Before The Next Mass Shooting, Missouri Voters Ought To Know Where Their Politicans Stand

As a reminder, and because it continues to bother the hell out of me, and because Missouri voters ought to know where their elected representatives have been morally and legislatively standing—the next time a mentally ill person gets a gun and kills kids or anyone else—here is a story from GovTrack Insider from last week:

The Obama Administration in its closing days instituted a new regulation instituting a novel form of gun control. The rule included those who received Social Security checks for mental illness or for being “unable to handle their own financial affairs” into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchases.

The rule was finalized by the Social Security Administration (SSA) on December 19, 2016. Approximately 75,000 people would be affected and potentially barred from purchasing a weapon as a result.

Public Law 115–8 was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Trump to overturn this rule.

Although the law passed and signed by Tr-mp did have a few Democrats on board, mostly it was done by Republicans. Here in Missouri, my congressman, Ozark Billy Long, was co-sponsor in the House. In the Senate, Roy Blunt was a co-sponsor. That’s the same Roy Blunt who wouldn’t do a damn thing after the murder of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012 because, as he wrote in a piece for USA Today, the real issue was “fixing our broken mental health system.” He wrote:

People with mental health problems are almost never dangerous. In fact, they are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators. At the same time, mental illness has been the common denominator in one act of mass violence after another.

It’s hard to square what Blunt said (all true) with what he did by sponsoring a bill designed, albeit somewhat feebly, to help prevent “one act of mass violence after another.” But a lot of things Republicans do these days are hard to square.

It doesn’t take a Tr-mpian jeenyus to figure out that, even though the determination of who is “unable to handle their own financial affairs” is, like all human decisions, “subjective,” (a complaint often made by Republicans) there has to be some limits on the purchase of firearms by people who competent professionals have deemed a risk. Otherwise, there can be no such thing as a restriction, ever, on anyone owning a firearm. Even the Supreme Court’s disastrous Heller decision okayed restrictions on gun ownership “by felons and the mentally ill.” In both cases, the people who fall into one of those two categories do so by way of subjective determinations.

A person becomes a “felon” either through the decision of a jury, a judge, or by lawyers making plea bargains, all of them subjective players and quite fallible. A “mentally ill” person likewise is so labeled, or should be so labeled, by professionals who are trained to recognize specific behaviors and connect those to a diagnosis. Again, there is the possibility of misdiagnosis and mislabeling. But wouldn’t it be better to slightly err on the side of caution, when it comes to questions of mental illness and gun ownership?

Related imageI recognize the Obama administration’s rule, which wouldn’t have taken effect until December of this year, wouldn’t have come close to solving the problems our society has with gun violence. And I realize that stigmatizing people with mental illness as “dangerous” is a real concern that has to be taken very seriously. But damn, people. If we can’t even agree that folks who receive “Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs” ought to be put in the national background check database, then our biggest problem with gun violence is that there is nothing—nothing—Republicans want to do about it.

Missouri Among The States That May Have To Allow Felons To Possess Assault Rifles

“The question next week is going to be, Who runs the United States Senate? Do the people really run this place or does the NRA run it?”

—Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy to Rachel Maddow

wworthless Republicans!” is all I can say to this:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Pass this “Moms Demand Action” video on to citizens who might get inspired to do something about the pusillanimity in Congress regarding sensible gun laws:

Why Can’t We Have Assault Rifles In The Halls Of Congress?

Monday night, Leah Gunn Barrett, Executive Director at New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, appeared on MSNBC’s “All In” with Chris Hayes. Barrett, whose brother was murdered in Oklahoma in 1997, had something interesting to say about the reluctance in Congress to do something meaningful in terms of reforming our gun laws:

If congressmen actually had to live in the gun-plagued areas of Washington, D.C., then they might change their tune. They don’t. They live in a bubble. You have to go through a metal detector to go into Congress. You can’t bring assault rifles into Congress. If they want assault rifles on the streets of America, then why can’t we have them in the halls of Congress?

When I first heard that, I thought it was a bit hyperbolic. Of course we can’t have assault rifles in congressional buildings. How crazy is that?

Then I tried to trace the logic that leads one to conclude that assault rifles or any other weapons have no place in Congress, especially assault rifles or other weapons carried by members of the public. The obvious trail of common sense leads to the idea that our legislators, performing public service out in public, shouldn’t be subject to worrying about folks, some of whom might not like some of the public service being performed, packing guns.

