Thursday, January 31, 2013

DEATH BEFORE DISARMAMENT:
America's Reluctance to Confront Gun Legislation

“Just throw your guns in the air, and buck-buck like you just don’t care!” Onyx, “Throw Ya Gunz”, 1993
In Chicago, teenager Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at President Obama’s second inauguration was murdered this week by gunfire. In Detroit, nearly 400 gun-related criminal homicides were recorded in 2012. In Phoenix, an office-building confrontation has, as of this writing, left one person dead and two injured by gunfire. The gunman is currently at large, and in the meanwhile, U.S. Congress is poised to debate new, nationwide gun policy. Dismally—and perhaps predictably—despite President Obama’s signing of 23 executive orders directly aimed at gun policy, the prospect of comprehensive gun control legislation is widely speculated to fall apart before it even begins.

It is abhorrent that intellectual dishonesty tends to dominate of the hand-wringing that goes on with both elected officials in this country as well as much of the general public about evolving our national gun policy into something that’s much more progressive and practical than the hodgepodge of state-by-state statutes that exist now.
Much of the dishonesty is coming from public officials. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has yet to definitively say what specific measures—if any—he supports regarding new gun policy, including revisiting a ban on assault rifles. Incidentally, Reid routinely receives a ‘B’ rating by the National Rifle Association’s assessment of sympathetic legislators. He has never being officially endorsed by the NRA, though it has been documented that he has accepted campaign donations from them. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has similarly demurred on saying what he and the Republican House members are willing to embrace on gun policy.

“I take seven (kids) from (Columbine), stand ' em all in line, Add an AK-47, a revolver, a nine, a Mack-11 and it oughta solve the problem of mine, and that's a whole school of bullies shot up all at one time...” Eminem, “I’m Back”, 2000.

In fairness, however, the dishonesty goes well beyond public officials, and lay squarely with the public in general. For sure, guns are virtually deified in the national mythology shared by many Americans. The Puritan expatriates who originally founded Plymouth Colony; the rebel forces of the original 13 colonies fighting against the British; the pioneers of Western expansion; the “bombs bursting in air” of our national anthem. Indeed, when one takes into account the war campaigns against Native Americans and the forced enslavement of Africans, the gun was perhaps the most potent instrument—not the shovel, the scythe, the saw, the hammer, or even the mighty pen—to be used in the founding of the country and enforcement of its worldview. Then again, this last point isn’t likely to be uplifted in the average Independence Day speech.

“When I pop the trunk, hit the deck, John Wayne couldn’t even stand the reign of the Tec…”  Beatnuts, “Rein of the Tec”, 1993
Hearing gunfire going on just outside your house means one thing if you live in a rural town or outer-rim suburbia, and the source of the action is Dad or Grandpa (or nowadays, even Mom) teaching Junior how to take out tin cans at a distance with the Winchester (and it certainly helps if your ‘back yard’ is at least a few acres in diameter). Hearing gunfire means something else altogether if you live in an urban neighborhood and the source of the action is one or more knuckleheads with a beef (whether real or imagined) whose first, second and last means of conflict resolution is to shoot and kill the offender—and woe to anyone who stands within the bullet’s travel radius, intended target or no.

“Rat-tat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat like that (what?), never hesitate to put a ni**a on his back..” “Rat-tat-tat-tat”, Dr. Dre (w. Snoop Dogg), 1992.
There is a spiteful arrogance that informs the attitudes of all those who aren't willing to acknowledge that gun proliferation is a problem at all—or if it is, that only mass-armament is supposedly the only practical solution (essentially the position of NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre). Unfettered escalation of gun manufacturing, gun access—and gun usage—cannot be divorced from being acknowledged as a core component of America’s ongoing gun-related tragedies.

Similarly sinister is the notion that the current conversation about guns should exclusively about mental health. To the degree that mental health is certainly a major issue worthy of consideration this author feels compelled to point out that political conservatives regularly rail against expansion of health care coverage, ongoing grudges against the Affordable Care Act merely being the most obvious of its manifestations. For decades now, governors and state legislators from both major parties have cut funding to publicly-supported mental health facilities. Prevention resources never seem to be a priority, but building more prisons to house the often mentally-ill perpetrators of violent crime doesn’t seem to cause much a stir.
“So what’s the use, go and ban the A-K?  My sh*t wasn’t registered any fu*kin’ way…” Ice Cube, “The Ni**a You Love to Hate”, 1990

Where the premise of self-defense is concerned, pragmatism is also lacking. More often than not, the “…from my cold dead hands” coterie offer only an absolutist position that rejects outright any form of gun-restriction legislation whatsoever, based on the premise that an Orwellian nightmare scenario will immediately begin to take place. Whenever anyone mentions the phrase “gun control”, the immediate kneejerk reaction is to assume that this means banning all firearms in all forms and issuing a nationwide confiscation campaign. Ironically, this stance provides a mutual rallying point for rural and suburban survivalists, neo-Nazis, Tea Partiers, youth gangbangers, organized crime, and Afrocentric militants alike. Curious.
“And who’s behind puttin’ the guns to the young ones; the ones that make ‘em is the ones that take ‘em…
Rugged for no reason, down it’s duck season; I don't want my mama on the street wearing armor…”
Public Enemy, “Give it Up”, 1994.
This week, some honesty was delivered by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. Both delivered testimony to a Senate subcommittee speaking of pragmatic but firm gun policies. Giffords was gravely wounded in 2011 by a shooter who also took six lives in an abrupt killing spree outside a grocery store in Tuscon: http://tinyurl.com/bzk9qvo
“I got seven Mac-11s, about eight .38s, nine 9-mills, Mac-10s, the sh*ts never end…” Notorious B.I.G., concert freestyle, circa 1993.

If the let-the-status-quo-be rationale is to prevail, then it should be declared publicly that Americans are willing to give inanimate, death-dealing constructions of metal, plastic and wood more of an inherent right to exist than, well, the humans who reside here.
As of this writing, it has been roughly six weeks since a one-man shooting spree at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut took the lives of 27 people, including 20 children (the gunman, Adam Lanza, had earlier killed his mother and committed suicide as first responders arrived, bumping up the total body count to 28). In 2001, It took 35 days for the Patriot Act to be signed into law after being introduced less than two weeks after the events of the terror attacks of September 11. Shame on America if it cannot enact national gun reform in the aftermath of the latest, albeit staggered out, mass loss of its citizens. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

FIND A SOLUTION

It's a new year, but some old issues unfortunately have tragically come to a head in the past month. In Newtown, Connecticut, a disturbed young man, Adam Lanza, committed a heinous act of seemingly wanton murder, laying siege to an elementary school, killing 26 people on site, and at home, killing his mother Nancy as well, before finally shooting himself dead as police authorities arrived.  President Barack Obama subsequently charged Vice-President Joe Biden to lead a task force that would come up with comprehensive proposals for public policy legislation related to gun access and mental health, to present before the new Congress.
 
This author wrote the following in response to the mass-shooting which grievously wounded Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011.  In full acknowledgment of the horrific human tragedy that unfolded in Newtown and in other recent gun-related violent crimes, it seems appropriate to reiterate the issues therein:
 
Mental Health- The 2010 Health Care Act must be defended against repeal efforts by those in opposition to it. In particular any statutes concerning mental health coverage should be scrutinized and bolstered with amendments. Publicly funded mental health facilities in the United States facing drastic budget cutbacks and outright closings has been a quiet, disturbing trend in the past 15 years. Mental-health coverage in self-purchased or employer-paid health insurance through private firms is often modest, at best, with high-co-pays and deductibles. Lack of mental health access has, in part, reputedly led to a spike in homeless populations, particularly in Southeast Michigan.
 
Gun Control- This ongoing issue in American politics is always contentious and brings out very emotional responses. But if there is going to be any genuine progress in addressing gun proliferation in our country, elected officials must be bold enough to take a stand on enacting new regulations. More stringent background checks are needed to make sure that a person is not of unsound mental health. The trend of self-described collectors owning high-powered weaponry is extremely disturbing. The purchase and ownership of military and paramilitary weaponry by civilians must be analyzed and curbed. The mantra of gun-rights absolutists and lobbyists that any and all firearms are okay for anyone to own should not be allowed to define our culture. If there is anything to be learned from the recent tragedy, it is that disagreement with others, even drastic disagreement, should not be a justification for violent aggression against our neighbors.