About Flying Bullets

by Joan Peterson

Yes, it’s true. There are bullets literally flying around in some of our neighborhoods at will with no end in sight. Eventually they stop but they really don’t know where to stop and sometimes stop in an unintended place. Of course, if bullets stop at an intended target, that is also very bad and often deadly.

The gun rights advocates love to refer to Chicago and all of the gun deaths there to make their case that Chicago ( and Illinois) have strong gun laws, so why all the deaths? That’s a good question.

A recent senseless shooting, as if they all are not, points to the ease with which guns fall into the hands of those who intend harm. A young Chicago area teen who had participated in a campaign to end the violence, was shot in the back by a stray bullet in his neighborhood. The bullet was apparently intended for someone else who could have also been killed or injured. This young boy will never be the same. Nor will his family and friends. He was trying to stop the very thing that happened to him from happening. From the article with a quote from the shot boy- Zarriel Trotter:

In a 2015 public service announcement, Trotter spoke out against gun violence.

“I don’t want to live in my community where I have to keep on hearing of people getting shot and people getting killed,” Trotter said in the video.

Good grief.

Why are so many bullets flying in some of our communities? Where are the guns and bullets coming from?

For one thing, all guns start out as legal purchases. Guns go from manufacturers to licensed gun dealers where they are sold with background checks. Private sellers get their gun collections (hopefully) by undergoing background checks at a federally licensed firearms dealer and then often sell them to people who are not required to undergo a background check in most states. It’s easy. Just like that a transaction is made with no background check and the seller has no idea to whom he/she is selling a deadly weapon.

For some reason, the gun rights extremists love to claim that this does not happen. But in most states, in fact, it does. In Illinois, since I brought it up earlier, all gun sales require background checks or verification of a Firearms Owner Identification card at gun shows-even private sellers. So then, where are the guns coming from that are used in the many shootings in Chicago neighborhoods? Presumably the shooters and those committing crimes are not law abiding gun owners?

Gun trafficking from states with looser gun laws, is, of course, the undeniable answer to the question. This great article from The Trace shows the map of recovered crime guns and from where they enter the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois. A small number even come from my state of Minnesota. Apart from private no background check sales, straw purchasing and allowing illegal sales also provides guns to our streets. So “bad apple” gun shops like Chuck’s Gun Shop and Pistol Range in Riverdale outside of Chicago provide many of the crime guns used to kill innocent people inside the city of Chicago. A small number of gun shops like Chuck’s in states all over our country, knowingly allow straw purchasing or other bad practices that provide guns to those who shouldn’t have them. From the article:

The suit claims that the stores are not forced to be vigilant about sales to minors and to straw purchasers—those who buy guns for others who aren’t allowed to. The stores are immune from lawsuits for the results of their gun sales thanks to a law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, pushed through Congress in October 2005 at the behest of the gun industry. So the plaintiffs are going after the cities where the stores are located to force them to institute common sense rules to prevent improper gun sales. In Illinois, municipal governments, not the state, are responsible for making such laws.

But something can be done about this. So why not? If the gun lobby is correct that criminals can always get guns, why would they object to common sense measures to make sure they don’t get them?  Here are the measures demanded in the above mentioned law suit against the bad apple gun dealers:

The suit suggests several changes in the cities’ gun ordinances. As outlined by the Tribune, they are:

–Mandating background checks for all gun store employees;

–Deterring theft through adequate surveillance and exterior lighting;

–Training managers and employees to identify signs of straw purchasing;

–Requiring dealers to maintain an alphabetical log of all gun sales where the gun was later recovered at a crime;

–Requiring mandatory inspections of a store’s inventory to help detect theft and trafficking of guns, and;

–Requiring video cameras to record the point of sale to discourage buyers who may use false identification.

But in a depressing admission to reality, here is a quote from the article: “The suit will be a tough one to win, according to George Mocsary, a law professor at Southern Illinois University who specializes in firearms law. He told the Tribune that for a civil rights claim to work, there generally has to be an intent to harm a particular individual or community, such as African-Americans.  “I suspect that it will be dismissed,” he said.”

Sigh.

Further, the gun lobby has made sure that the ATF- the agency responsible for monitoring and regulating licensed dealers, is vastly understaffed and underfunded. Why? Good question for which I don’t have an answer. From the article:

“If you want an agency to be small and ineffective at what it does, the ATF is really the model,” says Robert J. Spitzer, author of The Politics of Gun Control. Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York College at Cortland, says the ATF’s critics, in particular the National Rifle Association (NRA), have been “extremely successful at demonizing, belittling and hemming in the ATF as a government regulatory agency.” The result, he says, is an agency with insufficient staff and resources, whose agents are “hamstrung” by laws and rules that make it difficult or impossible to fulfill their mission.

