Blizzards, Mating Dances, and Hints of Spring

Winter, like an aging boxer with vestiges of a once mighty punch, is poised to deliver a late season Nor’easter. But, if you look for them, the signs of warmer days are here.

cd61977dbf99d4efc635fc6fd4cf8796Green shoots of genetically conditioned hardy plants push their way through the defrosting soil. Male ducks, ordinarily solitary creatures even when in groups, protect and defend a female, engaging in head bobbing dances of potency and the promise of viable offspring.

The successful ones will mate, and a new generation will soon add to the population, replacing those who didn’t survive the winter.

Ducks are not the only ones engaged in the pairing ritual; cardinals, geese, sparrows, robins, jays, hawks, and scores of others join the fray. Some dance, some challenge, some battle, some strut, some brighten their colors, some sing.

All share the same goal, continuity of the species.

Old snowfall, hidden in the shadows of trees, still evading the sun climbing in the northern sky, will join the latest snow and cover the ground. But the die is cast, the sun’s rays more intense, the warm change is in the air. No matter the intensity of the storm, this soon will fade. The melting snow will feed the groundwater, nourishing the new growth, and the colors of spring will erase the grey of winter.

Two nesting squirrels, quick in their gathering of leaves and branches, hurry up and down a tree. Focused and intent on rebuilding the nest that survived the long, cold, howling winds of the winter better than the tree that held it. The tree, broken and shattered by the same winds that could not dislodge the nest, lies on the ground. Tilted upside down, but still sturdy in the branches, the nest sits as if mocking the weakness of the oak, daring it to stand again.

The squirrels’ frenzied scurrying to fulfill the evolutionary imperative of procreation more evidence of the fading of winter and the arrival of spring.

Near where I live, remnants of the Blackstone Canal parallel the river bearing the same name. It was once the main channel of commerce in centuries past. Each day, as the first hints of spring appeared, I’ve watched it shed the ice coating in anticipation of emerging hatches of bugs, feeding fish, and shy, quick to dive, turtles.

These last storms are but a temporary delay to the reemergence of hundreds of species.

Soon, the waters will warm and the turtles; Woodland box, Eastern Painted, and Common Snapping species will emerge from the mud to lay their eggs along the bank.  All summer, the warm sun will comfort the eggs until they hatch. At least the ones not found by the raccoons or fox.

The turtles will hatch, more will fall to the predators, and the survivors will make their way into the river. The ducks, geese, and other birds will hatch their eggs, adding to the parade of new life, and the cycle is complete.

The last days of winter are the best time to see the promise of spring. Like Dorothy’s first view of Munchkinland on opening the door from her gray, tornado rattled home, the contrast of colors will shock and amaze us. (This might need some explanation to many of the post-broadcast TV generation but I love that movie.)

The cycle of life that is our driving force on this planet shows its impressive power with just the simplest of gestures. One green shoot inching its way skyward bends not in fear of winter but rises despite it.

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When You Say It: Unexpected Reactions to a Shared Human Element

Age has always been a minor, albeit varying, factor in my life. As children, we all go through those stages where we want to be older. Rushing what we perceive as our unlimited time. As we get older, some try to resist. But most of us eventually reach a truce with reality and just accept time’s passage.

FatherTimeA recent conversation, for whatever reason, stunned me. While speaking with someone interested in telling his life story (a complicated one involving bank robberies and prison time), He asked how old I was, wanting to see if I had any point of reference to the Watergate incident and a man named G. Gordon Liddy.

I told him I was in high school and had watched the Watergate hearings. I prefaced this by saying, I’ll be sixty-two this year.

As the words came out, it caught me by surprise. I could not put my finger on why my age stunned me. Hanging up the phone after arranging a meeting, the memories of those sixty-two years rocketed through my brain.

So, I do what I always do when something strikes me as odd, or funny, or troubling. I write about it. It is a habit I’ve developed over, incredibly, sixty-two years.

I have a misty memory of the first grade where I was sent down the long, intimidating hall to bring a book to the eighth-grade classroom. In my mind, the eighth graders were ancient ogres. I had to navigate around them like giant redwoods. They were the scary “big” kids. Old and dangerous.

Now, I’m shocked when I see graduate students from Brown University driving cars. They look so young. My grandfather used to say, when cops and priests start looking young, you’re old. He had that one right.

When I was seventeen, a group of friends and I would stake a claim to one of the many dunes of Horseneck Beach. We had our stash of fake-id acquired cold beer and plans of conquering bikini-clad young women.  At least the part of the beer being cold was true. Our tales of sexual conquest pure fantasy that improves with age as it drifts further from the truth.

On one expedition I recall a conversation, between our fruitless attempts at charming any girls, about how we would be forty-four years old in the year 2000. Both elements seemed unreal and unreachable. Here I am in the year 2018. Both 44 and 2000 are distant memories.

