Grasping Thorns

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

Category: Gun control

Oops. Sorry, all.

So . . . I forgot to update my blog when I moved to writing for Bustle and then Daily Kos (a Dissident Voice is thrown in here, too). I imagined that everyone who read me here would read me there by following my Facebook links (like H&G’s breadcrumbs). But, some of my readers here aren’t as Facebook crazed as I am. 🙂

I’m still writing, though! Here’s a list of things I’ve penned, along with where to find me now.

April 28th: The Baltimore Riots Should Remind White People To Listen And Act — Not Judge Protestors

May 5th: Why Responding To Bigotry In Facebook Comments Matters

May 7th: On Mother’s Day, Remembering My Daughter’s Birth Mom

June 17th: God is Disappointed in You is a Book Every Evangelical Christian Should Read

June 18th: That Moment When Your Friend Finds a Bullet Hole over Her Son’s Room

June 19th: The Charleston Church Massacre and “Making It Right”

June 20th: Disturbing Conservative Commentary: A Compilation

June 21st: An Open Letter to Governor Haley

June 23rd: Dear Governor Haley, Part 2

June 24th: This is What “Discussion” Looks Like in America Today — And Why It Must Change

June 26th: Senator Pinckney, President Obama, and New Eyes for Seeing

July 14th: The Importance of Remembering “It’s Not About [Your Name Here]”

July 16th: A Mass Shooting Hits Home — Again.

July 19th: A New Southern Wedding Tradition: Yes, I Wish I Were Kidding

July 24th: It’s Our Fault People Are Dying: American Gun Culture and the Myth of Personal Responsibility

July 29th: Dr. Walter Palmer, Lion Killer: Meet Lawrence Anthony, Elephant Whisperer

July 31st: Last Night, I Watched Two Videos: Planned Parenthood’s and Sam DuBose’s

August 6th: Release Time Bible Programs Are Invading Public Schools. God Help Us.

August 15th: God Got A Dog: Another Book That Evangelical Christians Should Read

August 19th: Sacrificing Our Children’s Lives: America and Her Guns

September 4th: American Exceptionalism as Exceptionally Bad … Also: How to Make It Better

September 5th: Dear America: Stop. Painting. Bullets. Holes. On. Our Kids’. Heads.

In short, it’s been a bloody, busy summer.

If you want more fire for your rage-machine, start following my Daily Kos page.

love to all my readers. xoxo

 

 

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Blue Lives Matter? Then Support Gun Control Reform

This month, we’ve suffered the loss of several law enforcement officers unjustly killed in the line of duty. On May 9, Officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate were killed during a traffic stop in Mississippi. On May 2, NYPD officer Brian Moore was shot in the head and died from the injury a couple of days later. Both these tragedies bring to mind the double homicide of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on Dec. 20, 2014, a shocking act that was nearly universally condemned. And it’s wrong to suggest  — as many do via social media — that those who support the “Black Lives Matter” movement don’t care about cops unjustly killed.

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The hashtag #BlueLivesMatter (which sprung into existence in the fall of 2014, as a response to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri) is unsettling both because of the controversial nature of the movement’s title (i.e. the erasure of “black” for “blue”) and also because of the fact that it states the obvious and unquestionable: of course blue lives matter. Unlike black lives, blue lives are both valued and mourned. When a cop is killed, the murderer is sought and convicted — as is just. However, when a cop unjustly kills a black man, he’s much less likely to be convicted (unless there is an accompanying video, and sometimes not even then — e.g. Eric Garner).

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Of course, cops have a dangerous job, are afraid, and are right to be afraid — not of people of color, but of being shot. In 2013, 32 cops were fatally shot; in 2014, 50 cops were fatally shot. The number jump seems alarming, although NPR’s Eyder Peralta points out “While gun deaths of officers have increased, they still remain 12-percent lower than the decade-long average of 57.”

Still, we have a gun problem and need sensible gun control reform. One cop unjustly killed in the line of duty is one cop too many. Last year, while the debate was raging over Michael Brown’s death, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias argued that we should find common ground over the fact that we need gun control reform; he said, “This is true if you think Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson should have been found guilty of a crime. But in many ways it’s even more true if you think he’s innocent of any wrongdoing. A system in which legal police shootings of unarmed civilians are a common occurrence is a system that has some serious flaws.”

The rub? So many people who rally behind the “Blue Lives Matter” slogan are against gun control. They complain, instead, about a “war on police” and say that gun control reform is “off topic” rather than a sensible solution to a triad of problems: violence against the police, violence by the police, and violence against the community at large — including our most vulnerable: children. CDC statistics list 16,121 homicides in 2013, and 11,208 of those were with guns. Too many guns is absolutely relevant to any discussion about the safety of law enforcement officers — and public safety to boot. And while I’m concerned about any way kids are dying, 10,000 American kids a year are injured and/or killed with guns and those are preventable injuries and deaths. Finally, holding police accountable is not a “war on police.” It’s holding police accountable.

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This past December, a meme was circulating in response to 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s death. I first saw the meme on Facebook from an avid supporter of “Blue Lives Matter.” It features a man holding two nearly identical guns, accompanied by the phrase “quick! which one is a bb gun? Oops, too late . . . you’re dead.”

The person posting it was defending the cop who shot Tamir Rice, not pointing out the fact that maybe the NRA shouldn’t be blocking legislation like California’s Senate Bill 798 that would require not-real guns (air gun, airsoft and BB) to be distinguishable (as in brightly colored) from real guns.

Four hundred and nine people were fatally shot by cops in 2012, according to The Economist, some of them children. And that’s a problem for everyone: the dead people; the families of the dead people; and the cops, some of whom have to live with inadvertently killing unarmed kids. Think that’s just what happens? Number of shots fired by police in Britain that same year? THREE. Number of fatalities? ZERO. More recent tallies suggest that the number of people fatally shot by cops each year in the United States is even higher, as many go uncounted.

No one is defending violence against the police. I spoke out against the Dec. 20 homicides, just like I spoke out about Walter Scott’s and Freddie Gray’s deaths. Too many people in the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, on the other hand, are fearful of violence against their community while excusing violence perpetrated against those outside their community. And that’s wrong.

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What’s also wrong? To assert that blue lives matter while failing to advocate for gun control reform that would actually save blue lives.

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Brian Moore was shot to death with a gun stolen from Georgia, a gun lover’s paradise. As NY Daily News reporters explain: “Georgia’s lax gun laws are often cited by critics for the steady northern flow of illegal weapons to New York. Straw buyers purchasing firearms for people who can’t legally own guns face no penalty, and there are no background checks for people buying guns from unlicensed dealers. A bill passed last year even repealed the state regulation targeting rogue gun dealers convicted of criminal or fraudulent actions. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stats from 2013, the most recent available, showed 331 weapons recovered in New York State originated in Georgia that year.”

I can hear the tired “gun rights” arguments now that essentially boil down to:

I don’t want to be inconvenienced when buying my gun — despite the fact that, for the sake of public safety, buying guns should be at least as difficult as having a pet (many cities require you to register dogs) or driving a car (think: testing, licensing, registering, servicing, renewing).

