Guns and (Peanut) Butter

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My son has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts. Ingesting even a tiny amount of peanut protein can send him into anaphylaxis, shutting down his airways and potentially killing him. He and I have lived with this scary phenomenon for virtually his entire life. And even though he is now in his 20s, it still hurts every time I have dinner out with him and he has to inform the server about his allergy.

Early on I learned to read every label of every food item I purchased to make sure there were no peanut products or potential cross contamination that could harm my son. I provided him with safe treats to bring to school so that when there were birthday cupcakes for a classmate, he wouldn’t feel left out.

When my son was first diagnosed, I still kept peanut butter in the house for my older daughter, reasoning that since she did not have the allergy, she should not be deprived. But I learned through some incidents of accidental ingestion on my son’s part, along with scary rides to the ER, that having any peanut products in the house was unsafe for my son. So my kids grew up without peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and have been no worse for the wear.

Of course, if I had my ‘druthers, this scary potential killer legume would be banned from supermarkets, restaurants, and anywhere else food was sold or served. But I realize that is neither practical nor fair. The vast majority of people do not share my son’s allergy and should not be told they can never have peanuts under any circumstances.

Still, I appreciated our schools’ efforts to keep peanut-allergic children safe. In the lunch room, for instance, there was a peanut free table at which my son would sit to eat. When he went away to camp, I worked with the food service personnel to make sure he could eat safely in the mess hall. As awareness has spread about the life-threatening nature of peanut allergies, most airlines have discontinued serving them on flights. Ironically, my airline of choice, Southwest, still serves peanuts but will refrain from doing so if they know a peanut allergic person is on the flight.

I see the parallels in my son’s situation to the issue of guns in America. Although recent calls to repeal the Second Amendment have gun rights advocates on the defensive, I respect the right of law-abiding citizens to own a gun. Still, a household with children is no place for a gun, just as peanuts posed a threat in my family to my son’s safety. And while we can’t completely ban firearms in America, we can take common sense measures to keep people safe, in much the same way that society has taken steps to protect food allergic individuals.

So while the NRA and other gun rights extremists rant about how everyone is coming for their guns, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we take some logical steps to keep people safe from being shot.

Come to think of it, guns are not like peanuts. After all, peanuts are generally a safe and healthy food that can sustain life. In fact, some products made to help malnourished children in developing nations are made up primarily of peanuts. But guns are made for one purpose: to kill or injure a living thing.

So I don’t think passing common sense gun legislation is all that nuts; do you?

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

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28058365_883296441852265_4748931391964434677_nYesterday, which happened to be both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, a 19-year-old walked into his former high school and shot and killed 17 people, wounding numerous others, with an AR-15 assault rifle.

As I sit here calmly sipping coffee, dozens of family members are grappling with the unthinkable. Because a troubled teenager was able to get his hands on a semi-automatic version of a military style weapon, residents of Parkland, Florida, must face the reality of burying their children and other loved ones.

Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, more than 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings. The Florida incident marks the 18th school shooting in less than two months in 2018. If the cause of all this death were anything but guns, legislators would already have passed numerous laws to safeguard the lives of the American people. Meanwhile, lawmakers in New York are considering a ban on Tide Pods because they look too much like candy, despite the fact that there were no fatalities reported last year from the ridiculous “Tide Pod Challenge” idiotic teens were participating in.

Suffice it to say, we have our priorities screwed up in this country.

Yesterday evening, it was standing room only at my church for the annual Ash Wednesday Mass and distribution of ashes. For some reason, Ash Wednesday services seem to be more well attended than any other events in the Catholic Church. The ashes are meant to represent both our mortality and our sinfulness – and to encourage repentance.

As a nation, we need to repent our inactivity in the face of evil. We need to atone for the countless preventable deaths due to gun violence.

The only way to effect common sense gun legislation is to elect local, state, and federal officials who are not beholden to the gun lobby. Decades ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving began an effective campaign to strengthen drunk driving laws and save lives. We need to join the Moms Demand[ing] Action for Gun Sense in America and fight for legislation that will protect us from this uniquely American scourge.

Paying the Piper

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As yet another horrific act of mass murder by firearms goes by with the usual platitudes and talking points, I am coming to the realization that in many areas of needed reform, an appeal to the humanity of our leaders is sadly misplaced. So I have another angle to help persuade government leaders, institutions, and the American public: the steep cost of failing to change.

In the area of guns, a Johns Hopkins study found that gun violence costs $2.8 billion in medical costs annually. That doesn’t take into account the expense of police and other law enforcement involvement, court costs, and prison expenditures, all of which are borne by us, the taxpayers. Even the health price tag comes back on individual Americans through higher insurance premiums and taxes to pay for victims on Medicaid. The high cost of gun violence could be reduced by expanding background checks, thus keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and domestic abusers, and by requiring owners to complete training in the safe use and storage of firearms, thus preventing the many accidental gun injuries and deaths that occur each year.

Another area in desperate need of reform is policing. Unwarranted shootings of suspects are not only an abrogation of individuals’ civil rights; they become a huge expense for police departments, which must shell out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by victims and their families. Guess who ends up paying those bills?

Even in the business world, the current push to deregulate business and industry can have detrimental effects on our pocketbooks. Questionable investment and banking practices, for instance, nearly brought down the entire economy in 2008. More recently, Wells Fargo Bank employees were found to have created over a million fake accounts for which their customers were charged fees. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created during the Obama Administration to prevent financial institutions from playing fast and loose with other people’s money. But now the Trump Administration has destroyed the ability of citizens to participate in class action lawsuits, the threat of which can prevent banks and other institutions from mismanagement and fraud. Maybe it’s time to go back to the days of hiding our cash under our beds.

And in the area of the environment, our EPA is looking more like the Environmental Pillaging Agency than an agent of protection. Beyond the idealistic goal of keeping our wildernesses wild and pristine, environmental damage is costing us in real dollars and cents. Unsafe drinking water and polluted air cause health problems for ordinary Americans, and those health problems cost money to treat.

So if you’re not moved by the sight of dwindling wetlands, gunshot victims, or grieving families, maybe this will spur you to action: It’s gonna cost you.

 

It’s the Guns, Stupid

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Police shooting blacks. Blacks shooting police. Terrorists shooting civilians. Children shooting their siblings, friends, parents, and each other. Husbands shooting their wives or entire families. Shootings precipitated by road rage, noise complaints, jealousy, unhappiness in the workplace. Accidental firings that kill or wound in shopping centers, medical offices etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the common denominator here.

Studies have shown that the more restrictions there are on the purchase of guns, the higher the street price goes up on illegal firearms. It’s Econ 101, the law of supply and demand. Similarly, there may be an occasional situation in which a law-abiding gun owner protects himself or someone else. But there are far more needless killings than there are heroic saves by gun-wielding civilians. If readers have facts to show otherwise, I’d truly like to see them in the comments section here.

You might argue that the situation with police officers shooting blacks does not apply, since police officers are allowed to carry firearms. But it’s not actually a given that cops should be allowed to carry guns routinely. In European countries such as England, Ireland, Iceland, and Norway, most police officers do not patrol with guns. Their feeling is that the presence of a gun creates provocation and engenders more gun violence.

I’m not advocating that the government take away Grandpa’s antique hunting rifle. I just see no need for the average citizen to own handguns or semi-automatic weapons. I get that some people just enjoy shooting. If so, have highly secure shooting ranges available and allow people to fire weapons at them – and then go home and leave the guns behind.

My readers may wonder when I am going to stop harping on the gun control issue. The answer is: when common sense gun laws help create a safer environment in this country for myself and my children.

 

The Elephant in the Room

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The Republicans, party of the Elephant, have been trying mightily to ignore the elephant in the room. After the horrific shooting of more than 100 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, they were quick to seize on the assailant’s Muslim affiliation and proclamation of solidarity with the terrorist group ISIS.

Any talk of homophobia or easy access to firearms was quickly shunted aside as conservatives pounced on Omar Mateen’s declaration and the consequent approval leaders of ISIS gave to the heinous act after the fact. Sen. John McCain even went so far as to accuse the Obama administration of being responsible for the shooting because of its policies in the Middle East. (Just when I was feeling a little bit sorry for poor McCain being vilified by his fellow “Republican” Donald Trump for being a loser who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.)

All this despite CIA director John Brennan’s statement that the CIA has seen no sign that Mateen had any contact with any terrorist group.

So instead of trying to have a meaningful conversation about the proliferation of guns in American society and the easy access to them despite warning signs (Mateen was on the FBI’s watch list.), we have Republicans stoking the flames of fear and anti-Muslim sentiment in order to deflect from the real issue.

