Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Guns for Stoners

If you came upon someone on the street who was smoking pot and clearly stoned, how would you feel if they were handed a loaded gun?  Do you think that person would have sound judgment, enough to handle a lethal weapon?  Would they have good aim?  Would you feel  safer? 

I know I wouldn't. 

But the Oregon Supreme Court disagrees.  Earlier this week they ruled that people with medical marijuana permits can be issued concealed carry permits, too.

The ruling upheld previous decisions by the Oregon Court of Appeals and circuit court that determined a federal law barring criminals and drug addicts from buying firearms does not excuse sheriffs from issuing concealed weapons permits to people who hold medical marijuana cards and otherwise qualify.

"We hold that the Federal Gun Control Act does not pre-empt the state's concealed handgun licensing statute and, therefore, the sheriffs must issue (or renew) the requested licenses," Chief Justice Paul De Muniz wrote in the ruling issued in Salem.

Cynthia Willis, one of four plaintiffs, welcomed the ruling.

"I feel like a big girl now," Willis said. "I feel like a real human being now, not just a source of revenue to the county."

The article goes on to explain that the plaintiff, Willis, "volunteers at a Medford smoke shop that helps medical marijuana patients find growers, and teaches how to get the most medical benefit from the pound-and-a-half of pot that card carriers are allowed to possess."

Honestly, I don't have too much of a problem with medical marijuana.  Like a majority of Oregonians, I feel it helps alleviate a variety of serious medical symptoms and is less damaging to society than alcohol or even cigarettes.

However, I firmly believe that guns should not be possessed by people who are using mind-altering drugs, whether they are legal or not.  This goes for alcohol, too.  Sadly, there is no law against them owning guns in this country simply for that reason, unless the drugs are illegal and they have been convicted of such crimes.  This ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court is a slap in the face of common sense.

Sure, I can see the coming argument.  You may say that medical marijuana users aren't your typical junky.  They are likely only to use their drug in their home, and are less likely to go out of the home while high. 

I would counter by saying that a gun in the home in their hands isn't any more safe than on the streets.  And there is nothing preventing them from walking out of the home, armed and stoned.

But consider also THIS article just the day after the previous one.  From the article:

Oregon's medical marijuana law provides a safe-haven for large-scale drug production and trafficking operations, law enforcement officials told state lawmakers Thursday in testimony supporting a proposed overhaul of the system.


Critics say the professional growers can cultivate massive marijuana plants that are each capable of producing dozens of pounds of pot. That creates a significant excess beyond the 1½ pounds a patient is eligible to possess, and some growers sell their surplus on the black market. Designated "caregivers" are allowed to possess the marijuana designated for patients in their care, so becoming a caregiver for 10 patients would give someone cover to transport 15 pounds of marijuana.

Now, I'm certain the vast majority of medical marijuana distributors and users are not criminals.  Still, some clearly are, according to law enforcement professionals who testified.  Thanks to the Oregon Supreme Court, they can now be legally armed in public, too.

Interestingly, there is also a bill written by the extremist group, Oregon Firearms Federation, and submitted by Representative Thatcher, their voicebox in the legislature, which proposes that anyone convicted of misdemeanor marijuana crimes (including non-medical marijuana) should be allowed to carry concealed as well.  House Bill 2789 was referred to the Judiciary Committee, last I knew, but isn't likely to get traction.  Still, it is disturbing to me that any leader would even propose such a heinous attack on common sense.   Never mind that those who are convicted of this crime likely have been convicted of other drug crimes, but I digress.  I call this the "Guns for Stoners" bill.  It's one of a number of very dangerous pro-gun bills introduced this year in Oregon.

I'm glad that the plaintiff mentioned earlier, Willis, feels "like a big girl now" or a "real human being" because the Oregon Supreme Court says she can pack heat and be stoned in public.  But I don't want to be anywhere near her if I could help it, and it doesn't give me any sort of sense of "liberty" knowing she is able to blow me away if she feels threatened in her mind-altered manner.

UPDATE (7/27/11):  The case is appealed by the Sheriff and heads to the U.S. Supreme Court:  http://www.kval.com/news/health/126264363.html.  Let's hope for a ruling in the Sheriff's favor.

UPDATE (1/10/12):  The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, thus letting stand the Oregon Appeals Court ruling allowing Oregonians with medical marijuana permits to be allowed concealed carry permits, as recognized by Oregon.  Of course, medical marijuana is still considered illegal at a federal level, as is the carrying of a gun by drug offenders.  So there is still gray area here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Colin Goddard Visits Oregon

Colin Goddard addressing the Million Mom March marchers at EWEB Plaza.
Oregon was visited in the last week by Colin Goddard.  Colin is a tall, handsome, 20-something who is extremely well-spoken and charismatic.  He is also a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech University massacre, and he has made it his mission to do everything he can to help prevent such a shooting from taking place again.

On a snowy, windy April day in Blacksburg, Virginia, young Americans pursued
a college education and their teachers engaged in providing it to them.  Colin was among them, in a French class in Norris Hall at Virginia Tech.  Earlier that morning, two people had been shot to death in a dormitory.  The shooter was at large.  Unfortunately, for most of the campus it was still business as usual.  Two hours later, while Colin and his classmates were doing their job as students, the shooter came to Norris Hall, chained the doors, and proceeded to open fire, going room to room and systematically shooting to death as many students and professors as he could.  His name was Seung-Hui Cho.

In the next 10 minutes were seen the best and worst of humanity:  a murderous killer on a rampage, and professors and students risking their lives to barricade doors and protect each other and help each other escape.  The situation ended when the shooter took his own life.  In the end, he had killed 32 people plus himself and wounded 17 others.

Colin talks to attendees after the Bijou showing.
 Colin Goddard was one of those wounded.  As explained in the documentary on the shooting that features him, "Living for 32," he was the first one to call 911, was shot four times, and survived the horror.  He still has three bullets in him, as well as a titanium rod in his leg.  He was 21 at the time.

Cho had been adjudicated mentally ill and a danger to himself and others, but because of Virginia's weak reporting of mental health records to the NICS background check system at the time, he was still able to purchase his handguns and ammo from a gun shop and pass the background check.

After recovering and finishing his degree at Virginia Tech, Colin has since joined the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  He is touring the nation, showing the documentary and speaking at venues, mostly universities, Sundance and other film festivals, and now even public high schools. 

"Living for 32" is a powerful and thought-provoking documentary about Goddard and his efforts to bring awareness to the issue of gun violence in America.  In the film, he examines his change in thought about guns in America as he recovered from his wounds, discusses what it is like to be a survivor, and goes undercover to gun shows to demonstrate how anyone, including felons and the mentally ill, can purchase a gun without even showing ID.

Colin (tallest guy) and other marchers listening to Mayor Kitty Piercy at the Million Mom March.
  When I heard that Colin was travelling the nation, I immediately sought to bring him to Oregon.  You may have noticed I didn't post anything during the month of April.  This was because I was using all of my available time scheduling a tour of Oregon for Colin.  I'm proud to say that I and a team of other volunteers from Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation and Million Mom March had a slew of venues for Colin to speak at.

In five day's time Colin spoke at ten different appearances and radio interviews.  All showings were free to the public.

On May 5, Colin arrived in Eugene and immediately went to a live radio interview with KLCC, an NPR affiliate, and the "Northwest Passage" show with Tripp Summer.  Listen to it HERE.

Marching to reduce gun violence with Million Mom March.

On May 6, Colin spoke with three classes at South Eugene High School, showing clips of the documentary and discussing the issue of gun violence with around 138 kids and teachers.  A few hours later, he visited Thurston High School in Springfield, site of the 1998 shooting by 15-year old Kip Kinkle, Colin spoke with around 300 kids.  He made a tremendous impression at both schools, and the schools are eager to have him back.  That night, Colin made his way to Portland and the film to a small audience at Multnomah Friends Meeting.

