Gun Violence

Is It Too Soon?

On Wednesday, December 2, 2015, America suffered yet another mass shooting. This one took place in San Bernardino at the Inland Regional Center. Caring for more than 31,000 persons with disabilities, it is the largest such center in the State of California. At this writing, 14 people are dead and 21 injured.

Once again the people of the United States reacted with shock, anger, bewilderment and disbelief. Although it is questionable that disbelief should be among those reactions. After all, this has become almost commonplace with more mass shootings occurring in the United States than in any other country. The reasons are many and cannot be blamed merely on the possession of guns. The fact that this occurred in California, the state with perhaps the most stringent gun legislation, indicates the complexity of the problem.

And yet, as President Obama has stressed frequently, we cannot continue to abide this kind of senseless violence. Finding a solution means stitching together many pieces of the puzzle, but clearly one of them must be sensible gun legislation. California’s neighboring states do not have the same laws, making it easy to bring guns across the border. Further complicating the issue is that the guns used in this shooting were legally purchased in Southern California. We need some kind of national legislation.

In the wake of yet another of these rampages, several legislators have called for just such legislation aimed at preventing future attacks. But on Thursday morning, state assemblyman Marc Steinorth on a radio interview stated that he was offended that anyone would be talking about gun laws when they should be responding to needs of the victims and their families.

My response to the assemblyman is that offense cuts both ways. I am offended, righteously so, that Steinorth would seek to manipulate this tragedy by attempting to divert and control the public discourse from a conversation long ignored by many politicians. His comment suggested, or at least implied, that caring for victims precludes talking about what created these victims in the first place. The illogic escapes me. Perhaps he is uncomfortable confronting his own complicity in the easy access people have to guns in this nation. Doubtful. Like too many politicians, he is in the pocket of the National Rifle Association and seduced by an illusion of second amendment rights.

Steinorth, like every other politician, knows that the further removed we become from tragedies like the one in San Bernardino, the less willing we are to discuss the causes. The result is, we don’t. And so the gun lobby cements its irrational hold on state and federal legislatures.

I have looked back over the statements made by NRA representatives each time one of these shootings takes place. These men are masters at deflection and deceit. One might expect that if the NRA were committed to legitimately lofty ideals, they would defend the possession of rifles for hunting and possibly even target practice. Every thoughtful person knows that there is no legitimate reason for the possession of assault weapons, other than to kill as many people as possible or to fire the testosterone of insecure and usually aging men. As for handguns, their only purpose is to kill—period.

Perhaps the real tragedy is that the number of people killed in mass shootings make up a very small percent of the total killed by guns every year in the United States. Mass shootings merely focus our attention for too brief a time.

The United States has always been a country in the pursuit of peace, but it has never been a country at peace. The proliferation of weapons, in particular handguns and assault rifles, fully guarantees it never will be.

If now is not the time to talk about gun legislation, when is? Some politicians would have us believe the answer is never. Instead, they suggest that the problem always resides in the individual. At this point, the motives for Wednesday’s killings are yet to be determined. Were Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik terrorists? Was this a workplace dispute? Or perhaps a little of both? Was the Inland Center the original target or mere an expedient one? We will know more in the days and weeks ahead. Still, there is one thing that this shooting has in common with all the others: no one can deny that dozens of people would be alive today were it not for the guns.

It is not by accident that the Declaration of Independence lists “life” as the first of the unalienable rights endowed on all people by their creator. If we want to be a peaceful society, if we want to secure that right to life for everyone, it is not too soon to engage the nation in a long overdue discussion about what kind of laws will make these tragedies less likely to be repeated. “Steinorth, are you listening?”

The Thin Line

Ever since childhood, I have been conscious of a popular adage: “There is a thin line between genius and insanity.” I imagine it was repeated, in part, to keep us kids from thinking too highly of ourselves. Being considered a genius was actually a curse. No one wanted to get too close to that line. No one wanted to be thought of as insane. In truth, nobody seemed to know exactly where that line was, but everybody recognized when someone had crossed it.

As I grew older I realized that genius is not the only way to insanity. There seems to be many paths, and certainly stupidity is one. True, the line is just as nebulous as ever, but it is still clear when someone has crossed over. The most recent, high profile example is Wayne LaPierre, leader of the National Rifle Association.

As everyone knows, on the morning of December 14, 2012, twenty-six
people died in a school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty of them were children only six and seven years of age. Merely one week later, LaPierre held a press conference calling on Congress to appropriate whatever funds were necessary to place armed guards in every school in the country. Wow! Did I say, “Insane?”

News outlets around the nation pounced on the absurdity of LaPierre’s suggestion. They called him “crazy Wayne”. They were too kind. One can have a conversation, and maybe even reason, with a crazy person. LaPierre is insane! At the press conference he took no questions. There is an explanation. The insane cannot answer questions, at least not intelligently.

It would be bad enough if LaPierre were the only person in the country to completely lose his powers of reason. But there are actually others, some of them even teachers, who are just as unhinged. Barely two weeks after the Sandy Hook killings, 200 teachers in Utah were given lessons on how to handle concealed weapons. Some pictures are priceless, but the photo of fourth grade teacher Joanna Baginska laughing as she learns how to handle a 40caliber handgun is not even worth a penny. The picture is frightening, eerie and probably prophetic.

For too long, American political slogans have relied on clever turns of phrase. The end result being that they are simplistic, contribute nothing of merit to a national discussion, and degrade the intelligence of the American public. A classic example is the bumper sticker: “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”. To this, LaPierre adds the dangerously inane. In his news conference he stated: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” His phrase is not as clever. Nor is it accurate.

How can we assume that children will be safer by arming their security guards and teachers? Apparently, LaPierre does not get his news feeds from reliable sources. No one has informed him that skilled professionals, including soldiers and police make mistakes, too. We use euphemistic terms like “friendly fire” and “collateral damage,” but what we mean is that innocent people have been killed. Killed by people highly trained in the use of firearms. We also hear news reports of innocent bystanders being killed in the crossfire between gangs and of bullets going astray.

LaPierre noted that we arm guards to protect our banks, office buildings, legislators, etc. He fails to note that people have been killed in banks, office buildings and even on Capitol Hill. His suggestion does not guarantee the safety of our children. Rather, LaPierre guarantees a day when school children will be caught in a crossfire between bad guys with guns and good guys with guns. And when these children die in a hail of bullets, some of the fire will be friendly—but the children will be just as dead.

How to craft gun legislation is a discussion for another day. For now, we must assure that we are on the same page of reality. That whatever conversation ensues, it is measured and reasonable. At the very least, we must be able to recognize when someone has crossed the thin line. And we must not engage a debate with the insane. We simply cannot allow ourselves to live in Wayne’s world. I suppose he has a right to be insane, but he has no right to drag us down with him!