Tag Archive: Gun Laws

Thoughts and Prayers Won’t Solve Gun Violence

thoughts and prayers

Cartoon by Kristian Nygard

Mass Shooting in the United States from 1990-February 2018

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Source: Mother Jones

Three decades of mass of shootings; over 300,000 homicides; over 600,000 suicides. According to Wikipedia, 1.4 million Americans have been killed using firearms between 1968 and 2011.Wikipedia also states:

Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher. Although it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the U.S. had 82 percent of all gun deaths, 90 percent of all women killed by guns, 91 percent of children under 14 and 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed by guns. In 2010, gun violence cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $516 million in direct hospital costs.

By some estimates, Americans own over 300 million firearms, yet most households and individuals do not own a gun. Surprisingly, at least to me, is the fact that most Americans are reticent about banning guns or enforcing strict firearm laws. This disparity shows how effective the NRA and gun lobby are at getting their message out. Like it or not, the United States is a nation of guns. Add to our personal weapon caches the vast weapons of violence, carnage, and death used by our military, and it is hard not to conclude that we are a violent people who love weapon of mass destruction. The U.S. government searched everywhere for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. They, of course, found none. Perhaps the search for such weapons should start here within our borders and homes.

What is needed is comprehensive gun control legislation. (Please read Another Day, Another School MassacreBruce, you are WRONG! Guns don’t kill people, people do! Really? Are you so stupid that you cannot see the insanity of such an argument? Cars don’t kill people, people do!  Yet, we have all sorts of laws and regulations that govern car ownership and use, including testing and licensing requirements. We wisely, in the name of public safety, regulate automobile ownership and use, yet many gun owners demand the right to own any kind of firearm, without restriction. Such thinking is a threat to public health and safety in much the same way as are people driving unlicensed, unregulated automobiles on highways, streets, and country roads.

Month after month, year after year, angry, often mentally ill, people use firearms to slaughter their fellow Americans. Every time such carnage happens, Republican/conservative political leaders offer up “thoughts and prayers” while reminding us that guns are not the problem. If the outrage from the survivors of the latest school shooting is any indication, younger Americans are waking up to the reality that guns ARE the problem. Emperor NRA stands before them and says, the Second Amendment is sacrosanct and banning guns won’t stop mass shootings. These angry students wisely reply, BULLSHIT! They can see that the Emperor has no clothes. They see, oh so clearly, that unrestricted gun use and ownership is one part of the problem, along with the lack of mental health care for troubled teens and adults.

These young people are saying, NO MORE THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS! We want immediate and decisive action on gun control. It remains to be seen whether their outrage can be turned into a movement, one that perhaps mimics the student anti-war protest movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, protesting students helped to bring an end to the Vietnam War — a decade of immoral American violence and bloodshed in Southeast Asia. I hope that today’s protesting students can put such pressure on the U.S. government that it will force our political leaders, after hundreds of thousands of firearm deaths, to finally enact strict, comprehensive gun control laws.

Another Day, Another School Massacre

gun control

Cartoon by Scott Bateman

The latest school massacre took place in Florida. A nineteen-year-old former student opened fire as school was dismissing, killing seventeen students and teachers. I watched one of the cellphone videos that was shot during the shooter’s maniacal rampage. I listened as teenagers whimpered and screamed, hoping that they would avoid injury or death. I wept as I watched the video, but my sorrow quickly turned to anger. I knew that before the sun rose on a new day that several things would happen:

  • Democrats would call for stricter gun control laws.
  • Republicans would say now is not the time to talk about stricter gun control laws.
  • The NRA would decry the shooting, but reject any and all calls for gun control reform.
  • Evangelical Christians would flood social media with “thoughts and prayers” comments.

What do we know about school shootings? Is there a pattern or some sort of common denominator? You bet there is. Let me list a few of them:

  • The shooters are overwhelmingly young, white male students. Many of them come from dysfunctional homes.
  • Many of the shooters had mental health problems, often untreated.
  • The shooters were either bullied or viewed as social outcasts, not fitting into the cliques that dominate public school life.
  • The shooters used the internet to access materials that helped them plan the shootings.
  • The shooters used the internet to research past shootings, often finding inspiration from the carnage perpetrated by other shooters.
  • The weapon of choice is the AR-15 or similar type guns.
  • Most shooters used large capacity clips for their weapons of choice.
  • Most shooters had large amounts of ammunition on hand.

Now, after reading this list, is there anything that our government leaders can do to put an end to the violence? Yep, there is, but unfortunately, thanks to the NRA and a number of congressional Republicans, what should be done will be ignored. These cowards will, instead, call for armed school guards and extensive school security. Some of these NRA-fearing men and women will even call for the arming of school teachers and custodial staff. After all, what better way to put an end to school shootings than add more guns to the equation, right? What could possibly go wrong?

The NRA — a Chihuahua-sized group with a Rottweiler bark — and its lackeys will remind Americans that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, suggesting that gun ownership without restriction is a sacred right that must never, ever be infringed upon. Democrats will point at the Trump administration, blaming them for doing nothing about school gun violence. They will rightly point out that a Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation that made it easier for people with mental illness to purchase firearms. What these self-righteous liberals forget is that Democrat Barack Obama inhabited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years, and in his time there nothing was done to meaningfully combat school shootings. So please, stop with the political finger-pointing. Both parties are neck-deep in the blood of school children, and they should be ashamed of themselves for their paralytic inaction.

I grew up in a home where shooting firearms were very much a part of life. My dad was a police reservist, and my brother was the Marshall of Tombstone, Arizona, for many years, and also a detective. I started shooting guns and hunting while I was still in elementary school. I bought my first gun — a bolt-action Mossburg .410 with a modified choke — at the age of twelve. I, at one time, owned numerous shotguns, high-powered rifles, and a smattering of handguns. When I was a young man, my dad owned a gun store in Sierra Vista, Arizona. I worked in the store from time to time, and on weekends I would accompany my dad as he set up tables at area gun shows. Dad’s store gave me access to a plethora of firearms to shoot, everything from a .458 Winchester Magnum to a .22K Hornet. I enjoyed hunting and target shooting with my dad, one of the few things we did together.

