The US and guns – update

In late May, when I wrote this post, I knew there would need to be an update in the continuing saga of gun violence in the United States. A lot has happened since then, so here goes.

In the wake of the national furor over the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, a bipartisan group of senators managed to hammer out a bill that could pass. It is much weaker than the bill that had originally passed in the House but does have some important provisions. It increases funding for mental health services, which is much needed. The impact on mass shootings is unclear but the majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides, so there is hope that these funds will avert some share of these deaths. There are incentives for states to implement red flag laws, which prevent firearm sales and/or remove guns from homes where someone is deemed threatening to themselves or others. The laws preventing those convicted of domestic violence from obtaining guns were strengthened. There will be enhanced background checks for those ages 18-20. Penalties for those who purchase guns for someone who is not eligible to own one have been increased. Funding for security in schools will increase.

Unfortunately, stronger prevention measures were not included, most of which have broad public support. Among these are strengthened and universal background checks, banning military-style assault weapons and large ammunition clips, and raising the age to buy semiautomatic weapons to 21. It’s unlikely that Republicans will agree to any further national legislation in the immediate future, so it is up to states to do what they can to protect people, although it is easy for anyone intent on getting a weapon to do so by visiting a state with looser regulations.

Ironically, just as this legislation was passed, the Supreme Court handed down an opinion that struck down the process to carry a concealed weapon in my home state, New York. This law, which had been on the books for over a century, was somehow not deemed to be part of our history and tradition by the conservatives on the Court, while ignoring the clear text of the Second Amendment that places gun rights in the context of “a well-regulated militia.”

Governor Hochul called the state legislature, which usually is in session only in the winter and spring, back from recess to pass new laws that would seem to be acceptable to the Court which had objected to a gun owner proving that they needed to carry a concealed weapon for protection. The new laws include mandatory standardized training and tests to obtain a concealed carry permit, a blanket prohibition on carrying firearms on private property and businesses unless they expressly give permission, and a list of “sensitive places” where concealed weapons are not permitted, including public transportation, medical facilities, schools and day care facilities, libraries, government buildings, houses of worship, public demonstrations, entertainment venues, and establishments that serve alcohol.

There are also provisions that strengthen New York’s already relatively strict gun laws, including background checks for all ammunition purchases, enhancements of the safe storage requirements including in vehicles, and extending the sales ban on body armor to include hard body armor which was used by the shooter in Buffalo.

These new laws will take effect on September first. They may be challenged in court but the legislature and governor tried to design them in such a way that they will be upheld. At least, we will have greater protections while the cases wind their way through the courts.

Meanwhile, of course, gun violence continues unabated. The Fourth of July weekend was especially brutal, with over 500 shootings, at least 11 of which were categorized as mass shootings (four or more injured or killed, not counting the shooter), resulting in over 220 deaths and nearly 570 injuries. The information source for this reporting is the Gun Violence Archive, an organization that collects and compiles data on shootings in the US. That our country has need of such an organization is sobering in and of itself. As I write this on July 7, 2022, they have verified 22,733 gun deaths so far this year, of which 12,408 were suicides.

The most prominent of the mass shootings this weekend was at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. A 21-year-old man, shooting with a military-style weapon from a rooftop overlooking the parade route, killed seven with several dozen wounded. He was later arrested and has confessed to the crime. Our news reports are filled with the tragic losses of family members, including the parents of a 2-year-old who was found beneath his father’s body.

This father died protecting his only child from a young man who should not have had a weapon of war. All of us need the protection of law to keep these weapons out of civilian hands. Congress, do your job and pass more laws so that our rates of gun violence are more in line with those of other advanced democracies. Other countries have similar rates of mental illness, violent video games, and social problems, but have nowhere near our rates of gun violence. Republicans, it’s time to wake up and admit the truth that the heart of the problem is too-easy access to guns, especially military-style weapons. And remember that your beloved Second Amendment is about a “well-regulated militia” – now akin to the National Guard – not your mentally unstable 18-year-old neighbor who has fallen into some dark conspiracy-laden corner of the internet and thinks he should kill some folks to show he has power over them.

Congressional Republicans, you have the power to join with your Democratic and Independent colleagues to protect us. If you need help mustering courage, look to the example of that dad in Highland Park. Your possibly sacrificing a few votes in your next election or some campaign contributions is nothing compared to his sacrificing his life and his chance to see his child grow into adulthood.

a trip to IKEA

I know it may seem as if I have fallen off the face of the earth lately because I’ve posted less often than usual but I am still here.

Well, not my usual “here” as I am in London visiting daughter E and her family. Yesterday, E and granddaughter JG took us to IKEA for the first time. While there are IKEAs in the US, none of them are near our home. E was explaining that in some places, like Germany, rentals tend to have just the four walls so stores like IKEA offer furnishings for whole rooms as a package.

We ate lunch there. Of course, I had to try the Swedish meatballs. They reminded me a bit of the Swedish meatballs my mom used to make using a recipe from her Swedish neighbor. None of this putting sour cream in the gravy nonsense!

I’m still struggling a bit with jet lag but slept almost normal hours last night. Today is the first day of the half-term break for granddaughter ABC and for son-in-law L. We are hoping to do a bit of sight-seeing next week, although we may try to do gardens and outdoor venues as much as possible. We need to stay COVID-free if at all possible!

I’ll try to get some posts out in the coming days. I had intended to write a post about the mass shooting in Buffalo but then the Texas school shooting happened so I need to expand somewhat.

Stay tuned…

again and again and again

I didn’t want to write about mass shootings in the United States today. I’ve written way too many posts about this in the past, most recently about the Atlanta-area shootings last week.

But here we are again, mourning the deaths of ten people, including a responding police officer, at a Boulder, Colorado supermarket. A suspect is in custody, but it is early in the investigation so many details are not yet public.

It is likely that this will become the third Colorado mass shooting to lodge in the nation’s consciousness along with the high school in Columbine and the movie theater in Aurora.

The list of mass shootings in the United States is so long that only some of them are invoked as a litany. I live near Binghamton, New York, which suffered a 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association. This post that I wrote for the fifth anniversary of that shooting explains why I think Binghamton is not part of that litany.

There has long been a majority of the public in favor of taking measures nationally to curb gun violence. Some of the proposals are universal background checks to purchase firearms, limits on size of ammunition clips, banning of military-style assault weapons, and requiring gun licensing. At this point, each state has its own laws with some allowing municipalities to enact stricter regulations and others not.

There are also proposals to better diagnose and treat mental health issues. Some mass shooters, such as the one in Binghamton, suffer from mental illness. The biggest potential reduction in deaths from firearms related to mental health would be from self-inflicted shootings. In the United States, suicides account for the largest percentage of gun deaths every year. (For help with issues about suicide in the United States, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .)

What compounds the recent tragedies in Atlanta and Boulder, though, is that there will be sadness, outrage, prayers, vigils, fundraisers, and hopes that this will be the time when Congress finally takes action – and they won’t. Again.

And then, inevitably, there will be another mass shooting which gets attention and hundreds of other murders and thousands of suicides which won’t.

And the cycle will repeat.

hate crimes

The United States is once again mourning the victims of a mass shooting. This time, it was in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Six women of Asian heritage who owned or worked for three day-spas were killed, along with a white man who was an employee at one location and a white woman who was a customer.

The gunman has admitted that he did this, citing his sex addiction as a motive. He bought the gun that he used that day. Unlike some states, Georgia has no waiting period to buy a firearm.

Somehow, much of the public discussion has centered around whether or not charges will be brought specifically as a hate crime in addition to murder charges.

I think the answer is clearly yes, this is a hate crime. The statute is written to account for gender-based violence and the gunman has already admitted that he set out to kill women. Further investigation may reveal that there was also racial motivation, which would add another parameter to this hate crime.

The racial aspect of this crime has spotlighted a disturbing rise in abuse and violence against Asian immigrants and people of Asian/Pacific Islands descent across the United States, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic. Thousands of incidents have been reported and many more are likely unreported. While the majority of attacks are verbal, others are physical and have resulted in serious injury or death. In some majority AAPI neighborhoods in cities, volunteers accompany elders when they go out on errands to keep them safe.

The discussion about this crime has also engendered discussion about a particularly virulent form of sexism against AAPI girls and women, in which they are subjected to hypersexualized comments and assault. Sexual harassment and violence are always wrong but the addition of a racial/ethnic component compounds the damage.

Sadly, discrimination, abuse, and violence against AAPI people in the United States is a long-standing problem. There were official government policies that hugely damaged communities, such as the Chinese Exclusion Acts in the nineteenth century and the shameful interment of Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans during World War II. Many AAPI people have been subjected to discrimination in schooling and employment, name-calling, exclusion, and, as we are highlighting recently, abuse, assault, and murder.

The recent rise in incidents seems to be tied to the pandemic. Because the prior administration blamed China for the COVID-19 pandemic, some members of the public decided to attack individual people verbally or physically. While the administration was blaming the Chinese specifically, these attacks have been against people with roots in a range of Asian and Pacific Island countries because the perpetrators think they “look Chinese.”

Whatever the motivation, all these incidents are appalling. I hope that the exposure of these attacks will lead to greater protection for AAPI communities and greater accountability for perpetrators.

Hate must not go unchallenged.

In the United States, there is supposed to be equal protection under the law. The race, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, religion, age, health status, or any other attribute of the person does not change that.

We all deserve safety.

Parkland – part three

As part of my continuing reflection on the Parkland shooting, I wanted to share this moving video of a Parkland student speaking in a listening session with the president, who was holding notes to help him respond with seeming empathy. I continue to react with awe to the voices and activism of the Parkland students and the other teens who have mobilized to demand that lawmakers and other authorities take steps to help protect students and the general public from gun violence.

While many people are advancing serious strategies, others have responded with suggestions that are problematic. The president and some others are promoting the idea of arming teachers, which is opposed by teachers’ organizations and many individual teachers, parents, school board and community members. There was an armed police officer on duty at the high school in Parkland, but he, despite his training and experience, did not intervene in the shooting and has since resigned. How could teachers, with much lower levels of training and experience, ever hope to wound or kill an armed intruder without shooting bystanders? How many accidental discharges or mistakes would there be if 20% of all teachers were armed? In other countries that have suffered a mass shooting and taken effective action, the solution has always been to reduce the firepower in civilian hands, not increase it.

I am also appalled to report that the member of the House of Representatives from my district, Claudia Tenney, has made a number of reprehensible remarks after Parkland, most notably that “so many of these people that commit the mass murders wind up being Democrats.” (There is no data to back up this claim.)

I find this particularly offensive to those of us who live in the Binghamton area. When the mass shooting at the American Civic Association here occurred in 2009, it did not matter whether the shooter was a Republican, Democrat, independent, or not a voter at all. What mattered was that people were killed and wounded, families and communities shattered, and a beloved civic institution damaged. That Representative Tenney could be so dismissive of those of us in the southern part of her district as she vociferously supports a gun manufacturer nearer to where she lives is ye another reason that many of us have already mobilized to hold her to account for her views and votes and to back strong candidates to oppose her in the November election. We deserve a representative who is thoughtful, honest, and committed to the common good.

another mass shooting

Another week, another horrific mass shooting in America.

Another post I did not want to have occasion to write.

As some of you know, I live in the Binghamton, New York area, which was the scene of a 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association. Because of this, I know that these crimes can happen anywhere in our country. We lost the sense of “it can’t happen here” years ago.

Every time there is another mass shooting, much of the public response seems the same. “It’s a mental health issue, not a gun issue.” (Unless it is Muslim shooter, in which case it is a terrorism issue, not a gun issue.) “It’s disrespectful to talk about gun control when people are in mourning.” Corollary: we can talk about gun control later, except that we as a country are always in mourning/recovery from a mass shooting because they happen so frequently, so the “appropriate time” for the discussion never arrives. “The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.” “The guns were all legally purchased.” “This (insert gun control proposal here) would not have stopped (insert particular mass shooting here) from happening.”

Enough. Time for a reality check.

The issue is complicated. It needs and deserves thoughtful analysis and strategies to prevent future incidences. It needs and deserves consistent attention from the public and from public officials, because it is about the health, safety, and well-being of individuals and the country.

Yes, the mental health treatment system in the United States needs to be more robust, affordable, and compassionate. The shooter at the ACA was known to be mentally ill; his father begged the state of New York not to issue him a gun license, but the laws at the time allowed it. To its credit, New York made some legal changes to tighten qualifications for gun licenses and accessories like high-capacity magazines. New York has also made mental health treatment more accessible, as has the Affordable Care Act on the national level. Anyone who is serious about preventing mass shootings and other forms of violence needs to be serious about funding outreach and access to mental health services.

This leads to discussion of another characteristic that many mass shooters share, a history of domestic abuse. It lends even more weight to the current growth in public awareness of how widespread sexual harassment and assault are in our society. Abuse of all sorts is at its roots an abuse of power. Firearms in the hands of an abuser multiply the destructive force to the victim/s. Yet, too often, perpetrators of domestic or sexual violence are not prevented from owning firearms and are not adequately treated for their mental health problems.

The second amendment to the US Constitution is usually quoted only in part, only about the right to keep and bear arms not being infringed. If one reads the whole amendment and looks at the historical context, it is clear that the intent of the framers had to do with militias, not an absolute individual right. In July of 2016, I had a guest viewpoint on gun control published in the local paper; you can read it here. I think it can help to consider other military arms at this point. Do you think the second amendment gives individuals the right to own a rocket-propelled grenade launcher or a nuclear missile? Those are “arms,” as well. Should a military assault rifle be considered differently?

…which leads to my next point. We need to look at what kind of guns and accessories are available for sale to the general public. Fully automatic weapons are banned, so why is it legal to sell bump stocks that make semi-automatics behave like fully automatic weapons? Hunting for game is an old and time-honored tradition and most people use hunting rifles for this purpose. Even for the minority of hunters who use assault-type weapons, it seems that high-capacity magazines are not necessary. If you need thirty bullets to take down your prey, you are not skilled enough be hunting. I think that weapons designed for military use should not be in the hands of civilians and hope that Congress will again consider an assault weapons ban.

There should be public health research about guns and gun violence. Federal funding for this kind of research has been highly restricted due to the gun lobby’s leverage with members of Congress. Sadly, the presence of a gun in a household increases the risk that someone in the household will die or be injured with a gun. There are many heart-breaking instances of children inadvertently killing a sibling or friend after finding and playing with a gun in their home. Most people do not know that the majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides. Obviously, this ties into the mental health topic as well, but I don’t think that people who buy a gun for protection realize that owning a gun increases the chances that someone in the household will be injured or killed by a gun instead of protecting against that. People need all of these public health facts to inform their decisions and viewpoints.

Today – and every day – are appropriate ones to discuss and work on issues surrounding gun violence. There is never a day when someone is not mourning death or injury by guns, whether through mass shootings or other crimes, accident, or suicide. This is not an insoluble problem; nearly every other country has managed to cut gun deaths to low levels per capita.

The United States can do it, too.

Let’s begin today.

MoCA Monday

I started the day with steel cut oats and a hot caramel at Brewhaha, a fun cafe on the same block as our apartments. I got in the studio early, revised the poem I workshopped yesterday, updated the manuscript with the changes, and started doing timings for prospective poems for our reading on Wednesday. Somewhere in there, I was momentarily on Facebook when I saw the news of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.

It reminded me of our initial residency here at MASS MoCA, which coincided with one of the big Paris attacks. I lift my thoughts and prayers on behalf of all the dead and injured, their family and friends, those caring for the wounded, and our woundedness. The world is swallowed in destruction and sorrow and it is so much harder to take when human beings perpetrate violence.

I allow myself a bit of time to mourn; then, try to turn back to art.

I was anxious to visit Building 6, which opened a few months ago. I wanted to go right at opening time for the day, but had forgotten that MoCA had already switched to off-season hours, which meant not opening until 11:00. I went back to the studio and followed instructions that daughter E had thoughtfully sent me on how to create a table of contents in google docs. And it worked! I had to do a bit of editing, but I now have a table of contents which can be refreshed to correct itself when I make changes.

I tried to experience as much of Building 6 as I could in the time available. I was amazed by James Turrell’s light installations. The work of Jenny Holzer is devastating. I loved the Gunnar Schonbeck instrument collection, especially the ones we were allowed to play. It was interesting how many of the instruments used organ pipes, albeit in unconventional ways. There was also a piano string assembly, which reminded me of my 20th century theory class at Smith and the concept of prepared piano. I had a lot of fun plucking and creating glissandos on the open strings.

The most striking thing for me, though, was the building itself. I have seen the exterior of this building throughout my life, built into the point where the two branches of the Hoosic meet. At the prow, there are now large windows, allowing an expansive view of the melding of the river. I found myself drawn to the windows along the sides of the building, as well. These are the old mill windows. Many of the panes show that glass is still a liquid, as you can see the waviness of the glass caused by the passage of time. I also love the old wood, brick , and stone. MASS MoCA understands that appeal and features exhibits of both old and new artistic renderings of the building itself.

The later part of the afternoon was taken up with workshopping, which is always so informative and enlightening for me. I love the work that everyone is doing and learn so much for everyone’s poems and comments.

After dinner, we had a special treat. Marilyn read the chapbook she is developing to us. So amazing! We are planning to workshop if with her tomorrow, but people couldn’t help but get a head start tonight.

More tomorrow.

Eighth anniversary of the ACA shootings

Three years ago, I wrote the post below. Sadly, it is even more relevant today on the eighth anniversary, with so many expressing animus against immigrants and refugees in the United States and in Europe. Here in the Binghamton, New York area, ACA stands for not only the Affordable Care Act but also the American Civic Association. Today, we remember in a special way all those who died or who were injured that day and re-commit to welcoming immigrants and refugees to our communities.

Fifth Anniversary of the ACA shootings

Last night, when the news broke about the shooting at Fort Hood, the first thought many people had was “not again.” Not again at Fort  Hood, and not again in general.

The timing was especially poignant for those of us in the Binghamton NY area, because today marks the fifth anniversary of the American Civic Association shootings, in which fourteen people died, including the mentally ill gunman, and four were wounded.

Despite the tragic loss of life, the ACA shooting is usually not present in the list of mass shootings that gets recited in the media when the next horrible shooting comes along. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown. Fort Hood.

I am not saying that we should not be remembering these other mass shootings. We should, and we should be doing more to avert similar deaths and injuries in the future.

What I do find disturbing is that so many have forgotten about the ACA tragedy. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.

I am afraid that the primary reason is that the gunman and most of the dead were immigrants. Most of them were gathered in one of the American Civic Association’s classrooms, taking a class to improve their English skills, when they were shot. They were from Vietnam, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Brazil, The Philippines. Two were in Binghamton as visiting scholars. Others had been resettled in the area as refugees. The ACA is well-known in the area as a gathering place for immigrants to study English or prepare for citizenship tests. Several of those who were shot were employees or volunteers who had embraced this important mission. Somehow, though nearly all of us in the United States are descended from immigrants or are immigrants ourselves, the story of the ACA shootings did not embed itself into our minds as have some of the other tragedies that took place in schools or other public settings. I’m sorry to say that I think people see themselves or their grand/children as being just like those gathered in an elementary school or at a movie theater, but that they don’t see themselves as people from a different country, with a different skin color, speaking with an accent, working toward citizenship.

Five years on, I don’t want these people to have been forgotten. I want them to be remembered – and to be remembered as neighbors, as members of our community, as people like us.

 

more death

People who have been reading my blog this spring know that we have been dealing with a number of deaths. My mother-in-law. A long-time retired pastor. My father’s last sibling. My friend K.

And now, the whole United States is mourning the deaths of dozens of people and sending thoughts and prayers to dozens more who were injured after being shot in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida in the early morning hours.

It isn’t known if the club was targeted because it serves the gay community or if it was just a random choice by the attacker, who was killed when police broke in about three hours after the shooting started in order to free hostages.

Given that the attack has instilled terror, I will call it terrorism.

Although this will be the worst mass shooting in United States history, in terms of the highest number of victims, I am sad to say that I doubt it will bring about any changes in law or public policy.

An assault rifle was used by the murderer. It’s why he was able to kill and injure so many people so quickly. Still, I don’t think Congress will pass an assault weapons ban. They will just trot out their old platitudes – “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”  – overlooking the fact that a person with an assault rifle can kill and wound many people very quickly.  “More people should be armed to deter or stop attackers.” – ignoring that a trained, armed off-duty police officer was on the scene, providing security for the club, but he could not stop the attack. “Any restriction on guns is unacceptable.” – which is probably believed in Florida because it doesn’t even require licenses or registration to buy firearms.   “We shouldn’t deal with legislation when people are mourning.” – which is the excuse to not deal with it ever.

Orlando joins the long list of mass shootings in the United States. It will probably even join the short list of the shootings that get pulled out for comparison’s sake every time another egregious act occurs.

Living near Binghamton, New York, I have mixed feelings about how mass shootings get listed and compared.  I have written about the ACA shooting here; an article from vocativ calls it “the deadliest mass shooting everyone forgot.” 

Every mass shooting has its own hurts, sorrows, and repercussions which affect people for years.

So does any shooting.

But mass shootings affect not only people who are close to the victims or locality where they occur but also those of us who are far away.

This morning at church with T beside me, I couldn’t help but cry over so much death and injury.

So much to bear…

 

on the radio

This morning, I heard the first part of President Obama’s speech on gun violence and action against it. Near the beginning, he listed the major mass shootings that had happened during his presidency so far.

One of the sad realities of living in the United States is that there is a long list of mass shootings, so many that only certain of them are synonymous with the place in which they occurred.  Aurora, Fort Hood, and Newtown are among these during the Obama presidency.

But this morning, the President listed all the high-toll mass shootings. (In 2015 alone, there were over 350 mass shootings in the United Sates, using the definition of mass shooting as one with four or more victims, so the president was listing only those with the highest number of victims.)

Although the list was not chronological, one of the first cities he mentioned was Binghamton. (Binghamton is in New York State, near the Pennsylvania border about halfway across the state. The town where I have lived for over twenty-five years borders Binghamton.)

While I am grateful that Binghamton hasn’t been reduced to being shorthand for mass murder, I am sad that the shooting at the American Civic Association and its aftermath have been largely forgotten, its lessons about mental illness and access to guns, about discrimination and social acceptance, about civic pride, education, altruism, and the ideals of America as a welcoming community unheeded.

On the fifth anniversary of the ACA shootings, I wrote about why I think that is so.

Early last month, I posted about my thoughts on gun regulations and the Second Amendment.

I am grateful that President Obama is taking further common-sense steps to ensure that more background checks take place. I call on Congress – again – to take action to change the laws to protect people from gun violence.

The United States loses over 30,000 people every year to gunshots. If we were losing 30,000 people to plane crashes, it would be considered a calamity of the highest order and there would be swift action to rectify the situation.

The people of the United Sates deserve action – now.
*****
This post is part of Linda’s Just Jot It January. Join us! Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/05/just-jot-it-january-5th-2016-my-bucket-list/
JJJ 2016

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