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/

We cannot outlaw stupidity

I often hear the argument that we should not try to regulate people’s lives so much. They should be free to choose behaviors or actions that a more reasonable person may not make. That is all well and good, but there is one major stumbling block to this thesis – we cannot outlaw stupidity. And, to the extent behaviors or actions are taken that will either cost others to repair or that might impact or be harmful to others, then we need to have some regulations to not only protect people from themselves, but also protect others from the unwise actions of a few.

Seat Belts and Motorcycle Helmets

I have paired these two items together as they are related. I think some may not like the requirement to use seatbelts, but it is more universally understood that this saves lives. Yet, some still don’t wear them.The same could be true for motorcycles helmets, but some states have relaxed this requirement. That is poor stewardship at the state level. Why do I say this? If you are on a motorcycle and crash, you will either die or be so severely injured, that medical costs will be significant. And, you may still die. First, if you are without insurance the cost of your medical care is borne by taxpayers and insured patients through allocated indigent costs. Second, if you have coverage, you are leaving the added cost to your family to take care of you and pay for deductibles, co-insurance, etc. The same holds true for seatbelts. For a good discussion on the topic check out http://diatribesandovations.com/2013/05/12/0512-sun-diatribe/ for her post last week called “Diatribe: Six (Sad) Reasons People Might Not Wear Seatbelts.”

Texting while Driving

Some states have begun to intervene on limiting texting while driving. It is long overdue. A statistic this week said more teenagers are now killed in car accidents while the driver is texting than when the driver is inebriated. Also, more teenagers are injured as a result in the same comparison. Being a parent, seeing the devastated parents share the final important words that had to be texted by their child before he or she died breaks your heart. When your child does something very foolish and lives that is one thing, but when your child does not live as a result, it leaves you so distraught over “what if I had said not to do it one more time?” Teenagers are impulsive and will act foolishly. That cannot be stopped. But, we can make it illegal and maybe, just maybe, that will save a car load of seventeen year olds.

Payday Lending

This is a predatory lending practice that should be outlawed. Payday lending is very close to usury and we know how Jesus felt about usury and money handlers. And, If you like Dante’s Inferno, there is a special level in Hell for these folks. Yet, they persist and our conservative and error prone legislature in NC wants to allow them back into the state. Last December I wrote a post on the vagaries of payday lending which you can go to with this link: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/pay-day-lending-there-is-a-reason-they-spam-you/. The problem is the average Joe does not know how bad these arrangements are and they can get over their head very quickly. Hence, regulations are needed to prevent them from loaning to people or they need to be severely, and I mean severely restricted and subject to the same limits as banks allowing for an acceptable margin for riskier loans. You should also note, payday lenders have a habit of preying on our military families setting up shop en masse outside of a base taking advantage of one spouse, while the other is overseas.

Gun Ownership

Let me close with a discussion on this topic. Since guns are part of our culture, we are never going to outlaw guns in our country, yet we need tighter controls than we have. This is not a fishing license and when you get outside of a NRA rally, the majority of gun owners and most Americans concur that tighter restrictions are needed. As evidence to my argument and in support of the theme of this post, note the following three stories all of which occurred in the last three weeks.

– Five-year old child kills two-year old sister with rifle made for kids and sold as such.

– Eight-year old child kills five-year old cousin with a 22 Rifle.

– Eighty-eight-year old man kills eighty-year-old female roommate over an argument over his beer drinking on Sunday morning when she returned from church.

Unfortunately, these stories are not a surprise or that unusual in the US. We lead the civilized world in child gun deaths and all gun deaths by far. In fact, 87% of all child gun deaths of the top 23 countries in the world occur in the US. That means 87 out of 100 occur here, with 13 out of 100 occurring in the other 22 countries.

Gun ownership is serious business. We should require background checks on all gun purchases with no exception. And, if someone downloads this plastic gun and uses a 3D printer, then they need to register that purchase or go to jail. I would go further and require training as it is obvious from the above the parents owning these guns are akin to a monkey with a hand grenade. They will live with their tragic mistakes for the rest of their lives, but to be frank, they should be tried with involuntary manslaughter for leaving a loaded gun around. Our society owes it to these kids to protect them from irresponsible parents or parents who made a horrible, but preventable mistake. I would ask a jury to decide their fate between the two.

We need regulations as we cannot outlaw stupidity. Also, many services and product sales are complicated, so we need governance over these sales. That is a key reason we have consumer protection laws as many less than financially astute people may be wooed by promises of more money, better returns, better results, etc. and make a very foolish choice. In truth, many of us make less than informed choices. We trust the commercials, we trust the words of people in suits and ties, we trust more than we should. We need to ask more questions and, if we don’t feel comfortable, we should find someone we trust to ask them for us. In short, we all have varying degrees of stupidity, even the smartest people among us. Since we cannot outlaw stupidity, we certainly need to protect us from ourselves and each other.

Memo to Boehner and Reid – Make a Move

Date: April 7, 2013

To: Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Leader Harry Reid

From: A Concerned Parent in America

Cc: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Dianne Feinstein, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden

Subject: Better Gun Control – Make a Move

I have been beating on this drum well before Sandy Hook, but we cannot let what happened there go without acting responsibly. I applaud Governor Malloy and the bi-partisan legislature in Connecticut for doing the right thing and passing universal background checks and restriction on magazines. I also applaud the governor and legislature in Colorado for similar action. And, hats off to those states who already have tighter requirements.

Tonight, I watched with millions of Americans the parents and loved ones of the twenty-six Sandy Hook victims tell their story on 60 Minutes and beg you to act. It is time to make a move. The ball is in your court and I will hold you two personally responsible along with Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor for your failure to act.

