Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Filtering by Category: Guns In America

Challenging Surrealism One Signature At a Time

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This coming Thursday is Valentine’s Day: 24-hours devoted to romantic love, the giving of roses and chocolates. And oh yes, a lot of commercial huckstering. Historically, and most ironically, Valentine’s Day has roots in Christian martyrdom. It also has links to massacres: the notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 easily comes to mind. Although the historic link between passion and martyrdom may be difficult to limn, it does have a place in modern times. In modern times, St. Valentine’s Day is associated with the city of Chicago and the names Capone, Moran and O’Banion (that’s the 1929 “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” at the SMC Cartage Co. garage), and the 2018 mass murder at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 students and staff members were gunned down, and an additional 17 injured by one person armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and multiple magazines.

In the year since this utterly horrific event took place, the world has changed - not only for the students, faculty and families of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (MSD) but for anyone and everyone who cares about gun violence in America. Survivors like David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez have become leaders of a national movement called “March For Our Lives,” spoken at Harvard and helped galvanize a nation. They have also been accused of being homosexuals, paid actors and stooges for “gun-hating ultra-leftists.” Throughout it all, they have put their collective trauma to good use, often acting with greater energy, reason and maturity than those who insist that arming teachers and administrators is the answer . . . not gun safety measures. Less than a month after the MSD massacre, the Florida Legislature did pass a bill which raised the minimum age to buy rifles and shotguns to 21; extended a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns, and banned bump stocks that transform guns into automatic weapons.

While many applauded this action on the part of the historically “whatever the National Rifle Association (NR) wants is fine with us” state legislature, some thought even this went too far. This crowd fears that any legislation is but a first step toward gutting the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms; that soon, there will come a knock on the door and the total confiscation of all weapons. On the other side of the gun safety issue, there have been calls to ban assault-style weapons - a law did exist in the United States from 1994-2004. Depending on whose statistics one accepts, the decade in which the ban was in place was either successful in lessening mass shootings or made virtually no difference. Ever since 2004 - when the law was cancelled - there have been renewed calls for a new weapons ban . . . one without a time limit. These calls have come, most understandably shortly after mass murders like the ones at Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland and now Pittsburgh.

Polls on the issue of banning assault-style weapons are inconclusive. While NPR reports that after Parkland, nearly three-quarters of those polled favored such a ban, U.S. News cited a Gallup poll which claimed that a majority were against such a ban. People are frustrated, angry and feeling powerless to affect change. It has long been my belief that when people find they are fighting a losing cause against the legislature, it’s time to go back to the basics . . . changing the Constitution. As near impossible as this is on a federal level (our Constitution has been amended a mere 27 times, with 10 of those amendments being enacted on the same day [December 15, 1791] and 1 amendment [the 21st] being enacted to repeal another [18]). However, it is actually doable on a state level. How is this possible? Well, in the case of state constitutions, petitions can replace politicians.

Here in Florida, parents, students, teachers, everyday citizens and like-minded politicians have been beating the bushes, getting signatures on petitions which, if successful, will place a new constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. In brief, the amendment would prohibit possession of assault weapons, defined as semi-automatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device. Possession of handguns is not prohibited. The petition also says that military and law enforcement personnel are exempt in their official duties, and exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date and creates criminal penalties for violations.

In order to get on the 2020 ballot it will require 776,200 signed and certified petitions by the end of 2019. Organizers plan on gathering a minimum of 1.1 million petitions in case some signatures don’t match those on 2016 ballots and are tossed out by the various county supervisor of elections offices. So far, nearly 90,000 petitions have been signed and are awaiting delivery to the various supervisors’ offices.

The pro-gun, anti any kind of gun safety legislation crowd is taking this petition drive quite seriously. Marion Hammer, the Florida lobbyist for the NRA said of the proposed law: This petition seeks to ban practically every rifle and shotgun in America today with the exception of single-shot bolt action rifles or single-shot shotguns by calling them assault weapons. It is a blatant attempt to fool Floridians by sucking them into a deception that would effectively ban most hunting, target shooting, and significant home defense as well.

To my way of thinking, this is a blatant misstatement of the petition’s intent, and falls back on NRA surrealism . . . such as The only thing which will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun and Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.

