A good book can change your questions, even if you’re not entirely convinced by the author’s answers.
By Charles Kiker
I am not obsessed with guns. But since the public conversation is so obsessed I feel that I, as a person of faith, should respond. In particular, I am responding to two legislative proposals in two different state legislatures.
First: a legislative proposal right here in the Lone Star State would allow students to carry guns on college campuses and in the classroom. I will be charitable in my characterization of that proposal as seriously misguided.
Widely accepted research into the development of the human brain informs us that the frontal lobe is not fully developed in young males until about age 25. Therefore they are more prone to rash and risky behavior. Insurance companies recognize this in their premium rates for automobile insurance for males under 25. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Art Kellermann, an ER physician and researcher at Emory University, crunched the numbers and discovered that “a gun kept in the home was 43 times more likely to be involved in the death of a member of the household than to be used in self-defense.” The NRA was so concerned about the thrust of Kellermann’s research that they shut it down. This isn’t about protecting the Second Amendment, it is about making the world safe for those who manufacture and sell firearms. If you didn’t catch this piece on NPR this morning, please give it a look, or click on the link below and give it a listen.
Vice President Joe Biden is getting ready to make recommendations on how to reduce gun violence in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. (more…)
By Alan Bean
“Guns don’t kill people,” David Cole says, “indifference to poverty kills people.”
So long as the consequences of gun violence are born by poor black males, Cole believes, the nation will not pass meaningful gun regulation laws.
There are two obvious responses to Cole’s argument. It has frequently been noted that most of the cities with high rates of gun-related homicide already have strict gun control laws. But this only underscores the need for national legislation that discourages people from importing guns into urban neighborhoods.
The second quibble is even more obvious: if poor black males are using guns to kill one another that’s on them. The only solution, this argument goes, is for young black males to use firearms more responsibly. (more…)
By Alan Bean
America has a gun problem, but gun control legislation is too weak a fix; we need a 12-step program.
Since the tragic shootings in Newtown CT, we have been buried in a welter of statistics. Support for gun control is rising, we are told, but the polls vary as to the extent of the shift. We are reminded that 60% of men but only 39% of women favor gun rights over gun control, and that Republicans (72%) are more likely than Democrats (32%) to place the priority on gun rights.
Those inclined to dig deeper into the figures recently compiled by the Pew Research Center will discover that support for both gun rights and gay marriage has been advancing in recent years, a sign that libertarian arguments are impacting a wide range of issues.
The Pew study also shows that whites are twice as likely as African Americans or Latinos to value gun rights over gun control. Moreover, white opinion changed radically in the wake of the election of Barack Obama. In 2007, 37% of white Americans valued gun rights over gun control; the figure is now 57%. White opinion on the gun issue flip-flopped in the space of four years.
Americans are far more likely to own guns than anyone else on the planet. Here in the USA, 88.8 out of 100 people own at least one gun, that’s almost one firearm per person. In Canada, the rate is 30.8, in Germany its 30.3, and in France its 31.2. But in most of the world, the rate of gun ownership is exceedingly low: (Mexico 15, Australia 15, Denmark 12, Israel, 7.3, England 6.2, Afghanistan 4.6, the Netherlands 3.9, Romania .7). In North America, Americans own guns at three times the rate of Canadians and six times the rate of Mexicans.
Americans are also far more likely to use firearms to kill people. In the United States the homicide by firearm rate is 3.2 per 100,000 per year. In the rest of the developed world, the rate varies between 0.0 in Japan (where only 11 homicides were recorded last year) and Belgium at 0.7. In Canada, the rate is 0.5, less than one-sixth the American rate. (more…)
Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA law school, wrote this piece for the Atlantic in September of 2011. The National Rifle Association has been roundly vilified in recent days. In the wake of the Sandy Hook slaughter of the innocents, an organization that opposes even the mildest attempt to regulate the sale, ownership and use of firearms comes off as insensitive and out of touch.
But why is the NRA so adamant on this issue? And has it always been so?
Winkler argues that until the late 1970s, the NRA gave a grudging blessing to gun control legislation, especially in the wake of the wave of political assassinations in the 1960s. Historically, he says, gun control enthusiasts have been primarily motivated by a desire to keep guns out of the hands of black people and that was especially true when leaders of the Black Panther Party made the most of their right to tote weapons in public.
But by the late 1970s things had changed. Ronald Reagan, once a proponent of legislation designed to limit the right of the Black Panthers to carry guns in public, had changed his tune. His new position was remarkably similar to the current policy of the NRA.
What accounts for this dramatic shift? And why have proponents of gun rights, black and white, taken a dim view of government and law enforcement? It has frequently been argued that the NRA is a racist hate group, and it is certainly true that the organization’s membership is overwhelmingly white and rural. But listen closely to the rhetoric of many gun rights people and you will hear a distinctly anti-government message. These people fear their government and insist on the right to arm themselves against it.
