Category Archives: US Politics

A watershed moment that goes far beyond LGBT issues


Supreme Court

June 26, 2015 is a date that will go down in history. On this date the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage across the whole country. This is a great victory for the LGBT community. But even more, it is a watershed moment in the campaign for religious liberty. This decision represents a severe blow to the religious right who would seek to impose its religious beliefs and morality upon the rest of us by force of law.

In 2008 the right to same-sex marriage in California was affirmed by the courts. In response to this development, the Catholics and the Mormons teamed up in an odd and unholy alliance to create and promote Proposition 8. Such politicking by tax-exempt religious groups was done in defiance of federal laws, and in violation of the their 501(c)3 status. The Proposition 8 campaign was successful, resulting in the elimination of same-sex marriage in California once again. But in the larger picture this campaign became a lightning rod for gay rights across the country. Proposition 8 energized the movement for gay rights and eventually lead to this watershed moment in our history.

Today’s Supreme Court’s decision is a smack down of biblical fundamentalist, and of self-appointed right-wing religious organizations that claim to speak for God in all matters of public morality. It is a total smack down of the Catholic Church and its self-appointed role of society’s moral guardian and rule maker for all forms of gender roles, sexual expression, and reproductive rights.

The Supreme Court’s rejection of the tyranny of the religious right will have ripple effects far beyond the LGBT community. It will hinder the fundamentalists attempt to replace science in our schools with their own religious mythology.

It will eventually cause us to remove the Ten Commandments and other religious documents from our court houses and public chambers. As a pastor I can tell you that the Ten Commandments is a totally cultic expression of faith that has no place in American civil government. The First Commandment, “You shall have no other Gods before me,” is in direct opposition to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

America is not a Christian nation. Christianity came to America as a colonizing force, destroying native cultures and religious traditions. Those Christians coming from Europe were religious dissidents, seeking freedom to live and worship in America as they chose after having endured centuries of religious warfare and persecution in Europe. Christians do not own the country. We are a pluralistic society representing many walks of faith journeys, and people with no spiritual journey at all. The Judeo-Christian Bible does not speak to the breadth of all of our religious traditions. And even within the Christian tradition there are many interpretations. I resent it deeply when anyone tries to impose their understanding of the scriptures upon me as if they speak for God. And, as a Christian I refuse to accept that Christianity has as its core values ignorance, bigotry, hatred and fanaticism as many vocal so-called “Christians” would have us believe.

America belongs to all of us. We are Christians, Jews, Wiccans, Buddhists, Muslims, and Sikhs. We are the religious, irreligious, atheist and agnostic. We are blacks and whites and browns. We are the athletic, the able-bodied, and those with special needs. We are young and old, healthy, sick and injured, and those facing death. We are straight and gay. We are stupid and smart, ignorant and educated, wise and foolish. We are rich and poor. We are all a part of this great nation. The Fourteenth Amendment gave equal rights to all. And no preacher or politician can ever change that basic truth.

Ted Cruz and Liberty University


 

Ted Cruz

 

 

I cannot imagine a more appropriate place for Ted Cruz to announce his candidacy for the President of the Unites States than the infamous Liberty University. Liberty University was founded by Jerry Falwell, the poster boy for religious tyranny and oppression. Falwell was the wannabe fundamentalist Ayatollah of America.

But even more than that, this so-called university teaches creationism. It claims that the world is 6,000 years old, and its creationist museum teaches that all surviving land animals descended from Noah’s Ark. Is it any wonder that Cruz is so proud of his ignorance in the natural sciences?

And, of course, is Cruz’s politics. He takes great pride in shutting down the federal government, and in trying to defund the Department of Homeland Security as punishment for Obama, and at a time when the ISIS threat and a slew of home-grown terrorist acts are on the rise.

Are there not any normal people left in the Republican Party? Why do their string of candidates look like a clown-car parade?

The surefire formula for economic recovery


divided world

There is a simple and guaranteed way to grow the economy in such a way that it truly lifts all boats, providing increased wealth for rich and poor alike.

1) Increase the size and purchasing power of the middle class: Our economy 70% driven by consumer spending. As the middle class sees an increase in purchasing power they end up buying new tires, refrigerators, and clothing. They are more apt to go out to dinner, a movie, or to take a vacation. This puts more money in circulation and creates increased economic activity. Henry Ford knew that he needed to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars that they build.

2) Expand the size of the working class: This means more people with money to spend. This comes from an increase in minimum wage, making food stamps more available. The economic impact of an extra dollar in food stamps issued creates an additional $1.50 in economic activity. By contrast, an extra dollar spent on giving tax breaks to the already wealthy generates only $0.30 in increased economic activity.

3) Spend money on infrastructure projects: In the 1950’s President Eisenhower brought the concept of the German autobahns to America. This boom in construction spending and infrastructure enhancement launched a tremendous growth spurt that lasted for decades. Imaging where we would be without our Interstate highway system. Now our roads, bridges, levies, public buildings, harbors and airports are becoming more and more outdated and run down. Countries like South Korea are way ahead of us in such measures as high speed Internet, ship building facilities, and much more. Can we really afford to become a third-rate economic power?

4) Invest in basic research. The Large Hadron Collider in Europe is the “moon shot” of the 21st Century. Why did we not do this? The reason is simply that Congress refused to provide the funding. The US lead space race in the 1960’s lead to the birth of the computer-cell phone-GPS-Internet culture that has transformed our world. This technological revolution is perhaps even more profound in human history than the creation of writing or the invention of the printing press.

5) Educate our people: One of the great advances of the US was our free public education system. Now we are cutting funds for education at all levels, and strangling college students with unbearable debt loads. It is tragic that we now have more prisons than colleges. Education is not an extravagance but an investment in our nation’s future. What is education except our investment in our human capital? Education is more than just schools and colleges. It is also early childhood education, adult classes, PBS and NPR, libraries, and museums. It is observatories and planetariums (or planetaria for Latin scholars). It is symphonies and ballet companies and live theater. Education is a life-long endeavor without bounds.

Celebrity Status and Human Worth


Cosmologist and Science Educator

Cosmologist and Science Educator

America has a very weird way of lifting up the most absurd celebrities.  Justin Bieber was just busted for street racing while drunk and on drugs.  Bieber is also facing felony vandalism charges for an earlier episode where he vandalized a neighbor’s house.

Dennis Rodman just got back from North Korea where he practically gave a lap dance to his “best buddy” Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Un is the most deranged and oppressive tyrant on the planet. Rodman refused to do anything to encourage North Korea to release of Kenneth Bae.  Rodman said that he was in North Korea to play basketball, not to dabble in politics.  In a CNN interview Rodman even seemed to accuse Bae of crimes against North Korea, and implied that North Korea was justified in holding him.  But research in to Bae’s alleged crime would seem to suggest that Bae’s only crime was to carry a Bible.

We are fascinated by the rich, the famous, the outlandish, and the miscreants.  We track their movement in and out of jail and rehab with intense interest.  Prince Harry can party naked in Las Vegas or dress up in a Nazi SS uniform.  His great-grandfather King George VI, who lead the British fight against the Nazis, must have spun in his grave.

What is wrong with these people and what is wrong with us for being their cult followers?

Let us select and follow celebrities who live lives worth living.  Let us celebrate scientist like Neil deGrasse Tyson who are extending our scientific knowledge.  Tyson is also teaching the masses to appreciate the wonders of the universe.  Let us celebrate people like Jane Goodall for connecting us with nature and working to save endangered species, or Al Gore, who is and trying to save the planet from environmental destruction.  Let us celebrate thoughtful commentators like Bill Moyers or Fareed  Zakaria whose profound insights give us a window on the world and what is happening around us.  Let us celebrate novelists like Jean Auel, who helped illumine our human prehistory through her Clan of the Cave Bear series. Through this series Auel  helps us to understand what it is to be human.

Let us celebrate those who feed the hungry, make great medical advances, those who seek to create sustainable economic systems that can sustain us all into the future, those who work with disaster victims and refugees.

Let us celebrate those who work for peace, for the end of tyranny, violence and oppression.  For those who will work for tolerance in a world full of racial, ethnic, economic and cultural divides.  Let us celebrate those who work to end violence against women, and all the oppression and dehumanization of women because of their gender.

