Guns at the Republican National Convention? Of course!

The Thinker by Rodin

So naturally when I learned of this petition to allow the open carry of guns at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I hurried over to change.org to sign it. Over 48,000 of us God-fearing, law-abiding, Second Amendment enthusiasts have signed the petition so far.

And there are good reasons to sign the petition. Without open carry, the delegates and conventioneers in the hall will have no way to defend themselves from burglars, pickpockets and lobbyists, unless you count fisticuffs and kickboxing which I think would be pretty hard to take away. The Supreme Court has already decided that owning guns is a right. No preexisting militia is required. Moreover, lots of states have laws allowing open carry and many allow even concealed carry. I checked Wikipedia and open carry is definitely legal in Ohio, probably thanks to Governor John Kasich.

Moreover, you needn’t worry about these convention goers. Guns don’t kill people; only people kill people. But since you never know when someone is going to attack you with a banana, and there are probably no sixteen ton weights at the convention center, a loaded semiautomatic weapon may be your only defense when a brigade of banana-toting liberals in Birkenstocks come charging at your delegation. You have to be prepared, you know.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong? It’s not like Cruz and Trump supporters would not limit themselves to shoving, fistfights and general screaming at each other as they lobby to get their candidate the nomination during a brokered convention. They are all family men and women, civilized I am sure and will be full of the milk of human kindness (and Jesus) during the convention. They are so civilized they won’t even shoot a celebratory round into the convention roof when their candidate clinches the nomination.

No, this is a matter of principle, and principle is vitally important to Republicans. They like their world completely black and white. The Supreme Court says that we can own guns; Ohio says you can openly carry them, so there is no way that anyone should be able to restrict that right. You don’t mess with Texas so you don’t mess with Republicans and their guns either. Putting all those armaments into such a confined space should cause no issues at all. After all the Quicken Loans Arena is not a troubled inner city neighborhood like Glenville in Cleveland. They are proud Americans, every one of them, but just in case residents of Glenville decide to storm the Quicken Loans Arena en masse, well, you got to be prepared. A handgun isn’t going to cut it. You will want plenty of rounds, something semiautomatic, and probably something with a scope on it.

So I’m shocked to learn today that the Secret Service nixed the petition. Imagine the nerve of these feds to tell us law-abiding Americans we can’t bring our guns with us into the convention! The Secret Service says it’s something about a federal law that overrides the Supreme Court’s decision. Clearly there is nothing to fear, and surely Trump, Cruz, Kasich and the senior leaders of the Republican Party will be completely at ease in a convention hall full of faithful lock-and-load brethren. After all according to the NRA the way to stop a bad man with a gun (not that it would ever happen at this convention) is a good man with a gun, and there would be thousands of them. He’d never have a chance!

I can’t believe that the candidates will roll with the Secret Service on this one. Trump says he wants to study the petition. As of this writing, neither Cruz nor Kasich has expressed an opinion on the Secret Service’s decision. How odd!

So I guess we will have to turn to prayer: pray to change the minds at the Secret Service and failing that pray that hoodlums outside the hall won’t storm the convention hall, or pick off conventioneers on their way to and from their hotel rooms and local brothels. Perhaps an emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court is now in order. We can only pray they see the light.

Rampages and beatifying the beautiful

The Thinker by Rodin

Another disgusting rampage. Another white male (well, actually half white, half Asian, but obsessed enough with looking white to the point of dyeing his hair) decides he has been persecuted enough and goes on a murder spree. Of course I am talking about 22-year-old Elliott Rodger, who killed six people and injured thirteen others in a rampage on May 23, 2014 and then did what these cowardly murderers usually do: take his own life with a handgun. For a young man who railed against pretty women who he believes unfairly gave him the cold shoulder, four of his murders were against men, three of who were apparent roommates. The women were likely complete strangers, but were coeds at the local University of Santa Barbara he attended and likely reflected the archetype he expounded upon in his rantings and final video, of course uploaded to YouTube.

A few details of this incident did not fit the rampage stereotype. Three of the murders, of his roommates, were apparently carried out with knives and may have included a machete and hammer. I’m not sure what his beef with them was. Perhaps they were white and/or jocks. The others, of course, were shot expeditiously with our ubiquitous symbol of power for the powerless: a gun, specifically a Glock 34 pistol, acquired quite legally in California by a man with well established mental illnesses. Isla Vista police had earlier checked up on him, after his parents reported his disturbing videos on YouTube. Police found a mouse of a man and gave him no further thought.

Rodger says he did all this simply because he wanted to get laid and kept getting spurned from even getting a date. Of course it was more than this. Getting laid is not hard, even for a virgin. Anyone who can afford $5000 in guns can afford a street prostitute, or even an expensive blonde-haired escort like he lusted after. What Rodger really wanted was to be validated in the warped way that he thought he should be validated. He had to lay the right kind of stereotype. In his mind she had to be white, she had to be blonde, she had to find him attractive and apparently she had to be submissive and show respect by swooning over the fact that he was a man.

It’s the latter issue that is the primary subject of today’s essay. Rodger apparently saw himself as flawed. First, he was half Asian and to fit the archetype he believed blondes were looking for, he had to be all white. He thought that by dyeing his hair white he could join the white guys’ club, but it just made him look unnatural. This contributed to his rage. There were doubtless other things. Perhaps penis envy was also part of his perceived imperfections. Whatever, his doubtlessly clumsy attempts to win female attention did not work. He likely projected an aura of a messed up person, which is not hard if you are mentally ill. This is likely why women were spurning him, but it sounds like he set his bar unacceptably high anyhow. Chances are if he had actually laid one of these beautiful blonde goddesses, he would have been brought down to earth. Any subsequent relationship, if he could see past the confusion of his own mental illness, would reveal just another human being with flaws and foibles, just like him.

In some ways, Rodger was waiting for Godot. As we all know if you wait for Godot, it’s going to be a very long wait. No wonder his expectations were unfulfilled and his virginity remained intact. He was seeing women as he wanted them to be, not as they are. Women had become objects, not real people. He could only imagine validation through a woman so flawed that she had to be a stereotype. Naturally, his unsuccessful attempts piled onto themselves and turned into the perceived feeling that all women were against him because he himself was not the perfect male archetype he was convinced that they demanded. This anger fed his rage. Guns made it easy to kill half of his victims, but those living with him were in his intimate space, and on them he could unleash a more personal rage by killing them with knives and possibly a hammer. It is likely that his female victims would have suffered a similar fate if he could have gotten close enough to them, but of course he perceived them as spurning him, so he had to kill them remotely, hence the gun.

Rodger had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and had been seeing shrinks since he was eight years old. You would think this mental illness alone would make someone unqualified to own a gun, but of course you would be wrong. “Joe the Plumber” (a.k.a. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher) got some attention recently by asserting that if his gun rights cause people to be unnecessarily murdered, that’s just too bad, the former being much more important than some goddam human lives. While I don’t agree with his thesis, I do reluctantly agree with his conclusion. If the Sandy Hook murders weren’t enough to restrict access to firearms, even if just to the mentally ill schizophrenic like Rodger, then he is clearly right. Mentally ill schizophrenics cause almost all these rampages, and they are generally also young men about Rodger’s age. Simply taking away gun rights from them would save the lives of many people every year. It’s obviously not something politicians are willing to do, since few are anxious to take on the crazily obsessed NRA.

Rodger’s larger issue though was a fundamental misunderstanding of who women actually are. It’s not hard to see how he picked this up, as our culture glorifies the beautiful and Hollywood prefers white actors. Hollywood is in the business of selling entertainment, and selling movies with actors who look like average Joes or Janes is generally not very marketable. We beatify the beautiful. With the beautiful and the talented grabbing most of our screen time, it’s not surprising that Rodger picked up this value and assumed he was unfairly and permanently discriminated against.

How to see past the cultural and Hollywood smokescreen? Part of the solution is to tune this stuff out, obviously not an easy thing to do in our increasingly interconnected world, as attested by the volume of Netflix downloads constantly streaming across the Internet. It might help if we could substitute books for visual mediums. In a book, unless its illustrated, the attractiveness or otherwise of its characters is not an issue. Schools and religious institutions can also do more to project the values that worth is not contingent upon your genetic makeup or your rating on hotornot.com.

It would be helpful for everyone, but particularly our youth, to be less cliquish. We should put people of different ethnicities, life experiences and perceived beauty together more often. By interacting with others outside our normal class, it becomes obvious that we are all basically the same and that beauty and genetics say nothing about worth or character. These values become real only when they are experienced. People of different types have to work through issues together over a long period of time to get this understanding.

For students, it might mean lots of group projects where people in a group are picked specifically because they are different, instead of the same. Leveraging our diversity on all levels is actually a great strength. The more we all understand the multi-dimensional aspects of all of us, and feel it in our core, the more empathetic we become and the better we become at solving problems that affect everyone. This takes a lot of practice, and it often takes trained facilitators to help people see the strength in our diversity and our essential humanity. We have to see each other as real, not surreal.

And of course where there are signs of obvious danger, like Rodger’s mental illness, we must take logical steps to protect society. The NRA says that owning guns is a right. That is the current Supreme Court’s interpretation. The truth is that gun ownership, like driving a car, should be a privilege. It can and should be restricted to those sane and sober enough to use guns responsibly. By making it a right, it’s like giving a teenager a hotrod, a full tank of gas, a set of keys and a fifth of Tequila and telling them to enjoy their drive. That’s is the message we send to people like Rodger. Until we finally figure that out, Joe the Plumber will, unfortunately, continue to be right.

Arming teachers is crazy

The Thinker by Rodin

I have long suspected there were more than a few screws loose in the leadership of the National Rifle Association. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, spake Wayne LaPierre, an Executive Vice President for the NRA a few days after the deaths of 26 people, including 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last month by Adam Lanza. The NRA’s reflexive solution to the massacre is, of course, to put more guns in schools, this time to “protect” students from mass killers like Adam Lanza.

To start, they would like an armed guard at every school. There are around 132,000 public schools across the United States. Assuming one armed guard were placed at every school at the modest cost of $30,000 a year, that’s a cost of about $4 billion a year. Of course, most schools consist of more than a couple of classrooms. Here in Fairfax County, Virginia high schools like Westfield, where my daughter graduated, have 3,000 plus students. Assuming 25 in a classroom, that’s 120 classrooms. I’ve been to Westfield High School a number of times of course, and it’s immense. It’s got schools within the school. It’s a huge educational institution. It’s practically a college. It could take five minutes for an armed guard to get to a classroom on the other side of the campus. What do you think the odds are that the campus cop is going to be able to stop a shooter before he has inflicted a lot of mayhem? Okay, so maybe we need more than one guard at one of these larger schools. Let’s say on average we figure we need three armed guards at every school. Suddenly costs have ballooned to $12 billion. And we still have no assurance that a mass murderer can be stopped in a timely matter.

Ah but the NRA and others have another solution. Arm the teachers! Yes, put an easily accessible gun in every classroom in the nation! Put it in the hands of a teacher, a person trained to mentor students, not kill them. If I had a homicidal student, I suspect having a handy firearm would not be of much reassurance. Likely I would be his first target. I would be shot before I could get my gun out of its holster. Guns are like that, you know.

If you think about this for more than a nanosecond, you realize it’s a crazy, crazy thing to do, so crazy that anyone suggesting it is either delusional or simply can’t be bothered to think about it. It’s so crazy that I could scribble on for many pages and still not give you all the reasons why this is incredibly stupid. Here are some of them:

  • Teachers are people too, and they can have homicidal tendencies like anyone else. Do we really want to give a teacher a ready means of killing his own students?
  • If you dangle a carrot in front of a rabbit, it will probably bite into it. If you put students in a classroom with a gun in it that is accessible, even if it requires a code or keylock to gain entry, what do you think they will be thinking about when their mind wanders? How can I get access to that gun? I don’t have one of them at home. It’s like putting out Playboy magazines for your teenage son and expecting him not to look at the centerfold. Put a gun in every classroom and the likelihood that some student (or faculty member) will somehow use one of these guns increases exponentially.
  • It sends the signal that guns are not just okay (they are legal to own, for most adults anyhow) but something that is sanctioned by the school and public authorities in general. Gosh, I want a gun! My cool teacher gets to have one!
  • Even a trained police officer has only a 17% chance of hitting the criminal if he fires his pistol. A teacher is likely to have even a lower chance than that, and considering how panicked and nervous they are likely to be, it is likely they will miss the shooter and kill innocent people instead.

If you really want to minimize deaths by firearms in schools, perhaps the way to do so it not to put guns in our children’s faces multiple times a day, but keep them out of schools, inculcate the value that they should not normally be seen in polite societies, discourage parents from owning guns and if they do have laws requiring weapons to be kept under lock and key. An armed policeman at every school probably has at best a one in ten chance of stopping a shooter with a gun if they get entry to the school.

We could require students to have their person and things scanned prior to entering the school, as we do before boarding a plane. That is likely to be much more effective, but it will also be incredibly time consuming. At Westfield High School all 3,000 students generally arrive within fifteen minutes of each other. It would take a large number of scanners and agents to process this number of students in anything close to a timely manner.

So LaPierre’s suggestion is purely fanciful and speaks of an idealized world, not a practical world. In a practical world we would implement most of the proposals by the Obama Administration instead. It would not be foolproof, because no solution, particularly Lapierre’s suggestion, is foolproof. But it would be a practical and realistic set of steps to minimize these incidents. Law abiding citizens would still be able to keep their guns, just not the clips and ammunition that allow them to pump cop killer bullets into dozens of people within seconds.

If we have to spend $4 billion a year to put armed guards in our schools, I have a great way to finance it. Place a special tax on guns, both when purchased and annually. Place special taxes also on bullets. Use the revenue to hire the guards we need in our schools.

It sounds lawful to me. Considering how lethal guns can be why not also make gun owners liable for illegal use of their guns? I am liable for damages if someone else uses my car and causes an accident. Why should gun owners be exempt if someone uses their gun and commits a crime? Require gun owners to carry a special liability insurance for their firearms. It’s not much, but it is something that helps address the true cost of the mayhem inflicted by so many guns in our country.

One thing is clear to me: we won’t be making schools safer by arming teachers.

Gunsmoke

The Thinker by Rodin

In my next life, perhaps I will be a sociologist. Unlike philosophers who deal largely in the hypothetical, sociologists dwell in the here and now. Rather than look at life as it might be, they examine life as it actually is and try to understand its hidden catalysts. Sadly, the press tends to largely ignore their research.

Thankfully, we readers of The Washington Post are blessed with a weekly glimpse into the world of sociology, thanks to Washington Post reporter Shankar Vedantam. Every Monday, I turn the front page and there is Vedantam’s interesting sociology article of the week on page A-2. Today’s article deals with the bias many of us have toward people with baby faces. For some reason humans have a strong predisposition to trust these people more than others. It is too bad Richard Nixon was not born with a baby face. He might have gotten away with Watergate. (Karl Rove has a baby face. This might explain his luck to date.)

Two weeks ago, Vedantam reported on the work of sociologists Colin Loftin and David McDowall of University of Albany. They studied the homicide statistics in Washington D.C. between the years 1968 and 1987. Gun control did not begin in Washington D.C. until 1976, so the researchers had nine years of statistics before gun control and nine years after gun control.

One finding will cheer gun proponents: despite arguably the nation’s strictest gun control law, the law had no effect in reducing homicides in the city compared with statistics in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. (My suspicion is that this is because guns are so easy to acquire simply by stepping across the D.C. line.) However, the law did have one surprising effect: it cut the rate of suicides in the District by 25%. The neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia, which had no gun bans, recorded no similar reduction in their suicide rates during those years.

In short, owning a gun increases by 200 to 1000 percent the risk that you or someone in your household will use it to kill themselves. It appears that having such an expeditious way of killing yourself dramatically raises the likelihood that you will kill yourself. However, if you do not own a gun you are more likely to ride them out rather then follow through on our impulse.

If I had a gun, would I use it to kill myself? I just cannot see myself ever doing something like that. Nevertheless, the statistics are compelling. Having the ready means (a gun), raises the likelihood that I might. You cannot argue with the statistics. Until I read this article, that possibility had never occurred to me. It did occur to me that if I owned one, some member of my family might use its convenient location and ready lethality to kill herself.

I might rethink my decision to not own a gun if I lived in the Trinidad section of Northeast D.C. In the space of ninety minutes last Saturday, seven people were shot and one was knifed. One of those shot subsequently died. After all, if most of my neighbors were packing heat, I probably would feel the need for a little protection too. While that seems entirely rational, the number of people who actually use a gun to protect their lives and property are relatively small. In fact, many of the people who are the biggest advocates of gun rights live in generally safe communities. The likelihood that their guns will ever be used for self-defense is so remote as to be astronomical. Within Washington D.C., packing heat appears to provide only the illusion of self-defense. In fact, there is no correlation I could find between whether you own a gun and whether it actually improves your ability to defend yourself. This does not surprise me. Guns have the attribute of being both fast and lethal. I hope that I could pull a gun out of my pocket quickly enough, but most likely, the assailant would have shot me before I had the opportunity.

Consequently, if you want to reduce the likelihood of being a victim of gun violence your action plan is clear: move to neighborhoods where you are statistically less likely to be a victim of gun violence. Spend those five hundred dollars on a U-Haul instead of a gun.

If I owned a gun, it would constantly prey on my mind, the same way a stick of dynamite would if I kept one in the basement. The difference is that owning dynamite is illegal, and owning a gun is not. I would like to believe that I would never use a gun to kill myself, but who knows? I might get depressed, or lose my job, or have other major crises thrown at me at a vulnerable moment. I would like to think that no one in my family would kill themselves with a gun either. However, I cannot read their minds. Perhaps during a blue period they would elect to do so. The statistics are clear: having a gun available can make someone up to ten times more likely to commit suicide.

The article points out that last year there were 51,175 homicides nationwide. Of these, 32,637 of them were suicides. Of these suicides, 52 percent were a result of someone shooting himself or herself with a gun. Therefore, while gun control laws appear to have no effect by themselves in reducing the overall homicide rate, the D.C. study suggest they do dramatically reduce the number of suicides. Isn’t this by itself a compelling enough reason for gun control laws? Are we not a country that at least claims above all it wants to inculcate respect for life? Whose life is more important than our own?

Therefore, just as I know that wearing a seat belt improves the odds that I will survive a car crash, I also can now confidently state that by not owning a gun I may be saving my own life. If you value the your life and the life of anyone in your household, you should not own a gun.

Who’s a strict constructionist?

The Thinker by Rodin

I am no constitutional scholar. I also confess to being a supporter of gun control, which would not make me popular with the neighbors if my opinions were known. Still, if I was one of these people passionate about appointing only strict constructionists to the bench, I would be alarmed by today’s ruling on the Second Amendment by the Supreme Court. Sorry, this ruling passed by judges who claim to be strict constructionists is so expansive that it would make members of the Berger Court shudder.

In their decision today, the Supreme Court struck down a long-standing District of Columbia gun control law, which prohibited its citizens from privately possessing and storing guns within D.C. The court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, which remarkably is the first time it has seriously interpreted its constitutionality, is also at great variance with established precedence, which hitherto has generally been a strict constructionist interpretation.

Granted, trying to interpret the amendment as it is written is hard because it can be interpreted in so many ways. In case you have not read it, here it is in its entirety:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

With today’s Supreme Court ruling from our new supposedly “strict constructionist” court, the amendment can be shortened to simply:

The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Despite centuries of precedence by lower courts that have suggested localities have certain rights to regulate possession of guns, the court has said that all Americans have the constitutional right to possess firearms and keep to them in their homes. It acknowledged that subsequent rulings may refine this right, but right now, it looks open ended.

I hope that the right does not extend to bazookas and automatic weapons, but right now that is not entirely clear.  Someone will doubtless press the issue in court. After all, why should a law-abiding American not have the right to possess a shoulder-fired cruise if he wants to? It is nothing more than a very big gun and the court has now said that you have the right to possess guns. The argument may sound silly to most Americans. Yet there are plenty of people that will passionately argue that you should have this right. After all, there is nothing in the amendment that defines constitutes an “arm” is. Some dictionaries interpret “arms” to be armaments, which are not limited to firearms. A crossbow was construed as an armament for hundreds of years. Why not a shoulder-fired cruise missile?

I guess what I was really hoping for from the Supreme Court was an answer to the question that should draw a strict constructionist to it like a duck to water: in the event that a government does not choose to have organized militias, can it then infringe its citizens’ right to bear arms? Most of us have no idea what the heck a militia even is because we have never seen one. In Colonial times, a militia was a temporary entity consisting of local men that responded to threats of invasion or insurrection. As people back then were widely scattered, it was a practical solution to a general problem. If it wasn’t the French or the British out to kill us, it was the American Indian.

If militias were permanent entities, they would not be militias; they would be armies. During the Revolutionary War, there was a Continental Army. They could not be everywhere, however, which is why they were frequently supplemented by local militias. Some battles of the Revolutionary War were fought entirely by militias. The “well-regulated” portion of the amendment came from the Continental Congress, which required all militias be constituted by the government. With people very spread out and with the need to constitute armed militias quickly, it was entirely reasonable to ensure that the constitution did not infringe on the people’s right to bear arms. Failing to do so might jeopardize national security. Arms were also necessary by the populace for basic protection and for food. Unless you lived in a city or town with a good police force, not owning a gun was foolish.

That of course was then and here we are more than two hundred years and 300 million more people later. The amendment is still there but the militias are long gone. Perhaps some state still requires able-bodied men to register with their local militia. I am not aware of any of them. An argument could be made that members of the National Guard are part of a militia. Except for some annual training or when called into dubious wars like in Iraq, they stay home and live otherwise ordinary lives. In modern times though, the National Guard has never been called out to suppress invasion or insurrection. Moreover, those armories that you see in most major cities are there not just to host special events. They were built to serve the needs of the National Guard. Firearms can and often were stored in these armories. In times of trouble, they serve as a convenient location for local members of the National Guard to assemble. If there is no local armory, it might make sense for National Guard members to store arms in their home. It would save time in an emergency.

A militia as it was understood when the Second Amendment was written though is obsolete. It is possible, though unlikely, that in the future we will need militias again, maybe to repel a future Santa Anna and his army. Thus far, illegal immigrants crossing are border have been considered a matter of local law enforcement, with occasional help rendered by the local National Guard. It would be stretching credulity to say that the National Guard was assisting in order to repel invasion.

It strikes me that a normal Supreme Court should look at this history and context, look at the precedence in the lower courts, then look at how modern society is organized, and rule that until such time as militias are needed again, the state does have the right to restrict the possession of arms by citizens. That appears to be in part the logic used by the District of Columbia government. After all, it is only 68 square miles. Its danger of invasion or insurrection is nil at this point. Moreover, if the danger existed, the D.C. has an armory near RFK Stadium. (The Beatles performed there.) One can certainly argue that D.C.’s gun ban has proven ineffectual, given the number of homicides that occur annually within the city. One can also argue that because no militia is needed to protect the city from invasion and insurrection, and given the problem of gun violence in the city, that the public safety requires limiting firearms to law enforcement individuals only.

The Supreme Court obviously did not buy this interpretation, although D.C.’s ordinance is but a more liberal interpretation of ordinances that exist or have existed in many states and cities. Justice Antonin Scalia says that the historical context of early America supports the majority opinion that he joined. Maybe so, but this is a strange argument from a strict constructionist, who is supposed to apply the text of the law as written, and no further.

Warren Burger and Thurgood Marshall though would have understood where these supposedly strict constructionists were coming from. They would also agree that these justices are being hypocritical to the judicial philosophy they claim to follow.

It doesn’t have to happen here

The Thinker by Rodin

The senseless and tragic massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech yesterday underscores what the comic Eddie Izzard has said about guns and violence:

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and monkeys do too (if they have a gun).

Or as I put it myself in this entry:

Firearms make it much, much easier to kill people.

This largely preventable massacre underscores what should be obvious, if so many of us were not blinded by our obsession with firearms: guns have their place in the field of combat, and perhaps on the hunting range, but they have no place in the rest of society.

Our acceptance of the gun culture and our willingness to nods our heads like morons to NRA pablum trivializes the fundamental thing that is unique about guns: they allow for large numbers of people to be killed easily. This alleged mass murderer, Cho Seung-Hui, would have doubtless killed many fewer people had he been armed with a butcher knife instead of a Glock 9mm pistol and a .22 caliber handgun, both of which he could easily procure in my gun crazy state of Virginia.

According to The Washington Post, Seung-Hui was apparently a neighbor of mine from nearby Centreville, Virginia. Police say he killed himself as they surrounded him. Regardless of who committed this crime, by making it so easy for him to acquire lethal weapons society is indirectly complicit. As construed by the courts, gun ownership is a right, not a privilege. This incident, the largest single mass murder of its kind in United States history, is the latest outrageous example of why Americans need to stop worshiping their firearms.

Perhaps this incident will spur us to action. A similar 1996 incident in Dunblane, Scotland made the British realize that most such atrocities could be prevented. In that incident, Thomas Hamilton killed 17 people and himself with a gun. He injured 12 others as well. As a direct result the British passed stringent gun control laws. At least in Great Britain, similar incidents have not recurred. The British learned from the incident. Will we?

I would like to think so, but history is against me. Somehow I expect that after all the crying, funerals and compulsory speeches expressing outrage are over that we will choose gun rights over gun violence once again. Congress doesn’t care. In fact, we have Congress trying to overturn the District of Columbia’s gun ban. In addition a federal appeals court recently overturned the District’s 21 year gun ban. (The District is appealing the ruling to a higher court.) Perhaps gun advocates think that when we are all carrying loaded pistols like during those Wild West days we will all be safer. I do not buy this argument. Westerners carried firearms everywhere they went in the West because they were not safe. Is this the sort of society we aspire to live in? Do we want to send our kids to school with a loaded pistol so they can defend themselves if they get in a firefight? Or do we want to feel safer from gun violence in our community by restricting the possession and use of firearms?

This incident could not teach a clearer lesson: easy accessibility to guns contributes to the deaths of tens of thousands of us every year. Sadly, it is only when massacres happen that it draws our attention. We need a culture that considers gun ownership socially unacceptable. Clearly, death by firearms is not an abstraction and kills many of us every day. Just like smoking, this kind of death is largely preventable. Unlike smoking though, which is an activity you choose to do to yourself, you will not choose to have someone kill you with a firearm.

This incident should have one small silver lining: it should facilitate the end of our gun culture. I am not shy to speak up with my friends and neighbors about the need for society to tightly regulate firearms. I realize my quest is a bit quixotic, but perhaps this incident will finally change the dynamics. I encourage you to do your part and speak up loudly. Tell your neighbors and friends that you think it should be illegal to store firearms in our communities. Tell them that while you agree that the vast majority of gun owners are honorable that nonetheless the possession of these weapons in our communities sends the wrong messages. It makes the use of guns in commission of a crime far more likely. (Here is another egregious local example that turns my stomach. The assailant in this case was a former student of the high school my daughter attends and his wacky father was obsessed with firearms.) Guns should be as difficult to acquire as dynamite. We need a zero tolerance policy for guns in our communities. Hunters should be licensed to use guns only in designated areas. Guns should be required to be transported in locked containers. Guns should be stored in community armories when not needed. We should encourage neighborhoods to become gun free communities.

As with addressing global warming, no campaign like this will succeed overnight. It must build up a head of steam before real progress can be made. It succeeds when pressure builds from the grass roots. It is time to start talking with our neighbors. I encourage you to tell them in quite emotional and emphatic terms that we must to much more to prevent gun violence. Possession of guns in the community should be a shameful thing. We need to carry this message emphatically to our representatives and tell them that enough is enough.

So What’s the Problem with Bringing a Gun to School?

The Thinker by Rodin

Welcome to the schizophrenic state of Virginia. Last week a teacher at the high school my daughter attends, Westfield High School, brought a loaded gun to school. No he didn’t actually bring it in the school. He brought it on school property and kept it in his locked car. The teacher, Timothy D. Fudd, now faces up to five years in prison for his offense.

Please understand I am not actually in favor of bringing any kind of gun on school property. But this is Virginia, after all. We’re a gun crazy state. Here in Virginia it is perfectly legal to carry a concealed weapon (except, apparently, on school property) or even wear side arms openly in public in places like restaurants. Want to play Wild West and strap some loaded pistols to your waist and bring them into your friendly neighborhood Hooters? Not a problem in the Old Dominion. It’s completely legal. You may get more than a few odd stares and people may gravitate toward tables on the other side of the restaurant. Because, fortunately, this is not an every day occurrence. But it’s quite legal.

As I noted in a previous entry, it’s also perfectly legal to bring your gun to teenage recreation centers in Virginia too. And that’s why I have a problem with Mr. Fudd’s prosecution. Timothy D. Fudd could have packed a couple pistols and brought them into his local teen center and it would have been completely legal. Indeed, the NRA would have cheered him on for exercising the important second amendment rights that they spent so much time battling Fairfax County to win. At this point I figured guns were allowed everywhere in this state. I figured you could put them in your nightstand next to your hospital bed and the nurse was not allowed to complain. But apparently you cannot bring them on school property. Go figure.

I’m trying to figure out what passes for logic here. Is the worry that a loaded gun in a school parking lot might encourage a student to break into the car? Might the student then use the weapon to cause some mayhem? Certainly it is a risk but why worry about it? I mean guns don’t kill people, people kill people. If we were to worry that this might encourage kids might do this on school property then we might as well also start worrying that adults might do the same thing. In fact adults do do the same thing in neighborhoods across the country, resulting in about thirty thousand gun related homicides a year.

Virginia bends over backwards to accommodate the gun lobby. This spring alone we passed fifteen new gun laws, more than any other state in the country and all of them pleased the NRA. Some examples: people who already have a concealed weapons permit are no longer subject to the one gun a month purchase limitation. Woo hoo! Ditto for gun collectors: take them home by the truckload from your “private sale”. Our legislature says go for it! Also, people who live in other states that allow concealed weapons are welcome to bring them in and conceal them in Virginia too. The more the merrier.

So now poor Timothy D. Fudd may spend five years in a Virginia prison for bringing a loaded weapon on school property. He went the extra mile by locking the darn thing in his car. Surely he can be forgiven if he pleads ignorance. In this state gun ownership, possession and display is encouraged. Maybe he just got confused. Perhaps he was at his local teen recreation wearing his perfectly legal and loaded pistols strapped to his waist. Perhaps while he was there he was encouraging teens to join him at a nearby rifle range to learn about exercising their second amendment rights. Since guns can be worn openly or concealed in teen recreation centers, why should there be a problem leaving a loaded gun in a locked car in a school parking lot?

I honestly don’t understand why the NRA is not helping with this man’s legal defense. Mr. Fudd is African American after all, and this is an important community that needs to be encouraged to exercise their second amendment rights.

But most shocking off all: this occurred only ten miles from the NRA National Headquarters. Where is the outrage?

Guns Don’t Kill People, But They Do Make It Easier

The Thinker by Rodin

Maybe there was something to be said for the swashbucklers. It’s true that to do their job properly they had to kill other people. But at least when they did the dirty deed they were in their opponents’ faces. They got to see their victims die up close and personal. There was no escape from the intimacy of the act.

And at least as portrayed by Errol Flynn the victim usually had a fighting chance. They’d grab their own swords and engage their opponent. The better fighter usually won. The dying person at least could die with some dignity: they honorably defended their own life.

How quaint. How old fashioned, this up close and personal means of killing people. Thanks to firearms we can do the dirty business from a distance. And we can do it so much quicker. Often one well-placed shot will do it. But for insurance purposes get yourself a revolver, or one of the plethoras of multiple shot and semiautomatic weapons out there. But don’t worry, Mr. Criminal. You still can do from across the room! With the right equipment you can do it from across the street. Your victims will be just as dead but hopefully you won’t hear their cries of anguish. You can high tail it out of there while they are just beginning their death throes.

Some of you are likely thinking, “Why are you taking on this topic? Don’t you know what a hopeless cause gun control is in 21st Century America? Didn’t Congress recently gleefully allow the Brady Bill to walk into the sunset? Don’t you realize that many gun owners in America will part with their spouse or first-born before they part with their gun? Why talk about this issue when you know a hundred years from now guns will still be as plentiful in America as popcorn?”

You are right. Gun control is probably a hopeless cause in this country. We are addicted to our firearms. About 30,000 people a year in America die from firearms. While many of us root for the body of Terri Schiavo to survive another year connected to a feeding tube because Oh Lord, we must respect life at all costs, we are inured to the 17,000 or so suicides last year that were accomplished rather quickly with a gun, or the 12,000 or so murdered with a firearm. Yep, of course we’re all angry enough that these people died. We’re particularly angry with the murderers, so much so that a majority of us want these killers put to death. But apparently we’re not angry enough to do something practical to dramatically reduce the problem, like get the guns out of our houses and our communities.

I realize of course that “Outlawing guns will mean only outlaws will have guns.” But I also realize that your odds of dying from a gun rise dramatically if you actually have firearms in your house. It’s likely not going to be some burglar coming through the window that will want to kill you with a firearm. Sad to say it’s more likely to be your spouse, or your child, your estranged lover or someone you know intimately. And most likely when they murder you they can make the case that it wasn’t premeditated. Rather it will likely be done during a moment of heat when their common sense will scoot out the backdoor.

It’s time to take down our crosses and crucifixes. Let’s pay homage to what we truly worship: our firearms. They mean so much to us that, here in Virginia for example, guns can be worn openly in public and we explicitly allow adults to bring guns into teenage recreation centers. Mind you we can’t give our daughters a Midol to take to school if they get cramps. And of course we must teach abstinence in sex education class but give short shrift (or skip entirely) the section on contraception. But it’s perfectly okay for an adult to bring their gun into a youth recreation center. Any wonder why our children grow into dysfunctional adults? Talk about mixed up messages!

So I know it’s pointless but apparently people like me must still point out the obvious connections now and then: firearms make it much, much easier to kill people. As a result there are doubtless lots more dead people than there would otherwise be. Yesterday, while America wrung its collective hands over the brain dead Terri Schiavo, a 16-year old boy killed himself and nine other people on an Indian Reservation in Minnesota. He also left seven others wounded. If it made the front page at all it was way below the fold. This teen self identified himself as a “NativeNazi” and an “Angel of Death”. Yep, he sure killed these people all right. It was his fault. But those nine other people might not have died if our cultural values were not so wrapped around our phallic shaped guns. Rather than give up our guns we instead chose to inculcate a pro gun culture that made it very easy for this messed up boy to get a gun and quickly murder nine wholly innocent people.

Yes, yes I know: if we had gun control only criminals would have guns! But if we gave up the gun culture there would be no demand for guns. Do you think drug traffickers would be rushing across the border if we didn’t demand our narcotics? The same is true with guns. It can be done.

As John Donne wrote:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…

We are all connected. We can celebrate freedom in our country, but freedom in this case has the obvious consequence that lots of others will have their lives cut short through the simple and expeditious use of a firearm. I say that if you think that your choice to own guns affects no one but yourself then you are in denial. I say that if you believe in and promote a pro-gun gun culture then your values rubbing off on others of less sound minds will result in a lot of those guns being used to kill people. I say even though you are not to blame for these crimes that you did not commit, you should be troubled by the message your behavior sends.

But you can take a stand. You can say: I will not own a gun. You can say: even though I would never use my gun to harm an innocent person or myself, I care about myself, my family, my neighbors, my country and my world. So I will not own a gun. You can send a message that your love for your fellow human beings transcends your interest in firearms. Of course it’s not easy, but it is the right thing to do.