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Are Guns America's Biggest Problem?

Jonathan Byrd   |   August 30, 2015    9:59 PM ET

I grew up with guns. Country guns. Shotguns. .45s and .38s and beer cans on fence posts. That was back before public gun violence became a daily routine. If somebody got shot, it was a drug deal or domestic violence. There were guns all around me, practically under my pillow, and nobody got hurt. No one I know ever threatened another person with a gun. The few violent men I knew fought with their fists. Pulling a gun to settle a score wouldn't be worth the shame. Guns were for targets and critters. It seems like some kind of mythical world now.

From my experience traveling in northern Europe consistently the past few years, I offer a theory that is beginning to take shape in my mind. I'm in the UK now; their gun laws are famously rigid. The Olympic pistol team had to leave the country to practice. Intentional homicide rate is maybe a third to a quarter of the U.S., but I don't think the stringent gun laws are entirely responsible.

More interesting to this essay are other countries I've been to regularly: The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. Canada is notably similar in that there are a lot of guns, but not much gun violence compared to the U.S. Almost every grown man in Switzerland has an assault rifle issued by the military. They have gun festivals with shooting competitions for the kids.

All these countries also take care of their citizens. You can go to school, see a doctor, or take a year off work and have a baby without worrying about losing your home or other financial catastrophes. Taxes are high, of course. Gotta pay for that stuff. Canada is closer on the scale to the U.S.: lower taxes and less social spending than most of northern Europe, but more than the U.S.

In the U.S. you are mostly on your own. If you have a strong family and/or community, you're set. If you don't you're screwed. Half of foster kids become homeless when they turn 18. Three million U.S. citizens are homeless. That's one percent of us, sleeping on the ground, going to jail to get a decent night's sleep and breakfast. College? You know how that goes. I have friends in their forties who are finally paying off their student loans. Need mental health care? That's not covered. The ACA is not a national health care plan. It's a way to force everyone to pay for the same miserable shit that was available before. Very few people are better off with it. I'm one of them and I can still see it's a bad deal for the country. If you lose your job in the U.S., it can be life-threatening. How would you react to a life-threatening situation?

When millions of people live close to the bone in a country that doesn't seem to care about them, and the most effective weapons in the world are widely available, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to paint the resulting picture. It's not much harder to own a gun in Germany than it is to own one here. We have laws that prohibit convicted felons, the mentally ill, and non-citizens from owning guns. There are loopholes, but that's also true elsewhere. For instance, self-defense is not an acceptable reason to own a gun in the Netherlands, but being a member of a shooting club is. If you want a gun for self defense, you join a shooting club. Duh.

The availability of guns seems to be a problem in our country, but not a problem in others. As always, extreme viewpoints are suspect- "Guns are the problem" is just as extreme as "I should be able to openly carry an assault rifle into a department store." We do have laws. Colorado, one of the most gun-lovin', property-rights-conservative states in the union, passed a great piece of legislation after the school shooting in Columbine, legislation that was successful largely because part of its focus was to protect the rights of gun owners.

I appreciate everyone's passion on the issue. Sharing links from far-left and far-right sources is not likely to generate a productive discussion. Real people don't think that way. Real conversations don't happen in platitudes and memes.

Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms. Elected officials have a directive to ensure public safety. Humans have a responsibility to take care of each other. We're not all keeping our end of the bargain. I think socialism and the second amendment ought to meet and work things out. Education, health care, and a living wage might make guns fun again.

I'm not a political guy, but it seems important to talk about this national crisis -- a spiritual crisis, really. Does this sound foolish to anyone? Does it feel like a new way of looking at it? Did anybody else have a time in their lives when guns were kind of innocent and fun?

*************

Please no yelling, name-calling, or other horseshit on my blog. Imagine we're all gathered around after a funeral. Because we kind of are. Just share and let share. Thanks. Your fan,

JByrd

Safety and Security: Not Just for College Students

Patricia McGuire   |   August 30, 2015   12:08 PM ET

Members of Congress and other legislators around the country have worked up a considerable frenzy enacting laws and regulations governing campus safety and sexual assault. Colleges and universities are coping with an increasingly bewildering and burdensome morass of often-conflicting legal rules aimed at guaranteeing absolute safety for students on the nation's collegiate campuses.