It does not matter what your career or walk of life.  There are actors and rock stars that are great humanitarians, and others that are totally self-absorbed.  Some spend their wealth and celebrity in serving the downtrodden, while the others spend their time in endless hedonism and debauchery without a care in the world.

It does not matter whether you are rich or poor.  It is no great honor to be rich.  Many people became rich through disreputable means.  They do not deserve our honor.  Others became rich by doing great things, inventing new industries, addressing great needs, and making our world a better place to live in many ways.

Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall

Donald Trump may be a billionaire but he is not worth a damn.  The Donald has often been accused of racism.  His political rants , such as his ongoing  “birther” campaign against Obama long after the issue had been settled, make him the laughing-stock of all thinking people.  He is clearly in the game for his own power, wealth and ego.

Author of "Clan of the Cave Bear" series

Author of “Clan of the Cave Bear” series

But others, such as Bill Gates have become world-class philanthropists, using not only their great wealth, but also their global vision, business savvy, and management skills to improve the world.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working to eradicate polio, fight the AIDS epidemic, and to create a viable economic system in West Africa, one of the poorest regions of the earth.

The measure of life is not in our acquisitions, whether our treasure be in the form of wealth, power, or fame.  The measure of life is not in our acquisitions but in our contributions.

The Litmus Test for Public Office


EVOLUTION

The litmus test for public office should include one simple concept, namely the belief in evolution.  We live in an age where the denial of scientific fact is rampant.  We live in an age when Republicans do not seem to believe in science at all.  They do not believe in evolution, global warming, stem cell research, or birth control.  The Bush 43 White House was known for its bad science.  It took climate studies and had them “spun” by oil industry lobbyists.  It opposed stem cell research and the distribution of condoms in Africa to quell the AIDS epidemic.

It does not matter if a candidate is running for a local school board or for President of the United States.  We cannot afford to have ignorant, backward people in either position.  Evolution is a matter of scientific fact.  It cannot be voted on in a school board meeting or a state legislature.  Just as we do not vote as to whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa, evolution is not dependent upon public opinion or any sort of vote.

Science is radically skeptical and self-correcting.  If a scientist proposes a false hypothesis, other scientists will review it and either support it, refute it, or offer an alternative explanation.  The test of scientific understanding is in the laboratory and not in the political arena.

Evolution is as real as gravity.  It has survived 150 years of scientific scrutiny.  Everything in the universe evolves.  Stars, planets and even galaxies are born, evolve, and eventually die.  Even the very atoms of our bodies were created in super nova explosions of dying stars. Planets are created and some become habitable for life.  Live evolves from the most simple single cell live forms into greater and greater complexity as time goes on.  From our one known example it appears to take about 4.5 billion years for a planet to spawn a civilization.

Saying that we do not fully understand evolution is no excuse to reject it, because the same thing could be said about gravity.  Even after Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, there is still much about gravity that we do not understand.  And yet we know that it is real.

The rejection of evolution is possible only through the most willful ignorance.  That is not a quality that we need in our elected leaders.  If a candidate is ignorant about evolution, then we could rightfully expect that they are ignorant about a host of other subjects as well, from history to economics to human behavior.

The rejection of evolution is rooted in the preference for ancient religious mythology over scientific fact.  I say that not as some sort of atheist or radical secularist, but as a confessing Christian and a pastor.

The biblical world view was of a flat surface covered by a dome, like a dinner plate covered by a large, inverted salad bowl.  The dome was called the “firmament.” Those who reject evolution on religious grounds ought logically to affirm the “flat earth” theory deny that the earth is round.

Galileo proclaimed that the earth revolved around the sun.  His views were attacked by the church as “unchristian” for the next 350 years.  We can be pretty sure that Galileo was right.  We use Galileo’s architecture of the solar system to send space probes to Jupiter, Saturn and beyond.

Stem cell research promises an extraordinary advance in human health and quality of life.  It ought not to be stymied by narrow-minded religious bigotry.  Imagine a time when the paralyzed walk again through spinal regeneration and the blind see through newly regrown eyes and optic nerves.  Diseased hearts, kidneys and livers will be regenerated by stem cell injections.

We are currently discovering that the LGBT community is a threat to the established order.  Nor are they a singularly heinous class of sinners as many so-called Christians would have us believe.  Rather, they are simply diverse groups of people wanting to live out their lives according to their created sexuality.  Gay bashing is neither a Christian virtue nor a family value.  It is not an expression of religious devotion but rather a persecution of those who are different.

Global warming is real.  It is affirmed by over 95% of scientists working on climate issues.  The ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, Greenland and the Tibetan plateau is melting at an ever-increasing rate. The long-sought Northwest Passage is now open for navigation. I expect that within my life time it will be possible to take a cruise ship to the North Pole.

We are in the midst of the worst extinction event in 65 million years.  Global weather patterns are getting progressively more disturbed and destructive.  We are seeing catastrophic hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires on a planetary scale.  How long before our food supply dwindles or fresh water becomes more valuable than oil?

We need leadership that has a 21st Century worldview.  We need leadership that is well-educated and enlightened, and at home in the modern world. We need leadership that is fluent in science and can understand and respect what science is telling us.  We need leadership that is grounded in scientific fact, knowledge, logic and critical thinking.

 

A well regulated society


 

 

constitution_thumb_295_dark_gray_bgThe Preamble to the Constitution of the United States decrees that one role of government is to insure domestic tranquility. That stated purpose demands a well-regulated society.  For it is only in a well-regulated society that we can secure a state of domestic tranquility.

Libertarian and Tea-Publicans stress absolute freedom or the ability to act without government intervention.  But when you look closer at what they are demanding it seems more like anarchy.  If everyone is totally free to carry on as they choose there can be no domestic tranquility, no civil order, no peace or security for any of our citizens.

Deregulation of commerce is tantamount to giving the zoo keys to the predators.  Corporations would be free to pillage plunder, loot, and pollute.  The face of deregulation can be best seen in West, Texas, where an explosion in a fertilizer factory took the lives of fifteen people and destroyed fifty homes.  Regulations are necessary to insure public safety, worker safety, environmental protection, and a host of other protections required by a well-regulated society.

Because of inadequate regulation in West, Texas, people died needlessly.  There will be an increase in human suffering and misery beyond all accounting.  Under deregulation the rich get richer and more unrestrained while the rest of us are forced to suffer the consequence.

Over regulation can stifle business enterprises, personal freedoms and initiative.  But under regulation can cause endless human misery.  The question is not whether to regulate or not.  The question is how to achieve an optimal level of regulations that will provide security for all without stifling personal initiative.

There have been three economic collapses in the U.S. in the past few decades, each costing trillions of dollars to the 99% while increasing the wealth of the financial elite.  The first was the collapse of the savings and loan industry under President Reagan.  This was due directly to the Reagan doctrine of deregulation. The second was the collapse of the financial markets in 2001 caused by the virtual abandonment of financial regulatory efforts by the Security and Exchange Commission.  The third was the collapse of the mortgage industry in 2008 caused by deregulation of the mortgage industry.  Many in Wall Street made hundreds of millions from shady deals and outrageous greed while trillions of dollars of our wealth were destroyed.

We need a semblance of order.  We need a level playing field where the rights of all are treated with dignity and respect.  Does anyone really want to see a society where tobacco companies could pass out free cigarettes to school children, or where grocery stores are allowed to sell tainted food?  Does anyone want to return to the “snake oil” medicines of the frontier days?  Does anyone want to live in a nation where consumer fraud is rampant, or where unsafe products abound?  Does anyone want to live in filthy air caused by unregulated emissions or to drink water full of carcinogens discharged from chemical plants?

True freedom is not the ability to act without restraint.  Rather, true freedom is protection from the potential damage caused by other people acting without restraint.  I would not want my neighbors to drive drunk or stoned, to operate an auto salvage operation in their driveway, or to hold wild, noisy, out-of-control parties in the wee hours of the morning.

True freedom is the ability to live in a well-regulated society where there is safety, security, justice and domestic tranquility for all.

Our First and Second Amendment Rights


Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_AC

 

Restraint of our First and Second Amendment Rights

First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Even though we have freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, here are some of the restrictions on our First Amendment rights.  None of the rights given to American citizens under the Bill or Rights are absolute or unrestrained. Here are some of the things that we are not permitted to do.