This kind of surrealism must be challenged. For anyone who wishes to sign the petition, go to Ban Assault Weapons NOW (BAWN); then click and download the link that says “petition” near the upper right-hand corner. If you’re not a Florida resident, you can also help by going to the and clicking “Donate.” Running a state-wide petition drive does take money . . .

Just remember this: politicians and PACS cannot kill dreams, if only the populace will sign petitions!

630 days until the next election . . .

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Among the Many Things I Do Not Understand . . .

Someone once taught me that while a smart person knows what they understand, a wise person understands what they do not know. Among the many, many things I neither know nor understand are:

  • Why are there Braille signs at the drive-through windows at the bank?

  • What’s another word for synonym?

  • If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

  • Why don't we ever see the headline, "Psychic Wins Lottery"?

  • Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor and dish-washing liquid made with real lemons?

  • Why is the person who invests all your money called a broker?

  • Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

  • If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?

  • If flying is so safe, why is the airport called a 'terminal'? and,

  • Why the deaths of less than a half-dozen people from eating e-coli infected romaine causes every grocery chain in the country to pull it from their shelves, yet nary a single national retailer has pulled guns and rifles from their stores despite more than 300 mass shootings in the first 11 months of 2018?

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OK, I do fully grasp that in the case of ingesting romaine lettuce, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) did issue a warning about the potential dangers - however slim they may be - from eating the leafy stuff, and warned that it was “a matter of public health.” Well, along the same lines, both the American Public Health Association and the American Psychiatric Association labeled gun violence in America a major public health epidemic . . . and nothing has yet happened. The only difference I can see is that the CDC is an arm of the federal government possessing quasi-legal power, while all the two health associations have in their quivers are science, front-line “soldiers” and first-hand experience with the effects of mass gun violence. As a physician friend of mine aptly put it, “I’m not anti-gun. I just abhor having to remove so many bullets from human bodies.” As a rabbi, my sentiment is somewhat similar: “I’m not so much anti-gun as I am totally against having to perform funeral after funeral of children who have died from being mowed down by automatic weapons.”

Then too, in the romaine vs. gun violence example, the lobby representing lettuce growers hasn’t got one one-hundredth the financial backing, mega-wattage or influence that the National Rifle Association - the gun owners’ and (more importantly) gun manufacturers’ lobby - has on the course of political events. Simply stated, while, politically speaking, the various vegetable growers associations have all the clout of an amoeba, the NRA, like Superman, can bend steel in his/her bare hands. Recent reliable polling shows that support for stricter guns laws among registered voters in America is at 68 percent, compared to just 25 percent who oppose stricter gun laws. And yet, the way Congress votes and campaigns, one would assume that few - if any - Americans are against unfettered access to guns, rifles and military-grade automatic weapons. This cognitive dissonance owes far more to Citizens United v FEC (the Supreme Court decision which made bucks far more important than ballots) than doing the will of the people.

To my way of thinking, the above presents two of the most politically important issues Democrats should push for in both the 116th Congress (which begins in 38 days) and the upcoming 2020 elections, which are now a mere 709 days away. My heartfelt recommendation to my fellow Democrats is that while they should flood the administration with subpoenas, they should, far more importantly, begin shaping the and explaining the issues which will carry the country in November of 2020. From where I sit and write, contemplate and advise, the most important issues - the ones which can best cross party lines because they are, inherently national issues- are:

  • National Healthcare;

  • An end to senseless fear as a political motivator;

  • Reversing pernicious climate change (believing that scientists know what they’re talking about is a good start);

  • Reviving public education;

  • Enacting sensible gun control legislation, which contains a muscular mental health component;

  • Restoring both civility and maturity to our public life;

  • Rereading and recommitting ourselves to both the Declaration of Independence and Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus, and

  • Ending Citizens United, and

  • Tearing down walls - whether real, imagined or politically chimerical - which separate us from both our age-old values and the rest of the world.

My dear Democrats: do not fear that by speaking truth to power on these issues, you will further inflame ‘45’s base, thus causing him to gain support. If you stop and think about it, there is next to nothing he can do to attract new “true believers” to his base; he’s already pretty much peaked. And with that base now standing at a woozy, anemic 38% of the electorate, that simply, simply will not be enough for him or his party to continue destroying the country. From where I sit and write, he’s losing members of his political base every day, as all but the hardest of the hard core are finally, finally, beginning to feel a queasiness in their gizzard about the man and the movement who have succeeded largely through sewing fear and mendacious dissension into the very soil of civil society. Professional politicians, generally speaking, have excellent instincts; they can sniff out political weaknesses from a thousand miles away. As a result, don’t be overly surprised if ‘45 - a sitting POTUS - is actually challenged by fellow Republicans - and starting soon - for the 2020 nomination. Keep an eye out for the likes of Ohio Governor John Kasich, soon-to-be former senators Jeff Flake (AZ) and Bob Corker (TN) and former U.N. Ambassador (and South Carolina Governor) Nikki Haley. That eventuality would force members of the G.O.P. to take sides - not against the Democrats, but against themselves.

