Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

National Day of Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, Texas

We moved to Texas seeking medical treatment for my wife. I found the people friendly and honest, the streets clean and free from potholes, and the weather devoid of snow. We were renting our home in Spring, about 30 minutes north of downtown Houston. We arrived in town just in time for Hurricane Ike to hit; fortunately, we didn’t suffer any damage. Treatment at M. D. Anderson was going well and my wife was responding to the chemotherapy. Her surgery had been a success and she was enduring the radiation as best she could. The kids were freshmen in high school and adapting well to the new “normal” in our lives. Their grades remained high and they immersed themselves in extracurricular activities such as theater and debate.

Following Lisa’s successful treatment and a declaration that the doctors could find no further trace of cancer, we packed up our belongings and made the long ride back to Rhode Island, our home, and the friends and neighbors we had known forever. Nine months passed and we were readjusting to our life in Rhode Island when the news came, following her third follow-up appointment, that the cancer had returned. We determined that we were too far from the hospital and all of the medical expertise and technology that M. D. Anderson could bring to bear so we put our beloved house on the market and moved to Texas permanently. We bought a house, again in Spring, and re-enrolled the kids in the same high school. However, this time, the glossy varnish of southern hospitality wore thin to show an ugly side of Texas. Say what you will about northerners, but we have a thick skin and a good sense of humor when it comes to handling adversity. The same cannot be said about Southerners, or perhaps some Texans in particular.

The ugliness appeared after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. Driven to action, I began reading and reaching out. What I found was a gun culture enmeshed with religious self-righteousness that defied understanding or explanation. Rather than agreeing that something needed to be done to prevent another mass shooting I found a society determined to double down on protecting the guns instead of the children and then watched as the Texas legislature passed several pro-gun laws, including open carry and campus carry. As I spoke before democratic groups, I found tepid approval of my message or blank silence. I felt as though I had been transported back to the Wild West of the 1850’s. Fortunately, I met the most wonderful mothers from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. They began speaking at the same meetings I was being asked to speak at, and they were kindred spirits in gun-crazy Texas. Together, we made the rounds speaking out and protesting easy access to guns, including protesting outside the NRA Annual Paranoia Jamboree held in Houston several years ago.

Now, perhaps my initial illusion of southern hospitality was misplaced. Perhaps I saw what I wanted to see, perhaps I had bought into the travel brochure’s salesmanship and had assigned characteristics to all of the people here before they had earned them. However, the fact remained that I was seeing people all over who flared with road rage at the slightest infraction (even though they were usually at fault!) and the initial kindness I saw displayed was revealed to be a thin veneer beyond which an angry populace lived. Again, perhaps it was my fault that I expected kindness to go along with their initial genteel hello. However, the initial hello was shallow and provided no shelter to the storm of their real feelings, especially to someone from “up north.” The least informed tend to have the firmest convictions, and here the stupid were downright rigid in their unexamined beliefs.

As Lisa continued to fight against the ravenous cancer, we came to an understanding of the culture in which we found ourselves and tried to make the best of it. I attempted to let go of the mixed up anger I had at both the people and our situation, especially as it became evident that the cancer was killing my wife. When she died, part of my world became frozen in time. I cannot convey in words what telling my kids was like. The pain is too real.

And yet, as we close in on our moving date to move back to Rhode Island, less my wife and my dog who cancer finally took over the past nine months, I have a soft spot in my heart for Texas and the medical center here that brought us seven years together we would otherwise not have enjoyed. Granted, it’s not a big soft spot. Along the way, I have met good friends at work. My job has been fantastic to me, and their kindness, compassion, and comfort have made this situation a little more bearable. Nothing can break the pain I have associated with Texas as the place where Lisa drew her last, labored breaths and where we had to put our beloved dog down because of his cancer pain. Nothing can change the past nine months and the grief we have endured. My heart is shattered, but we are going home where we belong. We will be going to a new town for us, but back to a culture we understand.

The last chapter of our Texas odyssey is being written, and the kids and I are in a mad packing frenzy right now as the truck is soon to be on its way to pack all of our belongings and take them to our new home. The kids have graduated from college (with honors), a true testament to their work ethic and determination and are scheduled to apply to graduate school in the fall. Samantha has been challenged to apply the design lessons she learned from Lisa and school to the new house. God knows I don’t have a clue! We will make the most of our home while the kids research the grad schools and work on their portfolios. I’ll be working out of the house and trying to balance a new social life. A new chapter is beginning, and we will do our best to live up to the expectations Lisa set for us. Texas will soon be behind us, home to immeasurable pain. The pain will travel with us to Rhode Island, but a new beginning carries with it the hope of better days ahead. Goodbye, Texas.

Three Years

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

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

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

A Hero in Full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting a Hero

Having lost my wife last month and my father in November of last year, I know the awkwardness caring people bring with them when they want to express their condolences. Both my wife and my father died of cancer, an insidious, destructive disease that kills from the inside out. But what do you say to someone who has had a loved one taken from them violently? We anthropomorphize cancer and speak of the “battle” waged against a nefarious foe. But what “battle” can we speak of having been waged against an instantaneous, violent death? It is simply chaos from the cosmos, dropped upon the heads of those who survive. In some cases, it is the Damocles sword of gun violence befalling someone dear to us without warning.

So it will be with my meeting Sandy and Lonnie Phillips tomorrow at a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. As none of you will remember, my very first blog post was simply a reposting of their daughter Jessi’s blog about having just missed a mass shooting at a mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012. She was murdered 48 days later at the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012.

In fact, despite continuing to write about it on my little blog, it wasn’t until the murder of twenty schoolchildren and 6 of their educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School that I was forced to act. It was while listening to a conference call of the Brady Campaign on January 7, 2013, that I heard Jessi’s heartbreaking story told by Sandy Phillips. The next week I was speaking out at Democratic clubs around Houston of the need for action to quell the violence guns were having on American society.

I consider my need to act an outpouring of love for my children. No longer could I look them in the eye and deplore gun violence without taking a stand and working to affect change. Whatever effect I might have (however small), had to be done for my children and their future. However, I attribute any courage I had to speak out publicly to Jessi, Sandy, and the parents and family members of those who were killed at Sandy Hook. But especially Sandy. Because while I had a hard time imagining me ever getting out of bed again should something so horrible befall my children, Sandy was out there speaking and acting, every day, despite the pain of her loss. And I know that change cannot be made without the efforts of those beyond the parents and family members of gun violence victims. People like you. People like me.

At a counter-rally outside the 2014 Annual NRA Paranoia Jamboree in Houston, I saw Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hockspung, murdered principal at Sandy Hook Elementary. I also saw the father of one of the murdered children. Despite their proximity and my desire to meet them, I was embarrassed to introduce myself. But was it the simple awkwardness attributed with expressing condolences or was it my guilt for not acting sooner to address gun violence? I don’t know the answer to that. I left them alone, content to stand alongside them that day in opposition to the more guns everywhere agenda of the NRA.

Tomorrow will be interesting. I am nervous, anxious and excited. I consider Sandy Phillips a hero. I don’t want to injure her or embarrass myself by saying something stupid or insensitive. It has been over three years now since I became active in this movement and I’ve seen it gather momentum despite roadblocks and disappointments. So, in spite of my nervousness tomorrow I will meet Sandy Phillips. I admire her too much not to attend.

MOMentum (or Thinking Big)

MDAWhen I started speaking out about gun violence prevention at local Democratic clubs around Houston in January of 2013, it was a hot topic because of the recent murder of twenty schoolchildren and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT a month earlier. Like many others, I had reached my breaking point knowing I could no longer look my children in the eye as a responsible adult if I did not act. So I spoke. I didn’t think big enough. Shannon Watts, a mother from Indiana, launched a Facebook site to show her anger at the Sandy Hook shooting, and it instantly resonated with other mothers. The group grew exponentially within months and soon, not only was I sharing the floor at Democratic clubs with equally impassioned moms, but there were branches of the movement in every state. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America touched a nerve.