My daughter, her birth another life-altering event when she arrived in 1988, will soon reach one those milestones in life. I won’t say she’ll turn thirty this year, but you do the math. To some, such things are traumatic. I never found them so. How she’ll react is as personal to her as it is to everyone. Age and the progression of time is the one equal opportunity aspect of this shared life.

Age discriminates against no one. Time gives itself with little regard for anything.

I suppose it may be the reality of understanding the unknowable allocation of the time we each have left, and that we are all ticketed for the same departure event, which caused this simple conversation to shock my consciousness.

Time continues its unalterable passage. The summers of our youth will take on almost mythological alterations of reality. By holding onto these memories, we may embrace the summers of our future with greater appreciation.

We can strive to enjoy every day for within each moment is the potential to create a memory.

Age is a state of mind. But it is not what defines, hobbles, or imprisons us unless we let it.


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Immoral Indifference to Reality

“Back in our day” is the common refrain from many when discussing the realities of today. Often, the fondness for “the good ole days” is a product of our nostalgia filtered memory. Like most memories, it is rooted in truth yet changed by time.

We face a challenging period as a society. The debates over gun control, violent crime, drug addiction, and lack of responsible behavior focus on the symptoms and ignore the cause. Some of this is a necessary evil; you can’t fix a burning house while it is still on fire. However, once we resolve the immediate need, we must develop a strategy for identifying and mitigating the root of the problem.

maxresdefaultIn the debate on guns and their use in violent crime, domestic violence, and suicides we face an issue of immediate urgency with sparse information or effort at understanding the social conditions at the root of the problem.

Those who oppose any restrictions have misjudged the changing attitudes of most Americans to a more contemporary interpretation of the Second Amendment and gun control.

Those who want to ban all weapons ignore the truth. The overwhelming number of gun owners are law-abiding, conscientious about their responsibility, and willing to find a solution.

Where do we go from here?

First, we put out the fire with realistic and Constitutionally lawful controls on access to weapons. Manage access to firearms with legitimate purposes, i.e., hunting, security, recreation and ban guns having no proper place in society.

Once we get the issue under control, then we must find the cause and seek ways to address it.

To find the root of an issue, one looks for commonality. Violent criminals, prison inmates, and school shooters share a significant common factor, single-parent households. An absent/uninvolved father being the most common scenario. It is not the sole cause, but it is a shared distinguishing factor.

Another reality, sure to be misrepresented and misconstrued by some, is the unintended consequences of the social welfare system. One in five Americans is on public assistance. The majority are off support within a year, the next most significant group within three years, and some within 4 or 5 years.

Some cycle on and off the system making exact numbers challenging to quantify. But, there is evidence of a cross-generational pattern of welfare dependence as a way of life. Bearing a child at an immature age is often the catalyst. This leads to a challenging-to-avoid cycle of low educational achievement and reduced economic opportunity.

Public assistant serves a critical and necessary role. Seeking ways to reduce such dependence without eliminating the cause will hurt the most vulnerable, the children. But this doesn’t mean we can’t find a solution; we just haven’t set it as a goal.

The burden of childcare, borne primarily by women, is one of the most significant factors in economic disadvantage and low-educational success. An absentee/uninvolved father contributes to the problem. Existing laws try to compel financial responsibility. However, the father is often trapped in a similar cycle of low economic opportunity amplified by limited educational achievement. Many men behave in an immature way. Demonstrating selfish resistance to accepting their responsibilities. A considerable number are in prison, compounding the problem.

This cycle of poverty, emotional deprivation of the positive influence of two-parent environment, and cross-generational behavior is self-sustaining. The conditions for propensity to violence or anti-social behavior continue. Combined with unregulated access to weapons with high firing rates and killing capacity, the likelihood of more mass shootings and violent behavior increases.

Solving these issues is complicated. There is no one solution. It will require time and well-crafted efforts targeting multiple societal and economic conditions with a broad-spectrum approach.

Not every single-parent home is to blame here, but the risk such an environment poses to future behavior, absent personal or family resources to mitigate it, is real and widespread.

There is a practical solution to reducing at-risk single parent environments; safe and affordable birth control. It is not a panacea. However, it offers a real opportunity to alleviate the problem while long-term solutions are developed and given a chance to take hold.

So why, if we have such methods available, do we ignore them?

Because the “moral” issue rears its ugly head and intercedes in any rational discussion. The rise of the fundamentalist religious orthodoxy, and their influence in Congress and the Presidency, stands as a roadblock.

Religious organizations vary in their expressed doctrines, but there is a commonality in demanding secular laws comport with primarily Judeo-Christian teachings.

Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam forbid any birth control except abstinence, (just say no?)  This is exclusively within marriage. Some Protestant sects permit the use of artificial contraception, but again it is usually within the confines of marriage.

Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, all oppose pre-marital sex

Statistics and practical experience will tell us that the horse has left the barn on this one. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the average age for Americans to engage in vaginal intercourse for the first time is 17.1 years old for males and females.

The percentage of people living together outside of formal marriage is growing. The reality of changing societal attitudes toward sex outside of marriage, or even long-term relationships, is changing.

This religious prohibition not only fails to curtail this behavior, but it also stands in the way of prevention. This resistance forces young women into having children when they are mere children themselves. Once the hormones kick in, we have physiologically equipped beings capable of producing offspring when they are least able to give financial support and mature emotional nurture.

Absent access to birth control, many enter the cycle of dependence on state assistance. Religious moral decrees hobble secular government programs aimed at prevention. These then create the humanitarian crisis forcing tax-payers to support the single mothers and children.

In these areas, religious influence has done a disservice to humanity. The Catholic Church’s resistance to distributing condoms in Africa has been one of the most significant factors in the spread of AIDS, and the births of AIDS infected children.

Incorporating moral teachings of any religion by choosing one over the other is a dangerous basis for governmental policy. Some fundamental religious groups use religion to argue against well-established effective medical treatments by substituting prayer.

It has proven disastrous. But this is not just about religion. It is about recognizing the urgency of addressing a problem that took generations to develop. Sometimes practicality must outweigh the expressed conflicting morality of religion. Where’s the righteousness in condemning women and children to a life of deprivation out of failed and medieval religious doctrines?

As a multi-cultural society, we must focus on secular solutions while maintaining the dignity of people to make their own choices and bear the consequences.

We can continue unchanged and hope religion reaches more people or accept the changing nature of the world. A rational policy would use the tools available and reduce the number of those at-risk single-parent homes. Leave ineffective moral imperatives to the disjointed inconsistency of the thousands of religious doctrines

Most religious doctrines oppose abortion. The issue is one of the most divisive issues in the US. When presented with a solution to the problem, opponents scream about morality. They say wide-spread birth-control will encourage sexual behavior.

Nonsense, the behavior is natural human sexuality. History shows us that human behavior is universal. Many of the most vocal opponents lead a secret, sexually adventuresome, life. Not to be crass, but the moral imperatives of the Roman Catholic Church couldn’t get priests to keep it in their cassocks. What chance do they stand with hormone ravaged teens? The hypocritical nature of this is offensive.

The stark reality is we’ve lost several generations of Americans to this senseless and ineffective “morality.” We’ve filled our prisons with “prisoners of war” from the war on drugs with little or no commitment to treating addiction. We wail and moan the “murdered children” of abortions yet condemn some to bear the responsibility of child-rearing ill-equipped financially or socially with an inadequate education.

We wrap ourselves in a false morality that fears the wrath of an invisible being if we take practical measures to prevent the need for a woman to make such a difficult choice.

Like the saying from the good ole days. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The cost to society of preventing unwanted pregnancy is exponentially lower than the price of the continuing cycle of poverty and crime.

The government’s function is not saving souls; it is protecting lives.

Morality, like it or not, is a matter of relative choices. The Bible itself is full of once “moral” imperatives that civilized society now finds abhorrent. We no longer stone adulterers or burn witches.

Today, our morality is hypocritical, our efforts weak and ineffective, our outrage disingenuous. We doom ourselves to the continued creation of a disadvantaged underclass held hostage by archaic pronouncements from the dark ages.

Until we devote as much effort to providing quality education as we do to privatizing prisons and housing more and more Americans without any hope of rehabilitation, the cycle will persist.

We cannot fix 21st-century problems with arcane writings, moral platitudes, or ignorance. Until we address both the immediate and long-term issues, we are doomed to the continuity of sorrow.


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Baseball Traditions amid Changing Times

America’s pastime baseball may be changing, but every March it serves as a harbinger of Spring, the smell of freshly mown lawns, and crowds of fans watching men living the dreams of little boys.

I’m not a sports fanatic. I can’t quote chapter and verse of statistics. I can’t wax poetic on baseball strategy. Truth be told, I would be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of players on my favorite team, The New York Yankees. For me, it is the occasional game at a ballpark, checking the scores periodically, often losing interest once the Yankees don’t make the playoffs.

But I still enjoy the game, even if I’m not glued to Sports Center or the Baseball Channel.

Like many things in life, my being a fan of the Yankees is a legacy passed on from my grandfather to my father to me. And like my father, I sometimes get more enjoyment out of torturing Red Sox fans than I do from a more traditional appreciation of the game.

