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9 Ways To Keep Your Teen Safe From Muggers

Sarah Maizes   |   May 20, 2015    1:20 PM ET

Last week, a group of my daughter's friends were mugged. At gunpoint.

When my daughter told me what happened, my heart froze. A group of teenagers were walking from a party at one friend's house to another friend's house in a very residential neighborhood. Thankfully (and that's not a big enough word for my gratitude), the perpetrators only took the kids' phones and nobody was hurt. But still, a friend of my daughter's had a gun in his chest.

I was ready to pack up, leave LA and move to a quiet neighborhood in Montana.

But would that even make a difference?

Crime is everywhere. I have no idea if it was always everywhere, but I know for sure it is now. At movie theaters in Denver and elementary schools in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Violence has become a part of our daily existence no matter where you live.

A couple of weeks after the tragedy in Denver, I remember a couple of friends and I took our kids to a movie. We sat down in our seats and scanned for "weird" people. We checked for the exits. We looked around the floor, under seats, to see if we could fit in case of gunfire. Then we told the kids "If you see anyone you don't like or who you think looks or is acting weird -- ANYBODY AT ALL -- just leave. Quietly. Go out into the lobby and we'll follow you out. Don't even ask us. Just go." Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I couldn't believe that the danger I was discussing was even a real possibility. But to me, it was.

I know the odds are with me when I open the door and let my kids out into the world, but I also know on some level that it's still a gamble. And it makes me sick. And scared. I can't help but constantly wonder, "what kind of world have we brought these kids into?"

As parents, all we want is a safe haven for our family and we try to find it. But whether it's in a quiet suburb or a big city, all of these places have one thing in common: They're in America. And Americans have guns. And Americans can get guns. And Americans will use guns. And for every person that points a gun, there's somebody else at the other end of it. And I hope it's not my kid. And you know what? I hope it's not your kid, either.

So what can we do?

I lived in NYC for almost 20 years and I know what it means to be street smart. I can tell you, most teenagers are not street smart.

We've done such a good job protecting them that they just aren't prepared for any possibility. I don't want to scare my kids, but I do want them to be prepared. It's the only way to help them stay safe.

Of course, the unfortunate truth is that nobody's ever completely safe, but there's no reason to look like an easy target. Life is a series of "What ifs" and each and every one of them is a real possibility (something I just learned the hard way.)

So, with the help of Sergeant Haefs of the Beverly Hills Police Department, I put together some tips you should share with your teens ASAP -- or at least before they walk out that door to that party:

1. Watch out for strangers: Duh! You've been taught this since birth. So why have you suddenly forgotten this golden rule we've practically beaten into you?! Because you're taller now? Look up the street, look behind you down the street. If you think you're being followed, keep walking in the direction of your destination and cross the street. Find a service station and wait until they pass. I say "safety comes before being polite to strangers." (Of course, you shouldn't be disrespectful or rude either -- it can start a fight -- but don't worry about being helpful. There's no reason to engage any strangers who talks to a kid. Even if it's just to ask for directions. YOU THINK SOMEBODY IS FOLLOWING YOU IN A CAR? Take a picture of the license plate and run to a well-lit, busy place ASAP.

2. Be smart: Please organize yourself and all of your stuff before get out of your car or walk down a street. Make sure you have EVERYTHING you need and have your keys where you can reach them (so you don't stand around looking for your Chapstick in the middle of a dark sidewalk, thank you very much!) Also, have your keys out and ready to use before you even get to your front door and check your surroundings to make sure nobody is near your door. Once you're in, close and lock the door behind you immediately.

3. Hide your stuff: Keep your phone, money, credit cards, jewelry -- anything of value -- out of sight.

4. Don't get distracted: If you're wearing headphones, keep the volume WAY down so you can hear everything going on around you. Better yet, go without music for a few minutes and put the headphones away. Is that so hard?

5. Take well-lit streets: Don't go down a dark street even if it's a route you know. Just because you walk it all the time doesn't mean it's safe at night. Take a busier, well-lit street and walk with friends. But EVEN if you ARE walking with friends, check out #6!

6. There isn't always safety in numbers: You think you're safe because you're with a group. But when a mugger sees a bunch of teens laughing, texting and oblivious to the world around them (and believe me, you ARE oblivious while you're filming that Snapchat of your friends), you're not safe -- you're fish in a bucket. Especially when the mugger has a gun. You're DESPERATE to send a text message? Be the ONLY one texting and make sure all of your friends are acting as a look-out.

7. Be aware of your surroundings: Avoid tall bushes, hedges, alleyways, empty lots, anywhere that's remote or where somebody could hide. Look around to make sure nobody is lurking in a bush or nook before using your key and providing an entry into your own home. If you think you're being followed CALL 911 and quickly run to a well-lit neighbor's house, service station, restaurant or shop.

8. Go from Point A to Point B: Stop leaving parties to go walk around the neighborhood. When you decide to leave a party (where we've just dropped you off), we don't know where you are. We can't come quickly to your aid. Please don't leave a party without letting us know you're leaving and exactly where you're going. And if you DO need to leave, go straight from where you are to where you are going -- quickly! Walking around aimlessly makes you a target.

And WORST-CASE SCENARIO:

9. Give the mugger what they ask for (as long as it's ONLY property): If they ask you to get into a car or go anywhere else, RUN! "Create distance," says Sergeant Haef. Yell "HELP! POLICE!" or "FIRE" -- just get away. But if someone is pointing a gun at you and asking for your phone, your money or your jewelry, just GIVE IT TO THEM. Nothing is more valuable than your life.

This may seem like a lot, but here's the most important thing to remember -- just teach your children to "think safe." Adults are exposed to the dangers of the world all the time but the truth is our kids live a more insulated existence. The Women's and Children's Health Network suggests reminding them that not everyone is always as nice as they seem. We live in a dangerous world and the best way to be safe is to think about staying safe!

For more tips on keeping your kid safe, read the full blog post at SarahMaizes.com.

"Wait, Mom, Are Those Police or Isis?"...

