Grasping Thorns

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn Should never crave the rose." ― A. Brontë

Month: January, 2013

Anti-gun control arguments that are despicable, sad and just plain wrong: A Top 5 List

I have some catching up to do. I’ve been hard at work on a writing project, and my normal administrative and teaching duties, so I’ve neglected my advocacy work, or at least the advocacy work that pertains to blog writing. Teaching critical reading and rhetoric in freshman English has become a type of advocacy work in itself, especially with its new information literacy focus, as illustrated in the example below (from class this week):

I told my students to bring in an article or political cartoon on either side of the gun control debate, and then I asked them to identify a claim and check the info to make sure it was legit.

I said again, as I always do, that the classroom is a safe place for a variety of viewpoints, so they can argue whatever they choose, but they must make sure that they’re making a responsible argument based on fact.

One student, who I happen to like very much (great contributor in class discussion and always walks me back to my office from class) brought in a political cartoon with an image of President Obama using an “executive action” pen to sign into law an assault weapons ban, and insisted that the President did this. When he went to find proof, he pulled up this “factual statement” on an NRA member’s blog.

I explained that he needed to go to and read the actual speech, as the primary source.

He was shocked. “Huh!,” he said, “but I did find something on the Internet saying ‘the executive action against assault weapons’ thing was true . . .”

Me: “Dude: you can buy unicorn blood on the Internet.” [see above]

Teaching day: successful.

Blog writing (as a form of advocacy via the Internet) is important too, though, since the entire world, it seems, sometimes needs a lesson in critical reading, rhetorical analysis and information literary. To that end, here are the top five anti-gun control arguments I’ve come across the past two weeks that are despicable, sad and just plain wrong:

5. (in order of least to most despicable): Thomas Sowell’s “Gun-Control Ignorance” published in National Review.

I’ve used articles from National Review before, when I teach current issues, because the articles are for the most part well-written. In this particular piece, though, Sowell makes a number of irresponsible and misleading claims, such as:

(a) his insistence that there are “many factual studies” suggesting that gun control laws do not decrease gun violence, despite the fact that he only mentions one: the Washington DC handgun ban which was largely ineffective, because it worked on a state rather than federal level (i.e. people unable to buy handguns in DC simply crossed over to Maryland and Virginia — we have increased handgun sales records to prove this);

(b) his attempt to draw direct links, such as: “The rate of gun ownership is higher in rural areas than in urban areas, but the murder rate is higher in urban areas.” Dear Mr. Sowell: perhaps the murder rate is higher in urban areas . . . because there are more people. He tries to draw other direct links between race and gun violence, which ignores socioeconomic status, and crime in Britain vs. the US, rather than gun deaths in Britain vs. the US (sorry but I’m more concerned with mass shootings than theft);

(c) his use of the trite “Guns are not the problem. People are the problem,” to which he adds, “including people who are determined to push gun-control laws, either in ignorance of the facts or in defiance of the facts.” Dear Mr. Sowell: here are a few examples of you ignoring or defying the facts in this particular piece . . . you move into a vague discussion of murder rates in a few other countries (Mexico is one) with stricter gun control laws than the US without considering how well those gun control laws are enforced . . . nor that Mexico (to continue with that example) is in the middle of a drug war. So, Mr. Sowell, you may find a (questionable)  exception or two, but as Max Fisher says, “[M]ake no mistake: For a rich, developed country, the U.S. gun-related homicide rate is very, very high.” We’ve already tried the “more guns” solution; let’s try the less.

4. The guns and hammers meme: This meme, which suggests more people have been killed by hammers than assault rifles, was highlighted on several of my more conservative friends’ Facebook pages, and it tries really, really hard to be credible (e.g. “FBI 2011 crime reports verify the numbers“).

This ad is persuasive, maybe, until you actually click on the link to the FBI 2011 crime report statistics. The 323 gun deaths are lower than hammers, because there are *so* many firearm deaths that the FBI breaks the statistic into subcategories (i.e. types of guns): handguns, rifles (which the # above indicates), shotguns, and even “other guns or type not stated” (which, no doubt, also includes rifles). The total number of gun deaths according to the FBI source is 8,583: way more than hammers.

3. The guns and abortion meme: I’ve seen at least two different versions of this, one that claims abortion is the leading cause of death in the U.S.A. and another that features what claims to be a 12 week old fetus that is instead a sculpture, since (among other things) a 12 week old fetus does not have the same skin tone as we do (i.e. a 12 week old fetus does not look like your newborn, only in miniature).

An obvious problem is, of course, that there are pro-gun control conservatives as well as liberals and pro-life liberals as well as conservatives. There is even a majority of conservative support (85% of Republicans) for closing the gun show loophole by requiring background checks.

And you know what else? There are pro-life Catholics who are advocating for gun control and against abortion at the same time. See Laura Goodstein’s “In Fight Over Life, A New Call by Catholics:”

“The March for Life in Washington on Friday renewed the annual impassioned call to end legalized abortion, 40 years after the Roe v. Wade decision. But this year, some Roman Catholic leaders and theologians are asking why so many of those who call themselves ‘pro-life’ have been silent, or even opposed, when it comes to controlling the guns that have been used to kill and injure millions of Americans . . .

‘We’re addressing life,’ said one of the signers, Thomas P. Melady, a Republican who served as ambassador to the Holy See under the first President George Bush. ‘I accept the Catholic teachings, which promote the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. And certainly the death of the 20 young kids and 6 adults in Newtown was not natural. Why can’t we take some steps with regards to these killings? These sophisticated weapons should be controlled.'”

2. The rock/glock advertisement in The Hartsville Messanger (a close-to-my-hometown paper). The advertisement reads: “By a rock and get a glock.”

Because, apparently, giving away glocks as an incentive to buy engagement rings is not sickening. I took this one especially hard, since I’m from the McBee/Hartsville area. Such promotion (of guns or the Wayne LaPierre version of the NRA) is, at this historical/cultural moment, insensitive at best and dangerous at worst. And — all around — despicable, sad and just plain wrong.

1. The Sandy Hook conspiracy video: I can’t bring myself to link this one, although it came across my Facebook newsfeed at least twice. I made myself watch it, because I wanted to be prepared if some of my students brought it up in class, but it took me several glasses of wine to get through it. The unknown conspiracy theorist builds his “argument” of Sandy Hook as government conspiracy on such flimsy “evidence” as the following: there were conflicting news reports (expected in breaking news updates, especially when the scene is so chaotic); some Sandy Hook parents smiled *gasp* when remembering their dead children; etc.

I think the thing that bothered me most as I was watching it was the realization that the victims’ families would most certainly hear about this and, God forbid, see it. “Don’t you know,” I told my husband, “that they wish to God this was a government conspiracy, that there were no bodies for them to see?” The theorist suggests the families weren’t able to see the bodies at all, instead of having to wait until the next day, after the bodies had been moved away from the crime scene.

Rather than listening to the victims’ families and their stories, some people choose to think of Sandy Hook as a conspiracy, because then they won’t feel compelled to change anything. Listening to the victims’ families is both painful (for everyone) and vitally important.

We need to hear about Emilie Parker’s younger sister, Madeline, who wanted to wear Emilie’s favorite dress when she met the President.

We need to hear about Catherine Hubbard’s 8-year old brother and their ancient Labrador, Samantha, euthanized after Christmas. Catherine had loved Samantha, and when her brother hugged Samantha goodbye, his mother overheard him whisper, “Tell her I said, ‘hi.'”

We need to hear about Veronica Pozner‘s decision not only to view her son’s body but also to insist on an open casket:

“Tiny Noah took 11 bullets. His mother, Veronique, insisted on an open coffin, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Jewish Daily Forward.

You’ll probably remember Noah. He was a happy little guy with beautiful heavily lashed eyes and a cheerful smile. In his coffin, there was a cloth placed over the lower part of his face.

‘There was no mouth left,’ his mother told the Forward. ‘His jaw was blown away.’

She put a stone in his right hand, a ‘clear plastic rock with a white angel inside.’ She wanted to put a matching stone in his left hand but he had no left hand to speak of.

Parents of the dead children were advised to identify them from photographs, such was the carnage. But every parent reacts differently. Veronique Pozner did the most difficult thing. She asked to see the body. Zeveloff asked her why.

‘I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad and the ugly,’ she said. ‘. . . And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.’

When the governor of Connecticut arrived, she brought him to see Noah in the open casket. ‘If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.’ The governor wept.”

We should listen. We too should weep. And we should loudly demand change.


Messy Activism

For my birthday, the fabulous Scott Fisk decided to surprise me with a mini-break road trip. I’m always on board with a mini-break road trip, especially when it contributes in some positive way to the causes I hold dear. Since the Sandy Hook massacre, I’ve been on my gun control soapbox, and plan to make myself comfortable and stay there for a bit.

Scott decided we would drive 7+ hours to Seminole, Florida to shop at Frank James’s Lone Star Jewelry and Pawn. James has been in the news, recently, because of his decision to stop trading in firearms, previously half his revenue. He worries about his business being able to survive his decision, but as the father of a six-year old child, he cannot in good conscience continue to sell guns until stricter regulation is passed. He is a member of the NRA and personally owns guns, but he says the wrong kinds of guns are getting into the wrong kinds of hands and refuses to contribute in any way, despite the cost.

The Fisks adore this and set off to personally thank him. Jack and Arina wrote “thank you” notes on the drive.

A's card

We left on my birthday, Friday the 11th, when Scott got home from work. We drove until we were tired, stopping at a hotel for the night and continuing on the next morning. We got to Lone Star Jewelry and Pawn between 3:00 and 4:00, and were pleased to have reached the end of our pilgrimage.

Lone Star Pawn

Imagine our surprise to find it . . . closed.

Flummoxed, we went back to the car and pulled up James’s web site on the internet. “See,” I told Scott, “Open 7 Days a Week!” We looked at the two signs in the window; the “Pawn” sign was on, lit with red lights, but the “Open” sign was dark. We looked in the window, and it was dark inside too.

“Call the telephone number?” Scott suggested. I did. The message said that Lone Star Jewelry and Pawn would be closed through January 14th, for the holidays.

We laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more. And then we took campy photos that we plan to send to Frank. In the first, below, Arina is gesturing toward the dark “Open” sign.


In the second, below, Arina and Jack play in the Lone Star Pawn trailer:

On the trailer

Arina decided that we should go to the beach instead. Luckily, the beautiful Madeira Beach was just over the bridge. I told Scott Madeira was the perfect beach for me, since it reminded me of Jane Eyre, whose uncle made his money and lived in Madeira.

Nicole in Madeira

Madeira Beach, Florida is a lovely little seaside community, east of the Gulf of Mexico. We watched the sunset, while Arina swam in her clothes and Jack played in the sand . . .

Arina in Madeira

. . . and watched for planes, one of which flew by several times with a sign:


While Scott and I watched the kids play, we talked about Plan B, because as Fisks (accurately and lovingly referred to as hot messes and shit shows)  we always have a Plan B. We decided that we would put together a package for Frank James (including a copy of this post, the kids’ cards, and a check for the donation amount we had planned to spend) in the mail on Monday. In a way, we reasoned, this is an even better option, since he will be able to get our donation, plus sell whatever we would have bought.

We also remembered that pilgrimages are as much about the journey as they are about reaching a destination, and we agreed that the journey had been a good one. We alternated the time between listening to an audiobook about Churchill and Ghandi that Scott had received as a Christmas present and listening to the kids playing in the back. I immersed myself in a writing project while on the road, and the kids made cards and told stories.

I reminded Scott that activism, especially when I’m involved, always seems to be messy. Example: the fostering dog project, scenes of which include me, running through the neighborhood after foster dog Morven, while attired in pajama pants, fuzzy socks, rain boots, a tank top and fancy corduroy jacket; or, our house, covered in stinky wet dog food after I turned my back on Jack for two seconds.

Life is messy and fun. And, I told Scott what a couple of my girlfriends said about him, that he’s a “stud,” because “civic engagement and making it happen is hott.”

It’s “hott,” even when it doesn’t turn out quite as expected.

Road trip

So, to Scott: Thanks for a wonderfully exciting weekend adventure.

And to Frank: Be on the lookout for a package from the Fisks. We’ll catch you in person next time. 😉

A New Year’s Wish for Bravery

Each New Year, I look forward to Natalie Leppard’s Facebook status update, because she shares Neil Gaiman’s annual New Year’s wish. I’ve only read Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, but I enjoyed it very much and am open to other recommendations (hint, hint). I could visit Neil Gaiman’s online journal and read his wish myself, but waiting for Natalie to post it is part of my New Year’s tradition.

Like the rest of America, Gaiman seems to have had the Sandy Hook Massacre in mind, when he wrote the following:

“It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.”

Tonight, Sandy Hook Elementary School is having an open house in its new location, a refurbished old school that had been closed two years prior. Tomorrow, parents across America — but especially Sandy Hook parents — will be brave and drop off their kids at school. They’ll do this, despite the fact that — unlike Australia, a country that had implemented stricter gun regulation 12 days after its last mass shooting in 1996 — America has done nothing.

Part of the reason that America has done nothing, of course, is that there are still opponents for any change in gun laws, a la NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. Granted, the majority of NRA members support stricter gun regulation. But others are advocating Wayne LaPierre’s “more guns” position and are attacking the argument that we should go the way of other countries, such as Australia, Britain, Japan or South Africa.

The latest forwarded post that came across my facebook newsfeed argues against using Britain, specifically, as an example, because of the 1999 murder (which was later reduced to manslaughter) charge against Tony Martin.

The forwarded post claims that the misunderstood Tony Martin is now serving a life sentence for murder, because he defended his home against two intruders with an illegally owned firearm. It fails to mention the following complicating facts of the case:

(1) Fred Barras, the boy murdered, was 16 years old.

(2) Tony Martin’s pump action shotgun was only illegal, because he did not legally apply for and receive a firearms certificate. Of course, he wouldn’t have gotten it, because he had legally applied for and received a shotgun certificate, but it was revoked when he shot a hole in the window of a vehicle whose owner had stopped to pick an apple in his neighboring orchard. Martin shot instead of getting the vehicle information and giving it to the police like a normal person. Or, explaining that the apples were off limits. Or, letting him have a damn apple.

(3) Forensics evidence revealed that Tony Martin lied to the authorities about the details of the shooting. It was not possible for him to have shot at the intruders from the top of his stairs, as he claimed. Rather the bullet holes suggested he had been lying in wait. The 16-year old victim was shot in the back, as he was trying to climb out the window.

(4) Tony Martin was prejudiced against Gypsies. He was known to fantasize about “putting Gypsies in the middle of a field, surrounding it with barbed wire and machine gunning them.” Fred Barras was Gypsy.

(5) Martin is a free man, having been released 28 July 2003, serving three years of his five-year (not life) sentence.

So, no, gun lovers. Tony Martin is not proof than Britain should not have responded to the Dunblane , Scotland massacre with stricter gun regulation. Not even a little bit. Twenty children died not even a month ago, and you’re more concerned with the Tony Martin’s who may be affected by the one measure (gun control) that has been proven effective.

My husband and I were talking over the holidays. We remembered that, when we were young, we wondered why people who lived in violence-ridden countries, like Israel and Palestine, didn’t pick up and move to a place that would be safer for their families. Why stay in a country with so many acts of terror, so many suicide bombings? As adults, we understand. It’s difficult, in many ways and especially financially, to pick up and leave for another country. We agree that Britain or Australia would be a safer place for Arina and Jack, since America has become the land of domestic terrorism, with suicide shootings rather than bombings. It’s a land where one customer can buy 32,000 rounds of ammunition, worth $18,000, and have it delivered to his Kentucky house on a freight truck. It’s a land where it’s easier to buy bullets than Sudafed.

If the NRA, or anyone of the Wayne LaPierre mindset and pocketbook, is willing to finance our migration, we’ll go to that safer place with thanks. Otherwise, I’ll be right here, exposing your lies.

P.S. Natalie responds to the forwarded post, imitating its melodramatic form:

You’re sound asleep when you hear a thump in your garden.
Half-awake, and nearly paralyzed with fear, you hear muffled whispers.
Someone is trying to break into your sister’s house next door and is moving your way.
With your heart pumping, you reach down beside your bed and pick up your shotgun.
You rack a shell into the chamber, then inch toward the masked man.
You raise the shotgun and fire.
The blast knocks the thug to the floor.
Then you realize that “thug” was your adopted son, a high school student: