Tuesday, November 7, 2017

On the firing line

"O beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king."


Time for a break from whinging and angst and first world problems.

On November 5, 26 people died in the worst mass shooting in Texas history, the fifth worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Of the 33 deadliest mass shootings (eight or more people) in the U.S. since 1949, four took place in Texas.

In fact, those four shootings ranked among the 16 most lethal U.S. shootings (13 or more people).

  • In 1966, in Austin, Charles Joseph Whitman killed 16 and wounded at least 30 people, shooting from the tower at the University of Texas.
  • In 1991, in Killeen, George Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the wall of a Luby's Cafeteria, exited the truck, and killed 23 people.
  • In 2009, at Fort Hood, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and injured 32 people.
  • In 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people and wounded 20 others in a small church.

Now, tell me how assault weapons in the hands of private citizens helped prevent or ameliorate these senseless, despicable massacres by the "bad guys."

Tell me how any second amendment protections safeguarded the eight members of the Holcombe family who died in the Sutherland Springs bloodbath.

Whitman was killed by police officers. Hasan, a United States Army Medical Corps psychiatrist, was convicted a United States Army Medical Corps psychiatrist, was convicted, sentenced to death and is awaiting execution. Hennard shot himself after a brief police shootout.

It appears that Kelley also committed suicide after a civilian confronted him with a rifle, although the facts are still being investigated

In 2012, Kelley was court-martialed, convicted of domestic violence, and sentenced to 12 months in the brig. In 2014 he was discharged from the military for bad-conduct. Later in 2014 Kelley was charged with animal cruelty.

Kelley also had been denied a license to carry a gun in Texas.

Yet in April 2016,he was able to walk into an Academy Sports and Outdoors store in San Antonio and purchase the Ruger AR-556 rifle used in the Sutherland Springs bombardment.

Tell me why Kelley deserved second amendment protection. Tell me how causal access to semi-automatic firearms played no part in Kelley's heinous actions at First Baptist Church on Sunday.

Oh wait, the president of the U.S. just did.
This isn't a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level.
That's what Trump had to say.

I'm speechless. Well, almost. I can still type.

I would say I have a history of public neutrality. I avoid outwardly taking sides. I walk or straddle battle lines. I shy away from controversy.

Guns are my hot button. Assault weapons are my trigger. Reasonless mass murders fire me up to break my silence.

Words are just words though. The topic of handguns is too incendiary for rational dialogue. Interpretations of second amendment rights are too irreconcilable, positions about gun ownership are too polarized to make conversation fruitful.

So I am either preaching to the choir or barking up a stone wall while exposing myself to a barrage of vitriolic contradiction.

Luckily for me, my readership is small. And mostly sympathetic.

I have to speak my piece anyway. I must refuse to hold my peace. Even at the cost of my peace.

Undeniably the gunmen responsible for mass shootings have mental health problems. At the highest level. I don't disagree with that.

I acknowledge that it takes both a deranged shooter and a weapon to perpetrate a massacre. I grant you that the weapon may not be a firearm. It might be explosives. It might be a motor vehicle. Hell, we can't rule out chemical warfare.

But unfortunately we aren't all that close to regulating sanity. We don't have good objective protocols to diagnose mental illness. I'm not sure we even have the empirical criteria to fully define it.

Over the 19 years that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has been available, barely 1 percent of gun purchase applicants have been rejected based on psychiatric grounds. A judge must first declare the applicant mentally unfit.

If we can't screen for mental wellness satisfactorily enough to establish conditions - or prohibitions - for gun ownership, we should go with the benchmarks we do have.

Benchmarks like previous crime convictions, histories of domestic violence, military discharges that are anything other than honorable. Animal abuse charges for Christ’s sake. Don’t let those people own guns.

Oh yeah, right. Devin Kelley wasn’t legally allowed to own a gun. He got one anyway. He was one of the bad guys that the good guys need guns to defend against.

No doubt the NRA will make hay of the fact that a citizen with a rifle was pivotal in putting a stop to Kelley’s rampage.

Cold comfort for the 26 decesased at the Bexar County Medical Examiner's office and their bereft families.

Better to keep the guns out of the madman’s hand to start.

Is there a perfect answer? No. Guys like Kelley will always find a way to get a gun.

But why make it easy? Crack down on legal gun sales, with severe penalties for those companies who fail to adhere to stringent background checks. Close the gun show loophole, the one that exempts sales of guns by private sellers, i.e., on the secondary market.

And seriously, no civilian needs to own a semiautomatic weapon that can fire individual bullets as fast as the trigger can be squeezed.

Is there a point to these words? Will I convince anyone to change their position on the “guns situation”?

We know the answer is a robust no.

I’m going to keep speaking out anyway.

Because next time it might be you in the crosshairs.

It might be your child.

With whatever respect is due to responsible gun owners, the public right to safe passage overrides virtually unconstrained access to semi-automatic firearms.

That can’t be overstated. It can’t be said too many times.

Even if no one is listening.


Tell it. Think it. Speak it. Breathe it.

And if not now, when?

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn't have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by
When "happily ever after" fails
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

But I know a place where we can go
That's still untouched by man
We'll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass waves in the wind

You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

O beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers clean up all details
Since daddy had to lie

But I know a place where we can go
And wash away this sin
We'll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass waves in the wind

Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair spill all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

Who knows how long this will last
Now we've come so far, so fast
But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss
And let me take a long last look
Before we say good bye

Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence.


(Bruce Hornsby/Don Henley)

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