Walk Out or Stand Up?

Depositphotos photography ID: 115252164 Copyright: icrogen

The news headlines were all about the national walk out yesterday. Students in schools cross the nation walked out of school in protest of the latest mass school shooting, urging politicians and other responsible adults to do something about the epidemic of school shootings. Judging by my Facebook feed, most adults supported and even applauded them in expressing their concern to the adults in their world.

It is our responsibility to protect our children. We need to take this seriously and do all that we can to protect them from this very modern danger. It is a modern danger by the way. Never before 1966 was there an indiscriminate mass shooting of students on a school campus in the history of the United States, and indiscriminate mass school shootings have ramped up each decade since then, shooting into the double digits in the 1980’s and beyond. (See A Brief History of Indiscriminate School Shootings in the US.)

As if this trend isn’t disturbing enough, we can see another trend in the age of the perpetrators. From the 1980’s on, the perpetrators have been predominantly teenagers and young twenty somethings. The perpetrators have been as young as middle school age, and they are almost all boys and young men. What is going on with our boys and young men is a question we need to ask and answer. (See The Lost Boys with Guns.)

Meanwhile, I add my voice to the chorus of adults applauding our youth around the country for walking out in a show of unified protest and demand for the adults to make changes that will protect them from future attacks from indiscriminate mass shootings, but it isn’t enough.

Granted, protests are a last resort for people who don’t have the power, or, perhaps, feel they don’t have the power, to effect change directly. It’s an attempt to prick the conscience of the people who do have the power to effect the change that is needed. At least that is the perception.

Go ahead and protest. It raises social consciousness. It demonstrates a necessary urgency. It forces the issue top of mind and demands that we take the issue seriously. But it isn’t enough. Young people have much more power than they might think, but it will take much more effort, sustained effort, and we, as adults, need to help them in every way we can. Their lives may depend on it!

What am I talking about?

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A Brief History of Indiscriminate School Shootings in the US

Depositphotos Image ID: 4503903 Copyright: tlorna

Ever since the school shooting in Florida, I have had a hard time moving on from the subject, as have many people judging by my social media feeds. I am not sure what is different about this one. Maybe there isn’t anything different – and maybe that is exactly the problem. School shootings have become all too commonplace.

Instead of accepting occasional school shootings as the price we pay for the 2nd Amendment, which was drafted not for hunting and the pleasure of shooting, but to ensure “the security of a free State”[1], we need to come together as reasonable, civil citizens of our great country, and find some solutions to this recurring problem. We have to recognize, first, that it is a problem, and we have to admit that something needs to be done about it.

We can’t hope for solutions if we aren’t willing to listen to each other. We can’t listen to each other if we can’t stop all the ideological rhetoric.

So we must listen and put down our ideological weapons. Our kids’ lives depend on it!

Gun rights advocates are not all crazed, right wing zealots, and gun control advocates are not all soft, naive, liberal elitists. There are good people on both sides who have legitimate points of view, and there is room to find thoughtful solutions. There are many issues on which reasonable minds can differ. Nothing is more unproductive than painting each other in caricature strokes of wild colors.

But I digress. I don’t want to talk about gun rights or gun control. The problem isn’t just the availability of guns, and tighter gun controls is only a band-aid over a much deeper societal problem. I can say that with some degree of confidence after looking at the history of gun violence in schools. Let’s look at the facts.

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The Lost Boys with Guns

Depositphotos Image ID: 184293546 Copyright: belchonock

In the wake of another tragic school shooting and re-ignition of the flames of impassioned debate over guns and gun control, some people have dared to suggest we have problems other than guns. They get shot down pretty quickly now, as it seems we just can’t ignore the gun problem we have. Yes, I have been reluctant to say it… we have a gun problem.

But, we have more problems than guns. Mental health may be an issue, but statistics suggest that the United States has no greater incidence of mental health problems than the rest of the world. Maybe the incidence of mental health problems isn’t the problem. Maybe the problem is the way we treat it (or don’t treat it as the case may be).

But that isn’t the only problem either. We assume that anyone who shoots up a school playground is crazy, but that is a dangerous assumption. We think that they are “not like us”, but history suggests we might be fooling ourselves. Given the right factors, circumstances and pressures, any one of us might do things we could never imagine.

The Holocaust wasn’t just the result of a despot few. It took a nation of “regular people” to allow it to happen. If the Holocaust happened in the US today (not suggesting it will), your neighbors would be going off to work this morning to the concentration camps, gas chambers and sterile government offices that allowed genocide to become a national industry. It could very well be us, given the right mix of circumstances and pressures.

The gun problem in the United States isn’t likely the result of a single problem. Reality is more complicated than that. Rather, a confluence of factors and circumstances have come together to create this perfect storm – this phenomenon that is unique in the civilized world.

Among the factors, I speculate, is the history of gun rights that is unparalleled in any other country. Gun ownership is an individual right in the United States. It’s even built into our Constitution. No other country has that history.

But, I don’t think the availability of guns or mental health or or our history, pick your pet theory, are the only issues. School shootings are a recent phenomenon. The first school shooting took place in 1966, and the incidents of indiscriminate school shootings have risen exponentially in the last 20-30 years. Something else is going on.

We tend to let ourselves fall into the trap of false dichotomies: it’s either guns or not guns. Yes it is! Not it’s not!

Like schoolyard banter, nothing gets accomplished because each side is too busy defending their own side of the argument, and too stubborn to concede anything to the “other side”, so we don’t get anywhere. Nothing gets done. We end up with no resolve and no solutions.

I am not anti-gun, but I am here to say I am willing to listen to reasonable measures to limit gun ownership. We have to do that. It’s a numbers game. The more guns that are available for more people to get a hold of, the more likely it is that guns will end up in the hands of people who are dangerous. I am willing to listen to the people who say we have a mental health problem. I am willing to consider other issues and solutions.

But there is problem that few people are talking about it: it’s a problem with our boys. When was the last time a girl was involved in a school shooting? How about a mass shooting of any kind? Girls and women have been involved in school shootings, but school shootings are overwhelmingly committed by boys and men.

It’s past time that we started talking in earnest about what has happened to our boys!

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Into Her Dreams

Depositphotos Photography ID: 8146447 Copyright: jkirshphoto

Like skaters on icy pavement
gliding together into the city skyline,
grey against clouds of snow.
Winter storm warning, veiled
by music and coffee,
conversation and silence.
Precious cargo
delivered into the Windy City,
big shoulders,
blonde and steel,
she slips into the hurried streets,
the streaming crowds,
out into the world.
This father beams in consolation.
She doesn’t look back,
blue eyes piercing into her future,
no hesitation,
Hungary bound.
Heading home,
grey fading into western twilight,
slipping past long headlights,
Silence in the music playing.
Snow dust, shifting like dry mist,
passing like sands of time.
Falling, flurries swirl
As I recall
How easily she slipped
out of my car
and into her dreams.

We Are Easy Targets of the Information War

Depositphotos Image ID: 88914724 Copyright: 3dmentat

The news is out that Russians have been indicted on charges of interfering in the last presidential election, much to the chagrin of Republicans and Trump supporters. The indictment is certain to curl the lips of Democrats, and Hillary Clinton supporters in particular, in grins of righteous vindication. But we need to resist these gut level reactions and take thoughtful stock of what is going on in our country.

We are polarized as never before. What the Russians did was simply to use our own momentum against us in a classic judo type of social engineering that proved so effective it should be frightening. And it should prompt us to take off our combative gloves and come together as Americans to reclaim the civility of Democracy that is our saving grace in a country that is often torn and divided by the issues that threaten to push and pull us apart.

This is the indictment:

“A grand jury in the District of Columbia today returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s office. The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare” against the United States with the stated goal of spreading mistrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” *

Unfortunately, we are fat and easy targets.

We need to pay close attention here, but we have to put down our weapons against each other to absorb the full impact of what the Russians were able to do. They used us and against ourselves, and it was easy work – too easy!

The Russians set up Internet based operations making them appear to be owned and operated by people within the United States. They used fictitious and stolen identities, fraudulent bank and accounts and false documents. They posed as “politically and socially active Americans” communicating with “unwitting Americans” through Social Media action groups. They advertised on social media networks, and they engaged and paid “real Americans” to carry on political campaigns, promote political candidates and agenda and stage political rallies.

For instance, “’Black Fist’ … was confirmed to be part of the Internet Research Agency’s operation — the self defense classes were an apparent attempt to stoke fear and gather contact details of Americans potentially susceptible to propaganda.”**

According to the report, these Americans didn’t know they were communicating with and being manipulated by Russians. These Americans were so easy to manipulate because they are losing the ability to vet their own political inclinations; they are losing the ability to be self-reflective; they are losing the ability to be civil and respectful of each other. These Americans are quick to judge, quick to jump to conclusions, quick to affirm their own narratives and quick to criticize others.

These Americans are us.

The Russians pitted us against ourselves. But for what end?

“[They] engaged in activities and rallies to support the president-elect while simultaneously staging rallies to protest his election.” Sometimes they supported contrary rallies in the same cities on the same days. For those Republicans licking their wounds, this might be some solace; and for Democrats who might be tempted to smirk, this should give you pause.

The indictment indicates that the Russians “intended to incite discord in the United States and undermine confidence in Democracy”. The Russians simply fueled the fires that are already burning, and they did to sow discord and contention, and it didn’t take much effort for them to succeed.

In fact, I’m not sure they needed to do anything at all because we are already doing it to ourselves. They just gave us a nudge in the direction we have already been going. For instance, “‘Heart of Texas,’ a page that posed as a pro-Texas secession organization, promoted a ‘Stop Islamization of Texas’ protest at the opening of a library at an Islamic Center on May 21, 2016. The same troll group used another page, ‘United Muslims of America,’ to promote a ‘Save Islamic Knowledge’ event at the same time.” According to the same report, “After the election the group used its pages to promote events celebrating the election of Donald Trump and events protesting Trump’s election.”

While the liberal groups are screaming that the Russians meddled in the election to get Trump elected, the conservative groups are screeching about Hillary Clinton’s deals with Russians in the past – and the Russians are just smiling.

I actually wrote on this very subject last June, long before the recent indictments:

“Are we Americans that gullible? Or are we simply unwilling to suspend our penchant to believe everything that affirms our political views? Maybe its a matter of not being able to stop the momentum of our own biases as they carry us down the streams of our own predispositions…

“We are so hell bent on affirming our own biases about anything political that fake news has become a booming business!….”

“With virtually nothing growing in the no-man’s land in between, and little communication across the expanse, each side is primed for the propaganda it wants to hear. A little fake news here, a little drama there, and the war on both sides might be fueled for several generations to come, even while we seem know and admit that we are being manipulated.

“We just can’t stop ourselves.”***

Or can we?

Hopefully, we can stop this madness, but both sides will need to put their ideological weapons down long enough to talk peace. We need to replace party line politics with some real thought, analysis and self-reflection. We need be honest about our own ideological shortcomings and stop to consider that our political enemies are really our neighbors, our friends and even our own family members – they ultimately want what “we” want, which is a better America, a better world and a better future our children and grandchildren.

We all want the same thing!

Just because we disagree on how we achieve our mutual goals doesn’t mean that have to sharpen the pitchforks. We need to relearn civility and respect and the art of the compromise. If we can’t do this, we will continue to be the targets of future information wars that will wreak havoc on our socio-political psyches, undermine any remaining confidence in our political systems and threaten our Democracy.


*For the press release by Rod Rosenstein:

**From http://money.cnn.com/2018/02/16/media/internet-research-agency-mueller-indictment/index.html

***See Political Gullibility? Or Unwillingness to Suspend Belief?

The 2nd Amendment, Freedom & Responsibility

Depositphotos Image ID: 173296888 Copyright: zimmytws

Is there a more potent weapon today then a gun in the hands of a person with mal-intent? Are schools no longer safe places for children? These questions are not mere speculation, but serious deadly considerations in the wake of another school shooting tragedy.

It’s clear that platitudes, like thoughts and prayers, are not enough of a response any more, as if they ever were. Not that we shouldn’t be thoughtful or prayerful, but “faith without works is dead”, as the brother of Jesus said.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16)

Likewise, if all we do is offer condolences and our thoughts and prayers, what good is that?! Our faith, if we have any, demands action. Where is the fruit?

I get all of the arguments for the Second Amendment. I am a lawyer. Our nation was founded on the principles of an independent, free and empowered citizenry, and the right to bear arms was intended to ensure that freedom. Guns have been championed as a symbol of freedom. With freedom, though, comes responsibility (echoing the words of Eleanor Roosevelt).

I’m a Christian, but I don’t get the popular Christian response to gun laws. Where in the Bible does it tell us to defend our rights to own firearms? Jesus told Peter to put down his sword, but he’s telling us to protect our guns?

Thoughts and prayers don’t cut it when children are lying dead on the playground. Thoughts and prayers need to be followed up with love and action. We need to do something before there is another tragedy, and another one after that.

But I am not just directing my focus on Christians. I see a much more potent weapon than guns in our society today.

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