Elizabeth Lazar   |   May 19, 2015    7:01 PM ET

...asked my 9 year-old last month.

Otherwise absorbed in a rousing Fifa 15 match, he looked up from the iPad when the news upstaged Isco's corner kick.

To a kid raised on Ghandian entertainment and forbidden from all virtual things Call of Duty, the big screen offered a more exciting scene tonight: Masked and shielded warriors! Paramilitary counter attack weaponry! Military-grade style smoke grenades... and SWAT teams armed with assault rifles, shotguns with lead pellets! Barricade projectiles filled with tear gas! Even a bearcat...!

I answer,
"Um, no baby. That's the Baltimore Police Department."

Now thoroughly confused and doubting any of his prior won geopolitical swagger, my third-grader crinkled his nose at the smoldering screen and asks the next appalling question, "Wait, is Baltimore in Iraq?"

Elementary geography notwithstanding, let's hope the President's ban on police use of some military-style assault gear this week prevents this question from marking a new normal in the Canon of Scary and Confusing Things American Children Will Wonder.

"No, Baltimore is in America. Maryland. "

My nine year old, a little worried, "Well...Is there a war in America?"

Before I could answer that, Toya Graham, virally known as Baltimore's #MomOfTheYear , erupted in a yellow flash of maternal fury amid a backdrop of her embattled city.

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He watched along with the rest of the world while the single mother of six "lost it," ambushing her masked 16 year-old son, berating him away from the fray and back to the nest...again and again on a pornographic loop, in case you missed money shot the first time.

Onto the next light quandary, "Mom, why is she hitting her son??"

I answer reflexively, "Because she's scared."

More child furrowing... "Of those Isis police guys?"

I clarify, "Honey. Not Isis! Police. Baltimore. Not Baghdad."

Kids, like our best filmmakers and comedians don't come ready-made with that cocktail repartee reflex that drops burning existential questions just to spare spineless adults an awkward moment.

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My son presses on, "So then what is she scared of, mom?"

Just how do you explain this to a 9 year-old black child, who's been raised in a mixed income, multiracial community -- known by its self-congratulatory natives not as Evanston but as Heavenston, (an apt moniker for a city positioned on the glittering Chicago lakefront teeming with exceptional public schools, libraries, parks, cafes, relatively bored friendly cops and white people who pepper their Trader Joe aisle chatter with a cheerful mix of Yiddish-Ebonics-Spanglish for good measure)?

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How do you, or do you even, tell this little boy, that every time Toya Graham's son walks out of the house and steps onto the heat of the block, that she has a genuine and statistically-substantiated horror that she may never, ever see him again?

That, in fact, there is 1 in 6 chance that her son will simply disappear, like 1.5 million other black prime-aged men gone missing... dead or behind bars...leaving their parents, kids, and siblings in the agonizing balance.

This is a true surreal moment... Big brother surprises his little brother after being released from prison.. WOW!!

Posted by Tyrese Gibson on Thursday, April 23, 2015

But then again how do you not say it and add him to the vulnerable ranks of black children between ages 5-11 who, courtesy of a shocking study published in the Times this week, are twice as likely to commit suicide as white children. (READ: For those of us prone to buffer this kind of data with auto-euphemism, there are twice as many little black American children under age 12 today who are so traumatized and depressed by their blighted circumstances that they actually feel there is nothing to live for. So they hang themselves or shoot themselves.)

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You just don't say it and allow him to traverse blithely through a world rife with both real and fictionalized images of his own people as thugs and their feral mothers, caught in faux post-racial purgatory with their Polo pants down; without instilling in him an intellectual reflex that immediately traces this perversion to its Peculiar Institutional roots?

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Do you just sit back and let his forming brain, in one Herculeuan twist of false consciousness, habituate to the sloppy empirical abandon that marks the minds of bigots and toddlers, both impervious to historical context or the rigors of critical thinking or even the laws of logic?

Given the first black President of the United States didn't feel he had the political space to get candid on racial and income inequality in neighborhoods such as the Chiraq that birthed his career until he was one foot out of office, it's clearly still not the easiest conversation to have these days.

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But then, what if your child is in the wrong neighborhood buying Skittles and displaying garden variety teen angst while being brown...

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So you level the gaze and say it:

"She's scared because she doesn't want to lose him."

My son, "Why would she lose him? Is he sick?"

While I rack my brain for the right response, Toya Graham tells CBS NEWS that she "shields" her son "in the house, just so he won't go outside" because "he's 16 years old and into the streets."

Next question was not "Who is Freddy Gray," but "Why can't he go outside by himself? He's big!"

I struggle to articulate why the cushy environs that sustain my free-range parenting style do not extend kindly to the South Side of Chicago or the West Side of Baltimore, but then enter my 11 year-old who collapses casually onto the couch and cuts to the chase:

"She's scared because they have guns in that neighborhood."

At which point, I sail into my best shot at an age-appropriate thematic recap of
The Wire, explaining that when people are left out of the formal economy, they're forced into a dangerous informal economy, which require guns, and that what the illegal substances themselves do not ravage, the demonizing warfare waged against them does and on and on...(a long way from these budding entrepreneurs....)

And once again, my clunky rambling is trumped by the eloquence from the mouths of babes.

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The youngest sums it up: "So if you don't have a good school, you can't get a job. So then you have to make illegal money and you end up in jail or killed by other gangsters or by those Isis police. "

Bad optics will not win. I reiterate "Those aren't ISIS! They're police."

My older son, "Well I mean you could work at McDonald's but then you'd still be poor so what's the point."

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Fearing the dark onset of cynicism will bank its legacy any minute now into the folds of dewy brows, (LA's new minimum wage victory aside,) I offer a lively exercise in the oldest American crucible: "So what should be done?"

My oldest corroborates basic intuition, not to mention a recent Harvard study, with: "The mom should move to a safer neighborhood with better schools. Duh."

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After some thinking and snacking, my little one rhapsodizes, "But how will they move if the mom has no job? But if they don't move, the little kids will grow up with bad schools like the big kids then they won't get be able to get jobs either so they'll be gangsters then they'll be KILLED OR IN JAIL OR POOR TOO!!!! LIKE A CIRCLE!!!"

