Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review - Part I (gun-related crimes)

2011 is out, and 2012 is in.  Happy New Year's to you all.  I hope it has been a safe one for everyone reading this.

2011 was pretty deadly here in the Eugene / Springfield area of Oregon.  There have been 14 shootings reported in the media (though most suicides and accidents go unreported) in this small-town area.  This is the highest number of shootings for at least the last four years in my area (since I've been keeping track), and probably much longer.  9 dead, 6 injured.  That is only for my area, not for the rest of Oregon.  It has been a particularly deadly year in southern Oregon and over in the Coos Bay area, as well as Portland, but I'm not going into those here.

There were 2 murder/suicides in that number (here and here) in the Eugene area.  Questions still surround these, as there is no known motive for either of them, and no note.

For those of you convinced that drug dealers and gangs are responsible for most shootings, here in my area only 2 of the shootings are linked to them. Neither was fatal.  These don't count the accidental shooting (of a friend mistaken as a robber) at a medical marijuana grower in Springfield, or a shooting at another medical marijuana grower in Eugene.

There were also a record number of armed robberies.  A handful, 4 or 5, involved threats with knives.  About that many had only a note and no weapon.  But 27 armed robberies in my area had robbers who used guns.  Nearly all were of businesses or banks.  Luckily, none of them resulted in any injures.  And in none of them did anyone try to resist by drawing their own concealed weapon.  The bit of money the robbers were after is hardly worth a life-and-death shootout. 

There were two shootings at homes that were ruled as defensive, "justified" shootings.  One was a domestic dispute involving a property dispute between a man and his sister's partner, with questionable circumstances that led to the death of the brother (the shooter claimed he was attacked with a tire iron, but friends of the deceased claim the sister and her partner wanted the brother's land, and why did the partner walk out of the house to confront the deceased instead of calling the sheriff?).  The other was where two suspects invaded a legal marijuana grower's property to steal marijuana.  The homeowners pulled out a shotgun.  Can you guess who got injured?  Not the robbers. 

The shooting that made the most headlines was the death of a traffic cop, Officer Chris Kilcullen, at the hands of a dangerously mentally ill woman, Cheryl Kidd, during a traffic stop in April.  The shooter had been mentally ill for a long time, schizophrenic, and convinced that the police were out to shoot her.  She was so dangerously ill that her doctor had sent her to the hospital a couple months before to be evaluated.  Nonetheless, she had been able to legally purchase her gun at a local sporting goods store, clearing a background check.  (Oregon only sent two records of mentally ill persons to the NICS background check system in all of 2011, despite a legal mandate).  There is now a stretch of highway dedicated to Officer Kilcullen, but the best tribute would be to pass legislation to strengthen the background check system to prevent this from happening.  So far, that hasn't been done.

There were also a very few suicides reported (they only get reported if they are very public in some manner), a couple accidental shootings (one was of an off-duty police officer who, while at a shooting range, shot himself while trying to remove his loaded rifle from his car), and an assortment of non-fatal and general gun crimes of all types.  In all, there were at least 55 gun-related crimes that were reported in the media for my area, that I am aware of.  Who knows how many weren't reported in the media.  I occasionally hear of one or two, and gun crimes are so commonplace that most are not reported in all media outlets, just one or two, so unless I read them all every day (which rarely happens), then sometimes they get past me.

In my next post I will focus on our efforts to reduce gun crimes in my area in 2011, and our successes and obstacles.

Have a safe and happy New Year.  Together, we can work to create a new trajectory for our communities away from gun violence.

In Part II of this 2-part posting, I talk about our accomplishments and challenges from 2011, and how Ceasefire Oregon has worked to reduce gun violence in that year.

Image taken from here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Holidays Are About Peace And Goodwill, Not Guns

I want to wish all of my readers a very peaceful and joy-filled Christmas and holiday season.

I celebrate Christmas.  But regardless of which holiday you celebrate, the holiday season is about peace and goodwill toward our fellow citizens.  It's about family values.  It's about putting the worst of us behind us and going into the new year with a renewed sense of bettering ourselves and our communities.  To that end we celebrate by enjoying a little light in the darkest time of year -- namely the light of our faith and our fellowship.

Do guns fit into that philosophy?  Are lethal weapons part of the "goodwill toward Man?"

Earlier this month, the gun guys in Scottsdale reveled in their gun fetish as part of their season of joy by posing with their children and Santa ... and machine guns.  See the picture, above.  Said the owner:

"It's designed to be a holiday-themed event where people can express their passion for firearms and the holiday spirit."

Really?  The "holiday spirit" involves deadly weapons to these people?  Do they really celebrate the same holiday I do?  It doesn't seem to resemble mine.  And if you think violent movies and video games glorify guns and violence to our young children, just wait until they see Santa wielding his AR-15!

Listen to how Fox commentators try to justify it, saying it's a "reminder to visiting Europeans" not to invade us, and a threat to Occupy protesters that "the other side is better armed."  Wow.   And when one of the panel questions the involvement of children in this nonsense, watch how the gun apologists jump on him.  Is this how we want our nation to see Christmas?

And gun sales are apparently up this Christmas season in Springfield, Missouri.  From the article:

Firearms sales are always brisk this time of year at Gunsmoke Gun & Pawn.
"A lot of guys are buying themselves guns for Christmas," says manager Brandon Reynolds. "It's Christmas bonus season and people have a little extra disposable cash."
And giving firearms as gifts is becoming as popular as any flat screen TV or bicycle. 
"We sell a lot of concealed carry weapons," adds Reynolds. "We do the classes here and they're full just about every Saturday."
Sales for concealed carry weapons -- or CCWs -- are on the rise, especially since August when the minimum age for a permit dropped from 23 to 21.

Nothing expresses your joy and love for your loved ones like lethal weapons, apparently.  And how very relieving to know that people just out of their teens are now arming themselves on the streets of Missouri.  They'll have great judgment for life-and-death situations, I'm sure.

We need to fight this deadly nonsense.  Christmas is about understanding and peace, not about arming ourselves and our paranoia.

Here's one thing I'm grateful for today.  Here in the Eugene/Springfield area of Oregon, there hasn't been anyone killed or injured by firearms since early November, as far as has been reported in the media.  It must be some kind of a record.  There's been at least ten armed robberies with guns since then (bringing the yearly total to something like 30 now), but at least no one was harmed.  Let's hope the relative peace holds for a while longer.  Other areas of Oregon haven't been so lucky.

From myself and Ceasefire Oregon, I wish all of you a peaceful and joyous holiday season.  Put away your guns, eat some fruitcake, spend just a little bit of your time helping someone less fortunate, and try to recognize that even the worst people out there have at least a shred of decency worth appealing to.  Merry Christmas, and may peace be with you.

ADDENDUM (12/30/11):  Man who killed his entire family and himself after unwrapping presents, and dressed as Santa, was pre-meditated; distraught over financial issues: 

RELATED ARTICLE (12/31/11):  "No Season of Peace from Gun Violence" by Dennis Henigan:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Playing "Wyatt Earp" With Their Guns

Time and again I see statements by pro-gun extremists and the NRA suggesting that, if there were just more guns on the streets, criminals would be too afraid to commit crimes for fear of being shot.  But they don't just couch these statements in the language of self-defense.  They talk about vigilantism.  They talk about "helping" the police in times of crisis.  Even though most gun carriers lack conflict mediation training, have no requirements for proficiency with firearms, and are accountable to no one beyond the law, they still propose that they play "Wyatt Earp." 

I've been in a shooting.  I know that the mind doesn't work the same way it does when you can focus at a shooting range or sit and imagine what you'd do in a conflict.  Even highly-trained police only hit their target about 15% of the time in a firefight.  Do you think the typical citizen with a gun can be even that accurate?  Or make snap judgments about who's the guilty one and who isn't?  Or decide when someone should live or die?  I don't want to be anywhere near one of these yahoos when they decide to take the law into their own hands.

Here's one recent example where a man witnessed a purse robber, then took matters into his own hands to chase the guy down and then shoot him dead.  Is the robbery of a purse from an old woman worth killing someone over?  Is this sort of vigilante justice what we want in America?

Oh, sure, the gun guys deny wanting to play "Wyatt Earp."  For instance, when I've brought this up before, one Anonymous commenter suggested:

[T]hose of us with CCPs do not want to be Wyatt Earp. If we did we go into Law Enforcement. My wife and I carry so as to protect ourselves. Period. My first thought if someone is shooting is to protect my family first and foremost. If we can leave and escape safely we will do so without drawing or shooting our weapons. However, if the threat is immediate and life threatening to my family or I than I will remove the threat.

Another, "18Echo", commented:

No one that is carrying openly or otherwise is "playing" at anything. Your statement is insulting. We all understand the potentially lethal ramifications of carrying a firearm. None of us are looking for a gunfight, as your Wyatt Earp comment implies nor are we looking to do the job of the police. In fact, all we want is to go about our lives in peace.

I hope they were telling the truth.  Probably most who carry don't have the desire to "play police."  But enough do that it worries me. Sorry, 18Echo, but you'll see how wrong you are when you read below.

This all came up again when the California Brady Campaign released an email alert about the Open Carry protesters there.  As you'll see, these gun extremists have no problem picking a fight with otherwise peaceful people, in the hope of causing a riot and getting an excuse to "play Wyatt Earp":

Open Carriers to Bring Long Guns to Occupy Protest After Being Asked to Leave
--CA Brady Campaign Urges Families to Stay Away from Todos Santos Park in Concord on Saturday, December 17th

CONCORD--According to their website, Open Carriers plan to bring long guns to an Occupy Protest (where they had previously been asked to leave) scheduled at Concord’s Todos Santos Park on Saturday, December 17, from 12 – 1 pm. From the following statement on their website it appears they are attempting to police the protesters’ behavior. The California Brady Campaign is concerned that what was previously billed as a gathering of gun owners to make a political statement about their gun rights, is now becoming a vigilante activity of attending other groups’ events. This dangerous provocation could lead to clashes resulting in accidental or intentional shootings.

(From website): “Apparently the last time we showed up to the occupy movement for a moment "took away" from the message of the occupy movement and the leaders of occupy asked Concord PD to ask us to leave. Well officers said sorry that is also free speech. Maybe Open Carry can show that we have the ability to protect ourselves and our community in case of riots. We do not need civil unrest conducted in our communities which hurts small business even though we encourage free speech.”

After the State Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a bill to ban the open carry of unloaded handguns in California, groups of Open Carriers have staged gatherings around the state displaying unloaded long guns and ammunition. Long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, are designed to be fired braced against the shoulder, in contrast to a handgun. The protests are directed at the signing of AB 144 (Portantino), which refers only to handguns.

Said Dr. Dallas Stout, President of the CA Brady Campaign: “This vigilante behavior is irresponsible and dangerous because they are putting the community at risk in protest of a law that was sponsored and championed by law enforcement. Especially after the recent massacres in Cupertino and Seal Beach, to have Open Carriers walking around with lethal long guns and live ammunition intimidates and scares people.”

The CA Brady Campaign is urging people for their own safety to stay away from any location where the Open Carry meet-ups are taking place; and urging business and restaurant owners to enact their private property rights and forbid any guns on their premises for the safety of their employees and customers. Upon learning of any Long Gun Open Carry meet-ups the CA Brady Campaign will send out a news release to warn the community in advance.

These pro-gun extremists call their group "Responsible Citizens of California," but picking a fight so they can shoot peaceful protesters hardly seems "responsible" to me.  There is no doubt about it: these are armed bullies who wish to threaten and harm peaceful people, and they need to be called out on it.  If they think they're helping their "cause", they are sorely wrong.  It's easy for the rest of us to see their radical extremism on display.

