Mass Shootings. A Gun Story

San Bernardino. Mass Shootings. These events result in predictable reactions from all sides– it’s exhausting and, ultimately, pointless. Is there really any need for me to express my outrage? Or for the militia to defend their constitutional rights? Those methods aren’t working.

When a mass shooting happens, we immediately start sorting people into their baskets: mentally ill, terrorist, criminal. Then we begin to argue about how people are sorted into those baskets (hint, it’s a skin pigment thing). Next we argue about what the founding father’s meant when they wrote the 2nd Amendment (hint, there wasn’t a National Guard). We move on to the arguments about gun permits, background checks, and whether criminals give a shit about either one. And finally, when we’re a week or so out from the latest tragic event, we gather up our arguments and deflate back into our corners, ready and waiting for the next opportunity to bring it all out again. Because it’ll be the 689th time we say the same thing, but maybe this time the other side will finally get it.

It’s time we change the story.

And by we, I mean all the semi-sane people on both sides. Pro-gun folks, I’ve been in your forums– I know, and YOU know, that some of your tribe are one roll of aluminum foil away from the fluoride poisoning conspiracy

Sidenote: The government’s fluoride poisoning plan example was a real thread on a gun rights forum. I read all 22 pages– guess what? All of them would defend Tin Foil’s right to bear arms, because Amendments! And most of them typed long messages that, in summary, told Tin Foil that he was going a little too bat-shit about the water poisoning plan.

All of this to say that I understand that liking/owning/loving guns isn’t the piece that turns a person into a gun-nut. Just like I hope that sometimes the reverse is true, that they know, deep down inside, that you can be liberal without being a dirty hippie.

A meaningful conversation between our two groups has got to start somewhere. Here, I’ll go:

My name is Stephanie, I’m an Army Brat who spent her formative years on, or next to, a military base. My Army father did not keep guns in the house, because the animal hunting he preferred used worms, not bullets.

Mom– you should stop reading now. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come back. 

That does not mean I have not held, loaded, or shot a gun. That does not mean I’ve never had a gun pointed at me. One of my favorite memories involves a trailer, a drunk guy, and a rifle. And I mean favorite in the, “phew, glad I didn’t die!” sort of way.

I’ve shot targets with a gun that was not mine, that was probably not legally the gun of the person that handed it to me.

I took a lot of unnecessary risks as a teenager/young adult. I came home late one night toward the end of my Senior Year of high school, finally afraid about the situations I had put myself in, and I asked my Dad why we didn’t have a gun for protection. He paused for so long, quietly finishing his who-knows-what-number can of PBR before he saying: “you only shoot a gun at someone if you mean to kill them. I don’t mean to kill anyone with a gun ever again.”  I never touched a gun after that night.

Mom, it’s safe again. 

Now I told y’all that stuff that’s going to get me in major trouble with my mother because I want you to understand that it’s not ignorance, or a lack of firearm’s experience that prompts my distaste for guns. No, it’s when y’all started wanting to take them everywhere, instead of leaving them in your damn house, that I got antsy.

How do you tell the difference between a legally carried firearm on a law-abiding citizen, and a legally carried firearm on a citizen seconds from their big psychotic break? You live to be horrified by seeing the first, and the details of your murder is reported live on the news by the other.

If I see you carrying a gun, I call 9-11.

Yes, I get tangled up in the symbology of shooting my son with a water gun, and yes, when my then-5 year old shot me dead center of the forehead during laser tag I struggled not to burst into tears. No, I will not play gun-games with my kids anymore, which was more their choice than mine. I ruin the fun by quoting gun injury and death statistics. I own my hypocrisy– sword play doesn’t bother me, and I’ve helped both kids make bows and arrows, so I obviously don’t have a problem with weapons.

But I do have a problem with guns. I have a problem with the constant push-back against background checks and waiting periods. I have a problem with the lack of a photo on NC’s concealed carry permits. I have a problem with the gun trust and dealer show loopholes. I have a problem with 4 white guys openly carrying loaded rifles in Target, and I have a real serious problem when John Crawford gets shot by police, in an open carry state, for carrying a toy gun while black.

I do. I have problems with all of those things. But I have other problems too. I have a problem believing that increased regulations will stop a criminal from purchasing or shooting a gun.

They won’t.

I have a problem with open-carry, but if given the choice between open or concealed? I’d rather see you coming, thankyouverymuch.

To give me time to call 9-11. 

I have a problem with the idiot adults that don’t secure their firearms, ending the lives of their children, the friends of their children, or even themselves when accidentally shot by those children.

Trigger locks could help there. Birth control would probably help even more.

Whenever we start talking accountability, we hyper-focus on the guns, the permits, the background checks, the gun safes, the criminals, the law-abiding. We talk and talk and talk, the 2nd-Amenders might say, “well, this guy bought the guns legally, then went nuts. No regulation would stop that, criminals gonna do what criminals gonna do.”

They have a point.

Non-Gunners want more regulations, because fuck, loose regulations resulted in twenty 1st Graders being murdered right there in the middle of the suburbs.
They also have a point.

Now, let’s talk about the people that are sitting verra still and quiet during these conversations. Let’s talk about the data collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that no one on Reddit has ever read. Let’s start with the how a person becomes a dealer– by getting a Federal Firearm License (FFL). The regulations are specific, for example a FFL allows you to sell guns at a single address, so you can’t load up your car and sell guns door to door. One application, a $200 permit fee (for dealers, it gets more expensive for importing and manufacturing) and you now have a FFL. At the end of November 2015, there were  138,949 active FFLs in the United States. The key for number codes for each column header can be found here.

Okay. So there are a lot of dealers/pawnbrokers with federal licenses to sell firearms. With privilege comes responsibility, so the FFLs are supposed to maintain detailed records because sometimes an ATF agent will come inspect your facility. For example, by 2014’s year-end, out of more than 140,000 FFLs, the ATF had inspected 10,249. That’s a full 7%, y’all!

The FFLs are required to keep detailed records, including inventory listings, sales (transfers), thefts, and losses. These reports are made available to… wait. Losses? Why is that separate from theft? Why would that be…oh. Loss means missing, not stolen, inventory. 

So losses are missing inventory– just poof, vanished. Which is probably a small number, because firearm theft is the way that all criminals get their guns. Except the losses aren’t small. The total number of firearms stolen at the end of 2014- 5,719. The total number “lost” – 13,510.

Yeah. I think maybe we need to focus harder on those compliance inspections. The number of guns just lost? Why, it’s almost criminal.

 

Thom Tillis. Whoops.

Anonymous promised to release a list of KKK members on November 5th, which helped legitimize the Nov. 2nd release that included my own NC Senator, Thom Tillis. The real Anonymous was quick to non-ANON their association with the other group. If the first rule of Anon-club is not identifying yourself how can Anon really know for sure they aren’t associated with non-Anon? Deep thoughts.

This “alleged” information infected news and social media like electronic measles at Disneyland. I shared it, abandoning my overarching distrust of everything and everyone. You see, reading that Tillis was a member of a racist organization supported what I believe to be true about his character.

“Alleged and claimed, because no one is delivering the proof. But you know what? Even if it’s not true, I can’t think of a better person to have to deal with dealing with it.” 

Yeah, that was my comment on the Indyweek article I shared, even once it became obvious that the leaked information lacked a thing called validity. As an aside, is anyone else concerned with how easily public opinion can form based on what someone finds in your internet trash? I’ve spent the last several months researching a novel. Taken out of context my internet history reads like a textbook example of a watch-list, which doesn’t make my real life activity something that is watch-worthy.

Right before bed last night, I read the article Scott Huler wrote for Slate about the dangers of rumor. In fact, I was the person he quoted as saying, “I’m just stooping to their level” –hell yeah, it’s Six Degrees of being published on Slate.

Last night, I acknowledged the truth in what he said, then admitted to still not feeling ashamed for sharing misinformation, ultimately deciding to accept the whole thing as a tidy example of my own hypocritical (human) behavior.

This morning I decided that accepting it as excusable hypocrisy just wasn’t acceptable. Some of my favorite internet debates involve the times when I can point out the fallacies we all use to certify people with authority. Neither Jenny McCarthy, nor Bill Nye have the required bona fides to make a determination about GMO crop safety, which has in no way prevented either of them from talking about what they think.

How many progressive foreheads banged against desks during the coverage of the faked Planned Parenthood videos?  Can I truly work it out in my own mind that my falling for the Tillis/KKK lie is somehow different than those that fell for the PP lie?

I could. I really want to. But I won’t.

Instead, I’m going to do something much harder:

Senator Tillis, I’m sorry for saying you were in the KKK. I still don’t like you, but that was an unfair accusation and I was wrong. 

 

Sincerely,

Eater of Crow

 

Easy Racism Test

Dylann Roof walked into a church in Charleston shooting to kill. Nine people are dead because they were black, and he’s a racist.

Some of the comments, opinions, and idiocy I’ve read since: white guy walks into a church, says he hates black people, kills black people, but this is yet another attack on Christianity? I mean, really.

Or, he’s mentally ill.

Which is interesting because you almost never read about the underlying mental illness of the Sept. 11th terrorists. Or the Boston Marathon Bombing, or the– you get what I’m saying here?

Maybe you can argue that the murders of Travyon Martin, Michael Brown, John Crawford and Tamir Rice weren’t rooted in racism. I’d counter-argue, and at least once the open carry advocates agreed, that racism and the resulting fear of a black man with a gun caused their deaths. When black men–and children– are killed for having fake guns, but the white guys hang out in Target armed for war?

Well.

Roof? He’s a racist. He’s a terrorist. He’s a racist terrorist that got a gun and deliberately murdered innocent people in order to start a race war. Then, before the first funeral could happen, South Carolina started a war of moral outrage, not over the 9 people killed in a church, but over the attack on the still-flying Confederate flag.

Classy.

I find myself shocked all over again by the people that still don’t understand why a missing orange sticker on a toy gun does not excuse Tamir Rice’s murder; why stolen cigars does not excuse Michael Brown’s murder; why a toy BB gun in a store in an open carry state does not excuse John Crawford’s murder, why a hoodie and a pack of skittles does not excuse Travyon Martin’s murder. The same people keep defaulting to mental illness as the motivating problem for these mass, spree shootings. It certainly can’t be that ALL THE DAMN GUNS in America that could be partially to blame. Oh, no– not the guns.

I’ve tried to explain white privilege, and I’ve tried to explain how citizens in a city might be provoked to riot after a senseless murder.

Some folks just aren’t getting it. Maybe a picture?

Collage of white mass shooters called mentally ill, but unarmed black victims are called thugs. That's Racism.

 

 

 

Manufacture NC’s Dream: Gambling on Poverty and Education

The big stories in North Carolina over the past few years have been heavy on attracting jobs, poverty, and education. Public education funding, common core repealing, teacher pay raises, medicaid, unemployment benefits, corporate tax cuts, and fracking. Sensationalized headlines–“Gambling with Teacher Pay” and reports of teachers leaving the state link on the homepages of most local news organizations. Even while understanding the need to cut spending in a strained economy, many still struggle to understand why the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) chose specifically to devalue public education. Why they would chose an income tax cut that then creates a dependency on funds for public education on powerball ticket sales? They are trying to manufacture NC’s dream by gambling on poverty on education. While ignoring how teacher’s–and quality public education– break the cycle of poverty.

Or maybe that IS the goal: keep the poor uneducated now, protect the availability of your low-cost workforce later.

 The North Carolina Education Lottery 

In 2013, the North Carolina Education Lottery (NCEL) spent $354,000 on advertising. They also added new games, brand-specific instant win tickets, and second-chance drawings for losing scratch-off tickets.

It worked; the sales for the NCEL in 2013 were up 5.4 percent from 2012, a total of $1.6 billion. After paying for lottery winner payments, advertising/marketing, and other expenses, $478 million remained.

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Unequivocal Support of Teachers and Cops? No way.

I sent my 5 year old off to kindergarten today.  It wasn’t my first time, I did the same thing with my oldest son two years ago.  I left him in the care of a teacher I know well, with the potential to be influenced by many that I know not at all. 

I left him in a room with a few dozen other children.  Some of those children come from families packaged in a similar demographic box as my own, though many do not. 

I left both of my sons in the care of teachers, some that I know well, most of whom I know not at all. I left both of my sons in a school with hundreds of other children, each one affected by an ever-changing series of external, uncontrollable influences.

I left my both of my children at school with the understanding that I am trusting the lives of the only two people whose protection would see me gladly tossing aside all ethical and moral barriers.  In my deepest, darkest heart I accept that there is not a single boundary I would not cross to see to their safety.

Five days a week, I decided to place the lives of my children in the hands of strangers based on nothing more substantial than the trust I have assigned to the institution of public education.

I’m trusting their lives to strangers, and I do so despite the growing number of arrests for pedophilia and/or child molestation offenses in education professionals.

Wait, What?

Nods, I know.  Stay with me for a minute.

You see, there are teachers arrested for child molestation.   And some types of child molesters (acquaintance molesters) choose jobs to deliberately maximize and legitimize their access to children.

I sent my children to school despite this potential risk for sexual abuse, because I know that the most of those working in public education are neither pedophile, nor child molester.

But when a teacher is charged and prosecuted for those criminal acts against children? Hmmm.

A recent op-ed in the New York post attacked the criticism of police officers, stating:  

  • “We support the cops.  Unequivocally.”
  • Are there police-related tragedies in a city where 35,000 uniformed officers interact with 8.5 million residents 23 million times a year? Who would expect otherwise?” 

This is just one example of dozens of similarly held opinions I have read over the past month.  I have to admit that announcing unequivocal support for each police officer, support that by its definition is “given in a way that is not subject to conditions of exceptions”  strikes me as an effort both nobly offered, and disingenuous.

On the one hand, I understand that many of those expressing support live in a sub-community of officers and families of officers where violence is a daily occupational hazard.

However as a non-member of the law enforcement sub-community I have to ask, on behalf of the public:  Unequivocal support for all cops?  No matter what?  Really?  What about the Connecticut state trooper that robbed a dying motorist? Or this Oklahoma City serial rapist whose day job included law enforcement? 

As a member of the “weak” public whose very safety is determined only by those in law enforcement (an attitude with which I kinda disagree),  I am expected to demonstrate my regard by unequivocally supporting even those officers?    I should excuse the extraordinary violence of a few police officers as one of statistical expectation?  

Or is this unequivocal support limited to only officer-involved shootings?  

See, not all cops are good people. Some people seek a profession where they will be afforded a position of legalized power.  Some cops might even deliberately choose law enforcement to feel that legalized power over a certain social/economic demographic.  

Are all teachers undercover child molesters?  No.  Are all cops undercover murderers? No.  Should the public attack an entire profession based on the criminal actions of the few?  No.

Should the organizations employing the people with whom we place our trust for our children’s safety, and the enforcement of laws react with swift authority over those that deliberately abuse that trust?

Abso-damn-lutely.

To use a huge example as my reference point for criminal opportunists– Penn State.   I could not have picked Sandusky out of a line-up before 2011. The news of his crimes made me sad, as it always does when I read about child abuse.  But as the story unfolded to include the at least 9 years that the athletic department chose to cover Sandusky’s actions, as support for the abuser unfurled from Penn State fans that had decided to ignore the taint on their chosen hero, my sadness transformed into rage.   Who had we become when we stood proudly defensive of the abuser, rather than in support of his victims? 

To Protect and Serve.

Some police officers are not good people.   Some of them do not see their job as being about community protection.  Some of them become cops for the same reason a child molester might become a teacher.

Some teachers are not good people.  Some of them do not see their job as being about community education.  Some of them become teachers for the same reason a psychopath might become a cop.

Some. 

I do think that society’s dismissal of the value in these professions erodes the culture required to attract compassionate people.  Examples of that lacking compassion hit our news-feeds every day.

However just as most schools are probably not full of pedophilic teachers, most police stations are probably not full of racist psychopaths.  And even then, not all pedophiles are molesters, and not all psychopaths are murders.  

Yet those truths don’t necessitate that I default to a “with us, or against us” type of support for a police officer–or a teacher– that deliberately abuses their position of trust.  For every amazing teacher, how many are like the two I show below, taken from The Conservative Treehouse?  How many students do you suppose were influenced by the attitudes of these teachers?

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If I were to demand unequivocal support of all teachers because they work in a thankless, under-compensated field, that would require that I support the obvious racists.  Or the child molesters.  Or the apathetic.

Participation in that “with us, or against us” thinking allows these fungal pockets of abusers to surround us with their mushroom forests.

With us, or against us thinking has suggested that I must excuse a police officer that shoots badly, because all cops are underpaid and disillusioned.

Okay then, where is the hard-line limit for my understanding and excusing?   I’m certainly not supposed to extend that line beyond the cops, and into the low-income communities where criminality might be motivated out of necessity, proximity, or accident.  Oh no, because those are the thugs that don’t deserve any compassion.

I am mostly law-abiding, but I will not stand here and suggest that this makes me morally superior to those that are not.   I can conceptualize the lines I would blur, if not outright erase, to provide care for my children.  I can think of at least five crimes that I would commit without a smidgen of remorse to prevent my children experiencing homelessness, or hunger.  I can consider the contempt I might feel for the cop whose job it is to keep the ugliness of my existence away from windows of those that prefer the scenic view to be filled with rainbows and unicorns. 

And in truth,  I can also understand the contempt I might feel as a cop, repeatedly seeing the same criminals committing the same crimes.  I can understand the rage I might feel as a cop when arresting a gang banger whose bullets killed a toddler during a fight over a city-owned street corner.  I can admit that it might be difficult to maintain the objectivity required to avoid defining individuals by their stereotype. 

I can conceptualize both perspectives, because I’m trying to, because I am interested in listening.  No, I don’t think it’s right to seek out Darren Wilson for vigilante justice. But it’s just as wrong to decide that Michael Brown’s life ceased to matter because he stole a box of cigars.

I don’t think it’s appropriate to defend each police officer that engages in unnecessary force. And I sure don’t think it’s appropriate to murder police officers in protest.  In truth, the “hate all cops” and the “hate all black people” occupies are defined the same to me–as Westborian extremists that add a lot of shouting, and no quality, to any given conversation.  

But. BUT.  As I wrote before, the events in Ferguson are multi-dimensional, they exist outside of the realm of simplicity.   Maybe Darren Wilson is just a young cop that made a bad decision, marking his actions as the tipping point for a public growing more concerned about the unlawfulness of those responsible for enforcing the law. It seems likely that a growing number of police officers are suffering from a war-like combat fatigue (militarized weapons came with psychological side effects, free of charge). 

Perhaps this idea of war is where those of us that don’t fall to a Westobrian extreme should focus; those that demand accountability for criminal cops, and safety for good cops.  If I might offer a gentle suggestion? I watched Ferguson unfold, and, yes, I felt deeply angry about the crowd-control methods being used.  I wanted it to stop, but I never defaulted to chanting “all cops are killers” because that’s just not true.

And conversely, those that continue to dismiss the importance of racial bias in all areas of the legal system? Also, not the truth.  Institutionalized racism is well-documented by those that study that sort of thing.  Frankly, the only people that I have ever heard say the phrase “playing the race card” are rich, white people.  Which, in effect, means THEY are the ones playing the race card.  Technically.

To the race card players I say: Stop it; please, just stop talking.  Your stance is based on distanced misinformation,  In other words, don’t talk to me about thugs in the ghetto when you’ve never stepped a shiny loafer into a housing project.   Read the tone and language of some of the conversations on the St. Louis cop talk forum (below),  and tell me that racism isn’t a legitimate part of the conversation.  Tell me if you think cops with attitudes like these below are at all invested in protecting that community.  I cannot think of a way forward that doesn’t include acknowledging that 1) these attitudes exist– and diversity training doesn’t fix them, and 2) that these are the attitudes of cops that see themselves more as prison guards to criminals not-yet-in-prison, rather than participant members of the community.

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