Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Dysfunction of the Gun Control Debate

A few days ago, a father of one of the children killed in the Parkland school shooting voiced his emotion and rage at President Trump, but then said that he didn’t favor gun restrictions; instead he wanted the school to be made a safe place.  He said the battle over gun restrictions was for another time.

Many on the Right are talking about how to make the schools safe by having a police presence in the schools, arming teachers, security checks upon entering, and other measures.  The idea is to turn schools into a safe place by turning them into secure zones.

This is a bad idea for at least two reasons.  First, the idea is dysfunctional.  It would have a devastating impact on the character of schools.  Second, it would not change the overall problem created by the prevalence of guns.  School shootings may be the ones with the greatest public interest and visibility, but individual shootings far outnumber those.  Turning schools into a secure zone would protect children from this threat while in school, but it will not protect them or anyone outside that zone.

It is dysfunctional because it’s another step in turning America into an armed camp.  Do you really want to see police parading around in every town in the country looking for potential terrorists?  I’ve seen that in some other countries in the past, and it is not a comforting feeling.  Do you want your children to grow up, learn, and play in an atmosphere more similar to a prison than to a school?

No, the only answer to reducing gun violence, both in the schools and in the general public, is to strengthen restrictions on who can own guns, strengthen background checks, and prohibit the sale of automatic rifles like the AK-15 or bump stocks to the general public.

It is important to state that both I and most if not all gun control advocates believe that hunting is a legitimate sport and that people must be allowed to own appropriate firearms to participate in that sport.  Contrary to the conspiracy fears fostered by the NRA, nothing proposed in the gun control debate goes against the interests of hunters or sportsmen.  The rifles they use would not be impacted by such laws and their ownership would not be impacted.  And gun control advocates have no interest in taking those firearms away from them in the future.

For the NRA to invoke the 2nd Amendment in the fight against any and all gun control is absurd.  Forgetting about whether the 2nd Amendment really means that each person has the constitutional right to bear arms as opposed to saying that local governments can maintain militias, at the time the amendment was written, the firearms in question were muskets and flint-lock pistols.

If the founders had envisioned an AK-15 or bump stocks, do you in your wildest imagination think that they would give each person a right to own such an instrument of destruction?  No.

Also, regarding the recent interpretation of the 2nd amendment granting a constitutional right for individuals to bear arms, this is a base misreading of the amendment.  The question has always been, what is the sense of the clause “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”  In the past, it was held to be subordinate to the natural reading of the wording which was to protect the existence of a “well-regulated militia.”

When the constitution was written, localities and states did not have standing armed forces. When the need existed, they sent a call out to the populace for soldiers and they brought their own firearms.  Thus they had to have the right to own firearms in order for the militia call-up to be effective.

We don’t live in that world anymore.  And so there is no need for a constitutional right to bear arms.  Instead, it should just be a right subject to the control of the law.  

But even if one argues that there is a constitutional right, constitutional rights are not absolute, they are always subject to reasonable restrictions to protect the greater good.  And restrictions on gun ownership, background checks, and the type of guns available to the general public are certainly “reasonable restrictions to protect the greater good.”  The vast majority of Americans think so, even Republicans.  The only real force on the other side is the NRA, and those who have fallen under the sway of its fake fears.

Friday, February 16, 2018

How Our Actions Hurt Ourselves - The Fading of American Humanity

In my previous post, I wrote about the evolution of our society from one which  preached the importance of society and individuals having concern for the welfare of their fellow man and acting accordingly to one in which it’s all about “me.”  Where self-centeredness is the prevalent norm and socially acceptable.  This is damaging our democracy and our sense of social cohesion.

But this self-centeredness does not just impact larger social relationships.  It directly impacts our personal relationships, from friends and colleagues to the most intimate.  And this is destroying the essence of what makes us human … our relationships with others.

To the extent that we still have relationships, they are not deep because there is no real concern for the other.  It is all about “me.”  Everything about the relationship is viewed through that myopic lens.  And because the relationships are not deep, there is no real trust there.

This damages us in two ways.  When we are self-centered we don’t really give of ourselves, even when it seems to us that we are, and so we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to experience true joy when helping others, when offering others joy.  Instead, everything we do is ultimately self-serving or done begrudgingly and there is no joy in that.

The other way it damages us is that with no deep trust in our friends, or even within the confines of our family, we don’t feel the ability to share our deepest concerns and questions with anyone else.  And so those fears and anxieties fester and grow deeper.

The other impact on our personal relationships is that we have fewer of them.  Even though it’s easier now then ever before to respond to a communication from a friend or acquaintance, by just hitting the reply button on an email or a text, it is common now for people to just not bother … unless the receiver feels that they need the sender for something.

I have heard anecdotes from many people that confirm my own personal experience.  This has become a common occurrence.  Even when someone has done something lovely for someone … like sending something they baked or helping them deal with a problem … people just don’t respond.  And if it’s “just” a communication, forget it.  

If you bring this up, people will apologize and say they were too busy or something was going on in their lives.  But that is not true; no one is ever too busy to click “reply” and briefly acknowledge a communication.  No, the reason is an attitude that the person is not needed and so they are not worth even the most minimal effort.  Any sense of common courtesy as well as concern for others has for the most part disappeared from our social interactions.  

In former times, a letter from someone was precious and was always responded to.  One may not have had time during the day because of the necessity of tending to chores or work, but in the evening one could sit quietly and absorb the communication and draft a response.  

Today, our evenings are not a quiet time for reflection or reading.  For most adults, it’s time to “relax” by watching TV or going out drinking with friends or going to see a movie.  Evenings are times to escape reality.  

And today we are so bombarded with communications that we have learned to ignore all except those we must respond to because they impact us in our careers or other important concerns. Much personal email thus gets conflated with junk mail. 

And again, by acting in this way, one not only damages the other person … who feels ignored and bereft of friendship …  but one damages oneself because you become more removed from your humanity, from caring for others, and so you remove a source of joy from your life.  You also estrange yourself from others which you may well come to regret when you are in need of their help.

A friend of mine once said that life is all about human interaction.  Well, if that is what life is truly about, then the quality of most of our lives is worse now than it has ever been, despite all the material and technological advances we have benefited from.

And we wonder why there is such an increased use of addictive drugs and other behavior!  It falls back on societal problems that are acted out through each individual.  Most people are not even aware why they are suffering; they just know they feel bad and so they resort to addictions that push the pain away.  

An individual here and there will by happenstance be exposed to spirituality (as opposed to religion) in one form or another and find the strength and courage to believe in themselves, to love themselves unconditionally, and thus be there for others.  A Buddhist saying is that you can’t be there for others if you are there for yourself first.

The reader may be taken aback by this statement, as I have been writing about the harm of self-centeredness.  But loving yourself unconditionally, being there for yourself, has nothing to do with self-centeredness.  It’s about being in touch with your true self and doing what you need to do spiritually to give yourself peace and happiness.  On the temporal level, selfless also does not mean not acting for one’s own benefit, but rather to not act solely for one’s own benefit, to be aware of the impact one’s actions have on others.

Unfortunately, few individuals in our culture will be exposed to spirituality in any meaningful way.  Therefore the only way out of this downward spiral in which we find ourselves is through leadership. whether political, religious, or popular culture.  People must be given role models for positive human interaction, rather than the role models they have now which are all about self-centeredness.