I wrote the above so that unaware readers would know that I am not some Commie liberal out to take away everyone’s gun. I do not currently own any firearms, choosing instead to do my shooting with a camera. That said, I don’t look down my nose at people who own guns, nor do I think they are to blame for school shootings.  Solving gun violence in schools requires political courage and moral certitude. It requires our rulers to act in the best interest of the people, and not the interests of the NRA, Winchester, Remington, Smith and Wesson, or Glock.

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Some of the people killed in the Florida school shooting

So what can be done?

First, universal background checks must be strictly enforced, connected to a nationwide database. Gun purchasers should be screened for prior convictions of violent crimes, especially domestic violence. Gun purchasers should be screened for mental health issues. Mental health providers should be required to flag patients with mental health issues which make them a danger to themselves or others. The U.S. military and the VA should be required to flag all soldiers who are being treated for PTSD or other mental disorders that make them a danger to themselves or others.

Second, all guns should be licensed. All new purchases should have a seven to fourteen-day waiting period, allowing sufficient time for background checks to be performed. A database of those who purchased and those who owns guns should be available to law enforcement.

Third, all open-carry and concealed-weapon laws should be repealed, putting an end to the Wild West mentality in many states and communities. Only law enforcement should be permitted to carry firearms in public.

Fourth, the manner in which the government and insurance companies handle mental health treatment must be changed in ways that make it possible for people to get prompt, ongoing, and comprehensive care.

Fifth, school leaders must address the ongoing bullying crisis in public schools. Teachers must be taught to be aware of bullying and to take steps to stop it when they see it happening.  While I suspect it is impossible to put an end to cliques, school must do a better job fostering inclusiveness. Perhaps it is time to put an end to the jocks-rule mentality that dominates most schools.

Sixth, semi-automatic firearms such as the AR-15 should be immediately banned. Any firearm capable of firing large volume bursts should be banned. There is no legitimate reason for anyone to own military-style firearms.

Seventh, large (high) capacity magazines and clips should be immediately banned. There is no legitimate need for owning guns with large capacity magazines, nor is there any reason for owning clips holding dozens of rounds of ammunition. It also goes without saying that bump stocks such as the ones used in the Las Vegas massacre should be outlawed.

Eighth, politicians should be banned from taking financial or in-kind donations from the NRA and the gun lobby. The NRA, along with the Ted Nugents of the world, are part of the problem. These promoters of the means of violence should not be given larger-than-life influence over the political process. (As my editor mentioned to me, this would surely not pass constitutional challenge. Fine. Let’s reverse the effects of Citizens United. Let’s make public the names of ALL campaign donors. Let’s ban corporate donations, soft money, and the other endless ways politicians hide who and where donations are coming from. In fact, let’s federally fund elections and limit campaigning as Great Britain does to a short time before time election day. In other words, GET THE FUCKING MONEY OUT OF POLITICS!)

If the United States wants to put an end to gun violence in general and school shootings in particular, it must look at how countries such as Great Britain and Australia have crafted their gun control laws and act accordingly. Tinkering at the edges, making meaningless, superficial changes to gun laws is not the answer. The rest of the Western world looks at the United States and thinks that the Yanks have gone bonkers. Can they not see what must be done to put an end to gun violence in their schools? Those of us who don’t suck at the teat of the NRA know what must be done. It is up to us to force our political leaders to stop the blood flowing in the hallways of our schools. If our elected officials won’t act, then it is time for us to get men and women who will. Doing nothing or next to nothing is not the answer.

“Laws Don’t Stop People From Doing Bad Things,” Says a Local Law Enforcement Officer

The title of this post is a verbatim statement made by a gun-loving, middle-aged white Republican who likely voted for Donald Trump. This man, a member of local law enforcement, recently attended a meeting that I happened to attend as well. Prior to the start of the meeting, several government officials were discussing gun laws and firearm restrictions. One avid Trump supporter happily lent his support to the President Trump’s lie that cities with stringent gun laws — Chicago, in particular — have higher crime rates and firearm-related violence. (Please see Gun Laws, Death and CrimeIs Chicago Proof That Gun Laws Don’t Work? Chicago Toughest on Gun Control? A Claim Shot Full of HolesLaw Center to Prevent Gun Violence.) The member of law enforcement chimed in with several anecdotal stories about gun violence and firearms laws, and then, uttering the most absurd thing I have ever heard come out of a policeman’s mouth. The man said, “Laws don’t stop people from doing bad things.”

Having business before this government body, I thought it unwise to interject my pinko-commie-socialist-liberal thoughts into the discussion. I thought to myself, just another day in the right-wing nirvana of rural Northwest Ohio. Nothing I could say would change hearts and minds, and saying the wrong thing could have a negative outcome for me business-wise. Later that night, as I sat in my recliner thinking about the day’s events, I found myself becoming angry over what the police officer said. How dare a man who swore an oath to uphold federal, state, and local law, and to serve and protect local citizens say that laws don’t stop people from doing bad things. If this is truly the case, why not repeal all laws and let the man with the fastest draw and the straightest shot determine social order and freedom. Is this police officer so blinded by his support of the gun lobbies’ misinterpretation of the Second Amendment that he cannot see the importance of having laws? Surely, he thinks we should have laws prohibiting murder, rape, robbery, and sexual abuse. I highly doubt this officer is a libertine. Born and raised in this area, this officer has been deeply influenced by the political, religious, and social mores of rural Ohio. Why, then, would he emphatically state that laws don’t stop people from doing bad things?

