Just in case anyone tries to tell you that mentally ill people aren’t allowed to buy guns, or that background checks are required for all gun sales. Some people assume you’re as stupid as they are.
Just in case anyone tries to tell you that mentally ill people aren’t allowed to buy guns, or that background checks are required for all gun sales. Some people assume you’re as stupid as they are.
It’s been a long week. On Thursday night we hosted a screening of Living for 32, a documentary about Colin Goddard, who survived the shooting at Virginia Tech. You’ve probably seen Colin on television. He’s the one who had Anderson Cooper all a-titter. Yes, he’s very good looking. The film tells the story of his reaction to the shooting, and his subsequent work with the Brady campaign. In the documentary he goes to a gun show, where you see people walking around with assault rifles on their backs and signs which say $475. He buys several guns with no official paperwork, not even a drivers license. In fact he shows the seller a “paper license” he made on his computer. The seller says no problem, and he walks out with the guns. What’s shocking is that nobody broke any laws. I think that most people in America have no idea that this goes on. It illustrates what a complete travesty our gun laws are. When I adopted my puppy I had to give two character references, which were checked, have a home visit from the shelter, and only then could I bring home my puppy who had been found abandoned on the side of a road in Tennessee. There is a more extensive background check required for a puppy that nobody wanted than for an assault weapon. In my mind, the main task at hand is to let as many people know about this gun show business as possible. Before I got involved with this movement I assumed that mentally ill people were screened, or had their names in a data base, or at least that something was being done to keep dangerous people from having guns. But there’s not. In fact, the background check to see if you are mentally ill consists of you answering one question. Have you been hospitalized for mental illness in the past year? And it’s an honor system. I don’t think most people know that, and if they did, they wouldn’t like it any more than I do. Honestly I can’t understand why ANYONE would be okay with that. Unless you are one of the aforementioned people and you want guns and can’t pass that simple test. Pathologically honest psychopaths maybe?
The screening went well, and more people were made aware of what has been going on, which is the point. There were a few NRA guys who showed up early, but they didn’t say anything. You can’t really argue with plain fact. It’s really easy to buy guns in America, no matter who you are, or what your intent.
If you didn’t read the article in The New Yorker, What if the Tsarnaevs Had Been the “Boston Shooters” pause here and do so. But come right back! The point is that those guys could have easily bought guns and done a lot more damage with less effort. Even if they were Chechen rebels, or escaped prisoners, or members of Al-Qaeda, they could have just waltzed into a hotel ballroom where a gun show was going on and armed themselves with whatever they needed to wage their jihad. Likewise a man convicted of stalking can buy guns. Or a depressed housewife. The door is wide open. No questions asked. Cash and carry.
I learned that even though the number of people advocating for background checks on all gun sales is enormous, it’s growing. Local moms, dads, shop owners, gun owners, carpenters, everyday guys and gals went into that screening, and a whole bunch of activists came out.
Also I learned that if you’re at home one day and decide to make a video of yourself calling senators, fix your hair first because you never know who is going to see it.
Here’s the trailer for Living for 32. It’s on Netflix, so you can watch it at home.
Here’s a little fun I had yesterday. Notice how the woman on the phone admits Senator Corker seems to want mentally ill people to buy guns. And that she does not agree with him. Hmmm.
What a shameful day in America. Today we saw a disgraceful display of cowardice by our US Senators. Here are the office phone numbers of the Senators who voted no on background checks. This is a big blow to our freedom, to our public welfare, and to America. Give them a call, and tell them we will not give up, we demand change, we will not forget this vote and their days in the Senate are numbered. You will enjoy this.
Lamar Alexander, TN
Phone: (202) 224-4944
Kelly Ayotte, NH
John Barrasso, WY
Max Baucus, MT
Mark Begich, AK
(202) 224 – 3004
Roy Blunt, MO
John Boozman, AR
Richard Burr, NC
Saxby Chambliss, GA
Dan Coats, IN
Tom Coburn, OK
Thad Cochran, MS
Bob Corker, TN
John Cornyn, TX
Mike Crapo, ID
Ted Cruz, TX
Mike Enzi, WY
Deb Fisher, NB
Jeff Flake, AZ
Lindsey Graham, SC
Chuck Grassley, IA
Orin Hatch, UT
Dean Heller, NV
John Hoeven, ND
James Inhofe, OK
Johnny Isakson, GA
Mike Johanns, NB
Ron Johnson, WI
Mike Lee, UT
Mitch McConnell, KY
Jerry Moran, KS
Lisa Murkowski, AK
Rand Paul, KY
Rob Portman, OH
Mark Pryor, AR
James Risch, ID
Pat Roberts, KS
Marco Rubio, FL
Tim Scott, SC
Jeff Sessions, AL
Richard Shelby, AL
John Thune, SD
David Vitter, LA
Roger Wicker, MS
There is a book out called, Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis by Daniel W. Webster and Jon S. Vernick. It came about through a symposium at the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It begins with a startling statistic. “On January 21, 2013, President Obama took the oath of office for his second term. Unless we take action, during those four years some 48,000 Americans will be killed with guns.”
The authors explain their motivation thusly:
One month—to the hour—after the harrowing and unfathomable massacre of 20 children and 6 adults in a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school, Johns Hopkins University convened a summit that brought together preeminent researchers on gun violence from across the country and around the world. This was a moment when advocates, lobbyists, and politicians on both sides of the gun-control debate were beginning to mobilize and spar. In this unruly mix, Johns Hopkins seized the opportunity to discharge a critical role of research universities and provided principled scaffolding for the debate. We wanted to use the opportunity to cut through the din of the shrill and the incendiary, the rancorous and the baseless, and provide rigorous, research-based considerations of the most effective gun regulations and the appropriate balance between individual rights and civic obligation.
So what did they find out? Turns out, quite a lot. They consulted the best research on the subject, compared what worked and what didn’t work in past policy. It’s quite good. I think a lot of people will be surprised that their recommendations are not already in place. Most people don’t know that even if you have a restraining order against you, in some states you can not only keep the guns you have, but you can buy more. If you’ve been convicted of stalking, you can buy a gun under current law in many states. This is what we mean by COMMON SENSE GUN LAWS. It’s unimaginable to me that our legislators are struggling with the idea of background checks for all gun sales. They’re not even bothering with private sales – which means that I can buy any number of guns, and sell them privately to whomever I choose whether they be a gang member, terrorist, or depressed housewife, with no check whatsoever. That doesn’t make sense. I recommend you pick up a copy, but I have provided here the recommendations they put forth that are, “the most likely to reduce gun violence in the United States.”
Fix the background check system by doing the following:
Prohibiting High-Risk Individuals from Purchasing Guns
Expand the conditions for firearm purchase:
Trafficking and Dealer Licensing
I went to Hartford yesterday to watch as the CT gun violence and school safety bill was voted on in the legislature. I arrived at 11:30 and the galleries in the Senate were already full. I waited outside to see what would happen, and when I might be allowed inside. The CCDL was there in full effect, and I guess they all decided on the bus ride over that yesterday they were going to try to TALK with us. There is a stereotype of an NRA member, orange neon hat, work boots, OATH KEEPER sweatshirt, beer belly, mustache, you get the picture. But that’s not the whole story. There were also families there – not many, actually I saw only one, but they had two little girls. It is hard for me to understand the culture of guns, because I was not brought up in it. I was, however, brought up skiing, and spent many happy days skiing with my family. People die or get hurt skiing all the time, but it’s usually people who are skiing a trail that is too difficult for them, or in a dangerous manner – usually. There are, of course, tragic accidents, too. Maybe that’s how these people feel about guns. To them guns are sport, family, tradition, and a way to enjoy the outdoors. If someone told me they were going to ban skiing I’d be pretty upset about it, and sad that I wouldn’t be able to create memories with my own children the way my parents did. It is extremely hard for me to make the correlation between skiing and shooting animals, or blasting away at targets, but I think I’m right.
