Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Successful Mother’s Day Weekend for Ceasefire Oregon

Baldr Odinson (at right) speaking, for Ceasefire Oregon, at the
2013 Million Mom March rally and march for peace in Eugene
(photo by Jasmine Rose Penter)

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, a day when children everywhere show their love for the woman who raised them, and that mothers return that love.  Here in my home it was special, with my wife showered with homemade gifts from our two small children, in a safe and loving home, and a gift and call to my own mom, whom I will be visiting in another state later this year.

But Mother’s Day is different this year.  Still fresh in our nation’s collective experience is the horror that was Newtown.  Since that horrifying day, when 20 little children were gunned down, along with 7 adults, at least another 71 kids *under the age of 12* have been killed by gunfire in homicides and accidents, according to Mother Jones magazine.  From the article:
An average of 197 children ages 12 and younger died from gun shots each year from 1999 through 2010, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dozens are killed annually in accidents—often with other young kids firing the gun—although the majority die in homicides. 
Among the 71 shooting deaths we analyzed from the past five months: 
  • 40 killings were unintentional and 31 were alleged homicides.
  • The most common scenario was kid-on-kid: At least 29 of the accidental deaths occurred when a kid under 17 pulled the trigger.
  • The average age of the victims was just under six years old.
  • 20 victims were girls and 51 were boys.
  • The problem was worst in the South: Florida had the most kids killed (four accidents, five alleged homicides), followed by Ohio and Tennessee (four accidents and two alleged homicides in each state), followed by Alabama (two accidents, two alleged homicides) and South Carolina (four accidents).

I see it every day, in dozens of email Google alerts, which I try to post whenever I can to the Kid Shootings blog.  But there is no way to keep up with them all, without taking away time from my own parenting and work responsibilities.  As we say at the Kid Shooting blog, over and over again: “Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult.”  Children and guns don’t mix, and it is the gun owners, usually the parents, who are typically responsible for allowing access to guns in these tragedies.

Many accidental shootings happen in or around a family home, often involving kids playing with guns. Others involve parents accidentally shooting their kids. These incidents don't exactly shore up the gun lobby's claim that Americans need to secure their homes with handguns or even AR-15 assault rifles. Public health researchers have found that having a gun in the home puts gun owners and their families at higher risk of being shot intentionally or accidentally. Forty-three percent of homes with guns and kids contain at least one unlocked firearm. And one study found that a third of 8- to 12-year-old boys who came across an unlocked handgun picked it up and pulled the trigger.

But we needn’t just shake our heads and despair.  We have to take action to limit the violence.  Ceasefire Oregon has been active in trying to get the word out about the dangers of gun violence.

Last Saturday, Ceasefire Oregon held its annual gun turn-in in Portland, and hundreds of people showed up.  485 firearms were turned in, in exchange for gift certificates to Fred Meyer and Safeway stores.  Among those guns were four assault weapons.  These are weapons, in working condition, which are now out of the hands of those who feel unsafe having them in their homes, who have inherited them from deceased relatives, or who have come to the realization that a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to harm you than to be used to protect you.  From an article:
“Given the recent events at Clackamas Town Center, Newtown, Connecticut, and elsewhere, people are obviously thinking twice about having weapons in their homes,” said Penny Okamoto, Ceasefire Oregon’s executive director. “The huge turnout we had today is clear evidence of that.” 
The number of weapons turned in was the highest since 2001, when 504 guns were turned in. Nearly 8,290 guns have been turned in since the annual event began in 1994.Participants who turned in working guns received gift certificates from Safeway or Fred Meyer. Handguns merited a $100 gift certificate, with rifles and shotguns getting $75, assault weapons $150, magazines with 50-round capacities or more $25 and pellet and BB guns $10.
And then, on Sunday, Ceasefire Oregon joined with Million Mom March for the 14th annual march for
Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy addressing the
audience at the 14th annual Million Mom March
rally and walk for peace
(photo by Jasmine Rose Penter)
peace in Eugene, Oregon.  Around 100 people showed up to hear live music, speeches from Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, MMM organizer Betsy Steffensen, and myself, and then march 2-3 miles along the river trail in solidarity to reduce gun violence. 

About 100 people met at the Eugene Water & Electric Board Plaza along the Willamette River and listened to statements from Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy and others who chose Mother’s Day to advocate for gun legislation reform. 
Several speakers echoed the words of the Dalai Lama, spoken during his sold-out presentation Friday at the University of Oregon, during their remarks at the plaza before embarking on a one-mile walk along the river to the Owen Memorial Rose Garden. 
Piercy said she is disillusioned by the absence of change in state or federal gun laws, even in the wake of the massacre shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December. She paraphrased the Dalai Lama when she said “never give up” and encouraged everyone to work together to put pressure on politicians to enact more thorough background checks for gun purchases. 
“We have to care about each other’s well-being,” Piercy said, again citing the Dalai Lama in saying the “core of peace” is caring about others.
I spoke mainly on the false assumptions that the pro-gun crowd make regarding “rights” granted by the Second Amendment, versus the historical truth of the amendment according to the Supreme Court and Constitutional scholars, and the difference between *having a right* and what *is* right to do.  My speech was well-received.  As I've said before, I greatly enjoy speaking in public on this issue, and will have other chances soon.

Mothers, hug your children tightly.  According to one study, around 3000 teens and children die every year in America to gunfire, and another 14,000 are injured.  I've seen it myself, when one teen shot another to death just a few feet from me, and in the death of a young friend in a suicide.

We have to work hard as responsible parents and citizens to limit those numbers, through child access protection laws and other sensible gun laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and youths, and create a new trajectory for our communities away from gun violence.

ADDENDUM (5/15/13):  A related article, written by the mother of a Sandy Hook victim, about the poignancy of losing a child to gun violence as a mother, particularly when Mother's Day comes around, by Rebecca Bond, who started the organization EVOLVE:

When I started Evolve, after the horrific tragedy of Sandy Hook, it was because I could not contemplate anything more unimaginable than taking away the life of a child. My child or another mother's child. One of our human miracles. It wasn't about guns to me. It was about a mother's conscience and the unfathomable idea that 20 children could be massacred and what if? What if nothing happened and we continue to look away from the truth about gun violence and gun behaviors in this country? As a mother, it was too unimaginable to consider. 
What drove me to start Evolve is knowing that we have to do better. That as mothers we must do better to make saving a life our priority. We know that human life is fragile because we know first-hand the miracle of creating one. We also know once that life is created, we must do everything within our power -- within our society's power -- to ensure that life does not go to waste. 
Guns are powerful, but human choice is more powerful. More powerful than a gun, more powerful than legislation, more powerful than the Second Amendment.