Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: gun violence prevention

Now?

Enough

Is it too soon to talk about gun violence prevention after the murders in a Texas church?

Too soon? Insensitive? Politicizing?

Then can we talk about it related to Las Vegas?

No? Still too soon?

What about Orlando? Still too soon?

Yes?

Charleston? Roseburg? San Bernardino?

Really?

Washington Navy Yard?

Still? Hmmmm.

Surely Aurora?

No?

Okay, Sandy Hook?

No? Really? 5 years ago, almost?

Okay, you tell me. What time frame needs to pass before we can discuss an incident?

 

 

 

Still waiting.

 

No other country ranks their mass killings like the United States. No other country needs to rank them! No other country needs to rank the mass murders in their churches like the United States. Something is very wrong here. Sorry, Mr. President, Americans are not any more mentally deranged than any other country. The difference is access to guns. When is enough enough? When will Congress address this? Why do we tolerate inaction? Oh, sorry. Still too soon?

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National Day of Action

13495181_10208951353837365_94521619094688861_nToday, I was one of the thousands of people across the country to attend an event tied to the National Day of Action. I was fortunate enough to attend a sit-in with Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin, along with mayors, local elected officials, survivors, clergy, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and my children.

We attended adorned in our Moms Demand Action swag and were surprised to see that Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts was there. We have been “friends” on Facebook for several years now, but with me having lived in Texas until three weeks ago, it was a wonderful surprise to see her here in our little state. Everyone started the event sitting in chairs in the auditorium at the Providence Public Safety building in downtown Providence, however, it became apparent that Congressman Cicilline, who had just attended the sit-in in the well of the US House of Representatives with civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis only the week before, wanted us to sit around him on the stage. So we all got up and went to the stage while Congressman Cicilline continued his comments. Today’s speakers included elected officials, clergy, survivors, and advocates. And then Shannon Watts got up to speak.

After having worked with Moms Demand Action for several years now, it was incredible to be in the same room with Shannon and more amazing to hear her speak about the reasons we were all there. Just by way of background, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon in her kitchen as a Facebook page to vent her anger and frustration following the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. Quickly, her Facebook page grew into a grassroots movement. Today, there are over 3.4 million supporters and there are chapters in every state in the country. As I wrote in my previous entry, the tide is turning in this country toward those concerned with preventing gun violence and in opposition to those elected officials defending the desires of the previously dominant (and unobstructed) gun lobby. Change will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Taking the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving as the foundation for this movement, remember that it took MADD many years to achieve a significant shift in public opinion and legislative action. As Shannon says, this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Having now seen the work of chapters in Rhode Island and Texas, it is apparent that there are passionate members of this organization in both states. I have no doubt but that this passion is replicated across the country in all chapters. I thought my friends in the Texas chapter had a much harder road ahead of them until I saw that the speaker of the Rhode Island House is an “A” rated NRA lapdog, not unlike the leadership in Texas. Several important and reasonable pieces of gun violence prevention legislation were left off the docket as the Rhode Island legislature wrapped up its most recent session. Shame on him.

Because the Republican leadership in the United States Congress, in both houses, has no intention of addressing gun violence, gun violence prevention organizations across the country are taking the fight to state houses. Across the country, sensible legislation is being passed against the wishes of the gun lobby, but in agreement with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans (even the majority of gun owners). It was the intention of this National Day of Action to show the national Republican leadership that the people want there to be a vote on two key pieces of legislation. First, a bill limiting access of those on the no-fly list access to firearms, and second, closing the background check loophole allowing the purchase of guns online and at some gun shows.

It was incredible to meet Shannon today. She is as wonderful and determined in person as she is online. She not only remembered me from Facebook, but she remembered that my wife had died and offered me her condolences. I will continue to offer my help to this organization in whatever way they find valuable. Equally impressive, to me, was that my children were there with me because they wanted to be there. Everything I do in this movement is for the benefit of my children and the children of parents everywhere. To have my kids there, wearing their orange and Moms Demand Action t-shirts was heartwarming. Again, they were there because they wanted to be there. I was very proud.

