American Rhetoric: Some Thoughts on the Democratic Sit-In for Gun Legislation

House Dems Sit-In

House Democrats announce their “occupation” of the floor.

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Congressman Mark Walker, and the Republican leadership. My apologies…NAH!

     Today, I can say that I am proud to be a Democrat, because yesterday, I witnessed my party’s leaders make history. Starting at around 11:00 A.M. EDST, several House Democrats, led by the civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, staged an unprecedented “sit-in”, effectively taking over control of the House floor. This sit-in was precipitated by the recent tragedy in Orlando, at the Pulse nightclub, where a lone gunman killed 49 members of the LGBT(QI) community, before being killed by responding officers.

     In the wake of this mass shooting, which has been referred to in the media as the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history”, as with previous tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Aurora, national discourse on firearms legislation and control has risen to fever pitch; however nothing of significance ever seems to get accomplished. It was this angst that prompted members of the House Democratic Caucus to take the extraordinary step of staging yesterday’s “sit-in.”

     John Lewis is no stranger to things like sit-ins. The 76-year-old Troy, Alabama native was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, having been one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders”, and leading the march across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma in 1965. If anyone in congress was up to the task of putting together something like this, it was John Lewis. According to Lewis, the sit-in was not made known to the leadership. (I’ll comment a bit more on Lewis a bit later down the page!)

     At approximately 11:00 A.M., John Lewis was recognized by the chair, took the floor of the house, and issued the following statement:

     Thus started what would eventually become a 25-hour-long protest by House Democrats, over the Republican majority’s reluctance to allow a vote on two pieces of legislation; a “No Fly, No Buy” bill, which would prevent people on the government’s “No Fly” list from purchasing firearms, and a bill to close loopholes in the background check process where it pertains to online and gun show purchases. Both of the bills that Democrats were seeking a vote on, incidentally, are bipartisan authored bills. With their intent to force the Republican majority to allow a floor vote on these bills, or be held over with no holiday break, Democrats employed the rallying cry of, “No Bill, No Break!” The Republican chair was forced to adjourn the House once the Democrats took the floor.

     One of the more significant hurdles that the Democrats had to overcome, was the absence of media coverage of the sit-in protest. This was due to the House Majority’s control of the cameras and microphones in the House chamber. The Republican leadership had these shut off when the chair adjourned the House, much to the chagrin of the Democrats. No worries, though! As it turns out, there’s an app for that! Enter “Periscope”, and social media feeds from Congressmen Eric Swalwell (D-CA 15th), Scott Peters (D-CA 52nd), and Beto O’Rourke (D-TX 16th). Because of this, C-SPAN was able to broadcast the sit-in in its entirety, albeit with the occasional video glitch due to the nature of streaming video from a smartphone.

Jim Costa

My congressman, Jim Costa (D-CA 16) speaks.

     During the day-long sit-in, several Democrats took to the podium at the front of the House chamber, rallying their fellow Dems and outlining the many reasons for both the sit-in, and the need for tighter laws on firearms purchases, with the pictures and names of the many victims of gun violence in America as both their backdrop, and constant source of motivation, along with signs reading, “Disarm Hate.”

     The Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually used a parliamentary procedure to call an early recess, then left for the July 4th break in the wee hours of the morning, without even an acknowledgment of the issue. In fact, Speaker Ryan referred to the Democratic sit-in as merely a “publicity stunt.” This left the Democrats basically on their own in D.C.

     John Lewis and the House Democrats ended their sit-in at around noon on Thursday, the 23rd of June, with Congressman Lewis stating that their “struggle” was far from over, vowing to return from the holiday break and once again take up the issue. Lewis was the last one to speak. What began with Congressman Lewis, ended with Congressman Lewis, that courageous and noble gentleman from Georgia’s 5th congressional district.

     I find myself left with both a strong sense of pride in my party, and an equally strong sense of disgust at the statements and behavior of House Republicans. At various times during the Democrats’ occupation of the House floor, Republicans alternately heckled, laughed at, and yelled at the Democrats on the floor. During all of this, however, my party’s representatives maintained an overall sense of decorum and restraint. They did us proud, getting into what Congressman Lewis referred to as, “good trouble.”

     One of the more ironic things that came up during the protest, was when Southern Baptist preacher-come-Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC 6th) attempted to engage in a bit of “whitesplaining”, tweeting that;

Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to Woolworth’s. They sat-in for rights. Dems are “sitting-in” to strip them away.

     I think that it’s a pretty “twunt” move, presuming to tell a civil rights icon about the civil rights movement, especially when the significantly younger Walker wasn’t even born until May of 1969, almost ten whole years after the Woolworth’s lunch counter protest.

     Once again, I am a proud Democrat. I’m proud of my party, proud of my congressional rep, and proud of my President. I also have my own opinions on things like the “No Fly” list, disallowing people on that list from purchasing weapons, and closing loopholes. Instead of going into that here, I’ll pen individual articles on each one, links to be found here soon! (Suffice it to say that this particular piece has indeed migrated towards the “TLDR” end of the spectrum!)

     #SickAndTiredofBeingSickAndTired #NoFlyNoBuy #CloseTheLoopholes #DisarmHate

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American Rhetoric: The War Within

sig_sauer_hip_holster

“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war”
(Antony, from William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Act 3, Scene 1. Circa 1601.)

     (Part two in this series on the Gun Control debate. Part one can be read here.)

     There is a war being fought within the borders of this nation. It’s a protracted conflict between two diametrically opposed forces; the law-abiding citizenry, and violent criminals with little to no regard for the sanctity or value of a life. There are several things driving this conflict; addiction, greed, desperation, poverty and disadvantage being among the impetuses. As long as there is crime, there needs to be some way to effectively counter it. Sure, there is law enforcement, however in this second decade of the 21st century, economic downturns have resulted in a decrease in manpower and a corresponding increase in police response times. When an armed assailant attacks and seconds count, the ability of the citizenry to keep and bear arms can often make the difference between life and death.

     I have a friendly acquaintance who owns and operates a pharmacy in my small hometown of Madera, California. Brian Lee and his mother Sophia were working in their family-owned pharmacy one particular evening, back in early January of this year, when two armed men entered through the rear door of the business. These two men did not say word one; they didn’t ask any questions or make any demands. They simply began shooting. The one detail note that they failed to consider, was that Brian also owned a gun. In the moments that followed, Brian was able to retrieve his gun from behind the counter and return fire, forcing the assailants to flee the scene. The firefight resulted in the demise of one of the two perpetrators and an injury to Sophia’s leg, from which she is making a rapid recovery. (1) (2) (Had Brian, a law-abiding business owner not had a legally-owned firearm, both he and his mother would now be dead.)

     When we begin to discuss the “militia” in modern-day terms, we first need to come to a consensus of what it is. In my opinion, the militia should be defined as a body of trained, knowledgeable, able-bodied armed adults, who can effectively respond to immediate threats to life, limb and property with as equal a force as is being exerted, up to and including lethal force if necessary.

     Allow me to pause here for a moment, and clarify a few items. First of all, I am not advocating for or endorsing vigilantism. I firmly believe in the role of law enforcement to serve and protect, because that’s what we pay them to do. What I am saying is that in situations such as Brian Lee’s, situations which happen all too often in fact, that there are obvious benefits to having a firearm handy. Second, disarming the innocent will not do them any justice; it will only serve to leave them helplessly waiting on a police force with increasingly deplorable response times.

     So, how do we facilitate the “regulation” of today’s militia? First, we need to come to an understanding of what regulation means. According to the “Websterword” definition:

reg·u·la·tion: noun, /ˌregyəˈlāSHən/
1. the act of regulating: the state of being regulated.
2. a : an authoritative rule dealing with details or procedure.
—b : a rule or order issued by an executive authority or regulatory agency of a government and having the force of law.