And for the rest of the pro-gun crowd who has the daydream of playing "Wyatt Earp," think again.  Keep your daydreams in your head.  Leave your gun at home.  Don't endanger the rest of us.  America doesn't want vigilante justice.

UPDATE (12/16/11 ):  These same Open Carry protesters showed up at a mall today and ate as a group at a BJ's restaurant which had already announced that they weren't welcomed (but didn't turn them away). Open Carry of handguns (but not long rifles) becomes illegal in California on Jan. 1:

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Virginia Tech Shooter -- The Sort Of Student The Extremists Want To Arm

Last week was horrifying for the small town of Blacksburg, Virginia, and Virginia Tech University.  Summoning visions of the massacre that took place there in 2007, initial reports described how  a lone gunman shot a police officer on the grounds of the VT campus, and how another person had been shot and killed as well.  It was thought the shooter was still at large.  The campus locked down immediately.  Given that I have a dear friend who works as staff there at VT, I paid close attention to the reports.  Naturally I had fears of another mass shooting.

That was several days ago.  Since then, the story has become clear.  Ross Truet Ashley, age 22, apparently snapped.  For reasons that are still unclear from media reports, last Wednesday he robbed the office of his landlord at gunpoint, demanded the keys of the landlord's Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle,  then drove off in it.  Almost 24 hours later, officer Deriek W. Crouse had pulled over a motorist on the grounds of Virginia Tech University.  From out of nowhere, and for reasons unknown, Ashley abandoned his stolen vehicle, walked up and shot the officer, killing him.  Ironically, the shooting happened across from the dormitory where the first shootings began in 2007.  Ashley  then ran off to the university greenhouses  and made a quick change of clothes.  Meanwhile, notices were already being sent to students, and the campus was locking down.  Officers spotted Ashley in a parking complex, but by the time they caught up to him, he had shot and killed himself.  They didn't initially identify him due to the change in clothing.

Obviously, the community was traumatized -- not just due to the horror of the event itself, but because this conjured memories of the 2007 shooting, where another mentally ill lone gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, shot and killed 32 students and faculty before taking his own life on the VT campus. 

This case is particularly ironic, given that pro-gun groups have been holding rallies at area universities, trying to goad the universities into allowing concealed carry by their students, which the universities have a policy against.  It's interesting to note, though, that the general public, outside of students, can carry there.  These groups, particularly the radical Virginia Citizen's Defense League, held such a protest at VT on December 1.  On Wednesday, Dec. 7, they held a rally at Radford University.  The rally was going on when, almost within sight of the protest, Ashley robbed his landlord's office.  Had Ashley known about the protest?  Did he attend?  It's unknown.  The next day, as the shooting was taking place 2 hours away, the pro-gun extremists were holding another protest at James Madison University in Harrisonburg. 

Even before the shooter had been identified or many facts were known, pro-gun extremists were commenting that this case proved that students should be allowed to carry guns on school grounds.  Just like the protestors, they claimed on the comments sections of online news flashes that students should be allowed to protect themselves, that if they had a gun the shooter would be dead, that the universities were trampling the Second Amendment.  All arguments about the dangers of guns or availability of guns to criminals were snidely brushed aside with language about patriotism and rights. 

But let's take another look at what they claim.  The pro-gun crowd likes to suggest that the sort of people who go on shooting sprees are criminals with previous records, obviously mentally ill, drug dealers, or gang members.  Their vision of students who should be armed are students who have a clean record, who are well-adjusted, academically achieved, and well-liked -- law-abiding citizens who just want to feel secure.

Students just like Ross Truet Ashley.

You see, Ashley had no previous criminal record.  He had shaved his head and was known to run rather than walk, but otherwise showed no clear signs of mental illness.  He was a student, attending part-time at the business school at Radford University, 16 minutes away from VT.  He was of legal age to purchase a firearm and have a concealed carry license.  He is described as being friendly, nice, and quiet.  He never talked about guns, drank, or used drugs (although he owned a gun and had visited a shooting range), wasn't a loner, and had been a star football player in high school.  And he was academically achieved, having served on Student Government committees and been on the dean's list at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise in southwest Virginia in recent years.  This is a young man who seemed to have everything going for him.  It's unclear if he had a concealed carry license, but there was nothing stopping him from getting one. 

Said his roommate from his years at U.Va-Wise:

"I was like, 'Oh, my God,'" he said. "This was my freshman roommate. This was the first person I met in college. This dude wore my clothes. This is freaking me out for real -- this is so crazy."

Vaughan said he was shocked by Ashley’s alleged actions.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “He doesn’t seem like the type who would do something like that. He was always eager to help and pretty much always in attendance [at SGA meetings]. He always had a smile on his face. I would never have imagined him doing anything like this.

Ashley was the model student for the campus conceal carry movement -- until he went on his murderous crime spree. 

In the emotionally- and academically-charged and sometimes irresponsible environment that defines university life for young people, how then are we to trust that the average student carrying a gun is to be trusted?  Does it make students safer somehow?  The pro-gun extremists think it does.  The vast majority of students and faculty at VT don't, and neither do any of the survivors of the 2007 shooting or their families.

The day after last week's shooting, Lori Haas, the mother of one of the first 2007 shooting survivors, Emily, had this to say:

Meanwhile, on the same day that we lost Officer Rouse [sic], a radical pro-gun group, the Virginian Citizens Defense League, or VCDL, was rallying on the James Madison University campus to force the school to allow guns in its classrooms and dormitories. When they’re not busy trying to arm our campuses, VCDL advocates for the eradication of Virginia’s state background check system.

Keep in mind that neither the Virginia Tech administration—nor a single victim or surviving family member of the 2007 massacre—supports these attacks on our gun laws. To the contrary, many of us are calling for tougher, universal background checks on all gun sales to halt the carnage before it ever begins.

Recently, my friend Colin Goddard—who like my daughter was shot on April 16, 2007, but survived—said something that stuck with me. Responding to those whose only solution to violence on campus is to arm themselves with concealed handguns, he said, “Shame on those unwilling to be their brothers’ keeper, but being all too eager to be his executioners."

