Thursday, December 20, 2012

Open Letter to the NRA and Second Amendment Supporters Everywhere

It’s been nearly one week since the tragedy at Sandy Hook and while the gun control movement has made great strides in organizing people and legislators against the Second Amendment, those opposed to gun control, notably the National Rifle Association have said very little.

Perhaps this is a wise move, given the acrimony that exists towards gun ownership in the United States, no matter how misguided or ill informed. The NRA is supposed to give a press conference tomorrow and as I write this, message boards and talk shows alike are burning with speculation as to what the NRA is going to say, what concessions they stand willing to make to ensure, in their words, that an incident of this magnitude “never happens again.”

Just the thought of concessions by the most well funded Second Amendment machine has sent chills down the spines of gun owners everywhere, who like most Americans, were horrified by what happened in Newtown. More disconcerting however, is the fact that nearly every politician whose campaigns benefited from being vocal about gun rights has either changed his tune or stated outright their support for a renewal of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and other changes such as magazine limits and bans on Internet sales of ammunition.

My advice to the NRA – heed the call towards discussion, but do so in a rational way. Now is not the time for chest thumping and posturing. Now is not the time to make allusions to a physical fight for the Second Amendment that even the most zealous of your membership knows you aren’t about to do. No, now is the time for the adults to come to the table and represent the nearly 4 million members in a light worthy of their membership dollars.

This new approach has to be one of tact and discipline. The first play, not responding immediately to the carnage, was both wise and respectful. You didn’t climb up and push the President or the gun control movement off of their 26 coffin podium and wave the bloody shirt. Good job – now its time to clean house. Step one, Wayne LaPierre needs to dial it down a notch: speak of the history of the Second Amendment and why its still relevant today. Speak of those who are still alive because they had a firearm to equalize themselves against a credible threat. Also, speak to the progress that has been made in extending concealed carry laws to nearly every pocket of the nation – remind the politicians and the President that Americans are lining up every day to attain training and licensure to carry concealed weapons. Tell them, tell the country and the world that in no uncertain terms, will Americans cede their rights to defend themselves.

Next, I urge you as an organization to represent us in a way that doesn’t make us cringe. As much as I am a fan of songs like Wango Tango, Cat Scratch Fever and Stranglehold, I think its time to say goodbye to Ted Nugent. While I admire his passion, the Motor City Madman has a history of making bizarre and downright threatening statements. Who could forget that during the last presidential campaign, the visit that the Secret Service had to pay him for making statements that could easily be construed as a threat to harm the President? Its time to say goodbye to crazy. Crazy only makes the membership look, well, crazy.

While I don’t support bans on military style rifles or high capacity magazines, there is merit in promoting changes to the existing NICS check to include data from the courts when it comes to flagging those who were adjudicated mentally deficient. As a gun owner and a citizen walking the streets, I’d feel better knowing that some effort was being made in keeping any firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, let alone those with high capacity magazines. While we’re on the subject of background checks, private sales should also be subjected to the NICS – as a matter of personal policy, I’ve given up on private transfers of firearms without them. Its better to know who and dare I say what we’re selling to and in this litigious society, it really doesn’t hurt to cover all liabilities. The NRA has always promoted safe firearms handling for the good of the operator as well as those around him. The same philosophy needs to apply to firearms sales – I know this will irritate many gun owners, but it just makes sense to know who you’re selling to and to know that the buyer is in fact safe to take purchase of your firearm.

For the membership of the NRA, GOA and any individual passionate about our right to keep and bear arms, it is time for you too to become active. Engage your communities and demand that your rights are recognized and most importantly, be worthy of exercising those rights. Take classes, learn the laws and store your firearms in a safe manner every time. More important than engaging the community though, we must strive to build communities of like minded people. Introduce yourself to your fellow gun owners at the range, host a Second Amendment information booth at the next gun show that is geared towards educating people as to our history, our rights and most importantly, our responsibilities. If I haven’t said it enough though, engage, engage and engage some more – this is as essential in preserving our liberties as it is networking to form strong, vocal and powerful movements that defend and expand individual rights.

For some, this next part will be hard to read, but if you have family members who are mentally ill, consider what’s at stake when keeping firearms around versus the good of the community. I’m not saying give up your weapons, but if you cannot honestly say that your security protocols will prevent access to that sick family member, either get rid of your weapons or for God’s sake, get that family member the help they need. You have a responsibility to get that person into some form of civil commitment or seriously reconsider owning guns. Lives and our very freedoms are at stake – now is not the time for pride or for denial.

Going forward, I too hope never to hear again of a shooting of this magnitude. I know that the last 10-15 years has seen enormous gains in Second Amendment rights and am committed to maintaining those victories. The eyes of the nation are upon us though, and as gun owners, it is essential that we commit to not only being in the discussion, but that our contributions come from a position of strength and wisdom. With strong, aware comminutes and organizations that are willing to take their leadership role responsibly, there is absolutely no reason we should be in a position to lose freedoms while maintaining the shared goals of safety and security for all.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook Reflections - No Easy Answer

Author's note:

I really didn't want this to be my first post on Bath Salts and Skittles. What I envision for this blog is a free-wheeling discussion on anything I find myself interested in, which can and will include politics, firearms, philosophy, poetry and short stories. Sandy Hook has been in the news non-stop since yesterday, so it would be foolish of me to not share what's on my mind.

