Epidemic of Gun Deaths Embolden Dems to Call for Universal Background Checks But More is Needed

Congressman Steve Israel (D-Long Island) is one of the Democrats stepping up calls for Congress to vote on a bill mandating universal background checks to obtain a gun © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Congressman Steve Israel (D-Long Island) is one of the Democrats stepping up calls for Congress to vote on a bill mandating universal background checks to obtain a gun © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Gun violence prevention advocates won one victory in May – Oregon passed universal background checks – but suffered a bigger loss, as Texas voted to allow concealed carry of guns on campuses of public colleges across the state. This is despite the fact that the most famous thing to happen at the University of Texas-Austin was the first mass shooting in America, on August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman climbed the University of Texas Tower and used a sniper to kill 16 and wound 31.

Ironically, Oregon, which allows concealed carry on college campuses, just this month was the setting for the latest campus massacre.

Also this month, a six year old murdered his three-year old sibling with his father’s gun, kept loaded, atop their refrigerator.

Indeed, roughly every week, a toddler is killed or kills with a gun. How many more are added to the list, provided in mid-April by Colette Martin, of Moms Demand Action, which had already produced 11 children under the age of 15 who had been shot accidentally so far that month.

“It’s shocking to me – as I investigate laws at states – because the federal is useless – depending on zipcode, leaving a loaded gun on a coffee table is either a crime or nothing,” Martin told a Gun Violence Prevention forum at Temple Beth-el of Great Neck, “That’s why we read stories every day that a child is shot accidentally. We are not talking suicide or domestic violence.”

Her list included 5 year olds shooting 2 year olds; a 15 year old in Brooklyn who shot himself in the chest; in Houston, a 5 year old was shot by 4 year old (the fourth in 3 weeks); a mom’s boyfriend, cleaning his gun, accidentally shot a 9 year old.

“The NRA won’t tell you but two children a week will die this way, through accidental gunshot wounds – many more hurt, life changing injuries – a pattern so predictable. Over 100 kids a year will be dead because someone didn’t store gun properly.

“Is there any product that kills that many kids that we’re not regulating?

“It should be a crime to leave a loaded gun accessible to children –a punishable crime. That is a glaring omission from New York’s Safe Act,” she says.

That’s also the basis for a proposed law in New York, Nicholas’ Law – named for a 12 year old killed by playing at friend’s house where unsecured loaded gun and friend shot him, accidentally.

Other legislative actions that need to happen nationally:

Repealing laws that ban pediatricians from raising questions about guns in the home and recommending they be locked up (such as in Florida).

Repealing Stand Your Ground (aka “License to Kill”), another law written by the NRA and ALEC (a front for the Koch Brothers) and spread like cancer among the states, starting in Florida under then-Governor Jeb Bush.

Changing the requirements to purchase and possess guns. Norman Siegel, a New York civil rights lawyer and former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a letter to the New York Times in December proposed a nationwide state registration program, similar to motor vehicle registration. “Every two years the owner of a gun would be required to bring his or her weapon in for inspection and re-registration. If the owner no longer possesses the weapon, he or she should be required to explain what happened to the gun. Perhaps under such a program we, as a nation, can realistically ameliorate the problem of guns winding up in the hands of lawbreakers and/or the mentally ill.”

And for those who charge that gun registration is somehow violating 2nd Amendment rights, look to the oppressive Voter ID and registration requirements being passed around the country which effectively put barriers in front of citizens’ right to vote.

Moreover, gun rights fanatics have no problem cancelling out the First Amendment’s freedom of speech in banning pediatricians from discussing gun safety with their patients’ families.

Gun violence is not a 2nd amendment issue. It is a public health issue, and should be treated in the same way. And if anything violates the founding premise of this country, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” it is the outsized weight given to so-called gun rights which never actually existed.

“This family’s only child is gone. It’s not just a legislative change, it’s part of the cultural change – the social norming that has to happen as with drunk driving,” she says, referring to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the way they insinuated a kind of moral code into everyday life.

Governor Cuomo seized upon the massacre Sandy Hook Elementary School as a rare moment when he could pass Safe Act.

But other states – the gun happy ones, the free-range ones, the Live Free or Die ones (and so they die) – have gone the other way – in Florida, doctors are banned (no matter the inconvenient First Amendment guaranteeing free speech, or even the Hippocratic oath) from even asking parents if there is a gun in the home, in order to urge safe storage to prevent such tragedies as Nicholas’ and the others, a move that is being copied by other states, prompting New York Times columnist Charles Blow to raise the question, “Has the NRA Won?”

