COMMENTARY: Welcome to the United States, our PTSD Nation.
As we witness the lives of more American families destroyed in Orlando in a single weekend — from that of The Voice singer Christina Grimmie to the 50 killed and 53 injured inside the Pulse nightclub claimed by terrorism — conversation inevitably turns to America’s gun culture.
This is a multi-pronged problem which I have covered before in an editorial about violence, but we must address this nation’s easy access to guns. Florida has some of the most lax gun laws in the nation and, in fact, criminals go there to buy guns in bulk to traffick in states with tougher gun laws. They fill up U-Hauls and their trunks with guns and just drive up I-95 (known as the Iron Pipeline). One of the guns used in the Paris attacks (which killed 130) was purchased in Delray Beach by Century Arms (which does ship guns overseas). In Florida, the Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the government agency that issues gun permits because the state’s legislature is largely beholden to the National Rifle Association.
The NRA and the politicians who have been bought and sold by the lobbying group currently press for those on the no-fly list to have access to guns. Despite wanting open carry in grocery stores, schools and on campuses and pushing for the proliferation of guns in every corner of this country, the fact is the NRA does not allow guns in its own offices. The NRA does not allow guns at its annual conventions.
The NRA and its bought-and-sold politicians have even fought to allow free-wielding shopping for body armor, tear gas, hand grenades, ammunition, and guns via the Internet.
One of our families in Aurora — Sandy and Lonnie Phillips whose daughter Jessica was gunned down at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in CO along with 11 others (including my cousin Micayla) — tried to stop the Internet sales of such items without a check and balance system in place, filing a lawsuit against online ammo dealer Lucky Gunner. The lawsuit was dismissed and now they owe $203K in legal fees to the gun manufacturer who sold the bullets to the shooter who killed our family members. The killer bought 4,000 rounds, head-to-toe body armor, chemicals and tear gas canisters over a two and a half month period without having to show any ID (you have to show in ID in this country to buy allergy medication). The Phillips’ are filing for bankruptcy. But they are one couple who tried to do the right thing.
“The question really is: How many others are out there with ill-intent today who are amassing ammunition and guns to do harm to our citizens and our way of life?,” said Sandy Phillips, mother of 24 year-old Jessica Ghawi. “We have terrorist groups right now telling people to go to America because it’s so easy to access weapons. In our case, with our killer, he’s still bragging about how easy it was to amass all the weaponry to commit a mass shooting.”
There are a number of actions we, as a nation, can take to do the right thing:
• Demand from our elected leaders that gun purchasers must undergo a background check on both private and online sales and at gun shows. Demand that those on the no-fly list are not allowed to buy or own guns.
• As someone who has helped victims of mass shootings behind the scenes for the past four years, I have seen Funds pop up right and left afterwards with little to no money going to victims who desperately need it. We must monitor that the money that is claimed to be collected for the victims (United Way and the Red Cross are the worst offenders who collect American donations in the name of victims and then dole it out to other non-profits while victims suffer) actually gets to the victims in cash payments. The families of the deceased and those injured need and will need the financial help. Make sure you know where your donation is going. Ask the question: Will my donation go directly to the victims in cash payments?
The National Center for Victims of Crime (the overseers of the National Compassion Fund) is working with the official Pulse Victims Fund via Equality Florida, the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization to make sure that All donations — every penny — sent here will go Directly to the victims.
• If you are in the Media, do not play up the photo and name of the killers. Stop giving them what they want: Notoriety. There is ample evidence and experts and law enforcement across this nation are in sync with denying shooters/killers constant attention. It creates copycat shootings. And those copycats are most likely to come in the next three weeks after an event like this. CNN is one of the worst offenders. Megyn Kelly at Fox is one of the best in understanding this phenomenon.
• Ask the National Gun Violence Prevention Groups — Moms Demand Action, Everytown, The Brady Campaign, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence — to join together as one national organization to stand as One Voice against the NRA. Currently, these organizations compete for funding and for victims/survivors/volunteers and, quite frankly, one national organization that treats victims and survivors with care and dignity is sorely needed.
• Ask yourself about the kind of violent “entertainment” content that you are putting out in this world. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing … we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”
With each shooting, we are creating more and more people with PTSD — we are creating more mental health issues that we, as a nation, are ill-equipped to deal with.
I have gone through what the families in Orlando are going through now. Calling hospitals, praying and screaming to the heavens to make it not so, waiting to find out whether a family member is dead or alive, and knowing that from this day forward, your life will be nothing you recognize anymore.
After Newtown, we all thought that finally our concerns would be addressed. They weren’t. After Aurora, politicians told our family members who asked them to do something about the easy access to guns, that it “was not the right time.”
Had it been their child choking and suffocating on their own blood, or their child who was shot point blank in the face and only identifiable by their shoes, or their child who never came home after an evening of celebration with friends … it would have been the right time.
“The flags today should stay at half mast until we do something to stop this from happening again. There are 91 people every day who are killed in this country due to gun violence,” said Tom Teves, whose 24 year-old son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater while protecting his girlfriend. Tom and his wife Caren Teves created the NoNotoriety campaign. “In addition to easy access to guns, you have to look at the media and how it continues to motivate these killers — the lead story on USA Today.com this morning named all the shooters over the past 17 mass shootings, but only mentioned one victim. The media is missing heroic story after heroic but our country is the home of the brave? This country’s leaders and the media executives should be ashamed of themselves. Our flag should not be raised again until we do something meaningful.”
To all the elected leaders who send their thoughts and prayers: That is not enough. This is a time for urgent action … before the Orlando shootings story becomes your family’s story.