The rivalry between these two teams is legendary. Most of the time it is played out on the field, resolved by the final score and end of season standing. Sometimes, it breaks out in bench-clearing brawls which, while immature and silly, remind us it is a game most often played by little boys.

(I know girls play sports. I know that there are likely quite a few woman who could play at the professional level. But that’s a different subject. For now, this a game played by little boys in the bodies of grown men. I also know baseball, like all pro-sports, is a business. Again another subject.)

I admit I miss the once consistent history of the baseball seasons of my youth where I could watch the Yankees in the playoffs and tease my Red Sox fans with the slightly mocking, and not the least bit consoling, “there’s always next year.”

Oh, how things have changed.

The rivalry remains. The gap between World Series won by each team is closing. Well sort of, Yankees have 27 Red Sox have 8. And I know my Red Sox fan friends will point out they have won more this century than the Yankees. True. And it is also true if the Red Sox win 19 World Series in a row, they will tie the Yankees in 2037.

Something to look forward to.

One thing baseball can do is provide a valuable lesson about the realities of life. A good season is when a team plays above .500 ball. Think about that.  If a team wins just a few more games than it loses, it’s successful.

Even more dramatic with a batter. Hit consistently above .300 and you’re a star. Teams are anxious to acquire players who get a hit one out three times at bat. In other words, failure isn’t an indication of poor performance. It is the ability to persevere in the face of failure that is the mark of success.

One of the greatest players of all time, Ted Williams (see I can appreciate Red Sox achievements), had a lifetime batting average of .344. Williams didn’t get a hit more often than he did, and he is the benchmark.

Baseball is proof positive that life’s not fair. We all will fail, often as much as we succeed. The best players understand this. They must ignore failure and learn from their mistakes in pursuit of success.

Baseball is a roadmap to success in life.

In the immortal words of the great New York Yankee Existential Philosopher, Yogi Berra. “It ain’t over, ’til it’s over.”

Just like life.

Go YankeesYankees

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The Blame Spreads both Ways: Right and Left

First, let me clarify something. Every law-abiding, competent American has the inviolable and constitutionally guaranteed right to own a firearm(s). There is no realistic scenario in which this country should ever deprive its citizens of this right.

I, and many other Americans, own weapons. I keep them in a responsible manner. As a retired police officer, with a simple qualification through my agency, I could carry a concealed weapon in most of the US (with some exceptions.)

ReaganI choose not to. I weighed the potential for interceding in a criminal act to defend myself or others against the possibility of worsening the problem for responding Police Officers and decided the weapon is best left at home for self-defense.

This is my personal decision. Others feel differently, and they can hold that position if they accept the consequences of their actions.

In this latest flare-up of the gun debate, there is ample blame to go around for each side. The Republicans and Democrats are equally complicit in the inertia of meaningful solutions.

Fringe organizations, with well-organized public relations campaigns, impose an inordinate amount of influence on the public discourse when measured against their membership. They funnel money to the most influential politicians to ensure inaction on effective gun legislation.

Reducing the effect of lobbyists in government would go a long way to restoring faith in the broken system.  Decisions like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission558 U.S. 310 (2010) have taken away the will of the people and placed it in the hands of those with large amounts of money to buy a government of their choosing.  Both Democrats and Republicans stand with their hands out and their souls for sale.

This influence leads to the demise of rational discourse and fosters moronic public position pronouncements.

The cry of “why punish law-abiding Americans when this is a mental health issue?” is a convenient mask to the reality. “If we take guns from law-abiding citizens, only criminals will have guns” is the other favorite.

Both are disingenuous.

One because any attempt to impose more restrictions on gun sales is blocked by the same groups and the other because the Parkland Florida shooter, like most of the others, had no criminal record.

Keep in mind that Dylan Roof, the church shooter in Charleston, SC, was judged competent to stand trial. While he clearly has mental health issues, he was still capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

Finding a balance between regulating access to firearms with adequate control over those with “mental health issues” and due process is no easy task. Which is not to say it is impossible.

We already have regulations that control handgun sales; age requirements, background checks and waiting periods. Each of these may need improvement in their effectiveness, but they have a demonstrable effect on keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

Laws prohibit most from owning fully-automatic weapons. These restrictions are in place because of the inherent deadly nature of such firepower. There is a measurable difference between a bolt action rifle designed to hunt and a weapon that fires with each pull of the trigger from a high capacity magazine.

Both are deadly, yet differ through the inherent nature of their purpose and capability.

The law can both recognize the need to restrict access to a specific type while protecting access to others.  Just like we do with automatic weapons or short-barreled shotguns.

Both sides block any meaningful progress in their extreme positions. Some would like to ban all weapons, and some would relax all regulations. One side sees disarming all citizens as the solution, and the other sees arming them as a protective measure.


Millions of Americans, myself included, have been around guns our whole life and never once considered killing someone at random. With 300 million guns in civilian hands, outlawing guns would just create more criminals through no fault of their own and tear this country apart.

To say we can place no restrictions on the type or capability of firearms available or require licensing, registration, and demonstration of competence to have such weapons is equally foolish.

This is more than an issue of banning guns or restricting rights. It is a complex social issue. One element is the decline of personal responsibility for our actions. We’ve assigned a psychological cause to unruly behavior and medicated ourselves out of personal responsibility. That is a problem that will take decades to correct.

Another tendency is to use the “what about…” argument to derail the discussion.  Some argue a quantity issue; drugs and cars kill more people than guns.  Or they inflame the issue by tossing in other social issues i.e. abortion.

The argument that the relative number of deaths by guns is somehow less deserving of our attention is ridiculous. Or that we are ignoring other issues and focusing exclusively on guns. More nonsense.

And, since most supporters of gun rights wrap themselves in the Constitution, they forget that the law is well-settled on abortion rights. Why is one constitutional aspect inviolate and the other subject to review?

Those who would ban guns are no better. They trudge out gerrymandered statistics to support their cause. The number of shootings in schools is inflated to include incidents on school property when no students were present or those that occur near schools.  Why?  Isn’t one incident of a single death in a school shooting enough to spark action?

Our immediate problem is obvious. There is a fire raging in this country. We are nothing but paralyzed spectators to a blaze consuming our fellow Americans. We stand around looking for who started the fire, rather than putting it out.

Prevention, our long-term goal, is more elusive than most would admit. And more critical. Addressing this problem will take a combination of immediate, yet measured, actions and working toward long-term prevention.

We have a choice. Fight the fire and save lives, or wait until there is nothing left and we’re all firing Kalashnikovs in the air to celebrate.

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Suffer the Children #Neveragain: Time for Rational Discussion

Time to hold rational discussions on solutions to gun violence, supporting the efforts of the #neveragain movement, and using the power of their youthful enthusiasm to keep the issue in the forefront and craft intelligent solutions.

Let me preface this by saying every law-abiding, competent citizen has the right to own a firearm. This piece is not intended to advocate for the confiscation of weapons. It is meant to stimulate rational discussion on how we can minimize the likelihood of another situation like Parkland, Florida or Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

One other point, I am a firm adherent of the Mark Twain adage there are “Lies, damnable lies, and statistics,” yet we need to put a perspective on things. Accurate numbers about guns are difficult to come by due to inconsistent or non-existent licensing or purchase tracking. But most agree there are 270-300 million guns in civilian hands.

However, only 37% of Americans own or report having a family member who owns guns. The shocker is, 3% of Americans own 50% of all guns.


The NRA touts itself as the premier organization standing for American gun owners. I am not trying to demonize the NRA. They have every right to advocate for their position, some of which I agree with, but their membership is five million Americans out of three hundred million. They are not the voice of America on sound gun policies.

The NRA is a fringe group representing a small fraction of gun owners and a smaller fraction of American citizens. They are a squeaky, well-funded, well-organized, wheel.

The NRA also showed the fundamental callousness it bears toward deliberate and considered discussions. In a recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), NRA representative Dana Loesch said,

“Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. I’m not saying you guys love the tragedy but I am saying you love the ratings,” she added. “Crying white mothers are ratings gold”.

She may have a point, but not the one she’s going for. The implication is America isn’t concerned when it’s gun violence against minorities, there is some truth in that. The troubling part is that the NRA will play off that for its own agenda. If they can derail gun regulations by capitalizing on institutional racism, so be it. Not their best moment.

For now, we can leave the NRA out of this. Some things must be understood. Amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who value their “right to bear arms” over their obligation to take part in finding solutions, I think it is time to reevaluate the Second Amendment in a world of high-capacity semi-automatic weapons designed for one purpose, killing humans.

Every single weapon designed by humans had one primary function, killing other humans. While many served a dual purpose, such as hunting food, since man first bashed the skull of an adversary with a rock the primary use of weaponry is protection from, or attacking, enemies and killing them.

We’ve become very efficient at it.

The firearms available to the common man during the adoption of the Second Amendment were single shot, slow reloading, notoriously inaccurate, limited-range muskets.

That is no longer the case.

Every firearm is dangerous. There is no rational argument for allowing weapons in the hands of untrained, unlicensed, untested civilians. Particularly those that hold twenty or thirty round magazines. If the main argument is because I want it, it’s my Constitutional right, it underscores the selfishness that permeates our society.

It would be amusing, if this were not such a serious matter, how many Second Amendment aficionados embrace the Second Amendment and decry some of the others like the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent or the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment as they scream to impose the death penalty even before trial.

We have laws limiting the capacity of shotguns used in hunting, through a simple physical modification, to three rounds in the weapon. If we are so concerned over conservation of fowl, why not the same concern over humans?

Such limitations are starting points, not the end solution. Long-term solutions to the angry and violence-prone society, the lack of support for teachers in schools, the “hooray for me and damn everyone else” attitude of many, will take time to change. Fixing complex social issues is the long game. We need more immediate solutions to address the issue of firing rates, capacity, and availability.

The genesis of the Second Amendment arose from the fresh experiences of the colonies facing the tyranny of a king enforced by a standing army. The British Army was the point of the spear, suppressing dissent and rebellion.

The founding fathers, fearing a comparable situation, wanted to ensure there was a balance of power. One aspect is a “well-regulated” militia. A citizen force they envisioned as a buffer against government tyranny.

The authors of this Constitution held an intimate understanding of the King’s army as a weapon of suppression. Their emphasis on minimizing the powers of the Federal Government to times of great need; wars, rebellions, etc., shows their concern about all-powerful federal authority backed by a standing army.

The Bill of Rights, now well enshrined throughout the land by many Supreme Court decisions, initially applied solely to the Federal Government. Societal progress changed it to apply to all government entities. To adopt a “strict interpretation” of the original Constitution as inoculating it from change is disingenuous, and incorrect.

The very process of amending the Constitution, incorporated by the founding fathers, is considerable evidence of their envisioning a different future with different concerns. And, men such as James Madison believed the fear of suppression by the Federal Government to be overblown.

In The Federalist No. 46, he wrote,

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes.

One must read this document in its entirety to see Madison’s point. While recognizing the historical context in which fear of a powerful centralized government evolved, he also argued the structure of the new American government differed from Europe by prohibiting any “royal” entity and putting the power to select government representatives in the hands of the people.

As a side note that supports my point of the fluid nature of the Constitution, the original construct of those eligible to vote and hold office was white, male, landowners. The original language, with later amendments and court cases, amended and adapted to the realities and progress of society.

Times have changed. We have the largest (in prowess and power) standing military in the world. As I have often said, should a President ever convince the military to attack the civilian population to suppress dissent, the civilians wouldn’t stand a chance.

We have the Posse Comitatus Act (United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385) which specifically prohibits the use of the military to enforce domestic policies, except in times of national emergency.

It is interesting that it applied only to the United States Army and, in 1958, amended to include the US Air Force. The US Navy, and by its inclusion in the Department of the Navy, the United States Marine Corps (apologies to my Marine friends and family), has specific regulations interpreted to make it applicable to this branch.

Which leaves us whether the intended purpose still applies in the realities of our country, i.e. a standing army and the level of firepower, today.

I contend the primary purpose has been made moot. The founding fathers never envisioned a time that the government should take weapons from otherwise law-abiding citizens. It doesn’t mean they never intended to limit the government’s authority to put in place regulations and conditions to ensure this right to possess weapons is as well-regulated as the once necessary militia.

The founding fathers also incorporated provisions for the Constitution to adapt to the future of a world they could not imagine. Slave owners Thomas Jefferson and James Madison recognized the ever-changing world in which they lived. They authored one of the most potent documents to ensure no other Americans ever face the tyranny of a King and devised a firm, but fluid, Constitution on which to base government. They recognized the country would need to adapt to the future.

Slavery was abolished because rational humans recognized the inhumanity of a practice once allowed under our Constitution. Time marched on, circumstances and conditions changed, and the Constitution changed with it.

The case most often cited as supporting the strict interpretation of the Second Amendment, District of Columbia v Heller, holds thoughtful dissenting opinions which offer guidance in crafting new laws imposing reasonable restrictions that could pass constitutional muster.

Justice John Paul Stevens (a Republican appointee of President Reagan if it matters) wrote,

“The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.

The view of the Amendment we took in Miller (Miller, 307 U. S., at 178. )—that it protects the right to keep and bear arms for certain military purposes, but that it does not curtail the Legislature’s power to regulate the nonmilitary use and ownership of weapons—is both the most natural reading of the Amendment’s text and the interpretation most faithful to the history of its adoption

Since our decision in Miller, hundreds of judges have relied on the view of the Amendment we endorsed there we ourselves affirmed it in 1980. See Lewis v. United States, 445 U. S. 55, 65–66, n. 8 (1980).3 No new evidence has surfaced since 1980 supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to curtail the power of Congress to regulate civilian use or misuse of weapons. Indeed, a review of the drafting history of the Amendment demonstrates that its Framers rejected proposals that would have broadened its coverage to include such uses.”

In US V Miller (1939), the court upheld a federal law prohibiting the interstate transportation of machine guns (automatic weapons) and shotguns with a barrel length under eighteen inches. This case and the limited number of related decisions does not establish a clear, unambiguous court precedent as some claim.

Instead, it offers a window of opportunity for a well-crafted law, given proper deliberation and consideration, to reduce mass shootings facilitated by the widespread uncontrolled access to semi-automatic weapons and protect the rights of the overwhelming majority of law-abiding citizens who own firearms.

There are simple measures we can take with little likelihood of a constitutional challenge.


  • We do not let 18-year-old “adults” buy alcohol. But on one’s 18th birthday, you can walk into a “Guns ‘R’ Us” and walk out with an AR-15, multiple magazines, and a case of ammunition. By imposing this “waiting period” until the 21st birthday, it gives us a three-year window into adult behavior. Any criminal behavior which would prohibit firearms ownership is no longer concealed behind sealed juvenile records.
  • Fund and fix the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Congress created the system with bi-partisan legislation to centralize records checking for firearms purchases. Since firearms and ammunition travel in interstate commerce, the legislation should be changed to force states to comply. Mandating state participation and funding the program is critical. President Trump’s proposed 2019 budget reduces funding for the system despite widespread support from anti-gun groups to the NRA.
    In most cases, these shooters had no criminal record. They were angry, bitter, emotionally immature loners. They had known behavioral issues. In Parkland, information was available to several law enforcement agencies including the FBI. We must adapt the NICS database to include such information and require law enforcement investigation.
  • Annual qualification and demonstration of the ability to handle the weapon. We require barbers, manicurists, and massage therapists to be licensed. Wouldn’t it make sense to do the same for owning a firearm? In some states, there are handgun safety courses which amount to little more than telling them which end to point at the target.
    That someone, simply by reaching a certain age and lack of a criminal record, can buy and walk out with a dangerous item like an AR-15, shotgun, rifle, or pistol without the least bit of training or licensing, is insanity.
  • Individuals with Concealed Weapons Permits must meet, at a minimum, the same standard as law enforcement officers. We should consider psychological testing modeled on military recruit testing. Since we are licensing individuals to be in the public arena with concealed weapons, isn’t it logical to test more than their ability to shoot at paper targets?
    The main argument against testing and licensing is the big bad government will know I have a gun, which is nonsense in our connected world of bots and tracking cookies. A government intent on finding gun owners could do so with a few keystrokes, or perhaps hire Russians to do it for us.
  • End the sale of high-capacity magazines. Limit single time ammunition purchases to a single box of rounds and report multiple purchases made within a 7 day period.
  • Mandatory liability insurance covering any unlawful or accidental injuries or death outside of their residence.
  • Mandatory safe storage requirements for firearms left in a private residence whenever a licensed firearm owner does not occupy it.
  • Remove the product liability protections of weapons manufacturers to come in line with all product liability law. This is a biggie. See Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act PLCAA is codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901-7903.
    This prohibits gun manufacturers and dealers from liability. We can sue companies for making soap look like candy, or food service companies for serving scalding coffee, but not weapon manufacturers for producing an inherently dangerous and easily misused product. It strains credulity.

You’ll notice that not one proposal suggests taking weapons from those who legally own them. Any such suggestion is foolish when one considers the number of firearms in the US (300 million) or that turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals will solve the problem. Adequate safeguards for private weapons ownership and storage, through civil and criminal enforcement, to minimize the risk of stolen firearms is common sense.

Some firearms owners will complain about the cost of such licensing, testing, and storage requirements. Hardly a valid argument. We require auto insurance, driver’s licenses, and a host of other controls on matters of public concern. These are similar and sensible measures.

I think it safe to say most gun owners are as disturbed by these incidents as those who oppose gun ownership. It’s the intransigence of a few wrapping themselves in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, without a fundamental understanding it is not inviolate, that creates us versus them toxic environment.

I am not naïve enough to think these will solve the entire problem, but it is a start.

These measures are prophylactic. They do not deal with the fundamental question of why these incidents are happening. Mental health issues may be a contributing factor compounded by these readily available weapons. Although many perpetrators who survive have been competent to stand trial they knew what they were doing was wrong. Their actions were deliberate and premeditated.

Advances in neuroscience may offer the best solution as we gain an understanding of the causes of such behavior and ways to identify and manage it.

For now, the why eludes us.

Please do not suggest that taking prayer and god out of schools is the reason. For those faithful in Emmanuel Church in Charleston, prayer didn’t stop Dylan Roof from killing nine innocent people. If it can’t stop it in church, where everyone believed, what is the likelihood it will work in the mixed environment of school? The prayers offered since Sandy Hook and other incidents have prevented nothing.

This incident in Parkland Florida has sparked a change. No longer will the usual “waiting period for the anger to fade” tactic of those who would prevent any regulation of firearms work. This generation of students now in school was born after Columbine. Their typical school day consists of concerns for the possibility they may never get to the end of the day.

Where our generation enjoyed recess, and sports, and walking the halls with our friends, this generation practices “active shooter” drills.

Where our generation’s biggest concern was who might win the Friday night football game, they must worry about finding a safe place to hide from bullets.

When a serious discussion of arming teachers, putting volunteers with guns in schools, and turning schools into an armed camp happens, something has gone wrong. While some of these; active-shooter drills, and better securing of buildings, are reasonable they are Band-Aids on a bleeding artery.

What’s next, ballistic resistant school uniforms?

The most ludicrous idea yet is arming teachers. If a man with a pistol can kill thirteen people at Fort Hood, a military base filled with highly trained soldiers with all sorts of weapons, do you think Miss Math Teacher will be better equipped? If you do, and you own guns, give them to someone sane.

If the weight of evidence about the original intent of the Second Amendment, granting citizen’s the right to protect themselves from a tyrannical government and a standing army, has been made moot.

If the nature of weaponry now available to the average citizen far exceeds any rational necessity but rests entirely on “because I want it” attitude wrapped in archaic rationale.

If we only discuss this issue for a brief moment, then let it fade into the past willing to wait until the next incident.

Then it is time to rebalance the “right to bear arms” against the obligation of society to protect itself, and its children.

If kids can’t go to school without worrying that a fire alarm may be the last sound they hear before they die, we are a long way from the America of my youth.

P.S. There’s been a flood of postings on social media attacking the kids leading the charge in the #neveragain movement. There is no better evidence of the lack of reason and disingenuousness of those who refuse to have an intelligent discussion on the problem of gun violence. Such tactics are abhorrent and despicable.

We may be on the cusp of seeing a repeat of the student-led protests Vietnam in the 1960’s, and good for them.

One of the saddest facts about America is that we’ve always been better at killing ourselves than any enemy we ever faced. Time for things to change.

In 1941, this country faced an external threat and met it with the determination of what’s been called “the greatest generation. Perhaps we are on the verge of a new generation’s greatness.

As Bob Dylan prophetically sang,

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin‘.

Posted in Serious Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A “Pander” Bear as President

Trying to understand knee-jerk irrationality from someone who has turned it into an artform is a waste of time. If the word “pander” did not exist, it would be invented to describe Donald Trump.

PandaAt his “listening session” with the student and teacher survivors of Parkland, Trump clutched his speaking points cue card and, in the end, almost seemed genuine in his concern. Later, he announced what amounted to monumental proposals from a Republican White House, banning bump stocks and raising the legal age to purchase all firearms to 21.

And then the NRA and other pro-gun advocacy lobbyists came calling.

But fear not, Trump made new announcements.  We would arm teachers, and the NRA were great Patriots defending America and let me rethink my earlier proposals. Apparently, he did a better job “listening” to the NRA.

I am not trying to demonize the NRA. They have every right to advocate for their position, some of which I agree with, but their membership is five million Americans out of three hundred million.  They are not the voice of America on sound gun policies. The NRA is, in essence, a fringe group representing a small fraction of gun owners and a smaller fraction of American citizens. They are a squeaky, well-funded, well-organized, wheel.

After his brief moment of rationalism, Mr. Trump put his short memory loss front stage. He’s like a five-year-old telling one story about a broken window to his mother and a different version to his father, never expecting them to compare notes.

I know many will disagree with this, and I look forward to hearing from you, but I would offer this as a suggestion. Since you will disregard my take on our President, perhaps you’ll believe it in his own words.

Here are two books portraying Mr. Trump in his own words. One he says he wrote, The Art of the Deal, and proclaimed it underscored his suitability for the Presidency (although co-author Tony Schwartz has a different perspective.)

The other is based on an extensively researched profile done with Mr. Trump’s cooperation by the New Yorker magazine and later turned into a book by the reporter, Mark Singer, called Trump and Me. Keep in mind, the New Yorker profile was written long before anyone considered Mr. Trump as a serious candidate for President.

Actions reveal character. Words offer a window into the thought processes. Comparing the two unveils the truth. If you take the time to read these books, as I did, your perspective may change.

The one thing that jumped out at me was the number of business associations Mr. Trump held with former Soviet military and civilian government officials dating back into the 1980’s and 1990’s. A troubling sign casting a shadow on the “no collusion” mantra.

But wait, there’s more. I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. (as if you would 😊)

I will put the links to the books here. I hope Mr. Trump appreciates the bump in sales.

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump

Trump and Me by Mark Singer

As a bonus, here’s what the co-author Tony Schwartz has to say about the book

P.S. While you’re at it how about reading some of these books? Click here to help a starving writer.




Posted in Mind Wanderings | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment