Sunday, December 16, 2012

If Not Now, then When?

My blog is usually pretty apolitical.  I generally blog about my life experiences, angels, improvisation and entertainment trends.  I did a blog on the shooting in Aurora, CO but kept it more towards healing a national tragedy rather than ranting about better gun control.  But after Friday, December 14th , where a crazed gunman shot and killed 27 people, including his mother using her guns, and 20 little children – the time for stepping on egg shells is over.   I like many Americans whether you are a liberal or conservative are hurting – hurting bad and frankly I’m heartbroken and beyond pissed.   If you are a parent, it’s your worst nightmare.   You take the most precious thing in your life and bring them into a safe place – their school.    School is a place to have friends, to learn, to live and hope.  It’s not a place to fear for your life because someone who is mentally unstable can easily get hold of a gun and start to kill people.  Yet, every time there is a horrific shoot-out in which countless of people are hurt, maimed and killed – we are in shock.   We grieve together, we cry in public and try to understand why.   We come together in a united sense of loss.  We vow to do better and strengthen the gun laws until the public opinion polls come in. Unfortunately, if politicians are running for re-election - they back off and the cycle of violence continues.   My prayer is that sad event is the tipping point – when we finally take measures to prevent these horrific things from happening again.

I guess the thing that really strikes me the most when these things happen – is that the people are who are pro-guns always caution against a knee jerk reaction.   But when you see the carnage that guns produce at the hands of a madman it’s hard not to say – “What the hell is wrong with you people?  We need a complete gun ban – stat!”   Now, I understand that we’ve always had guns in our country –the founding fathers were pretty hip on that and gave us the Second Amendment which is “Right to Bear Arms.”  Of course back then, the British would conduct unreasonable search and seizures and most of the country was unsettled so you needed guns to protect you from hostile forces as well as to hunt for food.   I also understand that there are responsible gun owners who don’t want their guns taken from them because of the acts of a few mad men.  But what I don’t understand is why 40% of the households in this country own guns.   We are armed to the teeth – over 350 million firearms in this country.   My question is why are we so afraid of each other?    What do we need so many guns to protect us from?   We’re supposedly the greatest country in the world – not in a country where al Queda decides your life for you.   And yet, out of the all Westernized countries in the world, we have the most guns.   Worse, the rate of people killed by guns in the US is 19.5 times higher than similar high-income countries in the world.  And yet, we want the right to bear arms - forget who it might hurt or kill.

We are not under the threat of invasion from another country beyond our borders – our military could handle Canada and Mexico – so why all the ammo?   Is it the enemy within that scares us the most?  Is it our culture of violence that makes it “cool” or “pretty bad ass” to own a gun?   Most responsible gun owners that I know (yes, being a liberal, I do know a few that even consider themselves liberal on most subjects) will tell you that having a gun holds great responsibility – it’s not a toy or something you use to threaten someone – you have one to protect your family, your home or use it to hunt.  One gun owner I spoke to recently told me that the thing that bothers him the most is the proliferation of violence on TV, the movies and in very graphic video games like Call of Duty allow you to connect other gamers and give you the chance to virtually kill people.   If you are someone who feels helpless most of the time, then those games might be a healthy way to work out your frustration. 

But what happens when the line between reality and fantasy blurs?  What happens when outcasts like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who committed the horrific Columbine mass murder acquire guns obtained by a friend?  They were obsessed with playing very violent video games on-line.  They felt bullied and marginalized.  They had friends purchase firearms for them at gun shows where you did not need a three day background check.  They learned how to make bombs on the internet.  Then on April 20, 1999 the pair murdered a total of 12 students and one teacher. They also injured 21 other students, with three other people being injured while attempting to escape the school. The pair then committed suicide.   All those young lives and the lives of their teachers snuffed out in minutes – for them it was like a big video game.  What came out of that shooting was that you could no longer purchase guns for a minor or a criminal.  Wow, that seems like a no brainer and yet we had to have a law that stated don’t give guns to kids and crooks so we could to keep more people from being killed.  Unfuckingbelievable!

