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Posts Tagged ‘guns’

A few thoughts on the Oscar Pistorius trial

In behavior, Crime, journalism, news, urban life, world on April 12, 2014 at 12:44 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you been following this story?

images-1

My Twitter feed includes the BBC reporter sitting in the courtroom, so I’ve read a lot of detail, some of it horrific, and reading about it in The New York Times.

The South African runner Oscar Pistorius stands accused of murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, shooting her through his bathroom door when he mistook her for an intruder.

As someone who spent only one day — an unforgettably frightening one — covering two criminal trials in an Ontario courtroom decades ago, the coverage is making me crazy, because:

We don’t know if he is guilty. Endless speculation by journalists, almost all of which assumes Pistorius is guilty, appalls me.

The prosecutor, and Pistorius’ defense attorney, are not there to offer the truth. Their job is to present the most polished and impregnable version of whatever facts they have been able to assemble.

Mocking a defendant is cheap and nasty. Even the judge — as there is no jury system in South Africa — felt compelled to point this out to “Pit Bull” state prosecutor Gerrie Nel:

At one point during his testimony, Mr. Nel snickered. That prompted a rare interjection from Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa, who seemed to be addressing the prosecutor and the gallery but whose comments could be heard far and wide, as the trial has become a global spectacle.

“You possibly think this is entertainment,” the judge said. “It is not.”

The trial is grisly and terrifying in its detail. I feel for the reporters who must listen to it and look at photos.

Why is it so impossible to imagine Pistorius’ very real terror if he thought an intruder had entered his home?

How would any of us feel or react if we awakened fearing an intruder — and we did not have quick, easy movement without prosthetics?

People who have never fired a handgun (as I have), have no idea — none — what that feels, smells and sounds like. To do so, as he did, half-asleep, in a small and enclosed space, would have been extremely loud and disorienting.

There is tremendous dislike and contempt for gun-owners by those who do not own a firearm — which includes most mainstream journalists covering this story. I know this, having spent two years researching gun use in the United States, interviewing 104 men, women and teens for my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.”

Like this New Yorker story.

I don’t own a gun but I get why some people make that choice. No matter how repugnant to others, their firearms are as normal and unremarkable a part of their life as a frying pan or car.

Prosecutor Nel demanded to know why Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp had never emailed or texted the words “I love you” to one another. Really? Relevance? Not everyone is verbally effusive with their affection.

One piece that does confuse me — why Steenkamp would have locked the bathroom door in her lover’s home.

Have you also followed this trial?

What do you think of it all?

Do you live in, or know what life is like in, South Africa? I’d love to hear from you especially.

Talking tomorrow on “BBC World Have Your Say” About Newtown

In behavior, blogging, books, cities, Crime, culture, journalism, Media, news, politics, television, US on December 20, 2012 at 8:36 pm
Official seal of Newtown, Connecticut

Official seal of Newtown, Connecticut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have any interest in this subject, I’m speaking at 15:00 GMT (10:00 a.m. ET) on BBC television tomorrow, Friday Dec. 21, about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and the reaction to them.

The call-in show is an hour, and will have five guests, three of them from the U.S., me and two men, one a colleague who has lived in Newtown for 19 years and a gun-owner from Arkansas.

In the past few days, I’ve done a BBC interview, written an op-ed for a Canadian newspaper and given an interview that ran in two German newspapers, Berliner Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau; here is the brief interview that ran in Frankfurter Rundschau.

The world is horrified by the massacre and many people — like many Americans — simply cannot understand why so many Americans insist on owning a gun.

As many of you know by now, the President has tasked Vice President Joe Biden with a committee who must come up with policy suggestions within one month — the same idea I floated in my New York Times op-ed two days earlier.

My book “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” discusses this issue; here’s a link to it.

Here’s the link to the show’s information.

A few thoughts on Newtown

In behavior, blogging, books, Crime, culture, journalism, Media, news, politics, women on December 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm
English: Photo of Harvard University professor...

English: Photo of Harvard University professor David Hemenway, PhD (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been a busy few days!

I did an interview with BBC’s Newsday, one with a German freelancer, and wrote two op-eds on this story, both requested.

For anyone who wonders how I get to speak out publicly like this, it’s a matter of relationships. All four opportunities came to me through long-held relationships with editors or these institutions.

I also, which I really value, am essentially asked to explain this specific example of American exceptionalism to other nations who find Americans’ attachment to gun ownership truly bizarre. If you have never visited the National Rifle Association’s website, you must do so, no matter how repugnant you may find their views. Their appeal is emotional and clearly, to its members, very powerful.

If you have no idea what they are saying to their members — and do not understand how organized and well-funded they are –  it’s more difficult to fashion any useful counter-arguments or marshal useful and effective opposition.