     Another definition can be read in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller (554 U.S. 570 (2008)), which held that:

“[t]he adjective ‘well-regulated’ implies nothing more than the imposition of proper discipline and training.”

     If we’re talking along the lines of regulation, the first thing that we need to agree on, in my humble opinion, is universal background checks. No reasonable person should want someone with a criminal history of any sort to have ownership of a firearm. Likewise, if a prospective gun owner is an upstanding, law-abiding citizen, what should they have to fear from having that verified during the ownership / registration process?

     The next thing that needs to be put into place is mandatory training certifications. Every single gun owner should be required to satisfactorily complete both a gun safety and and “active shooter” course. These courses should be priced reasonably, so as not to deter gun ownership in any way. By requiring these courses, the regulating authority ensures that the “militia” is knowledgeable in matters of gun safety and maintenance, and also laws and procedures governing the use of force.

     Another idea that has been floated in various circles is the possible imposition / requirement of psychological evaluations. Once again, this might not be such a bad idea, given that those comprising the “militia” should be of sound mind, as well as sound body. Satisfactory completion of these evaluations, which should also be reasonably facilitated, could be a requirement within the aforementioned certification process.

     These are just suggestions, my fine young readers, ones that I find reasonable and relatively unobtrusive. While we definitely don’t need a gaggle of vigilantes running the streets and taking law enforcement into their own hands, we do need more educated, trained and honest citizens who can, at a moment’s notice, defend what we have worked so hard to attain. If it t’were me unarmed and under attack, I’d want Honest Joe Citizen across the street who sees me being attacked…to be packing and ready!

American Rhetoric: Once More, Unto The Breech

rifle_breech_300pxw

Breech: noun \ˈbrēch\ (from the Merriam Webster dictionary)

3. the part of a firearm at the rear of the barrel.

     “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” These words are from Shakespeare’s “Henry V, Act III”, circa 1598. With the alteration of a single letter however, they become entirely applicable for our purposes; as we’re about to dive headlong, once more, into the national argument regarding gun control. I call it an “argument” for the mere fact that an argument is exactly what this is. It is not a debate, or even a national dialogue. What we have instead is more akin to the proverbial “pissing contest”, with each side engaged in recriminations, finger pointing and other judgmental words and actions. On the fringes of the conservative right, there are conspiracy theorists who insist that their guns are needed to protect themselves from a government gone awry. On the opposite end, are the ultra-liberals who insist that, since guns kill people, they need to be banned completely. Various politicians in the halls of power are also taking sides in the argument, with some going so far as to propose increasingly restrictive measures on gun ownership by the law-abiding citizenry.

     Quite often, I hear and see firearm advocates bring up the second amendment to the U.S. constitution, specifically the part which talks about the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Conversely, I seldom see the first part mentioned. Yes, my fine young readers, there are actually two parts to the sentence which makes up the entirety of the amendment. As ratified by the states and authenticated by one Thomas Jefferson, the amendment reads as follows:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

     There are a few important aspects to this that need to be considered. First, the framers of the “highest law of the land” did not speak “Yoda”. (George Lucas wouldn’t be born for another 153 years!) Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that one part of the sentence has everything to do with the other, and vice versa. Second, there has been more than a fair share of debate with regards to the founding fathers’ intent when they wrote this amendment, going up to and including in the chambers of the Supreme Court.

     What follows here are mostly my own opinions on the issue. Please understand that I am by no means an expert (an “ex” being a has-been, and a spurt being a “drip, under pressure”!) on constitutional law, so I can only opine within the scope of what I know. That being said, the key idea that I can see already is one of a “well regulated militia” and what that entails, especially within the scope of the “here and now” as opposed to 200 years ago.