He draws furious circles in the air.

My eldest did not have his usual surefire response for little brother. He remained still, furrowing at a luxury car ad, then declared,

"They need money. For the schools. No way around it."

My youngest, "Well where will they get the money??"

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More flailing arms.

Now there's a question for the 2016 presidential candidates, who, if they want to be relevant in a post Ferguson and Baltimore America, where ever-widening income inequality is the crisis of our time, they may want to start folding real plans to tackle abject poverty into economic campaign messages that have otherwise focused on middle and upper income America.

First Amendment Lawsuit Says Student Was Punished for Wearing a T-shirt Advocating Gun Rights

Student Press Law Center   |   May 18, 2015    1:13 PM ET

By Mark Keierleber

Near the entrance of Logan Middle School is a statue called "The Doughboy" — a World War I soldier carrying a firearm in one hand, and in the other a grenade.

The bronze figure is indicative of West Virginia's gun culture. As is the state flag — which features two firearms — and West Virginia University's mascot, the musket-toting Mountaineer.

But when an eighth-grade Logan Middle School student refused to remove his National Rifle Association T-shirt because a teacher said it violated the dress code, he was suspended. In response, the student's mother has filed a federal lawsuit against the Logan County Board of Education and 10 employees, arguing the punishment violated the student's First Amendment rights.

"People just don't take well to others that are from outside the area telling the community what's appropriate and what's not based upon thing that have happened in other areas," said Benjamin White, the attorney who represents the student and his mother. "In West Virginia, firearms are a way of life."

On April 18, 2013, student Jared Marcum, who was 14 at the time, wore a T-shirt with the NRA logo and a hunting rifle that said "PROTECT YOUR RIGHT." While waiting in the lunch line at the school's cafeteria, the school secretary said the shirt violated the school's dress code and instructed Marcum to turn it inside out or face suspension, according to the complaint filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. When two other teachers agreed the shirt violated the dress code, he was escorted to the principal's office.

At that point, the police had already been called, White said. With teachers and Marcum in the same room, White said the student kept speaking over teachers and administrators when they tried to tell police their side of the story. Because Marcum wouldn't be quiet, police charged him with obstructing an officer. He also received a one-day out-of-school suspension.

Although a Logan County Circuit Court judge dropped the criminal charges on June 27, 2013, White said the suspension remains on his disciplinary record. On April 25, White received a letter from the school district that says Marcum was suspended because of his "inappropriate behavior with educators in authority," not because of his T-shirt.

"This kid is a member of the NRA, he is passionate about his right to own firearms, and some person that has an opposite belief tells him to turn it inside out because it's against a rule that doesn't exist," White said, adding that Marcum hopes to join the military following graduation. "The whole issue here is the teacher didn't understand the rules."

Had school officials reacted differently, White said, the whole situation could have been avoided.

"Should have the eighth grader kept trying to tell his side of the story?" White said. "No, but how does he know he's going to be given a chance?"

Shana Thompson, the school board's attorney, was not available for comment Friday. Requests to speak with school officials about the case were not granted.

According to the complaint, Marcum's shirt complied with the school's student/parent handbook, which prohibited clothing that displayed profanity, violence, discriminatory messages or sexually suggestive phrases. The policy also banned clothing that advertised alcohol, tobacco or drug products.

"Unless it says 'bring this gun and kill somebody,' then that I think would fall under the language, but it's a Second Amendment 'protect your rights' [message] and it shows a hunting rifle," White said. "I can't imagine anybody believing this particular shirt would be against that policy."

In 2004, a Virginia middle school student settled a similar lawsuit against the Albemarle County School Board after his principal required him to wear his "NRA Sports Shooting Camp" T-shirt inside out.

Along with removing the suspension from Marcum's record, the lawsuit seeks $250,000 in punitive damages and $200,000 in damages for "embarrassment and humiliation, mental distress and for damages related to the indignities visited upon him." White said he hopes the suit will also force an apology.

"I'm not saying my client is innocent, but he's certainly not guilty of obstructing an officer, he's not guilty of wearing a shirt that's against the policy," White said. "I guess he's guilty of standing up for his freedom of speech and Second Amendment rights."

This post originally appeared on the SPLC blog.

Making a Million Moms Proud: The ASK Campaign Has Been Saving Kids for 15 Years

Daniel Gross   |   May 14, 2015   10:25 AM ET

"We're looking for a few good moms!"

It's been 15 years since this cry rallied the original, epic Million Mom March on Mother's Day, May 14, 2000. On that historic day, 750,000 mothers and concerned individuals gathered on the National Mall while more than 150,000 rallied in satellite events in 70 cities across the country, and a new movement in our nation was born.

Our goal was simple: to create a safer future for our children. And over the last 15 years, through the efforts of millions of moms who were inspired by that original march, I am pleased to report that we have made some truly extraordinary progress.

At the original Million Mom March, we launched what has proven to be, and continues to be, one of the most successful efforts to prevent gun deaths and injuries that our nation has ever seen--the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Campaign. Developed in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Brady's ASK Campaign is a nationwide effort to educate parents about the significant risks of children having access to guns in the home. It provides every parent, whether they own a gun or not, with something real they can do to make children safer by simply asking if there are unlocked guns in the homes where their children play.

The ASK Campaign began at the original Million Mom March and thousands of children are alive today because of it. Surveys show that more than 20 million parents have started asking life-saving questions about unsafe access to guns, and millions more have been educated about the dangers of guns in the home.

Most significantly, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since we launched the ASK Campaign in 2000, there are now 900 fewer children and teenagers killed with guns each year. The same report also shows that unintentional gun deaths among children ages 19 and younger have decreased by more than a third -- down 42 percent since 1999.

But we still have a long way to go. A recent report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, The Truth About Kids & Guns, shows that 1.7 million kids live in households with unlocked guns, and that every day, nine are shot unintentionally. Hundreds of young people take their own lives every year, and there have been at least 52 school shootings since the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook. The one thing that most of these tragedies have in common is that they happen because young people have unsafe access to a parent's, relative's, or friend's gun in the home.

Brady, the Million Mom March, and the ASK Campaign may have begun this important fight, but we are no longer in it alone. We take great inspiration from all the important voices that have joined this conversation and in our efforts to educate America about the health and safety risks of youth access to guns in the home. Brady has proudly joined forces with the American Public Health Association to co-sponsor a major national summit in Washington, DC, on October 26-28, that will bring together dozens of organizations from an inspiringly diverse range of fields around the theme of addressing gun deaths and injuries as a public health issue.

We are also energized by all our allies from the gun violence prevention movement who have broadened their focus from primarily political agendas to promoting the life-saving ASK message. Women Against Violence has incorporated ASK messaging in its TALK Project to encourage parents to talk about safer gun storage, and Everytown for Gun Safety's new Be SMART Campaign, launched on May 4, 2015, now encourages parents to "ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes."

Thanks to the Million Mom March and the ASK Campaign, we have made real, measurable progress. But thousands of children are still killed every year with guns that are brought into homes, not with any bad intention, but with bad information about the risks and dangers.

When it comes to creating a safer future for our children, I am more confident than ever that we are up to the challenge. The march on May 14, 2000, in Washington, DC, and in communities across the country was extraordinary and historic, but it was only the beginning. Over the last 15 years, it has grown into a powerful movement, one that continues to grow to this day and, in fact, has never had more momentum than it has right now. What started as a call for a "few good moms" has turned into an unstoppable national force -- one that has already created great change and will only continue to grow stronger as long as there is an opportunity to make our children safer.

National ASK Day is coming up on June 21, when we will hold "The World's Largest Playdate" in communities across the country to bring attention to the dangers of youth access to guns in the home. If you would like to be part of that effort or to join Brady, the Million Mom March, and the growing list of organizations committed to making our children safer, pledge to add your voice at AskingSavesKids.org.

Watch Brady's tribute to Million Mom March founder Donna Dees-Thomases and all of the extraordinary women who made the historic event a reality:

Going Beyond the Usual Arguments About Gun Safety

Mike Weisser   |   May 11, 2015    9:09 AM ET

This week a new gun safety campaign was launched by Everytown and Moms Demand Action called Be Smart, and you can usually judge the value of such efforts by the degree to which the pro-gun media weighs in on the other side. They weighed in right away with multiple blogs and, as always, the infantile Breitbart response. And one of the pro-gun bloggers got it right when she wrote that "allowing the anti-gun side to control the gun safety message is a big mistake."

Until recently, the pro-gun gallery has owned the issue of gun safety, which they mostly define as keeping guns out of the 'wrong' hands, i.e., crooks, creeps and other undesirables who want access to guns for no other reason than to inflict harm. The NRA has given a new hip-and-cool look to their Eddie Eagle program which has allegedly distributed millions of flyers although it's unclear whether this effort has had any real impact at all. The NSSF gives away cable locks and has been running a public service campaign with the ATF about the danger of "straw" sales. They also promote a competitive shooter with instructions for talking about gun safety with children, as if being a competitive shooter gives you the slightest credibility when it comes to knowing how to communicate with kids.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against any of the gun industry's safety programs. But opposing background checks for private gun transfers makes it pretty hard to argue that you're all that worried about criminals and other disqualified individuals getting their hands on guns. The new Be Smart campaign, on the other hand, goes beyond the usual arguments about gun safety that you get from both sides, and this is what makes it such an interesting and potentially effective effort which the gun folks better not simply deride or ignore.

The centerpiece of the program is a video narrated by Melissa Joan Hart, which for no other reason than she votes Republican makes it difficult for the pro-gun chorus to simply brand her as another liberal, gun-grabbing, Hollywood star. But aside from the image, what we get are serious comments about issues the gun industry would rather you and I forget. For example, there's a very sober message about teen suicide and how much easier it is to commit suicide with a gun. For another, Melissa actually uses the phrase 'risk factors' when talking about gun-owning families where there is evidence of mental illness or substance abuse. The most important comment, however, is when she notes that "kids are naturally curious," and that a gun is therefore a risk unless it is locked up "one hundred percent of the time."

I'm really happy to see these issues injected into the gun safety debate and let me break it to you gently: Melissa's being perfunctory when she mentions her concern about the 1.7 million kids living in homes where guns are loaded and unlocked. It's children living in every home where there is a gun who are at risk, because sooner or later every one of those guns will be left around. If you haven't figured it out yet, let me break it to you gently: We are human. We are careless. We forget.

The industry's approach to gun safety is they want it both ways. People should own guns to defend themselves, but the reason guns are touted as the best defense against crime is because of their lethality and nothing else. Sooner or later, if you are a gun-owner who believes that owning a gun makes you safe, that gun is going to be left out, unsecured and unlocked, which poses a risk to the kids.

I have a suggestion for trigger-heads who get nervous giving up space in the gun-safety debate to folks who aren't particularly enamored of guns. Stop pretending that guns aren't a risk just because we "always" lock them up or lock them away. Start talking about gun safety in a realistic way. Remember, there's still only one way to guarantee that you can't have an accident with a gun.

Cavan Sieczkowski   |   May 7, 2015   10:34 AM ET

Country star Brantley Gilbert really loves the Second Amendment.

On Tuesday, Gilbert shared a photo on Instagram of his new back tattoo in support of the right to keep and bear arms. The fresh ink features the word "Amendment" above two handguns and text from the Bill of rights reading: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

"So BG nation.... I wanted to take my support of the 2nd amendment to another level, so my boy Carl Grace came by the house and hooked me up yesterday!!!" Gilbert wrote.


The 30-year-old "One Hell of an Amen" singer had the two guns tattooed by Grace back in February.

Brady Campaign Counters Gun Industry in Three Important Ways

Mike Weisser   |   May 4, 2015    9:33 AM ET

Want to cough up some bucks for a worthy cause and spend an evening at one of America's top hotels? The folks at the Brady Center are kicking off this year's ASK campaign with a gala banquet and fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, at which time they will honor Donna Dees-Thomases who organized the Million Mom March on Washington, D.C. Her efforts brought three-quarters of a million people into the nation's capital on May 14, 2000, and marked the beginning of grass-roots campaigns to promote gun safety, gun safety laws and more discussion about gun violence, in particular, the impact of gun violence on kids.