In short, American conservative have moved from the law and order rhetoric of the 70s and 80s to a new form of anti-government paranoia. Is this largely a function of having a black man in the White House? Is it a legitimate response to the kind of authoritarian overreach represented by the Patriot Act? Or might it be an complex combination of a multitude of factors? Those wishing to pursue this question should read Mr. Winkler’s remarkably evenhanded essay and the book he has written on the subject.
The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The Founding Fathers? They required gun ownership—and regulated it. And no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement. In the battle over gun rights in America, both sides have distorted history and the law, and there’s no resolution in sight.
By Adam Winkler
THE EIGHTH-GRADE STUDENTS gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols. (more…)
By Alan Bean
A shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school this morning has left 27 people dead, 18 of them children.
What is there to say? We ask why anyone would want to carry two automatic weapons into a public place and start shooting. There is no good answer to that question. But we know that every so often somebody does just that. The public place might be a theater, or a mall, but schools seem to have a particular attraction for young white men with guns.
The Connecticut outrage may be the worst such event in American history. Unfortunately, that record won’t stand for long.
According to FOX news personalities it is tacky to argue for gun control in the wake of yet another tragedy. We shouldn’t make important decisions while we’re still reeling in shock. If people want to kill they will find a way. After all, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
But the people intent on killing people make a much better job of it if they can get their hands on an automatic weapon. I have no problem with the guy next door having a hunting rifle under lock and key, but there is no justification for any American civilian owning a weapon designed for killing lots of people quickly.
That’s all they’re good for.
And that’s why they should be banned.
By Alan Bean
Lubbock County Judge Tom Head wasn’t looking for national publicity when he set up an interview with the local Fox affiliate. Head just wanted to plug a 1.7% tax increase that would fund an expansion of the sheriff’s department and put more money at the disposal of the DA’s office.
But Tom Head is now famous, for the moment at least. Perhaps the County Judge thought the voters needed a really good reason to open their wallets. How about this scenario. There’s a good chance that Barack Obama will get himself elected (God forbid), and if that happens we’re gonna have as an old time insurrection, right here in Lubbock County. And Obama, he’s not gonna like that so he’s just likely to call in UN troops, an army of foreign occupation, and force his will on the good people of Lubbock County at gunpoint. And if that happens, I’m gonna stand boldly in front of those UN personnel carriers and say, “You ain’t comin’ in here!
I am paraphrasing. You can find Mr. Head’s exact words here (and in several thousand other places). His paranoid screed went viral.
Lubbock attorney Rod Hobson (who helped shut down the ill-famed Tulia drug bust) was so impressed by the judge’s rhetoric that he hung a UN flag outside his office. “When I saw the story I thought, once again, Lubbock is going to be the laughingstock of the entire nation,” Hobson told a local TV station. “What makes it so sad is he is our elected county judge, who is in charge of a multimillion-dollar budget. That is scary. It’s like the light’s on, but no one is home. … I’d just like to think he’s off his meds.”
A few days ago, Fort Worth columnist Bud Kennedy expressed his relief that Missouri’s Todd Akin was deflecting attention from notorious Texas weirdos. This morning he admitted that the prurient interest of America has returned to the Lone Star State. To put things in perspective, Kennedy offers a little background on Mr. Head.
Folks, please understand. In Texas, we don’t choose our county judges or commissioners based on any qualifications besides who’s good at dominoes.
In the orchard of targets for TV joke writers, Texas county officials are low-hanging fruit.
Head, 63, is an administrator with only a psychology degree. He worked first in law enforcement as a Texas Tech University campus officer and city marshal, then as an elected county justice of the peace.
He moved up to county judge in 1999 and led his own mini-rebellion against Obama in 2009, posting literature and cartoons mocking him on a hallway bulletin board before commissioners removed them.
One of the posters showed jail book-in photos of nine arrestees in Obama T-shirts. Seven were African-American.
I cannot divorce my theology and my philosophy from my office. I’m pro-life, I’m pro-gun rights and if you’re gonna vote for me and if you’re not for gun rights, then you probably don’t want me in office.
In other words, this isn’t a story about a single Loony-Tunes (check out his tie in the picture above) judge in West Texas–the voters of Lubbock County like this guy.
But wait a minute here, what possible connection could there be between Mr. Head’s “theology” and his paranoid take on Obama and the United Nations?
The judge is likely referring to Agenda 21, an uncontroversial fluff-document signed by 178 world leaders, including President George H.W. Bush, in 1992. The idea was to encourage the efficient marshaling of scant natural resources in times of famine and natural disaster. Or that’s what we originally thought. Listen to Glenn Beck’s dispassionate take on Agenda 21:
Those pushing … government control on a global level have mastered the art of hiding it in plain sight, and then just dismissing it as a joke. Once [internationalists] put their fangs into our communities and suck all the blood out of it, we will not be able to survive.
Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center explains the paranoid perspective on Agenda 21 in remarkably restrained language:
Under Agenda 21, these activists argue, the expansive American way of life, in which everyone can aspire to the dream of owning a house with a big yard and two cars in the driveway, will be replaced by one in which increasing numbers are crammed into urbanized “pack ’em and stack ’em” apartment complexes, and forced to use mass transportation and live according to a collectivist ethos. Once the UN’s radical utopia is achieved, gun ownership will be forbidden and the UN will raise an army intent on terrorizing the populace in the name of social order and equality, sustainability and smart growth — all words that anti-Agenda 21 activists believe signal the true intent of the UN’s plan.
