Guns, Germs, and Science: (Re)Thinking Ways to Prevent Mass Casualty Shootings

The debate over what to do about mass shootings generates heated extremes on both sides. While there is no consensus on what defines a mass shooting we will use the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012 standard of three or more victims in a public place.

On one side are those who would do away with all firearms, seeing that as the only solution. On the other extreme are those who see the Second Amendment as inviolate imbuing a constitutional right to possess and carry a firearm anywhere they so choose.

They base both more on emotion than rational argument.

If we “must do something” to prevent mass shootings, we should act with data and deliberation. Doing something with no idea of whether it will work, and may cause more harm, is as dangerous as doing nothing.

If we “must leave the Second Amendment untouched” without similar deliberation, this is equally dangerous.

My perspective on this comes from two almost diametrically opposed positions. First, as a retired police officer, I recall the heart-pounding adrenaline rush of gun calls. Those moments of fearful uncertainty as you walked up to the driver’s side of a car you just stopped. The controlled terror working undercover buying illegal guns—often automatic weapons with silencers—from individuals who faced long prison terms if convicted. This terror is something no one who hasn’t experienced it can ever understand.

I spent twenty years wearing a ballistic vest, hoping to go home every night, as do officers today. There is no way I would have ever worked such a job without the reassuring feeling of a weapon on my hip or in a shoulder holster—both on and off duty—ready if the need arose.

This leads me to one of the most controversial misconceptions about the job. Whenever my previous life as an officer comes up, I invariably hear, “you must be glad you’re not a cop today.” The implication being the job is inherently more dangerous today than in the past.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is the job has always been dangerous. In fact, in 1978, the year I went on the job, 100 officers died from gunshots. In 1998, the year I retired, 64 were shot and killed. In 2008, 42 died because of gunshots.

These numbers, while tragic, are meaningless out of context. In 2018, 52 were shot and killed in the line of duty, while 172 current or former officers committed suicide. If we just look at numbers, cops are more likely to die by their own hands than by any threat on the street.

This underscores the challenges of measuring threats and risks exclusively by numbers, ten second video clips, or perceptions based on anecdotal evidence at best or baseless assumptions at worse. While any death of a law enforcement officer related to the job is a tragedy, addressing the problem cannot even begin until we get to the fundamental basis and cause. 

The fact is, we may be imbuing officers with an unrealistic impression of the threat level through training that compounds the risk on the street despite evidence to the contrary. The reality is, we simply do not know.

The public is getting misleading information as well. This threat perception gets carried out to the general population which perceives an increasingly threatening world necessitating arming themselves. The threat perception becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The average citizen is now getting a bit of a peak into the daily life of cops on the street through cell phone video and so-called “reality” TV. The perspective is skewed and distorted at best, because the “reality” shows condense what may be a single incident in a week long tour of duty and combine it with others to give the impression of non-stop violent confrontations. These scenarios, particularly cell phone videos, are repeated ad nauseum. While it is in many ways enlightening, it lacks context. 

News headlines are equally deceptive and skewed. Headlines of “Another Police shooting” scream repeatedly from websites, news stations, and talks shows giving the impression it is a daily event. This is because the reality headline most days could be, “700,000 cops worked yesterday and shot no one, again” but no one would pay attention.

My other perspective—developed with the benefit of separation from the insular world of law enforcement where every person you meet is considered a threat—makes me question the necessity of carrying a weapon even though, as retired law enforcement, I can do so anywhere in the country.

I own weapons and belong to a firing range, so it is not that I have any objection to target shooting. Nor do I object to hunting. Of course, with very few exceptions, people hunt because they want to, not because they have to and people carry guns because it makes them feel safer, whether is actually makes them, or others, safer is the question.

The idea of the average American carrying a weapon because they believe it makes them safer seems counterintuitive to me as a societal benefit. It may also be fueled by misconceptions and distorted perceptions of the threat level. Most police departments allow officers to choose to carry off-duty weapons; they do not require them to because of the inherent complications of “friendly fire” incidents and liability.

Yet what I may think or believe may not be valid, and thus the need to approach this in a logical and scientific, data-driven manner.

First, let me make it clear I believe every American citizen should be able to own a firearm. While I may not see the need for anyone to own military-grade weapons (assault weapons are a misnomer, any gun is an assault weapon, it is inherent in their design), the choice is personal.

As a way of comparison, I see no need for anyone to have a vehicle capable of traveling faster than the US’s maximum speed limit, which, believe it or not, I learned in researching this piece is 85 MPH. Why we have vehicles capable of twice that velocity is beyond me, but we do. We depend on personal responsibility and, absent that, law enforcement to ensure compliance.