Where is the same legislative fervor when it comes to making sure that students are safe when they leave campus? Gun violence is an appalling reality in this nation; the death toll mounts each day. I can spend millions trying to make my campus secure only to have tragedy stalking just beyond the campus boundaries. Trinity Washington University, where I am president, takes student safety and freedom from sexual or other violence very seriously -- both on AND off-campus. We do what we can on campus; we rely on a well-functioning government to protect us in the rest of the city. When government fails, we are all at risk.

To raise even a small quibble about any aspect of the current campaign to make college campuses completely free of sexual assault and other crimes is to invite immediate condemnation and the accusation that disagreement with specifics of the rules means we must be harboring rapists. So, let me be clear: colleges and universities have a huge moral (as well as legal) responsibility to ensure the welfare, health and safety of every person on campus. Any college president that tolerates a climate for sexual assault or other offenses against safety and human dignity should face serious consequences. I understand that a reasonable amount of legislation is important to satisfy the legislative responsibility to protect citizens from harm; ALL citizens deserve just as much legislative fervor.

But colleges and universities are soft targets for legislators; it doesn't take much moral courage for a Senator to beat up on a university that allows a predatory quarterback or arrogant frat boys to get away with horrible offenses against women. Shame on the university presidents who have looked the other way, incurring hellfire and brimstone on all of higher education.

But where is the spine of Congress when it comes to an even greater risk for our students, faculty and staff, families and neighbors -- the risk of being random victims of gun violence out in the city? Justice cannot stop at the campus gate. To spend so much time and effort (and money!) on law and regulation for campus safety while ignoring the blood flowing down the streets of America due to gun violence is a shameful abrogation of legislative responsibility. Protecting college students while ignoring the dangers that all citizens face every day is a mockery of equal justice.

Campus security is my greatest concern and a constant worry. On the day after the unfathomable murders of the television crew in Roanoke, some colleagues came to me demanding to know how Trinity will increase security in light of the latest horror. Of course we are reviewing our security protocols and procedures for threat assessment, alerting the campus to good safety procedures, reinforcing messages about alerts and escorts and IDs and repeating the basic rule "see something say something." Short of installing metal detectors at each entrance and making going to college as pleasant as boarding an airplane, there is a limit to how much protection any college or university can provide.

Yet, the same legislators that would impose nearly fail-safe security requirements on colleges are doing nothing about the guns that, over the last 50 years, have killed more Americans than all of the wars in which the United States has ever fought. Yes, that's right. Guns have killed more Americans than all of the wars combined.

Still, Congress sits on its hands, terrified of losing the financial support of the gun lobby that bankrolls campaigns and delivers victories to politicians who dropped their moral compasses in the swamp of self-interest. The Second Amendment, even badly read, is not greater than the "inalienable rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" that sparked a revolution and led to the founding of this nation. The threat that guns pose to the most fundamental American values of life and freedom is clear. Legislators who claim that guns are a "right" seem to have skipped a lot of classes on what constitutes true justice in this nation. Too many politicians hypocritically claim to be "pro-life" while ardently embracing the gun lobby.

And let's stop indulging the "oh, but consider knives" excuse. Yes, murders occur with the most astounding array of devices. That's not the point. Guns are the symbols of the violence that plagues American life in the 21st Century, and Congressional tolerance of --- and often abject homage to --- the most warped dimensions of the gun culture encourages the persistence of violence in all forms throughout our supposedly civilized society.

On the same day that colleagues came to me demanding what we will do to make security even tighter in response to Roanoke, a neighbor wrote to me asking that Trinity remove the old iron fence that defines a portion of our campus perimeter in northeast Washington, D.C. He said that the fence suggests that Trinity is fostering a climate of exclusivity, making Trinity a "gated academic environment," an "island" remote from the city. My students who are mostly D.C. residents might find that amusing. Brushing off my explanation about how the fence is part of our security program, he went so far as to suggest that the $1.5 million we spend on security (quite a lot on a $32 million budget) is harmful to our students because it fosters a false sense of safety when the streets just beyond our fence are dangerous. He cited local crime statistics in case I did not know just how dangerous -- this in a city where the 105 homicides at the end of August are as many as all of last year.

Trinity's fence will stay in place, but my neighbor is right about one thing: all the money and time and expertise and vigilance we devote to campus safety is for naught if the prevalence of gun violence throughout society continues to snuff out thousands of lives each year and to wound and warp countless others.

