“Routine” Tragedies Will Continue Until the Chain is Broken

We didn’t even wait until later into October to get our “mass shooting of the month” out of the way for the next 30 days or so. In Oregon this afternoon, a man walked onto the grounds of Umpqua Community College, entered the classrooms and, reportedly after querying his potential victims on their religious backgrounds, appears to have executed 10 people. The shooter would injure another seven people before police arrived on the scene and gunned him down.

We’ve become numb to it in the United States, these mass shootings where someone – whether for religious or racial reasons, whether they are mentally ill or completely sane – snuffs out the existences of those who are either at the beginning of what should be great lives (the Sandy Hook shootings), defending our nation (Chattanooga), joyously praising their God in a house of worship (Charleston), meeting with their Congressional district’s residents (Tucson) or just simply going to school, trying to learn something to advance themselves (Columbine).

First off, let’s define a “mass shooting.” The definition has come to be determined that which A) four or more people are victims, and B) don’t include gang killings or the death of multiple members of the same family. This criteria makes sense in that emotion (such as a familial situation) or an involuntary occurrence (killing two people at the same time by accident) wouldn’t fall into the equation. Using the criteria, this would include every one of the situations noted a couple of paragraphs previous and would also include the Aurora, CO, theater massacre, among several others. What wouldn’t make the “grade”? The recent point-blank execution of the journalists in Virginia, unless you want to count the shooter as Victim #4.

As to be expected, the respective representatives came out on both sides and began to toss their rhetoric. President Barack Obama summed up one end perhaps most concisely in saying, “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this. Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple months from now.” Of course, after Obama made this statement, gun advocates screamed that he was “politicizing” the situation when it “wasn’t appropriate.”

The National Rifle Association, which is about as oriented to the safe usage of weapons as Volkswagen was in creating environmentally safe vehicles, will continue to wail about how it isn’t about the guns. “It’s about the people,” they’ll sniffle as they hug their little weapon close to their chest, petting it gently. “If they weren’t bad people/high on drugs/mentally ill (choose your excuse du jour), then they wouldn’t have done something like this…It wasn’t the gun’s fault, though (Pat…Pat).” And when their paid henchmen in Congress get up and repeat this line of bullshit, they should be forced to go look at the bodies of the dead as they lie on the grounds of a college or a school playground and then try to repeat their idiocy.

Strangely enough, the rest of the world doesn’t have this problem. Using the criteria set above regarding what constitutes a mass shooting, between 1966 and 2012 (this isn’t even counting the last couple of years of this fucked-up situation) there were 292 such incidences around the world. While they weren’t all in the United States, a sizeable chunk of them were. There were 90 such mass shootings in the U. S., meaning that although the U. S. makes up 5% of the world, we have 31% of the mass shootings. Finally, in the U. S. shootings, more than half of the cases involved a shooter with more than one gun; in the foreign cases, the gunman usually had one weapon. For the gun nuts in the crowd, here’s something to hang your hat on:  the average number of victims in U. S. shootings is 6.87 per incident; internationally, it is 8.8 victims.

In another study from the Harvard School of Public Health looking at mass shooting incidences between 2011 and 2014, mental illness is examined as the cause for the attacks. While the rates of mental illness remain level for the time period, the research shows that mass shootings tripled in frequency. The study also showed that, in the previous 30 years, mass shootings occurred about every 200 days; in the three years examined closely, that rate had dropped to 64 days.

So what can we learn from this data? The problem with mass shootings isn’t about who is committing the atrocities, it IS in the choice of what they are using to complete their twisted fantasies. Weapons – handguns, rifles, shotguns, etc. – are the reason that so many people are being killed when someone decides to commit these acts. We often hear from the gun lobby, “Well, if he had a knife and did the same thing, would you ban the knife?” The answer is probably not because, with only one knife, there’s the chance that the situation could be averted and/or not as extreme in its deaths. When someone has a rack of weapons and enough ammunition to fight their way out of a Syrian village, many people are going to die or be permanently scarred from the wounds they receive.

It’s time we actually did something about this situation. The fuckheads on the opposite side of the aisle – those that suck at the teat of the National Rifle Association and spout off about how their “Second Amendment rights” are under siege when there hasn’t been a federal gun law enacted in the United States since the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban that expired under President George Bush (Bush II, as I like to say) – will spout off about how “this isn’t the time” to talk about the plague of mass shootings in the United States. If this isn’t the time – and if it wasn’t appropriate the first 100 times this occurred in this country – then what the fuck time is a good one?

The NRA needs to get the hell out of the discussion or quit being obstructionist and admit that it is time that there are strong regulations put in place on all weapons in the United States. I consistently hear that the NRA grassroots isn’t represented by the hateful, rhetoric spewing Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the organization, and that those “sensible gun owners” actually wouldn’t mind having some regulatory laws regarding guns on the books. It is time that this segment of the NRA shows up and forces their elected leadership to listen to them instead of allowing for a radical minority (if it is so) of the NRA to dictate the course of action.

They should acquiesce to federal licensing of weapons to individuals (we have stronger licensing principals in place for driving a fucking car, mind you, than owning a piece of military hardware created to end lives) and for all gun owners to have liability insurance on their weapon if it is used in a criminal act (that way there is some compensation outlet for the victims, at the minimum). Finally, gun show sales should be halted and a 10-day “waiting period” should be instituted for ANY gun purchase, be it a semi-automatic pistol, a pump shotgun or a pellet gun.

It’s tough to give any anger to those who are the victims of such acts, but there are some things that can be done. First off, sometimes things will happen in the course of life (easy for me to wax philosophically over) that we cannot prevent. We can never understand why certain things, especially some of the vilest crimes committed by mankind, happen in our existence. All that can be done in some cases is investigate it thoroughly and use the information to try to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Furthermore, even if the above laws were ALL put into place, there would still be mass shootings – they probably just wouldn’t be as prevalent as they are today. Normally sane people would still be able to stockpile weapons, even those that have no application in hunting and are created especially for the act of warfare and killing other humans, and ammunition will still be plentiful. As such, someone might be able to talk a buddy into giving, selling and/or stealing from enough guns to inflict such pain.

Finally, mental illness is a viable reason for mass shootings so, when it comes to those challenges, the U. S. should revamp the system and adequately fund and support the system. As it is now, the U. S. as a whole does NOT put enough money into education on the subject, treatment of those afflicted with the differing mental illnesses nor provide enough to adequately assist these people upon their return to public life. Without attention being paid to this area, then all the laws instituted won’t have any effect.

If six-year old children, pregnant women, members of the Armed Forces, churchgoing people, high school and college students and, yes, even the everyday Average Joe being executed by the business end of a firearm through no fault of their own doesn’t spur you to action, then you cannot be a member of the human race. It is time we end this scourge of mass shootings in the United States or, at the minimum, rein them in tremendously and reduce the number of times that the nation sheds tears for those murdered viciously.

Let’s just hope that we’re not talking about this again in a couple of weeks…

It Works Both Ways in “Black Lives Matter,” But Not In Every Other Case

Since the shooting of Houston, TX, Deputy Darren Goforth, allegedly by Shannon Miles and for some unknown reason(s), the rhetoric on both sides has ramped up drastically. Harris County, TX, Sheriff Ron Hickman, Goforth’s boss, stated it plainly on CNN when he said, “This rhetoric has gotten out of control. We’ve heard ‘Black lives matter,’ ‘All lives matter.’ Well, cops’ lives matter, too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier, and just say ‘Lives matter,’ and take that to the bank?”

While Sheriff Hickman’s comments might be construed as not being acceptable (and, as a member of law enforcement, personal feelings aren’t supposed to be a part of the job), it comes on the heels of a “Black Lives Matter” protest in Minneapolis, MN, this weekend that were just as reprehensible. Although the particular “Black Lives Matter” group was offered a booth at the Minnesota State Fair, the organizers refused that opportunity to connect with people and instead decided to hold their protests on the streets in front of the fairgrounds. This allowed the protesters to say things such as “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.” All of this supposedly helpful bullshit comes on the heels of the Virginia shooting of two newspaper reporters by a former coworker, who supposedly was a homosexual male and supported the politics of President Barack Obama.

