Saturday, February 26, 2011

Now Arizona Wants A "State Gun"

About a month ago, in late January, I posted about how Utah wanted to designate a state gun.  That bill has now passed the Utah senate and has gone on to the governor of Utah to sign.  Seeming to have run out of peaceful things to have as symbols of their state, they decided to have a gun represent them, the Browning M1911 .45 semi-automatic handgun, designed by John Moses Browning.  Why?  Because, they argued, Browning was a "favorite son" of Utah, and because that model of handgun is a famous and innovative designed used to protect freedom in the hands of our military throughout the years.

Of course, they completely brush aside the great damage it has done to our society in the wrong hands.  It is awash with the blood of countless innocent victims.

Now Arizona wants a gun to represent their state, too.  Namely, the Colt Single Action Army Revolver.

I'm not really surprised.  Arizona is the state with the most lax gun laws, and one of the most deadly states for shootings.  One might expect that the most permissive state would want to justify its  viewpoint by vaunting a weapon as a symbol of their people.

Never mind that one of the most traumatic shootings this country has endured in recent years has was only about a month ago in that state.  I'm talking, of course, about the shooting of Representative Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, six of whom died, including a little girl. 

Unlike Browning being a "favorite son" of Utah, Arizona can't even make that tenuous justification.  Samuel Colt was from Connecticut, never touched foot in Arizona, and died one year before Arizona even became a U.S. territory by that name.  But even that won't stop the Arizona legislature.

According to the article:
Colt lobbyist Todd Rathner says the bill is fitting to honor the state's founders. Rathner said the Colt Single-action Army revolver played a major role in protecting the mines and settlements during the late 19th century.

"Arizona was founded by rugged individuals who took care of themselves and did so largely with a Colt Single Action Army Revolver on their hip," said Rathner, who is pushing the firearm bill which would make Arizona one of the first two states to recognize an official gun.

Never mind that the Wild West that Rathner's image conjures is only a myth.

And, of course, "protecting the mines and settlements" is code for "fighting Mexicans during the Mexican-American War and conquering the land from native Americans during the Indian Wars."  No parallel there to the discriminatory bills passed against the Latino population in the name of anti-illegal immigration.  But I digress.

Again, this is just a blatant attempt to glorify a culture of guns run amuck in this country, and an attempt to justify pro-gun policies that are making Arizona a poster state for violence.  This pro-gun state legislature is so crazed in their extremism that they even turn a blind eye to their own constituents.  According to a CBS poll, 58% of Arizona citizens are for tougher gun regulation ( 77% of whom own guns in their home), a value that is even higher than the country as a whole (47%).

If you live in Arizona and have grown tired of the gun-related violence in your state and our country, I urge you to contact your lawmakers, demand a stop to this ridiculous "state gun" bill, and advocate for common sense regulation of guns in your state.

UPDATE:  A good article out today regarding common sense needed for Arizona gun laws:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Asking Saves Kids

Lately there has been a good discussion here at New Trajectory about protecting children.  So I thought now would be a good time to bring up the ASK campaign.

ASK (Asking Saves Kids) is a national advertising campaign that urges parents to ask if there is a gun where their children play.  It is a program that the Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation takes part in.  HERE is a link to the homepage for it.

That's it.  No new legislation suggested here, just a simple question that can save lives. 

How can it save lives?  Consider the following statistics:
  • Guns can be found in 40% of Oregon homes, and many of those guns are kept loaded and unlocked.[1]   A statistic not uncommon for the nation as a whole.
  • In the United States, nearly 1.7 million children under age 18 live in homes with firearms that are both loaded and unlocked.[2]
  • Nearly 8 children and teens in the United States are killed by firearms every day in the United States.[3]
  • One fourth of homes with children and guns have a loaded firearm, and between 6% and 14% of firearm owning households with a child under 18 have an unlocked and loaded firearm. [4]
  • More than 40% of gun-owning households with children store their guns unlocked. [5]
  • On average, one child every three days died in accidental incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2005. (CDC data)

Every parent has the responsibility to safeguard their children.  Knowing if lethal weapons are accessible in a home where your child is visiting and if they are stored safely is important to your child's safety, regardless of your attitude toward gun ownership.  Given that so many homes leave their guns unlocked, and even unlocked and loaded, this is a potentially life-and-death decision for your child. 

But don't think this is some sort of inquisition into the private life of others.  It's normal and expected for parents to ask critical questions the first time their child visits, and it doesn't have to be confrontational or judgmental.   If you are a responsible parent, you ask about whether prescription medicines are stored locked or out of reach, whether knives are out of reach, or whether the kids will be out of parental supervision at any time.  If the caregiver or other parent is driving, you ask about car seats.  So, too, you should ask if guns are present.  And not just for small children; this goes for homes with teenagers, too.