If asked, I am sure that the officer would limit his statement to the efficacy of gun laws. Why, I ask, limit making laws to firearm regulations? Laws don’t stop some people from murdering, raping, or molesting children. Is this reason, then, to do away with laws that make such behaviors illegal? Of course not. So it is with gun laws. It is certainly true that gun laws don’t keep motivated criminals from securing firearms. That said, limiting access to certain firearms, accessories, and ammunition, would make it harder for criminals to use them, and in doing so, would save lives. Outlawing semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity clips, along with having universal background checks and severely restricting handgun ownership would go a long way in putting an end to mass shootings, and would also, in time, reduce criminal gun violence. One front on the battle against drug addiction and opioid-related deaths is regulating/controlling legal drug supplies, and aggressively going after those manufacturing, distributing, and selling drugs illegally. We know that this is the only way to put an end to the opioid crisis, so why, then, do we not use the same approach to gun violence? That current gun laws are often ineffective is agreed by one and all. But the answer is not to say, fuck it, and give up on attempts to craft effective laws that respect gun owner rights while at the same time putting an end to gun violence. If progressive countries such as England, Australia, Spain, and Japan can drastically reduce gun violence through legislative means, surely the United States can do the same. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Japan has a per-hundred-thousand homicide rate of .31, Spain .66, Britain .92, Australia .98, and the United States 4.88. I ask you, in that set of numbers, which one stands out to you?

Laws may not stop people intent on harming others from committing crimes, but imagine, for a moment, a society without laws and enforcers of law. Imagine a world where all disputes are settled by violence, and the people with the most powerful means of violence win. Why, we would be living in a world much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or The Walking Dead and Mad Max. It is our laws and their enforcement that give structure and order to our society. Baptists should have the freedom to worship as they wish and not fear being murdered while they pray. Country concert goers should have the freedom to drink beer and sing tunes about women, beer and trucks and not fear being gunned down. All of us should have the freedom to go about our daily lives and not fear being murdered in our homes or at the grocery. The only way to protect our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is to have laws that are enforced for the common good. Until our political leaders stand up to the gun lobby and pass legislation restricting gun purchase, ownership, and use, we should expect continued mass shootings and gun-related crime and violence.

We, the people, have the power to stem the flow of blood in our streets. It remains to be seen if we will do so. Surely, twenty-six dead Baptists is enough to force the issue, right?  Surely, the mass shootings and gun violence of the twenty-first century, when taken collectively, will lead to systemic, nationwide change, right? Surely, now is the time to tell the NRA to go fuck itself, right? How many more people must die before we demand Congress and state legislatures send the gun lobby packing and begin to enact comprehensive gun regulation?

Hey, did you see what Trump tweeted?

Evangelical Michael Snyder Admits God Can’t Protect Christians, Only Guns Can

michael snyder

The Christian God seems mighty small these days, especially in light of the murder of twenty-six Evangelicals at a Baptist church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas. In times past, preachers told congregants to just trust God and all would be well; that God has the whole world in his hands; that God will protect them from acts of violence and evil (and hurricanes). Christian blood now runs in the streets and God does what? Nothing. Sermons are preached, prayers are uttered, yet God remains silent, afflicted with a paralysis that keeps him from acting.

Tired of God’s inaction and indifference, Evangelicals such as Michael Snyder are suggesting that Christians take matters into their own hands by carrying firearms and establishing armed security at Christian houses of worship. Snyder, a regular writer for Charisma News, wrote:

The mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday morning is already being called the deadliest church shooting in modern U.S. history, and we need to be in prayer for the victims and for their families. At about 11:30 a.m., a heavily armed man entered the sanctuary and began shooting. At this point, it is being reported that “at least 27 people have been killed” and at least another 30 have been injured. Tragically, reports indicate that several small children are among those who were murdered.

As I write this, we are still waiting to hear from authorities about a motive. We do know that the gunman is dead, but we haven’t been given any information about his identity.

But whatever the motive was, this just goes to show that something like this could literally happen anywhere. Only about 400 people live in Sutherland Springs, and I am sure nobody ever expected something like this to happen on a Sunday morning…

….

Of course, Democrats were already calling for gun control within minutes of this being reported by the national news.

But gun control won’t stop tragedies such as this. The bad guys are always going to find ways to get guns, and so disarming the rest of the population is a really, really bad idea.

What we really need to do is to make sure that there is armed security at every church in America from now on. If there had been armed security at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday morning, a whole lot of lives could have potentially been saved.

So many of us are victims of “normalcy bias” when it comes to tragedies such as this. Since we grew up in an America where these things rarely happened, we assume we don’t need armed security at churches, schools and other public events.

But times have changed, and so must we. Islamic terror is on the rise, Republican members of Congress are being attacked, anti-Christian hate is at unprecedented levels and the number of mentally unstable people running around in our society has never been higher.

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let us push for armed security at all of our churches from now on. Someday it may be your church that is attacked, and when that happens, having armed security on hand will make all the difference.

Personally, I am promising all of you that when I go to Congress, I will never back down even a single inch when it comes to defending the 2nd Amendment.

The left wants to take away all of our guns so the bad guys with weapons can have free reign, as they currently do in major cities such as Chicago.

But the truth is that an armed society is a polite society, and we need to greatly resist any efforts by the left to take our guns away.

michael snyder political platform

Michael Snyder’s Political Platform

Snyder, a Fundamentalist Christian, is running for one of Idaho’s U.S. Senate seats. While he professes to be a follower of Jesus, it is evident from his campaign platform that he doesn’t trust God to get things done; that all this praying about guns and violence is a waste of time. Send Snyder to Washington and he promises to:

​steadfastly oppose any efforts to restrict the freedoms guaranteed to the American people by the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. Gun-related crime is the worst in cities such as Chicago that have implemented extremely strict gun control measures. When criminals know that average citizens may be armed, they are less likely to break into homes.  Here in north Idaho, any criminal that intended to make a living breaking into homes would have a very short career indeed.

If sent to Washington, I will fight to eliminate all federal firearms acts, which violate the US Constitution. I will also seek to entirely abolish the unlawful BATFE, which has been harassing law abiding citizens since it’s inception. No politician in America is going to be more pro-gun than me, and I am very proud to stand with those that work tirelessly to protect our 2nd Amendment rights.

