Can we do anything about gun violence in the U.S.?

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that's not normal or OK.

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that’s not normal or OK.

Once again, Americans are reeling at the sight of another mass shooting. In what’s become all-too-commonplace, we react with horror, sorrow, anger, and discussion, but at the end of the day, we all know this will happen again. President Obama said as much during his remarks addressing the shooting in Oregon, and regardless of your politics, every American probably agrees with Obama when he said it’s likely he’ll have to address another mass shooting before his term is over. However, in our efforts to end the horrific violence caused by guns, we address a few key issues: the ease in which potential shooters access guns, how we handle mental illness in the United States, and whether any reasonable limitations on gun ownership are appropriate if it means preventing another mass shooting like we’ve seen across the country, year after year.

The following piece attempts to address a few key issues. First, we must try to find a way to prevent mass shootings from ripping apart communities across the country and if reasonable gun legislation is off the table (despite overwhelming support in most parts of the country), we need another solution. We simply cannot accept mass shootings as normal, or something that cannot be prevented because the Second Amendment prohibits the adoption of any legislation preventing some individuals from accessing firearms. The piece takes a look at perhaps a key psychological reason why it’s so challenging to pass reasonable legislation aimed at ending the scourge of gun violence affecting Americans every single day. Additionally, we must consider our rhetoric towards guns–especially the paranoid notion that someone is coming for them–which may–or may not–be contributing to gun-related violence in the United States.

What’s laid out here isn’t a series of concrete solutions to gun violence, but perhaps it will provide us with an outlet for deeper discussion–on both sides of the aisle–on what can be done to make sure we can end the evils of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States.

Continue reading

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I dared to challenge a cop… Part 2

In part 1, I shared my encounter with a crooked cop in 1999. He cited me for reckless driving, which was a completely bogus charge. He was in the wrong, and he knew it, which is why he failed to show up in court a month later. I was exonerated, but since that injustice against me I’ve been wary of police personnel and their intentions. I dared to challenge him, question him, at times my voice dripping with sarcasm. There was no witness to this abuse of police power, nor did I have a camera to videotape the incident, as is often the case these days when evidence of police brutality is captured and shared on social and news media sites. It is important to note that I walked away from this heated exchange physically unharmed. Many of our fellow Americans cannot say the same.

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The Black Lives Matter Movement has increased awareness about the number of African Americans killed—often unarmed—by police and imprisoned for even minor infractions. Whether you agree with Black Lives Matter’s ideas or tactics, to dismiss what it is they are trying to accomplish and communicate means racial tensions and misunderstandings will continue during law enforcement interventions and that needed adjustments to policies that will eradicate institutional racism will never happen. It behooves white people to listen to what they are saying, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us, and even more important, to listen without getting defensive.

Brittney Cooper wrote on Salon.com of Black Lives Matter:

“To be clear, the Black Lives Matter Movement is not an anti-cop movement. It is a movement that vigorously and voraciously opposes the overpolicing of Black communities and the state-sanctioned killing of unarmed Black people (and yes, all people) by the police. It is a movement that insists on holding police accountable for their violence and that will hold police to a higher standard precisely because the state gives police the right to use lethal force. With more power comes more responsibility.

 But here’s the thing: White people know this. Conservative Black people who insist on speaking about the rule of law and the issue of Black-on-Black crime know this. This is basic. They know that these young people don’t want to kill cops. They want the cops to stop killing them.”

Law enforcement officers deserve our respect, but respect goes both ways. One can simultaneously support policemen yet still want them to be held accountable for gross negligence or outright murder. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive, but that seems to be what is reflected on today’s social media sites: If you support Black Lives Matter, you must hate all police. If you support the police, you hate African Americans. It’s not that simple.

Still, there are many instances where police officers have been exonerated, even when video proves what transpired. Below are a few examples of police overreach or blatant disregard for life: Continue reading

Guns, Mental Health and Florida’s Failure

To say that Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, is not popular is a massive understatement.

He helped make Florida the first state to require those seeking assistance (welfare) undergo a drug test. Unsurprisingly, this move didn’t save the state money. It cost the state money.

Governor Scott has most recently signed a bill that stigmatizes those who seek treatment for mental health issues.

I have to pause here. This latest move infuriates me.

The bill infringes on a Florida citizen’s right to bear arms. You know, that thing better known as the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution?

Via:

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday that will close a loophole that allowed dangerously mentally ill people to admit themselves for treatment, then quickly check out and buy a gun.

The legislation was one of the most significant gun bills to pass this year’s legislative session and was supported by Democrats, Republicans and the National Rifle Association…

The gun bill addresses people who doctors say pose a danger to themselves or others. Their names will be put into databases to prevent them from buying guns.

If the patient doesn’t agree to be voluntarily admitted for treatment, an involuntary commitment petition would be filed. Patients who voluntarily committed themselves would do so with the understanding that they would be barred from purchasing firearms.

If patients refused to give up their gun-purchasing rights, the involuntary commitment process would proceed.

The bill includes a pathway for people to petition the court to regain their gun-purchasing rights after they are treated. A doctor would have to agree that the person should regain the right.

Maybe it’s not clear why this bill isn’t good. After all, I don’t want guns in the hands of people who will do bad things.

But I don’t want people to do bad things. And I don’t want a gun. Still, rights are rights.

But there’s a faulty assumption here. For starters, having a mental illness that requires hospitalization doesn’t mean a person is bad, or is unable to determine right and wrong. People with mental illnesses are far more likely to be targets of violence than to commit acts of violence. See this, this, this, and this.  (I could go on…)

This bill may actually keep people from getting help and treatment they need.

The stigma around mental health is huge, and to get people to seek treatment is hard enough. But now, with this bill, there’s a state-sanctioned stigma. It’s now permissible by the State of Florida to stigmatize someone having a hard time through no fault of their own and seeking help.  It’s permissible to take away a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

I could go on (and on and on), but this bill is just terrible. Stigma by the state for severe depression? Loss of constitutional rights for an eating disorder? (Which, by the way, I was hospitalized for at age 15.)

It’s now legal in Florida. Assuming you get treatment.

This law does nothing productive to curb gun violence. It does nothing to address the real issues behind gun culture, the pervasive violence in our society. This law certainly doesn’t help and only hurts a group of already vulnerable people who society tends to shame anyway.

I leave with this this fantastic  image, but keep in mind, this was supported by Democrats and Republicans–shame on you.

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Thank you, Justine, for this sadly relevant image!

Breaking the Cycle of Criminal Minds

I have a confession to make. I’ve gotten hooked on the TV series, Criminal Minds.

I’m normally not much for crime dramas, and I wince at the thought – let alone sight – of horrific torture. And I’m under no illusions about the crime shows being realistic. FBI profilers aren’t all genius heroic-yet-subtly-flawed models, and they can’t reflexively sum up a criminal’s entire life history based on a ransom note and the shape of their r’s when they write in blood on the wall. Still, there’s a certain morbid fascination in people who delve into psychotic minds for a living. Or maybe we’re all just sickos.

But one thing that I find particularly positive about the show is that they always touch on what made the sociopathic serial murderers what they are. The sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their fathers and brothers as children. The anguish they endured as five-year-olds seeing their mothers prostituting themselves for money to buy food and drugs. The emotional damage they experienced moving from foster home to foster home as teenagers abandoned by their parents.

That part, unfortunately, is all too realistic. And those things leave scars that have very real long-term effects.

Human beings aren’t born evil. Thousands of pages have been written about the “true nature” of humans, but I remain convinced that every person has the inherent potential to do good or to do evil. One’s genetic endowment of abilities, talents, and preferences may predispose one in various directions, but environment and upbringing have huge impacts. They either reinforce the evil or nurture the good. Which wolf wins? The one you feed. And extreme abuse and neglect cause extreme mental illness.

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Children who live in and endure pain and evil every day learn evil, and grow up to continue the cycle. We as a society reap what we sow. If we allow the least and most vulnerable among us to be abused and neglected, they in turn will abuse and neglect others.

That’s why it’s so important for us to do whatever we reasonably can to help those most in need. If we don’t, we simply setting the stage for a never-ending and increasing cycle of evil.

Study after study after study supports the idea that preventative measures are much more cost-effective than remedial. Saving a couple hundred million by cutting Head Start funding today might seem like free money, but you’re going to pay 20 times that a few years down the road.

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With multitudes of serial rapists and murders among us, with children being abused and neglected at increasing rates, what has been the response from Republicans? What is their solution to the problem of the vicious circle of abuse and re-abuse? How do they propose to break the cycle?

Cut spending on the very programs that try to address the problem. It’s as if they see the problems as something that cannot be solved, cannot even be improved upon. They seem to say, “Some people are just evil. Why bother? It’s their own damn fault.”

Instead, they blame the victims and the victims of the victims. Rather than try and make things better for those in need, they just throw up their hands and build fortresses for the rich to hide behind. Gated communities that keep out the unfortunate. Sort a reverse Escape from New York. Set up islands of wealth and safety, and let anyone on the outside fend for themselves. “I got mine; to hell with everyone else.”

It’s a short-sighted, selfish, destructive response. But it saves them money in the short run.

Republicans preach “self-sufficiency” and despair of creating a culture of dependency. In the meantime, the poor simply despair.

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As if to underscore the U.S.’ abysmal attitude to the needy, the latest UNICEF report on child well-being just came out. The U.S. ranks 26th out of the 29 developed countries included.

Actually, the U.S. does pretty well, except for child material well-being, health & safety, education, behavior & risks, and housing & environment.

That leaves … well … nothing. But we beat Latvia. Whoo whoo!

It’s this very sort of neglect that leads to children growing up to have mental issues that result in criminal behavior.

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It’s time we faced up to the fact that ignoring problems or hiding from them doesn’t make them go away. The more evil we force our children – and they’re all our children, whether they grow up in our own homes or in the homes of other Americans on the other side of town – to endure, the more evil we ourselves will experience. We reap what we sow, even if that harvest doesn’t come in for a decade or more.

We need to increase our spending to help those in need, particularly children. Establish and expand programs that care for the most vulnerable. Build bridges, not walls. Let’s break the cycle of criminal minds.

State of Your State

( . . . well, at 15 out of 50 . . . )

Arizona: transgendered people can’t use the bathroom of the gender they identify with; they have to use the bathroom that they were “born” as.

Florida: Bong Ban?

Georgia is thirsty.

Kentucky might be hurt it’s not receiving the attention regarding religious freedom that North Carolina must be enjoying is.

Maryland. Sigh.

C’mon, Missouri. REALLY?

This is not bipartisanship, New York.

North Dakota: Our population is growing! Woo-hoo! Oh, but one of the highest incidences of rape in the country. Let’s ban abortion! Yay!

Tennessee: Let’s punish the poor! No. We can do better. Let’s punish poor with children! If your child doesn’t do well in school, we’ll just cut their family’s support

What’s threatening in Texas.

Pretty sure this violates Facebook’s EULA, Washington State.

Honorable Mention:
Hang in there, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.