Open letter to the NRA

Dear NRA,

I am a former NRA member. I am a gun owner. I have grown up on households with guns. They were used for sport and for varmint removal. I was given my first gun when I was a young boy. I don’t own nor need an assault rifle or a handgun. They stay securely locked up in my house. I know literally see that they are locked up, every day. If I had reason to worry about the safety of someone in my house including my kids, I would not hesitate to give them to a family member to hold on to.

What I’m writing you about today is the writing on the wall. I don’t know if you have noticed but there is an entire generation of young people, mostly still in high school, who are opposed to your political stances. Within a couple years, those young people will be voters. And within the next ten years there will be more of them voting than NRA members.

Now I get that your power doesn’t come from voters. It comes from money you wield in campaigns. Money from gun manufacturers, gun industry, and high end financial donors. You actually don’t have much voting influence you just have financial control over candidates. But here is the rub. In ten years, that won’t matter anymore. In ten years, you will be hiding who you give money and support to otherwise they will be voted out of office by this young generation. You are on the cusp of fading.

Now, you don’t have to go quietly. You can literally hold onto your guns until they are pried from your cold dead hand. There is also another option. Rather than letting the government set up databases for tracking and deciding what laws to put in place, maybe you could step up and be a part of that? Maybe you could help be the future of a safer America with reasonable gun laws?

I realize that means back pedaling a bit. In corporate terms they call it a “pivot” now days. Some things I’m thinking you could do….

  • encourage good mental health habits among your members and their families
  • develop a system for reporting NRA members to resources if you have concerns about them
  • develop a system for a fellow NRA member to “hold” firearms of another member if there are concerns about that member
  • develop a system for reporting stolen or missing firearms
  • develop education programs that encourages people not to leave firearms, particularly handguns in unsecured locations (ex. glove box of unlocked cars)
  • develop a system for training and vetting people who want to purchase assault rifles that isn’t just “Bubba says he’s an okay guy”
  • be a partner with law enforcement in helping determine who should and shouldn’t have access to firearms
  • stop playing the victim
  • start playing the responsible citizen

These are just a few ideas. I’m sure there are other people with more. But your decision point is now. Do you want to pivot and be relevant in 20 years or do you want to got for Plan A the “cold dead fingers” option?

Sincerely,

Paul

 

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Welcome to the Party! [No moderates allowed.]

Just a short note to compare two different stories.

In Vincennes, Indiana, Major General Rick Stevens (Army, retired) tried to register as a Democratic candidate for a state legislature position. The Chair of the Knox County Democratic Party won’t approve his application. While he was in the military Stevens identified as Independent. Since he didn’t vote in the last election (he was on an assignment in Washington DC), supports the military, the second amendment,and is a moderate on immigration the chair isn’t convinced he is really a Democrat. There is apparently a strong stance against moderate Democrats in Knox County. Only far-far left are allowed. For more, check out: Potential candidate, party chair at odds over application

Meanwhile, the Republicans in a “here, hold my beer” sort of way have said “We’ll take it to the other extreme and let anyone be a Republican!”

Arthur J. Jones will be running for a seat in the Illinois legislature. The Chicago area Republican party apparently has no concerns about his Republican-ness. Jones has been involved in anti-Semitic and racial issues for years. He’s marched in full Nazi uniform, billed himself as “the White People’s candidate” and called the Holocaust, “the biggest, blackest lie in history.” He is also against interracial marriage and school integration. At this point, he is the only Republican on the ticket, which recognizes the Republican’s commitment to only far-far right candidates and certainly no moderate Republicans. For more check out: Holocaust denier likely to appear on ballot for GOP for Chicago-area congressional seatl

In a world without moderates, we only get what we have now…….a dysfunctional congress subject to temper tantrums and publicity and leaders who are more concerned with grandstanding and being on the news than actually doing their job.

 

How you feel about free speech probably depends on what you think is free speech.

Once again I find myself observing arguments about who has a right to say what and where and how. Who has a right to show what pictures, wear what t-shirts, and hold up what signs.

Most people who argue “what they are doing is NOT free speech!” are motivated primarily by the fact that they disagree with what is being said. Sometimes they take it a step further and label it “hate speech.” Which sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. But as Americans we cannot agree on what is hate speech or what is free speech.

Is free speech the right to share your ideas? Yes, if it is standing on a street corner with a sign? Yes, if it is standing on a street corner screaming at the person with the sign?