Snyder, a Fundamentalist Christian, is running for one of Idaho’s U.S. Senate seats. While he professes to be a follower of Jesus, it is evident from his campaign platform that he doesn’t trust God to get things done; that all this praying about guns and violence is a waste of time. Send Snyder to Washington and he promises to:

​steadfastly oppose any efforts to restrict the freedoms guaranteed to the American people by the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. Gun-related crime is the worst in cities such as Chicago that have implemented extremely strict gun control measures. When criminals know that average citizens may be armed, they are less likely to break into homes.  Here in north Idaho, any criminal that intended to make a living breaking into homes would have a very short career indeed.

If sent to Washington, I will fight to eliminate all federal firearms acts, which violate the US Constitution. I will also seek to entirely abolish the unlawful BATFE, which has been harassing law abiding citizens since it’s inception. No politician in America is going to be more pro-gun than me, and I am very proud to stand with those that work tirelessly to protect our 2nd Amendment rights.

Snyder wants to do away with ALL firearm laws. He also wants to abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives. Imagine the horrific amount of violence and gun deaths that will happen if the Michael Snyders of the world get their way. Anyone that thinks the United States — already the most armed nation on earth — needs more guns and fewer firearm laws must believe they are living in Westworld — a fictional world where human-looking androids repeatedly die and come back to life. Thinking the answer for gun violence is more firearms (or increased military funding) is not only irrational, it is dangerous, and will only lead to increased bloodshed and death. (please read Gun Violence: Let’s Stop Blaming Evil When People Do Bad Things and No More “Thoughts and Prayers.” It’s Time to Address the Murderous American Gun Culture)

I have reached a place politically and morally where I have zero tolerance for people who support the NRA and the gun lobby in their attempts to lessen or eliminate firearm laws. While I grudgingly admit that mentally healthy Americans have the right to own guns, I don’t think that right is without restriction or control. In fact, I support abolishing the Second Amendment, or rewriting it so owning military assault weapons, large capacity magazines, large numbers of firearms, unlimited amounts of ammo, and bump stocks is illegal. If Joe-the-gun-owner wants to sate his need for bloodshed by killing innocent animals, then make sure he is using firearms that can’t be used for large-scale killing. Magazine limits would allow gun owners to hunt without also allowing those same firearms to be used as they were in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs. Surely any hunter worth his salt can kill Bambi’s mother in three shots or less. If such a law had been in place and strictly enforced, it is likely that there would have been far fewer deaths in Sutherland Springs. Instead, the gunman, thanks to his military training, quickly went through a number of high-capacity magazines as he sprayed bullets around the First Baptist Church sanctuary.

Count me as one commie-pinko-liberal who is proud to say, I’m coming for your guns. I support efforts to strictly control firearm ownership and to make illegal firearms, ammo, and accessories that serve no use other than to inflict widespread casualties. If gun owners want to hunt, trap shoot, or plink tin cans, fine, but they don’t need military-style weapons and ammunition to do so. The only way to meaningfully do something about gun violence is to control, restrict, or outlaw the means of violence. If we as a people can regulate everything from automobiles to bedroom dressers, surely we can do the same with firearms. Until we do, we can expect to see more gun related violence and death. And now that Christians are finally admitting that God is not going to fix things, it is time for thoughtful, caring people to develop and demand the political will necessary to run the gun lobby out of town and put an end to the carnage and violence that has turned the United States into an endlessly looping horror flick.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Sutherland Springs Massacre: God Answered the Victims Prayers by Allowing Them to be Murdered

hans fiene

Hans Fiene, pastor of River of Life Lutheran Church in Channahon, Illinois (affiliated with the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, a Fundamentalist sect) believes that the twenty-six Baptists murdered at a Sutherland Springs, Texas church service were killed because God was answering their prayers to be “delivered from evil.”  Writing for the website The FederalistFiene stated:

It’s also an act of profound ignorance [to say that prayer doesn’t work]. For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

“Deliver us from evil.” Millions of Christians throughout the world pray these words every Sunday morning. While it doesn’t appear that the Lord’s Prayer is formally a part of the worship services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, I have no doubt that members of that congregation have prayed these words countless times in their lives.

When we pray these words, we are certainly praying that God would deliver us from evil temporally—that is, in this earthly life. Through these words, we are asking God to send his holy angels to guard us from those who would seek to destroy us with knives and bombs and bullets. It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children. But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done. Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

….

Because of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, death no longer has any power over those who belong to him through faith. So the enemies of the gospel can pour out their murderous rage upon Christians, but all they can truly accomplish is placing us into the arms of our savior.

….

Despite the horror that madman made the saints of First Baptist endure, those who endured it with faith in Christ have received his victory. Although the murderer filled their eyes with terror, God has now filled them with his glory. Although he persecuted them with violence, God seized that violence and has now used it to deliver his faithful into a kingdom of peace. Although this madman brought death to so many, God has used that death to give them the eternal life won for them in the blood of Jesus.

Those who persecute the church and those who mock Christians for trusting in Almighty God rather than Almighty Government may believe that the bloodshed in Texas proves the futility of prayer. But we believers see the shooting in Texas as proof of something far different—proof that Christ has counted us worthy to suffer dishonor for his name and proof that no amount of dishonor, persecution, or violence can stop him from answering our prayer to deliver us from evil.

Fiene takes umbrage at people suggesting that these deaths are a poignant reminder of the fact that God does not answer prayer. I have no doubt that those who had time to pray before the gunman mowed them down prayed. I am sure they prayed for the Almighty to protect them and keep them from harm. From a rational perspective, it is clear that the Christian God did not hear their prayers, or he did hear them and chose to do nothing. Either way, twenty-six people died. Fiene, providing yet another example of how irrational Christians can be, rejects the obvious and says that the people killed in Sutherland Springs died because God WAS answering their prayers — deliver us from evil. That’s right, God let or commanded the murders to happen because he decided to answer prayers in a way that only a bat-shit crazy preacher could think up. Instead of admitting that God, once again, failed to come through for his children, Fiene cooked up an explanation that I am sure even some Christians will think is crazy. (Please read The Indifference of God )

Lurking under Fiene’s argument is the belief that the God is sovereign over his creation; that everything that happens is according to the will of God; that nothing happens that is not decreed by God; that everything that happens is controlled, orchestrated, and managed by God. The gunman, then, was just a tool used by God to execute his will at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The people who died? Their numbers were up. The Bible states that everyone has an appointed time of death; that God is in control of whether we live or die; that there is nothing we can do lengthen or lessen our time among the living. If the living want to blame someone for the gunman’s murderous rampage, the blame solely rests on the shoulders of Hans Fiene’s God. (Please read Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?)