If the answer is "No, no guns are present," it's one less thing you need to worry about.  If the answer is "Yes," then you can inquire about how the weapons are stored, whether they are locked and unloaded, if they are stored out of reach in a safe or lockbox with ammo stored separately, or if they have a gun lock attached.  If it bothers you that there are guns there at all, or if they are stored unsafely, you can always ask that your child's friend come over to your home instead, or schedule a play date elsewhere, like a park.

Though it is not exactly part of the ASK program, I would also like to add that if you are a gun owner, it is your responsibility to answer truthfully when other parents ask these questions.  And even if they do not ask, I argue, it is a morally imperative that you mention to the other parent that you have firearms in the home and the steps you've taken to safeguard them.  You'll find that most people are appreciative of it, even if they are advocates for stricter gun control.  I have friends who are gun owners, for instance, and I am happy to have my children play at their home with their children because I am satisfied that their weapons are stored in a locked safe and that my children will be supervised adequately to protect them.

If you wish for help in starting a conversation, or would like to help spread the word about the ASK program, please contact the Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation at 503.220.1669 or

UPDATE:  6/5/11:  I published an article on the ASK campaign in the June 2011 issue of Metro-Parent Magazine.  See page 28:

Statistics sources:
  1. Data as of 2004, the latest year for which these data are available. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Oregon data available at
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics, September 2005
  3. Data as of 2003, the latest year for which these data are available. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, available at
  4. Johnson, Renee M., MPH, Tamera Coyne-Beasley, MD, MPH, and Carol W. Runyan, PhD. “Firearm Ownership and Storage Practices, U.S. Households, 1992-2002.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27 (2004): 173-82
  5. Schuster, Mark A., Franke, Todd M., Bastian, Amy M., Sor, Sinaroth, Halfon, Neal. "Firearm Storage Patterns in U.S. Homes With Children," American Journal of Public Health 90(4) (April 2000):588-594

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I'm A Great Uncle Again!

Being committed to reducing gun violence here at New Trajectory, so much of the postings are devoted to issues of injuries and fatalities.

So today I'm happy to interject a moment of life and happiness:  Yesterday I became a great uncle again.  This is my fourth great niece or nephew.  My nephew in Louisiana has just had his second child, a boy, born healthy.  His name is Aiden. 

Soon that number will go to five when my niece in Washington state has her third child around Labor Day.

Here's to our children and the hope for a more peaceful future!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Firearms Responsibility in the Home

A topic that has come up recently in comments here and at other sites is the "Four Rules" of gun safety, as well as general firearms responsibility, such as safe storage of firearms.

Here is a link to a pamphlet that is released by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which I think is very well put-together for this topic:

though they put more faith in the presence of children than I do (see below).

Also, from the Ceasefire Oregon website  (

Protecting Your Family:
Other factors change, but there's one common denominator in every unintentional firearm injury: access to a loaded firearm. The most important thing parents, caregivers and gun owners can do to protect children is reduce their access to firearms and safely store all guns.
Here's what gun owners can do:
• If you have children in the home, any gun is a potential danger to them. Seriously consider the risks.  
• Store firearms unloaded, locked up and out of children's reach.
• Store ammunition in a separate, locked location.  
• Use quality gun locks, lock boxes or gun safes on every firearm. Gun locks, when correctly installed, prevent firearms from being discharged without the lock being removed.  
• Keep gun storage keys and lock combinations hidden in a separate location.  
• Take a course in using, maintaining and storing guns safely.  
Here's what all caregivers can do:
•  Talk to your children about the potential dangers of guns.  
•  Teach children never to touch or play with a gun.  
•  Teach children to tell an adult if they find a gun, or call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number if no adult is present.  
•  Check with neighbors, friends or relatives--or adults in any other homes where children visit--to ensure they follow safe storage practices if firearms are in the home.  See our ASK Program.
I might add, I grew up in a home with guns, and none of these rules were followed.

I don't recommend you have a firearm of any kind in your home if:

  • you have children or teens in the home at any time
  • you have anyone in the home, including yourself, who is depressed, undergoing traumatic events such as divorce, or has expressed suicidal feelings or actions in the recent past
  • you are uncomfortable with or untrained in usage of your firearms (such as when a firearms-trained spouse dies or if you have become unable to wield them safely, such as by health problems like blindness, advanced Alzheimer's, or palsy).
  • you have anyone in the home or visiting who is mentally ill in a way which causes erratic or violent behavior.
  • you or anyone in the home has a history of violent behavior or arrests for violent behavior, including domestic violence

Now, I can predict some responses to these suggestions, particularly with my feelings about children and teens.  Some of you might be inclined to use the "Not my child!" excuse to counter my firm belief that even the most mature and responsible children and teens have moments of curiosity and impulsiveness, and that you can't control for their friends at all times, and that this puts those children at risk if there are guns in the home, even if they have been trained in safety and appropriate usage.  I know it from my own childhood, including a suicide of a teenage friend and a fatal shooting that I was involved in (as a witness from just a few feet away from the shooter and victim, both teens). 