Thus it is with weapons. While I may be satisfied firing my Glock 45, others may need the thrill of an AR-15, AK-47, or other weapons. It is a matter of preference, also controlled by personal responsibility and enforceable laws.

I do not see restricting or limiting firearms ownership, regardless of the nomenclature assigned to amplify their inherent danger, as either practical, workable, or effective.

I also have an innate sense that unrestricted access to weaponry and the option to carry weapons—concealed or otherwise—is either irrational or unnecessary and certainly not in keeping with the “original intent” of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

In the period leading up to the Revolutionary War, the armaments available to the King’s Army and to the colonists were, with few exceptions, comparable. The British Army carried muzzle loaded muskets known as the “Brown Bess.” They were inherently inaccurate (rifled barrels, which improved accuracy, although dating from the 1500s, were not commonly used until the 19th century) thus the skirmish lines where the British would line up and fire volleys of rounds, increasing the likelihood of hitting the enemy.

They also had cannon, which were devastating weapons but slow to load and cumbersome to move.

The Revolutionary soldiers had much of the same armament—locally produced muskets were known as Committee of Safety weapons and bore no makers mark to avoid prosecution by the Crown prior to the start of the war—and used captured cannon to balance the battlefield.

In essence, the weaponry used by the “government” and that used by the colonists were the same. It was a level playing field. After the war, there was much concern about the keeping of a standing army (many of the founders opposed such a policy) out of fear of similar government suppression.

Thus, the Second Amendment and its reference to a “well-regulated” militia. They never expected the change in weapons, from inaccurate muskets to full automatic, highly accurate shoulder arms all the way to man-portable surface-to-air rockets. How could they? No one had even flown yet, let alone at supersonic speeds carrying sophisticated, self-guided fire and forget weaponry.

So one fairly logical conclusion is, assuming some dystopian future where the government convinces the Joint Chiefs of Staff to attack the general population, no matter how many weapons are in the hands of civilians, they wouldn’t stand a chance against a Marine Division, a Mechanized Army Tank Corps, or a squadron of F-117 or B-52 bombers.

The balance of power between the weapons in the hands of the people and those controlled by the “standing army” was long ago tilted in the government’s favor.

I would contend that those who argue the Second Amendment affords them protection from the actions of a tyrannical government are suffering delusions. They might inflict some casualties, but their success would be beyond a Pyrrhic victory.

I think that argument can be put to rest. They would be better protected from tyranny by paying attention at the ballot box and to the daily activities of government and those who serve in it.

A second argument, one that I believe is more convincing in its logic, is that most Americans who have weapons never use them to break the law. And, on those rare occasions when faced with a threat to themselves or others, actually do something of benefit to society.

If I own and use my weapon(s) within the confines of the law. If I threaten no one. If I assault no one. If I never use the weapon outside of the firing range or hunting except in an instance of self-defense or the defense of some innocent victim of crime, why should it be any concern of yours what I have, how many I have, or why I have them?

Such an argument focuses us on the real problem; those who use firearms to commit crimes and those who, through some debilitating psychological condition, need be prevented from possessing firearms.

The question then becomes two-fold. Who should not be allowed to possess weapons and how do we accomplish this goal?

The answer, to this point, eludes us. We are either unwilling or incapable of dedicating the resources to exploring the facts behind the phenomenon, committing ourselves to developing data-driven research into the causes and societal costs, and demanding that Congress and the President take immediate action such as creating a 9/11 style commission to develop solutions based on peer reviewed research.

The NRA, now diminished by its own resistance to reality, through its prior political influence, prevented such institutions as the CDC or the National Institute of Health from even studying the problem of guns as a health issue.

This lack of foundational data to measure the problem, the cost to society, and the dearth of possible solutions merely perpetuates the misconceptions on both sides of the issue. The reality may be that the overall security benefit of carrying a weapon is unjustifiable by the actual threat. It may be that carrying a weapon makes one inherently safer. It may be that the proliferation of firearms has nothing to do with the incidents of mass shootings. The simple fact is, we don’t know.

Therein lies the problem.

On the other side of this debate, is the one proffered by those who would eliminate all firearms or, failing that, limit access to what they classify as “assault” weapons. They have a compelling argument in the sense of the bloodshed and carnage which seems unique to this country.

While there have been mass shootings in other countries, none come close to the number which have happened—and likely will continue to happen absent an effective solution—here.

The cost to society is something we must consider in crafting a solution. It is not an either or/zero sum game where either we ban guns or everyone carries guns. These are not solutions, they are reactions to a problem we don’t understand.

We need turn to science and rational analysis to craft options and solutions.

Much like our determination to put a human on the moon or, more recently, to develop not only effective vaccines to treat and prevent Covid-19 but to unleash the power of an entirely new approach to anti-viral medicines through mRNA, we need a national commitment to solve the problem.

The first step is getting to the heart of the problem.

Joe Broadmeadow

The human side of this story, those who are the victims in these matters—the dead and the wounded—need be heard as well.

Elisabeth Rosenthal, MD worked as an emergency room physician at a Level 1 trauma center in New York City. She wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post about her experiences and the changing nature of the type of wounds she treated. 

Dr. Rosenthal wrote,

“In the 1990s, by which time I was an emergency-room doctor at a Level 1 trauma center in New York City, I became acquainted with the damage that small-caliber handguns could cause. When I started treating gunshot victims, I marveled at how subtle and clean the wounds often were, externally at least. Much cleaner than stabbings or car-wreck injuries.

We searched for a tiny entrance wound and the larger exit wound; they were often subtle and hard to locate. If you couldn’t find the latter, you would often see the tiny metal bullet, or fragments, lodged somewhere internally on an X-ray — often not worth retrieving because it was doing no damage.

These were people shot in muggings or in drug deals gone wrong. Most of these patients had exploratory surgery, but so long as the bullet had not hit a vital organ or major vessel, people survived. No one was blown apart.

Guns and the devastating injuries they cause have evolved into things I don’t recognize anymore.

Certainly, many American gun owners — maybe a majority of them — are still interested in skill and the ability to hit the bull’s eye of a target (or a duck or deer if you’re of the hunting persuasion). But the adrenaline in today’s gun culture clearly lies in paramilitary posturing, signaling to the world the ability to bring mayhem and destruction. Add a twisted mind with the urge to actually bring mayhem and destruction, and tragedy awaits.  

Before Congress passed an assault weapons ban in 1994, Americans owned about 400,000 AR-15s, the most popular of these military-style weapons. Today, 17 years after Congress failed to reauthorize the ban, Americans own about 20 million AR-15-style rifles or similar weapons.

Why this change in gun ownership? Was it because 9/11 made the world a much scarier place? Was it NRA scaremongering about the Second Amendment? The advent of violent video games?   

Now, not just emergency rooms but also schools and offices stage active-shooter drills. When I was an ER doctor, we, too, practiced disaster drills. A bunch of surrogate patients would be wheeled in, daubed with fake blood. Those drills seem naïve in 2021 — we never envisioned the kinds of mass-shooting disasters that have now become commonplace.

And, frankly, no disaster drill really prepares an emergency room for a situation where multiple people are shot with today’s semiautomatic weapons. You might save a few people with careful triage and preparation. Most just die.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/04/07/i-was-teenage-gun-owner-then-an-er-doctor-assault-style-weapons-make-me-sick

Now before you jump to the conclusion that Dr. Rosenthal is just some bleeding heart liberal anti-gun nut listen to this. She began shooting when she was 8 or 9 years old, taught by her father who was also a physician.

For her 13th birthday, she received a Remington.22 rifle which she carried on her shoulder to school for practice on the riflery team. She enjoyed shooting.

Her time in the ER taught her this,

“…the United States has undergone a cultural, definitional, practical shift on guns and what they are for…Once mostly associated in the public mind with sport, guns in the United States are now widely regarded more as weapons to maim or kill — or to protect from the same. Guns used to be on a continuum with bows and arrows; now they seem better lumped in with grenades, mortars and bombs.

My Remington .22 has about as much in common with an assault-style weapon as an amoeba has with a human life. The injuries they produce don’t belong under one umbrella of “gun violence.”

Though both crimes are heinous, the guy who shoots someone with an old pistol in a mugging is a different kind of perpetrator from the person who, dressed in body armor, carries a semiautomatic weapon into a theater, house of worship or school and commences a slaughter.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/04/07/i-was-teenage-gun-owner-then-an-er-doctor-assault-style-weapons-make-me-sick

Dr. Rosenthal depicts the tragic, gory, bloody underbelly of gun violence and the changing nature of such in the US over the past few decades. 

I think she makes one of the most salient points when she theorizes that the increase on both the number and firepower of weapons owned by Americans may be based on two false perceptions.

  1. The world is an increasingly dangerous place and crime is increasing
  2. Guns offer improved protection

The reality is violence, in particular criminal violence in the US, has decreased for the past several decades. The reason behind this decrease is complex, yet it has been studied. We at least have some idea what works in reducing crime—economic opportunity and education being a big part of it.  

Mass shooting events are an outlier, occurring with more and more frequency, yet we cannot even agree on what constitutes such an incident let alone study with any deliberate purpose its underlying cause.

This leaves us wailing and gnashing our teeth in the dark. The emotional roller coaster climbs the incline of fearful anticipation, an incident occurs, then some in the car careen over the top screaming to ban all guns while others hold their weapons high in the air more determined than ever to hold on to them.

It is these emotionally driven extremes which clouds any solution.

First, we need to define the problem and it is not as simple as too many or too powerful guns in private hands. Then we need to determine the underlying cause of such violent behavior. We can accomplish this if we are determined enough to force those in the position of power to move forward with a concerted effort.

As long as the debate is driven by hysteria, by both the pro-gun and anti-gun factions, nothing will change. People convinced that guns make them safer and need to carry a concealed weapon will continue to do so which may compound the problem. People convinced that every gun, or at least those they perceive to be “assault” weapons, need be banned, may be ineffective in eliminating the problem.

Abraham Lincoln, in an open letter to the New York Tribune, said this about the most pressing issue facing his administration,

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

Abraham Lincoln

If such an approach getting to the heart of the matter, which at the moment was saving the Union and not abolishing slavery, could be turned towards the matter of eliminating the scourge of mass shootings perhaps we need to model our commitment on Lincoln’s words.

If we can prevent mass shootings without banning any weapons, we would do it. If we can prevent mass shootings by banning all weapons, we would do it. If we can prevent mass shootings by banning some and permitting others, we would also do that.

The first step is getting to the heart of the problem.

The fact is, we know we need to do find a way to prevent, as much as possible in a free society, incidents of violence. Yet the reality is we have no idea what the answer is, barely comprehend the problem, and we seem to be afraid to even ask the question.

Let’s Be Honest…

Given that the latest mass shooting—say that again out loud, Latest Mass Shooting—which follows a long line of previous Mass Shootings, will be undoubtedly followed by future Mass Shootings. Why waste any more time discussing what to do?

It’s clear from the inactions of Congress, inertia by this and previous administrations, and America’s laissez faire attitude toward reasonable action, we have resigned ourselves to accepting such Mass Shootings as unpreventable.

It’s is abundantly clear that preservation of the Second Amendment, without any rational modification to address the reality of what the right the bear 21st century arms means, is more important than any number of lives.

It is also clear we would prefer to see the glorious spectacle of camouflaged styling Americans openly carrying AR-15s and AK-47s in the nation’s capitol in a proud illustration of the Second Amendment even if that means we have to suffer through the occasional circus maximus of the two or three day rehash of hyperbole after a Mass Shooting.

Is it really too much to ask? Couple of days of wailing and gnashing of teeth and we can go back to normal. Use that time to clean our weapons and lay in more ammo in case someone makes the mistake of trying to take away our guns.

If we just accept the minor disruption of a Mass Shooting, just let it pass, we’d be better off.

We can save ourselves millions of words on blogs, save trees by not printing newspaper editorials (those that even bother to post editorials), reduce appearances by talking head pundits and outraged performances by politicians demanding actions (but never moving much beyond a demand once the cameras turn off and talk shows turn their attention back to the latest Kardashian controversy or the Royal Family Feud), and just accept Mass Shootings as another reality of life in America

Being the greatest country in the world, if there was something we could do about it wouldn’t we have already done it? Since we haven’t, and likely won’t, it must mean there is no solution. Not even for the greatest country in the world.

Let’s just redefine them as something else we do better than the rest of the world.

Let’s just accept that we will exhibit what we can only describe as temporary insanity, repeating the same useless pleas over and over again but not really expecting anything to change. We are great at many things and self-deception seems to be one of them.

Let’s just accept that even the slightest consideration of imposing things like training, licensing, and requiring insurance for individuals who wish to possess firearms will irrevocably endanger the sacred 2nd Amendment and cannot even be discussed.

A bullet is the most impartial and unbiased creation by humans in history. It kills without discrimination. It cares not for the color of your skin or the content of your soul.

Joe Broadmeadow

Let’s just face the facts.

There will be another Mass Shooting and we will spend more time arguing over how to define a mass shooting (Is two dead enough? Does two dead adults equal one dead kid? How do we determine what constitutes mass?) than actually considering what to do about it.

There will be an ever-increasing body count.

There will be more dead children, adults, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, daughters, sons, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, co-workers, teachers, students, and more and we accept that.

Ho hum… We’ve become good at prying the cold dead hands of the victims off any serious discussion of seeking answers.

There will come a time, perhaps in the near future, perhaps far off in the future, when we may change our minds about this resignation to the inevitable, but that is uncertain. 

What is certain is we aren’t done filling body bags and putting toe tags on our fellow Americans, and it would seem we are okay with it. Why not be practical? Stock these accoutrements of mass shootings in schools, churches, grocery stores, and malls to make it more convenient. And we can always order more if we run out.

Perhaps just send a bag and tag to every American to carry with them should the need arise. Issue them at birth like a social security card, the kid’s version can have color by number drawings on the outside. There will be newborn, grammar school, and a high school and college versions. We could hand them out with diplomas. 

They would be unisex, of course.

A bullet is the most impartial and unbiased creation by humans in history. It kills without discrimination. It cares not for the color of your skin or the content of your soul.

We can post signs, We Support an Unencumbered Second Amendment, No Admittance without Your Personal Mass Casualty Kit.

We need not waste one more ultimately futile moment pretending to care.

If we really want to be honest…

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A Murderer as Victim:  The American Blame Game

In all the vitriol, anger, and twisted logic in the debate on guns and violence in America, one vital aspect is kicked to the side, ignored and discounted; personal responsibility for one’s actions.

theymademedoitblogIn our single-minded focus on trying to explain why these things happen, and how to prevent them, we gloss over the one common element. Absent unmistakable evidence of mental incapacity–and almost every shooter who survives a mass shooting is judged competent to stand trial—the individual who pulls the trigger is responsible for his or her actions.

The fact is we may never understand why. We may never find a way to prevent it from ever happening again. We may never come to grips with America’s inexplicable fascination with guns.

We may never accept the demise of the balance of power between our early government—the one without a standing army– and an armed citizenry. Our embracing a concept no longer grounded in reality is one of the stumbling blocks to addressing part of the problem.

But that’s not the point of this piece.

The most important thing we can do is insist on personal responsibility for one’s actions. We need to focus on this from the earliest age, so the practice becomes second nature. Instead, we have parents suing school departments when their kids are taken off a sports team or barred from graduation for violating the rules.

“Oh, my poor (son/daughter) didn’t mean to break the rules, everyone else was doing it, it’s not fair they won’t get to play soccer/go to the prom/attend graduation.  I’ll sue.”

A tremendous parental example there.

The dearth of personal responsibility in America is illustrated by our penchant for blaming everyone else but ourselves for our actions. The most startling example of this is from the father of the shooter in the Santa Fe Texas school shooting.

As part of the idiotic media frenzy, which contributes to the problem, the father of the “alleged” killer said,

“My son, to me, is not a criminal, he’s a victim,” he said. “The kid didn’t own guns. I owned guns.”

A victim? The victims are the ten dead, the wounded, and their families left to suffer because of the cowardly act of a self-delusional individual without one shred of human decency or compassion.

The father said,

“Something must have happened now, this last week,” he told the station. “Somebody probably came and hurt him, and since he was a solid boy, I don’t know what could have happened. I can’t say what happened. All I can say is what I suspect as a father.” (https://apnews.com/70ba9b2e83194fbab13bb26819aed045)

The father says his son was bullied. Bullied? When did bullying rise to the level of justifying homicidal provocation?

By this logic, someone being bullied now has cause to take a gun and kill another human.

Very few people are born evil, but we all have the capacity for evil in us. Raising children to be responsible adults is the ultimate purpose of being a parent. When you fail, the darkness within can rise to the surface.

If you don’t instill personal responsibility early, self-control fails and bad things happen. It may not be the only reason these shootings happen, but it is a significant factor.

This infatuation we have with turning everything into a “syndrome,” giving it a name and using it as some terrifying boogieman is disheartening and self-destructive. Bullying has become almost as frightening as a diagnosis of cancer.

I understand there are horror stories of “bullying” that drove some to suicide. That is a tragedy. But adolescent behavior, that often includes “bullying” of others, underscores my point.

The failure of personal responsibility, by the parents and the children engaged in such behavior, is the problem. Part of this is the false courage instilled by the wall of technology. It’s easy to be cruel and demeaning in the comfort of one’s own home when texting or posting on social media. Tweets and emoji and SnapchatInstagramTwittering is a shield to cowards.

It doesn’t negate the responsibility of parents to pay attention. In our 24/7 technologically connected world, the burden is heightened.

One of the most brilliant philosophers who ever lived, my mother, summed it up in six words,

“Life’s not fair, get over it.”

We learned from her that one had to deal with life, not whine and cry, and adjust to it. Blaming others for your own circumstances is the childish way out. As one matures, you come to understand that no one has power over you unless you let them.

By the time you reach high school, one should firmly understand personal responsibility.

I know this may not be politically correct, but the way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. Homicidal violence is never a solution, but a well-placed punch in the nose, even if you ultimately lose the fight, might go a long way to preventing a minor problem from becoming a bigger one.

I may have lost a few fights growing up, but I got my point across.

In Texas, the only person to blame for what happened is the shooter. I won’t dignify him with using his name. Making killers famous for their actions is part of the problem.

There is also the personal responsibility of the father for leaving the weapons open and unsecured. He may be suffering because of his son’s actions, but he also bears criminal liability for it.

If the law applies, he should be charged. If he had any sense of personal responsibility, he’d plead guilty. My defense attorney friends may differ in this but there is a difference between “not guilty” and “innocent.”

Like it or not he has blood on his hands, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for him to acknowledge it. He needed the guns for personal protection. That was important to him.

When his son turned them into offensive weapons and murdered innocent men, women, and children he hid behind excuses. Wasn’t my son, they made him do it. It begs the question about priorities.

That’s what lack of personal responsibility is, blaming the world for your own choices.

It’s time for that to change.  We can do this without changing one law, limiting any perceived Constitutional right, or infringing on anyone’s liberty.

Acknowledging your own actions, not blaming the rest of the world for your personal failures, would be a good first step.

Somebody Give Me the Words

I like to think of myself as a writer. Words have always come easily. Often, it seems I couldn’t stop them even if I wanted to.

But today I have no words. Today, I must ask if someone, anyone, can give me the words. Help me.

How do I find the words?

How do I find the words to comfort the next parent of a child they sent off to school and had to pick up at the Medical Examiner’s office?

How do I find the words to comfort a seventeen-year-old girl whose biggest concern one moment was the color of her shirt and the next moment seeing her best friend’s blood staining the once perfect color?

How do I explain to a group of high-school seniors that their most memorable moment in school will be their terror at the sound of weapons firing, people screaming, and the coppery smell of blood and death?

How do I find the words to explain to the world how great America is when we let our children die for a concept no longer grounded in reality?

How do I find the words to make people understand our unwillingness to seek a solution to the violence that plagues this nation?

How do I find the words?

The truth is there are no words, no prayers, no political slogans, no constitutional arguments that will do this.

So, we have a choice.

We can either find the will to seek a solution or accept the reality it will happen, again and again and again, until we become so numb to the horror we no longer notice.

Then our lack of words, like our inertia in finding a solution, will say it all.

A School Shooting and America’s Collective Sigh of Relief

You could almost hear America breathe a sigh of relief with the “good” news of the latest school shooting. The sounds of high-fives echoing from the NRA serving as a rhythmic background to the glad tidings. Their fondest dreams come true.

A gun solved the problem. A police officer shortened what could have been a much more severe situation. Just two wounded kids, one in good condition and one in critical, and a dead bad guy is a cause to celebrate.

Nothing is good about this story.

A police officer faced his worst nightmare. He had no choice but to kill the 17-year-old suspect. The personal cost to his emotional well-being is something our ‘shoot’em up, kill five before breakfast’ flooded TV and movies don’t show.

There are no Dirty Harrys on Police Departments, and if there were we’d do everything we could to get rid of them.

Killing someone because it’s your job, be it a cop or a soldier, does not lessen the trauma. You can learn to live with it, but your humanity suffers. Only sociopaths enjoy killing a fellow human.

The NRA and those opposed to any review and restructuring of gun laws will point to this with a smile and say, “see, we told you. Good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.”

The implied message is two kids with bullet holes is better than five, or ten, or twenty.

Friendly_Fire_-_Saints_Row_The_Third_logo (1)But, like friendly fire as a cause of death in battle, those lying in the hospital might have a different perspective.

The outcome of this incident, through the brave actions of that police officer, is better than the possibilities if the officer had not been there. Let’s make sure that officer is both recognized for his courage and supported in his road to reconciliation with the trauma.

That some would take this as proof positive that guns solve violence is a sign of just how embedded the problem is.

The officer did what we expect cops to do, stop crime and prevent loss of life. The shooter is dead, understanding what drove him to such actions will be more difficult to understand but no less critical.

A seventeen-year-old should not be able to get his hands on a firearm. Laws already restrict that, but they can only go so far. Getting to the heart of the matter will take more than new rules. It will require a fundamental change in our approach to this phenomenon of gun violence.

Change starts with research and study. Backslapping celebrations of “problem solved” by a gun battle won by the good guys ignore reality. America should not be willing to merely hope for the same outcome on the next one, betting the lives of innocent victims on chance.

We can do more than be grateful for the limited number of victims here. The outcome was better than Parkland, better than Sandy Hook, better than Columbine.

It doesn’t make it a good outcome.

No law, no police force, no army of armed civilians can prevent every incident just by their existence. Until we understand the culture of violence seen here, something absent in most other modern societies, and work toward permanent solutions, nothing will change.

I, for one, see this as just as tragic as Parkland; more so, if we take this as a win.

P.S. Okay #Neveragain and we mean it, this time.

How Can There be Good Cops, If There are Bad Cops?

I read an opinion piece the other day from the Bangor (ME) Times entitled, The False Message from those ‘Good Cop’ Stories? Things Aren’t So Bad by Heather Denkmire.

Here is the link and I encourage you to read it before you continue with my take on the author’s message.

http://bangordailynews.com/2015/08/05/opinion/contributors/the-false-message-from-those-good-cop-stories-things-arent-so-bad/

My first reaction on reading this was one of profound confusion. How can reports about the many good police officers and their acts of kindness and caring be a bad thing? If all we do is focus on the bad things, it distorts reality.

On reflection, I realized she had a valid point. Not the one she intended and I am sure one she does not even realize she made.

Her premise is clear, reporting stories of a Police Officer acting in some kind and considerate manner does detract from the issue of violence involving officers and civilians, too often civilians of color.

However, the problem is not that the media reports these stories, the problem is the author’s assumptions that all encounters between a police officer and a person of color are motivated by racism.

Ms. Denkmire writes,

“My daughter just heard a radio story about how a police officer who murdered a black man was having trouble finding a job. She found it troubling that the news story was focusing on the murderer’s “difficulties.”

Herein lies the problem. Taken at face value, this paragraph says a police officer murdered a black man and was having trouble finding a job. The statement implies the officer was “convicted” of murder. If that were the case, either the incident happened a long time ago and the former officer is now out of jail, or the statement is misleading. I think it equally possible the officer resigned due the incident, or was forced out by political expediency. Either explanation is viable.

Police use of deadly force is a serious and difficult issue. It would be naïve to assume that all such incidents are investigated as thoroughly as they should be. The benefit of media attention is clear, however media attention that meets standards of good reporting, not a Twitter feed or Facebook rant with questionable images.

The author also bemoans the unequal reporting of black as opposed to white murder suspects.

“We had talked before about the different ways the media portrayed white killers compared with black victims; for example, how Dylann Roof was shown opening Christmas gifts while the media use and crop images of black victims in ways that imply they are not entirely innocent. That kind of biased reporting is pretty standard.”

This is the problem with her premise. The very issue she points out here, about biased or slanted reporting, is the issue. She just has the real point wrong.

Here is an example of two headlines, same incident.

White Police Officer Shoots Fleeing Black Suspect in the Back

Same story, different headline.

Police Officer Returns Fire, Killing Gunman.

The tone of the first headline stirs emotion and the writer chose the words to generate interest in the story (that translates into sales). The second is the same set of facts but presented as just that, facts. Not an editorial comment implying wrongdoing by the officer (or highlighting the race of either party as being significant).

Now, I completely agree with the writer’s point that the incidence of violent confrontations between police and persons of color are, statistically, significantly higher than those between the police and a white person.

As Mark Twain once said, “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Here is an example, police officers kill more white suspects than suspects of color. The “statistics” bear this out. However, examine the numbers in depth, as a percentage of the population minority suspects are more likely to be confronted with a violent response. Both statistically accurate.

The perception by some officers that persons of color represent a higher threat is a difficult one to overcome, and wrong. Here is the sad reality, according to data from the FBI, though African Americans are arrested and incarcerated at a higher rate than whites, the majority of assailants who feloniously killed police officers in the past year were white.

There is a serious problem with racial bias in this country. Complaining that positive stories about the police ignores the issue, or minimizes its severity, is nonsense.

If you have read the article, it is clear the author holds a dim view of the police. She can barely concede that most officers are well intentioned and honest.

Therefore, I applaud her bringing the issue to the forefront. Underreporting or ignoring the issue is wrong. Portraying the issue as being solely the fault of the police is equally wrong. In fact, it is dangerous.

The only way to deal with this problem in the long term is through education. Racism is a learned behavior; no one is born racist, children are indoctrinated with it. In the short term, focused and impartial attention to the police and better training is the key.

The media needs to report factually and without sensationalizing stories. However, we all know what should happen and what does happen are two mutually exclusive things.

The police are not your enemy and people of all race and ethnic origin need be treated the same. If you break the law, your skin color should not have any effect on the disposition of the case. The numbers are clear. Perhaps we should focus on the inequities in the judicial system more closely since that is the only forum in which unlawful actions by the police should be addressed. Not on the street with a crowd of cell phone equipped people relying on legal advice from a Facebook post.

Here is my last statistic; there are 765,000 (approx.) sworn law enforcement officers in the US. Statistically speaking the overwhelming majority of them will NEVER kill anyone in their career. Nevertheless, I am willing to bet every single one of them will do something good almost every day in that same career.

Gun Control: A Time to Rethink the Realities

I struggle with the idea of gun control.  Over time, my ideas have gone from embracing the idea that anyone should be able to own a firearm, as long as they comply with the law, to questioning the need for anyone to possess a weapon with the exception of the Police and Military.

I argued that there are practical problems with imposing serious gun control in this country.  Best estimates show there are 114 million handguns in private hands.  To create a program to remove them lawfully from private ownership has nightmarish legal and practical implications.

There are issues with overcoming the constitutional arguments.  I have revisited the arguments of the second amendment. I see a clear distinction in the common interpretation between its original intent and today’s modern era.

As with all aspects of the Constitution, adapting to a changing world is both necessary and reasonable

In light of the clear and undeniable problem of gun violence in this country, a new approach to gun control is long overdue.  The numbers for 2010 were 18,000 deaths and 33000 injuries from firearms.  Homicide rates in urban areas are 12.1 per 100000.

Some other interesting information; (various on-line sources)

The U.S.A. is ranked third out of 45 developed nations in regards to the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm. Mexico and Estonia are ranked first and second.

In 2009 United Nations statistics record 3.0 intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants; for comparison, the figure for Mexico, where handguns are prohibited was 10 per 100,000, the figure for the United Kingdom, where handguns are prohibited was 0.07 per 100,000, about 40 times lower, and for Germany 0.2.

Gun homicides in Switzerland however are similarly low, at 0.52 in 2010 even though they rank third in the world for highest number of guns per citizen.

Perhaps we can learn something from the Swiss.

So, what are the arguments for allowing private ownership of guns?  Here are the two most commonly cited, the second amendment and protection against a tyrannical government.

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Written at a time when the United States did not keep a standing army, citizens were called to duty when needed.  The benefit of having citizens maintaining and possessing firearms was clear.  The use of a firearm in daily survival, hunting for example, was common.  It was a different time.

Hunting is a hobby now, not a necessity. However, keep in mind, I am talking about handguns and, perhaps, high-capacity military type weapons.

Protection from tyranny.

Proponents of gun ownership often cite Hitler’s Germany outlawing private ownership of weapons as an example.  There is no evidence that the lack of private ownership of firearms by the German people contributed to the rise of the National Socialists in Germany.  The reasons behind that rise to power were infinitely more complex; handguns in every German home would not have altered anything.

This tyranny argument fails on two counts, one philosophical and one practical.  On the philosophical side, the idea that any American government could direct the military to attack the general population is ludicrous.

The men and women who serve do so because of the American people, not despite them.  I know no one who ever served in the military that would follow an order to attack American civilians.

Isolated incidents notwithstanding, the idea of a wholesale attack by the US military on Americans is insane. It makes for an entertaining movie theme, not reality.

Now the practical side of this argument.  Assuming for the sake of discussion that the President somehow convinced the military to attack civilians in a coordinated way, using the full power of the military, the “second amendment” advocates would not stand a chance.

A fully orchestrated attack by the 1st Marine Division, supported by aircraft, armored vehicles and artillery would utterly overwhelm a bunch of yahoos clinging to their precious weapons whose idea of training is drinking beer and shooting targets bearing the image of a politician they despise.

The idea that a citizen army could withstand such an attack is nonsense.

There is a long history of well-established civilian control over the military because the military is comprised of citizens. While one always needs to pay attention, I think a bigger threat to our freedom comes from Congress and not the Pentagon.

It really boils down to this, does the tradition of private ownership of firearms outweigh the real risk to our society.  We have a failing war on drugs because we thought we could arrest our way out of a health issue.  One that, while tragic, takes far fewer lives than handguns. Yet we seem to ignore the bigger threat of these weapons.

It is time for serious reconsideration of eliminating handguns, and perhaps non-hunting weapons, from private ownership and imposing strict control over their use by Law Enforcement.

Maybe it requires a discussion on the reasons behind our violent tendencies that are exacerbated by the easy availability of weapons.

I don’t know the answer, but ignoring the problem is not it.

A country that once said they would put a man on the moon, and did it, is most assuredly capable of finding a way to eliminate the very real threat these weapons pose to people.