Thursday 17 January 2013

Sandy Hook: What if it was your child?

Who hasn't weighed in on this one? According to the newspaper articles, the op-ed pieces, and the countless blog postings, the two words Sandy Hook evoke all sorts of emotions. The death of an adult is tragic but the death of children, twenty of them in this case, evokes a lot of emotions. There's a visceral reaction: protect the children; get the bastards; and spare no expense.

Nevertheless the push back by the NRA and the far right has been perplexing in their finger pointing to everything under the sun, mental health, violent video games, poor parenting, etc. while steadfastly avoiding the elephant in the room. Guns did not kill those twenty children and six adults.

What is the right answer? What mixture of government regulations, laws, and social programs could lead to an elimination of any such tragic event? I would hypothesize that no one person on this planet knows this winning formula but I am also going to guess the voices chiming in from all points of the compass are going to do more to obfuscate "the truth" in air quotes than to clarify the situation. Why? Everybody has their limited perspective. Nobody can see the big picture.

I am not a gun enthusiast. I don't own a gun; I have never owned a gun. If the government took all the guns away, I personally would not be affected. But I don't play golf. I don't really like golf so if the government came along and shut down ever course in the country; I personally would not be affected. However I do recognise that would be draconian and would most certainly protest along with every golfer. And as with golf, I would question the government taking all guns away. That sounds draconian. Do we tar and feather every gun enthusiast because of a single nutbar? If you will excuse the pun, that sounds like "overkill".

But what is the "right answer"? What would lead the maximum amount of security as the trade-off to total unfettered freedom? I offer an analogy if you will.

Over the years the powers who be determined that in the best interest of public safety, we all need to follow some rules when driving. There are posted speed limits. We must stop at red lights and stop signs. Everyone must wear a safety belt. Somewhere along the way, somebody, the "collective we", has determined these rules would reduce traffic accidents, save lives, and spare us from all sorts of injuries. Collectively we gave up some of our freedom in order to be safer. (I would like to think we could all agree that the trade-off was worth it.) But note one particular aspect of this trade-off: the government is not telling us where to go. The government is not restricting our movements. What it is saying is that it would prefer we all arrive at our destinations safe and sound. Follow the speed limit, wear a safety belt, and we hope you have a good time wherever it is that you're going. Is big government controlling our lives? Is Big Brother sticking its nose where it doesn't belong?

I said that we gave up some of our freedom in order to be safer. In terms of speed limits, red lights, and safety belts, I don't think we gave up any freedom, I think we gave up our stupidity or our choice to make mistakes. Driving at 60 mph as opposed to driving at the unsafe speed of 100 mph makes sense because the statistics clearly show less people die at 60 than at 100. Driving at 100 isn't freedom, it's stupidity.

Let's return to the elephant I mentioned earlier: guns. Are we prepared to admit there is a problem? The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. Hunting, marksmanship; there are a number of reasons why someone would want to fire a gun and possibly own one. But where do we cross the line? Where do we go from 60 mph to the more dangerous 100 mph? Automatic weapons? Assault rifles? 30 round clips? Bazooka? Grenade launcher? Concealed weapons? Under controlled circumstances like at a race track I can drive my car at 200 mph. I am not allowed to drive 200 mph at any regular road. I think we can all admit that the total freedom to do what I want as in driving 200 mph on city streets would be both homicidal and suicidal. That's just plain nuts.

So I have the right to own a car. I have the right to drive. I have the right to go anywhere I want BUT the government has determined that for the maximum safety of everybody, of the entire population of the country, I must abide by certain rules, certain restrictions. I cannot wildly drive in any manner I want; I must respect the law. I may be able to own a formula one racing car but I am NOT allowed to drive it on the street.

I have the right to shoot a gun. I have the right to own a gun. BUT should I have total freedom to do anything I want regardless of the maximum safety of the entire population?

Guns: As American as Apple Pie
Back in September 2012, I wrote a posting about the story of a man who went to Walmart to buy milk. In the checkout line, when he reached for his wallet in his back pocket, he accidentally discharged his handgun. It ended up that this guy did have a permit to carry a concealed weapon so him having a gun wasn't illegal; this was just an accident. Nevertheless, I asked an important question. Is Walmart so dangerous, do I need to be armed if not necessarily to shoot somebody to at least display to anybody I am capable of lethal firepower?

FYI: I think this posting is a worthwhile read: "Guns: As American as Apple Pie". I'll wait.

As I researched my question, I discovered all sorts of photos of people shopping at Walmart armed with quite an array of weaponry. I'm not just talking about holstered handguns; one guy had some sort of sawed off shotgun strapped to his waist. I also wrote a number of personal anecdotes about Americans I had met who were living their daily lives while carrying a gun with them. I asked if America was so dangerous was I risking my life every time I visited the country.

A gentleman by the name of Charlie left me a comment.

So, William, I suppose you don't fasten your seat belt until those few milliseconds when you know for sure you're going to be in an accident.

Are you even interested in the reasons WHY people choose to carry a firearm? Or do you just get your kicks ridiculing them?

I'm not sure that Charlie understood that the first line of his comment answered my question. Yes, America is so dangerous, I must be ready at anytime to return fire. I know there is a chance I can be in a traffic accident therefore I always wear my safety belt. Charlie is suggesting he carries a gun because his life could be in jeopardy at anytime. Fair enough. And Charlie is confirming that America is so dangerous I am risking my life every time I visit the country.

As for ridiculing those who carry a firearm? There are two scenarios.

1. Walmart is so dangerous; I am foolish to shop there without being armed.

2. Walmart is not dangerous and everybody who goes there armed is paranoid of dangers which either do not exist or are statistically so insignificant as be to negligible.

So who's right? Me or Charlie?

By the way, what does "statistically insignificant" mean? I think it is "possible" an asteroid can hit the Earth but I also think it is "improbable". Therefore it is statistically insignificant and I live my life as though an asteroid will not hit the Earth.

Solution: add more guns
On December 21, 2012, one week after the Sandy Hook shooting, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said to reporters, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." He then went on to propose arming each and every school in America. He compared this to airports, banks, and other public buildings currently patrolled by armed guards. Fair enough. But will this work?

On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was surrounded by secret service and still got shot.

On November 5, 2009 at Fort Hood, the most populous military base in the world, a single gunman killed 13 people and wounded 29 others. Needless to say, at a military base isn't just about everybody armed?

On April 16, 2007 at Virginia Tech a lone gunman killed 32 people and injured 17 others. The presence of armed security guards on campus did nothing to prevent this tragedy.

On April 20, 1999, at the Columbine High School two senior students murdered 12 students and a teacher. There were law enforcement agents on call.

On February 28, 1997, two bank robbers wearing body armor managed to hold off the LAPD for several hours using illegally modified fully automatic AKMs and an AR-15 rifle with high capacity drum magazines and ammunition capable of penetrating police body armor.

Does Wayne LaPierre honestly believe that giving a principal a handgun or even putting a security guard at school is going to deter or stop a determined crazy? Even Ronald Reagan didn't stand a chance and he was protected by not one, not two, but a group of highly trained professionals.

We reduced drunk driving accidents without a total ban on alcohol. Then again we didn't think more alcohol was the solution to drunk driving.

How much firepower does anybody need?
You own a car. I own a car. The speed limit is 60 mph on the highway and in some places 70 or 75. Do we need a formula one race car? If you can spring for hundreds of thousands of dollars, you could buy a Lamborghini Diablo GT with a top speed of 215 mph but what's the point? Where would you have an opportunity to put the pedal to the metal?

Adam Lanza got the guns from his mother. She reportedly was a survivalist who believed society was going to collapse and she needed to prepare her family for the worst. The police found at the school with Lanza a .223-caliber Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, a 10mm Glock 20 SF handgun, a 9mm SIG Sauer handgun, and a shotgun while still at home, there were a .45 Henry repeating rifle, a .30 Enfield rifle, and a .22 Marlin rifle.

People talk about guns for hunting. They talk about guns for marksmanship. I have to ask why any one person such as Adam Lanza's mother would want or need to have such an arsenal.

Are you free?
When I grew up in the 1950s, I don't think people always locked their doors. We all knew one another and robbery was a rarity. I wouldn't think of leaving my home unlocked today although I am sure the risk of robbery isn't that high. However in speaking with a colleague, he described such a situation continues to exist at his cottage where there is a small community of fellow cottagers. Many leave their places unlocked and robbery is rare if not nonexistent.