To their credit, Democrats in the Senate called Republicans out on their hypocrisy with a filibuster in which they demanded action on gun control. Similarly, in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jim Fines was one of many who walked out after the obligatory moment of silence for the Orlando shooting victims, arguing that such moments of silence really represent silence on the issue of guns in America.

You can only ignore the elephant in the room for so long before it just takes up too much space to ignore. My hope is that this is what is finally happening in our government and in our society when it comes to guns.

Republican Hypocrisy

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The New York Daily News may be a sensationalist newspaper. But they had it right when they called out Republican officials and presidential candidates on their hollow response to the massacre in San Bernardino last week. Republicans’ prayers are cold comfort to the families of gun violence victims.

Now I’m not knocking prayer. As a lifelong Catholic, I am well acquainted with the centrality of prayer in a faithful person’s life. But God gave us reason, and using reason (not to mention actual facts),  we can conclude that limiting access to guns will prevent death. That does not sit well, however, with our senators and representatives who have made it into office through the financial support of the NRA. So yes, Republican candidates should be praying that Americans don’t wake up and realize the con job to which they have been subjected.

On a similar note, Republicans have tripped over themselves to disavow Donald Trump’s virulent anti-Muslim sentiments. They say high and mighty things about how disallowing Muslims to enter the country goes against everything our great democracy represents. Yet out of the other side of their mouths, they vote “Yea” on a bill that would deny the United States visa waiver program to anyone from abroad who has traveled to Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan. I wonder what religious group will be most adversely affected by such a ban.

I also find it ironic that the House of Representatives moved so swiftly in the wake of the San Bernardino mass murders to do something legislatively that might make a difference (however racist and misguided it might be). Yet when 20 children and 6 adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, not one piece of legislation of any kind passed to prevent another such horror. Oh yeah. I forgot. The killer was just a crazy white guy, not a Muslim terrorist.

If you’re a parent, you know that when you pay attention to children’s bad behavior, it often gets worse. I say we put our Republican Congressmen and women in “time out” and serve notice to the Democrats that we expect better from them, or they’re next.

At Christmas time, I realize that we live in a broken world, and that is the reason God came down in the form of a tiny Hebrew baby named Jesus. Yet it is still our duty to help bring about “peace on Earth.” So I say to our political leaders, let your actions be your prayers.

 

 

 

Rube Goldberg for Gun Control?

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I had heard the term “Rube Goldberg device” in the past but never really knew what it was until my children entered fourth grade. As a science project, they were to create a complex, convoluted process for performing a simple task such as cracking an egg or turning on a lightbulb. Chicagoans who have visited the Museum of Science & Industry have probably been enchanted by its own example of such a device, otherwise known as the Swiss Jolly Ball machine.

The tortuous suggestions I have been reading about for stemming gun violence in public places remind me of these delightful yet impractical devices, named for a Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist who depicted complex machines performing simple functions.

The gist of these suggestions is this: Arm more “good guys,” and you will prevent these shootings. Recommendations such as having teachers armed or hiring Vets as armed security are making the rounds on the internet as an answer to the upswing in school shootings. This just strikes me as insane.

There is no evidence that having guns around will prevent the next massacre and plenty of evidence that it’s a bad idea. For instance, President Reagan was surrounded by highly trained and armed Secret Service officers when he was shot by John Hinckley. Not one of those officers fired his weapon. Furthermore, experienced members of both the police and the military say that armed civilians getting involved in an active shooter situation would do more harm than good.

This is the insanity of the pro-gun faction in this country. Just keep throwing more guns into the mix. All the while the simple solution – to disarm the nation – is scoffed at as unreasonable and unrealistic.

The other illogical trope that I keep seeing is one that compares blaming guns for killing with blaming a spoon for making someone fat. Yet possession of a gun does make violence more likely. As former Navy SEAL Stephen Benson recalls, during basic training his instructor told them, ‘Gentlemen, the first and most important thing you’ve done by putting on that weapon is you’ve increased your chances of being in a gunfight by 100 percent.’(thenation.com, Oct. 5, 2015)

Another ridiculous argument is that other objects, such as knives, are used to kill; therefore, should we ban all knives? The fallacy here is that guns are made for nothing but injuring and killing. No one says, “I need a gun in case I lock myself out of the house and have to shoot the lock open,” or “Just a minute while I use my gun to chop up this cucumber.”

I would like to see one thoughtful, intelligent justification for having a gun. Yeah, I didn’t think so.