ACTION ALERT: Some Practical Steps to Reducing Gun Violence
December 4, 2015
Senator Bernie Sanders & Gar Smith / The Berkeley Daily Planet & Brooke Baldwin / CNN
Here is the very sad truth: it is very difficult for the American people to keep up with the mass shootings we seem to see every day in the news. Yesterday, San Bernardino. Last week, Colorado Springs. Last month, Colorado Springs again. Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Isla Vista, Virginia Tech, Navy Yard, Roseburg, and far too many others.
ACTION ALERT: Ten Steps to End Gun Violence in the US
Senator Bernie Sanders
(December 3, 2015) -- Here is the very sad truth: it is very difficult for the American people to keep up with the mass shootings we seem to see every day in the news. Yesterday, San Bernardino. Last week, Colorado Springs. Last month, Colorado Springs again. Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Isla Vista, Virginia Tech, Navy Yard, Roseburg, and far too many others.
The crisis of gun violence has reached epidemic levels in this country to the point that we are averaging more than one mass shooting per day. Now, I am going to tell you something that most candidates wouldn't say: I am not sure there is a magical answer to how we end gun violence in America. But I do know that while thoughts and prayers are important, they are insufficient and it is long past time for action.
That's why I want to talk to you today about a few concrete actions we should take as a country that will save lives.
Add your name in support of the following commonsense measures Congress can take to make our communities safer from gun violence.
1. We can expand background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. This is an idea that over 80% of Americans agree with, even a majority of gun owners.
2. & 3. We can renew the assault weapons ban and end the sale of high capacity magazines -- military-style tools created for the purpose of killing people as efficiently as possible.
4. Since 2004, over 2,000 people on the FBI's terrorist watch list have legally purchased guns in the United States. Let's close the "terror gap" and make sure known foreign and domestic terrorists are included on prohibited purchaser lists.
5. We can close loopholes in our laws that allow perpetrators of stalking and dating violence to buy guns. In the United States, the intended targets of a majority of our mass shootings are intimate partners or family members, and over 60% of victims are women and children. Indeed, a woman is five times more likely to die in a domestic violence incident when a gun is present.
6. We should close the loophole that allows prohibited purchasers to buy a gun without a completed background check after a three-day waiting period expires. Earlier this year, Dylann Roof shot and killed nine of our fellow Americans while they prayed in a historic church, simply because of the color of their skin.
This act of terror was possible because of loopholes in our background check laws. Congress should act to ensure the standard for ALL gun purchases is a completed background check. No check -- no sale.
7. It's time to pass federal gun trafficking laws. I support Kirsten Gillibrand's Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking & Crime Prevention Act of 2015, which would "make gun trafficking a federal crime and provide tools to law enforcement to get illegal guns off the streets and away from criminal networks and street gangs."
8. It's time to strengthen penalties for straw purchasers who buy guns from licensed dealers on behalf of a prohibited purchaser.
9. We must authorize resources for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study and research the causes and effects of gun violence in the United States of America.
10. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 21,000 firearm suicides every year in the United States. It's time we expand and improve our mental health capabilities in this country so that people who need care can get care when they need it, regardless of their level of income.
Add your name in support of these commonsense measures Congress can take to make our communities safer from gun violence.
Earlier today, the U.S. Senate voted against non-binding legislation to expand background checks, close the "terror gap," and improve our mental health systems. I voted for all three, although each of them came up short.
They failed for the same reason the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey legislation failed in 2013, just months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School: because of the financial political power of a gun lobby that has bought candidates and elections for the better part of the last several decades.
In 2014 alone, the gun lobby spent over $30 million on political advertising and lobbying to influence legislators in Congress and state capitals across the country. And just last month, it was reported that the Koch brothers made a $5 million contribution to the NRA.
Americans of all political stripes agree. It's time to address the all too common scene of our neighbors being killed. It's time to pass a common sense package of gun safety legislation.
With your help, that's what we'll do when I'm president.
Putting the Hammer Down on Guns
Gar Smith / The Berkeley Daily Planet
(December 18, 2012) -- Note: This essay was originally published on December 18, 2012 in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre. Tragically, the issue remains as topical as the latest US mass-shooting.
"Today is not the day for a debate on gun control."
-- Presidential Spokesman Jay Carney
Note to Jay Carney: "If not now, when?"
Twenty children, ages 5 to 10, are mercilessly gunned down in the protected sanctuary of their Connecticut schoolroom and this does not call for a public debate? Is the US Gun Lobby really so powerful that the White House spokesperson feels his first duty is to call for a ban on public debate -- instead of a ban on the very weapons that created this tragedy?
We should move to ban the ownership of military assault rifles and other high-powered weapons of mass destruction. These weapons are unsuitable for recreational target practice or hunting. They are clearly unsuited for the urban environment. Congress has already acted to outlaw the ownership of machineguns and banned the possession of bazookas.
This leaves the question of handguns. In searching for solutions to the risks of concealed weapons and Saturday Night Specials, we needn't raise the troublesome debate over Second Amendment "rights" to own a handgun.
There are many things we can do, short of a ban on handguns and none of these approaches would violate the most reactionary interpretations of the Second Amendment.
Without banning ownership of handguns, per se, here are some actions we could take to rein in the rising tide of gun violence that is flooding our nation.
A Licensing Fee for Victims Compensation
States and municipalities could create a new licensing fee for gun-store owners and gun dealers. The money raised would be used to create a fund to compensate the victims of gun violence.
All dealers would need to contribute to this fund in order to do business. The fund could be a state or federal trust fund or, alternatively, state and federal laws could require gun-dealers to take out impact-specific insurance from an approved insurance firm.
The amount in the state/federal fund would be adjusted each year, depending on the level of lethal gun violence. If the number of gun deaths declined, the cost of the subsequent year's insurance would also decline. This would give weapons merchants a financial stake in reducing incidents of illegal gun use.
(There is precedent for this approach. As a consequence of BP's role in polluting the Gulf of Mexico, insurance costs for all oil companies rose “exponentially.” This served to send a message to the entire industry that endangering lives and livelihoods could entail painful financial penalties.)
Mandatory Gun Sellers' Insurance
The oil and gas industry routinely obtains comprehensive insurance protection to cover a wide range of external liabilities -- including damage to the environment (from oil spills and gas explosions) and payments for death, injuries and disabilities suffered by workers and civilians harmed by the companies' activities. (In one recent case, on October 24, 2012, a jury in West Texas awarded $11 million to a man who sued an oil company after he was struck by a pipe casing that broke free of an oilfield elevator.)
BP and its Deepwater Horizon drilling partners were required to have insurance coverage to pay for damages and compensate victims in the event of a drilling accident. (Coverage that proved inadequate to address the magnitude of the disaster.)
By contrast, current insurance packages offered to the US gun industry mainly cover damage to the business owners' property and workplace accidents. Unlike insurance for the oil and gas industry, the gun-dealers' policies do not extend to such "externalities" as the death and injury caused by the use of the gun-sellers' products.
BP's Gulf of Mexico explosion and oil spill killed 11 rig workers and devastated the livelihoods of millions of Gulf Coast shrimpers and business owners. Why then, should the US domestic arms industry be exempt from similar insurance requirements -- especially given the larger death toll routinely caused by the misuse of firearns?
The FBI reports that guns killed 8,775 Americans in 2010. The previous year was even deadlier. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2009, guns accounted for 11,493 US deaths. But these figures only include homicides.
In 2009, guns also accounted for 18,735 suicides -- nearly half of all US suicides. Combining suicides and homicides brings the total estimated number of gun-related deaths in 2009 to 31,228, making gun deaths the second leading cause of non-disease-related mortality in the US -- second only to accidental deaths.
In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill, BP set aside $9.5 billion to establish a trust to pay claims for damages. By July 2011, the fund had paid $4.7 billion to 198,475 claimants. Given the scale of death and damage that results from the daily operations of the US gun industry, the argument for requiring similar insurance coverage becomes compelling.
The Individual Gun Seller's Accountability
Responsibility for gun carnage does not end at the factory. It also extends to the point-of-purchase. Gun store owners are the "gatekeepers" when it comes to protecting the public from people who feel they must acquire guns for "self-protection" against other members of the public.
When a gun used in a crime can be traced to a particular store (even if the weapon has been subsequently sold, given away or stolen), the identity of that store and its location -- as well as the make of the weapon and the name of the manufacturer -- should be made part of the official police report so this information can be included in all media reports on the crime and its aftermath.
In those cases where the individual who commits a gun crime is the same individual who purchased the weapon, the gun dealer or storeowner responsible for the sale should be subjected to a thorough investigation to determine if the merchant exercised a proper regard for downstream risks before authorizing the sale.
If an investigation determines that the purchase should have been denied because the customer had a significant criminal record, had relevant medical, mental or emotional problems, had been subject to a restraining order, or had recently experienced significant stress or personal trauma -- e.g., the loss of a home, a bitter divorce, the loss of a job -- the individual seller could be found criminally responsible.
In such cases, the costs for compensating the victims would be born first by the seller, rather than covered by the industry's collective trust fund, insurance plan or state/federal licensing fees. This would give the gun industry a financial stake in cracking down on gun shops and independent dealers that engaged in reckless sales practices that endanger the public.
Similar restrictions should be imposed on the sale of ammunition. There should be rigorous background checks and limits on the amount of ammunition one can legally purchase as possess.
James Holmes, the deranged student who stands accused of opened fire in a crowded Colorado movie theater -- killing 12 and wounding 58 -- was able to assemble an arsenal of weapons without undergoing any serious background checks prior to purchase.
Despite the Department of Homeland Security's massive budget and growing domestic surveillance infrastructure, the DHS remained totally in the dark about Mr. Holmes, a diagnosed schizophrenia who was methodically amassing a 6,000-round arsenal by ordering bullets over the Internet.
While the FBI busied itself setting up "sting" operations to entrap would-be jihadists (by providing encouragement, training and fake explosives), Holmes' activities went completely unnoticed -- even though surveillance videos at one point captured him unloading 150-pound boxes of ammunition -- delivered courtesy of FedEx and UPS. Clearly, another fundamental reform should require new restrictions on laws regulating the sale of ammunition.
There are clear steps that can be taken to draw down the threat of weapons violence in the country. The US has allowed itself to become the most heavily armed country on Earth. For the sake of those children in Sandy Hook, we need to face our demons and start insisting on more responsible gun controls and regulations.
It was clear from President Obama's emotional address to the nation that he has heard the message -- even if his Presidential spokesperson has not.
A Reporter's Response to the Latest Murders:
'There's Been a Shooting . . . Again
Brooke Baldwin / CNN Anchor
(December 3, 2015) -- I know it's my job as a journalist. But in situations like these, I'm getting sick of speaking the words "active shooter situation." I've been covering too many of them.
I happen to be sitting in the anchor chair during two crucial hours of the day -- when kids are in school, when people are at work, when mad killers tend to strike. So many of these shootings break while I'm on the air. So that means it's my job (oftentimes on very little information at first) to go live for the next two hours. Juggling guests. Listening to details from police news conferences. Speaking with eyewitness on the phone.
And you know something? I've become far too familiar with this. It's sadly become a routine.
It starts with a few reports coming into CNN. Often I'm already on air and unaware of what's brewing behind the scenes. Blissfully ignorant. Full steam ahead on a two-hour show my team and I spent the day preparing. That is until CNN confirms the reports and then I hear that dreaded voice in my ear.
That voice is almost always that of my trusted executive producer Eric Hall. He's already anticipated my reaction to what he's about to tell me. He knows -- better than anyone -- how sick of these stories I've gotten. But he has to do his job. And so do I. So, in a calm, strong voice, Eric tells me some version of this:
"Brooke, there's been a shooting. We don't know much. It happened in X city. No word on injuries or dead. We're working to get someone on with you. . . in the meantime, I need you to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world . . . and go."
And just like that, it's my job to remain calm even though -- deep down -- just like you, I am furious. Furious for the innocent victims who are being targeted. Furious this has happened again. Furious that nothing seems to be stopping it.
And then just like that -- the teleprompter goes blank. You see, shootings are never scripted. No breaking news ever is. Even though I know exactly how the unwritten script is going to go next: behind the scenes my team is scrambling to get a law enforcement analyst up live with me to explain (yet again) what's happening at the shooting scene as this is all unfolding.
Secure the perimeter, get bystanders to safety, locate the shooter. . . or shooters. And then I find myself pivoting back and forth between guests, eyewitnesses, repeating the pieces of information police are releasing publicly and parsing their words: "heavily armed"; "bodies"; "suspicious package"; "they."
Media sites always spotlight what time each channel broke the news. Officials spell their first and last names at news conferences. Hospitals start to alert how many patients they're taking in. Schools go on lockdown. But it's always too early to know the answer to the most important question -- the question that nags at me as I go home at night: Why?
I know we journalists have a reputation for being cynics. We do. It's our job to question -- everything. But I will also share this: I'll never forget coming home after covering Sandy Hook. Seeing the faces of family members.
The firefighters who could never unsee the unthinkable. Those tiny caskets. I came home, sat in my dark apartment because I didn't even bother to turn the lights on, and wept.
I remember watching the sun set out my window, and all I could think about was those children and adults who would never see the sun set again. I'm sure I wasn't the only journalist choking back tears.
Two months ago I sat in a room with The Loneliest Club, 40 people who have either lost loved ones to gun violence or are survivors themselves. I can't help but think, after another mass shooting, their club will grow.
Next time I interview them, that room will include families who are searching for answers in San Bernardino right now. A club, when they awoke Wednesday morning, they never imagined they'd join.
When I was in the anchor chair Wednesday as the shootings in San Bernardino broke, I started our coverage with four little words: "Here we go again." The BBC put it differently: "Just another day in the United States of America."
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.