On May 7, Colin met with another small group at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, an institution known for advocating for peace and non-violence.  Then he made his way south again to a small showing at Oregon State University in Corvallis.  A reporter from the university newspaper, the Daily Barometer, was there and wrote up an article.

On Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8, came the annual Million Mom March in downtown Eugene.  With around 100 marchers watching, Colin spoke to the crowd and to TV and newspaper reporters, along with Mayor Kitty Piercy (who is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns), myself, a boy named Sage from the iMatter group, and a close friend of Officer Kilcullen, who had recently been slain by a mentally ill shooter.  A moment of silence was observed for Officer Kilcullen, and then we all marched a couple miles along the Willamette River.  All three major TV news programs covered the event (see HERE and HERE) as well as the newspaper, the Register-Guard (HERE). 

Colin addresses the Bijou Art Cinemas attendees.
On his last day here, May 9, Colin didn't stop to rest.  At noon he spoke with a class of about 190 students at the University of Oregon.  That evening, he had a very long and excellent interview with the U. of O. radio station, KWVA, which I think is the best I've heard with him.  Listen to it HERE.  Finally, he wrapped up his tour with a showing of the documentary and discussion at the Bijou Art Cinemas, with around 104 showing up.

In all, Colin spoke directly with an estimated 877 people in five days, not counting radio and TV interviews!

And what is the main message of all of this?  We need stronger background checks that are better at excluding the mentally ill and those who are criminals, for ALL gun sales, including at gun shows and for private sales, in all states and at all times.

I can't say enough how immensely proud I am of Colin Goddard and the way he has turned his personal trauma into a vehicle for change.  He is brave for taking on a difficult subject, and his efforts will almost certainly play a major role in making a new trajectory for our nation.

Keep up the great work, Colin, and I look forward to your next visit to Oregon!

"I think I've actually found a way to turn the negative experience in my life into something positive, something that will hopefully bring change."
-- Colin Goddard, from the KLCC radio interview

(all photos courtesy of Jasmine Rose Penter, photographer and Ceasefire Oregon volunteer)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Best Tribute for a Fallen Officer

It's been a sad week here in the Eugene, Oregon area.  Last Friday, April 22, motorcycle officer Chris Kilcullen was headed home along highway 126 when a beat up red Buick Skylark tailgated him, according to a witness.  The Buick then tried to pass Officer Kilcullen, and at one point swerved dangerously into his lane, almost hitting him.  Kilcullen then turned on his lights, and the Buick suddenly raced off, with Kilcullen in pursuit.  The chase left Eugene and headed into Springfield.  Finally, at a busy crossroad, the motorist pulled over to the side of the road.  Kilcullen pulled his motorcycle up to the driver's side door, at which point the driver pulled out a .38 revolver and shot Kilcullen once in the side, just above his body armor.  Kilcullen fell off his bike and slumped against the wheel of a neighboring big rig.  The Buick then sped off, with officers in pursuit.  It eventually wound up way down near Lowell and onto some Forest Service roads until it hit a dead end.  Officers began a long negotiation and eventually arrested the suspect.
Eugene Police Officer Chris Kilcullen

The shooter turned out to be 56 year-old Cheryl Kidd, a developmentally disabled woman with a long history of schizophrenia and erratic behavior.  In her schizophrenic mind, she had thought the police had been following her prior to the incident, and had trouble focusing during the interrogation after being caught.

Officer Chris Kilcullen died soon after, at the hospital.  Kilcullen is the third officer to be shot in the line of duty in Oregon in the short 4 months of this year, and the second to die as a result.  And in the city of Eugene, this is the third officer to die while on the force this year (the first accidentally shot himself at a shooting range, the second had a heart attack).

The entire week, our city experienced a unified sadness and outpouring of grief at the death of this 12-year veteran of the police force.  A father and husband.  A man who volunteered with local non-profits.  A man resoundingly loved by his fellow officers.  Blue lights were being put into porches as a sign of support.  The legislature is considering a bill to erect signs to commemorate a stretch of highway for him.  There are even online murmurs of renaming the entire highway after him.  On Friday, April 29, a procession of around 400 emergency vehicles from all over the state and surrounding states, and even Canada, drove a long route past the point of the shooting, through downtown Eugene, and to the new Knight arena where a memorial service was held.  Thousands showed up to pay their respect.  Flags are still being flown at half mast, by order of the governor. 

