America 2018: Thoughts on School Shootings, Gun Control, Gerrymandering, and Kindness

Candles of remembranceI consider myself an Independent, although I strongly lean Democrat (but I’m not a fan of the stranglehold that Michael Madigan–type Democrats have on Illinois). I’ve voted for one or two Republicans in my 30 years of voting. I’ve voted Green Party occasionally when a good candidate is slated. I think I’ve missed one election in all these years. I’m not against Republicans. I’m against bad ideas: those that hurt our environment; that cause our air, water, and soil to be more polluted; that take away the safety net that has been established to protect vulnerable Americans; that eliminate health care insurance for tens of millions of Americans who are already teetering on the edge of financial insolvency. Did you know that 45 million Americans live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—that’s nearly 15 percent of Americans. I find that number astonishing in a nation that can impose its will around the world, but not seem to take care of its own.

As a father of a 7-year-old, I’m especially opposed to ideas and policies that put our children in harm’s way. One example of such ideas/policies are the current lax gun laws that stop people from simply enjoying life at a restaurant or concert, worshipping at their church, temple, or mosque, or simply going about their lives in public areas because they are afraid of being killed or injured by gun violence. Violence of all types: gang violence, the violence of terrorists of all philosophies, violence from garden-variety and stone-cold criminals, and, yes, violence committed by those who are mentally ill who have fallen through the social service cracks.

I miss the days when Democrats and Republicans could work together to solve our problems. It seems that many people in Congress are not ready for prime time. I’m bothered by some of our elected officials’ unwillingness to follow the will of the majority of people in the United States when it comes to gun control laws. It will be interesting to watch how our “leaders” react to the protests for stricter gun control laws from the teen survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

I have no interest in banning all guns, and I believe it is the right of Americans under our current laws to own certain types of guns. In a perfect American world, there would be far fewer guns—especially ones that kills dozens of people in minutes. It’s too late anyways. There are more guns in America than Americans, and they could never be banned or bought back enmasse, as was done in Australia. Incidentally, the Australian gun buyback worked wonders. The Washington Post reports that homicides by firearm decreased 59 percent between 1995 (the year before the buyback began) and 2006, and there was no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. Food for thought for Americans.

Our sometimes-violent culture filled with gun violence tells me that the status quo has to change. Writing this essay made me feel better after the events of the last week in Chicago and in Florida. But these are just words. To change our country, we need to act.

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Commander Paul Bauer was a police officer for nearly 32 years in Chicago. He was a good man who was a rock in his community. Just last week, he decided to snowblow his entire block to help his neighbors. That’s just a small example of his kindness. Commander Bauer liked to help others. He was solid. A leader. People counted on him, and that’s an honor in life. A police officer I know called him a “policeman’s policeman, and a boss who led from the front.” On Tuesday, he ran toward trouble in the heart of Chicago’s downtown, toward a man that other police were chasing who had none of these qualities. The man was wearing body armor and a 30-round bullet clip. This man was prepared for war with whomever he met. Bauer was shot six times by this 4-time offender who should have been kept in jail a long time for some of his earlier crimes. Commander Bauer leaves a wife and a 13-year-old daughter. One moment of gun violence changed the entire future of his wife and daughter.

On Wednesday morning, 17 high school children and adults woke up in Parkland, Florida, with thoughts of algebra tests, Valentine’s Day sweethearts, and after-school activities, yet never made it home from school because of gun violence. A deeply disturbed young man used an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle, to slaughter these people. As a parent, I can’t even imagine the pain these children’s parents are going through right now.

In January, a 9-year-old boy was driving home with his father in Kansas City, Missouri. People in two other vehicles began shooting at each other. The boy was shot, was rushed to the hospital, but did not survive. He was one of nearly 1,300 children who are killed by guns in America each year, according to the journal, Pediatrics.

Last October, 58 people of all ages attended a country music concert in Las Vegas. They went to create memories with friends and family, and to just have some fun. They also never made it home because of gun violence. One man with a semiautomatic rifle that had a bump stock (plus 22 other guns in his hotel room) destroyed their hopes and dreams, injured 800 other concertgoers, and terrorized thousands of others.

Columbine, Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. San Bernardino. The Pulse nightclub shooting. Too many massacres to recall. We rightfully worry about ISIS and Al Quaeda, but the violence is already here. From 2005 to 2015, there were 301,797 firearm-related deaths in the United States, according to Politifact, winner of the Pulitizer Prize for its work. In this same time span, there were 71 deaths from domestic acts of terrorism.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Police officers are shot weekly. Regular people are shot daily. In some neighborhoods, people can’t even walk down the street for fear of an errant bullet or being mistaken for a gang member. Each day, 58 people in the United States use guns to kill themselves, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. There have been at least 239 school shootings since 2012, according to the New York Times. (Some people dispute the criteria that are used to categorize school shootings, but I think we can all agree that one school shooting is too many, and there have certainly been more than one.) Nearly 140 children and adults were killed in these school shootings. Active shooter training is the new normal in schools across the United States. This is so disturbing in a highly advanced society. It’s even more disturbing that other highly advanced countries, such as Australia and Great Britain, have infinitely fewer gun violence deaths because of strict gun control laws—yet we can’t seem to do the same. The Washington Post estimates that there are 357 million guns in the United States—more than one for each person. It’s obvious that there will always be guns in America, but something has to change.

How is it that America is the most powerful country in the world, yet we can’t stop the senseless gun violence that permeates our culture? Our aerospace engineers put men on the moon, our scientists find cures for deadly diseases, our civil engineers designed a massive interstate highway system that connects people from sea to shining sea, our companies lead the world in innovative products and services, yet we can’t seem to stop (or at least reduce) gun violence, or try to by implementing common-sense gun control laws— banning assault-style weapons, creating a federal database to track gun sales, and banning high-capacity magazines. I am not an expert in gun control. Plenty of experts have suggested ways to reduce gun violence through stronger laws. These ideas are out there if you look.

Is it the people’s wish to have lax gun laws? The polls say no. The majority (58 percent) of the American people do not own guns, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. And only 29 percent of Americans polled by POLITICO/Morning Consult in the wake of the 2017 Las Vegas massacre of 58 concertgoers opposed the implementation of stricter gun laws.

Do police officers favor lax gun laws? Usually not. Many police officers complain of being outgunned on the streets and would certainly welcome laws that eliminate bump stocks and certain types of semi-automatic weapons that place them in danger every time they interact with someone who is suspected of committing a crime. “We are a gun society and we recognize that, but we should be writing gun laws that make us safer,” said Leonard Papania, the police chief of Gulfport, Mississippi, in an article in the New York Times. He opposes part of a new state law that creates exceptions to the rules for concealed-carry permits. He asks: “Do you want every incident on your street to escalate to acts of gun violence?”

Is it the Democrats? Rarely. Gun control is a staple of most Democrats’ political platforms. Although, it’s important to not paint all Democrats with the same brush. Some Democrats oppose stricter gun control legislation. Twenty percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning Americans own guns, according to the Pew Research Center. Some of these people want stricter laws, and some don’t.

Could it be the National Rifle Association (NRA)? Now we’re getting red hot. Your grandfather’s NRA of like-minded hunters who viewed guns as a hobby and a means to feed their families is long gone (or mostly long gone). So long gone that mainstream Republicans such as George Herbert Walker Bush (who are now as endangered as the Sumatran rhino) have cancelled their memberships in disgust. When I talk about the NRA, I am not talking about the average member, some of whom I’ve known over the years. It’s not my place to judge why the average person joins the NRA. I’m talking about its leadership. The NRA has morphed into an ultra-powerful lobbying organization for gun manufacturers, a fear-mongering organization that has convinced Americans that we need guns in every aspect of our lives—in our homes, in our schools, in our stores and shops, on our person at all times. It has convinced some Americans that the government is planning to take away their guns (which is an impossibility given the hundreds of millions of guns that are in possession by Americans). The NRA also convinced some Americans that President Obama was going to take away their guns. By the end of President Obama’s second term, there were more guns than ever, and the President did not try to take anyone’s guns away. He did encourage Congress to enact laws that would make it harder to get a gun and increase background checks—which I consider a good thing.

NRA supporters argue that society should not blame the NRA for all of society’s problems. I agree that issues such as a breakdown in personal responsibility, morality, and following the rule of law (along with some governments cutting funding for mental health treatments) have also played a significant role in the gun violence issues. Society has changed, but the big question still looms: do the actions of the NRA harm or hurt the public? I think you know where I stand, but you’ll have to come to your own conclusions.

Great books (such as The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture, by Pamela Haag) have been written about the effect of the NRA on American life. Check them out, and decide for yourself. Do we want to live in a fearful armed state, or are there other alternatives?

Are the Republicans stopping the passage of reasonable gun laws? Now we’re on fire. Call 911. Get out the fire extinguisher. “Republicans will never do anything on gun control,” former Republican Representative David Jolly (Fla.) said on CNN on Wednesday night in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The NRA, sometimes the politician’s own personal beliefs in support of lax gun control, and sheer self-preservation are just a few of the reasons why Republicans consistently oppose passing gun control laws. Most Republican politicians and some Democratic politicians are afraid to stand up to the NRA because they know it is a powerful force that can sway public opinion with propaganda. They also like the money the NRA sends their way to support their agenda (a corporate agenda, by the way, not the interests of the majority of the American people who want stricter gun laws). Senators John McCain, Richard Burr, Roy Blunt, Thom Tillis, and Cory Gardner represent Americans from different states, but they have two things in common: they are all Republicans and they rank in the top five politicians who have received the highest lifetime financial contributions from the NRA (ranging from $3.88 million to $7.74 million), according to Fortune. Unfortunately, money talks, and it says, “Don’t vote for stricter gun control laws.” Even if the majority of Americans want their politicians to do so.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

It’s painful to hear the endless stories of gun violence in our society. The news flashes of mass murders at schools, concerts, and businesses are disturbing and heartbreaking. Watching video taken during the attack in Parkland, it hurts me to see our children’s innocence being snatched away because of the reluctance of our leaders to pass even minor gun control laws. If I lost my son in such an attack, my life would be almost meaningless.

Stricter gun control laws aren’t a cure all. They will not create a peaceful American nirvana (we need an increase in personal responsibility, too). Gun violence and massacres will still occur. Criminals will still be able to access guns. But we need to try something different. “Thoughts and prayers” aren’t cutting it. If you believe in God, you should be concluding that he (or she) wants us to work this out ourselves since these terrible mass shootings continue to happen. God gave us freewill, and we need to exercise it. If you don’t believe in God, then you’ve already realized that the onus is on us to make the world a better place. If you consider this issue from the viewpoint of an atheist, heaven is on this Earth, and people need to do more to make it so. What we’re doing is not enough.

It’s time for action from Americans who want a safer, more civilized world. We can’t depend on the White House. In one of his first actions in office, President Trump rolled back a law that blocked people with mental health issues from getting guns. According to ABCNews: “President Trump signed H.J. Res. 40, effectively ending the Social Security Administration’s requirement to enter the names of people who receive mental health benefits into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This is the database used by the FBI to determine who is able to purchase firearms.” And, overall, Trump opposes gun control legislation. We can’t depend on most Republicans. So, in the end, it’s up to us citizens (regardless of party) to make the changes that our leadership seem unable—or unwilling—to implement. Maybe the Republicans will come to change their opinions if they see the public’s anger and willingness to fight to change these laws.

It’s important to note that I don’t oppose handgun or shotgun ownership for responsible people who do not have a criminal record, who do not have a history of serious mental illness, and who otherwise qualify for ownership. I respect the right of Americans to own a gun. Perhaps if I grew up in a country such as Great Britain that has strong gun control laws, I would not feel that it was a basic right.

I suggest the following steps to reclaim our country and make it a better place. These are not groundbreakers. Plenty of more-intelligent people than me have even better ideas, but we need to start somewhere.

  1. Be kinder to others—regardless of politics, religion, race, etc. We tell ourselves that we are “good people,” but are we really? Are we doing everything that we can to make the world a better place? There are many good people in this world from both major political parties, but all this goodness isn’t adding up to a better world. Good people need to redouble their efforts to fight the ills of the world. Cop killers, carjackers, rapists, mass murderers, and others will shrink in the harsh, bright light of goodness, perseverance, and tougher laws against violent crime—not in every situation, but in the long run. If we stand up in a concerted effort, good will eventually win out (or so I hope). The environment between many Democrats and Republicans—both in office and in regular life—is toxic. While it might be fun to satirize and demonize members of the opposing party, this is not a model for long-term success or getting things done. Isn’t that the goal of any civilized society? This anger is not working. Rational politicians from each party must seek each other out and find a way to make something new. And, if they don’t, they risk being voted out by a very pissed off electorate. Gallup reports that only 20 percent of Americans approved of the job the U.S. Congress was doing as of January 2018. This percentage was as high as 39 percent as recently as March 2009, and 84 percent in October 2001 (right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks).
  2. Stop embracing anger, violence, and conflict. Violence is endemic in the American entertainment industry, video games, and popular culture (although I’m not saying it causes gun crimes). Bullying is a major issue in our schools. Public discourse is full of anger, arguments, and coarseness. Many people in America are anti-intellectual. They don’t value ideas, art, and facts. Let’s not even get into the sad sack Internet trolls. We need to reduce these negative things, and the influences that tell us the way to solve problems is through violence or belittling an individual in-person and online. We need to stop demeaning others just to win an argument. To get a bit philosophical, think of violence and anger as a disease of the mind. We need to think outside the box on ways to fight this disease, create a more loving society, be kinder to others, and develop relationships with people from all backgrounds.
  3. Tell the truth. We need more love and understanding…and truth. We need to accept facts—whether they support our beliefs or not. We also need to come to terms with some “national lies” that simmer beneath the surface of our carefully curated history. America was founded on many wonderful principles, and I am proud and very, very lucky to live here. I assure you that a trip to any developing country without our systems of law and justice, free elections, good roads, state-of-the-art sanitation systems, etc. will reinforce this love of America. But America was also founded on slavery and the systematic extermination of the indigenous peoples of this land. Some Americans bought slaves, were fine with the idea that these slaves were taken from their families in Africa and other places, and used them to build vast wealth and comfortable lives for themselves. We took the Native Americans’ land using “treaties” that were completely foreign to a non-western people who did not view ownership of the land as we did. And if that didn’t work, we simply took their land by force. If you’re looking to learn more about these events, check out the classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown, and a new book Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann. The latter title describes how white people in Oklahoma in the 1920s conspired to marry and kill members of the Osage tribe to steal their oil wealth, which could only be passed on through inheritance. The Osage had been forced by white settlers to move from their ancestral homelands in Missouri to the then-Indian Territory of Oklahoma, which was viewed as worthless land until oil and other natural resources were discovered there. Disturbing. American leaders—and the American people (whether their ancestors were here or not)—need to acknowledge these crimes and, at minimum, offer heartfelt apologies, but much more. I mention this because there is a lot of blaming is going on in America right now. Blaming of immigrants, of minorities, of Democrats, of Republicans, of the rich, of the poor. One recent news story recounted some white supremacists telling a Native American to go back to where he came from. How ironic. We need to take responsibility for our past in order to somehow move into the future with a clean conscience and a realistic view of the history that brought us to this point. Let’s lose the sugarcoating and face the truth.
  4. Strengthen gun laws to eliminate leniency for repeat gun offenders so that good men such as Commander Paul Bauer would still be alive today. Some people are evil and do not deserve to be part of our society. I support rehabilitation. I believe that almost anyone can change and find a useful purpose in the world. But repeat violent offenders have shown that they have not yet been rehabilitated. When these repeat offenders continue to assault, rob, rape, and kill, laws need to be in place that send them to prison for a long time. And once they’re in prison, bring on the rehabilitation. I will cheer if they manage to change their lives and realize the error of their ways, but until then, we need to be protected from them. And, regardless of their change of heart, they still need to be punished for their crimes.
  5. Call our leaders and demand change. Protest outside their offices in their home districts until we scare the gun-lust out of them and convince them to put our families ahead of the NRA and other special interest groups. Perhaps we need a Gun Control March on Washington. I love what Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is doing.
  6. Vote in every election—from school boards, to local elections, to state and national elections. Elect people who share your values. Put those in power that you believe won’t be corrupted by power. Elect those who support sensible gun control laws. Consider running for office. We need fewer lawyers, businesspeople, and career politicians in office, and more teachers, principals, social workers, editors and writers, police officers, fire fighters, and artists in power. We need people with a wide range of viewpoints and experiences.
  7. Work to vote out those who do not support sensible gun control laws. One big problem for Democrats or other non-Republicans is that we are clustered in certain cities and states. Many of our elected officials already share our values regarding gun control. We need to focus on the politicians in other states who oppose gun control. Contribute financially to their opponents in the next election. Try to convince their constituents to change their minds about supporting them. Not by demeaning their views, but by talking with them and sharing facts. Let gun control–opposing politicians know that if they don’t begin voting to protect the American people from gun violence, they will lose their jobs.
  8. Fight gerrymandering by both parties. It’s anti-democratic. Have you ever looked at a national or state Congressional map? They are often sprawling messes of narrow areas that zigzag all over towns and counties so that they include enough voters of one party or another to ensure that a member of a certain party is elected. One example is the Republican-drawn Seventh Congressional District in Pennsylvania. It’s nicknamed “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck” because of how its odd shape resembles one Disney character kicking the buttocks of another. Illinois’ Fourth Congressional District—this one created by the Democrats—is another doozy. (See below for photos of both districts.) These districts are so partisanly organized that elected officials never have to compromise in order to attract voters from a different party or from a more liberal or conservative branch of their party. They usually have no viable challenger from the opposite party, and their only real challenge is from someone in their own party in the primary. The Democratic party—especially at the state level in Illinois—is rotting from lack of ideas, nepotism, and competition just like many state Republican parties. This seems so wrong that both parties do this. At the state and national level, the Republicans have become so adept at gerrymandering that they eke out victories in areas that, if laid out in a square or rectangle, would easily generate Democratic victories. This type of gerrymandering direct influences Congress’ ability to pass common-sense gun control laws. Recent court decisions have reversed Republican efforts to gerrymander districts, so there is some good news. Legislators in Ohio have written anti-gerrymandering legislation that will give both parties a say in the redistricting process. Perfect. The law goes to voters in May. Bottom line: we need a fair election process in which geographically-matched people get to vote for the candidate of their choice. We should choose the candidate with the best ideas (specifically in this instance, the best ideas to fight gun violence), regardless of their party affiliation. We need a fair system to help the American people regain trust in the electoral process. Click here to learn more about the negative effects of gerrymandering.

Thoughts and prayers are nice, but they don’t solve problems. Ideas are just the start. What we need is action and commitment to change. This won’t happen overnight. Luckily, many local and state elections, as well as the national midterm elections are being held this year. This is the time to act and make the changes that most Americans support.

Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes; photo of candle courtesy of DPC, photos of Congressional maps courtesy of NationalAtlas.gov

Pennsylvania_US_Congressional_District_7_(since_2013).tif
The Republican-drawn Seventh Congressional District in Pennsylvania
Illinois_US_Congressional_District_4_(since_2013)
The Democrat-drawn Illinois Fourth Congressional District

7 thoughts on “America 2018: Thoughts on School Shootings, Gun Control, Gerrymandering, and Kindness

  1. We are people who so want an immediate fix of a an unbelievably flawed system which allows assault weapons to be in the hands of just about anyone. The realty is a much slower process because of the turtle-like movement of meaningful change. I think it is clear to any of us willing to take a long look, that the NRA leadership needs to change, either in its personnel or rigidity to modification of ideas. Please let that happen soon.
    Thank you Andy, for a thorough and solid presentation of truths, beliefs and aspirations for the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well written post my friend. You did your research for sure. I generally consider myself a strong second amendment supporter but I think it is time for us to consider a revamp of the laws. We as a society have changed – the value of a life has diminished and taking one away does not invoke remorse as it should – thats a problem. Thanks for sharing this

    Liked by 1 person

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