Sunday, May 20, 2018

If Now Now, Then When? Part 2

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?" -   Hillel the Elder

This was the question I asked after the Sandy Hook massacre. If 20 small children – practically babies and six adults could be shot down by an active shooter who was mentally unstable but was able to get access to his mother’s guns – shouldn’t we do something about gun control?  If the innocent faces of those children were not enough for a grieving nation to act with a Democratic President and Congress, then when would be the right time? 

It seemed like a slam dunk to get guns out of the hands of the wrong people-to
get stronger background checks – to limit the age that a person could get a gun.  But even as that Christmas in 2012 seemed less merry because there were now 20 more angels in heaven but not on earth to open their presents and six less adults to offer holiday cheer as we as a nation failed again to pass any real gun control measures.  The pull of the NRA was just too great and their campaign contributions too grand.  The misguided voices of their members too strong to weaken the will and effectively castrate any politician that wanted to stand up to them.  It was a heart-breaking Christmas that year but unimaginable in the grief for the families that would never tuck their babies in a night, never to hear “I love you Mommy and Daddy!”  

Am I laying it on too f*cking thick?!! Goddamn right I am – because I hate these senseless shootings – it makes me shake with anger and yet we keep allowing this happen time and time again.   According to Gun Violence Archive, there have been at least 241 school shootings nationwide since Sandy Hook. In those episodes, 450 people were shot, 149 of whom were killed – these numbers include the Santé Fe and Clayton shootings which occurred on May 18th. 

So, when are we going to wake up and decide that the five million members of the NRA do not speak for the 326 million people who live in the United States?  Moreover, they apparently don’t speak for most gun owners.  According to recent estimates, one in three people are gun owners which puts the total number at about 75 million.  With 5 million members, the NRA represents just 6.6% of gun owners.  Many of those people who have firearms in their house feel that the NRA is way off base.  So why do politicians continue to cow-tow to them? 

In Georgia, our own Lt. Governor Casey Cagle punished Delta Airlines because they were not going to honor the NRA discount anymore after the Parkland shooting.   Cagle’s response was to take away the tax benefits that Delta receives until they reinstated the discount.  This was a brilliant move because Atlanta was on the short list of cities that Amazon would use for their second headquarters.  But since that little stunt as a bow to the NRA and the punishment for not extending the discount – Georgia has probably lost an employer who could bring thousands of jobs to the state.

Sure – they throw money at candidates and gave 21 million to the Trump campaign but it is selling your soul out to stop keeping reasonable gun laws in force like reversing the ban assault weapons which went into effect in 1994 under President Clinton but was reversed under George W. Bush in 2004. More common-sense measures like banning bump stocks which turn semi-automatic weapons to automatic and was used in the Las Vegas shooting last year have withered because of NRA opposition depending on which way the wind blows (initially they did support the ban).  Now Oliver North, that paragon of virtue who in the 1980’s sold illegal weapons to the Iranians and then gave the funds to the
Contras in Nicaragua and is a former FOX commentator is the new NRA President.  He seems perfect because the guy’s reputation for being a scumbag is pretty solidified.

As a mother, I hate that in the back of my mind as I send my 17-year-old to school is the silent prayer that I will see her home safely.  She’s not a police officer or a soldier where something like an attack might be part of a day’s work – she’s a f*cking high school student. She’s going to school with other children and teachers who don’t get paid enough to teach much less get training to take down an active shooter.

I used to work security at a synagogue in Atlanta and with the world being what it is and with a school on the premises – we would discuss active shooter drills.  We even did one with a police officer dressed as a sniper and discussed how to react.  As much as I thought I was prepared when he came into the office with a ski mask – instead of getting out as fast as I could – I cowered under my desk and was marked “dead.”  It taught me a good lesson – don’t under any circumstance get yourself in a place where you can’t get out.  One good video that I have reviewed which is called Run, Hide, Fight and is used by several law enforcement agencies to train people how to try to save themselves in an active shooter situation.  Click here to look at the video.   It gives you some sound advice how to survive something so horrific.

One of the things that has bothered me when I hear about these shootings is that there didn’t seem to be a plan much past putting the school on lockdown.   The kids are being trained to hide under their desks which as I found out made me a sitting duck.   The teachers need to be trained if they cannot safely get the kids out of the classroom to a safe space, how to block the door and arm themselves with mace or scissors and fight like hell to keep the perpetrator out. It’s not something that might come naturally but just like a fire drill – once you practice it a few times – it becomes second nature.  In the Virginia Tech shooting, the students who blocked the doors had the highest survival rate.  Even something as simple as a door wedge can keep someone from entering a room and save lives.

It’s a given that our national law makers will probably make a good show of saying we need responsible gun laws and how this should never happen again until sadly it happens again.   Perhaps over the summer, schools can do for themselves what lawmakers won’t do – address the problem head on and have a strategic plan.   In the confusion of the shooting in Parkland and other shootings, first responders wasted valuable time trying to find the perpetrator.   Why not install active shooter sensors that can detect gunfire and pinpoint where the perpetrator is during the shooting spree?  These systems can also alert the teachers and principals where the shooter is so they can plan escapes accordingly in real time.  

My prayer is that the schools in the Atlanta area as well as all across this nation end the school year without any more shootings.  But in the tragic aftermath of these shootings, we need to work together to find a solution.  Yes, better mental health services would help.  But as our President tried to weakly defend his stance at the NRA convention with false stats about stabbings in Europe, it’s not just about mental health – it’s the ease in which people in this country can get a gun either legally or by taking a parent’s or friends firearm. My daughter Amber and I took part in March for our Lives and it was a very powerful event.   There were all types of people and all ages – from toddlers to people in their 80’s and it was amazing that it was over 20,000 people in the streets of downtown Atlanta.  What struck me was that there were so few anti-protesters in favor of gun rights –  I saw two people.  I really think that going into the mid-terms – momentum is on our side.    What I observed is that for these new voters GOP = NRA and it might spell trouble for Republicans who don’t take a tougher stand on the NRA. 

It should be obvious that banning bump stocks, automatic and semi-automatic would lower these casualties – but sometimes obvious does not win and paranoia can make any reasonable argument seem like an enemy’s dictate.  Maybe mandatory smart guns would stop kids from are taking their parents’ weapons and turning them on schoolmates -maybe not - but it’s worth a try. Something needs to be done besides “our thoughts and prayers” because prayer without action means nothing.

But as I asked five and a half years ago after Sandy Hook, are we going look our collective paranoia in the face and decide to limit who can get guns?   How do we end this madness or are we just going to continue with the status quo until every city has an incident.   How do we look our children in the face and say “Yes, this is a safe place to live” when our innocents are being coldly struck down. We need to change the conversation and offer concrete solutions that can be acted on.  If not now, then when?

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