No More Guns Over People


I’ve never held a gun, owned a gun, fired a gun, or had the first thing to do with a gun. They aren’t my thing, but they are many people’s thing. That’s fine. I’m not here to pass judgment on anybody for that. But the Columbine shooting happened just a few days after my older daughter was born, and how many mass shootings have happened since then? Sandy Hook hit me hard, and Orlando did too, but there are probably a hundred others where I shook my head and moved along until it happened again. That can’t happen anymore.
I’m quite comfortable with the 2016 elections being a binary propositions about guns in this country. Either we do nothing at all to limit people’s access to guns–the NRA model–or we do something in the hope that it saves even one life somewhere. If your home is on fire, you don’t passively watch it burn. But that’s what our Congress is doing, and will continue to do. The NRA owns them, and their inaction on this matter is entirely by design.
So vote guns this fall, or don’t. It really is just that simple. Mark Kirk, my senator in Illinois, broke ranks with his party (the GunsOverPeople crowd) but it won’t be enough to get him re-elected, not when his war hero opponent was on the House floor during yesterday’s sit in. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and these are indeed desperate times. Grieving families from coast to coast will attest to that.

A tragedy in Kentucky (with update)


The story out of Kentucky today is enough to break the heart of anyone who has one. A five-year old boy, who apparently was given a rifle as a present by his terminally vacant parents, fired a shot from his rifle and killed his two year-old sister. Yes, a two year-old was shot and killed by a five year-old. If that’s not a sign of the price that guns exact on our society, I’m not sure what could be. Something needs to give, in order to keep something like this from ever happening again.

But a look at the website–and especially the “Kids’ Corner” page–of is nothing short of terrifying. Here’s a company that makes real, actual rifles, and markets them specifically to young children. Children like the five year-old who just killed his little sister. Amendment Two apparently trumps the life of a Two year-old child.

So what should be done to the parents of the boy and his dead sister? They negligently left the gun out, with a round still in it, and now a child–their child–is dead. Are the parents to face criminal charges for this? They need to, or else a little girl will have died in vain.

I want somebody to make a statement about how enforcing the existing gun laws would have prevented this, or how the death of this child is a price that must be paid to keep the status quo in place. There will be some worthless platitudes given about grieving for the family, but the NRA will continue to fight against anything that might have prevented this from happening. The two year-old wouldn’t have understood this term, but tough luck for you, kid.

It’s a sad day in America when something like this happens. What can be done to fix it? As a society, we must try to come up with something to make a change. To do nothing would be the coward’s way out.

UPDATE: Speaking of cowards, the Crickett website is down today. I imagine they don’t like the light that has been shone on their business since this happened.

One man’s protest


Boston dominated the news this week, and it should have. I’ve never seen a more riveting story about one city and its grit. Hats off to everyone who rose to the occasion and turned a terrible event into a lesson in strength. I will always be in awe of how the city came together in the face of this tragedy.

But another tragedy unfolded in Washington DC this week. With the families of Sandy Hook Elementary victims looking on, the Senate failed to pass any meaningful gun reforms. They failed to do anything, even in the face of wide public support for measures like increased background checks. The NRA and their Republican puppets (along with a few Democrats, too) won this round, but they must not be allowed to triumph in the end. Guns kill too many people for us to close our eyes and leave the status quo in place. Change needs to come, whether the NRA wants it to or not.

The house of Congress that is made up of two members from every state, no matter what the population of the states are, is usually referred to as the Senate. While the capital S has traditionally been taken as a mark of respect for this institution, they no longer deserve any respect, in light of their cowardly failure to act. So from now on, I’m calling them the senate, and maybe even the U.S. senate, to be technically correct. But that capital S at the beginning of their collective name? No, I’m not willing to use that any more. They’re just the senate to me.

This won’t change a thing, in the grand scheme of things. They’ll continue to do whatever it is they do (or don’t do) without any regard for the actual will of the people. I’m willing to incur the wrath of grammarians, who would rather stand on tradition by affording the institution a measure of undeserved respect. But the senate no longer deserves such deference, nor will they be getting it from me.

An idea that deserved to fail


A few weeks ago, a story appeared in the New York Times, indicating that the NRA was behind a campaign of essentially normalizing guns for children. The idea was to get kids into things like paintball, but also to plant the seed in their minds that maybe shooting real guns was worth looking into down the road.

I hope whoever wrote this story wins an award somewhere, because it reveals exactly what those of us who want fewer guns, and not more guns, are up against. In some way, it allowed us to get the drop on the NRA. Ironically enough, I just used a term that had its origins as a gun reference, before taking on a more general meaning later on. Funny how that works.

So when I saw the display above in a big box store in the suburbs today, I felt happy. The item being sold off was a gun that can be used in a snowball fight. It was a cheap plastic thing that looked like it relied on rubber bands to propel the snowball, and someone bought these up and priced them at $20. Today, they were being sold off at $6 each, and there were enough of them on hand to give me the distinct impression that the store had wildly overestimated the public’s interest in such a product.

We received very little snow this winter, and since it’s nearly March, all Winter items are probably going to be sold at a markdown soon. But I want to believe that whoever thought a snowball gun was a good idea has learned a lesson. May we never see such a stupid product on store shelves again.

Any kid–and I’m convinced nobody over the age of about twelve would want this–who wants to shoot a snowball at someone is not the kind of kid I want my own kids to be around. The NRA is probably giddy about it, though.

Maybe this is how the Newtown shooter, or the Aurora shooter, or any of a thousand other people who pull a trigger and end a life–or at least try to–got their start. Not with a snowball gun, perhaps, but with the idea that it’s acceptable to use a weapon to hurt someone. If ever there was a place where no weapons should ever be used, a snowball fight is it.

Should these childhood rituals ever become militarized, the NRA really will have a victory on their hands. But the scene at one suburban store has me hopeful, at least.

I got you, babe


Groundhog Day is one of the more ingenious movies to have come along in my lifetime. Yes, it’s funny, and that made it entertaining to watch. But what made it ingenious was how it has become a cultural shorthand for the same thing happening over and over and over again. When you tell someone that something is “like Groundhog Day” they know exactly what you mean. And how many movies can you say that about?

One of the things about Phil, Bill Murray’s character in the movie, is that once he realizes what’s going on with the same day being repeated over and over again, he uses this recurrence to modify his behavior. Take the scene where he asks Rita, Andie McDowell’s character, out for some coffee. He learns about what she likes, and then goes about becoming that person. He learns to play the piano, after he discovers that she wants a guy who’s a musician. He then gets the girl, and as a result his repeating day spell is broken the next day. There was no more “I got you, babe” played on the radio to start each day.

So I want to apply this lesson to the wave of gun shootings taking place in this country. When someone shoots up a high school in Colorado, or a college campus in Virginia, or a mosque in Wisconsin, we should take notes and learn from those experiences. The shooter who killed several people in Arizona, and severely wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, had to stop firing to reload his weapon, and that’s when he was taken down. So smaller magazines would make a difference to prevent these things from happening again. We can learn from the tragedies, in order to prevent similar ones in the future. That shouldn’t be so hard to do.

But the gun makers don’t see it that way. Using the Second Amendment as a full and complete bar to any sort of reasonable gun restrictions–which might save the lives of innocent bystanders one day in the future–they go to great lengths to suggest that no changes should be made. And they throw their political and PR weight around until we, as a nation, get distracted by something else, and then life goes on. Or, at least it does until the next gun massacre takes place. Modifying our collective behavior in the hopes of getting the girl isn’t in the NRA’s playbook, because they’ve already got the girl right now. It’s the rest of us that have to watch as children are blasted into bloody bits.

Let’s see this for what it is. “Getting the girl” as Phil saw it in Groundhog Day, is reaching a point where these massacres don’t happen quite so much anymore. The experiences of Newtown and Aurora and the Kenwood neighborhood in Chicago can all help us to get there, if we make this a priority.

Let’s all of us understand that the NRA doesn’t want us to get the girl, and will do everything it can–up to and including distorting the Constitution–in order to see that it doesn’t happen. For a group of unarmed children standing in a park on a rainy day after final exams are over, their answer is to put more guns into the equation, not to remove the one that was already there. But that way of thinking won’t help any of us learn from the past. And it will only provide a steady diet of “I got you, babe” in the morning.

The gun issue rears its ugly head, again

We live in troubling times, indeed. A Congresswoman who was shot in the head and somehow survived, addressed Congress and pleaded for new gun restrictions. Too many children are dying, she said. And then, the day after she made these remarks, we get another example of exactly what Gabby Giffords was speaking of.

The girl on the left in the video above, Hadiya Pendleton, was a sophomore in high school until a couple of days ago. She was standing under a bus shelter, keeping out of the rain with a group of her friends, when some idiot jumped a fence, fired some shots, and ran away. And now the world knows her name, and not in a good way, either.

The NRA would have us believe that a group of high school children, having just taken their final exams, could have prevented this shooting if they were carrying weapons. They’re hoping the ludicrous nature of this argument takes us away from the fact that if this fence-jumping idiot had not had a gun in his possession, nobody would be dead. Is this what they really believe? And what makes anyone believe a group of teenagers with guns is a good idea to begin with? Trust me, it isn’t.

This all happened in the neighborhood that President Obama lives in. You could walk from the crime scene to his house in less time than it takes to read this post. And yet, somehow, any talk of limiting or restricting the flow of guns onto the streets of Chicago is greeted with cries of “tyranny.” I guess that children dying, at an ever-increasing rate, is just fine with these people, so long as it’s not happening where they live.

It’s a terrible commentary on where we are as a society that this continues to happen. I hope we can somehow find our way to a rational place, before too much more killing takes place. This saps our nation’s strength more effectively than any external enemy ever could. All who love this country must heed Congresswoman Giffords’ call to action. As she said, be bold, Congress. That’s what you’re there for.

I’m on the President’s side


My one and only uncle-by-marriage was an avid hunter, and I could count the number of times I actually saw him in my life, if not on one hand, then certainly on two. The only time I can remember being his house was  horrifying to me, because a large trophy was mounted on the wall of his, was it a den? Whatever he called it, there was a deer’s head and a very large set of antlers that dominated the room. The first time I saw it–and I think I was about ten years old–I knew I could never be a hunter. Killing that animal, and then mounting its head on the wall, struck me as a barbaric act.

At Christmas dinner every year, my uncle would go on and on about the Nashnul Rahful Soseeashun and what a good thing they were doing for all Americans. He must have known that my family had no guns, and had no inclination toward guns, and this must have rubbed him the wrong way. Just like evangelicals go out looking for converts to their religion, my uncle seemed to think that we should all own and use guns, even if we didn’t realize it.

The last time I saw my uncle, not long before I left my hometown to go away for college, he offered to enroll me in a gun training course, and to pay for it himself. Knowing how little I actually saw him, and not being the least bit interested in learning how to shoot a gun or a rifle or anything of that nature, I put him off with some sort of an “I’ll think about it” line. And sure enough, I never saw him again, as he passed away several years later.

I thought about my uncle in the wake of the Newtown Massacre last month. Why none of the other shooting rampages brought him to mind is beyond me. But I remembered the offer that he made to me the last time I saw him, and it made Adam Lanza a bit more understandable to me. Adam Lanza’s mother had guns, and she took her son to shooting ranges with her. Guns were introduced to him at an early age, by an older family member.

I was never introduced to guns, by my father, my uncle, or anyone else, but I’ve seen what guns have done, and will continue to do, to my city and my nation. Guns have thinned our collective herd, and for some this is the price that must be paid to preserve the Second Amendment. I see it a different way, though. For all of the innocent lives lost in Newtown, and Aurora, and Chicago, and a thousand other places, we need to make our stand.

President Obama is taking a huge risk to his personal safety in doing this, but right is on his side. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Let’s don’t forget about it

Today I had to drop off a cable box at a customer service center. The place was empty, which I had never seen before in this location. People seem to love their cable TV, and there are always long lines of people whenever I have gone there in the past. But today was a nice change of pace.

As I explained to the lady working behind the counter what my issue was, the TV that was on in the room had a CNN story about guns, asking whether we would ever be able to find some common ground about what to do with them. The lady behind the counter asked me what I thought about guns, and in particular the story of the fire fighters who were killed while responding to a fire alarm in western New York. The lull in business to the customer service center made this conversation possible, and I was glad it did. As anyone who knows me or reads my blog can attest, I’m always happy to share my opinions.

I told her that it was a tragedy for the families of the firefighters, and for us a nation as well. On the heels of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, it proves that something needs to be done. What exactly that is isn’t clear, but we can’t accept the status quo any more.

I also told her that news outlets like CNN are part of the problem. The 24-hour news cycle that makes an event from three days ago feel like ancient history allows us all to forget about things like firefighters killed in the line of duty. Life doesn’t ever return to normal for the victims of these crimes and their surviving families, but as soon as a big storm comes along, or a political scandal takes place, or any of a hundred other distractions occurs, we’re focused on that, instead of remembering the tragedy that just took place. Until, of course, the next gun tragedy comes along, just as it always does.

The lady behind the service window agreed with me, and told me that we need to keep this issue in the forefront of people’s minds. We parted by wishing each other a good day, and a happy new year as well. It sucks that such a set of circumstances had to occur in order to have a conversation like this with a stranger, but it’s one that I’m happy to have had.

I walked out of the service center, and thought about the ending of Santana’s song “Smooth.” It’s one of my favorite songs, from one of my favorite albums, and I’ve not written about it before in this space. Near the end of the song, Rob Thomas–who wrote the song, but only sang it after Carlos Santana suggested it–sings “let’s don’t forget about it” over and over again.

It’s Thomas’ frenetic insistence that helps to bring a truly great song to its conclusion. I didn’t want to forget my conversation with the lady, whose name I didn’t even learn, because we forget about important things too readily in our society.

Gun violence keeps on happening, and when we forget about this–or become sidetracked by what Lindsay Lohan is doing, or other such trivial matters–then assault rifles will continue to be sold to civilians, high-capacity magazines will continue to be stockpiled, and the NRA will keep working to normalize guns in our society. We’ve let it happen for too long already, so let’s stop it while we’re already far, far behind. Or as Rob Thomas suggests, “Let’s don’t forget about it.”

Ted Nugent and the American Way

I really don’t want to spend time on Ted Nugent. What he said to the NRA convention in St. Louis, as disturbing as it sounds, is still within his right as an American. But his contempt for the system of government that we have in this country is another matter, altogether. To put it plainly, he doesn’t get it.

What Nugent said, to a room full of people who don’t much care for President Obama, is that “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.” I’m assuming that Ted and his band of self-annointed warriors are the “We” in his sentence, but who is the “they”? Whose heads need to be chopped off? And what is it that warrants the head-chopping? Is viewing the world differently from Ted Nugent a head-chopping offense? I respectfully submit that if that’s really how it is in Mr. Nugent’s world, he needs to get a grip on what this country is.

We the people elected Barack Obama as the president back in 2008. And a few months from now, w’ll get a chance to do it again. Or we will decide to put somebody else in, instead. And whoever wins gets to be the president for four years. Mr. Nugent may not like that, but the best part is that he doesn’t have to put up with it. Lots of other countries around the world settle these matters by force of arms. He has every right to go live there, if that’s the life he wants to have for himself.

But the worst part, the get-the-attention-of-the-Secret-Service part, is the part where he promised that he will be either “dead or in jail” if President Obama is re-elected. And why is that? Does he have any plans for what happens in that event? I’m willing to chalk that up to being provocative in order to collect a speaker’s fee, but others might not be so charitable.

Once his countrymen speak at the ballot box, Mr. Nugent has two clear choices: He can either get over it–regardless of what the outcome is–or he can go live, as I suggested, in a place where violence carries the day. I vote for the latter (that means the second one), but the choice is his to make.

After the Secret Service closed their file, the news media–especially those who are sympathetic to the NRA/Obama-hating world view–will expect us to turn our attention to something else.  But before that happens, let’s understand what he have in this country, and stand for the principle that no one gets to overrule the will of the people, whatever that might be.

Putting my money where my mouth is

When I was in college, back in the late 1980s, the fashionable cause among college students was putting an end to apartheid in South Africa. If you’re younger than 35, you may never had heard that term before, and that’s a good thing. It was an awful system, which imprisoned Nelson Mandela for decades, cost Steve Biko and many others their lives, and dehumanized millions of  people on the basis of race. It had no place in the modern world, and we’re all better off now that it’s gone.

The principal strategy of the protests was demanding that universities divest themselves of all financial holdings in South Africa. The thinking was that by investing in a nation with such terrible laws, the universities were implicitly condoning the system. They were even helping to prop it up, in some way. There were lots of places that universities could invest their money, and where people weren’t treated as less than human. Divestiture was one way–maybe the only way–that outsiders could exert any pressure on South Africa. And apparently it worked. Mandela was released from prison, and was subsequently elected as the first president of a new, post-apartheid South Africa.

As a college student, the only thing I could invest in came with one topping on it, and was delivered to my door in 30 minutes or less. But I watched and learned how money can be used to make a statement. I hoped I would be able to apply that lesson some day, and today was the day that it happened.

As I wrote about here, Coca-Cola provides funding to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC for short. One of ALEC’s other funders, the National Rifle Association, used Florida as a test case for the “Stand your ground” law, which is now at the center of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. I won’t say that Coca-Cola directly had anything to do with this law, but I will say that ALEC ties them to this law, if only in an indirect way. And that’s enough for me.

When I learned of Coke’s involvement with ALEC, I decided to sell the few shares of  Coca-Cola that I had in a brokerage account. I bought them a few years ago, when stocks were crashing low, and this investment did pay off pretty well when I finally sold it. They also pay their shareholders $2 a share in dividends each year, and that number has gone up continuously for more than 50 years. I’ll never see any of that money again, but I’m all right with that. Trayvon Martin has it much worse than I ever will.

I divested myself of a few shares of a stock, and the proceeds aren’t worth getting too excited about. Coke will keep on making their money and giving it back to their stockholders, but that group doesn’t include me anymore. The money that I got will soon be reinvested into another stock, but one that won’t have anything to do with ALEC. In fact, that will be the first thing I’ll look for when scouting out the next investment I’ll make.

Am I also willing to go looking at mutual funds, and sell off any that are invested in Coke? No, not yet. This is just a step in that direction, but  at least it’s a start.