     In the 1790’s, firearms were a part of American existence. Not only were they used for hunting, but also to protect the homestead from hostile elements, which included the recently displaced Native American population, their sometime allies, and predatory animals that threatened crops and livestock. From an early age, young boys were handed a rifle and taught how to use it, clean it and keep it. Girls on the other hand, were more often relegated to keeping house, sewing, nursing and other things that were considered “woman’s work”. (How often do we hear that phrase used for household chores anymore? I apologise if that term sounded chauvinistic, but that was the way of things in the 1700’s.) Should the fledgeling nation come under threat, the framers of the constitution knew that there was a body of arms experience that could be drawn upon.

     What was / is a “militia”? In short, it’s a body of non-professionals that can be called upon in the event that the nation’s professional forces are not equal to the task of defense on their own. Of course in today’s society, there are a few very significant differences; women are now as equal to the task of defense as men, and our nation has a long-standing, completely volunteer army. In light of the latter part, one has to wonder if the very idea of the “militia” even applies in the new millennium. (If the concept of “militia” does still apply, then women should definitely be counted as a part of it. They (women) stand to lose just as much as the men do when their freedom is threatened!)

     In the 21st century, what exactly constitutes a threat to the “security of a free state”? The answer to that question can be summed up in one word; crime. Violent criminals are an ever-present threat to the security of our peace and freedoms. Over 200 years since the ratification of the second amendment, and the threat is no longer the one from without…it’s now the threat from within. It is with this threat in mind, that I would opine that the concept of the “well regulated militia” remains as valid today as it was yesterday.

     This seems like as good of a place as any to break for discussion. In the following article, I will attempt to expand on some ideas regarding the “regulation” of the militia, and how that applies to gun ownership.

American Rhetoric: The Gi-GUN-dous Elephant In The Room

Peeling back the surface debate...

Peeling back the surface debate…

     Lately, I’ve been getting very weary of the rampant over-simplifications plaguing the national debate on gun control. For instance, the left’s assertion that “guns kill people”. To my way of thinking, this is over-simplifying an otherwise complex issue. Guns kill people like pencils fail tests…and, since guns kill people, they need to be banned. (I should give you, my fine young readers, some modicum of “fair warning” at this point. This article is about to go into “SOAPBOX” mode, and might even flirt with the “TLDR” envelope!)

     Let’s say that I snap an icicle off of the eave of my house, and stab someone to death. Or, you drive your car over a patch of black ice on the highway, and slide off of a cliff. Oh crap, ice kills people! Let’s ban ice. Anyone who makes, manufactures, imports or sells ice will now be guilty of a felony. (I’d love to know which judge will issue the arrest warrant for GOD…)

     I grab a rock, and bludgeon someone to death. Oh crap, rocks kill people! We’d better ban all rocks. (What about the one we LIVE on? You know, the big BLUE one, which falls toward the sun, but has enough angular momentum to maintain an orbit?) Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, hurricanes, floods…Oh crap! Nature kills people! A ban on NATURE?

     I grab a Louisville Slugger, and clock someone across the temple, resulting in their death. Oh crap, baseball bats kill people! Ban all baseball bats! (There goes the national pastime!)

     I take a No. 2 pencil out of my desktop caddy, and run it right through someone’s temple, into their brainpan. Oh crap, pencils kill people! Ban all writing utensils! (Millions of grade school kids will LOVE this one!) No more kids doing classwork with pencils and pens, they all have to use computers now. But wait! I grab a computer tower off of the desk, and slam it right into someone’s cranium, knocking them dead. Oh crap! Computers kill people! Ban all computers! (There goes my access to YouTwitFace!)

     I strangle someone to death with my bare hands. Oh crap! Hands kill people! Let’s cut off everyone’s hands! (Great, now no work gets done.) Then, I kick someone to death with my booted feet, now that my hands are gone. Oh crap! Feet kill people! Cut off all feet! (Great, now no one goes anywhere, and even less work gets done than before.)

