Saturday, June 23, 2012

What Choices Would You Make If You Were Being Stalked At Night?

Take a moment and ask yourself what you would do in this situation:

Imagine for a moment that you are walking at night, since you don't have a car.  You left your apartment to go to the corner store to get a snack, and now you're walking back.  There's a light rain.  The neighborhood has had a number of break-ins lately, so you keep an eye out for trouble.

Then suddenly you realize a man you don't know is driving slowly behind you, following you, watching you intently and muttering into a cell phone.  He isn't a police officer.  What do you do?  Do you blithely continue on your way, or do you dart off and try to lose him?

You choose to try to lose him.  The man gets out of the car and hurries after you, stalking you.  What do you do?  Do you head straight home, leading the man to your family, or do you try harder to lose him?

You try harder to lose him.  But suddenly he catches up to you.  The man doesn't say his name or why he's following you.  You ask, "Why are you following me?"  All he says to you, in an accusational tone, is "What are you doing here?!"  Then he pushes you.  What do you do?  Do you assume he's no threat, after stalking you through your apartment complex and refusing to say who he is?  Do you turn and try to run some more and hope he doesn't catch you again?  Or do you defend yourself?

You figure you could take him, so you decide to punch him.  A struggle ensues, and you continue to fight back, falling to the ground with him.  That's when you discover the man has a loaded gun hidden under his jacket.  What do you do?  Do you try to run away and hope he doesn't shoot you in the back?  Or do you fight harder, maybe even try to get the gun away from him?

Would you have made the choices I described above?  Trayvon Martin apparently did, and I don't blame him.  The above description is a summary of events as described on the 911 phone call from Trayvon's shooter, George Zimmerman, an account from Trayvon's female friend (whom he was talking to during the event), and Zimmerman's own account to police, which was just released in police interview videos.  Of course, Zimmerman's account is his word against that of a dead boy and a few half-coherent observations from witnesses.  Sadly, it ended with a single gunshot and a fatal wound for the boy, through his heart and lung, so we will never hear his side of the story.

Trayvon was scared, according to his female friend.  But imagine how much more scared he would have been if he had known that his stalker was armed with a loaded 9mm handgun, that he had a history of violence, that he was paranoid enough to make dozens of 911 calls in previous months for things as simple as open garage doors or children playing, and that he was using medication that could arouse aggression and hallucinations.

Zimmerman suggests that he was the victim.  And yet he obviously pursued and shot the unarmed boy.  If Zimmerman is to be trusted, why then is he back in jail after committing perjury for lying about his finances, using his wife to move money around and hide it, and trying to hide a second passport?  Does this sound like the actions of an innocent man who has nothing to fear from the truth?

But the gun extremists don't care about all that.  They've donated at least a couple hundred thousand dollars to this murderer's cause, beginning even before the facts in the case had come out.  They are apologists for Zimmerman, downplaying Zimmerman's violent past or justifying his attempt to follow the boy.  They instead attack the victim, Trayvon, because the boy had a brush with marijuana usage in his past and a miniscule, trace amount of THC in his autopsy report, and blow it way out of proportion with speculative hearsay designed to demonize this boy and make the murder seem to match the fantasy that conceal carry permit holders are only going to shoot thugs and druggies. 

The choices made by Trayvon that night, as reasonable as they seemed, served only to reinforce Zimmerman's toxic preconceived notions and vigilante tendencies.

Would you have made the same choices as Trayvon?

Would you have made the same choices as Zimmerman? 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

National ASK Day 2012 - Does Your Perception of the Danger of Guns Match Reality?

Today is National ASK Day, when parents are urged to ask about guns and other dangers where their children play.  Is there a gun where your children play, in their friends' homes, in the purse of your babysitter, in your relative's home?  Are you certain?  Have you asked? 

And if there is a gun there, is it properly stored, locked and unloaded?