At the same time, it is - and will continue to be - incumbent upon the Democrats to unite behind a platform that is long on issues the public truly cares about, and short on internecine warfare between “moderate” and “progressive” wings of the party. Please realize that to the Republican base, we are all the same: socialistic, tree-hugging, anti-Israel, immoralists; to them there isn’t a wit of difference between Joe Manchin, Adam Schiff and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Let ‘45 and his party refine and further consolidate their white, largely rural, male base while we expand ours to include ever more and more citizens who seek to conquer the future. Let them continue shouting “Lock her up!” sucker-punching journalists and quoting the president’s every twitter pronouncement as if it were part of the Sermon on the Mount. We, on the other hand, shall do our best to deal with everyday challenges that affect everyday people, while hopefully ignoring the ephemeral slings and arrows of fictive conspiracies.

I would predict that before foo long, potential Democratic candidates will begin sticking toes into the waters of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina - all of which have primaries or caucuses in a mere 14 months. Before too long, the roster of possibilities will be about as large as the NFL’s Pro Bowl team. Please, please . . . I beg you: go toward the future rather than against one another. For it is only through unity that we can ever hope to right the ship of state . . .

If we cannot - or will not - do this, it will be yet one more thing I do not understand.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone










America: Our Shared Responsibility

Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh

Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh

While sending one’s “thoughts and prayers” to victims and survivors of mindless, horrific, hate-filled acts of terrorism is certainly a decent and understandable thing to do, it is simply not enough; these acts cry out for positive, purposeful responses. Sending out “heartfelt prayer and condolences is akin to merely hoping and praying that a patient survives a bout of Sepsis (that’s blood poisoning) where a proactive protocol of, say, vancomycin and Merrem would be of far greater value and immediacy. Of course, the specific act of mindless, horrific, hate-filled terrorism we have in mind is yesterday’s lethal massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which as of noon, today (Sunday October 28) left 11 dead and 6 injured.

Responses to this base act of anti-Semitic terrorism have ranged from the heartbroken and speechlessly distraught to the insanely conspiratorial. Fingers have been pointed from both sides of that civic chasm which is America in the early Twenty-First Century. Predictably, the crazies of the psychotic right have blamed the real victims for forcing the perpetrator to act as he did in order to protect their world - i.e. white Christians - from being annihilated by international Jewish conspirators who, they unflinchingly believe, control both the media, and global banking. From the other, less crazy, fringe, fingers point at the POTUS for rhetorically creating an atmosphere which gives tacit permission to psychotics of all stripes to get off the sidelines and enter their evil game of with lethal vengeance.

For many of us who are Jewish the long-held belief that America is different - that here, we can live both openly and safely as Jews - has taken a tremendous hit. Yesterday’s attack at Tree of Life is likely the single-worst, most overtly – and lethal - anti-Semitic attack in all the 364 years we’ve lived in die golden medina . . . “the Golden Land.” Oh sure, there have always been Jew-haters in the United States. Our “otherness” has been of concern to blue bloods and bigots alike for a couple of hundred years. But despite this fact, we’ve succeeded, have made overwhelming contributions to American society and have, for the most part, eliminated overt hatred for the Children of Israel from our country. Where once it was as difficult for a Jew to gain admittance to an Ivy League college as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, today the presidents of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell (respectively, Lawrence Bacow, Peter Salovey, Christopher Eisgruber and Martha E. Pollack) are all Jewish. And yet, at the same time, all of their campuses have at one time or another been papered with anti-Semitic posters and anti-Israel protests on behalf of BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) groups. Yes, even the Ivy Leagues.

