Tag Archive: Second Amendment

“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.

….

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.

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.

No More “Thoughts and Prayers.” It’s Time to Address the Murderous American Gun Culture

las vegas massacre

Another mass shooting in America, this time in Las Vegas. Senseless carnage and death, perpetrated by a nondescript white man using semi-automatic rifles armed with high capacity  magazines to rain terror down on the heads of concert-goers. Billed as the worst mass shooting in American history — surpassing the Pulse Night Club massacre — the shooting has aroused social media, filling it with comments from people who, not knowing what else to say, utter the most empty, worthless phrase ever to fall from human lips — my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of ____________.

I understand why people use the thoughts and prayers line. When faced with human savagery and carnage, we search for something, anything to say that might bring the slightest comfort to those harmed by violence. Uttering these words makes us feel better, right? There’s nothing more we can we do for the victims of terrorist attacks or hurricanes, so we throw some empty words towards the sky, knowing that, based on past events, our words will do nothing to change what happened. No matter how many good thoughts or prayers we send out into the netherworld, nothing changes. Why is this? Millions of Christians believe their prayers are heard by God, ignoring that the fact that he never answers them.

What did prayer do for the victims of recent hurricanes? Countless prayers were uttered for the victims in Puerto Rico, and what did God do? Nothing.  Mass murderers continue to mow down their victims with impunity. Prayers are uttered. God will do nothing as the next murderer or terrorist plans to maim and murder countless people. As far as I can tell, the only prayers answered by God were those prayed by Evangelicals during the 2016 presidential election. God indeed heard their prayers, blessing America with the forty-fifth president of the United States — Donald Trump. Outside of Trump’s election, God seems to be sitting on sidelines as his creation is ravaged by global warming, war, famine, drought, terrorism, and gun violence.

At the heart of the Las Vegas mass shooting is America’s insane love of guns — more specifically, our worship of a deified interpretation of the Second Amendment. Mention regulating the sale, type, and use of firearms, and the NRA crazies come out of the woodwork to defend their right to own firearms without ANY restrictions (even though recent studies suggest that a majority of gun owners support stricter gun laws).

Gun lovers, using a faulty understanding of the Second Amendment, demand the right to buy and sell guns at will. (Please read Gary Wills’ insightful article on the Second Amendment, To Keep and Bear Arms.) Attempts to restrict gun sales and use are met with hysterical cries about liberals and communists coming to take away our guns! During the 2016 election, right-wingers talked about using “second amendment remedies” to violently overthrow the federal government if the wrong people were elected. The right man won, and as thanks for helping him get elected, Donald Trump loosened gun laws, making it easier for mentally ill people to buy firearms.

Nevada, home to the latest mass shooting, has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation. I am not suggesting that stricter laws would have kept Steven Paddock from murdering and wounding hundreds of concert-goers. No single event can be used to justify stricter (or looser) gun laws. We can, however, take a big step backward and look at gun violence in general and begin asking questions about how best to lessen violence perpetrated by people with handguns, long guns, and semi-automatic weapons. Doing nothing is no longer an option — a refrain I have been singing for the past decade.

First, voting Americans need to understand that only seven percent of gun owners belong to the NRA. Now, this doesn’t mean that non-NRA gun owners don’t support the NRA’s agenda — many of them do. What it does mean is that the NRA plays a larger-than-life part in the gun law debate. Certainly, the NRA and its constituents deserve a place at the table, but it is time for Americans to see that the NRA is more of a chihuahua than a pit bull.  Once our political leaders realize this, they will quit fearing NRA retribution if they support strengthening gun laws.

Second, I would like to see the United States adopt similar gun laws to those found in England or Australia.  I realize that gun laws must be changed incrementally, but surely our political leaders can stop their bickering long enough to enact meaningful, progressive gun law reform that protects the right to own firearms, while at the same time strengthening gun registration laws (requiring ALL guns to be registered), putting an end to unregulated private gun sales, unregulated gun shows, and the sale of military (and military-like) firearms and accessories.

Australia strictly regulates gun sales and ownership, restricting firearm use to:

  • Sport/target shooting
  • Hunting
  • Primary production
  • Professional hunting
  • Handgun or clay target shooting (including licences held on behalf of juniors)
  • Employment as a security and/or prison guard
  • Official, commercial or prescribed purpose or for a purpose authorised by an Act or Regulation.

