Saturday, June 25, 2022

Where’s the Good Guy with a Gun?

Where’s the Good Guy with a Gun?

by Ted Miller

(originally posted in Tumbleweird July 2022)

 

At Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a gunman walked into the school and killed 19 children and two adults with an AR-15 style weapon while nearly two dozen armed police officers waited over an hour before engaging the shooter. (May 24, 2020)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a white gunman was welcomed to a bible study before taking out his weapons and killing nine Black churchgoers. (June 17, 2015)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At a music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, a gunman opened fire from his 32nd floor hotel room, killing 60 people and wounding many more. (October 1, 2017)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a gunman killed six adults and twenty children between six and seven years old. (December 14, 2012)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others before police killed him after a three-hour standoff. (June 11, 2016)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a gunman killed fourteen students and three staff members, and injured 17 others. (February 14, 2018)

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

Every month, seventy women are shot and killed by an intimate partner.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun? 

 

Every year, 22,000 people die by suicide with a gun.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

Last year, 45,026 people died from gun violence.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

So far this year, there have been 270 mass shootings in just 167 days.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun?

 

The good guy with a gun failed to stop any of these bad guys before someone was killed.

 

One week after those twenty school children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association at the time, repeated a long held American myth that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

 

The reality is that it is exceedingly rare for an armed so-called ‘good guy’ to prevent an active shooter from killing or injuring someone. To the contrary, an armed civilian creates more chaos and often results in more death and injury, sometimes to himself and sometimes with his own weapon. 

 

So how can a good guy with a gun make a difference?

 

More guns with fewer restrictions will never reduce the pandemic of gun violence. Eliminating or severely restricting civilian gun ownership would be neither practical nor constitutional. Few Americans want to repeal the Second Amendment. But the vast majority do want limits on guns that will reduce the appalling number of gun violence victims. And that includes a majority of gun owners. 

 

Research reported by 97Percent, a bipartisan group of gun owners and non-gun owners working to reduce gun violence, shows that among gun owners:

·      87% support background checks for concealed carry permits

·      81% support red flag laws

·      79% support prohibiting a person from having a gun who is the subject of a current temporary restraining order for domestic violence

·      79% support prohibiting a person convicted of serious crimes as a juvenile from having a gun for 10 years

·      75% support universal background checks

 

Other commonsense gun laws that have been proposed include: increasing the minimum age for gun ownership, enacting enforceable gun storage laws, limiting ammunition purchases and magazine sizes, requiring training and licensing for gun owners, and banning assault weapons. But these proposals have less public support, and many are considered ‘non-starters’ for gun owners. So, we should start with demanding laws that do have broad support among all Americans.

 

Good guys with guns can speak up. Good guys with guns can lobby their legislatures for the laws that they support, laws that can reduce the rate of gun violence. Good guys with guns can support organizations like 97Percent and Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership.

 

As horrific as mass shootings are, they are a small percentage of the 45,000 gun deaths every year. Laws that limit access to weapons that may be used by individuals with a history of domestic violence or by those contemplating suicide can help reduce the overall rate of gun violence.

 

Statistics show that it is extremely unlikely that a good guy with a gun can prevent imminent gun violence with his weapon. But a good guy with a gun can make a difference by demanding our political leaders enact laws that will reduce gun violence in America. We can prevent thousands of needless deaths and injuries every year.

 

Where’s the good guy with a gun? He’s doing all he can to support change in our culture and our laws to reduce gun violence.

 

Be the good guy with a gun. Demand change.

 

Sources:  

everytown.org

97percent.us

marchforourlives.com

gunviolencearchive.org

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Ignorance isn’t bliss

Ignorance isn’t bliss

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird May 2022)

 

There’s an old Twilight Zone episode in which a man is suddenly able to hear other people’s thoughts. In “Penny for Your Thoughts,” Hector B. Poole is at first confused, but then uses his new ability to try to prevent crimes he thinks his coworkers are planning, blackmail his boss for a new position, and end up with the girl of his dreams. In a typical Twilight Zone twist, what seems like a great advantage has unintended consequences. 