Similar sentiments were shared by Omar Samaha, whose sister, Reema, was shot at VT in 2007.  Samaha works hard to help prevent concealed carry on campuses.

And for those pro-gun folks who are still arguing that being armed on campus is going to save the lives of students, let me point out the following.  Ashley's victim, Officer Crouse, was a Virginia Tech Police Emergency Response Team member, an Army veteran, was trained as a Crisis Intervention Officer, General Instructor, Firearms Instructor, Defensive Tactics instructor and most recently completed training for Advance Law Enforcement Rapid Response and Mechanical and Ballistic Instructor (source).  And yet, despite all of Crouse's training and experience, the shooter still got the jump on him and murdered him.  What are the chances, then, that the average student, barely trained in firearms or conflict engagement, could have any better luck?  Is that chance worth all of the potential non-defensive shootings?

Universities are no place for guns.  Keep 'em gun-free.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What If Gun Control Debates Were Applied To A 5th Grade Classroom Situation?

And now, a script.  I'm certain it will win a Tony Award.  I present to you:  
"Gum Control in Mrs. Cali's 5th Grade Class"

Mrs. Cali:  Class, for some time it has been school policy to allow students to chew gum in classrooms.  However, due to a number of recent incidents here, I have decided to forbid gum chewing in my classroom from this day forward.

Wayne:  But, Mrs. Cali, that's unfair! 

Mrs. Cali:  Wayne, yesterday Tommy threw his gum into Bradi's hair, and I had to explain to her angry parents why it had happened.  The day before that, I stepped in gum that a student had dropped to the floor.  Also, a quick look last week turned up at least a couple dozen wads of gum that had been left stuck underneath your desks.  This has gone too far, and I refuse to allow it further.

Rick (smacking on chewing gum):  But, Mrs. Cali, I haven't been irresponsible with my gum.  Why should I have to pay the consequences for other people's bad behavior?  It's not fair!

Mrs. Cali:  I'm sorry, Rick, but don't blame me.  Blame those who abused their right to chew gum. 

Wayne:  I agree with Rick.  You're treating us all like bad guys!  When Tommy threw the gum, you sent him to the Principal's office.  He got the punishment he deserved.  But now you would have us all pay for his mistake!  You should only punish the bad guys.  Besides, the bad guys will still bring in gum and chew it when you aren't looking.  When gum is outlawed only outlaws will chew gum.

Bradi:  I'm glad for the decision, Mrs. Cali!  Speaking as a victim of gum violence, I feel very uncomfortable allowing people to chew while I'm trying to learn.  Every day in this school there are at least 32 incidents of gum violence.  Kids like Tommy and Rick only care about themselves and don't think about others who could be victimized.

Rick:  Bradi, don't you dare lump me in with bad kids like Tommy, just because I chew gum!  I'm sorry you were a victim, but it shouldn't cause me to have to pay, too!

Wayne:  Besides, Mrs. Cali, it's our right to have gum in school.  Part Two of the Student Code of Conduct says so!  Ever since the founding of this school.

Mrs. Cali:  The Code says, "Students have the right to keep and bear snacks and candy."  It didn't specify gum, in particular, and students didn't have today's modern, super-sticky gum back in those days or abuse their right to chew it nearly as often.

Wayne:  Yes, but the Student Council recently ruled that Part Two applies to modern gum, and that every student has the right to have it.

Mrs. Cali:   Sure, but they also said that individual classrooms could still determine how to regulate it.  You are allowed to have gum in your personal locker and to chew it there, but when you step into my classroom, you're not allowed to chew it.

Rick:  Well, Mr. Arizo allows it in his classroom, and students can chew it openly there without him saying anything.  He's a big supporter of gum chewing.  (Rick blows a bubble and pops it, loudly).

Bradi:  Sure, but just last week, that crazy boy, Jared, threw gum in the hair of several students in Mr. Arizo's class!  His class is one of the worst for gum throwing!

Mrs. Cali:  Mr. Arizo is just going to have to clean up the mess himself.  Here, I'm not going to tolerate it.  As for the Student Council's recent ruling, let's note who else benefits:  the concession stand.  They get to sell more gum this way.  It's not really about the students and their rights.

Rick:  That's not what they said.  They said it's about Part Two of the Code.

Mrs. Cali:  What they say is different from what they think.  Just follow the money.

Rick:  You're blaming an inanimate object for the bad actions of people.  You're just a chiclephobe!  Gums don't mess people, people mess people!

Bradi:  "Chiclephobe?"  Why do you think she's afraid of gum?

Wayne:  I and the other students who love gum know full well how anti-gum you guys are.  You want to ban gum altogether and take it away from us! 

Mrs. Cali:  Don't be ridiculous.  I never said anything about gum banning, and I'm not afraid of gum!  I just want to control it and keep it from being abused.

Wayne:  You just want to keep us from exercising our rights!  It's discrimination against gum chewers, just like racism!

Rick (pointing at Mrs. Cali):  Yeah!  Gum-grabber! 

Bradi:  Stop making wild accusations and name-calling!  You're just trying to hijack the debate!  How many kids have to have gum in their hair before you admit controlling gum is necessary?  You'd think different if you were the one hit by gum violence!

Rick:  I wouldn't be the victim, cuz I'd hit them with my own gum first!  If everyone chewed gum, the gum-throwers would be too afraid to start a fight.

Bradi:  No, don't you see?  With more gum chewing there would be more gum-throwing, too, just like in Mr. Arizo's class!

Mrs. Cali:  Okay, class, settle down!  Now, I'm prepared to compromise.  If you want to chew gum, I'll give you a permission slip to do so in my room if I think you aren't the sort to abuse it.  If you mis-behave, then I'll take away your permission slip.  This is something that several other classrooms do.

Wayne:  We shouldn't have to get a piece of paper to exercise our right!  Besides, the bad guys won't bother with it and will still chew.

Rick:  And who says you're the right person to judge us?  It's too subjective!

Mrs. Cali:  Rick, no one is a better judge of your behavior than me, in my classroom.  And Wayne, this way I can keep track of who is exercising their right appropriately.

Rick:  I'd feel very uncomfortable having the faculty keep track of me this way.  They'd put me on some secret list and when they decide to ban gum they'll know to track me down, bust down the door of my locker and take all my gum away from me!  They'll have to pry my gum from my cold, dead hands!

Mrs. Cali:  Don't be so melodramatic and paranoid, Rick!

Wayne:  If you issue a permission slip, that's one more I'll have to have, and I have to keep track of them all when I go from class to class.  Plus their requirements differ widely.  How many permission slips am I going to have to deal with?  There should be only one permission slip required, and it should be as permissive as possible, like from Mr. Arizo.

Bradi:  No way!  A student like Tommy could get a slip from Mr. Arizo very easily, even though he's shown a tendency toward gum violence here in Mrs. Cali's class!

Wayne:  I'm going to go to the Student Council and appeal your decision, Mrs. Cali!  Gum chewing is a right and therefore shouldn't be regulated at all.

Bradi:  They'd be insane to listen to you!  Our school is far too lax about controlling gum.  Other schools have almost no incidents of gum violence compared to us!  Whether it's a right or not, it needs common sense regulation to reduce the rate of gum-throwing!

Mrs. Cali:  Enough!  For now my rule stands and ....

[Suddenly there is an argument outside the classroom door, then screaming as a boy throws gum into the hair of a girl.  Students rush to the door to watch.]

Bradi:  Oh!  Will the madness never end?  We have to do something!

Rick:  If only the girl had had gum of her own to protect herself!

Wayne:  It's her right to do so, you know!

Mrs. Cali:  Okay, class, go back to your desks....  And Rick, spit out your gum!

Rick: (spits gum into the trash, then mutters) Gum-grabber!

[The End]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Responses To My Question About Pro-Gun Feelings About Background Checks For Private Sales

A couple days ago, I asked those of you who are pro-gun and have sold guns privately how, without a background check, you made sure you weren't selling to someone who would fail a background check, and would it bother you to know that you might be an unknowing accessory to a shooting crime.

Thank you, to those who answered.  I'm disappointed that only a few of you did so.  A couple hundred of you chose not to answer.  So I went to some of the pro-gun blogs to look at repostings of my question and the comments people left there, as well.  Here are some links to those:

So, here is what you had to say:

The most common response was that you only sell to those you know or that carry a concealed carry license.  Selling only to someone you know personally and who won't abuse their right is a responsible thing to do, and I approve.   Using a concealed carry permit is a good second choice.  You assume that, since they passed a background check to get the permit and haven't had it revoked that they are safe.  Generally you're probably correct.  The problem is that not all violent crimes result in the withdrawal of conceal carry permits, and those crimes vary widely from state to state, and I wonder about the comparative speed of reporting to the NICS background system compared to the speed of removal of the certificates from the offenders.  Of course, you are also discounting the majority of gun owners, who don't have a CCL.  Running a background check takes only 5 minutes in Oregon.

Another choice that a couple of you mentioned is that you would approve of a firearms owner identification card as a stand-in for background checks, like Illinois' FOID card.  This is updated quicker than most CCLs and is controlled by law enforcement.  I could go for this.  This is something which I feel is very promising and is a fine compromise.  Personally, the 5 minute background check is probably more reliable in my mind, but at least you wouldn't have to go to a FFL to be reasonably sure the person you are selling to is safe.  Also, almost no states have such a card and would need to spend quite a bit of money to implement it.  Now, the usual paranoia applied to some who felt unhappy with having government oversight at all, but this is true for CCL too.  (to you guys, I think you need to get over your "tyranny paranoia", fellas.)

A couple of you suggested using other, publicly-available internet background check programs, of which there are several out there.  Just be aware that they may have very different databases they pull from and might not  include all of those reported to the federal background check system or be updated frequently.  Fees will vary, too.  But, it's better than nothing, right?  I didn't get the feeling that anyone actually does this, including the couple who suggested it.

There's also the suggestion that the federal NICS background check system be available to anyone, online.  I think there are some serious privacy issues there.  I think many people would feel uncomfortable having their private background information available to just anyone.  For now, I'd say let law enforcement have exclusive access.

A handful of you simply expressed scorn at having a background check at all (one wrote "Who fucking cares?", one suggested repealing as many rules as possible, and another said flatly "I assume all I sell to are honest.").  To those few I say that you are playing a dangerous game with people's lives, for your own benefit.

Several of you who said you would only sell to those who show you a CCL card also suggested this is common practice.  I hope so, but I know for a fact that many times (if not most times), private sales take place without one.  Consider, for instance, online sites where private sellers offer their weapons online, for my city and region, for everything from hunting rifles to pistols to semi-auto assault rifles.  Here's a sampling:

Almost all of the listings for sales in those links are from private sellers, and not a single one I could find said in their add that they were screening the buyer in any way whatsoever. 

My personal preference would be that the buyer and seller go through an FFL for the sale.  In Oregon, this would require the filling out of a form, a small fee (I've heard a cost between $14-$20), and a 5-minute (literally, in nearly all cases) phone background check.  It's a system that is already in place, unlike a FOID-like card, is updated much quicker, and is relatively speedy.  If someone is already shelling out $200-$1000 for a firearm, I doubt that small fee would prevent the sale, nor a quick jaunt over to the nearest FFL.

So that's the legal issues, but many of you followed up your reply with a comment basically saying (and I'm paraphrasing), "I'm not legally bound to be concerned about how the buyer is going to use his weapon, and I don't have a moral obligation to be concerned, either."  Some of you went on to compare the unknowing sale of a gun to a potential killer as being of no more concern than unknowingly selling a car to a drunk driver or gasoline to someone who would burn up victims tied to a mobile home or something.  In other words, once the gun sale is done, you wash your hands of it and sleep with a good conscience, just as you would selling any other item.

