Guns Policy in Short
*To read the policy in full, see further below
Our administration would back stricter gun control measures practically across-the-board, and we would work exhaustively to curb precipitating factors that lead to gun violence in America. (*More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are now killed or injured by guns every year. Our country has become a war zone.)
At the roots, our administration would target dysfunctional family systems. Abusive parenting because of ,say, alcoholism, drug addiction, work addiction, compulsive gambling -- as well as attendant physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect -- lead to repressed anger in the next generation. This then often plays out for this next generation in: domestic violence, violence in the schools, violence on the streets… sometimes involving guns.
Overlaid on these emotional dynamics, are things like physical poverty, especially in America’s urban centers. This often adds an exponent to the violence, including gun violence. And our administration would work exhaustively to dramatically change these poverty conditions.
To address these issues, we would look to models like Glendive, Montana’s “Healthy Community Project” that combines community education programs, parenting classes, drug and alcohol addiction recovery classes… The energy and focus around this is dramatically helping change this town, including making it much safer.
We would look to inspire the Take A Stand for Kids Program (TASK) on the Monterey Peninsula in California. Community members there who are working on their own recovery, their own emotional health in general, set up in-home education meetings, talk at local schools, sponsor community seminars on various aspects of drug and alcohol addiction, codependency, compulsive overeating, compulsive gambling, work addiction, physical and verbal abuse… all in the hopes of developing emotionally healthier individuals, emotionally healthier families, and emotionally healthier (and safer) communities.
And as this violence is playing itself out in spades on our city streets, it is ramping up in schools across the country as well (Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University…). Our administration would promote a tiered response that would include day long "Teen Challenge" days to identify issues, both interpersonally for students and in the overall school climate. We would promote models such as Wilmington College Peace Center's weekend encounter groups between "clique group" leaders to start to break down barriers and develop some form of dialogue, even camaraderie. And we would look toward models like Ohio's Euclid High School's ongoing weekly emotional recovery peer group sessions and peer mediation.
Poverty overlaid on all these other emotional issues adds an exponent to violence, including gun violence. And we have looked at this 'issue-up-close and personal' in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland... (We even intentionally moved to Cleveland, the poorest city in the country at the time.) To cut gun violence significantly in the cities, we have to significantly impact poverty in the cities. As one example, our administration would try to inspire some people to move to the cities from suburban and small town America to live in solidarity with the poor and help change the infra-structure at it's roots. (We lived among a group of Catholic Workers on one city block in Cleveland who had moved from the suburbs. They established an urban garden on an old asphalt parking lot and involved the whole neighborhood. They set up a drop in center for the poor. They coached Rec Center teams of latch key kids. They gave out micro-gifts and micro-loans...)
A significant amount of gun violence eminates from urban Black youth and men, according to statistics. Youth and men who have been caught in trans-generational poverty loops, with little way out. Our administration would back a plan proposed by Clarence Lang, a professor of African American Studies at the University of Illinois. In the college text book: "Social Justice," Professor Lang writes that there should be a "Marshall Plan for Urban Blacks." That is, there should be massive reconstruction of inner city schools, neighborhoods and infra-structure, and full Black employment at livable wages. This would also make the cities more habitable places in general, he writes, and improve the quality of life for all residents.
Our administration would be on board with legislation to prohibit gun possession by felons, the mentally ill, the drug and alcohol addicted... We would also back the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence pushes for waiting periods, age restrictions, mandatory gun training sessions...
Because of strong gun lobbying, the "National Tracing Center for Firearms" in West Virginia is prohibited by law from collecting gun ownership records through a modern, computerized data base. They have to do it with paper. We'd lobby, hard, to change that.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm Enforcement is underfunded. There are a mere 600 agents to monitor some 115,000 firearms dealers nationwide. With these numbers, gun dealers can go up to eight years between inspections. Our administration would work to bolster the ATF when it came to this.
