CVIndependent

Fri12062019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The whole business began with a backyard barbecue.

Tim Terral, a 50-year-old cable-company worker and recently elected city councilman in Needles, on the rural eastern edge of California, planned a cookout for some buddies who live just over the state line in Arizona.

Nobody wanted to come. Under California law, they couldn’t bring their loaded firearms across the state line, so they all decided to stay home.

“They’re ex-military,” Terral explained. “I guess those guns are like security blankets.”

But for Terral, the incident was more ammunition for simmering resentment among many of the 5,000 residents of the San Bernardino County town that’s 550 miles and an entire political culture away from the state capital in Sacramento.

Like many inland Californians, Needles residents say they’re held hostage by state legislators who are too liberal and want too much control over their lives. They gripe about strict gun laws that, they say, trample their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

So Terral fought back. He spearheaded a resolution, passed in July by the council, that declared Needles a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” a place where both California gun owners and those visiting from out of state can expect lenient enforcement on Golden State’s rules governing, for example, ammunition and concealed-carry permits.

Terral even chose wording to take a swipe at Democratic legislators in Sacramento, and in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, who have declared “sanctuary” policies limiting the involvement of state and local law enforcement in the pursuit of undocumented immigrants targeted by the Trump administration.

“With the gun resolution, I purposely chose the word ‘sanctuary’ to take a stab at all the liberals,” said Terral. “It was a little jab in the eyes.”

Needles residents insist they don’t want a Wild West city where gunslingers rule. But they do want to make it easier for interstate travelers who pull off U.S. Interstate 40 for food and fuel to avoid a felony arrest if a traffic stop produces a loaded but legally registered gun from outside of California. They also want Sacramento to amend a recently enacted proposition that bans gun owners from bringing ammunition from other states, effectively requiring the state’s gun owners to buy their ammunition in California.

Needles Mayor Jeff Williams, a former San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy, grumbles: “I have to drive 140 miles to Barstow to buy ammunition when right across the border in Arizona, there are a dozen gun stores.”

Williams, who carries a Glock 45 9mm pistol, which he says “will throw a big brick at somebody,” is soliciting support from various state border towns—including Yreka, Truckee, Blythe and Eureka—to support interstate reciprocity with legal gun owners who possess concealed-weapons permits outside of California.

“When Sacramento passes a new law, they look to San Francisco and Los Angeles. They don’t come looking to small towns like us, and it’s time we made our opinions known,” said Williams. ‘We realize changing state law is pretty far-fetched, but you’ve got to start somewhere. You’ve got to stand on principle.”

Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, a Republican representing the largely rural 33rd District that includes Needles, supports the town’s gun-sanctuary declaration. He plans to introduce a bill in December to give more local control to rural gun owners and allow for interstate reciprocity with firearms laws.

Teresa Trujillo, Obernolte’s chief of staff, said her boss supports more local control for the state’s rural residents—even though Republicans are a decided minority in the Capitol, and chances are low that gun-rights proponents will get a carve-out.

“These people have a different culture than what’s in Sacramento,” she said. “They should be able to govern themselves with certain things and make decisions that are best for their community.”

Jim Stanley, a spokesman for Assembly Republicans, agreed that rural residents feel left out of California politics.

“There’s a sense that the bigger cities kind of run things around Sacramento,” he said. “When people feel like they’re not being heard, it’s natural to respond. It’s all about feeling you have a voice in the room.”

And when it comes to hearing voices around Needles, people feel that adjacent states such as Nevada and Arizona better speak their language than Sacramento.

“We’re like an island here in Needles, completely separate from California. The closest city in the state is Blythe, and that’s 100 miles to the south, along a two-lane road,” said Terral. “We feel more of a kinship to Arizona and Nevada. I can walk to Arizona in two minutes. I can see it from my front yard. I can’t see Sacramento.”

California’s state capital lies as far away from politically conservative Needles as Atlanta is from Washington. Nobody can remember the last time a Democrat was elected to any office here in a town that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 by a decided margin.

Two years ago, when many California coastal areas passed their local sanctuary policies on immigration enforcement, Needles took its own stand, declaring that the town was decidedly not a haven for anyone who crosses the U.S. border illegally. At Needles City Hall, pictures show City Council members posed in front of American flags, a nod to the pervading nationalism here. Needles residents like their wide-open spaces. And they like their guns.

At the Wagon Wheel restaurant, which sits across the road from the Giggling Cactus diner along I-40, men in cowboy hats dig into hearty cholesterol-laden breakfasts without asking about gluten content.

Waitress Robbie Tieman, a 15-year food-serving veteran here, is a gun owner who lives in Arizona. She probably wouldn’t bring her gun to work. Still, she doesn’t like anyone saying she can’t do it.

“People should be able to carry their guns wherever they go,” she said, refilling a visitor’s cup with coffee. “I know bad people carry guns, but I think they’d be less likely to rob a liquor store if they knew people inside were packing their own firearms.”

At 55, Mayor Williams is a slender man who dresses in a form-fitting suits. He’s a grandfather of 13 who wants Needles to stick around so his grandkids can enjoy it.

Needles remains a rail town through which 80 freight trains pass each day; it has also become a base for the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry. But Williams has seen his community lose half its population since the 1960s.

To survive, he said, the place needs all the help it can get, and restrictive gun laws are driving visitors—and their money—away from town. “They’re threatening the lifestyle we’ve built here,” he said.

For his part, Terral just wants California to take its mitts off his gun, and his rights.

“They don’t let you live your life,” he said. “Legislators want their finger in every aspect. Given the chance, they’d probably have our paychecks sent directly to Sacramento, and they’d give us back what they thought we needed.”

That pet peeve hit home recently, he said, when he attended a conference in a small beach community south of Los Angeles.

“I walked down the sidewalk and I saw all the signs. You’d couldn’t smoke, ride a skateboard or roller skate. It was all no, no, no,” he said.

He was glad to get back to Needles, “where I wasn’t watching where I walked in case I broke some law I didn’t know anything about.”

CALMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

California already has 109 laws on the books that regulate the use of firearms—more gun-control rules than any other state.

More, it seems, are on the way.

On Feb. 4, a Democratic contingent of lawmakers announced plans to send a raft of new gun-related bills to the governor before the end of the legislative session. The 16 lawmakers were joined by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a gun-control advocate and mass-shooting survivor, along with representatives of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

With Democrats now wielding unprecedented political power in Sacramento, including the recent election of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who embraces his role as public enemy of the National Rifle Association, the time seems ripe for a new legislative push.

“We have expanded Democratic majorities in both houses; we have a bright and ambitious new governor with a real track record on this issue,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel of Encino, who helped form the “gun violence working group” with Berkeley Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks. “We have a special opportunity here in California to draft some forward-thinking, meaningful, evidence-based legislation that is going to help end mass shootings and end gun violence.”

Among the legislative proposals introduced:

AB 165, by Gabriel, which would call for standards to be developed to teach police officers how to temporarily remove guns from people a court has decided pose a threat to themselves or others. That may include those charged with domestic violence. After a man shot and killed 12 people at a Thousand Oaks bar last November, it was reported that police had paid a home visit to the shooter prior to the incident, but decided not to seek a “gun violence restraining order” against him.

• A proposal by Wicks (yet to be formally introduced) to boost funding to the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program, which funds local programs that strive to reduce gun violence.

• A proposal by Assemblyman Mike Gipson from Carson (yet to be formally introduced) that would regulate certain metal components that can be assembled into firearms. A similar bill of his was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

“America’s love affair with firearms has got to end,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson from Santa Barbara. “I am hopeful that we are going to take our country back.”

But as lawmakers ramp up gun control legislation in California, the judicial winds seem to be blowing against them.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to a New York City law that strictly limits where gun owners can carry their firearms. That decision was widely taken as a sign that the current court may take a more expansive view of the Second Amendment—perhaps at the expense of California’s strict gun control laws.