The tattered remnants of the John Birch Society are all over this stuff, which would be irrelevant were it not for the fact that Tim LaHaye, author of bestselling “Left Behind” series, is a proud JBS stalwart. LaHaye and co-author Jerry Jenkins sprinkled Agenda 21 paranoia throughout their end times thrillers. I distinctly recall sitting in a well-attended Sunday School class in Tulia, Texas (70 miles north of Lubbock) in which Mr. LaHaye’s eschatology was embraced as the gospel truth.
But this isn’t just about West Texas. Texas is riddled with Anti-UN nuttiness. Ted Cruz, the man expected to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison as Texas Senator, is mad as hell about the imminent UN destruction of American sovereignty. In the mind of Ted Cruz, the Antichrist is George Soros, but the general thrust mirror’s the views of Beck. Cruz recently printed this rant on his personal blog:
Agenda 21 attempts to abolish “unsustainable” environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads. It hopes to leave mother earth’s surface unscratched by mankind. Everyone wants clean water and clean air, but Agenda 21 dehumanizes individuals by removing the very thing that has defined Americans since the beginning—our freedom.
Cruz is particularly concerned that the UN plans to abolish the game of golf.
All of which explains how a simple-minded Texas judge could see opposition to a US president and an innocuous (and largely meaningless) UN document as theological issues. When the saints of God are raptured to heaven and the Antichrist (known as Nicolae Carpathia to Left Behind enthusiasts) comes to power, United Nations troops will spring to his assistance.
How do we explain this craziness? Or maybe it isn’t crazy. When the majority of people in a given locale (say, Lubbock, Texas) share a common delusion maybe it’s the unbelievers who are crazy. Who gets to define normal?
Tom Head’s fears about Barack Obama reflect the deep dread many Americans feel about the future. Where are we heading? What is happening to America? What’s it all about, Alfie?
How else do we explain the Tea Party’s undimmed enthusiasm for free market fundamentalism? After the financial industry lied and swindled the world to the brink of financial catastrophe, how can anyone believe in the natural goodness of unregulated markets?
Because it’s all we have. If the free market won’t save us, who will? If the free market won’t save us, the glory that was America disappears. It’s Ichabod time!
How do we explain why a great nation like the United States of America has a crumbling infrastructure and can’t pay its bills when the folks in collectivist dystopias like Canada, Norway and South Korea seem to be faring so much better?
We could blame the fact that we spend more on defense than all the other nations of earth combined. We could point to our bloated prison system. We could acknowledge that America is now a wholly owned subsidiary of a consortium of international corporations.
But that doesn’t sit right somehow.
How much better to believe that America has been hijacked by ultra-liberal socialist big-spenders like Barack Obama who give their true loyalty to Allah and/or a One World dictatorship. That way, we simply turn the reins over to pro-business folks like Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz and an unregulated market will gradually drag us back to prosperity.
If you’re Tom Head, it does.
I like the balance in this piece. The NRA didn’t turn James Holmes into a killer. The Tea Party is not to blame. Batman didn’t make it happen and neither did the ACLU or the liberal churches of America. When tragedy strikes, we want to make sense of things, we want to blame somebody. But as the Joker explained to Batman in an earlier Dark Knight film: “some men just want to watch the world burn.” AGB
Any suggestion that a cold-blooded killer is God’s agent to punish a wicked land is simply wicked.
By Greg Garrett, July 25, 2012
When tragedy strikes, we always, always, want to know why. If there’s a reason, some one to blame, then tragedy is not mindless.
It fits into a pattern.
It makes some kind of senseless sense.
Why did James Holmes shoot 70 people last Friday?
I don’t know why, and neither do you. The words of Alfred (Michael Caine) in The Dark Knight (2008) in relation to the Joker (Heath Ledger) have been bouncing around the Interwebs as we wrestle with the question: “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” (more…)
Miguel De La Torre is professor of social ethics and Latino/a studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and an ordained Baptist minister. When I first read this piece a couple of days ago, I was shocked by its emotional tone and wondered why the horrific events in Aurora CO were affecting this guy so much more deeply than they affected me. Was he a bit thin-skinned, or was I emotionally retarded?
When I realized that Dr. De La Torre’s children lost friends in the Aurora shooting everything snapped into focus. This opinion piece originally was originally published by the Associated Baptist Press. AGB
By Miguel De La Torre
It has been a horrific day, and as I type these words the day is not yet over. I have shed tears. I have hugged my daughter closer. I have yelled and cursed God. I am emotionally spent. Still, I must capture this moment in words. Where the hell was God while innocent lambs were being slaughtered?
I don’t know, and, honestly, no response is satisfactory. Rhetorical Christian clichés and unexamined romanticized eschatological hope fall short. Maybe God simply was occupying the same space while God’s only begotten Son hung from a cross. (more…)