Category Archives: 21st Century Enlightenment

Pertains to issues of stewardship and the commons.

What’s Energizing Immigration Drama?

The Wall and now the administration’s treatment of undocumented people are far more energizing symbols to the Trumpist than any realistic evaluation of the underlying social problems immigrants bring.  The rhetoric suggests people who don’t look like “us” (descendants of white northern European immigrants) and don’t speak our language (English) bring crime and are a social burden. But the facts say otherwise: they work, pay taxes, and abide by the law. Indeed they contribute more than they take.

So what’s the hidden problem here?

This meme taken from a Facebook post on a conservative’s newsfeed is core to the bedrock fear of Trumpists: their vision of the good life in America is being eroded. They see immigration as a threat.

When I saw this the words “… impose their culture and beliefs upon this country while at the same time destroying or removing the traditions and beliefs we call dear …” I remembered a viral email I wrote about two years ago.  I think that email captures something that progressives can’t or won’t see: a cultural identity issue.

 

 

Here is the link to that 2016 pre-election essay. I think it is just as relevant now as then, and I’d only change one paragraph. I’ll let you see if you can identify what I would revise…

The “Silent” Minority

The Blacksmith Metaphor

Iron and steel can be shaped and hardened into durable implements with fire and repeated blows. Maybe the “heat” generated in our turbulent society will allow us to shape it for the better. It’s up to those who love peace to stay engaged lest others forge only weapons, chains, and shackles.

The durable metal [mettle?] of American Individualism and independence needs tempering with compassion and stewardship for the common good. It’s about having integrity as an inclusive and beloved community. Can that vision be forged from the base metal of predatory self-interest? How much heat and how many blows are necessary?

[photo: Shutterstock]

Image may contain: fire
 Thanks to George Lakey for the metaphor of heat softening the metal so that it can be worked and shaped. The song “If I had a hammer” comes to mind.

The “Welfare” Mentality?

Some people see an injustice in our tax system because they see it as stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. They resent “Confiscatory” taxes — those they pay for the benefit of others that they don’t think they should be forced to subsidize.  They resent public spending on welfare of all kinds: unemployment benefits, public education, parks and recreation, … it’s a long list.

Libertarians are often the most outspoken critics. And the GOP, enabled by the Trump administration, is likely to savagely gut existing programs.  The American Dream is predicated on a healthy work ethic.  Hard work, thrift, and personal sacrifice in the early lean years are rewarded by abundance and leisure later on. Continue reading The “Welfare” Mentality?

The Power of Fear

Fear has been a major component in the 2016 political campaign and continues to be a tactic of the Trump team as they prepare for him to take office.  All of us need to understand how fear can cause us to make bad choices. But we also need to learn how to combat it. What follows is an excellent video that demonstrates how fear was used as a tactic in the campaign.  The remainder of this post is remarks about Fear and Faith shared by Marguerite Chandler, my spouse, at the Newtown Friends Meeting this morning. Continue reading The Power of Fear

How to be “A Good Loser”

Some of my conservative friends are responding to posts by angry Democrats with, “Be a good loser.”  In sports, where it’s only a game, being a good loser means congratulating the other team and thanking them for a good game.  It’s play — or should be.

But the policies and actions of our government are not a game. It is the responsibility of every citizen to make certain that government is good government. flag-plateIn this election a man has been elected whose values and character are deeply flawed.  Much ink has been devoted to cataloging his shortcomings. His choices of advisors and staff are not encouraging:

The short list of White House cabinet picks (see below) reads like a Who’s-Who of rightwing know-nothings (Sarah Palin), dangerous retreads (Newt Gingrich and John Bolton), arch conservatives (Sam Brownback), disgraced hacks (Chris Christie), Wall Street regressives (Steven Mnuchin), and raving opportunists (Rudi Giuliani). Already installed as chief strategist and senior counselor is a white supremacist (Steve Bannon), and, as chief of staff, a Trump toady and party apologist (Reince Priebus).

If personnel is policy, this isn’t looking good. [Robert Reich, Facebook 11/14/16]

In our democracy being a good loser means defending American values as embodied in the constitution. It also means defending inalienable and inherent human rights.  Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — which are possible only with conscious stewardship of our planet, equality, peace, integrity, and community.