You see, the problem is worse than the shooting tragedies at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Arizona, Virginia Tech, et al. The problem we are fighting happens everyday. It is when one teen shoots and kills another teen or child. It is when someone feels “dissed” in a public setting and has access to a gun in his car (gender intended as very few women are this irresponsible). You mix guns with testosterone and alcohol or drugs and only bad things happen.

You see, the US leads the top 23 wealthiest countries in gun deaths and teen/ children gun deaths by far. It is not even close. Even gun countries like Canada have much fewer gun deaths than we have. You see, we have the Second Amendment and the NRA. I am not advocating taking anyone’s Second Amendment rights away, but we need to understand the context of when the constitution was written. In my mind, no one outside of the military or police should own an assault weapon. And, for those of you who wonder What Would Jesus Do? I can assure you that Jesus would not own a gun, much less an Uzi or AK47. If a minister tells you otherwise, then you should strongly question his understanding of the bible.

This is not a fishing license. We need universal background checks on every purchase. I think we need training as well, but let’s start there. I also believe we can limit the magazines. That will also save lives. I think we should get rid of the assault weapons, but I am going to make it easier for you and say do those first two things – universal background checks and limits on magazine. The police are telling you to do this – we should listen to them rather than the NRA. The NRA does not speak for Americans and they don’t even speak for most gun owners. So, say thank you for your input NRA, but we are going to do this.

Make a move. It is time. The significant majority of Americans want this. It is up to you. And, for those who feel they may not get re-elected, I have two final comments.

First, stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job.

Second, if someone uses this as a campaign issue, you look them in the eye and say, I voted to save lives. What would you have had me do? Next question.

Speaker Boehner and Senator Reid, it is your ball to play. Make a move. Americans want this. I want this as a parent. And, as an Independent voter having laid out this problem, I am less concerned with what the NRA thinks. When the next shooting happens (and it almost did in Central Florida a month ago, except for an alert fellow student), it will be in your lap to reconcile that tragedy with the failure to act now. Acting will not stop gun deaths. It cannot in our free society. But, it can make a difference.

So, make a move. Make a difference. It is time.

A Mixed Bag of Observations

There are so many good bloggers who make us think. You are the best. Rather than infringe on their words, I wanted to highlight a few comments for general reaction and refer to others, where appropriate. In no particular order:

Pope Francis – Very Early Returns

I have shared my concerns in earlier posts, “Mea Maxima Culpa: When Piety Trumps Criminality” the most recent one, about the need for the Catholic Church leadership to make a major structural change. This was before the previous pope retired. These are initial impressions and the proof is in his actions, but Pope Francis seems to be doing things which are a breath of fresh air. His ministry has been to care for the poor, but he continues that outreach as pope. Getting out of the pope-mobile to greet people is yet another example. And, just this morning he commented on the fundamental role women play in “passing on the faith.”  Plus, he has a welcoming smile and countenance – by themselves, that does not make him a great, compassionate leader, but he seems to very approachable, which is counter to his predecessor. The other thing I like is he is unnerving to those who want a formal, distant leadership favoring a status quo. They should be unnerved. And, I hope he continues down this path forward. The church needs him to, whether these status quo advocates understand the message or not.

Everything is Not a Debate

My friend Hugh on www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com wrote recently about our tendency of making a debate out of everything. He correctly asserts that when an issue is pretty much decided, there need not be an other side to the issue presented as if the issue remains open. On Friday night’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” the conservative author, Steve Moore, was on the panel and the last guest who joined the panel was a young student from Louisiana named Zack Kopplin. While Moore has written numerous books, he is one of my least favorite guests as he often causes a shouting match to occur because of his inability to listen to arguments and his bent to argue with less relevant points that don’t define an issue. Kopplin has been advocating against a Louisiana law just signed by Governor Bobby Jindal to require creationism be taught as a counter argument to evolution in public schools. This articulate young man has 80 Nobel Science Prize winners on his side arguing the case.

The panel got on a discussion of climate change and fossil fuels. Like Hugh has noted, the scientists overwhelmingly (around 97%) conclude global warming is a crisis and is man-influenced and we need to do something about. Moore kept arguing that there is still a debate that many scientists say it is not and we should have a discussion about it. He used tired old arguments that don’t mean much. Maher had the best one-liner after listening to him and said “correct me, but you are not a scientist, are you?” After this discussion ebbed and flowed, Kopplin noted the need to act now and that in failing to do so, we are not being responsible stewards of the earth. When Moore kept on about needing debate over the existence of global warming, Kopplin repeated Maher’s line “you are not a scientist.”

I will echo Hugh’s post and say again what I have said many times before. The GOP is the only formal body in the world that not does believe global warming is occurring. They only do so because the fossil fuel industry who funds them says to tell people it is not. This industry has a vested interest in furthering debate as it permits them to get more revenue out of the ground at our expense. There is no longer a debate on this. The debate should be crafting a formal plan to accelerate the move away from fossil fuels. I wrote a post last spring about the Cartaret Islanders petitioning other bigger islands to let them move there. Why? They openly talk about how global warming is causing the ocean to consume their island. These islanders know more about global warming than 74% of GOP congressmen in the US who formally deny its existence and the islanders are acting while they still can before the ocean sweeps them away.

Kudos to Connecticut and Colorado

Between Barney of www.mountainperspective.wordpress.com and Amaya at www.thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com, there has been good discussion around the need for better gun control. Now, 90% of Americans support background checks for all gun purchases. This should be a no-brainer. No one is taking anyone’s right to buy a gun away. No one is taking anyone’s guns away. People are just saying, this is a serious purchase and such a serious purchase deserves a seriousness of purpose through background check. I like one person’s idea of requiring training like you would with a driver’s license, but I can only dream about that.