While Christian apologists have all sorts of arguments they use to get around the implications of believing God is sovereign, the fact remains that if God is the first cause, the creator, the ruler of all things, then he is culpable for what happens on planet earth. I give Fiene credit for at least admitting as much.

As atheists, we know that God doesn’t answer prayer. He can’t because he doesn’t exist. Most of the Sutherland Springs victims likely prayed before succumbing to a hail of bullets. Their prayers for deliverance and safety did not help them. God was blind, deaf, and indifferent, as are all the Gods created by human hands. Perhaps the God of Christianity is very much like Baal, spoken of by Elijah in 1 Kings 18:27:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he [Baal] is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God’s inaction was due to him being busy talking to someone, taking a shit, being on vacation, or sleeping. This passage equally applies to the Christian God, who for the past two thousand years has been AWOL. Billions of prayers to God are uttered each day, yet they go unanswered — save God helping Granny find her keys or helping a Christian NFL quarterback score the game-winning touchdown. While twenty-six Baptists being murdered is no small thing, their deaths pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of people who die each day because of war, gun violence, starvation, and disease. Where God is needed most, he is nowhere to be found. Only in the alternate universe inhabited by the Hans Fiens of the world can it be said that God is hearing and answering prayers.

What is needed now is sympathy for the victims and families whose lives were shredded and destroyed. Fuck the clergy with their empty clichés and religious platitudes. Let them live with their delusions while rational, thoughtful Americans band together to tackle the immoral gun lobby and gun violence. How much more blood must be spilled before we realize that GUNS GUNS GUNS GUNS are the problem, and the ONLY solution is strict, enforceable Federal gun control laws. How much more blood must be spilled before we do something to fix our broken mental health system. When will we realize that the U.S. military trains men and women to kill; that some soldiers can’t turn off the violence once they return home; that PTSD among veterans is an ignored and increasing epidemic.

There is much we could do to put an end to gun violence IF we will but do so. Or, we could just keep on doing nothing — you know, praying.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Future of Firearms by VICE News on HBO

firearms

From the introduction to The Future of Firearms:

The firearms industry experienced unprecedented growth in the last decade. Fear of government regulation drove much of that growth as President Obama repeatedly tried to pass gun control laws in the aftermath of numerous mass shootings. Now, with the political landscape fundamentally changed, the industry, and gun rights advocates, are looking for new ways to expand upon their 2nd amendment rights and the bottom line — with some surprising results.

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Jon Stewart, John Oliver and The Daily Show Take on America’s Gun Culture

 

Several years ago, The Daily Show produced a three-part series on America’s gun culture, gun violence, and how Australia successfully regulated firearms. Given the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas and congressional inaction of meaningful gun control legislation, I thought it important to share these videos with readers.

Video Link

Video Link

Video Link

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Gun Violence: Let’s Stop Blaming Evil When People Do Bad Things

People are scrambling to find words to best describe the murderous actions of Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas last Sunday. What is known so far is that Paddock was a rich white guy who liked to gamble and was, at times, verbally abusive towards his girlfriend. At a loss to figure out why Paddock did what he did, the talking heads on Fox News have searched high and low for the answer, going so far as to blame his actions on his lack of religious faith. Other talking heads, missing the forest for the trees, wondered brainlessly out loud about whether it was time to increase security in hotels. How in the world did Paddock get so many guns into the hotel? they ask. Duh, geniuses, in his luggage and bags. Sean Hannity blamed the lack of firearms in the country concert crowd, not thinking about how having loaded handguns would have stopped Paddock from spraying the crowd with bullets shot from semi-automatic/automatic weapons hundreds of yards away. Blame. Blame everyone and everything except the one common denominator in EVERY mass shooting — handguns, assault rifles, and high-capacity magazines. Guns don’t kill people, people do. Or so goes the droning NRA mantra, anyway.

The latest person being blamed for the Las Vegas carnage is an entity called EVIL. Evil, much like Satan/Lucifer/Devil, is a religious construct meant to explain why people do bad things. Evangelicals believe all of us, from the moment our father’s sperm united with our mother’s egg, are sinners. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. Thanks to Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God by eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil®, all of us, by nature, are sinners. But when it comes to really, really bad shit — gays getting married, women having abortion, Bill Clinton getting blow jobs in the White House, and Steven Paddock killing and maiming hundreds of people — many Evangelicals blame evil. It’s evil, not guns, that commits mass murder. Of course, Evangelicals — who are overwhelmingly Republicans — forget Mr. Evil when people fly planes into buildings. Then it is Muslims doing all the killing. They seem to have no problem determining who or what is behind such terrorism. However, when it comes to gun violence, many Evangelicals are deaf, dumb, and blind.

matt bevin you cant regulate evil

Tweet by right-wing Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin

Evil is not to blame for America’s problem with mass shootings — guns are. Jesse Berney, a writer for Rolling Stonehad this to say about blaming evil for what happened in Las Vegas:

It’s easy to call acts of horror “evil.” It’s comforting to ascribe an external, unknowable motive to events so terrible we can’t imagine a motivation.

The human mind is incapable of imagining what would drive a man to haul an arsenal of high-powered weapons into a hotel room, knock out a couple windows, murder dozens of people and injure hundreds more by spraying them with gunfire. So we call it evil. That settles that.

President Trump called the shooting in Las Vegas that left at least 59 dead and more than 500 injured “an act of pure evil,” and who’s to argue with him? If evil exists in this world, surely indiscriminately murdering faceless strangers from 300 yards away qualifies. Whatever drove Stephen Paddock to that hotel room that night would fall under any reasonable definition of evil.

But what if evil doesn’t exist in this world?