I don’t want to be restricted from buying military style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, because (2nd Amendment!) I need to be prepared to overthrow the government in case it becomes tyrannical — despite the fact that we have an unmatched military and arsenal of weapons (against which neither assault weapons nor high capacity magazines stand a chance) and despite the fact that we support our troops.

In the end, what is the purpose of asserting “Blue Lives Matter” (except in opposition to “Black Lives Matter,” which — let’s face it — seems to be the purpose) if the only “solution” is to allow police full discretion in killing civilians, which is unacceptable? What is the purpose of asserting that we support our troops, if we’re simultaneously daydreaming about fighting against them?

Of all the comments in response to Freddie Gray’s death, and I’ve read a lot of them, this may be the most hypocritical of the bunch:

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The implication is that Freddie Gray carried a knife and therefore should have expected a violent end (never mind the fact that, as a country, we’re one big sword-wielding maniac — and 20 times more likely to be a victim of gun violence than citizens of other first world countries because of it). It’s time for gun buyback programs and more sensible regulation, because it’s time for a real and decent solution that supports all: cops and our communities.

You say: blue lives matter. I say: you’re right; they do; let’s do something about that.

The Night My Toddler Could Have Become a Gun Death Statistic

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I grew up in rural South Carolina on a hundred acres of farmland in a “neighborhood” of two houses: my own and my grandparent’s house next door. And, yes, we had guns. As I child, I would stumble across my father’s rifles and shotguns in his closet upstairs, although I never touched them nor tried to find the bullets, which were stored separately. The idea of them always made me uncomfortable, a deadly presence in the house, even though they were only used to scare off stray dogs from our chickens or to kill a venomous snake. We were not a family of hunters, and, when, as a teenager, I was peer-pressured into handling a firearm (because everyone who was anyone knew how to shoot), I spent an afternoon, after careful instruction from my father, shooting pears from our pear tree and was generally unimpressed.

Fast forward sixteen years later, and my family (husband, seven-year old daughter, and 2-year old son, Jack) dropped by my grandmother’s house unannounced. We were chatting, Jack was toddling around. Then he was reaching for a handgun on the end table next to my grandmother’s chair. Three adults lunged for it immediately, and I still have nightmares about what could happen any time you fumble with a loaded gun in front of a child.

Yes, it was loaded — because “what use is an unloaded gun?” my grandmother said. This was uncharacteristic of her, and we soon learned that she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, with all the anxiety and paranoia that the disease so often brings with it. Needless to say, we removed the gun from her house (with more than a little prodding) and exchanged it with police grade pepper spray as a nonlethal means of self-defense. “It’s better than a gun,” I told her, “because you don’t need perfect aim to incapacitate an attacker; just spray in his general direction.” Years later, I would read about Seattle Pacific University student, Jon Mais, who used pepper spray to disarm a gunman, and remember this conversation.

I was reminded of that night more recently after reading about Veronica Rutledge’s trip to an Idaho Wal-Mart with her 2-year-old-son. A loaded gun in a purse. A shopping cart with purse, gun, and toddler. A distracted moment. And I realized there was another way that night at my grandmother’s could have played out: not with Jack shooting himself but with Jack shooting one of us and living for the rest of his life with consequences so unfairly thrust upon him — because it’s not fair for a 2-year-old child to die by gun negligence and it’s not fair for a 2-year-old child to live with the knowledge that he shot his mother because of gun negligence.

Veronica’s father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, has expressed anger at those “painting” Veronica, who had taken classes and was licensed to carry, “as irresponsible.” In doing so, he misses a key point: it’s not just “irresponsible” gun owners who are ruining and losing lives to gun violence; the “responsible” gun owners are right there with them. Because here’s the thing: when you walk through life with such a lethal weapon on or near you (Terry Rutledge says his son and daughter-in-law “carried one every day of their lives”) you run the inordinate risk of doing harm not only to yourself but also to others. Human beings are not designed to be on alert the way Rutledge-styled-gun-enthusiasts need to be on alert (i.e. never a distracted moment).

Veronica was not a bad or irresponsible mother (because she had a bad or irresponsible moment) any more so than the countless parents who have lost children to heatstroke, after inadvertently leaving them asleep in a car. Think of all the articles and public awareness campaigns about infant car death featured in 2014. A moment of distraction. A death. But cars are a necessity in a way that guns aren’t. As Veronica’s friend Sheri Sandow explains “She wasn’t carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns.” Veronica was carrying a gun because it was her hobby. And that’s what makes this so much more disconcerting, along with the knowledge that one person’s hobby can threaten the lives of so many others. Her 2-year-old-son could have killed any number of Walmart shoppers just as easily as he killed his mother.

I get that Veronica loved guns in a way I never have, that she had long-standing happy memories associated with them. But I’m sure she loved her son more. Because any memory that has worth — hunting on a beautifully brisk day with people you love, for example — has worth not because of the gun part but because of the being-with-people-you-love part. No one knows how her son’s accidental killing of a person would have affected Veronica. But I can tell you how my toddler’s close call affected me: it made me question a system in which an elderly woman with dementia can so easily buy and keep a gun, a culture that’s okay with that, and — most of all — the percentage of the population who believes that any introspection on the matter and push for change is an attempt to instate a no-gun-for-anyone policy. (Note: Farmers and ranchers in Australia have guns. Collectors and target shooters and hunters in England have guns. But these countries have many more restrictions and much less gun violence than we do).

As a mother, I want sensible gun reform that, if it does nothing else, will make being a gun owner feel more like a privilege than a right, if only because we are more mindful of things that are earned rather than given. After Veronica’s death, her father-in-law said “Odd as it may sound, we’re gun people.” Yes, Mr. Rutledge, that does sound odd. Maybe we should all redefine what we mean by gun people.

The Worst Memes on Facebook (at the moment, and possibly in the history of the world)

I haven’t written, at least publicly, in months. Work. Kids. And I may have started fostering dogs again — because with all the racism/torture/terrorism in the world right now, sometimes you just have to rescue a dog from a kill shelter.

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With newest foster dog Annie Cresta by my side, I’m tackling the five worst memes I’ve seen on my Facebook Newsfeed lately (which means, yes: they’re being shared by. people. I. know). They’re being shared by women who bring casseroles to new mothers and to widows and to anyone, really, who hints they’d like a casserole. They’re being shared by men who wave in a neighborly way and hum Christmas carols. They’re being shared by women and by men who have children, or at least seem to like children. So, clearly, they must not understand; and, since I can’t see such things and not respond (b/c “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”), here’s my two cents:

5) The “no mother should have to fear for her son’s life” meme. Actually, one of my students came across this on her Facebook Newsfeed and mentioned it during class discussion, but I’m sure that one of my 600+ Facebook friends is featuring it on their page too, because it’s the type of meme they’d love and the type that — yes, I’ll admit it — took me awhile to process before I even got it.