     Does everyone see where this is going? Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Even my nine-year-old daughter gets this concept. (I know she does, I asked her.) Since it’s people who are killing people, do we ban people? No, because even the idea goes so far past ridiculous, that it’s ridiculous! Still, since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, as after every national news-making school shooting, (Columbine, West Paducah, etcetera,) the liberal politicians go into “ban mode”.

     The problem that I have with every mention of a ban on this weapon or that, is that the vast majority of people committing gun-related crime in this nation are criminals. Do the powers-that-be honestly think that criminals care one iota about gun control laws? They don’t even care about the people that they’re killing with those guns, so go ahead, ban every single weapon on the market. Criminals will still get the guns and commit the crimes, while honest, law-abiding citizens become defenseless.

     Now. That being said, (and this is the point where I turn my pen, being mightier than the sword or the gun, toward the neo-conservatives on the right!) I’m also pretty disdainful of people who spout this rhetoric of needing things like AR-15s to…how do they put it? “Defend ourselves against the government”? I think it’s high time for a reality check here. Could someone please tell me what chance that little AR-15-armed Joe Citizen has against things like Reaper UAVs and FA-22 Raptors? You see, the U.S. armed forces enjoy and exercise a nice advantage in any battle, a thing called “air superiority”. Point made, my fine young readers?

     Aside from that, could someone please tell me for what reason could an honest, everyday law-abiding citizen actually need something like an AR-15 or an AK-47? These types of weapons are geared for one thing, and one thing only; making war. Take it from me, a six-year Army veteran. The only real advantages to these guns are offensive in nature; full-auto and three-round-burst modes sacrifice accuracy for quantity, and are for the purpose of laying down covering fire. In addition, having a higher muzzle velocity and / or a greater maximum effective range is not a home defense consideration, either. No, I suspect that Joe Neocon’s true motivations for hugging on to that assault weapon (we’re about to get into the use of that term as well!) are based in his wants, as opposed to his needs

     “Assault Weapons”. This seems like a fairly nebulous term, bandied about by the politicians and the media to describe a wide array of gun types, depending on who is trying to apply the term. When the average person contemplates the term, things like AR-15s come to mind. When politicians apply the term, they tend to use a different standard, which includes almost every semi-automatic (which describes just about every pistol and rifle being manufactured these days!) weapon on the market. This is where I have an issue with government. If people like U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein have their way, the citizenry would indeed be disarmed, while those who care nothing about gun control laws…the criminals, remain armed, and still quite dangerous.

     Here at 947 words, I should attempt to get around to the true subject of the debate, right? It’s the real “elephant in the room” that no one seems to want to address; the human element. You see, making the assertion that “guns kill people” and not that people kill people, is like blaming the pencil for failing the test, or blaming the light saber for the killing of the younglings in the third installment of the “Star Wars” saga. No, just like anything else, it takes a person to wield that weapon, and the motivation of that person to take that life. That’s what we as a society should be addressing, not engaging in this misguided attempt to contravene the second amendment of our constitution.

     If only our government paid attention to history, they would recall the lessons learned during Prohibition. The government tried banning the device, without addressing the real issue…the human issue. Their approach worked so well in fact, that we now have two amendments to our constitution dealing with alcohol, the second one repealing the first one.

     That’s the point here. The issue of gun control is not a simple issue, and does not have any simple remedy, because the true nature of the issue is just simply…not that simple. It is a complex issue, because we humans are a complex bunch. Maybe instead of attempting to disarm the citizenry, our government should be looking at the ways in which it deals with things like law enforcement, justice, the prison system, mental and physical health and other human aspects of the debate.

To be continued!

Crime and Justice: Playing The Blame Game

Who's to blame?

Who’s to blame?

“Only a lad  (You really can’t blame him)
Only a lad  (Society made him)
Only a lad  (He’s our responsibility)

Only a lad  (He really couldn’t help it)
Only a lad  (He didn’t want to do it)
Only a lad  (He’s underprivileged and abused,
Perhaps a little bit confused…)”

(Oingo Boingo, “Only a Lad” c1981 A&M Records)

     I’m writing this article as a follow-up to the last one, only because I can’t believe that we’re still having this discussion. It’s been over 30 years since Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo broached the subject in their 1981 release, “Only a Lad”. At around the same time, then president Ronald Reagan opined that as Americans, we needed to “reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.” It seems as though we (as a nation) are not unlike that dysfunctional family down the street, the one that has absolutely no solid communication skills. I mean, if we haven’t settled this argument in the past three decades, we haven’t been communicating in a meaningful way about it, have we?

     So, who is to blame when things like last Friday’s shooting take place? Do we place the onus squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, or do we expand the recriminations to encompass vast sectors, political groups and ideologies within our society? I guess it all depends on who you ask. As evinced by the previous post, the religious right will tell you that the decline of morals in society, or that “taking God out of our schools” is to blame. On the other hand, my first instinct is to lay the blame on the individual, as suggested by Reagan.

     You know, the fundies may however, have a valid point as well. It does seem like we are witnessing, and have been since at least the 60’s if not before then, an overall decline in…shall we say, the “scruples” of society at large. I can’t recall that criminals were as willing back in the decades preceding the 90’s, to commit crimes such as robbery and murder in churches, as they are these days. Indeed, there seems to be an overall lack of respect for boundaries that were once held as sacrosanct, even by the lowest of the low. Might that be a part of society’s responsibility in these instances of violent crime?

     Violent crime targeting schools is nothing new, my fine young readers. As early as 1764 in fact, there has been violence claiming the lives of children and teachers during school hours and on school premises in America. Even so, that doesn’t lessen the impact every time it happens, and immediately following each instance the grief often gives way to recrimination. Lines get drawn, policy gets debated, and tempers flare. Once the dust settles, we’re no better off than we were before the incident occurred, I’m afraid.

     Within the context of societal responsibility, we’re already witnessing increased debate over gun control in America. Some on the right are even suggesting turning our schools into heavily armed bastions of security, in order to deter any would-be shooter. On the opposite side of the debate, some are calling for a complete ban on firearms, citing instances where other countries have done so, and experienced a drastic decrease in gun-related crimes. Somewhere in between these diametrically opposed viewpoints, lies the vast majority of citizens who are either apathetic to the entire situation, or are leaving it up to the government to solve the problem…which unfortunately may never happen.

     Who do we blame? Do we blame ourselves as a society for allowing prison time to lose its sting, and become more like an “all expenses paid vacation getaway”? Do we blame our government for not taking definitive action with regard to gun control? Do we blame certain political factions within our nation for weakening and / or inhibiting stiffer gun control laws? Do we blame parents, for not raising their children properly? Do we blame the health care industry, for not having better mental health programs in place? Do we blame the perpetrator? One thing is for damned sure…there always seems to be entirely too much finger pointing, and too many people with fingers to point, and not nearly enough rational discourse going on.

     I’ll leave you all with this little “fill-a-bit” of wisdom; be careful when you point the finger at someone, because there are three fingers on that same hand, pointing back at you.

Gun Control: Doing The Second Amendment Cha Cha Cha

     One sticky conundrum. What to do, what to do. The second amendment to the U.S. constitution, part of the “Bill of Rights”, defines the right of the citizenry to keep and bear arms. Or, does it? Here we go, doing the cha cha cha;

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

     Now, this can be read and interpreted two ways. First, that every citizen has the absolute right to “keep and bear arms”, and that the “well regulated militia” is necessary to the security of a free state. Or, that the people’s right to “keep and bear arms” is so that the states CAN form and maintain a “well regulated militia”. In other words, does the amendment protect the militias, the rights of the individual to own a firearm, or both? (I would have to say the latter is true.)

      I personally do NOT own a firearm. I’ve never found the need (nor the available funds!) to purchase one. This is not to say that I’m ready to surrender my constitutional right to own one, however.

      This short post is just to get people thinking about the different aspects of gun ownership, gun control, how the second amendment applies, etcetera.