Sorry, I'm not letting off the moral hook that easy.  It's true you have no legal obligation.  But when you sell a lethal weapon, don't you feel you should do all you can to prevent it from falling into criminal hands?  When I sell a car, I get the buyer's license information.  If they don't have a driver's license, I wouldn't sell.  It's that simple (comparable to the CCL or FOID card check for guns).  Of course, if someone has a driver's license it doesn't mean they're safe drivers, but at least I've done that small part.  If I didn't do at least that amount of checking, I don't think I'd be able to sleep afterward.  How could you?  If there were a 5-minute background check system that would exclude sales to those who have a history of dangerous or impaired driving, you bet I'd be a supporter of it.  Wouldn't you?

There is currently a bill in the U.S. Senate to tighten background checks, improve reporting to the NICS system, and to require a check for all private sales.  I'm a supporter of this.  Here's a good recent article on this:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Question for Pro-Gun Folks: Background Checks for Private Sales

Here's a question for you pro-gun folks....

You know I'm a strong advocate for requiring an instant background check for all sales, including private sales.  Currently, in most states (including Oregon, where I am), for a gun owner to sell a used gun, the sale can proceed without any oversight at all, unlike sales from licensed firearms dealers.  There's no requirement for a background check, ID, paperwork, or any questions at all.  It's just cash-and-carry.  That means that anyone can buy the gun, including felons, dangerously mentally ill, domestic abusers, sexual predators, people with warrants out for their arrest, people convicted of a major assault, or any other class of people who would be excluded for a sale from a licensed firearms dealer, and they won't be caught, and the seller would probably never know the difference.

So here's my question to you pro-gun folks:  When you sell a gun to a private buyer you don't know, how do you know the buyer doesn't fall into one of those categories?  Do you care at all if you may be unknowingly abetting a shooting crime?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"The Interrupters"

With the recent passing of Rob Ingram, now is a good time to mention a recent independent documentary that is showing at theaters around the country right now.

A couple weeks ago, the Bijou Arts Theaters here in Eugene, Oregon showed "The Interrupters."  This is a documentary which focuses on the work of a non-profit group, Ceasefire Chicago (which isn't affiliated with Ceasefire Oregon, despite the name). 

The goal of Ceasefire Chicago is to treat gang violence like a public health disease.  Ex-gang members, who have done time and seen the errors of their ways, go out on the streets and find out where there are flare-ups in gang violence.  They then insert themselves, acting to mediate the violence and bring understanding between the two sides, preventing further violence and saving lives.  They don't ally themselves with one side or the other, and they don't work for the police.  In this way they are trusted by the gang members they are trying to save.  Further, they stay with the people they mediate, long-term, working to reduce the behaviors that led to the initial confrontation.  These ex-gang members are called "Violence Interrupters." 

The film follows a number of these Violence Interrupters as they go about their mediations, peering into their lives and what led them to this heroic work, and the way it is working.  Rob Ingram, having been a gang member in his youth, and having turned around and then led Portland's Office of Youth Violence Prevention, was very much like one of these Violence Interrupters.  It's a hard business, and success is never guaranteed.

I am very thankful to the Bijou Theater for showing "The Interrupters", for allowing me to briefly address one of the audiences, and allowing Ceasefire Oregon to have an information table in their lobby during the showings.  I had some good conversations with viewers of the film, afterward, and we got at least one new volunteer.  With the rise of gang activity and shootings in Eugene, gang violence is increasing a factor here as well.  Members of Ceasefire Oregon are actively involved in the Portland Gang Taskforce meetings; we may well need to have a presence on such a team in Eugene.

The pro-gun side likes to blame America's distressing gun crime statistics on gangs and drug dealers, so maybe this program is something that they can see as a solution to the problem, particularly since it isn't a program that emphasizes disarming the gang members.

Of course, interrupting the violence is only one part of an overall package of things that need done to reduce gang shootings.  We must also do what we can to limit the availability of guns to gangs and criminals in the first place (such as by requiring background checks for private sales and doing more to stop gun trafficking), more support for organizations that work to reduce urban poverty, unemployment, and under-education (such as the United Way), better funding of police forces, and perhaps stricter sentencing for violent criminals.

I urge you to see "The Interrupters" if you get a chance.  More cities need to have such an organization.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Portland Loses A True Leader

An important message from Ceasefire Oregon....

Dear Friends,

We are shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Rob Ingram, director of Portland's Office of Youth Violence Prevention. Rob was a friend to Ceasefire Oregon and the Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation, as well as a personal friend to many of our supporters and board members.

Rob Ingram was a gift to Portland. He reached out to young people to help them follow a path that would improve their lives. He listened to our youth. He listened to all of us. He was always ready to lend a hand to anyone who needed it.

I saw Rob every other Friday at the Gang Violence Task Force meeting. He always brought with him his indomitable energy, his endless patience, and his deepest compassion for all people in all walks of life.

His bright and ready smile will be missed forever.

He ended our meetings by saying, "Let's get to work!" I have a feeling that his true task has now just begun, so in his absence, let us now look to each other to lend a shoulder to our work and a hand to those in need.

We send our deepest sympathies to Rob's wife and five children. He spoke of them all with happiness and pride and a deep, unending love that made his eyes sparkle.

All of our lives are better now because of Rob Ingram.

Thank you, Rob. We all miss you.

Penny Okamoto
Executive Director
Ceasefire Oregon

A related article, from Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ceasefire Oregon strongly opposes the National Right-to-Carry-Act of 2011, H.R. 822.

We've just learned that the vote in the U.S. House of Representatives for the "Packing Heat on Your Street" bill (H.R. 822) is happening today.

H.R. 822 is so extreme it would allow dangerous, violent people from outside your state to carry loaded guns in your state, and your state would be powerless to stop them.

This drastic proposed law, called the “National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011” (H.R.822), would override state laws and put our communities and police officers at unnecessary risk.

States should have the right to determine who is eligible to carry firearms inside their borders. State, local, and tribal governments must maintain the ability to legislate concealed carry laws that best fit the needs of their communities.


State legislatures have decided their own standards for who can carry a loaded, concealed gun in their communities. For example:
  • 38 states do not issue permits to people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors, like assault or sex crimes.
  • 36 states do not issue permits to people under the age of 21.
  • 35 states require gun safety training to prove competency with a firearm.

Today, each state has the right to make its own decision about whether to accept other states’ concealed weapon permits. Some states have decided to not allow concealed weapon permits from other states whose laws were deemed too lax to protect public safety.
  • Nevada does not recognize concealed carry permits issued by Utah and Florida.
  • New Mexico does not recognize carry permits issued by Utah.
This legislation would eliminate all of these standards, reducing concealed carry permitting to the weakest state law imposed by Congress as a federal mandate.


Every sheriff and police officer in the country would have to honor concealed carry permits from all 50 states – if they could verify the validity of each state’s different type of permit.

More than 600 mayors, major national and local police organizations, and domestic violence prevention organizations oppose national concealed carry reciprocity. Congress rejected similar legislation in 2009.


-- Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
If H.R. 822 were to become law, our state would no longer be able to make its own decisions about who can carry a hidden, loaded gun in public. Domestic abusers, drug addicts, stalkers, criminals with violent arrest records, and people with absolutely no training could be granted a concealed gun permit in another state, and our state would have to honor it.

The American Bar Association opposes federal legislation that would force states to recognize permits or licenses to carry concealed weapons issued in other states.

-- International Association of Chiefs of Police
“H.R. 822 would severely undermine state concealed carry licensing systems by allowing out of state visitors to carry concealed firearms even if those visitors have not met the standards for carrying a concealed weapon in the state they are visiting. For example, some states require a person to show that they know how to use a firearm or meet minimum training standards before obtaining a concealed carry license. These states would be forced to allow out of state visitors to carry concealed weapons even if they do not meet that state’s concealed licensing standards.”

-- Mayors Against Illegal Guns 
This bill would override the laws of almost every state by forcing states to accept concealed handgun carry permits from every other state, even if the permit holder would not be allowed to carry or even possess a handgun in the state where he or she is traveling. That policy would undercut states’ rights and create serious problems for law enforcement.

-- National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE)

-- National Latino Peace Officers Association

-- Police Foundation 

A RELATED ARTICLE from today's Register-Guard Newspaper:  "Stearns’ bill would significantly increase the number of people carrying weapons, increasing the risk to ordinary citizens and police officers."


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oppose the the “National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011” (HR 822)

In an effort to push their "more guns in more places for more people" agenda, the pro-gun lobby is working hard to dangerously reduce restrictions on concealed gun permitting, nationwide.  It's been a long-time scheme of theirs, and now is the moment when we need to act to prevent it.

Here is the official statement from Ceasefire Oregon on this dangerous bill:

The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to pass the “National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011” (HR 822). This bill would override the laws of Oregon by requiring us to accept concealed handgun permits from other states even if that out-of-state permit does not require the same safety standards that Oregon requires.

This bill would undercut Oregon's state rights, create serious problems for law enforcement, and weaken Oregon's standards for granting people a license to carry a concealed handgun legally on our streets.

Currently, Oregon's law holds concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to higher standards than many other states. Oregon's requirements include handgun competence, character references, and that the applicant be at least 21 years of age. Oregon prohibits concealed carrying by dangerous criminals, including those who have been convicted of a misdemeanor, such as assault, harassment or driving while intoxicated, in the four years prior to applying for a CHL. Oregon also prohibits people who have an outstanding warrant or are required to register as a sex offender from obtaining a CHL. Many other states do not have these requirements or prohibitions. If HR 822 passes, these dangerous people could legally carry a concealed handgun in Oregon.

HR 822 would create serious problems for law enforcement. It will be very difficult to determine the validity of permits from all states because no national database exists to quickly identify those who legitimately hold a concealed carry permit. Permits can be easily forged. In addition, this bill would enable criminal traffickers who have concealed carry permits from other states to cars full of loaded guns into states with higher standards, like Oregon.

Some argue that a national concealed carry permit would be just like a driver's license, but that is not true. To obtain a driver’s license, people have to pass a test, prove their competency behind the wheel, and get a photo ID card. They must also register and insure their car. H.R. 822 would impose no comparable safeguards. 

Finally, there is no Second Amendment right to carry a concealed weapon outside the home. In Heller and McDonald, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to defend themselves with a handgun in their own home. The Supreme Court specifically said that reasonable regulations to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people are constitutional. Since Heller and McDonald, no federal court that has considered this issue has found a constitutional right to carry a concealed gun in public. 

During the 2011 Oregon legislative session, Ceasefire Oregon worked to stop a similar concealed carry reciprocity bill. The Oregon legislature recognized the danger of the bill and did not enact it. Now the NRA is trying to force reciprocity on all the states regardless of what each state has decided is best for its citizens.

You can find additional information about the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011 at these websites:

New poll shows Americans want stronger gun laws. A new poll, taken Jan. 11–13, 2011, shows overwhelming support for several proposed laws to keep guns away from people who cannot lawfully own them. The poll shows that 86% of Americans, including 81% of gun owners, support requiring background checks for all gun sales. 94% of Americans favor requiring the reporting of lost and stolen weapons, a requirement that took effect in Portland this year. 58 percent of Americans support the banning of high-capacity ammunition magazines, while only 36% oppose such a ban. For more information, see the Mayors Against Illegal Guns website or this article by one of the pollsters.

Ceasefire Oregon works to reduce gun violence by advocating reasonable, effective gun laws. We educate the public and legislators about gun violence, lobby on behalf of bills that will help make our communities safer, and work to prevent the passage of bills that would make it easier for dangerous people to obtain and carry firearms.