The first guy who approached me yesterday said, “I don’t agree with you guys, but I admire you. You fought for what you believe in, even though I think you’re wrong.” This turned out to be a tactic because he turned right around and asked me how I felt about ruining our Second Amendment. The thing these guys all forget is that the Second Amendment does not begin with the words, “the right to bear arms.” It begins with “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” So I asked this guy if he was part of a militia. He looked confused. I said, “If you believe whole heartedly in the Second Amendment, as it was written, and you own guns, it must be for the purpose of forming a well-regulated militia, right? Did you muster?” Now I really didn’t want to get into it with this guy, I promise. He tried to tell me about the need to overthrow a tyrannical government, and that’s when I said, “Look, I know you’re upset, and I don’t really want to have this conversation.” Then he asked me, “How would you feel if a family member had purchased these firearms as an investment?” I answered honestly, “I would feel they had made a bad investment.” That’s the truth. Invest in something else, like Apple or education. He seemed very irritated, grabbed his jacket and walked off.
I was soon joined by another man, this one older. He wanted to have a little chat about self-defense. He told me that he’s not going to feel safe with only ten rounds. I told him that I felt sorry he lived with such fear. He said that he’s always got a firearm so he’s not afraid. Now, I lived in the East Village of Manhattan for about ten years in a rickety old building with an even more rickety old fire escape that led right up to my window. Never did I feel a gun would make me safer. What I did was close the curtains – thick velvet curtains from Pottery Barn that were a gift. You could not see through them, and my logic was that if someone wanted to break in, they would probably pick an apartment where they could see what was going on inside. So when this man told me that he needs all those bullets at the grocery store, I couldn’t really relate to that. He admitted he’d never had to use his gun in self-defense. Nobody had broken in to his house, or attacked him. I asked if he took his guns into the shower, because they won’t help you in a home invasion if they’re in the other room. He said, not the shower, but the toilet. He brings his gun when he’s on the toilet. He told me he hopes that nobody ever attacks me, because I will be unable to defend myself. I told him I hope he doesn’t shoot his foot off and we left it at that.
There were some very tense moments. One guy tried to talk to a mother from Newtown. She told him to back off, which he did not. She let him have it. This issue is so fraught with emotion on both sides, but really, when kids are dead – especially if you knew and loved those kids, that grief and anger is the strongest emotion on earth. The anger of not being able to buy another assault rifle is no match for that grief.
After about an hour I got inside. Each State Senator gave a speech saying how they were going to vote, expressing how shocked and horrified they were on December 14th. Most said the bill didn’t go far enough – either far enough toward addressing mental health issues, and so they were going to vote “no,” or not far enough in the ban on high-capacity magazines, so they were going to vote “yes” with the understanding that this is not the end of the road. Some proposed amendments to the bill, none of which passed. There was a moment of levity when one Senator said his daughter suggested that all guns be made by Nerf. He voted against the bill.
The bill passed. I went home, tired and famished, and watched the rest of the proceedings on television with a cocktail in my hand like a civilized person. I was very surprised that my representative John Shaban, of whom I have been critical for his lack of candor, voted in favor of the bill, while Dan Carter, who has been very accessible, voted “no.” Dan Carter represents part of Newtown. He said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned the over-reaching nature of the bill and the constitutional implications will continue to promote the growing rift between those that own guns and those that do not, especially in the Newtown community.” I don’t support his rationale at all.
It is done. For now. I’ve been very emotional today. Of course, I’m happy this bill passed. I’m also heartbroken for the families in Newtown. Completely devastated and achingly sad, especially today. The real problem, and what I did not realize before I got into all this, is just how many guns are out there. Guns take what might be a fist fight and turn it to murder. The reason the UK has a higher rate of “violent crime” is that in the UK guns are tightly regulated. Here in the US, what might otherwise be a “violent crime” is often murder. It’s not just mental health. It’s our culture. We have to change the culture. It’s a much harder job, because you can’t pass a bill that makes it uncool to fire guns. But once upon a time smoking was cool, and people once refused to wear seat belts. It will happen. I’m hoping that the Connecticut Effect does just that, and that it is contagious.
To that end, a group of us here in town have organized an awareness campaign aptly called Connecticut Effect. Our goal is education, discussion, and the promotion of common sense, progressive ideas. Our first order of business is a screening of the film Living for 32, a documentary about Colin Goddard, survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting. The film portrays the inspiring story of how Goddard’s life was forever changed on that day, and his determination to make a difference through his work with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. There are two screenings, one on THURSDAY, APRIL 25 at 7:00 PM at the BETHEL CINEMA. The other is at JOEL BARLOW HIGH SCHOOL on SUNDAY, APRIL 28 at 4:00 PM. If you live in CT or feel like a road trip I hope you will make it to one of the screenings. If not, come find us on Facebook, or email ConnecticutEffect@gmail.com for more information.
