Posted by: minnow | December 16, 2015

Deck the Halls with Another Mass Shooting

Fa-la-la-la-laaaaa la-laa-la-la.

Too crass?  Probably.  But frankly, today I don’t care.  Last week my daughter asked what I thought about the most recent shooting in California. Suddenly, I became an extremist: Ban all assault weapons, make the use of a gun during a crime an automatic life sentence, require  mental fitness tests and demand mandatory background checks. “What?” my daughter said a moment later. “But, I thought we already had back ground checks.”  Hmmm…and how many others are under the same false impression?

Of course, some states do have background checks but most don’t.  Some have mandatory waiting periods, and limits on the number of weapons a person can buy at any one time, and safety requirements, and mental health prerequisites, and training requirements and mandatory permits, and conceal carry criteria, but again, most don’t.  What we lack is consistency.  This web site grades each state’s gun laws and offers a summary of what they include and don’t include. The least restrictive states received Fs.  Montana was one of those. The best or most restrictive states, earned an A-.  California and New York made that list.

Of course, not everyone agrees we even have a problem or what the problem we have is.  How we define mass shooting, for example, changes the conversation considerably.  The Mother Jones database narrowly defines mass shootings to include only those incidents in which a lone gunman kills four or more people, in a public place, for no apparent reason.  Limited by definition, the US has had only 3 mass shooting this year. And, technically it excludes the most recent shooting in San Bernardino, since that incident involved two gunmen. The more frequently quoted database, Mass Shooting Tracker, has the total at 353.  Their definition would include the most recent attack, which left 14 dead and 21 wounded.  Mass Shooting Tracker’s definition is: an incident which involves one or more perpetrator, takes place publically or privately, in which four or more people are shot, but not necessarily killed.  According to the LA Times this definition has problems of its own.  For example, 42 % of the Mass Shooting Tracker’s 353 total included no fatalities. Even so, their figure leaves 205 cases this year alone in which multiple people were killed.  The death toll stands at 459.

Part of the problem when trying to come up with a definition is not having a consensus with regard to the larger issue of gun violence.  Multiple shootings with seemingly no besetting incident are only one aspect.  Gang violence, domestic violence, suicide, and accidental deaths due to firearms are, for some, just as important.  So, how do we wrap our heads around the complexity of the problem? And what do we do with all the related topics?

We live in emotionally charged times. Every time violence grabs the attention of the media issues like immigration, refugees, and terrorism fuel the fires of anger and fear.  Sunday (12/6) President Obama addressed the nation.  His talk from the Oval Office lasted 13 minutes. His words were reassurance for a nation on edge. But, they aren’t enough. I for one want to believe calmer minds, as expressed by the President, will prevail as we wrestle with the symptoms of radical ideas and extremist behavior.  Yet, in order for that to happen we must not get sucked into a game of scapegoating. Those tactics only encourage the extremists in our own neighborhoods, places of worship, and businesses.

The radicalized right is growing.  It promotes fear which in turn nurses suspicion and animosity. Political posturing and big money caused the GOP in Congress to shoot down legislation which would have kept guns out of the hand of people on the US terrorist no-fly list.  At the same time, many of these same politicians stir up angst by vilify immigrants.  Additionally, they have called for a halt to accepting additional Syrian refugees.  Ignoring the constitution, some of the most vocal Republicans suggested we should place all Muslim Americans on a type of watch list, conduct surveillance on their mosques, and stop other Muslims from entering the country.  Stirring the fear pot, Liberty University’s President, Jerry Falwell Jr., announced that the school’s ban on  firearms in the dorms will be lifted.  In his recent convocation address he encouraged student to obtain conceal carry permits, bragging that he has one.  He further suggested that if more people carried concealed weapons “we could end those Muslims before they walked in” which sounds an awful lot like shoot first and ask questions later.  Personally, I prefer the words of Eastern Mennonite University president, Loren Swartsendruber, who invited “area Muslim and Christian leaders to explore how to jointly confront the local, national and global challenge of religious intolerance.”

We, Americans, like to look backwards; it often makes us feel good but we haven’t seems to learn much from our past.  We wag self-righteous fingers at Hitler and Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews.  Yet, we not only closed our gates to the Jews fleeing Nazi oppression but we shut Japanese Americans away in internment camps during WWII, forcing them to give up their homes and businesses and failing to compensate them even after the war was over. Why? In the words of actor, George Takei, who spent time in the internment camps as a child, “simply because we looked like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Muslims all over the world have spoken out against the violence committed by fringe extremists in the name of their religion.  We must not let our present fears cause us to repeat the fear driven mistakes from our past.  Muslim Americans have all the rights to freedom and the protection of the law that any other citizen of the United States has.  At the same time, if we sincerely want to do something about the gun violence in our communities we need to be willing to look at the ease with which guns are obtained.  We do not need to sacrifice our principles in order to increase our safety.  As has been pointed out by others, America was been built on the backs of immigrants.  We should be thanking them not vilifying them!






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