“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…

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.

Welcome To the New Reality

I woke up this morning to the news from Suruc, Turkey that at least 27 people were killed in what has been called by the Turkish government a terrorist attack. For those of you without quick access to a map, Suruc is in the “No Man’s Land” between Turkey and Syria that is under siege from not only Kurdish factions with some help from the terrorist organization ISIS but also from Syrian rebels looking to fight those two factions off and take the area over for themselves. The death toll in this attack could rise as about 100 more people were injured in the bombing.

With this said, we in the United States are mourning the loss of five military members, four Marines and a seaman, killed in a senseless attack on a recruiting depot in Chattanooga, TN last week. The four Marines were killed immediately in a hail of automatic gunfire, the bullet holes pockmarking their office windows like a sinister form of Swiss cheese. The shooter, a Jordanian man in his mid-20s, was gunned down by authorities as he attempted to continue his shooting rampage at a military support depot located near the recruiting center; as of yet, it hasn’t been determined if it was an act of Islamic terrorism or another case of a mentally deranged man lashing out at a bastion of our country.

The deaths of these servicemen is extremely saddening, especially as some of these men had come through the Hell that war in the Middle East is and has been and lived to tell the tale. To then come home, back to the United States, and supposedly be “safe” in the fact that the battles were over, it is particularly cruel for them to have died in this fashion. Unfortunately, it has become the new reality in the United States: the potential for terrorism exists, even in our supposedly “safe” country, and not on an occasional basis but a weekly and, dare we say it, daily one.

We have joined the international world in that terrorism fraternity, with other countries holding membership for more than a millennia. We are no longer insulated against the senseless attacks that seem to plague the Middle East, Europe and other locales around the world. It used to be that, when there was a terrorist attack of some sort, we could mostly look across the Atlantic for the location and occasionally the Pacific. That was part of what made the United States – and, to some extent, the entirety of the Americas – feel more secure is that we were “removed” from the turmoil, strife and senseless bombings and killings that sometimes bubbles over in other areas of the world.

For almost 500 years (counting from Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the New World), the Americas were an isolated outpost from the Old World. That began to change with the advancements in warfare during World War II. Technically, the first “terrorist attack” against the United States was the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. You could argue that there were other incidents, but this act of war in December 1941 was the first time that attacks from foreign sources were able to alight on U. S. soil.

Since that time, there have been fits and starts as to further acts of terrorism in the U. S. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was an attack by Islamic extremists that turned out to be a test drive for the 2001 tragedy that galvanized our nation. There’s been acts of “domestic terrorism” with Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the 1996 attacks by Eric Rudolph during the Olympics in Atlanta all the way up to Dylann Roof’s racial murdering of black churchgoers just last month in Charleston, SC. It’s gotten to the point where you have a sigh of relief when there isn’t a mass killing or bombing in the United States, a breath where you say “we made it through another day.”

The thing is we have to get used to such occurrences. In the Middle East – be it Iraq, Israel or some other country – they pause for a moment to reflect on the situation and then return to their daily existence. It isn’t that these people don’t have emotions regarding the situation, it is that they know the only way to counteract those terroristic intents is to demonstrate that it had no effect. It is remarkable the level of recovery that those people have reached in that a despicable mass killing may have been committed but, the next day, the surrounding area of that shooting has been cleaned and repaired and looks as if nothing has happened.

Europe does this too, as shown after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France earlier this year, and Asia barely blinks if such an atrocity occurs. We here in the United States, however, normally end up clutching our collective chests and letting out a Nancy Kerrigan-like “WHHHHHY!” wail that can last for several months or even years until we start trying to figure out what laws to put into place “so that it never happens again.” The resulting discussion of any way to try to “fix things” uses its own terrorism in shutting down any solution or solutions.

If acts of terrorism on the shores of the U. S. is that prevalent, then many ask what should be done about it. The answer? Nothing. The countries of Europe and the Middle East have extremely Orwellian methods of counter-terrorism, including facial recognition software to visually identify militants, infiltration of subversive groups, restriction or observance in travel, arming of troops walking the streets of major cities, racial profiling and stifling of opposition speech (just to name a few). To implement these measures in the United States would violate pretty much every tenet that the country was established on and that is expected out of a free society. While we can weep and mourn, we shouldn’t exorcise what helped build the United States.

Although tragic, the shooting in Chattanooga is simply the latest example of the changing reality in the United States. While once secure from such situations, it is a new time (and not for the best) in our country that we have to be prepared for the potential for terrorist attacks, be they foreign or domestic. It doesn’t mean, however, we have to enact draconian measures in the untenable illusion of “safety” that violate the very essence of what the United States is. We just have to learn how to handle them better on a mental and emotional level than we have in the past.