Even as we must accept the rules that govern safety and security on our campuses, college and university presidents must demand more of Congress and state legislators. Justice does not stop at the campus gate. Keeping college students safe is important, but safety and security are important for all people. Just as I accept my responsibility for my students, the government's greatest responsibility is to ensure the safety and welfare of ALL citizens. It's high time for members of Congress to get some moral spine, stand up to the gun lobby, and enact the long-sought legislation that will help this country find its way back to at least a modest level of peace of mind and public safety.

Gun-Crazed Nation

Rick Horowitz   |   August 29, 2015    8:32 AM ET

"We're Number 1!" (We must be so proud...)

More Evidence That Gun Sales Aren't Doing So Well

John A. Tures   |   August 28, 2015    4:06 PM ET

Colt files for bankruptcy. Smith & Wesson's sales and stock still slump. So do Strum, Ruger's numbers. And now Wal-Mart pulls AR-15s because of low demand. Couple that with poll numbers showing falling gun ownership, and you can see Americans have a very different view of gun ownership.

You'll find no shortage of articles, liberal and conservative, that claim gun sales are still booming, even after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. They rarely, if ever, cite gun sales statistics. They note membership in a gun group like the NRA. Or they'll list background check data.

But as Josh Horwitz points out, there are many reasons for background checks, many of which can be unrelated to gun sales. Not every background check can constitute the sale of a gun.

2015-08-28-1440772317-946133-0321141252.jpg

Evidence from the General Social Survey (GSS) shows that the number of Americans who report owning a gun dropped from nearly 50 percent in 1974 to 22 percent today. That's conducted by the University of Chicago, hardly a liberal bastion.

Both times I've written on this subject, I've received plenty of emails on the subject. Most focus on how poorly Colt has been run. That may be the case, but even a poorly run company should be doing well if gun sales are in the stratosphere, as so many have claimed. It also doesn't explain why the other leading gun manufacturers are doing so well.

I've also had people question whether people would tell a pollster, a total stranger, the truth. That's an interesting question, despite the improvement in polling techniques, and better sampling. We know that respondents are more accurate with their views on politics involving issues of race. Compare the "Bradley Effect" of 1982 with good poll predictions of Obama's performance in 2008 and 2012.

Besides, I've had plenty of people commenting, bragging about how many guns they own, even though, I'm a total stranger to them (and yes, some friends are quite willing to detail their gun collection, proud of it)

Others insisted that the gun sales were driven by Barack Obama's election, and a fear that he would take all guns away. Well, not only has he refrained from even proposing such a measure, but he's almost out of office, running out of precious time to engage in that socialist coup d'etat that several critics assured us would happen.

But there is a reason why gun ownership is down, and assault weapons sales aren't so strong. They make poor hunting weapons, are impractical in many self-defense scenarios, and seem more ideal for those who wish to perpetuate violence (like killing a family, co-workers, or on rare occasions, some total strangers, as Melissa Jeltsen points out) than stop it.

And there's poor leadership at the top. When gun ownership was higher, groups like the NRA were once about being gun clubs, promoting gun safety and responsible gun ownership. Maybe you get that on local level among friends, but nationally, it's a lobby with some pretty extreme stands that don't often reflect the views of gun owners themselves. Even Colt is run better than this. And until groups like the NRA return to their old principles, there will be more bad news for the gun industry.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.

I'm With Stupid: How Do You Fire a Pistol With Your Feet?

Todd Hartley   |   August 28, 2015   10:28 AM ET

As you'll no doubt agree if you're a regular reader of this column, I've been rather wrapped up in myself the past couple of weeks. I've been yammering away so much about my play -- which has two more showings, by the way -- that I've totally neglected my important role as arbiter of what is and what is not stupid in today's society.

So self-engrossed was I, in fact, that I completely missed a story so dumb it couldn't not be a column. Here's the 2-week-old headline from the Trenton, New Jersey, Trentonian, just so you know what we're dealing with: "Weapon charge dismissed for man with no muscle control in arms."

I know on the surface that seems innocuous enough, but perhaps we could let the man's attorney sum it up in a more straightforward way. As she said, "Really? It took this long to dismiss a case against a guy who can't use his arms? It's beyond belief. It's the tip of the iceberg, but shows you what's wrong with this system."