There are eight youth shot to death each day in America, moslty in our big cities. As mentioned earlier, we would work exhaustively to change the precipitating factors leading to this type of tragedy, and quick.
Our movies, television, rap songs, video games, toy shelves... are replete with guns. This, in turn, is affecting us psycholigically, some to the point of gun violence in real life. (The shooters at Columbine High School, for instance, were reported to be heavily into violent video games.) Our administration would use the presidency as a "bully pulpit" to exhort people to: turn off these shows; boycott advertisers who sponsor these shows; join with others who are mounting organized public outcries against this type of violent (and overtly sexual) programming.
There are a significant number of hunting accidents each year. Our administration would look to impose more safety regulations in this area as well. In addition, it is our belief there is a lot of over hunting at this point, that is putting some species in danger of extinction in some areas of the country. (For instance, the wolf population in northern Minnesota had dwindled an extremely small number. At a stop in Ely, Minnesota, at the International Wolf Museum," we learned hunting of this animal was curtailed and a number of measures were put into place to help bring the population back. It worked.) Also, it is our belief hunting with a high-powered rifle is anything but "sporting" for those who undertake hunting as more of a "sport" -- as opposed to subsistence hunting. Our administration would push to exend bow hunting and atlatl (spears) season on Federal lands, while considerably cutting back on gun hunting season.
*Long paper below...
Issues covered below include: 1) War Zone; 2) At the Roots (Family, etc.); 3) School Dynamics; 4) Poverty; 5) Nuts and Bolts of Gun Control; 6) Modernization of Tracing; 7) Age Restriction and “Marshall Plan for Urban Blacks” 8) Eight Youth Shot to Death Each Day in America; 9) Media Violence; 10) Hunting
1) War Zone
Our administration would back stricter gun control measures, and we would work exhaustively to curb precipitating factors that lead to gun violence.
More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are now killed or injured by guns every year. Our country has become an absolute war zone.
However, we’ve become desensitized to a lot of it. To put this in perspective, my wife Liz’s parents are from New Zealand. The first time they were coming over to visit they admitted to being quite afraid.
The American news reports, prime television, and so on… paint a picture of America being quite a violent place these days. And it is.
For instance, eight youth are killed in American cities by gun violence – every day. And out in the country, well… we don’t have to look any farther than Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.
It was a sunny fall morning when Charles Roberts backed his pick-up truck up to a one-room Amish school house. He carried guns into the school and lined his victims (young girls from ages 6 to13) up. Shortly after, he methodically went down the line shooting them in the head execution style – before turning the gun on himself.
Before the shooting started, two sisters, Marian and Barbie Fisher, 13 and 11, requested that they be shot first – so the others could be spared.
Meanwhile ‘adults’ in this society blather on about: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Or there’s Charles Heston’s gun toting NRA image and “…out of my cold dead hands,” quote. Ad-naseum.
Well, here’s another ‘quote’: “There was not one chair in the whole schoolroom that was not splattered with blood (of these innocent little girls),” said Lancaster County Deputy Coroner Janice Ballenger.
To fight this whole gun rights thing out with hubris and surface rhetoric is a tremendous disservice to these deceased little Amish girls, and to all innocent children, and adults, who are in harm’s way because of gun violence. We have to soberly look at it from every angle, starting with the systemics.
2) At the Roots (Family, etc.)
In Waynesboro, Tennessee, I interviewed Dan Schachle who is a former guard at a maximum security prison in the area. After countless discussions with prisoners, he said a common denominator that emerged is that, more often than not, these prisoners (some of whom committed their crime(s) with a gun) came from “dysfunctional families.” So if we really want to cut down on gun violence (and other crime) in society, said Schachle, we have to cut down on dysfunctional family dynamics.
Being a former counselor who worked with dysfunctional family systems, I agree with this wholeheartedly. In fact, I told CBS News in Monterey, California that “...to heal the country, you have to heal the family.
An example: A boy grows up in a home where a father is alcoholic and abusive. A child’s natural reaction is anger, but it’s not safe to express that feeling. So the child represses the anger, and represses the anger, and... (And if you overlay inner city poverty over this, it’s even that much worse.) The boy is then out of the home years later, but these repressed feelings of anger still linger. Then one night in a bar, he gets in a fight and all the anger repressed from past years comes to the surface. He leaves, gets a gun and commits homicide in a blind rage.
Some variation of this could have happened at Nickel Mines with the gunman. It could have happened with the teenage shooters at Columbine. It could have happened anywhere – and does frequently.
Common sense says we have to develop many more grassroots community education programs, parenting classes, drug and alcohol addiction recovery classes... in bringing a whole lot more to bear on developing health families at the core.
In Glendive, Montana, we learned about a grassroots “Healthy Community Project” that combines many of these components. On the Monterey Peninsula in California we researched Take A Stand for Kids (TASK). Community members working on their own recovery, their own emotional health in general, set up in-home education meetings, talk at schools, sponsor community seminars on various aspects of drug and alcohol addiction, codependency, compulsive overeating, compulsive gambling, work addiction, physical and verbal abuse... all in the hopes of developing emotionally healthier individuals, and emotionally healthier families.
3) School Dynamics
And as this is happening in homes, and in the community at large, it can happen in an ongoing way in the schools.
For instance, I was a volunteer peer mediator at an all day “Teen Challenge” event at John Marshall High School in Cleveland recently. The intent of this intensive event, through a series of trust building exercises and so on, is to get the teens to open up about the problems they’re having at home, or in the school. And as this information starts to come to the light, and these feelings start to surface, some of the teens are then plugged into ongoing groups to help them work on conflict resolution, on expressing repressed feelings, on learning healthy coping mechanisms...
In Cleveland, I met with Kathleen McDonnell who works at Euclid High School overseeing a Peer Mediation Group that brings students together weekly to work out feelings around problems they’re having at home, with friends, and so on... At an informational evening at Ms. McDonnell’s home, I heard a number of Euclid students talk about how the group had helped them. One teenage boy, who was rather large in stature, said before the group he didn’t know how to express his feelings around some rough situations at home. So he would take his anger out on the football field, or with his peers on the street. He described himself as being continually “mean.”
He seemed the kind of person who could get set off enough one day: to reach for a gun.
But he said because of Ms. McDonnell’s group, he has learned better ways to express his feelings and is considerably calmer, friendlier, and volunteers as a peer mediator at school to help others.
And that’s another growing thing in relationship to gun violence in America. That is, school shootings between peers (one-on-one) and school shootings between peer groups. (I once told Ohio Magazine that I used to be worried about our kids doing okay in English class. Now I’m more worried about them being “...shot to death in English class.”)
When you have a constellation of, say, family problems at home, overlaid with tension between clique groups at school, on the far end of the continuum, this becomes a formula for gun (and other types of) violence. So besides working on the family dynamics, the peer mediation (students helping students work out conflicts) goes a long way toward diffusing tension in a healthy way—and provides a good model for conflict resolution later in life as well.
And besides ongoing peer groups and one-on-one peer mediation in schools like Euclid High School, the Wilmington College “Peace Center” staff goes into area schools to put on weekend events bringing together teen leaders from different “clique groups” for intensive encounter groups to help break down barriers between members of these different groups. So often in schools there is tension between, say, the “jocks,” and the “geeks,” and the “stoners,” and the Blacks, and the Hispanics, and the Whites... This, too, leads to more and more violence over the years, unless it is actively diffused by creative teachers, creative counselors, creative programs...
Now while all these untreated dynamics are recipes for violence (sometimes gun violence), there are yet other factors. And one of the most pervasive when it comes to gun violence is: poverty.
Metropolitan areas see a majority of gun violence. And we have spent many years researching all sorts of dynamics in American cities – including moving to the heart of Cleveland, Ohio, to look at these issues ‘up close and personal.’
Gun violence emanates out all kinds of situations in the cities. For instance while doing research in an area on the South Side of Chicago, we learned the week before we arrived that two teenagers standing at a bus stop in the neighborhood were gunned down by another youth for no other reason than the initiation to get into a particular gang here was: to kill someone.
Now having spent a lot of time with disadvantaged neighborhood youth in Cleveland, I saw time and again that many of these kids were caught in trans-generational poverty loops with seemingly no way out. So a way out to some might look like joining a gang was the ticket.
Also with parents at home that are crack addicts, or alcoholics, or never around because they have to work two jobs to make ends meet, or... Consequently for the youth, there is little feeling of belonging in the family unit. So the gang, psychologically, provides a sense of belonging. And gun violence, ultimately, ratchets up in the city even more.
And this is just one of a hundred different complex, inner city scenarios where a gun ends up in someone’s hands. Much of this revolves around issues of poverty. So if you want to curb more gun violence, it stands to reason you have to significantly impact poverty in the cities. And we believe it’s not enough just to spend some money on social programs for the city, although this is helpful. But we believe for this to change at its roots, some Americans need to move out of suburban and small town America, back into the cities to live in solidarity and work to change the infra-structure.
This is impacting the gun violence dilemma at its roots.
We had moved to urban Cleveland onto a block where Catholic Workers lived every second or third house. These Catholic Workers had moved from suburban America to be here. They set up a home for the homeless and a drop-in center that provided meals and clothing for the poor. They started an urban farm on an old asphalt parking lot and involved the neighborhood kids. Some gave out micro-gifts and micro-loans to people in the neighborhood. Others coached Rec Center sports teams of neighborhood latch key kids. Others yet, got on boards for neighborhood programs, fought to maintain affordable housing for the poor, backed “take back the night campaigns...” And this was in a neighborhood where it had been relatively “lawless,” according to the first Catholic Worker who had moved onto the block.
Yet while not totally “lawless” now, these Catholic Workers could use more help, as could the kids down here.
One day I had taken our kids up to a local Rec. Center where my daughter Sarah started playing basketball in the gym and I was out back with our young son Jonathon playing football. At one point, Sarah came running around the corner of the building yelling: “DAD, DAD, COME QUICK!” A young Black boy had been caught in the crossfire between two gangs and had been shot in the leg. He had then run a couple blocks to the Rec. Center, where he collapsed on the floor amidst a bunch of kids. The cities are currently tremendously dangerous for these kids, and we adults must do everything possible to change this, we believe. Including establishing a comprehensive “Marshall Plan for Urban Blacks.” (See further in this paper.)
5) Nuts and Bolts of Gun Control
Now on a “nuts and bolts” level when it comes to guns, a Time Magazine article noted that for more than 200 years the widely believed view in the legal world had been that the Second Amendment to the Constitution only protected a state’s right to maintain “a well-regulated militia,” when it came to guns. However, in a June 2010 Supreme Court ruling (in a Chicago gun control case), Americans in all 50 states have the right to possess fire arms for self defense.
The article also noted that the Supreme Court wasn’t casting doubt on many regulations, like: prohibiting gun possession by felons and the mentally ill; laws keeping guns away from schools and government buildings; laws imposing waiting periods...
Our administration would be on board with these, as we push for better background checks. We would also like to see gun registration, not just the first time a gun is sold new, but on each subsequent sale, just like changing registrations each time a used car is purchased. We would also like to see a mandatory requirement for gun training and carry insurance. (Again, just like with driving school and mandatory vehicle insurance.)
We would also work to ban semi-automatic weapons for civilian use, like AK 47s as an example.
6) Modernization for “Tracing”
Now the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence asserts that we need more common sense gun laws, like the ones just mentioned.
A set of laws they are currently pushing is to keep guns away from felons and people with certifiable mental problems. And they have enlisted Collin Goddard as one of the spokespeople for this.
He was shot four times during the April 16, 2009 gun massacre at Virginia Tech University.
