Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: Newtown

Newtown- Four Years On

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I must preface this post by acknowledging I am not a gun violence victim (or a family member or friend of a gun violence victim) and, therefore, have no real understanding of its impact on anyone’s life. And while I can no more comprehend the destruction such violence imparts on a family any more than I could know what it is like to be an astronaut, anyone tangentially involved in the gun violence prevention movement has a story to tell. The story of what drove them to act.

My grandparents could relate every mundane activity that occurred on the day they heard about Pearl Harbor. My parents could describe the entire day when they heard about the assassination of President Kennedy. I can relate how desperately I wanted to gather up my twin second graders and wife and cuddle with them in the hours after the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11th. And so too, I can recall the horror and sickening feelings I felt learning of the events of December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut.

Again, my story is no more significant than anyone else’s, but, for what it’s worth, here is what I recall.

It was going to be another long day at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. After the always frenetic hour+ commute from Spring, TX, we began the day with my wife having blood drawn at 10:15. From the first-floor diagnostics lab, we proceeded to the imaging department on one of the upper floors where she would be undergoing a PET scan and a CT scan to quantify what effect (if any) her chemotherapy regimen was having on the determinedly marching cancer in her body. We settled into the waiting area for her name to be called. After a while, her name was finally called, and she was tapped with an IV for the tests and taken back to the imaging area leaving me alone. These tests take a long time to complete and were being done one after the other, so I knew I was in for long morning alone. I was able to snag one of the few desks I needed to connect my computer to work. After connecting to the internet and securing a connection with work, I pulled up CNN, as I always did, to see what was going on in the world outside the hospital.

The breaking news headline relayed reports of a school shooting in a place called Newtown, CT. Having graduated from the University of Connecticut, and knowing friends from across the state, I pulled up Google Maps to locate Newtown. I found it, a small community not far outside Danbury. The initial reports said that there were several casualties, but that not much was known, and the scene was still active. I remember pulling up the Hartford Courant’s website and the local television news websites to see if there was any better information. Reports were indicating that the shooting was at an elementary school and that there might be a child among the injured.

As we know, reports continued to be updated, first with five injured, then 10, then a report that many children may have been shot and some fatally. In the waiting area, where people tend to be friendly, if isolated, some with family or friends accompanying them to their procedure, others alone, looks began to be shared, as if we were all wondering if anyone else was aware of what was developing. Stares lingered a little longer than usual as if we were all sure that the horrible news we saw on our phones or computers was isolated to our nightmares and not actually what was really happening. We searched each other’s eyes in hopes that what we were reading was wrong. Waiting for someone to say it was all wrong. The reports continued to be updated. TV news crews had been dispatched and were on their way to the scene. A dozen killed. Then another update indicating maybe more. The scene had been secured, and the word was spread that the shooter was dead. I remember thinking that at least whatever horror he/she had unleashed was quashed and no one else would be injured. The number of wounded and killed continued to climb over the next hour into a dizzying number that I felt (hoped) must surely have been incorrect. There was no way anyone could kill the number of staff and children being reported. They were children! We all know how wildly exaggerated news reports tend to be in the midst of a situation. This couldn’t be true!

The waiting area became noticeably louder as people began to process and share what had happened. After several hours, my wife finally walked out from the back area of the imaging department, and as she walked toward me, I fought for the words to tell her what had happened. My eyes welled up with tears, and my throat was no longer capable of forming words. She was the one with cancer, undergoing all manner of torture to combat the disease, and here I was, hugging her and breaking down in tears. The ride home, as usual, regardless of the time of day took much longer than it needed to. I was quiet in the car. We did not have the radio on, listening to music as we always did. By the time we reached home, the final tallies were being calculated. Twenty-six dead, not including the perpetrator or his mother.

That evening, I was alone in my home office, shaking with anger. My wife entered to find me on my knees almost hyperventilating with rage. It was no longer enough to write about gun violence, I told her, I needed to get involved. She hugged me and said she understood and would help me as long as it didn’t consume me and send me into a deep depression. I promised, saying that I simply needed to do something. I knew it wouldn’t be me alone who felt that way that night. I knew thousands were already involved. I simply wanted to add my voice.

I had become angered enough by gun violence in America after the theater shooting in Aurora, CO the previous July 20th to write about it. The very first entry in this blog was simply a copy/paste of a blog entry written by one of the victims of that shooting, Jessica Ghawi. She had narrowly escaped a shooting in a mall in Toronto the previous June 2nd and wrote about the event and how grateful she felt.   The second to last paragraph of her entry reads:

“I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.”

Forty-eight days later she was dead. I wish I had known Jessica. I was fortunate to meet her parents in October of 2015, six weeks after my wife’s death. They were as kind and compassionate as anyone I’ve ever met and doggedly determined to prevent gun violence. Sandy Phillips’ first question to me as she stepped out of her car was to ask how was I doing after my wife’s death. She had lost a child, and her involvement in the gun violence prevention movement was the reason I was meeting her, and yet here she was concerned about me! I had no idea she knew about my wife’s illness or death. She is an incredible individual and so is her husband, Lonnie.

So now we find ourselves four years out from the shooting in Newtown. There have been political victories and defeats in those four years and over 130,000 Americans killed by a gun over that period of time, including many in the over 200 school shootings since Newtown. The greatest shift in that time has been the involvement and organization of hundreds of thousands of people like me. People fed up with accepting gun deaths and injuries as part of “normal” American life. The gun lobby is still a juggernaut in Washington, D.C. and in state houses around the country, but it is no longer the only voice or position. Social change comes in glacially slow movements, but it comes all the same. I can never fully appreciate the scars this date has left on the family members and friends of those lost four years ago or in any of the other gun-related horrors before or since. July 20, 2012 and December 14, 2012 changed my life and forced me to add my voice to the thousands of others no longer willing to consent that gun deaths are acceptable. Four years on and the fight is not over, but we have never been so organized or vocal or determined.

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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

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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.

My Inspiration

Inspiration

 

Christopher Hitchens wrote, “To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: why not?” This little blog started as a way for me to scream into deaf space when news events or personal experiences left me no other options; when nothing could mute the chest-tightening anger and helplessness I felt; when, as Shakespeare wrote, I bothered to complain “and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.” And so, I write. My first malediction was two years ago today. However, they were not so much my words but a reposting of the words written 45 days earlier by a young woman in Colorado. She wrote of the events she experienced at the Eaton Mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012 when a gunman (sorry NRA, he was a gunman (whom I refuse to name), not a perpetrator with some random weapon) opened fire in the Urban Eatery Food Court. Five people were shot, two died. She began:

 “I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.”

She continued by showing how, in three minutes, a decision to go out into the rain saved her life.

 “My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rang out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.”

That eloquent, insightful young woman was named Jessica Redfield and she was murdered two years ago today in the theater shooting in Aurora, CO. She and eleven others were killed and 70 others were injured that horrible Friday night. She is gone, but she continues to inspire. CarlyMarieDudley Since that time, her mother and thousands of others, many accidental activists driven to act after the horrors visited upon Aurora, CO or Newtown, CT or Oak Creek, WI or Santa Barbara, CA or Washington, D.C. or Spring, TX or any of the other tragedies that take 30,000 people a year. They have started a movement that will not only change the face of America, but make it a safer nation. It will not happen quickly (nor soon enough), but it will happen. Initially only disjointed lamentations from thousands of individuals, they have begun to coalesce into a united voice, a voice determined to prevent the next tragedy, a voice which has a goal of Not One More.

Consider the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Begun in 1980 by one mother, Candy Lightner, after her 13 year old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver, it has gone on to become a national institution in activism with over 600 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. MADD has worked to enact zero tolerance legislation across the country, enacted 0.08 blood alcohol level laws nationally, is partially responsible for a 40% reduction in drunk driving attributed traffic deaths since 1982 and brought the term “designated driver” into the public lexicon.

Using MADD as a framework and appreciating the need to commit time, dedication, and effort for the long haul, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded the day after Sandy Hook. And if MADD felt hampered by the strong alcohol beverage lobby, Moms Demand Action knew they were up against the behemoth of all lobbyists, the NRA. When asked to explain their activism success, MADD provides a series of critical tenets, foremost among them having passionate, committed volunteers and putting a face on statistics. As MADD writes:

 “Before 1980, drunk driving deaths and injuries were spoken about in terms of cold, hard statistics—a tactic that was having little, if any, impact on reducing the number of deaths and injuries due to alcohol related crashes. But MADD didn’t speak of statistics. MADD spoke of loved ones, family members and friends—an intensely personal communication style that started with the organization’s charismatic founder and continues today. Every death, every injury is given a face, family and history— personalizing the issue so that everyone can relate, even those who have never experienced the tragedy of drunk driving.”

 Because statistics can be found to support almost any position, especially with the gun rights crowd continuing to fund discredited economist John Lott (or should we call him Mary Rosh?) and his specious data, we are reminded of the phrase attributed to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” To counter this, gun violence groups, like Moms Demand Action, have combined the top two pillars of successful activism, according to MADD, by having passionate volunteers share the stories behind the statistics. As shown by MADD, it is a formula for success and a roadmap showing not only what can be accomplished but how long the path may take. No matter, the determination of these activists knows no limit because their well of compassion has no bottom.

Moms Demand Action has also tried to harness the power of social media to not only get out its message, but to affect change. They have seen this strategy beget success. However, personally I have all but given up on Twitter as a means of communicating having lost interest in attempting to conduct a rationale discourse with people responding in 140 character bursts of bizarre thought. More often than not, I find myself descending into a miasma with some troll and their obtuse paranoia and misogynistic vitriol into a spiraling Dante-esque hell with no Beatrice to lead me out. There is never any discourse (or room for movement) and the inevitable name calling is wholly a waste of time. So, too, it is with so many of the comment sections of news websites and Facebook pages. What begins as a thoughtful comment soon falls victim to the lowest common denominator of society, the base, violent name calling and misspelled threats. I can’t imagine the mail received at the White House.

Politicians understand polls and chase donations. To acknowledge this is to understand the rules required to bring about societal change. While a new Quinnipiac poll shows 92% of voters support requiring background checks for all gun purchases (including 92% of gun owners) and 89% of voters support preventing people with severe mental illnesses from purchasing guns (including 91% of gun owners) this poll also shows that words matter. Assistant Director, Tim Malloy stated of the poll,

 “Americans are all in on stricter background checks on gun buyers and on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill. But when it comes to ‘stricter gun control,’ three words which prompt a negative reflex, almost half of those surveyed say ‘hands off.'”

In a fascinating series of articles in Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson wrote of 7 (not-so-easy) steps to beat the NRA. To me, most importantly (and something about which I have previously written) is the need to assimilate the various gun violence prevention groups into a unified voice capable, in terms of membership and funding, to compete on Capital Hill, in state politics, against the gun lobby and for the conscience of the public. This has now begun to happen. Recently, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have come together under the Michael Bloomberg funded umbrella Everytown for Gun Safety. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun ViolenceAmericans for Responsible Solutions, the Newtown Action Alliance and others, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and It Can Happen Here continue their important work independently. There are economies of scale available to this movement which may be necessary to influence elected officials. It is unfortunate, but money talks in Washington and in state houses across America. It is a tactic successfully used by the gun lobby for decades and a resolution gun violence prevention groups must embrace.

Words matter. We are castigated for using the term magazine when we mean clip (or vice versa) and are constantly asked to define “assault rifle” (as if we invented it and it were not a term gun makers created so the average Joe could pretend he was G.I. Joe). Words matter, but so too can they inspire! Jessica Redfield continued in her post saying

“I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening. I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.”

Every hug from a family member is precious. So tune out the static of the conspiracy theorists, the angry trolls, the paranoid “patriots,” the delusions of the “false flag” crowd,  and the AM radio troglodytes. Instead, read as much as you can. Learn the subtle nuances of these issues and find the inspiration left to us by others. A cruise ship steaming at full speed will take over half a mile to stop after the engines have been reversed. But it will stop. So, too, will we change America and in the process, save lives. Over these past two years I have met some amazing people. People who would rather be doing other things with their lives but who have had their futures permanently altered by gun violence. Visit these pages for more information on how you can remember the events of two years ago today and, perhaps, find your inspiration:

Jessica Redfield Ghawi Foundation Scholarship Fund

ACT Foundation – Alexander C Teves Foundation

Alex Sullivan Fund

Although I never met her, Jessica continues to inspire me.

An Open Letter Response to Millionaire LaPierre

Mr. LaPierre,

On June 24, 2014, you took to The Daily Caller to pen an article critical of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun violence prevention efforts. As someone previously unfamiliar with The Daily Caller, I needed to familiarize myself with this “news” outlet. After researching it I find it to be the rabid, misogynistic, disturbed cousin politically to the right of Fox News. Anywhere further to the right and it would fall off of their flat earth. Further to the right of that and they could personally shake hands with the likes of your friend, Alex Jones. It is no wonder that you chose this venue to perpetuate your delusions.

In your article, you bang the familiar drums of “elitist” media types fawning over “Billionaire Bloomberg” and his efforts to “erase the liberty of every American.” Using a staccato series of one sentence “paragraphs”, you urge us “to sign up a new NRA member – a friend, a family member, a colleague” for $25 “less than a tank of gas, or even a box of cartridges.” Let’s forget for a moment that unless you are driving around Washington on a lawn mower, $25 will not fill anyone’s gas tank (although I have no idea how much a box of cartridges costs), consider that your bloviating  that “Bloomberg is one guy with millions of dollars – we are millions of people who believe in freedom who will stand and fight and win at the ballot box” neglects to acknowledge that with only 4 million members, the NRA neither represents the majority of Americans nor the majority of gun owners, but inflames an already frothing subculture ready to start a “revolution” at Bundy Ranch.

In an America where two-thirds of the population own no guns and one-third own 300 million guns, where, despite perpetual doomsday warnings, no guns have been confiscated by a tyrannical United States government and yet 32,000 friends, family members and colleagues are killed every year with a gun, your need to pad the NRA membership rolls by castigating a wealthy individual working to save lives is disgusting.

Your insistence that Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is “another Bloomberg creation” shows your lack of knowledge and understanding of the ferocious outrage Americans felt after 20 first and second graders were murdered in school, along with 6 of their teachers; that Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was formed at a kitchen table in Indianapolis and fused the determination of hundreds of thousands of shaken and horrified individuals from across the country into a social media juggernaut in little over one year speaks to your lack of understanding that a seismic shift occurred in America on December 14, 2012. Echoing Alice Walker’s sentiment that “Activism is the rent I pay to live on this planet,” the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that morning galvanized and awoke a distracted multitude of Americans into a passionate and compassionate army of activists who, in their individual despair screamed a collective, “Enough!”

The fact that you repeatedly mention Mr. Bloomberg’s wealth as a reason for us to ignore him is disingenuous, at best, and, at worst, hypocritical. According to the 2012 tax forms submitted by your organization, you were compensated roughly $1 million in 2012. A review of previous year’s returns confirms this compensation is quite steady. Should we ignore you because you are a millionaire? Does your wealth render your opinion moot? The difference is that while you are compensated to express the opinions of your gun manufacturer lobby employer, Mr. Bloomberg pays to back his up his opinions. Quite simply, you are paid, he pays a price.

Despite your claim that “We are the good guys” and that “money can’t buy our freedom,” the legislation (and legislators) that your organization has bought over the years has not solidified our freedom but subjected us to continued violence and incurable heartache. You seed paranoia to sell guns, blame the consequences on everything else and cash your checks.

To you I say: There is a change coming. It will not happen overnight or without great pain, but change is coming. History will judge you for your actions and those who rose against your lies. When fewer friends, family members and colleagues are lost to gun violence in the future the anachronism that is the NRA will collapse and the world will no longer shake its head at the violence we Americans accept with daily numbness and will once again look upon the United States as a champion of freedom and peace. Steady yourself, Millionaire LaPierre. Change is coming.

The Class Ceiling

On Sunday, June 9th, a 39 year old man was arrested following a 911 call from inside actress Sandra Bullock’s Los Angeles home. The man was arrested after having scaled a fence on her property and gaining access to her home via a back door while she was asleep upstairs. She was not injured in the intrusion. An investigation of the individual led to his being charged with 19 felony counts, including: seven counts of possession of a machine gun, 2 counts of possession of an illegal assault weapon and 10 counts of possession of a destructive device (tracer bullets), in addition to breaking and entering and trespassing.

As horrifying as this is, we, as Americans did not even bother with a collective shrug. We barely blinked when a gunman opened fire in Santa Barbara or when there was yet another school shooting in Oregon. We have become accustomed to both violence and guns. Too many of us are numb to it now. Couple that with the pervasive misogyny of the intertwined subcultures of men, guns and violence and you begin to see the framework upon which our society is now built and upon which some of our elected officials feed.

Ms. Bullock was in Los Angeles to accept an award. Nothing surprising there! Actors and actresses have an entire season dedicated to celebrating their celebrity. However, this award speaks to the subculture we’re discussing. Spike TV holds a Guy’s Choice Awards show every year. Ms. Bullock was there to accept their “Decade of Hotness” award. Now, whether or not Ms. Bullock is a talented actor is best left to individual taste (however her box office receipts and salary per movie indicate that she is worth the investment), but must we award “hotness”? How, in 2014, am I supposed to look at my daughter and tell her not to be too concerned with her looks, that we celebrate intellect and passion above appearance? She would laugh until she cried. And then she would shatter every mirror in our house. We need only look at the tabloids at the checkout line to see the focus of our shallow society. From “Best Bikini Bods” to “Guess who went under the plastic surgeon’s knife?” to the latest drivel from all the celebrated-beyond-reason Kardashians, we idolize celebrity, but only pretty celebrities.

On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 as an amendment to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Specifically, it states that:

No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions…

However, according to a study of The White House’s National Equal Pay Task Force, in spite of the fact that women play a major role in the economic engine of America (as compared to 1963) and the fact that women now earn more advanced degrees in America than men, women had only closed the gender wage gap from 61 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1963 to 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2011, the latest year for which data is available. While undoubtedly a significant gain, one would think that a law passed in 1963 would have completely eradicated the difference by now.

It wasn’t until 1984 that the term “glass ceiling” was first used by former Family Circle Editor Gay Bryant, and that was used to describe the competition between women in reaching the highest levels of business. She is quoted as saying, “Women have reached a certain point – I call it the glass ceiling. They’re in the top of middle management and they’re stopping and getting stuck.”  This definition of the glass ceiling would seem to mesh with the findings of the Council of Graduate Schools study where the majority of advanced degrees were obtained by women (59.5% of master’s degrees and 52.2% of doctoral degrees).

However, it is still a man’s world. From the media’s “sex sells” focus on female images Photoshopped beyond human anatomical limits to the overt compensation of men’s 3-story pickup trucks and need to openly carry AR-15’s and AK-47’s in Target and Home Depot, the male psyche is being beaten educationally and logically by women and has resorted to beating the female image with the only objects left to their stunted minds, guns and misogyny. Essentially, rather than dragging the woman to their cave by their hair, they subjugate her by obliquely beating her with the blunt object between their legs through anthropomorphic means in the form of a firearm. What a shame.

If only men saw women as equals and sought their advice on the important social issues of our time, perhaps we would find a partner instead of a punching bag. As President Kennedy said repeatedly, beginning in 1959, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Instead, members of Open Carry Texas have resorted to calling members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, “thugs with jugs” and have a one minute free for all where they open fire on a female mannequin. Guns get bigger, but, we’re told,”they’re only used for hunting,” as if we are supposed to believe that deer, birds and rabbits have gotten exponentially larger and evolution has furnished them with Kevlar skin.

We’ve become little boys with big toys (or more accurately, big boys with little minds and big guns). Am I expected to teach this to my daughter? Am I expected to treat my wife this way? Am I expected to subjugate my mother like this? And what does any of this teach my son? You may call me less than a man or a wimp or a feminist, but I’d rather open my arms and use my intelligence than open my legs and show my ignorance.

(If you’re interested in a little mental exercise, read this post. I was writing it in 2012 as news broke from Newtown, Connecticut of a shooting at an elementary school.)

My Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s not one I’m proud of, especially given my small participation in trying to reduce gun violence in America. On May 23rd, in Santa Barbara, a gunman killed six people and then himself on a college campus. On June 5th, in Seattle, a gunman killed one person on a college campus. On June 8th, in Las Vegas, a couple killed three people, including two police officers and then themselves. And yesterday, in Troutdale, Oregon, a student killed another student and then himself. Oh, and on June 3rd, in New Brunswick, Canada, a gunman killed three police officers. Nineteen days have passed since the murders in Santa Barbara. Eighteen people died in those 5 incidents.

According to the Brady Campaign, on average, 86 people are killed by gun violence in America every day (33 are murdered and another 50 kill themselves). Every day another 205 are shot and survive (including 148 shot during an assault, 10 suicide attempts and 45 “accidents”). To annualize those numbers is to understand the magnitude of our psychosis. 31,346 people are killed due to gun violence every year. Another 74,835 are injured, but survive. That amounts to over 100,000 Americans victims of gun violence every year.

In the 543 days since 20 six- and seven-year olds were murdered along with six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, there have been 74 school shootings. Seventy four! If the chart below of school shootings doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of you, you have liquid nitrogen running through your veins.

Yesterday, President Obama said, “The country has to do some soul searching about this. This is becoming the norm, and we take it for granted, in ways that as a parent are terrifying to me.” Ah, but all of these people must be crazy, whispered the 2A “patriots.” To wit, the president said, “The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people.”

The United States has a gun homicide rate 20 times higher than other developed countries. Surely, we are not to believe that we have 20 times more mentally troubled people than these other developed countries. Their reply, “It’s the person not the gun. A gun is an inanimate object. If it weren’t for the gun, they would find another method.” To wit, I would refer you to author Steven King’s response in his book Guns:

 “I read a jaw-dropping online defense of these weapons from a California woman recently. Guns, she said, are just tools. Like spoons, she said. Would you outlaw spoons simply because some people use them to eat too much? Lady, let’s see you try to kill twenty school kids with a fucking spoon.”

There are over 300,000,000 guns in America. If having a gun made people safer, America would be the safest country on the planet. We’re not. Not even close.

The White House tweeted the following comment from the president yesterday:

So, my question to you is this: What will it take? The slaughter of 20 school children didn’t do it. Eighty six deaths and 205 injuries a day hasn’t done it.  Seriously, what will it take for us to say, “Enough”?  Is there a number? Is there a victim? Are we content with this and numb to the stories? Have we swallowed the “good guy” line from the NRA and now consider these deaths and injuries collateral damage and friendly fire in order for us to “exercise” our “God given” Second Amendment right? Or are we ready to insist on change? Will we demand a better, safer future for our children? As one of the millions who work every day to bring about change I believe we deserve, I hope so, because here is my confession: I have muddled the most recent shootings. I can’t keep them straight in my head. I feel horrible for the victims, family members and friends of the victims, because they deserve to be remembered. I just can’t keep them straight anymore. I demand better of myself and my country. What about you?

House (and Senate) Calls

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 The NRA is frothing at the mouth again, this time over the President’s nominee for Surgeon General. The reason? The President’s nominee, Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA and a member of Doctors for America, had the audacity to say in a January 9, 2013 letter to Vice President Biden that guns are a public health care issue. In response to the nomination, the NRA sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to reject his nominee.

“Who is this 37 year old foreigner and political hack King Obama has nominated? And why should we listen to a physician regarding firearms?”

I’m glad you asked.

First, this “foreigner” is a US citizen who was born in the UK and moved with his parents to Florida when he was three years old. He graduated as valedictorian from his high school in Miami. He then graduated magna cum laude (in 3 years) from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemical Sciences. He then received an MD from Yale School of Medicine and an MBA in Health Care Management from Yale School of Management, where he was a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine in at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He is currently a physician at Brigham & Women’s and an instructor at Harvard University.

Now, as to your second question, firearms cause injury to human flesh. It is the emergency departments of local hospitals that see the carnage and devastation guns cause. It is the physician’s duty to save lives. A physician does not receive a dossier on the patient in front of them bleeding from a gunshot wound. They do not pause to determine the legality/justification of the gun’s discharge. They only see the damage. Following the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, 52 medical organizations joined forces to send letters to the leaderships of the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives and directly to the President of the United States. The audacity, indeed.

Of course, it is not the 52 medical organizations calling for change or Dr. Murthy’s CV the NRA really has a problem with, although even the thought of any gun control leads the NRA to a version of reduction ad absurdum apparently leading to tyranny, confiscation, black helicopters, concentration camps and a socialistic New World Order. Rather, it is the position of the organization Dr. Murthy founded, Doctors for America, whose mission statement reads:

“Doctors for America is a national movement of physicians and medical students working together to improve the health of the nation and to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, high quality health care.”

And whose core values and culture are listed as:

    1. We are bold and fearless.
    2. We are creative and flexible.
    3. We value everyone.  Every voice matters.
    4. We cultivate strong relationships and a family spirit with partners and colleagues.
    5. We are accountable to one another in our individual and collective work.
    6. We are open and honest.
    7. We are passionate and determined.
    8. We grow and learn and help others do the same.
    9. We have fun and celebrate!
    10. 10. We ensure every action meets our highest standard: will it help create a healthier America for everyone?

End times, indeed. But it is the group’s position on gun violence prevention that has the NRA exorcised. Once again, facts be damned, Obama’s coming for our guns! And once again, our feckless Congress is caving to the NRA’s demands. Yesterday, in an editorial piece in the New York Times, the editorial board wrote that, “There are now reports that the White House and Senate Democratic leaders might delay a vote on the nomination until after the midterm elections or urge the nominee to withdraw.” Unconscionable.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine, writing to General William Howe, wrote:

arguing with the dead

Shame on the NRA, but more shame on Congress, should they not vigorously defend this nominee. Gun violence is a public health crisis. To ignore it is an abdication of responsibility, against the wishes of Americans and placating the lowest common denominator of society.

A Champion for Change

Champions of Change

The White House website has a section devoted to recognizing ordinary Americans for the tireless efforts they spend moving America forward.  President Obama’s declaration of American “exceptionalism” offended the rest of the world and rang hollow to Americans beleaguered by a societal abdication of responsibility, a systemic idolization of celebrity, an education system “wrestling” to merge science with religion, a federal legislative body paralyzed by intransigence and hatred and a country awash in daily gun violence.

The site recently asked for nominations for White House Champion of Change for Gun Violence Prevention. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder Shannon Watts was my choice and I, along with many others, nominated her. Here is my rationale:

No single person has harnessed the overwhelming passion Americans have to prevent gun violence since Sarah Brady. Born out of anger and disbelief after the senseless murder of twenty school children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, Ms. Watts formed a grassroots organization combining social media networking with passionate activism, targeting elected officials, businesses and the gun lobby while giving voice to thousands of mothers across America who see daily gun violence as a plague on the future for our children.

In little over one year, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has become the voice for compassionate Americans and a major target for the gun lobby. The recent partnership with Mayors Against Illegal Guns speaks to the clout earned by Moms Demand Action.

It is never a good idea to threaten a bear cub around its mother. Moms Demand Action continues to show what effect threatening America’s children with continued gun violence will have as over 125,000 mama bears in all 50 states unite. As a father, I applaud Ms. Watts for her determination, organization and vision and can think of no other individual more deserving of this recognition.

Albert Einstein said, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” Whether she is selected or not, she is a champion for change and has created an organization whose passion and compassion will continue to be heard in the gun violence debate in 2014 and beyond.