There is so much that is wrong in the current climate of discussion that it is difficult for anyone to wrap their heads around the subject. One of the main issues, however, is that no one wants to admit that the prescribed norms work both ways and should be applied equally to both sides. With that application, the outcome isn’t the same in every case, however.

The Texas case is tragic in that, on the surface, it does seem to be spawned by the anti-law enforcement sentiment that has festered throughout at least 2015 if not for the past 100 years itself. Lacking any information from the authorities, we are only left with conjecture as to why Miles decided on Friday night to cold-bloodedly gun down Goforth as he filled his squad car with gas. The same thing was seen in December 2014, when two New York City police officers were senselessly executed by another black man (who subsequently committed suicide), supposedly in response to the decision by grand juries in Missouri and New York not to indict police officers in the deaths of two black men.

In the Texas case, we could start with not escalating the situation any further than it already has been. Sheriff Hickman didn’t need to step in front of the microphones outside his office and toss gasoline on the fire by implying that the “Black Lives Matter” movement had something to do with the execution of his officer. He could have just as easily said, “We currently have no information on any motive or reason for my officer’s shooting.” Instead, he chose that moment to inflame conditions even more than they might have been. In a volatile state such as Texas, where very widely divergent viewpoints often don’t meet with genteel outcomes, it is something he should have thought about.

That doesn’t let the “Black Lives Matter” protestors off the hook, though. To actually chant for the execution of police officers – which has also been alleged in several other protest marches throughout the United States during “Black Lives Matter” events, among other violent acts – is downright wrong if not borderline criminal. If an individual can be charged with “voicing a threat” against another person, then what is the charge that should be put on those whose basic statement is “kill a cop?” (Let’s not get this wrong, I do believe in freedom of speech. That’s why I don’t have a problem with Body Count’s “Cop Killer” (an artistic statement) but do have an issue with this situation).

Some of the spokespeople for the “Black Lives Matter” organization have come out and said not to paint the organization with a broad brush for the actions of one person or one part of the group. Law enforcement and police unions have said virtually the same thing – “Don’t judge us all due to the actions of one bad cop” (we’ll leave alone for the moment the systemic incidences of police abuse of power for now over the years). The answer is that it works both ways and for both groups, but neither wants to admit it.

Where it doesn’t work is in the senseless Virginia murders of reporter Allison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. While there has been plenty of information that has come out regarding Vester Flanagan – including that he went to the voting booth in 2012 as an Obama supporter to the point of wearing a pin and advocating in line for him (we know this because this is one of the litany of things that WDBJ management reprimanded him for while he worked there) and that he was gay, among other much more important things such as his emotional volatility in the workplace – the case has slowly slipped into the background because Flanagan killed himself and there will be no charges brought (unlike the Texas case). What is ridiculous is some of the statements over social media that try to show that it should go both ways and, in this case, it shouldn’t.

Some on social media have advocated for the “banning” of the rainbow flag that has become the banner of the LGBT community (and was seen on many a Facebook profile following the U. S. Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage a right), positing that it was the banner of “hatred” much like which happened when Dylan Roof used the Confederate Banner Flag as his “reason” for executing nine people in a Charleston, SC church. They also have demanded contrition from President Obama because one of his supporters – somehow like the illegal immigrant in San Francisco who killed a woman and, according to anti-Obama people, LOVED Obama – gunned down two people.

Unlike the “Black Lives Matter” situation where a) both sides could tone down the rhetoric and b) both sides should chastise their not-as-eloquent members, these accusations laid down in the Virginia case are completely ludicrous. First off, there is no indication that Flanagan’s sexuality was the hell-bent reason behind his decision to kill Parker and Ward. An argument can be raised that Flanagan was looking to do the same thing as Roof – incite a “race war” (Flanagan’s manifesto talked about how Roof’s actions pushed him to commit his crime) – and it should be discussed that Flanagan and Roof are cut from the same cloth. That’s about the point where the similarities end, however.

