Our death by gun epidemic

We had another mass murder.  I might ordinarily feel a moment of sadness then yawn and think, “This is America.  We have them daily.  It’s what we do.”  This one, though, was a record breaker.

We’re still shy of the year’s halfway point, and we already have almost six thousand deaths by gun.  Yes, I know we have many deaths by auto, deaths by medical malpractice, and probably a bunch of deaths by crockpot.  I didn’t research the last one.  The distinction I see is that cars, medical treatment, and slow cookers contribute to our lives and societal well being.  Guns do not.  So, save the strawman argument about the number of deaths by tinfoil or bubble gum.  Guns have a singular purpose, and that is to kill.  There is a reason the mass murderers use guns and not tinfoil or slow cookers…because the guns are efficient at killing and Reynolds wrap is not.

Yes, deranged people will find a way to kill regardless of the tool.  I get that.  I’m suggesting we actually do something to address the dead 6K, not hopelessly attempt to eliminate violence.  If you’re adamant about having your guns, what is your number?  How many dead does it take for you to care enough?  It is clearly more than 6K for many.  I find that in itself appalling, but okay.  What if we could make it just 6K annually?  Is anyone opposed to decreasing the number of deaths by gun?  Don’t jump ahead to costs and ramifications and start saying, “Yeah, but…”  Just consider that question by itself.  Would you like fewer than 6K people to be dead right now?  I think a good place to start is prohibiting anyone who opposes the decrease from having a gun.

I refuse to believe we can not at least improve our death by gun epidemic.  Many free nations do not have our daily mass murders.  Clearly it is possible.  Yes, we have more guns than all the rest of the world population combined (I’m speculating there.)  That isn’t a reason not to try.  “Aw, fuck it.  We just have too many guns.  Let’s resign ourselves to daily mass murders.”  That is actually pretty much what we are doing.

Yes, gun ownership is a constitutional right.  So what?  We’ve amended the constitution many times.  Why is that rule a sacred cow?  I think it should be amended, but I’m interested in actually addressing the problem, not with an endless legislative debate ultimately decided by NRA political donations and a spineless congress.

Normal people want guns to protect themselves, to hunt, or for sport.  I’m fine with all of those.  I don’t agree with them, but I respect that others view the guns as important.

So, I propose to not inhibit anyone from having all the guns they want, but implementing the following steps:

  1.  Any diagnosis of mental illness precludes you from having a gun.  Right now, you have to have a court say you’re insane or have a court involuntarily admit you to a mental hospital for you to be precluded from getting a gun.  Both of those are very rare and don’t address the millions of unstable people with access to weapons.  I’ve attempted suicide more than once.  I can buy a gun.  Hospitals already are required to report certain injuries like gunshot wounds or drug overdoses to the police.  I’m fine with therapists having to report all patients to a database.  Yes, that would include me.
  2. Any time in prison precludes you from owning a gun…forever.  You committed a crime.  You don’t get a gun.  Right now it is decided by state and varies widely.
  3. All gun sales must have a background check.  ALL.  Gun.  Sales.  The ridiculous loopholes in this current law are entirely due to the NRA, and they can blow me.
  4. All gun owners must pass a training course.  Just like driving a car or selling insurance.
  5. All guns must be registered and insured.  Yeah, yeah, registration allows the government to know who has guns when they’re ready to initiate their tyrannical, martial law takeover.  First, that gives far too much credit to the competency of our government.  Next, the 2nd amendment was written when citizens and the military all had muskets.  Have all the guns you want.  In this century, you’re not stopping a military takeover with firepower.  We have to insure our cars in case we run over someone.  The registration requires annual inspection and proof of insurance.  This enables us to confirm you didn’t sell the gun.  The insurance covers your gun being used to kill someone, by you or someone else.  Don’t want to undergo inspection, registration, and insurance for your already owned guns?  No worries.  Amnesty window to turn them in.  If you’re not willing to do these simple steps we do for cars, your gun ownership conviction is not strong.
  6. Any crime committed with use of a gun carries a sentence of life in prison.  No parole, no loopholes.  Use a gun to commit a crime, go to jail forever.
  7. If a gun you own is used to commit a crime, you are as liable and culpable as the perpetrator unless it can be proven you properly secured it.  Responsible gun owners should have no problem with this.
  8. All gun sales will have an additional “sin” tax to deter use.  We do it with tobacco and alcohol.  It is your constitutional right to own a gun.  The constitution doesn’t say it has to be cheap or easy.  The revenue will be used to advance “smart gun” technology such as finger print detection so only the owner can fire a gun.
  9. All gun purchases require proof of trigger locks and safes.
  10. No modifiable guns can be owned, sold or brought into the U.S.  Every fucking mass shooting, some dipshit has to point out that a semi-automatic rifle is not an “assault weapon.”  An assault weapon fires on full auto.  AR-15’s can be easily modified to actual full auto or simulated full auto.  On semi-auto, they’re inefficient for home defense so the only real reasons to own them are penis size compensation or killing a bunch of people.

So, if you want to own a gun just for protection, hunting, or sport shooting, you still can.  You can own all you want.  It will require a little more effort and more money.

Will this stop the deranged psychopath from acquiring a gun and mowing down a school, church, or nightclub?  Nope.  What it will do is decrease the level of ownership and the rate of purchase of guns.  Will it create a black market for existing guns?  Yup.  Ever bought anything on the black market?  Costs a fucking fortune.  Will death by knife, tinfoil, bubblegum, and every other strawman argument go up?  Probably, but the net will still be a decrease in deaths.  How do I know this?  Because half the fucking world has already done it.

I think I lowered the 6K.  Don’t like my suggestions?  Great.  Offer some actual solutions instead of the clichés about only criminals will own guns and it takes a good guy with a gun.

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Miter saws, foot lockers, and history…

Last week the BSW and I went wandering.  Our wandering always starts with a general goal or destination, no wandering intended, that gets sidetracked by shiny things…and we wander.  We are particularly good at this random pursuit of shiny things that catch our attention…a brewery, a yard sale, an old cemetery, a road with old stone walls, etc, because our individual crazies match up well in this regard.

That day our goal was what we thought was a salvage yard.  We like odd metal objects with which we might do something clever.  It turned out to be a store where other people did clever things with odd metal objects, but it was also in an old mill building full of antiques and artist’s shops.

I bought a World War II army foot locker for a few bucks.  I like old steamer trunks and such because I like their journeys.  I wonder where they’ve traveled and why.  I’ve seen these old army trunks before, and I’ve always admired them because when I was in the army we just had a duffel bag.  A foot locker has so much more heft and history than a bag.  I bought this one because it wore its history on the lid.  Lieutenant Frederic Newman, Infantry, was traveling on the U.S.S. Constitution to New York.

A google search showed me that Frederic lived a long and full life and only recently passed away.  Maybe it is the writer in me, but I long to fill in the blanks in such stories.  He stayed in Europe after the war to rebuild.  What was that like?  He returned to America with a family.  How did he adjust?  He was a banker with several children.  He was active in the Boy Scouts.  He retired to Florida.  There are so many mileposts with so many unknown stories between them.

I have reached out to a few of his great grandchildren that I could find on social media asking if they’d like to have the foot locker.  To me, it is an amazing, perhaps romanticized, heirloom.  To them it might be the annoying box they tripped over all their lives.  I have no idea.

This past weekend, Lori and I built a catio.  That is an entirely different story, and all her crazy, but it required use of my miter saw.  My miter saw was originally my grandfather’s.  It is at least sixty years old.  It is all metal, weighs about fifty pounds, and it has been cutting lumber for my entire life.  It was in my father’s workshop when I was growing up, and I have been using it for thirty years.

In this age of planned obsolescence and product horizon, when hot water heaters are built to last seven years and televisions are designed to stop working after a certain number of viewing hours, this saw still does its job, barely.  The motor runs but so slowly that I do more wood burning than cutting.  It and I generate a lot of smoke and noise, but we still get the job done.  That saw is the only thing I have that was my father’s father’s.  He died before I was born.  I was told the important milestones of his life, but I don’t know the stories in between.  However, I have his saw.

A miter saw is used to cut precise angles and make quick cuts of dimensional lumber.  I don’t know what my grandfather built with it.  I know I’ve built a treehouse for my son, a tiny casket for my daughter’s pet rat, furniture for my first house when I couldn’t afford to buy any, an Adirondack chair for my BSW, and many other things with it.  I was told my grandfather was a very pragmatic man.  I like to think we used this saw to build similar things.

Frederic Newman and I were both in the infantry.  It is likely he also passed through Ft. Benning since it has been home of the infantry since 1918.  My barracks at Ft. Benning were WWII remnants.  It isn’t likely that we shared a barracks, but it is probable that we double timed the same roads and did push ups on the same fields.

