the right mechanism for enforcement, the right filter for ownership, the right place to set up our perimeter, then gun deaths would decrease … to some level that’s tolerable, I guess.

But when all is said and done, it’s not the laws that are the problem, it is the guns. They are lethal machines, made to be lethal. I like shooting guns, myself. At targets, sure. But you know what makes shooting guns fun? The idea that they’re lethal.

As I’ve written before, the tragic foolhardiness of putting such objects in the vicinity of children might be clearer to people if we substituted “Ebola virus” or “thermonuclear device” for “gun”. Both those things are safe enough, in the right hands and following the right protocols, but there’s a reason we don’t let teachers keep biological weapons in their desks: what if something went wrong? What if they fell into the wrong hands?

The NRA posits a universe in which both the bad guys and the good guys are, in their own way, perfect: the bad guys will be expert gun-handlers for whom reloading cartridges is so easy that no lives would be saved by decreasing the capacity of their magazines. And they would meticulously avoid schools foolish enough to be “gun-free”. The good guys, on the other hand, never miss, always store their guns safely and, of course, are unassailably good and non-homocidal and non-suicidal: no intentions ever change; no circumstances lure them into depression or rage.

Those of us who argue against the NRA’s policies also have to argue against the NRA’s universe; it’s the latter that’s more difficult. The popular appeal of the “School Shield” program hinges on believing in heroics; good public policy depends on preventing the need for them.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian, April 2, 2013

April 4, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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