Gun Control, Sandy Hook, and Dylan Hockley

The other day, a friend of mine – who I respect and love dearly – commented on Facebook that he was tired of hearing about Sandy Hook. He lamented that policy was being driven by emotional ploys, and that the media was manipulating public opinion.

Now, this friend is a reasonable individual. We have pretty pronounced differences in opinion when it comes to matters of public policy, and gun control is no exception. He’s not opposed to all forms of regulation; he just thinks we need to be smart about it. I can get behind that.

But I bristled at dismissing the Sandy Hook stories as part of our dialogue on gun control. It was the same reaction I had when people voiced similar frustrations in the wake of Aurora, or the Sikh Temple shooting, or the Virginia Tech massacre, or the Tuscon shootings… or any of the other dozens of mass shootings.

The thing is, if we exclude these personal stories, all we’re left with is data. Data isn’t necessarily bad; indeed, it’s a critical part of effective decision making. In this instance, there is data which suggests gun control, when implemented carefully and consistently (consistency being the key), can decrease gun violence. Such data is frequently (and sometimes, to some extent, with merit) criticized and dismissed by those opposed to increased gun control. The problem is that these debates over data points remove us from the reason we’re having the conversation to begin with: human lives.

Rachel Maddow had a truly fantastic segment at the beginning of her show the other night on the impact of the Sandy Hook narratives on the Senate’s approach to the gun control debate. Watch it. It’s not long, and it’s important. And the rest of this post won’t make much sense if you don’t.

I cried when I watched it live. I’ve cried every time I’ve watched it since. Part of that has to do with the fact that my daughter is on the autism spectrum. She has one of those weighted blankets at Nana and Papa’s house for sleepovers. When the world gets to be too much for her to process, a hug is the only thing that works. And Dylan…

I can’t even write about it. I’ve tried, for days, and the words come out mangled by grief. There is no way to gracefully express the kind of heartbreak associated with this story.

Once again, I am reminded of the importance of narrative. In the wake of past mass shootings, the reaction has been predictable. It starts with disbelief, and is quickly peppered with political statements. Then there is outrage over the existence of those political statements. Eventually, with the feeling that it’s a lost cause, the conversation fades into the background. The reason that a shooting which took place in December is still in the spotlight in April is that these parents aren’t letting us forget about it. These courageous families have put their lives and sorrow and pain on public display. It won’t bring their children back, but it might help someone else’s child, and that’s why they keep fighting. Regardless of where you stand on the gun control debate, most will cede that it’s an important conversation to have. The fact that these narratives are forcing us to have it makes them important, as well.

Whether the conversation would proceed was in question for a stretch there. After all, the NRA was scoring the vote to even hear the debate on the Senate floor. Let me repeat: they are evaluating whether or not Senators are effective defenders of gun rights based on how quickly they shut the conversation down altogether.

(As if I needed another reason to hate the NRA. Seriously, any group that actively works to PREVENT DISCOURSE is not an organization worth supporting. For being such huge fans of the Constitution, it seems like the Second Amendment is the only part they think has value.)

Now, I’m not saying that we should pass policy based on narratives alone; that’s gotten us into trouble on more than one occasion. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in our policy making approach. In this instance, it was the collection of narratives from Sandy Hook that forced us to move forward in the gun control policy debate. It was stories like Dylan’s that made the difference. Dylan was taken from the world much too soon, but even so, his contributions to our well-being may, in the end, be beyond measure.

Senator Salmon

The Problem With Anti-Marriage Equality Politicians

The past couple of weeks have seen a lot of conversation about marriage equality. Between SCOTUS hearing arguments on DOMA and Prop 8, and Republican Senator Rob Portman coming out in favor of marriage equality in support of his son, there’s a lot of hope coursing through the veins of advocates across the country. And then there are stories like this one, that make your heart ache for humanity:

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) says that having a gay son has not swayed his views on the marriage issue and that he still opposes marriage equality, reported last week.

Salmon, a staunch social conservative, expressed love and respect for his son during an interview with 3TV in Arizona but said that he is “not there as far as believing in my heart” that marriage should be available to same-sex couples.

So here’s the deal. We can talk about the importance of changing hearts and minds one at at time and one day at a time. We can talk about Rep. Salmon being one of those hearts we need to change. But I’m angry, and it’s not because I disagree with him on this issue. I’m angry because of the decision making framework he’s using to evaluate legal matters.