Of course people do terrible things. Examples are easy to find, from our own regrets to the most unimaginable cruelties. Paddock murdered dozens of people. The government of Myanmar, led by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is engaged in a brutal genocide against an ethnic minority. Every day children are exploited and abused. The world is an abattoir of violence and cruelty if you choose to do nothing but focus on the terror we visit on each other.

But evil? Evil as an independent reality, a thing-in-itself that urges people to action? “Evil” not as judgment of Paddock’s actions but as an explanation of them? That’s a fantasy, and it absolutely will lead to more shootings like these, more deaths.

When elected officials like Trump rely on “evil” to explain away mass shootings, they are following a deliberate strategy. Republicans know wall-to-wall coverage of these events are the best opportunity gun control advocates have to draw attention to the issue and save lives. But the GOP – beholden to the overhyped power of the National Rifle Association – have just one goal: pass zero bills restricting gun sales in any way. (In fact, the Republican leadership in the House is currently considering a bill that would make it easier to purchase both silencers and armor-piercing bullets.) They follow a few strategies like clockwork.

There are calls not to “politicize” these tragedies. They say it’s too soon, that it dishonors the victims and their families to bring politics into the discussion.

They claim specific gun laws wouldn’t have stopped this individual tragedy, because it’s not the right gun, or the perpetrator would have passed a background check – as though stopping some future mass shootings isn’t worthwhile if we can’t stop them all.

They claim criminals intent on breaking the law will just ignore gun laws anyway, as though that doesn’t apply to every law ever passed.

And they call these events “evil” to make them seem random and unpreventable. You can’t fight evil, after all. It’s invisible, incorporeal. It’s the perfect foil for politicians who don’t want to do anything. What are we going to do, pass a law to make evil illegal?

….

But the problem here isn’t evil. It’s not the devil. It’s us: human beings. We have motivations and justifications and rationalizations and reasons for everything we do. We don’t know why Stephen Paddock murdered those people. Maybe we never will. And maybe the sensible laws we could pass, like universal background checks and a ban on all assault weapons, wouldn’t have stopped someone so wealthy and motivated to commit horror. But it could stop someone else. It would save lives.

Blaming evil is an excuse to do nothing in the face of tens of thousands of gun deaths a year. Only a fraction of those deaths are the result of mass shootings like in Las Vegas. We can and should work to reduce all gun deaths, from suicides to accidents to crime-related deaths to massacres like Sunday’s. That means passing laws that keeps guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. The only other option is to do nothing.

….

Almost 35 000 people a year are killed with firearms in the United States (and thousands more are wounded). Many of these deaths are suicides. Nineteen children a day are killed or maimed by gunfire. More people are killed by guns each year than are killed in automobile accidents. Government at every level has seen fit to regulate automobile use, hoping to reduce deaths and injuries from auto accidents. Remove automobiles from the equation and what happens? (Think real hard on that one, gun-lovers.) If guns are removed from the gun violence equation or restricted, guess what happens? Less gun violence, as Australia will attest.

What follows is a list of mass shootings I compiled from several recent news articles:

  • Fort Hood, November 5, 2009 — 13 dead, 30 wounded
  • Edmond, Oklahoma, August 20, 1986 — 14 dead, 6 wounded
  • San Bernardino,California December 2, 2015 — 14 dead, 22 wounded
  • San Ysidro, California, July 18, 1984 — 21 dead, 19 wounded
  • Killeen, Texas, October 16, 1991 — 23 dead, 27 wounded
  • Sandy Hook Elementary School, December 14, 2012 — 26 dead, 2 wounded
  • Virginia Tech University, April 16, 2007 — 32 dead, 17 wounded
  • Orlando,Florida June 12, 2016 — 49 dead, 58 wounded
  • Las Vegas,Nevada October 1, 2017 — 59 dead, 527 wounded
  • Tucson, Arizona, January 8, 2011 — 6 dead, 11 wounded
  • Seal Beach, California, October 12, 2011 — 8 dead, 1 wounded
  • Oakland, California, April 2, 2012 — 7 dead, 1 wounded
  • Aurora, Colorado, July 20, 2012, 12 dead, 58 wounded
  • Oak Creek, Wisconsin, August 5, 2012, 6 dead, 3 wounded
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 28, 2012 — 6 dead, 2 wounded
  • Brookfield, Wisconsin, October 21, 2012 — 3 dead, 4 wounded
  • Washington, DC, September 16, 2013 — 12 dead, 3 injured
  • Isla Vista, California, May 23, 2014, 6 dead , 7 wounded
  • Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015, 9 dead
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee, July 16, 2015, 5 dead, 3 wounded
  • Roseburg, Oregon, October 1, 2015, 9 dead, 9 injured
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 29, 2015, 3 dead, 9 wounded

What’s the common denominator is these stories? Evil? White guys? Buildings? No! Guns — handguns, long guns, assault rifles, high-capacity clips. And what has Congress done about these mass shootings? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Fearing being primaried by right-wing, NRA-moneyed, Jesus-loving, flag-waving challengers, Republicans refuse to even talk about passing meaningful gun law reform. And sadly, many Democrats are no better. Fearing losing their seats to Republican challengers, Democrats cower in shameful silence before the gun lobby.

The United States has been fighting the war on terror for sixteen years. Congress has seen fit to give the US military trillions of dollars to fund the war on terrorism, all because 3,000 people died on 9/11. Yet, during this same time period, almost 500,000 people have died through gun violence and over a 1,000,000 people have been wounded. And Congress has done what, exactly?  Nothing. If Trump and congressional Republicans have their way, current gun laws will be loosened, making it easier for people who shouldn’t own firearms to have them Earlier this year, Congress made it easier for people with mental illness to purchase a gun. Even worse, Congress is contemplating abolishing the law that makes silencers illegal. Imagine how much damage Paddock could have done if his guns were equipped with shot-muffling silencers.