Is free speech the right to inconvenience others? Yes, if they have to walk around you standing on a street corner with your sign? Yes, if they have to drive around you standing in the street with your sign?

Is free speech the right to share your ideas? Yes, if you have a crowd of people who has paid to hear them? Yes if one person in that crowd interrupts your speech with their own?

Is free speech the right to call for the removal of political figures? Yes, if you say they need to be voted out of office? Yes if you say they need to be run out of your community?

Is free speech the right to call people names? Yes, if that person is a political figure? Yes, if that person is walking into a church or planned parenthood clinic? Yes, so long as you believe it is true? Yes, if those names are derogatory cultural, racial, or ethnic terms?

Is it free speech to wear a t-shirt claiming your views? It is free speech to be told you aren’t allowed somewhere because of your t-shirt?

Is it hate speech to stand on a college campus and call women wearing shorts “sluts”? Is it hate speech to stand on a college campus and call men wearing shorts “sluts”?

Is it hate speech to say that your cultural or ethnic identity has some element worth preserving and honoring? Is it hate speech if others don’t believe you have a “real” cultural or ethnic identity?

Is it hate speech to stand on a street corner with a sign that reads “You are an idiot”? Is it hate speech to yell “you are an idiot” at people walking past? Is it hate speech to stand up in an auditorium and yell at a speaker “you are an idiot”? Is it hate speech to run up to the speaker, jump on stage, a yell in their face “YOU ARE AN IDIOT”?

All too often, we want to believe in free speech as a stand alone idea. And many well intended individuals will argue about it as if it is an independent concept. There is always context involved. Free speech is complicated. And when we hear in the news that someone’s “free speech” was violated, it is often a headline without context. Often shared and promoted by those who share the ideology of the person claiming to be the victim of injustice to provoke a knee jerk reaction.

Don’t be a knee jerker. Get the whole context.
P.S. I couldn’t find a way to work this in but it also reminds me of this joke. A Scotsman comes to the U.S. for college. His mom calls and asks how he is doing with the Americans, especially in the dorms. He says “My neighbor on the right bangs on the wall all night and the one on the left screams all night.” The mom immediately says “that’s awful, how do you deal with it?” He says “I just keep playing my bagpipes and ignoring them.”

 

 

The White House: America’s new reality tv show

Regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, I will give him credit for consistently doing one thing that he is really good at doing. He grabs headlines. And he’s managed to be a top story (if not THE top story) in every major news outlet around the country since he took office. And even many other countries.

The White House has become America’s new favorite reality tv show.

You’re fired!

And you’re fired!

I didn’t do that.

Well maybe I did but it didn’t mean anything.

Maybe I said it did at the time.

You only know because someone leaked it! We have leaks!

Ok, maybe I said it!

But you weren’t supposed to write about it!

Look at Crooked Hillary!

Remember how bad Obama was!

You’re fired!

I don’t know if that makes America “great again” or not but we do seem to have become the leading source of the world’s entertainment.

I would love it if someone could go back and compare Trump’s first six-months in office with Obama’s and see who made more front page news. Who signed more executive orders. Even who tweeted more. (Sorry, I love data.)

There are still so many unfilled positions in the government but Trump can’t seem to fill them since he spends all his time shuffling his main staff around.

I’m willing to bet that if you worked for Trump and had that much turn over and lack of productivity on your staff (remember all those promises he hasn’t filled yet…….) he would have fired himself long ago.

Hands down, my favorite moment in this reality show was last week when he said he said he had consulted with “my Generals and military experts” on transgender troops.* Apparently “his” Generals and experts are not the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs…..you know….our Generals and military experts. Like most things, Trump has his own apparently.Our Generals and military experts seemed blindsided by it. I can only imagine the reaction Mattis had to this.

But Trump seems consistently pleased with himself. No matter what 24 hours news station he turns to, he is the top headline. And anytime he isn’t, he just takes to twitter and jumps right back up there.

We are only half way through Season 1. Three more seasons to go.

*Even the relatively conservative RAND corporation has said the the benefits of allowing people who are transgender to serve out weighs any additional accommodation issues. Oh, and you know, it’s the right fucking thing to do.

Why does free speech only matter on college campuses?

I’m not dumb. I’ve seen the news. I realize that college campuses are a hotbed of free speech issues right now. And the backlash has primarily been directed at conservative speakers. Hence every Republican led state government is looking at some sort of “campus free speech” bill. But that is part of my point I think.