My grandfather and I have more obvious connections, but I like the ones that relate to the saw.  We both lined up a cut holding that handle.  We both made things to help or please our loved ones.  We both inhaled the smell of sawdust and thought we had made just the right cut.  That saw has been involved in the construction of things for four generations of my family.

I am fascinated by our colliding histories.  I yearn to know and tell the stories.

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Making magic…

Trees retreat group shot

How do you make magic?  Since I don’t have a cauldron or a wand, and I am unfortunately all muggle, my method was less Prospero and more Field of Dreams.  “If you build it…”

This past weekend, twenty some odd writers gathered at a one hundred fifty year old farm house in the rural north country of New Hampshire.  It was the first reunion of Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA alumni.  These writers traveled from Oklahoma, Michigan, New York, Tennessee, and one even sneaked in from Canada.

The magic was not a slow build.  It did not need to percolate.  It burst upon us and just gained in power like a flywheel hurtling at maximum speed.  People who had not seen one another in years, or had never met, immediately curled into chairs and nooks and shared writing and ideas.

We called our grad school residencies “the bubble.”  In the bubble we were not teachers, accountants, or nurses.  We were just writers among our own kind.  It is not hyperbolic to say the creative juice it distilled was palpable and potent.  This weekend we made our own bubble.

People who had not written since they turned in their graduate thesis picked up pens.  Others, trying to make newly released novels stand out in the sea of the marketplace, got tips and ideas.  Works in progress were read and discussed.  Think comic con is a nerd fest?  Watch a group of writers geek out over word choice and dialogue tags.  Two of our professors, pretty good facsimiles of Dumbledore and Gandalf, gave readings and let us once again pick their brains.

On Saturday night we circled a campfire.  We shared stories, words, laughs, and a bottle of Fireball.  I sat back, watching, listening and thought, “Yeah, we did this.”  We made magic.  Of course magic is easier with help, and we had two house elves who worked tirelessly for us.  I think the magic of the bubble is not just being among one’s own kind, but the reassurance that there is a “kind.”  Although the act of putting words on a page is a solitary pursuit, there are others out there smacking their heads against the same blank screens or floundering before a deadline.  We are part of a literary community, and we renewed that fellowship this weekend.

Yeah, we did this.

#treesandotherremedies #writersretreat #mfa

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The community college student

I teach English composition at a community college.  For many of my students, English is not their first language.  For others, they have not been in a classroom in twenty plus years.  Some finally concluded that they should have learned something in high school.  The commonality among them is they all want a better life.

Generally, people don’t attend a community college because they want to explore the metaphysics of pottery.  I’m not denigrating the metaphysics of pottery.  I have degrees in English Lit and Creative writing.  I’m not the poster child for career advancement through education.  I could hold up my resume and write forty thousand plus words on the value of so called “useless” degrees in the workforce.  I could write another forty thousand plus on the value of education for its own sake.  That is not what I’m talking about.  My students want a point A to point B advance of their positions in life.  They’re willing to work hard, but education is a means to an end for them.  It isn’t just exploration and intellectual stimulus.  It is career planning, and that is a worthwhile endeavor.

I’m teaching them composition.  None of them want to take composition.  It is required.  I’m supposed to teach them the skills to succeed in the courses they want to take.  I love that.  On day one I ask what they want to be.  I’ve never had a student say they want to be a professional essay writer.  I frame the entire course around critical thinking, effective communication, and the awareness that rhetoric is all around them.  Along the way, they learn to write a good college essay.  That is nearly irrelevant to me.  I care that they learn to see the rhetorical manipulation of political campaigns, news broadcasts, or advertising.  I care that they learn how to formulate an assertion and defend it.  I care that they learn to assess their views and biases and understand opposing views and biases.  I care that they can defend their positions with reasoned, rational, and effective evidence.

I think it is important and valuable to understand the proper use of there, their, and they’re; or why the passivity of an inverted sentence undermines an assertion.  I’ve had Wharton MBA’s work for me who had no mastery of those concepts.  When a community college student who still struggles with too and to can easily identify a post hoc or ad hominem fallacy, I think I’m doing a good job.  It is the give a man a fish or teach him how to fish parable.  I’ll get them to then and than, too, to, and two, your and you’re, and where the page number goes in an MLA citation.

When I embarked on this new career, I had goals.  Teaching community college comp was only a step along the way.  I would still like to teach creative writing in an MFA program, but I love what I’m currently doing, and I love what I’m teaching.  I think it is fair to generalize that none of my students have a silver spoon.  They are parents, spouses, or caregivers.  They have fulltime jobs and mortgages.  Even the young ones just out of high school have strategically planned that community college is a viable means to a university education or career, or their grades didn’t get them into a university.  They have obligations or challenges that make their educational pursuits more concrete, more “I’m taking English Comp this semester so buying groceries is going to be a challenge,” difficult than a typical college freshman.

These are worthy students.  Composition is a worthy subject for them, even if they don’t know it yet.  In my prior career there was a point when I was responsible for two billion dollars worth of assets.  I think my responsibility is more substantial now, and I love that.


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When did we start negotiating with terrorists?

We have had a long standing policy that we don’t negotiate with terrorists.  Hijack a plane and make demands?  Fuck you.  Kidnap Americans?  We’ll pretend to negotiate until we figure out how to kill you.  I’m okay with this policy.  I’m generally against our world wide saber rattling, but I’m good with saying, “Fuck you.  You crossed a line.”

So, I’ve watched the Vanilla Isis occupation of a remote wildlife refuge with interest and anger.  Who are these hillbillies to think they speak for us?  They don’t speak for me.  I don’t need or want Billy Joe Jim Bob and his cousin brothers seizing a government installation, an installation WE (the plural American) own, and claiming it for their own and their tinfoil hat wearing ideologies.  Collectively, they don’t have a hundred IQ points and would need twelve of them to come up with two balls.  They’re angry cowards pissed that their stupidity puts them at the bottom of the capitalist food chain, and their solution is to take our property and rage against perceived threats and manufactured injustices.  Ironically, the gist of their ideology is they want even more government welfare than they already receive.  Papa Bundy is the perfect example.  He doesn’t feel he should pay us at all for using our land.

These people are not patriots.  Contrary to their expressed self image, they are not special.  They are simply criminals with an ideology.  That makes them terrorists.  They happen to be American terrorists.  Authorities have spent weeks negotiating with them.  I don’t understand this.  Why?  Law enforcement officials expressed that they wanted to avoid violence.  I accept trying to minimize the risk of law enforcement officials being harmed.  I don’t care about the well being of the terrorists.  I was not the slightest bit sad when LaVoy was shot and killed.  That’s what we do to terrorists.

Why did it take weeks?  The hillbillies were going to town all the time.  Why ever let any return to the refuge?  While the deliveries of dildos in response to their pleas for snacks was entertaining, why were they receiving deliveries?  Would we allow FedEx to drop off a package for Isis?  Since we’re so courteous to these particular terrorists, I hope they’ll be paying for the cost of the utilities during their stay in our facility.  Why was the electricity to the refuge not cut off?  These allegedly hard core, camo wearing, gun toting tough guys could certainly survive some hardship.  Granted, they didn’t think to bring food for their siege, but LaVoy was well prepared….he brought a tarp!

I am not a law enforcement or anti-terrorism expert.  I assume authorities had legitimate reasons for coddling these particular terrorists, but it sure appears that they received special treatment because they’re ‘Murican terrorists.  What would our response have been if a group of Isis terrorists seized that refuge?

I doubt we’d have let the UPS guy in with a box of Slim Jims.

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Our Syrian problem…

We have a problem in America.  It isn’t quite on the very real possibility of death scale faced by millions of Syrians.  Our problem is how to keep telling the world and ourselves that we are the good guys and the world’s moral compass while we utterly fail to live up to that standard.

We are afraid and bigoted, and we don’t want to admit it.  Our Syrian problem is our hypocrisy.  Our candidates pounce on that fear for their own gain.  Trump wants a national registry of all Muslims and finds no shame in co-opting the playbook of Nazi Germany.  Cruz and Rubio, the children of Cuban refugees, want to deny all Syrian refugees.

We don’t want to admit our substantial role in creating these terrorist threats because it damages our narrative of American exceptionalism.  Our hands are dirty.  Perhaps not any more so than many other countries, but we were at least at the scene of the crime, so to speak.  While I think our efforts at regime building and toppling have pretty poor results, there is a rationale to them.  One can agree or disagree with the rationale.  To argue that we didn’t do it is hypocritical.

Then we arrive at the very real consequences; millions of people faced with death in their homeland and desperate for safe harbor.  Here is where our hypocrisy becomes cringe worthy.  This argument has been raging in politics, the media, and in social media for days now.

Some take the fiscal responsibility route.  We are already operating in a deficit.  Why should we borrow more money to help them?  Well, we were operating in a deficit when we invaded Iraq and destabilized the entire region.  However, I have a solution to suggest.  Just a few months ago, our senate finance committee voted to continue tax breaks for large corporations , among others, that tallies $95 billion for this year and over a trillion dollars in the next 10 years.  Let’s umm, not do that.

Some cleverly go for the moral high ground and refuse any refugee while we have homeless veterans.  In my experience, these people seem to largely support the Republican senators who, with the exception of just two brave GOP souls, voted against the biggest spending bill for veterans in decades last year.  Incidentally, that bill would have cost $21 billion over the next 10 years.  (see note above about tax breaks totaling a trillion dollars over the same period.)  I reject the binary choice of refugees or veterans.  Let’s cut off fossil fuel subsidies  and take care of veterans, homeless, refugees, pay for college for everyone, hungry children, and then scratch our heads about what to do with the money we still have.

Some admit they’re afraid with, “Great! Put the refugees in your house.”  At least this is honest.  Is there a possibility that some refugees may be terrorists?  Of course.  We choose to let children die because some might be “rabid dogs” as the always poignant Ben Carson described them?  We have plenty of home grown terrorists, and all the same politicians yelling, “No Syrians!” are perfectly happy to arm them; as long as the NRA keeps writing checks.  Personally, I’m much more concerned about the actual and repeated danger of the Dylann Roofs in our country than the potential risk of some percentage of people in dire need of aid.  One of my favorite moments of irony in all this is the Texas politician who doesn’t want refugees because it is too easy to get guns in his state.

A large, large percentage of our population proclaim we are a Christian nation.  All of our presidential candidates, save one, identify as Christian.  Apparently none of the Christians calling to close our borders actually understands a nativity scene….you know, homeless middle eastern family in need of shelter?  I also like when someone rants against helping these people in need but posted an “All lives matter,” meme a couple weeks ago.

29 nations are accepting refugees from the wars raging in the middle east.  Germany is taking in 800,000.  We’re having a hissy fit over 10,000 Syrians even though we accept around 70 to 80 thousand refugees per year.  Interestingly, the two nations we most prop up in the middle east, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are not taking any.  I guess we taught them well.

We are almost entirely a nation of refugees.  Our ancestors came to escape limits and dangers.  When did we create this, “I got mine, sucks to be you, stay out,” mentality?

Our Syrian problem is it reveals America is not great any more.  This video is a fictional account but offers some eye opening statistics.  What we can’t quantify is our hypocrisy and cowardice.




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Pay attention to the Bat signal

For those just tuning in, I’m suicidal…every day.  I am told I have extreme suicidal ideation.  That means I think about being dead a lot.  So, if you happen to run into me, give me a high five because I kicked ass today.  Why?  You ran into me.  Do you realize everything that had to happen, or not happen, for that to happen?

Did that make you uncomfortable?  It isn’t pleasant to think about, is it?  It is not a topic for polite conversation.  I hate that.  I hate it because it continues the shame and disregard for mental illness.  It is an illness.

I happen to also have a degenerative disease.  The bones in my wrists are fused and immobile.  My fingers and feet are deformed.  It affects my heart, lungs, and eyes, and I live in perpetual pain.  Also not pleasant to discuss, right?  Know what?  I prefer it to the depression.  Our human tolerance for physical pain is astounding.  We can endure a lot if we have to.  Consider…I prefer crippling and deformity over mental illness.  Try coping daily with your mind betraying you.

Tonight a friend posted a cryptic message on FB.  I know he also struggles with depression and suicidal ideation so I messaged him.  It turns out he was going through a very shitty event, but it was not the one I feared.  He thanked me, but he could have just as easily been annoyed.  I don’t care.  I can’t tell you how pissed I was each time someone intervened to keep me from killing myself (three tries.)  Simply, I would not be here typing if they had not.

We tend to broadcast our descent and intentions.  Pay attention.  Take action.  Err on the side of caution.  There are infinite subtle clues in the build up.  Nobody can decipher all of these.  I tried to kill myself fewer than 24 hours after a therapist told me I was making excellent progress.   I am not a psychologist.  I’m a patient.  But here are some of the more obvious clues I’ve exhibited:

* Talking, or posting, about suicide.  It may be just an effort for attention, but anyone who uses that to get attention still needs help.

*A substantial change in behavior and thoughts.  This may be anger or lethargy or even manic joy.  If someone with a history of depression suddenly and significantly changes their mood, that is important.

*Radio silence.  Haven’t heard from your friend or loved one with depression?  Take action.

*Reminiscing.  If your friend with depression wants to talk about the good old days, ask why and how they’re feeling.

Watch for the bat signal and do something when you see it.  You may misread the clues, but what if you’re right?

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