Welcome to America, I hope you are packing heat – a reprise of a still relevant post

The following post was written almost eight years ago, but as you read it, the events seem to come right out of today’s headlines. This is one topic I am truly tired of writing about, as lobbyists have hobbled the ability for legislators to act like parents and spouses and do something. Americans have said in surveys they want, yet nothing gets done. It reveals who butters the bread for these politicians. At this moment, one more shooting has occurred in Virginia. After Colorado. After Atlanta….

I have written several posts about our excessive gun violence in America. We lead the world by far in gun deaths and children gun deaths. Yet, we continue to do nothing about it. We have a parade of children led shootings at schools the past few weeks, yet we continue to do nothing about it. Pick up any US newspaper anywhere in the country and count the number of gun death or violence stories. I wrote a post about Googling a “six-year-old kills four-year-old” and counting the number of stories that pop up. Yet, we still do nothing about it. We have mass shootings, which are horrific tragedies, but dwarfed by the daily killings of kids, yet we still do nothing about it. And, Americans by virtue of reputable surveys, clearly want better background checks and more elongated waiting periods, yet we still do nothing about it.

Here are a few links to these previous posts.

I am thinking of the person who finally asked Senator Joe McCarthy during his communist witch hunt trials, “Senator, have you no shame?” That was actually the beginning of the end for McCarthy. I fully recognize the complexity of what is causing gun deaths, but the NRA and strident gun amassers would like you to believe that guns have little to do with gun deaths. Responsible gun owners know this not to be the case, which is why they take great pains to teach their use and put them away for safekeeping. So, using the McCarthy line above, “NRA, have you no shame?”

We are well past the time to act on these issues. It is a poverty issue, it is mental health issue, it is a lack of civil discourse issue, it is a violence in entertainment issue, but make no mistake about it, it is an access to guns issue. Without access to a weapon, the child does not kill his sibling or cousin. Without access to a weapon, the depressed teenager, college student or adult does not act on an impulse and end a life. Without access to a weapon a drunken patron at a bar or ball game does not go to his car and come back guns a blazing because they were offended.

NRA, have you no shame? You could have acted responsibly like the majority of gun owners, yet you decided to fan the flames of a fervent crowd and crow about Second Amendment rights, which I still have not seen anyone threaten. You have also usurped the leadership of the GOP and taken them down a darker path along with some other fervent misconceptions. As a result, we cannot have the long overdue civil, appropriate debate about this topic looking at all issues, including what Americans, even Republicans want by far – better background checks and elongated waiting periods. We should do more than that, but those two issues are no brainers and largely popular.

It is past time. NRA, have you no shame? NRA, stand down. We need to have a better conversation without your involvement, as you violated the trust of Americans and responsible gun owners, whom you no longer represent.

How do you know who the good guys are? (a repeat post)

This is a repeat post from over eight years ago. With yet one more mass shooting in the United States, on top of the usual gun deaths that happen every day reported in any newspaper, this message sadly must be sounded again. We cannot solve a problem, if we don’t admit we have one.

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.

Toys for us and others

This will be the first Christmas in a long while without retailer Toys R Us, who went out of business. Or, as my youngest son aptly called it when he was a younger, “Toys for us.” The “Toy Story” movies register the impact of the store on our lives.

Toys are no longer for kids and sometimes disguise themselves as what they are – useful products. A mobile phone is far more than a phone, but the “wanna new phone” marketing that occurs is estimated to cost a user $75,000 over a lifetime. Do you have to have the latest and greatest new phone? Just think, if you skip a few new phone upgrades, you reduce that number a great deal.

But, while our younger generation is accused of a more materialistic mindset, I must confess how proud I am of kids who are making statements on the need to address better gun governance and action to combat climate change. Yesterday, in Australia, tens of thousands of kids age 5 to 18 boycotted school to protest en masse for more action on climate change. While their President and lead environmental person said these kids should stay in school to learn something, I think these two men need to learn a few things.

Earlier this year, we saw kids make a huge difference in Florida when the state legislature passed a few gun governance bills in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Could the legislature have done more? Yes, but the kids forced them to act. The kids live in fear and are not burdened with lobbyist dollars and threats as are the legislators.

Toys are important as a distraction and even to make our devices more utile. Yet, these kids stepped up and made their voice heard. Given what they are protesting, it would behoove the legislators to listen. “They ain’t playing.”

Question for gun owners

Since legislators are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing their jobs, I felt the need to pose the issue on better gun governance to gun owners. Doing nothing is obviously not the answer, although that seems to be the course too many advocate. My newspaper was kind enough to print the following letter to the editor, with a few edits. Please feel free to adapt and use if you concur.

