The AR-15: the weapon of choice for mass murderers

According to a report on PBS Newshour this week, the weapon used by the Orlando shooter is the AR-15. Apparently, it is the weapon of choice of mass murderers and was even used in the Sandy Hook school shooting. See the link below to the news report.

This weapon is designed to kill efficiently and brutally. It fires 30 rounds of ammo at a time, in bursts of three. Its bullets are powered by hardware that flops around in its target to increase the size of the wound. The doctors in Orlando said they normally don’t see this many or this large of wounds in their victims.

The 49 victims on early Sunday morning were killed with multiple wounds from this military style weapon. The only difference is the military weapon can fire all 30 bullets in one stream, instead of bursts of three. But, the killer need not worry about this limitation, as he can easily reload a cartridge.

Now, let’s go back in time to the Sandy Hook shooting. Picture the mostly young kids who were killed that day. This military style weapon was used to do lethal damage to their little fragile bodies. I do not mean to insult the memories of the deceased with these comments, but want parents and non-parents to visualize the brutality of this weapon and those like it.

With this in mind, please ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why should any American need to have a weapon that kills so many with so much efficiency and brutality?
  • Why have we placed people of interest on a no-fly list, yet think it is alright for them to purchase this weapon? Why have legislators in power not allowed a vote on this bill?
  • Why have we not extended background checks on all weapon purchases? This is not a fishing license. It is a weapon to kill.
  • Why have we not elongated waiting periods since 2/3 of gun deaths are suicide?
  • Why would we not want all guns to have fingerprint triggers to prevent a child from murdering his sibling, parent, grandparent, etc. by accidentally discovering a weapon?

Since the assault rifle ban expired in 2005, more than half of mass shootings in America have occurred. With over 1,000 hate groups in America plus other lone wolf radicals, unless we make some of the above changes, mass shootings will continue to occur in our country irrespective of tough talk by politicians on Islamic Radicals. It should be noted the Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Charleston killers were not Muslims, nor was the Indiana man arrested who was on his way to a Gay Pride event in California this past week, with several assault weapons in his vehicle and intent to wreak havoc.

We all must be diligent to watch out for folks, but we could make it easier with some of these changes. We should not hand the killer his weapon without doing some checking.

Please join me in reaching out for change with our elected officials. There is a movement by several Senators to bring some of these issues to a vote.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/its-the-weapon-of-choice-for-u-s-mass-murderers-the-ar-15/

Bigotry in our Leaders is not the answer

My heart goes out to the victims and their families in Orlando. Let’s keep them in our thoughts and prayers. And, as Frank Langella said at The Tony Awards last night, let us not let this tragedy define or diminish us. Let it strengthen us, as the reaction to Charleston’s terrible church shooting did last year.

Even before the horrific tragedy which claimed the lives of at least 50 Americans, we have allowed bigotry, racism and xenophobia to have too pervasive a place in our dialogue from so-called leaders. Whether they are political, business, governmental or religious so-called leaders or wanna-be leaders, we cannot allow bigotry to go without shining a spotlight on it. Political incorrectness does not mean we can be bigoted.

Conservative columnist Michael Gerson wrote last week about the toxic racism of one of our presidential candidates, saying loudly we cannot have our leaders being and saying racist things. Gerson has been a consistent voice for reason. He notes, historically over the last forty years, that being a racist is a non-starter for a national candidate. We need our leaders to be exemplars of treating folks fairly, not condemning folks for being different.

Yet, it goes well beyond that. One of my pet peeves is when I see bigotry from the pulpit regardless of the religion. Religious leaders should not be using their persuasive powers to divide. To me that is a significant dereliction of duty and is certainly not WWJD, at least in the bible I was taught from. There are no caveats to treating others like you want to be treated. People are listening to these comments and, in the words of Oscar Hammerstein, bigotry has to be carefully taught.

Further, we have too much attention paid to discriminating and even demonizing folks who are diverse. In our country, all freedoms are important, whether they be LGBT, Black, Hispanic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, etc. citizens. No one’s freedoms should be more important or infringe on the rights of another’s. Our LGBT friends now have rights like other citizens in America, but there are efforts to restrict those rights, even taking away rights that are older than same-sex marriage. That is unconstitutional.

Our best defense against violence is to celebrate and promote our freedoms. The new Muslim mayor of London noted he is the best kind of argument against Islamic terrorists groups. He shows a Muslim visibly succeeding in the western world. This success counters the divisive narrative of groups like ISIS.

The same holds true in our country, with our elected officials and military members from diverse groups. Muslims are part of our fabric and that community has every right to be an American as any other. LGBT folks have every right as well. We defeat hate by being inclusive and standing up for each other. We defeat hate by all of our citizens being watchdogs for those who may want to perpetuate hate. We also defeat hate by not ostracizing groups of people such as those in the LGBT community.

There are over 1,000 hate groups in the United States that have nothing to do with Islam. These hate groups include folks who are disenfranchised. Yet, we also have Muslim folks who are disenfranchised and are being recruited on line. The Muslim and non-Muslim communities must be vigilant to watch for folks who may be so inclined. The enemy is those who would do violence, not broad groups of people who are trying to live their lives like all Americans.

What I don’t care for his posturing by folks, who say they are going to be tough, but who have made comments to demonize folks and make the world a less safe place before they take office – these are the concerns of our allied leaders and retired US military generals, not just mine. I don’t support the argument of those who do not see the freedom of gun acquisition as not playing a role in mass shooting deaths. With our gun access in the US, there is very little that can be done to stop a evil minded SOB from killing people.  I am tired of tough talk from folks who do not realize their words and resistance to change are part of the problem.

We must involve all Americans in the due diligence looking out for violent extremists, whether they are Muslim, Christian, or merely a hate group unrelated to religion. We must have serious conversations about better governance around guns. And, we must stand tall with our LGBT community and say demonizing this group is not right. And, in my bible, it is not the answer to WWJD. It certainly is not electing bigoted leaders.

Terrorists are the least of our concerns for violence

Since we are in the middle of a Presidential race, those out of power tend to use the politics of fear to terrify people that they are best suited to handle things. In my long voting history, I also have seen fear used when your story is not as good to tell. This is especially true with our economy doing pretty well, the stock market more than doubled and unemployment down to 5%.

We are told that our country is not doing enough to fight terrorists. And, we need to be hyper vigilant that terrorists will attack again in America like they did in California five months ago or in Paris, Belgium or Africa. The fear is based on some merit, which is why this election model works. Dial the fear up as much as possible. Forget the words of FDR who said “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

Yet, what the continuing, day after day news stories show us, the much greater fear in America is gun deaths from Americans. We now have more guns than people in America. Think about that for a second. Just this past week, horrible gun deaths occurred in Ohio and Georgia. More law enforcement people were killed and people were shot at a prom in Wisconsin.

But, those are the event stories. Something bad happened en masse, so it is reported as it should be. The greater gun death problem is what happens everyday. Pick up any paper, any day of the week and count the gun death stories. Or, make yourself very sad and Google “toddler kills parent” or “six-year-old shoots four-year-old” and count the stories.

Or, think for a minute about what does not get reported, the greater tragedy in America with gun deaths – suicide. Over 2/3 of our gun deaths in America are suicide. A home that has access to weapon is far greater likely to house a suicide than one without. We have some states who are enabling students at college to have weapons on campus, where the rate of depression is higher than in general society, as a hoped for nirvana is not found on campus or kids feel they have disappointed their parents by failing. All it takes is one impulsive act and it is over.

The President has said failing to gain any common sense action from Congress on guns is his greatest frustration. I share that frustration, but I blame Congress who is too influenced by the NRA’s money to do what Americans have told them to do in surveys – background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. The “fog a mirror” gun sales at shows has got to stop. When a fourteen year old boy cannot buy cigarettes, porn or beer, but can walk out with weapon, that is a shame (this was a done as a demonstration project).

Guns do not kill people. People with access to guns kill people. But it is not just guns, so that argument is sound. It is the lack of civil discourse. Having access to a gun in bar is an unhealthy mix with alcohol and testosterone. It is the we/ they culture we have in news, politics, religion, entertainment and sports – we must divide us into factions. We cannot argue civilly, we have to do it angrily and a loved one, friend or acquaintance is dead because someone had access to a weapon.

It is the increased poverty which leads to crime filling the void. It is the increased amount of drug usage which begets crime. It is entertainment violence which desensitizes us to gun death. In the case of suicide and some mass shootings, it is not getting treatment for depression or other mental illness, although I want to avoid the perception that if you have a mental illness you must be a danger to others. And, it is due to the increased number of domestic terrorists groups who are hate groups.

We need the parents in legislatures to push the others to act. Those who don’t say “doing something won’t solve the problem.” But, it is obvious doing nothing at all won’t either. And, that is what our Congress is known for. Doing nothing at all.

 

 

Three Senate Votes Tell You a Great Deal

Last Thursday, the US Senate took three votes that tell you a great deal about where people stand on issues. One of these votes combined two issues into one that the majority of Americans do not want and will be vetoed. The other two address a major concern that would helpful and are long overdue, but they did not pass.

The first one that passed is a bill that combines defunding significant parts of the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood. The former when mentioned by its nickname, Obamacare, drums up political ire from our Republican friends. They fail to tell their constituents it is working pretty well, but could use some targeted improvements. They also hide from the fact Obamacare is based largely off a Republican idea that was advocated by Tea Party leadership until Obamacare was passed and Mitt Romney ran for office.

Adding to the seemingly recurring vote to repeal Obamacare, which Americans said they do not want per a Kaiser Family Foundation survey – they want it improved – is defunding Planned Parenthood. The latter has been the target of a smear campaigns and an unedited video that misled viewers. The Congressional Committee that questioned the CEO looked small and, at times, incompetent when they erroneously cited data that was unverified off another entity’s website and not Planned Parenthood’s. It should be noted that at least two presidential candidates have cited this faulty evidence as fact in debates.

Planned Parenthood does a huge amount of good for women’s health, especially those who cannot afford a doctor. They perform mammograms, pap smears, and provide education on self exam and wellness. And, even though they perform abortions with no federal funding, their group actually reduces the number of abortions through family planning. But, something needs to be said to those who only want to use the rhythm method of birth control and abstinence – those measures do not take into account that people are going to have sex and they fail to achieve the objective of effective birth control. And, neither speak to educating young people about sex, esteem issues and STDs. It should be noted that there is a high correlation between increased family size and poverty.

This combined vote is merely a political stunt as it will be vetoed, a fate known before the vote was taken. The other two votes that did not pass can be viewed together. One was to extend background checks on all gun purchases. The other was for suspected terrorists or people under scrutiny and suggested the use of the No Fly Zone list to deny purchases of weapons in America. It is far easier to get guns here than anywhere, so once the terrorists (many of whom are citizens) decide to purchase weapons, they can easily do that.

Americans have wanted the background check expansion by a large majority per several surveys. The Elon University survey from 2014 noted over 70% of Republicans want background checks on all weapon transactions with the all voter sentiment around 90%. The second vote is both sad and comical. Here is where the rubber meets the road. The GOP has been very adamant over the concerns of the American people over terrorists harming Americans on our own soil. Yet, when a definitive measure that actually would help with a very difficult task of monitoring or denying purchases, the unholy alliance with the NRA rears its ugly heads.

To me, as an independent voter who is frustrated by our failure to act, this vote shows clearly that the money the NRA spends on their campaigns is more important than trying to combat terrorists on our own soil. I was watching the news after the vote and a terrorism expert said governing gun sales to would be terrorists is a critical step. We failed to take this step last Thursday. The NRA would not let us. It should be noted that legislators who want to restrict 1st amendment rights on freedom of religion to millions of Muslim Americans and further restrict entry to Syrian refugees, say it is very important to protect the 2nd amendment rights to No Fly Zone people under scrutiny. This is a shameful hypocrisy in my mind.

Words are cheap. Actions speak volumes. We had three votes – all three that go against what Americans want. One of which was a waste of time as it will be vetoed. In the next few weeks, when Congress complains of time to pass the budget, please remind them that they should not waste it. They should also focus on doing something that might help America. Not dealing with our gun death (see the link below) and terrorist concerns do not suffice.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/guns-killed-more-americans-in-the-past-50-years-than-every-us-war-ever/ar-AAfZ3Bt?li=BBnb4R7&ocid=DELLDHP

Why so many gunshots?

In the United States, we live in a world where too many folks are shot. With guns so rampant in our country, it makes a difficult job for our police officers even more challenging. This may explain in part a bias to act when fear sets in. There are many fine police officers who do their jobs well day in and day out. Unfortunately, we do have an increasing number of situations that have arisen, where police officers may have acted rashly or too quickly. We need to evaluate these both within the profession and through the court system when necessary.

Yet, one of my concerns that does not get talked about enough is why are so many shots being fired? I am clearly concerned about the racial profiling that appears to be going on, as people of color are the ones being killed by police officers more so than other races. But, the number of shots is appalling to me as it seems double-digit shots are fired to subdue an alleged attacker in too many incidents.  What happened to shooting to wound an attacker? Why is it necessary to shoot a teen or twelve-year old boy eleven, fourteen, or sixteen times?

Bruce Springsteen wrote and powerfully sang a song a few years ago called “American Skin.” It is sometimes referred to by its subtitle of “41 Shots” which is the number of shots fired to kill a non-English speaking suspect who did not understand what he was being asked. He thought the police were out to get him and ran. When he pulled out his wallet, he was shot 41 times.

The fact that more Black youth are being shot is troublesome, but the number of shots the police officer feels obligated to use to defend himself or herself is also troubling. We need to be asking ourselves why? Why so many shots? Why are the shots fired so quickly? Were there no other actions that could have been taken?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book “Blink” he mentioned the circumstances behind the Springsteen song. The essence of the book is we use gut instinct which is really our in-tune subconscious that sees situations before our conscious mind can register what is going on. In one example, he notes how a fireman told his colleagues to back quickly out of room as his experience was giving him an uneasy feeling. The fire was not burning as per the norm. What his subconscious experience told him was correct – the fire was actually beneath the room they entered and if they went in, they would be consumed by the fire when the floor collapsed.

Gladwell notes the same is true for police officers. We must train and retrain how to recognize danger and when danger is not present. Those few instances in the “blinking of an eye” matter. This is why the job is so hard. A judgment call has to be made and, unfortunately, those calls are not always right. With adrenalin flowing, the reaction can be to shoot often. I hope that is all it is. I would hate to believe there is an unstated rule somewhere that if an officer shoots someone, they need to be lethal. Yet, we must ask these questions, as the number of shots used to subdue someone are too common and too many.

The best suggestions beyond the training and retraining are two-fold. The police union needs to be as involved and engaged as a pilot union is around an air crash. We need all parties looking to see why something happened, not with the primary motivation to say the police officer was not without fault. Good people make mistakes. Good police officers make them, too. Let’s understand why and use that information to avoid it going forward. And, it needs to be said, not all police officers are equal in experience, talent and temperament, just like everyone else.

The other good suggestion is more community policing. Encounters with law enforcement officers should not only happen in negative situations, where you messed up or someone thinks you messed up. The more interactions that are positive will help reduce crime. More police officer visibility will help reduce crime.

Let me end that we need to get to better answers. A better answer does not include police officers getting shot. That serves no purpose other than making a bad situation worse. And, a life is lost. Saying All Lives Matter is 100% correct, but this theme usurps the reason for the Black Lives Matter protests. We need to help police officers serve the community better in a tough job. That involves training, evaluation and improvement and community policing. It also involves understanding that difficulty.

I recognize fully that as a White man I am treated differently and can go anywhere I want, treatment that a Black man is not afforded even when dressed in a suit. When a Black man is stopped by the law, he knows he must move deliberately or this may be the last thing he does on earth. Black youth are given “the talk” by their mothers to do this very thing – be respectful and move slowly. This is sage advice for all of us, but please know how hard a job the police officer has, even when less biased to act. All it takes is an instance and someone is dead. So, we must respect the law, while we still seek answers. But, we do need answers.

 

Mental Health is one reason, but that means…

After the most recent mass shooting tragedy at Umpqua Community College, the new defense that it is not a gun problem, but is a mental health problem, have arisen. This is not an either/ or debate, as both are problems, but it is even more than that. But, let’s keep it simple and focus on mental health side for now, as there are some very telling things that need to be addressed.

Of course, someone killing people like this is indicative that there is likely a mental health issue. Even if the killer was aligned with a domestic terrorist group, wanted to commit a hate crime, or tried to start a race war as was the motivation in Charleston, SC, there is a sociopathic problem where the killer believes he is justified to do this.

Yet, as tragic as these types of mass shootings are in the US, the most prevalent reason for gun death is clearly a mental health concern and that is suicide. Suicides account for two-thirds of all gun deaths and are the leading cause of death in nine of the top ten states for gun deaths. Also, homes with a gun have a much greater propensity toward suicide than homes without a gun. All it takes is one impulsive act and it is over.

So, yes improving access to mental health is important. Denying access or restricting access to guns for those who have mental health issues is also a concern. Yet, that means you should not advocate actions to the contrary. What do I mean by this?

The folks who are shouting the loudest that this is not a gun issue, but is a mental health issue, have taken steps to block the path to addressing the mental health aspects, sometimes overtly advocating a policy change to make it easier to kill with a gun. The easiest example is the NRA, through the conservative group ALEC, has been supportive of state legislation that will make it a crime if a doctor asks a patient if he or she owns a gun. These laws are being considered in several conservative led states and have passed in a few.

So, think about this. The NRA, who says gun deaths are a mental health issue, advocates that a doctor cannot ask a presumably depressed patient if he or she has a gun at home. Maybe this doctor is already prescribing Lexapro, Risperdal or Seroquel, but the NRA and ALEC want to say it is a criminal act that the doctor inquires whether the patient has access to a weapon. Again, two-thirds of gun deaths in the US are suicide. I think it is well within the domain of the doctor to ask these questions.

But, it goes further. The retiring US Speaker of the House struck language earlier this year to some funding of looking at health care data in the US. He felt it was not appropriate to track gun death data as that was not germane to health issues. Please reread this statement as it takes a second to sink in. A conservative leader, whose party is heavily influenced by the NRA who says gun deaths are a mental health issue, does not want to spend our money to track reasons for gun deaths.

Finally, access to mental health care is key to this process. How are you going to do it? A behavioral psychologist, I used to work with, who helps employers design mental health wellness programs cites the following two statistics. 1 out of 5 people will have some level of depression during their lifetime. She also says that you can pick up any large employer’s health claim data and 1 out of 10 plan participants would be on depression medication. So, the need for access to mental health care is critical. The beauty is the Affordable Care Act provides more people with access.

Yet, the people who say gun deaths are more of a mental health issue also want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If this is done, what would they propose to make sure access to mental health care exists? The ACA is successful in getting uninsured people access to health care, including mental health care. My recommendation is if this is what they believe, then they should do what most Americans want and continue the ACA and improve it.

We obviously need better gun governance. Two keys are detailed background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. Per various surveys, there is a clear majority of Americans who want these, even conservative voters. The waiting period may help save a life, as if someone is depressive, the wait may allow the impulse to wane. Yet, both of these steps along with some others, could help make a difference in gun deaths.

Yet, mental health is a concern. But, that means we should not restrict doctors from having conversations with their patients about guns, especially if they are treating a patient for depression. That means we should track gun death data and use it to make informed decisions. And, that means we should promote the access to mental health care through the Affordable Care Act. To do otherwise on any of these three issues, is highly hypocritical. Saying mental health is a concern and then doing the opposite is antagonistic to solving the problem. It has to be more than words.

 

Time to stop trying to keep your job and start doing your job

Whether it is a national or state legislative position, the money needed to get elected is obscene. It also has corrupted the ability for politicians to focus on doing their job, as they spend far too much time trying to keep their jobs. And, in politics, that means doing what your funders beckon more so than what makes sense to do or what your constituents want you to do. The only time politicians will come close to doing the right thing is when something bad has happened or they are shamed or threatened by industry.

In the case of gun deaths, we apparently cannot have enough bad things happen to get Congress or the various state general assemblies to act like adults and parents. They are so scared of the NRA (and their ability to bring fervent folks out to vote when more reasonable sit home), they will not do obvious things that would move us down the right path. Not only are they scared of the NRA, they court the NRA asking what is on its wish list that will facilitate the greater sale of guns in America. What many fail to realize, is the NRA does not represent most gun owners who responsibly own weapons and would like to see common sense gun laws implemented.

Per a Pew survey, 81% of Americans want background checks on all purchases of weapons. This same survey also notes that elongated waiting periods would also be desirable by more than not. These numbers jive with a survey conducted by Elon University two years ago. Note, neither of these changes would infringe upon the perceived  sacrosanct right for someone to own two dozen AK47s. What these surveys are saying is gun ownership is OK, but let’s make sure we know where the guns are, who owns them and maybe who should not.

Critics will say that won’t stop the gun violence. Well, neither will doing nothing. There are responsible gun owners who have joined with others to support common sense gun laws. I recognize this is more than a gun issue. We need to treat people with more civility in disagreement, we need to be mindful of the role poverty and crime play in gun deaths, we need to understand that some mental illnesses should preclude the right to own a gun due to the number of suicides that occur each year (more on that below) and we cannot underestimate the role training plays, so kids cannot get access to weapons.

The greater tragedies in America are not the mass shootings. The greater tragedies are what happen everyday. Pick up any newspaper in any city on any day and count the number of gun death or shooting stories. Google “six-year-old shoots four-year-old” and count the stories. But, even those do not do justice to the greater tragedies that happen everyday. You see the number one reason for gun deaths in America is suicide with two-thirds of the approximate 33,000 annual gun deaths due to this reason.

In North Carolina, we wanted to make it a crime for a doctor to ask if a patient has a gun. Let’s say this doctor is prescribing medicine for depression. And, someone thought it was a good idea to make it against the law to ask if he or she owns a gun. In our state, we made it easier for guns to be on playgrounds, in bars and on college campuses. Go in any college counseling building and see the line of people being helped. The propensity for depression is higher on college campuses than in general society, since kids expect it to be nirvana and it is not. Folks, all it takes is one impulsive act and your child is dead.

And, to illustrate further the NRA’s reach, the House just passed a law to not fund gun death studies. Our Speaker of the House noted guns are not a disease and need not be studied. With 22,000 deaths per year by suicide, I would call that the final act of someone who has some depressive tendencies, which is a disease. I find this decision absolutely appalling and prima facie evidence of the undue influence of the NRA. God forbid we study why Americans are needlessly dying.

To be brutally frank, we can still support the Second Amendment rights without being foolish. And, we need not pass laws that are dubious the day they are announced. Responsible gun owners agree with non-gun owners on this issue as evidenced by the survey data and advocacy group participation. So, legislators please do your job and worry less about keeping your job. As very little useful legislation comes from focusing on the latter motivation.