Let’s revisit his statement, shall we? When giving a reason for why he won’t support marriage equality:

…not there as far as believing in my heart…

That’s sweet, and sentimental, and human. EXCEPT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION, WHICH IS WHAT YOUR DAMN JOB IS. As a reminder, this is the oath taken when being sworn into office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

See anything in there about heart? Or personal religious affiliation? No? I didn’t think so. Following your heart is great in terms of personal decisions, but when you’re on the job in politics, your decision making calculus is different. Period. You swore an oath to that end.

In other words, I’m fine with you holding your own personal beliefs. I mean, really, I’m not fine with it if your personal beliefs are that certain human beings are inherently less valuable than others, but I recognize that it is your right to hold such oppressive beliefs dear. What I am not fine with is you opposing marriage equality based on your personal beliefs, because the same laws that allow you the right to hold those beliefs protect the rest of us from you forcing them upon us.

So if you cannot provide a sound legal argument for why marriage equality should not exist, I don’t want to hear it. And if you’re a legislator who cannot provide a sound legal argument for opposing marriage equality, then you’re doing it wrong, and you don’t deserve the office you hold.

Seven Things I’d Say to the Judiciary Committee on Gun Control

While working today, I had the Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control playing in the background. I knew it would give me a headache at best, and enrage me at worst, but mostly I wound up annoyed. Some of the comments made a lot of sense- on BOTH sides of the debate- but too frequently, the diatribes veered off into utter nonsense.

I’ve talked about gun control here before, and I’m not crazy enough to think that all the regulations I’d like to see enacted will see the light of day. But the logic in play in some of these conversations are enough to make my head explode. Let’s discuss.

1. Multiple members of the committee and the panel have painted the picture of a mother at home with children, needing to protect herself and her kin from intruders. They argue that limiting magazine capacities puts said mother in danger. Here’s a thought- if individuals are required to be trained and tested in order to receive a license to purchase and own a firearm, maybe that mother doesn’t need 15 rounds to hit that intruder.

2. The “cosmetic” differences between an assault rifle and the guns proposed legislation would allow for aren’t necessarily cosmetic. As we heard from the panelists, those cosmetic differences improve grip, can help cool down the weapon to allow for more effective rapid fire, and ultimately improve the effectiveness of the weapon in the right hands. A blanket assault weapon ban may not make the most sense in the world, but the cosmetics line is pretty damn stupid, too.

3. LaPierre has repeatedly said that background checks will never be universal because criminals won’t subject themselves to it. Isn’t that part of the story? We’d like to discourage them from trying to buy a weapon, so let’s make it more difficult for them to acquire one. Also, following this line of logic, we should have no laws at all- after all, someone is always going to try to break it. In what world does that make sense? 

4. We heard a great deal on how strict gun laws have failed. You know why they fail? Because they are surrounded by areas with much more LAX gun control. You can have the strictest gun laws in the nation, but if someone only has to drive an hour away to get a gun without having to jump through hoops, of course those laws will be ineffective. Think about it:

States shaded according to Brady score on gun control. Notice what surrounds Chicago and DC?

5. Fair point- let’s go after the people violating gun laws. Up the penalties. Be willing to prosecute vigorously. But don’t give us the horse and pony show on a decreasing number of cases being brought against violators- the number of defendants is up over 40% since 2000. We can and should increase prosecution, but it’s not going down.

6. Can we PLEASE close the stupid gun show loophole? Private sellers should be required by law to acquire a background check for potential buyers. Give me ONE REASON why that’s a problem. Because you’re being “treated like a criminal”? Are you being treated like a criminal when you undergo a background check for a job? Or to acquire a loan? Are you being treated like a criminal when the DMV checks your records for convictions prior to issuing you a new license? Give me a break.

7. Let’s chat for a second about the black market. People like to paint it as this hazy evil underground that we can’t control. But those guns come from somewhere- frequently through straw purchases made by individuals who can easily access the weapons, and then turn them around for a profit. In a world where private sellers are required to secure background checks, and in a world where we’re going after gun law violators with new gusto, the price of a black market gun would increase with the increase in risk associated with supply, and that cost may drive down demand. Don’t sit there and act like we can’t do anything about it. We may not be able to eliminate it, but we can make progress.

There’s much more to be said, but for now, quit the circus act folks.