Memorial to the Lost

Memorial to the Lost
at Chester Eastside Ministries

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In yesterday's Washington Post: Watch what happens when regular people try to use a gun in self defense

By Christopher Ingraham

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, the National Rifle Association proposed putting more guns in schools. After a racist shot up a Charleston prayer group, an NRA board member argued for more guns in church. And now predictably, politicians and gun rights advocates are calling for guns in movie theaters after a loner killed two people at a theater in Louisiana.
The notion that more guns are always the solution to gun crime is taken seriously in this country. But the research shows that more guns lead to more gun homicides -- not less. And that guns are rarely used in self-defense.
Now a new study from researchers at Mount St. Mary's University sheds some light on why people don't use guns in self-defense very often. As it turns out, knowing when and how to apply lethal force in a potentially life-or-death situation is really difficult.
The study was commissioned by the National Gun Victims Action Council, an advocacy group devoted to enacting "sensible gun laws" that "find common ground between legal gun owners and non-gun owners that minimizes gun violence in our culture." The study found that proper training and education are key to successfully using a firearm in self-defense: "carrying a gun in public does not provide self-defense unless the carrier is properly trained and maintains their skill level," the authors wrote in a statement.
To read more (and see videos) click here

Monday, July 27, 2015

In today's Washington Post -- why the Lafayette shooter was able to buy a gun

 The man who killed two people in a Louisiana movie theater last week was able to legally purchase a gun despite a judge’s order sending him to a mental hospital in 2008 because he was never involuntarily committed for treatment, a county probate judge and a state official told The Washington Post on Monday.
“If he had been adjudicated in need of involuntary treatment, I would have reported that to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who would then send it to the FBI,” said Muscogee County Probate Judge Marc E. D’Antonio, who was the county’s chief clerk at the time. “I clearly would have known. That did not happen.”
An involuntary commitment would have forever banned John Russell Houser from buying a gun under the sweeping federal gun law that passed after the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2007. But Houser never reached the crucial stage of having a judge rule on his mental competence, D’Antonio said.

As a result, Houser’s purchase of a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun at a Phenix City, Ala., pawnshop last year was perfectly legal, setting up a tragedy in Lafayette, La., and exposing what gun control advocates say is a troubling loophole in the federal law that governs who may legally acquire firearms.
to read more, click here

Sunday, July 19, 2015

D'var Torah (a little bit of Bible) at St. Mary's Episcopal, in Chester

In Judaism, a Sabbath service always includes a D’var Torah, an explanation of a Bible verse.  This morning, I want to talk about two Bible verses that shape how Jews see gun violence.

The first is Deut 22:8:  When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.  In Bible times, people used the flat roofs of their houses for drying grain and storing produce, they slept there on hot nights – they were in danger of falling off if there wasn’t a parapet – a low wall – around the outside. 

The Rabbis of the Talmud (the oral explanation of the Bible), prohibited keeping a vicious dog or a rickety ladder in a house on the same principle.  (Baba Kamma 46a).   Allowing them in the house meant the homeowner had bloodguilt if anyone was hurt.

Here are a few examples of kids killed in their homes, or their friends’ homes, over the past 4 months:

On 3/4/2015, 13 year old Cayman Naib of Newtown, an 8th grader at Shipley School, shot himself in the head with his father’s gun.  His body was found in the yard of his house 5 days later.

On 3/5/2015, 17 year old Ivan Oberholtzer of Kensington a senior at Kensington Capa HS, was playing with a gun he found in his family’s apartment, and accidently killed his friend James Becker, also 17. 

On 5/25/2015, 4 year old Makayla Manners, of Yonkers NY shot herself in the face with a semi-automatic handgun she found in her family’s apartment.  She died after 5 days on life support.

On 7/2/2015, 4 year old Chris L Palmer was playing with a loaded gun he found in his parents’ bedroom when he shot himself in the head and died.

What do these stories have in common?  These deaths all happened in homes, all happened because kids got ahold of a gun.  They all happened because some adult wasn’t thinking about the risks guns pose to children and adults in the house.

People buy guns for protection, but, unfortunately, a gun in the home is:
·         11 times more likely to be used for suicide or attempted suicide than for self-defense
·         7 times more likely to be used for assault or homicide (particularly on women) than for self defense
·         4 times more likely to be involved in unintentional shooting deaths than for self defense

Here is some advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics: 


·         The best preventive measure against firearm injuries and deaths is not to own a gun.

·         However, if you choose to have firearms in your home, make sure to lock up guns and ammunition separately, and make sure that kids don’t have access to the keys.

·         When your child goes to another house to play, ask if the family owns guns, and ask how guns are stored.


The second verse I want to talk about this morning is part of Leviticus 19:16.  The Hebrew is hard to understand – the literal translation is:


 do not stand on your neighbors blood  (Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa)

New International Version:  Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life

King James:  Neither shall you stand against the blood of thy neighbor.

Jewish Publication Society:  Do not profit by the blood of your fellow

Our Rabbis believe that every word in Jewish Scripture is there for a reason.  They  asked, what does the Hebrew mean?  The Talmud—Jewish Oral Tradition – you shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor, to behold his death, while you are able to save him.  For example, when someoneis drowning in a river, or when a wild beast or robbers come upon him, you need to do all you can to save him.

Guns in the US kill 88 people / day, on average, 8 of them children or teens, through homicide, suicide, and accidental death.

·         In the US as a whole, the homicide rate is about5/100,000 and guns account for about 75% of all murders.  (5/100,000 is higher than in the UK or France or Spain, where the homicide rate is about 1/100,000).

·         In Delaware County as a whole, the homicide rate for 2014 was about 8 / 100,000, but that’s comprised of Chester, with a rate of 88/100,000, and the rest of Delco, with a rate of 3/100,000. 

·         If you look at who gets murdered in Chester, it’s overwhelmingly young men, 15 – 34.  Their rate is about 330/100,000; it’s overwhelmingly gun homicides.

·         If homicides in Chester stay at 2014 rates, you start with a group of 15 year old boys, one out of 16 will be shot dead before reaching age 35.

·         And of the 30 homicides in Chester in 2014, 10 were solved and 20 weren’t, so bereaved families often know their children’s killers are still on the streets.

Each of these deaths leaves a bereaved family, parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles grieving for the rest of their lives.  These deaths leave children growing up without parents.  These deaths leave a generation of young African-American boys growing up in fear, not really expecting to reach adulthood.

Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence is a small group, addressing a huge problem.  What can a small group do?

·         We try to reduce the flow of illegal guns.  Guns mostly reach the street through straw sales  -- when someone who can’t pass a background check (Mr. A) gets someone with a clean record (Ms. B) to buy him a gun.  Most gun stores – like Walmart, for example—have measures in place to prevent straw sales, but a few stores cut corners.  90% of the guns recovered in crimes come from 5% of gun stores.

In most shootings on our streets, there are 2 crimes: the shooting itself and the earlier criminal transaction that armed the shooter. Too often, the media and public only focus on the shooter, and neglect to ask… “Where did the gun come from?”

We’ve been standing in front of Miller’s Gun Store a couple times a month, since late fall of 2013, trying to prevail on Mr. Miller to adopt a code of conduct like Walmart’s to deter straw sales.  (There have been two convictions of straw purchasers who bought their guns at Millers—we think Miller’s is one of the gun stores in the 5%). 

The Code of Conduct is 10 common-sense good business practices to deter straw sales, like
o   videotaping all transactions
o   checking if gun purchasers have previously bought a gun that was used to commit a crime
o   criminal background checks for all employees
o   no sales without background check results.  This is the loophole that let Dylan Roof buy the gun he used to kill congregants at Emanuel AME church.  He had admitted posessing drugs to law authorities; he shouldn’t have been able to buy a gun, but it took more than 3 days for the FBI to find out, and the law says that if the FBI doesn’t reply within 3 days, the gun sale can go forward.

·         We hold witnesses with bereaved families, and make small donations toward funeral expenses. 

·         And we construct Memorials to Lives Lost to Gun Violence.  150 t-shirts, each one representing a life lost to gun violence.  Each with a grieving family, children growing up parentless.

Sometimes our group seems very small compared with the NRA.  Sometimes it seems as if support for sensible gun laws in PA is going backwards rather than forwards.  Sometimes the burden of grief seems overwhelming. 

And then we hold hands, and pray, think about Zechariah’s account of the Lord’s words to Zerubbabel:  Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.  And we come back, and try a little harder.

We hope you’ll join us in this work.


Monday, July 13, 2015

On CBS News -- Rep James Clyburn, D SC -- Removing the Confederate flag matters, but what about guns?

The South Carolina legislature is taking steps to remove the Confederate flagfrom the statehouse grounds following the mass shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston, but a group of congressmen are arguing the tragedy should prompt a greater response. Specifically, they argue it should give the U.S. Congress one more significant reason to take up gun control.
The aftermath of the Charleston shooting "for some reason is focused on the symbol of the Confederate battle flag -- it's an important symbol, it's a very strong symbol," Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, who represents part of Charleston, said at a press conference Wednesday. "Though this young man worshipped this symbol, he carried out this dastardly act with a gun."
To read more, click here

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Gun Violence Prevention Shabbat -- Dec 10th - 13th 2015

Here is a link to the website for Gun Violence Prevention Shabbat, December 10th - 13th 2015.

Gun violence in the US claims 89 lives per day on average -- 58 through suicide, 30 through homicide.  Gun violence is far and away the leading cause of mortality among young black men.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports

The availability of handguns in settings where children live and play has led to a devastating toll in human lives, reflected in some sobering and almost un­thinkable statistics: Every two hours, someone's child is killed with a gun, ei­ther in a homicide, a suicide, or as a result of an unintentional injury. In addition, an unknown but large number of children are seriously injured—of­ten irreversibly disabled—by guns but survive.

The numbers alone, however, do not convey the extent of the toll of gun violence in America--to understand the depth of the problem, you need to talk to bereaved families.

Last year, nearly 1,000 congregations in every state and the District of Colombia prayed and preached and reached out to others to understand the causes of gun violence and work to reduce it.

In today's NYT: Dylan Roof should not have been able to buy a gun

There's been so much talk about the Confederate flag in the days since the massacre at Emanuel AME church, and so little discussion of how someone who had admitted to drug possessing drugs was allowed to buy a gun.
by Michael Schmidt
WASHINGTON — The man accused of killing nine people in a historically black church in South Carolina last month was able to buy the gun used in the attack because of a breakdown in the federal gun background check system, the F.B.I. said Friday.
Despite having previously admitted to drug possession, the man, Dylann Roof, 21, was allowed to buy the .45-caliber handgun because of mistakes by F.B.I. agents, a failure by local prosecutors to respond to a bureau request for more information about his case, and a weakness in federal gun laws.
“We are all sick this happened,” said James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director. “We wish we could turn back time. From this vantage point, everything seems obvious.”
The authorities’ inability to prevent Mr. Roof from obtaining the weapon highlighted the continuing problems in the background check system, which was intended to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, drug users and mentally ill people. Despite new procedures and billions of dollars that have been spent on computer upgrades in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the federal authorities still do not have a seamless way of examining Americans’ criminal histories that eliminates human error.
The disclosure also introduced another element of politics into the aftermath of the massacre, which has already led lawmakers in South Carolina to remove the Confederate battle flag that flew outside its State House. Republicans and Democrats quickly seized on the background check failure as the latest evidence to back up their views on gun laws.
Mr. Roof exploited the three-day waiting time that has allowed thousands of prohibited buyers to legally purchase firearms over the past decade — and some of those weapons were ultimately used in crimes, according to court records and government documents.
The Department of Justice’s inspector general has been investigating the three-day loophole for some time, Mr. Comey said.
to read more, click here