Nel's New Day

July 17, 2015

Time to Protect People from Gun Violence

A couple of articles about guns caught my eye in yesterday morning’s newspaper. One was about a proposed sales tax on guns and ammunition in Seattle to pay for the costs of gun violence and research its prevention. The sales tax would follow one in Cook County (IL), and Seattle would be the second major U.S. city to help offset costs—more than $12 million paid by taxpayers for treating 253 gunshot victims at Harborview Medical Center in 2014.

The second article was about Texas gun owners afraid of Jade Helm 15, a routine military two-month exercise that started Wednesday in seven states with about 1,200 people from Texas to California. To extremists, however, it’s a ploy by the U.S. to take over Texas, one of the “united states.” (Personally, I don’t understand why they would think the U.S. wants Texas.) The New York Times reported an interview with a woman who owns a hair salon in Christoval (TX). About the “conspiracy-theory-type people,” she said, “All they’re worried about is their beer and their guns.” That may describe most of the extremists down there.

The state governor, Greg Abbott, ordered the Texas Guard to “monitor” the exercises after Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) checked on a possible takeover with Pentagon officials and a three-star Air Force general. As recently as mid-May, one-third of the Republicans believed that “the government is trying to take over Texas.” Abbott’s Texas Guard has help from Counter Jade Helm Operation, civilian watchdogs who plan to observe and report military activity every day as they search for suspicious activity. The director tried to explain that “we are not the radical extreme groups.”  I would still check them out to see if they’re wearing tin-foil hats.When the exercises peacefully end in September, conservatives will pat themselves on the back for having prevented President Obama’s dastardly martial law.

The big story about guns yesterday, however, was the murder of four Marines at two military facilities, a recruitment center and a Naval and Marine reserve center, in and near Chattanooga (TN) followed by the death of the shooter.  The right-wing bloggers are in full glory about the tragedy, blaming it on the facilities being designated as “gun free zone” and the shooter being an immigrant to the United States. Nothing was said on right-wing blogs, however, about yesterday’s news that a Colorado jury found James E. Holmes guilty of 165 counts of murder and attempted murder for the mass shooting in an Aurora movie theater almost exactly three years ago. Born in the United States, Holmes was a graduate student at the University of Colorado.

Killing the children in Newtown (CT) seems acceptable to many people in the United States—especially conservative members of Congress—and the deaths of nine people in a Charleston (SC) church inflamed a debate about the Confederate flag which the right-wing supports. The question is whether people will be upset enough about the death of four Marines to allow the “politicization” of change in gun laws.

The editorial board of the conservative USA Today stated, “The guilty verdicts in the James Holmes murder trial and a Tennessee shooting re-enforce the need to tighten gun laws in order to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those who pose a danger to society.” It pointed out that the number of mass shootings is almost tripling, and laws need to do something about this increase. Without any congressional action, President Obama could tighten gun sense protection through executive orders:

Help prosecutors go after black-market gun sellers: Although it is a federal crime to “engage in the business” of selling firearms without a license, the definition is too fuzzy to shut down most unlicensed dealers who flood the black market with guns that go to criminals. Only 18 states, recently including Oregon, require private sellers to run background checks on handgun sales.

Require the FBI to inform local law enforcement when someone fails a background check: Telling local law enforcement about people trying to buy guns who aren’t allowed to do so could raise red flags about potential crimes. For example, a man trying to buy a gun after a woman takes out a restraining order against him is committing a crime. Passing along that information could save the woman’s life.

Penalize states that fail to report to NICS in a timely manner: Many states are “irresponsibly slow” in reporting people barred from buying guns to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Withholding grant funds to states failing to report in a timely fashion could encourage a faster response.

Differentiate between private gun sales and licensed dealer sales: The FBI does not ask whether a sale is private or through a licensed dealer when a seller calls NICS for a background check. Better information would determine the success of stopping sales to people not allowed to buy guns from private individuals.

Prohibit dealers who lose their licenses from selling off stock through private sales: In 2006, DOJ allowed gun dealers who lose their licenses for violating gun sale regulations to sell their stock privately without background checks. A revision of the rule requiring the leftover inventory to be sold to another licensed dealer would remove the advantage of people who have already proved that they have acted illegally and irresponsibly. For example, a Baltimore dealer with more than 900 infractions of federal regulations was allowed to sell the remaining 700 guns with no background checks.

A study from Harvard University has shown the importance of these changes—and even more stringent gun sense laws. More guns equal more crime, including more firearm robberies, firearm assaults, and homicides by firearms. The rate of all homicides is two times higher in states with the highest number of gun owners. The new study compliments a 2013 study that increased gun ownership corresponds to an overall increased rate of non stranger homicides. A 2014 Boston University study shows that the overall homicide rate increases 0.7 percent for every one percent increase in gun ownership.

States with the highest numbers of gun owners had 6.8 times more firearm assaults than states with the lowest numbers of gun owners. Firearm homicides were 2.8 times higher. Additionally, the rate of firearm robberies was found to increase, point by point, in correlation to an increase in gun ownership. The theory that people are safer by buying more guns is wrong. Increased gun ownership preceded the increased crime rate, indicating that increased gun ownership leads to more crime.

The new study is one of many that show a correlation in recent years between increased gun ownership and increased crime rates. Last year a Stanford University study revealed that relaxed gun laws led to an increase in crime, instead of a decrease, in spite of NRA predictions that the opposite would happen. NRA focuses on just one study, conducted before the organization succeeded in deregulating firearms in large parts o the United States and at the same time that the NRA convinced Congress to cut off any funding for more research on the impact of these lax gun laws. The study negates the theory expressed on a right-wing blog that “the U.S. is just experiencing a run of phenomenal bad luck.”

On a day-to-day basis, people with guns in the United States are the greatest threat to other people in the U.S.—greater than Russia, China, North Korea, and ISIS, the threats listed by General Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.Every day 30+ people are murdered with guns in the United States. The five youth killed each day by gun violence is 11 times more than any other “high income” nation. The 33,636 killed by gun violence in this country in 2013 is more than the number killed by terrorists in the last 14 years, including 9/11. Only 48 have been killed since then by terrorism. Of these deaths from gun violence, about 20,000 are from suicide—fatal 85 percent of the time in contrast to the 3-percent fatality rate from pills.

Republicans reluctant to link themselves with gun sense laws include the presidential candidates. For example, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has failed to say whether he will to sign a bill, passed three weeks ago, to reduce gun possession by domestic abusers. After the woman’s death that moved the bill out of committee, Christie created a commission the night before he announced his campaign for president to determine if any state gun laws “infringe on New Jerseyans’ constitutional rights” and require modification. Gun groups oppose laws that bar suspected domestic abusers, abusers under protective orders, or convicted stalkers from owning guns. The proposed law would attempt to ensure that the subject of a restraining order actually surrenders his or her guns.

Republicans responded to the woman’s death with a bill to expedite the gun permitting process for victims of domestic abuse. A California shows that the percentage of women who purchased a handgun before being killed jumped to 45 percent from the 20 percent of women shot to death by an intimate partner.Christie supported the state’s tough gun laws until he considered a run for president when he vetoed the .50 caliber rifle ban in 2013.

The United States has a special department to protect people from terrorism but no department to protect people from gun violence. It’s time for an agency to coordinate efforts to keep the people within the United States safe from the clear and present danger from guns.

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