We may have lost but we’ll never give up, whatever it takes!

 

OUR “ELECTION” ESSAY

Dear friends,

Instead of our usual year-end letter, we’ve decided to speak from our hearts about the current election and what it means to us.

Jonesborough Courthouse
Jonesborough Courthouse

We’ve written this essay together—sharing our spiritual concerns  and our extensive analysis of the situation.  It’s divided into five sections:

  1. How did we get here?
  2. Personality vs. Character/Morality.
  3. Who benefits from our disconnection, confusion, and disillusionment?
  4. Values worth dying for?
  5. The concerns we have are not going away (no matter who wins).

We hope you’ll receive our letter in the spirit that we’ve written it—as an invitation to ongoing inquiry. Our country is at a crucial turning point.

How did we get here?

Many of us are distressed with the current state of American politics, the ugliness, the bitterness, the distrust of the media, the candidates, the Congress, each other.

League of Women Voters Yard Sign
League of Women Voters Yard Sign

When Richmond and I were young adults, we trusted our parents, our family doctor, our banker, our teachers, and our neighbors. We respected news people like Walter Cronkite or Bill Moyers and their investigative journalism.  We used to feel connected to our larger world.  But extreme mobility and digital media have broken down that sense of community and connectedness.  Now everything has become “entertainment:”  news, food, sports, gun violence.  We’re texting, Instagramming, Facebooking, Tweeting, running to keep up, grasping for diversions.  We’re accomplished but exhausted, successful but soul-weary.

Many Americans spend more time viewing and reading about sports events than they do about the workings of our government. Retired Supreme court Justice David Suter, in 2012, spoke about “Civic Ignorance” and how it puts democracy at risk. He expressed the fear that an autocratic leader could exploit discontent and seize power by promising to fix dysfunctional government.

Bit by bit, what used to give our lives meaning has been eroded.  Advertising tells us we’re not good enough.  Media shows us there are only winners and losers.  The implicit assumption is that power and force alone win the day.  Family dynamics in movies and on TV show competition, cynicism and sarcasm instead of loyalty, caring, hope and generosity of spirit.  The world as the media presents it often seems evil, untrustworthy, and downright scary.

In politics, widespread gerrymandering has resulted in extreme candidates who support partisan stagnation, and fail to perform basic functions like appointing judges, funding government operations, and working towards viable solutions to our state and national problems. Lobbyists are paid more than our legislators and their staff combined (and there are 23 lobbyists for every person in Congress). Elected officials spend more time raising campaign money than they do preparing bills or deliberating on legislation. Everyone, including our representatives,  is fed up.

Personality vs. Character

Two 2016 candidates used the discontent to challenge the political establishment.  Ordinarily such grassroots-driven change would be cause for celebration of the democratic process—but not so much this time.  One so-called  “populist” candidate has appealed to fear, bigotry, hate, and a false nationalism that has rallied many to him for what he’s not:not a politician”, “not politically correct”, “not elitist”, and “not a compromiser.”  Perhaps more hopefully, Bernie Sanders won major changes in the Democratic platform and pulled Hillary back to her Progressive roots.

Quakers have a saying, “Let your life speak.” None of us live up to our ideals all of the time, but it does matter that we learn from our mistakes. We’ve looked into the records of both candidates. Hillary Clinton is a career politician whose accomplishments and failures are very public, but she’s got a long record of service and caring for the poor and the middle class and the experience and temperament to lead and govern.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has the appearance of success in business, but the more one learns about him, the less there is to like or respect.  He’s a savvy and skillful promoter of new enterprises. But 1/3 of his ventures have been outright failures.  Another 1/3 have been marginal at best, and 1/3 have “met expectations” according to the New York Times.  He’s presided over six bankruptcies that represent about $4.7 billion in losses to his investors and creditors. He openly brags that he personally made money as those companies failed. Just this month the Trump Taj Mahal closed.  Though Forbes Magazine estimates Trump’s current net worth at $3.7 billion, economist Robert Reich has calculated that the funds he received from his dad, if invested in an average performing portfolio, would now be worth $12 billion.  His career is also besmirched by his predatory practices with vendors and contractors.  Trump left a trail of unpaid bills and more than 3,500 litigations building his personal wealth. His crude remarks about women have dominated the headlines as we wrote this.  His public speeches and appearances have been so full of misinformation and outright lies that he has set records with fact-checking organizations.

Daily Newspaper Endorsements (Wikipedia)
Daily Newspaper Endorsements (Wikipedia) as of October 22, 2016

No major daily newspaper,  and only 3 of the more obscure ones, have endorsed him. USA Today, The Atlantic Magazine and eight others have savagely denounced him. Yet he remains the GOP candidate for President with polls showing that 43% of voters will vote for him.

To us, it’s more alarming that his followers don’t seem to care about Trump’s lack of merit or character. Many say they just want to elect him because “he will shake up” Washington. They quickly segue into a rant about Hillary as representing all that is corrupt and wrong with establishment politics.  But, if you “burn the house down” to dispatch the vermin, then what?

We note that the Trump campaign staff was recently restructured at the insistence of the Mercer family, one of Trump’s billionaire backers.  The short version of a longer story is that the Mercers want somebody in the White House who won’t mess with Wall Street and specifically who won’t impose a transaction tax to make flash trading unattractive.  Since the Citizens United decision, big money has been a problem, but the Koch brothers and the Mercers are now directing campaigns and the votes of successful candidates for narrow self-serving purposes.

Perception is a tricky matter.  What we “see” depends on what we’re looking for and where we stand.  When I’m fearful and exhausted, I see danger at every turn and deceit in every person.  When I’m feeling more bouyant, I see possibility, and other people represent hope and support.  We constantly decry negative campaigning, but it works because negativity and characterizations are so contagious.  A colleague says, “My boss is a jerk,” and it’s all too easy to agree without any facts.  We assume characterizations are based on evidence, but actually we make the characterization in anger, and then begin to collect evidence to support it.

Throughout Obama’s Presidency, some people’s perceptions were constantly jarred because they were not expecting to see a Black man accorded the perquisites of power.  (Consider how differently you and others you know might perceive a white Marine holding a rain umbrella for our Black president.) The Guardian, a conservative British magazine, not historically a Hillary fan—did an in-depth analysis of Clinton’s fundraising and policy positions and finally concluded that Clinton was “fundamentally honest and truthful.”  PolitiFact did an exhaustive analysis of Clinton and all the other candidates—and consistently found her to be “the most honest of this year’s presidential candidates,” yet according to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, she has received more negative media coverage than either Sanders or Trump.  Robin Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley observed that, “With Hillary everything she does is either different from what men do and it’s ‘wrong,’ or it’s the same things that men do and that’s ‘wrong,’ and that’s because the underlying thing about Clinton and her candidacy is it’s not normal.  ‘Normal’ is a male candidate, a male voice, a male tie.” (see an excellent article from Rolling Stone, Oct., 2016, “Hillary Vs. the Hate Machine” ) Is perception equivalent to reality?  Since Lee Atwater first said it, political strategists claim it is.

Who benefits from our disconnection, confusion and disillusionment?

Is there a global conspiracy that’s destroying our American way of life?  Are low-wage workers in developing countries stealing our jobs?  Are corporations only rapacious and exploitative? What happened to the social certainties in life, where men were men and women were women and they liked it that way … where people “knew their place” and were respectful?  Where are the “just wars” where the enemy is clear and the cause worth dying for?  Where are the alternatives where there’s clearly a right and a wrong choice?  When did we stop “loving our neighbors” and being “our brother’s keeper”?

Let’s explore the question of “who benefits?” If we’re a nation divided, seduced by drama and diversions, fear and uncertainty, how much more easily we fall into scapegoating others instead of seeing the huge injustices against all of us.  A university study representing the population of the USA as 100 people showed that, during the slow economic recovery 2009-2013, the one richest individual would have acquired $9.10 of every $10 generated, while the 99 of us got the remaining 90 cents!  Or looking from another perspective, real wages for the middle class have stalled since the mid-70’s, but during the same period, “wages for the top 1% have risen 165% and wages for the top 0.1% have risen 362%.” (Thomas Piketty quote)  In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself will not stand.” When we’re divided as a nation, our allies despair and our enemies delight!

