Saturday, October 3, 2015

Congress, stop the bloodshed NOW!

"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil but by those who watch them without doing anything." 

~ Albert Einstein. 

UPDATE #2: 6.20.16: Since the massacre in Orlando just 8 days ago there have been 9 more mass shootings, most of which have not been reported by the mainstream media.

UPDATE #1: 6.20.16: Click here for the complete list of mass shootings in the US for 2015

UPDATE 12.2.15: Today there was another mass shooting. This time at a developmental center in San Bernadino, CA. At least 14 people dead. See link below.

Since I first posted this piece, there have been two more school shootings and, no doubt, many others that didn't even make the news. That said, I will re-post this piece every time I hear about such an incident. Today, November 1, 2015, I added Colorado Springs.

Unfortunately, there are far too many mass shootings occurring in this country on a seemingly daily basis to update this list myself, so look for 'UPDATES' above with links to the Gun Violence Archive.  

I started writing this post right after the terrorist attack at the Emanual AME Church in Charleston, SC, but then remembered the rhetoric of extreme gun rights advocates that says we shouldn't talk about gun violence in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting because it politicizes a tragic event. So I waited a few weeks to see if any of them would start talking about it. But then there were more mass shootings, so I waited again. It seemed that every time I tried to finish this piece, another shooting occurred, the latest of which happened Thursday in Oregon. So, to hell with it, today I'm talking about gun violence. 


According to data* compiled by Mother Jones Magazine, since 1982

  • 572 people have been killed by mass shooters
  • 510 have been wounded 
  • Of the 70 shooters
    - 55 obtained their gun(s) legally
    - 43 were White
    - 11 were Black
    - 6 were Asian
    - 4 were Latino
    - 3 were Native American
    - 1 was unknown
    - 2 were listed as 'Other'
    42 are listed as having a history of mental illness- 17 have no confirmed history- 11 are listed as 'unclear' or 'unknown'- All but 2 were male

    (Emphasis mine)
    * This data does not include any data from the Oregon shooter going forward)

No matter what social, religious or ethnic classification, be it on US soil or a newspaper office in Paris or an embassy compound in Lebanon, people who commit these acts are terrorists and mentally unstable.

When a tragedy like this occurs, the natural reaction is to find a way to stop it. The simple fact is that if there were no guns, there would be no gun violence. But we have a second amendment, and this nation has many responsible gun owners who should not be denied their rights because of the actions of a few deranged souls. But the reality is the only way to stop this killing is to toughen the requirements for obtaining a gun. If fewer mentally unstable people have access to guns, there will be fewer mass shootings. As John Farmer writes:

Some gun control advocates see hope in something like the Australian approach. The Aussies, stunned by the mass murder of 35 people in a café in 1996, took on their gun lobby and won, with detailed background checks, a waiting period for all gun purchases and a program to buy existing guns from private owners. 
The result: The rough-and-ready Aussies have one of world's lowest gun-related death rates. But we're probably too far gone down the gun-loving road for something that comprehensive. 
Mass murder in American is primarily the product of too many guns (300 million), too easily acquired, with too little gun regulation. To deny that is to lie. But it's a lie we seem able to live with.

Unfortunately, he's right. The NRA, one of the most powerful and influential lobbys in the US, pulls out these talking points whenever one of these tragedys occurs: 
  1. Instead of new gun laws, we should be enforcing the many that already exist
  2. We need better mental health laws 
  3. Criminals don't follow laws anyway, so enacting new ones won't change anything
I freely admit I am no expert on the history of gun legislation and enforcement, but I am sick and tired of hearing about innocent people—especially children—being gunned down—especially in school. This must stop. In researching this piece I found some sources that raise a lot of questions and provide a few answers. Read for yourself and decide. 

Let's take these talking points one at a time, shall we?

Instead of new gun laws, we should be enforcing the many that already exist.

Until I actually started digging, I assumed the NRA was just blowing a smoke screen with this one, but it turns out they're right—at least on the second half of that statement. And party politics doesn't seem to matter. Democrats and Republicans alike have been equal opportunity offenders. This piece by CBS's Dick Meyers from 2003 is astonishing. Two years after 9/11, we were here:

Everybody says they favor tough enforcement, they always have. But if it were true, it would have happened.