Have you talked to your children about avoiding guns without proper supervision, or what to do when they find a gun?  Have you urged them to Speak Up about guns they encounter?

All too often, gun owners underestimate the danger of their weapons around children.  They erroneously believe that their children have been trained sufficiently to avoid their guns, or that their children could never get into their guns.  Unfortunately, these assumptions are often wrong, with tragic consequences.  Over at the Kid Shootings blog, I see numerous examples every week of children who get hold of guns where they live or visit and shoot themselves or others.  For instance, HERE is a recent example where a 9-year old boy in Oklahoma got into his family’s gun safe, got a loaded gun, and unintentionally shot his 3-year old brother.  HERE is another recent example, where a 7-year old boy in Mississippi got hold of his family’s loaded, unsecured shotgun and shot his 4-year old sister in the face.

Below is a very enlightening graphic, put out by the Center to Prevent YouthViolence.  As you can see, the danger of guns to children is higher than the perception of danger by gun owners.  Please read this carefully and discuss it with other parents (click on the picture to read it more clearly). 

While we at Ceasefire Oregon do not recommend having guns in homes with children at all, if you feel strongly that a gun is needed, please store it locked and unloaded, with the key or combination closely guarded. 

The safety of our children is our most important duty as parents.

Here is a previous post on the ASK campaign:

And here is an article I recently published on the topic, in Metro-Parent Magazine (see page 28):

Let's make a new trajectory for our community, away from gun violence.

UPDATE:  The "Art on Issues" blog had a great posting which, at the end, comments on the misperceptions of children and guns.  I recommend you read it.  Here is a good excerpt:

First, a study showed the vast majority of adults (around 87%), regardless of gun ownership, geography, race, gender, education level, income, or child age, believed that their children would not touch guns they found, 52% reasoning that their children were “too smart” or “knew better” (ref).  This unrealistic expectation for children was demonstrated in another study (ref).  Twenty-nine (29) groups of boys aged 8-12 years were observed in a room where a gun was hidden.  Many of the children found and handled the gun, and half of the children actually pulled the trigger (more than 90% of these boys reported having had some sort of gun safety training).  Although the NRA offers its Eddie Eagle training program, a study in 6 and 7 year olds compared the effectiveness of that program to a behavioral skills training program (ref): “…children who received behavioral skills training were significantly more likely to demonstrate the desired safety skills in role-playing assessments and in situ assessments than were children who received Eddie Eagle program training”.
A reasonable question would be how many of the NRA’s own membership have lost children, who otherwise may have done things differently, had the organization they financially supported been proactive rather than obstructive regarding the public health risks of firearms? 

ADDENDUM (6/21/12):  A related article with more statistics, by "M.D. Mama", pediatrician Dr. Clair McCarty:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

An Appeal To Fathers To Oppose “Stand Your Ground” Laws

Today I celebrate being the father of my two small children, and for them to celebrate me.  Since we just got back from a week-long vacation, I plan to take it easy and hang out at home, opening whatever heartfelt gifts they give me, doing fatherly things like cooking out and doing home improvement projects, and giving them lots of hugs.  I love my children, and would never want anything bad to happen to them.

Sadly, each year, around thirty thousand people are shot and killed in America.  Three thousand of them are children and teens.  Another 17,500 children and teens are injured by gunfire.  The vast majority of these children (and adults) have fathers who love them as much as I love my own.  I can only imagine the grief and torment these fathers must go through upon learning that the children they nurtured and tried to keep safe are now dead or injured by a bullet.

One father is speaking out about the death of his child: Tracy Martin, father of Trayvon Martin – a boy shot down by an over-zealous gun nut who used Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" (SYG) law as an excuse to stalk and ultimately shoot and kill an unarmed teen.

Here is Mr. Martin’s appeal:

Like Tracy Martin, I urge all readers to contact their state governors and legislators and ask them to review their state’s “stand yourground” laws

And what will those governors find?  The Tampa Bay Times recently did a study of Florida’s law.  What they found was shocking.  No doubt many of the cases were truly justified shootings.  But, as you'll see by the findings, the potential for abuse is very, very high.  Justice has not been done.

