Tag Archive for gun violence

Recent mass shootings coincide with Americans Against Gun Violence annual banquet

Bill Durston kicks of the Americans Against Gun Violence annual dinner

Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Texas. Those names all now evoke the horror of mass shootings that are all too common in the United States. They also invoke memories of the usual political response: Democrats call for action, Republicans say it is not appropriate to “politicize” the tragedy, and weeks and months pass with nothing accomplished, until the process repeats itself in the next horrifying incident.

Americans Against Gun Violence, an organization formed to put political pressure and increase public awareness of the issues around the needless death and injury caused by the presence of so many, and so much more lethal guns in our country, held its first annual banquet on October 22, just after the Las Vegas massacre, and just before the Sutherland massacre. President of the organization, Dr. Bill Durston, kicked off the event, which was shared with Physicians for Social Responsibility, and introduced the keynote speaker, Josh Sugarman, author of Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.

Josh Sugarman addresses the membership at the AAGV dinner

Sugarman noted that lots of attention is drawn to mass shootings, like the recent Las Vegas incident, but daily deaths from guns is even worse. One hundred people on average die each day from guns in America. What is behind this? The gun industry. They are at heart a consumer product business, with marketing plans to increase their profits, just like the automobile industry, consumer electronics, restaurants and food production—the difference is they are the only product not regulated by the government!

When a shooting occurs, one of the first questions the media and law enforcement asks is what was the motive. Why would someone get a hotel room to be a sniper at a concert, why would someone walk into a church intent on murdering everyone, why would someone ambush a cop, kill their spouse and family, shoot up a schoolyard, or assassinate a public figure? But what does that really matter in the end? The fact is these people, whatever their reasons, have the ability to build an arsenal. And they have access to military and law enforcement-grade weapons to accomplish it. Yes, there are some restrictions on the level of weapons—for example, a military automatic weapon can fire multiple rounds by just holding down the trigger. For the consumer-available weapons, the shooter must pull the trigger for each round. But they can still shoot in very rapid succession, making such guns effectively the same as a military machine gun.

The industry sells its product primarily to white males, of whom only 33% are currently gun owners. And that market is aging and dying off, with fewer new customers entering the market. That puts pressure on them to continue to resell their products to their primary market, by introducing ever more powerful and “efficient” guns, while stoking fears that a mass confiscation is just around the corner, and they need to stock up now. A phenomenon seen when either a liberal politician is elected, (President Obama’s election, or just the likelihood of Hillary Clinton’s election, for example) or when another mass shooting occurs, is a marked increase in gun sales, out of fear that new laws are on the way. The industry is also trying to expand their market beyond the white male demographic, finding ways to appeal to women, children, African Americans, and Latinos as a new customer base. They want diversity, not just “stale, male and pale.” (Quote from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade organization, about the demographic they want to change.)

And after every new incident, not only do we hear the chorus of “it’s not the time to politicize this tragedy,” but we are also told gun control doesn’t work, if you restrict guns only criminals will have them, the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, the real problem isn’t guns but mental illness, etc. Sugarman stated that it is time we recognize that (to paraphrase the Bill Clinton presidential campaign) It’s the gun, stupid!

Members of the American River Democrats were well represented at the event

While other nations react to gun violence by finding solutions—Australia and the United Kingdom are notable success stories—the National Rifle Association (NRA) insists that we need more guns. And the politicians who follow their lead (mostly Republicans, but Democrats are not always innocent) go along, failing to pass meaningful laws, and even opening the current restrictions even further.

Sugarman said that states with high gun ownership have higher gun deaths, including accidental shootings and suicides, while states with stronger gun control laws have lower overall rates of homicide (and not just from guns!) California is a good success story, but national laws are far more important. The NRA likes to tell everyone to look at Chicago. “They have strong gun laws, yet the gun violence rate is one of the worst.” While that is untrue on the face of it (many other states and cities have much stronger gun laws), even if Chicago had California-like restrictions, guns can be easily brought in from many neighboring states, like Indiana, that have very loose gun laws.

