Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: gun control

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?

Inertia

Bullet Flag

It has been one year since the awful events of December 14, 2012 occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. One year since a disturbed individual availed himself of the arsenal his mother had legally purchased and shattered families in the little New England town and horrified individuals throughout the country and the world. Reaction was swift (except for the NRA) and all signs pointed to a paradigm shift occurring in the long argued battle over gun rights in America.

However, it proved to be a difficult year, not just for the families forced to endure each holiday or family event without their loved one. Indeed, for these uncounted victims, while they did not lose their lives on that fateful day, they certainly lost the lives they had known and the futures for which they had planned and expected. Daily events, done thousands of times before, took on a new, mechanical air as they searched to redefine “normal.” It is for these people and the loved ones they have lost that many people joined the voices of those calling for change. As I searched for some way to understand the past year’s events, the term “inertia” kept clawing into my mind. And so, using the words of Sir Isaac Newton, I begin:

“Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed thereon.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law I, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Prior to the multiple, brutal mass shootings of 2012, organizations such as the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative arm the Legal Action Project have been fighting the ever increasingly extremist positions of the NRA in courts across the country securing minor victories against a tide of right wing battles which have resulted in concealed carry becoming legal in all 50 states, open carry laws spreading like spilled blood across the country and stand your ground laws allowing shoot first confrontations to become immune to punishment and rationale to the paranoid. In addition, the NRA has systematically enticed Congress to reduce funding for firearm violence research, rendered impotent the ATF and exempted gun manufacturers from all product liability responsibility; this seismic shift occurring despite the screams of those opposing the proliferation of guns and warning of their inevitable violent toll on society. However, to the general public, raised on and catered to by sound bites and instant gratification, these long-term societal changes went unnoticed.

To use Newton’s terminology, the body (society) persevered in a state of rest (miasmic banality) WHILE it was (quietly) compelled to change that state by forces (NRA) impressed thereon. In effect, while we were distracted by other crises being broadcast 24/7 on cable news, it took the events of 2012 for us to realize not only the playing field had changed, but that we were in the third quarter of a different sport. In doing so, lives were lost, families destroyed and history altered. Shame on us.

 “The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed.”  Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law II, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Many people began to wake up following the midnight movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th. Most did not. The momentum created by the murders culminated in prayer vigils, moments of silence and an increase in gun sales across the country, including in Aurora.

Unfortunately, it would take another, even more mind-twisting event to wake the majority of Americans.  Only 147 days later, another disturbed individual, armed with a weapon of war, laid bare America as a gun violence dystopia to a disbelieving world. Suddenly, there was an outrage that flashed longer than a prayer filled candlelight vigil, longer than a moment of silence. People from across the country looked directly at the entities responsible for allowing this type of future to unfold: the gun lobby and the elected officials that they owned. Ever aware of their behind the scenes effectiveness and ability to outlast the public, the gun lobby “pleaded” with America not to politicize the tragedy arguing that it was not the right time to discuss legislation when so many families were in immediate pain. Unbelievably, and counter to all rational thinking, the NRA responded by saying the cure for gun violence was more guns. More cancer is not the cure for cancer. Drilling more holes in the bottom of the boat is not the cure for a sinking vessel. Eating more steak is not the cure for heart disease. But according to the NRA, more guns will cure America of its gun violence. Across the country, the sound of gears, springs and cogs could be heard crashing out of the logical brains of rational people.

Over the following months, a groundswell of accidental activists began asking, aloud, what could be done to change our society, to create a future where our children were safe from the hail of bullets in a country awash in firearms. The well-oiled machine that is the gun lobby sent forth their legion of followers with canned arguments too short to fill a bumper sticker and too simplistic to defend. Here, Newton’s second law of motion became evident. The trajectory the gun lobby had set the country upon was being impressed upon with a motive force from the majority of Americans not beholden to a gun metal deity. The new activists credited those who had been fighting all along for their successes and acknowledge, in Newton’s own words that, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

“To every Action there is always opposed an equal Reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law III, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 13, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

However, as predicted and anticipated by the gun lobby, America’s fickle attention wandered to other crises. Gun safety legislation, considered unassailable in December, sputtered and crashed when the gun lobby reminded Senate Republicans (and a few Democrats in red states) who owned them. And this is when the most amazing part of the story occurred. Those accidental activists demanding gun safety did not fold up their tents and go home. To the chagrin of the gun lobby, the activists absorbed the legislative loss, considered it a learning opportunity and realized that the change they saw as necessary and obvious would not be achieved immediately. It was a marathon, not a sprint. Again, to quote Newton, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.”

It was this event, the recognition of the gun safety activists that change would take time, which brings us to the question of whether we will remain in Newton’s third law of motion or see further movement because of his second. Will the opposing forces on the gun issue in America push against each other in a long-term stalemate, or will one side emit enough force to alter the trajectory of this issue?

