While at church this morning, before the snowstorm began, I listened as my minister spoke of the difficulties of the early church and the disciples of Jesus as they tried to see their way through the difficult times of their day to get their message across. It was not easy. We likely all know the trials and tribulations and differences of opinion when it comes to religion. It has cost many lives over the centuries. People have long held beliefs and any challenges to those beliefs are seen as threatening. Much time is spent on trivial arguments, on trying to go around the issues or to let them be discussed under the radar and public view which causes trouble. Trying to talk over the noise and over discuss or over intellectualize also leads to trouble. So we just need to get through this time and muck through the tough parts and get to a good place at the end. We have not had this discussion because everyone has been afraid to even mention it for fear of the wrath and undue influence of the pro-gun lobbyists. But in the end, saving lives is what everyone wants. It's just how we get there that is causing way too much angst. The thing is, the angst is misplaced. There is real angst in Newtown, Connecticut. There is real angst in Aurora, Colorado and in Minneapolis, Minnesota and for the many families and friends trying to live around the hole caused by the violent death of a loved one.
In the sermon this morning, my minister used the example of this children's story ( and also a song) called "Going On a Bear Hunt."The video is here:
What is everyone so afraid of? I am afraid that too many lives are being lost every day and that public safety is being put at risk because of the shootings that occur every day in America. I fear that the NRA lobbyists have had their way for far too long and have managed to take us on a slippery slope towards looser gun laws that have led to too many people who shouldn't have access to guns getting them anyway and using them in too many places to kill too many people. I am afraid that our politicians will not do the right thing even though the public has told them to. I am afraid they will let more shootings happen before they act. Fearing yet another mass shooting or school shooting is not an imaginary fear. It is real. In fact, just the other day, someone who should not have had access to a gun- a mentally ill South Carolina woman- threatened and almost carried out another mass school shooting. From the article:
This is about our children. This is about guns. This is about mental illness and lack of adequate treatment. This is about our justice system. This is real and this is scary. Our lack of common sense gun measures as well as our lack of providing adequate mental health care and a system that allows people like Ms. Boland, to plea bargain out of federal charges are very serious problems and threaten our children and public safety. This must change. This is what the national "discussion" about gun violence prevention measures is all about.Still, police officers patrolled the iron fence that surrounds the school and teachers remained on edge, trying to grasp how a woman with a public history of mental illness had managed to buy a gun a week earlier and amazed that the gun, when pointed at administrators who confronted her in front of the school on Monday, did not fire.Alice Boland, 28, who was charged in 2005 with threatening to assassinate President George W. Bush and members of Congress as she waited in line at U.S. Customs, is again charged with plotting a violent attack. On Monday, after pacing in front of the school gates during car pool and visibly swinging a gun, she tried to shoot two faculty members: the director of the high school, Mary Schweers, and an English teacher, Chris Hughes.The police charged Ms. Boland with attempted murder and unlawful carrying of a firearm. The only thing that stopped her, they said, was that she did not realize the gun was locked.“We were very fortunate she did not know how to take the lock off, or this could have been a tragedy,” said Earl Woodham, a spokesman in Charlotte for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.The authorities are investigating whether Ms. Boland was required to disclose her history of mental illness when she bought the gun. A small firearms store in Walterboro, 50 miles from Charleston, sold her the Taurus PT-22 pistol on Feb. 1. She filled out a federal background check form and was approved.She appeared to have bought the gun legally, Mr. Woodham said. Gun buyers nationwide are required to disclose mental illnesses only if they have been committed to an institution or found “mentally defective” by a judge, he said.“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are mentally unstable but who would not technically be declared mentally defective,” he said.Ms. Boland’s 2005 brush with law enforcement came when she became upset with the slow process of getting through Customs in Montreal.“I am going to kill President Bush with a gun,” she said, according to federal court papers. “Just give me a gun. I am going to come back and shoot you all.”The federal charges were dropped after she pleaded not guilty by reason of mental incompetence.In an interview on Friday, her parents, who live in nearby Beaufort, said she continued to struggle with mental illness. Ms. Boland is being held on $900,000 bond at a detention center in North Charleston.
And yet, the gun lobbyists are focusing more on their own rights to own any kind of gun they wish to carry with them wherever they go. They have unreasonable fear of their own government and law enforcement officials. Read in this article about militia groups and people who are armed with every imaginable gun available and what they intend to do with them:
So are these folks dangerous or not? Most are armed. Most have strong anti-government beliefs. I heard that in testimony at the Minnesota state legislature last week. This is not about self defense or hunting. This is about treasonous actions against the government. As threats and bullying remarks are being made on blogs, on phone calls to those of us who advocate for reasonable gun laws, on tweets and Facebook pages, in e-mails, etc. some of us have reason to be concerned. People who testified supporting the bills in front of the Public Safety Committee have received some e-mails and threats to themselves and their businesses. It is disconcerting at the least. Our fear is coming from those who call themselves legal gun owners but who then bully, intimidate, threaten, demean and belittle people like me and politicians who support reasonable gun laws. Why do they do this? If they have an opinion and some facts that show they are right, they shouldn't have to bully to get their way. These folks seem to fear those of us who are only trying to slog through the swamp to get through the miasma of the politics of gun policy. This fear is averting the national attention from the real issues before us and revealing an ugly underbelly of the gun rights community about whom we actually need to fear. Exaggeration, lies, misconstrued assertions and paranoia have been ramped up on purpose because it sends people running to the gun stores to buy more guns. Sales are up. That is what the NRA lobbyists want. And these folks have forgotten about the first amendment in the Bill of Rights in their zeal to protect the second amendment. Trying to silence the opposition with threats and harassment is not only unacceptable, it is against the law. Legal gun owners who are opposed to reasonable solutions put forth by peaceful people who want solutions to violence should be embarrassed and concerned that some of their own are using these kinds of tactics. They won't work. They may have in the past when the NRA lobbyists had people fooled. But not any more.Those who study anti-government groups are worried about the prospect of a different kind of war.Thirty years after U.S. Marshal Ken Muir and Deputy Marshal Bob Cheshire were shot to death by Kahl, experts on so-called “patriot groups” – those with extreme anti-government beliefs – are more concerned than ever about their growth, hoping the combination of a weak economy, apocalyptic views and a renewed gun control debate is not a tinder box about to ignite.“Right now we are at an extremely worrying moment,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate and patriot groups in the United States. “It feels like the run-up to the Oklahoma City bombing.”Statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center – an Alabama-based civil rights nonprofit that tracks extremist organizations – suggest the interest in such patriot groups is taking off in the U.S.In 1996, at their formerly highest point, there were 858, Potok said. For a dozen years, there was a decline down to a low of 149 groups in 2008.In 2009, with the recession taking hold and President Barack Obama entering into office – the number of groups identified by the SPLC went up to 512. They’ve grown steadily each year since then, with a record high of 1,274 in 2011. Potok said the new numbers for 2012 will come out soon and will show another increase.“Patriot groups always had an idea Obama was going to take their guns away,” said Potok. Since the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the subsequent debate over potential new gun laws, he said, “there’s been an absolutely white-hot reaction.”That’s a sentiment echoed by Richard Helgeland, a professor of history, philosophy and religious studies at North Dakota State University who has researched the Kahl case.“We are due for a flare-up,” he said, along the lines of Ruby Ridge, Waco, or the Kahl shooting.He said the common characteristics of the anti-government groups include an end-of-times religious outlook and heavy gun ownership, although there are numerous variations.“The government is evil. Kahl thought the IRS was Satanic,” Helgeland said. “That kind of cosmology – that there are evil people out there – that sells a lot of guns.”SPLC’s most recent list of active patriot groups includes 11 in Minnesota and eight in North Dakota. (...)“Some of these individuals engage in federally protected speech, and we’re not interested in any of the political aspects,” he said. “We’re always mindful of these kinds of groups, that there are dangerous members … (but) the FBI simply is not interested in infringing on anyone’s right to have an opinion.”Opinions, after all, are not actions. Potok agrees that the vast majority of patriot group members are law-abiding and not dangerous.And so, Sorem said, is he. Even when asked why, if he believes the courts have no real legitimacy, no real say-so over him, why did he get rid of all his guns? After all, isn’t a felony only a felony if you believe it is?Sorem pauses for a moment before he answers.“You have to pick your battles,” he said.
In all of this fear talk, the real reasons we are having this discussion have become lost in the swamp and the blizzard of rhetoric. Have we so soon forgotten the 20 small children who were massacred by a crazed gunman who should not have had a gun? Have we forgotten that the gun he did have was designed to kill as many as possible and inflict as much damage as possible? Have we forgotten that those 20 children and 6 adults who were shot that day at Sandy Hook elementary school had a right to live their lives without fear of being shot to death doing what children and adults who teach them do every day? Have we forgotten that most Americans support reasonable gun laws and want our leaders to do the right thing? Have we forgotten that America is a country where more people die every day from gun homicides than anywhere else in the democratized world? Have we forgotten that the second amendment can co-exist with reasonable measures to keep our communities safe from gun violence and the devastation it causes every day in our lives?
It is time to slog through the swamp and not go under, over and around it. It's time to face up to the fact that we have a problem and we need solutions. It's time to get over our collective and individual fears and to solve together what has become one of our nation's most serious problems. We have done so before. As a country, we decided that cars should have safety features to keep us safer. We don't allow smoking in public places because it causes disease. We don't allow people to drive drunk because it costs lives. We don't allow people to drive without a license because everyone is safer when people know how to drive. We don't allow people to drive at any speed they choose because they can cause injury and death. We don't allow containers for household cleaning products and medicines to come with easy to twist off caps because children need to be safe from ingesting them. We don't allow young people to legally drink alcohol because it leads to bad decision making and to possible injury and death and it's bad for their health. We tell pregnant mothers not to drink alcohol because it leads to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in children.
I could go on and on. These are decisions that have been made collectively because of concern over public and individual safety. And they have saved lives. Saving lives is a good idea. If we can't agree on that ( which we do, actually) then who are we as a country? It's time to get to work as a country to solve this problem without injecting unreasonable fears and without making threats or without dealing with the facts. The facts are that too many people are dying every day. We have had too many mass shootings. Passing laws and changing policies are not meant to punish legal gun owners. Quite to the contrary, they are meant to make them safer as well. No one wants to be shot. No one wants criminals, terrorists, dangerously mentally ill people, drug abusers, domestic abusers, etc. to have easy access to guns. We can, and should, make it harder for these people to get their guns. And very few people want armed vigilantes to be walking around with their guns ready to fight their government and law enforcement officers. That is definitely not in the interest of public safety and represents a view held by unreasonable folks whose fears are misplaced and could cause serious problems. Let's get to work and let's work together to trudge right through the swamp and through the blizzard and come out on the other side without fear. Are we really afraid of that bear? Or what are we afraid of?
And for your perusal, since the video above talks about confronting a bear in a cave, here is a real live story about doing just that. And no one got hurt. No one was afraid.