This section of it, the ILA, is well worth following, as it is their legislative action component.

It was challenging indeed to produce two op-eds within hours, knowing the subject is wildly inflammatory.

I want to read and hear more women’s voices on this issue!

While Rep. Dianne Feinstein plans to re-introduce the ban on assault rifles -- that expired eight years ago — I see very few women speaking out right now.

Not just grieving — but arguing loudly and publicly in every possible venue for change, offering their own ideas as well.

Here are my two op-eds, one written for a Canadian audience, one for Americans.

This ran in the Ottawa, (Ontario) Citizen:

The guns used in this attack belonged to a woman, 52-year-old Nancy Lanza, a middle-aged small-town divorcee, probably the last person many would expect to own five guns, including a Sig Sauer 9-millimetre pistol, a Glock 10-millimetre pistol and a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Why, asked one of my Facebook friends, an artist in California, did she even choose to collect guns? “Why not bicycles or butterflies?”

Because, for millions of American gun owners, owning a gun is as key to their identity and core beliefs as their support for, or opposition to, abortion. For some women, knowing how to shoot accurately and having a firearm in their home and/or vehicle, maybe even in their purse, also reflects the American ethos of individual rights and self-reliance.

And I added my voice to those of The New York Times’ on-line Room for Debate:

President Obama has vowed to take action, but to do so he needs to involve women. He should create, this week, a multidisciplinary committee — composed not of politicians whose alliances and funding have impeded federal gun legislation for decades — but of those most directly involved in gun use and violence.

Perhaps most important, the committee should include its fair share of women — both those who have been affected by gun violence and those who own firearms. Many women with useful insights into this issue are afraid to speak out publicly for fear of being vilified and shunned in ways that male gun-owners are not.

It might include: emergency room doctors and nurses; hospital administrators bearing the significant costs of treating gun shot wounds; law enforcement and criminologists; public health advocates like Harvard’s David Hemenway; moderate, concerned individual gun-owners; experts in diagnosing and treating mental illness; domestic violence experts; and primary care physicians and pediatricians wary of — even legally forbidden from — discussing how their patients may store their guns and ammunition.

Until all sides are negotiating at the table together — gun owners and victims of gun crimes, public health workers and private gun shop owners, men and women — a viable solution will continue to evade this society.

What do you think of this idea of a Presidential committee?

I think we desperately need new and fresh ideas, no matter how odd or challenging they appear to put into action.

Why the next shooting massacre is (sadly) inevitable

In behavior, children, cities, Crime, culture, journalism, Media, news, parenting, politics, urban life, US on December 15, 2012 at 1:57 pm
Cover of "Blown Away: American Women and ...

Cover of Blown Away: American Women and Guns

Here are some facts about gun use in the United States.

I hope they are helpful as you try to make sense of the latest massacre, in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman yesterday killed 2o children and eight adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I spent two years — 2002 to 2004 — studying how Americans think and feel and behave, how they lobby and legislate — about gun use in this country.

The result is my 2004  book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books). I’m now considered an expert on the subject.

The book was acquired by every Ivy League school and their law schools, by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and I was invited to address senior Canadian government officials in Ottawa. It includes women who enjoy gun use and those whose lives have been traumatized by it, whether they were shot, or lost loved ones to suicide and homicide.

Fifty percent of American gun deaths are suicide.

Neither an academic nor gun-owner, I took a three-day course in handgun use and shot a wide variety of guns, from a .22 rifle to a .357 magnum, in the course of my research. I spoke to 104 men, women and teens about their use of — and hatred of — guns. I interviewed politicians and lobbyists and hunters and Olympic shooters and cops.

Here are some of the reasons that “gun control” is an issue that often seems unmanageable:

– The health care system in the United States, which unlike many other nations, has no single-payer structure, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to spot, track and dis-arm someone who is mentally ill and/or sociopathic with access to a firearm before they commit mass murder. Unlike STDs, for example, there is no requirement to publicly report their existence as a matter of public health.

– Americans believe, more than anything, in their individual rights and their right to privacy. Asking a patient about their ownership or use of firearms can be seen as deeply invasive.

– Americans’ dominant ethos is self-reliance and freedom from government restriction. Any effort to limit access to guns and ammunition runs counter to this deeply held belief.

– American physicians and health-care professionals have no way to report their fears, (should they even be aware of such a threat, which is highly unlikely), to law enforcement. They fear being sued. They are reluctant to ask their patients if there is a firearm in the home and, if so, where and how it is stored and and if it (they) is kept loaded.

– It has been said that 25 percent of Americans will suffer from mental illness during their lifetime. On any given day, then, there is a percentage of the population for whom ready access to a weapon and ammunition is deeply unwise. Co-relate this statistic with the number of Americans whose home contains a gun.

Forty-seven percent of Americans own a gun. This is the highest rate of gun ownership since 1993. (source: Gallup poll.) There is no way to know when or how these two factors intersect.

– Politicians who call for, let alone fight hard for, “gun control” may well risk their re-election. Not so for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose term soon expires, and who is leading this charge. But New York City has had the nation’s toughest gun laws for more than a century, since the enactment of the Sullivan Law and popular sentiment here is behind him.

The same cannot be said for many other regions, such as those that allow concealed carry — like Missouri, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Utah. (CC, for those outside the U.S., means the legal right to carry a loaded gun on your person or in your vehicle.)

– Legislators must work “across the aisle”, with men and women of opposing political views who represent areas with widely divergent views on gun ownership. These views can vary widely even within a state; downstate New York is much less sympathetic to the issue than upstate, where hunting is popular.

– Opposition to the powerful and well-funded National Rifle Association remains weak and splintered. In 2003, the NRA had a budget of $20 million — 10 times larger than that of the Brady Campaign.

– Law-abiding gun-owners feel beleaguered by cries for “gun control.” They have chosen to own and use firearms responsibly and feel that any restriction on their legitimate, legal use of them is unfair. Politicians are very aware of this.

– In many areas of the United States, hunting is a lucrative and popular sport.

– The federal government profits from gun sales, by collecting an excise tax. In 1998, that came to $126,620,000 from long guns and ammunition and an additional $35,528,000 from the sale of handguns.

– Even those politicians deeply and personally sympathetic to the terrible violence inflicted by killers such as these face their own limitations when enacting legislation. Carolyn McCarthy, a former ER nurse whose husband was shot and killed and whose son was shot on a Long Island, NY commuter train, is now a Congresswoman, in office 14 years. When I spoke to her for my book, she told me that her challenge is working effectively with other legislators, whose own constituents may have views diametrically opposed to those of her own.

The challenge of regulating gun use in the United States is daunting.

Guns + Mental Illness + Public Apathy = Violence

In behavior, cities, Crime, culture, Health, news, politics, US on April 4, 2012 at 12:17 am
Venn diagram ABC RGB

Venn diagram ABC RGB (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another day in the U.S. — another mass shooting on a college campus, this time (you can’t make it up) at a Oikos, a Christian university in Oakland, California. It happened Monday in Oakland, a city right next to San Francisco, whose airport I flew back to New York from this morning.

This time, seven were killed and three injured when a former student, One Goh, opened fire.

As usual, the cliches spill forth: “senseless tragedy”, “just like a movie”, “I thought I was going to die.”

etc.

I don’t write this so cynically out of any disrespect for the dead, injured or their families.

But it’s going to happen again, and again and again and again.

It’s never if, but when.

It’s estimated that 30 percent of American homes contain at least one firearm, some with a virtual arsenal. It’s also estimated that 25 percent of the population, during their lifetime, will suffer a mental illness.

If you know Venn diagrams, you quickly realize this is a lethal combination, one I described in my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”. In it, I include the stories of women whose sons and husbands and fathers committed suicide or homicide using a firearm.

There are many reasons that such mass murders simply never budge the needle in American public policy, from an economy still in tatters for millions — placing gun control at the bottom of a very long to-do list — to a nation deeply divided, sometimes even within the same state, on the need for an armed populace with the right to carry or to shoot to kill, even if someone is trying to steal your vehicle.

The case of Trayvon Martin is currently testing the limits of the public appetite for private self-defense — a young man shot dead while walking through a gated Florida community. His shooter was Hispanic, the victim — unarmed — black.

I’ve lived in the U.S. since 1988. I understand why gun violence is so much a part of this society.

I don’t understand, viscerally, why it’s still considered acceptable.

Home, Home On The Range — The Gun Range, Tomorrow

In sports on January 1, 2010 at 11:01 pm
Cover of "Blown Away: American Women and ...

Cover of Blown Away: American Women and Guns

If anyone reading this is looking for a fun afternoon, I’m in Jersey City tomorrow from noon onwards at 174 Danforth Avenue, signing and selling my book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” to celebrate the opening of a new gun range, The New Jersey Firearms Academy.

To get some idea how handguns work while writing my book, I trained with several different facilities, from the Smith & Wesson Academy in Springfield, MA to FBI headquarters in Quantico. I also spent an afternoon at NJFA with its director, Latief Dickerson. He’s a good guy and it made for one interesting afternoon when I and my sassy young editor, Lauren McKenna, headed out there together.

Given that 25 Manhattan publishers passed on the book — a dispassionate look at a complex subject — Lauren’s decision to acquire it showed guts, as much as coming out to the range with me that day.

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