“After yet another mass shooting in America (this time in my home town), in addition to three shootings over two days in Charlotte, doing nothing to address this issue is not working. I believe we can still honor 2nd Amendment rights and enact better gun governance. I have shared with legislators the suggestions that have majority support in the country. My question is for gun owners – what do you suggest we do to govern the ownership of a device designed to kill? We govern car ownership to keep the driver, passengers and others safe. Surely we can add better governance to gun ownership.”

Since I wrote this, there was another shooting incident in Charlotte this morning at an elementary school. Fortunately no one was hurt. Our law enforcement do a highly credible job, but stopping gun violence is extremely difficult in America.

Trying to solve that gun death thing

I am hopeful, but not optimistic that tangible change will be enacted by Congress to reduce the risk of gun deaths in America. The kids who are protesting have already brought on some change with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger announcing changes on gun sales policy and other companies eliminating discounts offered NRA members.

If change occurs it will likely be the result of the retailers paving the way and dragging Congress along. What we may end up seeing is something like integrated background checks and an age 21 restriction on assault weapons. We may see some funding for more security in schools. While these changes would help,  they are not near enough to help reduce most gun deaths and respond to what the significant majority of Americans want per repeated surveys. Here are a few thoughts:

– Let’s start with data and ask the CDC to track gun death data, which has been forbidden by Congress since the late 1990s. Then, we can measure progress of various initiatives.

– Next, we can ask for background checks on all gun transactions which should be a given since most Americans favor this. Plus, if someone is credibly reported on by a reasonable number of concerned citizens and a potential problem is deemed possible, the police must be able to seize weapons while more indepth review is undertaken via a legal process.

– Next, we could have an elongated waiting period, again favored by most Americans. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicide, with suicide being the top reason for gun death in most states. Waiting a few more days will hopefully reduce impulsive suicides and may flag something.

– Then, we can address the mental health aspects. We could start by changing the law passed by Congress last year adding mentally disabled Social Security recipients to the eligible gun rolls. We could stabilize the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act and encourage Medicaid expansion both which have mental health benefits. We could also add funding for more school counsellors and psychologists which many states pulled back on. This could go part and parcel with funding more security in schools.

– Finally, we could reduce accidental deaths with more required training and finger printed triggers, so kids won’t do damage with weapons they find.

Personally, I would ban all assault weapons and bump stocks, but that is a hard sell in America.  I would not arm teachers as the solution to school gun deaths is not introducing 700,000 weapons to campuses, which would increase risk and not solve a problem. Shooting at someone shooting back at you is not something many are up to, especially if outgunned and in a chaotic environment. Let’s add security staff and measures.

Whatever we do, we must holistically addresses all gun deaths. I did not touch on poverty, drug industry, entertainment violence and lack of civility that cause gun violence. But, we must invest in these areas. What do you think? Am I off base? Do you have other ideas?

When adults act like kids and kids like adults

I am so proud of the teens and young adults who are leading the charge for better gun governance. I have long been advocating for such and am in a constant state of disbelief that legislators fail to act.

The best quote came from a teen being interviewed on PBS Newshour when she said “When the adults act like kids and the kids like adults, then something is wrong.”

The sad truth is many of these adults are in the pockets of the NRA who dictate their response. It is largely a Republucan stance, but the NRA funds some Democrats as well.

What I also don’t care for are the conspiracy nuts like Alex Jones, Rush Limbbaugh et all who purposefully detract from genuine concerns calling these kids actors and staged. We should not lose sight of Jones’ continual claim that Sandy Hook is a hoax. This is an egregious misuse of a license to communicate online and both need to be called on the carpet.

The kids have to push for change as well as deal with these so called adults questioning their veracity. That is a shame, as these kids should be applauded. I must confess I am not one who would encourage applause for either Limbaugh, Jones and their ilk.

Right now, these kids are rightfully calling attention to the legislators’ conflict of interest. They are on the side of the Angels on this.

We should consider solutions that address the holistic nature of the problem. Rather than highlight what should be considered as I have done in multiple posts, I would like to simply say these kids should be heard and heeded.

If the politicians fail to do so or respond with window dressing, they do so at their peril.

And the band played on

Earlier this week, a fifteen year old decided that he should bring a gun to school in Marshall County, Kentucky. Two teens are dead and 18 more are wounded. Less noticed is that there were 81 other shooting incidents that same day in America leaving 28 dead and 40 wounded per the LA Times.

Per the New York Times, the Marshall County shooting was the eleventh on school grounds just this year, with three occurring the very same week in Winston-Salem, NC, New Orleans, LA and Italy, TX, Just toward the end of last year, there were shootings at the following high schools:

– 9/13/2017: Freeman High School in Rockford, WA where a 15 year old killed one and wounded three students.

– 9/20/2027: Mattoon High School in Mattoon, IL where a 14 year old wounded one student.

– 12/7/2017: Aztec High School in Aztec, NM where a 21 year old former student killed three students.

The two horrific shooting tragedies last year at a church in Texas and concert in Las Vegas were not enough to elicit action – now isn’t the time to make knee jerk actions we were told by serious minded leaders in the pocket of the NRA. I am still dismayed that after Sandy Hook Elementary shooting which killed twenty-six, now was not the time was said then as well.

Well, let me ask a simple question. When is the time? How many children, teens and adults have to die for it to be time. The LA Times reports that 60% of Americans want  gun laws to be stricter. An Elon Univeristy survey a couple of years ago pegged universal background checks and elongated waiting periods at even higher rates of preference by Americans.

To be brutally frank, we are well passed time. For those who give the standard NRA fed response that certain changes would not stop certain crimes, the answer is “obviously doing nothing isn’t preventing them either.” Politicians it is time to stop worrying about keeping your job and start doing your job. We need leaders to think  more like parents and grandparents and less like politicians scared of lobbyists.

Yet another gun story

The title represents a quote from a local news broadcast in my home city – yet another gun story. America’s obsession with guns continues full tilt and we cannot expect anything to be done about it at the federal level for the time being.

We have a problem with gun deaths that does not look like it will abate anytime soon. To discover for yourself, for one month, count the number of gun death stories in your local newspaper or on your favorite news station.

Yet, we have one political party and a few in the other that do not recognize the gun problem for what it is. These folks are backed by one of the more strident lobbyist groups in the NRA.

While these legislators don’t recognize the problem, most gun owners do. Most gun owners do not belong to the NRA, which tends to care more about gun sales where they used to care more about gun safety.

A few questions still remain unanswered:

– why has one political party prevented funding of the study of gun deaths by the Centers for Disease Control?

– why have we not lengthened the waiting period for guns when experts have said it will reduce the probability of suicide, the most significant gun death by far?

– why have we not extended background checks on all weapon purchases?

– why did this political party lead Congress to eliminate people on social security mental disability from the watch list for background checks?

– why do we not require every new weapon with finger print control to reduce children deaths or the death of the owner?

– why do we not codify every bullet to help in solving crimes?

Please note, with the exception of limiting people who don’t pass background checks and elongating waiting periods, none of these suggestions will greatly hinder the rights of Americans to buy guns.

But, we should not stop there. We need more civility in our discourse. We need every gun owner to complete a safety course. We need to improve areas of poverty where crime fills a void. We need to condemn pseudo-news and entertainment sites when they use hyperbole. Alex Jones of Infowars said the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax – that is just asinine and offensive.

Let me close with a provocative statement. One of the reasons shooting deaths by police officers are increased is these officers recognize that more people are armed and they have to make quick judgements that are sometimes fatal.

We have a gun problem in America. Common sense steps are achievable that will make a difference. One thing is obvious – doing nothing has not.

Two shooting stories bookend the issues


Shooting tragedies are too commonplace in the US. Just pick up a newspaper in any city on any day and count the gun shooting stories. Last week, we had several shooting deaths, but two stand out, one that is becoming a too common accident and the other an act of terror by a lone gunman in Ft. Lauderdale.

The first accident is yet another toddler who found a loaded weapon and shot someone, in this case his mother. She fortunately survived, but the other part of the story is the father was in law enforcement and knows better.

If you Google four year old shoots six year old, many child shootings can be found of all ages. These are accidents, but are highly preventable with training and consistent practice. Also, there is a movement to place a finger printed triggering mechanism which will prevent a child or adult from firing your gun. Sadly, the NRA is against this.

The Ft. Lauderdale mass shooting shows yet again, it is very difficult to stop a motivated lone gunman. With our freedom and readily available guns, even our highly skilled police and FBI cannot prevent all of these events from happening.

We must take a series of measures that will permit better gun governance. Gun advocates will state certain measures would not prevent certain shootings, but it is apparent that doing nothing won’t either.

Background  checks on all weapon sales will help. Extended waiting periods will help with the most predominant American gun death of suicide. The finger printed trigger will help with child shootings including using a parent’s weapon for suicide. Putting people on our no-fly list on a restricted gun sales list will help. With the exception of not selling to someone who is on watch list, the other measures are reasonable safeguards which do not infringe on 2nd amendment rights.

My frustration is we do not address this issue as parents. We address as politicians. Congress is too scared of the NRA to do the right things. Until we start addressing thiese issues, we will continue to have these problems. It is that simple. And, it matters not who is in the White House.

 

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.