Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Keep Conceal Carry Laws Responsible in Oregon

In their irresponsible push to promote more guns for more people everywhere, the gun lobby continues to attack common-sense legislation regarding conceal carry regulations.

Now they are trying to remove regulation to make it possible for conceal carry holders from other states to have their permits recognized in Oregon, even if those permits don't require competency with firearms, for instance. has published an op-ed letter from Ceasefire Oregon's executive director, Penny Okamoto. 

Here is the link to this:

Here it is, in its entirety:

Last week, the Oregon House of Representatives voted to approve House Bill 2792, which would allow residents of other states who have concealed handgun licenses from those states to carry concealed handguns in Oregon without obtaining an Oregon license.

Proponents would like this bill enacted because if Oregon recognizes concealed-carry licences from other states, those states would be more likely to recognize Oregon's licenses, and therefore Oregonians who want to carry concealed handguns when they travel to other states would not need to request licenses from those states, saving them a small amount of paperwork and a small fee.

But if HB2792 is enacted, it would enable people from other states to carry their concealed handguns in Oregon even though they do not meet Oregon's statutory requirements to obtain a license, set forth in ORS 166.291, including those on criminal and mental health records, handgun competence, and age. Oregon, for example, requires instruction in handgun safety or equivalent experience to obtain a concealed-carry license, but Washington state does not. So under HB2792, Washington residents with no competence in handgun safety could carry concealed handguns in Oregon, but Oregonians without such competence could not.

This bill is an unjustifiable gift to the gun lobby.

Most Oregon concealed-carry license holders would be willing to undergo the minor inconvenience of applying for a license in another state if they realized that by doing so they would help prevent felons, people with recent misdemeanor convictions, and people with serious mental health problems from carrying loaded handguns in Oregon.

Oregon already permits nonresidents to drive through Oregon with their handguns without breaking the law. If they don't have an Oregon license, they must transport the firearm unconcealed or out of easy reach (see ORS 166.250); under some city ordinances, including Portland's, the firearm must also be unloaded. Additionally, residents of California, Nevada, Idaho and Washington who have a compelling business interest or other legitimate demonstrated need may already obtain an Oregon concealed-carry license under existing law, at ORS 166.291(8).

Unfortunately, not all license holders from other states are law abiding or mentally stable. From May 2007 to December 2010, concealed-carry license holders killed at least 282 people in the United States, including nine law enforcement officers. None of these killings have been deemed legitimate self-defense (

In addition, the actual licenses are not always confiscated when a holder commits a crime. An investigation of concealed-carry holders in Texas found that the "largest category of problem licensees involve[d] those who committed crimes after getting their state" licenses ( How is an Oregon police officer to know that the gun license shown to him by an out-of-state resident is still valid?

The mere fact that someone has been able to obtain a gun license from another state should not give him the privilege of carrying concealed handguns in Oregon.

The Oregon Legislature needs to demand accountability and responsibility from the gun lobby and stop playing politics with our citizens' lives. The Senate should reject HB2792.

My thoughts, exactly.  Where there are more guns there is more gun crime.  Let's work to prevent more guns on our Oregon streets and to keep gun owners responsible for competency requirements.

(A somewhat related article from today, regarding conceal carry laws in Illinois: )

Monday, March 21, 2011

Paul Helmke On Gun Myths

Back in February, one month after the Tucson shooting, Paul Helmke, head of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, addressed the Women's National Democratic Club.  There he dispelled some common gun myths put forth by the gun lobby.

Myth:  "The Second Amendment Prevents Gun Regulation." 

Myth:  "Leadership on guns leads to political defeat."

Myth:  "Just enforce existing laws."

Myth:  "Gun laws won't make a difference." 

Myth:  "More guns = less crime." 


Monday, March 14, 2011

President Obama On Gun Violence and Background Checks

Yesterday, President Obama finally weighed in on the Tucson shooting and the importance of commonsense legislation to make our nation safer against gun violence, in an op-ed piece in the Arizona Daily Star.

I'm going to post it here, in its entirety:

It's been more than two months since the tragedy in Tucson stunned the nation. It was a moment when we came together as one people to mourn and to pray for those we lost. And in the attack's turbulent wake, Americans by and large rightly refrained from finger-pointing, assigning blame or playing politics with other people's pain.

But one clear and terrible fact remains. A man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun.

He used it to murder six people and wound 13 others. And if not for the heroism of bystanders and a brilliant surgical team, it would have been far worse.

But since that day, we have lost perhaps another 2,000 members of our American family to gun violence. Thousands more have been wounded. We lose the same number of young people to guns every day and a half as we did at Columbine, and every four days as we did at Virginia Tech.

Every single day, America is robbed of more futures. It has awful consequences for our society. And as a society, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to put a stop to it.

Now, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. And the courts have settled that as the law of the land. In this country, we have a strong tradition of gun ownership that's handed from generation to generation. Hunting and shooting are part of our national heritage. And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners - it has expanded them, including allowing people to carry their guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.

The fact is, almost all gun owners in America are highly responsible. They're our friends and neighbors. They buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for hunting or target shooting, collection or protection. And that's something that gun-safety advocates need to accept. Likewise, advocates for gun owners should accept the awful reality that gun violence affects Americans everywhere, whether on the streets of Chicago or at a supermarket in Tucson.

I know that every time we try to talk about guns, it can reinforce stark divides. People shout at one another, which makes it impossible to listen. We mire ourselves in stalemate, which makes it impossible to get to where we need to go as a country.

However, I believe that if common sense prevails, we can get beyond wedge issues and stale political debates to find a sensible, intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place.
I'm willing to bet that responsible, law-abiding gun owners agree that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few - dangerous criminals and fugitives, for example - from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.

I'm willing to bet they don't think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas - that we should check someone's criminal record before he can check out at a gun seller; that an unbalanced man shouldn't be able to buy a gun so easily; that there's room for us to have reasonable laws that uphold liberty, ensure citizen safety and are fully compatible with a robust Second Amendment.

That's why our focus right now should be on sound and effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.

• First, we should begin by enforcing laws that are already on the books. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is the filter that's supposed to stop the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. Bipartisan legislation four years ago was supposed to strengthen this system, but it hasn't been properly implemented. It relies on data supplied by states - but that data is often incomplete and inadequate. We must do better.

• Second, we should in fact reward the states that provide the best data - and therefore do the most to protect our citizens.

• Third, we should make the system faster and nimbler. We should provide an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can't escape it.

Porous background checks are bad for police officers, for law-abiding citizens and for the sellers themselves. If we're serious about keeping guns away from someone who's made up his mind to kill, then we can't allow a situation where a responsible seller denies him a weapon at one store, but he effortlessly buys the same gun someplace else.

Clearly, there's more we can do to prevent gun violence. But I want this to at least be the beginning of a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people.

I know some aren't interested in participating. Some will say that anything short of the most sweeping anti-gun legislation is a capitulation to the gun lobby. Others will predictably cast any discussion as the opening salvo in a wild-eyed scheme to take away everybody's guns. And such hyperbole will become the fodder for overheated fundraising letters.

But I have more faith in the American people than that. Most gun-control advocates know that most gun owners are responsible citizens. Most gun owners know that the word "commonsense" isn't a code word for "confiscation." And none of us should be willing to remain passive in the face of violence or resigned to watching helplessly as another rampage unfolds on television.

As long as those whose lives are shattered by gun violence don't get to look away and move on, neither can we.

We owe the victims of the tragedy in Tucson and the countless unheralded tragedies each year nothing less than our best efforts - to seek consensus, to prevent future bloodshed, to forge a nation worthy of our children's futures.

I couldn't agree more.  And his sentiments are reflected in many national and regional surveys, including in Arizona.  Most particularly, people agree on strengthening background checks.

I think this is a great first step.  There are other areas of legislation that need to be supported, but let's start here, where the greatest support is among gun owners, including NRA members, and non-gun owners alike.

RELATED ARTICLE regarding policy meetings on this by the President:

RELATED VIDEO:  The NRA's Wayne LaPierre reluctantly supports the President's proposal.  See a great statement from Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence:


Monday, March 7, 2011

PTSD and the Mason Case

Let's say there's a man who had been professionally trained by the military to kill with firearms.  He has suffered for 3-4 years with such a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that he could hardly sleep, suffered from flashbacks, couldn't hold a job, and had severe stomach problems, throwing up daily.  Years of therapy with the VA had failed to help him.  He has become so emotionally unstable that fireworks spook him, driving terrifies him, and other loud, unexpected noises like a shattered drinking glass cause him to explode. 

Do you think this man should possess a gun? 

Do you think allowing him to possess a gun might be unacceptably dangerous to him and those around him?  

Consider the case of Michael Thomas Mason, age 27.  On December 15, 2010, he was at the mall here in Eugene when he had a severe PTSD psychotic break.  He randomly fired into a busy parking lot with his 9mm handgun, striking several cars.  Luckily, no one was injured.  He then drove off, driving recklessly in his SUV.  Police soon tracked him down and gave chase, ending up in the nearby town of Santa Clara.  Two police officers convinced Mason to drop his gun out his window, but Mason didn't respond to other commands, and was moving erratically in his vehicle.  When the two officers thought (mistakenly) that Mason was reaching for another weapon, they fired three times.  Two shots hit Mason.  He survived, but one of the bullets hit his spinal cord, paralyzing him.  Mason is now a quadriplegic and is wheelchair-bound. 

(On a related side note, this wasn't a first for either officer:  Officer Marcus Pope had shot and injured a murder suspect in November 2008 who had attacked him with knives, and the other officer, Bill Solesbee, had been one of nine SWAT members who shot and killed another attacker in Creswell in January 2003.  All of these shootings were considered justified.)

Last weekend there was a two-and-a-half page feature on Mason in the local newspaper, complete with color photos.  It was a very good article about the man -- a biography -- entitled "For the Love of a Soldier."   The article went into detail about how he had been an Eagle Scout and sheriff's cadet, how he has always had a very close relationship with his family, how he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps as a Eugene city policeman, and how, after 9/11, he enlisted with the army and served in Afghanistan.  He is an honest man with a history of citizenship, devotion to country and family, and is an honest-to-god war hero.

This is a man who, from an early age, had been taught firearms safety and usage, who has used good judgment, and was professionally trained by the military.

But even honest men with lots and lots of training can't see the danger that having firearms around can bring, particularly with mental illness.

You see, Michael Thomas Mason had suffered in Afghanistan.  He was in many live-fire situations.  And in one particularly horrible event, he watched as his army buddies were blown up by an IED.  Mason was tasked with collecting what was left of them.

After his tour of duty ended, Mason returned to Eugene, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps and become a police officer, but he was turned down.  He suffered from PTSD.  He sought therapy from the VA.  Loud, unexpected noises sent him spirally out of control.  He couldn't work.  He was physically sick.  He was depressed.  In fact, he IS the theoretical person I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

And then the shooting events of last December happened.

That two-and-a-half page article did a lot to show how horrible the effects of PTSD are to our veterans, and illustrated quite nicely how Mason suffered and how he had been such a great young man.  Only a few paragraphs on the third page actually mentioned the shooting. 

But nowhere, in that article or any of the others, was the most obvious question asked:  
 If Mason was so emotionally unstable, why was he allowed to have a gun?

His VA therapist knew he was fragile and potentially violent.  His wife knew it.  His friends and family knew it.  HE knew it.  But at no point, apparently, did anyone stop to ask Mason if he would be willing to give up his firearm.  And, apparently, he was not forbidden to purchase a firearm.  He is a poster-child for strengthening  the mental health reporting of the NICS background check system.

PTSD is nothing new to our veterans, by any stretch.  Of course people who witness and take part in wartime killing come back emotionally scarred.  Wouldn't you? 

The problem is that the military isn't dealing with PTSD  effectively enough. 

PTSD has been linked to many homicides.  It is hard to find those links, since homicides are generally dealt with by local jurisdictions, not the military, unless it is on military property, and the link to PTSD isn't always reported on.  No federal department, including the military, keeps track of it, that I can find.  If anything, they seem to downplay PTSD links to homicides, in an effort to diffuse the "crazy returning veteran" stigma.  But refusing to acknowledge a problem doesn't make it go away!