 

I don’t think I would really want to know what other people are thinking. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone reading my innermost thoughts. Although I believe strongly in the importance of honesty and integrity, some things are better left unsaid. My mother taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. And there is an old saying that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite company.

 

When I was serving on active duty in the Navy, we were strongly encouraged to vote (for me, it was always through an absentee ballot) but discouraged from discussing politics. In fact, political activity for anyone serving in the military is severely limited. Consequently, my perspective was that we didn’t have to talk about politics. A good citizen researched the candidates and the issues on their own and voted according to what they felt was best for their community and the nation. 

 

Our democracy depends upon participation by the people. And I always believed that through the ballot box, our system would, in the end, result in a better world. I felt that political differences were just varying takes on how to achieve what was best for the country and its citizens — that collectively, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the electorate would help bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

 

Like those of us in the military, elected officials all take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. To me, political speech was all about hearing competing ideas to find a balance of when the government should regulate something and when government should get out of the way. But I was a bit na├»ve in my belief that the system of checks and balances would always protect our form of government. 

 

There have always been those who use the government for their own personal gain. Corporations and the wealthy have worked for decades to dismantle the programs put in place after the Great Depression that regulated business, provided a social safety net, and built the infrastructure that improved the lives of the average American. Since the early 1950s, there has been a concerted effort to convince people that, as Ronald Reagan put it, “government is not a solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

 

In the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch’s media companies demonized mainstream news as leftist, socialist, and anti-American. And those sustained efforts to undermine the trust in media have been effective. Attacks on objective truth have become so common that in many respects, we are a nation divided into alternate realities of alternative facts. 

 

Politicians — far-right Republicans in particular — have become so effective at disinformation and bending the truth that, despite the lack of any credible evidence, a majority of Republicans still believe the Big Lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. The concerted effort to overturn the election that led to the insurrection on January 6, 2021, and the attempts since then to hide the truth of what happened, are a direct attack on our constitutional form of government. 

 

The echo chamber of social media has shown me that the veneer of polite conversation which avoids talk of politics and religion masked the depth and extent of our political divide. Although it is certainly more complex than just Republicans versus Democrats, the growing belief of so many that the other side is the enemy means that we can no longer work together for the common good. It is no wonder that Congress is so dysfunctional, and that any significant legislation is nearly impossible to achieve.

 

The pledge of allegiance describes our nation as indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. But the battle for truth and power shows that we are not as indivisible as we think. The rise of authoritarianism, the push for a single party autocracy, the attack on fair elections, and restrictions on the right to vote are all direct threats to our democratic republic.

 

So, what can be done to counter this threat? I recognize the dangers of demagoguery and disinformation, but I still believe in the power of free speech and open debate. Our First Amendment protections can be used to restore objective truth. We can fight disinformation with fact checks, use tools to evaluate media bias, and call out hateful and divisive rhetoric when we see it.

 

But the power of confirmation bias, echo chamber media, and click-bait algorithms will continue to push us apart. The monetization of social media has created some of the wealthiest companies in America by driving a social wedge through America. Perhaps the power of social media could also be used to counter the spread of disinformation.

 

A coordinated effort of both private sector and government actions to disincentivize the spread of conspiracy theories and disinformation could turn around this trend. Some work has already been done to de-platform the worst offenders that spread lies and promote anti-government violence. Disinformation can be flagged. Action can be taken against disinformation similar to the way we hold companies accountable for lying about the products they sell. Sources of disinformation can be identified and foreign influence through social media can be regulated. And all of this can be done without compromising our freedoms under the first amendment.

 

Some of my friends have abandoned social media because of the toxic environment it can become. I respect that. I have tried to limit my own use of social media. But I appreciate that I can also see what others are thinking and posting, and I can see first-hand how divisive the comments can become. 

 

I don’t have to read minds to understand how people are thinking and I can see the effects of the polarizing rhetoric on our nation.

 

I don’t want to suppress the speech of those who see the world differently. I want to listen to those who may have a better idea of the role government should play in our lives. 

 

I want to live in a world where our political speech and debate are based on facts and objective truth. 

 

Is that still possible?

Monday, February 28, 2022

Collateral Killing

Collateral Killing

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird March 2022)

 

When is it acceptable to kill innocent people during a law enforcement action? What crimes are so egregious that the price of enforcement is the death of someone not even involved in the crime?

 

Imagine this: You are in bed asleep, your significant other at your side. You are suddenly jolted awake by what sounds like someone breaking down your front door, lots of indecipherable yelling, and the sound of several men in plain clothes screaming as they forcibly enter your home. You grab your gun, which you keep near you just in case something like this happens. You see shadows and weapons pointed at you and your significant other. Fearing for your life, you fire a warning shot. A rain of bullets erupts. Your significant other falls to your side and dies in your arms.

 

In the midst of your grief and confusion, a man claiming to be a police officer violently grabs you, handcuffs you, and drags you outside.

 

Later, you will be accused of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, and blamed for the death of your significant other.

 

Neither you nor your significant other was the person the police were looking for.

 

And all of this was completely legal. 

 

The scenario I just described was what Kenneth Walker experienced on the morning of March 13, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. His girlfriend, who died in his arms, was Breonna Taylor, an EMT and Emergency Room technician. 

 

The police were executing what is known as a no-knock warrant in search of evidence related to a drug crime Taylor and Walker were not connected to. 

 

Breonna Taylor was killed in a search for evidence of a crime for which neither she nor her boyfriend was a suspect.

 

No-knock warrants are inherently dangerous for both the police and the occupants of the residence being raided. They are designed to create confusion and chaos. And in that confusion and chaos, innocent people too often get hurt.

 

No physical evidence is worth risking someone’s life to obtain. 

 

On February 2, 2022 in Minneapolis, Amir Locke was asleep on the couch when police officers executed a no-knock entry. In the confusion and chaos, Locke jumped up with his legally owned gun in his hand. 

 

Seven seconds after entering the apartment, Amir Locke was shot dead by police. Seven seconds. Not enough time to even say his name or understand what was happening. The officer that killed him made a snap decision and opened fire without asking questions.

 

Again, Locke was not the target of the raid. The police were looking for Locke’s cousin in connection with a recent homicide. The cousin was not present with Locke.

 

Was the killing of Amir Locke justified because his cousin was suspected of murder? Was his killing justified because he had a legally owned gun in his hand? Possessing a legally owned weapon in your own home is not a capital offense. Defending yourself from an intruder is often lauded in our country, but not if the intrusion is an unexpected violent entry by the police.

 

How could Amir Locke or Kenneth Walker have possibly known what was happening?

 

It’s past time to reassess police tactics that put both the police and innocent civilians at risk. In these two cases, and in hundreds of others around the country, intentionally creating a dangerous situation to serve a warrant was not worth the risk. These were not hostage situations, or cases where a violent individual was threatening to harm themselves or others.

 

There are other ways to execute a warrant, to find evidence, or to locate a suspect. 

 

St. Paul, sister city to Minneapolis, hasn’t executed a no-knock warrant since 2016. The mayor of Minneapolis promised to reform the practice after the Breonna Taylor case and the murder of George Floyd by police. But that promise didn’t save Amir Locke.

 

Four states have banned the practice of no-knock warrants:  Florida, Oregon, Connecticut, and Virginia. (Peter Nickeas, CNN, “There's a growing consensus in law enforcement over no-knock warrants: The risks outweigh the rewards,” February 12, 2022.) Other states have severely limited the practice to very narrow circumstances.

 

Too many people are killed at the hands of police, and many of them are not involved in a crime. Even one innocent life taken is unacceptable. 

 

Data compiled by the Washington Post shows that police in the United States kill 1000 people every year. And, like Breonna Taylor and Amir Locke, those killed are disproportionately Black or Hispanic. (Washington Post, “Fatal Force” database, as of February 9, 2022.) Too many are innocent people.

 

The relationship between the police and the communities they serve needs to improve. There are ways to enforce the law and support the justice system with less risk and fewer collateral deaths. 

 

We must demand police reforms that will reduce or eliminate collateral killings. 

 

Let’s start by banning no-knock warrants.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

How Can We Eliminate Poverty?

How Can We Eliminate Poverty?

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird February 2022)

 

Have you ever responded to a charity request to support something you believed in? How about a personal request to help someone in need? Have you donated to a homeless shelter, a local food bank, or one of those Facebook requests to help pay for unexpected medical bills? 

 

I think most of us have a natural desire to help others. According to the National Philanthropic Trust (nptrust.org), individual Americans gave over $470 billion to charitable organizations in 2020. All that charitable giving may help, but it isn’t helping enough. 

 

Almost 12 million children in the United States — one in six — live in poverty, more than most other developed nations. As I wrote in my January 2020 column, philanthropy is a terrible way to fight poverty. In spite of America’s generous giving, philanthropy does not do enough to feed the hungry, heal the sick, or house the homeless. Twelve percent of Americans live below the poverty line, and 18.5 million of them are in deep poverty with a household income of less than half the poverty threshold (census.gov). Thirty million people still lack health insurance. One in eight Americans are food insecure. Half a million are homeless.

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. What if together we could do something to end poverty in America? Something more effective and efficient than responding to a charity request or a Facebook post with a few dollars?

 

Last year, the American Rescue Plan Act enhanced and expanded the child tax credit program, providing monthly payments to families with children. The program reduced child poverty by more than 40%. According to studies summarized by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, low-income families overwhelmingly used that money to pay for food, utilities, housing, school supplies, and medicine. In all, 36 million families received benefits from the expanded child tax credit program.

 

Those payments expired in December, putting millions of children back below the poverty line. The tax credit payments would have been continued in the Build Back Better legislation passed by the House, but that bill has so far failed to pass in the Senate. The help that so many families desperately needed suddenly stopped.

 

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, has received most of the blame for objecting to the child tax credits. Parroting conservative talking points of the last 40 years, Senator Manchin is concerned that the poor will use that money on drugs or non-essential luxuries and that the payments will make them not want to work. Ronald Reagan’s ‘welfare queen’ tropes come to mind. This perspective blames the poor for being poor while ignoring the systems that prevent the poor from pulling themselves out of poverty by their own bootstraps. 

 

But putting all the blame for this failure on Senator Manchin is misplaced. He is only one of one hundred senators. None of the fifty Republican senators support continuing the expanded child tax credit, much less any other social programs to help Americans in need.  

 

Every year, Congress debates whether the poor are deserving of the help they receive. Months of arguing and negotiating leads to watered down bills that fail to get at the root cause of the problem. As a society, we seem to be afraid that somehow our tax dollars are going to be given to someone who doesn’t deserve them. Why don’t we have that same hesitancy when it comes to charity? Do you make sure that everyone who shows up to your local food bank has a job before you donate or volunteer? Before you decide to give, do you require that your local homeless shelter turn away drug addicts and the unemployed?

 

This idea that the poor have to earn the help they receive hurts all of us. Children who grow up in poverty, who suffer from inadequate nutrition, who don’t get an education, are impacted for life. Eliminating this suffering is not only the right thing to do; it will also improve our society and our economy. Reducing poverty is an investment in our future.

 

The expanded child tax credits cost about $100 billion per year. It has been estimated that we could eliminate poverty in America with less than $200 billion per year. 

 

Last month Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. This so-called ‘must pass’ legislation passed in the House 316–113 and in the Senate 88–11, authorizing $768 billion dollars for fiscal year 2022, $24 billion more than the president requested. There was very little debate on whether this amount of spending was truly necessary. No argument about whether the billions given to huge defense contractors for weapons systems was a good investment. No discussion about how to pay for those systems. 

 

I’m not saying we don’t need a military or that defense spending is unnecessary. But where is the debate on balancing the needs for defense with the needs for taking care of our citizens? Why is it that we can find the money to build new weapons systems that we don’t need, but we can’t afford to lift children out of poverty?

 

We’ve somehow been convinced that the government is the problem, not the solution. And so, our government — those whom we elect to make these decisions about priorities and who deserves help — continue to vote in the interests of corporations and the wealthy while telling the rest of us to help ourselves. 

 

We can do better.