February 21, 2018

If My Daughter Dies in a Mass Shooting: Her Extended Family is Culpable

Here we are two months into 2018 and we've already experienced our 18th school shooting. That brings the total number of mass shootings in 2018 to 30. In terms of frequency of violent gun deaths, we track a lot closer to Iraq than we do to our culturally similar cousins in the UK. This makes us 31st, out of 195 countries, on the list of gun violence worldwide. That isn't surprising given that 6,575 gun related incidences have occurred thus far in this country.

I'm angry that gun violence is somehow still a thing in this country. I'm frustrated at our ineptitude to mitigate this problem as we would any other. This is primarily due to our cultural indoctrination and political maneuvering. You'll hear politicians of one party and one party alone saying something akin to, "it's too soon to talk about gun legislation" or "we shouldn't politicize guns". It wasn't too soon to start talking about treating opioids when it turned out thousands of people were dying each year from exposure (though we seem to be fairly stagnant on that front too). We talked about water quality after Flint, MI, we talked about vaccines after Zika and Ebola outbreaks, and we're talking about infrastructure because roads and bridges are crumbling. Takata airbags cause deaths and we talked about (and implemented) a recall. Hell, things don't even have to be real for people to talk about them such as "voter fraud" and "immigrant criminals". So it seems an unwillingness to talk or do anything about guns is a mix of willful ignorance, cognitive dissonance and party affiliation.
I cannot fathom how gun violence still runs so rampant in this country. The statistics are overwhelmingly in favor of passing gun restrictions of any degree. More guns in a given area results in more gun-related deaths. That trend holds up both nationally (additional source) and globally. More guns in an area means a higher rate of police deaths by firearms. Roughly 1,300 children die a year from gun violence and hundreds are due to unintentional discharges in their own homes. Mass shootings predominantly take place in public areas (not gun free zones) and are more frequently halted by unarmed civilians than armed civilians (21 incidences vs 5 incidence) according to the FBI.

So let's take it down even further, line by line. Background checks do, in fact work (here, here and here). These acts are not committed predominantly by the mentally ill (herehere and here). More armed citizens does not equal less crime (here and here). Gun buyback programs do work (here and here). Mass shootings account for a very small percent of gun violence.  The government is not coming for your guns (here). Arming yourself does not make you or your family safer (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Arming yourself increases the probability of you acting aggressively and possibly using your firearm in an aggressive manner (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Women are far more likely to be shot and killed in this country relative to other industrialized nations (here) oftentimes by intimate partners (here). Arming a domestic abuser also increases the likelihood other loved ones and innocent bystanders will also be shot. In fact, domestic abusers are the predominant actors in mass shootings.

We don't even need these detailed studies to make a qualitative assessment. When we compare ourselves to other Western democracies (meaning predominantly white, predominantly Christian) we see that our rates of gun violence are substantially higher. Australia had a mass shooting 1996 so the government enacted a gun buyback program. Mass shootings are virtually nonexistent and overall gun violence decreased. Britain had a mass shooting in 1987 and enacted stricter gun ownership laws and gun violence has been dropping ever since. The U.S. does not have a monopoly on violent crime or the mentally unstable. What we do seem to have a monopoly on is guns (~5% of world population with ~50% of civilian owned guns). The sheer volume of guns and the ease of their access is the only significant deviation we have from our cousins across the pond that accounts for our firearm epidemic.

All that was a bit non sequitur to my actual thesis: If gun violence strikes my daughter, her extended family is culpable. That may seem harsh but that does not make it untrue. We live in Arkansas and her extended family reside both here and in Texas. So when her family acts irresponsible at the ballot box, they put her in danger. An uninformed vote can be as deadly as a bullet and here's how:

Voting for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush put Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court. Those 5 Justices were the majority in handing down the District of Columbia v. Heller decision, which drastically expanded gun rights for the civilian population. Votes to send John Boozman (AR) to the US House of Representatives along with whatever Republican was on the ballot for Texas yielded a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress that failed to extend the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. In turn AR-15's have become a mainstay in mass shootings. A vote for whatever default Republican on the ballot for Texas Governor or Congress resulted in the state becoming open carryallowing guns on college campuses and significantly broadening civilian use of deadly force situations. A vote for Bart Hester in the Senate and Robin Lundstrum in the House of the Arkansas General Assembly allowed a bill to expand permissible concealed carry locations to land on the Governor's desk. A vote for Asa Hutchinson as Governor got that bill signed into law. Furthermore a vote for Asa Hutchinson has now caused Arkansas to become a de facto open carry state (based on the Governor's broad interpretation of a 2013 law). The federal level isn't any better as a vote for Republican Senators led to the defeat of universal background check and no-fly no buy bills following the Pulse nightclub shooting.

