Tag Archives: guns

Murderers or Terrorists and the Real Tragedy

The United States is a wonderful, yet thoroughly paradoxical place. Take the general reactions to gun violence, murder and terrorism, during a two week period in mid-September 2016, for example.

Exhibit A: Ahmad Khan Rahami, a would-be murderer, planted several home-made pipe and pressure cooker bombs in New Jersey and New York on September 17. Result: no deaths, several minor injuries, local property damage. Our news media spun days worth of front page coverage, outrage, analysis, hearsay, opinion, soul-searching. Reason: the perpetrator had a beard, Muslim name and found to have espoused sympathies with radicals.

Exhibit B: Arcan Cetin shot four women and one man at a Macy’s store in Burlington, Washington on September 23. Result: 5 deaths. The rampage in a suburban mall barely made the national headlines, and didn’t last beyond the 24-hour news cycle. Reason: the perpetrator was clean-shaven, had personal problems and found to have no “terrorist” links or sympathies.

Exhibit C: Nathan DeSai, a 46-year-old Texas attorney, went on a shooting spree in Houston on September 26. Result: 9 wounded. This made a minor flutter in the news media and has since disappeared from national consciousness even though he was wearing an antique German uniform with Swastikas.

In 2013, over 16,000 people were murdered in the US, around 11,000 at the hands of someone armed with a gun. In 2015, 475 people were killed in 372 mass shootings. Many of these go completely unreported, aside from a paragraph or two at the local level.

And yet.

And yet, our media and a large number of US citizens fret and decry events at the hands of the “terrorist”, while barely blinking at the daily carnage caused by our domestic, homicidal neighbors. Who are the real terrorists and why have we come to accept so many daily murders — averaging over 40 — as so utterly banal and trivial? Is the politically motivated “international” assassin any more dangerous than the disturbed suburban version? They’re both driven by a distorted worldview and their place in it. Perhaps, they’re not that different after all.

But, more importantly, rather than focusing on a 55 ft wall to deter illusory armies of terrorists it might be more rational to tackle the causes that lead to tens of thousands of our own citizens killing their spouses, families, neighbors, school children, work colleagues, church-goers, drivers, runners and shoppers. We are desensitized to our home-grown “domestic terrorism”. That’s the real tragedy.

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50 Years Later Texas Moves Backwards (Again)

** FILE **This 1966 file photo shows Charles J. Whitman, a 24-year-old student at the University of Texas, a sniper who killed 16 and wounded 31 from the tower of the University of Texas administration building in Austin, Texas, Aug. 1, 1966. Until the carnage by a student gunman at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday, April 16, 2007, the sniping rampage by Whitman from the Austin school's landmark 307-foot tower had remained the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. (AP Photo, File)
** FILE **This 1966 file photo shows Charles J. Whitman, a 24-year-old student at the University of Texas, a sniper who killed 16 and wounded 31 from the tower of the University of Texas administration building in Austin, Texas, Aug. 1, 1966. Until the carnage by a student gunman at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday, April 16, 2007, the sniping rampage by Whitman from the Austin school’s landmark 307-foot tower had remained the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. (AP Photo, File)

On August 1, 2016, Texas’ new “Campus Carry” law went into effect. This means that licensed gun holders will generally be allowed to carry concealed handguns at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin and other public colleges throughout Texas.

On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, a non-brown-skinned, non-Muslim, domestic terrorist killed his wife and mother in their homes, and then went on to murder a further 14 people at the UT Austin campus. Before being shot and killed by an Austin police officer Whitman seriously wounded an additional 32 people.

Ironically and sadly, many believe that Campus Carry will make their university campuses safer. History and real data shows otherwise.

Evidence does show that legally-armed citizens can prevent some crime. But this would make no serious dent in the annual 32,000-plus death toll from guns in the US. Sensible gun control, with thorough and exhaustive background checks, is a more rational answer. The good guy with a gun is a myth — go ask your local police department.

Image: Charles Whitman Source, 1963, Cactus, the student yearbook of the University of Texas. Courtesy: The Austin History Center. Reference AR.2000.002, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library Date: c 1963.

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As Clear As Black and White

Police-violence-screenshot-7Jul2016

The terrible tragedy that is wrought by guns in the United States continues unabated. And, it’s even more tragic when elements of our police forces fuel the unending violence, more often than not, enabled by racism. The governor of Minnesota Mark Dayton put it quite starkly yesterday, following the fatal shooting of Philando Castile on July 6, 2016, a resident of Falcon Heights, pulled over for a broken tail-light.

Just one day earlier, police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana shot and killed Alton Sterling.

Anti-police-violence-screenshot-8Jul2016

And, today we hear that the cycle of mistrust, hatred and deadly violence — courtesy of guns — has come full circle. A racist sniper (or snipers)  apparently targeting and murdering five white police officers in Dallas, Texas on July 7, 2016.

Images: Screenshots courtesy of Washington Post and WSJ, respectively.

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Made in America: Apple Pie and AR-15

AR-15 rifleThe United States lays claim to an amazing number of home-grown inventions that shaped history and became iconic reflections of modern American culture.  Thomas Edison’s lightbulb. Eastman’s film camera. Ford’s Model T car. Coca-cola. Big Mac. Microsoft Windows. iPhone. These are just a few of the hundreds of products and services that shaped America.

The horrific mass murder in Orlando, Florida, suggests that another key product should now make the iconic list — the AR-15 and its close imitators (the American mass murderer’s product of choice).

The AR-15 is easier to purchase than a cell phone, costs less than a 60-inch HDTV (around $500-700), and is simpler to use than your TV remote. Most importantly for the next, budding mass-murderer, the AR-15 is devastatingly optimized; with a few legal add-ons it can fire 800-900 rounds per minute. That’s a lot of wonderfully convenient killing.

Can someone pass me the .223 ammo with that whipped cream?

Image: AR-15 rifle. Courtesy: TheAlphaWolf – Derivative work of File:Stag2wi.jpg. Public Domain.

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (and His AK47)

Many see the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the United States as a force for good. Many recognize the NRA as a force for evil. To some, it is the heroic protector of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution. To others it is the organization that allows gun violence to take the lives of over 30,000 citizens each year.

Yet, did you know that the NRA is also in the business of publishing fairytales? Actually, the NRA publishes children’s classics that have been re-imagined to include guns. Now you can enjoy classics like Hansel and Gretel (Have Guns) and Little Red Riding Hood (Has a Gun), with wholly appropriate gun violence and NRA-fashioned endings, as they should have been intended.

So, I can’t wait for handguns, semi-automatic rifles and more instruments of efficient death to take a stand in our classic American literature: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (With an AK47),  Invisible Man (and Lots of Guns), The Great Gatsby (and His Glock 40), Moby Dick (and the Tomahawk Cruise Missile).

But, why stop there?

We need to re-imagine Shakespeare’s works complete with shotguns, and our best poetry would certainly benefit from several truck-loads of tactical nuclear weapons, And, of course it’s time to give Jesus a well-deserved sniper rifle and a couple of literary grenades to love fend of the Pharisees, devil, Pilate, and Judas Iscariot.

Thank you NRA for opening the minds of our children to real possibilities.

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Bad Behavior Goes Viral

Social psychologists often point out how human behavior is contagious. Laugh and others will join in. Yawn and all those around you will yawn as well. In a bad mood at home? Well, soon, chances are that the rest of your family with join you on a downer as well.

And, the contagion doesn’t end there, especially with negative behaviors; study after study shows the viral spread of suicide, product tampering, rioting, looting, speeding and even aircraft hijacking. So too, are mass shootings. Since the United States is a leading venue for mass shootings, there is now even a term for a mass shooting that happens soon after the first — an echo shooting.

From the Washington Post:

A man had just gone on a shooting rampage in Kalamazoo, Mich., allegedly killing six people while driving for Uber. Sherry Towers, an Arizona State University physicist who studies how viruses spread, worried while watching the news coverage.

Last year, Towers published a study using mathematical models to examine whether mass shootings, like viruses, are contagious. She identified a 13-day period after high-profile mass shootings when the chance of another spikes. Her findings are confirmed more frequently than she would like.

Five days after Kalamazoo, a man in Kansas shot 17 people, killing three by firing from his car. To Towers, that next shooting seemed almost inevitable.

“I absolutely dread watching this happen,” she said.

As the nation endures an ongoing stream of mass shootings, criminologists, police and even the FBI are turning to virus epidemiology and behavioral psychology to understand what sets off mass shooters and figure out whether, as with the flu, the spread can be interrupted.

“These things are clustering in time, and one is causing the next one to be more likely,” said Gary Slutkin, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who runs Cure Violence, a group that treats crime as a disease. “That’s definitional of a contagious disease. Flu is a risk factor for more flu. Mass shootings are a risk factor for mass shootings.”

The idea is not without skeptics. James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University professor who studies mass shootings, said: “Some bunching just happens. Yes, there is some mimicking going on, but the vast majority of mass killers don’t need someone else to give them the idea.”

Confirming, disputing or further exploring the idea scientifically is hampered by the federal funding ban on gun violence research. Towers and her colleagues did their study on their own time. And there’s not even a common database or definition of mass shootings.

The Congressional Research Service uses the term “public mass shootings” to describe the killing of four or more people in “relatively public places” by a perpetrator selecting victims “somewhat indiscriminately.”

In the 1980s, the violence occurred in post offices. In the 1990s, schools. Now it is mutating into new forms, such as the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., that initially appeared to be a workplace shooting by a disgruntled employee.

Researchers say the contagion is potentially more complicated than any virus. There is the short-term effect of a high-profile mass shooting, which can lead quickly to another incident. Towers found that such echo shootings account for up to 30 percent of all rampages.

But there appear to be longer incubation periods, too. Killers often find inspiration in past mass shootings, praising what their predecessors accomplished, innovating on their methods and seeking to surpass them in casualties and notoriety.

Read the entire article here.

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The US and the UK: A Stark Difference

Terrorism-US-3Dec2015Within the space of a few days we’ve witnessed two more acts of atrocious violence and murder. One in San Bernardino, California, the other in London, England.

In California 14 innocent people lost there lives and, by some accounts, 21 people were injured, and of course many hundreds of police officers and first-responders put their lives at risk in searching for and confronting the murderers.

In London, 3 people were injured, one seriously by an attacker on the London Underground (subway).Terrorism-UK-6Dec2015

 

Label these attacks acts of terrorism; acts of deranged minds. But, whether driven by warped ideologies or mental health issues the murder and violence in California and London shows one very stark difference.

Guns. Lots of guns.

The attackers in California were armed to the teeth: handguns, semi-automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The attacker in London was wielding a knife. You see, terrorism, violent radicalism and mental health problems exist — much to the same extent — in both the US and UK (and across the globe for that matter). But more often than not the outcome will be rather different — that is, more bloody and deadly — in the US because of access to weapons that conveniently facilitate mass murder.

And, sadly until a significant proportion of the US population comes to terms with this fact, rather than hiding behind a distorted interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, the carnage and mass murder — in the US — will continue.

 

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Just Another Ordinary Day

A headline from December 2, 2015. This one courtesy of the Washington Post, says it all.

mass-shooting-headline-2Dec2015

How many US citizens will be murdered using a gun this year? 32,000? 33,000?

At some point we — the US citizens — will become the refugees from this incessant and senseless slaughter. And, our so-called leaders will continue to cower and fiddle, and abrogate one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government — to keep citizens safe.

Politicians who refuse to address this issue with meaningful background checks, meaningful control of assault weapons, meaningful research into gun violence, should be thoroughly ashamed. They do disservice to the public, but especially to the police and other first-responders who have to place themselves between us and the constant hail of gunfire.

 

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Guns Are So Yesterday

German_soldier_with_flamethrower_c1941

If you have a serious penchant for expressing your personal freedoms through weapons a revolver or automatic sniper rifle may still not be enough. So, you should throw out that rusty AK47 and the grenade launcher — no doubt stashed only for “critter hunting” — and consider some really serious heat, literally. Imagine your very own personal flamethrower!

While flamethrowers are banned for national and military use by the Inhumane Weapons Convention, to which the United States is a signatory, personal use is more loosely regulated. In the United States some states have banned flamethrowers completely, while others like California, require only a permit. There is now a growing effort to regulate flamethrowers at a national level, and more tightly. So, you may well want to procure one very soon, before those freedom-hating feds limit access to yet another form of seriously hot macho pleasure.

From ars technica:

In the wake of two companies now selling the first commercially available flamethrowers in the United States, at least one mayor has called for increased restrictions on their use. And to no one’s surprise, the prospect of prohibition has now driven more sales.

“Business is skyrocketing higher than ever due to the discussion on prohibition,” Chris Byars, the CEO of the Ion Productions Team based in Troy, Michigan, told Ars by e-mail. “I’m a huge supporter of personal freedom and personal responsibility. Own whatever you like, unless you use it in a manner that is harmful to another or other’s property. We’ve received a large amount of support from police, fire, our customers, and interested parties regarding keeping them legal.”

Byars added that the company has sold 350 units at $900 each, including shipping, in recent weeks. That’s in addition to the $150,000 the company raised on IndieGoGo.

The Ion product, known as the XM42, can shoot fire over 25 feet and has more than 35 seconds of burn time per tank of fuel. With a full tank of fuel, it weighs just 10 pounds.

Another company—XMatter, based in Cleveland, Ohio—sells a similar device for $1,600 each, but it weighs 50 pounds. However, this device has approximately double the range of the XM42. Quinn Whitehead, the company’s co-founder, did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.

