Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut

The first time I fired a gun was when I was about nine years old. Since then, I’ve not only shot guns on many occasions (indoor ranges, outdoor ranges, etc.) but I’ve seen many films that feature guns therein. I’ve seen a lot of television that discuss and/or involve guns and shooting, some of which are fiction and some of which are simply discussion about the use of guns on some level.

What happened today in Connecticut doesn’t change my feeling about guns or gun control or the Second Amendment. It makes me wonder, however, what we’re doing as a society that leads people to do this – in schools, in movie theaters, shopping malls, and in other public places. If guns were outlawed, would this type of thing occur in different ways? Would these disturbed individuals who would otherwise choose to shoot defenseless people – children less than ten years old – would they find other means to kill? Or is it a visceral thrill of sorts to use a gun to take the lives of innocents? I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions, and I don’t care at all about the individual(s) who carry out these mass death sentences, culminating with their own deaths. I don’t think there is any way we can understand it. However, with each incident, people clamor for gun control, and that bothers me.

It doesn’t bother me because I’m a gun nut, or because I own 57 handguns and want to own more someday. It doesn’t bother me because I’m in favor of fucked-up human beings killing children and defenseless, innocent people. It doesn’t bother me because I am in favor of individuals’ rights over the government’s responsibility to protect its citizenry. And it doesn’t bother me because I like reading about these episodes during the holiday season; children – younger than ten years old – being killed simply because they’re in school…the entire thing makes me simultaneously weep, sick to my stomach and gives me the urge to find the body of the person who perpetrated this repulsive act and set the corpse on fire.

None of these things will change the fact that nearly 30 people died today that shouldn’t have. And moreover, no argument for gun control or an extended, stronger second amendment persuades me that these types of incidents would stop if we were all prohibited from purchasing and owning guns.
I’m not in favor of the United States returning to frontier justice and every person carrying his/her own personal weapon. The notion that some women don’t feel safe unless they have a rape whistle and/or pepper spray bothers me. And short of us firebombing and destroying the entirety of Detroit and other decrepit cities, there are and always will be parts of this country that are far less safe than they should.

Unfortunately, something that Ted Nugent – admittedly, one of the least tolerable voices and most unabashedly irritating people who I’ve heard sound off on this topic – made a lot of sense. He said – in response to Bob Costas reacting over the murder-suicide involving the Kansas City Chiefs over the past several weeks – that the cure to obesity wasn’t to outlaw knives and forks. And by that he meant the tool isn’t the problem, it’s the person operating the tool.

While we’ve all – at one time or another, and likely more than once – heard, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” This statement is both true and false. True, guns are made to kill. However, I’ve fired guns on many occasions and I’ve never killed anyone. I know a dozen or more people who have similarly fired guns on multiple occasions and never killed anyone. So there is a balance – not all people who use and espouse the use of guns are killers. Some guns aren’t bad – to wit, the entire argument for retaining the Second Amendment is to ensure we can protect ourselves from enemies – both foreign and domestic, which latter category includes the government as well as third parties.
Seems that our biggest concern these days is the third parties – at least that seems true if you’re in Illinois, Oregon, or Connecticut.

The fact is I’m all for the wrong people being blocked from owning guns, but much like cars, there’s very little we as a society can do to prevent the wrong people from obtaining them. With drivers, we make sure each person takes a physical operator’s exam and a written exam prior to being granted the privilege of driving. It’s likely we should consider making people pass similar types of exams in order to procure a handgun, and repeat the process each year or be forced to surrender their weapons. Second Amendment purists might balk, but me, being a member of the NRA after completing competitions, can’t see these types of incidents perpetuate without some sort of change. I can’t foresee this nation surrendering its right to bear arms – nor do I believe we should – but at the same time, every time someone suggests – after a repulsive incident like the one we witnessed today – that we need more gun control, I don’t even bother asking him/her what would have happened if one of the people in that building in Illinois or in Oregon or in Connecticut – or in Columbine, Colorado – had a handgun. These incidents are not firefights; they’re mass murders. Because the victims are trapped without being able to defend themselves. Perhaps that’s part of why these incidents are so completely disturbing. Of course, today’s incident – involving children – would have been equally disgusting had there been a gas leak that took 30 peoples’ lives. But these incidents are – on some level – preventable. When we blame guns for what happened today and in other parts of the country, we’re only partially right. Who could have known this individual from Connecticut was going to perform these sick, deplorable acts? Maybe his family – maybe. So why was he walking around? How did he obtain these weapons? Who failed to see his behavior changing?

None of that particularly matters now – until the next of these incidents occurs. However, the next time it does, and the next time the invariable reaction is “We should really outlaw guns” – we should ask ourselves what happens when/if this happens. Will people who are sick and depraved enough to kill innocents – children, unarmed people, etc. – going to be deterred by gun control? Is it really that difficult to obtain a gun illegally in this country? Today’s incident occurred 90 miles from New York, a city in which I live and can obtain an illegal handgun for, maybe, $250. Maybe less. So let’s ban all guns and make it so the only people who really can obtain guns are people who want to do so illegally so they do illegal things with them: kidnap, rob, mug, murder.

I’m sorry that today, like so many incidents like it, occurred – and I am sad beyond belief knowing these children were taken from us by something so terrible and stupid and tragic and repulsive. And I hope – one day – that we finally realize that people who live in fear of guns and believe they can be controlled need to wake up and embrace weapons for protection and to minimize and stop these incidents. I hate the fact we’ve become that society where we need to arm ourselves, but short of decrying these incidents and shedding tears after they occur, I personally have seen and heard enough stories involving the misuse of weapons to know that fearing something is not the answer. The answer is to face it and find a way to beat it.

Put another way, if someone in that school today was armed, how many people might have been saved?

Let’s focus on that question – and its elusive answer – along with the inevitable call for gun control and the outlawing of weapons.

And let’s hope we find an alternative than the status quo; one thing on which we all agree – that’s not working.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

And The Cradle Will Rock...

As one peruses typical headlines these days, he or she will more than likely encounter at least one mention of a murder or a similarly serious crime committed by someone under the age of 18. In years past, this – more often than not, anyway – resulted in the debate over whether the suspect should be tried as a youth or as an adult. Typical factors often included the suspect’s age, his or her mental capacity, compelling factors (self-defense, etc.) and whether the crime was particularly egregious or whether the commission of said crime deserved some measure of compassion. To wit, a thief who steals a loaf of bread to feed his or her family should be treated differently than one who steals a car for pure entertainment, and a person who murders another human being in self-defense should be treated differently than one who murders another human being, again, for pure entertainment.

Recently, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving 14-year-olds sentenced to life in prison (14 years old: Too young for life in prison?). The first, Evan Miller, who is now 23, involves Miller’s participation in the murder – by bludgeoning with a baseball bat – of a 52-year-old male neighbor who lived in the same trailer park as Miller. Subsequent to the murder, he and his accomplice set fire to the trailer.

The second, Kuntrell Jackson, involved the hold up of a video store during which one of his accomplices shot the clerk. Prior to arriving at the store he and his accomplices discussed the hold-up and during the act itself he threatened the clerk, but he did not pull the trigger.

Given community standards and differing life experiences, it’s understandable to react differently to essentially the same crime in different communities. However, the disparity of the two examples above alone suggests that more should be done to address the issues surrounding underage crime and sentencing youths as adults.

However – and we can be sure there are thousands of cases each year which could be debated as being unfair examples of excessively punishing youth crimes – it is a bit disconcerting that with increasing frequency young people are participating in crimes that result in murder, sometimes with extremely excessive violence. Again, there’s a difference between a gun accidentally going off while two children are playing and a 14-year-old bludgeoning his drunken neighbor with a baseball bat.

To quote Kim Taylor-Thompson, a professor of clinical law at NYU Law, "no one is excusing the fact of what happened. What we are saying is: Did these two young men engage in thought processes that would make us say today they're the type of individuals who can never be rehabilitated, never change and be locked up to never see the light of day? We believe that they deserve a second look.”