The bottom line is that lots of guns means lots of gun injuries and deaths. Dividing people into “good” ones who can get a gun and “bad” ones who shouldn’t, just doesn’t work. Many of the guns out there—handguns, assault rifles, automatic weapons—are designed specifically for killing people, and that is what they do, whether by intention, accident, or suicide.

But the public is way ahead of lawmakers in supporting change, and have found some success in a few places, like California. But the industry is not sitting still. The bill to legalize silencers and allow open-carry laws to be valid across state lines is still out there waiting to be passed by Congress. And the much ballyhooed idea of banning bump stocks has gone nowhere, despite the seeming universal openness to the idea, by even the NRA. California’s Dianne Feinstein is reintroducing an assault weapon restriction bill, but it is generally considered dead on arrival. But hey, it’s worth a try, right?

Meanwhile, America is held hostage by a fading industry, said Sugarman. While two-thirds of Americans live in gun-free homes, and only 1.5% of the population belongs to the NRA, they somehow exert more control over Congress than the will of the people. Sugarman said we need to focus on solutions, not slogans that will sell. Gun violence is a preventable epidemic, he said, with 33,000 annual deaths of Americans. We need to ask ourselves, are we doing everything in our power to prevent gun violence?

Learn more about Americans Against Gun Violence at aagunv.org.

Listen to Josh Sugarman on CapRadio.org on Insight from November 1.

Read a piece on recent gun violence written by Bill Durston, reprinted on this website: The Air Force is Not the Problem, A Good Guy With a Gun is Not the Solution

The Air Force Is Not the Problem… And A Good Guy with a Gun Is Not the Solution

By Bill Durston, President, Americans Against Gun Violence

Dr. Bill Durston, Americans Against Gun Violence

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, in which 25 people were killed, including numerous children and a pregnant woman, and 20 others wounded, it has come to light that the gunman, Devin Kelley, had been hospitalized involuntarily for mental illness and imprisoned for domestic violence while serving in the Air Force. Much of the media attention surrounding the shooting focused on the fact that the Air Force didn’t report Kelley’s mental illness and domestic violence conviction to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). A secondary focus of media attention has been the fact that Kelley was shot and wounded by a good Samaritan who lived nearby as Kelley was leaving the church.

Devin Kelley booking photo

Devin Kelley booking photo

As a result of not being listed in the NICS, Kelley had no trouble purchasing four guns from gun stores in Colorado and Texas, including the assault rifle that he used in the church shootings and the handgun that he later used to kill himself. The Sutherland Springs resident who shot Kelley twice with his own assault rifle, 55 year old Stephen Willeford, clearly risked his life in rushing to the church when he heard gunshots, but Kelley had already exited the church by the time that Willeford arrived and shot him. Despite being shot by Willeford in the leg and torso, Kelley was able to drive off in his SUV at high speed. Willeford hailed a passing driver, 26 year old Johnnie Langendorff, and they gave chase in Langendorff’s truck. Kelley crashed his car about 10 minutes later and was found dead in his vehicle by law enforcement officers, apparently as a result of having shot himself in the head.

Should the Air Force have reported Kelley’s hospitalization for mental illness and imprisonment for domestic abuse to the NICS?

Definitely. Preliminary reports indicate that it was not an individual clerical error but rather a system wide problem that resulted in the failure to report not only Kelley to the NICS but also multiple other Air Force personnel who should be prohibited from owning guns.

Would reporting Kelley to the NICS have prevented the Sutherland Springs mass shooting? Possibly. But under Texas’s lax gun control laws, even if he was prohibited from buying a gun from a federally licensed firearm dealer at a gun store as a result of being on the NICS database, Kelley still could have purchased a gun without a background check from a private “kitchen table” gun dealer or at a gun show.