And then something incredible happened. Nothing. Congress failed to pass any gun laws. Not universal background checks, not reporting of large ammunition sales, not a ban on large magazines or clips, no revisitation of the assault weapons ban, no consideration of gun trafficking becoming a federal crime. Nothing. That was followed by a fickle public blinking to see what Justin Bieber did yesterday, and gun violence prevention faded from the public eye. Until the next mass shooting. And the next. And the next. Soon gun violence was never out of the public eye.

All the while, Moms Demand Action continued to grow as a social media movement. Focus shifted away from the national political stage to the corporate boardroom. Several high-profile companies asked their customers to leave their firearms at home before entering their stores. And then, with the focus still on corporate responsibility, legislative fights were started in statehouses across the country at the local level. A war was being waged between activist mothers and the NRA juggernaut, and moms began racking up victories in states like Washington, Connecticut, and New York.

And then Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns saw the symbiosis of effort and merged with Moms Demand Action to form Everytown for Gun Safety. Finally, two of the many gun violence prevention organizations had joined forces and brought their considerable resources and talents to bear. No longer was the movement hopelessly fractured or outspent. Everytown had the social media wherewithal to pressure politicians and corporations and the financing to compete with the heretofore untouchable NRA.

And now as the number of school shootings since Newtown eclipses 150, the number of mass shootings surpasses 1,000, and 33,000 Americans continue to die from gun violence each year, there is a more equitable fight for the conscience and accountability of America. The movement is still splintered, but economies of scale aside, politicians are listening, and the public is responding. There is momentum. The apoplectic vitriol from some gun rights enthusiasts is proof that their previously sacred ground is shifting beneath them. No longer do people resign themselves to the NRA’s stranglehold on politicians or the inevitability of another wave of gun-related deaths. No longer do they accept as uniquely American the deaths and injuries inflicted upon our families and neighborhoods. Momentum is building for change; the momentum that will wash the streets clean of our national bloodbath. Thank you, Shannon, for thinking big.

Stupidity Fatigue

Head in HandsThere is a saying in the lottery industry when the public will not purchase tickets for a seemingly high jackpot called “jackpot fatigue.” It is caused by the ever increasing and ever publicized jackpots always available to the public. The public has seen it all before and heard it all before and nothing new can be said about the jackpot total to get them to the convenience store to purchase a ticket. It’s all been done before.

I find myself suffering a similar kind of fate lately regarding the public at large. Events that used to anger me now no longer pique my interest or at least no longer send me to my computer and my Twitter feed where I would once fire off a pithy comment. Twitter especially has become the bastion of trolls ready to engage in bumper sticker based retorts and troglodyte tantrums rather than the necessary thought out debates. It is the AM radio of the internet.

I feel guilty for abandoning those things about which I am still passionately concerned: gun violence prevention, women’s rights, protecting my children from all manner of political stupidity, animal welfare, etc., etc, but I know that there are still those out there whom I trust to carry the ball downfield while I suffer this miasmatic ennui. I still read and I still write, just not at the same temperature as before.

Right now there are about 300 GOP candidates running for president, so there is still time for me to come out of this spin and focus the laser. Right now the moms and dads of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are meeting in Minneapolis to discuss next steps. In another universe, a universe where I wasn’t working with hospice to care for my dying wife, I would have joined them to learn what I could do to better fight gun violence in blood soaked America. But that is not the universe in which I currently reside. I do not make excuses, but only present facts. I am tired, physically and mentally.

I am tired of the stupidity of the southern white male with his pickup truck emblazoned with hunting decals and NRA stickers, tired of the stupidity of religious hypocrites festooned with Christian stickers on their cars and quick to criticize anyone not their mirror image. I am tired of the stupidity of the 300 GOP candidates running for president who are fighting for air time by reaching for the lowest common denominator in their demographic and ultimately the shallowest of the public gene pool. I am tired of cancer and the stupidity of its suicidal march toward the murder of its host. I am tired of the stupidity. I am suffering from stupidity fatigue.

An Open Letter Response to Millionaire LaPierre

Mr. LaPierre,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Class Ceiling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Champion for Change

Champions of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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