But then that logic led me to conclude that as public servants, legislators need to be exposed to the public in lots of public places, not just in the halls of Congress. Thus, once again common sense says that public servants shouldn’t have to worry about people packing guns anywhere in public. But of course in many parts of this country, they do have to worry about it. People can carry guns in all sorts of places, including in supermarket parking lots in Tucson, where Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 others were shot and six were killed, including a nine-year-old girl who was there to see Giffords.

After considering all of that, I then tried to apply the logic of the gun fanatics—like those who run the NRA or unequivocally support it in Congress—to the case of packing guns in the halls or galleries of the United States Capitol. By their logic, there is absolutely no reason why folks shouldn’t be able to carry into congressional buildings any sort of legal weapon, including military-style assault weapons.

The logic of the fanatics goes like this: gun owners are overwhelmingly law-abiding folks and the rights of law-abiding folks ought not to be infringed, even if they want to observe their congressional representatives at work while keeping company with a Bushmaster AR-15, the same assault weapon Adam Lanza used to shoot into the terrified faces of six-year-old kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And why should legislators, those who support the NRA’s fanatical logic, object to such a thing? Why shouldn’t they argue that we should open up the doors and let every gun-toter in the country walk into congressional buildings armed and ready?

Because although the gun manufacturer-protecting legislators may be NRA toadies, they are not nuts. They know that allowing folks with guns into their place of work would not have a happy ending. And thus we are back to the logic of Leah Gunn Barrett, who asked,

If they want assault rifles on the streets of America, then why can’t we have them in the halls of Congress?

We can’t have them in the halls of Congress because those in charge have a better grasp of reality relative to their small society of legislators than they have for our larger society of citizens. And as President Obama said in that amazing speech in Connecticut on Monday night,

…we’ve got to expect more from Congress.  We’ve got to believe that every once in a while, we set politics aside and we just do what’s right. We’ve got to believe that.

Yes, we have to believe that, even though it seems impossible to believe it at the moment.

ian and nicole hockleyAttending President Obama’s speech in Hartford was Nicole Hockley and her husband Ian. Their autistic son, six-year-old Dylan—“always laughing and smiling” Nicole said—was killed at Sandy Hook. Dylan was cremated and his urn sits “next to his picture in a cupboard in our bedroom on our dresser,” Nicole said. “Every morning I kiss him good morning and say hi, and he’s the last thing I kiss before I go to bed at night.”

The President referenced Dylan’s mom in his Connecticut speech, a speech that really was a call to citizen action:

I’ve heard Nicole talk about what her life has been like since Dylan was taken from her in December.  And one thing she said struck me.  She said, “Every night, I beg for him to come to me in my dreams so that I can see him again.  And during the day, I just focus on what I need to do to honor him and make change.” 

Now, if Nicole can summon the courage to do that, how can the rest of us do any less?  How can we do any less? 

You tell me.

Dylan Hockley

Dylan Hockley

“The NRA Sells The Fear That Sells The Guns”

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre infamously said after the Sandy Hook massacre,

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

That statement, of course, was designed to help LaPierre’s boss, the gun industry, sell more guns to the good guys because selling more guns is the only reason—yes, the only reason—the NRA exists today.

But it’s not just about selling guns to good guys.

Tim Dickinson, who recently wrote an excellent piece for Rolling Stone (“The NRA vs. America: How the country’s biggest gun-rights group thwarts regulation and helps put military-grade weapons in the hands of killers“), was on MSNBC yesterday and nicely put the NRA and its mission in perspective, a perspective that those of us on the side of common-sense gun laws should, even in the face of Congressional obstruction, never tire of promoting:

The NRA sells the fear that sells the guns. Plain and simple. They are a marketing association that sells fear so that people go out and arm themselves. And who profits from that? Well, it’s the gunmakers. 

Who profits from illegal gun sales to people who shouldn’t have guns? It’s the gunmakers.

Who profits from guns that get bought up by fly-by-night dealers on the border and shipped in massive quantities down to Mexico to arm the drug insurgency there? Well, it’s the gunmakers.

Whose interest does the NRA represent? It’s the gunmakers.

It’s just not that complicated.

No, and neither is the following, from Dickinson’s Rolling Stone article:

The NRA’s alignment with an $11.7 billion industry has fed tens of millions of dollars into the association’s coffers, helping it string together victories that would have seemed fantastic just 15 years ago. The NRA has hogtied federal regulators, censored government data about gun crime and blocked renewal of the ban on assault weaponry and high-capacity magazines, which expired in 2004. The NRA secured its “number-one legislative priority” in 2005, a law blocking liability lawsuits that once threatened to bankrupt gunmakers and expose the industry’s darkest business practices. Across the country, the NRA has opened new markets for firearms dealers by pushing for state laws granting citizens the right to carry hidden weapons in public and to allow those who kill in the name of self-defense to get off scot-free.