When the march was announced, the pro-gun gang swung into action, immediately launching their own campaign to convince everyone that they were first and foremost concerned about safe guns. A group called Second Amendment Sisters sprang up, held a small counter-demonstration on the Mall, and Wayne LaPierre went on television to announce a million-dollar safety fund that the NRA would use to promote a gun safety program in the nation's schools.

The ASK campaign is important for three reasons. First, it's a public health issue, and the NRA has gone out of its way to demonize pediatricians because the American Academy of Pediatrics had the audacity to suggest that guns were a risk to children's health. Rather than taking the halfway step of proposing that guns should be locked up or locked away, the AAP went so far in 1992 as to tell parents that they shouldn't have guns around at all. This was the time when the NRA was girding up for battle against the Clinton gun-control schemes, so taking on the anti-gun pediatricians was fair game. But pediatricians aren't going to pretend that injuries from guns are a private affair. After all, there's really no difference between locking up a gun and locking a kid into the seat of a car.

The second reason that ASK is important is because it came out of the Million Mom March, and the march is a significant milestone in the development of grass-roots concerns about guns. The gun-sense side bemoans the fact that the NRA has been in business for nearly 150 years, whereas the folks who want more sensible gun regulations have only been really active for less than three decades. But the fact is that the NRA wasn't all hot and bothered about legal or political threats to their existence until thirty years ago; even when the feds got into gun control in a big way in 1968 the NRA hardly made a peep. It's true that the NRA has become a major player when it comes to political influence on Capitol Hill. But it doesn't take a century to build a serious and sustained campaign either for or against guns.

Finally, the third and most important reason to support ASK is the fact that every industry -- guns, cars, communications to name a few -- wants to make the product safety argument on its own terms. Most gun makers, car makers, or whatever makers, think first about sales and profits, with safety coming in a distant third, or fourth, or fifth. In 2009 Toyota recalled almost five million vehicles after claiming they couldn't find anything wrong with the brakes. It turned out to be a problem with floor mats, not brakes, but either way, consumers weren't going to accept the company's word on whether their vehicles were safe.

I think it's a very healthy thing for the gun industry to share discussions about safe use of guns even with people who aren't particularly fond of guns. The ASK campaign recognizes a simple truth, namely, that parents should talk to other parents about children having access to guns. Children are naturally curious. If you tell a child not to touch something they will grab it as quickly as they can. But if a parent tells another parent to put away the guns, then there's nothing for the kids to grab. Period.

Stronger Gun Laws, Less Violence

Robert Muggah   |   May 3, 2015   10:30 AM ET

Co-written with Ilona Szabé de Carvalho*

More guns equal more lethal crime. The evidence is convincing. Studies consistently show how increases in firearms ownership are positively associated with increases in homicide and suicide. Whether on the street or in the home, where handguns and rifles are easily available they are more likely to be used in a criminal act. This applies across most wealthy societies and middle-income ones too.

Strong gun laws, when enforced, can help deny access to firearms to people who really should not have them. The reverse is also true. In jurisdictions with weak legislation related to gun purchasing, ownership and use, there tend to be higher rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape and murder. In the U.S., for example, right-to-carry laws are statistically associated with increases in the incidence of violent assault.

These apparently commonsense observations are widely accepted by most public health experts, criminologists and law-abiding citizens. Yet, like those who deny the science of climate change, there is also a vocal minority of activists exhorting easier access to guns, including fewer oversight measures and weaker laws. Some of them resort to snappy, but misleading, sound bites to make their case. Their position is increasingly hard to defend.

One way to limit firearm-related homicide, suicide and accidents is through smarter gun regulation. This is hardly an extreme proposal. The introduction of mandatory seat-belt laws since the 1970s had a profound effect on reducing deaths and life-threatening injuries on U.S. highways. Although these regulations were at first resisted (including by car manufacturing lobbyists), they were eventually replicated globally to positive effect.

The same can be said about firearm legislation and controls on civilian purchasing, ownership and use that have similarly spread around the world. It is worth recalling that the vast majority of firearms are held not by soldiers or police officers, but rather civilians. The regulation of these weapons is a precondition of responsible governance.

Strong gun laws are not equivalent to taking guns away from citizens. To the contrary, they consist of transparent rules and procedures designed to manage the possession, storage and carrying of firearms in order to limit access to legitimate users alone. The goal is to ensure that public safety prevails over the private interest. Not surprisingly, most Americans support these kinds of sensible measures.

Virtually every country in the world permits some degree of civilian ownership, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Permitted categories of use typically include sport shooting, hunting and self-defense. Responsible regulation is intended to balance legitimate civilian use against the possible social harms that result -- which as the case of the U.S.' $172 billion annual burden of gun violence amply shows, can be exceedingly high.

Most governments have introduced checks and balances designed to maximize citizen security and minimize firearms misuse. Examples include age limits for gun purchases and background checks to avoid firearms from getting into the hands of criminals and people suffering from severe mental illness. Other measures aim to limit the risk of guns being stolen from private collections and procedures to keep firearms from getting into the hands of children.

Every country in the world has enacted some kind of legislation governing the civilian possession of firearms. Even in Lebanon and Yemen where automatic assault rifles and handguns are openly sold in street bazaars there are gun laws, albeit poorly enforced. All governments impose various requirements when it comes to licensing, registering and storing firearms. In other words, with gun ownership come responsibilities.

Importantly, every country bar one treats gun ownership as a privilege, not a right. While hotly debated by legal scholars, the U.S. is the only country in the world to have elevated gun ownership to the status of a right. The Second Amendment protects the right of citizens to "keep and bear" arms. Two Supreme Court rulings in 2008 and 2010 currently preserve this right, though the Court admits it is not "unlimited." In other words, the right is regulated.

