The need for culture change

It has happened again.   In a matter of minutes, on an ordinary day on the campus of a small college, too many lives were lost or altered, possibly beyond repair. And in no time flat, it became politicized.

Whether you like President Obama or not, he is correct–this should be politicized.  People being able to amass an arsenal of weapons, and walk into a setting where people are gathered for peaceable reasons–worship, entertainment, self-improvement–and then wreak havoc and rain destruction and death,is not something we should, in a supposedly free country, have to plan for.  The onus for the safety of innocent people taking part in innocent activities should not be on those innocent people carrying firearms just in case some cretin comes on the scene, armed to the teeth with deadly weapons and evil intent.  Some people think it should be. They are wrong, for a number of reasons.  But this same person does not believe guns are to blame for mass shootings, but the media who give the shooters what they want, which is fame and attention.

Personally, I am more afraid of people who see danger in newspapers but not in firearms. I am more afraid of people who tell me I should pack a gun to go to church (which may be against my carefully developed spiritual principles), because “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.  Which is also wrong, and I’ll get to that in a moment.  And I’m very afraid of someone who does not understand the responsibilities with which every right is burdened.

And the responsibilities which burden the right to carry and use deadly weapons should be proportionate to the danger inherent in exercising that right.  Currently, they are not, and although it is a Federal right under the Second Amendment to the Constitution, we do not currently have a uniform Federal law outlining the responsibilities.  We should, but our politicians (and although it is not supposed to be so, the Supreme Court is inherently political) have lacked the courage and will to make that happen.

We need to challenge our representatives, sentators, and Presidential candidates–and refuse to vote for them if they do not exercise this responsibility.  The “Because, Second Amendment!” cry is inadequate.  A Supreme Court ruling is not eternally binding.  If it were, why do we have politicians still trying to have Roe v Wade overturned, or erect barriers to the exercise of a woman’s right to choose whose and how many children she will bear, under what circumstances, and by what timings?  If the Supreme Court’s ruling is unalterable, this  should not be a matter for debate.

Apparently, however, the Supreme Court’s ruling is not  unalterable, which means we can safely pass laws constraining the sale, possession, and use of firearms.

And do not start with me about the “sacredness of life” argument.  You cannot sentimentalize the life in the womb if you demonstrate blatant disregard for the century that may follow.  Not, at least, if you wish to have any moral credibility. If life is sacred prior to birth, it is sacred in a college classroom.  A movie theatre.  A church.  Second Amendment rights without corresponding responsibilities should be anathema. And “lawmakers” who refuse to articulate what those responsibilities are should lose their jobs, because they are failing us in a fundamental duty to make laws for the protection of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without which anything that follows in the Constitution is a nonsense.

These same people tell us, the immediate aftermath of a tragedy (and we’ve had far too many of these tragedies) is “not the time” to talk about gun control legislation.  They are wrong.  This is precisely the time to light a fire under the collective backsides of our legislature.

I have been thinking about this, and yes, I’ve been angry about this almost nonstop since Thursday when the news broke from Oregon.  And I’ve been scared.  It seems the people who commit these crimes are most often young, white men.  And there is a disproportionate number of these crimes committed in educational settings.  I was, and may one day again be, an educator.  I know too many educators–next time, it could be a friend or relative who is counted among the dead.  It could be me.  Anyone who loves or admires a teacher, school principal, guidance counselor–who spends their lives working to help others achieve their highest aspirations–should be beyond pissed off when some smarmy politician’s unctuous tones tell us “now is not the time.”  Except, they’re right.  Now is not the time.  We are well past “the time.” 

One of my Facebook friends posted this on his page this morning.  It was originally written in the wake of an earlier mass shooting (which the FBI defines as four or more deaths in a single incident).  How many more do we need before we decide this is not acceptable?  How much longer are we going to be slapped in the face with the platitude “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”?  Sure, a gun locked in a safe won’t kill anyone; a gun has to be fired by a person.  But it makes it possible to kill more people, more quickly, with less effort.

And “good guys with guns” won’t stop the bad guys with guns.  At least not in the stupid way Mr. Huckabee implies.  When I broke my kneecap a couple of years ago, one of my favorite people in the rehab clinic was a New York State Trooper.  During one of our conversations, the topic of “good guys with guns” came up.  He mentioned that the average police officer can hit a moving target with gunfire six percent of the time. It seems vanishingly small, but I’ll take his word on it because he knows more than I do.  And that is someone trained and periodically recertified.  If professionals have a 94% miss rate, is the mom with a toddler and an infant who’s packing heat in the diaper bag realistically going to do much good with a heavily armed criminal who has been preparing to do harm?

And that’s the scenario of “good guys with guns”.  A parent with children will not likely have his or her dominant hand free to grab their weapon and shoot accurately.  That parent has been doing their job, watching out for the little ones in their charge.  The teacher will likely be concentrating on the lesson, not the possibility of someone whose Second Amendment Rights we cannot infringe bursting through the classroom door and opening fire on six year olds.  If they are, they aren’t doing their jobs.

And most of the time, a civilian returing fire is going to cause more confusion and injury.  Because with a 94% miss rate at best, they’re not likely to hit their target.  And bullets usually hit something, rather than falling gently to the floor.

We need a sane, nationally applicable set of responsibilities articulated which are commensurate with the risks to others implied by the right to own and use firearms.  And we need heavy penalties for anyone who does not live up to those responsibilities.

That is the job of the legislative branch of government. And that is going to take time.  Too much time.  More people will die.  That’s just our culture.

But what can we encourage outside the legislative system to make this a safer society–to change our culture?  I have been thinking about this all yesterday and today. My ideas are thinking outside standard channels.  They won’t be easy to implement, but because they are non-governmental, they do not pose the issue of the government suppressing the rights of its citizens.  Some of what has crossed my mind includes the following:

1.  EDUCATION.  Education about guns belongs in the school curriculum, and in two places:  health education and social studies. Education about the use of firearms belongs in health class because it is a public health issue, and we educate about other public health issues such as alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex. We begin age-appropriate discussions about substance abuse, reproduction, relationships in schools.  We tell young people the effects of various choices, the responsibilities involved in making those choices, and the possible problems they may encounter if their choices are unwise.  We also give them warning signs to look out for if they think they or their friends may be heading for trouble.

Gun education also belongs in the  social studies curriculum. We educate our kids about what freedom of press/religion/assembly means, and what our responsibilities are about voting–and how those rights can be curtailed.  If possession of firearms is a right, we need to educate about that right, its abuse, and under what circumstances you forfeit it).

2.  INCENTIVIZE:  Why can insurance companies not offer a premium discount on homeowners’/renters’ insurance for voluntarily submitting to a background check to verify you do not keep a gun in your residence?  For those who own guns, why not a premium discount if you submit a receipt for a gun safe, or for having taken classes in gun safety?  We routinely offer such premiums if you show a receipt for having a fire extinguisher in your home or (for auto insurance) having taken a defensive driving class.  Because guns in the home have the potential to cause damage to persons and property, it makes sense to reward those who choose not to have them, or (to a lesser extent) who choose to keep them safely and use them well.

3.  DONATE:  Congress has cut CDC funding for research into the public health implications of gun violence.  Could funds be started for a university research program to investigate and publish findings?   Could corporations be major sponsors?

Our legislative options  don’t give us a lot of choice, except to vote the bastards out of office who maintain “there’s nothing we can do, because Second Amendment”.  And we *should* and must do that (go to town hall meetings as often as you can, and pointedly ask candidates how much of their campaign funds come from NRA and similar organizations–and then don’t vote for them).  But that will take time, and it will take longer for a Supreme Court to sit which will be clearer-headed on this issue than the one we currently have.

None of this is short-term, but we can start outside the legislative process.  And I think we must.

Cr@p.  I did not mean to write a blog post today.


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