Some gun advocates have pointed out that because the proliferation of guns, crime rates have fallen.  It is true that violent crime has dropped off –  according to the Department of Justice Criminal Victimization report, between 2002 to 2010, violent crime where the victim survived dropped by 22% from  7,424,550 in 2002 to 5,805,430 in 2010.  Some gun advocates would point the  fact that people are better armed and that explains the drop.  However, the problem with that theory is that between 2010 and 2011, the violent crime rate actually increased by 18% from 4,935,980 in 2010 to 5,805,430 in 2011.   Sadly the number of people killed by firearms in the United States remains high. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, between 2006 and 2010, 47,856 people were murdered in the U.S. by firearms, more than twice as many as were killed by all other violent crimes combined! Read that again – twice as many people were killed by guns than any other violent crimes combined.   Now, gun proponents will argue that you can get killed a number of ways without guns.  Sure you can get stabbed with a knife, but knives have other purposes and you can survive a stab wound easier than a gun shot.   Yes, cars do kill people but they are designed to get you from one place to another – they are not supposed to take a life.  Yes, people are more likely to have someone punch you then get shot  - but again we use our hands for other things than hitting.  I’m getting awfully tired of these lame ass arguments because they are just absurd.  Guns are designed to do one thing – kill either people or animals.   They just don’t serve any other useful purpose than to destroy.

The reason I’m throwing so many facts at you from government sources is that I really want you to understand that we need to do something now.  How many people have to die in places like Newtown, CT, Aurora, CO, Virginia Tech, or Tucson, AZ before we do something?  Doesn’t seeing the bright faces of six year olds who were in kindergarten getting ready to go on Christmas break and see Santa whose families must now plan a funeral because of what happened on December 14th make you feel like you were kicked the gut?  If not, then you sure as hell are not paying attention.    In the last 30 years since 1982, America has mourned at least 61 mass murders.   In 2004, the ban on assault rifles was lifted thanks to some heavy lobbying by the NRA because their members demanded it.  In the Aurora Theater shootings this past July, James Holmes had an assault rifle, purchased ammo on the internet along with body armor and still people will insist that we have a right to all this crap because of the Second Amendment.   Sorry, but I have a hard time envisioning that this is the world our forefathers envisioned.

England has very strict gun laws.  You have to have a criminal background check just like here, but you have to go to a police station to get a license, answer a series of questions about why you need a gun and all firearms must be registered.  Assault rifles are banned.   Here in the US, there are 88 guns per 100 people, in England, there are just 6.2 per 100.   In 2010, there were 8,775 people in the US killed by guns – in England it was 600 – a fraction of what it is here. 

I know that mental health plays a big part in the profile of these mass killers – that many are depressed and have a host of other mental illness and that they frequently fall through the cracks of our healthcare system.   I’m in total agreement on that.   We need to take the stigma out of getting mental health services and maybe these situtations can be avoided.  It's so sad that the families of the killers are as grief-stricken as the victims’ families as they deal with the aftermath.  I can’t imagine as a parent what it would be like to lose a child in a mass shooting and I can’t imagine what it would be like to have my child be the shooter.  Both realities would be unbearable and my heart goes out to anyone that has ever been in that position.

During the Civil Rights movement, many righteous people felt they had good reason for keeping the status quo until that terrible day in Birmingham when four little girls were killed because some sick terrorists from the Ku Klux Klan decided to bomb the 16th Street Baptist Church.   The loss of those sweet young girls in safe place like a house of worship caused a national uproar and helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   This time, it was 20 little children and six of the women whose sacred duty it was to protect them.   It happened at an elementary school to helpless little children.  For the record, I am having a knee jerk reaction because the next time it might be the school that my children are at.  Or maybe it might be somewhere else in another six months when the death toll reaches an all time high and breaks all previous records.  We need to have a responsible dialog and we need to act now - before another mother faces another moment of heartbreak.  If not now, then when?  

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