I am done listening to people who won’t or can’t see that we have a huge problem with gun violence in this country. I refuse to spend one more moment listening to people who think less regulation and more guns is the answer. Call me a pinko liberal or a Communist, I don’t care. I plan to do everything in my power to force government at every level to restrict gun sales and ownership. Some currently available firearms should be made illegal — assault rifles in particular. People shouldn’t be permitted to hoard firearms as Stephen Paddock did. LIBERALS ARE COMING FOR OUR GUNS! Gun rights activists scream, and my response is this: YES, WE ARE! It is high time we put an end to the gun culture in America with its attendant violence, carnage, and death. If Western nations such as Britain and Australia can strictly regulate firearms and drastically reduce gun violence, so can the United States. Whether we have the courage to do so, remains to be seen.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: It’s Time to Politicize the Terror Attack in Las Vegas by Tim Dickenson

gun violence

Cartoon by Clay Jones

On Sunday night, a domestic terrorist, using weapons suited for battle, took aim from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel and rained bullets down on a country music festival – killing at least 58 people, wounding more than 500 others and sending a crowd of 22,000 fleeing in panic.

The headlines scream “worst gun massacre in modern history” – and indeed, the massacre surpasses the death toll at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando just last year.

But Las Vegas was also the third deadliest modern terror attack on American soil, trailing only 9/11 and the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

America needs to confront this terrorism – and the forces that enable it.

Some definitions of terrorism hold that the violence must be perpetrated toward a political end. We do not yet know the motive behind the targeting of defenseless civilians at a music festival. The alleged gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, is dead, and the logic of his attack may have died with him. But if a man who brings more than a dozen weapons into a hotel room for the express purpose of exterminating innocent civilians – and prompting tens of thousands of others to flee for their lives – does not qualify not a “terrorist,” then the word has lost any functional meaning.

Mark Kelly – the retired Navy captain and astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords – underscored this idea on Monday. “This is the worst-case scenario. It’s haunted our dreams, that we would wake up to the news of a massacre like this: weapons of war, in the hands of a determined killer, with a tactical advantage. This was an ambush if there ever was one,” he said. “This was domestic terrorism.”

The Las Vegas massacre also plainly qualifies as an “act of terrorism” as defined by Nevada law – encompassing “any act that involves the use … [of] violence which is intended to: Cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.”

The category error – labeling terrorism as “gun violence” – has dire consequences. America is at war with terrorism. We have made peace with gun violence.

In this country, we move heaven and earth to root out terrorism. We’ve launched trillion-dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our Congress passed the the USA Patriot Act, and we have curtailed our Fourth Amendment rights – trading freedom for FISA warrants and other encroachments of a surveillance state. We endure the indignities of airport scanners and pat-downs, and perform the security ritual of removing our shoes and belts at TSA checkpoints.

But when terrorists attack with high-capacity rifles, our moral clarity – and our national will to action – falters. Part of this category error is driven by racism. We call white shooters “lone wolves” and not “terrorists.” Regardless, we are enduring terrorist attacks on our own soil. They are hitting soft targets: schools, nightclubs and now music festivals.

Despite the carnage, we have done nothing at the federal level to restrict access to war-bred assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. This is a political problem, not a Second Amendment question. Despite what the NRA claims, U.S. courts have repeatedly held that these weapons are not constitutionally protected.

….

America’s national inaction comes in the face of our enemies laughing at us. Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups have openly called on would-be jihadists to build an arsenal by exploiting America’s lax gun laws, as I detailed after the Orlando attack:

“A terrorist manual discovered in Afghanistan in the early 2000s titled ‘How can I train myself for Jihad’ encourages would-be terrorists to obtain military-grade weapons in America: In ‘some states of USA,’ it reads, ‘it is perfectly legal for members of the public to own certain types of firearms. If you live in such a country, obtain an assault rifle legally….’

“A 2011 Al Qaeda recruitment video included similar advice: ‘America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with [an] assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?'”

America’s soft underbelly is vulnerable to terrorist attack because of the political power of the National Rifle Association. Full stop.

And we have never had a president more indebted to the NRA than Donald Trump. Trump took office thanks to more than $30 million in NRA spending on his behalf. Appearing at the gun lobby’s national convention earlier this year, Trump thanked the NRA and promised to advance its agenda. “You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you,” he said.

On Monday, President Trump piously quoted the Bible and condemned an “act of pure evil.” But he made no promise of federal action or intention to prevent future bloodshed. The president only directed that “our great flag” be flown at half mast. In the War on Terror – as prosecuted at home, against those who would commit atrocities with guns – the president might as well be waving a white flag of surrender.

— Tim Dickenson, Rolling Stone Magazine, It’s Time to Politicize the Terror Attack in Las Vegas, October 2, 2017

Quote of the Day: The Danger of Constitutional Absolutism by Sam Grover and Andrew L. Seidel

gun control

Cartoon by David Granlund

All of us at the Freedom From Religion Foundation fall somewhere between being fearful and constantly mindful that a disgruntled maniac with an assault weapon could come into our office building and murder us. In our line of work we regularly come up against angry religious extremists who wish death upon us and all others who advocate for the constitutional separation of religion and government. As the recent lone gunman in Las Vegas—who singlehandedly murdered more than 50 people and injured hundreds more—has reminded us, in the United States this type of mass shooting is far more common than it needs to be.

Believe it or not, as a constitutional issue this debate has a lot in common with the attempts to redefine religious freedom.

Data that predates the shootings in Orlando and Las Vegas shows that the United States is home to more mass shooting events than any other country. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, we were home to 31 percent of all mass shootings between 1966 and 2012. And the rate of mass shootings in our country has tripled since 2011, even as the overall rate of gun violence has declined.

There is compelling evidence suggesting that common-sense gun control laws would go a long way toward preventing mass shooting events in the United States. They worked in Australia, which passed a law to remove semi-automatic weapons from civilian possession in 1996, after 35 people died in a mass shooting in Tasmania. In the 18 years before the gun law reforms, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia. In the 11 years after? None. Australia has also enjoyed an accelerated decline in firearm homicides over that same period.