Last Thursday I was at home, trying to do some laundry, as people do, when there was a knock at my door. It startled me, and my dog. Looking out the window I saw a man. My first thought was, “This guy is here from the NRA to kill me. I wish I had a Bushmaster.” No, I’m joking. The man explained that he was from CT News 12 and asked if he could talk to me about my views on gun control. Naturally I told him to hang on so that I had time to Google him and make sure he wasn’t actually a maniac. The guy checked out, and he and his nice cameraman came in and we had a chat.
He was there because Thursday had been declared a “Day of Action” in the Gun Violence Prevention movement, and despite my kids’ pleas to go to home and do NOTHING that afternoon, we went to Newtown for a little rally in front of the NSSF. It was actually fun. There were a bunch of NRA members there, but aside from one rude man who insisted on smoking a cigar right next to us, everyone was polite. The kids had fun getting cars and trucks to honk for common sense gun reform. My daughter was even interviewed for television, granted it was German public television, but still.
Kids are on the front lines of gun violence. Whether it’s being afraid of violence occurring every day in your own neighborhood, or hiding in classroom closets for lockdowns, they suffer all the repercussions. As I said back in December, my children are the entire reason I’m involved in this. I just could not see something so out of balance, so out of control, and not try to change it. When I was a sophomore in high school a woman came to lecture us on environmental protection and said, “This is going to be your responsibility. You will have to change this.” I remember thinking, “I’m fifteen. Why don’t YOU do something about it NOW, so it’s not an even bigger mess by the time I’m able to be responsible for anything? Where is your responsibility?!” Maybe it’s the same now. I’m the adult. I have to right what is wrong. Not later. Now.
We had a quick dinner, and again to my kids’ dismay we headed to the library where our local state representatives, Toni Boucher, Dan Carter, and John Shaban were holding a town hall meeting regarding the upcoming legislative session. There were about thirty people in attendance, including one gentleman wearing a sandwich board reading, “I’m a law-abiding gun owner, so why am I the bad guy?” The conversation finally got around to guns and one young man asked Rep. Shaban why his views on gun violence prevention were not profiled in a news story entitled, “Where They Stand” or something. I missed that story, but he explained that every state representative had answered a set of questions regarding which new legislation they supported. Rep. Shaban said that he didn’t answer their questions, but instead had written his views, or something. It was unclear. So he was asked to clarify. I have heard State Senator Toni Boucher speak many times, and she is fairly straight forward about her views. Likewise I have had many conversations with Representative Carter, and while I disagree with him on many counts, he is always forthcoming and open to discussion. I have not heard Rep. Shaban once say where he stood, aside from a vague, “We shouldn’t just do something symbolic that’s not going to lead to a decrease in violence,” or words to that effect. So when directly asked last Thursday what his views were, I sat up in my chair. “I think we need stronger gun laws,” he said. I think he was just going to leave it at that, but I asked, “Could you be more specific?” He said that he supported enhancing our assault weapons ban. I asked, “Do you mean taking the legal limit of characteristics similar to an assault weapon from two to one?” And he said, “…Yeah, I guess that’s what we’re talking about.” So, there it was. He went on to say that he’s in favor of a ban on high-capacity magazines. But when I asked about possession, he said no. I pointed out that there is no way to enforce that sort of law, and that each of them knew there was no way to enforce that, so what they were doing was, in effect, nothing. They did not argue.
Which brings us to today. It was announced yesterday that the CT State Legislature had reached an agreement, and a bill would be voted on on Wednesday. This bill is the strongest gun legislation in the country. It includes many good things, a ban on assault weapons, the creation of a gun violence offender registry, a ban on high-capacity magazines. But it grandfathers in the assault weapons already possessed, as well as high-capacity magazines already possessed. At the very least those magazines have to go. As was stated in an Editorial in the Hartford Courant, “Just ban them.”
Tomorrow many of us will go back to Hartford. I imagine it will be a celebration of sorts, because we will get so much of what we wanted. But the work is far from over. The Connecticut Effect is just getting started.