From the review:
• People often go free under "stand your ground" in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended. One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free.
• Similar cases can have opposite outcomes. Depending on who decided their cases, some drug dealers claiming self-defense have gone to prison while others have been set free. The same holds true for killers who left a fight, only to arm themselves and return. Shoot someone from your doorway? Fire on a fleeing burglar? Your case can swing on different interpretations of the law by prosecutors, judge or jury.
Some of their findings suggest racism in the successful outcome of SYG trials. Two-thirds of the defendants used guns.  In 75% of the cases (148 out of 200), the victim wasn’t even committing a crime that led to the confrontation.

70% (135 out of 192) of the victims were unarmed during the confrontation.

In a quarter of the cases (53 out of 200), there were no witnesses to the shooting.  That means that, if the victim died, the case comes down to the word of the shooter against that of a dead man.  In over half of the cases (110 out of 200), there was either no physical evidence or it is unclear if physical evidence was found.  Given that people who have successfully used the SYG defense include drug dealers and gang members, these data are truly alarming.

HERE is a database of findings from the study.

These results stand in stark contrast to the argument by the NRA, who crafted these laws, that only law-abiding citizens would use SYG laws, and only to protect themselves against imminent and lethal danger.

Today, if you are a father, love your children and hold them tight.  But also keep in mind that too many die from gunfire each year.  Don’t let your child be one of these.  Fight hard for sensible gun law reform, so that you won’t be the next grieving father on YouTube urging other fathers to do the same.

Monday, June 11, 2012

You Are More Likely To Be Shot To Death In The U.S. Than In War-Torn Somalia and Yemen

Lately,  Oklahoma passed a law allowing open carry of firearms by anyone who could qualify for a conceal carry license, just in case you feel so paranoid about being shot that you must wear your gun on the outside of your jacket “for all the honest world to feel” as you walk into a Tulsa McDonald’s for your Big Mac.

"I am about the right to bear arms and constitutional freedoms," [Sheriff] Walton said. "I however have great concern for this law and the position it puts law enforcement in." 
The law could create more enforcement calls, create unnecessary distractions and interfere with public safety. 
Walton also points to the loss of tactical advantage for individuals that currently carry a concealed weapon. 
"There is a lot of 'what if' that surrounds the law and it will take some time to see how this plays out," Walton said.

Oklahoma isn’t alone.  Many states are moving this way as pro-gun extremist lobbies, particularly the NRA, urge them to do so, despite the fact that surveys show a majority of citizens oppose it.  Even in Tulsa, the opinion was evenly split.  Good enough for the NRA and their legislative lackeys.  By and large, law enforcement organizations in those states are strongly against it.  Apparently the NRA thinks it knows more about what is necessary to control crime.

27 states now allow open carry in some form.  12 of those don’t even require the same scrutiny of a conceal carry license.  17 others allow it under certain circumstances or passively allow it.  Only 6 actively oppose it in all circumstances outside of hunters and law enforcement.

Bolstered by these numbers, gun extremists continue to hold rallies to legalize unregulated open carry, like this recent one in Michigan featuring camo-clad gun fetishists with their assault rifles strapped to their backs as if they were headed off to Afghanistan.

Rallies like these remind me of scenes in some third-world countries, like Somalia or Yemen, where assault weapon-wielding men brandish their guns without fear of reprisal.  So I made the following poster:

But is this really a fair comparison?  Even I had doubts.  After all, Somalia has been in a decades-long civil war, with famine and drought, and is infamous for its hostage-taking pirates.  Yemen isn’t much better.  It, too, has been in a civil war, is a hub for Al-Qaeda, is the poorest Arabian country, has suicide attacks, and has a large swath of its territory chaotically ruled by local warlords instead of a national government (remember “Blackhawk Down”?).  So I researched some numbers. 