The debate today is not over whether there ought to be rules to regulate firearms, but how comprehensive they should be. Notwithstanding the U.S.' gun rights exceptionalism, there are of course federal, state and city-level laws that proscribe how and who should access firearms, though these vary in reach and breadth. There are tight regulations on access to fully automatic weapons, for example. But there are also well known loopholes, including sales at gun shows, putting American (and Mexican) lives at risk.

More fundamentally, there is almost no evidence that the right to own firearms makes a society safer. The U.S. registers several times more gun homicides and suicides than 30 other wealthy countries combined. At least 16,121 people were murdered in the U.S. in 2013, including 11,208 due to gunshot injuries. Another 41,149 people committed suicide, with 21,175 using a firearm. At least three times more men, women and children suffer gunshot wounds each year.

To put these numbers in perspective, the U.S. gun homicide rate is 70 times higher and 35 times the gun suicide rate of the United Kingdom, a country with more restrictive firearm legislation. What is more, the U.S. firearm murder rate is almost 20 times higher than all other advanced economies and for those aged 15 to 24, an astonishing 42 times higher.

The difference between the United States and all other wealthy countries is that the latter are committed to stronger legislation and enforcement of firearms regulations. All of them deny access to weapons considered ill-suited to civilian use. Most of them have also introduced basic systems for registering firearms with data centralized in one place. They feel this is the minimum to ask of citizens who, after all, have the privilege to own firearms.

*Ilona Szabó de Carvalho is the executive director of the Igarapé Institute. See her TED talk on responsible drug and gun regulation.

Why One Art Gallery Is Hanging AK47s On Its Walls

Katherine Brooks   |   May 1, 2015    9:28 AM ET

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AK47, Black on white paint, lacquered, 87cm x 25cm: Removed from DR Congo. Decommissioned AK47 of Russian origin. AK47 is McCrow’s original artwork.

"Guns have long had an extraordinary and terrible influence over us," artist McCrow writes on his website. "There are those who glorify them, those that subjugate through them and those who suffer by them."

This connection between man and weapon serves as the focal point of his most recent exhibition, "History Interrupted, The Art of Disarmament” at the Hoerle-Guggenheim Gallery. The show puts on view a collection of 20 decommissioned AK47s and other small arms, collected from regions of conflict around the world -- the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Palestinian territories, Iraq. McCrow renders the firearms useless, lacquering, polishing, and staining the guns until they resemble imposing sculptures hanging on the gallery's walls like a benign canvas.

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Toy Gun, Red paint, enamel and stenciled, 87cm x 25cm: Removed from DR Congo. Decommissioned AK47 of Chinese origin.

The U.K.-based artist began transforming deactivated guns into art after a close friend lost three limbs in an explosion while on tour with the British Army in Afghanistan. According to McCrow, he is both "fascinated and repulsed" by guns. This combination of awe and aversion shows in his work, whether in an AK47 adorned with a mock Fisher Price logo -- a nod "to the fact that in many war torn areas, irrespective of those forced to take arms, many children are more likely to experience a real AK47 before a toy one" -- or a lone magazine adhered to the middle of a gilded frame in homage to the first Gulf War.

To procure the guns he uses in his art, McCrow says that he works with individuals related to arms trade across the world. "It is through a number of contacts in this field of operations that I am able to acquire the weapons to deactivate," he told The Huffington Post. "This is done by the prevailing government, often with the cooperation or coordination of the UN or appropriate military force."

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Way Out, Black on white paint, lacquered, 87cm x 25cm: Decommissioned AK47 of Russian origin. Way Out is a core piece in the AK47 Barcoded series created for the development of a number of works. The use of the barcode has become integral to McCrow’s work and is a reference to the mass production of AK47s; a mind boggling 75,000,000.

Beyond his art, McCrow founded the organization, One Less Gun, which aims to eliminate one million guns in conflict areas across the globe by supporting initiatives that work to collect undocumented weapons in conflict areas. In one grassroots initiative, he encourages those who stumble across the One Less Gun website to text "onelessgun" to 70007 in order to digitally destroy a gun for £5. At the Hoerle-Guggenheim Gallery, admirers can donate $10 and receive a round of ammunition engraved with the serial number of a deactivated weapon.

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Gulf Sale, 24ct gold plate, gold leaf on wood parts, Size 87cm x 25cm: Removed from Iraq Decommissioned AK47 of Russian origin.

According to the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, conservative estimates mention 7.5 to 8 million small arms being produced per year. McCrow leaves visible the barcodes and serial numbers of the guns destroyed on all his works, standing as a reminder of the dark reality of small arms proliferation.

"An underlying theme of the work is an exploration of moral insanity," McCrow adds on his website, "described 200 years ago as a decay of social affections, an aversion to the nearest relatives and friends formerly beloved; in short, a change in the moral character of the individual."

"History Interrupted, The Art of Disarmament" will be on view at Hoerle-Guggenheim Gallery in New York City from April 30 to May 28, 2015. All photos and captions provided by the artist or gallery.

Declining Violent Crime Shouldn't Be an Argument for Increased Gun Ownership

Mike Weisser   |   April 27, 2015   12:20 PM ET

When a major player in the world of political messaging gets involved in the gun debate, we should all read what he has to say. That's because Danny Franklin from the Benenson Group isn't about to waste precious space in the Washington Post talking about something that isn't near or in the middle of the public opinion radar scope. And Franklin knows a little about public opinion, having conducted political polls for guys named Barack Obama and Cory Booker, to name a few. His op-ed piece in The Post appears to have been occasioned by a poll he conducted which showed that a majority of respondents believe that a house with a gun is safer than an unarmed home; in fact similar results have cropped up here and there in recent years.

What I like about Franklin's piece is the linkage between reducing gun violence and public health which, if nothing else, confirms again what we all know; namely that gun violence has an epidemiology that has to be studied and treated on its own terms. We can talk all we want about strengthening or passing laws to keep guns out of the 'wrong hands,' but when all is said and done, getting shot usually means a major commitment of medical resources, extended psychological trauma for the victim, family and friends, and costs in the millions for apprehending, convicting and punishing the dope who pulled the trigger of the gun.

These costs -- financial, psychological, cultural -- might be somewhat more acceptable if it were the case that guns in private hands serve any positive civil function at all. In fact, if you are a gun hobbyist who collects guns or uses them for hunting or sport, guns do serve an enjoyable end in and of themselves. But the nonsense peddled by the NRA and pro-gun politicians about how armed citizens protect us from crime is not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense at that. The odds that the average middle-class person will be the victim of a violent crime are about the same as the odds of that person getting run over by a rhinoceros; on the other hand, a gun in the home of that same person possibly considering suicide poses a real threat.

The data which demonstrates the indisputable risk of gun ownership comes from research produced by scholars in the field of public health. And Franklin is on solid ground when he uses this data to advance the argument for viewing gun violence in public health terms. Where I want to raise a comment, however, is when he evaluates public health strategies that will reduce gun violence because I think he identifies an interesting issue whose importance for the safe-gun movement has been ignored or not fully understood.

Franklin notes that public health measures were sometimes successful not just because of changes in the law but because of a growing public awareness which developed a momentum of its own. By the time the federal government put health warnings on cigarette packs, for example, the number of adult smokers had already dropped from one out of three to one out of four. And Franklin claims that the drop in gun crimes over the last twenty years might provide a similar degree of public awareness and momentum in the gun debate as well.

Every year when the FBI publishes its crime data, the gun lobby seizes on the continued decline in violent crime as 'proof' that an armed citizenry is keeping us safe. The truth is there's absolutely no evidence showing any linkage between gun ownership and rates of violent crime. I think the gun-safe movement should jump on these numbers to help promote their point of view, namely, that Americans clearly understand the risks posed by guns and should welcome everyone's help to reduce gun violence even more. Why should the pro-gun community own the argument about guns and crime? If we are all concerned about gun violence, then we all should take credit when the numbers go down.

Marina Fang   |   April 24, 2015    2:31 PM ET

A Tennessee law allowing guns in parks is now on the books.

Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed a bill Friday that allows gun owners with permits to bring guns to state and local parks, but not without some reservations. According to The Tennessean, Haslam sent a letter to legislators expressing the safety concerns of allowing guns in parks.

"I am concerned that an unintended consequence may be operational challenges for local leaders in managing their parks in a safe, effective and consistent manner, due to events and situations that could not have been anticipated in drafting this law," Haslam wrote in the letter.

Opponents of the bill have repeatedly warned about the dangers of allowing guns near children and potential gun accidents that could ensue. One prominent opponent is Nashville's mayor, Karl Dean (D), who said Friday that he wants to work with local leaders to determine the proper enforcement of the bill.

The new law invalidates a 2009 law that gave local officials the authority to ban guns in parks. Advocates of the law say that allowing guns will improve safety in parks.

The bill sparked heated debate in the state legislature, with lawmakers introducing various amendments, including one provision that would have permitted guns on the grounds of the state Capitol. The bill passed with that amendment in the state Senate, but not in the House.

Lawmakers were finally able to pass a bill through both chambers and gain the governor's approval by compromising on language that delineates rules for school events held in parks. The final bill includes language stating that someone with a handgun permit may not be within the "immediate vicinity" of a school-sponsored park event, though it does not provide a clear definition of "immediate vicinity."

Some in the state legislature had hoped to pass the bill and get the governor's signature earlier this month, right before Nashville hosted the National Rifle Association's annual convention. Lawmakers argued that the law would have made it easier for convention attendees "to see the whole city."

The Root of Police Brutality is Fear

Rev. Jeff Hood   |   April 24, 2015   11:03 AM ET

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"At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear that men have of one another as the fear they have of everything." In the midst of desperate times, Thomas Merton wrote these words in a 1962 essay entitled, "The Root of War is Fear." Decades later, these words once again ring true in our own desperation. For an increasingly prolonged period, police brutality has dominated the news and caused everyone to question whether anyone is safe. The death of Freddie Gray is just the latest example. Prognosticators and pundits spend hours upon hours describing our problems and prescribing solutions. In our desperation to say or do something, we have ultimately not said or done much of anything to address the root of the problem. Our attention has been focused on the symptoms without attention to the cause. The complexity of our problems should not mask the simplicity of the solution. We are a people who are desperately afraid of everything. The root cause of police brutality rests solely in our own fear.

Fear of our neighbors causes us to constantly prepare for and perpetrate war. For the last decade, the United States has engaged in endless conflict. We believe that our fear gives us the right to destroy the lives of innocent people all over the world so that we might feel safe. We feel like the deaths of innocent civilians is a small price to pay for achieving the higher goal of a sense of safety. Though the safety is not real, we feel better when guns are firing and bombs are exploding. Too often, we fail to ponder the cost of our fear. The war mentality that we develop always comes home. The military hardware that was used overseas ends up in the hands of law enforcement. In our desperate desire for safety, we arm our police and prepare them for war. Our police carry the same fears that we do. We prepare them to be afraid of our neighbors just like we are. Every person a law enforcement officer comes in contact with is a potential threat. When officers are taught that danger is everywhere, we should not be surprised when they eliminate what they are afraid of. With constant access to lethal force, perceived fears become realized deaths. The bodies will continue to pile up until we do something about the pandemic of fear that has overtaken us.

We are also afraid of what is within our own persons. In a society of shadows, we are so afraid to be real. We know there are always consequences to expressing who we really are and what we really think. Carrying the dishonesty of false living, we put our defenses up against the world and our blinded by our self. We believe that our sole purpose in life is to show the world what we think the world wants to see. In our attempt to fit, we forget what is real and what is false. We become confused. If we cannot trust our self, we know that we cannot trust those around us. Our fears become compounded and we respond by arming ourselves. The resultant deaths in our streets are only a reflection of the deaths that are constantly taking place in the individual souls of the citizens of this nation. Police brutality begins with the fear within.

If we are to make any progress beyond our rhetoric, outrage and partial measures, we must work to put fear aside. Continued cultivation of our own fears will only cause more police brutality. The exorcism that we all need can only be performed by each of us on our own person.

Amen.

John McCain Just Can't Stop Laughing At Ted Cruz

Laura Barron-Lopez   |   April 20, 2015    8:26 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday denied reports that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is pushing him to hold hearings exploring whether soldiers should be able to carry concealed guns on military bases.

“I was fascinated to hear that, since I haven’t heard a thing about it from him, nor has my staff heard from his staff,” McCain told reporters.

Responding to a question about a Politico report that Cruz said he is “pressing” for a hearing on easing the gun ban for soldiers, McCain said, “I have not a clue.”

Cruz, a 2016 presidential contender seeking to distance himself from the rest of the Republican field, said Sunday he is pressuring McCain directly to hold the hearing. “It’s very important to have a public discussion about why we’re denying our soldiers the ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Cruz said.

McCain said he'd "be glad" to talk about the issue and decide "if we need a hearing. But it came as a complete surprise to me that he had been pressing me."

Asked where it came from, McCain pondered the different methods of communication Cruz could have used to relay the message.

“Maybe it was through some medium that I’m not familiar with. Maybe bouncing it off the ozone layer for all I know. But there's a lot of holes in the ozone layer, so maybe it wasn’t the ozone layer,” McCain said.

“Maybe it was through hand telegraph? Maybe through sign language? I don’t know,” McCain continued.

McCain has shown he's no fan of Cruz in the past, calling him a "wacko bird" and "crazy."

UPDATE: April 21 -- Cruz spokeswoman Amanda Carpenter pushed back at McCain’s comments, saying Cruz has been vocal for some time on the issue.
 
"Senator Cruz has been discussing this issue for a long time and he looks forward to continuing to raise it in the Senate Armed Services Committee where he serves with Chairman McCain,” Carpenter said in an email.
 
Last year, Cruz urged then-Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) in a letter to hold a hearing on concealed carry restrictions for soldiers on military bases.

Later Tuesday morning, Cruz told Fox News he misspoke over the weekend when talking to voters in New Hampshire about soldiers' ability to carry concealed weapons on bases, and did not in fact press McCain directly.

"Ted Cruz issued a statement saying he had not contacted me and I consider it over," McCain told reporters Tuesday. "He corrected his mistake. He is a friend of mine and I value his membership on the Armed Services Committee."

Cruz formally sent a letter to McCain Tuesday, asking for a hearing on the issue.

"I ask that the Senate Armed Services Committee convene a hearing on current military policies to determine whether the restrictions on personal firearms actually accomplish their objective of protecting our service members, or whether the policies instead prevent a rapid response to active shooter instances," Cruz wrote to McCain.

Gun Violence Is a Moral Problem

Rabbi Menachem Creditor   |   April 20, 2015   10:14 AM ET

Here's some scarcely-reported news from this past week. There was a shooting at a synagogue in Nashville, Tennessee, where the National Rifle Association held its annual convention the previous week. There was a shooting (with one casualty) at Wayne Community College in North Carolina; the suspect remains at large. There was a shooting in my hometown of Berkeley, CA that injured two, and a shooting standoff in Ohio that left one person critically wounded and seven in custody. All this occurred in one day.

As a rabbi, I cry at the erasure of so much life. I have organized for, marched with, and amplified Everytown for Gun Safety, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. And yet, as a rabbi, I am enraged not at guns but at the casual violence afflicting our country, and the way we have grown immune to it. I do not accept the NRA's claim that "guns are not the problem," but I do agree that guns are not the main problem.

In 2015 so far, there have been 12,517 reported gun violence incidents. There have been over 100 school shootings in the two years since Sandy Hook. Just last weekend in Chicago, gun violence claimed two lives and injured 17. Every day, 48 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention.

Yet this is an epidemic Americans barely notice anymore.

The torrent of gun violence headlines and statistics has led many to simply stop seeing them. I believe we are, as a nation, weary to our bones from all this death. We have, as a society, become victims of what Malcolm Gladwell famously called "the problem of immunity", in which being overwhelmed by massive amounts of information leads one or more people to be unable to process it, rendering it functionally invisible. It is, perhaps understandable. We have become, to borrow a phrase from Pink Floyd, "comfortably numb."

Once in a while, national attention is provoked by either a slow media cycle or a large number of casualties. But in the aftermaths of even these tragedies, despite overwhelming support for universal background checks for gun sales (even among NRA members), there has been no significant and lasting national response. Legislators seem incapable of compromise, and the frontlines of the culture war are bombarded by extremists who alternatively demonize gun owners and gun reform advocates alike.

Is there anything to be done? Is there no way to make any change in a system of sustained violence that costs upwards of 30,000 lives every year?

My claim is that my fellow faith leaders can bridge the divide between gun owners and gun reform advocates. This is a moral crisis, and it requires a moral response.

Whereas elected officials and those employed to sway their decisions are driven by the market, faith communities of all stripes are driven to maintain the dignity of the Divine Image in every human life. Faith reminds us of our common humanity, can provoke that most human of responses to the needless deaths of our fellow citizens: compassion. Americans of all political leanings -- gun owners, gun law reformers, mental health advocates -- wish for the fulfillment of American Scripture, which includes in its promises a basic right: life.

The great civil rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once claimed that, when confronting great societal rupture, there is "no time for neutrality," that:

...one of the lessons we have derived from the events of our time is that we cannot dwell at ease under the sun of our civilization, that man is the least harmless of beings.

We know this is true. We must allow our numbed hearts to be shaken from a false sense of security and reclaim our roles as partners in a noble American impulse, based in the very basic societal value of mutual obligation. And, if we need more motivation than our national prophetic values, we might do well to consider the statistical reality -- if we do nothing -- that our streets, our churches, our children are all on the line.

My faith tradition promises that, one day, there will be a day on which "you shall lie down and no one shall terrify you." (Leviticus 26:6) That day feels woefully far from now. The only way forward, out of the sinful trap of passive acceptance, is a basic tenet of our common faith: the mandate to serve as our brothers' and sisters' keepers. The way forward is faith's call to remember that we are each other's best hope.