With that as context, kudos to Connecticut for their bi-partisan call to action that has led to the passage of better gun control laws in that state. No law is perfect, but this one was text-book in how it came about. Both sides saw it was very important for the state to act after Sandy Hook, debated the issue and came away with a workable law.  Living in NC with our GOP led legislature and some of their inane discussions and laws, I envy Connecticut and its adult debate. Colorado should be commended as well, as it came out of the gate earlier after the theatre shooting in the summer and in a state where many have weapons, came up with sensible gun laws.

My big question is are you watching this in Washington? A note to the GOP – the NRA does not speak for Americans and they do not even speak for most gun owners. A note to the few Democrats who are sheepish. If you help pass sensible gun laws and this becomes a campaign issue, remember the following words – “I voted to save lives. What would you rather I do? Next question.” As Barney, Amaya and I have noted, the problem is what happens every day. The mass shootings are tragic, but that is not the bigger problem. We lead the civilized world (the wealthiest 23 countries)  by far in gun deaths and children gun deaths. We need to act like parents and do the right thing. If you cannot think like a parent, then act like an adult and do the right thing. Pass better gun laws starting with universal background checks.

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Thanks to all the posts and blogs from those mentioned above and those not. Thanks to the many commenters as well. These blogs attract a very good group of thoughtful commenters who aid the debate. I also appreciate your comments as well. I would love to hear what you think of these issues.

If I were a groundhog in the US….

If I were a groundhog in the US, I would consider going back in my hole. Otherwise, I might get shot. In my newspaper yesterday, the first day of February, there were four stories on gun death that were headlined or sub-headlined under the category “Briefly” which notes news nuggets or updates. I guess since three of these stories were under this category, it shows how routine gun deaths have become in America. Since we lead the civilized world with 80% of the gun deaths of the top 23 wealthiest countries, the comment about routine is on the mark.

So, let’s at least honor the deceased by mentioning these four stories. I will give you the headline then a brief synopsis.

Teen accused of killing his grandmother appears in court – Seventeen year old Clayton Eli Watts and two others are accused of killing Watts’ grandmother Jimmie Diane Paul. The victim was described as a bubbly woman who cared for others. One of Watts’ neighbors said “he was such a good boy.” I add this as it appears often in these stories and goes back to a post I wrote ten days ago – “How do you know who the good guys are?”

Police: Teenager shot by fellow student at GA middle school A student opened fire at his middle school Thursday afternoon, wounding a 14 year-old in the neck before an armed officer working at the school was able to get the gun away (I know this is not a gun death, but could have been). Access to guns. Access to guns Access to guns. If you have guns at home, lock them up. Responsible gun owners know this and realize its importance.

Phoenix office shooter found dead of apparent suicide – A man who shot and killed a call center CEO and wounded a lawyer where they were meeting to discuss a contract dispute was found dead early Thursday of an apparent suicide. Arthur Douglas Harmon, age 70, died of an apparent self-inflicted gun shot wound ending a 24 hour man-hunt. I will let you draw your own conclusions as we don’t know what went through his head. Yet, I am troubled by the fact a man would bring a weapon to a contract dispute. Again, this goes back to our need for civil discourse. This is not a movie or video game – you cannot kill someone who disagrees with you.

County prosecutor killed near North Texas courthouse – An assistant district attorney (DA) was shot and killed near the courthouse where he worked. A masked gunman shot Mark Hasse, the DA, multiple times in the parking lot at 9 am as Hasse was headed into work.The killer is still at large. The police are searching through the DA’s cases for clues as to who may have done this apparent targeted shooting.

These are four stories that appeared yesterday. I would ask you to do a test over a week’s worth of news. Tally the number of gun shootings and deaths that occur in the paper over a week. If these occurred on February 2 – Groundhog’s Day – the critter would have gone back in his hole. This is the bigger context for why our country needs to do something. I said it over the summer after Aurora in “Another day in America: a sixteen year-old kills thirteen year-old friend.” If you do not care about the adult shootings at least care about the kids – per the same study which I cited the 80% statistic above, it is not the worse one for the US. 87% of all children gun deaths of the top 23 wealthiest countries are in the US. And, there have been over 119,000 children and teen gun deaths in America since 1979.

As a parent and citizen, I find these numbers shameful for America. Countries around the globe think the US is the wild, wild west. Guns have always been a part of our fabric, but due to market segmentation and money, gun ownership has become a wedge issue and something that has gone way beyond the intent of the Second Amendment. Since Constitutionalists like to cite the purity of the Second Amendment, then we should use the context of when it was written to say the following:

If the Second Amendment need not be reviewed in the context of today’s time and must be viewed in the context of the time of our founding fathers then it could be argued that women nor African-Americans of any gender have the right to own a gun. The constitution was written for a free white male society, so if we want to be literal about the Second Amendment, then we need to be literal about everything. So, women and African-Americans you are not afforded the same rights as white men and cannot own a gun.

My point is all laws have to be reviewed over time. Slavery was wrong and after a painful war and 100 ensuing years, African-Americans were afforded the same liberties as others. We still have issues, but the Civil Rights Act remedied constitutional shortsightedness. The same could be said about Women’s Suffrage. It took almost 150 years for Congress to remedy the slight to women on voting rights. The Second Amendment served a purpose, but the NRA and its more strident followers seem to believe what they think it intended need not be reviewed and reconsidered. The current context does not preclude the duty to rethink our laws and their applicability.

