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

Again

This is not the post I wanted to write today.

But the 355th mass shooting in the United States this year happened yesterday.

Mind-boggling. Averaging more than one a day.

And that horrible toll is dwarfed by the total number of those killed and wounded by guns in the United States through gang violence, organized crime, domestic violence, road rage, all manner of crimes using guns, hunting accidents, suicide, and at-home accidents, including a heart-breaking number of incidents of children accidentally killing a sibling or friend when they find a loaded weapon in their home.

We need to stop this level of violence.

There needs to be much stricter licensing of guns so that people who use them for hunting or target shooting or other legitimate purposes and who know how to properly store and secure a firearm continue to have access, but people who are violent, mentally unstable, or engaged in criminal activity do not.

Some kinds of weapons and ammunition should not be available at all. Guns designed to only kill people, like assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bullets that are designed to inflict extra damage on human victims should be off the market for the general public.

I know that some readers are probably saying, but the second amendment of the US Constitution says that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed. I would ask those people to consider the whole amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The sentence structure isn’t used much in modern English, but it is a translation of the Latin ablative absolute structure, which means that the first clause is the basis for what follows it. At the time it was adopted, the United States did not have a standing army, so the militia was meant to defend the country in case of attack. For this reason, keeping and bearing arms was not to be infringed.

That is not our current situation in this country. We have a large standing military force, as well as National Guard units and local police forces. Gun regulations for the average citizen do not violate the Constitution.

We have restrictions on gun ownership now in place, based on age, criminal record, and other factors. We restrict the types of weapons people may own. No one thinks they have the right to have an anti-aircraft battery in the backyard or a nuclear weapon in the garage, just in case they need it.

It is time – well, past time, but better late than never – for Congress to act to restrict gun violence.

Too many people have already lost their lives. We must not stand by and watch even more killing.

SoCS: both expected and unexpected

This past week’s calendar was filled with lots of expected tasks and commitments, with fall activities back in full swing after summer hiatus. Of course, the unexpected has a way of springing in. Here are some of the unexpected things that cropped up this past week.

  • One evening I got back from an activity and put on my Chromebook to see an instant message from my daughter warning me that her hair was now purple. She wanted me to know before I saw it on Facebook. This led to a Skype call so I could see it better than in the photo – and also so we could visit as she is thousands of miles away. Her hair looks nice purple, but it is not a long-time commitment as it will fade out in six weeks or so. This is helpful as her hair is quite long, so a permanent color would take a very long time to grow out.
  • I had expected to have an appointment for a flu vaccine study that I had agreed to participate in, but it got cancelled so I got to attend an excellent lecture on climate change and its impacts in our state instead. This also gave me material for a poem that I wrote from a prompt at Binghamton Poetry Project this week. Serendipity strikes again!
  • My spouse B had an unexpected day off on Friday. Upper management gave them the day off to reward them for the release of a recent product, so we scooted off to Oneonta to attend the opening of an art exhibit that featured works of a college friend of mine. I had not told her that we would be there – and we almost missed her as we arrived early and she had had quite a drive after work to reach the reception – but it was fun to see the look of surprise on her face when we connected.
  • Unfortunately, this week also afforded the both expected and unexpected news of yet another mass shooting here in the US. The details and timing are unexpected, shocking, and tragic. That it will happen again is sadly expected. And disturbing. And tragic. I can’t understand how the interpretation of the Second Amendment to our Constitution has become so warped that some people think it means that anyone can have a gun anytime, anywhere. These people totally ignore the first clause of the amendment, which talks about a “well-regulated militia” and sets the context for the part that follows about the right to bear arms. At the time, the United States did not have a standing army, so the defense of the country was left to state militias. The men who made up the militias were not professional soldiers, but farmers or tradesmen or whatever, so they had to have guns available in case they were called on to defend their town, state, or country. The amendment didn’t intend that any person could have any weapon anywhere anytime. The mass shootings get attention, which masks the smaller scale tragedies of gun violence that happen every day across the country, and nothing happens to reign in the problems. Definitely, people who hunt or target shoot or have guns for legitimate needs should be able to have them, but we need to get them out of the hands of the mentally disturbed and those intent on killing people, whether strangers or family or neighbors.  [I can’t bring myself to write any more than this about mass shootings, but I will provide this link to a piece that I wrote about a mass shooting in my area and how it relates to other similar-but-different tragedies.]

*****
This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. This week’s prompt was “expect/unexpected.” Please come join us!  Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/10/02/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-315/

SoCS badge 2015