So we have an agency that could make this better but thanks to the ever deceptive gun lobby, they are “hamstrung” in their job. Lives are being lost every day thanks in part to these ludicrous efforts to actually stop us from preventing gun deaths and injuries.

The sad reality is that young people in communities of color in large urban cities are affected by gun violence in greater numbers than their counterparts. This is not OK. We know that gun violence can strike anyone of any race, age, or socioeconomic level. Domestic violence, suicides and homicides occur everywhere. But we also know that we must address the availability of guns in affected communities if we are to be serious about saving at least some lives. In my state of Minnesota, young children of color have been killed by stray bullets flying around in their neighborhoods, leaving families to mourn the lost potential of their children.

One June night of 2012, Terrell Mayes, Jr., 3 years old, of Minneapolis, was hit by a bullet that came through the siding of his home. He died. From the article:

“You keep ’em in, you keep ’em in, but yet and still that bullet, that devil, came right through the wall and took my baby,” said Marsha Mayes,…..”

Babies dying from bullets…..

This article suggests that gunfire is common in the neighborhood where 3 year old Terrell was shot and killed. Are we at war? Gunshots should not be common in any of our communities. Is there any explanation at all for how an 11 year old girl can be shot and killed by a stray bullet while she is sitting in her home doing her homework as happened to Tyesha Edwards of St. Paul in 2002?

There is no explanation for this kind of senseless violence. Even passing stronger gun laws will not change some of this. We don’t have throw- away lives. Our children are our future. We must protect them from violent and avoidable deaths.

A gun culture that has been formed over many years’ time and with the help of a corporate gun lobby that wields too much money and influence will be difficult to change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It’s past time for far too many. But lives can be saved with common sense and resolve. No one should be afraid to challenge the false notions that we shouldn’t do anything about our national public health epidemic because it won’t work. If that were the case, we wouldn’t try to solve any of our public health and safety problems. Life would be a free for all with no laws or rules for anything. People would be dying from all kinds of preventable diseases and accidents. That is not who we are as Americans.

It’s a ridiculous deception that nothing can change because of the second amendment. The second amendment to our Constitution was written before 90 Americans a day died from gunshot injuries due to homicides, suicides and “accidental” discharges or shootings. It was written before the common sale of semi-automatic assault type guns to average citizens. It was written before there were 300 million plus guns in the hands of Americans. It was written before regular mass shootings in our schools and public places. It was written before some of our leaders decided it was a good idea for just anyone to be able to buy guns without making sure they are people who should be prohibited from having a gun. It was written before the “wisdom” of the corporate gun lobby pushed our state legislators to pass laws to allow people to carry loaded guns around into every nook and cranny of our communities. You get the picture.

We’ve had #Enough of this. Communities and organizations working together can change the conversation and change the culture about guns and gun violence. As long as guns and bullets are so available and seen as “necessary” in some communities, our children will be at risk. Perhaps when children and teens see adults getting serious about addressing the violence epidemic, they will model what they see. For
every gun in the hands of a child or teen must first come through the hands of an adult.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Stand up and demand change.
  • Join an organization working for change.
  • Talk about the risk of guns in the home.
  • ASK if there are guns where your children or teens hang out.
  • Store your guns safely away from children and teens and to keep them from being stolen.
  • Talk to your friends during difficult domestic issues to make sure guns are not readily available.
  • Tell your legislators and Congress members that you expect them to support legislation to require background checks on all gun sales.
  • Support other legislation to make sure guns are not easily accessible to domestic abusers, felons, those adjudicated mentally ill, gang members, and others who should not have guns.

Together we can do this.

UPDATE:

Of course, it was a holiday week-end but one wouldn’t anticipate that 5 people were shot in Minneapolis over the holiday. It’s true. And some truly stunning facts:

The shooting comes as gun-related violence has risen in Minneapolis — much like in other Midwestern cities, such as Cleveland and Chicago.

Fifty-four people have been shot in Minneapolis through March 21, the last day for which police data were available, an 86 percent increase over the same period last year. In north Minneapolis alone, 43 people were injured in shootings, compared with 15 last year, police records show.

Meanwhile, the city is also coping with a rise in violent crime, which has jumped 5.3 percent compared to this time last year. In downtown, serious crimes like aggravated assaults and rapes have increased 21 percent, while the Second and Third police precincts have seen a sharp rise in the number of robberies, records show.

Bullets flew in Minneapolis last week-end. One dead and 4 injured. It’s time for that to stop.

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