Last week, Mayor Jim Fouts of nearby Warren, Michigan—the third largest city in the state—told Ars that he was worried about the sale of such devices in his city.

“My concern is that flamethrowers in the wrong hands could cause catastrophic damage either to the person who is using it or more likely to the person who is being targeted,” he said. “This is a pretty dangerous mix because it’s a combination of butane and gasoline which is highly flammable. Anybody who aims this at someone else or something happens and it happens close to them is going to be close to be incinerated.”

Shockingly, there are no current federal regulations on the possession, manufacture, sale, or use of flamethrowers.

“These devices are not regulated as they do not qualify as firearms under the National Firearms Act,” Corey Ray, a spokesman with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, told Ars by e-mail.

At the state level, California requires a permit while Maryland outright bans them—Ars is not aware of any other state-level regulation. The Inhumane Weapons Convention, which the United States signed in 1981, forbids “incendiary weapons,” including flamethrowers. However, this document is only an agreement between nation-states and their militaries, and it did not foresee individual possession.

A new bill in Troy, Michigan, proposed earlier this month would forbid “storage, use, and possession of flamethrowers in the city.” Violations of the law would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both in addition to seizure of the device.

Read the entire story here.

Image: German soldier with flame-thrower c.1941. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Time For Another Candlelight Vigil

Another day, another mass shooting. Only in the United States do citizens and their political leaders take action to counter terrorism but sit idly by when it comes to tackling the enormity of domestic gun violence. Soon, no doubt, we’ll hear of a child accidentally killing his younger sibling with a handgun. On it goes.

So, here’s yet another infographic — courtesy of Wired — on the subject, which puts the scale of this abhorrent and relentless tragedy quite starkly.

Between 2003 and 2013, domestic and international terrorism killed 312 US citizens. During that same period, in the US, 346,681 people died at the hands of someone with a gun. That’s over 31,500 gun deaths per year. Gotta have those guns!

Yet this is the difference in reactions: when the perpetrator is a foreign terrorist we deploy the full force of the US, be it drones, NSA, CIA, FBI, our armed services; when it’s a raging neighbor with a gun we hold a candlelight vigil.

If you want to take some action beyond reciting a few prayers and lighting a candle, please visit Americans For Responsible Solutions. Remember, if we sit idly by, we are complicit.

guns_terrorism_final

Infographic courtesy of Wired.

 

 

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Bang Bang, You’re Dead. The Next Great Reality TV Show

Google-search-reality-tv

Aside from my disbelief that America can let the pathetic and harrowing violence from guns continue, the latest shocking episode in Virginia raises another disturbing thought. And, Jonathan Jones has captured it quite aptly. Are we increasingly internalizing real world violence as a vivid but trivial game? Despite trails of murder victims and untold trauma to families and friends, the rest of us are lulled into dream-like detachment. The violence is just like a video game, right? The violence is played out as a reality TV show, right? And we know both are just fiction — it’s not news, it’s titillating, voyeuristic entertainment. So, there is no need for us to do anything. Let’s just all sit back and wait for the next innovative installment in America’s murderous screenplay. Bang bang, you’re dead! The show must go on.

Or, you could do something different, however small, and I don’t mean recite your go-to prayer or converge around a candle!

From Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian:

Vester Flanagan’s video of his own murderous shooting of Alison Parker and Adam Ward shows a brutal double killing from the shooter’s point of view. While such a sick stunt echoes the horror film Peeping Tom by British director Michael Powell, in which a cameraman films his murders, this is not fiction. It is reality – or the closest modern life gets to reality.

I agree with those who say such excreta of violence should not be shared on social media, let alone screened by television stations or hosted by news websites. But like everything else that simply should not happen, the broadcasting and circulation of this monstrous video has happened. It is one more step in the destruction of boundaries that seems a relentless rush of our time. Nothing is sacred. Not even the very last moments of Alison Parker as we see, from Flanagan’s point of view, Flanagan’s gun pointing at her.

Like the giant gun Alfred Hitchcock used to create a disturbing point of view shot in Spellbound, the weapon dominates the sequence I have seen (I have no intention of seeking out the other scenes). The gun is in Flanagan’s hand and it gives him power. It is held there, shown to the camera, like a child’s proud toy or an exposed dick in his hand – it is obscene because you can see that it is so important to him, that it is supposed to be some kind of answer, revenger or – as gun fans like to nickname America’s most famous gun the Colt 45 – “the Equaliser”. The way Flanagan focuses on his gun revealed the madness of America’s gun laws because it shows the infantile and pathetic relationship the killer appears to have with his weapon. How can it make sense to give guns so readily to troubled individuals?

What did the killer expect viewers to get from watching his video? The horrible conclusion has to be that he expected empathy. Surely, that is not possible. The person who you care about when seeing this is unambiguously his victim. This is, viewed with any humanity at all, a harrowing view of the evil of killing another person. I watched it once. I can’t look again at Alison Parker’s realization of her plight.

The sense that we somehow have a right to see this, the decision of many media outlets to screen it, has a lot to do with the television trappings of this crime. Because part of the attack was seen and heard live on air, because the victims and the perpetrator all worked for the same TV station, there’s something stagey about it all. Sadly people so enjoy true life crime stories and this one has a hokey TV setting that recalls many fictional plots of films and TV programs.

It exposes the paradox of ‘reality television’ – that people on television are not real to the audience at all. The death of a presenter is therefore something that can be replayed on screens with impunity. To see how bizarre and improper this is, imagine if anyone broadcast or hosted a serial killer’s videos of graphic murders. How is viewing this better?

But there is still another level of unreality. The view of that gun pointing at Parker resembles video games like Call of Duty that similarly show your gun pointing at virtual enemies. Is this more than a coincidence? It is complicated by the fact that Flanagan had worked in television. His experience of cameras was not just virtual. So his act of videoing his crime would seem to be another crass, mad way of getting “revenge” on former colleagues. But the resemblance to video games is nevertheless eerie. It adds to the depressing conclusion that we may see more images taken by killers, more dead-eyed recordings of inhuman acts. For video games do create fantasy worlds in which pointing a gun is such a light thing to do.

In this film from the abyss the gun is used as if it was game. Pointed at real people with the ease of manipulating a joystick. And bang bang, they are dead.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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The Tragedy. The Reaction

gun-violence-reaction

Another day, another dark and twisted murder in the United States facilitated by the simple convenience of a gun. The violence and horror seems to become more incredible each time: murder in restaurants, murder at the movie theater, murder on the highway, murder in the convenience store, murder at work, murder in a place of worship, and now murder on-air, live and staged via social media.

But, as I’ve mentioned before the real tragedy is the inaction of the people. Oh apologies, there is a modicum of action, but it is inconsequential, with apologies to the victims’ families. After each mass shooting — we don’t hear much about individual murder anymore (far too common) — the pattern is lamentably predictable: tears and grief; headlines of disbelief and horror; mass soul-searching (lasting several minutes at most); prayer and words, often spoken by a community or national leader; tributes to the victims and sympathy for the families and friends; candlelight vigils, balloons, flowers and cards at the crime scene. It’s all so sad and pathetic. Another day, another mass murder. Repeat the inaction.

Until individuals, neighbors and communities actually take real action to curb gun violence these sad tragedies and empty gestures will continue to loop endlessly.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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Comparing Forgiveness and Fiction

Here’s a brief look at the very different reactions from two groups of people to the white terrorist murders in Charleston, South Carolina last week. The groups are: families of the innocent victims and some of our political leaders and news pundits.

According to a vociferous group mostly sounding off on Fox/Faux News, the murders were variously due to: the victims themselves, Christian persecution, drugs, lack of faith, lack of guns, gays and transgender individuals, accident, evil, and the wrath of God.

And thus, the murders were certainly not white terrorism against blacks and not catalyzed by guns.

Gasp! How much our so called leaders need to learn from those who have truly lost.

Families of Victims

Politicians and Pundits
“I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” Nadine Collier, daughter of victim 70-year-old Ethel Lance. “Any time there is an accident like this… the president is clear, he doesn’t like Americans to have guns and so he uses every opportunity, this being another one, to basically go parrot that message.” Rick Perry, 2016 presidential hopeful.
Felecia Sanders , mother of Tywanza Sanders:”We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts … and I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you but may God have mercy on you.” “It sounds crass, but frankly the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a weapon that is equal or superior to the one that he’s using.” Mike Huckabee, 2016 presidential hopeful.
Bethane Middleton-Brown, representing family of the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor:”DePayne Doctor was my sister. And I just thank you on the behalf of my family for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I’m very angry. But one thing DePayne always joined in my family with is that she taught me we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul. And I also thank God I won’t be around when your judgment day comes with him.” “We don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be… You talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation.” Rick Santorum, 2016 presidential hopeful.
Anthony Thompson, representing family of Myra Thompson:”I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you’ll be OK. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.” “It seems to me – again, without having all the details about this one – that these individuals have been medicated. And there may be a real issue in this country, from the standpoint of these drugs, and how they’re used.” Rick Perry, 2016 presidential hopeful.
Alana Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simmons:”Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof — everyone’s plea for your soul is proof they lived in love and their legacies will live in love, so hate won’t win. And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.” “I’m deeply concerned that this gunman chose to go into a church. Because there does seem to be a rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our Biblical views. It’s something we have to be aware of, and not create an atmosphere in which people take out their violent intentions against Christians.” E.W. Jackson.
Daughter of Ethel Lance:”I forgive you. You took something really precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. It hurts me, it hurts a lot of people but God forgive you and I forgive you.” “Had somebody in that church had a gun, they probably would have been able to stop him. If somebody was there, they would have had the opportunity to pull out their weapon and take him out.” Steve Doocy, Fox News.
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Time to Blame the Victims, Again

Despite the tragic human cost of the latest gun violence in the United States and the need for families to mourn, grieve and seek solace, some will fuel the hatred. Some will show utter disregard of others’  pain and suffering. Some will display no empathy, no sympathy, no sensitivity, no compassion. Some will blame the victims. This is the other real tragedy.

So today — just two days after the horrific murder of nine people in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church — let us consider Charles Cotton. Mr. Cotton is a devout board member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Mr. Cotton blames Pastor and Senator Pinckney, one of the nine victims for the murders. You see, according to Mr. Cotton’s paranoid and myopic worldview, had Senator Pinckney not recently voted against local concealed gun carry legislation “eight of his church members…might be alive.” There we have it. This is the level of the weapons debate in America. Outrageous.

Mr. Cotton clearly loves his shiny metal weapons much more than he does his fellow man. I would assume that he also blames rape victims for their rapes, blacks for perpetrating white supremacist terrorism, and survivors of domestic violence for their abuse. But let’s certainly not blame the murderers and their convenient weapons of mass destruction. After all, black lives don’t matter — guns do!

Those of us who spare a human thought for the victims might actually characterize Senator Pinckney as a fallen hero. Those of us who are optimists about humanity’s future have to believe that the only way forward is through an open mind and open heart, and through non-violence. Paranoia comforted by weapons is a broken philosophy, fueled by darkness and despair.

 Read more here.

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The Real Tragedy

SIG_ProMore deaths. More gun violence.

Leaders from all corners of the United States console grieving relatives and friends of those lost at the hands of another murderer. The story and images are all too common and desensitizing.

Our leaders speak of tragedy.

But the real tragedy is letting this continue, and allowing the violence and murder to be so easy and convenient.

Apparently, the latest act of senseless, peculiarly American violence comes at the hands of a 21-year old who was recently given a gun for his birthday. Most civilized nations tend to give different types of gifts. But, this is the land of the Second Amendment after all.

And, this time the location wasn’t a school or a movie theater, but a house of peace and worship. A tragic irony.

We are all complicit in acts like these through our inaction. So relax, do nothing, embrace the status-quo and let the weapon sales continue. Then just wait and beware the next time you visit:

a school or

a movie theater or

a post office or

a fast food restaurant or

a museum or

a car or

a parking lot or

a university or

military base or

a community center or

a church!

Read more from the NYT.

Image: SIG Pro semi-automatic pistol. Courtesy of Augustas Didžgalvis, 2012. Wikipedia.

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Texas Needs More Guns, Not Less

Nine dead. Waco, Texas. May 17, 2015. Gunfight at Twin Peaks restaurant.

What this should tell us, particularly gun control advocates, is that Texans need more guns. After all, the US typically loosens gun restrictions after major gun related massacres — the only “civilized” country to do so.

Lawmakers recently passed two open carry gun laws in the Texas Senate. Once reconciled the paranoid governor — Greg Abbott, will surely sign. But even though this means citizens of the Lone State State will then be able to openly run around in public, go shopping or visit the local movie theater while packing a firearm, they still can’t walk around with an alcoholic beverage. Incidentally, in 2013 in the US 1,075 people under the age of 19 were killed by guns. That’s more children dying from gunfire than annual military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, let’s leave the irony of this situation aside and focus solely on some good old fashioned sarcasm. Surely, it’s time to mandate that all adults in Texas should be required to carry a weapon. Then there would be less gunfights, right? And, while the Texas Senate is busy with the open carry law perhaps State Senators should mandate that all restaurants install double swinging doors, just like those seen in the saloons of classic TV Westerns.

From the Guardian:

Nine people were killed on Sunday and some others injured after a shootout erupted among rival biker gangs at a Central Texas restaurant, sending patrons and bystanders fleeing for safety, a police spokesman said.

The violence erupted shortly after noon at a busy Waco marketplace along Interstate 35 that draws a large lunchtime crowd. Waco police Sergeant W Patrick Swanton said eight people died at the scene of the shooting at a Twin Peaks restaurant and another person died at a hospital.

It was not immediately clear if bystanders were among the dead, although a local TV station, KCEN-TV, reported that all of the fatalities were bikers and police confirmed that no officers had been injured or killed.

Another local station, KXXV, reported that police had recovered firearms, knives, bats and chains from the scene. Restaurant employees locked themselves in freezers after hearing the shots, the station said.

How many injuries had occurred and the severity of those injuries was not known.

“There are still bodies on the scene of the parking lot at Twin Peaks,” Swanton said. “There are bodies that are scattered throughout the parking lot of the next adjoining business.”

A photograph from the scene showed dozens of motorcycles parked in a lot. Among the bikes, at least three people wearing what looked like biker jackets were on the ground, two on their backs and one face down. Police were standing a few feet away in a group. Several other people also wearing biker jackets were standing or sitting nearby.

Swanton said police were aware in advance that at least three rival gangs would be gathering at the restaurant and at least 12 Waco officers in addition to state troopers were at the restaurant when the fight began.

When the shooting began in the restaurant and then continued outside, armed bikers were shot by officers, Swanton said, explaining that the actions of law enforcement prevented further deaths.

Read the entire article here.

Video: Great Western Movie Themes.

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The Lone (And Paranoid) Star State

Flag_of_the_Republic_of_TexasThe Lone Star State continues to take pride in doing its own thing. After all it has a legacy to uphold since its very construction — that of fierce and outspoken independence. But, sometimes this leads to blind political arrogance, soon followed by growing paranoia.

You see, newly minted Texas Governor Greg Abbott has a theory that the US military is about to  put his state under the control of martial law. So, he has deployed the Texas State Guard to monitor any dubious federal activity and, one supposes, to curtail any attempts at a coup d’état. If I were Governor Abbott I would not overly trouble myself with a possible federal take-over of the state. After all, citizens will very soon be able to openly carry weapons in public — 20 million Texans “packing heat” [carrying a loaded gun, for those not versed in the subtle American vernacular] will surely deter the feds.

From NPR:

Since Gen. Sam Houston executed his famous retreat to glory to defeat the superior forces of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Texas has been ground zero for military training. We have so many military bases in the Lone Star State we could practically attack Russia.

So when rookie Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor a Navy SEAL/Green Beret joint training exercise, which was taking place in Texas and several other states, everybody here looked up from their iPhones. What?

It seems there is concern among some folks that this so-called training maneuver is just a cover story. What’s really going on? President Obama is about to use Special Forces to put Texas under martial law.

Let’s walk over by the fence where nobody can hear us, and I’ll tell you the story.

You see, there are these Wal-Marts in West Texas that supposedly closed for six months for “renovation.” That’s what they want you to believe. The truth is these Wal-Marts are going to be military guerrilla-warfare staging areas and FEMA processing camps for political prisoners. The prisoners are going to be transported by train cars that have already been equipped with shackles.

Don’t take my word for it. That comes directly from a Texas Ranger, who seems pretty plugged in, if you ask me. You and I both know President Obama has been waiting a long time for this, and now it’s happening. It’s a classic false flag operation. Don’t pay any attention to the mainstream media; all they’re going to do is lie and attack everyone who’s trying to tell you the truth.

Did I mention the ISIS terrorists? They’ve come across the border and are going to hit soft targets all across the Southwest. They’ve set up camp a few miles outside of El Paso.

That includes a Mexican army officer and Mexican federal police inspector. Not sure what they’re doing there, but probably nothing good. That’s why the Special Forces guys are here, get it? To wipe out ISIS and impose martial law. So now you know, whaddya say we get back to the party and grab another beer?

It’s true that the paranoid worldview of right-wing militia types has remarkable stamina. But that’s not news.

What is news is that there seem to be enough of them in Texas to influence the governor of the state to react — some might use the word pander — to them.

That started Monday when a public briefing by the Army in Bastrop County, which is just east of Austin, got raucous. The poor U.S. Army colonel probably just thought he was going to give a regular briefing, but instead 200 patriots shouted him down, told him he was a liar and grilled him about the imminent federal takeover of Texas and subsequent imposition of martial law.

“We just want to make sure our guys are trained. We want to hone our skills,” Lt. Col. Mark Listoria tried to explain in vain.

One wonders what Listoria was thinking to himself as he walked to his car after two hours of his life he’ll never get back. God bless Texas? Maybe not.

The next day Abbott decided he had to take action. He announced that he was going to ask the Texas State Guard to monitor Operation Jade Helm from start to finish.

“It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon,” Abbott said.

The idea that the Yankee military can’t be trusted down here has a long and rich history in Texas. But that was a while back. Abbott’s proclamation that he was going to keep his eye on these Navy SEAL and Green Beret boys did rub some of our leaders the wrong way.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tried to put it in perspective for outsiderswhen he explained, “Unfortunately, some Texans have projected their legitimate concerns about the competence and trustworthiness of President Barack Obama on these noble warriors. This must stop.”

Another former Republican politician was a bit more pointed.

“Your letter pandering to idiots … has left me livid,” former state Rep. Todd Smith wrote Abbott. “I am horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do.”

Read the entire story here.

Image: The “Burnet Flag,” used from 1836 to 1839 as the national flag of the Republic of Texas until it was replaced by the currently used “Lone Star Flag.” Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Gun Love

Gun Violence in America

The second amendment remains ever strong in the U.S. And, of course so does the number of homicides and child deaths at the hands of guns. Sigh!

From the Guardian:

In February, a nine-year-old Arkansas boy called Hank asked his uncle if he could head off on his own from their remote camp to hunt a rabbit with his .22 calibre rifle. “I said all right,” recalled his uncle Brent later. “It wasn’t a concern. Some people are like, ‘a nine year old shouldn’t be off by himself,’ but he wasn’t an average nine year old.”

Hank was steeped in hunting: when he was two, his father, Brad, would put him in a rucksack on his back when he went turkey hunting. Brad regularly took Hank hunting and said that his son often went off hunting by himself. On this particular day, Hank and his uncle Brent had gone squirrel hunting together as his father was too sick to go.

When Hank didn’t return from hunting the rabbit, his uncle raised the alarm. His mother, Kelli, didn’t learn about his disappearance for seven hours. “They didn’t want to bother me unduly,” she says.

The following morning, though, after police, family and hundreds of locals searched around the camp, Hank’s body was found by a creek with a single bullet wound to the forehead. The cause of death was, according to the police, most likely a hunting accident.

“He slipped and the butt of the gun hit the ground and the gun fired,” says Kelli.

Kelli had recently bought the gun for Hank. “It was the first gun I had purchased for my son, just a youth .22 rifle. I never thought it would be a gun that would take his life.”

Both Kelli and Brad, from whom she is separated, believe that the gun was faulty – it shouldn’t have gone off unless the trigger was pulled, they claim. Since Hank’s death, she’s been posting warnings on her Facebook page about the gun her son used: “I wish someone else had posted warnings about it before what happened,” she says.

Had Kelli not bought the gun and had Brad not trained his son to use it, Hank would have celebrated his 10th birthday on 6 June, which his mother commemorated by posting Hank’s picture on her Facebook page with the message: “Happy Birthday Hank! Mommy loves you!”

Little Hank thus became one in a tally of what the makers of a Channel 4 documentary called Kids and Guns claim to be 3,000 American children who die each year from gun-related accidents. A recent Yale University study found that more than 7,000 US children and adolescents are hospitalised or killed by guns each year and estimates that about 20 children a day are treated in US emergency rooms following incidents involving guns.

Hank’s story is striking, certainly for British readers, for two reasons. One, it dramatises how hunting is for many Americans not the privileged pursuit it is overwhelmingly here, but a traditional family activity as much to do with foraging for food as it is a sport.

Francine Shaw, who directed Kids and Guns, says: “In rural America … people hunt to eat.”

Kelli has a fond memory of her son coming home with what he’d shot. “He’d come in and say: “Momma – I’ve got some squirrel to cook.” And I’d say ‘Gee, thanks.’ That child was happy to bring home meat. He was the happiest child when he came in from shooting.”

But Hank’s story is also striking because it shows how raising kids to hunt and shoot is seen as good parenting, perhaps even as an essential part of bringing up children in America – a society rife with guns and temperamentally incapable of overturning the second amendment that confers the right to bear arms, no matter how many innocent Americans die or get maimed as a result.

“People know I was a good mother and loved him dearly,” says Kelli. “We were both really good parents and no one has said anything hateful to us. The only thing that has been said is in a news report about a nine year old being allowed to hunt alone.”

Does Kelli regret that Hank was allowed to hunt alone at that young age? “Obviously I do, because I’ve lost my son,” she tells me. But she doesn’t blame Brent for letting him go off from camp unsupervised with a gun.

“We’re sure not anti-gun here, but do I wish I could go back in time and not buy that gun? Yes I do. I know you in England don’t have guns. I wish I could go back and have my son back. I would live in England, away from the guns.”

Read the entire article here.

Infographic courtesy of Care2 via visua.ly

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Kids With Guns

lily-with-her-gunIf you were asked to picture a contemporary scene populated with gun-toting children it’s possible your first thoughts might lean toward child soldiers in Chad, Burma, Central African Republic, Afghanistan or South Sudan. You’d be partially correct — that this abhorrent violation of children goes on in this world today, is incomprehensible and morally repugnant. Yet, you’d also be partially wrong.

So, think closer to home, think Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Kentucky in the United States. A recent series of portraits titled “My First Rifle” by photographer An-Sofie Kesteleyn showcases children posing with their guns. See more of her fascinating and award-winning images here.

From  Wired:

Approaching strangers at gun ranges across America and asking to photograph their children holding guns isn’t likely to get you the warmest reception. But that’s exactly what photographer An-Sofie Kesteleyn did last June for her series My First Rifle. “One of the only things I had going for me was that I’m not some weird-looking guy,” she says.

Kesteleyn lives in Amsterdam but visited the United States to meet gun owners about a month after reading a news story about a 5-year-old boy in Kentucky who killed his 2-year-old sister with his practice rifle. She was taken aback by the death, which was deemed an accident. Not only because it was a tragic story, but also because in the Netherlands, few people if any own guns and it was unheard of to give a 5-year-old his own firearm.

“I really wanted to know what parents and kids thought about having the guns,” she says. “For me it was hard to understand because we don’t have a gun culture at all. The only people with guns [in the Netherlands] are the police.”

Thinking Texas would be cliché, Kesteleyn started her project in Ohio and worked her way though Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana before ending in the Lone Star State. Most of the time, it was rough going. Many people didn’t want to talk about their gun ownership. More often than not, she ended up talking to gun shop or shooting range owners, the most outspoken proponents.

During the three weeks she was on the ground, about 15 people were willing to let her photograph their children with Crickett rifles, which come in variety of colors, including hot pink. She always asked to visit people at home, because photos at the gun range were too expected and Kesteleyn wanted to reveal more details about the child and the parents.

“At home it was a lot more personal,” she says.

She spent time following one young girl who owned a Crickett and tried to develop a traditional documentary story, but that didn’t pan out so she switched, mid-project, to portraits. If the parents were OK with the idea, she’s ask children to pose in their rooms, in whatever way they felt comfortable.

“By photographing them in their bedroom I thought it helped remind us that they’re kids,” she says.

Kesteleyn also had the children write down what they were most scared of and what they might use the gun to defend themselves against (zombies, dinosaurs, bears). She then photographed those letters and turned the portrait and letter into a diptych.

So far the project has been well received in Europe. But Kesteleyn has yet to show it many places in the United States worries about how people might react. Though she tried coming to the story with an open mind and didn’t develop a strong opinion one way or another, she knows some viewers might assume she has an agenda.

Kesteleyn says that the majority of parents give their kids guns to educate them and ensure they know how to properly use a firearm when they get older. At the same time, she never could shake how odd she felt standing next to a child with a gun.

“I don’t want to be like I’m against guns or pro guns, but I do think giving a child a gun is sort of like giving your kids car keys,” she says.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Lily, 6. Courtesy of An-Sofie Kesteleyn / Wired.

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Second Amendment Redux

Retired Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens, argues for a five-word change to the Second Amendment to U.S. Constitution. His cogent argument is set forth in his essay, excerpted below, from his new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.”

Stevens’ newly worded paragraph would read as follows:

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

Sadly, for those of us who advocate gun control, any such change is highly unlikely during our lifetimes, so you can continue to add a further 30,000 annual count of bodies to the gun lobby’s books. The five words should have been inserted 200 years ago. It’s far too late now — and school massacres just aren’t enough to shake the sensibilities of most apathetic or paranoid Americans.

From the Washington Post:

Following the massacre of grammar-school children in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, high-powered weapons have been used to kill innocent victims in more senseless public incidents. Those killings, however, are only a fragment of the total harm caused by the misuse of firearms. Each year, more than 30,000 people die in the United States in firearm-related incidents. Many of those deaths involve handguns.

The adoption of rules that will lessen the number of those incidents should be a matter of primary concern to both federal and state legislators. Legislatures are in a far better position than judges to assess the wisdom of such rules and to evaluate the costs and benefits that rule changes can be expected to produce. It is those legislators, rather than federal judges, who should make the decisions that will determine what kinds of firearms should be available to private citizens, and when and how they may be used. Constitutional provisions that curtail the legislative power to govern in this area unquestionably do more harm than good.

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution placed limits on the powers of the new federal government. Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of the Second Amendment, which provides that “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.”

For more than 200 years following the adoption of that amendment, federal judges uniformly understood that the right protected by that text was limited in two ways: First, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes, and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms. Thus, in United States v. Miller, decided in 1939, the court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated Militia.”

When I joined the court in 1975, that holding was generally understood as limiting the scope of the Second Amendment to uses of arms that were related to military activities. During the years when Warren Burger was chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment, and I cannot recall any judge suggesting that the amendment might place any limit on state authority to do anything.

Organizations such as the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and mounted a vigorous campaign claiming that federal regulation of the use of firearms severely curtailed Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Five years after his retirement, during a 1991 appearance on “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” Burger himself remarked that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

In recent years two profoundly important changes in the law have occurred. In 2008, by a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court decided in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects a civilian’s right to keep a handgun in his home for purposes of self-defense. And in 2010, by another vote of 5 to 4, the court decided in McDonald v. Chicago that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment limits the power of the city of Chicago to outlaw the possession of handguns by private citizens. I dissented in both of those cases and remain convinced that both decisions misinterpreted the law and were profoundly unwise. Public policies concerning gun control should be decided by the voters’ elected representatives, not by federal judges.

In my dissent in the McDonald case, I pointed out that the court’s decision was unique in the extent to which the court had exacted a heavy toll “in terms of state sovereignty. . . . Even apart from the States’ long history of firearms regulation and its location at the core of their police powers, this is a quintessential area in which federalism ought to be allowed to flourish without this Court’s meddling. Whether or not we can assert a plausible constitutional basis for intervening, there are powerful reasons why we should not do so.”

“Across the Nation, States and localities vary significantly in the patterns and problems of gun violence they face, as well as in the traditions and cultures of lawful gun use. . . . The city of Chicago, for example, faces a pressing challenge in combating criminal street gangs. Most rural areas do not.”

In response to the massacre of grammar-school students at Sandy Hook Elementary School, some legislators have advocated stringent controls on the sale of assault weapons and more complete background checks on purchasers of firearms. It is important to note that nothing in either the Heller or the McDonald opinion poses any obstacle to the adoption of such preventive measures.

First, the court did not overrule Miller. Instead, it “read Miller to say only that the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns.” On the preceding page of its opinion, the court made it clear that even though machine guns were useful in warfare in 1939, they were not among the types of weapons protected by the Second Amendment because that protected class was limited to weapons in common use for lawful purposes such as self-defense. Even though a sawed-off shotgun or a machine gun might well be kept at home and be useful for self-defense, neither machine guns nor sawed-off shotguns satisfy the “common use” requirement.

Read the entire article here.

 

 

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Gun Deaths in the U.S

Despite the recent atrocity in Newtown, Connecticut, at the hands of a madman carrying an assault weapon, death by gun continues unabated in the United States. Yet, accurate statistics are hard to come by. So, Slate and the Twitter feed @GunDeaths are collecting data to put this in perspective. Just over a month has passed since 20 children and 7 adults were gunned-down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And since then at least 1,019 more people have died at the hands of a gun in the United States. That’s more than most other civilized countries record in a decade.

You can follow the interactive chart as it is updated daily here; another 4 deaths just today, January 17, 2013. According to the map, North Dakota and Wyoming have been the best States to avoid getting shot — both have recorded no deaths from gun violence since mid-December.

Image: partial snapshot of Slate and @GunDeaths interactive graphic. Courtesy of Slate.

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Guns, Freedom and the Uncivil Society

Associate professor of philosophy, Firmin DeBrabander, argues that guns have no place in a civil society. Guns hinder free speech and free assembly for those at either end of the barrel. Guns fragment our society and undermine the sense and mechanisms of community. He is right.

From the New York Times:

The night of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., I was in the car with my wife and children, working out details for our eldest son’s 12th birthday the following Sunday — convening a group of friends at a showing of the film  “The Hobbit.” The memory of the Aurora movie theatre massacre was fresh in his mind, so he was concerned that it not be a late night showing. At that moment, like so many families, my wife and I were weighing whether to turn on the radio and expose our children to coverage of the school shootings in Connecticut. We did. The car was silent in the face of the flood of gory details. When the story was over, there was a long thoughtful pause in the back of the car. Then my eldest son asked if he could be homeschooled.

That incident brought home to me what I have always suspected, but found difficult to articulate: an armed society — especially as we prosecute it at the moment in this country — is the opposite of a civil society.

The Newtown shootings occurred at a peculiar time in gun rights history in this nation. On one hand, since the mid 1970s, fewer households each year on average have had a gun. Gun control advocates should be cheered by that news, but it is eclipsed by a flurry of contrary developments. As has been well publicized, gun sales have steadily risen over the past few years, and spiked with each of Obama’s election victories.

Furthermore, of the weapons that proliferate amongst the armed public, an increasing number are high caliber weapons (the weapon of choice in the goriest shootings in recent years). Then there is the legal landscape, which looks bleak for the gun control crowd.

Every state except for Illinois has a law allowing the carrying of concealed weapons — and just last week, a federal court struck down Illinois’ ban. States are now lining up to allow guns on college campuses. In September, Colorado joined four other states in such a move, and statehouses across the country are preparing similar legislation. And of course, there was Oklahoma’s ominous Open Carry Law approved by voters this election day — the fifteenth of its kind, in fact — which, as the name suggests, allows those with a special permit to carry weapons in the open, with a holster on their hip.

Individual gun ownership — and gun violence — has long been a distinctive feature of American society, setting us apart from the other industrialized democracies of the world. Recent legislative developments, however, are progressively bringing guns out of the private domain, with the ultimate aim of enshrining them in public life. Indeed, the N.R.A. strives for a day when the open carry of powerful weapons might be normal, a fixture even, of any visit to the coffee shop or grocery store — or classroom.

As N.R.A. president Wayne LaPierre expressed in a recent statement on the organization’s Web site, more guns equal more safety, by their account. A favorite gun rights saying is “an armed society is a polite society.” If we allow ever more people to be armed, at any time, in any place, this will provide a powerful deterrent to potential criminals. Or if more citizens were armed — like principals and teachers in the classroom, for example — they could halt senseless shootings ahead of time, or at least early on, and save society a lot of heartache and bloodshed.

As ever more people are armed in public, however — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point.

And yet, gun rights advocates famously maintain that individual gun ownership, even of high caliber weapons, is the defining mark of our freedom as such, and the ultimate guarantee of our enduring liberty. Deeper reflection on their argument exposes basic fallacies.

In her book “The Human Condition,” the philosopher Hannah Arendt states that “violence is mute.” According to Arendt, speech dominates and distinguishes the polis, the highest form of human association, which is devoted to the freedom and equality of its component members. Violence — and the threat of it — is a pre-political manner of communication and control, characteristic of undemocratic organizations and hierarchical relationships. For the ancient Athenians who practiced an incipient, albeit limited form of democracy (one that we surely aim to surpass), violence was characteristic of the master-slave relationship, not that of free citizens.

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

As our Constitution provides, however, liberty entails precisely the freedom to be reckless, within limits, also the freedom to insult and offend as the case may be. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld our right to experiment in offensive language and ideas, and in some cases, offensive action and speech. Such experimentation is inherent to our freedom as such. But guns by their nature do not mix with this experiment — they don’t mix with taking offense. They are combustible ingredients in assembly and speech.

I often think of the armed protestor who showed up to one of the famously raucous town hall hearings on Obamacare in the summer of 2009. The media was very worked up over this man, who bore a sign that invoked a famous quote of Thomas Jefferson, accusing the president of tyranny. But no one engaged him at the protest; no one dared approach him even, for discussion or debate — though this was a town hall meeting, intended for just such purposes. Such is the effect of guns on speech — and assembly. Like it or not, they transform the bearer, and end the conversation in some fundamental way. They announce that the conversation is not completely unbounded, unfettered and free; there is or can be a limit to negotiation and debate — definitively.

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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The Exceptionalism of American Violence

The United States is often cited as the most generous nation on Earth. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most violent, having one of the highest murder rates of any industrialized country. Why this tragic paradox?

In an absorbing article excerpted below, backed by sound research, Anthropologist Eric Michael Johnson points to the lack of social capital on a local and national scale. Here, social capital is defined as interpersonal trust that promotes cooperation between citizens and groups for mutual benefit.

So, combine a culture that allows convenient access to very effective weapons with broad inequality, social isolation and distrust, and you get a very sobering picture — a country where around 70 people are killed each day by others wielding guns (25,423 firearm homicides in 2006-2007, based on Centers for Disease Control statistics).

From Scientific American:

The United States is the deadliest wealthy country in the world. Can science help us explain, or even solve, our national crisis?

His tortured and sadistic grin beamed like a full moon on that dark night. “Madness, as you know, is like gravity,” he cackled. “All it takes is a little push.” But once the house lights rose, the terror was lifted for most of us. Few imagined that the fictive evil on screen back in 2008 would later inspire a depraved act of mass murder by a young man sitting with us in the audience, a student of neuroscience whose mind was teetering on the edge. What was it that pushed him over?

In the wake of the tragedy that struck Aurora, Colorado last Friday there remain more questions than answers. Just like last time–in January, 2011 when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot in Tucson, Arizona or before that in April, 2007 when a deranged gunman attacked students and staff at Virginia Tech–this senseless mass shooting has given rise to a national conversation as we struggle to find meaning in the madness.

While everyone agrees the blame should ultimately be placed on the perpetrator of this violence, the fact remains that the United States has one of the highest murder rates in the industrialized world. Of the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the U.S. ranks fifth in homicides just behind Brazil (highest), Mexico, Russia, and Estonia. Our nation also holds the dubious honor of being responsible for half of the worst mass shootings in the last 30 years. How can we explain why the United States has nearly three times more murders per capita than neighboring Canada and ten times more than Japan? What makes the land of the free such a dangerous place to live?

Diagnosing a Murder

There have been hundreds of thoughtful explorations of this problem in the last week, though three in particular have encapsulated the major issues. Could it be, as science writer David Dobbs argues at Wired, that “an American culture that fetishizes violence,” such as the Batman franchise itself, has contributed to our fall? “Culture shapes the expression of mental dysfunction,” Dobbs writes, “just as it does other traits.”

Perhaps the push arrived with the collision of other factors, as veteran journalist Bill Moyers maintains, when the dark side of human nature encountered political allies who nurture our destructive impulses? “Violence is our alter ego, wired into our Stone Age brains,” he says. “The NRA is the best friend a killer’s instinct ever had.”

But then again maybe there is an economic explanation, as my Scientific American colleague John Horgan believes, citing a hypothesis by McMaster University evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and his late wife Margo Wilson. “Daly and Wilson found a strong correlation between high Gini scores [a measure of inequality] and high homicide rates in Canadian provinces and U.S. counties,” Horgan writes, “blaming homicides not on poverty per se but on the collision of poverty and affluence, the ancient tug-of-war between haves and have-nots.”

In all three cases, as it was with other culprits such as the lack of religion in public schools or the popularity of violent video games (both of which are found in other wealthy countries and can be dismissed), commentators are looking at our society as a whole rather than specific details of the murderer’s background. The hope is that, if we can isolate the factor which pushes some people to murder their fellow citizens, perhaps we can alter our social environment and reduce the likelihood that these terrible acts will be repeated in the future. The only problem is, which one could it be?

The Exceptionalism of American Violence

As it turns out, the “social capital” Sapolsky found that made the Forest Troop baboons so peaceful is an important missing factor that can explain our high homicide rate in the United States. In 1999 Ichiro Kawachi at the Harvard School of Public Health led a study investigating the factors in American homicide for the journal Social Science and Medicine (pdf here). His diagnosis was dire.

“If the level of crime is an indicator of the health of society,” Kawachi wrote, “then the US provides an illustrative case study as one of the most unhealthy of modern industrialized nations.” The paper outlined what the most significant causal factors were for this exaggerated level of violence by developing what was called “an ecological theory of crime.” Whereas many other analyses of homicide take a criminal justice approach to the problem–such as the number of cops on the beat, harshness of prison sentences, or adoption of the death penalty–Kawachi used a public health perspective that emphasized social relations.

In all 50 states and the District of Columbia data were collected using the General Social Survey that measured social capital (defined as interpersonal trust that promotes cooperation between citizens for mutual benefit), along with measures of poverty and relative income inequality, homicide rates, incidence of other crimes–rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft–unemployment, percentage of high school graduates, and average alcohol consumption. By using a statistical method known as principal component analysis Kawachi was then able to identify which ecologic variables were most associated with particular types of crime.

The results were unambiguous: when income inequality was higher, so was the rate of homicide. Income inequality alone explained 74% of the variance in murder rates and half of the aggravated assaults. However, social capital had an even stronger association and, by itself, accounted for 82% of homicides and 61% of assaults. Other factors such as unemployment, poverty, or number of high school graduates were only weakly associated and alcohol consumption had no connection to violent crime at all. A World Bank sponsored study subsequently confirmed these results on income inequality concluding that, worldwide, homicide and the unequal distribution of resources are inextricably tied. (see Figure 2). However, the World Bank study didn’t measure social capital. According to Kawachi it is this factor that should be considered primary; when the ties that bind a community together are severed inequality is allowed to run free, and with deadly consequences.

But what about guns? Multiple studies have shown a direct correlation between the number of guns and the number of homicides. The United States is the most heavily armed country in the world with 90 guns for every 100 citizens. Doesn’t this over-saturation of American firepower explain our exaggerated homicide rate? Maybe not. In a follow-up study in 2001 Kawachi looked specifically at firearm prevalence and social capital among U.S. states. The results showed that when social capital and community involvement declined, gun ownership increased (see Figure 3).

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image: Smith & Wesson M&P Victory model revolver. Courtesy of Oleg Volk / Wikpedia.

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