As Congressman Cicilline introduced speaker after speaker, it became apparent that there were several gun rights activists at the back of the room glaring at the crowd. One wore a t-shirt that read Ban Idiots Not Guns. Now I’m not sure what that was supposed to convey, perhaps an allusion to those mentally compromised having access to guns, or maybe it was a comment on the people in the room. Another person tried a strawman argument with Congressman Cicilline at the end of the event, attempting to put words into the congressman’s mouth and then argued against them. Following Congressman Cicilline’s rebuttal, the crowd roared their approval and shouted down the individual, thus bringing the event to its proper conclusion.

I look forward to continuing to work for Moms Demand Action (and any other organization in Rhode Island) to put an end to the daily slaughter of 91 people in this country and the heartbreak it brings to their loved ones and friends. Nothing else is acceptable. Thank you to Congressman Cicilline, Congressman Langevin, Providence Mayor Elorza, Shannon and the moms from Moms Demand Action in Rhode Island. Together we will make a better tomorrow for our children. We are on the right side of history. It’s only a matter of time.

The Tide is Turning

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.     -George Orwell

 

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Two days ago, the United States Senate, led by Republicans, shot down two sensible amendments designed to prevent terrorists from getting firearms. In their place, they submitted two meaningless NRA sponsored amendments which were also defeated. The votes for all four amendments were primarily along party lines. However, the tide is turning, and there is hope that eventually there will be consensus on a meaningful bill in the Senate.

Elections matter. Voting matters. The parties are not the same. There are always swells and troughs in election cycles leading to whether the Democrats or the Republicans are on top. And in spite of the fact that there has been a Democrat in the White House for almost eight years, it is the Democrats who seem to be riding a wave right now while the Republicans are being washed away as if by a rip tide. Perhaps it is because the person at the top of the Republican ticket is so divisive. Perhaps it is because the Tea Party has run its course, or perhaps it is because the country sees that the Democrats have the most rational response to gun violence. If greater than ninety percent of Americans agree that there should be background checks on all gun sales, it begs the question, just who are the Republicans representing? If the overwhelming majority of Americans do not believe that a person on the terror watch list should be able to purchase a firearm, to whom are the Republicans answering? The answer could be as simple as the gun lobby. The gun lobby has spent over $36 million to get politicians elected, and they want something for their investment. If this is true, then Republican constituents are without representation as their elected officials do the bidding of the gun lobby instead.

Both Senator Cornyn’s (R-TX) amendment and Senator Grassley’s (R-IA) amendment were seemingly written by the NRA and submitted under the senators’ names. They were designed to give the appearance of addressing the problem of gun violence and terrorists’ continued access to firearms, but their actual purpose was disingenuous and deceitful. And finally, the public is beginning to see the difference. The win the NRA chalked up on Monday as all four amendments failed was likely a Pyrrhic victory because by defeating the reasonable amendments offered by Senator Murphy (D-CT) and Senator Feinstein (D-CA) Republicans emerged as the party defending the rights of terrorists and ISIS. Finally, the Republicans obstructionist activities were on full display (and this only months before the next election). Republican senators were forced to go on record to vote against limiting terrorists’ access to firearms and voting against forcing gun sales at gun shows and over the Internet be subject to a federal background check. Their votes were on the record. And the progress made in this movement to prevent gun injuries and deaths in America, a country awash in guns and the carnage they dispense, is measurable. The Overton Window is shifting.

Following the murder of six educators and twenty schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012, a horror so visceral that all Americans thought it would result in a flurry of new gun laws, it took Congress four months to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. It failed because of Republicans. Now, as a result of a much better organized gun violence prevention movement and the support of Senator Murphy’s filibuster (along with the support of Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Booker (D-NJ) and 37 other senators) it took four days for a new piece of legislation to come to the floor for a vote. Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded after Newtown,  generated 8,000 calls into Congress in the months leading up to the vote following the school shooting. Following the shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, Florida, they generated over 60,000 calls. And that is just one of the gun violence prevention organizations working to curb this epidemic. What started out as a Facebook page from a frustrated, angry housewife in Indiana has become a juggernaut in its own right with 3.5 million members and chapters in all 50 states. This fight has been taken to statehouses across the country and victory after victory is being notched because of it. The tide is turning, and history will be the judge as lives are saved.

So, the NRA and their paid for politicians will continue to obstruct meaningful measures to stem the slaughter, but common sense, compassion, and logic are on the side of the gun violence prevention movement. The NRA’s victory on Monday will be viewed as a hollow victory because change is coming and the NRA’s political influence is about to be washed away. Elections matter and your vote matters and I only hope that reason, logic, and compassion win the day in Washington before the nation is subjected to another mass shooting. These are the silver linings in Monday’s defeat, and they have emboldened those in the gun violence prevention movement to work ever harder to elect a Congress willing to do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed caused by gun violence in America. The tide is turning.

Steel Blue

gun xray

My children, twins, will graduate from the University of Texas at Austin in three weeks. This a full summer semester before campus carry takes effect. I am so thankful they will have enjoyed their time at college before the advent of guns in their classroom. In addition, we will be moving to Rhode Island in the weeks following graduation. This will exempt us from seeing Texas open carry zealots who cannot shop in a grocery store or visit a restaurant without their trusty firearm by their side, like some deranged metallic playmate.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, Texas has embraced the gun like never before and this in the face of a plethora of withering facts against such a position and against the wishes of the majority of the public. By all means, don’t let facts dissuade you from carrying out unwanted legislation in order to enhance the state’s swagger well beyond reason. Both open carry and campus carry were passed during the last legislative session. And don’t be lulled into believing that with such measures the gun lobby will be sated and have no other bills pending in the next session. In fact, the next session has already been tagged as the “constitutional” carry session as the gun lobby will push for both open carry and campus carry without any restrictions, training, or registration; another step in the guns-everywhere mentality where even those time travelers from the old Wild West would feel uncomfortable.

And Texas isn’t the most responsible when it comes to its guns. Last week, the TSA announced it had set a new record for the number of guns confiscated at American airports. In a study done in 2015, three of the top 6 airports listed by the number of guns confiscated were based in Texas. In fact, two of them were located in Houston. How can anyone be trusted to carry a firearm when they can’t be trusted not to bring it with them aboard an airplane?

Gun violence prevention organizations have done a good job keeping pressure on legislators and in state houses throughout the country. However, it is still considered a marathon and not a sprint to get meaningful legislation passed at the national level (and in some state houses, like Texas). And there are still too many individual organizations working toward the same goal where economies of scale could be realized if they joined forces. I’ve written about this before, and there has been some consolidation, but the resources, both physical and monetary, are still spread between too many organizations to counter the behemoth that is the NRA.

They say Texas is turning blue. However, it is still a deeply red state in many locations and blue in the larger metropolitan areas. Eventually, there will be a transition. I just hope Texans of common sense don’t turn blue from holding their breath until then.

Fools and Politicians

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”     Euripides

Yesterday, the president put forth four executive actions in an attempt to curb the gun violence that plagues our nation. He did so because the congress, with its 11% approval rating, ignored the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the American public three years ago who believed universal background checks on all gun sales is prudent. That support has been maintained. In a December 2015 Quinnipiac University poll, 89% of respondents support legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales (including 84% of households with a gun present). As the president said yesterday, the United States is an outlier in gun violence compared to the rest of the advanced world. And yet we do not have more dangerous individuals than the rest of the world. We do not watch more violent movies or television than the rest of the world. We do not play violent video games more than the rest of the world. And we do not have more mental illness than the rest of the world. There is only one factor which differentiates the United States from the rest of the developed world and that is the number of guns.

It is estimated that there are over 300 million guns in America or 89 guns for every 100 people.  That is far and away more guns than the rest of the world. By comparison, Canada has 31 guns per 100 people. Australia has 15 guns per 100 people. The UK has 6 guns per 100 people and Japan has less than 1 gun per 100 people. That much firepower in the public’s hands translates to a much higher firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people. The United States sees 3.21 homicides per 100,000 people, compared to 0.51 for Canada, 0.14 for Australia, 0.07 for the UK, and 0.01 for Japan. More guns do not make us safer.

And despite these executive orders being modest and common sense, the Republicans have come out against them. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted, “No matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment.” This ignores the fact that the president’s actions in no way challenge the Second Amendment, they only clarify existing law and further refine and enhance the current instant background check system, while providing more resources for mental health. Presidential aspirant Senator Ted Cruz reacted by claiming “Obama Wants Your Guns” while asking for a donation. This petulant neophyte is the antithesis of common sense and the darling of the tea party, making the Euripides quote above all the more poignant.

History will show that the president was on the right side of this fight. It will also show that the Republicans came out against anything and everything the president supported. If the president said he liked baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet, the Republicans would be against all three. And that is the shame the Republicans must carry. Their intransigence and obstructionism have been to the detriment of the country.

