Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dropping And Screaming

“….We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
                                                                                  President Barack Obama

This was going to be about former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner and his six month slap-on-the-wrist sentence in a county jail for brutally raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. In case you missed it, his crime, and the sentence imposed by a California judge, have become a flashpoint for a widespread discussion about rape culture in the US. More importantly, this post was going to be about the strength and courage of Turner's victim and the blunt, powerful letter she wrote – a letter that sparked compassion for her and outrage at a criminal justice system and society that continues to perpetuate violence against women.  

But then we woke up Sunday to the news about the shooting at Pulse.

A guy named Omar Mateen walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others in the worst terror shooting in U.S. history before being killed by a SWAT team.  Another mass shooting.  Another mass shooting where the killer used an assault weapon. Like Newtown, Connecticut. San Bernardino. Aurora, Colorado. The same kind of gun prohibited under the 1994 federal assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004, following ferocious lobbying by the National Rifle Association.

The reality of life in this country is that none of us are safe any longer.  Not at school.  Not at a nightclub or a multiplex.  Not walking on the street. Not in houses of worship or in the comfort of our own homes. Doesn’t matter if we are straight or gay. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Agnostic. Black, white, or brown.  Hate creates its own targets. Each year 12,000 people lose their lives to gun violence – over 30 people every day.  Although the right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment and has been upheld by the Supreme Court, our Founding Fathers never could have imagined the need for assault weapons when they carved out the Bill of Rights – certainly not a semiautomatic AR-15 that can fire a large number of rounds in a very short amount of time, about as fast as a shooter can aim and pull the trigger.

We can argue and debate the practicality and semantics of the Second Amendment, but there is no reason for anyone outside of the military or law enforcement to own a gun like the AR-15 which was used in Orlando.

Absolutely no reason.

And there is no reason why we as a nation don't stand up to the National Rifle Association and their friends in Congress and ban assault weapons and semi-automatic weapons. Not just bar them from future sales, but outlaw them completely among citizens.  You want gun control - start there.

A few years ago –after the shootings in the Aurora Colorado multiplex, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that we shouldn’t rush to judgment.  That we needed to wait and mourn and reflect. Let more time pass. But if now is not the time to push for stronger gun laws, especially those that outlaw assault weapons, when exactly is the right time? Nothing happened after Columbine. Or the shootings at Virginia Tech. Or Fort Hood. Or Sandy Hook Elementary. Christie had a chance to make a difference but he is the same governor who vetoed a 50-caliber rifle ban, a reduction in magazine capacity from fifteen to ten, and statewide ID’s for gun owners. And did anybody complain that we rushed to judgment after 9/11 when lawmakers acted quickly with new legislation and took actions that eroded privacy, eliminated due process in some cases, allowed racial profiling (or looked the other way), and took intrusive steps that limited our freedoms?  I cannot walk through airport security without taking off my shoes, emptying coins, keys, and cell phones from my pockets, and partially disrobing to my boxer shorts, but I can buy a semi-automatic weapon and all the ammo I need without more than a cursory background check.

Because somebody's half-assed interpretation of the Constitution says I can have one...and because the gun lobby and the NRA-loving Congress say it's okay?  Because the blood-sucking scum that is the NRA's leadership will have you believe that every citizen should be armed to defend ourselves at the first sign of trouble - pulling out Glocks and  Smith and Wessons and blasting bad guys like Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral.  Because that same Congress and the NRA continue telling the same tired lie we hear every time there is another mass shooting - the one that says reasonable people, whether they are gun owners or not, who want to see some kind of sanity and common sense gun regulations are somehow taking a stand against liberty.

For the 16th time in less than eight years, the president addressed the nation on the issue of mass murder of its citizens by gunfire:  And once again the usual "our thoughts and prayers are with the families" statements and tweets poured out from public figures immediately after the shooting - two politicians who have been outspoken opponents of gun reform in recent years, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Florida Governor Rick Scott were quick to respond to the tragedy on social media.

Rick Scott:
My prayers are with the victims' families & all those affected by the shooting in Orlando.  We will devote every resource available to assist

  Donald Trump:
Horrific incident in FL. Praying for all the victims & their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart & vigilant?

Ironically, the National Rifle Association, which opposes any gun reform and is a bigger threat to national security than ISIS ever was, endorsed Trump for president on May 20.  The group also endorsed Scott for governor in both 2010 and 2014.  The NRA had nothing to say about the shooting.  Couldn't even work up the compassion to offer their own thoughts and prayers. The victims of the Orlando massacre and their families deserve everyone's prayers, but it's time for elected officials to take responsibility for the votes they cast, the actions they take, and the views of the organizations that fund them.  Especially when those votes, views, and actions allow people to legally purchase weapons that cause as much carnage as the Orlando massacre.  It's time to do more than pray for victims and their families - we need to do more than mourn and reflect and wait.  We need to take concrete steps towards making gun control happen, and the first steps starts with banning semi-automatic weapons and assault weapons.

If the politicians in Washington won't take action - if they won't stop reaching into the NRA's pockets and start voting for the best interests of this country and ALL its citizens - then it's time to vote them out and elect leaders who will.  We have been following the NRA's blueprint for years and gun violence - especially mass shootings - has increased and members of Congress seem fine with actively doing nothing, no matter how many people die.

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