Making Plans?


A new year means making resolutions, those weak promises you make to yourself that you have no intention of keeping. You’re probably not going to exercise more, or lose the weight, or watch less TV, or spend more time with family, etc. I hate to burst your well-intentioned bubble but if you didn’t make all the lifestyle changes you had on your list last year, you’re not about to fulfil those wishes this time around. 

But go ahead anyway. There’s no harm in making an effort toward self-improvement. That is, as long as the goals you set are healthy, uplifting, and not designed to lead to mass murder.

There’s something happening here

There’s a disturbing trend making waves in recent weeks: the notion that a civil war is on this nation’s horizon. That’s right, we’re apparently heading toward a bloody, destructive real shooting battle pitting American against American. Everybody’s talking about it, from television preachers to the President of the United States. 

As devastating as another war on the homefront would be, it seems this war won’t have as clear-cut battle lines as did the North vs South conflict of the 1860s. No, this one will be impossible to define in geographical terms. Rather than separate armies made up of regiments from this or that state, the civil war that might be on our 2020 calendar will truly see neighbor challenging neighbor. While the ultimate reason depends on who you talk to and their mood at the time, it sure seems like the majority of the crowd that is breathlessly calling for the shooting to get starting has one thing in common: a feverish devotion to President Trump.

Oh, you’re overreacting, you tell me. It will never get that bad. Sorry, but I don’t share your false optimism. Remember, we’re talking about people who laughed when this president made fun of a disabled journalist. People who follow the lead of the president and refuse to believe what our law enforcement and military experts tell us. People who repeat the president in questioning the patriotism of battle-wounded soldiers and Gold Star families. The same people who would never have accepted any of this coming from the previous president.

So if a civil war is inevitable, we need to know the rules of engagement.

I’ve got questions

Who will you shoot? Can you at least provide a simple answer?

How do you decide who amongst your fellow Americans is the enemy? Is there going to be a Sign-up Day? Do we all have to declare which side we’re on? Or are those of you who are cheering for a bloodbath get to be the ones who make up the rules as you go along? 

Do you grab a voter registration list and separate us purely along party lines? Do you monitor our posts on Facebook or Twitter? Do you look for political bumper stickers or identify us by whether we wear one of those silly MAGA ballcaps? 

Will we be declared as Good Guys or Bad Guys because of the churches we attend? Or where we were born? Or the color of our skin?

Do your enemies have to wear badges or would you prefer tattoos or brands?

You might think these are silly questions, but threatening a domestic war just because we don’t all align politically is a matter that calls for serious thought. The NRA puts it right on top of their gun safety rules: “Know your target and what is beyond.” Let there be no doubt when you aim.

These aren’t water balloons, after all. People are calling for a real-life killing war if they don’t get what they want, and they’re getting ready. Take, for example, the angry guy at the Trump rally in Pennsylvania last month who insisted that the president would not be removed from office by impeachment and backed it up by saying, “My .357 Magnum is comfortable with that.” Relax, cowboy.  No one believes the Mitch McConnell-led Senate would ever convict the president on any articles of impeachment, no matter how obvious the wrongdoing.

And then there’s the Oath Keepers, the extremist militia group that brags about its abundant weapons and willingness to use them, which seems to be begging the president to give them the go-ahead. They don’t need a reason to aim their guns. All they want is someone to tell them that their thirst for blood is justified.OathKeepers

We all know people who can’t control their anger. For some, white-hot hatred has led them to the point of solving every problem with violence. Are these the people you can trust to be on your side? To follow your orders, or to lead you into battle?

A grim reality

It’s just talk, you might say. They’re only joking, you claim. No one wants violence, you insist. Take this as a warning: it’s more than words, no one is laughing, and it’s clear that a growing number really do want to start shooting. Whether you choose to believe what the rest of us can see or you prefer to continue denying the truth, that’s on you. 

If you’re willing to shoot to kill, you better be able to legitimize that decision. And if you’re willing to stand by and let things get to the point of random murder in the name of politics, you need to make sure you can live with that as well. If they let you.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald January 2, 2020.)