In the photo, a young black man stands with a couple of protestors while holding a sign that reads: “No mother should have to fear for her son’s life every time he robs a store.”

Me: “Of course not — because we don’t shoot people for stealing. If someone steals, they’re arrested for theft — not shot on the street.”

My student had to explain that the young black man was holding a different sign (one that read “No mother should have to fear for her son’s life every time he leaves home”), which was photoshopped to read the other version.

Oh.

So we talked about the ABC bike theft experiment (what happens when a white guy, a black guy, and a “hot” blonde girl steals a bike?) and whether the response to theft is consistent. Hint: it’s not.

And I talked about one of my friends in high school, who was around Michael Brown’s age when he stole gas from a local station (back when you didn’t use debit/credit cards for everything). He was busted, but he was white, and I watched and listened while people laughed about it, called him a rascal, and chalked it up to what seventeen-year-old boys do.

I’m not saying his mother should have worried about him getting shot. What I’m saying is that Michael Brown’s mother shouldn’t have had to worry about her son getting shot either.

*qualification: i’m less interested, here, in engaging with the finer points of this case (like the fact that wilson stopped brown for walking on the road rather than the sidewalk, not stealing cigarillos; or the fact that wilson said he was threatened) than I am in exposing some people’s disturbing tendency not only to appoint themselves judge-jury-and-executioner when a young black man is involved but also to flaunt, through photoshop and Facebook, that mindset.*

4) The “don’t like cops? the next time you’re in trouble, call a crackhead” meme. Two things:

First: As Jon Stewart points out, “You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.”

Being critical — of the fact that neither the Brown nor the Garner case was deemed trial-worthy, when over 90% of cases that go before a grand jury end in indictment — is not the same thing as not liking cops. Pointing out that it’s a potential conflict of interest to ask local prosecutors (who work with police) to present evidence against the person who may be their Secret Santa is not the same thing as not liking cops.

Second: It’s annoying when people stereotype isn’t it? — whether they assume that you’re a bad guy b/c you have dark skin, or you’re a bad guy b/c you’re a cop. Okay. So, don’t assume “crackheads” (dehumanizing much?) — or, people who may be struggling with a drug addiction — aren’t capable of helping and doing good. Geez.

3) The “quick! which one is bb? Too late. You’re already dead 15x over” meme. This meme features a cop holding a real gun and a not-real gun, and they’re virtually indistinguishable.

YES. Cops have a dangerous job, are afraid, and are right to be afraid — not of people of color but of being shot. In 2012, 30 cops were killed in the line of duty.

We have a gun problem and need sensible gun control reform; as Matthew Yglesias writes, “This is true if you think Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson should have been found guilty of a crime. But in many ways it’s even more true if you think he’s innocent of any wrongdoing. A system in which legal police shootings of unarmed civilians are a common occurrence is a system that has some serious flaws.”

The rub? The person who posted ^this^ meme is against gun control. She was posting it, no doubt, to defend the cop who shot 12-year-old Tamir Ricenot to point out the fact that maybe (just *maybe*) the NRA shouldn’t be blocking legislation like California’s Senate Bill 798 — legislation that would require not-real guns (air gun, airsoft and BB) to be distinguishable (as in brightly colored) from real guns.

409 people were killed by cops in 2012, some of them children. And that’s a problem for everyone: the dead people; the families of the dead people; and the cops, some of whom have to live with mistakingly killing unarmed kids.

Think that’s just what happens? Number of shots fired by police in Britain last year? 3. Number of fatalities? 0.

2) The “breathe easy. don’t break the law” meme. This little slogan is actually a t-shirt, designed by police officer Jason Barthel.

So . . . people can breathe easy, as long as they don’t break any laws . . . but, if they DO break a law (like selling untaxed cigarettes), they may be choked to death by police, and we should be okay with that.

If you do not understand why ^this^ is problematic, please reread #5 and/or go looking for your absentee conscience.

1) The 9-11 torture meme. Whether the meme quotes Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney, the argument is the same: torture isn’t defined by what we do to other people (e.g. beating, rectally infusing food, shackling, water boarding, etc.) but what other people did to us on 9-11. Never mind that at least twenty-six of the people we tortured in retribution were totally innocent. Never mind that every.single.person who is giving.the.thumbs.up TO TORTURE on Facebook (at least in my circle of friends) claims to follow the teachings of a man who consistently challenged the myth of redemptive violence; as activist Shane Claiborne explains:

“[Jesus] abhors both passivity and violence and teaches us a new way forward that is neither submission nor assault, neither fight nor flight. He shows us a way to oppose evil without mirroring it, where oppressors can be resisted without being emulated and neutralized without being destroyed.”

Another person who shows us a way that oppressors can be resisted without being emulated and neutralized without being destroyed? FBI Special Agent Ali H. Soufan, or the guy who “elicited some of the most important confessions from terrorists in the war against al-Qaeda—without laying so much as a hand on them.”

To anyone giving a thumbs up to torture? You should read Soufan’s Black Banners — oh! and Jesus’s teachings too.

So ^those^ are the top (or bottom?) worst memes on Facebook at the moment. And I’ve had a couple of reactions to seeing them. My first knee-jerk reaction is to emulate my friend Mike, who wrote this oh-so-fabulous Facebook status update:

“Rather than respond to all of the disgusting comments I’m reading about the people in Ferguson, I’m just gonna do some spring cleaning on my friends list. If you’ve used the words ‘savages’ or ‘animals’ to describe the protestors/rioters/looters (whatever you want to call them), you’ve been removed. I’ll just continue to THINK racism still exists, rather than have you morons prove it to me on a daily basis. Good luck out there…..you’ll need it.”

But I’m going with the hope that those who have posted any (or all / shudder) of the five memes are confused, probably because they haven’t realized that the “thoughtful” commentary they’re hearing about these current, heartbreaking issues isn’t thoughtful commentary at all but propaganda. One way to tell the difference between a thoughtful commentator and a propagandist = their ability (or lack thereof) to empathize and identify with the “other” side.

Think Jon Stewart only goes after Christians for their silly war on Christmas? Watch him call down Freedom from Religion this past week for being just as petty.

Think Daily Beast, as a liberal news Web site, only glorifies protesters and vilifies cops? Read Michael Daly slam certain NYC protestors on Saturday for insulting Detective Larry DePrimo and Officer Conor McDonald, two men who he calls “civic treasures.”

Watch John freaking McCain address the CIA torture report with Jon Stewart applauding him.

And then, for Christ’s sake (which is not blasphemous — b/c I mean, literally, for the sake of Jesus and his Golden Rule), look at all.the.people who share this planet with you, give them the benefit of the doubt (i.e. actually listen to what they have to say), and then reevaluate your position (which, I promise, will not kill you).

Or, at the very least, stop being such a shitty person on Facebook.

Conversations about Guns on a Cross Country Train

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My 4-year old son is obsessed with trains and always has been. We keep waiting for the next phase. After talking to other parents, we expected his obsession to move from Thomas the Train to Lighting McQueen. He watched the Cars movies, but his obsession moved from Thomas the Train to real trains on Youtube. So, when our South Carolina family received an invitation to a wedding in Vancouver, Washington, and when I realized that only Jack and I would be able to go, I knew that we had to take a cross country train.