Since the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed prohibiting “mental defectives” and individuals convicted of domestic violence from owning guns, how many mass shootings have been committed by other individuals who, like Kelley, fell into prohibited categories while in the military but were not reported to the appropriate civilian authorities?

None that I’m aware of. Of the more than 1.5 million U.S. civilians killed by guns since 1968 in single shooting incidents, there must have been some who fell into the same prohibited but unreported category as Kelley, but the point is, closing the “Air Force loophole,” which definitely should be done, is in and of itself not going to have a measurable effect in preventing mass shootings in the United States or in reducing the daily toll of gun violence.

And what about the “good guy with a gun” argument?

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (Facebook)

Obviously, you’d have to be out of touch with reality (as many gun zealots are) to claim that the Sutherland Springs mass shooting is an example of a “good guy with a gun” successfully stopping a “bad guy with a gun.” The action of Stephen Willeford was definitely heroic, but by the time that he shot and wounded Devin Kelley outside of the First Baptist Church, Kelly had already killed 25 people and wounded 20 others inside the church. An FBI study of 160 mass shootings between 2000 and 2013 found only one case in which an armed bystander other than a security guard or off duty police officer stopped a mass shooter. In 21 cases, unarmed bystanders disarmed and restrained the shooter. Whether the Sutherland Springs mass shooting would be considered by the FBI to be a case in which a mass shooting was interrupted by an armed bystander is unclear. While it’s possible that Kelley might have gone on to shoot other people after leaving the church, the evidence available at this time indicates that he had a vendetta against church members, and he’d already discarded his assault rifle by the time that Willeford shot him.

So, where do we go from here?

Following the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas on October 1, attention was focused on “bump stocks,” devices used by Stephen Paddock to make his semi-automatic rifles fire almost as rapidly as fully automatic ones. Brief consideration was given to banning “bump stocks,” but as usual, Congress took no action to prevent future mass shootings. Now, as the Sutherland Springs mass shooting fades from the spotlight, the Air Force has announced that it’s going to review its protocols for reporting Air Force personnel who should be prohibited from owning guns to the NICS, but no other action is being seriously considered by Congress to prevent future mass shootings.

A recent New York Times article about mass shootings in the United States concluded with a quotation from a British journalist, Dan Hodges, who wrote:

In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

In essence, Mr. Hodges is stating that the United States of America is a country that loves its guns more than its children. While I have come to the cynical conclusion that this statement may be true for some people in our country, I hope it’s not true for the majority, and I know it’s not true for you or for anyone else on our Americans Against Gun Violence listserv. I also strongly disagree with Mr. Hodges’s statement that the US gun control debate is over. On the contrary, I believe that the founding of Americans Against Gun Violence last year marks a new beginning.

Below is a list of what I see as some of the take home lessons from the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs mass shootings.

Please contact your state and federal elected officials to demand that they take the actions in bold print. (You can click on this link and enter your zip code to get the names and contact info for your elected officials. If you’re calling from a smart phone, you might want to enter the numbers of your US senators, your US representative, and your state legislators into your contact list for ease of calling in the future.) You can contact your elected officials about any one of the “bullet points” below that you feel most strongly about, or better yet, you can contact the same officials on a new bullet point every day until you’ve gone through the whole list.

  • All background check loopholes should be closed. A thorough background check should be required for any gun sale or transfer.
    Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward requiring thorough background checks for all gun sales and transfers.
  • All semi-automatic rifles should be banned, with no grandfather clause, as was done in Australia within just 13 days of the infamous Port Arthur massacre there in 1996. Such weapons are specifically designed for the purpose for which Devin Kelley and Stephen Paddock employed them – to kill and maim large numbers of people in a short period of time. There is no legitimate civilian use for such weapons.
  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward a complete ban on all semi-automatic rifles comparable to the ban enacted in Australia in 1996.
  • The paradigm for determining who can and cannot own a gun in the United States is backward. As the article in the New York Times referenced above pointed out, the United States is one of only three countries in the world, the other two being Mexico and Guatemala, in which the default position for someone seeking to acquire a gun is that the person can have the gun unless society can prove that he or she falls into a category of persons prohibited from owning one. In every other country of the world, the default position is that the person cannot have a gun unless he or she can prove why he or she needs one. And in most other high income democratic countries, “self defense” is not accepted as a reason for owning a gun given the well established fact that guns in the possession of honest, law-abiding people are much more likely to be used to kill or injure them than to protect them.
  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward requiring persons seeking to acquire a gun to submit convincing evidence that they have a good reason for having a gun and that they can handle one safely.
  • It’s the guns, stupid! As documented in the New York Times article on mass shootings, the reason why the United States is the only high income democratic country in the world in which mass shootings occur on a regular basis, and why the overall rate of gun related deaths in the USA is 10 times higher than the average in these other countries, is that the rate of gun ownership in our country is much higher than in every other high income democratic country of the world. The high rate of gun ownership in the United States is due, in turn, to our exceedingly lax gun control laws as compared with every other high income democratic country.
  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward the adoption of the same kind of stringent gun control laws in the United States that have long been in place in every other high income democratic country of the world, including a complete ban on civilian ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and stringent restrictions, if not a complete ban, on civilian ownership of handguns.
  • Good guys with guns don’t prevent mass shootings or reduce the daily toll of gun violence in our country. On the contrary, people with concealed weapons permits have committed mass shootings and many other criminal homicides. (See the Violence Policy Center report on “Concealed Carry Killers” for more information on this topic.)
  • Contact your US Senators and your US Representative and demand that they oppose H.R.38 and S.B.446, bills to make a concealed weapons permit issued in one state good in any other state.

Until the rogue Heller decision in 2008, there was no “Second Amendment right” for anyone to own any kind of a gun in the United States outside of service in a “well regulated militia.” Even after Heller, there’s no constitutional right to own an assault rifle. (See the post on the Facts and FAQ’s page of the Americans Against Gun Violence website concerning the Second Amendment for more details.)

  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward overturning the rogue Heller decision and restore the Second Amendment to its original meaning.
  • Contact PBS and demand that it retract the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment by CBS commentator William Brangham on the PBS News Hour during coverage of the Sutherland Springs mass shooting on November 7.
    • Brangham stated, “In the United States, the Second Amendment gives citizens broad rights to keep and bear arms. The Supreme Court has several times affirmed this fact.”
    • This statement is grossly inaccurate. See the post concerning the Second Amendment on the Facts and FAQ’s page of the Americans Against Gun Violence website for details.
    • In addition to demanding that PBS retract Brangham’s misrepresentation of the Second Amendment, demand that PBS rebroadcast the PBS News Hour segment from December 16, 1991, in which the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger stated in regard to the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment by the NRA that was endorsed by Brangham, “This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
    • If you’re a PBS contributor, mention this in your message.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, please become an official paid member of Americans Against Gun Violence, and please make an additional donation if you’re able.

The above “to do” may seem like a tall order. At our first annual dinner on October 22, though, our keynote speaker, Joshua Sugarmann, stated:

Gun violence is at epidemic levels in the United States, and this epidemic is preventable. You and I know that, and this knowledge is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that we know how to stop the epidemic of gun violence that afflicts our nation. The curse is that when the next “worst mass shooting” occurs, we can’t just shake our heads like so many others and wonder why these horrific tragedies keep occurring.  Instead, we have to ask ourselves, are we doing everything within our own power to prevent them?

Thanks for supporting Americans Against Gun Violence and for doing everything reasonably within your power to help stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence in the United States of America.

Bill Durston, MD
President, Americans Against Gun Violence
Reprinted courtesy Bill Durston

How Does Supreme Court Nominee Stand on Gun Control?

The late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger called the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right to own guns “one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American public” that he had seen in his lifetime. In responding to questions from California Senator Dianne Feinstein during his confirmation hearing on March 21, Judge Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, demonstrated that he was a party to that fraud. Please contact your U.S. Senators today and urge them to oppose the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. (Click on this link for contact information for your U.S. Senators.) For more information regarding Judge Gorsuch’s fraudulent misrepresentation of the Second Amendment during his confirmation hearing, please read on.

The Second Amendment states, in its entirety:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Prior to 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court had never ruled that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to own guns. On the contrary, it had been repeatedly established in Supreme Court decisions, in decisions of lower courts, and in reviews by legal historians that the Second Amendment was intended to protect a collective right of the people to maintain armed state militias, such as the current day National Guard, not a right of individual citizens to own firearms. In particular, the Supreme Court ruled in 1939 in the case of U.S. v. Miller and reiterated in 1980 in Lewis v. United States that, “The Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.’”

In 2008, however, a narrow 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court reversed over 200 years of legal precedent by ruling in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment did, indeed, confer an individual right to own guns, at least handguns of the type kept in the home “for protection.” The majority opinion in Heller, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, is internally contradictory and relies heavily on literature published in law journals over the past two decades by a small group of authors with direct ties to the gun lobby. Prior to the Lewis decision, it was virtually unheard of for any legal history expert to argue that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to own guns.

Scalia’s majority opinion in the Heller decision effectively deleted the phrase, “A well regulated militia” from the Second Amendment. In doing so, it opened the floodgates for a torrent of lawsuits challenging all sorts of gun control laws. Although handgun bans in Washington DC and Chicago were overturned, most other gun control laws, including bans on assault weapons, withstood post-Heller challenges.

In questioning Judge Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing, California Senator Dianne Feinstein asked him if he agreed that bans on civilian ownership of weapons such as M-16 rifles that are typically used in military service are consistent with Scalia’s majority opinion in the Heller decision. Gorsuch evaded answering the question directly.

Gorsuch: Senator, Heller makes clear the standard that we judges are supposed to apply. The question is whether it’s a gun in common use for self defense and that may be subject to reasonable regulation. That’s the task as I understand it. There’s lots of ongoing litigation about which weapons qualify under those standards and I can’t prejudge that litigation.

Feinstein: No, I’m just asking you do you agree with this statement, yes or no.
Gorsuch: The statements of, the, uh, Heller decision?
Feinstein: Justice Scalia’s statement.
Gorsuch: Whatever’s in Heller is the law, and I follow the law.
Feinstein: Do you agree?
Gorsuch: Well, it’s not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing, Senator, respectfully, it’s a matter of it being the law, and my job is to apply and enforce the law.

Judge Gorsuch clearly knows, or should know, that the 2008 Heller decision represented a radical reversal of the Court’s prior interpretation of the Second Amendment. He also knows, or should know, that courts have ruled post-Heller that bans on assault weapons do not violate the Second Amendment, but the gun lobby, which enthusiastically supported his nomination by Donald Trump, wants the Supreme Court to rule that civilian ownership of AR-15’s, the civilian version of the M-16 military assault rifle and currently the most popular gun in America, is protected by the Second Amendment. Finally, Gorsuch definitely knows that the Heller decision could be reversed by a change in a single justice on the Supreme Court, and that had Hillary Clinton become President instead of Donald Trump, she almost certainly would have nominated a Supreme Court Justice who would have tipped the balance on the Court and reversed the Heller decision.

In stating, “Whatever’s in Heller is the law, and I follow the law,” Gorsuch is endorsing what the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger called “one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American public” that he had seen in his lifetime. In refusing to answer Senator Feinstein’s question concerning a ban on assault weapons, Gorsuch is also signaling that he would likely vote to expand the category of constitutionally protected firearms beyond handguns protected by Heller to include assault rifles such as the AR-15’s which are currently “in common use.”

It’s ironic that Gorsuch, like the late Antonin Scalia, claims to be an “originalist,” basing his decisions on the original intent of the framers of the constitution. In his introductory comments before his Senate confirmation hearing, he paid tribute to the late Antonin Scalia, stating: “He reminded us that words matter—that the judge’s job is to follow the words that are in the law—not replace them with words that aren’t.”

If words matter, then what is it about the phrase, “A well regulated militia,” that Neil Gorsuch doesn’t understand? And where in the Second Amendment does he find the words, “a gun in common use for self defense?”

Recognizing that Gorsuch was not going to give her a straight answer concerning whether he thought bans on assault weapons were consistent with the Heller decision, Senator Feinstein went on to ask him whether he agreed with Fourth Circuit Court Judge Harvey Wilkinson who wrote in the case of Kolbe v. Hogan that the Second Amendment was ambiguous and that the ambiguity should be resolved by legislators representing the people who were directly affected by gun violence, not by judges who were relatively insulated from it. Again, Gorsuch refused to give a straight answer.

Gorsuch: I begin by saying I hold Judge Wilkinson in high regard. He is a very fine man and a very fine judge.
Feinstein: Can you say yes or no?
Gorsuch: No, I’m, I wish I could, um, but…
Feinstein: I wish you could too.
Gorsuch: You know, the Supreme Court of the United States isn’t final because it’s infallible, as Justice Jackson reminds us. It’s infallible because it’s final. And, uh, Judge Wilkinson had his view, and the Supreme Court has spoken, and, and, Heller is the law of the land, and Judge Wilkinson may disagree with it and I understand that, um, and he may, but he will follow the law no less than any other judge in America. I am confident of that. Um, he’s a very fine judge who takes his oath seriously.

Gorsuch knows that the Supreme Court is neither infallible nor final. It’s not uncommon for the Supreme Court to reverse a previous ruling. According to the Government Accounting Office, the Supreme Court has issued rulings that overturned all or part of previous decisions on 236 occasions from 1810 through 2016. The 2008 Heller decision has been called by some legal scholars one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in U.S. history. Heller may be the law of the land today, but Heller overturned the rulings in Miller in 1939 and Lewis in 1980. If confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, Gorsuch himself could choose to be the deciding vote in overturning the radical Heller decision and in returning the Second Amendment to its original meaning. It’s clear from his answers to Senator Feinstein’s questions, though, that Gorsuch does not intend to do so.

The issue of the Second Amendment is only one of many on which Judge Neil Gorsuch refused to provide a straight answer to questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during two days of confirmation hearings. His evasive answers on the Second Amendment alone, though, along with his endorsement of a fraudulent misrepresentation of the Second Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right to own guns, are reason enough to deny him a position on the Supreme Court. Please contact your U.S. Senators today and urge them to oppose the appointment of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thanks for your support of Americans Against Gun Violence and our efforts to stop the shameful epidemic of firearm related deaths and injuries that afflicts our country. If you haven’t already done so, please become a paid member and consider making an additional donation if you’re able. Please also visit the Facts and FAQ’s page of the Americans Against Gun Violence website to learn about other actions that you can take right now to help stop gun violence.

We can’t call ourselves a great nation until the day when rates of firearm related deaths and injuries in our country are at or below the rates in other high income democratic countries. In order to achieve that goal, we must reverse the fraudulent misrepresentation of the Second Amendment in the Heller decision and adopt stringent gun control laws comparable to the laws that have long been in place in every other high income democratic country of the world. I look forward to working with you to make that day come sooner rather than later.

Bill Durston, MD
President, Americans Against Gun Violence

Bill Durston shares ideas on guns in America

Dr. Bill Durston spoke at the January meeting of the American River Democrats, and of everything he spoke of, one statistic hit the hardest. Many Americans have the belief that being a responsible gun owner will give them protection from the bad people out there that may do their family harm. But the New England Journal of Medicine reported that a gun in the house is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder. That’s right. For every one bad guy who invades a home and is killed by the armed homeowner, 43 other people – children, wives, husbands, neighbors, bystanders, and always the most shocking of all, a kid visiting a friend – are killed by a gun in the home.

And yet, despite that shocking number, 63% of Americans polled believe a gun in the home makes them safer.

durston 2

Dr. Bill Durston is well known to East Sacramento Democrats. He ran twice against Dan Lungren for Congress, paving the way for Dr. Ami Bera’s successful election in 2012. But he is also an Emergency Room physician, a Vietnam war veteran, and the current President of the Sacramento chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He pointed out that more Americans are killed by guns here at home every year than died in battle in the whole of the Vietnam war. And the number of Americans killed by foreign terrorists is tiny compared the the people who die in gun violence.

While we spent thousands of lives and billions of dollars invading Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction, we are in fact sitting on a huge stockpile of WMD’s right here in America. Our small arms do more damage than anything Saddam Hussein ever threatened us with. California alone has the equivalent of 9/11 attack every year, with about 3,000 deaths from guns. Gun violence is the fourth leading cause of premature death in the US.

I came of age in the 1970’s, and I remember discussions of gun control actually revolved around handguns, especially those cheap and easy Saturday Night Specials that criminals often used. Efforts were underway to restrict or eliminate manufacturing and sales of handguns, advocates pointing out that legitimate sportsmen and “home defenders” were well supplied with rifles and shotguns, and that handguns were designed to just kill people, and were easily concealed.

And yet, despite the fact that handguns are the overwhelmingly most common type of weapon in the death of Americans (U.S. Dept. of Justice) restricting handguns is not even part of the discussion anymore. The efforts have shifted to automatic and semi-automatic weapons, both handgun and rifle style. And thanks to the efforts of the NRA, even that’s going nowhere.

How did we get to this point? The NRA started as a hunter’s organization, that actually supported sensible gun control. But they have been co-opted by the gun manufacturers who are in the business of supplying the weapons that most of the country is in favor of restricting. Dr. Durston pointed out that this is like the “nicotine effect”. Guns are very well made instruments, and when cared for, a good hunting rifle, shotgun, or revolver can last a lifetime. When used on an annual hunting trip, occasional target practice, or in those rare emergency situations, the owner uses very little ammo, and passes their guns down through generations.

Well that is a big problem for gun makers, because it is a limited market. So they get people hooked on newer, more powerful guns (like cigarette makers get smokers hooked on nicotine). Like many consumer goods, once you get one, you’re looking at the next bigger and better version. And if those guns can shoot a thousand rounds in a few seconds, all the better for supplying ammunition! So despite their lofty talk of defending our liberties, protecting our families, and honoring the second amendment, it’s really about money. So any effort to reign in the power of assault style weapons is met with a huge push by the NRA on lawmakers. And when laws do pass, the gun makers’ efforts go to finding technical loopholes in making powerful guns that find their way around the rules.

But some people still insist that they feel safer in their home with a gun. Durston pointed out that our best trained professional gun users – our law enforcement officers – when killed in the line of duty, are shot 20% of the time with their own weapons. (In a conflict, the suspect may gain control of the officer’s gun.) And 85% of peace officers never fire their weapons on duty at all. Can the average citizen do better than the well trained cops? And as guns become more and more powerful, we put the general public in an arms race with law enforcement, and the end result may be even more lethal force used, as officers protect themselves against a more well armed public.

Wayne LaPierre makes a point (Politic365.com - Alex Brandon AP)

Wayne LaPierre makes a point (Politic365.com – Alex Brandon AP)

The NRA, and Wayne LaPierre, like to say that the only defense against an armed bad guy is an armed good guy. That may make some sense when the good guy is a trained, uniformed officer, but they mean you and me – we’re the good guys who should shoot back. But consider the scenarios of some of our famous mass shootings. If the response to a shooting at a school, theater, or other public place is all of our well armed heroes pulling out their weapons, we now have several armed people aiming their guns and looking for their targets. While the bad guys are roaming, or even dead, good guys are seeing other armed strangers with guns, and may begin shooting each other, thinking they’ve found the bad guys. And then police arrive, and have to determine who the bad guys are. If they startle an armed person into waving their gun towards the officer, they will likely shoot. And the real bad guy can just blend in and pretend to be one of the heroes…

How about suggesting that the only defense against an armed bad guy is to – one, do everything we can to make sure he isn’t armed. Two, if he is armed, make sure his weapon isn’t rapid-fire military grade. Three, if he is armed, make sure the cops know he’s the bad guy, and if he’s not arrested for actually shooting someone, arrest him for just having the gun. (Can you imagine if we protected our schools by arming teachers? How many inquisitive kids would find those “well secured guns” and start shooting at school?)

But what about when the bad guys are not around? People with guns are far more likely to get killed or injured by their own guns, either accidentally or through suicide. How many stories do we hear each year about a kid finding a parent’s gun and using it, or an angry or despondent person killing a family or co-workers before turning the gun on himself? No, gun control would not prevent many of these incidents, especially since handguns are not even a target for control these days. (Waiting periods and mental illness restrictions on gun purchases may help, but not if the gun is already present.) Perhaps the only answer to some of these tragedies is changing the culture of guns.

A tragic illustration of the dangerous culture of gun ownership happened right here in Sacramento on New Years morning. A young man and young woman, parents of a little girl, stepped out of their home to celebrate the new year. He had his gun with him, likely to shoot in the air as they welcomed in 2015. By 12:06, the young woman was dead of accidental gunfire from her boyfriend. Steven Lucas was arrested for homicide, but his true punishment is knowing for the rest of his life that he killed the woman he loved and his daughter’s mother.

kaykey leavitt steven lucas

In the media, her family expressed their forgiveness, knowing that he did not intend to kill her. But the real culprit is the attitude we Americans have to guns. Pictures posted on his Facebook page showed him and Kayley holding and shooting the handgun that killed her. She’d be alive today if there was no gun in their home, and if a gun wasn’t treated as something fun to have, and even celebrate with. America’s love affair with guns results in too many tragedies like this.

Dr. Durston said that a common view of America from the rest of the world is that we love our guns more than our children. This in the face of 250 school shootings (not just Sandy Hook) in the past five years, with virtually nothing done in response.  Most of the guns from those shootings came from the shooter’s home.

So what can be done when virtually all Republicans, and a fair number of rural-state Democrats, refuse to consider even the most “mild” efforts to restrict at least the most dangerous assault weapons? Nationally we can encourage the new Surgeon General of the U.S., Dr. Vivek Murthy, to issue warnings of the lethal danger of keeping guns in the home. That approach did do some good with cigarettes, and led to further awareness and eventual action taken.

We can also encourage our school officials and board members to communicate the warnings about guns in the home, safe storage laws, and the liabilities that gun owners face when their guns are used, accidentally or intentionally by others, to harm people. Hopefully more education and sharing information can dispel the dangerous myth that guns are effective in protecting your family, when they are in fact the most dangerous single item you can have in your home (other than perhaps a honey oil or meth lab – but those people usually keep a gun as well.)

In 2008, when Justices Alito and Roberts were added to the Supreme Court, they ruled for the first time that the second amendment actually applied to an individual right to weapons. Prior to that, the language was judged to be what it actually said – for an organized militia. While rescinding the second amendment may be a lofty goal, electing Democratic Presidents, so future appointed justices may be more reasonable, is something we can all work towards.

Ken Kiunke, Communications Secretary. 2/08/2015

Learn more:

Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Politic365.com – the 10 Stupidest Lines from Wayne LaPierre

Sacramento Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility

Visit Sacpsr.org to enter Sacramento area High School seniors in an essay contest for scholarship awards based on the quote “The world is over-armed, and peace is under-funded.” by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Enter by March 11 2015.