A flag not worth flying

The evil that happened inside the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church on the evening of June 17th was more than just a lone gunman committing mass murder. Of course, many details surrounding the tragic event are still unknown, and speculating about the things we don’t know could cause us to overlook important facts. Then again, it’s easy to draw conclusions based on the obvious.

The accused killer — I won’t grant him dignity by using his name — has made some fact finding easy. He decided to post his thoughts on race and ethnicity on his own website. Over the course of nearly 2,500 words, this young man aired his disturbed views on Blacks, Jews, and Hispanics… focusing most of his negativity on people of color. Considering that his nine victims were black, it’s tempting to just suggest that he is just another bigot who chose to make his violent fantasies come true. But there’s much more.

In addition to his seething disgust of non-whites, this man wanted to be sure that we all knew another target of his hatred: the United States of America. He wrote about his hate of the American flag and of patriotism in general, and solidified that message with a series of photographs… including one where he is seen holding a burning Stars and Stripes.

But that’s not the only flag he featured.

In several photographs, the accused killer poses with what is commonly known as “The Confederate Flag”. The image that came to mind when you read that phrase is the iconic rebel flag that, while not an official flag of the Confederacy, is modeled after the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. It’s the design seen on everything from the rooftop of the 1969 Dodge Charger of television fame to the decorations used by many Southern rock bands.

It’s also a reminder of a dark era in our nation’s history when many Americans turned their backs on the USA. The Army of Northern Virginia and many other Southern states and military units flew that flag during active hostilities in America’s Civil War. It was a flag meant to rally Confederate soldiers as they entered into battle against troops from the Union… from the United States.

We were taught that the Civil War was Americans fighting against Americans, but that’s misleading. Remember, those battles came about after 11 Southern states and some territorial regions seceded from the USA, forming what they wished to be their own federalized nation. Whether those states found justification within the language of the Constitution is an argument that remains unsettled, and one that we won’t bother to explore here. But what is clear is the intention of the Confederacy and its use of weapons of war to obtain that goal.

So, for a time in the 1860s, we can honestly say that the Confederate States of America was a separate nation… one that was fighting a horrific war with those states that continued to hold true to the USA. We can also honestly say that slavery was a primary motivating factor, though there are bits of truth in the argument that states’ rights was a key. Of course, one of the most prominent of those rights was tied directly to the ownership and forced labor of men, women, and children.

But we’re not here to study history, are we? We’re trying to understand the reasons why a young white man would walk into a historic black church in the city where the Civil War’s first shots were fired… and murder nine people.

Here’s where we have to start using appropriate language. This was not just a mass murder, nor just a hate crime. This was an act of terrorism. The shooter was, and should be treated as, a terrorist. But much of American media… and too many politicians… are afraid to say just that.
Why? After all, the shooter admitted to the police that he wanted to start a race war, so there’s your political connection. And this was a violent act committed in a symbolic place with the desire to cause fear and anguish. And… he had strong emotions against the American flag, while favoring a symbol of a country that once waged war with the USA. So why the hesitation to call him a terrorist?

Wait, you say, that rebel flag isn’t about hate. It’s a symbol of heritage. In a way, that’s true. But it’s a heritage of war, a war fought in no small part over slavery.

You want to express your Southern heritage? How about demonstrating Southern hospitality? Or preparing a feast of fried catfish, red beans and rice, and a pitcher of sweet tea? But not by flying a flag that sends a joint message of racial animosity and disrespect for the Stars and Stripes.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on July 2, 2015.)

The NRA loves guns, but… (CORRECTED)

The irony is so thick you could choke on it.

At its convention this week in Nashville, the National Rifle Association is promising “9 acres of guns” on display by over 400 vendors, yet

all guns at the convention site all guns offered for sale at the convention site must be non-operational… and

…if you purchase a gun at the convention, you can’t actually take possession of it. Instead, you will have to pick it up at a licensed Federal Firearms dealer near your home which I imagine means you would have to submit to a standard background check…even though

…the NRA has made it clear that it wants broad freedom for gun owners with minimal government restrictions, including calling for guns in schools

yet clearly the NRA doesn’t trust the thousands of eager attendees at its own convention to be responsible, safety-conscious weapons enthusiasts.

yet the NRA insists that the only ‘working’ guns at the convention be those that attendees might bring with them, provided that they are licensed to carry… of course.