We abhor the violence. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by all the shootings in Oregon and throughout the world.

About 30,000 people are killed by firearms in this country every year. More than twice as many are injured. This is a public health crisis of staggering proportions. Guns are too easily available to felons, fugitives, kids, and people with serious mental heath problems. To reduce gun violence, we must make it more difficult for people who cannot lawfully own guns to obtain them.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Preventable Hunting Accidents In Oregon

Here in western Oregon we are more than halfway through the hunting season, and the inevitable list of shooting accidents keep rolling in.

Now, I don't have a big beef with hunting.  My dad was a hunter.  A young friend of mine has shot two deer this year.  If someone wants to go out in the woods and get their macho on from shooting animals to death for food, more power to them.  It's a good survival skill, albeit one that isn't needed anymore in America.  I'll get my food from the store, thank you.  Year after year, more and more people agree with me, as hunting is on the decline in America.

One hopes that hunters are safe, obey the four rules, and identify their prey before shooting.  Sadly, wherever there are guns there are gun deaths.  Throw in testosterone-filled, trigger-happy men in an environment where ID of prey is more difficult, and you've got a recipe for tragedy.

Sadly, some hunters don't pay enough attention before they shoot.  Recently, an active Marine was shot dead while hiking.  The shooter mistook him for a bear.  The hunter bears 100% of the responsibility for pulling the trigger, and since the hiker wasn't lumbering on all fours, it's pretty hard to mistake a man for a bear.  Yet here we are.  This doesn't stop pro-gun extremists from blaming the hiker, though (see comments on THIS article) because of his dark clothing.  Interestingly, the shooter isn't facing charges.  Shucks, just another senseless accident, apparently.

Tragedy can be mediated with commonsense regulation.  Requirements for training in order to get a hunting license, for instance.  Or the requirement for hunters to wear an orange vest.

Last year the Oregon legislature considered mandating the wearing of orange vests by hunters, as many states do, to reduce the chances of accidental shootings.  Sadly, Oregon hunting organizations and pro-gun extremist groups fought the change.  Never mind obvious safety concerns; their problem was with government telling them what to do.  For example:

While the president of the Clatsop County chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association refuses to wear hunter orange, he is recommending that young hunters do.

"I wear blue," said Wendell Locke. "But I do recommend that the kids wear hunter orange so as they grow up they will be accustomed to it and will wear it the rest of their lives."

Locke, also the vice president of the Oregon Hunters Association, agrees that the bright orange colors are a good step in reducing shooting accidents among hunters, but he opposes the government regulating safety of the activity.

"You can't do anything anymore without the government telling you to do something," Locke said. "I just don't want to get involved with the government."

So, basically, even though he knows wearing orange makes sense to save his life and the lives of children, he's not going to wear it because "I just don't want to get involved with the government."  Not much of an example to the youngsters, is he?  Well, intelligence isn't a requirement for hunting, I guess.

The bill was passed, but the compromise was that only minors, aged 17 or younger, had to wear orange vests or hats.  Free orange hats were even being passed out to them.  Adults are free to get themselves killed.

Too bad adults weren't mandated.  It might have kept one tragedy from happening.  A father was trying to scare deer toward his son while they were hunting.  The son, mistaking the father as a deer, shot his father through the chest, injuring him.  Luckily he didn't die.  The father wasn't wearing orange.  His vest was brown.

This year, the Oregon legislature made it legal for hunters on ATVs and motorcycles to ride with a loaded, unlocked firearm while driving -- the only pro-gun measure to be passed this year in Oregon.  Never mind the obvious danger of accidental discharge.  The pro-gun extremists who pushed the bill scoffed at the idea that hunters could have accidents this way.  Yet, today, just such an accident was reported.  A son and father were elk hunting and had gotten their ATV stuck on a service road.  As he got off his vehicle, the son's rifle discharged, shooting his father in the leg.  Luckily no one was killed -- this time.  How many more accidents are needed to reverse this dangerous legislation?  How many need to die?  It's not an issue with Second Amendment freedoms, it's about common sense and safety.

But common sense isn't needed for hunting.  Consider the following case from Merlin, Oregon:  A man sees a deer in his yard, so he gets his rifle and shoots at it.  That's about as redneck as it gets, in my book.  Never mind that he's in a residential area.  He shot four times and killed the deer.  Unfortunately, only 100 yards away, an 11 year-old was shot in the leg by one of the bullets while waiting for his school bus.  Oops.  Shucks, just another accident.  Oh well.  What can you do?  Right?  At least the boy wasn't critically injured.  So far the shooter hasn't been charged. 

From 1990 - 2009, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife received reports of 170 hunting related firearms incidents of which 32 resulted in fatalities. Over the past 20 years, Oregon has averaged 8.5 incidents per year and 1.6 fatalities per year. From 1990-1994 there were an average of 13.4 incidents and three fatalities per year. From 2005-2009 there was an average of 4 incidents and 0.4 fatalities per year.  Looks like we'll be around the same percentages this year.

While you can't make hunters have common sense, you can at least reduce the chances of a mistake with mandated safety rules.  It's in the hunters' best interest to support these rules, to improve their image and protect their lives and the lives of those around them.

I'm an outdoorsman, but I'm not going hiking anytime soon.  Deer season ends November 30, and bear season ends December 31.  I'll wait until the bullets stop flying.

UPDATE (11/14/11):  Yet another accidental hunting shooting in Oregon reported today.  Elk hunter shoots his friend, thinking him an elk.  Of course, the friend wasn't wearing orange, and wasn't required to do so:

UPDATE (11/17/11):  The bear hunter is found guilty and charged with criminally negligent homicide for shooting the hiker:

ADDENDUM (12/7/11):  A pro-gun group tries to convince people that hunting is really, really, really safe, safer than bowling, golf, or cheerleading -- but laughably ignores information about hunting-related deaths, basically counting a hunting death and a sprained ankle in a sport as comparable "injuries":