This is so damn ridiculous. It's that simple. More guns is not the answer. "Good guys" with guns are not the answer (here, herehere and here). It is not anecdotal or hyperbole; it is empirical. So if you want to do something, then be more sensible when you vote because voting has consequences. In this case, those consequences can end lives. Get it together before someone you love ends up on a victims list.

Here are better written summaries of the facts (here, here, here and here).

January 23, 2018

Compromise is NOT a dirty word

Back in elementary school I was, admittedly, a bit of a bully. I never called people fat, stupid, or ugly. It wasn't that kind of bully. But I wasn't the easiest-going kid on the playground. You see -- I really liked getting my way. That meant that if I wanted my playground friends and I to swing, we would swing. If I wanted to play Red Rover, we played Red Rover. I think you get the picture.

I honestly never saw myself as a bully, but looking back at it all now I can clearly see what I was. In high school, a young woman who I was casual acquaintances with at that point, laughingly told me that once in elementary school I slapped her across the face because she kept advocating for a different game than the one I wanted to play. She may have laughed about it but I was shocked. I have zero memory of this incident but I cannot outright contest it because I know that I was a very strong-willed child who did not like to compromise.
As a near-adult, learning that I may have physically hurt someone because I didn't want to give in, was well -- sobering. It honestly scared me a little and it shamed me a lot. But it also made me very, very grateful that I did, in fact, grew up and learned the art of compromise.
I feel that as a society, we have reverted to our baser selves and have begun to abhor the idea of compromise.
And that's no good.

Barry Goldwater once said that politics and governing demand compromise.
He was right. It does. And when we have entire political parties taking no-compromise pledges, progress on all fronts grinds to a halt.

Earlier this week, Congressional Democrats struck a deal to reopen the government with the GOP. The deal essentially funds CHIP for 6-years (funding for CHIP had previously expired and the GOP refused to bring it to a vote thus jeopardizing the health care of approximately 9 million children in our country) and it reopens the government until February 8, 2018. In addition, the Democrats obtained public assurance that the GOP will allow a vote on DACA. DACA is a program instituted by the Obama administration that protects approximately 800,000 illegal immigrants who were brought to our country as children from being deported. In September of 2017,  President Trump decided DACA would expire in March of 2018 unless Congress took action. Public support for DACA is overwhelming and the consequences for it expiring are truly terrifying for families and could be devastating for our economy. Once this deal was struck however, people immediately took sides. Trump and company proclaimed that the "Democrats Caved" and Democrats worried that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sold out DACA recipients, those supportive of the DACA program, and of course, larger immigration reform.

And while, as a former playground dictator, I understand the urge to be terribly unsatisfied with not immediately getting everything you want -- I feel that these knee jerk reactions against good ole' compromise cannot possibility be good for us as a society.

As much as I wish everyone in our country would decide to tighten up on gun control, stop spending massive amounts on beefing up our military, start investing more in early childhood education (and education generally), declare healthcare a basic human right by changing to a single-payer system, and make serious progress on prison and immigration reform, I realize that's not going to happen. It just isn't. At least not any time in the near future. But the next best thing is working towards those things in a multitude of ways. I can obviously advocate for them personally; I can call my Congressmen and write letters until my hands cramp. I can help raise the next generation to be better and to do better by teaching them to that love, compassion, and empathy are the keys to everything -- looking at you #LittleLadyHolland. But I can also compromise and get some of the things I want now in the hopes that in the future, as the situation and demographics of our country evolve, I can get even more of the things I want. That allow can change minds, change representation and ultimately, it can change votes.

Compromise is not a dirty word but we are treating it like it is. Compromise should be a word that invokes pride because strategic compromise is truly a fierce thing to behold. It is truly magical to "fold" in a such a precise way that you end up getting exactly what you wanted anyhow all while your opponent is none the wiser. Young playground me did not understand that and now, I fear that America does not understand that either.

Despite all the outrage at the deal Schumer reached with the GOP, I am okay with it. I now know that millions of children -- the most vulnerable among us -- will be okay and that their parents are no longer losing sleep at night wondering how they will afford medications when their state funding disappears. And I know that DACA is going to get it's day too -- it's not now and yeah, that ticks me off. Hell, it ticks me off that DACA or CHIP were both on the table at all thanks to GOP tactics. But they were. And now, thanks to some strategic compromise on behalf of the my party's leaders, the GOP will not be able to continue kicking them down the road forever.

I don't want to be that person quoting Maroon 5 in a political piece, but I think they may have honestly said it best: "It's not always rainbows and butterflies. It's compromise that moves us along."

And I truly believe that compromise will, eventually at least, move us along.
So I think that it's high time we leave the playground bullying behind, all grow the heck up, and start embracing the act of compromise.