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On this week's sunny Independent comics page: This Modern World looks at a confederacy of denial; Jen Sorenson listens to captains of industry; The K Chronicles hums a tune while the flag goes down; and Red Meat enjoys an animated feature.


Published in Comics

One category of gun deaths goes beyond even National Rifle Association-inspired “no restrictions on guns” inanity: when small children get guns and accidentally shoot someone.

It happens far too often:

  • Elmo, Mo.: A 5-year-old found his grandpa’s loaded gun and killed his 9-month-old baby brother with a shot in the head.
  • Emerson, Neb.: A 4-year-old got a rifle from a gun case underneath a bed and shot his mother while playing with it. The bullet went through a wall and a recliner, hitting her in the side.
  • Newark, N.J.: A 9-year-old girl was shot by her 12-year-old brother playing with a handgun in their home. The mother faced child-endangerment charges.
  • Hayden, Idaho: A 2-year-old killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart. She had a loaded weapon in her purse and a concealed-weapons permit. 
  • Tulsa, Okla: An Army veteran, 26, was killed after being shot in the head by her 3-year-old son. The child found a handgun and fired one shot.
  • Louisville, Ky.: A 4-year-old accidentally killed herself when she grabbed a handgun left by a relative on a piece of furniture. Charges against the relative were dropped.
  • Cleveland: A 1-year-old boy was killed by a 3-year-old family member when he picked up a gun, which went off. "It’s a sad day for Cleveland," said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams on newsnet5, an ABC affiliate. "This fascination we have with handguns … in this country has to stop. This is a senseless loss of life." The person responsible for bringing the weapon into the home and leaving it where the child could get to it was said to likely face charges.
  • Detroit: A 30-year-old Michigan mother was charged with second-degree child abuse after her 4-year-old son shot himself in the thigh. She apparently fell asleep on the couch after returning from a shooting range, leaving her handgun in her holster.

Locally, deaths and injuries from guns are in the news virtually every day, and the headlines are cumulatively alarming. Statistics show that more than 2 million American children live in homes with unsecured guns—and as many as 1.7 million of those homes include guns which are loaded and unlocked. More than two-thirds of accidental shootings by children could have been avoided if guns had been responsibly stored, according to Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“Nearly two children are killed in unintentional shootings in America each week,” Watts wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post. “America’s epidemic of gun violence has been sustained for so long that even toddlers and children shooting children is becoming a terrifying new normal.”

Moms Demand Action is the national organization Watts began after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Conn. The group is dedicated to demanding action from lawmakers, companies and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun-law reforms that protect children: child access prevention (CAP) laws. Although the NRA says such laws infringe on Second Amendment rights, polling shows that about 82 percent of Americans—and 81 percent of gun owners—favor allowing charges against adult gun owners if a child gets a negligently stored gun, and death or serious injury results. 

Dori Smith, a Palm Desert resident since 1999, feels we’ve gone backward since Sandy Hook.

“Part of what we loved here, coming from Connecticut with lots of time spent in New York, was how safe we felt,” she says. “But now, murders—particularly gun murders—–are seemingly increasing even in our beautiful valley.” 

Dori decided to join Moms Demand Action and start a local chapter. The kickoff meeting was held in a park with about 15 local residents: a retired rabbi and his wife; a former NRA member and proud gun owner who wants smarter laws to protect children; an elder-law lawyer and his wife who believe we need common-sense laws that hold adults responsible; two retired teachers who are concerned about guns on school grounds; and others with specific connections to gun violence. One person has a son who was held up at gunpoint; another has a mentally ill cousin who bought guns in a state with lax laws; another has a friend who was shot.

Marlene Levine, a 12-year resident of La Quinta who has been in the desert for 35 years, recalls an incident when her son was in the second-grade and was with a young friend—who wanted to show off the gun in his lunch box.

“To this day,” she says, “I remain thankful for the alert playground aide who saw that something odd was happening.”

There are no federal CAP laws or any national requirements for gun owners to safely store firearms. California is one of 28 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have enacted criminal liability on persons who negligently store firearms where anyone under 18 could get access, regardless of whether the minor actually gains access or uses the gun. 

These laws do make a difference. A 1999 study found that more than 75 percent of the guns used in youth-suicide attempts or resulting in unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative or a friend. CAP laws resulted in lowered suicide rates among 14- to 17-year-olds, as well as a decrease in unintentional injury in homes with children. In 12 states where such laws had been in effect for at least one year, unintentional firearm deaths fell by 23 percent among children younger than 15. 

Dori Smith wants to expand the influence of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America here in the Coachella Valley.

“This is an issue that should transcend politics,” she says. “It’s about keeping our children safe.”

As Moms founder Shannon Watts says, “There is no such thing as an accidental shooting when it involves a child shooting himself or herself or another person with a carelessly stored gun. It’s due to an adult gun owners’ negligence.”

We should not be satisfied that California has stiff CAP laws when children in other states are at risk. As a nation, we can surely do better.

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 at

Published in Know Your Neighbors

A 55-year-old Michigan man recently shot through a locked screen door at a 19-year-old woman, who was pounding on his door in the middle of the night, apparently drunk. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter, because his life was in no way being imminently threatened, and he had ample time to call 911. 

In Long Beach, an 80-year-old man recently surprised two burglars inside his home. They beat him up, and when he was able to get to another room and get his gun, he shot at them, chasing them from his home out to the alley, where he shot the young woman as she was running away. He said afterward, “The lady didn’t run as fast as the man, so I shot her in the back twice.” The burglars were unarmed. No decision has been made about whether the homeowner will face any charges. 

Can it ever be justified to shoot someone when they’re running away? 

After pondering these recent cases, I happened to come across a Life Magazine from 1992, with the cover story: “If Women Ran America…” The story noted that at that time, there were only two women in the U.S. Senate, and that there had been only one female Supreme Court Justice in history, but what caught my attention was a story about efforts to market firearms accessories directly to women—something then considered groundbreaking.

I got to thinking about whether women might have reacted differently in the two aforementioned shooting events, and whether the direct marketing of firearms to women has made a significant difference. Although female gun ownership remained steady during the two decades leading up to 2010, it has since been surging. Women now constitute about 25 percent of gun owners, according to some sources.

Bruce Jernigan runs Yellow Mart in Indio, a store that carries, among other things, pink camouflage caps meant for women who want to look good while shooting. Accessories meant specifically for female gun enthusiasts run the gamut from pink pistol grips to bra holsters

Jernigan, who has been involved in the gun industry since the late 1960s, remembers when marketing specifically to women began. He attributes increased gun ownership by women to two major factors: aggressive marketing by gun manufacturers, and more women living alone and feeling empowered to protect themselves.

“Guns are marketed specifically to women as an untapped customer base, and there are definitely a lot more women as customers now than in the past,” he says. “Society has changed, and women are more independent and more comfortable buying guns than they used to be.”

According to The Blaze website, “Gun manufacturers are trying to find the angle in their product line that will turn a predominately male-focused industry toward females” by using smaller sizes, color options, and elements that reduce user fatigue.  

Here in the Coachella Valley, there have been special training sessions to make women more familiar with guns, and more comfortable when guns are in their homes. One local group, Women of Higher Caliber (is that a great name, or what?), calls itself a “social club comprised of women who enjoy shooting.” Its founders want women to learn about guns and practice in an environment “organized by and designed especially for women, and grounded in women’s attitudes about individual protection and peace of mind.”

However, there’s another side to the story of women and guns. According to Demand Action to End Gun Violence, “ women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries” and “the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.” 

According to the Center for American Progress, “a staggering portion of violence against women is fatal, and a key driver of these homicides is access to guns. From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun—more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”   

The Second Amendment is the only one in the Bill of Rights which has an introductory clause: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Why was it written so differently from all the others? 

In 2008, the Supreme Court, for the first time in our history, held that the Second Amendment includes a constitutional right for individuals to keep a handgun in the home. The court made it clear, however, that reasonable restrictions could still apply.

I asked Bruce Jernigan what restrictions he thought made sense. He agrees with age restrictions already in place (18 for a long gun, 21 for a concealable handgun), and with denying purchase of a gun to a person with a felony criminal history or open warrants. As for mental-health restrictions, if we can find a way, then Jernigan is all for them.

“California is always on the cutting edge of new laws regarding firearms,” says Jernigan, “and restrictions based on mental health should be a priority.”

Training is encouraged, although not required, and testing is not necessary to purchase a gun—but is required, for example, to get a hunting license. 

It’s almost impossible to have a reasoned discussion about guns in the United States.  It’s hard to argue with pro-gun advocates who say, "If guns kill people, do pencils misspell words, cars drive drunk, and spoons make people fat?” This is an example of “false equivalency,” a logical fallacy used as a debate tactic. 

People with pencils can write, and make mistakes, because the primary purpose of pencils is to write; people with cars can move from one place to another, even drunk, because that is the primary purpose of cars; and people with spoons can eat too much, because the primary purpose of spoons is eating. People with guns can kill because the primary purpose of guns is to kill.

Considering that two-thirds of the world’s people live in nations that are less homicidal than the United States, and women are more pro-gun control than men, it’s worth wondering: What would happen with guns if women ran America?

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On this week's post-Yuletide Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson analyzes the trend of snack gentrification; The K Chronicles tackles the problem of non-white Santas; The City visits a gun show; and Red Meat celebrates the end of Christmas in an explosive way.

Published in Comics

On this week's holiday-tinged Independent comics page: Red Meat enjoys the scent of toasted nuts; The City explores Fox News' obsession with whiteness; Jen Sorenson looks at the loosening of gun laws a year after Newtown; and The K Chronicles remembers Nelson Mandela.

Published in Comics

On this week's indigestible Independent comics page: The City ponders the rising up of the gun nuts; Red Meat offers sage dining advice; Jen Sorenson examines why there's no compromise in Congress today; and The K Chronicles compares a toddler's tantrum to the GOP's Obamacare fight.

Published in Comics

Years ago, when I was much younger and dumber, I sometimes drove after drinking too much, occasionally even with a beer in hand. A state policeman once stopped me leaving the small town of Joseph, Ore., and asked me to count backward, touch my toes and walk a line. Fortunately, he knew me, so he just suggested gently that I get in the passenger seat and let my wife drive home.

There was also the time after a full and fabulous day at the ski run when, sipping that last beer as we headed for home on the back roads, I hit a patch of ice and slipped into the barrow pit. Again, fortunately, the only damage was to my ego, and all my law-breaking and stupid behavior took place at low speeds on quiet roads.

Then along came Mothers Against Drunk Driving with its memorable acronym, MADD. Mothers across the country stood up and screamed at the press, at lawmakers, and at law-enforcement agencies to do something about the rash of young deaths on our roads caused by drunk drivers. I remember a dance sponsored by a group I was a part of—we organized a team of sober drivers to get people home—and the body-shop owner telling me with great pleasure that there were fewer horrendous accidents to clean up.

I remember hearing about the stiff laws in Scandinavian countries; a driver there who got one ticket for driving under the influence lost his license forever. Here in America, we also stopped feeling tolerant toward drunk drivers; MADD’s campaign worked.

I’ve been thinking about this as we stew over gun laws and deaths—mostly young deaths—caused by guns and the people who misuse them. It seems to me that there are clear parallels. First, we are not going to get rid of guns any more than we were going to get rid of cars or alcohol. Second, there are laws already on the books. Third, there are cars with speeds too fast for safety, just as there are guns too powerful for civil society. Fourth, registration and insurance are already in the picture. Finally, no reasonable person thinks that gun deaths can be eliminated entirely, but just as with drunk drivers, everyone thinks we can do better.

The parallels might give us a starting point. First, we could start enforcing existing laws. Second, let’s be reasonable: Can we agree that private individuals should not own or use rocket-grenade launchers, any more than workday commuters should drive racecars on the highway? Let’s work our way back down the line, and agree that there is a place for “public gun racks,” confined places where sportsmen and women can fire weapons that are too dangerous to shoot out in the open. Such guns would have to be registered and kept there.

As for constraining the users of guns: Yes, it would be good to ferret out the mentally unstable. Theoretically, we could make everyone get a license, just as we do with the owners of cars. But that’s too radical for some. I understand that people who have concealed-weapons permits, the folks who have jumped through legal hoops and are licensed, tend to be the safest gun owners and users around, as safe as most law-enforcement officers. But it seems to me that the mentally unstable guy with a gun trick up his sleeve (and yes, this is mostly a male problem) might have trouble passing a competency test. We seem to do pretty well with cars and drivers’ licenses—taking tests, registering when we buy and sell. Why not do the same with guns?

We might even create safe places for people to store their guns if there is a fear of instability in the family, suicide threats or threats of violence—safe places that anyone could use without explaining why. Is that too hard?

One thing is clear: What we have now is not working.

Tragically, most gun deaths come at the hands of people the victims know. The most-unfortunate ones are children who find a loaded gun at home and play their way to death. Maybe parents or responsible guardians deserve jail time when such things happen. Maybe guns would be watched more carefully, given such a law.

It seems to me that this kind of close watching by friends, family and community is especially necessary. After all, that’s just what MADD made us all do––and amazingly enough, it worked to change dangerous behavior that had once been considered normal by everyone.

Richard Wandschneider is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News.

Published in Community Voices

Amid all the talk, legislative proposals and presidential decrees inspired by the recent shootings in Connecticut and Colorado, perhaps the most significant was the announcement in early January that former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was starting a gun-control lobbying organization.

Americans for Responsible Solutions seeks to raise $20 million by the next election cycle—about the same amount the National Rifle Association spent to influence the 2012 vote. More important, symbolically, is the fact that this ambitious effort was launched in the West, where guns are part of the culture.

Giffords has long been a gun owner and gun-rights advocate. As a congresswoman, she was part of a cadre of Western Democrats—along with Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Montana Sen. Jon Tester and others—who stayed in the NRA's relatively good graces because they supported firearms' traditional role.

But then Giffords, along with 18 others, was shot down in a Tucson parking lot two years ago with a not-so-traditional gun: A Glock 9 mm with a 33-round magazine. Like the AR-15s used by both the Aurora and Newtown shooters, it wasn't something a Western rancher or hunter or gunslinger would have carried back in the day.

These weapons have transformed the gun market, and the shootings have shaken the political landscape. With President Obama's proposed bans on assault weapons and high-volume magazines heading toward Congress, all eyes are on the remaining pro-gun Democrats and their potentially pivotal votes. For once, invoking Western tradition to shoot down gun control may backfire.

Westerners do love guns. Firearms were critical tools for settlers—like dynamite, shovels and blacksmiths' bellows. Along with the horse and the cowboy hat, the Colt .45 and the Winchester rifle are icons of Wild West mythology. That myth survives today in Western gun laws—some of the nation's most lax—and in a firearms-related death rate about 30 percent above the national average.

So it's not surprising that some Westerners have reacted to the prospect of stricter gun laws as though their very identity were under attack. In 2012, more than 3.5 million firearm background checks were processed in the West, compared to some 2 million five years ago. Wyoming lawmakers are pushing to make it a felony to enforce any new gun regulations, and Colorado Republicans want to let teachers carry concealed weapons in the classroom. The Spring City, Utah, town council considered an ordinance requiring all residents to own guns. The Wild West, indeed.

Yet these reactions are more in line with Hollywood than history. After the Civil War, the nation was awash in cheap guns, and the occasional gunfight erupted, though never as bloody as today's shootings. In response, Western communities regulated firearms. By the turn of the century, Colorado statute restricted what kind of bullets and guns one could use for shooting game; most states had laws against concealed weapons; and many municipalities added their own restrictions—Tombstone, Ariz., believe it or not, banned guns altogether during the 1880s.

For some, it wasn't enough. "Firearms in the daily walks of life have no place in our modern civilization, and should not be carried," said the mayor of Durango, Colo., in 1903, one of many town officials calling for a stricter crackdown. As long as the laws didn't infringe on the practical application of firearms, Westerners generally accepted them. Even later, when the National Firearms Act of 1934 restricted the sale of machine guns, the National Rifle Association didn't protest, acknowledging that such weapons were intended for battlefields, not the streets or the hunting ground.

Ironically, it was the decline of traditional gun uses that inspired firearm companies to start marketing semi-automatic handguns and so-called "modern sporting" assault-style rifles. By the 1980s, hunting had declined, and ranches and farms were being gobbled up by suburban sprawl. Gun sales waned accordingly. To open up new markets, companies started pushing civilian models of military and police guns, such as the AR-15 and the Glock 9mm, marketed not as tools, but as instruments of "fun" and symbols of power and masculinity.

The gun industry's savvy marketing has worked: According to the annual report of the Freedom Group, whose subsidiaries include Remington and Bushmaster, the rifle market in general has grown at a 3 percent annual rate over the past five years, while the modern sporting market has ballooned at a 27 percent annual rate. The National Shooting Sports Foundation found that most gun-buyers weren't hunters and ranchers: 99 percent of modern sporting rifle owners are men, most with a background in the military or law enforcement, and they bought their rifles primarily for target-shooting and home defense, not to hunt big game or kill ranch varmints.

Though this new gun-loving constituency can no longer boast of its rural heritage, it is powerful. Modern sporting rifle owners tend to have higher incomes than yesterday's hunters, and that money—along with corporate donations—fuels the gun-rights political machine, from the big-spending NRA to the even-more-extreme Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. Reid, Tester and others will certainly face the wrath, and cash, of these groups if they vote for any new gun control, which may be why they've tended to be vague and noncommittal on the issue.