And the real challenge is the latest move by the NRA in the bought-and-paid-for Congress: to force states with gun regulations to have “reciprocity” – essentially to make a gun permit like a drivers license – with states that have virtually no restrictions (and in the case of one Georgia town, which mandate every family have a gun) – in a blatant disregard of states rights, in yet another instance when hypocrisy rules the day if it is convenient.

“We have to fight reciprocity,” State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel said during the forum. “Every state has their rights – who can own a gun. New York has strong laws, but in Vermont, you only need to be 16 years of age and have a drivers license and you can have a gun.” What reciprocity means is that if you have a gun permit in one state, you can have a gun – transfer guns, drive interstate (now illegal) – scary for someone like NY.” So if a state like Texas allows concealed guns everywhere (except the State House) with no questions asked, even a person with a mental condition, a veteran with PTSD or a domestic abuser, can bring their gun to New York.

As the level of gun violence has only escalated, the NRA has come back with more and more absurd statements (such as the time after a tragedy is no time to consider what to do about it), or a move to ease access to guns.

If anything gives lie to the absurdity, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” and the even more absurd statement that the way to reduce gun violence is to make guns even more prevalent, it is the fact that gun violence kills 2500 children each year. You can also look to the murder of police officers, who are clearly “good guys” whose guns could not stop the bad guy who shot first.

In Chicago, just over Memorial Day weekend, 40 people were shot including a 4 year old girl, with nine dead, including,a 15-year old boy, Nation of Change reported.

“So far, there have been 18,760 gun incidents this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, resulting in 4,830 deaths and the death or injury of 249 children.”

There are practical things that can be done to significantly reduce the more than 30,000 gun deaths a year – that’s equivalent to a 9/11 a month – having nothing to do with violating the 2 nd Amendment or taking guns away from the ostensibly “law abiding” people (isn’t it odd that people are “law abiding” until they aren’t?)

But before we get into the long list of commonsense steps that should be taking immediately, without having any impact whatsoever on the so-called “law abiding” gunowners, there is this:

Gun Manufacturers Profit Incentive: Smart Guns

Much is made of the fact that the NRA, which is such an outsized powerhouse scaring the beejeebees out of politicians, serves the interests of gun manufacturers, not the ordinary members (a majority of whom support universal background checks and other commonsense measures).

In fact, the NRA was in favor of universal background checks until they were against them, and now, whenever there is a massacre, they call for more guns – armed guards at schools and churches, concealed carry at college campuses, in fact, everywhere but in Congress and Houses of Legislature.

So just like the corruption in FIFA won’t be rooted out politically, but when Nike and other sponsors exert their power, gun manufacturers have to see profit in being more socially conscious.

Jeb Bush speaking to 30,000 at the NRA convention, said Obama should be disarming ISIS rather than law-abiding Americans – the problem is that terrorists in the US have a clear shot at obtaining military-grade weapons and high-capacity ammo clips- while, in fact, DoD has radiofrequency controls in its military weapons so they can locate guns gone missing into the wrong hands. (Jeb! casually dismissed the Oregon shooting as “stuff happens”.)

Question is: why aren’t there ‘smart guns’ like ‘smart phones’ that can only be used by the person whose hand print is identified with the gun? Or, for that matter, a locater as a smart phone has when it is stolen, and can be located and disarmed remotely?

If the gun manufacturers would see themselves as, say, Apple Computers, coming out with the newest, latest gun that replaces the older gun, they could see big profits in sensible gun measure: namely, the same ID access that smart-phones now have: make the gun so that it can only be used by the owner. If the gun-owner is in fact law-abiding, they would have no problem with that, and would relish the idea of a gun not being snapped up by the “bad guy” (or a child) and used to kill their loved ones.

Think of the increased profits, if 100 million guns had to be replaced! Gun dealers could offer those nifty trade-in deals!

Change Tactics

The gun nuts have also long ceased being credible in arguing for “self-defense” and the “homespun, family values sport of hunting” when they refuse to allow a ban on military-grade assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that kill dozens in a blink of an eye. This is about the fantasy of being able to take down the government – something that the 2nd Amendment never envisioned, since it was intended to provide a defense for the fledgling democratic government in the absence of a standing army -like a National Guard.

It’s been 15 years since the Million Mom March in Washington DC (remember how they said if George W Bush were elected, there would be an office in the West Wing for the NRA? They were right.) Things clearly went downhill from there – for example, allowing the 1994 Assault Weapons ban to lapse.