Here's what happened: A year ago, a man from Salem, New Jersey, who couldn't move his arms due to a spinal injury was riding in a car with three other men. The car was pulled over for a moving violation, and in the back seat police discovered a bottle of prescription codeine and a 9 mm handgun that had been stolen in Anchorage, Alaska, of all places.

No one would admit to ownership of the pistol or the codeine, so the police charged all four of the men, including the guy who couldn't move his arms, with possession of an illegal gun. I'm going to assume the cops thought the guy planned to fire the gun with his toes, because I'm not sure how else he could have manipulated a firearm.

All of the other men in the car told police that the gun didn't belong to the man with no arm control -- a fact that I would think would seem obvious -- but the cops weren't buying it, and the guy ended up spending four months in jail before common sense and public outcry prevailed. The charges were eventually dropped due to "insufficient evidence," and the man was set free.

I found the man's attorney's comments about the whole affair interesting, but I think I disagree with some of her points. For example, whereas she says, "It's beyond belief," I would argue that it is entirely within the realm of belief. In America today, we are governed and policed in such a cockamamie fashion that the only surprising part of the no-arm-control man's story is that he isn't going to spend the rest of his life in jail.

But you still have to wonder what the point was of arresting the guy, putting him through a costly legal process and then paying to keep him in prison for four months when he was clearly not guilty of the crime. What did that accomplish?

The easy answer is to say that it was just a stupid procedural hiccup and a waste of time and taxpayer money, but I think there could be a more nefarious reason behind the actions of the police and courts. This is purely speculation, mind you, but I think the state of New Jersey might have actually done it to save taxpayer money.

My theory, which is unsupported by any evidence or research, is based off another ridiculous story I just read, although the issue has apparently been around for years.

Did you guys know that many states have contracts with private prison operators that allow the prison operators to sue the states if the prisons don't stay filled? So even if crime goes down, as it has in New Jersey, the state is still responsible for incarcerating enough people to fill privately-run prisons, otherwise it can be sued for millions of taxpayer dollars.

Is that the worst idea you've ever heard of or what? How on Earth could any state sign a contract like that? Just so you know, I have no idea if New Jersey has signed such a contract, but it would help explain why the guy who couldn't use his arms spent four months in the hoosegow on a weapons charge.

The no-arm-control man's story is certainly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bureaucratic stupidity, but I have to disagree with the attorney's final point: It doesn't begin to show all the things that are wrong with the system.

Todd Hartley's prehensile toes are further proof of how little he has evolved from our simian forebears. To read more or leave a comment, please visit zerobudget.net.

Steven Hoffer   |   August 27, 2015    2:24 PM ET


Two North Dakota State University students got a scare when armed police officers mistook their telescope for a rifle.


WDAY-TV reports ( http://bit.ly/1MXfrDu ) that Levi Joraanstad and Colin Waldera were setting up the telescope behind their apartment Monday night when they were blinded by a bright light and told to stop moving.


They couldn't see who was shining the light and presumed it was a prank by other students.


An officer on patrol had spotted the two and thought the telescope was a rifle. He also thought Joraanstad's dark sweater with white lettering on the back looked like a tactical vest. He called for backup and the officers confronted the students.


Police say the students were never in danger and that it was a situation of "better safe than sorry."


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Jonathan Cohn   |   August 27, 2015   11:21 AM ET

Would stricter gun laws have saved the lives of Alison Parker and Adam Ward? Probably not.

Would stricter gun laws have saved the lives of many other people? Probably.

That’s a fair reading of the latest research -- and something to remember now that Wednesday’s killing of the two television journalists, during a live interview, has politicians and pundits talking about gun violence again.

So far, the debate has played out in a familiar fashion. From the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest renewed the administration’s call for “commonsense” gun measures, such as extending federal background checks to private gun sales and limiting access to assault weaponry. Via Twitter, Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said “we must act to stop gun violence, and we cannot wait any longer.”

Probably the most impassioned plea for government action came from Andy Parker, Alison’s father, during an interview with CNN: “There has to be a way to force politicians that are cowards and in the pockets of the [National Rifle Association] to come to grips and make sense -- have sensible laws so that crazy people can't get guns.” 

The opponents of gun legislation also reacted to the shooting, with every major Republican presidential candidate expressing sympathy and offering prayers. But in between the words of solace, some offered warnings about the dangers of new firearms legislation. “It’s not the guns; it’s the people who are committing these crimes,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a leading GOP candidate, told an audience in New Hampshire. “What law in the world could have prevented him from killing them?”