To suggest that the rainbow banner used by the LGBT community is a “flag of hatred” (never has been shown to be) like the Confederate Battle Flag (plenty of examples where it has been used as such) is about the most illogical thing there is…it’s called an association fallacy, one that basically says because you did one thing one time for one situation, you should always do that when similar situations arise. Thus, those that are frothing at the mouth to ban the rainbow flag merely show their idiocy rather than any practice of rational thought.

Situations such as Virginia and Texas – and even the issues between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to protect (and who knows how many other aspects of society) – have to be judged on a case-by-case basis. In every case, both sides should be held to the same burdens of representation and held to a certain criteria that is used against both schools of thought equally. You cannot hold one to a separate, higher standard without applying the same principles on the opposition. After exercising this mantra, however, the answer aren’t always going to come out the same way every time.

Why Do We Keep Repeating Ourselves When It Comes To Gun Violence?

It’s been a couple of days since the tragic shooting of WDBJ-TV Roanoke, VA, reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman, Adam Ward (and the life-threatening injury to Vicki Gardner, a member of the Chamber of Commerce that they were interviewing), live during the broadcast of the station’s morning show by a deranged former co-worker of the duo. Over the past couple of days, there has once again been the hand-wringing that comes about following one of these inexplicable shootings that seem to happen like clockwork in the United States. When these periods of mourning occur, there is also a renewed “effort” (if you want to call it that) to enact sensible gun regulation; in the Roanoke case, it is Parker’s father that has led the call this time. There’s also that dreadful feeling that, like many other times before and for much worse cases, nothing at all will be done about the situation.

The problem is, in the past couple of instances, the current laws and any tougher restrictions may not have done any good.

In the Roanoke case the shooter, former reporter Vester Flanagan (we will not respect him by using his on-air name) legally purchased not just one but two Glock semi-automatic pistols, one that he would eventually use in the shooting of Parker, Ward and Gardner. Flanagan passed through the background check, no bells went off and he walked out (there is no waiting period for gun purchases in Virginia) of a licensed gun dealer’s shop in Virginia with his weapons after paying for them.

This situation also applies to the horrific tragedy that is the Charleston, SC church shooting. The person responsible for that, 21-year old Dylan Roof, also was able to pass a background check (later found to be faulty) to be able to obtain the weaponry that he used to gun down the nine churchgoers in cold blood. Even the Sandy Hook tragedy was done by a shooter, Adam Lanza, whose mother legally bought him the weapons he had (and would use on her and 26 others) in 2012.

Add in Virginia Tech, Aurora, Chattanooga and many other cases and you see that the United States has way too many instances of mass shootings on its soil (this is just in the past decade and not even a comprehensive list). To be able to correct this problem, there are several issues that have to be considered here and implementation of all are necessary if we are to get the usage of guns in horrendous crimes under control.

A 2013 Pew Research Center survey states that slightly more than one-third of U. S. citizens own or live with someone who owns a weapon. With the population of the U. S. around 320 million, that means there are over 100 million people who own at least one weapon. For arguments sake, let’s cut that number to around 50 million gun owners, counting for duplication in a husband and wife household at the minimum. That’s a scary number to see, especially when you consider “at least one” in the ownership realm.

The reason I say “at least one” is that it is also estimated that there are anywhere from 270 to 310 million weapons in the United States, nearly enough to outfit each man, woman and child in the U. S. with a weapon whether they like it or not. That number of guns available in itself is far too many and needs to be examined in its own right. But through implementation of some common sense ideas, many of the problematic issues regarding weapons can be corrected; it’s going to take some time, however, perhaps decades.

First off is a suitable waiting period before someone can obtain any type of firearm:  rifle, pistol, shotgun or a variety of other weaponry. In some cases, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) performs the background checks on potential gun owners, in others it is the individual State Bureaus of Investigation; both should be utilized, the state’s investigation first and the FBI as a double-check. There should be a 10-day waiting period in which to give the proper authorities ample time to review a person’s background and, if there is no result from the responsible investigative bureau, then the sale is rejected. To implement this change, however, you can’t continually cut funding from the proper authorities to do their jobs properly.

Second is better recording and sharing of mental health records. There should be a national registry for those suffering from mental health issues that flag them, in particular for law enforcement groups when they are looking over pretty much anything they do. Wouldn’t a police officer like to know that the person sitting in the vehicle ahead of them might have a history of mental health issues and therefore might handle a situation differently? The same holds true when they are reviewing someone’s application for a weapon, especially if the applicant’s mental health issues are only recorded in another state.

Now I am sure that someone is going to say that this is an “invasion of privacy” or a violation of doctor/patient privilege. Unfortunately, when you’ve reached the point that your particular affliction is causing issues with law enforcement, you do lose some privacy considerations. Don’t take it too far, however; someone has to have demonstrated previously an incident, either on the job or with law enforcement, to show just cause for being placed on such a registry, not someone who has been simply treated for issues that affect their abilities to function in normal life. Even with this caveat thrown into the mix, the Roanoke situation may still have happened, however.

Finally, there has to be some recognition from the political sphere that this is a significant problem in the United States and pay it real attention rather than hiding behind the skirts of several usual suspects.

For the Democrats, we already have enough gun restrictions on the books. There are going to be shootings on a RARE occasion, even with all the gun laws in the U. S. implemented to the fullest. Banning high capacity magazines and automatic weapons isn’t the answer, a better one would be to regulate their usage and allow for their ownership by the populace. Continuing to push for deeper and deeper restrictions or bans beyond what already exist only infringe on a lawful individual’s rights, not the criminal who actually committed the crime.

For the Republicans, it is time to take the pacifier that the National Rifle Association sticks in your mouth after each mass shooting out, get out from behind the U. S. Constitution and allow for some more regulation on guns. The NRA leadership (rumor has it the base membership of the organization doesn’t have a problem with some additional regulation, especially in banning sales at gun shows and more extensive background checks) has shown repeatedly that it isn’t about defending the right of U. S. citizens to own weapons. With that leadership in particular (and the same can be said for plenty of other groups), it is more of a political stance to get the proper person into a seat in Congress or state legislatures across the country to be able to manipulate them at will.

The Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights to the U. S. Constitution does provide for the right of the citizenry to own weapons and it is an important amendment to defend. However, it doesn’t provide for someone to own an arsenal that sometimes outpaces even law enforcement (no matter how good you are, you can only shoot two weapons at a time). Add in to that equation the issue of when the Second Amendment was written. At that time, it took even the best musket shooter anywhere from two to three minutes to reload their weapon and said weapon was only accurate to about 100 yards for the best marksman. Today, when you can spray 600 rounds per minute – with accuracy from 300 to 500 yards – from an Uzi by an untrained person, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the Second Amendment’s intent.

Additional regulation doesn’t have to be draconian, it can be as simple as banning gun show sales (hey, if you really want that weapon, go to the store and go through the process) or waiting a few extra days to get a particular weapon in your hand. What about liability insurance on gun owners to hold them personally responsible for the ownership and usage of their weapons? We do more for cars and their ownership than what we do when it comes to weapons.

It is particularly shocking when those whose livelihood once were dependent on the world of weapons are actually asking for more regulations on weapons.

One year ago in Nevada, gun range instructor Charles Vacca was the unfortunate victim of a gun range incident that resulted in his death. The perpetrator? A nine year old girl who legally could fire the weapon, an Uzi submachine gun, but logically shouldn’t have been allowed to even put it in her hand. The six children of Vacca are now advocates for new guns laws that would prohibit people under the age of 16 from shooting certain semiautomatic weapons like those as powerful as the Uzi, an instance of gun control that make completely logical sense.

The real issue that needs to be addressed, however, is the mentality of the citizens of the United States. It would take several generations to change the mindset of how guns are used in the U. S., to get it beyond its “Wild West” romantic nostalgia or its inner city “equalizer” role. We as a people need to start looking at guns as something that, like many things in life, in the wrong hands can be fatal and how can we attempt to make it a bit safer (let’s be honest, there is no such thing as “perfectly safe”). The rest of the civilized world seems to have learned that using guns as a method of solving conflict isn’t the way to go, why can’t U. S. citizens?

Implementing the measures above – and all of them need to be done, not a piecemeal approach that minces around the subject – would be an outstanding start. After that work is done, we can then sit back and review to see if there is anything else that needs to be done.

Tough To Get Upset With Ferguson This Time Around

It’s been a year since the stunning shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO, police officer Darren Wilson. A year that has seen not only a grand jury but a federal inquiry decline to indict Brown for the shooting of the young man (who allegedly had stolen cigars from a nearby convenience store, intimidated the owner and then tried to reach in Brown’s patrol car – for what reason nobody seems to know – before the shooting) while riots tore up the city. Since then, we’ve had much more legitimate complaints regarding law enforcement treatment of blacks in areas such as Baltimore and Charleston, which have pushed Brown’s case and its myriad of grey areas into the shadows.

With the anniversary of the shooting, there have come new peaceful protests and calls for changes within the system, not only in Missouri but also in the United States as a whole. For the most part, these have been orderly situations where the protestors have been able to put their message out there for the people to hear and, for the most part, law enforcement has been respectful of these protests. That seemed to change on Monday night, however.

On Monday night, law enforcement contends they were the targets of a shooter/shooters among a crowd of people who were “peacefully” protesting at night, never a good recipe for anything. As you can tell from the video released by the Ferguson Police Department, it does appear that one person may have had a weapon in their hand and may have been trying to blend with the crowd to try to get away from the police.

Then there was this situation, allegedly taped yesterday showing a “peaceful” protest blocking one of the thoroughfares in Ferguson. The protest makes its point – while blocking those that might have to get to jobs or, perhaps worse yet, have an emergency they have to attend to – while the police make their point by telling the protesters they have to move out of the road because they are impeding traffic (a misdemeanor offense). The idiot at the end gets what he deserves for not listening to the officers.

Finally, we have the Oath Keepers, those vaunted individuals who have deemed themselves the righteous protector of all and enforcer of laws where there are none. This gang – and that is what it is, a gang – is being allowed to walk the streets in Missouri armed (as is permissible by law) but the reciprocity isn’t being extended to those that march for the other side. They are still walking the streets of Ferguson today, not doing anything to calm the situation but inflaming it even more.

The problem with these incidences is that they aren’t doing anything to further either the cause of racial equality, equal treatment by police or improving the situation for anyone in such straits. All they seem to be doing is continually pulling the scab off an already sore wound, never letting it heal fully and never providing it the medications that are needed for it to do just that. By continuing to flood the streets, it makes it tough for anyone to get upset with what is going on in Ferguson this time.

The peaceful protests were played out the first time around, soon after Brown was shot and then again after the Grand Jury refused to indict Wilson on any charges. The anniversary does bring a moment to remember the situation, not a weekend of protests that now has dragged on into the following week. For those who protested over the weekend, it seems as if they were organic and looking to effect change in their community; in those that have gone on since then, it seems they have been spearheaded by those looking to commit crime or, in the case of the Oath Keepers, someone looking to do some human target practice.

In the Brown case, it was shown that Brown at least violated Wilson’s police vehicle (sure, Wilson could have planted that evidence, but I don’t think Barney Fife had the ability to think that far ahead in the situation) and, after Wilson pursued him, at least turned around to confront Wilson. This is a fact from the autopsy. While Brown can be mourned for his death, he cannot be celebrated as a martyr for a cause (that should be left to Walter Scott, the man needlessly gunned down in North Charleston). The peaceful protestors should, at the minimum, disavow those causing the problems, which I haven’t heard.

Law enforcement also has their burden to bear in this situation. They can admit to the long line of actions they used to put down certain races in the Ferguson area (and many others) and commit themselves to eradicating the problems from their divisions. They can also order the Oath Keepers to return to whatever militia they scurried out from under as they are simply causing more problems than their presence is worth.

Maybe come next August, the remembrances will be smaller but the message will resonate larger. Maybe next year there won’t be the need for arrests or weapons to be used. Maybe next year the Oath Keepers will keep their asses at home instead of flouting a questionable message and inflaming the tensions in an already boiling cauldron. For this year, however, the message has been bastardized and no one is listening.