Here’s my shocking finding:

You are more likely to be murdered with a gun in the United States than to be murdered by any means in Somalia and Yemen.

Yes, that’s right.  Let me restate it:  Gun violence is more likely to be your cause of death here in the streets and homes of America than any form of homicide in either of these god-forsaken, war-torn, chaotic third-world countries (and I’m only talking about homicides here, not including accidental shootings, suicides, law enforcement, or defensive shootings).

Let’s look at the numbers, shall we?  The most recent year in which I could find data for all three countries was 2004 (the last year I could find for Somalia).

In Somalia in 2004 (from a World Bank study, from THIS link), there was a civilian homicide rate of 3.30 / 100K for ALL methods.

In Yemen in 2004, there was a civilian homicide rate of 2.85 / 100K for ALL methods.  (also found from the same World Bank study, from THIS link; the most recent year cited, 2008, had a rate of 4.00 / 100K).

In 2004, the United States had homicide rate of 3.97 / 100K for FIREARMS ALONE (according to CDC WISQARS data) (to compare with the most recent Yemen data, 2008 gun homicides in the U.S. also had a rate of 4.00 / 100K).

(For those interested in the rate for all forms of homicide in the U.S., in 2004 it was 5.88 / 100K, and in 2008 it was 5.86 / 100K.)

It’s important to note that these shooting rates also mirror the rates of gun ownership (again, data is from

Rate of private gun ownership out of 179 countries:  America is 1st.  Yemen is 10th.  Somalia is 58th.

Private guns in America:  88.8 / 100 people
Private guns in Yemen:  54.8 / 100 people
Private guns in Somalia:  9.1 / 100 people

Every American should stand up and pay attention.  We are quick to condemn nations like Somalia and Yemen for their wanton violence and lawlessness (and they should be condemned for it), and yet these numbers show that we are dying in higher numbers right here in our streets and homes, from gunfire or any other method.  The NRA’s answer is to flood the streets with as many guns as possible, and to flaunt those guns openly with open carry laws and rallies.  But gun ownership numbers show that we already have a far, far higher rate of gun ownership in the U.S.  By the NRA’s flawed logic, we should be the safest nation on Earth.  Instead, we are one of the deadliest. 

We, of course, should fight gun violence in any form and in any nation, but let’s concentrate on where it’s worst – right here at our own door -- and create a new trajectory for our community against gun violence.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Survivor Story: The Shooting I Was In

I was in a shooting in the summer of 1990.  Luckily, I wasn't injured.  Today is the anniversary.

It was June 1 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and I was 18 years old, looking forward to entering college.  It had been an eventful summer already, with the robbery of my home a couple months earlier.  I had worked with a sheriff's detective to identify the three teens who had kicked in my door and robbed the place while I and my family were away, and I helped identify their motive (they pawned our things to pay off a drug debt to a biker called "Concrete").  I had also had a job working nights as a custodian at a local health club.  I was healthy, happy, and had a lot to look forward to.  With all that had already happened, I figured I had another couple months or so to relax and enjoy the warm summer nights of Arkansas before hitting the books in college.

I was getting ready to go to my night job that night when I got a call from my best friend, Jason.  He told me that a mutual friend, Ryan, was at the mall and was about to get jumped by some bullies.  He implored me to go and get Ryan and get him out of there, since I had a car and he did not.  I reluctantly agreed, since the mall was on my way to work.

It was getting dark when I got to the mall.  I looked everywhere, and over an hour later was about to leave when I finally found Ryan at the south entrance.  I told him my "mission" and tried to get him out, but he refused to leave until he had watched something that was happening just outside the entrance, in the parking lot.  Annoyed, I followed him and found a large group of teens clustered around a car.  Night had fallen, and everything was bathed in the yellow light from the parking lot poles.

A large boy, whom I later found out was an 18-year old named John Raper, was standing by the passenger side of a Mercedes talking to a boy inside the car, and I couldn't hear what was being said.  The boy inside was a slim 16-year old named Mark Haynes, as I later learned, more commonly called "Skater Mark."  He was clearly intimidated by the larger kid.  The large group of teens circled around them were expecting a fight.  I had never met either boy, nor particularly cared about them;  I just wanted to get Ryan and get out in time to get to work.  Much later, I learned that John and Mark had a feud over a girlfriend.  I also learned later that Mark had been drinking.

The argument between the boys became more hostile, and they raised their voices.  Not only was Mark visibly intimidated by John, but he no doubt felt he had to do something now that he was being scrutinized by a growing crowd of peers.  Mark suddenly threw open the door to the car and jumped out.  A shoving match began.  Mark was obviously frightened, but John didn't appear the least bit concerned.  He crossed his muscle-bound arms and smirked at the smaller boy.

That's when Skater Mark pulled out a black semi-auto handgun.  Everyone screamed, and the crowd pulled away.  Some kids ran.  I and another boy crouched behind another car.  A newspaper article later said the gun was a .9mm.

"I've got a gun, motherfucker!" Mark screamed at John, "and I'm not afraid to use it!"

John acted nonchalant, not raising a hand at Mark, but not backing down either.

"These are real bullets, motherfucker!" Mark screamed, wanting to scare John and seeming to fail.  He ejected the clip to show John, then slammed it back in the gun.  "I'm going to fucking shoot you!"

John's demeanor didn't change.  If he said anything at all, I don't remember it.

Then Mark raised the weapon and fired a shot into John's forehead.

I was only about six feet away.

The next few moments seemed to pass in slow motion.  John's head flew back.  His hat went flying.  His body fell backward against the side of the Mercedes and then slid down and slumped to the pavement in a sitting position.

Everyone screamed and scattered.  I and the other boy crouched lower and watched as Mark got back into the passenger side of the Mercedes.

I told the boy next to me to help me remember the Mercedes license plate number, thinking that Mark would speed away.  Instead, Mark jumped back out of the car and started off away from the mall, staggering, dazed and seeming to make a run for it.

I and some other kids ran over to John.  He wasn't moving and wasn't breathing.  I pressed my fingers to his neck, trying to read for a pulse and desperately trying to remember my Boy Scout first aid training.  He was clammy, and I couldn't feel a pulse no matter how I tried.  "I think he's dead," I said to a girl next to me.  There was a bullet hole in his forehead.  Strangely, I don't remember there being much blood at that time.

I looked up, and Skater Mark was now half-way across the huge mall parking lot.  I blurted, "We've got to catch him!"  I ran to my Bronco, which was parked nearby, and drove off after him, not really thinking about what I would do when I got to him.  It was a foolish thing to do, but I was young.  There is no way I would support someone doing such a dangerous thing now.

Seeing me, he started running, and dashed across the busy five-lane highway next to the mall. 

I didn't see exactly where he went, but managed to get across the traffic in my vehicle.  I flashed my lights at some bushes on the property of a church, and he darted out again, this time running back across the highway, back toward the mall.

Again, I managed to get across the traffic and found the boy next to a car full of teens, likely trying to get them to give him a ride.  This time I drove back across the parking lot, back to the scene of the shooting, where I saw that the police had arrived.

The scene of the shooting had perhaps two hundred people around it now, mainly teens, with police and an ambulance.  I stopped my car and ran to what I thought was a police officer, but turned out to be mall security, and tried to tell him where I had last seen the shooter.  The man was a moron and refused to listen to me.  Annoyed, I looked around for an authority to talk to, when suddenly everyone yelled and pointed.  "There he is!" they shouted.

Skater Mark had returned to the scene of the shooting and tried to blend into the crowd.  The police quickly caught him and put him in the back of a cruiser.

I spent the next half hour or so at the scene, comforting a couple of other witnesses and watching in horror as paramedics tried in vain to resuscitate the victim, who was now lying in a pool of blood.  Then they loaded John on an ambulance and drove off.  He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

It was during this time that I discovered the 14-year old younger brother of my friend Jason, named Jeff, in the crowd.  He, too, had witnessed everything.

I gave my information as a witness to a police officer, and he asked me to take Jeff and go to the police station to be interviewed, which I did.  I waited at the station all night long with a couple dozen other teens, including Jeff and Ryan.  There had been another fatal shooting that night, which was gang-related, which delayed the police investigators.  We waited and waited, with local ministers coming to help comfort some of the kids. Finally, around maybe 3 AM, I was the last of the witnesses to be interviewed by the two weary detectives.  I identified the shooter from a photo lineup and gave my account of what happened.  I agreed to be a witness at the trial, if subpoenaed, and was released just before dawn.

During the interview, I finally learned some details about the shooting, like the victim's and shooter's full names, the reason for the argument, and the caliber of the gun. 

I also learned that the gun had jammed and was found in the Mercedes.  No one knew who Mark had tried to shoot the second time.  John, again?  Himself?  A witness?  Me?? 

Weeks passed.  Unlike the other witnesses, I wasn't plagued by nightmares, nor afraid of the scene of the shooting.  Maybe it was because I didn't know the shooter or the victim, or maybe it was because this wasn't my first encounter with gun violence (a friend had committed suicide three years before), but I was able to get past the trauma.  I was subpoenaed, as expected, but didn't have to go.  Skater Mark pleaded guilty, and I got to go to my college freshman pre-orientation instead.

I quickly immersed myself into college life and put my traumatic summer behind me.  Because of this, I'm sorry to say, I never learned what Mark's sentence was.  Since I wasn't family of the victim or the shooter, I wasn't allowed information from this juvenile case, even now. 

The shooting was just one in my town that year, a town overrun with gang violence, so the community quickly grew numb to what had happened.  The blood was cleaned up.  The blurb in the newspaper was forgotten (click on the photo to read it).  The only remnants left were the traumatic memories of the witnesses and the shattered lives and families of two teen boys, one dead, the other in prison.

What lessons can be learned from this event?  Where did the gun come from?  The shooter had been drinking.  Where did he get his alcohol?  Why did he feel it necessary to carry a gun?  If he knew a fight was coming, why did he go to the mall?  In our gun-crazy society, was he bolstered into using a gun by the popular image of a powerful, gun-wielding underdog?  Why didn't he just leave the fight?  Why did he feel it necessary to pull the gun?  Of course, these questions may never be answered. 

Mark bares the responsibility for his actions, but the mistakes made by others that night don't need to be repeated.  Wherever the gun came from, it clearly wasn't locked up away from this young shooter.  Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult -- a careless one, in this case.  Alcohol likely dimmed Mark's senses and increased his risky behavior, so another adult enabled that aspect as well.  And if anyone else knew that Mark had a gun that night, they failed to alert authorities to it.  They are responsible in their own way, too.  And lastly, why didn't John back off, instead of continuing to intimidate Mark?  Was he drunk, too?  Didn't he realize his peril?  He had risky behavior of his own, in bullying Mark at the start and continuing to egg him on, even after the gun was drawn.  There was a time in America when a fight like this would have been handled with fists, and no one would have had to die.  Why is it so easy for children to get their hands on guns?  And why do they feel it necessary, all too often, to use a gun to solve their problems?

Now I'm a father.  I work hard now to try and prevent shootings like the one I was in, prevent guns from getting into the hands of those who shouldn't have them, and encourage commonsense gun regulation through education and legislation.  If we do it right, my children will never need to witness what I did.   

It's time to make a new trajectory for our nation, away from gun violence.

UPDATE (9/10/16):  Here is another eyewitness account of that shooting, by David Hill, who was age 13 at the time: