The answer to gun violence is ‘all of the above’

As the gun control debate rages on, the most frustrating aspect of this ideological fight to the death is its “either/or” nature.

It’s not “either/or”. It’s “all of the above.” It’s injecting sanity into our gun laws, like raising the purchase age to 21. If you aren’t yet mature enough to buy a six-pack of beer, you sure as hell aren’t mature enough to purchase lethal weapons.

As for assault-style weapons, ban ’em. They’re designed for killing people. Period. They aren’t hunting weapons, unless the hunter just wants to blow an animal to bits and, in that case, s/her needs a mental health evaluation before being able to purchase any weapon.

If assault-style weapons can’t be banned outright because too many politicians have the NRA’s tongue down their throats, then a secondary license should be required, just as is required for driving an 18-wheeler or bus, and that includes a mental health clearance.

The NRA would scream bloody murder over all these ideas. Let ’em. They’ve become the proponents of bloody murder (follow the gun industry money), so let them scream it too. The national tide is turning. We don’t have the stomach for stepping over the bloodied corpses of children to worship at the altar of the Second Amendment anymore, and that includes many NRA members themselves. The NRA’s screaming is — finally, thankfully — starting to fall on deaf ears.

We don’t just need sanity in our gun laws, we need it in our schools and communities as well, and yes, much of the burden falls on schools, simply because that’s where the kids are. The financial burden, however, should fall upon you and me, the taxpayers. We need to step up and provide funding that puts a mental health professional on every campus. Wouldn’t that be entirely more cost-effective than stationing an armed guard on every campus? And entirely more sane than arming teachers? That’s about the looniest idea ever. I can just imagine some terrified first-grade teacher firing a pistol wildly at an armed shooter bursting through the door, as bullets from his/her own gun ricochet around the room and kill the very students that teacher is trying to protect.

No armed teachers.

Just no.

Not a viable part of the “all of the above” solution.

Rather than arming them with weapons, we must arm teachers with advanced training in psychology and mental health, so they can spot students who on the psychological edge, and get them right over to that on-campus mental health professional. Teachers need a more useful tool in their toolbox than stamping “suspended” across the foreheads of students who seem too difficult to deal with.

Another factor in making schools, our communities and our country safer is to inject the notion of “civility” into our schools; make interpersonal and communication skills, anger management and conflict resolution part of the daily curriculum.

In other words: teach students to behave like humans, to respect each other’s boundaries and be kind to one another. And by the way, high school is far too late. It must begin in kindergarten. Maybe earlier. Before you exclaim that it’s impossible, go talk to the folks at The Treehouse preschool here in Winters. They’re already doing it, with toddlers. Our schools then continue with these interpersonal skills at each grade level. So, don’t say it can’t be done. It’s being done. And if we can do it in Winters, we can do it anywhere.

So, we’ve been focusing on what everyone else needs to do, which is the go-to strategy for all armchair quarterbacking and pontification, but alas, you and I don’t get off so easy. Like Michael Jackson sang, change begins with “the man in the mirror.”

What can you do, in your own community, to help make it safer? Who in your community is slipping through the cracks? Made to feel ‘less than’? Doesn’t have a place at the collective table?”

Figure out the answers to those questions, and start there. Volunteer in a reading program or for a suicide prevention hotline. Coach a sports team. Clean up graffiti. If you don’t have the time or strength to do those things, give financial support to programs that provide such services or activities, even if it’s just a little bit. One dollar by itself isn’t much. But one dollar donated by many adds up. There you go! A starting point: create a “Give a Buck” effort and collect dollar bills to support a good cause.

For me, the answers to those questions led me to Wolfskill High School. It never sat well with me that anyone in my community gets labeled “uninvited.” “Unwanted.” In the “adding insult to injury” category, besides being treated like pariahs, many Wolfskill students are dealing with difficulties and situations that would crush the rest of us… on top of navigating the social and hormonal maelstrom of adolescence.

What possible good comes from ostracizing a struggling teenager and systematically dismantling whatever shred of self-esteem s/he has left? Let me field that one: None. Absolutely none. Moreover: What possible bad comes from that? A cornucopia of horrific possibilities.

My own “walk the talk” commitment was to reach out to those students and through the vehicle of their own school newspaper, strive to elevate their confidence and self-esteem, develop basic job skills, and raise their position in the community; to give them a platform to show their worth and talent. Three years in, it’s happening. Those students continue to amaze me with their stories and personal development as writers. It didn’t take much, really, just patience, coaxing, and encouragement. All they needed was an opportunity to shine — as opposed to being relegated to the shadows.

So, will it have an effect? Will my community be safer because of this effort? I believe it will. I hope so. At least it’s action, which is worth its weight in gold, as opposed to thoughts and prayers, which carry no more weight than the air with which they’re uttered.

 

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Our problem isn’t gun violence — it’s domestic terrorism

School shootings — they always happen somewhere else.

Except when they don’t.

How many of us, for one fleeting, guilt-drenched nano-second, felt a flash of relief that the latest mass shooting didn’t happen in our own town? We dodged a bullet. Many bullets.

This time.

Who amongst us ever even heard of Parkland, Florida before Feb. 14, 2018? It was some average little town, filled with average little people going about their business, and with the pull of a trigger, instantly became the center of the universe.

Well, for now. Until the next shooting. Film at 11.

What if next time, it’s your town or mine that becomes the center of the universe? Are we ready? I decided to find out and do a story for next week’s Winters Express, and interviewed our superintendent of schools, Todd Cutler, and police chief, John Miller, to find out what they’re doing to keep our schools and community safe. The short answer is: everything they can. The other short answer is: not enough.

Is it their fault that it’s not enough? Heavens no. They’re doing what they can with what they have to work with. Both entities have taken some excellent proactive steps. Our school district rekeyed every classroom door on every campus, and every door now locks from the inside. Efforts are made to raise student awareness about being alert for potentially threatening behavior on campus and on social media, and to report it. There’s an unarmed security guard at the high school keeping watch.

Our police department takes reports of threats very seriously and checks each one out. They have a school resource officer visiting campuses and building relationships. Our police department also benefits from Chief Miller’s expertise in active shooting situations — something in which he was trained after the 1999 Columbine shootings.

1999.

How can these school shootings not only continue, but be escalating. What has happened to us, as a nation?

Miller outlined for me some law enforcement history regarding mass shootings and how to deal with them, beginning with the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Austin, which resulted in the creation of SWAT teams.

Fast-forward to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida. SWAT teams were on the scene, but many victims died because the emergency medical personnel were trained not to enter such a situation until the shooter was either captured or killed. As a result, EMTs now receive protective gear and special training to enter “warm zones,” escorted by law enforcement, and get to shooting victims sooner. With each new horror, law enforcement learns a new skill, but sadly, those with evil intent learn much quicker.

We talked about sociopaths managing to kill many, even where guns are illegal. All it takes is a crowded street and a car. How can you prevent this? Ban crowds? Or cars?

Consider the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, using a homemade explosive device contained in a pressure cooker. Do we ban pressure cookers? Or the 1995 Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, detonated from a rental truck containing a bomb made from fertilizer. Do we ban fertilizer or rental trucks? It struck me that these two bombings were labeled “terrorism,” and then it struck me yet further: Why aren’t school/mass shootings?

What, exactly, constitutes terrorism? I consulted with Professor Google, and discovered a website, http://www.secbrief.org/2014/04/definition-of-terrorism/, that lists definitions from several agencies and entities. I zeroed in on the Department of Homeland Security’s definition:

“(15) The term ‘terrorism’’ means any activity that— (A) involves an act that— (i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and (ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and (B) appears to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

Mass shootings inarguably qualify under section (A), and because there’s an “or” in section (B), they also qualify there: (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. It’s all right there: Mass shootings are dangerous to human life and illegal, and are intended to intimidate civilians.

Mass shootings ARE terrorism.

It’s paradigm shift time.

Let’s call “school/mass shootings” what they are — terrorism — and get the full weight of the Department of Homeland Security behind our gun violence epidemic rather than expecting small local police departments to save us, because people, our homeland is anything but secure right now, and it’s not because of Islamic extremists or ISIS. It’s because of US. WE are the enemy, and we’re under seige.

Redefining the problem will guide us toward more effective strategies than will our collective disgust for the morally bankrupt NRA. The NRA, vile as it is, isn’t the problem. The problem is human evil… terrorists. In my mind, “evil” and “terrorism” are not only interchangeable words, but the true problem.

Does that mean we shouldn’t tighten up our gun laws? Oh, hell no. Were it up to me, they’d all be collected and melted down into rebar for reinforcing our decaying bridges and overpasses. But the trouble is (and it simply destroys me to acknowledge that the NRA is correct on this point) only law-abiding citizens will give up their guns and criminals won’t. Laws mean nothing to sociopaths and criminals. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them, and tighten them up, too. But even then… there are still pressure cookers. And fertilizer. And cars. Evil.

Rather than indulging in our well-deserved loathing of the NRA (because, let’s face it — that is a dead end), let’s turn our energy and focus toward our chronic, ongoing domestic terrorism epidemic. The sad and chilling fact is that as it stands, you and I, our children and our loved ones, are all potential victims of terrorism. We must stare the real monster in the face before we can destroy it. There are terrorists amongst us, right now. What do we do about that? I don’t have an answer. But I’m now asking the correct question.

 

It’s time to chop off the head of the gun violence serpent — and it’s not the NRA

Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers.

The next politician offering thoughts and prayers for the victims of our mass shooting du jour (today, it’s 17 dead in Florida) needs to be run out of Congress on a rail.

Here we are again. Another school shooting. It’s absolutely vulgar. We, as a nation, have become absolutely vulgar in allowing it to continue. Wasn’t the Sandy Hook massacre enough? That was six years ago, and nothing has changed. According the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/15/us/school-shootings-sandy-hook-parkland.html), there have been 239 school shootings nationwide, with 438 students shot, of which 138 were killed.

And what are we getting from our so-called Congressional leaders?

More thoughts and prayers. I want to vomit every time I hear that phrase. We’re up to our eyeballs in thoughts and prayers. We need action, and we need it now.

That said, piling on to excoriate the NRA, while cathartic (and also richly deserved), is not the action that will change anything. The NRA only has as much power as Congress members give it. The NRA cannot make or change any laws. The NRA does not own the Second Amendment. The blame buck does not stop with the NRA. It stops with Congress.

If you can catch the first 30-minute block of the Feb. 15 Morning Joe news/talk show (http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe#), I implore you to do so. I beg you. It was the most passionate, sane, logical discussion in the wake of yet another school shooting I’ve heard yet. Maybe I feel this way because FINALLY someone who has a much bigger microphone than I is saying what I’ve been saying all along: Too many Congress members are beholden to the NRA because they gladly take their blood money in order to get reelected — even though only 96 percent of the American public (including many NRA members) want changes to our loosey-goosey gun laws.

The gruesome root of our gun violence epidemic is not the NRA. It’s the self-serving, morally bankrupt politicians who will take huge sums of cash from a morally vacant entity in order to protect their cushy jobs. Apparently there are scarce few politicians who can resist the lure of lining their campaign pockets with gun lobby cash, and this is where change must begin. It’s time to ban the acceptance of campaign funding from lobbyists — all of them.

Campaign donations should only be allowed from individuals, and maybe a cap on it, say, $1,000 max. This would help decontaminate our election process and even the playing field for all candidates. We’d hear from a wider variety of candidates rather than just the ones who wantonly accept any and all funding regardless of that donor’s moral fortitude or lack thereof.

Forget the NRA. Just forget it. Focus your outrage on the politicians who suck at their teat like greedy piglets, too weak-willed not to be seduced by generous donations. They must go. Weeding them out of Congress is something we all CAN do. It is ACTION.

Following the Las Vegas massacre last fall, Politico.com ran the numbers on NRA donations (https://www.politico.com/interactives/2017/gun-lobbying-spending-in-america-congress/). Bile will swell in your throat when you read the hard numbers:

~ In the 2016 election cycle, $5,900,000 was given to Republican candidates; $106,000 was given to Democrats. Politico reports that, “The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan think tank that tracks money in politics, found that in 2016 more than half of the members of the House of Representatives — or 232 of the 435 — received money from gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America. That money went disproportionately to Republicans. Only nine Democrats received campaign contributions from these groups.”

They key phrase is “more than half”: The majority of House Representatives are there because of gun lobby money, and are beholden to their donors. These are the individuals currently in office who truly deserve excoriation:

Paul Ryan, $171,977, Republican, Wisconsin, District 1

Martha McSally, $77,063, Republican, Arizona, District 2

Mia Love, $63,350, Republican, Utah, District 4

Kevin McCarthy, $42,000, Republican, California, District 23

Will Hurd, $35,850, Republican, Texas, District 23

Kevin Yoder, $34,050, Republican, Kansas, District 3

Bruce Poliquin, $32,400, Republican, Maine, District 2

Mike Coffman, $30,843, Republican, Colorado, District 6

Ken Calvert, $30,466, Republican, California, District 42

Ed Royce, $29,100, Republican, California, District 39

Barbara Comstock, $28,407, Republican, Virginia, District 10

Scott Tipton, $25,550, Republican, Colorado, District 3

The list of Congress members accepting gun lobby donations greater than $100,000 since 1990 shows some repeat offenders. Those currently in office include:

Paul Ryan, $336,597, Republican, Wisconsin, District 1

Don Young, $195,272, Republican, Alaska, At-Large District

Ken Calvert, $144,466, Republican, California, District 42

Steve Pearce, $129,250, Republican, New Mexico, District 2

Pete Sessions, $121,776, Republican, Texas, District 32

Ed Royce, $111,120, Republican, California, District 39

Bob Goodlatte, $104,900, Republican, Virginia, District 6

Martha McSally, $104,445, Republican, Arizona, District 2

Mike Coffman, $101,693, Republican, Colorado, District 6

There are many more who accept NRA/gun lobby contributions, but these are the greediest pigs at the gun lobby trough. This is where pressure must be applied, not useless cathartic railing against the NRA.

Bottom line: If you supported these people, you helped perpetuate our gun violence epidemic. Want to be part of the solution? Ditch your thoughts and prayers, and actively lobby against these co-conspirators, and donate richly to their opponents. Shine a light on those who aid and abet mass shootings, and shine it brightly.

When you vote for these people, you support the NRA and the gun lobby. Period. A vote for those who accept blood money is a vote for more innocent children to be slaughtered.

Maybe next time it will be your child. Your grandchild. Your spouse. Ask yourself if you’re okay with that next time you’re in the voting booth. The blood will be on your hands too.