The problem for me is less the age at which these crimes are being committed and more in the temper of these crimes. Each crime – more or less – is different, but when there’s excessive violence involved, and the motive is purely dysfunctional, attempting to rehabilitate perpetrators of these types of dysfunctional crimes seems, to me, wasteful.

We can all agree that a stupid mistake at 13 or 14 – can sometimes be met with a combination of understanding and maturity. Stealing a car, as opposed to committing rape, arson or murder, can perhaps be grounds for rehabilitation. However, while we’d all like to believe that a young mind can be taught to behave in a proper way, and to “unlearn” dysfunctional, abhorrent behavior, to me there seem some mistakes which, once crossed, cannot be atoned. While some might observe that youths who commit certain egregious, violent crimes can possibly be rehabilitated, it seems to me – with increasing frequency – that a young person who is already on the road to violent crime is even less likely to be rehabilitated than an older person who has committed such crime.

Put another way, a 14-year-old who is capable of murderous, violent behavior is, in my belief, more dangerous and defective than perhaps an older person who has “grown” into this type of behavior.

I might be wrong, but it seems to me that perhaps we should give a second look to revising the age whereby a young criminal can be considered an adult.

Put yet another way, if we’re unwilling as a society to ask ourselves what inspires a 14-year-old to commit murder, rape, arson and other extremely violent crimes, perhaps we should revise the punishment to fit the revised crime.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

It's All Facebook's Fault

Years ago -- or in that dapper, desolate era known as the 60's -- hipsters roamed the planet armed with worn leather jackets, Chuck Taylor high-tops and moleskin notebooks. They carried pencils or pens of reasonable size and sturdiness and recorded their thoughts and reactions to the trials and travels and travails which they faced and which faced them.

And with the birth of The Internet, they grew up and old.

In today's nano-friendly climes, one that sees children more likely to read from a tablet than a pop-up book, there is still something called Moleskin -- but it's no longer a company which produces pocket-friendly paper-based recording devices, it's a company filled with newly-minted antiques, an iconic throwback to an era no more.

I blame Facebook.

I'll explain.

Facebook -- which is not the root of all evil or The Devil's Work or really a bad thing at all, frankly -- is to blame for our increasingly centrifugal lives spinning headlong out of control. It started with answering machines and VCR's -- too busy to be home to a) answer the phone or b) watch TV? Let a machine handle it for you, and do it on your own time. Then came cell phones. Too busy to sit home waiting for that call? Bring your 12-pound bag-phone with you and answer the call on the go!

Twenty years later, it's all about the DVR, voicemail, text messages and running as fast as possible through life rather than actually sitting back and living life. Some people missed the memo -- it's about the journey, not the destination. Because, as most of us are acutely aware, the destination is the same for us all.

So to explain my continued and deplorable absence herein, I blame Facebook. Why should one stop life when Facebook chronicles each minute of our every day in its open-source, hacker-friendly pages? Why should I bother checking into a blog that no one has the time to read? Unless I wax prophetic about RIM's demise, Apple's impending egregious mediocrity or the newest Android phone, does anyone really care? I'm sure there's a hapless, helpless soul that counts him- or herself among my regular readers sitting in clothes that are overdue for laundry, reading this blog in lieu of a favorable, worthwhile hour of reality TV (although the truth is there really is no such thing).

The point being that we've eschewed humanity in our lives and we've forgotten how to step back -- ever so briefly and/or slightly -- and just enjoyed life rather than trying to outpace it. Whether we're in New York, Hong Kong, LA, San Francisco, Boston or Miami, life's increasingly rapid pace will always be just beyond our reach, but like a fat man on a treadmill, there's no medals for trying.

In either case, my somewhat regular mea culpa with respect to my absence here isn't my own, per se -- it's just that I haven't quite perfected the art of avoiding the impending Facebook timeline from my existence just yet. I am, of course, interested in those of others -- but for my own infinite playlist, gallery, photo album and stream of nonsense, I've held back.

I'm not sure why; it's certainly not a fear of self-expression. It may, of course be a lack of intelligence or wit or knowledge or, most likely, a combination of all of these things. Or it may be some sort of revelation that, contrary to an observation by Tom Petty, too much may not only be enough, it may very well be too much.