FREEDOM OF RELIGION

  • Engage in ritual human sacrifice (virgin or otherwise)
  • Stone anyone to death for sinning
  • Engage in any hate crimes based on the victims religious background or beliefs
  • Discriminate against anyone based upon their religious background or beliefs
  • Force anyone to convert to your religious preferences
  • Wage any sort of holy war against those whose beliefs differ from your own.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH

  • Lie under oath
  • File a false police report or give false information to police
  • Commit fraud or extortion
  • Claim immunity from libel or slander
  • Yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater
  • Engage in false advertising or false labeling
  • Make bomb threats
  • Threaten the life or safety of any individual for any reason

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

  • Start or Join in a riot
  • Join any criminal conspiracy
  • Join any organization intent upon the destruction of the government

Now, let us think about how this notion applies to the Second Amendment.

Second Amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. 

Can anyone seriously argue that the right to bear arms does not come with similar restrictions?

THE ROMAN CHURCH AND MARITAL INTIMACY


RC Bishops

THE ROMAN CHURCH AND MARITAL INTIMACY

If the Roman Catholic Church really wanted to strengthen marriage, as it says is does, the first step would be to allow married couples to make love freely and as often as they so desire.  There should be no rules constraining that joyous intimacy and no fear of unwanted pregnancies.

A celibate priesthood cannot begin to understand the bonds of love that are created by the powerful and joyous encounter of marital intimacy.

The impact of lovemaking is vastly larger than its utilitarian function of mere procreation.  If a married couple makes love an average of three times per week over forty years, they will make love six thousand two hundred and forty times (assuming that the predominance of those intimate embraces will have occurred in the couple’s younger years.).   And from that love-making the couple will have produced an average of 2.1 offspring.  This could best be understood as one successful conception for every three thousand joyous encounters.

I think of my current marriage.  My wife and I married in our late fifties.  We fell in love and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together in intimate partnership.  There was no chance of procreation.  There was some child rearing involved as I still had a minor child from a previous marriage, but that is a different issue.  I cannot understand why the same opportunity should not be available for same-sex couples as well.

If marriage is only about procreation, then couples seeking to be married should be required to prove their fertility.  And then, if there are no offspring within a certain time frame, i.e. five years, the marriage should be annulled.

As the church so erroneously believes that sex is to be reserved only for procreative purposes, it also prohibits any sexual expression for the single, the GLBT community.

Sexuality is God’s gift to us all.  It is given to young and old, gay and straight, married and unmarried.  How strange it is that a church would make the suppression of sexuality to be seemingly its highest aim.  Should not the church focus its energies and its efforts elsewhere?

Should not the Church of Rome spend its spiritual capital where it could do more good?  Are there not injustices to overcome?  Is there not poverty and oppression?  Is the world not filled with violence, and particularly violence against women?  Are children not dying of preventable diseases, most of them water-borne do to a global lack of clean water and sanitation facilities?  Is there not slavery and human trafficking in the modern world?  Are we not destroying the planet by plundering its resources as if there were no tomorrow?

Does not the Roman Church have any better place to focus its time, energy and spiritual capital than in its futile attempts to restrain the expression of sexual love?  The Roman Church continues to make itself more and more irrelevant as it continues its backwards march into the Fifteenth Century.

Today in Europe, there are more Muslims in the mosques on Friday nights than there are Catholics in mass on Sunday mornings.

Something has to change.

The Use of Assault Weapons


English: PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 12, 2011) Aviatio...

English: PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 12, 2011) Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Aaron Walters, from Clovis, Calif., fires an M-16A2 assault rifle during a weapons qualification aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Crossley/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Assault Weapons

The cacophony of the gun debate has been escalating since Sandy Hook.  This hit an apex with Alex Jones appearance on the Piers Morgan show on CNN.  Jones acted like a rabid animal, screaming abuse and rage.  This is a man owns fifty guns, but on that day what he really needed was a straitjacket.

Why does anyone need a military style assault rifle?

It is hard to conceive that a civilian needs a military style assault rifle under any normal circumstances.  There is no need to pump thirty or even a hundred rounds into a deer.  So why are these weapons so popular?  I can come up with only two reasons to own an assault rifle:  to deal with extreme situations of civil unrest, and to wage war on the government.