“We, as a state, have the right to protect our citizens, to protect our kids and to protect our schools and so we think we can accomplish both of those things while being consistent with the second amendment and also doing big things to prevent gun violence,” said Gabriel.

To learn more about gun policy in California, explore CALmatters' in-depth explainer.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

These days, it’s impossible for an American citizen fortunate enough to have been born with a functioning mind not to worry about guns and the men who love them—and the innocent victims some of those gun-lovers kill. 

National Rifle Association spokesman Wayne LaPierre, who tends to blame school shootings on rap music, has accused the government, aided by the press, of attempting to discredit firearms enthusiasts by issuing propaganda worthy of the Nazis. Then there’s Alex Jones, the conspiracy-theorist host of Infowars, ranting to his radio followers that the Sandy Hook school shooting of 26 people, 20 of them first-graders, was “a giant hoax. … The whole thing was fake.” Jones is now being sued by some of the bereaved families for claiming that the massacre was staged, using actors hired by the government—all part of a plot to set the stage for seizing our guns.

LaPierre strikes me a brazen profiteer—he made more than $5 million in compensation from the NRA in 2015—and Jones is either deranged or evil, or both. Because of such men, too many of us who long for rational gun laws have given up hope, concluding that the legions of gullible citizens influenced by people like LaPierre and Jones carry so much political weight that meaningful legislation has become impossible.

I thought that, too, until a man I’d done a professional favor for invited me to hunt turkeys on a ranch in west Texas.

There were six of us in the hunting party, and on our first morning, we were up well before first light. We ate steak-and-egg breakfasts, and set out, two to a pickup truck, to hunt. My partner was Robert, the man who had invited me. As we bounced along a dirt road bordering the Concho River, he told me the particulars of his brand new full-choke, 12-gauge Remington and the super-magnum shells it fired. Then he asked about my gun, and complimented my sense of family loyalty for choosing to use my grandfather’s 12-gauge Ithaca side-by-side.

“Isn’t this it?” Robert said. 

“What?” I asked.

“Turkey hunting! Guns! The most damn fun it’s possible for a human being to have!”

That morning, we did have fun. I bagged a gobbler. Robert called it in, and at a range of 30 yards, the kill was clean. Two or three miles away and another hour later, Robert called in a pair of gobblers and killed the larger one, a bird well more than 20 pounds and sporting a 10-inch beard.

We were the first pickup back to the ranch house. The second vehicle arrived a half-hour later; one of the hunters had killed a gobbler, while the other had missed a difficult shot. The third truck soon came in; nobody in it had seen or heard a turkey.

In mid-morning, after the three bagged birds had been dressed and plucked, two six-packs of beer came out of the ranch house, along with six .22 rifles. For three hours, behind a large barn, we shot at paper targets fastened to bales of straw.

After lunch, we drove in two trucks to the river, with five revolvers and plenty of ammunition. We parked on a streamside meadow where the Concho ran deep and slow, and the afternoon routine was simple: One man at a time was stationed upstream to throw sticks of driftwood into the water while the rest sat in the shade of cottonwoods, blazing away at the sticks as they floated by, cheering hits and scoffing at misses. From a distance, it must have sounded like a war zone.

I spent three days and nights at the ranch and talked at length with my companions about ethical hunting, politics, spectator sports, law, medicine and, of course, guns. We spent many hours shooting at paper targets, drift wood and empty cans, using up at least as much ammunition as all the Clint Eastwood movies ever made. Yet none of these gun-lovers had a single positive word to say about either the NRA or self-serving demagogues like LaPierre and Jones. They were intelligent, articulate and not afraid of stating their views—and there have to be tens of thousands of people like them in the West.

A week later, a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, ended with eight students and two teachers dead. Unlike the aftermath of the horrific shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, public outrage seemed almost muted. Then on May 25, it happened again, this time in Indiana: A middle-school student shot two people, including the teacher who bravely tackled him before he could shoot more.

Please, fellow hunters: Summon the courage to speak up. Make yourselves known. If enough of you do, common sense might just stand a chance.

Michael Baughman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He writes in Oregon.

Published in Community Voices

As the West’s elected officials wrestle with how to protect us from gun violence in the aftermath of the Las Vegas nightmare and the Texas church shooting, a truth comes to mind: These leaders are not actually wrestling with the issue of how to protect us from gun violence. If they were, the solution would be as clear as a mountain stream: Treat people more like fish.

Here in the West, fish get far more protection than people. If you’re an adult, you need a license to fish. In Colorado and other states, that license limits you to two fishing rods at a time. Keeping fish is often forbidden, and barbless hooks are often required to boost the odds that your catch-and-release gem lives to see another day.

Live bait is frequently illegal, and hook size and the fishing season itself are often limited. There are restrictions on the size of kept fish and “bag limits” on how many a caster can keep. All of these rules are in place for one true-West reason: “Fish deserve a fighting chance.”

The safeguards don’t stop there. Heard of the zebra mussel? Our states spend a fortune to fight the threat a tiny invasive mollusk presents to the safety of our finned friends. In California, you can’t possess a gaffe, a spear or even a long-handled net within 100 yards of a body of water

To prove they’re serious about enforcing piscine protections, hard-working government employees walk shores to make sure you and I are giving brookies and bluegills their fair shot. Good things, these measures. They’re very reasonable and welcomed by sportsmen and women across the West. Even our political leaders praise these common-sense policies that “protect a valuable resource” and wisely maintain a treasured part of life.

Better still, any U.S. senators who give a crap about crappies are unlikely to face a political backlash or high-dollar effort to drive them from office. No politicians have lost their seats for being pro-Power Bait or anti-nightcrawler. We don’t rant on Twitter about jackboots and slippery slopes caused by fishing licenses. No well-funded politically charged campaign declares: “Spinning Rods Don’t Kill Fish. People Do.”

More astounding: Westerners don’t fear these restrictions, even when their right to bear fishing poles isn’t secured for eternity in the Constitution. But when it comes to the right to bear arms, the reasonable limitations of fishing are swept downstream with sanity. Uncle Sam doesn't require a license to buy a deadly weapon. At some gun stores, he’s fine with you buying a 500-rounds-a-minute semi-automatic weapon.

In the West, you can possess a militia-sized arsenal well within 100 yards of a body of people, along with the deadliest ammunition, in any size and amount. Many politicians refuse to limit this dangerous status quo “in any fashion” … while holding anglers to just two rods and artificial bait.

Meanwhile, it’s open season on humans, and there’s no effort to reduce the bag limit or limit places where our loved ones get taken out. We stop large-caliper hooks, but do nothing about large-caliber weapons. Schools of fish get hearty government backup. Schools of children and teachers do not.

Come on, folks: Let’s act rationally and fix this. Please, no more talk of prying guns out of people’s “cold, dead hands.” There were 58 pairs of those hands in Las Vegas. They belonged to brave cops, EMTs, security guards and everyday heroes who risked their lives to help bleeding strangers. They belonged to fathers, mothers, siblings, sons, daughters and friends who paid the worst price for simply going out to have a good time.

Those people; their families; the 500-plus others who were injured; and the thousands of others who escaped physical injury but live with terrible memories of the trauma deserved way more protection than we provided. In a real game of war, on people, the odds were stacked against them.

Isn’t a human life as valuable as that of a trout?

Marty Jones is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He writes in Denver.

Published in Community Voices

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Published in Comics

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Published in Comics

Gun safety is, and has always been, an LGBT-rights issue.

Granted, some of the most prominent cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes have not involved guns; the deaths of Matthew Shepard and Sakia Gunn were not due to firearms. Even so, the LGBT community is plagued by gun violence.

On May 13, 1988, Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner were shot while hiking the Appalachian Trail, because their murderer was enraged by their lesbianism. Wight died from her wounds.

On Oct. 15, 1999, Sissy “Charles” Boden was shot dead in Savannah, Ga., for being gay.

On July 23, 2003, Nireah Johnson and Brandie Coleman were shot to death in Indianapolis after their assailant learned Nireah was transgender.

On Feb. 12, 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King was shot twice by a classmate in Oxnard because of his sexual orientation. He later died.

Gun safety has always been an issue with the LGBT community. According to FBI data, nearly 21 percent of all hate crimes reported in the U.S. have been due to the victims’ real or perceived sexual orientation. However, our major LGBT organizations historically have not taken a significant stand on the controversial issue of gun violence.

But on June 12, 2016, 49 individuals died because of their sexual orientation, or because of their support of the LGBT community, at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. This was a pivotal moment: A community has had enough—a community that is well-organized due to decades of fighting for civil and human rights. Our right to live without fear of dying at the hands of gun violence is now being fully embraced and is considered of paramount importance. Make no mistake: These are not special rights. These are not gay rights. These are human rights—and now this is our fight.

On Saturday, June 18, Equality California (EQCA) launched its new #SafeAndEqual campaign, not only to raise awareness that gun violence is an LGBT issue, but to declare that gun safety is an LGBT right and now a major policy priority. EQCA has signed on to numerous statewide bills and is proud to join other organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign, on federal efforts that will prohibit military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines; close gun-show and Internet-sales loopholes on background checks; and strengthen background checks and waiting periods to keep guns out of dangerous hands. EQCA will bring the full force of our lobbying efforts to pass them.

This is deeply personal. Pulse nightclub could easily have been Hunters or Chill Bar on Arenas, or Micky’s in West Hollywood. Those 49 people are sons and daughters, siblings, parents and young people with what should have been very bright futures. Most of them were LGBT people. They could have been me and you and 47 people we know here in the Coachella Valley. It’s difficult to remember in such an affirming community as Palm Springs, but the more visible we are as an LGBT community, the more vulnerable to violence and hatred we become.

As EQCA’s executive director, Rick Zbur, said: “Ending gun violence is also an LGBT issue, because LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. Transgender women face epidemic rates of murder and violent crime. Hate crimes are on the rise throughout the United States, and members of communities of color suffer the highest rates of gun violence. In the weeks and months ahead, Equality California will relentlessly work in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento, and mobilize our 800,000 members and the LGBT community to support legislation to keep our community—and everyone—safe.”

We all cope with tragedies differently. After the Orlando shooting, some of us attended vigils that doubled as rallies. Many of us were angry or sad. Many of us cried … a lot. I am a person of faith, and I’ve prayed for those who have passed and hold them in my thoughts every day. However, my tears and prayers alone will not change the culture in which we live. They will not bring 49 dear souls back to us. They will not remove killing machines from the hands of dangerous people.

However, 800,000 Californians, organized in lockstep with millions of others across this country pushing for real reform, will make a difference. It will require all of us to do our part and work together, but we can and will become #SafeAndEqual. I encourage you to start by adding your name at eqca.org/safe.

Darrell L. Tucci is a Palm Springs resident and a board member of Equality California.

Published in Community Voices

I grew up with guns. I never had one as a toy—I did not have the BB or pellet guns that the other boys got for Christmas or birthdays. I had deadly, violent and powerful guns, for hunting. We were taught that there’s no such thing as an empty gun, and that you never, ever point a gun at anything you don’t intend to kill.

My first rifle was a 20-gauge shotgun, single-shot, break-open, and its barrel was a cold swirl of metal. I carried it proudly through the deep sagebrush of the Wyoming prairie, following my stepfather and his black Lab, hunting grouse; or through the willows of the river bottoms, hunting ducks. We hunted to eat, and sometimes at dinner, you’d bite on a chunk of birdshot still lodged in the breast of some fowl.

My stepfather had seen plenty of violence in Vietnam, and he loved guns. To him, a well-crafted gun, which he defined as one that could fire repeatedly without jamming, was maybe the most beautiful thing in the world. He had a collection of guns, including an old-fashioned muzzle-loader.

Once a year, he would grow a beard and dress in buckskin as a mountain man for a local pageant, where he would enter the shooting contest. He once brought home a card he had shot in half—the ace of spades. I envied his skill and his confidence with these machines, with their dark oil and smoke.

In my family, everyone got a hunting license, and everybody hunted big game. It was the best way to keep the deepfreeze stocked over the winter. Elk, deer, antelope—whatever you could get, and as much as you could get.

When I was 14, my grandfather, a banjo-playing hunter, trapper and outfitter, among many other things, gave me one of his old rifles. It was a .264 Winchester Magnum with a long barrel and a polished scope. It had been my uncle’s, and its stock carried a crosshatch pattern he’d carved himself. I was small for my age and struggled to haul the rifle through the cold woods of autumn when hunting season came.

One day, it was my turn to sit in the aspens and wait. Somewhere down the mountain, my mother and stepfather walked through the timber, driving the deer. I sat on a cold, shaded hillside, trying not to fidget, knowing my foot was falling asleep. Then a branch snapped—and a buck deer appeared, maybe 50 yards below me, breathing heavy from running uphill, but slowing to a trot, then a walk.

I set my rifle across a fallen tree and peered through the scope. The buck was beautiful, his silver coat shimmering with each breath, ears cocked, black eyes dark, like obsidian. I placed the dot of the scope on his neck. Inhaled. Exhaled. Squeezed the trigger.

Killed instantly, he dropped to the ground, and my heart heaved. There was a certain thrill with having made the shot, and a sudden dread of what that implied, of what I’d so easily taken.

I’ve been thinking about that deer these past days. I think of the weight I felt in killing it, of the debt it left me with. That old rifle is in my closet, thrumming with power, as I write this.

I know we as a nation must do more to control the violence guns bring into the world. I know, too, that many people like me think that gun ownership is a part of our American tradition, especially here in the West. That may be true, but guns have also become part of something terrible that happens again and again in a cycle of senseless murder. I am beginning to think that as a society, we are not responsible enough to be trusted with them. Their power has come to outstrip our collective moral capabilities. Something has to change.

Of course, some families like mine prided themselves on using guns responsibly. But there’s no guarantee. Not even my grandfather, who lived with guns his whole life, was in full control over his weapons. On a day in November, a few years ago, newly divorced and hurting, my grandfather sat on the porch with his favorite pistol. Then he shot and killed himself. Another life, so easily taken.

Brian Calvert is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News.

Published in Community Voices

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Published in Comics

I remember my friend Jean every time I hear about the suicide death of a young person.

Jean found her 17-year-old son, shot dead by his own hand, in their living room. Although I have known others who lost a child (a reality I can thankfully only imagine), it’s Jean who stands out. The impact on her family was devastating.

That was the first suicide involving somebody close to me; sad to say, I’ve had others in my life. It was also the first time I heard the adage: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries in ERs across the country. HealthyChildren.org says that suicide is one of the three leading causes of death for 13-to-19-year-olds in the United States, with an average of four deaths every day.

Not surprisingly, suicide attempts with a firearm are usually deadly, while people who use drugs or other methods have a greater chance for survival. About 45 percent of young people use firearms to attempt suicide, and boys are more at risk to die: 81 percent of deaths are males—because they are more likely to use firearms.

“Even in the best of circumstances, when you’re in adolescence, you feel different,” says Palm Desert resident Carol Bayer, a licensed marriage and family therapist who counsels many teenagers. “Depression and despair can come from betrayal or rejection by a best friend, the end of a love affair, family conflicts, or just feeling isolated, alone, and without family support or coping skills. Even if they want to reach out, they assume others will say they’re just being ‘dramatic’ and tell them to get over it. But they don’t believe they have options other than ending the pain.”

A recent effort, specifically targeted toward LGBT teenagers, is the” It Gets Better” campaign, which uses videos—featuring people ranging from normal, everyday folks to high-profile stars—to reach out to bullied young people.

“Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are,” says the website. Organizers ask people to join their campaign and to pledge: “I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better.”

Meanwhile, Caitlyn Jenner is shining light on transgender suicide in her new reality TV program.

But it’s not enough to just tell kids it gets better. An analysis by Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center indicates that for every age group across the country, “states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide. … The vast majority of adolescent suicide guns come from parents or other family members.”

A 2012 study by the Children's Defense Fund indicates the gun death rate for children and teens is four times greater in the United States than in Canada (the country with the next-highest rate), and 65 times greater than in Germany and Britain. Even more disturbing, public health researchers found that 43 percent of homes with guns and children have at least one unlocked firearm.

The Children’s Defense Fund also reports that in 2008-2009, an estimated U.S. 127 children died from gunshots in their homes, and dozens more died in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives. More than half pulled the trigger themselves or were shot by another child. At least 52 deaths involved a child handling a gun left unsecured; 60 children died at the hands of their own parents, with 50 of them in homicides. The average age of the victims was 6 years old.

Research by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that when doctors consult with patients about the risk of keeping firearms in a home, it leads to significantly higher rates of handgun removal or safer storage. Yet the National Rifle Association has fought against such policies, backing the "Docs vs. Glocks" law passed in Florida in 2011, which prohibited doctors, even pediatricians, from asking patients about firearms in the home.

When a 2-year-old gets access to his dad’s loaded gun and shoots himself, or a 13-year-old gets hold of an unsecured rifle and blasts a 9-year-old in the face, or a 2-year-old is shot in the head before her father turns the gun on himself, or two young children shoot others and then kill themselves—when we have apparently become inured to the death of children at school, or we take as the new normal random killings in movie theaters, have we at last lost our ability to be outraged and insist that public policy respond to limit these horrendous events?

Even as violent crime rates overall have declined steadily in recent years, rates of gun injury and death are climbing. In an editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine, a team of doctors wrote: "It does not matter whether we believe that guns kill people or that people kill people with guns—the result is the same: a public health crisis.”

Meanwhile, Congress, under the aggressive and well-funded lobbying influence of the NRA, refuses to allow funding for federal medical research to study firearm deaths and injuries as the public health issues they clearly are. According to Mother Jones, “Political forces effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control and other scientific agencies from funding research on gun-related injury and death. The ban worked: (There have been) no relevant studies published since 2005.”

There are two types of gun-related public health costs. First, there are direct costs, exceeding $8.6 billion, with the largest portion being long-term prison costs; about 87 percent of these costs fall on taxpayers. Second, there are indirect costs, adding up to at least $221 billion, including lost income, losses to employers, and losses based on court costs and awards to victims and their families. One would think that based on cost alone, Congress would be willing to act. Of course, that’s not the case.

As overwhelming as all these statistics may be, and as helpless as we may feel to impact public policy, there are ways to get involved and make a difference:

  • Moms Demand Action has a local chapter and needs volunteers who are willing to spread the message that we must act to protect kids from accidental or deliberate use of guns. Palm Desert’s Dori Smith (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), the local representative, reminds us: “It’s easier to lock up a gun than it is to grieve a dead child.”
  • California law requires that guns in homes with children be kept locked away, preferably with trigger guards, with ammunition stored separately.
  • Never assume that children don’t know where guns are, or that they are unable to access them—they do, and they will. Grandparents, this means you, too.
  • Ask parents of your children’s friends about the status of firearms in their homes before your child spends time there. Better safe than sorry.
  • If your teen becomes depressed, and you have any concern about access to firearms, get guns out of your house for the time being.
  • Take seriously any thoughts of or mention of suicide, and immediately seek professional help. Go to the emergency room if no other option exists.
  • The local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors an annual Out of the Darkness Walk, a chance to be with others who can share their experiences and coping skills. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • Tell your elected representatives that you want medical professionals to be allowed to study and then implement firearm-related public health policies.

Most survivors of a suicide attempt are glad they were saved. Unfortunately, those who make that attempt with a firearm are usually successful. I can never erase from my mind the agony of my friend Jean when she found her son’s body. No parent should ever have to face that.

We must never accept this as the new normal. These are our children.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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