Conservative media outlets like the National Review had stronger responses, bemoaning the “tired and opportunistic gun control agenda” and arguing that the kind of legislation now under consideration in Congress probably would not have stopped the suspected killer, Vester Lee Flanagan, from getting a weapon.

About the specific circumstances of Wednesday's killing, these conservatives have a point. Law enforcement officials have told media outlets that Flanagan used a Glock pistol without a high-capacity magazine -- and that he bought the weapon from a licensed gun store, after passing a federal background check. A letter that Flanagan apparently faxed to ABC News earlier in the week suggested he planned the shooting in advance, while reports of his past behavior toward co-workers raise the possibility that he may have had some mental health problems.

But the video of Parker and Ward’s slaying, which played over and over on social media, merely made vivid something that happens all the time, even though few Americans see it. On Wednesday alone, at least 13 other people died from gunshots, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit corporation that tracks shootings around the nation. In 2013, the last year for which federally collected data is available, 33,636 people in the U.S. died.

No other developed country has a gun homicide or gun violence rate even approaching that level. (That’s true even though the rate is now much lower than it was in the early 1990s, likely because crime overall has declined.) And while America’s high rate of gun violence undoubtedly reflects many factors, researchers like David Hemenway, a widely cited professor from the Harvard School of Public Health, have found a clear, strong relationship between gun ownership and gun-related deaths. In places where more people have guns, more people get killed by them.

As Hemenway and others scholars are quick to acknowledge, this correlation does not prove that the availability of guns actually causes more gun deaths -- mainly because, as so commonly happens in social sciences, it’s impossible to run the kind of controlled experiments that would allow scholars to rule out other factors unrelated to the availability of firearms. But their research strengthens the case for a causal link.

Among other things, several scholars have found that states and countries with higher rates of gun killings do not have correspondingly high rates for other types of killings. In other words, when guns aren’t available, people don’t simply react by killing with different weapons. They actually kill less frequently. (There's also strong evidence linking gun ownership to suicide rates, which makes sense given that suicide is frequently an impulsive act, although the international data on suicide is fuzzy because different countries measure it -- and think of it -- in different ways.)

Demonstrating that gun laws might cut down on gun deaths is even more difficult than establishing a link between firearms ownership and the extent of violence. But here, too, academics have recently produced important scholarship that bolsters the case for more regulation. 

One recent study examined the murder rate in Missouri after that state repealed a law mandating background checks for all gun purchases, including ones that the federal system does not currently cover. The homicide rate increased once the gun law came off the books, the researchers found, even as the homicide rate in neighboring states -- and the U.S. as a whole -- was declining.

“There is strong evidence to support the idea that the repeal of Missouri’s handgun purchaser licensing law contributed to dozens of additional murders in Missouri each year since the law was changed,” Daniel Webster, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and lead author on the study, said at the time. Another leading researcher, Philip Cook from Duke University, told the New Republic that Webster’s paper “is probably the strongest evidence we have that background checks really matter.”

Still more persuasive evidence on the effect of gun control comes from Australia, which -- following a highly publicized mass killing in the 1990s -- banned many types of weapons, introduced a more restrictive permit system, and then launched a buy-back program in which states paid gun owners for turning in weapons that the new laws made illegal. Homicide and suicide rates dropped substantially. And while the murder rates was also dropping before the laws took effect, researchers found that the decline was sharpest for the weapons declared illegal and in those states reporting the highest buyback rates. (Zach Beauchamp, of Vox, has an excellent summary of that research.)

Australia’s gun legislation was stronger than anything likely to get consideration in the U.S. Congress, let alone pass and become law. And expert opinion on gun control is still not unanimous, despite all the recent work. Probably the best-known critic of new laws is John Lott, who has held positions at several top universities and now runs a think tank called the Crime Prevention Research Center. Lott famously published research in the late 1990s suggesting that higher gun ownership actually deters gun violence, because people will use guns in self-defense.

But Lott’s own work has come under withering scrutiny, from fellow scholars and in publications like Mother Jones. Lott said that a computer crash destroyed some key pieces of survey data on which he'd based his work; subsequent surveys produced different results, although Lott maintained those results still vindicated his findings. At one point, he even admitted to using a pseudonym to attack his critics in online comments.  (Lott has said his critics misrepresent his findings, and sometimes their own, while ignoring evidence that would show gun laws to be ineffective -- or even counterproductive.)

