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Observations: I need a little help from some friends

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image Celebratory gunfire is dangerous and together we can stop it. Photo courtesy of Sandra Duran

In the wake of a horrific mass shooting, so many people have said that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. That has never been truer than in the case of celebratory gunfire. If you truly believe that, this is your chance to stand by your words.

Editing note:  The original petition expired on Feb. 2 as mentioned in this article.  The links have been updated to a new petition.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Just over a year ago, a boy was watching fireworks with his family in his own front yard when he collapsed to the ground, bleeding from the head, nose and mouth. His parents had no idea what had happened to him, they only knew that something horrible had occurred to their son, a parents’ worst nightmare had come true as he lay fighting for his life on the grass. They lived on 10 peaceful acres and purposely decided to spend New Year’s Eve together at home, as a family. People do crazy things on such holidays, what could be safer than welcoming in the New Year at home, together? It turns out that no one is safe from the uneducated with a gun and a box of bullets, the kind of person that doesn’t know that bullets can travel miles to threaten someone’s life.

Yes, many articles have been written about Diego Duran and his family from Ruskin, but stop to think about what it must have been like to celebrate the promise of a brand new year in the safety of your own home and then suddenly see your young son lying on the grass, bleeding and vomiting blood. They had no idea he had been shot, the gun could have been fired from a mile or more away. It never crossed Sandy’s mind that a bullet could do something like this in the safety of their own yard. But think about it, think of the horror and helplessness you would have felt had it been your child struck down by a senseless violent act. It could have been your child.

It is amazing that people who fire guns into the air apparently don’t realize those bullets come back down somewhere. Celebratory gunfire is culturally accepted in some parts of the world, but urban Florida is not the Middle East or the Balkans. At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, twenty people died as the result of celebratory gunfire. Is there no irony in that? Twenty people survived a war only to die during the so-called celebration. Between 1985 and 1992, doctors at a single hospital in Los Angeles treated 118 people for injuries incurred by falling bullets. Thirty-eight of those people died.

Two years before Diego Duran was shot in the head by someone who hasn’t yet grasped that bullets fired into the air must come back down (and who has not yet had the integrity to step forward to accept responsibility), a four-year-old child in Decatur, Georgia was killed in the early minutes of 2010 while inside his own church.  The falling bullet penetrated the roof of the church, struck the child in the head and killed him.

Killing innocent children, yeah that’s some celebration.

In 2004, a 75-year-old man in Orlando was hit in the heart by a falling bullet on New Year’s Eve. Police eventually traced the bullet to a man shooting into the air more than a mile away.

The stories of such needless tragedy could fill this newspaper and then some. Here’s the thing:  As long as people persist in the insane and inane practice of celebratory gunfire, you are at risk. Your children are at risk and so are your friends and neighbors. If you live in Ruskin, Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, Riverview or even the peaceful enclave of Sun City Center, you very well could be at risk of being shot and killed — even if you are in your own home. Nothing can protect you. There is no way to know where a stray bullet may land, it could be your roof; it could hit your child.

Well, nothing can protect you except for education and, perhaps, peer pressure that is.

There are a lot of problems in the world today, from a faltering economy to homelessness, from wars to genocide. There is only so much any of us can do about the economy or starvation in Africa but we absolutely can stop the insanity of celebratory gunfire. And we must. I know for a fact that people were shooting guns into the air in South Hillsborough this past New Year’s Eve — I received emails from frightened neighbors. Most said they were even too frightened to call 911. Instead, they kept their heads down and hoped. But hope isn’t enough. Some of those emails came from people less than a mile from my own street — a street with at least a half dozen young children living on it.

A year later, Diego is still recovering from his injury. Diego, his mother Sandy, and his family are in the final steps of creating a 501(c)(3) non-profit named Bullet Free Sky, with the sole purpose of educating people about the dangers of celebratory gunfire. The organization is NOT — I repeat NOT — about gun control. They don’t want to take away anyone’s guns, they simply want people to stop recklessly shooting innocent people in the name of celebration. In fact, the organization would love nothing more than to partner with the National Rifle Association in order to gain the support of the 99 percent of responsible, knowledgeable gun owners to help educate those who simply aren’t aware that they are potentially shooting innocent people whenever they fire a bullet into the air.

A petition is now up on the White House’s We The People website. The site is designed to give Americans a way to engage their government on issues that matter to them. Celebratory gunfire is an issue that matters to me, to you, and to the cute little girl down my street who smiles at me every morning and waves by opening and closing her tiny little fist. The petition asks our government to create a national public service educational initiative on the dangers of celebratory gunfire. If the petition receives 25,000 signatures, the Obama administration must respond to it.

The readership of this newspaper alone could easily fulfill that requirement of 25,000 signatures four times over. All the petition is asking is that we stand together as Americans and request that the government acknowledge this issue and take steps to educate people, to help stop this completely senseless threat to our families. It does not ask for gun control in any way, shape or form.

In the wake of a horrific mass shooting, so many people have said that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. That has never been truer than in the case of celebratory gunfire. If you truly believe that, this is your chance to stand by your words. Even if you don’t, this is a chance to save lives.

I am personally asking for your help. Please go to the We The People website and sign the petition to create a plan to cease the practice of celebratory gunfire. An easy link to the petition is tinyurl.com/bulletfreesky and the full address is: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/create-plan-cease-practice-celebratory-gunfire-and-promote-education-dangers-activity/W4CCcDj5. You have to create an account, but that is easy to do.  It is worth the few minutes it will take. And then, ask your family and friends to do the same.

There are so many problems in the world today but this a problem that we can solve. We have the power to reduce or eliminate this senseless threat. I don’t want you to be injured or die from a bullet to the head. I don’t want to lose my wife, my dogs, that cute little girl down the street or any other innocent children. Please do this, please stand up and help.

But do it right now, this very minute — the petition expires on Feb. 2. It’s time to stand up for your community, for your loved ones and for yourself. Together, we can do this.

You really can make a difference. Visit Bullet Free Sky at www.bulletfreesky.com or their Facebook page at facebook.com/bulletfreesky. And please sign the petition at tinyurl.com/bulletfreesky. If you want a note of gratitude, email me and you will receive it. I’m happy to do whatever it takes because this is a problem we can solve together. For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve had the honor of being asked to join the board of directors of Bullet Free Sky. I can think of nothing more important than working to solve this needless threat to our families. Working together, we really can fix this.

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