(This post has been corrected as shown. That’s what happens when your source — the NY Daily News in this case — gets confused.)

Let’s talk about guns!

First, let me do my best to calm your nerves. I am not opposed to private citizens owning guns. You want a gun… or two… or two hundred? Fine. I have no problem with that. This nation was formed in no small part due to the ability of the average citizen to rely on a gun for protection of self, family, and property and to provide food for the table.

In the hands of a responsible, mature, trained individual, a gun can have great value. Guns are a useful device for hunting, sport shooting, and personal defense. But let’s be clear: much like a woodworker’s circular saw or a surgeon’s scalpel, a gun is merely a tool that must be treated properly with respect to its power.

Sadly, the news is constantly flooded with stories of people who misuse guns.

Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania: three people were shot and killed and two others wounded at a local government meeting by a man involved in a property dispute.

Jacksonville, Florida: a 17-year-old young man was shot multiple times and killed by a man who was angry over loud music.

Marysville, Washington: a 15-year-old student, upset that a girl refused to date him, shot her and four other teenagers in their school’s cafeteria. Three 14-year-old girls died, two 15-year-old boys were also shot, and the shooter took his own life. [Update: one of the boys has since died of his wounds.]

These are just three examples of people who decided that the only way they could resolve a problem is with a gun. They didn’t choose to walk away from a confrontation or seek another means of conflict resolution. Instead, they determined that a gun was going to give them satisfaction.

In none of these cases was the shooter’s life in danger; self-defense is not the issue here. Each of the shooters was the instigator; each caused the situation that led to the deaths of innocent victims. In all three instances, the person with the gun was at fault and is worthy of our condemnation. That’s not to say that each is evil… but each committed an evil crime that they themselves could have prevented.

Obviously, not every dispute ends with gunfire. But doesn’t it make sense to prevent even one such incident from occurring?

Naturally, this would be the point in the conversation where some people would call for the removal of guns from society. I am not one of those people. As I pointed out earlier, there are many reasons for gun ownership and possession, so you won’t find me playing the role of a bleeding-heart liberal seeking to remove all guns from society. The concept of taking away the right to own a gun is as foolish as saying that everyone should have access to as many and as wide a variety of weapons as he wishes. As much as I support an individual’s right to own a gun, I also support every effort to keep weapons out of the hands of those who intend to use them unlawfully. I have no problem disarming a violent offender… and I certainly don’t think the average citizen should be able to own fully automatic rifles and other weaponry that are clearly intended for the battlefield. You want to fire such weapons? Join the military.

Don’t worry, I’ve read the Second Amendment. I’ve also read numerous interpretations and arguments about its meaning. We could debate whether the Founding Fathers meant this or that, but this much is clear: the language of the Amendment does not grant anyone the right to use a gun to bully others into submission. Yet that is exactly what happened in the three cases I cited and many more besides.

I’m not a gun control advocate, not in the sense of gun removal. But I do believe in the need to control how we think about the proper use of guns.

For starters, we need our politicians and other prominent personalities to tone down their rhetoric. In her failed campaign for a US Senate seat in Nevada, Sharron Angle said, “…you know if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around?”

In a speech before the NRA, newly-elected US Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa told the crowd: “I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson 9 mm and it goes with me virtually everywhere. But I do believe in the right to carry and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family, whether it’s from an intruder or whether it’s from a government should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

What exactly are Angle and Ernst proposing? That if they don’t get their way politically, they’ll transform in Tony Montana? Is it that much of a stretch to imagine them ending a debate with, “Say hello to my little friend”?

Statements like these are encouraging some people to sling high-powered weapons over their shoulders as they stroll through the grocery store, clearly an act of symbolic aggression designed to intimidate anyone nearby. Open carry laws may make such actions legal, but common sense should reign supreme. Who really needs to tote an AR-15 while making a milk and bread run?
As I said, a gun is merely a tool. It should not be seen as the symbol of our self-esteem or the only thing that gives us confidence and earns the respect of others. Above all, we need to stop thinking of a gun as the key to winning an argument.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on November 6, 2014.)

A dying breed.

Common sense is an endangered species.  

In Nevada we met Cliven Bundy, a rancher who refused to pay grazing fees in order to legally range his cattle on federal lands. While Bundy actually stopped paying the fees in 1993, it wasn’t until earlier this year that the federal government chose to confiscate Bundy’s cattle following a trespassing ruling. Rather than see Bundy as the scofflaw that he was, many people chose to make Bundy into a hero, a kind of freedom symbol. A few of his supporters, armed with assault-style rifles, took sniper positions with law enforcement officers in the crosshairs. Fortunately, no shots were fired. What did these people think… that they could be justified in shooting an agent of the federal government?

Recently, one of Bundy’s sons refused to enroll his daughter in school when he learned that she would not be allowed to carry her pocket knife to class. Sure, there once was a time when pocket knives were commonplace – I carried one myself – but once a rule is established, we have to honor it. But the younger Bundy, like his father, seeks to ignore authority.

A few days ago, a young girl was treated by her parents with a vacation trip in Arizona that included a stop at an outdoor shooting range that features specialty weapons including fully automatic machine guns. Unable to control the Uzi as it fired, she lost control of the weapon and a bullet struck and killed her instructor. Now, I have no problem with providing young people with proper instruction in the responsibly use of firearms. But we should be sure that the child is mature enough to treat that weapon with respect… and we most definitely should not give a child a weapon that she is not physically capable of controlling.

And then… there’s Ferguson, Missouri.

One thing I won’t write about here is the incident that started the unrest in Ferguson, the death of Michael Brown. I won’t get into discussing Brown’s death because there’s so much we don’t know… and will never know. Without objective witnesses – and, especially, without video of the incident – we can’t possibly know what caused Officer Darren Wilson to shoot Brown to death. We also don’t know why an incident report wasn’t filed immediately.

But what we do know, and what I will discuss, is what happened after Brown died.

In the immediate aftermath, the local police department seemed unable to diffuse what quickly escalated into a tension-filled atmosphere spanning a racial divide. Of course, it didn’t help matters when the Ferguson police chose to employ military surplus equipment and to aim their weapons directly into the crowd of protesters. Sure, there were incidents of bottles and other projectiles thrown at police officers, but for law enforcement to point their rifles into a seemingly unarmed crowd caused many of us to flashback to 1970 and the National Guard’s blunder at Kent State.

It certainly hasn’t helped to have television and radio personalities rush to cast judgment. One foolish pundit even suggested that a water cannon should be used to stop the protests. Seriously? Do we really want to see white officers aiming high-pressure water hoses at black protesters… again? Did we learn nothing from America’s struggles over civil rights?

Let’s be honest: there were some bad people in Ferguson over the past few weeks. Vandalism, looting, arson… destructive behavior by a small group of people who were taking advantage of a bad situation. But let’s not confuse those wrongdoers with the peaceful protesters of Ferguson, those who simply were voicing their concerns over what they considered the unnecessary use of force by law enforcement.

I’m a strong supporter of the police, but I will admit that there are a few bad eggs. One in particular stood out in Ferguson. A police officer lost his composure and shouldered his rifle, aiming at the faces of some of the taunting protesters. In an obvious fit of rage the officer told members of the crowd, “I will [expletive] kill you.” Fortunately, a senior officer reached out and guided the policeman’s weapon downward while escorting him away from the scene. The profane language uttered by that officer in a moment when he lost control, captured on live streaming video by a member of the crowd holding an iPhone, was an embarrassment to law enforcement in general. It has been reported since that this officer has been disciplined in the past for unbecoming conduct.

These are all examples of Common Sense Deficiency Disorder.

Think about it: if you don’t pay your bills, you risk losing your property. If you carry a prohibited weapon into a school, you risk disciplinary action. If you allow a child to handle a weapon that is beyond her capabilities, someone could get hurt.

And if you react to anger and violence with more anger and violence, the situation will only get worse.

Common sense. It takes a little effort.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald, 9/4/14)