Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Gun Control

Rights of the Living

Thomas PaineIn 1789, Thomas Paine wrote Rights of Man as a rebuttal to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. One of Burke’s arguments, and one he spends over 100 pages writing about, is how the English Parliament of 1688 granted certain rights “for themselves, and for all their posterity, for ever.” Paine takes exception with this and in the first few pages of Rights of Man refutes Burke’s assumptions brilliantly.

I would like to use these same arguments as a foundation for repealing the second amendment, which to my mind, is the only way we will genuinely affect the daily bloodbath that is guns in America.

In the preface to the English edition, Paine speaks of those who make their living by war. I will use this as a metaphor for the NRA, as they are but a mouthpiece for gun manufacturers whose products flood battlefields and street corners, both. About this, Paine writes:

That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of Nations, is as shocking as it is true; but when those who are concerned in the government of a country, make it their study to sow discord, and cultivate prejudices between Nations, it becomes the more unpardonable.

Consider for a moment if we substitute Races for Nations in the previous passage. Now, how often have we heard those in government go on and on about how critical it is for “law-abiding citizens” to defend themselves against “thugs.” First of all, everyone is a law-abiding citizen until they are not, until they commit a crime. Second, “thugs” has become the code for our African American youth requiring neither an enigma machine nor anything more than a wink and a nod for conservatives to understand.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA misses no opportunity to speak before his epistemically closed audiences of Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh listeners when he frames paranoid image upon fearmongering image as reasons why “law-abiding citizens” need to arm themselves against “thugs.” He never misses an opportunity. As Paine wrote when slapping Burke for the same verbal diarrhea,

When the tongue or the pen is let loose in a frenzy of passion, it is the man, and not the subject, that becomes exhausted.

Indeed, later in the book, Paine smacks Burke again for misplacing his compassion. Likewise, as LaPierre is ordained to defend the firearm and not the victim of the firearm every time he blurts that nauseating phrase, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” or the equally noxious “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” I’ll quote two Paine lines:

He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.

And,

Prudent men readily recollect that mischief is more easily begun than ended.

LaPierre, ever the sower of tyrannical fantasies is subject to Paine’s logical argument when discussing what rights the founding fathers are owed. He makes a distinction of ruling by delegation, which he feels is appropriate, and ruling by assumption, which he does not. He writes:

The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave, is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.

Furthermore, he writes of the rights of the living superseding the edicts of the dead:

Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated.

He expounds upon this a bit further into the text when he writes:

Those who have quitted the world, and those who are not yet arrived at it, are as remote from each other, as the utmost stretch of mortal imagination can conceive: What possible obligation, then, can exist between them; what rule or principle can be laid down, that of two nonentities, the one out of existence, and the other not in, and who never can meet in this world, the one should control the other to the end of time?

So, if there is no obligation of current generations to accept the laws of previous generations, except through their continued adherence to them, they are then subject to repeal. Paine writes of this tyranny:

It requires but a very small glance of thought to perceive, that although laws made in one generation often continue in force through succeeding generations, yet that they continue to derive their force from the consent of the living. A law not repealed continues in force, not because it cannot be repealed, but because it is not repealed; and the non-repealing passes for consent.

That the second amendment was written during the time of the musket and could never address a hand-held machine gun or any of the other wondrous killing machines we have invented to slaughter our neighbor is all the more reason why we need to repeal it and, if appropriate, write a new version consistent with the times in which we live. As Paine wrote it:

The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions of men change also; and as government is for the living, and not for the dead, it is the living only that has any right in it. That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age, may be thought wrong and found inconvenient in another. In such cases, Who is to decide, the living, or the dead?

Paine even quotes M. de Lafayette who, in appealing to the living said:

Call to mind the sentiments which Nature has engraved in the heart of every citizen, and which take a new force when they are solemnly recognized by all: – For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it.

Laws are for the living, not the dead, says Paine. Might I add that they should be for the living to prevent the dead, as well? Paine was a bit of a smartass in his writing
and if I may repurpose one of his greatest upbraidings, I consider the NRA and its fearmongering, paranoid, disingenuous leadership to be “darkness attempting to illuminate light.”

I consider this as the framework and justification for repealing the second amendment, using the words of one of the most logical witnesses to two revolutions. Common sense may not be all that common anymore, but logic is universally appreciated.

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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.

Meanwhile in Texas

Meanwhile in Texas

In light of the horrific massacre of a family in Spring, Texas yesterday, I thought it would be good to gauge the response of our elected officials. Since there was nothing but the sound of chirping crickets in response, I thought we should investigate why. These pictures tell the story. Here they are, your Texas elected officials:

Texas Attorney General and Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Greg Abbott:

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Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry:

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United States Senator Ted Cruz:

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United States Senator John Cornyn:

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Texas State Senator and Republican Lt. Governor Candidate Dan Patrick:

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Texas Representative and Republican Candidate for Texas Senate Steve Toth:

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United States Representative Steve Stockman:

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But before we chastise these elected officials (and we aren’t even counting Louie Gohmert), let’s consider some of their constituents:

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Now I understand.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.”