While expressing his sorrow and revulsion regarding the murders at Tree of Life Synagogue, POTUS also stated that in lieu of fighting for tighter gun laws, “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better. If they had some kind of protection within the temple it could have been a much better situation. They didn’t.” It was a point he repeated several times in his remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrews a few hours after the shooting. In response, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told a packed press conference “I’ve heard the president’s comments about how we should arm guards in our synagogues, our churches, our mosques. I’ve heard the conversation over the past year about how we should arm security guards in our schools . . . . We shouldn’t be trying to find ways to minimize the dangers that occur from irrational behavior. We should be working to eliminate irrational behavior and the empowerment of people who would seek to cause this kind of carnage from continuing,”

This past Wednesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) posted a tweet (deleted just after news of the Pittsburgh terrorist attack was made public) warning that three wealthy Jewish Democrats are “buying” the midterm elections for their party. McCarthy’s post appeared after liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros ―  one of his targets ― had been sent a pipe bomb. McCarthy’s tweet also named former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and California businessman Tom Steyer. Is this a “dog whistle” for anti-Semites and White Nationalists or merely the rhetoric of an unthinking politician? I rather doubt the latter . . .

President Trump, Rep. McCarthy and a host of Republican politicians may well not be anti-Semitic themselves. However, in the words of Florida Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum who, responding to charges that his opponent, former Republican Representative Ron DeSantis is a racist - a charge which DeSantis vehemently denies, pointedly said "Now, I'm not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I'm simply saying the racists believe he's a racist." The same can be said about POTUS: We’re not calling the POTUS (or any number of the president’s most ardent supporters) anti-Semitic; we’re simply saying that many anti-Semites believe he’s one of them.

On the other side of the aisle, there have been renewed calls for banning assault-style weapons (such as the one which spewed so much death in Pittsburgh), severely limiting the amount of rounds in any single ammunition pack, and doing everything in our power to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of bigots, racists and white nationalists. While offering up these basic solutions is both obvious and easy, enacting and putting them to work is not. That’s where we, the great unwashed public, have a powerful role to play.

Most potential mass-murderers - especially those motivated by hatred of African Americans, “Liberals,” Jews, Muslims, the so-called Hispanic Caravansary, et al - are rarely silent about their extraordinary delusions and fears or their plans to do something about them. The alleged Pittsburgh shooter (whose name I refuse to write) posted a steady stream of hate-filled tirades on his Gab site, the last of which stated “HIAS [the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in to kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people be slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.” Groups such as ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) are staffed by some of the best cyber counter-terrorism experts in the world. They are constantly monitoring and sharing what they find online. Believe me: there were undoubtedly hundreds - if not thousands or tens of thousands - who read the Pittsburgh shooters posts prior to his going on his deadly rampage. The problem is that no one reported what they were reading to responsible authorities. If they had, things may well have turned out differently. We are all responsible for keeping our eyes open . . . for being watchful and eternally vigilant.

We are living through what historians might term an interregnum - a terribly difficult period between the king (or society) that was and the king (or society) that will one day be. And he (or she) who rules during the interregnum (the interrex), is but a provisional ruler. In British history, that would be Oliver Cromwell; in American history it is undoubtedly Donald Trump. Cromwell (1599-1658), in literal fashion, killed off the old regime by signing King Charles I’s execution order; but Cromwell’s rule didn’t represent a new era. Driven by a belief that he was God’s chosen instrument of Protestant redemption, Cromwell purged Parliament of dissenters and royalists, many of whom fled to Ireland. He then invaded Ireland, massacring thousands of Catholics and deporting many more to the colonies. In England, he imprisoned thousands of his political enemies without trial. When Cromwell died of an infection, he passed his title of Lord Protector on to his son, Richard. But Parliament rebelled, and within two years Charles II became king. In 1661, three years after Cromwell’s death, his body was removed from Westminster Abbey, and he was posthumously tried and “executed” for high treason, his severed head displayed on a pike outside Parliament. Out of this chaos, the modern English constitutional system was born. By 1689, the British Bill of Rights had been signed, laying down limits on the powers of the monarch, setting out the rights of Parliament, and guaranteeing free elections and the freedom of speech.

If Trump is a transitional figure like Cromwell, then the new that is struggling to be born is a complete realignment of American party politics - as well as the relearning of civic engagement in the cyber age. This new alignment will have to take account of what America has become - a nation whose ruling elite is no longer exclusively white, Christian and largely male; an America which has, for too long, been far, far more beholden to the whims and will of big money donors than the vox populi — the “voice of the people.”

