I Have a Dream

Dreams by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams                                                                                                                          For if dreams die                                                                                                                                Life is a broken-winged bird                                                                                                        That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams                                                                                                                          For when dreams go                                                                                                                        Life is a barren field                                                                                                                      Frozen with snow.

My dream is that in my lifetime, the right to keep and bear Arms will be limited to “a well regulated Militia”. But maybe my future just holds broken-winged birds and barren fields frozen with snow.

On Guns

Another high schooler takes a gun to school and uses it. Washington State voters consider an initiative to tighten gun ownership regulations. I still have no idea about how to talk about gun ownership.

One approach would be to study the historical context of the Second Amendment. For example, we could turn to Michael Waldman’s “biography” of the Second Amendment. Here’s an excerpt of a Mother Jones interview with Waldman.

MJ: What preconceived notions about the Second Amendment did the history that you uncovered confirm or debunk?

MW: There are surprises in this book for people who support gun control, and people who are for gun rights. When the Supreme Court ruled in Heller, Justice Scalia said he was following his doctrine of originalism. But when you actually go back and look at the debate that went into drafting of the amendment, you can squint and look really hard, but there’s simply no evidence of it being about individual gun ownership for self-protection or for hunting. Emphatically, the focus was on the militias. To the framers, that phrase “a well-regulated militia” was really critical. In the debates, in James Madison’s notes of the Constitutional Convention, on the floor of the House of Representatives as they wrote the Second Amendment, all the focus was about the militias. Now at the same time, those militias are not the National Guard. Every adult man, and eventually every adult white man, was required to be in the militias and was required to own a gun, and to bring it from home. So it was an individual right to fulfill the duty to serve in the militias.

MJ: You point out that the NRA has the Second Amendment inscribed in their lobby, but with the militia clause removed.

MW: Yes. That was first reported in an article inMother Jones in the ’90s. But I didn’t want to rely on just that, so one of my colleagues went out to the NRA headquarters to look at the lobby. And she had her picture taken in front of the sign so we could confirm that it was actually still there!

MJ: Based on the history you’ve uncovered, do you think the founders understood there to be an unwritten individual right to arms that they didn’t include in the Constitution?

MW: Yes. And that might be noteworthy for some. There were plenty of guns. There was the right to defend yourself, which was part of English common law handed down from England. But there were also gun restrictions at the same time. There were many. There were limits, for example, on where you could store gunpowder. You couldn’t have a loaded gun in your house in Boston. There were lots of limits on who could own guns for all different kinds of reasons. There was an expectation that you should be able to own a gun. But they didn’t think they were writing that expectation into the Constitution with the Second Amendment.

MJ: So then why focus on the Second Amendment and not the English Bill of Rights or other things the framers drew on that more clearly address individual gun ownership?

MW: We are not governed today, in 2014, by British common law. Law evolved, the country evolved. It was a very rural place. There were no cities. There were no police forces. It was a completely different way of living. So gun rights activists turned this into a constitutional crusade. Those who want more guns and fewer restrictions realized they could gain some higher ground if they claimed the Constitution.

When I learn about the historical context of the Second Amendment, the question I’m left with is this: Is the threat of a federal government take-over at the hands of anti-American insurrectionists so great that local police, state troopers, and the National Guard can’t be expected to repel it?

But no matter how reasonably the “historical context” argument is made, the pro-gunners will never accept Waldman-like interpretations of the amendment because doing so would impose limits on gun ownership and that is an anathema to them. Making that approach a complete dead-end.

What about appealing to safety in public spaces? Also a dead-end. Most pro-gunners believe school cafeterias, legislative buildings, movie theaters become safer as a greater percentage of people in those places carry licensed guns. The thinking being upstanding private citizens will gun down the evil ones perpetrating acts of violence on innocent bystanders before authorities are able to respond.

For example, if the food service workers in the Marysville High School cafeteria were carrying, one of them could have killed the shooter from across the cafeteria before he had the opportunity to kill and injure any of his classmates. I guess we’re supposed to assume that she hits the perp, but no other students because she regularly receives expert firearm training.

What about pointing out the loopholes in gun ownership laws, the propensity of some parents not to hide or lock their guns, the uneven training gun owners undergo, and the number of mentally ill people that manage to get ahold of guns. Dead-end. The pro-gunners think that if they give into any tightening of gun ownership requirements it will lead to more, and eventually, the confiscation of their guns.

What about comforting those most afraid of dying at the hands of violent criminals with what we know about how most people die?

Number of deaths for leading causes of death—2011 (Center for Disease Control)

  • Heart disease: 596,577
  • Cancer: 576,691
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,943
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,932
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 126,438 (1. poisoning; 2. car accidents; 3. gun violence)
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,974
  • Diabetes: 73,831
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,826
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,591
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 39,518

A dead-end too because pro-gunners will argue that if you’re more likely to die while driving than at the hands of violent criminals, it’s proof that the status quo of relatively uninhibited gun ownership is working. My reading of those statistics is that no amount of weaponry will protect the mostly sedentary masses from what and how much they eat.

One dead-end after another.

Feminism and Church Patriarchy

I was too young during the Civil Rights movement to appreciate the participants’ sacrifices and accomplishments firsthand. We’re in the midst of another, admittedly more subtle, radical social transformation.

The U.S. is tilting left, in large part because younger voters are more liberal on a host of social issues including gay marriage, women’s rights, immigration, gun control, and legalizing marijuana.  As one especially illuminating example of this transformation, read not-so-young Republican Senator Rob Portman’s explanation of why he now supports gay marriage.

The key word in the previous paragraph was “tilting” as in 55%. There’s still a Grand Canyon-like partisan divide on social issues. Case in point, Portman is getting ripped by the Right for abandoning conservative biblical principles and by the Left for a too little too late conversion.

This is what I was thinking about in church Sunday when Melinda, our twenty-something year-old intern, started her sermon, a history of St. Patrick, and what his life might mean for our church today. It was excellent. I drifted as always, but more purposefully. I was fast forwarding, thinking about how bright her pastoral future is. I was picturing her taking future calls and serving a series of churches extremely well. A life spent modeling the gospel; providing spiritual counseling; teaching and preaching; rallying people to serve those in need; thoughtfully baptizing, marrying, and burying the young and old; and the community and larger Church, being better for it.

And then I thought about a religious organization that’s been in the news a lot lately as a result of a change in leadership. And how, despite accelerating social change in the U.S., that religious organization is passing on thousands of Melinda’s the world over every year. How, I wonder, does any institution in the 21st Century take a pass on the leadership potential of half its members?

Also listening to Melinda was our district’s congressman who flies home every weekend to see his wife. Looking at him made me wonder, what if Congress passed on the leadership of half the population? What if schools of medicine did? Or your workplace? What if (fill in the group or institution of your choice) did?

How do my feminist friends, both male and female deal with the church’s patriarchy? That’s only one of my many questions about the Church in the news. My friends would undoubtedly say that’s just one of a long list of unresolved challenges facing the Church. They oppose the Church’s official stands on a litany of issues, but remain committed to it.

How does that work? Does religious tradition trump discordant hearts and minds? How does it hold together?

Columbine, Blacksburg, Tucson, Seal Beach, Aurora, Newtown

The National Rifle Association has gone silent, hoping that we conclude there’s an inevitability to gun violence, call it an unfortunate cost of Second Amendment rights to gun ownership. That’s the exact reason we can’t become desensitized to the steady stream of incomprehensible violence.

We have to spend the next few months insisting that our Congressional representatives take the actions that Michael Bloomberg and Diane Feinstein described on Sunday’s Meet the Press.

We have to learn to think about mental illnesses like physical illnesses and advocate for more accessible and affordable care for the mentally ill.

We have to insist on people’s rights. To go to school, to go shopping, and to go to a movie without fear.

We have to resist the urge to arm more people. On the same Meet the Press, Bill Bennett (pundits should be like yogurt and have expiration dates) said we should probably have an armed security guard in every school. I thought of that when I walked into my YMCA Sunday afternoon to workout. The doors open for anyone and the membership check-in is about 30 to 40 feet inside the building. I passed 20+ people before having to show my membership card. Sometimes when the line is long, I just slide in behind it and head to the locker or weightroom. So unless we’re going to install TSA-like security at every YMCA, mall, and theater, I don’t see armed school guards as a solution. I recommend Jim Fallows position on this and his most recent Atlantic piece on the shootings (and Goldberg’s which he references).

We have to ask why, according to Mother Jones, since 1982, males are responsible for 61 out of 62 mass murders with firearms across the country. What does the fact that some young men more than young women want to physically injure and/or kill others say about our parenting of boys, our schools, and our culture? What changes in our parenting, schools, and culture are needed?

Lastly, an impassioned debate among two female writers—I am Adam Lanza’s Mother and Don’t Compare Your Son to Adam Lanza.

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Right to Bear Arms

The “Washington sniper” has been executed and Fort Hood’s Hasan is probably next. IF I understand correctly, here’s what the right would have us believe about these heinous crimes and how best to prevent future tragedies of their ilk. Mental illness is an excuse concocted by public defenders simply trying to save the lives of their clients. We’d greatly reduce violent crimes if we’d apply the second amendment right to bear arms so that private citizens (or members of the military on bases) can defend themselves from criminals who carry high powered guns. For every violent criminal there would be thousands of private citizens capable of shooting them dead in their tracks at the first signs of their weapons. We’d further reduce violent crimes (and save money and provide relief to the victim’s families) if we’d put these violent criminals to death more often. Increase executions and make violent criminals think twice before they kill innocent people.

Polling shows U.S. citizens are almost equally divided on the death penalty. I can’t imagine any scenario in which the “right to bear arms/death penalty hawks” are going to convince the “gun control/life in prison doves” to alter their thinking and vice-versa.

What to do?

Maybe we should just divide the country into 25 “hawk” and 25 “dove” states. Pick one representative of each view and have them take turns picking states for everyone else. Since I disagree with almost everything in paragraph one, I nominate myself for the doves, and my first pick is Washington State. Clint Eastwood, representing the Hawks, will no doubt take California which I’m not happy about at all. My second pick, Oregon.

For practical reasons, residents of hawk and dove states will be allowed to travel freely into ideological enemy territory; however, they will have to agree to adapt to life in ideological enemy territory. For example, Clint will have to leave his gun at home when he flies to Seattle and I will have to avoid committing a violent crime when visiting California lest I be fired upon by private citizens and/or executed by Ahrnold. Social scientists can do longitudinal studies on the quality of life in each set of states.

Problem solved. Happy to help.