I work with some amazing people trying to fight for common sense gun violence prevention legislation, both on the local level and the national. And yesterday, while those standing behind the president and seated throughout the room represented both the victims of gun violence and the family members of those killed, I could not help but to wonder what it will take for the rest of the public to demand their elected officials move to strike against the gun lobby and the horror they bring to our society. It should not just be the victims and their family members who shoulder the weight of bringing about change. It is the average citizen who is sick of the daily bloodshed, sick of the gun lobby and their purchasing of senators and congressmen that must rise up and say enough. Not one more mass shooting. Not one more suicide. Not one more accident. Not one more. Otherwise, we are the fool Euripides warns us against.

Three Years

NewtownIt has been three years since the shooting at Sandy Hook that took 26 lives. Three years with no federal action to prevent the almost 33,000 gun-related deaths every year in America. But that is not to say that there hasn’t been action. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded shortly after the Newtown shooting, has grown into a juggernaut and only added to its power when it joined forces with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to form the umbrella organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. Fed up with federal inaction, Moms and Everytown have taken the fight to the states and squared up directly against the powerful NRA and gun lobby, with meaningful and measurable successes. As Moms Demand Action founder, Shannon Watts writes in today’s CNN:

“Since Sandy Hook, six states have passed background check laws. In 2015, nine states have enacted legislation to protect victims of domestic violence by keeping guns out of the hands of their abusers. We’re playing defense, too: this year we helped defeat 64 gun lobby priority Bill’s, including bills that would have forced guns into schools and bills that would have let people carry concealed, loaded handguns in public with no permit and no training.”

History will prove we are on the right side of this issue, but change will not happen overnight, much as we may like it to. So I urge you to consider standing up with us to change the United States’ outlier position compared to the rest of the developed world in regards to gun violence.  This is a seminal moment in American history. On which side do you want your children to remember you?

Where Has Common Sense Gone?

San Bernardino weapons

“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.”  George Eliot

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated that he will push again for a vote on a bill that would prevent suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from purchasing guns and explosives. A similar bill failed in the senate last week. However, Schumer considers the chances of passage better this week now that the attack in San Bernardino has definitively been labeled terrorism.

Not surprisingly, the NRA has come out against the measure because it feels there are people on the terror watch list listed inaccurately. This brings me to the above George Eliot quote. Ms. Eliot is absolutely correct that we cannot wait for the perfect list in order to engage this legislation. There will never be a perfect list. As Senator Schumer said, when quoted in the New York Daily News (12/6/2015), “We should just make the list tighter and better. It’s never going to be perfect, and we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

But then the NRA has never seen a gun violence prevention bill it liked. And that is part of the problem. The NRA’s intransigence is quite literally killing people. To quote George Eliot again, “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” And until the NRA acknowledges that there are some people who should not have access to guns, the political landscape will scrape by without significant action. You would think we could all agree that terrorists should not have access to firearms in the United States. Instead, we have to listen to people like Wayne LaPierre, Alex Jones, and Ted Nugent. Of course, Eliot also said, “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.”

In the vote last week, only one Republican voted for the measure. Every other Republican, including presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, voted against the measure, thereby continuing to allow those on the no-fly list to purchase guns and explosives. In fact, 2,000 people on the list have purchased weapons, legally, because of this loophole. If we cannot agree that terrorists should not have weapons, let’s not pretend you have the safety of our fellow Americans at heart, senators, or that you are tough on terrorism. Your voting record proves otherwise.

Cold Heartless Steel

Minding my own business

Sitting here in the dark

I hear the children playing

I feel so exposed at times like these

The light goes on in the bedroom

I can see the shadows of the children’s steps

They pull the draw open

Their eyes widen as they look at me

The older one picks me up

I can tell I am heavier than he thought

I am afraid of what I might do.

Why was I left alone with the children?

Where are their parents?

Don’t point me like that, I’m saying. Run!

“Don’t worry,” the older one tells his sister

My familiar roar explodes in the room

I am racing the small girl as we both fall to the floor

Screams follow

Life spreads out into the carpet

Lives are altered and ended

Don’t blame me

I had to pass through an adult’s hands to end up here

I did what I was made to do

Kill.

Skip the Insane Root

macbeth

Or have we eaten on the insane root

That takes the reason prisoner?

Shakespeare, Macbeth I, iii, 84

Gun violence prevention is a lofty goal. It is also a multi-faceted problem. To deny that is to fall into the simplistic reasoning so often used by gun rights proponents. However, the difficulty of the task before us is no excuse not to attempt to address it. To ignore it is to abdicate responsibility to our families, neighbors, children, and ourselves. President Kennedy, at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962, one year before being assassinated by a gunman, spoke of the necessity of facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles for the right reasons when he said:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, he addressed the need to begin facing massive challenges to the republic. He said, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.” Such determination is what is needed today. And we need not be a intimidated by the fear of not solving the entire problem. Indeed, President Obama, in his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013, said the following:

“For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”

We must begin to face the problem of gun violence in America. We stand apart from the rest of the developed world in the number of guns in circulation and the number of injuries, suicides, and homicides committed with a gun.

To accept the status quo is to relegate our children to a future where fear and paranoia trump participation and confidence. Compassion and empathy must triumph if we are to survive. Anything less would be to eat from Shakespeare’s insane root, surrendering reason. Our children and our country deserve better.

A Hero in Full

Sandy and LonnieGrowing up, Pete Rose was my idol. He played baseball like I thought the game should be played. All hustle, all the time. As I grew older, my idols came and went (so did my baseball skills!), and I learned that there is a difference between heroes and idols. I found that idolatry dehumanized the person and ascribed to them mythical attributes. A hero by definition (and by contrast) has done something heroic, but allows for human mistakes and misgivings, in a word imperfections or the right to be just a regular person who has done something extraordinary.

However, to meet a hero in person does give one pause. Not because you ascribe superhuman traits to them, but because you know they have been through something extraordinary, whether wonderful or horrific, and you don’t want to upset them or embarrass yourself by saying something stupid or insensitive.

It was against that backdrop that I met Sandy and Lonnie Phillips last night at an event in downtown Houston. Their beautiful daughter, Jessi, was murdered at the Aurora theater shooting on July 20, 2012. Sandy and Lonnie were in town for a call to action and fundraiser for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the grassroots organization started in a kitchen in Indianapolis, IN following the murder of twenty schoolchildren and six educators on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, CT.

Proving that there is a difference between the mythology attributed to idols and the humanization of heroes, right off the bat, both Lonnie and Sandy made it aware to me that they were regular, genuine, gracious people. In fact, when Sandy hugged me at the restaurant where we were to have dinner, she told me she was sorry for my loss. Here I was, ready to give my condolences on the loss of her daughter and she was consoling me on the loss of my wife. And instantly we bonded over our losses. At dinner we talked gun violence prevention, her hope to speak with Senator Sanders regarding his position on the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” (PLCAA) allowing gun manufacturers product liability protection afforded no other product in America, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the NRA and the power they wield over politicians. We also talked about how the upcoming holidays are always a difficult time and how she and Lonnie will be going away again this year to regroup and recharge. Of course, this came up after she asked me what I was doing with the kids and I told her we were going away because none of us wanted to deal with the holidays.

It is the true character of an individual when they can bond with you over something big or small placing you on equal footing. My apprehension over meeting Sandy and Lonnie was misplaced. Both of them are wonderful, ordinary people thrown into a situation they did not choose and who have dedicated their lives to work so that no other parent has to walk the path they have been forced to tread.

In front of a group of about 50 women from the greater Houston area, Sandy and Lonnie described the horror of July 20, 2012 in visceral terms leaving no dry eye in the room. She answered questions and followed it with an amazing statement about how while she is forced to walk this path, she is lifted emotionally by the efforts of those who have come to this movement of their own accord and desire to make America a safer place. This was her call to action and the response from the room was immediate. By the end of the night over $10,000 had been raised and people were encouraged to join Moms Demand Action to do whatever they were comfortable doing knowing that the combined efforts of the organization brought a 3.5 million member counterbalance to the powerful, but aging, NRA and a vocal juggernaut to the halls of Washington, D.C. and statehouses across the country. I am proud to now call her a friend and stand ready to do whatever I can to help make her path even slightly easier.

Jessi’s mom is a genuine, ordinary woman responsible for carrying her daughter’s legacy and message forward while working every day toward a future where no other mother has to endure what she has been forced to live with. That’s what makes her a hero and Jessi should be proud.