Wow.  This is an amazing tribute to a fallen officer.  And well-deserved, I'd say.  Our law enforcement officers take their life in their hands every day, with every traffic stop, to protect and to serve.  They are all heroes.  I could only wish that my passing could be so marked.

And yet, despite all of this outpouring, what, if anything, is being done to keep it from happening again?

How did this woman, who had such a long history of severe neurological problems, get a handgun?  Did she steal it?  Did she buy it on the black market?  No.  It turns out she went down to Mazama's Sporting Goods store at the local mall a year ago and purchased it like anyone else can.  After a 5-minute background check, which she cleared, she walked out with it, ready to do as she pleased, schizophrenic or not.

But wait!  Don't background checks look for mental illness already?  Yes, but you can only be entered into the NICS background check database, and rejected for gun sale, if you have been ruled as mentally ill in a court of law or been committed to a mental institution.  Neither of these are the case with Kidd.  Nor was she a convicted felon, abuser, or on parole.  In short, despite her long illness and reduced mental capacity, there is NOTHING that kept her or anyone like her from purchasing or possessing a firearm. 

Nor for Michael Thomas Mason, who suffered from severe PTSD and last December shot randomly at cars in the parking lot of the same mall where Kidd got her weapon (less than 50 yards away, in fact) and was subsequently shot by police and made a paraplegic.  Nor for a mentally ill man who had a shootout with police in Eugene in 2006.  Nor for untold numbers of other shooters elsewhere in the U.S., such as Jerod Lee Laughner of the 2011 Tucson shooting, or Seung-Hui Cho of the 2007 Virginia Tech University shooting.

So what can be done?  Certainly not everyone who is mentally ill is a danger to himself or others, so you can't just remove the second amendment right for all mentally ill or mentally handicapped individuals, right?  But clearly something must be done to keep those who are dangerous to themselves and others, or have reduced mental capacity to understand when it is right or wrong to pull the trigger, from being able to possess guns.  Even the father of the slain officer Chris Kilcullen agrees.

As a result of this tragedy, at last Oregon lawmakers are considering this loophole

It is my opinion that there should be a clear mechanism where a mental health professional, believing a subject to be a danger to himself or others, should be able to put that patient on a list for a temporary suspension of gun rights, subsequent to consideration by a panel of mental health experts to put the subject into the NICS database for a longer period, there to stay until the subject can get that panel to judge him or her reasonably cured of the illness.

So, while it was nice to have the memorial service, flags at half mast, blue lights on porches, a 400-vehicle procession, and the potential naming of a highway as honors for this fallen officer, wouldn't it be a more fitting tribute to keep it from happening again?  Let's make a new trajectory for our communities and do better at adding dangerously mentally ill people to the background check databases.

(Post-script:  only 3 days after Officer Kilcullen was shot by Cheryl Kidd, a well-to-do doctor purchased a gun and ammo, came home and, after scaring his wife by leaving some ammo and the receipt for his new gun on the kitchen table, shot up the neighborhood  and then killed himself.  The news report is sketchy, but I happen to know a neighbor of the shooter, who told me about the terror of that day and some information about the shooter and his family.  Severe depression is just as deadly as other mental health disorders, and should also be grounds for temporary suspension of gun rights if diagnosed).

UPDATE (5/2/11):  http://www.kval.com/news/local/121111569.html  A psychiatric evaluation showed the suspect, Cheryl Kidd, to be diagnosed with "schizophrenia, grossly disorganized thinking, extreme paranoid delusions and the inability to differentiate the past from the present."  Also, "In January, Kidd's primary health care provider sent her to the emergency room for a mental health evaluation."  In her delusion she thought the police had fired at her a couple times in the past, and that officer Kilcullen had shot out her window.  Too bad there wasn't a mechanism to stop her from possessing a gun back in January.

(image taken from HERE)