Wednesday, June 15, 2016

We Need To Prevent More Mass Shootings

The story of the recent tragedy in Orlando was still unfolding when I started to hear the usual comments. “It could only come out of Florida,” or “More senseless violence by the Muslims,” or “Trump was right; we need to keep these people out of our country.” At first glance, these statements seem to be reasonable but looking deeper into the issue, we see a very different pattern emerging.

In order to discuss this it is first necessary to look at this crime. We label this a “mass shooting” and while it is the largest ever to take place in our country, it is not the first. Over the past 50 years there have been 14 such shootings with 12 or more victims. Until this incident the most lives lost in a single mass shooting had been the Virginia Tech Massacre where 32 people were killed. After that it was Sandy Hook with 27, Luby's Cafeteria with 23, and McDonald's of San Ysidro with 21. The remainder of the shootings had under 20 killed in each incident. This does not make them any less tragic. I just don't want to list each one here.

In all 14 shootings a total of 274 lives were lost at the hands of 18 killers. (There were two people involved in the San Bernardino shooting, two at Colombine and three at Wah Mee in Seattle). 76 of these (or 28%) lost their lives at the hands of Muslims. 102 of them (37%) were killed by Christians. It is entirely possible that this number is actually higher. I can only include those who I know were Christians, not those who I suspect were probably Christians. George Hennard, for example, was the perpetrator of the killing spree at Luby's Cafeteria in Texas but I have not been able to ascertain a religious affiliation for him. As such, I can't just assume he was Christian and include him. If he was a Christian, that would increase the number to 125 or 46%. James Huberty was the killer at the McDonald's in San Ysidro, CA where 21 people lost their lives. He might have been Christian as well. Patrick Sherrill in Edmond, OK killed 14 people at a Post Office and Aaron Alexis killed 12 at the DC Naval Yard. These men might also have been Christians. If these are added in, the total comes to 172 or 63%. But even without these victims in the tally, Christians have killed more people in mass shootings in this country than Muslims have.

Looking at it from a racial perspective, only four of the killers were Middle Eastern. Five were Asian. One was African-American. Eight were Caucasian. In every case of the Caucasians, they were all born in this country, as was the African-American. None of them were immigrants. Two of the Middle Eastern killers were also born in this country. They were U.S. Citizens as well.

While Florida is very sadly the scene of the deadliest of these shootings, until this happened, Florida was not even on the list. Two shootings were in each of four states; California, Texas, Virginia and Colorado. The others were in New York, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Washington (state) and Washington, D.C. There is no set pattern for where these types of crimes will occur.

And while Omar Mateen (of the Orlando shootings) and Tashfeen Malik (of San Bernardino) made claims to being supportive of ISIS, those claims appear to be mere lip-service. There has not been any firm evidence found that directly links either of these people to this hateful organization. Even assuming that such is the case, then 63 of the victims would be killed with allegiance to ISIS as the motive. That would be 23% of the total victims. The other most probable motive is mental illness, which accounts for 170 of the crimes. 62% of the victims lost their lives because the killers were mentally ill. If it is found that Omar Mateen also had this condition, that would raise it to 80%.

This number does not include the shootings at the Edmond, Oklahoma Post Office, as I have not been able to find evidence that Patrick Sherrill was mentally ill. It also does not include the Fort Hood killings or San Bernardino, as neither has been directly attributed to mental illness. The Wah Mee Massacre was a robbery and therefore also does not fall under this category.

What this tells us is that mental illness is the most common cause of this type of violence. But certainly not all people with mental illness are killers. Most live out very normal, peaceful lives. Many are under medical care and some are taking medications to control their disability. The problem stems from those who do not receive the care they need. I would also venture a guess that these particular people (those who perpetrated these crimes) probably had a tendency toward violence in their lifetimes. Omar Mateen and James Huberty both had histories of domestic violence. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook murderer had a long history of obsession with violent video games. Adding a violent nature on top of mental illness is a very deadly combination.

Finally, pour into the mix the availability of guns in our country. The radio program “Market Place” did a study after the Sandy Hook killings and found that there are more places to buy guns in the United States than there are Starbucks locations throughout the entire world. They did the same study after the Orlando shootings and found the same results.

If we wish to end these killings, we don't need to point our fingers at Muslims or Christians or any other religion. We don't need to look at the nationality of anyone or do any racial profiling. What we need to be concerned with is mental illness left unchecked and untreated, particularly in individuals who tend toward violence. And if such is the case, we need to restrict the weapons these individuals would have access to. These are the steps that must be taken because we must do all we can to not let this happen again.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

And Now, Another Senseless Loss of Life

After 50 people were shot to death in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, there will undoubtedly be another call for gun control.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) will once again rally its membership to fight any forms of control with their tired chant, "They're trying to take our guns away."  But are they really?

Like most Americans, I own and drive a car.  Before I was allowed to drive a car, I first had to apply for a license.  The process involved being of a certain age, then getting a learner's permit, which only allowed me to operate a vehicle with a licensed driver in the vehicle with me.  Then I had to go to the state and take a written test.  Once I passed it, then I could take a practical test with a state representative in the vehicle.  Only after passing that could I get my license.

But that's only part of the saga.  Then I had to buy a vehicle and once purchased, I had to insure the vehicle.  This insurance was partly to insure my investment but really, it's mostly to protect others, as I have to carry liability coverage.  All of this had to be done before I could put my vehicle on the road.

Why can't guns be regulated (controlled) in a similar fashion?  First, establish a minimum age for gun users.  This would have to be debated.  Some would feel that 12 would be old enough, others will say 21.  Let's make it reasonable and say 13 but you have to be accompanied by an adult with a license and 18 to go solo.  Since 13 is a minor, they would still need the permission of a parent to apply for a gun permit.

Also, anyone with a history of mental illness or a record of incarceration for violent crime would probably not be the best people to be allowed to own weapons.  If they have a licensed adult who is willing to accompany them, perhaps there can be a special arrangement made for things like hunting.

Once the permit is received, the permit holders are allowed to shoot with a licensed adult.  That adult will train them in gun safety, etiquette and proper handling.  All of that will be done before learning to aim and pull the trigger.  Also, cleaning the weapon would be taught.  Once the permit holder is ready, they can then go and take a written test.  This test will demonstrate that they know how to properly handle a weapon.

After the written test is passed, they will then have a practical exam where they will fire the weapon, not showing that they are good marksmen but that they can do so safely.  After this, they will properly clean the weapon.

Now they can receive a license but only for that particular type (class) of weapon.  If they want another type, that's another test, just like getting a driver's license does not allow you to operate a motorcycle.  You have to have a motorcycle license for that.

Finally, when the person is licensed they can purchase a gun in the proper class, but they must also purchase gun insurance.  Gun insurance would be relatively inexpensive for things like hunting rifles and small handguns.  The insurance would pay for loss of the firearm as well as paying damages should anyone be injured by the weapon.  As the weapon increases in power, the insurance increases in cost.  While a 22 rifle might cost $25 a year for insurance, an uzi would be $1,000 annually.  This doesn't stop anyone from owning one, it just means you would have to really want one.

All guns would have to be recorded and licensed, just as cars are licensed.  They would be registered with the state so the owner would be on record.  They would have to be maintained and demonstrated to the proper authorities that they were in good working order at all times.  

This is gun control.  It's not a matter of taking weapons away, it's a matter of making them safer for everyone. 

What Happened to the Republican Party?

You hear it a lot these days; that this (the Republican Party) is not the same Republican Party that Ronald Reagan belonged to.  And I have to agree.  The Tea Party Republicans are so far to the right that they have pulled the entire party away from the center which ultimately led to the election of Donald J. Trump as their presidential candidate.  But how did this happen?

As I see it, it all goes back to a handful of people, starting with Rush Limbaugh.  Rush and his big mouth have spouted hatred for decades.  He had a captive audience that continued to grow as he maliciously lied to them day after day.  Democrats didn't have a way of countering this because as (Air America found out), Democrats don't listen to pundits.  The reason for this is simple; we can think for ourselves.  Just give us the facts and we'll make up our own minds.  Republicans aren't like us.  They want someone to tell them what to think and Rush was happy to do that.

Riding on this new-found conservatism came Newt Gingrich and his "Contract with America" in 1994.  Six years later, Edward H. Crane of the Cato Institute called it a failure: "the combined budgets of the 95 major programs that the Contract with America promised to eliminate have increased by 13%."  So, another lie by the Republicans but one that gave them control of the House and Senate.

On top of Rush Limbaugh we have Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter, all spewing hatred against the Democrats and all making matters worse rather than better.  Every one of these people has spent decades swaying the Republican voters toward their agenda of hatred against liberals.  They don't like gays.  They don't like immigrants.  They don't like atheists.  They don't like anyone who can think for themselves because if everyone did, they would all be out of work.

And all of that has now come to it's most illogical conclusion; the election of Donald Trump.  While those of us who do think are scratching our heads at this, I can't say we're really surprised, given the way the GOP has changed over the recent decades.  We have watched it steadily going downhill and to see it crash and burn is what we would expect.  And that's pretty much where it is now.

And yet, the GOP members of the House (like Paul Ryan) are still supporting "their" candidate, even though none of them wanted him in the first place.  They still speak out against everything he says (which means everything he stands for) but they continue to back him because, in their words, he would still be better than Hillary Clinton.  In fact, Paul Ryan recently defined one of Trump's statements as "textbook racism" but insisted that Donald would still be a better choice than Hillary.  Apparently, Hillary is worse than textbook racism, somehow.  He didn't elucidate on that any further.

Which just shows how truly misguided ALL of the GOP are.  To put an egotistical, megalomaniacal, narcissist into the White House for no other reason than that he is NOT a Democrat truly shows how much these people do not care about our country.  They would rather ruin life for all of us but be able to say they have the White House rather than support the one candidate who has proven herself as the most presidential simply because of her political affiliation.

This is truly not our finest hour.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A letter to Lois Frankel, U.S. Congresswoman from Florida:

Dear Representative Frankel:

On February 17, 2016, Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting assurances that the Leahy law restrictions on assistance to foreign security forces are being applied to Israel and Egypt.  The letter, signed by nine other representatives and Senator Patrick Leahy, calls on the Department of State to investigate reports of human rights violations by Israeli and Egyptian forces, and to determine what action should be taken under the Leahy law.

In their letter to Secretary Kerry, the members of Congress express concern that U.S. military aid to military units in Israel and Egypt has not been subjected to the same rigorous tracking mechanisms that U.S. military aid is subjected to elsewhere in the world. This type of congressional oversight is absolutely essential to the success of our democratic system.

In addition to Rep. Hank Johnson (GA) and Senator Patrick Leahy (VT), this letter was signed by Representatives Andrè Carson (IN), Sam Farr (CA), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Betty McCollum (MN), Jim McDermott (WA), James McGovern (MA) and Chellie Pingree (ME).  What is most troubling to me, as a Floridian, is the lack of a signature by any of our representatives from the sunshine state.  You, Lois Frankel, did not sign this letter and as your constituent, I want to know why you failed in your duty to uphold the law.

Our laws are what make our country the great nation it is and failure to follow those laws is tantamount to anarchy.  When Israel and Egypt violate our laws, and use our funding to abuse the basic human rights of others, then we are responsible for those actions and must act.  I am very proud of those members of Congress who had the temerity to stand up and speak out against these egregious actions but I am ashamed that my own Representative would be so cowardly to not put her name on the paper.

Lois, I am calling on you as my elected Representative to Congress to do the right thing.  I want you to send a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry lauding the efforts of your fellow Representatives and adding your name to the list.  I want you to show that you respect our laws and our land and if you refuse to do this, then I am calling on you to resign your seat.  If you refuse to uphold the laws of the United States, including the Leahy law, then you must not remain a member of the U. S. Congress.


Patt Gavin

The letter sent by the Representatives to Secretary of State Kerry follows:

February 17, 2016
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520 
Dear Secretary Kerry:
We commend you for your extraordinary efforts to try to bring peace and stability to the Middle East. We write today to request information regarding the application of the Leahy Law in Israel and Egypt. We are also inquiring about specific allegations of gross violations of human rights by the security forces of both countries.
According to information we have received, the manner in which U.S. military assistance has been provided to Israel and Egypt, since the Camp David Accords, including the delivery of assistance at the military service level, has created a unique situation that has hindered implementation of normal mechanisms for monitoring the use of such assistance. Please update us on what mechanisms are in place to monitor the use of such assistance by Israel and Egypt.
Additionally, while the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) is responsible for processing vetting cases, the Department’s regional bureaus and our embassies have a responsibility to help document and determine the credibility of information related to allegations of gross violations of human rights by foreign security forces. Please provide a description of the procedures used by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and our embassies in Israel and Egypt to investigate such allegations in order to enhance the quality of information being maintained and evaluated by DRL and made available to you.
There have been a disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel and Egypt – incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of U.S. military assistance. We urge you to determine if these reports are credible and to inform us of your findings:
• Israel: Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have reported what may be extrajudicial killings by the Israeli military and police of Fadi Alloun, Saad Al- Atrash, Hadeel Hashlamoun, and Mutaz Ewisa. There are also reports of the use of torture in the cases of Wasim Marouf and Ahmed Manasra.
• Egypt: Human Rights Watch has described the August 2013 massacre in Rab'aa Square as “the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” Recent reports document what may be extrajudicial killings by Egyptian security forces of Sayed Dwedar, Nasser al-Hafi, Osama al-Husseini, Hisham Khifagy, Gamal Khalifa, Abd al-Fattah Ibrahim al-Sisi, Taher Abdullah, Muatasam al-Agizi and Hisham al-Dessouky. There have also been a number of reported cases of forced disappearance including Asma’a Khalaf, Islam Atito, Sabry al-Ghoul, Esraa al-Taweel, Omar Ali, and Souhaib Sa’ad,and Al-Sayed al-Rassed.
In light of these reports we request that you act promptly to determine their credibility and whether they trigger the Leahy Law and, if so, take appropriate action called for under the law.
Thank you for your consideration.
Rep. Hank Johnson (GA), Senator Patrick Leahy (VT), Representatives Andrè Carson (IN), Sam Farr (CA), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Betty McCollum (MN), Jim McDermott (WA), James McGovern (MA) and Chellie Pingree (ME).