One investigation by the New York Times in 2008 studied homicides by veterans between 2001 and 2008:

This showed an 89 percent increase [of homicides by veterans] during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower.

[M]ilitary health care officials are seeing a spectrum of psychological issues, with an estimated half of the returning National Guard members, 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines reporting mental health problems, according to a Pentagon task force.

Decades of studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse — and criminality. On a less scientific level, such links have long been known.

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, considered the most thorough analysis of this population, found that 15 percent of the male veterans still suffered from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the war ended. Half of the veterans with active PTSD had been arrested or in jail at least once, and 34.2 percent more than once. Some 11.5 percent of them had been convicted of felonies, and veterans are more likely to have committed violent crimes than nonveterans, according to government studies. In the mid-1980s, with so many Vietnam veterans behind bars that Vietnam Veterans of America created chapters in prisons, veterans made up a fifth of the nation’s inmate population.

As Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get enmeshed in the criminal justice system, former advocates for Vietnam veterans are disheartened by what they see as history repeating itself.

But it isn't just homicide.  Suicide is another major issue that is linked to PTSD and, more often than not, firearms.

From THIS article from the Wall Street Journal:

A 15-month-study on the rise in suicides over the last two years found 160 suicides among active-duty personnel, 1,713 suicide attempts and 146 deaths from high-risk behavior, such as drug abuse, in the year ended Sept. 30, 2009.

The number of suicides has been climbing since 2005 when there were 87 confirmed and unconfirmed suicides.

The current numbers are the highest since the Army began tracking the issue in the 1980s. Veterans groups say it's hard to make comparisons to the Vietnam era because of changes in how the data are tracked. Military suicide rates also tend to increase during wartime.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the vice-chief of staff of the Army who has led the effort to reduce suicides, said that 79% of suicides were soldiers who had one deployment or had yet to be deployed.

There's a graph on that page which shows a meteoric rise in suicides by servicemen, which I have reposted here.

Another article by TIME magazine has shows similar numbers.  From that article:

"Combat increases fearlessness about death and the capability for suicide," said Craig Bryan, a University of Texas psychologist, briefing Pentagon officials in January. The combination of combat exposure and ready access to guns can be lethal to anyone contemplating suicide. About half of soldiers who kill themselves use weapons, and the figure rises to 93% among those deployed in war zones.

In a Huffington Post article on the subject, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki commented that of the more than 30,000 suicides each year in America, about 20 percent are committed by veterans

The effects of PTSD are horrible, leading to substance abuse, domestic violence, depression, and potentially suicide, homicide, and psychotic breaks.  Can the veterans be blamed for their destructive actions?  Not really.  We as a country have to do a better job at treatment and prevention.

So I don't blame Michael Thomas Mason for shooting up a parking lot and having behavior that led to him becoming a quadriplegic.  It's tragic.

But this shooting didn't have to happen.  Nor do most of the PTSD-related homicides and suicides.

Here's what we can do to limit the homicides and suicides, which typically involve firearms.  First, the veterans, their families, and their therapists must insist that the veteran remove all weapons from his possession.  Second, if he has severe PTSD reactions, to the point that he has to seek therapy and may have a psychotic break, or if he has expressed violent or self-destructive behavior, he should be listed as mentally unfit for gun ownership and purchase with the NICS background checking system.  Finally, cases of PTSD-related crimes should be reported on, highlighting the dangers of PTSD and gun ownership.  Awareness and education is key in treating and understanding this issue.

Let's work together to prevent another Michael Thomas Mason shooting event, and create a new trajectory for our communities.

UPDATE (1/28/13):  Today it was announced that Michael Mason has, after just over two years of suffering in paralysis, has died from his wound, while at the VA hospital.  HERE is a good write-up about his death and the severity of his PTSD.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Fourth Murder-Suicide for the Eugene Area

Today was an alarming day. 

Back on February 25, an elderly couple was found shot to death in their home in Cheshire, a rural town outside of Eugene, Oregon.  It was revealed today that the husband, Harry Hanus, age 74, shot and killed his wife, Barbara, before taking his own life.  They left no note, and the articles on the shooting only indicate surprise by those who knew them.

The reason this is so alarming is that this is the fourth murder-suicide in this area in only half a year. 

For an area that historically sees no more than half a dozen homicides a year, things are now getting out of control.  For these four cases alone, nine people have died, including the murder of three children.  Three of these murder-suicides were carried out with guns, one with a knife.

The other three cases:
Sept. 20, 2010: Richard Rauscher, depressed over a recent divorce, shot to death his two little girls, ages 7 & 9, in their Junction City home.  Neighbors knew he was distraught, as he would come over to their home to cry.

Dec. 22, 2010:  In an apparent psychotic break, Darwin Dale Stout, 49, stabbed to death his 13-year old son, Jared, before killing himself with the same knife, in their home in Harrisburg.  Stout's behavior had been highly erratic and paranoid in the previous week and a half.  During that time, Stout had voluntarily admitted himself to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation and been deemed not to be a threat to himself or others.   Sadly, they were mistaken.

Feb. 19, 2011:  In north Eugene, Valerie R. Rhodes & Christopher Schroeder, both 30, were found shot to death in their home.   The official cause of death has not yet been released, but initial reports were probably murder-suicide, and the Lane County Sherriff's Office has stated that, "We want to make sure that folks (neighbors) know that we don't have any reason to believe that this is anything other than something between these two folks.  So there's no suspect out there we're trying to find, there's nothing in play here, as tragic as this incident is, we believe it is contained just to this couple."

Some important Statistics:
Depression leads to a drastically higher chance of both suicide, homicide, or both.  From THIS study: "Twelve couples in cases of murder-suicide were compared to 24 couples in cases of homicide during the period 1978 to 1987 in Albuquerque, N.M. Data were obtained from police, the courts, hospital records, and interviews with friends and family of the deceased. The most striking findings were that perpetrators of murder-suicide were depressed (75%) and men (95%), while perpetrators of homicide were not depressed and one-half were women."
An estimated 41% of gun-related homicides and 94% of gun-related suicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present (Wiebe, 2003).  Where there are more guns, there are more suicides and homicides.

Keeping a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide by a factor of 3 to 5 and increases the risk of suicide with a firearm by a factor of 17 (Kellerman, 1992).

More than 90 percent of suicide attempts with a gun are fatal.  In comparison, only 3 percent of attempts with drugs or cutting are fatal (Miller, 2004).

For the most part, there is no law that can stop this, proposed or existing, with the possible exception of strengthening background checks and NICS to temporarily include those, like Stout, who had been admitted for counseling. As far as I have been able to tell, the cases above that included gun use involved legal gun owners who pulled the trigger.

Rather, it takes personal responsibility on the part of friends and family, and the individual himself, to recognize the warning signs.  Sometimes those signs can be very hard to see, or easy to misread as not being serious.  Other times they are blatantly obvious, as with the Stout case. Sadly, even intervention doesn't always stop tragedy, but chances are far, far higher.

If you know someone who is depressed, has suffered a traumatic event such as a divorce or job loss, or has expressed thoughts of suicide, I urge you to convince them to seek counseling, remove weapons from their home, and have someone watch over them.  This is doubly true if children live in the home with them.  You may feel you are butting into their business by making suggestions and showing concern, but this is better than having your friend or loved one die, and it just may demonstrate to them that someone gives enough of a damn for them to live another day.  

UPDATE (3/3/11):  Another murder-suicide up in Hillsboro, OR, this week.  Father shot 6-yr old son before killing himself.

Statistical Sources:

Kellermann, Arthur L. et al., “Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership,” New England Journal of Medicine, 327(7) (1992): 467-472.

Miller, Matthew, David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael, "Firearms and Suicide in the Northeast," Journal of Trauma 57 (2004):626-632.

Rosenbaum, M.  The role of depression in couples involved in murder-suicide and homicide.  Am J Psychiatry. 1990 Aug;147(8):1036-9.

Wiebe, Douglas J. PhD. “Homicide and Suicide Risks Associated With Firearms in the Home: A National Case-Control Study.” Annals of Emergency Medicine 41 (2003): 771-82.