Consider the following statistics:
  • Among gun-owning parents who reported that their children had never handled their firearms at home, 22% of the children, questioned separately, said that they had (Baxley and Miller, p. 542).
  • Of youths who committed suicide with firearms, 82% obtained the firearm from their home, usually a parent’s firearm (The National Violent Injury Statistics System, p. 2).
  • When storage status was noted, about two-thirds of the firearms had been stored unlocked (The National Violent Injury Statistics System, p. 2).
  • Among the remaining cases in which the firearms had been locked, the youth knew the combination or where the key was kept or broke into the cabinet (The National Violent Injury Statistics System, p. 2).

Baxley, Fances, MD, and Matthew Miller, MD, ScD. “Parental Misperceptions About Children and Firearms.” Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine. 160 (2006): 542-47.

The National Violent Injury Statistics System. Youth Suicide: Findings from a pilot for the National Violent Death Reporting System. Boston: Harvard Injury Control Research Center: Harvard School of Public Health, 2009. Originally accessed through Harvard School of Public Health: Means Matters. Source of Firearms in Youth Suicides. Boston: Harvard School of Public Health, 2009.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Eugene Police Officer Accidentally and Fatally Shoots Himself

Today Eugene, Oregon is in mourning for yet another gun-related tragedy.

This time it is for an accidental shooting.  Officer Jerry Webber accidently shot himself with a hunting rifle as he was removing the gun from his vehicle to practice at a local shooting range.  He was off-duty, and was there with a friend.  The wound was fatal at the scene.

What makes this sad story remarkable is that this is a long-time officer of the force, hired and sworn-in in 1994.  He was promoted to sergeant in 2003, had lectured at local high schools and the University of Oregon, was a SWAT team member, and had served on vice-narcotics, internal affairs, and honor guard.

Yet,  despite all that training and expertise, he made the mistake of keeping his weapon loaded during transport, and failing to safeguard it during removal.  

Related side note regarding local gun violence:  Sgt. Webber was one of 9 SWAT team members who responded to a domestic violence call back on 1/18/03 and fatally shot an attacker in Creswell, Oregon in a justified shooting.

I think I met Sgt. Webber at last year's annual Eugene Police Department's "Prevention Convention" held at Sheldon High School.  If I'm not mistaken, he had shown me and my children the weapons and equipment used by the Eugene Police Departments SWAT team at a display there (in the area where kids could enter and sit in police vehicles).

Some of the commenters to this site in the past, and at other sites, have said that they could never make such a mistake.  I'm pretty sure this experienced policeman might have said the same thing.  No matter how experienced you are, one must never lose sight of the deadly nature of your weapon.  Always remember the four rules of firearms.  When I was taught to shoot as a Boy Scout, that was the first lesson.  I would also add that a firearm should always be unloaded and double-checked before transport.

My heart goes out to the Webber family in this time of sadness.  He is survived by a wife and daughter.  Not only is a good man lost, but that is one less hero to safeguard our community.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Results From My Quick Poll

Yesterday I posted a simple poll on this blog.  In the poll, I asked, "I'd like to get an idea about the philosophy of visitors here: Do you consider yourself for or against stricter gun legislation?"  And, boy, was there a response!  Thank you for responding.

Here is the final tally at the time I posted this:  (out of 600 votes)
Very much for stricter legislation:  10 (1%)
Somewhat for stricter legislation:  2 (<1%)
I could go either way:  0 (0%)
Somewhat against stricter legislation:  1 (<1%)
Very much against stricter legislation:  586 (97%)
No opinion, but thought I'd like to have my vote counted:   0 (0%)

Wow!  At first glance it seems I'm very much in a tiny minority.  97% as "very much against stricter legislation" to control firearms! 

Gee, I imagine the casual observer would say, "Well, Baldr, you anti-rights, anti-liberty Joyce Foundation shill (to use the not-as-bad terms that others have referred to me as), I guess it's time to give up your futile attempt to advocate for safer gun laws and practices.  Get your camo on, go to a gun store, take your 5-minute background check to get your first AR-15 assault rifle and start shootin' up the woods, boy!  You're outnumbered!  Love 'em or leave 'em!" 

Shucks.   I guess I have to admit that....    Oh, wait, what's this?  Why, it's the digital age.  And there seems to be... well, well, what have we here...  web stats  and searches!

You see, on an average day New Trajectory gets between 200-300 hits.  But after yesterday's post, this blog got an AMAZING 1207 hits and counting (see attached graph)!  Great balls of fire!  Either I've suddenly become extremely popular reading for the pro-gun crowd, or <GASP >  there's some sort of fraudulent mis-representation going on!