He was on board, to say the least.

We booked a room in a sleeping car, which is the way to go, especially for such a long trip: we had two fold-out beds and all of our dining car meals were included in the price.

If you’ve ever been on such a long train trip, you’ll know that you always make friends in the dining car, if you’re a party of one or two. Since it’s a challenge for the wait staff to serve on a moving train, they group passengers into sets of four for full-table seating.

I especially enjoyed this, since it was my main opportunity on the train to have conversations with adults while Jack happily colored in his antique trains coloring book. Because of a recent string of mass shootings (Isla Vista, Seattle, and Oregon), the conversation inevitably turned to America’s epidemic of gun violence. A summary of those conversations is as follows:

Conversation #1, over breakfast, with Marissa (a gun-owning Math professor from North Dakota):

Marissa: “There is no way to stop people intent on mass murder from murdering. If they can’t get a gun, they’ll get something else.”

Me: “Of course.”

Marissa: “But, there are ways to make gun deaths less likely, and I’m all for that. We like guns, so it would be annoying. I mean: I have to take Sudafed, and it’s annoying to get it, because of the regulation. But the number of meth labs in our area decreased dramatically when pharmacies started regulating Sudafed. So it’d be worth it.”

Me: “For the sake of public safety?”

Marissa: “Yeah.”

Me: “You know there are some countries [England, Japan, Canada, and Australia] that require third party references from family and friends before allowing a person to purchase a gun.”

Marissa: “That’s a great idea.”

Me: “There is no way Elliot Rodger’s family would have ‘okay-ed’ him buying a gun. And he didn’t have any friends. Nancy Lanza probably would have been cool with Adam Lanza buying one though.”

Marissa: “Well if it had stopped even one of those, it’s worth it.”

Conversation #2, over dinner, with Gordy and Cathy (retirees from Wisconsin):

Gordy: “I can’t talk about this much, because it’s too upsetting, but: why do people get to buy hollow-point bullets — like those that were used on those poor kids in Newtown — and such high caliber guns?”

Me: “I think the NRA would argue: for self-defense. That said, the Seattle shooter was stopped with pepper spray, so there are other ways — including guns that aren’t weapons of war and such a huge public safety hazard.”

Gordy: “Right.”

Me: “You know, some people were using California’s strict gun laws as an example of how mass murders still happen. But one writer I read pointed out how much worse it would have been had Elliot Rodger easily been able to buy an assault weapon or even a high capacity magazine.”

Gordy: “Yeah — and it should be even harder, because people in states with strict gun laws can just travel to states with lax gun laws.”

Conversation #3, over breakfast, with PJ (a gun club member from Australia):

Me: “You’re from Australia! I don’t know if you watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but he sent John Oliver, one of his correspondents, to Australia to interview your former Prime Minister, John Howard, about his gun control legislation.”

PJ: “Yeah — we had a horrible mass shooting in Port Arthur, so we passed massive gun control reform, including a ban on semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and haven’t had any massacres since.”

Me: “Did you support the reform?”

PJ: “Absolutely. I’m a gun owner and a member of a gun club, and I’m happy with the changes. We have depressed teenagers, and we have mentally ill people, just like America does. The difference is that they don’t have guns. I don’t understand why America can’t do something similar. I suppose you’ll need to rewrite the Second Amendment?”

Me: “I don’t think we’d have to rewrite it necessarily — just acknowledge its historical context. The founders were writing about muskets, for example, not assault rifles and high capacity magazines.”

PJ: “One of the things we did that worked really well was gun buyback programs. People were getting more money for their guns than they paid for them in the first place.”

Conversation #4, over dinner, with Armando and Nancy (an engineer and an accounting professor from the Philippines):

This conversation is impossible to transcribe, because Armando and Nancy stared in blank horror when I explained one of my reasons for withdrawing Arina from the rural SC private school she was attending — b/c, only a few months after the Sandy Hook school shooting — Arina’s school thought this was a good idea:

RAFFLE

to benefit HOLLY HILL ACADEMY sponsored by: Carson’s Gun Repair

12 GUAGE CZ USA WINGSHOOTER DELUX O/U SHOTGUN with Handmade Walnut Carrying Case ($1500 Value)

Drawing to be held: April 23, 2013

at HHA Baseball Game – 7th Inning

Cost: $5.00 per ticket Presence not required to win

Armando and Nancy live in a country with restrictive firearm policies, where only 64 people died from gun violence in 2006 (the last recorded statistic on gunpolicy.org). They invited me then and there to visit them in the Philippines.

These conversations are simultaneously encouraging and frustrating: encouraging, because both gun owners and non-gun owners alike recognized the need to do something (these weren’t people of the Gun Owners of America variety, a group that boasts it is a “no-compromise national guns right organization”). Indeed, Marissa and PJ seemed to hold gun ownership as a high honor and were offended that guns so often fall into the hands of people who abuse what they see as more of a privilege than a right.

Frustrating, because after such hopeful, uplifting conversations, I log onto the Internet and find too many examples of the “no-compromise” variety, people extolling gun rights while demonizing abortion in truly stunning displays of hypocrisy — in which one is pro-life before life, in love with the potentiality, but not pro-life enough to do something about the shooting deaths of 20 school children, when that potentiality has very much become reality. These people aren’t pro-life; they’re only pro-birth.

The loudest voices against real reform are still ironically Christian ones — those who claim to follow the Prince of Peace, a pacifist, the man who disarmed his disciple and who undermined the myth of redemptive violence.

A Bible verse that pops up frequently in my Facebook newsfeed is Matthew 25:21, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” along with the expressed hope that whoever-posted-it will hear those words “on the day of judgement.”

Whenever I see that verse, I see the faces of all those children from the Sandy Hook shooting, and I think that rather than doing well, too many of us have done and continue to do very, very poorly.

Demand reform: not one more.

Christians and Violence; Or, the Sandy Hook Massacre, One Year Later

I’ve enjoyed listening to Christmas music this holiday season, because, honestly: I wasn’t able to listen to it after December 14th last year. At. all. I would try to turn it on when in the car with the kids, thinking they would enjoy it, but the jingles were just too depressing after 20 first graders lost their lives while making Christmas crafts at their elementary school.

I woke up thinking about their families today, on the 1-year anniversary. I’ve thought about them often throughout the year: when I see fictional gun violence on television (can they even watch it? or is it like, as I imagine it would be, seeing the bullets enter *their* child?); when I’ve read about the 194 children we’ve lost to gun violence since Newtown (can they read about those children, without having a physical response — a lurch in the gut?); or when I’ve seen, throughout the year, their devastated faces as gun regulation measure after gun regulation measure has been defeated, due to the NRA’s insane hold on an insane country (how does it feel to make your grief public, when all you want to do is hide, only to be defeated again and again?).

It’s just too sad.

