Monday, June 13, 2016

The Gun Angle to the Orlando Tragedy

The man in the picture above is 20 year-old James Wesley Howell, from Jeffersonville, Indiana.  In case you may not have heard, Howell was arrested yesterday in Santa Monica, California after police uncovered a virtual arsenal of weapons in his car, including "three assault rifles, high capacity magazines, and ammunition and a five-gallon bucket with chemicals that can be used to make an explosive device (WLKY)."   He told authorities he was heading to the L.A. Gay Pride Parade. Though he never revealed what he intended to do there, I think that after yesterday's tragedy in Orlando, we can only imagine. Thank God he was stopped and we never got to find out.

Of course, there's speculation that Howell was going to perform a similarly heinous mass attack to the one perpetrated by Omar Mateen, but we may never know the truth.  For one thing, James Howell is bisexual and even has a boyfriend, so targeting gays may not have been his intent (though I have a contrary theory on that matter best saved for another time).  What we do know is that a possible, potentially disastrous catastrophe was averted, and only hours after the horrors that unfolded first came to light.

Should all LGBT's be alarmed at this news?  Perhaps, but as I said in my previous post, what happened in Orlando is not about one issue alone.  We should all find it troubling that this young, 20 year-old man had all of these terribly deadly weapons in his possession.  Why does anyone need three assault rifles?  For protection?  Should our answer be to have assault rifles of our own so that we can defend ourselves against someone like James Wesley Howell or Omar Mateen?  Maddeningly, some people think so.   

Throughout history, mankind has come up with some of the most incredible of inventions, technologies to help us survive, to get around, to entertain us, but there is one invention that I wish never happened, and that is the invention of the gun.  Aside from the most incredulous number of them in existence today, the gun is responsible for a lot more harm than we ever even think about.

As a teacher to youngsters who are not only learning history, math and science, but our language as well, I have to explain things to them in the simplest of terms so that they'll get it.  And sometimes when you explain things in such a manner, everything becomes ridiculously clear.  

Two of the greatest human tragedies in history can be attributed to the gun: slavery and the genocide of the Native American.  Think about it.  When the European colonizers went to Africa to gather slaves for hard labor in the New World, how were they able to do so?  It's simple, they had guns and the African peoples did not. It's the same with the Native Americans.  Bows and arrows, or guns? Imagine if guns did not exist during the colonization of North and South America.  Would we exist as we do today?  Like I said, simple yet clearly true.  

The Good Ole Second Amendment

There has been so much said on both sides of the aisle about the Second Amendment to the Constitution that I will not tackle the issue too deeply here.  If you'd like to read some informative pieces from non-partisan authors, I suggest you do a Google search for 'origins of the Second Amendment.'  I will reiterate what I said earlier, that it was written in a very different time, under very different circumstances, and since the Constitution is supposed to be a living, breathing document that changes with the changing times, then it needs to be scrutinized, and sooner rather than later.

During the Revolutionary War, the colonists did not have a well-trained, cohesive army.  They were up against the strongest professional military in the world and so were very mismatched in their struggle for independence.  The average citizen was at the mercy of random British military units and so having the right to defend themselves as such was necessary for the times.  The organization of local militias in such circumstances, was the original purpose of the Amendment.  

Of course these days the Second Amendment has taken on a whole new interpretation. There are no superior armies walking amongst us, and we have one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world.  Today, we view the right to bear arms as a defense against anyone who would do us harm, like Omar Mateen or James Howell or pretty much anyone out there who's got one...and that's a lot! Did that happen yesterday, or during any other of these horrific massacres that have taken place over the past twenty years?  How many murder attempts have been thwarted because the victim had a gun?  I wonder even if that's a realistic statistic to find, but I'd bet it'd be far less than any gun supporter would lead us to believe.

In my research for this post, I Googled "number of guns per country statistics," and I found that the way it is counted is per hundred people.  Not surprisingly, the U.S. leads the pack by a large margin with 88.8 guns owned out of every 100 people.  Next up is Yemen (54.8), Switzerland (45.7), Finland (45.3), and Serbia (37.8).  Though the United States represents less than 5% of the world's population, we carry 35-50% of the world's civilian owned guns at an alarming 270 million owned privately.  

I was surprised at some of the countries on this list, like Switzerland and Finland, as you might be. There is a difference, though.  The U.S. also represents the highest firearm homicide rate, as well, wheres none of these other countries even make the top ten. Why is that?  

Please note that I am not a professional journalist and I realize that statistics like these can be spun and analyzed in virtually any way a spin-meister wants to spin them.  Simply put, though, that's a lot of damned guns and a lot of unnecessary murders, too, just like those poor souls who lost their lives just yesterday at the hands of guns.  

The Gun Angle to the Orlando Tragedy

Of course, commentary on both sides of the aisle on that good old Second Amendment argument have abounded and will continue to in the coming weeks.  It's sad that this issue comes up way too often these days, yet nothing ever changes.  Yesterday's press conference on the Pulse shootings by President Barack Obama was his 16th such meeting with reporters during his eight years as President.
That's a sad fact, and to reiterate what I said yesterday, I don't remember any of the others being called terrorism.

The graphic above shows just a few of the too many mass shootings that have happened in this country over the past 17 years.  High schools.  Elementary schools.  Universities.  Movie theaters. Even churches.  Yet, there are many in this country who continue to cry out that the answer to this problem is leave us to our guns.  If guns never existed, there'd be 156 people in this image alone who would still be alive today.  It's pitiful and it's embarrassing!

A couple of years ago, I wrote of an experience I had in Nashville during one of my Roller Coaster Road Trips with two pals:

While we waited (to get into the Grand Ole Opry), there was this nice local girl working a lunch menu from the entrance to the tour, and I asked her about something I'd been noticing ever since we had arrived in Tennessee.

Practically everywhere we went, there was this sign in the front window indicating "no handguns allowed." I though it was odd, and since the girl was so friendly I thought I'd ask her about it...

Do that many people really carry around guns?

Well, no, not around here in Nashville, but yeah, in the surrounding areas. Sure.

She seemed surprised that we don't carry guns around on our person in New York.  I wouldn't even think of it, unless there was maybe a zombie apocalypse.  Well, there are more murders in New York than Tennessee, so maybe....oh, wait a second!  There are way more people in New York than there are in Tennessee, and actually the gun murder rate, as a percentage, is higher there than it is here. 

Yup, just like I thought...more guns, more murders!  
Clearly, what happened yesterday in Orlando, Florida exposes several terrible realities of our society, and one of the most critical is our love affair with guns. I only hope that this time, more people will tire of these terrible events and start doing something about it.  I don't hold much optimism, but I do hope. 

Stay tuned for more on this mess of a mess, and in the meantime, check out yesterday's post:

U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons - Council on Foreign Relations

U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons


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