The “shout down,” “physical disruption,” and “mass intimidation” tactics that liberal students are using against conservative speakers are the very tactics many of them learned from the conservatives. Head over to your local Planned Parenthood and see how the religious zealots are handling things there.

Despite the focus on campus free speech issues there have been many more protests, counter-protests, and acts of violence related to off-campus free speech issues. But now, conservative state legislatures are suddenly worried – only because they see themselves as the victims – about campus free speech. When the crazy preacher guy is screaming at their daughters for being “sluts” for wearing shorts to class and gets shouted down by fellow students, they don’t seem to care.

What really set me off was an article about the Wisconsin legislature who wants to impose state mandated “sentencing” for those found guilty of violating free speech. Second offense gets you suspended and third gets you expelled. Yet there is no other law or campus code that has such a thing. Men found guilty of rape don’t get such a thing. Fraternities that cause the deaths of their members from hazing, drinking, and cover-ups don’t get such a thing. Let that sink in. Conservative law makers care more about not getting shouted down and harassed than they do about campus sexual assault or fraternity deaths.

The “free exchange of ideas” is a fundamental bedrock of higher education. But so is campus safety. If you are going to impose state mandated sentences, do it for all crimes and code violations. But then your rich white kids you send to those schools and join those privileged fraternities might face consequences…..better to just aim at the liberals and hope that your kids education doesn’t turn them into one of them.

 

Update: Nikki Haley, form South Carolina Governor and now Ambassador to the UN was heckled at the New York Pride parade. The woman who once defended the gay marriage ban was shocked she wasn’t welcomed with open arms. Maybe we will soon outlaw create free speech laws for parades as well.

…a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die.

“I know he had an object and it was dark, and he was pulling it out with his right hand. And as he was pulling it out I, a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die.”

Those are the words of a scared man. A man who is explaining why he shot another man. The words of a police officer who shot a man. A man he pulled over for his taillight being out. A black man who was out driving with his family. A black man who then did what he was supposed to do and told the officer he had a gun permit and had a gun in the car. Seconds later the officer shot him because the officer thought he was gonna die.

If you haven’t watch the police dash cam footage of the Philando Castile shooting, you should. White people, black people, red people, blue people. Everyone should watch it. It’s scary. Not because of the violence and death of Castile, but in how quickly the officer goes from a friendly tone saying “hey you got a light out” to fearing for his life because Castile tells him that he is legally armed. His fear seems to rocket up because it turns out he pulled over an armed black man. (Note that he reaches for his gun the moment Castile mentions being armed.)

It seems that many officers fear for their life upon meeting someone else that is armed, particularly if that person is of color. We are considerably less concerned with armed white men who blatantly use the threat of violence to get what they want (you do remember Y’all Qaeda and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff right?). We are willing to give them some space and “respect their rights.” But a black man clearly does not get the same right because an armed black man inspires fear in people including many police officers. Even if he is just out for a drive with his family and was stopped as a courtesy about his brake lights.

I’ve grown up around guns my whole life. I’m a former NRA member (I gave up on them about the same time George H.W. Bush gave back his lifetime membership.) Rule number one that I was taught (by cops!) was that you should always let an officer know that you are legally armed. Clearly, this only goes for white folks. But to be honest, now I’m a bit worried too.

I have known a bunch of cops in different agencies and types of places throughout my life including now. Most of them are really good people. But what I’ve noticed over the years is that they have become more and more sacred. More and more convinced that they have to shoot first or they won’t make it home. More of an “us or them” mentality. When talking about even the most mundane situations, they switch to language I associate with war in foreign countries even when they aren’t veterans.

I have yet to figure out what has changed in our culture in the last 20 years that has made our officers so scared. The 1980s cop movies were Police Academy, Beverly Hills Cop, and Dirty Harry. And CHiPs and Hill Street Blues were on tv. Then suddenly we had Colors. But the 1990s had lone cop movies like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. And NYPD Blue was on tv. But then back to the Colors-esque genre of Training Day, End of Watch, The Departed, etc. Even the tv shows about cops now days reflect this change with mass shootouts and over the top adrenaline in every show. Some of this reflected a growing population of heavily armed drug gangs, particularly in urban environments but the societal impact was much wider.

My anecdotal-based hypothesis is that we are attracting a different type of person to being in law enforcement today and cultivating a different mindset among our officers. We used to attract people who were interested in solving and preventing crime first and foremost. People who lived in and were vested in their community. People who saw policing as a mental exercise to help their community. Now, many of the newer officers seem to be primarily interested in just being a bad ass, wanting respect “for the badge,” and constantly seeking that adrenaline rush of confrontation. Therefore, I hear older officers lament how the newer ones don’t bother with the non-adrenaline stuff like paperwork, cold cases, and non-violent crime. (And the officers who do those things are looked down on.)

Maybe both of these types were always there. Maybe in the past, law enforcement did a better job of self-regulation to control for these things. But most of the questionable shootings done by officers today seem to come from this newer generation of officers. I’ve not floated this theory among my law enforcement friends. But when I talk to that older generation about the younger ones, I see the often silent acknowledgement that things have changed even if they can’t put their finger on it.

How do we change this? How do we reverse this trend as a society? There is no one solution. Part of it is internal to the law enforcement community. Another part of it is on us. I think law enforcement officers need a wider breadth of experience before becoming law enforcement. They need more time with the general public, outside their own comfort bubble. More time spent around people who are different from them – socially, economically, culturally, racially, etc.

One system already in place to do this is higher education. We could actually require college degrees for law enforcement. A 2010 study from Police Quarterly found that officers with a college education are less likely to resort to use of force compared to those without a degree. Nationally, the rate of officers with a degree is very low. Stats vary widely but I’ve not see any above 40%. This isn’t new. In the 1960s, the federal government studies of law enforcement were recommending bachelor’s degrees.

I also think we need to change the system. Taking 2-3 years for someone to go from job application to officer on patrol is a lot of time. During that time, we need to find ways to build in this cross-cultural experience. They need to work in the community and get to know people. We also need to diversify our police officers as much as possible and building in programs that support applicants from underrepresented groups in the population.

Lastly, “I felt threatened” can’t remain as a blanket defense for police officers in a court of law. It isn’t considered justifiable for the military or those working overseas, so why do we allow it as a justification for police officers in the US. It isn’t even a universal justification for non-police officers despite some notable cases like Trayvon Martin (where again, his biggest threat was being a black male.)

In order to reduce their fear, we need to get rid of the “us and them” mentality both among police officers and among underrepresented groups. They need to come from the community. They need to understand the community. They need to be part of the community. Then maybe getting pulled over for a brake light being out and mentioning you are a legal gun owner won’t seem like a threat to an officers life.

 

 

Why no one, let alone a U.S. state, should celebrate Confederate Memorial Day

Let’s talk about the “heritage” that comes with the Confederacy. A failed, four-year attempt at establishing a nation based on the enslavement of black people. The succession documents and speeches of the leaders are very clear that slavery is the heart of the issue. Mississippi said: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” (source)

If you have been fooled into believing that the Confederacy was about “state’s rights” you are not only historically illiterate, you also don’t understand state’s rights. The “state’s rights” that were at stake related slavery. And even then, it was a fear — a fear — not a forgone fact, that slavery would be ended by the federal government. Racism in the North meant that slavery probably would have existed (though not expanded) for sometime still.

The primary complaint of the states that succeeded was that non-slave states were not returning their runaway slaves to them. Those states were not doing it because they had laws that didn’t recognize people as property. Therefore, there was no property to be returned.

If you argue state’s rights was the issue think about this. Hand gun laws, marijuana laws, and umpteen other laws are not universal in the US. The right of states to set their own laws is still in place. So clearly the issue wasn’t a state having their laws trumped by the feds. In fact, the constitution supported slavery. The state’s rights issue concerned if a state was obligated to search for and return escaped slaves to another state. Southern states wanted their stolen property returned (even if it ran off on its own). Northern state’s did’t view people as property. So which state’s right was at stake?

The other state’s rights issue, which likely has a better argument but brought up much less often, was that the federal government was outlawing slavery in new territories and determining which new states would be slave and which would be free. As opposed to allowing the residents of those territories and states to decide if they would be free or slave. I’m no constitutional law scholar, but yes, one could argue that might have been overreach on their part to dictate what the laws would be in those states without consent of the governed. However, the argument among the pro-slavery extremists was that since the Constitution recognized slavery, it didn’t matter what people there voted for, all of the US had to recognize slavery. Hence a constitutional amendment was later necessary.

So let’s not memorialize and celebrate the Confederacy. That four-year failed attempt at establishing a pro-slavery nation. There are so many wonderful things about Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. I’ve lived in those states. I know they have some wonderful pieces of their history that have nothing to do with the Confederacy. Let’s celebrate the total history of those states from their start through now and not just the four year peak of racism.