Rather than demand change from the existing politicians locally and nationally, the activists have begun developing campaigns to elect a legislature more conducive to change. Rather than have a hissy-fit and demand a recall when a vote goes against their wishes, activists have embraced a longer term agenda of electing those who will act in the best interest of society and not the best interest of gun manufacturers. They have also sought to change our communities, not through legislation, but with the pressure of the pocketbook. Corporations are being pressured to provide safe shopping environments for their customers devoid of the testosterone-fueled paranoid shouldering their beloved bazooka.

Interestingly enough, the push back seen by the gun enthusiasts has been in the form of misogynistic berating of activists, the creation of “bleeding” gun targets in the image of the president and female gun safety activists and groups of gun-toting enthusiasts parading through towns and posing outside gun safety activist meetings. Is this the best approach the gun lobby can muster? Evidence suggests that these pedantic actions expose the gun lobby as the far right wing paranoids they are. Attacking ones opponent rather than their position will not win arguments. As Cicero said, “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”

And so here we are, one year out from the horrors of December 14, 2012. Which of Newton’s laws of motion will prevail? Perhaps Newton himself predicted the outcome when he said, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.” May logic overcome vitriol and compassion trump paranoia.

Ideology

Ideology, like religion, demands one abandon critical reasoning and doubt. By another name, faith leads one to the comfortable conclusion that one’s position is unalterably correct, thus removing the prickly questioning normally associated with sentient thought. However, this relinquishment of critical analysis leads to ever more epistemic closure in a death spiral toward absolutism. In fact, absolutes invariably vanish the closer one gets to the issue. There is no “pure evil” just as there is no “pure good.” Humans comprise both ends and all intermediate places on the spectrum. To assume otherwise is to deny one’s own personality while subjecting others to an unnatural status. If the “devil is in the details,” then, by definition, any god is too far removed from the issue to offer alms.

Ideology, in its most rabid form, invariably leads to hatred, racism, subjugation or war. Consider the fundamentalists associated with White Pride or Black Power, xenophobia or nationalism, misogyny or homophobia. These “phobias” are, of course, mislabeled. They do not indicate a “fear of,” but rather a “hatred of” someone different than oneself. Simplistic by design, anyone with an opposing view is deemed ignorant or irrational and easily dismissed. Living in a black or white world (I mean this in terms of absolutism and not race) may be reassuring but it is most certainly delusional.

Current events supply two readily available examples of this: Ted Cruz’s 21-hour temper tantrum on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and those exorcised individuals “defending” the Second Amendment over the past nine months since Newtown.

Senator Cruz’s marathon speech, performed for no discernible purpose but to garner personal attention, was presumably conducted in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), although that possibility was only ever a Tea Party fantasy. Along party lines, the ACA was passed by both Houses of Congress in 2009 and signed by this Democratic president. Subsequent judicial challenges have validated the legality of the law. Whatever your thoughts are on our two party system, just like the odd sibling out in a family of three children, two against one will almost always prevail. Thus, for better or worse, a Republican controlled House will typically lose out to a Democratic controlled Senate and White House. This is not always the case, but in our ever increasingly polarized, and by extension, paralyzed Congress, petty party politics triumph where wisdom and governance is required. Ted Cruz personifies Tea Party doctrine and Washington grandstanding over negotiation and solutions.

In contrast to most gun control activists who feel obligated to include a blanket caveat of supporting the Second Amendment in every discussion, gun rights activists convey an ideology so absolute it crosses into militantism. Hatred and dogma preclude any discussion or negotiation. Their circular logic of I-need-my-gun-because-I’m-a-good-guy-and-the-guy-next-to-me-might-be-a-bad-guy (with no explanation of how we are to know he is a good guy other than faith) is the precursor to Hammurabi’s code, but in this case America is left with bullet riddled school children and paranoid gunslingers rather than someone simply losing an eye or a tooth.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that most gun rights activists are also members of the Tea Party. Nothing says “America” like an Austrian Glock and Chinese oolong.

Give The People What They Want

Give The People What They Want

I am many things.

Male

White

Short

Overweight

Middle aged

Married

College educated

New England raised

Living in Texas

A son

A husband

A father

An uncle

A nephew

A friend

An enemy

Blue-eyed

Left handed

Employed full-time

Middle class

Homeowner

Car owner

Non-smoker

Independent

I am all of these things and these are measurable demographics used by all manner of people and organizations in order to sell me things and, in politics, theoretically, represent me.

Having been raised in Rhode Island, I grew up thinking the majority of the country was just like me, white, Catholic, middle class. There were blacks and Jews in school with me, and while they were the minority, I did not treat them any differently, nor did they see me (I hope) as an oppressor. They were my friends and part of my world.

As I grew, I began to see the political landscape of Rhode Island as the basis for the fabric of America. At the same time, I joined the workforce and began to understand Churchill’s remark:

“Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”

Rhode Island politics is dominated by trade unions. Democrats control the legislature and the state constitution essentially renders the Governor moot. As I began to bring home part-time, high school student paychecks with deductions to anagrams I did not understand, I began to think like a conservative (Republican). I worked for this money; don’t give it to somebody else. Business drives the economy. Without jobs there are no unions. Ayn Rand would have been very proud. But in retrospect, I think this reaction was more a rebellion against the Rhode Island Democrat mindset and less a political ethos. Taxes were too high, handouts too easy and I did not feel my hard work was being protected in the state house. I was a Conservative with no heart.

As with everybody, as we get older, the world gets smaller. College, just next door in neighboring Connecticut, opened my eyes to other religions. No longer was Catholicism the dominant religion. No longer did liberal tendencies dictate legislation. So, too, were these the days of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economy. As a burgeoning economics major, this philosophy made sense and met with my understanding and expectation of things. However, as a college student trying to get loans and seeing my parents struggle to shoulder the weightiest financial burden for two college aged children with a third coming up through the ranks, coupled with the seemingly never ending string of corruption issues emanating from the Reagan administration, my conservative leanings were shaken. Was this a reaction to the financial situation I found myself in? Was it a reaction to the broadening of my understanding of the country and the world? Or was it simply another shift against the grain?

Careers, a marriage and parenthood quickly followed. Once again, I found myself trying to provide for my family and build a career in an economy growing under Clinton’s watch through economic structures established by his Republican predecessors. And once again, living in the Rhode Island Union, I saw the expansion of social programs as a long term detriment to the local economy, but those were heady times and we were all (relatively) happy living on the dotcom bubble. When that burst, and September 11, 2001 hit, Rhode Island was slow to respond to the economic crisis that ensued. Like the rest of the country, I was angry and wanted to strike back at somebody for the evil perpetrated on my neighbors (Boston, from where the flights originated and New York). Following the morally damaged presidency of Clinton, I fell into the political pit warned about by Bertrand Russell when I voted for W:

“Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.”

I had ascribed FDR’s tenet, “I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues” to W and assumed he would do the same. Unfortunately, I think Kurt Vonnegut put it best when he said:

“The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.”

My wife’s diagnosis with an aggressive breast cancer in 2008 forced us to reevaluate our lives. Because family and her survival weighed so much more over career and home, we picked up stakes and moved to Texas to seek treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

At first, this change of environment seemed to meet my expectations and stereotypes. Southerners were friendly and slower. Northerners were rude and always in a hurry. I ignored the conservative predispositions of Texas even though Texas-bred W took us to war in Iraq over bogus intelligence and OBL and the Taliban hid in the lawless Hindu Kush on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. And even though Rick Perry, W’s intellectual equal, continued to gut the education system and pilfer jobs from other states, it didn’t matter to me as long as my wife was receiving the best medical treatment. My once expanded understanding of the world didn’t matter to me when my family was suffering.

Then, on December 14th of 2012, while working on my laptop at the hospital while my wife was undergoing restaging tests, news broke of a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. I read with horror as first the casualty total rose and then it was reported that children were among the victims. That day, coupled with the local reaction in the following weeks caused a seismic shift in my perception and attitude. No longer was Texas the friendly, slow state with questionable education standards and a job-pilfering, slow-witted governor, now it showed itself to be a gun loving, religious zealot, paranoid, racist, American anachronism. Unfortunately, as time elapsed, I came to understand that this political/religious background was neither limited to Texas, nor the south. “Red” states throughout the country began to show their prejudices, paranoia, fear and hatred. The “Gun Control” debate had ripped the genteel mask of civility off of otherwise, (seemingly) generous people. I saw the people who attended the NRA’s Annual Paranoia Jamboree here in Houston. I argued with them. I argued with the dimwitted grandfather who brought his grandson to a gun control rally in Austin to argue for more gun rights. I was scheduled to debate a state senator, who had introduced a firearm protection act, on television, until he chickened out. I had become a liberal without a brain.

And then it hit me. The Kinks were right!

Why, I asked myself, was I always going against the grain? Why were my political positions always running counter to the culture in which I lived? How could I be represented by people so contrary to my positions? Lightbulb! Ted Cruz was elected by people who were pleased by what he claimed to represent. Louie Gohmert was elected by people who believe what he believes. Steve Stockman was elected by people as deranged as him. And so it is. Give the people what they want.

And so, the reason congress is in a perpetual state of paralysis is because America is in a perpetual state of paralysis. We seek to impose our ideal democratic notion on the rest of the world while ignoring fractures at home. Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote, warning America not to consider ourselves exceptional. George Bernard Shaw wrote,

“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”

The fact I find most interesting is that Congress has a 19% approval rating, according to Gallup. If we elect representatives who represent our interests and convictions, why is our approval of the job they do so low? At heart, are we not happy with our own convictions? The devil is in the details and it is this process that divorces concept (patriotism and democracy) from reality (legislation and personal responsibility). We cannot give the people what they want because they are not prepared to work for that which they think they deserve.

Syriasly?

chemweapon

Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.  Signed at Geneva, June 17, 1925.

French and English official texts communicated by the President of the Council, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the French Republic.  The registration of this Protocol took place September 7, 1929.

THE UNDERSIGNED PLENIPOTENTIARIES, in the name of their respective Governments :

Whereas the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilised world; and

Whereas the prohibition of such use has been declared in Treaties to which the majority of Powers of the world are Parties; and

To the end that this prohibition shall be universally accepted as a part of International Law, binding alike the conscience and the practice of nations;

DECLARE:

That the High Contracting Parties, so far as they are not already Parties to Treaties prohibiting such use, accept this prohibition, agree to extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare and agree to be bound as between themselves according to the terms of this declaration.

The High Contracting Parties will exert every effort to induce other States to accede to the present Protocol. Such accession will be notified to the Government of the French Republic, and by the latter to all signatory and acceding Powers, and will take effect on the date of the notification by the Government of the French Republic.

The present Protocol, of which the French and English texts are both authentic, shall be ratified as soon as possible. It shall bear today’s date.

The ratification of the present Protocol shall be addressed to the Government of the French Republic, which will at once notify the deposit of such ratification to each of the signatory and acceding Powers.

The instruments of ratification of and accession to the present Protocol will remain deposited in the archives of the Government of the French Republic.

The present Protocol will come into force for each signatory Power as from the date of deposit of its ratification, and, from that moment, each Power will be bound as regards other Powers which have already deposited their ratifications.

Signed by 138 countries. Signed by United States 6/17/1925. Signed by Syria 12/17/1968

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Chemical Weapons Convention

Articles

Article I. General Obligations

1. Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never under any circumstances:

(a) To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone;

(b) To use chemical weapons;

(c) To engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;

(d) To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.

2. Each State Party undertakes to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

3. Each State Party undertakes to destroy all chemical weapons it abandoned on the territory of another State Party, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

4. Each State Party undertakes to destroy any chemical weapons production facilities it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

5. Each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.

Signed by 189 countries. Signed by United States 1/13/1993 Syria has not signed.

As a critic of the sea of steel the United States finds itself drowning in, namely the 310,000,000 firearms flooding society, I find the current debate regarding the potential use of military force in Syria to be humorous if it weren’t, like the gun debate, so deadly serious.

One of the arguments I hear all too often by the gun-hugging, “patriot” crowd (other than the banal argument that toting an arsenal around to get a skinny latte at Starbucks is a “God given right”), is the equally numb “criminals don’t follow the law” line. Because “they” don’t, these “patriots” argue, there is no sense in having common sense gun legislation such as universal background checks. This simplistic argument, if taken to its logical conclusion would suggest that we abolish all laws because, by definition, criminals don’t follow the law. Indeed, the Tea Party would suggest that we abolish the IRS, the Department of Education and the… uh, um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see… Oops. Of course, it is always every other department, other than the one which constitutes 20% of the federal budget, defense. When you spend $718 billion a year on defense, it becomes reasonable to want to play with the toys that Santa War brought you.

Which brings me to Syria and the mirror-image response many Americans have to Syria versus the gun debate. The United States and its citizens have assumed the mantle of “the world’s policeman” bestowed upon itself through the confluence of being the “victor” of the Cold War and the permanent paralysis of the UN to act. Unfortunately, one cannot be the policeman of the world with its altruistic, justice-seeking mandate and be a world power with “national interests” flavoring every decision. “Rescuing” Kuwait from Saddam’s clutches followed by two Gulf wars to “free” Iraq and another war  to “stabilize” Afghanistan have done little to convince the rest of the world that we are not just another mammoth imperial entity trying to dictate our ethos (and capitalism couched as democracy) on a misguided world. Our blind eye to the people suffering in Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Kashmir, Darfur notwithstanding, we are on the side of right; God is on our side. And therein lays the problem.

President Obama said in Stockholm today, “I didn’t set a red line — the world set a red line.” If that is the case, then the UN should handle the investigation and response. Of course, it might be faster to watch the polar ice caps melt than wait for the UN to act. If the world set the red line, then where is the international outrage and rush to punishment some Americans are salivating for? The UK listened to David Cameron’s position and said, no thanks. Where is the coalition of forces massing on the border to overthrow Assad and bring him to The Hague for crimes against humanity? I’ll wait.

The suffering of the people in Syria is horrific. The videos leaked on social media of the chemical attack show unconscionable pain. But being a country that suffered through its own civil war (has there ever been a more oxymoronic phrase in the English language?), imagine the headlines had France or Russia bombed Washington, D.C. in 1863 because Union forces were using steel ships. Why didn’t England bomb Paris in 1789 because French troops were busy shooting Gavroche? Why didn’t the United States bomb Pretoria or Cape Town when apartheid kept 85% of the population under the control of the white 15%?

Why? Because there is law; because if we ignore the law we are the criminals. Laws without punishment are impotent. The answer is not to abolish the laws, but to enforce them. If they have no teeth, change them. This is neither earth-shaking nor “God given”, but merely common sense. If Syria has chemical weapons in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the UN should send in inspectors to confiscate them under the tip of a multilateral UN-backed coalition of forces. Again, law with consequences. If the “good guy” with a gun suddenly becomes the “bad guy” with a gun, he should have his gun taken away from him under the tip of US-backed law enforcement. Laws must have consequences when violated. Unfortunately, the Congress will likely authorize “surgical strikes” (another military oxymoron) on Syria and continue to ignore the blood stained streets of America under a hail of gunfire and simple-minded patriotism. God bless the USA.

Mutually Assured Paranoia

MAP

“My factories may make an end of war sooner than your congresses. The day when two army corps can annihilate each other in one second, all civilized nations, it is to be hoped, will recoil from war and discharge their troops.” Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, 1909

“The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.” Omar Bradley, U.S. Army General, 1948

John von Neumann, whose genius as a mathematician and scientist earned him a spot on the Manhattan Project, later used game theory to develop the Cold War’s Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine. Deployed in the United States by “Whiz Kid” Robert McNamara, its theory goes something like this:

With the use of nuclear armed ICBM submarines, a unilateral nuclear strike by either the United States of the Soviet Union would be met with a second strike on the aggressor, thus ensuring the destruction of both.

In a classic case of reductio ad absurdum, this folly was perfectly demonstrated in the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. And while the ridiculous nature of this doctrine passed for foreign policy, we did not destroy the earth. Whether this is a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc or whether MAD should be credited for carrying us through our nuclear infancy is a matter for others to debate. Either way, we can all agree that the acronym is befitting the doctrine.

Apply this now to the NRA’s dream of a fully armed America as a means of ultimate protection. Every man, woman and child carrying an AR-15 with them at all times with a pistol in their sock, you know, just in case. Reductio ad absurdum? Or America: 2013? Unlike the quote from Gautama Buddha, who said, “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared,” it seems to me that the ubiquitous availability of firearms would lead to casualties beyond imagination due to the deadly combination of man’s incendiary temper and the impossible retrieval of a bullet once fired. If this be so, then mankind is neither mature enough nor evolved enough to have firearms. If we were, we wouldn’t need them. Because we’re not, we shouldn’t be allowed them. Anything less casts us as troglodytes, monsters and condemned to live a life in mutually assured paranoia.

As McNamara later said, “One cannot fashion a credible deterrent out of an incredible action.”

Year One

blog

I started this blog one year ago tomorrow. Not that I expected anybody to read it, but as a way for me to pour burning liquid emotion onto my keyboard in hopes of having it coalesce on the screen into something resembling understanding, logic or rationality in order for me to carry on. All too often, I have failed.

My first post was simply a reposting of a blog entry made by Jessica Redfield who had escaped a mass shooting at the Eaton Center in Toronto. She had posted it on June 5th. One year ago tonight, she was one of twelve murdered and 58 wounded at the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Here, frozen forever, is her last Twitter post:

JessicaRedfield Twitter

Having been cast to live in Texas as a result of the world-class medical facilities at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and seeing them as the best chance we had to fight my wife’s rare and aggressive breast cancer, I had become increasingly angry at the cavalier attitude Texans have with their guns. The “Come and Take It” crowd, most of them displaying Zimmerman-like bravado (when armed with a firearm), hiding anatomic shortcomings (if shoe size is a true indicator and not some urban legend) and compensating by driving the tallest, most ridiculous looking monster-trucks legal to drive on public roads.  The shooting in Aurora drove me to write. It was a cathartic exercise.

Mixed with equal parts sarcasm, anger, depression and pomposity, I put down in words my boiling rage. A few comments popped up, although in the vast universe of the internet I have no idea how these people tripped over my little blog. And so it went. Until December 14th.

I was sitting at the hospital while my wife was being restaged when the first news reports began to flash about a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. A shooting at an elementary school will be very traumatic for the children, I thought, assuming that the victim(s) would be adults involved in a deadly dispute of some kind. Slowly the details emerged. Children were among the victims and their numbers kept climbing. Like most of the world, I read the reports in disbelief, hoping for a clarification from the news outlets of a terrible mistake. Instead, the numbers continued to climb. More children were injured; more children were among the dead.  Like many other dates that are seared into our collective consciousness, I will never forget where I was when I heard the news. My wife and I made the hour drive home from the hospital that evening, although I cannot remember actually steering the car. That night, I shook.

The next day I told my wife that I needed to do something, anything to try to change the world in which I had sentenced my children to live. I was ashamed for my previous inaction and tacit acceptance of gun violence; I was ashamed for the country. The rest of the world looked upon America as a land populated by blood-thirsty renegades armed better than Dirty Harry with a fuse shorter than a Bruce Willis’s hair. Surely, after this mind-skewing, paradigm shift, Washington would act responsibly? Americans would demand it! Politicians would push and shove their way to the front of the line to co-sign responsible gun legislation! Unaware of any grassroots organizations and devoid of any previous political activism, I reached out to the one group I knew with a history of fighting the gun lobby, the Brady Campaign.

“I haven’t had a representative in the Houston area for three years,” said the head of the Texas Brady chapter. Roll that around in your head for a second. Houston is the country’s fourth largest city with a population of over 2 million people and the Brady Campaign has no local chapter? Hell, Connecticut has three!

And yet, in spite of my newly embraced activism, it all still seemed a little remote. I could still only partially allow myself to invite in the nightmare of what it would have been like if it had been my children. Emotionally, as a parent, as a human, it was a door I was only willing to open a crack, lest the devastating emotion behind it drown me. That all changed on a conference call.

The head of the Texas chapter of the Brady Campaign invited me to participate in a call with hundreds of other members and a guest speaker. It was scheduled for Monday, January 7th at 5:00. Because I was still at work, I stayed late and joined the call already in progress. There was a woman speaking with intimate knowledge of the shooting in Aurora. I listened intently, but removed and muted. However, as I listened, I began to piece together who the speaker was. At the moment my mind made the connection, she spoke the words that will forever haunt me. It was Jessica Redfield’s mother, and she was describing, in vivid detail, the events of that night and how, where and why her daughter had been murdered. I could no longer prevent that nightmarish door from opening. Jessica Redfield’s mother was telling me how that door had been ripped from its hinges and cast into space. Suddenly, it was all very real. I had come full circle. What I had started in July as an angry blog by simply cutting and pasting an entry from a theater shooting victim had brought me to listening to the mother of that same victim on a January night. Surreal. Emotional. Devastating. Goose bumps. Real.

I assumed I would write a few articles and make a few calls on behalf of the Brady Campaign. However, soon, word spread and I was being asked to speak at local area democratic clubs. Then I was asked to debate a state representative on a local PBS television program. (The Tea Party twit backed out at the last minute!) Immediately, armed with logic, a rational ethos and compassion, my inner Toby Ziegler/Josh Lyman/Josiah Bartlet took over. I carried photos of the Sandy Hook victims in my wallet. My speech ballooned to 45 minutes. I was able to scan the crowd, in front of whom I was soon to speak, and pick out the planted RWNJ’s itching to ask me to define an assault weapon. It became my personal goal to piss off at least one person in the crowd at each speech, although living in Texas, that was not a lofty challenge. Panel discussions followed and more speeches.

But soon, I found that while the name “Brady Campaign” got me in the door to speak, they did little else locally. I believe the Brady Campaign in Washington continues to do wonderful things standing up to the vitriol of the NRA and battling in state legislatures across the country. However, I needed to belong to something at the local level. What I found was my gender shutting me out of the most amazing group of people I had met in this fight.

It seemed that whenever I was asked to speak, so too was a rotating posse of equally exorcised and like-minded members of the Houston chapter of the newly formed Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, or just Moms Demand Action. These women were phenomenal. Educated, passionate and ready to go toe-to-toe with any gun rights wing nut, this group of similarly accidental activists bolstered my spirits and strengthened my resolve. Fuck not with a mama bear protecting her cubs, lest you unleash her limitless wrath. Enrage 100,000 of them and I pity the NRA. In short, they were the grassroots organization I longed for. I longed to be an “honorary Mom.”

We saw each other everywhere. From speech to speech, there they were. They were on-stage at a rally on the steps of the state capitol in Austin where I managed to get into a verbal confrontation with a RWNJ who tried to crash the proceedings (with his young grandson in tow). They were at a protest outside the Houston-hosted, annual paranoia jamboree (officially known as the NRA Annual Conference) where, again, I got to piss off a different RWNJ. It was there that I saw Neil Heslin, father of Jesse Lewis. Jesse was just one of the 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook. I stood ten feet from Mr. Heslin and wanted to speak to him, but my brain could conceive of no combination of words that could pacify him or rally him. What could I say that didn’t sound shallow, condescending or meaningless?  His eyes conveyed a pain, a hollowness that seemed to match the emptiness he must have felt inside, an ember and ash hole where his heart had once lived, a void which Jesse once filled.  I also saw Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hocksprung, principal of Sandy Hook and one of the first killed on that still inconceivable day. Ms. Lafferty had the same look of pain, but also a sense of fury behind her eyes that I wanted to bottle. And the Moms were there at a press conference with United States Representative Sheila Jackson Lee outside the Rothko Chapel commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and beseeching the Senate not to filibuster the Manchin-Toomey amendment. This was a cause with character (and characters). I was not alone in this. There were now faces and voices with which I could bond.

And so, it has been one year since Aurora and 217 days since Newtown. The challenges that lie before us are still all there. Washington is still lethargic and paralyzed. The Texas legislature has passed 14 laws weakening gun laws. Countless assault rifles have been sold to those paranoid “patriots” convinced that the president will come knocking on their door to confiscate their guns. And the American public, with their fruit fly length memory and fickle attention span have moved on to other more current atrocities, shifting their outrage to a new target, resigned to the fact that their demand for gun control legislation (within the confines of our instant gratification society) was not fulfilled.

 Brady Fact Sheet

It has been one year since Aurora. One year, but for me, this is only Year One. We haven’t done enough. But we are not alone and we are not dissuaded. In a country awash in guns, there will be another mass shooting. Americans will again display their transient outrage and, maybe, Washington will listen. It is a long road through an unfair and uneven process, but change will come. We will be here fighting for those who cannot. And when change does come, ask yourself, “What did I do?” Let this be your Year One.

Jesus Shrugged

Jesus Shrugged

Six months ago today a young man with a history of mental illness, knowing his mother owned a legally obtained arsenal, shot and killed her, took these weapons designed to obliterate human flesh and proceeded to an elementary school where he shot his way in, murdered six dedicated educators and blew the faces off of 20 terrified six year old children with between 3 and 11 bullets each.

The fact that words could ever be arranged in this order, in one run-on sentence, capable of painting a scene of horror beyond Hollywood’s imagination (or sense of propriety) should have shocked us. Neither Edgar Allan Poe nor Stephen King could (nor would) conjure up a story with this plot, so sick is the premise. And yet, this sentence describes America in the 21st century. Worse yet is the reaction we had. We did nothing. “Pray,” our politicians told us. Any other solution is a knee-jerk reaction, anti-American, unpatriotic and unconstitutional. We allowed the seeds to be planted years ago by the NRA (and others) which today have blossomed into the paralysis we see in Washington, the evisceration of existing law and the flooding of America with firepower and an absence of responsibility.

While neither Hank Reardon, Dagney Taggert, Jim Taggert nor any other characters in Ayn Rand’s myopic, self-centered, Gold-is-the-new-God, dystopian, It’s-all-about-Me, fantasy have children, the rest of society seeks a balance between personal and societal advancement. Personal responsibility, the overriding theme of Atlas Shrugged, is rewarded in personal wealth. This shallow, simplistic idea only works in the abstract world of fiction. In reality, we are all part of an ant colony whose success or failure depends not only on our own participation and success, but on the participation and success of the other ants.

And in spite of this, the Tea Party (the new Republican party of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) seeks to add Atlas Shrugged as the new, New Testament. The King Ted version of the Bible. Jesus Shrugged. God, guns and screw everybody else. I’ve got mine, you get yours. You’re on your own. Come and take it. Molon Labe.

181 days have passed since the (still incomprehensible) horror took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Spineless Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, afraid for their NRA rating (and the cash that accompanies it) and catering to the dullest, most simplistic but vociferous, absolutist, “patriotic” constituents, snubbed every attempt to clutch rationality from the jaws of paranoia and closeted racism, lied about imaginary gun registries, drove up gun sales with inflammatory rhetoric, ignored tear-stained relatives, friends or victims of gun violence declared “victory” for the Second Amendment and chuckled as “King Obama” lost. It is if any battle is worth political annihilation of the republic as long as this president loses, topic (or victims) be damned. How very patriotic.

Gun ownership in this country is down to less than one-third of households and yet gun sales continue to climb. If fewer people own guns, but guns continue to sell, it can only be surmised that the same people are buying more guns, which begs the question, how many guns can one shoot at once? It seems to me that the NRA needs to team up with doctors to develop an accelerated evolutionary path for these “patriots” so they can grow additional index fingers with which to pull triggers. Anything less is unconstitutional and against their God-given right as guaranteed under the Second Amendment and conferred upon them in the new, new testament.

America’s best days are ahead of it, but only if we stop trying to live in the past.

Six months with no action. Shame on Congress, shame on us.

Gunistan

After seeing the blinder-wearing, simplistic, dogmatic, vitriol of the attendees at the NRA Paranoia Jamboree in Houston (and its glaring lack of racial diversity), I now agree with the speakers at the convention, such as:

Governor Rick “Prayer, Guns, and um…um… oops” Perry

Senator Ted “Filibuster and Lie about an imaginary Gun Registry” Cruz

Ted Cruz website

There was NO gun registry language in the proposed legislation that Senator Cruz first filibustered against and then voted against. In fact, there were strict penalties in the legislation for anyone attempting a gun registry. That did not stop the Senator from posting this on his website and causing dim followers to froth.

Senator John “Poison Pill” Cornyn

Attorney General Greg “Keep your guns, come to Texas” Abbott

Representative Steve “If Babies Had Guns They Wouldn’t Be Aborted/Win an AR-15!” Stockman

Texas Representative Steve “What’s the Supremacy Clause?” Toth

Governor Sarah “Helicopter Hunter” Palin

Ted “Messy Pants” Nugent

Wayne “Tyranny, Confiscation, Tyranny, Confiscation” LaPierre

“Leadership” Forum!

Senator Rick “The Bill of Rights came from God” Santorum

and Glenn “Am I Still Relevant?” Beck.

When these Pavlov-inspired  “leaders” have the ability to distill a solution to all of society’s ills down to a bumper sticker (“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”) and have it swallowed whole by their one-note flock who hug the Bible in one hand and an AR-15 in the other, who can somehow justify loving God and can, with a clear conscience, kill His creatures, who cloak their racism as patriotism and assemble arsenals to defend themselves against the America they profess to love, who consider “victory” to be any time the “fake” black president loses and, of whom  44% consider the possibility of an armed rebellion against the government likely in the next few years, yes, maybe we should give them what they want. Let them secede. Concern over the porosity of our border and a demand for an impenetrable fence begins to sound good. In fact, we should insist that the fence continue around the entire Texas perimeter and commit every gun manufacturer and gun owner in the other 49 states to live in this newly minted country we’ll call Gunistan.  God bless Gunistan. Lock and Load.

Wow. Just, wow.

While the rest of the country is trying to curtail the carnage caused by a society drowning in firearms, the Texas legislature recently passed 12 bills weakening Texas gun laws. So take your guns, hug them tight, tuck them in at night under your pillow and the rest of us will leave you alone. Please do us the courtesy of doing the same. No longer will you fear Texas turning blue. It will forever be, blood-red.

Gunistan

GUEST POST: From a Friend

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Today, NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre asked the question in his NRA conference keynote speech “How many Bostonians wished they had guns two weeks ago?”, while rhetorical, I took the time to answer.

Wayne,
I can’t speak for everybody in the city, but when I was terrified for my life and all sense of security, the first thing that I thought of was not “I wish I had a firearm”, in fact, that thought was probably the last thing in my mind. I didn’t even begin to entertain that possibility until long after things had settled down. And when I did entertain that possibility for a fleeting moment, I cast it aside as baseless paranoia that would only endanger in the long run, not protect. My first thoughts were about my loved ones and a desire to stay safe through smarts, caring, and a trust of those authorities that remained. Not through a desire to display my ‘self-defense’ by having the leverage to impose a threat upon others, but though a solidarity in my community that was holding each other in its arms, and not pointing its arms at each other.

What I learned a few weeks ago is that if those impulses to have a gun and succumb to your fear are what strikes you immediately, you are probably an unstable person. You are probably a frightened person, and you are probably buying a gun in this spur of the moment decision out of a personal fear. Because its the easy way out, and we’re inclined to take that action as human beings. But it’s also the dangerous way out, people make horrible decisions while dictated by fear, that’s one of the reasons why terrorism is horrifically dangerous. If me and thousands of other Bostonians had a gun, things may have been escalated to state of uncontained paranoia, with shots fired at people mistaken for a home intruder, or a naive view of a who the terrorists were leading to the slaying of individuals who were outside who were Chechnyan, muslim, or whatever John King was suggesting the bombers were at a given time. Because that’s what happened without a gun, some people got assaulted, or yelled at, or falsely accused, but at least they didn’t die. Fatal actions occur when we act on our fear instead of acting with tact and logic. The situation may have been a lot worse if we all had guns.

But many say these events were a sign of a police state. Yet, trough trusting the state government of Massachusetts, and the Watertown and Boston Police Departments, we still were not in a police state, we were in a middle ground where we respected government instructions and everything turned out OK. What the NRA and Wayne LaPierre fail to understand is that a firearm is not the ultimate way to be defensive, and that it’s not the only way to be safe. It turns out, when it does its job right, government protects. So does staying smart, and listening to instructions and advisories can save lives a whole lot more than giving each individual an unbelievable power to slay. Just because we have the right to a well-regulated militia, doesn’t mean we should depend on it at the first sign of panic. These things should only be used when all other options are gone, and we shouldn’t be using fear and vitriol as the NRA does to suggest that all other options are gone.

So yeah, that’s my little ramble about why the actions that shook my life didn’t impact me enough to get a firearm, nor will I get one in case I am ever afraid in the future. Fear can make monsters of us all, and the last thing a monster needs is a weapon.

I don’t know, I may just be crazy to think this, but at least I’m not Wayne LaPierre crazy.

Your pal,

Boston Strong