If we are to one day find ourselves living and thriving in an America which truly lives up to the values and dreams of its founders, we will have to finally, finally realize that this nation is a shared responsibility. We will have to learn to reject the pomp and cant of the wealthy, the celebrated and those with the best press agents. We will have to remember that the preamble to our Constitution begins with the words “We the People,” and not “They the Elite.” Today, and increasingly in the future to come, “We the People” are going to be more Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern, and less White, Christian and Male.

America is indeed, our shared responsibility.

Midterm elections are a mere eight days away. Make sure you vote for our future . . . our shared responsibility. History . . . and the good folks of Squirrel Hill . . . will thank you.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

March 24, 2018: the Beginning of a Movement Or Just a Moment in Time?

March on Pennsylvania Avenue

This past Saturday, March 24, 2018, the world became a smaller place.  For the first time in many years, we were reminded that despite our myriad histories, religions and world views, we are, essentially, a single species with a single set of values, hopes and fears.  And all it took was an utterly remarkable group of teenagers from Parkland, Florida, to remind us of this truth and get the globe off its collective derriere. Throughout the United States and indeed, around the globe, children and adults, school children and their grandparents, gathered with their idealism, their political signs vigor, and an awakening social consciousness to shout "NEVER AGAIN!" - To change a world over-saturated with lethal weapons of mass destruction.   Finally, finally, America's - and the much of the world's - children came to the conclusion that if leaders and elected officials would not - or   could not - stop the murders, it was up to them.  What took the leaders and elected officials by surprise was the courage, wisdom, and articulate strength of the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.   And, despite all the knocks, slurs and peurile ad homonem attacks hurled at them by the pro-Second Amendment, "Make America Great Again!" crowd, they remain both steadfast and unafraid.

The collection of signs and placards were as varied and imaginative as anything seen since the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era:

  • "With guns, you can kill terrorists; with education,  you can kill terrorism"
  • "Strive for peace; ban the piece"
  • "Don't kill my future: end gun violence"
  • "Isaiah 11:6: 'And a little child will lead them'"
  • "You can't fix stupid . . . but you can vote it out!"
  • "Students today, voters in November: we are change!"
  • "Girls clothing in school is more regulated than guns in America"
  • "Thoughts and prayers don't stop bullets"
  • "Too old to create change? Move aside: We'll do it"
  • "The scariest thing in a school should be my grades"
  • "Voting is Like Driving - 'R' Goes Backward - 'D' Goes Forward" and, perhaps the most compelling,
  • "This is not a moment; it's a movement!"

Charged with being "puppets,"  "paid stooges of George Soros and liberal Hollywood elitists" as well as "pawns of the ultra-left fake news media," the student leaders from Stoneman Douglas and schools across the country have proved themselves to be anything but mindless dupes. They are both media savvy and in possession of a political consciousness well beyond their tender years. The media savvy is obvious: no group or movement has so captured the eyes and ears, the hearts and minds of a nation through sheer luck. As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick notes: What we saw on Saturday afternoon in Washington, D.C., was stunningly original media, as far removed from the hackneyed conventions and archetypes of cable television as you could imagine. The irony is that great masses of adults who have been brainwashed by television believe that young people behaving like genuine young people can only have been scripted and staged.  Interestingly, American high schoolers don’t watch much TV. They Instagram and Snapchat, watch Netflix and YouTube. Fifty percent of American millennials don’t watch any television at all. Members of Generation Z—the kids who organized the rally Saturday in Washington D.C.—watch even less. One study shows only about 36 percent of them watch traditional programs. That means these kids aren’t influenced by standard reality television tropes and probably explains why they would not bother to perform them, as they’ve been accused of doing.

The political smarts of the group that got the rallies started were made abundantly clear when they decided that it would be far wiser to have their message of outrage and change come solely from the lips of their contemporaries, rather than from those of elected officials.  What struck me most was how relatively little "political tribalism" was on display at the more than 800 rallies across the country.  The conjoined issues of gun violence and the dire need for sensible legislative action wasn't made out to be a purely partisan tension between Democrats and Republicans or progressives and conservatives. Rather, it was spoken of as a matter of civics and sanity.  Media accounts coming in from a clear majority of the nation-wide rallies reported that thousands upon thousands of the youthful attendees registered to vote . . . thus declaring that they are an emerging force to be reckoned with. This is a great sign for the future of participatory democracy.  For their overarching "threat" - if indeed that is the proper word - was not one of violence, but rather of voting pro-gun, NRA-funded politicians out of office.  

