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.