He presents a lot of disturbing statistics, so please do check out how your tax dollars were not being spent.

Congress and President Obama have failed to properly fund the NRA-supported National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), increased mental health screenings and Project Exile which imposed harsh prison terms for people who committed crimes with a gun. But while the NRA and the White House agreed on those initiatives, the lobbying group dug its heels in when it came to passing common sense legislation that is supported by an overwhelming majority of its members including preventing terrorists on the FBI watch list from purchasing guns, and requiring mandatory background checks.

It seems the only way we can have meaningful change is through executive order. And we all know how well that goes over with right-wing extremists. 

So, if there is common ground, why isn't the NRA leading the charge? Where's the massive ad campaign? Jeeze, it seems every day I see all sorts of TV ads trying to convince me that—among other things—the Iran deal is horrible, Koch Industries is wonderful, and BP cleaned up the Gulf Coast and everything is fine and dandy (except stay away from those 3-headed shrimp). You mean to tell me the NRA can't cough up a few mil to run an ad campaign to put pressure on Congress and the White House to take some action? If they really, truly were interested in being part of the solution, no expense would be spared. After all, they spare no expense when it comes to electing pro-NRA candidates up and down the political ticket.

Which leads me to talking point #2:

We need better mental health laws

Look at these maps. See all that green? That's all the NRA money that's controlling this country. Granted, this is from 2012, but many of these elected officials are still in office. Click here to see just how much money the NRA has donated paid to your present and/or former representatives to represent you prevent the passage of meaningful gun legislation

The House
The Senate
According to the NY Times, more than half the members of the 113th Congress have been given an A rating—and money—by the NRA. Some are Democrats, most are Republicans. How many of these NRA-endorsed representatives are/were also hell-bent on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act? In the past 5 years, the House has voted 55 times to repeal and replace the law, with the latest vote this past February. Here's how they voted by party: 

The NRA and its minions are symptoms of a much larger problem: rampant ignorance. Writing in Psychology Today about the Charleston shooting, David Niose brings the big picture into focus:
In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.  
In considering the senseless loss of nine lives in Charleston, of course racism jumps out as the main issue. But isn’t ignorance at the root of racism? And it’s true that the bloodshed is a reflection of America's violent, gun-crazed culture, but it is only our aversion to reason as a society that has allowed violence to define the culture. Rational public policy, including policies that allow reasonable restraints on gun access, simply isn't possible without an informed, engaged, and rationally thinking public. 
What Americans rarely acknowledge is that many of their social problems are rooted in the rejection of critical thinking ... many Americans seem to honestly believe that their country both invented and perfected the idea of freedom, that the quality of life here far surpasses everywhere else in the world. 
But it doesn’t. International quality of life rankings place America barely in the top ten. America’s rates of murder and other violent crime dwarf most of the rest of the developed world, as does its incarceration rate, while its rates of education and scientific literacy are embarrassingly low. American schools, claiming to uphold “traditional values,” avoid fact-based sex education, and thus we have the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world. And those rates are notably highest where so-called “biblical values” are prominent. Go outside the Bible belt, and the rates generally trend downward. (emphasis mine)
We are becoming imprisoned by our own ignorance, and that ignorance is turning us back on a path headed straight for the Middle Ages. Need proof? Look no further than the Miss America Pagent GOP presidential debates. Many on the far right, including the Republican presidential candidates, are more concerned about what goes on inside a woman's uterus than the pressing issues of the day, including gun violence, which The American College of Physicians designated as an epidemic twenty years ago

Deny people access to quality public education, affordable secondary education, quality, affordable health care, housing, high-paying jobs with opportunities for advancement, and you keep massive numbers of Americans in check, perpetuate the decline of critical thinking and control the message. And this is part of the message:

Criminals don't follow laws anyway, so enacting new ones won't change anything

This argumet is just plain stupid. Let's abolish all laws. Let's abolish prisions, the courts and law enforcment because criminals don't follow laws anyway, so why have them? This argument defies all logic and reasoning and it blows my mind that anyone in this country buys into it.

The time to talk about gun violence is now

I watched Hard Ball with Chris Matthews last night and they aired clips of the GOP candidates' statements on the Oregon shooting:

Donald Trump: "You have very strong laws on the books, but you're always going to have problems. I mean we have millions and millions of... sick people all over the world."

