Category Archives: gun control

Is a Crazy Man Defending Guns in America?

 
 

Whenever I think about the absolute inflexibility of a man like Wayne La Pierre and his psychotic belief that it is his duty and his alone to decide exactly what the Second Amendment means; whenever I watch him as he makes his stand as a pathologically insane bulwark against any attempt the majority of American citizens want to make in terms of passing common sense gun control laws in America, I get the same incredulous anger that I get when I listen to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and almost anyone on FOX TV. La Pierre professes a special sensitivity to any move the American government might take towards absolutism or imagine absolutism. Paradoxically this unbending man wields absolute control over gun laws in this nation at the current moment.

Personally, I find Wayne La Pierre frightening and possibly mentally ill, with, perhaps some form of megalomania. How can one man act so scary that no one will challenge him? Obviously, he must have some very powerful allies, like the entire right wing and half of the left wing, and several loony movie stars. But it is his steely will that seems to hold the whole apparatus together.

Mr. La Pierre, according to Wikipedia, earned a BA in Education from Siena College and an MA in Government from Boston University. He joined the NRA in 1977 and was a legislative aide to a Democratic Virginia delegate, Vic Thomas. He became the CEO and executive vice president of the NRA in 1991. The most recent information says that he is paid a salary of just under $1 million a year. The prospect of losing such a salary might convince many of us to be rabid supporters of whatever we had to pledge allegiance to.

If that sixth sense of yours is not telling you that Wayne La Pierre is nutty, then perhaps listening to some of the things he has had to say will help.

Just before the attack on the Federal Building in Oklahoma Wayne La Pierre, was speaking about federal agents. La Pierre called them “jack-booted government thugs” in “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms”. These comments so outraged George H.W. Bush that he resigned his NRA membership.

He also likes to say that “President Clinton tolerated a certain amount of violence and killing to strengthen the case for gun controls and to score points for his party.” (A little conspiracy theory, anyone?)

And we all remember what this prince of compassion said at Sandy Hook, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Not much comfort to grieving parents there.

Not a whole lot of sanity there, either.

His list of possible contributors to mass shooting is actually a pretty good one, except that the role of guns is noticeably missing from his list, and except for the first item on the list which just solidifies the crazy. Here are the items on his list: 1) gun-free zones 2) violent films 3) video games 4) the media 5) weak data bases on mental illness 6) lax security. For Wayne La Pierre guns are the answer to everything, but even in the Godfatherthere was that one piece of advice about what to pack for vacations, “leave the guns, take the canoli”.

Mr. La Pierre is implacable, powerful and probably somewhere off the deep end. At least he doesn’t live in Texas. However he does live in Roanoke, Virginia near where the most recent shooter bought his handgun only a few days before he gunned down normal working people at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. (Back to Sheldon Cooper – Did Wayne Pierre’s mother have him tested to see if he was crazy? I doubt it) If he does have mental problems he would be unlikely to be treated for them by our current health care system anyway. While I believe in individual rights, this era of self-identification and self-medication for mental issues is not working very well. I don’t have a solution except we need to keep investigating how the brain functions and finding more targeted medications, like the genome treatments for cancer.

I could not find the quotes, but I am absolutely certain (because I heard them) that those other right wing crazies of the air waves (Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh) have been injecting Second Amendment paranoia into their rants for years and have been feeding people’s fears that the lefties (who they always equate with Hitler for that extra little frission of fear that this produces) want to take their guns away and leave them helpless against an increasingly tyrannical government. They can’t be saying these things just to get ratings. They must have at least a modicum of belief that these things are real. Thus it comes full circle; warned by the nuts of the right wing media (wingnuts) the brainwashed people raise their voices to protest losing their guns, which they should give up gladly (the semi automatic ones at least) in order to make the shooting gallery that America is becoming less efficient and therefore less deadly, or even just so children aren’t targets.

Although it is clear that we will have to deal with some of the other things on Mr. La Pierre’s list, gun control definitely belongs on that list and should have been included. Doesn’t Wayne La Pierre seem crazy to anyone but me and the New York Post? How about his cohorts? Surely the world is laughing at the land of the free where the will of the people is being stopped in its tracks by one old man.

Betrayed, Depressed, Broken-hearted

 
 

Yesterday, April 17, 2013, 56 people voted to consider the matter of background checks for gun purchasers which was supposed to be part of the American people’s response to gun violence in America. We now understand the new normal which says that unless there are 60 votes to take up an issue it will be considered that there is technically a filibuster against it and it will not be discussed. Enough Republicans and four Democrats came down on the nay side, so our Congress will not discuss background checks for gun purchasers or any other bill right now that might consider any gun control measures by the Federal government.

I suspected that the Senate would betray us all and betray those two Senators (Manchin, D, WV and Toomey, R, Pa) who worked so hard to create a passable bill on background checks for gun purchases and that they would betray all those grieving parents and all the other grieving parents all over America, I knew that Republican Senators had worked themselves into a frenzy of worry about losing their Second Amendment rights and about a fictitious National Gun Registry. But I am still so disappointed and heartbroken now that they have actually betrayed us all in this manner. I knew there was no hope, but apparently I was still holding on to some. I thought that surely on this one important issue we could all reach consensus. There are always plenty of reasons not to travel a difficult road even if that road may actually be a short cut to where you want to go. How defeatist is it to be unwilling to try something because it may not be 100% effective?

I had somewhat fallen for the Republican drama about how they wanted to be more inclusive and that seemed to suggest that they might be experiencing a moderating trend, however slight. I fell for it because I know how badly they want to win the Presidency in 2016. However, the things I have heard them say in recent days about gun control, immigration and women’s health issues show that the GOP is totally unprepared to moderate any of their stances on any of the issues, except to say that they would like to have more popularity among Hispanics (which is their terms for all people of Spanish heritage. I guess they believe that if they just tell Americans of Spanish heritage that the gates of the GOP (but not the country) are open to them they will flock to hang with the “elite”.

And despite all their betrayals, and their extremism, and their exclusivity they seem to be getting their way through sheer stubbornness and because they apparently have total and absolute control of the Congress of the United States. What made Republicans decide that this was their time, their moment to go after every nutty thing they have ever wanted? What made it true that this apparently is their moment? Talk about a broken-hearted nation. Talk about a broken-hearted me. It looks like we will be going “there” to the places where I do not want us to go.

In a week when our world already seems to be whirling out of control it would have helped to believe that our law makers were morphing into the intelligent professionals we thought they were when we elected them. Our only hope is to elect Democrats in 2014.

 

Be sure to read the Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords article in the New York Times from this morning:

 

Guns and Twinkies

 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about gun control and I suggested that we could ban semi-automatic weapons and large capacity clips and then keep data to see if mass killings decreased in frequency or in numbers of victims; a scientific approach. Since then America has gone on a frenzy of gun shopping, buying up every semi-automatic weapon and large capacity clip they can find (and there currently is no shortage of these items). The backlash on this is nuts and out of all proportion to the actual policies being suggested. There is also a refusal to accept the reasons why these precautions might be necessary.

This is sort of like our response to the demise of the Hostess Twinkie. We all know Twinkies aren’t really good for us. We made jokes that they have the lifespan of some plastics; that is, they stay safe to eat for a long, long time. They may even have a half-life similar to Carbon-14. The Hostess company is most likely in bankruptcy partly because we are becoming too health conscious to indulge in Twinkies. And yet the demise of the Twinkie created a buying frenzy. Suddenly everyone had to include dozens of cartons of Twinkies in their survival kit. And so it is with semi-automatic weapons. We really have nothing good to use them for, but if they are going to be unavailable we must get us some. It doesn’t help that we have had Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh preparing us for Armageddon and trying to raise up some kind of “patriot army” to fight the socialists.

So it looks like Americans have decided to protect themselves with guns, instead of by lessening the availability of guns and automatic ammo. And it looks like those pundits, whose emotional drivel convinces the American people that the government eventually intends to take away all guns and trample on the Second Amendment rights of the American people, are winning the day.

One night last week a young man knocked on the door of a couple of court officials in Colorado after midnight. They shot him. It was after midnight, and we don’t know what he did when he came to their door or why he came to their door. He obviously should not have been there and I don’t think they will be convicted of any crime. Perhaps having a gun saved their lives. I don’t know yet. However, since we have decided, as a nation, to arm ourselves and become a nation of vigilante law; since we may once again become the “wild west”, maybe this is what we need to save data on. Let’s see how it shakes out to have everyone armed and everyone scared.

I remember going to a home show once and a vendor was selling automatic steel window shutters. Push the remote button and your home is encased in steel. Things calmed down on the violence front shortly after that and I’m guessing that vendor either went out of business or does business today with a very exclusive clientele. Will our homes truly become our castles, our fortified castles with us shooting from the “battlements”? Will we all be required to defend ourselves with guns and will “stand your ground” become the rule of the day. Yes, let’s save data on what happens in America when everyone is armed and nervous. Keep a catalogue of the shootings that are merely “self-defense”. It sounds awful. It sounds like a place we don’t want to go. So why are we going there. Oh, I forgot, the NRA told us to. Twinkies anyone? (Or we could put it to a vote!)

Solving Mass Shooting Not Easy

It seems like the gun control parts of any approach to eradicating gun violence would be the most difficult to enact and enforce. However I think we will find the mental health concerns will be much more difficult to address. Individual freedom is something we set great store by in our society. We have always found the idea of any kind of mind control or behavior modification anathema. We are constantly on guard for “Big Brother”. Obviously George Orwell’s book 1984really touches a nerve in us. We may bully people who are “different”, but we will also go to great lengths to defend their right to be an individual. We like to think that we embrace a wide range of behavior as acceptable, even though we don’t.

When it comes to using psychotropic drugs to lull people into mental states that approach “normal” because these drugs deaden unacceptable mental swings or thoughts, we are torn. We like to feel safe from the psychopathic activities of people who experience strange mental aberrations and who sometimes act on them. However, there is a part of us that feels these drugs deaden the human spirit and we understand why people may go off their meds. There is an aspect of mind control involved that makes us nervous. It is difficult to decide sometimes whether someone’s antisocial behavior makes them unique and interesting, although possibly rebellious, or whether such behavior has crossed a line and signals a person who is a danger to themselves or others. We would find a government that issued “happy pills” unacceptable and for good reasons.

When we emptied out our mental institutions we did so for very good reasons. There were so many abuses against mentally ill patients. Patients were subjected to shock therapies, ice baths; they were sometimes beaten or sexually abused; sometimes they were kept so medicated that it would have been impossible for them to participate in any kind of therapy and impossible to see if their behavior was improving. Sometimes their meds killed them. New drugs made it possible to treat people as out-patients. At first drugs were paired with psychotherapy, until it was found that drugs alone could be effective. Now we have seen that these drugs are only effective if people actually take them and we have found few programs that work to ensure that people will consistently take their pills. So we are caught between a rock and hard place. We don’t think institutions work for anything other than to incarcerate the “maddest” among us and we know that just turning everyone out with meds is not making things exactly hunky-dory either. Our mental health professionals work tirelessly, I am sure, to help parents find treatment for their children and to supervise adults who slip through the net with the very large holes in it. However sad they are, homeless people with mental illnesses do not seem to be violent.

The groups we are having most difficulty with are people (and children) who are not usually classified as mentally ill. Adolescents are usually still with their parents. They may have acquired a label in school; ADHD, ADD, autistic. These labels catalog their behavior. If these children happen to be also mentally ill it may be difficult to see given their other issues. Many mental illnesses do not appear until adolescence. By this time parents have learned to protect their children and fight the system on their behalf. Their child’s behavior teaches the parent to leave them to their own devices. Some adult shooters have held jobs and/or have married. Perhaps their extreme behavior was under control until some life event set them off. These are people who target someone like an employee where they worked or their wife, and who often don’t mind some collateral damage. Yes these people may all lack social skills but they are very hard to identify before they “go off”. Our whole love of freedom, and our respect for the individual, which we preach better than practice, works against intervening until these individuals are dangerous.

Enlisting the help of parents will be essential in helping us look for young people who are losing touch with reality and who require professional assistance. I am not even sure that the state of the art treatments in the mental health field have really effective strategies for helping adolescents develop successful social skills, especially children whose mental state may be confounded by other issues like autism. Economic issues probably enter into this also. Getting parents who have decided to opt out of the system to opt back in will take a set of policies with real finesse. We don’t do finesse very well.

This is why we need to look to gun control measures for a while unless we are willing to return to treatments for the mentally ill that are a lot more coercive than what we have in place right now or unless we can create approaches that are much more compelling than what we have now. Overhauling our mental health system is not going to prove an easy task and it may turn out that we still have much to learn about helping people attain and preserve their mental health. Gun laws can be passed right away. We may not be able to enforce gun laws 100% of the time, but we may be able to enforce these laws often enough. Once again, these laws do not have to stay on the books forever. If we collect data and find that they really are not effective these laws can be overturned. We can try a mental health approach along with gun control and we should, but it may not be effective right away.

Taking a Scientific Approach to Mass Shootings

This is America. When we pass a law it does not have to be the law forever. If laws are ineffective they can be overturned later. We have a national problem. Public places in America are being turned into shooting galleries. Twenty beautiful children sitting in their elementary school classrooms were shot to death by either a madman or a poor troubled soul, whichever way you chose to look at it. Teachers and staff who expected an ordinary day of teaching children had to block bullets with their bodies. Isn’t it worth it to pass a few laws that try to address these problems?

It will cause some chaos if we ban assault weapons. People will have to part with treasured guns, they will have to tamp down fears that the American government will become tyrannical, and they may have to pursue a hobby they enjoy with slightly less freedom. Perhaps shooting clubs could store people’s assault rifles in locked spaces. There must be a solution that will allow people to possess their rifles without keeping them in their homes.

I also get the argument the NRA makes that criminals do not get guns through legal channels. I feel their fear that honest Americans without guns will be at the mercy of criminals with guns. Of course, I feel I must point out that we already are in that situation. I feel that I must also point out that on this point gun owners are exaggerating their feelings to spin their argument. They will still have handguns with which to defend themselves after all. And the longer a ban on assault rifles and multiple shot clips goes on the harder it will be for even criminals to access these weapons. Every time one is used in a crime it will. I assume, be taken off the streets and out of circulation.

Let’s talk about TV, movies and video games for a minute. If we are talking about children with good social skills these activities probably don’t lead to violent fantasies or scripts. These reality-based children understand that they are watching TV, or viewing a movie, or playing a game. But for children with poor social skills, children whose self esteem may be low, children who may feel frustrated and angry much of the time video games especially, may be the movie they run in their head when they are angry. I don’t mean to be flippant about this very serious issue, but it is sort of like when Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theorytries to blow people up with his mind. I don’t think these children, who can get a large ego boost from high scores in a game where they shoot imaginary people, are putting their anger into a red balloon and floating it away. I’m guessing that they imagine picking people off when they get angry. Teaching them to shoot a real gun with this particular movie script running in their heads when they are at their most irrational could not be a good thing.

We have to try something. Let’s try an assault gun ban again. Let’s try getting rid of most multiple clips. Let’s try it for five years or ten years. Let’s keep data on it to determine if it makes a difference. If studies done by neutral groups show no significant effect then we can overturn the laws. Let’s try throwing some more money at mental health issues and let the mental health community tell us what they believe we should try to be able to identify shooters before they go ballistic and how we can do this without stigmatizing those who know how to keep their mental issues under control and who consistently use those therapies. Again we can consider it a social experiment in which we study and tweak the approaches until they are effective at identifying those who need help and are not getting it, or until we determine that we will never be able to filter out individuals who might plot some kind of personal vengeance. We can even try armed guards at schools to see it that helps.

It is sad to see some of the nation’s gun owners acting just like these socially challenged shooters, with their threatening language and their fearful beliefs. They seem irrational and paranoid. These are adult Americans. They should be in a partnership with all of America to see if we can find a solution to this modern aberration; a solution that does not just involve arming America to the teeth. They should be honestly trying to study this along with us to see what will work. This would be the logical path to helping all Americans be more comfortable with legal gun owners. We are already beset by craziness. We need our adults, gun owners or not, to act very, very sane.

Pass the gun laws. Make sure we study the effects of the gun laws. Pass the mental health measure. Make sure we understand the strategies the mental health industry will employ and that we study their effects also. Let’s try to identify children who lack social skills. Let’s try to find out why they are missing these skills. Let’s develop strategies to help children improve their social skills. If parents are over-protective of children with mental or social difficulties let’s develop strategies for intervention. Let’s please try these measures for a time, discard them if they don’t work, and try new measures until we get it right. And let’s come up with some creative video games that offer the same ego boost as shooting games but have a more positive goal than racking up body counts.

The NRA-How Disappointing, How Predictable

Before we heard the NRA leadership speak up on Friday it sounded as if they were humbled by the events in Newtown, CT but when they spoke on television in that very odd media event, on the last day in the Mayan calendar, they were not in the least apologetic. Now I understand why guys like to use the phrase “double down” so much because that is exactly what the NRA did. “The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” they said. I am not sure this would past the tests of logic, or that if a Venn drawing were made of this statement, it would be at all accurate. Let me just mention two possibilities that are not considered in this tautology: 1) if the gun was not available in the first place the bad guy would not have the gun, and, 2) If the bad guy happened to be a mentally ill young person mental health intervention might prevent the act of desperation. The media is reminding us that there was an armed guard at Columbine and he was unable to stop the killers.

The NRA recommended a National Shield Program for schools which would place a security guard with a gun in every school. They showed no interest in limiting the kinds of guns available to citizens or limiting the availability of clips containing large numbers of bullets. They insist that we need these guns to keep our government honest and to dissolve our government should it become necessary. That certainly is the intent of the Constitution, although after seeing some of the radical ideas held by some of my fellow Americans I fear that it would be possible for a small minority to cause an inordinate amount of grief if they so chose, and it seems possible that they could so choose at any moment. Our country is a lot bigger than it was when the Constitution was written, with a much larger population and more lethal weapons.

The NRA made a scathing argument against violent video games, music, and movies without so much as one consideration for another Constitutional guarantee which is often cited by those who create these kinds of items, a guarantee known as the Freedom of Speech amendment which is every bit as difficult to like when it is used to protect things we don’t like or which we don’t think are healthy influences in our society.

I do not believe that we are free to harm each other. We hold to the ideals of the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, not just for some. Even in a free society freedom is not absolute. When we own a house we are admonished that we hold it for purposes of quiet enjoyment. We are always asked to be mindful of our neighbors. No one is suggesting banning all guns. Hunters and gun enthusiasts will be able to possess their guns as long as they are responsible and keep their guns safe. Limiting guns that fire large multiples of bullets without reloading seems perfectly reasonable but not when you propose it to a group of people who are anything but reasonable.

The NRA must believe that they alone know how to read the Constitution, that they have a direct line to the forefathers because they defend all gun ownership with belligerent inflexibility. If they need guns to defend themselves in the event that our government turns totalitarian then why not just bury a cache in the backyard and be done with it. Twenty, six and seven year old children died, hundreds of children have been traumatized by witnessing these incomprehensible assassinations.

Who does the NRA remind me of? They remind me of the Republicans who refuse to raise any taxes. By refusing to bend they have a control over the American dialogue about guns which is totalitarian in nature and contrary to the very freedom they say they are trying to protect. The NRA is as extreme and out-of-control as those extremists in the Republican Party and they raise my hackles in exactly the same way. I just can’t listen to them without getting angry because I know that they do not want a dialogue about anything. They just want to have their way. The oxymoron inherent in this authoritarian approach to freedom should be obvious to everyone. And yet, in spite of everything I think I know about the NRA and despite how important I feel it is to end their control of America’s gun discussion, I bet we will find that we cannot budge this group of extremists and that is a sad state of affairs. I hope this impasse will someday be breached.

 

We Need a New Approach to Mental Illness

The NRA is so powerful that we cannot approach this trend of theatrical crimes (no pun intended) against unarmed and helpless groups by restricting access to guns, even though these guns are being used against people who are captive in the sense that they are collected in a certain public environment at the moment the horrible drama is enacted. There can be little doubt that to certain people in our culture these criminals become heroes so that these murderers are, in a sense, competing with each other to “make a better movie”. I wish we weren’t quite so free with our guns, but we will not be allowed to solve this situation from a gun control angle.
In many science fiction books authors describe a future when we no longer meet in public spaces; we live in small cells with our technology and communicate only through electronics. This may evolve through a fear of contagious diseases, or because a totalitarian state wants to hold on to control and prevent revolution or because people lose their desire to communicate face to face. Well the kinds of violent ‘deathcraft’ undertaken lately on too many occasions (since one is too many) are just the ticket to make a future of isolation seem attractive. If we want to maintain a society that includes enjoying entertainment in person at public venues we need to approach this problem somehow.
As far as I can remember, every one of these “death eaters” who survived and was taken into custody has been shown to be in a state of mental disorder or to have a mental illness. What we need to do, so that we are not constantly grieving and constantly fearful, is to take a new look at how we are treating the matter of mental illness in America these days. Obviously, in these enlightened times, we cannot return to the days when we put everyone in a mental institution for warehousing and possible treatment. But neither should we just be turning people out on the streets with a handful of psychotropic drugs when they have symptoms that will derail their lives and possibly the lives of others if they do not stay on their meds. These meds are not perfect. They have unpleasant side effects, often dampening the ability to experience a range of emotions, and sometimes other physical side effects. Many people with a mental illness may not be responsible enough to take their meds and to keep taking them day in and day out.
We do need a way to remove mentally ill people from the public arena when they prove they will not and cannot take their medications. We do need to work harder to identify mentally ill people who are flying under the radar and to decide if the particular type and degree of mental illness they manifest could be a danger. I am not at all sure how we will accomplish this in a society that reveres freedom. Does safety trump freedom? The parents of this most recent ‘player of reality death games’ apparently knew their son had mental problems. Somewhere between the two extremes of institutionalization and sending mentally ill people off into the streets with a gentle push, there lies a better approach to mental illness in America. Perhaps the experts can convene a conference to look at this subject and send some proposals our way that might help us deal with mentally ill people who will not get treatment or stay on their medications. We have spent way too many days watching the sad outcomes of these terrible attacks in the past decade or two.