Despite the rise of organizations like Moms Demand Action, Moms Rising, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Everytown and scores of others (typically, tragically, by family members like Richard Martinez whose lives have been forever destroyed by gun violence), Congress, in the pocket of the gun lobby, has refused to budge, and in the states, the reaction to what was considered the most heinous tragedy of all, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was to free up, not tighten, gun restrictions (New York’s Safe Act was the exception).

It’s time to change tactics and the dynamics.

Abortions are constitutionally protected but the anti-choice movement has been able to put all sorts of legal and financial impediments that make it impossible for women to exercise their Constitutionally protected rights.

The gun violence prevention advocates should adopt some of these methods. For example:

State requirements: Just as California laws regarding automobiles and the chemicals industry have forced those industries to change their manufacture to be more environmentally friendly, states could impose requirements on gun manufacturers that every gun be a smart-gun; increase taxes on ammunition (like they do on cigarettes) and fees on gun permits (like voting IDs)

Make gun manufacturers and dealers liable when their product is inappropriately used (as so many other manufacturers are – gun manufacturers are somehow exempted.)

Require gun owners to take out liability insurance so that victims’ families can be adequately compensated.

Institute laws making parents/guardians responsible for safe storage, and criminally liable if a child commits a crime with their gun. For example, no one questioned where the 15 year old Jared Michael Padgett, of Portland, Oregon, obtained the gun he used to kill freshman Emilio Hoffman and wound teacher Todd Rispler before killing himself. Or where 14 year old Jaylen Fryberg, a popular student at Marysville, Wash. high school,, got the .40-caliber handgun he used to kill a girl and strike four others in the head before turning his gun on himself and committing suicide. There were no consequences for whoever obtained the guns that these minors used to murder innocents.

Put a fee on ammunition and gun purchases to support a victims fund.

Boycott college campuses that allow guns: Parents should contact colleges and ask if guns are allowed, and if so, tell them you won’t allow your child to apply there.

“I am, a huge believer that the American people can fix this,” Martin says. “I’ve lost faith in Congress, lost faith in the federal government, lost faith in the NRA – I was never much of a fan, my father tore up his NRA card in1980s, it was apparent to him what they were about: politicizing, a money racket, they are not standing for his ideals.

“Most gun owners are not in NRA… 90% of legitimate legal gun owners don’t support NRA. Who is supporting the NRA? The gun manufacturers – Smith-Wesson, Baretta. It’s no mystery that’s who they serve – the NRA is a front for gun manufacturers.

“Their job is to fend off, violently, any regulation that will impact the sale of their product – every gun that ends up on the street, used in a crime, begins as a legal gun –it was first sold as a legal gun – no illegal gun manufacturing plant anywhere.”

(And every criminal or maniac who uses a gun starts off as a noncriminal, non-maniac. Actually, you could add that whenever there is a massacre – the more heinous that it is – gun sales go up because LaPierre warns that the government will finally confiscate guns.)

Colette adds, “I’m a gun owner and here’s the impact [the NY Safe Act] had on me (she gestures, zero). I don’t have AR 15s in my basement – New York by any measure has done a great job keeping its citizens safe -the illegal street variety and more difficult gun violence.

“I am here today to deal with children’s and guns –standard, practical storage protocols. If you have children and guns in house, lock one of them up,” she said, drawing a laugh.

“1/3 of families own at least one gun – it behooves us to ask how it is stored at home.”

But in the absence of law, there are more practical actions parents should take: “Before you allow your child to go for a playdate, ask are there guns in house That’s not political, but safety. That’s a house I don’t want my kid playing unattended

It’s no more offensive than asking if there is a pool, or a dog. It’s not easy to plan a funeral for a 12 year old – that’s inconvenient.

“How many of these parents whose kids were shot this month would do anything to go back in time and ask that question. It’s not political, not offensive- not out of order to ask about the safety.”

Martin also refutes the claim that safe storage of guns at home will somehow interfere with the ability (rare) to defend from an intruder. She says that evidence shows that it takes a gun owner “fractions of seconds” to get a gun out of a safebox and load it.

In August, Fox & friends did 5 part gun safety series and part 3 featured expert marksmen, firearms dealer and trainer Rob Pincus, who did a live demo showing how long it took in an incidence of home invasion. Someone banged the door down downstairs, he went to the gun safe’s numeric keypad taking a half second to open it, she said.

On the other hand, the incidence of home invasion is so minimal, as are the instances of a gunowner actually foiling an intruder.

“The FBI did a study of home invasions and found that 68% of home invasions happen between parties that knew each other.”

What is more likely is that believing you are defending yourself against an armed intruder, results in accidentally killing your 19 year old who comes home unexpectedly from college at 3 am.

See also:

Congressman Israel Presses Boehner to Bring Universal Background Checks Bill to Vote

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