As I previously said, I discovered all sorts of photos of people shopping at Walmart armed with quite an array of weaponry. I am sure people are saying they are free because they can carry a weapon. I am sure people are saying they are free to defend themselves. Just how free are you if you live in an environment where you must conduct yourself as if at any moment there is going to be a threat on your life? And if nothing happens, I would ask if this threat is real or perceived? Is your life truly in danger or are you just paranoid?

You can't carry a gun on a plane. You can't carry a gun on vacation whether on a cruise, at a resort, in a foreign country, and the list goes on and on. Why do you feel the need to carry a gun at home when shopping a Walmart but accept you can't carry a gun in any one of a number of other situations? Yes, I admit that an asteroid hitting the Earth is possible but how probable is it?

What's the right answer? What's the bigger picture?
Safety belts became mandatory (for the most part) in the late 1970s. We all accept it now, but decades ago, this seemed like an infringement of our rights. Many moons ago, I was driving with my brother as a passenger in the front seat. I suggested he put on his safety belt. He started mouthing off about how nobody was going to tell him what to do and he didn't care if the police tried to give him a ticket or not. I slammed on the brakes. My brother slide forward on the seat but managed to get his arm up on the dashboard to stop himself from going head first into the windshield. "What the F did you do that for?" he yelled at me. I paused, looked at him for a sec then said, "If you had been wearing your seatbelt, that wouldn't have happened." Yes, he wanted to slap me silly but I did make my point. Statistically, wearing a safety belt means less injury and fewer deaths. Government involvement is good.

What is the bigger picture? Do we leave safety belts as optional in order to accommodate the supposed infringement of my brother's rights or do we collectively agree that safety belts are a good thing and everybody must wear them?

Exceptions to the rule
I admit I could go to Walmart today and be shot dead. It is possible. I admit that. And I am sure if this happens, the NRA would be the first to say, "Ah ha! I told you to be prepared." But I would ask anyone to take a step back and explain to me why Walmart has been allowed to become so dangerous, the recommendation is that each and every client should be armed with a holstered weapon. Or on the other hand, is anybody advocating for open carry or concealed paranoid? Are we preparing for the statistically insignificant asteroid?

Are we worried about the right things?
Two years ago I did a tandem parachute jump and I was just a tad scared. Curious about my fear, I looked up the statistics and discovered that I was 17 times more likely to die driving my car than jumping out of an airplane. So why did I "perceive" parachuting as more dangerous? This is what I found out.

* Skydiving accidents are so infrequent, they usually hit the headlines. In contrast, car accidents are so frequent, they are either not reported or we just tend to ignore them.

* Familiarity: we are familiar with cars; we drive them; nothing bad happens; we think it's safe. It's only when we check out the stats we may clue in to just how dangerous cars really are.

So it turns out I only "perceive" parachuting as more dangerous when in reality driving my car is more dangerous. I am worried about parachuting when in reality I should be sacred about driving. Am I worried about the right things? (Parachuting: If God had meant me to...)

How likely is anybody to get killed in a mass shooting? Those looking at history over the past hundred years or so this is as likely as getting hit by lightning. According to the Centre for Disease Control, 82 people are zapped each year by a bolt of lightning. On the other hand 11,500 Americans were killed by a gun in 2009. Over 18,000 committed suicide with a gun. (Washington Post) Are we collectively worried about the right things?

An article in The Atlantic referred to the 2011 Report on Terrorism by The National Counterterrorism Center which stated that out of the 13,288 people killed worldwide by terrorist attacks in 2011, seventeen were private U.S. citizens or 0.1%, one tenth of one percent of the total. The article, in referring to a 2011 consumer report, states that in 2010 (the last reported year) twenty-one people died from a falling television, piece of furniture or an appliance. (my blog: Stephen Colbert: And the #1 threat in America: terrorist furniture!)

Yes, terrorism is a bad thing. 17 private Americans were killed by terrorism in 2011. But 21 Americans were killed by furniture, 82 by lightning, 18,361 in homicides, 33,808 in traffic accidents, 34,598 by suicide, 18,000 by AIDS, 571,000 by cancer, and the list goes on. Are we worried about the right things?

Final Word
With Obama coming out with gun control initiatives, the pundits, the NRA, everybody is going to have a field day sorting this out. What's the right answer?

I am 60 years old. I do not own a gun and have never owned a gun. I can't shoot anybody. Nobody in my family can shoot anybody; there is no gun. I have never been attacked in my life which would warrant having a gun to defend myself. I admit that while this was possible and still is possible, it is improbable. I also do not have asteroid insurance.

Sandy Hook was a tragedy. I could have been killed. My children could have been killed. Anything is possible but anything is not probable.

I try to live wisely. I do not go to the bad section of town; statistically my chances of trouble would go up. I do not deal with bad people; statistically my chances of trouble would go up. I want to live free. I want to live free from the worry of bad things happening to me. I do not want to prepare myself before I walk out my front door by arming myself so I can defend myself against the worst of the worst. Carrying a gun isn't freedom; carrying a gun is living under the tyranny of fear. And seriously, if Walmart is truly that dangerous, I am never going to shop there again.


Wikipedia: Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting
On December 14, 2012, Adam Peter Lanza, age 20, fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Connecticut.
The massacre is the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history, after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. It also is the second-deadliest mass murder at an American elementary school, after the Bath School bombings of 1927.

The Washington Post - Dec 14/2012
Chart: The U.S. has far more gun-related killings than any other developed country
The United States has by far the highest per capita rate of all developed countries. According to data compiled by the United Nations, the United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as do Turkey and Switzerland, which are tied for third. The U.S. gun murder rate is about 20 times the average for all other countries on this chart. That means that Americans are 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.

NewTown Patch - Dec 18/2012
Lambs to the Slaughter by Heather Borden Herve
My daughter was born May 10, 2006. So was Jessica Rekos, one of the 20 children murdered in Newtown, CT on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.
That Second Amendment constitutional right actually has to do with a 235-year-old, revolutionary-era concept of militia and military defense of our country against tyranny—not about being a collector or enthusiast. Even if you regard the law as our modern courts have interpreted it, from a perspective of protecting the right to self-defense, what happened in the classrooms of Newtown had less to do with the Second Amendment on Friday, and more to do with slaughter.

In other words, our Second Amendment no longer is about protecting us, but rather it is being used to cause us harm.

So it seems we are at war now, and the attack comes at us from within our own borders, by those we might have once considered our own.

The Journal of the American Medical Association - Dec 21/2012
Silencing the Science on Gun Research
The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997. In 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC's budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year.
Since Congress took this action in 1997, at least 427,000 people have died of gunshot wounds in the United States, including more than 165,000 who were victims of homicide. To put these numbers in context, during the same time period, 4,586 Americans lost their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Daily News - Dec 15/2012
Mass shootings are not growing in frequency, experts say
Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said that while mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to his data. He estimates that there were 32 in the 1980s, 42 in the 1990s and 26 in the first decade of the century.

Chances of being killed in a mass shooting, he says, are probably no greater than being struck by lightning.

The Digital Journal - Dec 17/2012
Adam Lanza's mother was a 'survivalist' who stockpiled food, guns
Questions asked about the source of the weapons and ammunition Adam Lanza used in his killing spree has led to the revelation that his mother, Nancy Lanza, was a survivalist who stockpiled food, water, guns and ammunition in fear of "global collapse."

Mirror Online - Dec 19/2012
Adam Lanza's gun-loving mum showed what happens when you teach children to fear and shun the world
They spent weekends bonding not at the cinema or football ground, but at rifle ranges, practising their ability to kill

The Christian Science Monitor - Jan 16/2013
Long history of US school shootings means Obama is right, NRA is wrong
Gun advocates say the cause of mass-casualty school shootings isn't guns but eroding values. But America has a long history of school shootings. The toll is worse now because of the weapons available. President Obama and his allies in Congress are right to seek a ban on assault weapons.

Debunking oft repeated statements

FALSE: Hitler banned guns in Germany.

The Straight Dope - June 16/2000
Did Hitler ban gun ownership?
The reference is usually given as a speech by Adolf Hitler--alternatively, some say it was in Mein Kampf, but that is easily checkable and proven false...I've seen this quote pop up many times, from political discussions to gun shows, where a friend told me he'd found it emblazoned on signs. I don't think anybody knows the origin of it, but several have tracked it back and found it to be completely false.

FALSE: "You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass." -Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

FactCheck.Org - May 11/2009
Misquoting Yamamoto
Advocates of gun rights often argue that in World War II Japan was deterred from invading the U.S. mainland by a fear of American citizens with guns in their closets.

Other articles from my blog
Does a fish know it's living in a fish bowl? Do we really know what's going on? Do we fully grasp the ramifications of what is happening in our society and how they affect the collective we?

my blog: Guns: as American as apple pie
You, America, and maybe not all Americans but some, want the right to carry a weapon into Walmart when you buy milk. I can't help thinking that there is a far greater issue at stake here. I'm not talking about your individual freedom to do whatever the hell you want; I am talking about why you want to have a weapon in Walmart in the first place. Seriously. Are you walking around all the time worried, no scared about God only knows what? A terrorist attack? A crazed psycho mass murderer? The evil federal government bashing down the gates of your Waco compound?

my blog: Carnography: Vegetarians need not apply
The average child will watch 8,000 murders on TV before finishing elementary school. By age eighteen, the average American has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders. At a meeting in Nashville, TN last July, Dr. John Nelson of the American Medical Association (an endorser of National TV-Turnoff Week) said that if 2,888 out of 3,000 studies show that TV violence is a casual factor in real-life mayhem, "it's a public health problem." The American Psychiatric Association addressed this problem in its endorsement of National TV-Turnoff Week, stating, "We have had a long-standing concern with the impact of television on behavior, especially among children."

my blog: Censorship: Kill me but no sex please
A TV network censored a sequence of John Steinbeck's The Red Pony, which showed a mare giving birth, but broadcast the rather hideous sequence from The Godfather showing a beheaded horse.


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BigLittleWolf said...

I was watching some of the video clips and reading some of the commentary that opposes the gun control agenda / 23 executive orders.

Of note was how often there was little to nothing say of dead children, dead teenagers, dead college kids, accidental shootings.

Instead, raising the "Founding Fathers" as if some Holy Grail of Immutable Truth, when little in our world today resembles their world - or their intentions for the right to bear arms.

Thank you, as always, for offering detailed references with your writing. Now if only our media and the public took the care to read.

Anonymous said...

"Needless to say, at a military base isn't just about everybody armed?"

You obviously haven't stepped foot on a military base in the last 40 years or so. The answer is: NO, only security personnel are routinely armed.

"The presence of armed security guards on campus did nothing to prevent this tragedy."

You realize their poor response cost the university a hefty penalty in the form of a lawsuit and also resulted in changes in how those officers respond to an active shooter right? Darn, guess you didn't research that very well.

"On April 20, 1999, at the Columbine High School two senior students murdered 12 students and a teacher."

One SRO on site was able to distract the shooters and possibly saved several lives by doing so. That shooting also occurred during the 1994 - 2004 Assault Weapons Ban.

"We reduced drunk driving accidents without a total ban on alcohol. Then again we didn't think more alcohol was the solution to drunk driving."

We also didn't mandate breathalyzer interlocks in passenger vehicles. Think about that for a minute.

"Where do we go from 60 mph to the more dangerous 100 mph? "

Every hear of the Autobahn? States are raising the speed limits you know. Texas has a stretch posted for 85mph now and it isn't alone.

"I have never been attacked in my life which would warrant having a gun to defend myself."

You've been lucky so far, hope it holds out. Millions have not been so lucky and millions more will not be. Another thing you should spend a few more minute pondering.

William Quincy Belle said...

In reading the above comment from "Anonymous," I can't help but return to the comment from "Charlie" cited in my article. We may debate the issues and the statistics, but in general, both men are pro-gun and they are pro-gun in the belief they need to be prepared. If what they say is in any way true, I come back to my conclusion that the United States is so dangerous, I am taking my life in my hands whenever I visit the country. In reference to the picture above of the lady in Walmart: Never before in my entire life have I felt it necessary to wear a holstered sidearm when shopping shop for groceries.

Anonymous said...

I'm pro-gun in the belief in exercising personal responsibility, the enjoyment of shooting as a sport, and personal protection. Are you familiar with the Warren v. District of Columbia case? Speaking in purely statistical terms, you take a chance with your life simply by getting out of bed. Driving, walking across the street, swimming, etc. Like I stated before, you may not have ever had the need to carry a gun for personal protection but you are only a minuscule data point out of millions and millions do CCW. Even the CDC found that a CCW holder is more likely to escape being assaulted with less injury than a non-CCW holder. YMMV of course.