Oh, But We Do Understand—Now, It’s Your Turn

Because I’ve been on the move, I have been unable to get involved in the ongoing debate in this blog’s comment section, even though I have enjoyed reading it.

I do, though, want to point out that one commenter, Rawhead, has been trying to defend what I consider to be an indefensible position on guns. One of his latest comments included the following, which I will use to respond to the debate that has been going on:

You guys are full of “what if’s” which could be continued ad infinitum. The fact is that the vast majority of gun owners never do anything even remotely malicious with their firearms and just because YOU don’t see use or value in something doesn’t mean that plenty of others don’t.

 Why is it that you people laugh at the paranoia of survivalists but fail to recognize your own paranoia about firearms owners misusing their weapons when, in fact, it just doesn’t happen that often?

The argument here is as follows:

1. Most gun owners don’t misuse their guns.

2. Gun owners value their guns in ways some of us don’t understand or appreciate.

It is undeniable that most people who own guns “never do anything even remotely malicious” with them. I have yet to come across anyone advancing an argument that says they do. So, we can all agree that, as the unfettered gun rights propaganda points out endlessly, most folks who possess firearms do so responsibly.

Now on to that second proposition. I fully understand why most people value guns. It’s just not that hard to figure out. Some people value them for protection and some value them for hunting and some value them for just the pleasure of target shooting.  Oh, yeah. There are those who value them for committing all sorts of crimes.

Thus, it is pretty easy to understand why people like guns, why they defend so vigorously their right to own and shoot them, if not the right to own and shoot them while holding up a liquor store or, well, shooting up a classroom full of children.

But here’s what people like Rawhead don’t understand. They don’t understand why some of us think that while it is okay for folks to have handguns in their homes to protect themselves, or guns to go hunting, or even guns to go target shooting, we don’t think it is worth the risk to allow them to own guns that have the capability of doing what that sick killer in Connecticut did, in a short time, to those children.

You see, we don’t think it’s okay to risk such things just so law-abiding folks can enjoy a day at the range unloading a high-capacity magazine into something not alive. We think there is too much at stake just so people can get their jollies firing weapons that only cops or soldiers should possess.

And the Rawheads of this world don’t understand why some of us think Louis Gohmert, that loony Texas Republican congressman, is out of his mind by suggesting that the principal of Sandy Hook, if she had an M4 in her office, could have got into a gunfight with the killer and saved the day. You see, we think educators ought to be in the business of educating, not in the business of law enforcement.

But most of all, the Rawheads don’t understand why some of us, hopefully most of us, find what Gohmert said on Fox “News” last Sunday absolutely insane, as reported by Think Progress:

Pressed by host Chris Wallace on why ordinary citizens need semi automatic weapons that shoot 5 bullets per second, Gohmert said that any restrictions on fire arms could lead to the slippery slope of full prohibition and said that American amass weapons to protect themselves from the government.

“For the reason George Washington said a free people should be an armed people,” Gohmert explained. “It ensures against the tyranny of the government, if they know the biggest army is the American people, then you don’t have the tyranny that came from King George. That is why it was put in there and that’s why once you start drawing the line, where do you stop?”

I am prepared to admit that I don’t fully understand or appreciate the mind from which that stupidity, that utterly anachronistic paranoia, flowed. But I am prepared to say that I don’t give a damn whether Louis Gohmert thinks the government may one day come after him, the rest of us no longer want to indulge his dark fantasies by watching more children, more innocents, die.

And that, Rawhead, is something you need to understand.

“What A Ridiculous Argument”

I rarely use the word “stupid” to characterize people. The word should be used sparingly, where appropriate and mostly to express for effect how absurd or obviously foolish someone is being. It’s a word usually directed at someone’s idea or argument, when that idea or argument is completely ridiculous.

Like saying the world is flat or that the Earth is merely a few thousand years old. At this point in our history, after all we have learned, we don’t need to waste time taking people seriously who hold such ideas.  As I have said often, these ideas and the people who argue for them need to be ridiculed, not treated as if they are legitimate.

In that context, I saw something on CNN last night that made me better appreciate one of its hosts, Piers Morgan. I’m not a fan, to say the least, but he did something last night that tells me that the gun lobby in this country can be overcome, partly by ridiculing its ridiculous calls for more guns in the culture.

Since the mass slaughter of women and children at Sandy Hook, many of the reactionary laissez-faire gun advocates have been in hiding. But some have had the nerve to show up and defend the indefensible, that we need more guns in our lives. One of those was Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America.

On Piers Morgan’s show Tuesday night, Pratt offered us that peculiar we-need-more-guns argument, one that seems to be a mainstream argument among gun zealots. It goes like this: if only people in that elementary school were armed, things would have turned out much  better. I am going to give Pratt the benefit of the doubt that he’s not talking about arming the children, even though yesterday a sixth grader in Utah brought a gun and ammo to school to, he said, protect himself.

And since most of us, at least right now, believe kids shouldn’t be hauling guns in their backpacks, Pratt was talking about the adults at Sandy Hook. Okay. The adults at Sandy Hook are mostly teachers. Are we now going to require teachers, in addition to their other responsibilities, to strap on pistols in the morning, as they prepare for a day at school? At least a couple of Republican governors, so far, have suggested that might be okay with them.

Now, most people fully embracing the 21st century know that idea is preposterous and should be the object of much derision. And last night, during Morgan’s interview with Larry Pratt, it was:

PRATT: …America is not the Wild West that you are depicting. We only have the problems in our cities, and unhappily, in our schools where people like you have been able to get laws put on the books that keep people from being able to defend themselves.

I honestly don’t understand why you would rather have people be victims of a crime than be able to defend themselves. It’s incomprehensible.

MORGAN: You’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?

PRATT: It seems to me that you’re morally obtuse. You seem to prefer being a victim to being able to prevail over the criminal element. And I don’t know why you want to be the criminal’s friend.

MORGAN: What a ridiculous argument. You have absolutely no coherent argument whatsoever. You don’t — you don’t actually give —

PRATT: You have no —

MORGAN: You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America? You don’t actually care…

I submit to you that it is time that gun zealots like Larry Pratt be subjected to such ridicule, just like those who believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old because an ancient book tells them it is.

And speaking of such people, by now we have all heard former governor and current Fox man Mike Huckabee say this:

We’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools have become a place for carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, responsibility, accountability?

In a better world, Huckabee, who is suggesting here that secularization is responsible for the slaughter at Sandy Hook, would be laughed off the public stage. He would be the butt of a thousand jokes. Any appearance on television would invoke a Piers Morgan response:

You’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?  What a ridiculous argument. You have absolutely no coherent argument whatsoever.

Instead, Huckabee enjoys much respect for his Iron Age religious views, as do most of the extremists who argue and lobby for fewer restrictions on guns, all in accordance with an 18th-century frontier philosophy of self-defense, a philosophy born in a time when there were no weapons that could slaughter women and children in a few insanely violent minutes.

And perhaps that tells us more than anything else what is wrong with our country. And perhaps, just perhaps, Piers Morgan’s handling of Larry Pratt on Tuesday night might be a signal that we will no longer treat with undue respect such nonsense.

See No Evil

Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, I have heard many references to “evil.”

I am in Arizona as I write this, and Governor Jan Brewer, who has signed some of the most ridiculously lax gun legislation in the country—anyone can carry a concealed weapon without so much as a background check or training—said:

There are evil, evil people in our country, unfortunately, and in the world. And I don’t know how we get our arms around it.

In his remarks during Sunday’s prayer vigil, President Obama said,

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown.  In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another, and you’ve loved one another.  This is how Newtown will be remembered.  And with time, and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

When one uses evil in this context, in the context of “indescribable violence,” it is ultimately meant to describe some kind of unseen diabolical force, a force that can be contrasted to an unseen good force: “love” operating under “God’s grace.” I understand the term evil used this way. It’s how people talk about what they perceive as incomprehensible acts by fellow human beings against other fellow human beings. It is sort of shorthand for our ignorance of why bad things happen, especially why bad things happen to six- and seven-year old kids in a school classroom.

But look at this picture:

article_lanza1_1215

Is this the picture of evil?

That, of course, is the picture of mass-murderer Adam Lanza. The boy in that picture, some eight or nine years after it was taken, would kill his mother, twenty little kids and six adults trying to protect them, then ultimately himself. Look at that picture and tell me where the evil is.

Adam Lanza was not evil then, nor was he evil when he mercilessly gunned down helpless children. He was a seriously disturbed human being who lived in a culture that has yet to figure out how to handle seriously disturbed human beings, nor how to keep them away from dangerous weapons, some of which shouldn’t even be available to people who are not disturbed.

We can talk about common sense gun regulations, as we should, but let’s don’t pretend that we can seriously address the problem, a problem that Adam Lanza has so bloodily forced us to face, without addressing the social problems related to mental illness, and the problem of helping those who care for people with mental illnesses on a daily basis, whether it be family or institutions.

