Tag Archives: mass killings

The Greatest Failure: The Failure to Mitigate Lethality

If memory serves, the current occupant of the White House made much of a promise to “keep Americans safe.”  We aren’t safe. Especially not from armed gunmen, not from deranged killers who have easy access to unimaginable levels of lethality.  Perhaps one of the reasons we aren’t safe (in schools, on college campuses, in movie theaters, at restaurants, in concerts, at clinics, at big box retailers, in churches…) is that we’re asking the wrong question.

The question isn’t: What can we do to prevent “it?”  The question should be what can we do to mitigate the lethality of these incidents?

We know what to do — we just haven’t been able to get the job done. And we’ve not gotten the job done because we have elected spineless, ethically challenged, gutless wonders to our Congress.  They are quick to advise us to offer our thoughts and prayers for the victims of these tragedies — from Columbine to Sutherland Springs — but well short of the mark on offering constructive ways to deal with the mounting death toll.

We should, by now, have had Universal Background Checks on the books. No gun show loopholes, no unreasonable limitations on background check timing, no obstructions to agencies sharing information with one another about gun sales and violence.  This won’t “solve” any particular incident, but it could prevent at least one more sale of semi-automatic weapons to the next deranged idiot.

We should, by now, have re-instituted the assault weapons ban.  No, this doesn’t “solve” a specific incident, but there is NO reason for assault weaponry to be in civilian hands.  This is, as Granny’s old line goes, “asking for trouble.”

We should, by now, have limitations on magazine capacity.  Magazines sold to civilians don’t need to maximize the slaughter of other Americans.

We should, by now, have a bill sailing through the Congress outlawing the sale of items which have the sole purpose of modifying a semi-automatic weapon into automatic one, or one which allows the shooter to simulate automatic weapon fire.  All this does is increase the lethality of the gun, at the expense of our fellow Americans.

Sometimes we forget that Nevada’s had not one, but two, mass shootings. On September 6, 2011 a mentally ill man opened fire at the Carson City IHOP restaurant killing four people (three of whom were members of the National Guard) and wounding seven others with a Norinco Mak 90 semiautomatic rifle.  A neighboring businessman tried to return fire but was prevented from doing so because of the rate of fire from the shooter.  Then there was the mass slaughter at the country-western music festival in Las Vegas, October 1, 2017 which left 58 dead and 546 injured. While news reports focused on why the shooters opened fire, not as many focused on how the lethality of these incidents could have been mitigated.   There were calls to ban the “bump stocks” but little else.

And after Mother Emanuel there’s Sutherland Springs; churches, sanctified spaces, communal and public, for respite and spiritual rejuvenation — and murder.   Could we have mitigated the lethality of these incidents?  If we can’t prevent such heinous acts acts the least we can do is to take action to reduce the death toll, to reduce the number of victims, to reduce the pain and suffering of yet more families.

Perhaps we can do this if we reduce the number of members of Congress who spinelessly, gutlessly, obsequiously, cave into pressure from the gun manufacturer’s lobby and “government relations” squadrons.

One way to start is a bit of self-education, beginning with a stop at the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website.   How much money from the gun manufacturer’s lobby has your member of Congress taken?  How much money have your Senators received from the NRA, Gun Owners of America, Shooting Sports Foundation, or the Safari Club International?  How much money should their campaigns be returning as “blood money?”

The carnage won’t stop until WE the People make phone calls, send postcards, take to the streets, write letters to the editor, and speak out — armed with our own type of ammunition: Facts about the slaughter of innocent Americans at the hands of those whose easy access to firearms of increasing lethality makes them a danger to ourselves and our communities.

#DoSomething !

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#Enough Thoughts and Prayers, rights aren’t necessarily conveniences

Mass Shooting Victims

The photos of the victims of mass killings in this country show the faces of America. White, black, brown, gay, straight, men, and women. From the very young to the elderly.  And they all died too soon at the hands of those who could arm themselves with lethal weapons without any inconvenience.

The 2nd Amendment says we all have the right to keep and bear arms … there is NO mention in the Amendment that purchasing firearms has to be “convenient.”

The gun fetishists among us cry that their “rights are infringed” if they are to be inconvenienced in any way when purchasing or procuring lethal weapons. They cite their imaginary well greased slippery slope to full tilt gun control.

And, lo! cry the fetishists and their allies, any imposition of a burden of responsibility is a denial of our civil liberties.  But, wait a minute. It is inconvenient to register to vote – however, that’s the inconvenience we accept to prevent voter impersonation.  It’s inconvenient to edit and fact check news articles – but that’s the inconvenience we accept as part of the freedom of the press to avoid charges of libel.

It is inconvenient for government officials to get search warrants, but that’s the balance we have to prevent unlawful searches and seizures.  It’s inconvenient for the judicial system that a person may not be compelled to testify against himself – but that’s the inconvenience we accept to make the system work under constitutional principles.

How easy it appears to be to have advocates of the implementation of the Patriot Act speaking of national surveillance, and justifying those National Security Letters, while bemoaning the restrictions on those included on the terrorist watch list who seek to purchase lethal weapons.

If we didn’t infer “convenience” in the 2nd Amendment, then might we have fewer suicides, fewer murders, fewer mass shootings and killings.  Fewer funerals, fewer remembrances, fewer tragedies, and a much safer society?

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NOW can we talk about guns? Please!

December 14, 2012: Hug your kids.  Daily.  Hug them more often than parents in any other country on this planet.  “Multiple people, including children, have been killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.” [Hartford Courant] But, we can’t talk about reasonable gun control, because the “emotions are too raw,” the “timing would lead to biased decision,” we should wait until “the crisis has passed.”  How long will it take to get past the  a total of 26 reported casualties? (NBC)

What excuses can we manufacture to justify our lack of attention to issues surrounding responsible gun ownership?   What reflexive thinking will be required to shift the responsibility from the shooter to the victims?  Should we arm the kindergarteners?  Should we arm the teachers?  Thus adding to the rounds flying through the offices, classrooms, and cafeterias? This isn’t the first school shooting.  It probably won’t be the last.

What “well regulated militia” entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School?

September 29, 2012 — workers at the Accent Signage System in Minneapolis went to work, not knowing that the co-worker who had been descending into emotional instability was about to be fired.  Five people were killed, including a UPS driver who happened to be on site.  [StarTrib]

How was the “security of a free state” enhanced by this tragic instance of workplace violence?

August 5, 2012 — a deluded shooter killed seven people in a Sikh Temple. The neo-Nazi confused Sikh’s with Moslems, and confused humanity with his insanity.  The shooter had an “administrative” discharge from military service — that should have been a clue, but Wisconsin law allows open carry anytime, and concealed carry with a permit.

How are the rights of people — to exercise their freedom of religion — improved by this horrific tragedy?

July 20, 2012 — 12 people died because they went to a movie in Aurora, Colorado.  The shooter was a psychologically disturbed, heavily armed, young man. [HuffPo]  How is it that a demonstrably disturbed individual can amass the kind of armament necessary to perpetrate this horrific event?

Mass Shooter Weapons(For a more full discussion of mass shootings see Mother Jones, on the subject.)

We have all the information we need.  We understand this situation is not isolated. We understand that the location of mass killings spread across the country:

Mass shootings map

How many more empty seats will there be at Sikh celebrations of the birth of Guru Gobind?  How many more empty chairs around holiday dinners will there be after the next Theater Shooting, the next flash of Workplace Violence.  The next School Shooting?

We won’t have any answers until we grapple with some essential, if not existential, questions.

What are we protecting? People or Guns?

If we are protecting people, in the interest of forming a More Perfect Union, then we can either secure all of our public facilities (perhaps to such an extent that our theaters, workplaces, schools, parks, and stores are fortified and secured to an extent that airports look like institutional sieves); or, we can decide that the “right” to gun ownership — like other rights — demands a modicum of responsibility.

We recognize “freedom of speech,” however we do not allow individuals to indulge in slander. We do not, in the classic example, allow people to yell “Fire” in crowded theaters.  However, let someone advocate full background checks for fire arm purchases and the Heavens roil with demands that the “rights” of gun owners are sanctified.

We recognize “freedom of the press,” but we do not countenance the printing of libel. We do not allow unauthorized graffiti.   We recognize “freedom of religion,” but we do not allow polygamy, nor would we consider the practice of human sacrifice an “exercise of religion.”  We allow people to “peaceably assemble,” but we don’t tolerate mobs.  We promote the freedom to petition the government, but we don’t acknowledge petitions with one signature.  In simple terms, there are reasonable limits on the rights we enjoy predicated on the responsibilities we assume.

Could we agree that the “right” to own guns is subject to the same scrutiny we apply to all the other rights specified in our Constitution?

What’s reasonable?

Refer to the chart from Mother Jones magazine above.  The weapons of choice for most mass shooters are semi-automatic handguns and assault weapons.   I can’t think of anything I would hunt with semi-automatic handgun.  Unless, of course it’s for the hunting of other human beings. I can’t think of what venison might look like after the use of an assault weapon.   It’s hard enough to pick all the bird shot out of a quail.  Does everyone have the “right” to own every type of weapon?

Do we have to nit-pick in our discussions of reasonable regulation by parsing whether or not my 14 shot Remington .22 rifle qualifies as an “automatic weapon,” or can we agree that weapons designed to rapidly fire multiple rounds of deadly ammunition should not be in some hands?

Whose hands? 

We do have a system of background checks for gun ownership, unfortunately the system has some deadly loopholes.   “The Brady Act applies only to sales by FFLs.*  Accordingly, persons who purchase firearms from private sellers – estimated to be 40 percent of all gun purchasers – are not required to undergo background checks.” [SGL] (federally licensed firearm dealers)  Incidents like Tucson, like the Sikh Temple, like Columbine, like Newton, are often the consequence of individuals who have serious emotional or psychological issues — often evidence of the Lone Idiot of right wing rationalization. The real question is not whether the shooters at Tucson, Columbine, Aurora or the most recent incident were single deranged individuals — the real question is how did so many single deranged individuals get access to deadly weapons?

“Although federal law prohibits the purchase of a firearm by any person who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or involuntarily committed to a mental institution, many states do not collect information about persons who fit these criteria or provide law enforcement access to this information. There are many Americans who have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions and are barred by federal law from possessing firearms, but, as of November 30, 1999, the FBI had received from all states a total of only 41 records of mentally ill persons.”

[…] As a result of the FBI’s lack of information about mentally ill persons, a FBI background check is unlikely to find that a person is ineligible to possess a firearm due to mental illness. Because of these reporting deficiencies, mentally ill persons in this country are easily able to buy guns in violation of federal law.” [SGL]

The topic of mentally stressed and ill veterans even threatened to derail funding for the U.S. military in December, 2012:

“Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., sought to amend the bill to stop the Veterans Affairs Department from putting the names of veterans deemed too mentally incompetent to handle their finances into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which prohibits them from buying or owning firearms.” [ArmyTimes]

Why resist measures which might reduce the number of so-called ‘military suicides?’  “Suicides in the military rose sharply from 2005 to 2009, reaching 285 active-duty service members and 24 reservists in 2009. As the services expanded suicide prevention programs, the numbers leveled off somewhat in 2010 and 2011.”  [NYT]  Counseling helps, but the new system was attacked by the NRA:

“The 2011 measure, which was part of the Defense Authorization Act and passed at the urging of the National Rifle Association, was viewed by many military officials as preventing commanders and counselors from discussing gun safety with potentially suicidal troops. But the N.R.A. said that the provision was a response to efforts by Army commanders to maintain records of all the firearms owned by their soldiers.” [NYT]

Is it reasonable to restrict the retention of gun ownership records, and reasonable to share this information with authorities if the life of a disturbed veteran is at stake?  What level of paranoia is required in order to believe that the retention and sharing of records by military, state, local, and federal officials is part of a Grand Design of Nefarious Intent — to eventually disarm a “freedom loving” people?

How much of our own freedom are we prepared to lose?

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I could walk through the airport with my shoes on.  Comfortably.  I did not have to wait in line to get through “security.”  I gave up some privacy  in order to cooperate for my own safety and the safety of others.   Now, must we transform our schools into Secure Zones, and at no small expense to taxpayers and citizens? Must business owners fortify their facilities in the interest of “safety?”  Must their customers ultimately bear the expense?

Would it be too much to ask, in the interest of making our country secure, that in order to purchase handguns a person must submit to a comprehensive background check?  Too much to ask that the records associated with mental illness, with or without involuntary institutionalization, be retained as financial records are for at least seven years?  Would it be too much to ask, that in the interest of saving the lives of our veterans, that the military be allowed to retain records and to share them with officials who share the urgency of reducing the number of military suicides?

When do we start putting the rights of people — their Right To Life — ahead of the rights of gun manufacturers and dealers to sell their products?

Do we do this before yet more Christmas gifts remain unopened under trees which have now lost their holiday cheer?  Do we do this before any more new wagons and bicycles are transformed from items of potential glee into items of unendurable sadness and remembrance?

Do we do this before any more police departments have to inform the four children of an officer who was serving court papers that their mother won’t be there for Christmas?

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