Nel's New Day

March 29, 2013

Let’s Keep Talking about Gun Legislation

When people in the United States woke up on December 14, 2012, to discover that massacres from assault rifles weren’t going to stop, the media started to point out that the vast majority of people in the country wants universal background checks as a way to keep felons and the mentally ill from buying guns. The majority also thinks that large clips on assault rifles that allows people to riddle the bodies of small children with over 150 bullets in less than five minutes aren’t necessary.

When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address last month, he didn’t ask members of Congress to pass any particular laws. He just asked them to treat the gun bills in the same way that they address budget bills and anti-abortion bills—just give gun bills a fair hearing. He said, “Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote.”

But Senate Republicans are determined to stop any debate on gun laws. And they have a very strange reason for the planned filibuster. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) argued that they will filibuster a floor debate so that they will have a “full debate.” He plans to stop legislators talking about gun bills so that there will debate the issue. Maybe he means that he wants the “full debate” to happen out in the corridor, away from television cameras.

Lee has company from four other GOP senators: Ted Cruz (TX), Jim Inhofe (OK), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL). One can guess at the reasons that these five conservative senators think that the Senate is no place to discuss gun laws. Maybe they want to keep the topic from getting any publicity. Or maybe they don’t want people to hear about some of these events around the country within the past few weeks.

The young man who complained “Why can’t we just have segregation?” at the CPAC panel “Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?” was accompanied by a student at Towson University (Maryland), part of the newly formed “White Student Union.” According to its blog, its purpose is to save the campus from the threat of black people:

“…every single day black predators prey upon the majority white Towson University student body. White Southern men have long been called to defend their communities when law enforcement and the State seem unwilling to protect our people. The virtue of white Christian womanhood is under attack at Towson University by degenerate criminals seeking to rob our women of their God given innocence.”

With this goal, there are more Trayvon Martin killings on the horizon.

Why should the law prevent perpetrators of domestic violence from owning guns? Yesterday, Mark R. Miscavish, a former state trooper killed his wife, Traci Miscavish, inside a central Pennsylvania supermarket Thursday and then killed himself, just days after she filed for divorce. He was arrested two months ago for trying to bind her with duct tape after she had left him and then returned to the house for some of her personal belongs.  At that time he pulled out a gun, threatened to kill her, and tried to drag her back into the house. A passerby rescued her. She had a protection order against her husband, but he was allowed to keep his gun. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than two-thirds of spouses and ex-spouses killed by their partners between 1990 and 2005 died at gunpoint.

Thanks to the Armed Citizen Project, high-crime areas in Tucson (AZ) will have more shotguns. Realtor Shawn McClusky, who failed in his attempt to be mayor of the city, plans to spent $12,000 to give these guns away. For several years, Tucson has tried to raise taxes for their police and fire departments while McClusky has led the Tea Party to block these in the name of anti-government and anti-spending. As a result, Tucson lost 155 of 1113 sworn officers in the past four years, the same time that the population has increased from 517,000 to approximately 600,000. Nearly 100 of the current officers are currently funded by COPS grants, another program strenuously opposed by the Tea Party.

One person who won’t be allowed to buy a gun in Arizona is retired Navy captain Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who was shot in the head over two years ago while speaking to her constituents in front of a Safeway north of Tucson. After Kelly went to buy a gun at Diamondback Police Supply Co. on March 5 to show how easy it was, owner Douglas MacKinlay decided to rescind the sales because Kelly was not going to keep it. Kelly had planned turn the gun over to the police after the transaction. MacKinlay said he was donating the gun to be raffled off by the Arizona Tactical Officers Association–maybe ending up in one of those “high-crime” areas.

One of those so-called “responsible gun owners” might be 34-year-old Christopher Stanlane in Fairmont (NC). He shot and killed his ten-year-old son, Christopher Stanlane, Jr., while cleaning his shotgun. The elder Stanlane was on his couch wiping down his gun while his son sat in front of him watching television. Like Giffords, the 10-year-old was shot in the head; unlike Giffords, he didn’t survive.

Marcus Scott survived being shot in the head by another driver in Mesquite (TX). Thinking that the person driving the car in front of him was drunk, he pulled up near it. Leonard Young waved a fake badge and waved him over. Scott slowed down to look at the other car’s license plates, and Young stopped, jumped out, and fired 15 shots at Scott. Young went to the police station to complain about Scott, and Scott went to the hospital with a bullet in the back of his head.

A bored nighttime custodian in Cincinnati decided to use the basement of a school for target practice. A teen in Orlando fatally shot his younger brother because he thought he was an intruder. And the stories just keep coming.

While profits soar for gun and ammunition manufacturers to over $1 billion in profit this year and the NRA rakes in millions to lobby legislators, the 30,000+ gun deaths a year cost the health care system and the economy tens of billions of dollars. This is just an estimate because lobbyists have limited federal agencies in researching the subject, and legislators fight efforts to treat gun injuries and deaths as public health issues.

“Death from firearms is not inevitable. It is preventable,” said Georges Benjamin, a physician and the executive director of the American Public Health Association. He watched the human and economic toll from gun violence when he ran the emergency department at one of Washington, D.C.’s largest hospitals and later led the health department. “The cost to the health care system was enormous,” he said. “It’s just absolutely enormous.” Gun-related fatalities are on pace to surpass deaths from automobile collisions by 2015.

A combination of the direct medical costs of treating fatal gun injuries and the economic damage of lost lives cost the United States $37 billion in 2005, the most recent year for which an estimate is available. Non-fatal gun injuries also cost an additional $3.7 billion that year. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, says the total domestic economic impact of the firearms and ammunitions industry broadly is $31.8 billion a year.

Federal medical research agencies are forbidden by law to finance studies to reduce the harm from guns or, as the law phrases it, “advocate or promote gun control.” Law stopped the Center for Disease and Prevention in 1996, and the prohibition now extends to the entire Department of Health and Human Services.

Injury prevention research can help. Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans dying in motor vehicle crashes has decreased by 31 percent. Deaths from fires and drowning have been reduced even more, by 38 percent and 52 percent, respectively. This progress came from interpreting research findings into effective interventions, not banning automobiles, swimming pools, or matches. Instead, it came from translating research findings into effective interventions.


What can be done with guns? Here’s one great idea. After confiscating and publicly destroying some 6,700 weapons in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s Secretary of Defense gave some mangled guns to Mexico City artist Pedro Reyes, who turned them into musical instruments.

Two of his creations are being exhibited at the Lisson Gallery in London. Imagine, an orchestra of 50 instruments from flutes to string and percussion instruments, is designed to be played live.  The second, Disarm, can either be automated or played live by an individual operator using a laptop computer or midi keyboard.

Swords into plowshares.


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