Already, their message and nascent power is beginning to cast shadows on pro-gun, pro-NRA politicians.  Just here in Florida, we are seeing our junior senator, Marco Rubio, scrambling to defend himself from attacks made by his youthful constituents . . . who have promised that they will vote against him in 2022 - the next time he's up for reelection - unless he begins distancing himself from his NRA handlers.  Then there is  Brian Mast (R-Fl 18), a first-term Republican whose district extends from West Palm Beach northward to Vero Beach. A U.S. Army explosive ordinance disposal expert who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, Mast entered the House as a favorite of the NRA. Nine days after the "Valentine's Day Massacre" in Parkland (where Mast had recently resided), he broke with the NRA and began calling for sweeping restrictions on guns.  Needless to say, Mast's turnabout got him in political hot water with fellow Republicans who began labeling “blue falcon,” suggesting a supposed ally who ends up stabbing fellow soldiers in the back.  Although nominally Republican, Mast might still win reelection . . . with the help of moderate independents who seek to reward him for his political courage.

I for one hope the hundreds of thousands of young Americans who participated in the #marchforourlives (which already has more than 350k Twitter followers) will never permit their moment/movement to be co-opted by elected officials. I also hope they will expand their agenda to include other issues like education, healthcare and global warming. 

They seem to understand that in order to succeed, their cause must continue being fueled by the energetic idealism of youth.  Take it from one who marched a half-century ago against the war in Vietnam: it can be done; youthful idealism is a self-renewing fuel . . .

430 days done, 1,029 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

Cache and Carry

Cache and Carry.jpg

According to Mark Twain, it was British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli - the self-proclaimed "blank page between the Old and New Testament" - who first said "There are lies, damn lies and statistics." It just may be that, Disraeli  - who lived from 1804 to 1881 and served as Queen Victoria's P.M. from 1874 to 1880 - was the first person to understand the difference between news and "fake news," which he chose to call "statistics."  Well, here's a frightful statistic (in its true sense): since 2013, there have been 290 school shootings in America.  Moreover, in the first 45 days of 2018, there have been 17 school shootings, which works out to one every 63.5 hours.  

 As numbing as this latter statistic is, it becomes even more stupefying when one of the shootings takes place in in one's own backyard. Our son Ilan graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School many years ago (he has now been a practicing attorney for more than a dozen years), and our daughter Nurit, her husband Scott (also an attorney) and their daughter Claire, live within jogging distance of Stoneman Douglas. Just about any and everyone who lives in or next door to Parkland knows children who died or were injured in the Parkland massacre.

Sadly, there are all sorts of predictable responses from those who actually could make a difference - or else have a specific political ax to grind:

  • The "our thoughts and prayers are with you" crowd of public officials who issue these 7 words and then do next to nothing else. 
  • The right-wing conspiracy theorists who blame the attack on an ISIS affiliate, or see the Parkland  massacre as being the inevitable result of ethnic gang violence.  (Believe it or not this one comes from '45's A.G. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who seems to have had no idea that Parkland is a largely upper-middle class Jewish town) and just last year was named "Florida's Safest City" by the Washington-based National Council for Home Safety and Security.
  • Calls ranging from more metal detectors in schools, greater scrutiny of - and treatment for - people with mental health issues, and the arming every teacher in America (despite the fact that the current administration has drastically cut funding for all three) to reinstating the absolute ban on assault weapons, drastically curbing the number of  ammo rounds per  magazine and making it legally impossible for anyone on a "terrorist watch list" to purchase a weapon.
  • Lastly, there are many who place blame squarely on the FBI, which was reportedly given information about the alleged shooter but failed to act upon it.  Even as I write this last bullet point, the POTUS has Tweeted: "Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!" (Needless to say, this Tweet drew an immediate negative response on social media.  One Stoneman Douglas survivor Tweeted: "17 of my classmates are gone. That's 17 futures, 17 children, and 17 friends stolen. But you're right, it always has to be about you. How silly of me to forget. #neveragain"

Of course, for each and every one of the above-mentioned actions (and there are a lot of others which could be added) there are people who will tell you that "Guns don't kill people; people kill people," shout out "We've got the Second Amendment!"  or urge that what we really need are more people locked and loaded . . . have cache, will carry.  