Well, I should come clean and admit something.  My intention wasn't really to find out what percent of visitors were pro-gun or pro-control (truthfully, I think most are pro-gun since most comments and trackback links come from them).  My intention was actually to test the ethics of the pro-gun folks.  But I figured I'd give you the chance.

You see, guys, if you had been representing yourselves in an honest manner, the number of hits would have remained relatively constant from previous days, whatever the results from the poll.  But if you instead put out the word on forums and tweets and such that there was a poll that needed to be overrun with responses from your side, hits would go way up and the results would be skewed.  I figured that would be the case, but you far exceeded my expectations.

Now, before you call me a bigot and a liar (as you often do), let me show the evidence.  On THIS and THIS pro-gun forums, "DanM" started a discussion with,
"This Ceasefire-Oregon weenie put a poll up on his blog's main page. Hit it hard!"  
The readers didn't disappoint.

 At Joe Huffman's Blog, he posted about the poll and how only pro-gun people visit, adding about folks like me,
"Online life for them must feel a lot like showing up alone at a NAACP convention dressed in their whitest sheets and pillow cases—as it well should."   
(No racist undertones there, Joe!  As if advocating for reducing gun violence is anything at all similar to centuries of racism and slavery!)

Over at the extremist Forum, Shizzlemah began simply by posting the link and stating "link left cold on purpose" (meaning it's not a "hot" link you can click on, or track back from my site, so I wouldn't know they were posting about it.  His readers didn't listen.  Here are some of their comments:
-- made it hot 
-- Please do not make it hot - no need for trackbacks to ARF!
-- Don't, if we hotlink they'll find us out. 
-- Keep pounding. This is funny.  And kill that hotlink up there.
-- Lol 98% against stricter laws. I would say most lopsided poll in ARFCOM history. 
-- Damn Eugene limpdicks. Half of them are from CA.
-- Nope, it's just getting hammered and we are winning!
At all of these sites, person after person stated they had "hit" or voted on the poll.

Meanwhile, I was home from work because my daughter was sick with a cold, and I watched as visitors popped on and popped off, most without even enough time to read two full sentences.  In other words, they were coming over for the express purpose of voting and then leaving without reading anything at all.  In fact, one commenter on one of those forums stated:
"Just out of curiosity I read a little bit of that blog. Don't make the same mistake that I did. Just vote and move along."
Well, at least one guy read a little!

One commenter at THIS site said about me,
"This guy could really use a few hours of zen at his local range. What a complete douche-bag."

So what's the moral of this story? 

First off, many (600, at least) of you pro-gun guys must be awfully insecure about your stances if you have to resort to this sort of fraudulent mis-representation and name-calling, and for my little site no less!  You aren't doing your cause any good that way.  Stacking the vote on my little poll on my little-read blog hardly changes anything other than the opinion others have of you.  This isn't some national election you need to rig.  It's just me and my opinions.  (And this is a good example of why online polls are typically not valid.)

Secondly, you guys are certainly cohesive about your gun-love passion.  It's an important lesson to the pro-control side that, within only 15-20 minutes of posting, you had hundreds of your adherents flooding my little poll with their votes.  One of you shouts, "Jump!" and the rest shout, "How high?!"  I haven't seen that kind of mindless devotion for any stance outside of religious-political ones (anti-gay rights, anti-evolution, or anti-abortion, for instance).  I guess that's a compliment to you guys.  Those who campaign against gun violence, like myself, have a lot to learn in garnering that sort of cohesiveness and fast response.

Finally, this is the sort of polarized response that makes honest discourse so difficult for this topic.  Most gun owners are not so bully-ish.  Most are honest, good people, and some of you occasionally comment here.  I appreciate those honest discussions, like from my "neighbor," Orygunner.  It's why I allow comments (Yes, they're moderated, but you should see the sort of off-color comments that come in!  I admit some are not posted for other reasons, though, due to their extreme length, redundant comments, or vast deviations from the topic, and occasionally I sit on a few in order to research a response, and don't always get back to them).  

If you consider yourself a more reasonable person than the bunch who flooded the poll and made those comments, now is your chance to change the atmosphere.  Speak out and represent.

Very soon I'm going to post on real national and regional surveys, and you'll see that the average public are clearly in favor of stricter regulation of guns.

UPDATE (2/10/11):  At 776 votes, the votes still keep coming, with the same spread.  But I've made my point and am removing the poll.  However, this time I am posting all but the very worst of the comments, just to exemplify the level of antagonism I typically get, and to display the sore feelings the pro-gun folks feel for this little test.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Quick Poll

Please note the poll I posted at the top right of the page.  It will run for the next week.  I just want to gauge the philosophy of visitors to New Trajectory.

Sometime soon I'm going to blog on a number of recent nationwide and regional polls, and would like to compare this one with those. 

Please be honest and only vote once.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Legislating Armed Paramilitary Militias in Montana

A Montana lawmaker is proposing the creation of an "armed paramilitary group" or "Home Guard" to "fill the gap between community service organizations, such as a neighborhood watch program and the Montana national guard, and to provide the state and its local communities with the ability to call upon trained and organized volunteers when necessary resources are otherwise unavailable."  The bill would allow the "home guard" organizations "to be formed in companies each with their own uniforms, flags and identities. Its language also would allow them to form into 'infantry companies.'"  Initially, the bill had called these groups "organized militias" before changing the term to "national guard."

That's right, this person suggests legalizing armed militias of volunteers to help regulate Montana citizens, particularly during emergencies. 

When I think of modern militias, I think of radical, pro-gun extremists who rail against anything having to do with the government and taxes, think the country is a dictatorship, and play soldier in the woods, preparing themselves for the far-fetched scenario of a collapse of our government or equally far-fetched take-over of local homes by a federal government that suddenly converts to communism.  I think of Tim McVeigh and the Nichols brothers in the Michigan Militia and the subsequent bombing in Oklahoma.  I think of Bradley Glover and his militia extremists planning an attack on Fort Hood in 1997.  Some of these extremist militias actively call for armed resistance against our government, including the occasional commenter to this blog.  At mention of official recognition by those in power, I think of truckloads of armed extremists driving through the streets of dusty third-world countries.  Most militia members aren't criminals, but they can at best be described as paranoid, and at worst one step away from domestic terrorists.

All too often I hear pro-gun extremists lament the loss of a formally-recognized militia, just like we had back during the Revolutionary War.  But there's a good reason why we don't have those anymore.  Even during the Revolution, George Washington, though praising the militias in public for the sake of morale, made his true sentiments clear to Congress about the weakness of having state militias:  "To place any dependence upon Militia, is, assuredly, resting upon a broken staff.  Men just dragged from the tender Scenes of domestick life; unaccustomed to the din of Arms; totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill ... makes them timid, and ready to fly from their own shadows ... [I]f I was called upon to declare upon Oath, whether the Militia have been most serviceable or hurtful upon the whole; I should subscribe to the latter."  (source: The Writings of George Washington 110, 112, J. Fitzpatrick, ed., 1931-44).

Nonetheless, state militias were retained, though under Federal control after the Uniform Militia Act of 1792, in order to assuage state governments wary of the abuses of federal armies in Europe for a hundred years.  But by the close of the 18th century they were obsolete.  As described by Robert J. Spitzer in his book, The Politics of Gun Control (esp. pages 27-29), state militias suffered poor organization, training, and funding, little government oversight, and abandonment issues.  Their poor performance almost lost the War of 1812 for us.  They lingered for another century in many states, in various degree of shamble.  Finally, in 1916, Congress passed the National Defense Act creating the National Guard, which would prove to be far better trained, funded, and organized, and which is still used for local and state emergencies.

Back to the bill:  Let's see... "fill the gap between community service organizations ... and the Montana national guard."  Oh, you mean, like local law enforcement?  But unlike our law enforcement professionals, these "infantry companies" of volunteers would not be accountable to the community they monitor, but rather to a company captain, who would report to the governor or sheriff.  It is the company captain, a volunteer, who would recruit volunteers and maintain training.  No room for error or favoritism there!

The Montana house panel "didn't vote on the measure, although some on the committee raised concerns that the armed residents could subvert the chain of command.  The measure drew opposition from the Montana Human Rights Network's Jamee Greer, who said the proposed bill could be abused by anti-government extremists because it didn't provide for enough oversight of the paramilitary groups."  (source)

You don't say!  Little oversight.  Their own identity.  Armed volunteers.  Hmm.  I would be alarmed too.  The last thing I want during an emergency is armed local yokels roaming around thinking they can take the law into their own hands!

Hey, here's a radical idea!  Let's instead fund our law enforcement and National Guard units better, and have trained professionals ready and on-hand when disaster strikes.

If you're in Montana, I highly recommend you urge your state congressman to fight this.  Chalk another one up to the list of absurd pro-gun legislation.

Update (2/9/11): existing laws (mainly against) paramilitary groups:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Guns In Our Lives" Interview on OPB -- Part II

Last Tuesday, on Oregon Public Broadcasting's radio's "Think Out Loud" program, host Emily Harris interviewed Penny Okamoto, executive director of Ceasefire Oregon, an organization working to prevent gun violence, and Kevin Starrett, president of the Oregon Firearms Federation, a hard-line pro-gun organization.

The link to the episode's home page:  There you can listen to the entire episode as well as download the .mp3 file of it.

In my last post, I examined roughly the first half of the show and interview, with contrasting opinions on how to view a recent accidental shooting of a child and comparisons between death by car vs. death by guns.  What follows is a review of the second half....

Next the show took a call from a caller named Heather, from Oregon City (the same city where the accidental shooting had been the week before).  Heather described how her two boys had grown up around their father's guns, had been in Boy Scouts and learned gun safety, and had family friends in law enforcement who had guns and shown the boys safety training.  Even so, after an incident when Heather's 7-year-old son had found a gun under a friend's parents' bed, and the lack of concern or compassion by those parents when confronted, she asked her husband to remove guns from their own home.  She felt her sons were simply too curious and impulsive, just like, well, nearly all children are.  They didn't even allow squirt guns.

Yet, despite all of her precautions, Heather's sons had been in the attic and found an unlocked gun there, tucked away and forgotten.  Her 15-year-old said to his younger brother, "See, the safety's on.  Click, click!" then he pointed the gun at his brother and pulled the trigger, thinking it was unloaded.  The gun fired, and the younger boy was shot and injured (eventually making a full recovery).  Heather admitted that it was her and her husband's own fault for not thinking to search the attic and took responsibility for the accident.  She added that, though some blame lay on the 15 year old, children of that age are not fully developed and mature enough to resist their impulses.
(Around 30% of homes with children also have firearms.  40% of those keep the guns unlocked, a quarter of which are kept loaded [ LINK].  In 2007 alone, at least 613 children died from accidental shootings [LINK].)
When asked for their reaction to the caller's story, the responses from Okamoto and Starrett once again illustrated a major difference between the two sides:

Okamoto's response:  "As a gun owner you need to be prepared to be responsible.  When you purchase that weapon, you need to be prepared to say, 'Am I willing to bring this into my house where someone, my son, my daughter, could accidently shoot himself, shoot herself.'"  "Some 60% of gun deaths are suicides.  That gun owner needs to think about the reasons for having that gun and be prepared to take responsibility.  Heather's case was different because they didn't even know there was a weapon in the attic."  She later added, "Ceasefire teaches children gun safety in what to do when they find a weapon."

Starrett's response:  "This was a situation where there was a terrible shooting that took place because, however well-trained these people felt they had trained their children, it wasn't sufficient.  But it is far easier to gun-proof your children than to child-proof your guns." (I disagree with that statement!)  "My children grew up in a house with a firearms instructor, and wouldn't in a million years dream of pointing a gun at another person.  You have to take into account the maturity and the ability of each child involved."  When the host pointed out that the caller questioned the maturity of a 15-year-old, Starrett added, "Well, you know, I have an 11 year-old who would never point a gun at another person.  So, yeah, obviously every child is different.  Kids go through extensive driver's ed and still go out and get killed in crashes because they have their friends in the car and they drive too fast and they exercise poor judgment.  That is a responsibility of the parent to inculcate their children with the best information they can."

The contrasting responses are pretty typical of the two sides, I feel.  Like Starrett, most pro-gun folks I've talked to or exchanged comments with on this blog use the "not my child" response.  Parents are rarely willing to believe that they could have failed to instill sound judgment in their children -- until it's too late.  I agree that children differ in maturity and impulsivity, but even the most responsible child will have moments of impulsive behavior, and you can't very well control the actions of their friends.  I'm thinking the caller, Heather, probably would have used the "not my child" excuse about her sons prior to their own accident, too.

Okamoto's response, however, suggests that all gun owners should be prepared for the worst scenario and take responsibility for it.  Guns and children don't mix. 
[Among gun-owning parents who reported that their children had never handled their firearms at home, 22% of the children, questioned separately, said that they had.  When household guns are kept locked up, youths typically know where the key is kept, the combination, or are able to break into the gun cabinet.]
The host, Emily Harris, next asked Okamoto and Starrett, "Do you share some common ground on who shouldn't have a gun, like people who have mental illnesses perhaps, or experiencing them at moment, or people who have felony backgrounds?"

Starrett:  "I certainly think that anyone who is pre-disposed to acting violently or is not mentally competent should not have a gun.  I think the difference is that I believe that many of the proposed solutions are fantasy.  And in fact, I think in many cases are counter-productive.  Trish [the Oregon State Police ID Services representative from earlier in the broadcast] was discussing the mental health changes that were made in 2009.  Their records are frequently faulty and people who are entitled to guns are denied or delayed."  He went on to complain of false-positives, where law-abiding people are confused as criminals and have to defend themselves at their own cost to qualify for gun purchase. 

When asked by Emily about "false-positives", Trish indicated that she is "not aware of that being a problem."

Okamoto's response about common ground:  "I have no idea.  I know we shouldn't have felons with guns, or people with restraining orders, or people who have been adjudicated mentally ill.  One of the problems we do have, however, is that when people go to purchase a weapon they go to a federally-licensed firearms dealer, they go to a gun show, they have to have a background check.  But if you're a felon, a drug user, any of these prohibited classes, you don't have to go to a federally-licensed dealer, you can just go to anyone." 

Emily asked, "Is that the root of the movement to ban guns?  How do you handle that problem?"

Okamoto replied, "First, we would ban assault weapons, not guns in general.... But this has nothing to do with banning guns.  It has to do with keeping an eye on who has access to weapons.  Who's getting these weapons?  How are the children getting weapons?  You have to remember, every time a child has a weapon ... it's gone through the hands of an adult first.  And it's so easy to get weapons in Oregon."

It's interesting to note the difference in the two responses.  Both agree that violent people and the mentally ill should not have guns.  The difference is that Starrett, and organizations like OFF and the NRA, offer no solutions to do anything about it.  Okamoto and organizations like Ceasefire Oregon and the Brady Campaign to Reduce Gun Violence at least offer real solutions, like expanding background checks, increasing funding to update databases with mental health records for those background checks, and child access prevention laws, all of which are actively opposed by the pro-gun side.

Finally, when asked what legislation they would like to see, Starrett replied, "Top priority: to clean up the pistol license system so that people aren't being denied and that people from other states would be welcome here as well [regarding conceal carry permits from out of state]." 

Okamoto replied, "Universal background checks and prevention of access by minors."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Guns In Our Lives" Interview on OPB -- Part I

Saturday morning there were more random shots fired in my neighborhood, the second time in a week in my normally-quiet part of town.  So it was with renewed interest that I listened to a debate between Ceasefire Oregon's executive director and the president of the extreme pro-gun Oregon Firearms Federation on Oregon Public Broadcasting this Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, Oregon Public Broadcasting's radio show "Think Out Loud" featured an hour-long segment on "Guns In Our Lives."  In case you missed it, you can find it at THIS page, where you can hear the broadcast, download the .mp3 file, and read comments from listeners on both sides of the issue.

The show was roughly in two portions.  The first portion had the host, Emily Harris, talking with a local gun dealer, Michael Knoetig, and Trisha Whitfield, from the ID Services of the Oregon State Police.  The second part was much more interesting, but more on that later, including in a second, follow-up post.

Knoetig talked about his gun shop, his feelings about the importance of Conceal Carry, which his main focus is on for sales of weapons (he mainly just echoed the argument that society has bad people and the cops are too far away to help you, thus you should arm yourself at all times), and comparisons with his native Germany.   Regarding Knoetig, I felt particularly drawn to two parts of the conversation.  The first was about growing up with guns in Germany.  Conceal Carry is not allowed there, gun regulation is very strict.  Hunting is allowed, but is highly regulated.  Knoetig would compete with target shooting as a teen, but the gun had to be unloaded until arriving at the event. 

It is interesting to note that, as he mentions, the crime rate is lower in Germany.  According to 1998 data (the latest I can find that compares both Germany and us in the same year), Germany had a death by firearms rate of 1.57 per 100,000 population, compared to the U.S., which had a rate of 10.2.  Murder rates in general, including non-firearms, is five times greater in the U.S. than in Germany.

Another interesting point from Knoetig:  In Oregon, there is NO requirement that the buyer of a gun have any training whatsoever, unless they are wishing for a conceal carry permit.  That's right, like most states, you don't need even a minute of training, even safety training, to purchase a firearm in Oregon.  When Emily Harris asked Knoetig how he reacted if a buyer seemed inexperienced, he merely answered that he encourages them to take one of his free classes.   But he sells guns to them anyway.  My thought:   Why not?  It's not HIS problem if they are endangering themselves and others, right?  Who is he to question that right?   He's only the source of deadly weapons, is all. 

Trisha Whitfield from Oregon State Police next outlined the requirements for background checks.  I can't say there were any real surprises.  Basically when a gun is purchased, sellers like Knoetig have the buyer fill out a form.  The form asks ID information like social security number, driver's license number, whether they've been convicted of any illegal activities, abuse drugs, arrested for DUI, and so forth, and a thumbprint.  The form information is phoned into the Oregon State Police ID services unit, and the thumbprint is FAXED (and we know how reliably the resolution is for faxes!).  The information is fed into the available databases, including NICS.  98% of calls are returned with an approval, delay, or deny within only 2-5 minutes.  A few are delayed due to slowness in record retrieval or some mix-up (and can be delayed even for months).  Denial could be due to actually admitting to abuses or crimes, or if the database indicated convictions or mental illness.  Whitfield emphasized that the 2-5 minute review is based only on the databases they access, which may not be updated sufficiently, or the buyer's own self-reporting.  In 7 months of business, Knoetig has never had a denial.  No details were given about requirements for Conceal Carry, except that it is handled by the Sherriff's Association and can vary from county to county.

And then the show gets much more interesting:  an interview with Ceasefire Oregon's executive director, Penny Okamoto, and the president of the Oregon Firearms Federation, Kevin Starrett.  Ceasefire Oregon works to prevent gun violence in Oregon through advocating for stricter legislation of firearms and community education about the dangers of firearms.  OFF is a hard-line, pro-gun group that bills itself as "Oregon's only no compromise gun lobby" which seeks to fight or repeal existing gun control legislation, including opposition of criminal history background checks or the retention of records of those checks (examples).

The host, Emily Harris, starts off the conversation by asking about each of their reactions to a shooting that occurred a few days before in Oregon City, where a 13-year-old boy shot and wounded his friend in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun in an apparent accident, after the gun had been left, loaded and unlocked, where the boys could access them after a duck hunt.  The response, I feel, highlights what is one of the greatest differences between the pro-gun and pro-control sides:

Starrett:  "My reaction was the same as when I hear about teenagers dying in terrible car wrecks or someone passing away in a house fire.  It's a terrible thing."  He mentions how it appeared to be an accidental discharge, then added, "It's a terrible thing when a person is hurt with a power tool."  Then mentioned how his heart went out to the family.

Okamoto:  "It was completely heartbreaking, especially because whenever you're dealing with guns, every shooting is preventable.  I would have to say that this was in Oregon City.  Had this been in Portland, Mayor Adams' ordinances ... are already in effect.  The gun owner would have been charged [referring to the Child Access Prevention ordinance].  Ceasefire Oregon right now is working on a Preventing Access to Minors Bill that would be statewide."  (CAP laws have been proven successful in reducing deaths in other places).

This is a very telling comparison between the way the two sides see the same sort of tragedy.  Note that Starrett's reaction indicates no difference in his mind between deaths from gun violence and deaths from fires or power tools, even when children are involved.   Okamoto's reaction indicates that gun deaths are separate from the others.  Regulation to make parents more responsible might have helped prevent the tragedy.

Emily Harris then goes on to mention one comment on their blog comparing gun deaths to deaths by cars, suggesting "car" and "gun" could be used interchangeably in conversation.

Starrett once again sees little difference:  "I think there is an important parallel here.  Cars kill far more people than guns do, and yet if on the many occasions, daily occasions, when we hear of people being killed in car accidents, many of which were caused by gross negligence by people or teenagers drinking or that kind of thing -- in the wake of a story like that, you would never invite a representative from AAA to come on and defend car ownership."  Later adding, "You wouldn't see me coming and demanding that Penny give up her driver's license."

Okamoto responded, "It's a parallel that is pulled out only when it's useful.  Guns are made to kill people.  Cars are not.  Cars are basically for transportation.  Sometimes people do die in car accidents.  One of the reasons that the number of people dying in car accidents has decreased is because so many people have worked on making cars safer and making people safer drivers.  The gun lobby doesn't work on making guns safer. ... There's no license, no registration, no requirement for training [for guns].  Anyone can buy a gun from anyone in Oregon.  You don't have to be a licensed firearms dealer."  Then, as a further analogy, she adds, "And there's an interesting parallel that wishes to be made.  If we put children in car seats when they're in cars, then why can't we have some type of law that prevents children from gaining access to weapons, or more preferably, makes gun owners more responsible.  If you have a gun, you own it, and some child accesses it, you're responsible.  You have to be a responsible gun owner."

I'm certainly with Okamoto on this one.  Pro-gun extremists extol the virtues of their weapons for their ability to protect them against bad guys in their homes and on the streets.  This is because guns offer better "stopping power" to kill an attacker quickly and efficiently.  It's what handguns in particular are designed to do.  That's why pro-gun folks carry guns instead of other weapons, like knives or bats.  They are deadly.  They are MADE to be deadly.  And advertisements in gun magazines make no beans about it.

Yet any time the discussion turns to the deaths of innocents, suddenly they describe gun deaths as no different from any other sort of death, like from fires or power tools or car wrecks, and the guns themselves go from being described as deadly efficient weapons to some seemingly innocuous lump of metal which happens to be deadly in the wrong hands.  It hearkens back to the tired, nonsensical slogan of the NRA, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," as if the gun or lax gun laws had nothing to do with it. 

But we on the gun control side see gun deaths very differently.  Every death is preventable.  Unlike cars, which have regulations on both the vehicle manufacturers and the drivers to reduce deaths, as well as licensing and mandatory training, guns are loosely regulated, with few such demands for safety.  Odd, given that death is their primary purpose.  100,000 people are shot each year, 33,000 of which die from their wounds.  3,000 of those deaths are children.  Commonsense legislation, like strengthening background checks and child access prevention laws, can reduce deaths.  Such things are actively opposed by organizations like OFF and the NRA.

My next post will discuss roughly the second half of the interview, including the discussion around one caller's experience of another child shooting involving her sons.

To be continued....  (See NEXT POST)