Listen to Aaron E. Carroll, who is an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University’s School of Medicine and the director of its Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research:

We should be careful not to blame the mentally ill for all crimes. But we should also be prepared to accept that we might be able to prevent some tragedies if we did a better job of caring for them.

I’ve seen mental health illness in children, and our system is ill-equipped to handle it. I’ve seen families struggle with it. One of my greatest frustrations with clinical practice is that there are far too many times when I lack the tools necessary to care for children who need help. It’s relatively easy to cure an infection or an acute physical ailment. It’s so much harder to take a mental health issue. There are rarely pills that will do the job. Even when they are, they almost never work perfectly to eradicate the problem.

I strongly urge you to read Dr. Carroll’s entire article. It will tell you more about how to start to better deal with the Adam Lanzas than perhaps anything you will read in one short piece. You’ll learn things like this:

If a child is actively suicidal or homicidal, an emergency room can spring into action and admit him or her for inpatient care. But that’s often all inpatient care will do. Once a child is no longer actively threatening harm to himself or others, he or she will be released. That’s what the hospital system does. It cares for the acute problem, leaving the long term, and often much harder, work to a system ill-equipped to handle it. 

And, most startling for me, I learned this:

One of the things I do as a pediatrician is “anticipatory guidance.” We ask questions about issues that have not yet occurred but might occur in the future. A lot of anticipatory guidance focuses on injury prevention. We might ask about bike helmets, or swimming, or fire alarms in the house. I even ask about guns in the home.

I don’t ask this question because I’m eager to lecture patients or parents on the morality of owning guns, or the rights of individuals under the Second Amendment. I’m asking because I’m trying to prevent injury or death. The No. 3 killer of children age 10-14 is suicide; the fourth is homicide. The No. 2 killer of children age 15-19 is homicide; No. 3 is suicide.

I have been trained to ask parents if they have a gun in the home. If they do, I ask how it’s stored. I strongly recommend that they keep it unloaded, locked up, and that they store the bullets separately. I do this because guns are part of almost 85% of homicides and more than 45% of suicides in kids 5 to 19 years old. This doesn’t even account for injuries not resulting in death.

Yet recent laws have attempted to stop pediatricians from doing even this.

If you follow the “recent laws” link above, you will find an article written by a primary care physician, who explained that during his medical interviews with patients he often asks them personal questions, some involving alcohol and drugs and sex, as well as a question that the gun lobby in his state found offensive:

In June, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law barring Florida doctors from routinely asking patients if they own a gun. The law also authorizes patients to report doctors for “unnecessarily harassing” them about gun ownership and makes it illegal to routinely document firearm ownership information in a patient’s medical record. Other state legislatures have considered similar proposals, but Florida is the first to enact such a law.

Now you can begin to see what damage the gun lobby in America is doing to the country, besides ensuring that millions of dangerous weapons are rather easily available to anyone who wants one. If we can’t even tolerate physicians asking their patients relevant questions about a potentially dangerous situation, especially one involving children, then we are a long, long way from solving the social problem of mass killings by sick people.

And calling those sick people or their acts “evil” will not help us progress toward any practical solution. And as much as I am tempted to label as evil the National Rifle Association and other groups of gun zealots, I know that doing so will accomplish nothing in terms of defeating them in the political arena.  

We, those of us who believe that the NRA and other related organizations represent an eighteenth-century philosophy that is unacceptable here in the twenty-first, must stop letting them rule the day and have their way.  We can’t call ourselves an advanced civilization when we still use Iron Age terms like “evil” to describe behavior that we have dramatically failed to address.

 

Change

I spent the weekend wondering if this time America would change.

I wondered if the reactionary forces protecting an absurdly expansive view of a centuries-old right to bear arms would finally meet their match via an outraged and determined public, a public whose common sense sensibilities may have at last been quickened, quickened at the sight of those harmless little faces who turned out to be, in ways unimaginable, in harms way.

One could be forgiven for being pessimistic, given what we have been through before, given the carnage behind us that materialized in our seemingly safest social settings, and given that nothing, absolutely nothing, not a jot or tittle of our gun laws or the way we deal with mental health issues, has changed.

But I woke up this morning, the morning after President Obama said at that remarkable Sandy Hook prayer vigil, “we will have to change,” and I heard a conservative Republican, Joe Scarborough, a man with whom I rarely agree, give all of us who hope for real change this time reason to believe that change will come:

%d bloggers like this: