In My Home Town

It is a bad day when the television programs are interrupted for “Breaking News” for yet another mass shooting in our country.  It is a horrible day when that shooting is in your home town.

The Annapolis Capital Gazette, known locally as The Capital (and to those of us in the crab capital of the world it is just as often called the “crab wrapper”) is a typical local paper that covers news in the state capital and surrounding Anne Arundel County.  It fairly covers local politics, provides forums for opinions in letters to the editor (always entertaining), provides local civic information, follows events at the U.S. Naval Academy, and most importantly to some, has great local sports coverage on the high school and college level.

It is also a historic publication.  Its roots date to the Maryland Gazette founded in 1727 in Annapolis and is one of the first regular newspapers in the country.  Reportedly it was among the very first newspapers to publish the Declaration of Independence, but its heart has always been the local town and county news.

I did not personally know the five people murdered as they worked at their desks in an otherwise ordinary office building, but I felt like I did — especially two of them — because I read their columns and admired their style.  As is usual in a small local paper, the staff had multiple assignments covering various elements of community life.  Rob Hiaasen — the brother of famed author Carl Hiaasen known for his very funny books about life in Florida — among other things wrote a quirky and funny weekly column about various off the wall occurrences in and around the area.  The other was Wendi Winters who wrote about almost anything one can think of but was best known for her coverage of our part of town and for the weekly “home of the week” feature.  Her beat was all of the local girl scout fund-raisers, church bazaars, neighborhood parades, civic meetings and such taking place in our little piece of the world.

The other three innocent people murdered on a regular day at work were Gerald Fischman, an editor; John McNamara, a local sports reporter; and Rebecca Smith, a newly hired sales assistant.  Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, our neighbors, regular people that went to work like any other day and never came home.

“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes @CNN @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.  SICK!”  — Tweet from the president 17 Feb 2017

Just regular people doing the best they can.  These people were not our enemies.

The perpetrator had a long-standing grudge against the paper and was known to the police. Several years ago The Capital reported on a story about a harasser and stalker convicted of those misdemeanors.  He felt that the paper libeled him and went on a personal crusade to discredit the paper and to seek revenge.  Most of it was via social media but on Thursday, for whatever reason, he decided to take a shotgun into the news room and kill innocent people.  A nut case.  There is no way, perhaps ever, that we will know why he decided to act in this way on this particular day.  He thought that the paper was “unfair” and “biased” and not telling the truth about him.

“I use Social Media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a VERY dishonest and unfair “press,” now often referred to as Fake News Media. Phony and non-existent “sources” are being used more often than ever. Many stories & reports a pure fiction!”  — Tweet from the president 30 Dec 2017

Before you set your hair on fire, I am not in any way shape or form holding the president directly accountable for Thursday’s murders.  I do wonder, however, what it takes for someone to be pushed over the edge because of the constant bombardment of such statements that reinforce an already sick view of what journalism and reporting is all about.  To be fair, in a statement about the attack on The Capital yesterday the president said in a prepared statement he read from a teleprompter,

”Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs. To the families of the victims there are no words to express our sorrow for your loss. Horrible, horrible event. Horrible thing happened.”

I have no doubt that the president does not want physical harm to come to journalists.  I do have to wonder, however, whether he has any concern that what he considers rhetoric to fire up his base may have actual consequences.

But those are discussions for another day.  For now, my community, my home town is in mourning and is still reeling from the shock of what way too many communities have experienced.  Active shooter drills are now a regular part of school routines.  How can we accept that?  No one is safe in school, church, music concerts, movie theaters, news rooms, restaurants or pretty much anywhere.  As a society we cannot accept this as normal.  The level of discourse and civic involvement needs to move in a positive direction.  Gun lover or gun hater we all agree that there is a sickness of some sort pervading our nation that makes it okay to act in a violent and destructive manner just because of a grudge.  We are a country full of smart people.  We need to figure this out.

For now, may their souls rest in peace.

 

 

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An American Disgrace. Again.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  Parkland, Florida.

Seventeen dead.  Fourteen Injured.

18 incidents with guns at schools this year.

Approximately 150,000 children were exposed to a school shooting since Columbine High School in April 1999.

We are killing our children.

We are the only industrialized nation in the world with such a level of violence.

(Graph from everytownresearch.org)

From 2012 to 2016, an average of 35,141 Americans died from guns each yearThat’s 96 a day.

Over eighteen years, from 1956 to 1974, a total of 58,131 Americans died from hostile and non-hostile actions in the Viet Nam War.

Gun safety is not un-American or against the Second Amendment.

Our elected officials need to grow a spine.

As a nation, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

So horribly sad.  So meaningless.  So disgraceful.

 


Yet Another Sad Day For Our Country

“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, in a house of worship, or in a movie theater or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

President Obama 12 June 2016 following the largest mass shooting in the history of the USA, this time in Orlando.


Yet Another “Senseless” Shooting At A School

“‘No Way to Prevent This’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” — The Onion

“We spent over a trillion dollars, and passed countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so.  And yet we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?”             — President Obama

Deaths from Terrorism vs. Gun Homicides:

2001 —  2,689 vs.11,348    2002 — 25 vs.11,829   2003 — 35 vs.11,920   2004 — 74 vs.11,624

2005 — 56 vs.12,352     2006 — 28 vs.12,791    2007 — 19 vs.12,632   2008 — 33 vs.12,179

2009 — 9 vs.11, 493    2010 — 15 vs.11,078     2011 — 17 vs.11,101

(Source:  Vox.com using available State and Justice Department figures.  Does not include suicides by guns.)


They Are All The Same

The passing of time has given us little to no more perspective, and certainly no less sorrow, on the murder of nine American citizens at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on the 17th of June this year.  A tragedy in no uncertain terms.

Much has been written, and I am certain will be again in the future as he goes to trial, about the motives of the young man who committed this despicable act.  To me it is relatively simple — he is a terrorist in the same vein as those joining ISIS, killing tourists in Tunisia, or the London bombings conducted ten years ago yesterday (the UK’s “7/7” which they equate to our 9/11).  The perpetrators of these evil acts and more are all of the same type. Almost universally they tend to be young males, alienated from society, aggrieved in their minds in some way by a societal group and able to find others of like mind on the internet.

It is this last element that may be different in society today than in years past but it does not adequately explain their actions.  As we all know, one can find almost anything on the internet.  There is no filter, there is no verification of facts, there is no stopping the vilification of one group or another and it is the perfect vehicle for inducing someone overlooked by society who feels a need to make a name for themselves.  It can be by conducting a single attack on their own, or it can be a recruitment tool to get young men to leave their homes and join a vicious organization that gives them vindication for their dirty deeds.  The internet makes it all easier, but it does not of itself explain their actions.

For some reason when such an act occurs in the United States we rarely use the word “terrorist.”  I don’t know why.  These are certainly terrorist acts done in the name of some cause just as they are overseas. Instead we seem to use words like “unstable” or “anti-social” or “lone wolf” or other words that tend to make it seem as though terrorism by United States citizens does not take place.  The implication is that attacks against Americans are only terrorist attacks if conducted overseas or are done on American soil by foreigners. The bombers of a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 that killed four young girls were terrorists. Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and was a terrorist. The six people killed in the Wisconsin Sikh Temple in 2012 were killed by a terrorist. Unfortunately, I could go on and on. We rightly worry about foreign terrorists carrying out attacks on our cities.  Let’s also understand that such attacks occur all too often by Americans.

I will not use pop psychology to analyze the elements of our society that cause these people to terrorize their fellow citizens.  I will argue that the first step is to call them what they are and not to rationalize their behavior even as we call it a tragedy.  Whether from the Middle East or the U.S. Midwest, they are the same.  They are terrorists.

Footnote:  I am sure that you, like me, are astounded at the generosity, humility, faith and belief in God demonstrated by the families and friends of those killed in the attack in Charleston.  I am humbled by their peace filled reaction.  Whatever our individual faith or beliefs, we could all take a lesson from them.


Enough!

With yet another mass shooting in our nation, it is with some trepidation that I venture once again into the conversation about what to do about gun violence.  Trepidation only because it is such an emotional issue on all sides.  However, I continue to come back to the fact that as the only major country in the world that has so many violent deaths by guns, we are clearly doing something wrong.  As I have written before, the usual explanations of mental illness, video games, movies, TV, etc. as the cause of such actions do not resonate with me.  I am sure that all or some of those factors are at play, but in those respects our country is not different from Canada, the UK, Japan, or other modern nations and yet it is rare for them to have an incident of gun violence and they certainly do not suffer them on the scale or with the frequency that we do here in the United States.  And let me make an even finer point.  Canada in particular has a culture and a heritage that is very similar to ours, including sport shooting and hunting, and yet they do not suffer from the same indignities and deprivations resulting from gun violence that we do in this country.

I am not advocating the repeal of the Second Amendment — although I think that it is wildly misinterpreted — and I am not advocating the removal of all guns in the country. I hunted as a boy, served a career in the military and enjoy the occasional outing to go skeet shooting.  My thought is simple.  If gun owners have a “right” to own their weapons, don’t all citizens have a “right” to walk down a street on a beautiful evening and not get gunned down?

And please, do not insult my intelligence by arguing that private citizens “need” to have their guns to keep the government in line.  How is that a factor?  And just who do those “patriots” think they are going to go up against?  The police?  The United States Army?  The United States Marine Corps?  “Obama/Democrats/liberals/communists/fascists (pick one) want to take your guns.”  Puhleeez.  Fantasy aside, there is little chance of gun-toting civilians over throwing the government.  And even if there is a chance, who elected them as the only individuals deciding what is right and good in this country?  The last time I looked it up, an armed insurrection was considered treason.  This was settled early in our history over several incidents starting with the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794) where President George Washington (yes that George Washington — aka “founding father”) rode as Commander-in-Chief at the head of a 13,000 man militia to end the armed uprising of farmers and distillers in western Pennsylvania protesting the imposition of a tax on whiskey.  This set the precedent that the national government has the right and ability to enforce the law and to suppress armed insurrections.  If that is not enough of a precedent, and there are others from our early years as a nation, it was put to rest permanently with the Civil War and the preservation of our country.

Of particular concern to me is the concerted effort by “pro-gun” advocates to suppress or prevent the sale of “smart guns.”   Smart guns are, at present, hand guns that have a computer chip in them that prevents their use without some other identifying presence.  From my understanding, the most reliable thus far are the smart guns where the shooter wears a wrist watch style device that communicates with the weapon and allows it to shoot.  No signal, no shooting.  While there may be legitimate arguments as to why this is or is not a good idea in certain scenarios, it seems to me that a large number of gun owners have their weapons for sport, either hunting or target shooting.  It seems to me that having such a gun would cut down on spur of the moment violence, suicides, and children coming across an adult’s gun and accidentally shooting themselves or someone else.  It’s a start, not a panacea.

Unfortunately, two gun dealers recently found themselves in the news when they offered smart guns for sale.  One was in California and one was in Maryland.  Both received personal threats to their own and their families’ well-being including death threats.  Additionally, there were threats to burn down their shops and other over the top reactions for merely offering them for sale along with the usual assortment of weapons in their stores.  They both decided not to sell them fearing for their safety.  So much for free market capitalism.  I have no idea whether they would be a good seller or not or whether there is a market for them.  I do know that the zealots that somehow equate guns with their own self-worth are preventing us from finding out. The ruckus comes primarily because of a New Jersey law passed and signed into law in December 2002.  The law requires that all guns sold in New Jersey be “smart guns” starting three years after the state approves a workable smart gun.  Law enforcement is exempt from the statute.  To date, New Jersey has not approved a smart gun, however, gun advocates and the National Rifle Association fear that the sale of such a weapon (see above) would cause New Jersey to implement the law.  As they see it, this is the first step in “taking our guns away.”  I disagree, but then what do I know?  Legislators in New Jersey have offered to repeal the law if the NRA will agree not to oppose their introduction into the market place.  So far, the NRA stands by their opposition to the guns.  Curious.

There are so many myths about the right to bear arms and what it means that a rationale discussion is hard to come by.   But I agree with Richard Martinez, the father of one of the students gunned down Friday night at the University of California Santa Barbara when he says that our motto concerning gun violence should be “Not one more!”  Not one more child in an elementary school, not one more college student sitting in class, not one more person minding their own business walking down the street. Not one more.

Ironically, in some perverse way, the continued senseless acts of violence may in the end radicalize a new generation of young Americans that decide enough is enough.  As more and more of our young people gain first hand experience through these tragedies it may actually spur them to action.  God help us, but perhaps we need more of these senseless killings in order for people to finally act to change our behavior and our attitudes towards guns.  I am especially tired of the macho baloney some of our politicians espouse in order to garner votes. It needs to change.

I see no reasonable argument against the requirement that gun owners take a certified course and get a license in order to own a gun.  I see no reasonable argument against universal background checks.  I see no reasonable argument against a national data base of gun owners to aid in the solving of gun crimes.  And there are many more steps that can be taken to allow reasonable people to own guns and to pursue their hobbies and/or give themselves a sense of security in their homes.  To do nothing other than offer our sympathies on the loss of loved ones accomplishes nothing.

I am not naive.  Nothing will change over night, or perhaps even in my lifetime.  I am encouraged however when I think of other cultural changes that did occur in my lifetime.  I am of an age where when I was growing up smokers were everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Efforts to curtail smoking were impugned as a threat to every American’s freedom to do what they want.  The term “nanny government” began in this era.  Over time, with education, thoughtful laws and an understanding of the health hazards, not only did the rules change, but people’s attitudes changed as well.  Non-smokers no longer have to put up with smoke-filled rooms in the name of “freedom” for smokers to do as they please.  Smoking is not outlawed, merely regulated to protect the health of non-smokers. Likewise, drinking and driving laws and attitudes have changed equally dramatically in my lifetime.  The danger to innocent people and consistent campaigns of education and enforcement have drastically reduced the number of people killing themselves and others through drunk driving.  Why not take the same approach to guns?  My family should not be in danger of a random shooting.  I do not want to take your guns away.

We have done it before when as a nation we came to realize that this was not the type of culture or threat to our well being we want to deal with anymore.  It is time that we move away from this culture of guns and violence.   Enough!


A Sad Anniversary

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the sad events in Newtown Connecticut where twenty children and six adults were murdered in Sandy Hook Elementary School.  In this post I do not intend to get into a wide discussion about the pros and cons of gun ownership or gun control.  Although I have definite opinions on necessary changes to current gun laws, it is a topic for a different time as emotion often clouds everyone’s discussion of the issue.  I will only say this for now — gun violence is a plague on our nation that must be addressed.  Since that awful day Congress has passed only one piece of legislation related to guns.  That legislation continues a ban on “plastic” guns, basically those that are deemed undetectable in metal detectors.

I do not buy the facile arguments as to why the United States has such a high incidence of gun violence.  Arguments that it is mental health, violent video games or movies, American attitudes in general and countless other stated reasons do not resonate with me.  Indeed, some or all of those reasons may be part of the problem, but in my mind they cannot be the only reasons behind the illegal and murderous use of guns.  My simple logic says that nations like us — Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and others — have mentally ill people, watch the same movies, play the same games and on and on and do not have anywhere near the incidence of gun violence found in this country.  Those countries also have hunters and sports shooters and yes, criminals, yet there are significantly less incidents of murder by guns in those countries.

It would be helpful to study the issue in a non-partisan, unemotional way.  There have been studies, and indeed earlier this year the president asked the Center for Disease Control to review the existing studies to look for patterns.  Unfortunately the CDC cannot do their own reearch because in 1996 Congress passed a law pushed by the National Rifle Association banning CDC funding for any research to “advocate or promote gun control.”  While this technically does not prohibit all research on gun issues, it has had the effect of severely restricting studies of this topic as those providing funding and doing the research are concerned about the repercussions.

It seems to me that rather than arguing over what the Second Amendment does or does not mean, we should first all recognize that there is a problem in this country concerning the illegal use of guns.  Perhaps before we get into arguments over whether or how to control access to guns, there should be a “clean piece of paper” study by leading researchers, properly funded and free of political or lobby pressure to see how and why we are the only “civilized” country in the world with such a high level of gun violence.  Perhaps then we can begin to confront the problem.

As this awful anniversary comes upon us, please take a moment to remember the families of those we lost that terrible day.