Remember and Recommit

When you look at the faces of the 20 children and 6 educators of Sandy Hook Elementary School whose lives were so violently taken December 14, 2012, your heart stops, your heart breaks. Sadly each day in America 8 children’s lives are violently ended with a firearm, equivalent to a Sandy Hook every three days. Saturday, December 14th it will mark one year since the families of these young souls were gunned down, their lives lost forever. That is how long a parent and loved ones grieve over the loss of a child—forever.

Think then of the 6 Sandy Hook Elementary School teachers who instantly knew what they and their children were facing—they had to protect, to give their lives without a doubt. As a teacher you always look at your class as ‘your children’ because they are.

About 275 people are shot every day – about 85 die and about 195 survive. 30,000 Americans have died since the slaughter of these 20 innocent children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Why do we minimize the carnage with our messaging? The physical, emotional, and economic toll to those who survive a gunshot is staggering.  In the US, a person is hit with a bullet every 5 minutes!!

Josh Stepakoff was six when he was shot twice in the leg in 1999 at the North Valley Community Center in Los Angeles by Buford Furrow five people were wounded including three children. He is among many people who have witnessed the horrific sights and sounds of a mass shooting as a very young child. Like the children of Newtown, Connecticut, he saw blood, he heard screams and he was scared for his life. Afterwards he said he couldn’t be a normal child. As a teenager, Stepakoff decided to do work with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and found solace in talking to other victims. Many survivors and family members become involved in gun violence prevention groups to hopefully prevent others from going through what they experience daily.

There will be more talk about the “troubled” shooter now that the Connecticut police report has been released. There are millions of troubled children and adults. Certainly America needs to allocate more money for mental health and take actual concrete steps in communities to help people suffering with emotional problems. Every time there is shooting, we read that the killer was disturbed, mentally ill or had a troubled childhood. However, only 5% of the mentally ill are considered dangerous. We all suffer emotional responses to the crises in our lives. But when a gun is handy, then the anger, the depression takes an ugly violent turn. And what we know is that there are too many guns and more guns mean more murders and more gun suicides. Realize that many of these mass shooters were angry depressed males who wanted to commit mayhem and then suicide.

 Why?  There are too many whys.  The country was and continues to be shocked and yet the carnage goes on day after day.  The battles against gun violence prevention laws go on in Congress and state legislatures have gotten as virulent as the battles on the streets and in the homes of this nation as Americans continue to die needlessly from gun violence.
Put your concerns into action because the shooting war goes on in our nation daily.  What motivates those of us who work avidly for gun violence prevention? 
An interfaith Memoriam will be held at the Trinity Episcopal Church at 1500 State Street on Saturday, December 14 from 12:00 to 1:00.  Remember and recommit.  Join us.

Toni Wellen
Chair, Coalition Against Gun Violence
(805) 684-8434

Why So Many Tragic Shootings?

In a recent article, Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria suggested that we must not focus on one tragic shooting event but try to understand why America has so many. We tend to look at three causes after a shooting: the psychology of the killer, America’s culture of violence and easy access to guns. If psychology is the main cause, we should have 12 times as many psychologically disturbed people. But we don’t. However, we certainly need to improve access to mental health treatment.

Continue reading “Why So Many Tragic Shootings?”

Shoot First Stand Your Ground Laws

Promote Lawlessness & Impunity for Gun Owners

“It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.” — Attorney General Eric Holder addressing the annual NAACP convention, condemning Stand-Your-Ground laws Orlando Florida, July 2013.”

“Shoot-first laws like those in Florida can inspire dangerous vigilantism and protect those who act recklessly with guns. Such laws — drafted by gun lobby extremists in Washington – encourage deadly confrontations by enabling people to shoot first and argue ‘justifiable homicide’ later.” — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a national advocate of gun safety, added his voice to the now national call for a repeal of Stand-Your-Ground laws.

Stand-Your-Ground laws in general state: there is no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place where the individual is lawfully present; and that a person may justifiably use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first. The law is rooted in the centuries-old English common law concept known as the “Castle Doctrine,” which holds that the right of self-defense is accepted in one’s home. But the Florida law and others like it expand that established right to venues beyond the home. The Second Amendment as reviewed by the Roberts Court (Heller 2008) allows possession of a firearm in the home for self-defense. The NRA and some states wish to expand the carrying of firearms anywhere and anytime by nearly everyone. Thirty states currently have some version of stand-your-ground laws. Nine of those states have laws similar to Florida’s.  Continue reading “Shoot First Stand Your Ground Laws”

How Much is a Child’s Life Worth?

“I am so tired of hearing about Second Amendment rights. You want a gun in your home for self-protection? If you believe in that, go ahead, but remember that contrary to what many people believe, having a gun in the home doesn’t make you safer but instead endangers you and your family. A gun in the home makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher, and accidental death four times higher. For every time a gun in the home injures or kills in self-defense, there are 11 completed and attempted gun suicides, seven criminal assaults and homicides with a gun, and four unintentional shooting deaths or injuries.

“What is it going to take for them to place protection of children and youths and adults ahead of the protection of guns and profits and their election to office? How much is a child’s life worth in today’s political economy in America?

“You have heard that if guns made America safe, we’d be the safest nation in the world with our over 310 million firearms. Instead, every year approximately 30,000 Americans die from gun violence. A child is killed with a gun in America every three hours and fifteen minutes and injured with a gun every 34 minutes. Did you know that one third of all households with children younger than eighteen have a gun and 40 percent of gun-owning households with children store their guns unlocked.

“The important thing is to care and to act and to keep acting for as long as it takes until the NRA’s lock on gun policy is broken.” — Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Concealed Carry Laws Drive Gun Industry Profits

Since the death of Trayvon Martin, focus has been on Florida’s 2005 “Stand-Your- Ground” law and its affect in communities. The reality is two laws are involved: 1) lax concealed weapons laws in Florida allowed Zimmerman to carry a weapon; 2) “Stand-Your-Ground” enabled a vigilante aggressive attitude.

Both of these laws have been enacted in many other states. Martin’s legacy is that across the nation, people are now aware that tragedy could be lurking behind the fearful and aggressive minds of thousands of concealed weapons carriers.

If Florida did not have this dangerous NRA promoted law, Trayvon Martin would be alive. Florida is one of many states allowing virtually anyone to carry a concealed handgun in public. This along with a failure to adopt sensible gun violence policies may have a causal effect as horrific events are repeated over and over. Gunmen with CCWs (Concealed Carry Weapons) have been responsible for at least 25 mass shooting since 2007, claiming at least 113 victims. This data is based largely on news reports which included hundreds of other murders, unintentional deaths and suicides.

The weapon used in the Zimmerman case is a black seven-short KelTeck PF-9 9mm pistol described by its manufacturer as being designed with “maximum concealability in mind, “one of the lightest and flattest 9mm ever made.”

The primary and intended beneficiary of these laws has been the firearms industry. Faced with a steady decline in household gun ownership over the past 30 years, four such laws have created sales opportunities for a gun industry constantly looking to identify new potential customers or find repeat customers. An NRA lobbyist trying to promote conceal carry laws, Tanya Metaksa said in a 1996 Wall Street Journal article, “More gun permits equal more gun sales.”

The .22 caliber shooting rifle and the shotgun were mainstays in 1971, but all that has changed. A firearms retailer today knows that type of sporting market is stagnant at best. The guns that are the focus of marketing and sales are defensive firearms, particularly handguns, thanks to the ‘shall-issue’ concealed carry rules in many states.


The NRA-led gun lobby’s goal is to make all states hand out CCW permits on a ‘shall-issue’ basis, which would be honored nationally, in addition to nationalizing the Stand-Your-Ground law.

The Martin case is shining the focus on this lobbying effort whose goal is purely gun sales.

There are 38 states that are ‘shall-issue’ states and many honor each other’s CCW permits. Three states are ‘unrestricted,’ eight states are ‘may-issue’ and one is ‘right denied.’

Ohio’s CCW program started in 2004. A ‘may-issue’ state, it allows people to carry a concealed handgun in certain places so long as they are at least 21 years old, clear a background check, apply with the county sheriff and complete a 12-hour training course certified by a National Rifle Association or Ohio Peace Officer Training Association instructor. The course must include two hours of live-fire practice. Ohio has reciprocity agreements with nearly 30 other states.

In the first six months of 2013, sheriff’s departments issue 63,481 new CCW permits. This shattered the 2012 state record of 64,650 concealed-carry weapon permits issued during the entire year.

California is a “May-Issue” state, meaning that local law enforcement has discretion when issuing carrying concealed weapons (“CCW”) licenses. A license may be issued only after findings that: 1) the applicant is of “good moral character” after a background check; 2) good cause exists for the issuance of a license; 3) the applicant has completed a firearms safety course; and 4) the applicant meets the appropriate residency requirement. The licensing authority may require the license applicant to undergo psychological testing by the licensed psychologist used by the licensing authority for the psychological testing of its own employees.

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