Last night on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Sam Harris who has angered both sides of the gun control issue said basically gun ownership should be more like getting a pilot license. You should have to go through a thorough background check and be trained before you get one. There should be no exceptions. I agree. The police want us to register the bullets so crimes can be solved more easily. I agree.

We also need more training in schools and by parent(s), teachers, clergy, Sunday school teachers, mentors and other adults, that civil discourse is needed. It is OK to argue, but do not feel you are being treated without respect if someone disagrees with you. We need to openly discuss how to argue and advocate for your position. Gun deaths are occurring more often due to access to guns following heated arguments.

We also need better access to mental health treatment and remove the stigmas. 20% of people will need mental health assistance or medication during their lifetime. 10% of any employer’s health care members are taking medication for a mental health issue. I have noted before my concern over weapons on college campuses where depression has a higher propensity. Kids get away from parents and think the world is their oyster and realize they have to work hard to succeed and not everything is as imagined. All it takes is one impulsive, bad decision married with gun access and a student’s life is over. Not off the subject, but there have been studies that show the presence of a gun heightens suicidal tendencies.

We need to look at the violence of movies and video games. There is a correlation in our society, but is it causal in any way? Is it causal when other factors are present? I do not know, but this something we need to look into. I go back to the late 1970’s when gun deaths started ending crime shows as it tied up the bad guys in a neat fashion. Now, everyone is slaughtered by guns. Yet, as I have pointed out to my kids, have you noticed the good guys always shoot straighter than the bad guys in the movies? It does not work like that in real life. The bad guys can shoot as well.

We need to think about where we want to restrict guns. Guns should not be around bars or restaurants or any venue where alcohol is served. Period, end of story. Guns, testosterone and alcohol do not mix. Someone will get needlessly killed when these three ingredients are mixed. We have already seen an increase in fan violence without guns. It gets back to the civil discourse where arguments ensue over sports teams, usually with drunken patrons. At a NC State University football game two years ago, a drunken man was endangering others by driving fast around a parking lot. After being confronted by two good Samaritans, the drunk driver, went home, got his gun, came back and killed the two good Samaritans. Access to guns. Access to guns. Access to guns.

So, for all of us groundhogs and our groundhog children, please let’s address our runaway gun problem in America. It is shameful to be number one on the list of leaders in gun deaths. Most responsible gun owners agree.

How do you know who the good guys are?

There have been many excellent posts on the need to lessen gun deaths in the United States. I have been thoroughly impressed by many blogging friends, in particular Amaya at www.thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com who in the face of well-armed relatives will not back down on the need for smarter gun control. Yet, the purpose of this post is to address a series of questions I have, one in particular, in response to the infamous comment by Wayne LaPierre of the NRA.

“The only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

My simple question is how do you know who the good guy with a gun is as opposed the bad guy? The answer to this question is not that simple, as we are all varying shades of gray. There are very few, if any, all good or all bad, people. Even Mother Teresa confided in her journal how tempted she was and how hard she prayed to do the right thing each day. You would be hard pressed to find a better person than Mother Teresa. Yet, since we are not all Mother Teresa’s, let me quote Kevin Horrigan of the St. Louis Dispatch who said this week about athletes who lie and cheat – Social scientists who have studied the issue generally agree that 10% of people are honest all the time, 5% will lie and cheat any time it’s in their interest and 85% of people are basically honest, but depending on the circumstances, will cut a few corners or shave the truth from time to time.

Using the above as a proxy, we could say that 85% of people are in the category of the varying shades of gray. We are human and not bad people, but we will err, sin and use bad judgment. So, let’s place a gun in the hands of the 85% and see what happens on a daily basis. As I noted in earlier blogs, as tragic as Newtown is, the greater tragedy occurs every day. A 16-year-old kills a 13-year-old for showing him disrespect. A distraught son gets mad at his mom and kills his three siblings and parents. A person gets mad at a pizza parlor, goes to his car and comes back to kill the person who slighted him. A mother shoots her son over an American Idol argument. A football player shoots his girlfriend in front of his mother as he is mad at her for staying out late. A man goes home to get his gun after being confronted about his dangerous driving in a parking lot, then returns and shoots two people. A man takes a gun to sell at a weapons show and it discharges and hurts someone.

A gun in the hands of a perceived good person does not make things safer for many reasons. Our society has become less civil to each other, so arguments become more hostile than they need to be. Without a gun, you may have seen a fist fight or someone leaving the scene. With access to a gun, the good guy will be more prone to use it to preserve his honor. So, acting impulsively, a death occurs and he is charged with a crime and will go to jail.

Acting on impulse gets worse when you mix guns, alcohol and testosterone. Good men when tipsy or drunk will throw good judgment out the window. If a gun is handy and offense is taken, whether intended or not, someone will get shot. “Oh, but he was such a good man,” his neighbors would say. When I hear about people who want to take a concealed weapon into a bar, I truly think that is the most asinine action one could do. And, if you don’t believe me, please ask your wife, mother or sister about what good can possibly come from mixing guns, alcohol and testosterone.

But, let’s set that aside and talk to Mr. LaPierre’s thesis in a mass shooting situation, since that is the only crisis he wants to address. Let’s say we arm the 10% who are honest as the day is long. Police officers and soldiers will tell you, no matter how much training you have, it is a totally different ball game when you are shooting at someone who is shooting at you. Would a teacher better serve her students to get them out of harm’s way as practiced or attempt to be Dirty Harry? Once he or she is shot, the children have no prayer. And, to further embellish this point, there was someone armed in the Aurora theatre. He said it was so dark and smoky, he did not know who to shoot. This is someone who knew what they were doing and chose not to fire.