While one could quibble about how best to interpret the complex data coming out of Australia—and gun lobbyists do—the more fundamental question is: “Why not try this in the United States?” Why won’t Congress take steps to ban the sale of assault-style weapons—a step that could dramatically reduce the number of mass shootings? What are the “cons?” Why, instead, do politicians limit themselves to tweeting out their “thoughts and prayers” while taking no action?

The answer to these questions lies in how the “gun rights” lobby has pushed a particular view of the Second Amendment. That transformation is the reason FFRF is talking about this, the reason it’s relevant to state-church separation. “Religious freedom” advocates are currently trying to do to the First Amendment what the gun lobby did to the Second.

In 1977, the National Rifle Association experienced the “Revolt in Cincinnati,” where extreme gun rights advocates took over the NRA and converted it from an organization that primarily advocated for firearm safety education, marksmanship training and recreational shooting into a lobbying powerhouse focused nearly exclusively on Second Amendment advocacy. One excellent summary of this transformation includes this note: “The NRA’s new leadership was dramatic, dogmatic and overtly ideological. For the first time, the organization formally embraced the idea that the sacred Second Amendment was at the heart of its concerns.” Sound familiar?

Since the Revolt in Cincinnati, the gun rights lobby has successfully pushed an absolute right to gun ownership in courts and legislatures, culminating in the 2008 Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, which established for the first time a dramatic reimagining of the Second Amendment as creating an individual right to own a gun. This dramatic reimagining is exactly what groups like Liberty Institute are trying to do with the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. They are trying to turn free exercise into an absolute right that must be protected even when it infringes on the rights of others.

To hear those seeking to redefine religious freedom tell it, any action motivated by religion is permissible, no matter what its impact. If they deny an LGBTQ citizen a cake because of sexual orientation, that’s their god-given right. Logically, that means they could deny atheists, Jews or even discriminate on the basis of race, though they would be unlikely to say so out loud.

People can believe whatever they like. They are free to believe the voices they’re hearing are God, that thetans and evil spirits make us sad, or that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. But the right to act on those beliefs is by no means absolute. This is best illustrated with the example that the Supreme Court used more than 130 years ago: human sacrifice.

Hearing a command for human sacrifice is fairly common in the bible and the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac is often held up as a measuring stick for how deep one’s faith should be. But people who, like Abraham, hear God ordering them to kill their children do not have a right to do so. Once someone is committing murder, religious freedom is irrelevant.

Somewhere on the spectrum of religiously motivated action, civil law can step in. That line should be drawn where the rights of others begin. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But if religion mandates picking pockets and breaking legs, it comes under the purview of our secular law. And no belief, no matter how fervent, should change that.

Second Amendment rights are not absolute: You can’t bring your gun on a plane or into a school, felons can’t own them, and some states regulate concealed carry or unlicensed gun sales. (Incidentally, the states that regulate guns more strictly have lower incidents of gun-related homicides.) The reason common-sense, data-driven gun laws cannot make it through Congress is because the idea that Second Amendment rights are absolute has been deliberately foisted on American legislatures and courts.

“Religious freedom” advocates are working to achieve the same sleight of hand with the First Amendment and their claimed right to act on their religious beliefs. It began with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, made a huge gain with the Hobby Lobby case, and is set to be decided by the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop very soon.

The absolutist view of the Second Amendment is killing Americans. To adopt that same absolutist view for the Free Exercise Clause “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and, in effect, to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances,” as the Supreme Court wrote in 1879.

There is no constitutional right to act out one’s religious beliefs in a manner that infringes on others’ rights, including the right to equal protection under the law. Discrimination in the name of religion is still discrimination. We cannot accept an absolutist interpretation of the Constitution. Instead, we must look at how the First and Second Amendments are being used—and abused—to amass power and to achieve results that range from nonsensical to lethal. (And yes, an absolutist view of the Free Exercise of religion will lead to lethal consequences too).

The political nonresponse to mass shootings in this country has become a tragic pattern, ripe for parody. We cannot continue to accept inaction based on a vague appeal to an absolute constitutional right. At the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we fight every day against political overreach by “religious freedom” advocates, who cloak their discrimination in constitutional language. We must reject their attempts to take a page from the NRA playbook by foisting an absolutist reimagining of the Free Exercise Clause onto the legal landscape. The right to act out one’s religious beliefs must end where the rights of others begins.

— Sam Grover and Andrew L. Seidel, Constitutional Attorneys, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Gun Control and Religious Freedom: How Thinking in Constitutional Absolutes is Killing People

15 Astounding Predictions for 2016 by Atheist Bruce Gerencser

end of the world

This is the time of year when Evangelical soothsayers, psychics, and Nate Silver (ESPN 538) make predictions for the coming year.  I thought, in keeping with the spirit of the New Year, that I, the atheist version of Carnac the Magnificent, would make a few predictions of my own. Here’s my 15 Astounding Predictions for 2016.

  1. Richard Dawkins will say something stupid.
  2. Neil deGrasse Tyson will say something brilliant.
  3. The Pope will not get laid.
  4. Evangelicals will continue to say the rapture is nigh.
  5. At least three Evangelical preachers will be arrested and charged with molesting children and 25 others will be accused of sexual misconduct.
  6. Evangelicals will continue to say atheists hate God and secretly want to have wanton, immoral sex.
  7. Franklin Graham will be exposed as a cross dressing transvestite.
  8. Evangelical Calvinists will continue to say their critics don’t understand Calvinism.
  9. Bart Ehrman will write another book. It will be titled Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented their Stories of the Savior. I predict it will be released on March 1, 2016
  10. Donald Trump will say bat-shit crazy stuff and his followers will love it.
  11. Evangelicals will continue to think that Christianity is under attack and that secularists are trying to make Christianity illegal.
  12. Tea Party Republicans will continue to think that the lame stream media controls America and that Muslim socialist Barack Hussein Obama is coming to take their guns.
  13. The day after Thanksgiving, Fox News will say that there is a War on Christmas.
  14. One Million Moms will continue to be outraged over nudity, cursing, and gay kissing on TV. This year they will find their lost remote and learn that if they push the channel button it changes the channel.
  15. Democrats will win the presidency, a sure sign that the Antichrist is preparing to usher in the new world order.