England, which has the one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world, has strict gun control laws. According to Wikipedia:

Fully automatic (submachine-guns, etc.) are “prohibited weapons” and require explicit permission from central government to permit ownership. Generally, such permits are not available to private citizens. Semi-automatic rifles over .22 in (5.6 mm) and pistols are similarly “prohibited”, although there are exceptions for short barrelled breech-loading semi-automatic and revolver pistols for use for the humane dispatch of animals (classed under section 5). There are also very limited exceptions for pistols both to preserve firearms of historic or technical interest (classed as section 7 firearms) and to enable use by elite sports teams. Semi-automatic shotguns are restricted to a magazine capacity of no more than two shot and is held under section 2 of the Firearms Act, although a ‘multi-shot’ shotgun can be owned under section 1 (restricted firearms and ammunition) of the Firearms Act. Where the term ‘multi-shot’ is used, this refers to either a Semi-automatic or pump action shotgun with no restriction on magazine capacity. All other rifles and their ammunition are permitted with no limits as to magazine size, to include: target shooting, hunting, and historic and muzzle-loading weapons, as well as long barrelled breachloading pistols with a specific overall length, but not for self-defence; however if a home-owner is threatened they may be used in self-defence, so long as the force is reasonable. Shotgun possession and use is controlled, and even low-power air rifles and pistols, while permitted, are controlled to some extent. A Firearm Certificate issued by the police is required for all weapons and ammunition except air weapons of modest power (of muzzle energy not over 12 ft·lbf (16 J) for rifles, and 6 ft·lbf (8.1 J) for pistols). Shotguns with a capacity of three rounds or less (up to guns with a magazine holding no more than two rounds, in addition to one in the chamber) are subject to less stringent licensing requirements than other firearms and require a shotgun certificate; shotguns with higher capacity require a Firearm Certificate.

Possession of a live firearms round can lead to severe penalties. Live firearms ammunition, other than most shotgun ammunition, may only be purchased and possessed with the authority of a Firearm Certificate. Shotgun cartridges can be possessed by anybody over the age of 15 but no licence is required to hold such ammunition so long as the cartridges contain 5 or more shots. However, a licence covering possession of a firearm capable of firing shotgun ammunition is required for purchase.

The droning tropes of the NRA — if you outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns, guns don’t kill people, people do, to name a few — must be met with deaf ears, If we can regulate everything from automobiles to soda pop, surely we can come up with new laws and regulations that make it harder for mass murderers and garden variety killers to obtain firearms. I see no justifiable reason for Americans to own semi-automatic, high capacity magazine military-style weapons, nor do I see any reason for ordinary citizens to have access to concealed carry permits.

Nicholas Kristof had this to say today about the Las Vegas massacre:

After the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, the impulse of politicians will be to lower flags, offer moments of silence, and lead a national mourning. Yet what we need most of all isn’t mourning, but action to lower the toll of guns in America.

We don’t need to simply acquiesce to this kind of slaughter. When Australia suffered a mass shooting in 1996, the country united behind tougher laws on firearms. As a result, the gun homicide rate was almost halved, and the gun suicide rate dropped by half, according to the Journal of Public Health Policy.

Skeptics will say that there are no magic wands and that laws can’t make the carnage go away. To some extent, they’re right. Some criminals will always be able to obtain guns, especially in a country like America that is awash with 300 million firearms. We are always likely to have higher gun death rates than Europe.

But the scale is staggering. Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (including suicides, murders and accidents) than the sum total of all the Americans who died in all the wars in American history, back to the American Revolution. Every day, some 92 Americans die from guns, and American kids are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway of Harvard.

So while there’s no magic wand available, here are some steps we could take that would, collectively, make a difference:

1. Impose universal background checks for anyone buying a gun. Four out of five Americans support this measure, to prevent criminals or terrorists from obtaining guns.

2. Impose a minimum age limit of 21 on gun purchases. This is already the law for handgun purchases in many states, and it mirrors the law on buying alcohol.

3. Enforce a ban on possession of guns by anyone subject to a domestic violence protection order. This is a moment when people are upset and prone to violence against their exes.

4. Limit gun purchases by any one person to no more than, say, two a month, and tighten rules on straw purchasers who buy for criminals. Make serial numbers harder to remove.

5. Adopt microstamping of cartridges so that they can be traced to the gun that fired them, useful for solving gun crimes.

6. Invest in “smart gun” purchases by police departments or the U.S. military, to promote their use. Such guns require a PIN or can only be fired when near a particular bracelet or other device, so that children cannot misuse them and they are less vulnerable to theft. The gun industry made a childproof gun in the 1800’s but now resists smart guns.

7. Require safe storage, to reduce theft, suicide and accidents by children.

8. Invest in research to see what interventions will be more effective in reducing gun deaths. We know, for example, that alcohol and guns don’t mix, but we don’t know precisely what laws would be most effective in reducing the resulting toll. Similar investments in reducing other kinds of accidental deaths have been very effective.

These are all modest steps, and I can’t claim that they would have an overwhelming effect. But public health experts think it’s plausible that a series of well-crafted safety measures like these could reduce gun deaths by one-third—or more than 10,000 a year.

It’s too soon to know what, if anything, might have prevented the shooting in Las Vegas, and it may be that nothing could have prevented it. In some ways, these mass shootings are anomalies: Most gun deaths occur in ones or twos, usually with handguns (which kill far more people than assault rifles), and suicides outnumber murders.

But in every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try — however imperfectly — to reduce death and injury.

In every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try to reduce death and injury, Kristof said, and he is exactly right. We need to do something besides sending up more meaningless thoughts and prayers. Change requires forceful, meaningful, bipartisan action. And if our elected officials refuse to act, we need to shame them out of office, replacing them with legislators that put people over ideology and value saving lives over collecting donations.

I am not anti-gun. For many years, I was a gun owner. My brother is a retired police officer, and my father was an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. My father was a lifelong gun owner and seller. Dad owned a gun store in Arizona, and frequented gun shows to buy and sell firearms. As a teenager, I manned many a gun show sales table. I am sympathetic towards private gun ownership. That said, I am also sickened by the carnage and havoc perpetrated by people who were able to buy firearms and ammo with minimal or no regulation. Nineteen children a day are wounded or killed by firearms. In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” — more deaths than by car accident.  Enough of the carnage! No more thoughts and prayers! It’s time for action. The NRA will certainly object, but it is time for thoughtful, caring Americans to ignore their protestations, and work towards putting an end to gun violence.

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

Republican Candidates for Defiance County Sheriff Vow to Militantly Uphold Second Amendment

fear-and-gun-ownership

Cartoon by David Horsey

Last Thursday, Republican candidates for Defiance County sheriff attended a forum at the Defiance County Fish and Game Club and shared their thoughts about the importance of the Second Amendment. Long-time Sheriff David Westrick is not seeking a ninth term, so Deputy Doug Engel and write-in candidate Steve Flory are battling one another, hoping to claim Westrick’s empty seat.

Both candidates think that protecting gun rights is very important. Both candidates said they would take a militant stand against attempts by liberals to take away guns or restrict their use. Todd Helberg, reporting for the Defiance Crescent-News, had this to say about the candidates (behind paywall):

A former sheriff’s deputy, Flory opened, quoting founding fathers George Washington and John Adams in defending the Second Amendment and its provision for allowing the citizenry to bear arms. Specifically, he noted Adams’ remark that the amendment assures the “private self-defense” of citizens.

“How often do we run into someone who doesn’t think private self-defense is part of (the Second Amendment)?, asked Flory. “Baloney. That’s exactly what it’s there for — for you and I to protect ourselves.”

While pledging “to stand with you guys,” on the Second Amendment, Flory mentioned the passage of a conceal carry law in Ohio some years ago, saying he’d like it to be a little less restrictive. And, he noted the misperceptions some apparently have with conceal carry laws across the country.

Flory explained that approximately 33,000 people are killed annually in traffic crashes nationally, then asked the audience how many have been killed by conceal carry permit holders during the past 10 years. According to a “very leftist” Internet website, he said the figure is 885, including suicides.

“We’re more dangerous to ourselves and others when we are just driving down the road everyday,” Flory said, adding that the conceal carry holder is there to protect himself, his family “and you.”

“… I think a lot of Second Amendment naysayers just are not educated enough to realize a good upstanding citizen … is doing (conceal carry) for their own purposes,” Flory said.

Engel, who is Westrick’s chief deputy, said “we in the sheriff’s office will always protect your Second Amendment rights.” …. “I will guarantee you … nobody — absolutely nobody — is going to enter your house and remove our firearms,” Engel said. “The only exception is if you have committed a crime with that firearm.”

In stating this, Engel suggested a militant stance if Second Amendment rights were changed by the U.S. Supreme Court. At present, he noted the court has been friendly to these rights with rulings in 2008 and 2010, but cautioned that this could change after the next presidential election.

“Our next president is going to have the ability to appoint three (Supreme Court) justices, maybe five,” Engel said. “… We need to get smart here. … The Supreme Court has been very protective, but if we make a mistake and don’t elect the right person, we’re in trouble — all of us.”
….
During a brief question period….another person asked what would happen if the Supreme Court made a decision that changed Second Amendment rights.

“No one’s going to take my guns, period,” said Engel. “They’re not going to take our guns. As sheriff I’m not going to get your guns … .”

“I’m telling you the same thing,” added Flory.

On one hand, the statements by both candidates are typical NRA-driven, the-liberals-are-coming-to-take-away-our-guns hysteria. Defiance County is awash in right-wing religious and political ideology. Making these statement played well with their target audience — white, right-wing, lock-and-load, Christian Republicans. Both Flory and Engel know that they don’t need votes from people such as myself. True liberals — those of us who want universal background checks, universal gun registration, banning of assault weapons and large capacity magazines, and the abolition of concealed carry permits — are as rare as the ivory-billed woodpecker. As a voting demographic, we don’t matter.

What troubles me is that both candidates advocate lawlessness. I thought the sheriff is the chief county law ENFORCEMENT officer? Yet both men said they would break the law IF the federal government or the U.S. Supreme Court attempted to alter the Second Amendment or restrict gun ownership.

Both candidates seem to want a wild, wild west of gun ownership. Both men fail to understand the difference between personal gun ownership and a well-regulated militia. What will future Sheriff Flory or Sheriff Engel do when tasked with enforcing laws that run contrary to their personal opinions? The sheriff doesn’t make law, neither is he tasked with interpreting the Constitution. His sole duty is to enforce the law, even those laws he personally disagrees with. What if the Ohio legislature and the U.S. Congress finally realize that the only way to put an end to mass shootings and gun violence is to limit gun ownership and use? What if these laws are upheld by the Supreme Court? Will future Sheriff Flory or Sheriff Engel enforce the law? Based on the aforementioned comments, I suspect both men would refuse to enforce the law. This fact should trouble Republicans and Democrats alike.

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Just a Bunch of Filthy Sodomites in a Bar by Steven Anderson

steven anderson

This is the sixty-eighth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a clip from a sermon preached by Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church, Tempe, Arizona. This video clearly shows that Steven Anderson has taken over Fred Phelps’ throne and is now the most vile and disgusting man in America.

(video removed from YouTube)

The original video was removed by YouTube. It can still be viewed here.

Transcript (Thanks to Hemant Mehta)

The good news is that there’s 50 less pedophiles in this world, because, you know, these homosexuals are a bunch of disgusting perverts and pedophiles. That’s who was a victim here, are a bunch of, just, disgusting homosexuals at a gay bar, okay?

But the bad news is that this is now gonna be used, I’m sure, to push for gun control, where, you know, law-abiding normal Americans are not gonna be allowed to have guns for self-defense. And then I’m sure it’s also gonna be used to push an agenda against so-called “hate speech.” So Bible-believing Christian preachers who preach what the Bible actually says about homosexuality — that it’s vile, that it’s disgusting, that they’re reprobates — you know, we’re gonna be blamed. Like, “It’s all extremism! It’s not just the Muslims, it’s the Christians!” I’m sure that that’s coming. I’m sure that people are gonna start attacking, you know, Bible-believing Christians now, because of what this guy did.

Now let me just be real clear: I’ve never advocated for violence. I don’t believe in, you know, taking the law into our own hands. I would never go in and shoot up a gay bar — so-called. I don’t believe it’s right for us to just be a vigilante… But I will say this: The Bible says that homosexuals should be put to death, in Leviticus 20:13. Obviously, it’s not right for somebody to just, you know, shoot up the place, because that’s not going through the proper channels. But these people all should have been killed, anyway, but they should have been killed through the proper channels, as in they should have been executed by a righteous government that would have tried them, convicted them, and saw them executed. Because, in Leviticus 20:13, God’s perfect law, he put the death penalty on murder, and he also put the death penalty on homosexuality. That’s what the Bible says, plain and simple.

So, you know, the good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not gonna be harming children anymore. The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re gonna continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle…

I’m not sad about it, I’m not gonna cry about it. Because these… 50 people in a gay bar that got shot up, they were gonna die of AIDS, and syphilis, and whatever else. They were all gonna die early, anyway, because homosexuals have a 20-year shorter life-span than normal people, anyway…