The ambiguity of all evidence on gun violence, including those studies on Australia and Missouri, make it impossible to say definitively that laws would have stopped any individual act of killing. But that’s the self-perpetuating political problem of gun violence.

The shootings that feature large numbers of casualties or spectacular circumstances -- like those in Sandy Hook or Aurora, or the incidents on military bases -- become national stories and galvanize the public. The vast majority of killings, which usually take place in the home and are twice as likely to be acts of suicide than murder, barely register. Yet it’s on these routine killings, which happen by the dozens every week, that stronger gun legislation is most likely to have an effect.

Of course, the extraordinary and ordinary killings have one thing in common. They all end in a tragedy -- the extinguishing of human life. Wednesday's shooting, and the horrific video that emerged as a result, revealed to many Americans what a tragedy that really is.

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Senseless and Sensibility

Charlie Allenson   |   August 27, 2015   11:19 AM ET

The man asked me if I wanted to see the killing room. I declined. I was stuck in a chicken factory watching hundreds of live chickens hanging upside down on wire frames passing slowly before me as the conveyor system conveyed.

"First we spray 'em with salt water, " said the man in the protective food service cap. His name was Lyle. Said so on his badge.

I asked him why. "Salt water makes for better contact with the chickens."

"Huh?"

"Electric shock. So we can stun 'em senseless before we kill 'em."

"Ah."

Senseless. A pretty innocuous and vague word commonly used in conjunction with acts of gun violence.

There's the Cincinnati cop indicted for the shooting death of an unarmed black man in his car. The Hamilton County prosecutor called the killing "senseless."

In Minneapolis a 16-year-old boy was shot to death in broad daylight. The Star Tribune called it, "senseless."

On the Aurora Movie Theater shooting, actress Anne Hathaway opined that it was an "Unfathomably senseless act."

Film director Christopher Nolan referred to the same massacre as, "A senseless act..."

Of the Lafayette movie shooting, Universal Studios put out this statement, "All of us at Universal Pictures send our heartfelt sympathies to the victims of this senseless tragedy and their families in Louisiana."

Tamir Rice: A 12-year-old boy. Senseless.

Sandy Hook: 20 children. 6 adults. Senseless.

Texas toddler kills self with grandfather's gun: Senseless.

Rebecca Eldemire, my 21-year-old niece: Senseless.

Senseless. When are gun deaths ever sensible? Anybody? Any hands up?

Gun deaths do not need a modifier. Except maybe "preventable."

As a country that claims to be religious - One nation under God, God bless America and all of that, we are more and more bowing before the Altar of the 2nd Amendment. We worship the 2nd Amendment with such fervor that it takes precedence over the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Especially the "life" part.

If the NRA had its way along with its political supporters, anybody who wants a gun would have a gun. No questions. No training. No taking of responsibility for actions resulting from the use of that gun. And if possible, let's blame the victim.

There's the Baltimore guy who was just cleaning his shotgun when it went off. Killed his 23-year-old son. And legally he wasn't even supposed to have a gun. "Oops." And double "Oops."

Or the Dallas guy who was just cleaning his gun, maybe whistling a happy tune, when he shot his own 3-month-old boy. "So-rrr---yyy."

Or the Georgia man who gave his pistol to his 12-year-old son. Daddy thought he'd unloaded it. Son played with gun. Pointed "unloaded" gun at 11-year-old sister. Son pulled trigger. Bullet left gun. Bullet entered sister's body. "My bad."

None of these killings were "senseless." All were preventable.

Nationwide, Nearly 1.7 million kids under 18 live in with loaded, unlocked guns in their homes. This means they're 16 times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings.

This much carelessness and our cultural addiction to guns results in so many killings--or let's be more precise and call them murders -- of our children, sisters, mothers, fathers, brothers, husbands, cousins, lovers, friends and total strangers that we no longer know how to use the right language for this plague. This has to change. This has to stop.

There are about 270 million guns across our great nation in only 32.4 percent of American households. This means, if you're betting on gun sense, the odds are not good.

This reality is what's truly senseless.

We owe it to our children, sisters, mothers, fathers, brothers, husbands, cousins, lovers, friends and total strangers to remove politicians who are in the NRA's pocket and elect public servants who will serve the greater good by passing common sense gun legislation. Only then will we never again have to hear the word "senseless" used with the word "gun."

Trump l'oeil, Virginia Tragedy Edition

  |   August 27, 2015   10:29 AM ET

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Preschool Lockdown: Why I Support Gun Reform

Barbi Appelquist   |   August 24, 2015    4:44 PM ET

This afternoon, I read the piece about the Pokemon Championships in Boston and the police's recent discovery of "a 12-gauge shotgun, an AR-15 rifle, several hundred rounds of ammunition, and a hunting knife" during a warranted search of a vehicle belonging to an 18-year-old and 27-year-old, two hopeful attendees of the Championships. How did these kids get their hands on these weapons and ammunition?

Some people have asked me why I care about gun control. I don't own a gun. I've never been trained on how to shoot a gun. But I have been directly impacted multiple times by guns. And I know that many people across the U.S. have been similarly impacted by gun violence. That is why I support Everytown for Gun Safety's push to close the loopholes in the background check system.

I'm from a Midwestern family. Both of my parents grew up on farms and my father served in the U.S. Army for 20 years. On my maternal grandfather's farm, between 5-10 shotguns were lined up on the wall outside the master bedroom. I remember once asking my grandfather, a World War II veteran, what his guns were for. It was the early 1980s and I was about 7, the same age my daughter is now. "Those are for shooting coyotes that try to kill my cattle." I was never taught how to shoot a gun or how to store a gun. But I respected that guns had a purpose. And that was for the adults to deal with. I couldn't reach the shotguns anyways at that age.

In 1990, I had a very different experience with guns. I was living in southern San Diego with my mother and her boyfriend; my parents were in the process of getting a divorce. I was in 9th grade coming home from school to find our rental home surrounded by police. My mother's boyfriend, a recently discharged soldier, had locked himself in our home with his weapons and threatened to kill himself and anyone else who came into the house. I was able to reenter my home later that night and we never saw him again. Unfortunately, he would not be the only person in my life who attempted or died by suicide using a gun.

But the most difficult experience for me related to gun violence was when my daughter was 5 years old. On June 7, 2013, the President of the United States was visiting Santa Monica. Traffic was a bit scrambled already. I dropped my daughter off at preschool around 9:00 a.m. Then, at 11:52 a.m. John Zawahri went on a shooting rampage at Santa Monica College, less than five blocks away from her preschool. Her preschool went on lockdown. These children are 2.5 to 5 years old and their school is on lockdown. Lockdown. Why? Because of a nearby mass shooting.

According to data available at USA Today, there have been more than 200 mass shootings since 2006. Not every shooting is the same but many share common traits. Many of the shooters had histories of some sort of family or intimate partner violence, mental illness and/or drug abuse. Many guns used in mass shootings, like the handgun procured to kill Valerie Jackson and her six children in Houston, Texas on August 9, 2015, were reportedly procured legally because of loopholes regarding the lack of background checks for handgun sales sold through unregistered online dealers. Some guns, like the one used in the July 23, 2015 Lafayette movie theater shooting, would not have been procured legally had procedures been followed, like background checks.

Today, I am focusing on closing the loophole regarding background checks and online, unregistered gun retailers. The data is compelling. Since 2006, many states have tried to adopt regulation to restrict access of certain guns or block purchase to certain individuals. According to a recent Washington Post article citing Richard Florida's 2011 study, there was a significant negative correlation between gun-related deaths and tighter gun control laws, in particular a ban on assault weapons, a trigger lock requirement, and a safe gun storage requirement. Some will argue that correlation does not mean causation. But something has to change. This will require the most significant bipartisan effort to close the loopholes, a tough thing to achieve during this contentious election cycle. There is much more that can be done but we have to start somewhere. Help close the loophole.

And if the mention of "gun reform" bothers you, think about the people in your life who have guns at home, those who might not be as gun-smart, gun-safe, or gun-savvy as you. Do they have a history of mental illness, substance abuse, family or intimate partner violence? If yes, what would you do to keep them safe? What would you do to keep those around them safe?

Something has to change.

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Governor Pence Perpetuates NRA Fiction With 'Training' Program for National Guard

Mike Weisser   |   August 24, 2015    3:43 PM ET

If there's anything the NRA has been able to accomplish in its quest to be the defining voice in the gun debate, it was taken care of for them by Indiana Governor Mike Pence. He decided to arm his National Guard after the Chattanooga shootings and then authorized America's 'oldest civil rights organization' to conduct training classes on concealed-carry of handguns. The NRA announced that their "world class" training program would be cost-free to any Guardsman.