Goddard said the Brady Campaign would also like to see stiffer penalties for crimes involving guns and better Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm (ATF) enforcement – like with the following. According to the New York Times, the “National Tracing Center for Firearms,” located in West Virginia, is prohibited by law from collecting gun ownership records through a modern, computerized data base. Instead, paper prevails… as does the slow, arduous process of tracking… (This is thanks to the power of gun lobbyists.)
What’s more, Congress has slowly under-funded the ATF, so beleaguered agents must monitor some 115,000 firearms dealers, with a mere 600 agents – the same number as three decades ago.
With these numbers, gun dealers can go up to eight years between inspections.
Our administration would push to modernize Tracing Center work and increase the number of monitoring agents significantly.
7) Age Restrictions and “Mashall Plan for Urban Blacks”
The NRA has recently filed suit in Texas to allow those between the ages of 18 and 20 to buy hand guns and carry them concealed into public places. According to a NY Times op/ed piece, there is a long-standing federal law prohibiting licensed gun dealers from selling hand guns to those under 21.
Now according to the same piece, people age 18 to 20 commit a disproportionate amount of gun violence already. FBI data shows arrests for murder, non-negligent homicides and other violent crimes peaks from age 18 to 20. That age group accounts for about 5% of the population, but nearly 20% of the homicides and manslaughter.
A significant number of these offenders, for instance, are urban Black males. Our administration would adamantly fight to keep the gun purchase age 21 and older. And we would adamantly push to establish a “Marshall Plan,” if you will, for poor urban Blacks.
In arguing for Slavery Reparations for African Americans in the college text book: “Social Justice,” Clarence Lang, a professor at the University of Illinois, writes that there should be a “Marshall Plan” for urban Black America. That is, there should be massive reconstruction of inner city schools, neighborhoods and infrastructure and full Black employment at livable wages. This would also make the cities more habitable places in general, he writes, and improve the quality of life for all residents. He adds that you would be supplanting prisons, police, low wages and corporate tax abatement with a “genuine social policy.”
In all this, among many things, gun violence would diminish exponentially – which would have been a help for Starkesia Reed.
8) Eight Youth Shot to Death Each Day in America
According to an article in Ebony Magazine, Starkesia Reed was 14-years-old. She lived with eight other brothers and sisters in a small apartment in the rough, poverty stricken Englewood area of Chicago. Starkesia had a 3.5 grade average at school, was on the track team and wanted to be a doctor some day.
Starkesia’s mom had just gone off to her secretarial job one morning and several of the children were still at home getting ready for school, when the shooting started. Starkesia went to one of the windows.
A stray bullet from an AK 47 assault rifle killed her.
The title of the Ebony article was: “Slaughter of the Innocents.” The article noted there are currently some eight children killed by gun violence every day in America, most in the cities. That’s 235 youth killed each month. That’s a lot more than the average number of American soldiers who were killed in Iraq each month.
And we breed this in a multitude of ways, including through our current media/entertainment.
9) Media Violence
Our movies, our television, our rap songs, our video games, our toy shelves for that matter... are replete with guns. To think playing with these guns, or continually shooting away in these violent video games, or watching a steady fair of gun violence saturated shows... isn’t affecting a portion of the population is pure fallacy. I’m a former mental health counselor who worked with, among other things, dysfunctional family systems. And I have observed, time and again, how “environmental influences” of many sorts tremendously impact behavior.
If, for instance, youth (or adults) are steadily exposed to immodest clothing in magazines, television, the internet... their own clothes, sometimes, will start to match that. If a youth (or an adult) is exposed to people continually being promiscuous in magazines, television, the internet... their own sexual behavior, sometimes, will start to match that as well. If a youth (or an adult) is exposed to people continually using gun violence, sometimes, their behavior will match this as well.
And people will get shot.
Reports indicated that the two youth who perpetrated the Columbine High School massacre were regularly engaged in doing violent video games. Granted, there may have been some dysfunctional family dynamics for them, coupled with bullying toward them from other peer groups – but adding violent video games to the mix would be like adding: “gasoline to a fire.”
And with 100,000 deaths or injuries from gun violence in this country every year now, each of us has to look at how culpable we are in all that. For instance, our collective television watching behavior determines what type of shows are aired – and where the advertisers put their money. What’s happened over time in America is that we’ve become more and more stimulated by gun violence in our entertainment. And this has incrementally ratcheted up in kind to such a point that many movies and television dramas are now absolutely saturated with gun violence. And still we want more.
Now while many people, per se, might not be influenced enough by media gun violence to go out and shoot someone, our watching continues to perpetuate those shows being aired and detrimentally influencing others less emotionally stable (the Columbine shooters, the man who killed the Amish girls...) to help tip them over the edge.
So are we, the average American media consumer, culpable? Well sure we are, to a degree. And more, we could be proactively doing a lot more to stop this. But many of us aren’t. And in this, we are culpable too.
For instance, we could personally turn off these shows and exhort others to do the same. Secondly, we could boycott advertisers who subsidize these types of violent shows. Thirdly, we could join with others who are mounting public outcries against this type of violent (and sexual) programming.
On a stop in Amarillo, Texas, I met with Hal Leedy, a franchise owner for Chick-fil-A, a Christian oriented company that closes on Sundays. Leedy said he had a friend who was in the television industry in L.A. during the 1950s and ‘60s. Leedy said his friend told him the first time lower neck lines for women and kissing scenes were introduced in shows, the industry braced for a massive backlash from a majority of the American public, which would have effectively shut that down. However, Leedy’s friend said absolutely no protest came. And so each year, the sex in the media has ramped up a bit more, the violence in the media has ramped up a bit more...
During a talk to a theology class at Bluffton University, I said this so tremendously epitomizes the “frog in the boiling water analogy.” If you put a frog in boiling water, it will instinctively jump out immediately. However, if you put a frog in tepid water on a stove burner and incrementally turn up the heat a half of a degree at a time, the frog will keep adapting, and keep adapting... until it boils to death.
And that has been us with, say, sex and violence in television.
If back in the 1950s, someone would have been shown a prime time show from 2011 with all this sex and violence, they would have instinctively recoiled from it in shock. However, we’ve been desensitized incrementally over all these years.
In the gun violence arena, there are inevitably hunting accidents every year. And our administration would look to impose more safety regulations in this area as well. However, that would not only be for hunters – it would be for animals too.
First off, killing animals and birds with high powered rifles seems hardly to provide a: “sporting chance.” Yet this pastime is billed as a “sport” for many. (Granted, some legitimately hunt for food in a subsistence way.) In Wyoming, for example, big game hunters pay as much as $5,000 to “outfitters” to take them on a guided moose hunt. This is obviously more about sport than subsistence hunting. And there is a good deal of this nationwide.
In our travels, we talked to a number of bow hunters over the years. As we’ve met with the head of the National Atlatl (Spear) Association . Their contention is that this is a much more “sporting” way to hunt, especially the atlatl which is a natural extension of one’s arm movement without other mechanical adaptations.
The atlatl and bow seem to provide a much more “sporting chance” for the animal, and our administration would push to extend bow hunting season on Federal lands, while considerably cutting back on gun hunting season.
Besides the “sporting chance” dynamic, we are a nation that, from the beginning, has been rather gluttonous and wasteful when it comes to hunting. When we were out in Cody, Wyoming, we learned “Buffalo Bill” Cody, for instance, was practically deified in the West for: killing more then
400 buffalo in an hour. A record.
Americans all but wiped out the buffalo, often just leaving the animal dead – without taking anything.
Reciprocally, the Native Americans (using bows) would kill a buffalo in a hunt and then use every part of the animal for something. It was a tremendous display of good environmental stewardship.
We would do well at this point in society to follow the Native American lead of old, and become a lot more measured in the killing of animals and birds, and much more efficient in how we maximize using God’s creation in the best of environmental stewardship fashion