Of all the things I expected to feel and read today, though, I have to say that I did *not* expect to come across buy-a-Glock advertisements as status updates on personal Facebook pages. But, they’re there, being shared and lauded on the 1-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Interestingly enough, everyone who either shares or likes this video is a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian, with nativity scenes as profile photos and “the Bible verse of the day!” displayed alongside the Glock advertisement. Funny that the Bible verse is *never* “turn the other cheek” or “blessed are the peacemakers” or “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

The *only* self-proclaimed evangelical Christian who has murmured a *word* about the Sandy Hook anniversary posted the following photo with the injunction: “pray for a lost world that is in desperate need of so much more than we can ever do on our own.”

Kudos to him for acknowledging, at least, that Sandy Hook was a thing. But, I start twitching whenever I come across the “we can’t do it/only God can” idea, because all too often that’s a convenient excuse to be passive, to wait for some higher power to fix things instead of taking on the responsibility ourselves.

Because the truth is we can do better, just like scores of others (Australians and Britons, anyone?) already have.

And one of the ways we can be and do better is to be informed and to be honest. Because one thing that President Obama, despite the machinations of the NRA, has been able to do is end the 17-year-long block on federally funded gun research (the fact that such a thing existed, and for so long, makes America seem more like North Korea than a free nation, but I digress).

Here are some of the gun-related myths and the facts, courtesy of MotherJones:

Myth: More good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys.
Fact-check: Mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years: 0
• Chances that a shooting at an ER involves guns taken from guards: 1 in 5

Myth: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer.
Fact-check: In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime.
• In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument.
• A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if he carried a gun. His odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater.

Myth: Guns make women safer.
Fact-check: In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
• A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
• One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.

Despite the fact that the Glock commercial features a fantasy land, where the “bad guy” around the corner literally faints at the sight of a gun (I kid you not), it *does* at least promote safe gun storage (a fingerprint activated safe) and an appreciation for working with law enforcement rather than playing the hero.

My problem is:

most of those Christians who are circulating and lauding the commercial (today of all days) aren’t doing so to advocate for gun safety or even to promote productive dialogue about a complicated issue. They’re doing so to celebrate guns and to “offend a liberal” — which (again, I kid you not) the article in which the commercial is ensconced urges. Oh: the article also urges intruders to break into liberals’ homes, because liberals most likely don’t have guns — Christ-like, isn’t it? Tis the season.

Shame on you, US Senate.

To the US Senators who voted down universal background checks, and to the supporters who urged you to do so:

Yesterday, while the US Senate was voting down the Manchin-Toomey gun amendment, which was already an extraordinary compromise on behalf of gun control advocates (i.e. it would have required background checks on all commercial sales of firearms — like those purchased at gun shows and via the Internet), I was teaching Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For?” in my English 102, Rhetoric and Composition class.

Although Appiah, currently the Lawrence S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, suggested in 2010 that future generations will condemn us for our prison system, industrial meat production, the institutionalized and isolated elderly, and the environment, my students (two of whom are from Boston and were visibly shaken by the Monday bombings) used his “three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation”  to discuss our seeming inability to quell what can only be described as domestic terrorism.

Although the most recent incidents (the 4/15 Boston bombings in which 3 people were killed, hundreds injured; and the 4/9 knife attack in a Texas college classroom, in which 14 people were injured) did not involve gun violence, my students focused on gun violence in particular, because of the highly publicized string of mass shootings over the past few years . . . Tuscon, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown.

(1) Appiah’s first sign that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation: “First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn’t emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.”

So, have we heard before some version of:  “we-don’t-sell-firearms-to-criminals-and-the-mentally-ill”?

Here’s one example of a plea for universal background checks in 1999, after Columbine, via NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-oqfPojhec.

2) Appiah’s second sign that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation: “Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, ‘We’ve always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?)'”

I give you Sarah Palin’s celebratory tweet after the Manchin-Toomy amendment failed to pass: “Politicians’ expanded gun control effort fails in the Senate today. Count this a victory for the 2nd Amendment and law-abiding citizens.”

To suggest that thwarting universal background checks is a “win” for tradition, as established in 1791 by the 2nd Amendment, fails to take this into account: click here for a 30 second video totally worth your time. Thank you Upworthy.

3) Appiah’s third sign that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation: “And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit. Those who ate the sugar or wore the cotton that the slaves grew simply didn’t think about what made those goods possible.”

What does strategic ignorance in the gun control debate look like? Here are only a couple of examples, making the rounds on Facebook: a meme that suggests we blame guns when there’s a shooting, even though we blame bombers when there’s a bombing, and drivers when there’s a drunk-driving accident.

When there’s a bombing, we blame the bomber. But, we also do what we can to make it more difficult for people to kill others with bombs — like, we take off our shoes at airports. Thank you, John Oliver.

When there is a drunk driving accident, we blame the drunk driver. But, we also do what we can to make it more difficult for people to drink and drive. As Jon Stewart explains, we “enact stricter blood-alcohol limits, raise the drinking age, ramp up enforcement and penalties, and charge bartenders who serve drunks, and launch huge public awareness campaigns to stigmatize the dangerous behavior in question; and, we do all those things because it might just help bring drunk driving rates down — I don’t know — by two-thirds in a few decades.”

Facebook meme #2 suggests that gun control advocates are delusional to think stricter gun control laws will be obeyed.

Obviously, this meme reveals a misunderstanding of why we make laws in the first place. In “The Gun Lobby’s Dumbest Argument,” Michael Tomasky explains two reasons we continue to make laws, despite the fact that criminals do not always follow said laws (note: this is why they’re called criminals) and despite the fact that said laws won’t prevent all violence. We make laws:

“One, to have a ready statutory means by which to punish the chiselers and sociopaths. And two, to make a statement as a society about what sort of society we are. As it happens, we passed the Clean Water Act of 1972 in part simply to say: whatever sort of society we are, we aren’t one in which we will watch as our rivers catch fire and not try to do anything about it.

We do try to do something about it. Yet even so, and here is my second point, no one thinks laws against pollution will prevent all pollution. Similarly, no one supposes that laws against armed robbery will prevent all armed robbery. No one expects that laws against tax evasion will stop the selfish and the stingy from hiring their selfish and stingy lawyers to identify for them various selfish and stingy new ways around the laws. We do not presume man’s perfectibility. And yet somehow, gun laws are supposed to meet the standard of being able to prevent all future massacres and are criticized as total failures if they don’t? Absurd.”

Strategic ignorance.

In the time it takes to find and post these inane, insidious “arguments”, the anti-gun control side is strategically ignoring pleas from Newtown mothers, like Francine Wheeler. The anti-gun control side is strategically ignoring the stories of those victims of domestic violence who die at the end of a gun, because we live in an America where you can get a restraining order against your partner if he threatens your life, but you can’t violate his 2nd Amendment “right” (even when he threatens your right to . . . um, life) by asking officials take away the gun with which he threatens to (and, in some cases, eventually does) kill you. See Michael Luo’s “In Some States, Gun Rights Trump Orders of Protection”: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/18/us/facing-protective-orders-and-allowed-to-keep-guns.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And the list goes on . . . and on. 3,516 gun deaths since Newtown.

To those of you who voted “no,” and to the supporters who urged you to do so:

You have failed to pass a law that would have shown the world who we want to be: a society that makes at least a valiant effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

Future generations will condemn you for it. And, I condemn you for it now.

I have two children, dressed as superheroes below:

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I hated telling my oldest about Sandy Hook, and then I hated myself for hating it — since, I knew that there were so many Sandy Hook parents who would have given *anything* to be talking to their 6-year-olds at that moment, even about such a horrible thing.

I hate dropping off my 3-year old at school. Irrational though it is, I worry less about my older girl, because she really is a little bit of a superhero in my imagination. As a toddler, she spent nearly a year in an orphanage in Central Asia, skimming her own unpasteurized milk and daring the older kids in her room to take her one sweet treat a day (the Kazakh version of a tootsie role).

She slinks around in Ninja costumes . . .

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. . . and, as I recently discovered when cleaning her room, reads vampire books with wooden stake in hand.

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Deep down, I know she’s just as vulnerable as any other kid, but for my sanity, I let my great admiration of her strength and resourcefulness ease my fear.

But my boy. I have to drop him off at school and walk away, his refrain of

“But I don’t want to go to school! I want to hold you”

or

“But can I go to work with you? I want to go to work with you.”

playing in my head.

There has yet to be a day that I haven’t heard it.

I hate it.

I hated the thrill I got when the school installed new doors — solid, metal ones that are supposed to lock automatically — and I hated the dread that followed when I realized that they have yet to get them to lock properly.

To those of you who voted “no” and to the supporters who urged you to do so: unacceptable, in so many ways.

How dare you?

Shame on you all.

Arina, On Boston

Arina on the rocks

Only four short months ago, I recorded the experience of telling my 8-year-old daughter about the Sandy Hook shooting, here. And here I am again, telling her about the Boston bombings.

The discussion was similar to the Newtown one, except for one thing. Normally, Arina is full of ideas. But, today, she shook her head after reading some of the coverage over my shoulder, sighed and said, “I don’t even know, Mom.”

I didn’t tell her that we’re talking about this on the day that, six years ago, 32 people died in the Virginia Tech shooting. I don’t know why. I’m brutally honest with her most of the time, but talking about Virginia Tech after Sandy Hook and after the bombings just makes the world sound so, so dark.

But I did tell her that we’re talking about this on the day that, fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I read it again, with Arina reading it over my shoulder.

I shared with her a couple of my favorite quotes, and she repeated them back to me in Arina-speak:

(1) MLK Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Arina: “So, we’re all in this together?”

Me: “Right. So, when bad things happen — like bombings and school shootings and people not being treated fairly — it’s an injustice that affects us all. So, it’s our job to think about how to make the world kinder, a more inclusive and less violent place.”

(2) MLK Jr: Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

Arina: “So, we need to be annoying? Like flies?”

Me: “Right. But like nonviolent flies. So, no biting.”

Arina nodded. She has heard our firebrand of a pastor tell us to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight, so she seems to understand the idea of being persistent (even annoyingly so) while searching for light or goodness in dark, dark places.

Dr. Ray tells us to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight all of the time, but Arina and I talked about how it’s especially important when things seem so bad.

“So, what are you going to do?” I asked her.

Arina: “Well . . . I’m really glad I saved that polar bear.” [She donated to a “save the polar bears” fundraiser recently and has pinned a photo of her “adopted” polar bear to a board in her room.] I agreed that saving polar bears makes the world a kinder place.

“So what are you going to do?” she asked me.

I sniffed. “Well, I was going to call Senator Graham today,” I explained, “because it’s supposed to be National Call Day for new gun legislation” [in the form of expanded background checks for gun show and Internet purchases]. But President Obama canceled it.”

Then and there: I decided to call anyway, since it seemed to be a nonviolent gadfly thing to do, and I was happy to see the Brady Campaign still urging people to do so — even though, as my friend Natalie pointed out, the wording of their email could possibly be interpreted as exploiting the Boston tragedy.

For me, though: I wanted to make it clear to my daughter and to my representative that an America plagued by acts of violence is one that I want to change. Calling for expanded background checks on gun purchases had nothing to do with the Boston bombings, and everything to do with the Boston bombings.

Nothing: because regulating materials for bombs is a totally different beast than regulating firearms, clearly. I remember talks of regulating ammonium nitrate fertilizer after the Oklahoma City bombing, but as Natalie points out: materials for bombs are, essentially, available for purchase at any local hardware store. No one is suggesting that expanded background checks on firearms would have made a difference in the Boston bombings.

Everything: Grieving and processing the violence in Boston feels too similar, too familiar to other recent moments of terror. There comes a point, I think, when the tragedies snowball to such an extent that every call attempting to stem the tide of gun violence; or rape culture; or bombings; or bullying becomes an indistinguishable refrain of: I do not approve; I do not condone; I kick for change.

Saving polar bears; or acknowledging that gun ownership is a grave responsibility; or running past the finish line in the Boston Marathon to donate blood: all are attempts to make little cracks in a darkness that seems both overwhelming and penetrable at the very same time.

An Open Letter to Lindsey Graham: Why My College Composition Classroom is Better Than the Senate

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Dear Senator Graham,

I’ve been meaning to write you again, since receiving your response to my letter. I asked you to support the common sense gun laws advocated by Moms Demand Action, which are detailed on their Web page as follows:

1) Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
2) Require background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases.
3) Report the sale of large quantities of ammunition to the ATF, and ban online sales of ammunition.

In response, you wrote, “As we continue to grieve the untimely loss of so many innocent lives, we must not react in a manner than is contrary to what makes this nation so strong. We must not let evil acts of violence defeat the foundations of the United States. Instead, we must find strength in our faith and community, and protect the rights of law-abiding Americans.”

Your response annoyed me, as you can tell from the cherry juice stains in the above photo. Whenever I’m annoyed, I get the bag of chocolate chips and the jar of cherries out of the refrigerator and indulge.

In three sentences, you manage to be both patronizing and wrong.

I am not, as you say, “react[ing] in a manner that is contrary to what makes this nation so strong” — partly because a nation with 32,000 gun deaths a year is not strong. It’s a flimsy, easily damaged mess and needs to be made stronger. That’s what we’re trying to do.

I agree that we “must not let evil acts of violence defeat the foundations of the United States,” but voting for common sense gun laws does not equal defeating the foundations of the United States, as you seem to imply — especially since a foundation of the United States is that we have the right to life. When the liberty (of, say, Nancy Lanza to own military-style assault weapons) infringes on the lives of 6- and 7- year old children (as. it. did.), there is a problem. And we let it happen. As Ravital Segal writes, “Our insufficient mental health services and weak gun control laws embody our society’s passivity — and resulting culpability.”

In your response, you give three “solutions” to the problem that is mass shootings: we should (1) find strength in our faith; (2) find strength in our community; and (3) protect the [2nd Amendment] rights of law-abiding Americans. Our faith is nonviolent and peace-loving, which is antithetical with such weapons of war; our community is damaged and continues to be damaged every day by gun violence (2728 gun deaths since Newtown); and, again: the rights of law-abiding Americans to their lives is more important than what is ultimately, for many, a hobby. As Dianne Feinstein points out: an assault weapons ban would exempt 2,271 types of guns that law-abiding Americans may use for hunting, protection, recreation, etc. But it would not allow the manufacture and distribution of weapons solely designed to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time.

Your solutions are unsatisfactory.

I want you to know, Senator Graham, that the students in my college composition classroom have done a better job understanding, discussing and reaching reasonable compromise on this issue than has the United States Senate. And that’s just sad.

Some things to note:

1. We started the discussion around the same time as the Senate — in January.

2. Like the Senate, the students who comprise my class are a mixture of both liberals and conservatives. On one extreme, a student argued that nonlethal pepper spray is a more valuable weapon for self-defense than a lethal firearm, since you only have to aim in the direction of the attacker to incapacitate him; on the other extreme, a student (a soldier and gun enthusiast) shared his experiences with and love for the AR-15. Unlike those in the Senate, we all seem to genuinely like each other.

For the gun control unit, we read “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”, a transcription of the interview between Richard Heffner and Elie Wiesel, which argues for social responsibility. We agreed that this is an issue worth discussing, a problem worth solving. We read and/or discussed positions articulated by Paul Barrett (author of Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun) and Wayne LaPierre and President Obama, among others. Each student brought in both articles and political cartoons of their choice, investigated the claims presented, and offered their research and subsequent assessment of the arguments.

By the end of the unit, we had discussed a wide range of possible Wayne LaPierre-type solutions, including:

1. Increasing armed guards/police presence in schools (unsatisfactory, the group researching this option concluded, citing examples of both Columbine and Fort Hood; there was an armed guard at Columbine, and lots of armed soldiers at and around Fort Hood).

2. Allowing concealed weapons on campus (unsatisfactory, the group researching this option concluded, citing the Tuscon shooting, where a bystander with a concealed weapon decided, wisely, not to fire in the chaos for fear of hurting an innocent bystander; the bystanders who eventually subdued Jared Lee Loughner were unarmed).

And we discussed the solutions articulated by Moms Demand Action:

While my students agreed unanimously on universal background checks and record-keeping, the assault-weapons ban continued to be a sticking point. Then, my most conservative student offered a compromise: smart gun technology.

In “Newtown Parents Push Silicon Valley Leaders for Tech to Curb Gun Violence,” Josh Richman explains: “The new partnership between the tech community and Sandy Hook Promise — a nonprofit supporting families affected by the massacre and working to make the nation safer from such acts — involves a pledge from about 30 venture capitalists and angel investors to support companies developing technology that can help curb gun violence . . .

Some money might go to firms developing the smart-gun technology — firearms that won’t work without their rightful owner’s biometrics, such as a finger- or palm-print, or perhaps a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip in the owner’s ring or wristband — said Jim Pitkow, chairman of the newly formed Technology Committee to Reduce Gun Violence, which will identify and vet ideas worthy of support.”

Brilliant. 

So, Senator Graham: you don’t support an assault weapons ban. I ask, then, that you advocate for smart gun technology on all firearms. I ask that you advocate for buyback programs, through which firearms without smart gun technology can be recycled. And, finally, I ask that you draft a new form letter that actually engages with the debate thoughtfully (e.g. as my 18-year old students have learned to do), instead of wasting paper with “faith/community/rights” gibberish.

Disingenuousness and High Horses

Nothing puts me on my high horse as quickly as disingenuous behavior. In the gun control debate that is still raging fiercely on social media sites like Facebook, I find that I am less annoyed (still annoyed, but less) with those Wayne LaPierre types who make their stance known than I am by those who flirt with the issue, posting something now and then to support whatever they see as the conservative standpoint and then immediately hemming and hawing as to their intent.

Example: This week, a video of Obama from 2008 showed up on Facebook pages. To introduce this video, one Facebook poster wrote:

“Obama: I Will NOT Take Your Guns away

I’m not a huge 2nd amendment activist, but I do believe in honesty. I only like flip flops on my feet!”

Curious, I watched the video, only to hear a version of nearly the exact same thing Obama said in his recent gun control speech: that he is not looking to take away handguns, shotguns, and hunting rifles. (Instead, he is asking Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines as one of many measures that may make mass shootings like the Sandy Hook massacre less likely to happen.)

Although I normally stay away from conservative Facebook pages like the plague, I admitted in a comment that I didn’t understand the post, since Obama has continued to say the same thing in more recent speeches. The poster replied: “I’m just saying I hope he was honest in his campaign speech and his current intentions. That’s all.”

Disingenuous.

Still, satisfied that my question had at least been acknowledged and addressed, I gave the poster a “thumbs up,” much to Natalie’s chagrin:

“I wouldn’t let that fly for one second. I’d ask, ‘You said, “I only like flip flops on my feet!” So, who flip-flopped? Your implication is that Obama did. Your next post implied that Obama did not. So . . . the only flip-flopper I see is you.'”

But I was eager to move on and away, although the thread seemed loathe to let me do so. Another commentator addressed me by name and informed me that our 2nd amendment means we must have the same weapons our military does to defend ourselves against the government.

When I pointed out that we have long ago lost the ability to defend ourselves against the government, he cried straw man and moved into argument #2, which was my apparent “skewed” understanding of the 2nd amendment.

When I pointed out that I had recently read the 2nd amendment in preparation to teach a section on gun control in my Rhetoric and Composition class (more recently I suspect than anyone on the thread had done, if at all), the original poster cried red herring! He proceeded to assert that just because I teach critical reading and rhetoric doesn’t mean I understand it, which explains — of course — his eagerness to cry fallacy. I listed my qualifications, which only prompted him to say that he wasn’t challenging or even referring to my understanding and teaching.

Disingenuous, again.

The conversation continued to devolve, but not before reminding me of the following five truths:

(1) For some conservatives, change in any form is “bad:” The original poster’s implication, that Obama would be “bad” if he reneged on comments made four years ago reflects why the conservative party may be headed, as House Speaker Boehner lamented recently, “for the dust bin.” Change is sometimes necessary to address current problems. Obama did not flip flop on the particular point in question, but even if he did: to reexamine previous assertions, to consider changing in response to a string of mass shootings (Tuscon, Aurora, Oak Creek and Newton), is more noble, not less.

(2) There seems to be both a worship of and fear of the US military: How many times have I rolled my eyes over discussions of reducing the deficit, when the GOP has refused to give an inch on military spending, despite the fact that the US spends a ridiculous amount compared to other countries? Because of the GOP, we have an unmatched military and arsenal of weapons; and, now, in the gun control debate, some conservatives are insisting on keeping their assault weapons and high capacity magazines so that they will stand a chance against the “monster” they created, should it turn monstrous.

(3) “Literal” interpretation, whether of the Bible or the Constitution, is problematic: At one point, a commentator insisted that as a “CITIZEN” for whom the Constitution was written, he has a right to teach me the 2nd Amendment. I think he must be mistaking me for Piers Morgan.

As Natalie pointed out in private discussion: “No, he’s not the citizen for whom the Constitution was written unless he’s MUCH older than he claims. The Constitution was written pre- these sorts of weapons.”

Back in December, I read a New Yorker article about the fraught history of both 2nd Amendment interpretation and the NRA. As Jeffrey Toobin explains, “For more than a hundred years . . . according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon.” Then, a powerful group of conservatives “pushed for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that gave individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms,” and ultimately won.

Toobin concludes, “Conservatives often embrace ‘originalism,’ the idea that the meaning of the Constitution was fixed when it was ratified, in 1787. They mock the so-called liberal idea of a ‘living’ constitution, whose meaning changes with the values of the country at large. But there is no better example of the living Constitution than the conservative re-casting of the Second Amendment in the last few decades of the twentieth century . . . In other words, the law of the Second Amendment is not settled; no law, not even the Constitution, ever is.”

Recognizing historical/cultural context is important, as is the willingness to change when change is needed (see, again, point number 1).

(4) Higher education is desired, but also dismissed and scorned: Most of my conservative peers with young children will mention the college funds they’ve started for them while simultaneously dismissing and even ridiculing college instructors.

In this Facebook interaction, both the original poster and a commentator attacked my reading and argument, and then seemed particularly offended when I mentioned that I’ve been trained on a professional level to do both.

I’m no Constitutional scholar, so the 2nd Amendment isn’t my expertise — but critical thinking and language is. I don’t presume to know about accounting or nursing or any range of other professions. In fact, I often poke fun at my utter lack of knowledge in any field other than the one I practice.

My trade is words. I read them; I interpret them; I write them; I live them.

I caused quite the stir when I corrected a sarcastic remark addressed to “ms. Fisk” by saying “Dr. Fisk.” The original poster implied this was a “high horse” thing to say. But, after 10 years of higher education and a dissertation, I’ve earned my title.

(5) Facebook is sometimes like a return to high school: One of my more brilliant, entertaining Facebook friends (Jonathan Alexandratos: I’m looking at you) said the following after several people challenged one of my Facebook posts about gun control:

“I think I’m having flashbacks to, like, Middle School gym class! And I don’t want to be mean to anyone, naturally. (People this underemployed aren’t allowed to be mean.) But after a while it just sounds like the prison is telling me all the other wonderful uses for the electric chair. ‘Lots of us use it to cook eggs on!’ ‘It’s a stunning example of Bauhaus art…’ ‘Sometimes? It’s just a nice, warm place to sit.'”

I was indeed teased in middle/high school and never imagined that the teasing would continue by many of the same people (now in their 30s, for God’s sake) with the advent of social media sites like Facebook, but here we are. During the past few days, I’ve opened my news feed to thinly veiled references about needing a “Dr,” in quotation marks, for this or that.

Here are the differences, though, between Facebook and high school; and they’re important ones: First, I’m not bothered by the teasing, as I was in middle/high school. I’m transfixed by it at times; it’s a curiosity, for sure, to think of how little some people change with the passage of time, how easily they fall into the same habits.

Secondly, you may call it a “high horse,” if you will, but I prefer to think of it as being confident enough not to be demeaned and, instead, to assert both my worth (something I was too shy to do in high school) as well as the worth of others unfairly forgotten or ignored.

Some of these “others” are Sandy Hook parents whose testimonies in the gun control debate are given second fiddle to people like Bill Stevens, a Newton resident who channeled Charlton Heston in an address to Connecticut lawmakers. As a last word, the Facebook poster heretofore referenced tagged me when posting Stevens’s video, one entitled “Sandy Hook Father Owns Congress,” and commenting “Wow and Amen.”

Two things:

(1) To say “Amen,” to add a religious dimension to an argument against any additional gun control and in favor of the proliferation of military style assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and hollow point bullets (weapons of mass murder, if you will) is to blaspheme the “Prince of Peace” you claim to follow. I continue to be amazed that the very Facebook acquaintances who post devotionals and gospel songs on a near daily basis also post arguments that are so clearly a perversion of the life and example of Jesus.

(2)  Bill Stevens neither owned Congress, since he was not on Capital Hill, nor has a right to the title of “Sandy Hook father” solely because his daughter goes to another Newton school in the Sandy Hook district.

When I said as much, the poster corrected the former (the bit about Congress) but refused to correct the latter, saying, “He is from Newtown, daughter went to school a mile or so down the road . . . close enough to a Sandy Hook father to me!”

Saying that Stevens is a “Sandy Hook father” is a disservice to the actual Sandy Hook parents, like Veronique Pozner, speaking out for change. Veronique (mother of 6-year old victim Noah), also, was at this event. She insisted on seeing her son’s body, despite the fact that the coroner warned her against it (his jaw and left hand were mostly gone), and she insisted on both an open casket (with a cloth below Noah’s closed eyes) and on the governor seeing the body. She explained “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.”

Neil Heslin (father of 6-year old victim Jesse), also, was at this event. He said, “I tried to think of a reason why we would need guns and weapons like that for hunting, and the only thing I could think of is maybe deer management . . . I ask that we ban those weapons and I ask that we look more into mental health, education and the people who have those weapons. There should be strict background checks.”

Bill Wheeler (father of 6-year old victim Benjamin), also, was at this event. He said, “Thomas Jefferson described our inalienable rights as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard and casual. The liberty of any person to own a military assault weapon and high-capacity magazine and to keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life.”

Peter Paradis (father of 29-year old victim Rachel), also, was at this event. He said, “I am a gun owner; Rachel enjoyed shooting as well. We don’t need 30-round clips to kill a deer, we don’t need AR-style rifles to go target shooting. We need action.”

As Saki Knafo writes about this particular event, “As with the earlier hearing on gun violence, opinions were mixed on whether the legislature should pass stricter gun control measures, like a ban on semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines. But none of the speakers whose children died in the shooting opposed such measures, and some vehemently argued in favor of them.” Of all the Sandy Hook parents, Mark Mattioli (father of 6-year old victim James) focused more on mental health than gun control, although even he addressed the necessity of more strictly enforcing existing gun control laws (the NRA has weakened the regulatory ATF agency to the point that it can, at best, “recommend” gun sellers do such things as keep records and not sell to drunk people).

In short, there is a difference between Stevens’s designation as “Sandy Hook parent” and Veronique Pozner’s, et al, and I said as much. The poster’s response: “In your OPINION. I have my own opinion.”

No. That Pozner is a “Sandy Hook parent” and that Stevens is not is a matter of fact, not opinion. There is a body of a six-year old boy to prove it. To suggest that there is no difference is: at best, disingenuous; at worst, morally bankrupt; and, in either case, a very definitive third strike against the Facebook poster in this week’s debate.