Let’s start with civil unrest.  In 1992 during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, there were shopkeepers on the roofs of their shops with assault rifles to protect their property from rioters and looters.  This was a seemingly defensive use of these weapons during a time when the police were powerless because of the state of civil unrest.

Widespread looting, assault, arson and murder occurred during the riots, and estimates of property damage topped one billion dollars. The rioting ended after soldiers from the California Army National Guard, along with U.S. Marines from Camp Pendleton were called in to stop the rioting. In total 53 people were killed during the riots and over two thousand people were injured.

  “1992 Los Angeles Riots.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Sept. 2013. Web. 09 Jan. 2013.

The problem with using assault rifles to defend private property is that it could lead to an escalating arms race.  Instead of defending their shops against rioters throwing rocks and bottles, the shopkeepers could have  faced rioters armed with assault weapons.  Do we then need rocket-propelled grenades (RPG’s) to defend against assault rifles?

There are other times of extreme civil unrest where an assault rifle would come in handy.  In the event of a major disaster people may need to seek survival shelters.  Such a disaster could be anything from a nuclear blast to an asteroid impact.

Anyone with a survival shelter will need weapons to defend it from encroachment.  Any survival shelter will have limited supplies of food, water, energy and other necessities.  An influx of outsiders would metaphorically swamp the lifeboat.  This again raises the threat of an arms race.  If everyone owns assault rifles, then we could expect to see roving bands of heavily armed desperadoes who would stop at nothing to find shelter and supplies.

The second use of assault weapons would seem to be the ability to wage war on the government.  Scratch a gun extremist and you are likely to find an anarchist under the skin.  Much of the rhetoric of the extremist gun crowd seems to be about why we need guns to keep the government at bay.

These folks would like to return to the days of the old west, where disputes were settled by six shooters.  If someone wrongs you; do not take him to court; just shoot him.  And, if the sheriff shows up just shoot him too.

When you listen to the rhetoric of the extremists among the gun advocates, it is clear that they want their weapons in part to prevent any tyranny by the government.  So, if the government passes any law, regulation or tax that these extremists do not support, they feel that they have the right to oppose the government by means of deadly force if necessary.

While American history is full of anarchical sentiments, the Second Amendment had a much different purpose.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

During the Revolutionary War, General Washington did not have a standing army to command, but only a collection of local militias.  It was the legal obligation of every able-bodied man to own a rifle, and to use it in the defense of the nation. The country did not want to have a standing army due to the potential for tyranny that such a standing army could represent.  Militias in the Eighteenth Century were the only way to provide for the common defense of the nation.

Thus, the purpose of the Second Amendment was not to arm civilians against the government, but rather, to arm citizens for the defense of the nation.

If we believe that citizens have the right to wage war against the government then we would have no government at all.  We would become a failed state such as Somalia or Columbia wherein unelected warlords usurp the functions of government and enslave and tyranize the citizenry.

America’s Gun Violence


Cowboy Gun

America’s Gun Violence

Let’s start with the fact that there are 300 million guns in the US, or almost one gun for every man, woman and child.  There have been thirteen mass killings using guns in 2012, and the year is not even over yet.

UPDATE:  There have now been FOURTEEN mass shootings in the US in 2012, and the year STILL is not over.

Even the NRA is now proposing “solutions” to this crisis and I am glad that they are!  We need to come together in civil discourse to discuss solutions, welcoming all parties so that somehow we can get beyond the partisan bickering and break the impasse of gun violence.

This is a complex problem with many facets.  There are no easy answers or bumper sticker solutions.  Solving this problem will take a mutual effort and the willingness for everyone to give up their “talking points” for the broader public good.

Gun Toting-Vigilantes

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA has said that a good guy with a gun is the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun.  If only the world were that cut-and-dried, with good guys wearing white hats and bad guys wearing black hats.

Think about the Trayvon Martin case.  Here, the “good guy” is out on neighborhood watch, protecting his neighborhood from the “bad guys”, meaning African-American teen-aged boys. The tragic result of George Zimmerman’s vigilante justice was the death of a seventeen-year-old boy whose only crime was to go to the store to buy some Skittles while wearing a hoodie.

Zimmerman’s defense is now that Martin attacked him, and he shot Martin in self-defense.  This is to suggest somehow that Martin had no right to defend himself from the gun-toting thug who was stalking him.  Now, could someone please tell me who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” and how are we supposed to tell the difference in a life-and-death situation?

Neighborhood Watch programs were designed to be extra eyes and ears for the Police Department.  There is nothing in this program to justify gun-toting vigilantes.  While some would argue that Zimmerman had the right to carry a gun on the street, no-one would suggest that he had any rights to make demands upon his victim, such as ordering him to halt.  He had no right to accost him, to question him, or to engage him in any non-consensual manner.  Is it any surprise, then, that Martin tried to fight him off?  And did not Martin have the right to use any force to repel his attacker?  What is clear to everyone is that if only Zimmerman had stayed in his truck, Martin would still be alive.

If we say that we want to be protected by gun-toting vigilantes, then how do we make sure that these people are qualified?  Should we require that they undergo police academy style weapons training?  Do we insist that they have continuous weapons training including target practice?  Without such training it is easy to see that these people would be a menace to society, and not a source of protection.

There was a recent episode in New York City where the police showed up to deal with a shooting.  The police ended up wounding nine innocent bystanders.  If the police do this much collateral damage, then just think how much damage could be done by untrained, undisciplined, gun-toting vigilantes.

We can envision a lock-down incident in a school.  The principal retrieves a gun from a locked cabinet in the school office.  The principal breaks the shrink-wrap on the box, pulls the gun out and starts reading the instructions.  The next step would be to find ammunition for the gun (stored in another locked cabinet for safety reasons).  Then, the principal would try to figure out how to load and fire the weapon.  When you think about it, this person is probably not the person that we want defending the school.

Now, imagine the situation at the Aurora Colorado shootings.  The theater is dark except for the light from the screen.  The movie soundtrack is full of gun shots and explosions.  Then the gunman enters and throws smoke bombs.  At first the audience thinks that the real violence is simply enhanced movie violence.  A few pro-gun folks have told me that what was needed was a few dozen armed vigilantes in the theater to stop the killer.  But it is hard for me to believe that this would actually be helpful.  Given the smoke and the darkness and the violent movie setting, the thought of more guns joining in the mayhem would seem only to increase the death toll, not to limit it.

Psychological Screening

One solution that everyone seems to agree about is that we need to keep guns away from crazy people.  No-one would disagree with that.  The problem is, however, how to we decide who is too crazy to own or have access to a gun?  Just like the “good guy” “bad guy” debate, it is not obvious at all who should be allowed access to guns.

The simple truth is that most of the recent shootings have been carried out by people with no criminal or psychiatric record that would preclude them from owning guns.  But just because a person has not yet been convicted of a serious crime, or been confined to a mental hospital, does not mean that they are fit to own and handle guns.

There are countless people out there who are unstable, deranged, or otherwise mentally impaired.  Some are psychologically withdrawn; others have violent tempers.  There are racists, misogynists, homophobes, psychopaths, sociopaths, and a host of others who are a menace to society. There are criminals who have not yet been caught, and hence have no criminal records. There are terrorists motivated by politics, ideology, ethnicity, tribalism or other special group affiliations.  Meth addicts or other types of drug abusers can create extreme mayhem without warning.  We know that drunk drivers can wreak havoc on the roads.  Imagine a drunk with a grudge and a handgun and the damage that she or he could do.

Even “good guys” can snap.  They might be facing unbearable stress such as a loss of employment, or finding out that their partner is having an affair.  Or perhaps they are having a reaction to their medications.  Toxins, chemicals, allergic reactions, viruses, and some bacteria such as syphilis can affect the mental health of even the most stable of persons.  Something as common as diabetes can cause severe mood swings, violent outbursts, and even a condition resembling a drunken stupor.

I am sure that most of us could find five or six of our friends to vouch for our character and mental stability, but that would not make us safe.  The simple truth is that all of us are nuts, or at least all of us are vulnerable to going nuts.

In the Sandy Hook case, the shooter was using his mother’s weapons.  So, even if the shooter could have been stopped from buying guns, there would be no way of stopping him from acquiring guns from friends or family members.

All of this is to suggest that there is no practical method of keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people.