I am delighted the President asked his Vice President to discuss openly with lawmakers what to do about our nation leading the civilized world by far in gun deaths. With 80% of the gun deaths out of the top 23 nations combined, we hold an infamous distinction. I detest that this has become a wedge issue, but one side has to disagree with the other side because the other side said it. So, the recommendations made by the President based on the VP led committee are meritorious. They should be considered each and every one. I for one am against assault weapons in the hands of civilians. I think any civilian that has an assault weapon has the potential to do great harm given the above.

Yet, if we set that aside, as it gets included in the eternally mentioned and misunderstood Second Amendment rights basket, let’s focus on a couple of things that should be as close to no brainers as possible.

All guns purchased need to have a waiting period and background check, period. There is no reason not to require this. There should be no gun show loophole as to have one defeats the purpose. This is not a fishing license, it is for a weapon that is designed to kill. You can wait 30 days for it James Bond.

– All weapons and bullets need to be traceable. The police have long advocated for this. If you have an unlicensed weapon or bullets, you should lose your weapon, be fined or go to jail if you continue to be non-compliant. If you have no malintent, then you should not be threatened by this requirement. That car you say that also kills people has a VIN number and the driver has a license. And, the driver could not drive it until he or she showed evidence of insurance.

– Guns should not be around alcohol. We must address civil disagreement as a society, but when judgment is impaired due to alcohol, people die when guns are around. Again stating loudly, mixing guns, alcohol and testosterone is assinine.

I am for armed guards in school. To have at least the illusion of better security to dissuade mass shooters, we need security guards who know what they are doing. But, I do know many public schools cut back on teachers, counselors and security guards due to budget reasons. I have witnessed on many occasions, people cry out to cut back big government and then when positions are reduced, the same folks cry foul when something bad happens. This is important, so let’s fund it and more teachers with it.

– We must make mental health services more accessible and get over the stigma. One in five people will have some issue with mental health in their lifetime. One in 10 people in a company’s medical plan will be taking drugs for a mental health issue. In today’s world, we can live normal lives with mental health issues. Yet, with that said, when people do get depressed, the availability of a weapon increases the likelihood of suicide. This is why having guns on college campuses is a horrible idea – college kids have a higher degree of depression than general society and these kids will act impulsively. And, once acted out, it is over. There is no do over.

–  Finally, we must take responsibility for our actions. If we own a gun, we need to be like the many responsible gun owners who are rebelling against the NRA. We must also teach civil disagreement approaches in school. There are some forward thinking programs that are doing this, but it should be a routine part of the schooling and preached routinely by teachers and reinforced by parents, mentors, etc.

I guess if there is an appropriate prayer to the God of your own understanding, it is something like the following – Lord, please help me do the right thing, even when I am tempted to do otherwise. Please help me use good judgment and be accountable and responsible for my actions. And, help me treat others like I want to be treated. But, since I cannot always do the above, using the famous words of President Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify.” Make sure that if I own a gun, it is registered along with its bullets and I had to go through a thorough background check to get it. Therefore, I will make damn sure I am using it to a good purpose.

It is all of our responsibility, including the NRA

I have never been a fan of the blame game. As a former manager of people, it is extremely rare to see a one-sided communication problem. I am also not a huge fan of people trying to place their share of the blame on someone else. I think the recent posturing of the NRA on our complex gun death problem in the US is highly offensive, not only to me, but to many, including responsible gun owners. Truth, be told, our gun death problem in the US is all of our responsibility, and yes, that includes you NRA.

The theme of this post has been altered over the course of the week, as I have read two of the best pieces of journalism on this topic from two bloggers, who I want to give the loudest of shout outs. I would encourage you to read “Can we talk about gun laws?” at www.thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com as well as “Starting this year off with guns a blazin” at www.diatribesandovations.com. The authors of these blogs have written several good posts on the topic, but you will get a keen sense of their concerns and issues by reading these two posts. All, I can add is “Amen, sisters” to their work. Yet, if you did want to read more about my concerns, I would guide you back to two posts of mine – “Gun deaths and the bigger context” last month and “Another day in America – a 16 year-old kills 13 year-old friend” penned back in August.

As these posts point out, the gun death issue is not about addressing mass murder, although that is a part of the equation. The bigger question is how do we address the gun deaths that occur every day? The issue is complex and one solution is not the answer. That is another key reason the NRA’s posturing is so lame. It will require a series of solutions to address this issue and one of those solutions will have to be tighter gun restrictions. And, if you don’t believe me check out the positions of Ronald Reagan and the first NRA president in the aforementioned post on “Can we talk about gun laws?”

So, please consider the following issues and potential solutions:

Tighter gun restrictions: This has to be part of the equation and the easiest thing to do is reinstate the Brady Law” which was advocated by Ronald Reagan, who as president was the target of the bullets that also hit James Brady. This law expired in 2004 and its lapsing is a clear sign of poor stewardship on Congress’ part.

Civil Discourse: This may be the major issue causing gun deaths. People get in arguments with family, friends, fellow patrons, fellow sports fanatics, etc. over stupid issues and do not know how to civilly disagree. There has been a huge increase in fan violence at sporting events, which is an example of this behavior. Yet, now when people get into arguments, someone has a gun or can easily get a gun and an impulsive decision will end a life. Folks, walk away. If you do not take offense, then you are not offended. Most of these arguments are not that important and some are ludicrous such as wearing another team’s colors. It is OK to disagree with someone and it is OK for them to disagree with you.

Drunk and disorderly: I mention this following the above comment. This is a key reason fan violence has increased. The players taunt (which is a disgrace, as they don’t seem to taunt when they screw up), so the fans think it is OK to taunt. When you are inebriated your judgment goes out the window. This causes fights in bars, sports bars, restaurants, etc. which have been escalating when someone goes to a car and gets their weapon. You can’t stop drunks as many show up at the game drunk from the tailgating, but the venue owners have to take responsibility and throw drunk assholes out.

Poverty: this is another major issue effecting gun deaths. In impoverished areas, crime opportunities increase and so does gun utilization. We have to find more employment opportunities and provide help climbing the ladders out of poverty. Ideas have to work within the community building off their assets and perserving dignity. I often quote Malcom Gladwell, but in his book “The Tipping Point,” New York City reduced crime in subways by doing several things, one of which was constantly repainting over the graffiti. The criminals saw that if they are this concerned with something as basic as painting over graffiti, then they are likely to be tough on crime. Plus, it helps people take pride in where they live.

Law Enforcement: Listen to the people fighting crime. Provide them with resources and tools. Law enforcement has advocated putting serial numbers and tracking the sale of bullets back to the seller. Why? It will help solve crimes. The NRA is against this. For the life of me, I cannot fathom a reasonable answer to why they believe this. If I am a law biding gun owner, then tracking my bullets does not affect me one bit. When we listen and support the people on the ground fighting crime, crime goes down.

Mental Health Care: Access has to improve. The stigma of getting care has to change. The statistic I cited a month ago by a behavioral psychologist and former collegue of mine was validated by another source. In short, 20% of people have or will have some mental health issue. It could be mild depression to being bi-polar. 10% of claims, on average, of an employer’s healthcare plans in a given year will be mental health claims. So, our imperfections sometimes manifest themselves with a need for a counselor’s care or prescription medicine. My friend’s mantra when advising clients is to make sure more of the people getting medicine are also getting therapy from a counselor to talk about their problems. She can demonstrate through data that quality of care outcomes improve for the patient and cost of health care will decline for all. Many people live with mental illness. It does not have to be debilitating. Nor does it need to lead to a crime. This is a key reason to have background checks and waiting periods on gun sales. Once someone acts on an impulse (depression is higher on college campuses, e.g.), a life is over and it cannot be retrieved.

Funding of changes: I saw someone say “put more armed guns in schools, but don’t increase my taxes.” That statement sums up America in a nutshell. We want services, but we don’t want to pay for them. There is a bigger issue here, but to keep it on topic, I live in a county that addressed budget issue by only accepting a school board bugdet with many fewer guards in schools. To the earlier point, they also reduced the number of psychologists and school counselors on site. If we want services, we have to step up and pay for them. One of my pet peeves is after cuts are made to services, services decline (it could be fewer social workers handling more family cases, e.g.) and then people complain “how could you let that happen?”

Don’t Solve for a problem and cause a bigger one: This is also one we need to avoid. Arming teachers in schools or allowing guns on college campuses are attempts to solve for a small occurring problem but lead to a bigger one that will occur daily. I don’t care how trained you are, there are very few people who can stand up, aim correctly and fire at another person shooting back. Teachers would be better served to get their children to safety rather than playing Dirty Harry.

Entertainment Violence: Hollywood and games creators. Yes, you do have a role. The NRA is correct on this. I often frequent a local video store as I like the library feel of browsing for movie gems. On one wall are all the current releases. This is anecdotal, but my guess is 75% are violent movies either with weapons or horror based themes. The bad guys have to die, it is that simple. The same is true of the games. The bad guys have to die. This is not the first time Hollywood is full of shit on an issue. Just like the NRA, they tout first or second amendment rights. Yet, they are both hypocritical as they want to push the sales of their products. I can assure you if well done biblical movies sold $100 million plus, they would push them more. And, we parents need to talk openly and monitor some these violent games. We should also vote with our feet and stop buying these games or attending these movies.

Religion must be inclusive: I am a broken record on this topic. The thing I detest most is bigotry from the pulpit. When a faith leader preaches a religion of exclusion and promotes we/ they issues, I believe they have let their God and parishioners down. Religion is at its finest when it is inclusive. It is at its worst when it excludes. I have delighted in Alastair’s post on www.kattermonran.com on “Why I love humanity…” where one of the pictures is of a boy holding a sign next to a man holding a sign which says “God Hates Fags.” The boy’s homemade sign is “God Hates No one.”

If there is anything we each can take away from the above, I would at a bare minimum ask you to remember three things. First, stop this we/ they bullshit. Do not tolerate it because it puts us in adversarial positions. We stop listening to people’s opinions and make everything a competition. For example, the NRA is right about Hollywood, but wrong about their own role.  Second, have civil discourse with others. It is OK for them to disagree with you. If you cannot discuss amicably your issues, walk away. Third, understand that solutions to problems have to be muti-faceted. There are no panaceas. The problems are complex, so single purpose solutions don’t address the problem. Question others when you hear simplistic solutions.

Many thanks for reading. Please feel free to offer comments or share with others. We have to bang this drum and keep banging it. We have to greatly reduce gun deaths in our country. This is not something we want to lead the civilized world in as we do.

A Few Holiday Wishes

It is a wonderful time of the year for reflection and to remember what is important – family and friends are at the top of the list. The tragedies the pair of Sandy’s (Sandy Hook’s shooting tragedy and the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy) caused on people, families, friends and homes will hopefully be the tipping points for action to not let this happen in the future on the same order of magnitude. If I had to focus on a few global and national holiday wishes, two that would be high on the list would be doing something to remember those harmed by these tragedies.

So, let me note a few holiday wishes that may impact all of our families:

– First, I hope we heighten the focus on reasonable gun laws in the US which will let us join the rest of the civilized world on appropriate gun governance. The issue goes beyond Sandy Hook and the mass murders that have occurred over the last few years. We have to address the gun deaths that occur every day, especially with 2,694 children and teen gun deaths in 2010, 100x the number who died at Sandy Hook

– Second, I hope the US will begin formal discussions addressing global warming which is upon us and enabled by our human actions and inactions. The President has done some good things but not nearly enough and we need the other political party to join the conversation and stop listening only to their fossil fuel funders. Hurricane Sandy launching off an elevated coastal sea level is the new normal unless we do something about it. This new normal has been predicted for several years, so it should not be a surprise any more.

– Third, I hope the Taliban’s recent actions targeting a young girl on a bus and killing the Polio vaccine workers and patients, will show the Muslim world who the real enemy is and it is in their midst. Until women and girls are afforded rights in these countries, they will forever be competing economically with only half their population. Plus, it is grossly inhumane and unfair to treat women and girls as property.

– Fourth, I hope the Assad regime will step down soon, so no more innocent people are killed and die of starvation in Syria. The latest tragedy had the government bombing people standing in a bread line who had not eaten in a days. I also hope reasonable heads can intervene as the new government is constructed.

– Fifth, I hope economic trade can occur routinely amongst people whose leaders cannot get along. There is something about free trade that can create an economic vitality that can go beyond borders. When people interact in a positive way, then better outcomes can result. Economic sanctions punish the wrong people – the leaders skim off the top and do fine. The rest of their citizens are the ones who are screwed.

– Sixth, I hope the leaders of our country can start acting like leaders and less like little children. We have real problems that require holistic solutions. The failure to act on the fiscal cliff, which people say would be less optimal if it occurred, is actually worse than the cliff. People see an incompetent and grossly negligent body of leaders. I hope the leaders can prove them wrong in this case and come to an agreement. I heard tonight in a CBS Poll that 2/3 of Americans whose income is over $450,000 support a tax increase. So, do CEOs who came together in October. I would suggest Congress listen to these folks and less to Grover Norquist. And, Democrats you better find some cuts you can live with.

– Seventh, poverty is rampant in America. We have people who work hard at several minimum wage jobs or cannot find work. I wish people who are more fortunate can walk in the shoes of others. There are some that have made judgements painting people in poverty with a broad brush based on the observations of a few they may see in the street. The recent recession has imposed poverty on people who had never dreamed it could happen to them. We all need to help those in need climb a ladder out of poverty.

– Eighth, let me close with a wish for people to pursue civil disagreements rather than arguments and insults. I failed to mention this as one of the reasons we have more gun deaths. People perceive an insult and then access a handy weapon and someone is dead. If we choose not to take offense and have civil discourse, then we can avoid senseless deaths. This goes in combination with greater tolerance of people and our differences. The more we understand each other, the fewer disagreements we may have to begin with.

I have many more global and national wishes, but I will limit them to these eight, plus a final one. I wish for all to have an enjoyable holiday season and a safe and content 2013. Take care all. I have treasured your comments in response to my posts and reading your wonderful posts as well. I look forward to more treasures next year.

 

 

Gun Deaths and the Bigger Context

As a parent, I am both saddened and angry over the tragic gun related deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary. Any senseless death is troubling, but when kids are murdered at such a young age, it goes beyond belief and we can only look to the heavens and ask why Lord? Yet, as tragic as all of these deaths are, a greater tragedy occurs everyday in America that when added up dwarf these deaths. Due to the accessibility of guns in our country, coupled with humans who get angry, impulsive and depressive, gun related deaths occur that could have been avoided if the guns were not at hand.

In August, I wrote a post called “Another Day on America – 16-year old kills 13-year old friend.” This post was written after the Aurora and Wisconsin shootings that occurred earlier this year. This post has been getting more hits of late, as it attempts to speak to this broader context. I would encourage you to scroll back and read the earlier post as I have some statistics that might be of interest. I will cite some of them below.

I am writing this now for two reasons. First, we can no longer tolerate the number of gun deaths we have in America. We are beyond the tipping point and must act. Second, some of the ideas thrown out to remedy the Sandy Hook type massacres will actually not solve that problem and will create far greater problems down the road. We have to look at the greater context at what is happening everyday in America.

Let’s set the stage with a couple of statistics noted earlier. Per the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery and Medicine, the United States has:

– 80% of all gun related deaths when measuring deaths in the top 23 wealthiest nations;

– 87% of all gun related children deaths of these same 23 countries; and

– 14 gun related deaths per 100,000 people as compared to Mexico with 13, Canada with 4 and Great Britain with 1/2;

The comparison to Canada is very pertinent as Canadians love their guns like Americans. Yet, we have over 3x the gun related deaths that they do. There are many reasons noted in the earlier post – but Canada has better gun laws, less poverty and better access to mental health care as three of the reasons.

Quoting the NRA who likes to pontificate “guns don’t kill people – people kill people” I find this trivializes the point. The more true phrase is people who have access to guns kill people. And, generally, the converse is true – people who do not have access to guns don’t kill people. The greater context to this issue is humans are an impulsive, imperfect lot. As noted earlier, we get angry with family, friends, acquaintances, enemies and people who we perceive as treating us with disrespect. Every day in America, someone has killed another person as he or she has acted impulsively and was in close proximity to a weapon. Someone got mad in a Pizza parlor the other day, went out to his car, retrieved a gun, went back inside and killed the person who offended him.

However, it goes beyond this. In my previous job, I sometimes consulted with a Behavioral Psychologist who helped employers provide improved mental health benefits in their healthcare plans for employees. She often cited two statistics that resonated with me – 20% of people will at some point in their lives have mental health issues needing treatment. At any given time, 10% of an employer’s healthcare plan participants will be accessing mental healthcare treatment. This treatment may be as simple as being prescribed with antidepressants or it may include ongoing therapy. Her modus operandi was to get people with antidepressants prescribed by a medical doctor to also see a therapist. The meds help, but the care by a professional psycho-therapist is crucial.

With access to guns, people who have been or are subject to depression, could act on an impulse and take their own life. Or, if affronted, could possibly take the lives of others. This is a key reason letting kids have guns on college campuses is about the dumbest idea possible. You marry complex social circumstances with kids being away from home and without fully developed brains, the kids could more easily act out an impulse and their life is over.Without the gun, the suicide may be avoided. I know of one college close to where I live that has allowed guns on campus. So, the outside chance of preventing a rare Virginia Teach shooting, may lead to more gun related suicides and homicides.

So, our leaders need to focus on the bigger context. We know where the NRA stands – they want to sell more guns. Everything else said by the NRA is dwarfed by that mission. People wanting to arm everyone should be thanked for their comments and then quickly ignored as those ideas are ill-conceived. You give a teacher a gun and I can assure there will be more children deaths due to kids finding a loaded gun in the classroom. In Gun Ownership 101 it says keep loaded guns away from the kids.

At its simplest, getting a license for owning a weapon that kills, should be harder to obtain than other licenses. Gun licensing needs to have a longer waiting period and thorough background checks should occur. To do otherwise is irresponsible, end of story. If you are under psychiatric care on meds, you need to bring a note from a psychiatrist or psychologist or no gun for you. We won’t let people in the military for some mental health reasons, but they can get a gun here. And, no one in America should have an automatic assault weapon. If you do and are not in law enforcement, then I question your motivations. The Brady Law which was let to expire in 2004 will address some of these issues, if reinstated. Yet, law enforcement officers have suggested another item that will reduce guns deaths – register the sale of bullets. The police say encoded bullets will become traceable and help solve crimes, yet the NRA is against this practice. If I were a leader, I would listen to my police force who does not have a vested interest in any decision.

However, as noted above, this is only half of the story. The other half is we must encourage better access to mental health care. If you are on meds prescribed by a MD, please go see a psycho-therapist, as well. A Medical Doctor is not trained in psychiatry or psychology. Further, please take your meds. This could be said about any medicine, but people in need often stop taking their meds to save money. The Affordable Care Act will help in this regard extending healthcare coverage. Finally, referencing the 20% mental health prevalence statistic noted above, please help eliminate the stigma around mental healthcare issues. Every family has or knows someone who needs recurring mental healthcare help. Living with mental illness is something that is and can be dealt with.

Let me conclude with two final contextual points. First, poverty is rampant in America with almost 50 million people in poverty. As a result, the opportunities for gun related crime are increased in America. This issue is complex and deserves its own post, but the distance between the haves and have nots in our country is not healthy for many reasons. We have to afford opportunities to work for reasonable pay.

Second, we have a more violent culture in the US than in other countries. We have far more violence in movies and TV and we have greater access to violent video games. This prevalence of exposure to violence in entertainment is highly correlated with gun deaths. Is it causal? More than likely. To demonstrate a point for the younger readers, in the 1970’s TV crime shows rarely ended with the death of the criminal – the criminal was taken off to jail. Yet, toward the end of that decade, the trend changed where the shows concluded more and more with the good guy killing the bad guy. Now, we have video games, where your character is the bad guy killing others.

This is a complex issue and deserves concerted attention. Yet, it also requires a focus on the greater context. Who, where, why and how are the gun deaths occurring across America? As tragic as the events of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Wisconsin, and Virginia Tech are, they are dwarfed by the many gun related deaths which occur every day in America. That has to be the focus of our mission to reduce gun related deaths.

Today Let Us Mourn

Like many, I am both saddened and angry over the events yesterday that took 27 lives, 20 of them before they even had a chance to take full flight. As a parent, there can be no greater tragedy than losing one of your children, especially in such a senseless manner as occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary. My fellow bloggers have written wonderful posts on their feelings. My friend www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com in particular has laid out a greater context for the why along with his heartfelt sadness. I encourage you to read his post from today.

I am collecting my thoughts and will be offering a post building off the one I wrote over the summer “Another Day in America – a 16 Year Old Kills a 13 Year Old Friend.”  Yet, I want to save that discussion for another day. It is one we must have and one that needs the leadership of our President to make it so. The President said all the right things in a heartfelt manner, but words are cheap. We are beyond the tipping point and need to discuss what we need to do about this as a country. Hugh’s post and that of many others needs to be part of the framework of the discussion.

Today, I want to hug my family and mourn with those who had children or loved ones who had the misfortune to be in the line of sight of the killer. When I think of my own death, I don’t want it to be happenstance and just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. But, as tragic as my death would be at the age of 54, to have someone’s candle burn out at such a young age is beyond tragic. I have said often that you truly don’t know how much your parents love you until you hold your own child. To take that child away, I would have a very hard time dealing with that.

So, today I will mourn with you and them. I am also angry and have noted in comments on other blogs that “this shit has to stop.” Yet, I will save that for another day. Today, let’s pray, meditate or think good thoughts for those who have lost loved ones.