After his death, a second amendment supporter, leaves a message on gun violence

The following posthumous editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer on August 6, 2019. It speaks for itself.

“Larry Swenberg died of ALS this spring, a few months before gunmen killed 29 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Swenberg, a retired doctor of veterinary medicine in Durham, was a gun owner and avid hunter, but he was horrified at mass shootings inflicted by assault-style weapons. His wife, Gwen, sent us this op-ed from her husband last week, before Dayton and El Paso. One of his last wishes, she said, was to leave a message for his fellow Second Amendment supporters — and all of us.:

I am a 73 year-old retired doctor of veterinary medicine and a political independent who is neither a politician nor a Washington insider, but a citizen pleading to stop the carnage of assault weapons. I am a former hunter, recreational shooter, current gun owner, supporter of the Second Amendment, but never an NRA contributor.
In my plea for sanity, I prioritize assault weapons because of their availability and their ability to produce mass carnage. In the wake of a mass shooting in New Zealand committed with an assault weapon, it took five days for the country to ban the weapon. Our country’s ban expired in 2004, and the gun lobby and the NRA has spent millions to buy its continued extinction.

If your goal is to kill the greatest number in the shortest time, this is the weapon of choice. Many cry foul here, saying it is the shooter, not the weapon that is the problem. If you honestly prioritize human life over personal desire, then you must acknowledge the risk of assault weapons in the wrong hands as responsible for oft repeated slaughter of the innocent.

The NRA’s seven-million-dollar senator, Richard Burr of North Carolina, blithely maintains a ban would infringe on Second Amendment personal freedom. Are speed limits a similar infringement? This attitude reflects a disconnect which is mind numbing. This character flaw is common among politicians and America’s gun-owning public. People who fail to see blood on their hands for their inaction do so because guilt for their acts of omission is simply not a quality of their character.

The High Court has affirmed the congressional right to regulate firearms. Therefore the belief that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own an assault rifle is wrong. If politicians past and present had any integrity and not just self-interest, poor judgment or a lack of conscience, we would not have the cumulative carnage of assault weapons we presently have. Had Congress recognized its sin of omission and sought penance through action, we would not have the empty solace of our collective thoughts and prayers.

Think about this when you sit in a church pew, go to work, or enjoy hobbies: we all have the blood of omission on our hands, despite those who live in denial. So long as assault weapons are available publicly, the pathologically demented will use them to massacre the most numbers in the shortest time.

An author whose name I don’t recall wrote a person’s god is that to which ultimate allegiance is given – money, fame, power, etc. if you prioritize the petty position of a firearms over public safety, then your god is a gun no matter how many hours you sit in a church or bow to Mecca. You then are a first order hypocrite and must simply own this fact. It is a tragedy some people feel a felony must be committed to protect the public’s safety.

An assault weapons ban will not solve America’s gun violence but it would stop mass carnage in minimal time. Demand nothing less of Congress and the White House.”

 

 

Knife wielding suspect subdued (and lives)

The title gives the climax away, but that is not the whole story. A man wielding two knives was threatening people in the halls of his apartment complex.

Three police officers showed up and told the man they had a taser and asked him to put down the knives. After a lengthy discussion and pleas, one officer moved toward the man who lunged at the officer and was tased. Remarkably, the man kept trying to knife the officer, who was able to avoid getting stabbed. The man was taking away to face a court date and jail time.

There are two other keys to this story. It was in Australia, not the US. In Charlotte last year, a man wielding a knife was shot dead by police with nine shots. I understand police have a difficult job, but the eagerness and frequency in which assailants are shot seems much higher here on the US. Plus, the number of shots stymies me – nine, eleven, sixteen shots are too representative.

The other issue worth noting is the man was white. I often use the story of how a 65 year old white man was disarmed by Detroit police after an hour conversation. Tamir Rice, an adolescent black boy, was killed within two seconds due to the toy gun he was carrying. Why? Why is there such haste to unload a weapon when the alleged perpetrator is black?

We must do better at addressing these issues. The police are doing a hard job, made harder as they don’t know who is packing heat and what firepower such heat has. I believe this adds even more tension to any police encounter where there is uncertainty. And, race plays a huge factor. Another black man was gunned down at a Walmart by police yesterday.

We cannot overtrain police at identifying threats and de-escalating tense situations. And, we must treat every shooting like the pilots investigate crashes. We must be transparent and learn how to avoid poor or hasty decisions. Other western countries do not have our overall and police gun death rates. We must do better.

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

MLK advice on violence still resonates

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. To many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

* http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/

** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

A few interesting gun tidbits

Last week, the state of Georgia decided it would become the wild west and allow guns pretty much anywhere. I am being facetious, but only to a certain extent. Unfortunately, Georgia is also the site of the terrible shooting at a Federal Express location that killed several people earlier this week. One did not lead to the other, but the irony is significant and unfortunate. I have written numerous posts regarding my concerns and those of reasonable gun owners, that we need to make some changes to make sure guns are in the hands of people who can exhibit responsibility and accountability.

If you did not see the article on investing entitled “10 Things the Gun Industry won’t Tell You,” I would encourage you to read it. Attached is a link to this brief piece:: http://money.msn.com/investing/10-things-the-gun-industry-wont-tell-you

A few highlights from the article would include a few statistics from reputable sources:

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the US has 85 gun deaths per day for a tally of 31,000 per year. This is highest rate of gun deaths among developed countries.

– In the January Journal of Annals of Internal Medicine, it is noted that people who live in a house where a firearm is present, the rate of suicide is 3 x the rate in households without a gun. The rate of a homicide in a house where a firearm is present is 2 x the rate of homicide in homes without.

I wanted to highlight those three data points because I think they speak volumes. In earlier posts, I have noted other data points that paint a similar picture. The gun death problem in America is primarily not the mass shootings, like the unfortunate Federal Express shooting of yesterday or the second Foot Hood tragedy of a few weeks ago. The greater tragedy in America is what happens every day. It is those 85 gun deaths per day that occur. It is the fact that we by far tally the most children and teen gun deaths in the world.  It is these accidental and intentional shootings around kids and done by kids as young as two years old, that break your heart.

As I have noted before, gun deaths are due to a multitude of problems and it will take a comprehensive effort to remedy the issue. It is a mental health issue. It is a crime issue. It is a poverty issue. It is a drug issue. It is an entertainment violence issue. It is an inability to have civil discourse or disagreement. But, make no mistake, it is also an access to gun issue. I know guns don’t kill people. It is people with access to guns that kill people.

With the data overwhelmingly showing Americans, including Republicans, want better gun laws, it is criminal that Congress will not act. It is also criminal that some states have loosened access and expanded places to carry guns, like Georgia and my own state of North Carolina. Carrying a loaded weapon into a bar or near kids on a playground is terribly unwise. Guns, testosterone and alcohol don’t mix. And, if you Google 6-year-old shoots 4-year-old, you will note that kids and guns don’t mix either. Plus, having guns on college campuses is not a great idea as the propensity for depression is higher in college students than that of general society.

But, what frustrates me is Congress and these states do not care what we think. They are so beholden to the NRA and a passionate army of gun fans, that they dare not make them mad. I heard earlier this week, that the NRA fans are a distributed base of fervent people. So, it is far easier for them to exude their passion in local and state races and legislation. That does not make them right, it just shows how adroit and powerful they are.

Every proposed law I have seen does not alter the constitutionally interpreted right to own a gun. It just speaks to extended background checks and waiting period. There have been proposals to limit rounds of ammunition and they should also get serious attention. However, there is another data point in the above article worth noting – 31% of the revenue of gun makers is ammunition. Money talks and right now, it is the only thing talking. Folks, it is long past time for better gun laws. And, they need to be more than just that. Listen to responsible gun owners and less to the NRA, so that we can make decisions like parents should.