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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Both Responsible Handgun Owners are Out of Town

Yesterday at three in the afternoon in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, two men were shot to death outside a restaurant. In case you aren't from Wisconsin, that's pronounced muck-WAAN-ago, just as you suspected. While details of the shooting haven't become clear, one thing is certain - Mukwonago is a town of a little more than seven thousand people about thirty minutes outside of downtown Milwaukee. It's the kind of place where shooting mostly happens at animals, not people. If these men had been inside the restaurant drinking and went outside to shoot it out in some bizarre Old West fantasy, I won't be surprised.

It seems that, no matter where you live, both responsible handgun owners are out of town.

This morning I was watching some silly Halloween prank videos on Facebook when it occurred to me that you really cannot make those kind of videos today with there being a good chance you are going to come across some damn fool who, instead of running away peeing his pants to everyone's delight, will shoot you in your clown costume. You see, not only are we mad as hell, the culture has shifted to ensure that anyone who wants to can march about prepared to vent his anger on anyone who looks sideways at him - or any who he thinks is looking sideways, which may be some unsuspecting character with a wandering eye.

During my teen years, one of my favorite bands reminded us of this:

Hand guns are made for killin'
They ain't no good for nothin' else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself
So why don't we dump 'em people
To the bottom of the sea
Before some ol' fool come around here
Wanna shoot either you or me


It seems that's a lesson we are still trying to learn. What has changed is that the number of fools has increased almost exponentially in the intervening forty years and the laws have changed, too. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, which I am not, could it be that our government has made it easier for the population to live our their John Wayne fantasy not because it is a good idea, but precisely because it is a bad idea? It seems there are few better ways to gain the support of the ignorant than to allow them to turn our streets into shooting galleries. It has the added advantage of making those who aren't ignorant so concerned for their own safety that legislation can get passed with ease to further restrict our rights and increase the presence of government security forces on our streets.  

I have written before, though it was some years ago, of the curious fact that the system of alert levels at airports that was in place from after 9/11 until it was changed in 2011 never dropped below yellow, the midpoint of a five point system. Though it has since been replaced by a two point system, the proliferation of security agencies and the promotion of "heightened awareness" by our government has lead to a population that it scared senseless. Combine anger with fear and you get people who react without thinking. Throw in economic uncertainty for good measure, and you get people with little to lose shooting it out in parking lots.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was right. Handguns are made for killing. Despite the presence of thousands of responsible gun owners, they remain largely mute. Instead of being shills for the gun industry, the NRA needs to stand up and tell people to be responsible. That's about as likely to happen as me flapping my arms and flying away later today, but it's worth mentioning. If the NRA really represented the best interests of its members, it would launch an advertising campaign encouraging people to be responsible with their weapons. I doubt that will happen, because the NRA serves the industry, not its members.

I know. If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. I don't think the two dead guys in the parking lot in Mukwonago were outlaws. The odds are that the asshat who shoots you in a road rage incident won't have a criminal record, though the guy who shot the four year old in a car did have a record. If you scare somebody in your neighborhood while wearing your clown costume tonight, you will probably be their first crime.

A few years ago I had a part time job inspecting pre-forclosure properties and vacant homes in the hood. One day I was talking to a lady who asked me if I was carrying a gun. I told her that I wasn't, and she responded by saying I was crazy because literally every house on her block had a gun inside the front door. A few weeks before, she told me, a gang member had opened fire on a house on the block and the people who were home on that end of the block all opened fire on the gang member as he ran down the street. Funny how those stories don't make the news, isn't it? I responded to her story by saying that's exactly why I didn't carry a gun - if I had to use it, I might stop the person attacking me, but probably wouldn't be able to win an all block shoot out. I felt I was safer trying to talk my way out of any situation, which is exactly what I did when someone did pull a gun on me a few months later.

I realize that anecdotal evidence isn't worth much. I also know that we seem to be decaying into a country of people only too ready to shoot one another at the slightest provocation. The odds are that your handgun is more likely to get you killed than save you, and having one brings with it a kind of foolish bravado that won't do you much good when the bullets start flying. Leave it at home. In doing so you will be a truly responsible gun owner.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

You Aren't That Important

...and neither am I.

There is a title that will encourage everybody to read this post! Nevertheless, it's true. That being said, you would never know it from how most people act and react.

Back in the day, a much less sensitive day when I was much younger, men and boys spoke about "stepping on each other's dicks." While I admit it is perhaps not the most politically correct terminology I believe it has some merit. Obviously, in order to be able to step on someone else's dick they have to expose it to you or else you have to go to a great deal of effort to gain access to it. One doesn't simply accidentally step on someone else's dick. Yet there have always been plenty of people more than willing to cast their penis upon the shores that unsuspecting beachgoers might trample it, at which point they shout "look what you did!"

Perhaps we all have some degree of tendency toward this behavior. However, it was in full view during the Pope's recent visit to the United States. When word came out that the Pope allegedly had a private audience with Kim Davis, the Kentucky woman who has achieved notoriety for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, the Internet exploded with criticism of the Pope. An article on HuffingtonPost called him "a coward" and stated that he had betrayed the gay community, that his entire visit to the United States had been rendered meaningless by what was only an alleged private audience with Kim Davis. There was no waiting for facts, there was simply immediate judgment. When the truth came out that she and her lawyer had been slipped into the back of the room that the Pope essentially passed through and that the only private audience the Pope granted during his visit to the United States was to a gay former student of his and that man's partner, there were no retractions, there were no apologies, there was simply a flurry of activity by what I call the "professional gays" in an attempt to get the rank and file even more worked up than they already were.

Interestingly, it tends not to be, at least on a visible level, the lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members of the LGBT community that engages in this irresponsible behavior. I do not know the significance of that, but I would suggest that it is indeed significant. Instead of praising the Pope for an affirming audience with a gay couple that in fact actually happened, the voices continued to scream about an alleged meeting that in fact didn't happen. Am I the only one who finds that odd? I am reminded of the story from my childhood about the Boy who Cried Wolf. Perhaps enthused about a recently found public voice, the loudest voices in the gay community seem to be spending a lot of their time tossing their dick down on the sidewalk and then carrying on endlessly when it gets stepped on. Sooner or later, credibility suffers. Sooner or later, part of being a member of mainstream culture is that you lose your special status. All of the things that went into giving you the strength to protest and agitate for change have to be dropped lest you become a clanging gong that is ignored.

Of course, it is not just the gay community that needs to learn this lesson. We all need to learn it whether we have been marginalized or not. We all need to come to understand that healthy life and a healthy society are in the end built around people who can see that everyone matters while at the same time understanding that we do not get to determine the agendas or the meeting schedules of high profile officials. If we engage in all or nothing thinking, which is always fallacious, to the point where we are willing to discount the good things that others do if they do but one thing that we disagree with, we will do little more than spin our wheels in the same place, wondering why we cannot progress.

Our spiritual communities sometimes reinforce that fallacious thinking by teaching fanciful ideas and doctrines that suggest if just one of us among 7 billion people on this planet have a thought then the universe is compelled to change so that it is in accordance with our thought. That is quite simply not the way the universe works and it doesn't matter whether I like it or not. Teachings around humility are not popular because they fly in the face of our ego - the very same ego we must deconstruct to become healthy individuals. When spirituality props up that ego, suggesting that it has the power to rule the world, it does us a tremendous disservice. We would be much better served by learning that none of us are all that important, that people who are endlessly and exclusively critical while having nothing good to say about anything or anybody are eventually ignored, and that change happens when we come together and work together to make it happen.