Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Dead

The latest news of the shootings in the First Baptist Church in Shurland Springs, Texas is just numbing. It has gotten to the point now where this ongoing cycle of gun violence has made me stop watching the news. That is not good for someone who considers himself a journalist.

I simply can't take another death count or see the images of innocent people - too many of them young with so much promise and expectation -  wiped out by bullets from a crazed shooter.

This comes on the heels of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas on October 1 where 59 died and hundreds were injured and last year's horrific anti-gay slaughter at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando where 48 were slain. Lest we not forget there was also the terrorism-inspired tragedy in San Bernadino in early December of 2015 where another 14 died. We have seen a sizable uptick in numbers of people killed in mass shootings.

But while these numbers capture the headlines and keep news anchors busy for a time, the truth is the most damning statistics show that we are a nation at arms with itself. More people die each year by gun deaths than do in automobile accidents. If we were to count up all of those who have died by gun violence in the last 50 years, the number of dead outnumber all of those who died on every field of battle in our nation's history since Revolutionary times.

Read that again. Since 1968, guns have removed more American citizens than those who fought for freedom from the British, contested the Kaiser in the Great War, opposed the Nazis and facists in World War II, confronted communism in Southeast Asia and battled our brothers during the Civil War.

According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control issued in November of 2017, 12 out of every 100,000 Americans will die as a victim of gun violence. That figure shows a rise for the second consecutive year, whereas previous years had registered as static. Approximately half of them will die from self-inflicted wounds. Regardless of who pulls the trigger, though, these Americans are dead as a result of access to firearms and I am now of the opinion, just as the CDC has also begun to indicate, that we are in the middle of an epidemic that must be stemmed.

I love my country. I consider myself a patriotic American who appreciates the liberties we cherish. But no other civilized country in the world has numbers of those felled by gunfire as we do. It is an ignoble record we break year after year without any hint that we may be receding from our relentless onslaught against one another.

In Israel thousands of young men and women patrol the streets with Uzi machine guns and assault rifles. There are an awful lot of guns roaming around among soldiers due to security concerns, but Israel's gun laws are among the most strict in the world. Unless authorities perceive a need for someone to protect valuables or explosives or to use a weapon as a means for hunting, they are not allowed to own a firearm. Residents of the West Bank are granted an exception too, but again only  due to security issues.

The United States would like to call itself "the Leader of the Free World," but as far as gun laws go, it is in reality "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Dead."

Two summers ago and last summer, angry crowds rose up to affirm that Black Lives Matter. While I do not mitigate the threat to African-Americans from law enforcement officers or for those that support the police with their support of the Blue Lives Matter cause, I must insist that we examine the problem as systemic and not aimed at just one segment of our population. When a bullet hits skin and pierces a body, it sheds red blood. The color we all need to see is red. All Lives Matter.

I am a strong supporter of the Constitution and I believe that we should all have a right to bear arms in defense of our loved ones or those dependent on us. But we cannot forget that the Constitution was written in 1789, a time when a flintlock was standard issue.  A typical weapon could be loaded and discharged within a minute before firing. There is no way the Founding Fathers could have foreseen an assault rifle with automatic fire capability that could have wiped out all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in one strike. And as to handguns, there is little reason to justify stocks with 12 or 15 chambers for bullets unless the intent is to kill a maximum number of human lives. 

Other than for military personnel in a period of war or preparation for the same can I ever see the need for an assault rifle. Just because one can afford to purchase an assault rifle should not given him access to owning one. I might have the funds to purchase a tank. It doesn't mean that I should own one. Obviously, we have limitations on what we deem as proper and normal.

Gun violence can be dealt with by legislation and enforcement. There is the argument that criminals don't follow the law and that is true. But so many people get access to guns that shouldn't, some of whom are mentally unstable, especially through gun shows and mail order firms that something must be  done to clamp down these sales. 

Above all else, there needs to be a new dialogue in each and every household.  All weapons need to be properly locked away and kept out of the reach of those who are too young or too vulnerable to access them. Unless a gun or rifle is needed for protection of the home, professional law enforcement should be called upon to deal with those that threaten life and loss of property. 

I watched in horror 22 years ago when Columbine High School was the scene of devastation. Since then we've seen death and destruction at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and even on Mother's Day four years ago in New Orleans when 19 people were shot during a second line parade. Of all those that were shot, Deb Cotton was the worst victim because she had dared to point a camera at one of the shooters. Years later, after many successful surgeries, Deb confronted her attacker and not only forgave him, but advocated for the possibility of an early release from his sentence of life without benefit of parole. Deb knew the path she strode was unusual, but despite what gun violence had done to her, she continued to seek justice in an unjust world. In early May of this year, Deb lost her fight to survive, a victim of a hail of bullets fired 1,450 days earlier.

We shall see victims perish as a result of injuries suffered in Las Vegas and, sadly, in Florida and Texas and these, too, shall go unreported. But what also will go unreported is the anguish and misery of those whose loved ones are taken so soon and the difficulties spent during a lifetime asking the unrequited question "why?"

I am just sick of it. I can only hope that the tide of popular opinion will rise up in opposition to this epidemic. We need to address this immediately before the next tragedy occurs. Quite possibly, the life you save may be mine or those I love. Please stop. Do something now. Repeat....

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