Saturday, July 14, 2018

Packin' fear

You're 17 and you've been arrested twice for carrying a firearm. You're thinking about getting another  because you don't feel safe walking your neighborhood without one.

Stories like these are real and not rare. I spoke to a social worker recently who manages cases in one of America's most violent neighborhoods. She told me teenagers there are routinely arrested for illegally carrying guns but not for committing a crime with a firearm. They buy a weapon for protection because they fear being shot at home, walking to school, or sitting on a corner.

They become hypervigilant. They look over their shoulders. They talk to their workers about fear. They carry guns. And some of them become victims of gunfire. Some die.

During the debate about gun rights in America, some people often suggest the answer to gun violence is arming everyone. Arming teachers in schools. I guess, arming clergy in churches because we've had shootings in churches.

Perhaps when everyone carries a gun, we'll all become hypervigilant, walk about with our heads on a swivel and we'll need to talk to our social workers about our fears.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Counting the carnage.

If you had $75 million and neighbors took nearly all of it leaving you merely 325 bucks -- how would you feel about them?

What if you had been given 75 million food producing plants to farm and someone came and uprooted and sold all but 325 of them, what would you do?

When explorers Louis and Clark arrived in America's West back in 1806, as many as 75 million wild buffalo or bison roamed the plains. Low estimates place the count at 30 million. That's a lot of beef! How many folks could that have fed for how many years?

The adventurers Louis and Clark encountered massive herds at South Dakota's White River and described the sight as "the moving multitude that darkened the whole plains."

By 1830, Americans began to systematically reduce the herds. Seventy-eight years after Louis and Clark first spied the beasts, the species had been decimated. There were only 325 wild bison left in the U.S. by 1884, with 25 in Yellowstone National Park. 

You'd think 74 million would be enough to bag and they could have left a million or so. Nope. 

According to a timeline from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, in 1870, two million bison were hunted and killed in the southern plains. German tanners had developed a method to process hides creating fine leathers. In 1872, as America prepared to celebrate its centennial in a few years, 5,000 bison were killed each day, every day of the year! Ten thousand hunters poured into the plains and one railroad shipped over a million pounds of bison bones. Manufacturers used them in refining sugar, making fertilizer and fine bone china. Hunting bison also became a popular sport among the wealthy. 

Conservation efforts by the turn of the century helped to salvage the devastated species. By 1990, there were about 20 to 25 thousand bison in public American herds, while another quarter million lived in private herds, kept for eventual slaughter and tender, lean meat sales. 

As America debates the second amendment and the right to bear arms, we often hear about our nation's hunting tradition as justification for no gun regulation. But the tale of North America's bison makes a strong, real-world case for common sense versus absolutes. Here's some haunting perspective from scripture: "For mine are all the animals of the forests, beasts by the thousands on my mountains. I know all the birds of the air, and whatever stirs in the plains, belongs to me." (Psalm 50:10-11)

And then Jesus added this vital detail, "... yet not one (sparrow) falls to the ground without your Father's knowledge. Even all the hairs on your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-31)

Eventually, cooler heads and clearer minds found a way to stop the shameful, massacre and carnage of bison. But it was too late. It should be easy for us to see the truth -- that greed is making it easy to kill people, just as it did in the 19th century slaughter of beasts. Guns didn't kill the buffalo, but they did make the job easier.

We need to conserve the human heard, unborn and born. Our creator is watching and counting. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Worth remembering

"Look how they massacred my boy!"

In "The Godfather," that's how mob boss, Don Corleone, described the scene at the bullet-riddled body of his adult child, Sonny. He swallowed his welling tears and sobs as he pulled back a blanket to reveal the daunting task at hand to his friend, the undertaker. The iconic film introduced America to organized crime families and their viciously brutal lifestyle, fed by retribution and diabolical violence.

"Look how they massacred my boy!

That could have been what God said the day his son died impaled on a tree. Catholics commemorate the death of Jesus at every Mass, honoring his request to "Do this in memory of me."

"Look how they massacred my boy!"

Or my girl. Or my mother. Or my father. Or my brother. Or my sister. Or my lover.

Do we stop to remember those who are massacred when gunmen madly invade schools and churches, night clubs and newsrooms? Do we think of those who mourn them?

No death makes sense in human terms. The loss can cause us to question the meaning of living. But there is something about murder, especially mass murder or insanely merciless killing that leaves us numb. Shaken. Wanting to forget the unforgettable.

Kids who live in communities where gun violence is a way of life often wear t-shirts printed with the faces of those they've lost. It's how they remember.

All lives are worth remembering. Because they come from the source of life and are not ours to take. They are all valuable and deserve protecting. Even those who damage others are precious to their maker.

"Look how they massacred ... "

Sunday, June 24, 2018

How much trouble could they get into?

The year was 1981. The news series featured the risky nature of latchkey after-school care. Basically, it's allowing your preteen son or daughter to come home to an empty house. That year I was in TV promotions for ABC and my task was to attract viewers for the "Closeup" series. I wrote a script and we hired an actor to play a nerdy little guy "home alone" for an hour or two. The kid blows through the front door toward camera but fails to lock it behind him. Announcer, Ernie Anderson said, "He's a big boy, how much trouble can he get into?" "Then the little guy moseys into the bathroom to try his first cigarette. He coughs his head off as we dissolve into the living room where he's got his feet up in the recliner while on the phone. "Yeah, I'm just watching TV, Mom," the youngster explains. The camera racks focus and reveals he's holding a revolver in his hand which he points right at the lens. When he pulls the trigger, fortunately the chamber is empty.  

It was a compelling spot. But it never aired. ABC Broadcast Standards pulled it because the kid pointed his weapon right at the lens. Today's video games feature the point-of-view of gunman and criminals. And kids at home are still exposed to many unlocked guns in homes of well-meaning people. Nationally, about 1.7 million children live in homes with unlocked and loaded firearms. Gunshots are the third leading cause of death for children, claiming about 1,300 lives in 2017. 

Our younger son, Mike, had a frightening experience at preschool age while in the home of dear friends. Their younger son showed Mike his father's handgun, which his dad used in his law enforcement job. The youngster climbed up and got into the gun safe on the closet shelf. It was chilling to hear his mother reveal the experience. 

Last week, a national effort called ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Gun Safety Campaign encouraged diligent education to prevent accidental shootings. With the rise in gun violence, doctors are required to talk safety at annual physicals to parents who own guns. Many moms and dads are accompanying children on a first play date to find out if there's a gun in the house. 

Medication comes in childproof containers right from the pharmacy. Vehicles with smart airbags know if the occupant is too small to be safe and they disarm themselves to protect children. Wouldn't it be great if a gun was so smart it knew to lock itself when picked up by a child or someone who's had too much to drink? 

Is that asking too much from manufacturers who earn $13.5 billion a year making weapons? 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Why the delay?

At the last minute, our flight was cancelled.

That's why this blog is a week late. It's a long story but last Friday, June 8, 2018, the terminals at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport choked with passengers praying for alternative flights. Some said it was mandatory maintenance that required the grounding of our non-stop American Airlines trip to Memphis, Tennessee. Oh, how I wanted to enjoy the barbecue at the rehearsal dinner that night. Now we were just hoping to make it there in time for Saturday's wedding. Other passengers heard excuses about extreme weather from the day before that was rippling through air travel schedules resulting in delays, postponements and cancellations through a typical hectic Friday. On Sunday, our trip home was delayed until Monday!

Just that week, I had heard a radio spot comparing the safety of flying to that of large trucks on America's highways. The announcer coldly criticized 18-wheelers as unsafe, responsible for more than 10 deaths a day on America's highways. "If airlines reported those types of fatalities, who would fly?" blared my car speakers. For sure, I thought. Coincidentally, that same week, I glimpsed a report from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control revealing that 96 Americans die everyday due to gunshot wounds. Now, if truck drivers or pilots produced that kind of carnage, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration would bring everything to a screeching halt.

As my wife, Ellen, and I waited through a four-hour delay for our next flight to Memphis, news of chef and gourmand Anthony Bourdain's suicide flashed endlessly across screens throughout passenger waiting areas, restaurants and lounges. Just that week earlier, fashion designer Kate Spade took her life. I felt a certain connection to them that day. Maybe it was because I was experiencing the news in a public setting, where people were united by travel dysfunction. We were all momentarily helpless to  change the temporary insanity of rolling delays and cancellations as my phone displayed texts of flights booked and rebooked in rapid succession. I felt for the airline workers behind the counters and on the phones coping with an army of angry flyers. But it wasn't even a taste of the pressure the depressed and anxious endure as they search for healing in desperation. Some 21,000 Americans kill themselves with guns each year. Ninety percent of those who attempt suicide with a firearm succeed. Ninety percent of those who use other means to take their lives fail.

As the debate about gun violence continues to rage across our nation, even if it's largely fallen out of the headlines in favor of political wars, I struggle to understand why we don't attempt to make guns safer. Why don't more state's  pass laws requiring those whose guns are lost or stolen to report them?  Why is it that we insist on using technology to dramatically improve auto safety but the pro-gun lobby resists smart guns? If we can create computer-aided chassis systems to help reduce the likelihood of a crash by 65%, why can't we create a firearm that knows its owner and won't allow him to shoot himself. If a three year old can't start my car without holding my key fob, why can she fire a firearm without a unique electronic ID. I don't understand why gun manufacturers don't jump at the opportunity to make safer products.

As we boarded our connecting flight in Charlotte, North Carolina, I spied a teen wearing a #Enough t-shirt. We chatted briefly and he told me he planned to vote this fall. It's important we care about voting because the U.S. Supreme Court just made it easier for states to take away your right to vote if you fail to use it. No such rules for gun ownership. No matter how many mass shootings occur, no matter how many are shot at art shows, churches and in schools, no matter how much the cost of security rises, nothing changes. When second-hand smoke proved cancerous and dangerous, states raised taxes on cigarettes and planes, trains and pubs went smokeless.

If we have to boost security measures in every conceivable public environment, including churches, to try to prevent random massacres by gun, who will pay for that? We may finally reach a tipping point that puts taxes on guns to fund metal detectors, armed guards and police investigations, hospitalizations and public cleanups of blood in the streets.

If we cared enough about each other, we'd care as much about the anonymous person who shoots himself or a kid from the wrong side of the tracks as we do about a celebrity who ends his life after a lifetime battle with mental illness.

 I'm not suggesting we can prevent every murder, every accidental child death, or every wife from finding her husband slumped over his desk. It's not about perfection. lt's about loving our neighbors enough to care just enough to make the changes we need to save a few more lives each day. If we can't find the courage and the will do that, as a nation, we are committing suicide by firearms.

Why the delay? People are dying.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Yes or no?

The bumper sticker read, "Baby on Board." However, the black and white graphic featured the shape of a Glock-style handgun instead of a child. That was the owner's idea of precious cargo.

Sorry, I've lost my sense of humor for gun violence. The idea of mixing kids with weapons is frightening not funny. Earlier this week, a video game publisher pulled its new "Active Shooter" property,  just before the scheduled release on June 6. That would have been just a few days after the seniors graduated at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Four seniors were among the 17 killed in the mass shooting there in February.

The "Active Shooter" game allowed users to move through a virtual school and choose to play the role of a SWAT team or the gunman terrorizing police and civilians.

Sound like fun? Had it successfully launched, "Active Shooter" would have likely been a red hot property, exploiting the trauma of school shootings to "entertain" game lovers. The parents of Parkland victims responded with outrage. The publisher, a Russian company called, ACID, considered removing the option for gamers to play the shooter, and, of course, no children would appear in the school.

Having fun yet?

Eventually, consumer pressure pulled the plug on this "Active Shooter" before any were purchased. Ultimately, although votes at the polls matter some, nothing counts or says more than the messages we send with our money. People are boycotting to change corporate policies and decisions and boycotting is effective. Because we have to prove we mean what we say, by the way we shop and spend. Otherwise, corporations know we're just kidding. There is a growing list of companies boycotting he National Rifle Association. These firms fully expect people to vote on guns with their wallets. And the NRA is returning the favor. In May, it recommended members boycott a Texas restaurant that advocated for and supported reasonable gun regulation. The restaurant committed a portion of its proceeds to organizations pushing to control guns.

Jesus said, "Let your 'yes' mean 'yes' and your 'no' mean 'no.'" (Matthew 5:37) Time to say no to violence with everything we do.

Cash is a language everyone understands and takes seriously. No joke.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

God bless the children.

Quick, crawl under your desk. Duck and cover. Get into a crouch. Put your hands over your head. Run to the hall. Lay on the floor and hope.

Until the 1980's, American schools conducted nuclear strike drills to teach faculty and students what to do in the event someone dropped "the bomb." Someone like the former Soviet Union.

Today, schools run drills to prepare occupants to deal with an assault by a gunslinging student or random armed assailant. And as we've discovered, a school shooting is infinitely more likely to occur than an atomic incident. The drills to minimize the impact of a gunman are also far more effective than pretending we can prepare to survive nuclear devastation by covering our heads with wood.

Pogo, the comic strip character, said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." We Americans have proven to be more dangerous to each other than any foreign power or even terrorists. It's ironic that our nation established Memorial Day in the 1860's to remember the well more than 600,000 who perished in battle during our Civil War that same decade. Tomorrow, when we honor all those who died to protect America over more than two centuries, we also remember how we massacred each other in our war between the states, North and South. Families literally killing kin.

So far in 2018, the number of U.S. students killed in school shootings is greater than the number of U.S. military personnel who have been killed in combat operations. Thankfully, the kids aren't willing to accept that. Students from the Parkland, Florida high school where 17 died from semiautomatic gunshot wounds earlier this year, continue to push for change that will help prevent gun violence and related domestic terrorism. To start the Memorial Day weekend, some of the Parkland students staged a "die-in" at a Publix Supermarket in Coral Springs, Florida. Lying in the aisles, they shook up the retail giant, persuading it to withdraw campaign donations from a Florida politician running for Governor. He has received donations from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The students are fighting to liberate our gun debate from the influence of heavy donors with financial skin in the game. Publix pulled its donations to the gubernatorial candidate within just one day of the  protest.

"Dying-in" at a retail store to push for change is as important as drilling at school to improve responses to random attackers. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matthew 5:9)  God bless the children who are blessing our nation with their courage. Peace.