As usual, lacking any real substance.

Marco Rubio: "I always find it interesting that the reflexive reaction of the left is to say we need more gun laws. Criminals don't follow gun laws... and there's just no evidence that these gun laws will prevent these shootings. But it would prevent law abiding people from being able to defend themselves."

Hey Marco, ever hear of a little thing called the Brady Bill
Since February 28, 1994, the Brady law has blocked more than 2.1 million gun purchases, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That is 343 purchases blocked every day. More than one million of those attempted purchases were by felons. Another 291,000 denials were to domestic abusers. And, 118,000 gun sales to fugitives were blocked thanks to background checks. 
“It is clear Brady background checks work. Lives have been saved by the Brady law as we have seen the undeniable evidence showing gun homicides have decreased since the law took effect 20 years ago,” said Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “We need Congress to expand Brady background checks to make it harder for criminals and other dangerous people to get guns online, in classified advertisements or at gun shows.”
Just sayin'.

Carley Fiorino: "One of the first things I think we can do is prosecute those folks who have guns and are not supposed to have guns. So, before we start calling for more laws, I think we ought to consider why we don't enforce the laws we have. I found the president's comments last night premature at best, and at worst, a really unfortunate politicization of this tragedy." (emphasis mine) 

Yea, Carley, you're running for president, so how are your comments not political? 

Mike Huckabee: "What stopped that shooter yesterday? He was continuing to shoot. What stopped him? It was a police officer with what? A conversation? A reading from a book? It was a cop with a gun that stopped him."

Sounds eerily familiar...

Statement made after the Newtown massacre
The police officer who killed the Oregon shooter did nothing wrong. He did his job, he saved lives, he stopped a maniac, he put himself in harm's way in service to others. He is a hero and he deserves enormous thanks and praise. But he committed an act of violence just the same, and that's part of his job. Sometimes violence needs to happen, but it shouldn't be—and isn't—the only way to stop an act of violence. We must stop them before they even start.

Jeb Bush: "We're at a difficult time in our country and I don't think that more government is necessarily the answer to this... Look, stuff happens. There's always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something and it's not necessarily the right thing to do."

Yea, Jeb, "stuff" happens. Realizing, I guess, that his remarks were shockingly lame and out of touch, he later tried to clarify: "Sometimes you're imposing solutions to problems that don't fix the problems and takes away people's liberties and rights. And that's the point I was trying to make."

So, Jeb, when it comes to public education, it's perfectly okay with you to impose solutions to problems that don't fix the problems, but take away people's liberties and rights. But we shouldn't dare try to fix a problem like gun violence, 'cause... well... that might rob some people of their liberties and rights. 

And then there was the voice of reason...

Robert Reich"No other advanced nation has the kind of gun permission and gun laws we do that allow people to go around and basically use guns with no safety checks, no background checks. No other nation does that, and no other nation has the carnage that we do over and over and over again... You have the United States, the outlier, where everyone can get guns basically very, very easily and there's 'shoot 'em up' kind of Wild West every two months, and the rest of the world kind of looks at that and says this is nuts."

Another day, another shooting in America. Meh. As long as those in power can convince the public that this was just a random crazy person, nothing changes. But the real crazy people are those who are controlling this message.

Jon Stewart summed it up best immediately after the AME Church massacre: 

By acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won't do jack sh--.
We invaided 2 countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives... all to keep Americans safe. Nine people shot in a church. What about that? 'Hey, whaddya gonna do? Crazy is as crazy does.'
I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it.
If innocent children being shot to pieces in the one place where they are supposed to be safe when they are away from home isn't enough; if adults being executed in their house of worship—a safe and sacred space—is not enough; if any of the horrendous killings of innocent people going about their lives isn't enough to galvanize Congress to take immediate and aggressive action to drastically reduce gun violence, then nothing will change. America is doomed. We are being held hostage by blood money paid to our elected officials by the very people who hold up the US Constitution as the symbol of liberty and freedom. 

Thoughts and prayers will not stop gun violence. Candlelight vigils and memorials will not stop gun violence. "A good guy with a gun" will not stop gun violence. The only way to stop gun violence is for elected officials to make it a priority, and right now, it's not. With every day that passes, with every mass shooting that occurs, more and more blood is on their hands.