It appears that the United States has once again been crippled with sadness due to the actions of a madman. And once again, our media outlets have decided to sell little more than the fear and confusion we've come to expect from them in times of crisis. Not that I wish to condone or somehow mitigate the the immense gravity of what happened in Newtown, gun violence of this type remains statistically rare while coverage of such events has expanded thanks to the advent of the 24 hour news cycle. Indeed, from the time I saw this report at a bar in Dedham, Massachussetts at 1130AM yesterday to 1130AM the next morning, the media has been non stop in its often confusing and inaccurate coverage of the tragedy. Between often repetitive reporting, everything from automobies to pharmaceuticals have been advertised, reminding Americans that even when children have been massacred, the malls are open!
But I digress.
Over coverage of events like these serves many purposes - it gets the information out there, allows the media cosumer to comment on it en masse and in the zeal to be first with the information, news outlets report anything - including uncorroborated reports that are usually retracted later. The confusion that follows breeds fear, the fear breeds condemnation and Monday morning quarterbacking, even as the facts struggle to manifest. In this day and age of Twitter and other social media, everyone is a commentator, everyone is a 'reporter' and everyone is politically motivated to blather on about what they think should be done.

The worst part of the media over coverage is that it gives the killer exactly what he (and its always young men) wants - immortality. Kinkel. Woodham. Harris. Klebold. Cho. Laughner. Holmes. Now Adam Lanza gets to chisel his name in a macarbe hall of infamy. Every time his name is spoken, every time some "expert" tries to "get inside the mind" of the killer on live television, only serves to make famous the killer and whatever his gripe with the world was - no matter how unfathomable.

After such a tragedy, its only natural to be wildly upset. Indeed, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news of two high school students shooting up a school in a Colorado town I'd never heard of before and thinking how sick these people must be. My sadness turned to anger when I learned later on that their firearms were given to them by other adults, who made their purchases illegally for them. My natural thought, at 22, was to think more laws were needed, more legislation to protect people from unneccessary carnage.

That reaction was tempered almost instantly however by reality. I served as an EMT/Firefighter in various capacities throughout college and had seen my share of gun violence and the results of various home invasions, robberies and suicides. I won't go on and shout the word "evil" from the rooftops, but I will say that there are things and people in this world that are not in our control. We'll never be able to stop someone motivated by an addiction from killing to get his fix. We'll never be able to stop every abusive relationship from resulting in a funeral for a battered woman and we'll never be able to stop the randomness with which violent crime seems to occur on urban streets - something that is almost never discussed unless its an election year.

We simply cannot stop random acts of violence every time. People who want to kill, will kill - as humans, we've lived with this reality since Cane slew Abel. We've demonstrated a capacity to kill unmatched by any other species on the planet with every shove, with every punch, and in a wider sense, with every war we've fought.

As an Atheist, I naturally reject the idea that tragedies like these are the result of a lack of prayer in schools. I don't see how praying to a mythical being is somehow going to safeguard our children or society as a whole. While I don't think religion is the answer, I do think awareness will go a long way. Consider the previous school shootings; what is the common thread tying these tragedies together? All were males, all had access to firearms as we all do, yes, but in all cases, inadequately treated mental illness was a major factor in their lives.

Our attitude towards mental health, one forged in shame and mockery, is deplorable. Our culture derides the very notion of a citizen seeking professional help for the demons that possess them. When the few do attain help, its limited; crippled by a lack of available healthcare funds to treat them coupled with an inability to apply meaningful civil committments to the most dangerous cases. This attitude is further exacorbated by an entertainment culture that uses Psychiatric patients as little more than convenient punchlines to jokes or as the deranged villians in violent films and pop-television. Society is so callous to the suffering of the mentally ill that it took nearly 100 years of war for American service personnel to get meaningful help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even now, knowing what we know, these patients, who we owe more than a thank you to, hurdle a mountain of bureaucracy and machismo to get so much as a modicum of treatment.

Again, I recall my reaction to Columbine. I was working at a radio station in New Hampshire when it happened. I remember wanting to choke the DJ when it came over my monitor, thinking the whole thing was a sick attempt to be Howard Stern. When the gravity of that situation became all too real, I experienced first hand in a press room, the rush to judgement. The attacks on music, culture and of course firearms ownership in the United States. Nothing has changed even 13 years later; society sees fit to blame everyone and everything except the shooter and our own inability to realize that a callous populace no matter how inadvertently, helped create this situation. Make no mistake, mental illness is not and will never be an excuse for such ghoulish acts, but to deny it and blame the usual suspects is nothing more than a recipe for failure.

I am as sickened by the rush to blame the NRA and gun owners for this as I am the talking heads at Fox and MSNBC shoving microphones in the faces of the Newtown children who will be forever traumatized by what they saw and heard yesterday. When something terrible happens, it seems as if Americans have one set reaction and that is to form electronic lynch mobs on Twitter and Facebook. Make no mistake, if your reaction to this tragedy is to politicize something as immovable as Roe v Wade, if your answer is to play the same old song of more gun control while ignoring the mental health crisis facing this country, these children, these teachers will have died in vain.

Over the last 12 years, Americans have made themselves perfectly clear: they do not want more gun control. Indeed, concealed carry is the law in every corner of the country and applications for licensure and training is at an all time high. Its time to change the conversation on violence; focus more on the root causes and less on the object. I beg any reader to realize this is a huge and multi-faceted problem, but to go down the same path of political sniping and spin is an exercise in futility.