Values Worth Dying For?

Our soldiers are sworn to defend the flag-plateUS Constitution with their lives if necessary. It’s up to each of us to ensure that the values enshrined therein are honored so this nation merits the ultimate sacrifice.  There is far more to it than just wearing a flag pin.

Who, lately, can relax and enjoy day dreaming, playing, thinking, laughing, or just calling a friend spontaneously?  The news is full of corporate exploitation (the Epi-pen scandal and the Wells Fargo scam being the latest as we write this). With an eight figure annual compensation package, what could a CEO lack that would explain such greed? If I’m all alone with no sense of a community that cares about me, if my vote is meaningless and my voice isn’t heard, if one believes that there’s only winners and losers (me vs. you)  ̶  then working endlessly to get all I can and fighting to hold onto it makes perfect sense—especially when some are so obviously “gaming the system.”  From this perspective, civic duty, personal character, stewardship, and kindness seem like quaint, outdated sentiments.

How difficult it is to see clearly when we are constantly bombarded with distorted messages, with lies repeated over and over until they sound “normal” and “true,” with memes that are—well, mean!  The sophisticated systems for slicing and dicing us by our interests and preferences are legion:  what magazines we read, what pages we “click” through to on our computers, what products we buy, our income levels — all types of personal information is gathered.  Marketers have been parsing market segments for a long time. Now political campaigns have brought these techniques to a new high (or low) so that our perceptions can be cleverly manipulated.

The 20th Century is over, and we sense that the 21st Century is taking a new direction.  As teacher and futurist Joanna Macy has said for many years, “This is the time of the Great Turning [away from a consumption society towards an earth-preserving society].”

Cover of Funny Times
Cover of Funny Times

As activist and commentator Van Jones has observed, “We will either turn on each other or towards each other.”  The paths have been diverging for a long time and are now irreconcilable—and as poet Robert Frost declared, “And that [which path we choose] will make all the difference.”

 

Richmond recently observed, “Everyone is a minority.”  We’re easily confused and defeated when we’re isolated from each other, but evidence is now robust that when all members of a group participate in decisions, those decisions are stronger and more relevant to all our needs. Quakers have practiced consensus — finding the sense of the meeting — for centuries. The fact is we are interconnected, intimately bound to every other person in our humanity and our well being. (“All of us together are a genius,” Lynne Twist has famously said.)  How can we learn to listen for our commonality instead of our differences? As supporters for Clinton (or Bernie) or Trump, we all love this country, want a better future for our children, are frustrated with the deadlock in Congress, seek meaning in our work and our relationships.  We need each other’s wisdom and experience, but we must work together to benefit from it.

America is worth dying for when out leaders play to our highest aspirations and shared vision. It’s not worth it when our leaders play to greed and manipulate us with fear .

The issues that concern us are not going away

Cover of The Week
Cover of The Week

No matter who is elected President, the issues that divide us are not going away.  We urge you to prayerfully consider your vote, and then vote for something, not against something.  There are no “perfect candidates” (that’s an oxymoron like “perfect parents” or “perfect children”),  but the character of the person who’s at the top of the ticket does matter—as well as the character of candidates  all the way to the bottom of the ticket.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we have historically split our votes when choosing candidates, but this year we’re voting a straight Democratic ticket.  Why?  Because after careful analysis, the facts show that:

  • Over the past 64 years, when the Democratic party controlled the White House (from Eisenhower to Obama), every economic indicator was better—productivity, wages, the stock market, the pace of the unemployment rate’s decline, the rate of economic growth. (Source: Mark Watson and Alan Blinder, Princeton U. professors of economics)
  • Tax cuts and trickle-down economics haven’t worked despite 30 years of “testing”—ask the citizens of Kansas, whose Governor promised a “march to zero” taxes and huge economic growth with tax cuts and austerity —and instead delivered an economic catastrophe! When George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton raised taxes, we experienced a surge in economic growth.
  • Now, eight years later, it’s clear the “dreaded” and much maligned Economic Stimulus Package did avoid another Great Depression, created jobs, avoided a budget deficit that would have been twice what it currently is, and build hundreds of new bridges and hundreds of miles of re-paved highways—without spiking inflation or causing deflation (Source: those same Princeton U. economists, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and Goldman Sachs, among others)
  • Those who work hardest to eliminate poverty are the poor people themselves. There are always those who exploit the system, but it appears that the significant “welfare Queens” are special interests who use “the commons” but don’t participate in what it takes to make the commons thrive for future generations.
  • Obamacare isn’t perfect and the Social Security “trust fund” is declining, but the answer isn’t scrapping these essential programs but working across-the-isle to address what doesn’t work based on evidence, not emotion.
Wedding Chapel Sign
Wedding Chapel Sign

Recently, in a Tennessee wedding caterer’s storefront chapel, we saw a sign that said, “As two families are becoming one, we ask that you choose a seat and not a side.”  This sounds like pretty good advice for this political season.  When the election is over, our democracy needs us all—our active engagement, our constructive criticisms, our vote, our voice, our willingness to stay at the table—and to make room at the table for those unlike ourselves.  Our greatness as a country is in our diversity.  Unless we’re full blooded indigenous people, we’re all descended from immigrants whose courage and vision got us here and whose creativity and tenacity allowed us to become successful here.

As we made phone calls and canvassed door-to-door, we were struck at the enthusiasm of the folks voting for Hillary and at the anger of those voting against Hillary or for Trump. None of us makes our best decisions in a mood of anger.  We strongly believe that our democracy will be safe with Hillary Clinton and at grave risk with Donald Trump.  This election is not about personality – it’s about the character of the candidates and the values they model. We pray, not for political victory, but for the highest good of all concerned.

As Quakers, we seek “that of God in every person.”  We invite you to join us in “minding the Light “ in ourselves and each other, so that we keep the flame of democracy burning brightly.  As one of the tellers at the National Storytelling Festival said last week, “Faith is light in your heart when all your eyes can see is darkness.”  Let’s keep faith with our democracy.  Our election process isn’t an athletic competition.  America is great. We remain the world’s best and strongest hope for a fair, just, inclusive, thriving future.

We’d love to hear your thoughts.  We also hope you’ll take our essay and discuss it with others—or take the bits that resonate with you and write to your friends.  Our democracy needs every voice—if we can learn to listen with mutual respect and open hearts.

Peace,

Marguerite and Richmond
October 24, 2016

“And the work of generosity shall be peace, and the effect of generosity will be quietness and security forever.” Isaiah 32:17

 

Storyteller and humorist Donald Davis' lawn sign in Jonesborough, TN.
Storyteller and humorist Donald Davis’ lawn sign in Jonesborough, TN. Photographed at The National Storytelling Festival, October 2016.

 

 

What’s a 21st Century Equivalent of the Homestead Act? — The Weekly Sift

A typical featured article on this blog is supposed to tell my readers something they might not already know, or at least to get them to think about it in a different way. But this time I’m just trying to raise a question, hoping that the combined wisdom and creativity of the readership will come […]

via What’s a 21st Century Equivalent of the Homestead Act? — The Weekly Sift

Populists vs. Elite

In 1966 I wasn’t paying much attention to world politics and none at all to Red China, but Mao was tipping over the socioeconomic apple cart much as the populists here in the USA seem to want to do. Mao felt that the pointy-headed elite intellectuals (no, he didn’t call them that) had become over-educated and were perpetuating an elitism that was introducing too much capitalism.

The fix was to tell the elites “we don’t need you” and banish them to the rural mountains and country side where they could be re-educated through hard work on the farm.

Chaos ensued for five years. The resulting hardships took even longer to overcome. In the US, there was little empathy. As commie-fearing devout capitalists, we were happy to see the Reds shoot themselves in the proverbial foot.

I can’t help thinking that today’s populists and their “Make America Great Again” revolution are the US version of China’s cultural revolution half a century ago: so much anti-intellectualism; so much blind faith in a man whose image and career is more smoke and mirrors than substance; so much arrogant ignorance and bravado.

When all our political elites and pointy-headed intellectuals have been dispatched to the hills and country, will we too face a decade of economic chaos while the Trumpists figure out that their leader doesn’t have any capacity to lead or to fulfill his sweeping pledges to make the mythical greatness of yesteryear return?

So far it looks like most Americans are smarter than Mao was, but in less than 90 days we will know for sure.

 

Gun Sense

Gun Violence to Gun Sense*

*”Gun Sense” (instead of “gun safety” or “gun control”) is a term used by Moms Demand Action
It seems to me that the problem of gun violence is really several different problems with guns as a common factor. Our thinking is easily muddied by the tragedy and intense media coverage of mass shootings. It’s useful to discuss five separate categories of gun deaths, each of which may have a distinct solution.

Annual US Gun Deaths

Evidently we are disproportionately fearful of personal violence. The statistics clearly show that “bad guys with guns” are a rarity. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. Most homicides (80%) are committed by a person known to the victim—and half are romantically or socially involved. Holdups, home invasions, and mass murders are quite rare.

On any given day, absent a recent gun incident, only 2% of Americans would rank gun violence as the number one problem the nation faces. This constituent complacency is possibly the biggest barrier to legislation reducing gun violence. The gun industry get its way most of the time.

profit fearThe National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully established itself as a political third rail for any individual politician of whom they disapprove. Despite the fact that only 26% of NRA members are activists who want no government restrictions on guns, the NRA has formidable lobbying clout. It’s the money that flows to the NRA from the gun manufacturing industry that makes the organization influential. It’s gun profits more than pro-gun extremism or Second Amendment zeal that stiffens NRA resolve.

HOW DO WE CREATE GUN SENSE?

The various loopholes and gaps in our present gun control laws are deliberate, most of them fostered by the NRA and the gun lobby. Their strategy of obstruction is revealed by these tactics:

  • Encumber regulatory agencies by understaffing (defunding personnel) and imposing burdensome procedures and paperwork
  • Resist all regulatory legislation by threating political attack ads and making strategic campaign contributions
  •  Conceal the public health problem by suppressing government collection of gun violence statistics, create gag rules on medical professionals, and block transparency of data
  •  Litigate every new regulatory initiative
  • Shield gun makers from product liability suits with laws that convey tort immunity
  •  Promote broad-based gun ownership with fear-based, self-defense arguments
  •  Block accountability for transfer, lost or stolen guns by constraints on record keeping that make it tedious and time consuming, if not impossible, to trace a gun or audit a buyer’s eligibility
  •  Impede efforts to add dangerous people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database

It’s business as usual for the army of industry lobbyists who subvert democracy to advance special interests. The effect of these tactics is to allow guns and ammunition of all sorts to be bought and sold freely in public and private channels with little or no accountability for vetting the buyer.  Illegal “straw-man” purchases are common because it’s hard to actually prove such cases in court and the courts tend to treat them lightly.

ACCOUNTABILITY

The automobile may be a metaphor for how guns should be handled. Liability for what happens with a car rests with the owner who holds title. Owners are not only liable, they are also required by law to carry insurance. Automobiles must be registered annually. If gun owners were required to carry insurance and were liable for injuries caused by gun accidents, there would be a very powerful incentive to secure guns and ammunition.

Mandatory registration would make gun trafficking much more difficult – nobody knowingly buys and drives a stolen car – you must have a valid registration and title for a car. NRA gun zealots fear that such registration is the prelude to confiscation (it’s a tacit admission that gun ownership is not an immutable right). The 2008 Heller decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could be reversed, restoring the notion that one’s right to gun ownership is linked to “a well-regulated Militia” as the opening phrase of the Second Amendment states.

ACTIONS

Fix 1: Public Health

We need to learn as much about gun-related, public health issues as we can, share the knowledge, and then build practices and programs that will lead to solutions. Medical professionals should be encouraged, not be prevented from seeking information about gun access.

Public Health Summary

  • Fund CDC research on the health aspects of gun ownership
  • Openly publish the facts about gun injury
  • Make health care for depression and other mental illness easily accessible
  • Encourage medical professionals to make gun access part of the patient profile

Fix 2: Education

Gun PosterizedThe idea that one needs superior force to vanquish evil and resolve conflict is deeply ingrained in all of us. It’s the essence of popular adventure stories that our heroes prevail with “guns and guts.” Super heroes don’t lead “win – win” negotiations: they slug and blast their way to overpowering the bad guys.

But the Hollywood epic is not the real world. Far from it. Enlightened people back off, cool off, and work it out. Completely independent of the gun issue, our society needs to learn peaceful conflict resolution in family and school settings. Spouse abuse, battery, and simple assaults are far too common. Mature, sober adults don’t slug it out or shoot each other.

 

Videos like this paint a fantasy picture of how armed intervention saves the day.  In the real world, bad guys don’t faint conveniently.  The more probable scenario is the ex-boyfriend making an unwanted visit. He advances trying to sweet talk the woman out of the gun, or flies into a rage … a happy ending is not likely.

The most common homicide starts with a disagreement or an insult—then escalates. It happens in social situations among people who know each other. If one or more have guns, shots are fired. The police arrest everyone involved and leave it to the judge to sort out who did what to whom. (I’d bet that most self-defense gun owners have little awareness of those dynamics. Nor do they appreciate that brandishing a gun or firing shots will almost certainly get them arrested.)

Safe handling of guns requires knowledge, skill, and practice. Police and the military drill until the practices are instinctive, and then they periodically demonstrate their mastery of the skill sets. You can’t safely be a casual gun user. Buying a gun, firing it a few times, and then locking it up until you need it does not instill the calm and instincts necessary.

In your church and community life support “Love Thy Neighbor” by advocating peaceful conflict resolution, fact-based education about gun safety and lethal force, compulsory safety training for gun purchasers, and awareness that “guns and guts” is storybook stuff.

Education Summary

  • Promote compulsory gun safety training
  • Create public information campaigns about responsibility and consequences:
    o Gun owner’s liability (like auto owner accident liability)
    o Permissible use of lethal force (tragic mistakes happen under stress)
    o “Shots fired” usually means arrest and court appearances (cops let the court sort out the facts)
  • Teach peaceful conflict resolution in schools and families
  • Counter the Hollywood “guns and guts” hero fantasy

Fix 3: Accountability
Currently, Americans can easily purchase and keep their firearms legally and anonymously. More laws is not the solution. When all U.S. federal, state and local gun laws are tallied, they number more than 20,000. Yet one can buy a gun from a private seller and take it home without any paper trail or public record. With the exception of certain major cities, that’s legal. Federal gun control is at the point-of-purchase. Once you get it home, most states and municipalities have no restrictions on gun possession.

Accountability Summary

  • Prevent informal and unrecorded gun transfers (mandate licensed dealer oversight/documentation of transfers)
  • Require digital transfer records to facilitate tracing of guns used in crimes
  • Extend record retention period (currently background check compliance is not auditable after 3 days)
  • Expand background check data base—include those on terror watch list and no fly list (add appeals process)
  • Repeal immunity for manufacturers for after-sale liability
  • Create truth-in-advertising requirements (like FDA drug and cigarette health warnings)
  • Mandate minimum safety training and liability insurance for gun owners (like car insurance)
  • The seven fixes listed above can’t be done quickly or easily. There is controversial politics involved. It requires a persistent grassroots effort and includes getting corporate money out of politics.

Fix 4: Restrict Military-style, Rapid-fire Weapons

Despite the drama and media hype, mass shootings are not the priority in terms of number of deaths. If we accomplished the forgoing fixes for Public Health, Education, and firearms Accountability, the problems of preventing Mass Shootings would be much simpler.

Certain weapons are unusually dangerous in the hands of an agile shooter because they are designed to quickly maim or kill many people. The challenge is to draw a clear distinction between such weapons and others that look similar but do not have that capability.  With a high capacity magazine a semi automatic can fire 30 rounds in ten or fifteen seconds.

The law already recognizes limits on second amendment rights. For nearly a century the US has made it nearly impossible for a civilian to own a machine gun, weapons like the one in the video are not machine guns. Paired with high capacity magazines, the difference in firepower is trivial.

The Second Amendment likewise does not prohibit licensing of gun owners or registration of firearms. Those government actions are inhibited by political pressure from gun activists who fear government confiscation of firearms. In fact dedicated gun enthusiasts often obtain one or more classes of Federal Firearms Licenses (FFL) classified as dealer/collector licenses. These licenses impose responsibility for secure handling and accountability that keeps weapons of all kinds out of criminal hands. At the same time, they grant privileges such as possession of otherwise-prohibited, fully automatic guns and make it lawful to ship weapons, parts and supplies. The licensing process involves an interview as well as a more rigorous background check than the NICS check done by dealers. Presently the number of FFL “dealer” licenses exceeds the number of Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. This may be a result of the lack of a ranked system of licensing for responsible citizens owning or possessing firearms.

Adding a ranked system of owner licenses would bring similar disciplines and practices to all gun owners. But fear of government overreach energizes the opposition to such common sense controls. Americans have no such fears about automobiles, so we have a system of driver testing, licensing, and vehicle registration with complete reciprocity among the states.

That doesn’t prevent auto sport enthusiasts from building or racing whatever vehicle they choose. For public safety governments do regulate public racing events, and prohibit racing on the highway. Why should gun ownership and use be different where public health and safety are involved?

Ranked licensing would reward the dedicated enthusiast or collector for rigorous safety practices and strict compliance with firearms regulation.    These carefully vetted and highly responsible private citizens would enjoy privileges, conveniences and benefits denied to the less accountable individual. Licensing would codify the responsibility that goes with the right to bear arms.

Restrict Military Weapons Summary

  • Basic firearms licensing categories
    o Target practice (limit up to 8 or 10 shots per reload, semi-automatic or revolver)
    o Hunting (as above, but as locally lawful for hunting)
    o Self-defense (handguns and long guns, up to 8 shots per reload)
  • Unusually dangerous gun license category (e.g., for collectors and museums)
    o Tactical (as above, but for larger magazines and rapid fire enhancements)
    o Military (fully automatic, unlimited clip/magazine enhancements)
    o Machine guns, disguised guns, other ultra-lethal gear

CONCLUSION

Gun violence is foremost a public health problem. When gun advocates say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” they are partly right.  Not all people can handle the responsibility for easy access to a tool that’s lethal and accident prone. Guns are very different than kitchen knives;  their lethal reach is instant, far more devastating, and extends hundreds or thousands of feet.

With at least 250 million guns in private hands, possibly 375 million, and with no central record of who has them, it is and will always be nearly impossible to absolutely control any class of firearm. But with strict gun laws and appropriate licensing, we can empower enforcement to distinguish between lawful transfers among law-abiding citizens and undesirable transfers to criminals and others who should not possess firearms.

Licensing and registration laws impose accountability by their nature. It’s worth noting that the expansion of concealed carry licensing has not been accompanied by a balooning of gun violence. Thus far the statistics support the gun enthusiasts claim that arming responsible people poses no increased public hazard.  Perhaps we can affirm the Second Amendment right to arms and simultaneously make it harder for fools and killers to get guns.

What can we do to replace “gun porn” and gun violence with gun sense? We can take action by addressing the Public Health issues, provide accurate and widespread Education, require sensible Accountability, and Restrict Access to military-type, rapid-fire weapons.

Make Our Democracy Work

We must support our elected representatives at all levels, especially federal, to make the necessary fixes. Send a letter or postcard to your Congressperson and Senators asking that they actively work to free the CDC from the constraints Congress has imposed. Remind them that our gun problem is primarily a public health problem. We need to let science study it. At the same time we need to full fund and empower the ATF to enforce existing law.


8/6/16 Corrected statistical typos. Less than (<) was reversed in first table, percentage of NRA members supporting background checks is 70 to 74% so only 26% support no government restrictions on gun purchase. NRA has done its own studies and claims a different result.
This essay is based on a multimedia presentation by Richmond Shreve 8/4/16, Pennswood Village. A bibliography of principal sources is posted separately.