On the other hand, if they waffle, they'll have to answer to Giffords (NRA grade C in 2010). Hers is not the first gun-control special-interest group, but it is on its way to being the biggest, dwarfing the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has spent only about $5 million on lobbying and political campaigns in the last decade. Though Giffords will certainly be accused of "betraying" her Western heritage, her crusade actually hearkens back to a much older time.

"It is high time that the man who packs a gun should be suppressed, fined, jailed or run out of the country," opined the editor of the Cripple Creek (Colorado) Morning Times in 1899. "Legislatures and city councils are afraid to legislate against this class. If an ordinance were passed making it a misdemeanor to carry a revolver, there would be fewer revolvers, fewer coroner's inquests, less sorrow in homes and fewer widows."

This story originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Community Voices

On summer evenings in the former mining town of Silverton, Colo., the staccato sound of gunshots used to echo through otherwise quiet streets. A cast of stereotypical Old West characters riddled one another with bullets, as the legendary gunfighters did once upon a time in the West.

Except that those kind of shoot-’em-ups didn’t happen out here in the West. Not really.

Back in the 1950s, those fake Silverton gunfights followed a well-timed schedule, erupting when the narrow-gauge train, loaded with tourists, rolled into town in the middle of the day. Eventually, however, a group of history-minded citizens gained influence and rejected the violent charade as a mockery of their town’s history. By the 1970s, the fake gunfights were no more.

The West always has been a land of myths, where visitors can live out their dreams—and their misconceptions. Perhaps the most persistent one is that of the gunslinging West, when ordinary citizens were armed to the teeth, and the only law and order came from the end of a brave man’s Colt 45. Today, the notion persists that Westerners define themselves by their love of guns.

Like most legends, that of the gunfighters’ West derives from a morsel of truth. Yet, nourished by pop culture, movies and the snowball effect of falsehood, that myth has very little in common with the history that spawned it. Even in late 19th-century Silverton, a rough-and-tumble mining town, ordinary citizens didn’t walk the streets with sidearms. There were occasional gunfights, as when a 19-year-old recidivist shot the town marshal dead in 1881. There were four or five shots fired in all, and the criminals were hanged, not shot, by vigilantes. Full-on fights like those in old Westerns, in which the butcher, baker and candlemaker were also involved, were virtually unknown.

It’s not that guns weren’t around. Hunters were armed, and at least one early newspaper editor was known to have a pistol stashed in his desk. It was not an armed citizenry that kept law and order, however, but the marshals, sheriffs and federal government. Rare flare-ups between the area Utes and white settlers were generally handled by federal soldiers, not citizen militias. The only assault rifle back then was the Gatling gun, which was available only to soldiers at a few military posts. Richard Gatling had invented the rapid-fire “battery gun” during the Civil War, thinking—National Rifle Association-like—that a more efficient killing machine would reduce the carnage on the battlefield. He was terribly wrong.

Comb through the region’s early newspapers, and you’ll find only occasional mentions of killings by gun. Accounts of shootings over the 19th century equivalent to a fender-bender are sparse. Madmen in the Wild West didn’t shoot up schools or even saloons. Believe it or not, teachers weren’t armed.

Dynamite was a far more ubiquitous and more important symbol of the Old West’s culture. This was mining country, after all, and miners and road builders relied on explosives to make a living, and a killing. Dynamite was easy to access, and was not uncommonly used for murders and suicides over the years, even in more modern times. In 1975, a bomber blew the Silverton Depot off its foundation. Around the same time, a motorcycle shop and bar in Durango, and a watering hole in Silverton, were bombed.

Today, explosives are tightly regulated. Lobbyists for the explosives industry, however, have yet to proclaim that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with dynamite is a good guy with dynamite. Well-paid lobbyists do not argue that it infringes on our liberties or threatens agrarian culture to subject a farmer to a background check if he buys a truckload of nitrogen fertilizer. And though I’ve known of people dynamiting ponds to catch fish easily, I have yet to hear any politician arguing that regulating the sale of explosives is a threat to our traditional hunting-and-fishing culture.

The Old West was, at times, quite wild, but if we’re looking for a symbol of the times, it’s not the Colt Peacemaker and certainly not the AR-15. Firearms are not integral to Western culture or identity. Take away our semi-automatic guns and our high-volume ammo clips, and limit the amount of ammunition we can buy—and we’ll still be Westerners.

It’s time to follow Silverton’s example and stop reducing ourselves and our region to a silly caricature manufactured by Hollywood and supported by a gun industry looking to peddle more of its deadly wares.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. Based in Durango, Colo., he is a senior editor at HCN.

Published in Community Voices

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