The NRA was founded as a training organization in 1871, and while most of its current activity involves lobbying for more lenient gun laws at the federal and state level, it still maintains an active training department and claims to have certified somewhere north of 120,000 trainers of whom 13,000 are 'active' in law enforcement training. Getting certified as an NRA trainer isn't exactly the same thing as getting certified as, let's say, a Honda mechanic. For the latter you not only have to take an intensive training program at a company-certified training facility, you also have to pass a battery of written and hands-on tests to demonstrate that you can actually repair a car. Regarding the requirements to be certified as an NRA trainer, I'm being generous and polite by saying that the requirements are basically that you show up at a range, a classroom or someone's house, sit through an eight-hour recitation of the training manual, take a short-answer written test that nobody flunks and you're good to go.

I suspect, of course, that the NRA probably took a more direct hand in the Indiana Guard training, because it's one thing to conduct training for every Tom, Dick, Harry and Louise who wants to carry a gun (although very few states actually require specific training to qualify for CCW), it's another to become a training partner for the U.S. military. And if you think that the National Guard only gets called out for local emergencies and disasters, think again. Half the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been Guard units, and one out of ten troops killed in the war theater were from the Guards. So if you're training the National Guard, you're training front-line, military troops.

Now don't get me wrong. The NRA isn't doing the basic firearms training for the M-4 battle rifle carried by the Guard both here and overseas. To date the training is being offered to Guard members who want to carry a concealed handgun which has evidently become an aspect of the beefed-up security measures that Pence and other governors ordered in response to the Chattanooga shooting deaths. Indiana has no training requirement whatsoever for state residents who want to walk around carrying a gun; the state police website says: "Please be safe and responsible whenever and wherever you carry your handgun."

I see two problems with the decision by Governor Pence to engage the NRA to train his Guard. First, it's yet another manifestation of off-loading government functions onto the private sector, in this case, government functions involving security and armed defense. Nobody's going to tell me that the NRA 's approach to certifying firearm instructors is even remotely close to how the U.S. military trains and equips its own. But let's not forget that Pence is running for re-election, and it never hurts to cozy up to the gun-owning lobby when you're up for office in a red-meat state.

The bigger issue, however, is whether there's any proof that sticking a handgun in your pocket makes anyone safer at all. Using a gun for protection involves a lot more than just learning how to aim and fire the damn thing. What it really requires is extensive training to know if armed force is required at all. Someone points a gun at you is a no-brainer. But what if he walks up to you with one hand behind his back? Sorry, but reading a few sentences about 'being alert' from the NRA manual doesn't quite work. At least not for me.

Andy Campbell   |   August 20, 2015    3:59 PM ET

Another round of shots, good sir!

Commissioners in Daytona Beach, Florida, approved a measure Wednesday that will allow the opening of a 12-lane gun range connected to a booze-filled restaurant. Commissioners were "leery" at first, because alcohol and guns don't mix, but they came around to the idea, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The paper reports:

I've gone back and forth on this," said Commissioner Pam Woods, who later cast a yes vote.

"I was leery," echoed Commissioner Patrick Henry, who also supported the business.

Commissioner Ruth Trager wasn't won over by the new business' developers at the meeting who explained the precautions they'll take, and she cast the lone no vote. She drilled the business partners with questions about how they'll know if someone is sober or a felon.

They were reportedly swayed by the business' strict rules against shooting after drinking. Everyone who eats or drinks at the restaurant will have to submit to an ID scan, and if they've had alcohol, they won't be allowed to shoot at the range that day, WFTV reports. In addition, guns won't be allowed in the restaurant, though commissioners pointed out that the policy won't stop people with concealed carry licenses from entering.

Patrons who go to the gun range will also have to sign an affidavit promising they're not drunk.

But why risk it by allowing booze in the restaurant in the first place? Co-founder Ron Perkinson says the eatery wouldn't be profitable without libations.

"Safety is obviously key and number one for not only me, but everyone else there. Everything is going to be revolved around safety," he told WFTV.

He said he would consider installing a metal detector at the restaurant if the commissioners asked for it, but they didn't.

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