And along with all this, Speaker Ryan, (who just this past Friday was at a fund raiser in Key Biscayne, less than an hour's drive from Parkland) has announced that Hell will freeze over before he'll bring any form of gun safety (a.k.a. "gun control) legislation to the House floor.  To say that his stance is predictable is not surprising; to say that it will likely cause a mass national response is hopeful.  With each passing school shooting, an increasing number of American students, parents and neighbors are demanding that Congress show both the guts the sanity and humanity to enact legislation with teeth that will stem the tide of this horrific "one school massacre every 45 days" reality.  Without question, we feel powerless; we scream out into the night "what in the Hell can we do?" We fear that there is next to nothing we can do to change the direction of an administration and a Congress that cannot (strike that, will not) listen to us.  Our frustration, our anger, is both palpable and perhaps - just perhaps - about to burst forth as the fuel for meaningful action.

So what can we do?

These are the first, most obvious steps:

  • Do a little research: find out how much funding your senators, congressional representative, governor or state legislators have received from the National Rifle Association and how the NRA's political action committee (PAC) rates them. (Note to Floridians: Senator Marco Rubio is the sixth largest recipient of NRA funding: $3.3 million.)
  • Write, call or email your senators, congressional representative, governor or state legislators demanding that they pass specific pieces of legislation - such as those mentioned above. If your senator(s), congressional representative, governor or state legislator is a Democrat, it is reasonable to assume that they are just as frustrated as you are.  Nonetheless, write, call or email them and express your thanks.  If they are Republican, the response (if any) will be what we call the "All due consideration" letter . . . i.e. "Thank you for writing . . . I will certainly give all due consideration to your point of view . . ."
  • Contact your local Democratic Party and find out how to become a deputy registrar of voters.  It's easy; it's rewarding, and can go a long way toward voting out members of congress who consistently stand in opposition to passing sensible gun safety legislation.
  • Add your name to an ever-growing list of people demanding that members of congress immediately return all campaign contributions from the NRA or other gun lobbying groups.  Make them put up - or explain themselves.

The first rule in the politician's playbook is "Get thyself reelected."  In order to do this, one must first raise tons of money.  When you or I donate to a candidate (whether incumbent or challenger), we generally expect nothing in return except an elected official who will agree with us most of the time.  Not so when it comes to accepting unlimited contributions from billionaire- and corporate-created PACs. They expect something in return for their "investments."  You don't vote the way they want, you'll find yourself challenged by a well- heeled opponent during the next election cycle. These funding entities (which, "thanks to" the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case were declared to possess the same the rights and protections as individuals) is one of the central reasons why it is next to impossible to pass rational gun safety legislation.  Overturn Citizen' United and the NRA - plus all the other pro-gun PACs - will be neutered, defanged and declawed.  

Overturning a decision of the Supreme Court is certainly not easy.  But neither is it impossible.  There are nearly three dozen groups collecting signatures, organizing events, marching and educating citizens on how to successfully drain this fetid swamp. Neutering, defanging and declawing the NRA (a lot of whose members actually favor gun safety legislation) is absolutely essential.  Channeling our grief, anger and disbelief into positive action such as this can go a long, long way.  It's been done before . . . and can be done once again.

89 years to the day (February 14, 1929) before the Parkland horror, there was another mass murder . . . the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," in which four of Al Capone's goons, armed with two Thompson submachine guns and two shotguns, murdered 5 members of the "North Side Gang" as well as two bystanders in a Chicago garage.  Unlike today's media, newspapers across the country published photos of the seven bloody bodies. The nation was both horrified and outraged - at gangsters, at bootleggers and at the deadly violence created by Prohibition.  Eventually, the shock and emotional nausea - not to mention the leadership of Presidents Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, congress and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI - led to both the repeal of Prohibition and the "Tommy" gun's demise.  Eventually, this rapid-fire weapon would accompany GI.s onto the battlefields of Europe.  But it wasn't only national shock and horror which led to the removal of Tommy guns; it was a concerted effort on the part of the people, the White House and Capitol Hill.

Gun safety can happen.  Together, we can take the tools of mass murder out of the hands of deranged killers and haters of humanity.  Together, we can place the lives, the safety and the sanity of our children above the "rights" of the merchants of death.

393 days down, 1,164 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone