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The Cause of School Shootings: We're Missing the Mark

Stephan Said   |   October 9, 2015    8:43 AM ET

Everyone's off-target. Another horrible shooting, another young shooter. Eighteen years of death since West Paducah, Kentucky first warned of an epidemic. Finally, there's invigorated debate about gun control and mental health care. But, there's a glaring problem.

Guns and mental illness are merely attributes of these shootings, they are not the reason why numerous kids are killing people. It is time we stopped fooling ourselves and started asking why our youth are so disaffected that they're lashing out, murderously, at the world we've given them.

While increased regulation and improved mental health may decrease the number of deaths from these tragedies, to suggest they are solutions to a society-wide epidemic of youth killing people is a logical fallacy: Guns don't cause people to kill, and one individual's illness does not create a nationwide epidemic of unprecedented killings.

Our children are disaffected because they are angry, and have every right to be, and no one's listening to them. Why, because, we have raised them in a society that is in blatant moral contradiction of what we teach them, and yet we deny it. We tell them "do unto others," to live equally, and in peace, while everything we do proves otherwise.

As a musician and poet, it's my job to take the pulse of my country and world and express it in service to the betterment of humankind. From the day that Michael Carneal walked into Heath High School on December 1st, 1997, I knew something was terribly wrong. Something bigger than guns or individual illness.

I immersed myself in the issue of school shootings, and toured the country singing to and speaking with thousands of youth the same age as the shooters, would-be killers. In my song "West Kentucky" about Carneal's rampage, I reflected as a southern boy reared in gun culture aware that in this disaffection, something horrifying was at our doorstep:

"Now this young boy is charged with murder
And not one tear flows from his eyes
When they asked him for a reason
All he says is I don't know why...
I myself am from Virginia
And one thing I know is clear
Regardless of a reason
This did not used to happen here."

Immediately after the Columbine shootings occurred, I wrote my song "The Darling Son," a song based on an ancient ballad called 'Edward' or 'The Twa Brothers,' in which a mother questions her son who has killed his brother and fails in his attempts to falsify his story.

In my song, the mother confronts her son who has just killed his classmates, shortly before he kills himself:

"Where, oh where did you get that gun? Son, please talk to me.
I got it from your husband, mom, who rarely talks to me.
But where did you learn to be so cruel? Son, please talk to me.
I learned it in the books at school that taught me history.
But where did you learn to kill my son, son please talk to me.
I learned it from this great, great land, that kills across the sea.
Oh, where will you go, my only one? Son, please talk to me.
I'm going far beyond the sun, where no one's eyes can see."

The thousands of high school and college student that you hear in this live recording, all the same age-group as our school shooters, are cheering each word because the song is giving voice to what is bothering them, to something they live with everyday that is making them angry, but that no adult has ever admitted to them.

Everywhere I've gone, youth have come up to me after shows, often in tears, thanking me, asking if they can hug me, telling me I'm the first adult who's ever talked to them about the truth of their world, thoughts they say they're afraid to express openly to adults they think are not receptive.

Our children are not stupid. Armed with the internet, they have access to more information than prior generations could ever imagine. As much we may like to ignore it, we cannot pull the wool over their eyes as though it were 1975.

We have given them a world in which they know millions have been killed or made refugees in a war waged over oil that is causing global warming, voted for by politicians bought by corporate interests, while their own parents, many of whom are divorced, work day and night to make ends meet, unavailable to them, while pop culture sells unprecedented wealth, debauchrery and violence to them daily. And we act as though the problem is guns and mental health.

We have created a society that is morally bankrupt, and the victims are our children who have lost faith in authority due to our moral duplicity. This is the cause of school shootings.

By failing to engage our youth in honest conversation about their world as they see it, we sentence the most sensitive, already neglected, but often most gifted, inquisitive of our youth, to despair. If we continue this denial, we will have more of these children pushed to the point of breaking, regardless of gun control.

Every child of ours could become a killer, or a changemaker. It is up to us to give them the necessary moral consistency, inspiration and support to become the latter.

But, in the 18 years since the dawn of school shootings, I have yet to see our politicians or mainstream media respond to one of these tragedies by asking the youth themselves what it is they are angry about. Now's the time to start.

We need a campaign to listen to our youth. We need to work with and inspire them to channel their justified feelings into groundbreaking work for good before it festers in them unresolved and explodes. I'm prepared to dedicated myself to the effort.

In the meantime, if you want to read about feasible means to beneficial gun regulation, check out Nick Kristof's excellent piece. If you prefer to contemplate mental illness and improving health care, check out John Oliver's biting response.

Those Who Say Guns Don't Kill People Are Anti-American Bigots

William H. Harwood   |   October 8, 2015    2:58 PM ET

Pro-gun advocacy has spawned a dangerous form of bigotry.

"Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

We've all heard this argument. Some think it ridiculous, while others chant it like a mantra--especially every time one of a thousand massacres in the US manages to get airtime, or a kid shoots another kid.

But rarely does either side bother to analyze it.

Ostensibly, the argument claims that guns are not the problem. However, in logic, this creates what is called an exclusive disjunction: only one of two options is possible. If the easy access to and proliferation of guns is not the issue, then it must be the case either that everyone in comparable countries is roughly as bloodthirsty as those in the US (even without guns), or that people in the US are preternaturally prone to violence (regardless of guns).

The former is demonstrably false. The latter makes you a bigot.

Regarding the former:

1. For those who say that gun regulations are pointless because they will only affect law-abiding citizens (i.e., criminals don't follow laws, so additional regulations won't have any effect, so we shouldn't bother), this is a version of a false dilemma called the perfectionist fallacy: if a proposed idea will not result in perfect results, it should not be attempted. If this were true, we should not have any laws ("Criminals don't follow laws, so why bother having laws?") or even any police ("Cops don't catch all criminals, so why bother having cops?"). Besides, assuming that regulating or banning guns wouldn't work is a form of circular reasoning called begging the question (deriving the conclusion of your argument from premises that assume it). If other comparable countries (e.g., Britain and Australia) have done it, the burden of proof is upon those to explain why it simply can't work here.

2. For those who want to illustrate the futility of strict gun laws by pointing to, e.g., Honduras or Mexico, this is a red herring (distracting by claiming something is relevant when it is not), if not a prosecutor's fallacy (overstating the importance of a particular bit of evidence, while paying insufficient attention to context). Apples-to-apples comparisons can only be done in countries wherein corruption is low, the rule of law is stable, social mobility is achievable, etc., This is obvious when examining any other domestic issue: there is a reason that people don't compare the US to countries like Mexico or Honduras when discussing health care. It is a failure of critical thinking to suddenly ignore the significance of this difference.

3. For those who want to compare the US to other countries with lots of guns, e.g., Switzerland or Canada, this is a false analogy (claiming kinship between two things that are not actually very similar). The vast majority of violent acts committed with a gun in the US would be impossible or unlikely in Switzerland or Canada. First, most of the guns you find in other nations are rifles (rather than handguns); these are extremely difficult to hide in your pants. Second, they are incredibly well-regulated. In short, this argument implodes because it weds the pro-gun advocate to an accidental defense of stringent regulation and/or removes access to certain types of firearms.

Therefore, the first part of the disjunction results in a failure of critical thinking, or a conclusion that contradicts the facts. Indeed, the only outcome of this line of reasoning that survives scrutiny is that we should have incredibly strong regulations and training for anyone who would own a gun. Irony.

So what about the second part? Are people in the US just condemned to be murderers?

1. For those who want to blame mental illness, this is another red herring, and a not-so-subtle form of bigotry. It may seem tautological--and it certainly makes everyone feel better--to think that anyone willing to shoot another person is deranged. But this is no more the case than the widespread assumption that much, if not most, of gun violence is gang-related. According to the FBI, the majority of homicides committed in the US with a gun are the result of arguments between individuals with no history of mental illness or gang affiliation. Remove the gun from the equation, and you are much more likely to end up with an injury than a corpse. More importantly, by erroneously blaming mental illness, you not only fail to constructively address the problem, you succeed in further stigmatizing mental illness.

2. For those who say that if you take away easy access to guns, people will find other ways to kill each other with just as much frequency, this is bigotry--and a bizarre new species of racism. It requires one to believe that the US population, due to some unexplained and inexplicable biological and/or sociological cause(s), is so breathtakingly violent that we will continue to murder each other at an extraordinary rate by any means necessary. Aside from catching the pro-gun advocate in several fallacies at once, this route also proves her remarkable prejudice against the US and its people.

3. Further, this entails (i.e., logically requires) a non sequitur (claiming something follows logically without providing any compelling reason to accept it): that people in the US are exceptionally good at violence. Fortunately, for almost all of us, it is much more difficult to kill someone--let alone multiple people--without a gun than it is with one. On the same day as the Newtown massacre, Min Yongiun attacked a group of school children with a knife in China's Henan province. While clearly horrible--he injured a total of 23 children, severing ears and fingers--he failed to kill anyone before being stopped. If the guns have nothing to do with the homicide rate in the US, you have to believe not only that people in the US will continue to be several times more likely (e.g., 4X more than Britons, 6X more than Germans) than comparable nations to attempt to kill each other, but also that they will be ninja/Navy SEAL effective at succeeding with whatever is at hand. This is not just false. It is ludicrous.

Thus, in addition to (again) resulting in fallacious, bizarre conclusions, the other side of this disjunction makes you an anti-American bigot. Irony abounds.

Sadly, everything about Oregon was predictable. It was predictable for there to be another mass shooting, because it is so easy to obtain a gun in this country. It was predictable for everyone to line up on either side of a policy debate spouting specious claims and sharing unsubstantiated memes. It was predictable for everyone to suddenly become an equally-informed pundit with equally-valid opinions, declaring that it is the guns or it is not the guns. It was predictable that we turn this completely tractable problem into a shameful impasse.

Because it happens all the time. And it will happen again.

But we can stop acting like there is some argument that justifies this macabre aesthetic choice. We could just admit that we love guns. We love them so much--and the cowboy/vigilante/hero/could-be-me mythology that comes with holding one--that we would rather keep seeing adults and kids needlessly, horribly killed than give them up. We love guns more than we hate the violence that comes with them. It's not logical at all. It's emotional.

Or, if we don't want to accept that disgusting state of affairs, let's at least strip the sham patriotism that is the pro-gun advocate's favorite armor. Maybe if we start calling pro-gun advocacy what it really is--either demonstrable ignorance or anti-American bigotry--then maybe we can have a meaningful dialogue about what is killing us and why.

So next time someone tells you, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." Maybe respond by asking them, "Why do you hate America so much?"

Fully Automatic: The Trigger-Happy Refusal to Talk about Gun Violence

Sam Corey   |   October 8, 2015    1:45 PM ET

April 4, 2009: 14 Die in Shooting at Community Center in Binghamton, N.Y.

November 5, 2009: Nidal Hasan killed 13 in mass shooting at the Fort Hood, Texas, military base.

January 8, 2011: Jared Loughner opened fire while Rep. Gabby Giffords was meeting with constituents outside a supermarket

July 20, 2012: James Holmes entered a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and fired on moviegoers during a midnight screening, killing 12 and wounding 58

Aug. 5, 2012: In Oak Creek, Wis., Wade Michael Page shot and killed six inside a Sikh temple

Dec. 14, 2012: In Newtown, Conn., Adam Lanza shot his mother to death and headed to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 27 people, many of them children

Sept. 16, 2013: Aaron Alexis shot and killed 12 inside Washington's Navy Yard

April 2, 2014: In a second shooting at Fort Hood, Ivan Lopez shot and killed 3

Feb. 10, 2015: Craig Hicks allegedly shot three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C.

June 17, 2015: Dylann Storm Roof killed 9 in Charleston church

Aug. 26, 2015: Two television journalists were fatally shot by an ex-coworker during a live television interview

Oct. 1, 2015: Chris Harper Mercer kills ten and injures least 7 others in a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College

As Americans have become far too inundated with these horrific headlines of high-profile mass shootings under the Obama Administration, we are left again to deal with the shock of another national tragedy.

"Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We have become numb to this," President Obama said in his most recent mass shooting address.

ShootingTracker reports, mass shootings -- defined as incidents in which four or more people are shot -- have happened hundreds of times over the last several years. In fact, during Obama's second term, a Sunday-to-Saturday calendar week has not passed without a mass shooting incident.

Nevertheless, a frustrated and exasperated Barack Obama addressed the latest gun massacre in Oregon last week.

But his tone lacked his trademark soaring rhetoric and was replaced with a dejected undertone of irritable apathy, combined with a foreboding cynicism that braces for the inevitable visceral opposition of having a meaningful debate about such a pressing issue.

"What's also routine is that somebody, somewhere, will comment and say 'Obama politicized this issue.' Well this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic," Obama added.

Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush spoke last Friday in South Carolina, his response as automatic as the weapons he adamantly defends.

"We're in a difficult time in our country and I don't think more government is necessarily the answer to this ... look, stuff happens, there's always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something and it's not necessarily the right thing to do."

Why shouldn't we politicize an issue the claims the lives of over 30,000 Americans per year?

We are experts at manufacturing fake outrage and politicizing much more trivial events that don't adversely affect the lives of level-headed, rational people, including the following:

Last December, FOX News re-launched their "War on Christmas" segment after American Atheists posted billboards advising children to "skip church" on Christmas or when "Merry Christmas" is replaced with "Happy Holidays" in order to acknowledge that Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and the newly minted secular HumanLight also occur in December.

Target announced in August that it would phase out "gender-based language" from the children's bedding and toy aisles, sparking thousands of outraged comments from offended conservative customers vowing to boycott the store's "political correctness." This became a hot-button issue, although the layout of the store hasn't changed.

Kim Davis, a woman so traditionally lovely, four different men wanted to marry her, became the patron saint for religious intolerance, as Mike Huckabee claimed her arrest was the "Criminalization of Christianity" at a time when 70 percent of the country is Christian.

Support for Planned Parenthood has become the focal point of the "decline in American values," according to pro-lifers, but 97 percent of Planned Parenthood's services aren't abortion-related, the Hyde Amendment prevents federal funding of abortions, and they prevent 515,000 unintended pregnancies and 216,000 abortions each year.

In the midst of rising diabetes and obesity rates in New York City, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to limit sales of soda beverages to 16 oz. in 2012. This controversial law fizzed into a heated debate about government intervention vs. personal choice, even though fast food restaurants continued to offer unlimited refills. Regardless, the New York State Court of Appeals eventually struck the legislation down.

Finally, the recent resurgence of measles has shed light on whether vaccines should be mandatory, but parents believing the non-existent medical evidence linking it to autism refuse to treat their children despite the fact that "herd immunity" protects a population from serious diseases through widespread vaccination.

The irony here is we politicize nonsensical issues out of the perpetual fear of change, but in the instance of gun violence, we refuse to politicize this issue out of fear of change.

The Rampage Shooting Index shows that the U.S. doesn't even place in the top five "advanced" countries in the most per capita shooting fatalities. All five countries ahead of the U.S. have more restrictive gun laws, so maybe more stringent gun laws isn't the only panacea.

Other possible answers could include better mental health care, as 60 percent of annual gun-related deaths are suicide. Maybe it's increased security in public schools, more thorough criminal and mental background checks, banning firearm sales at gun conventions, proper gun training, or limiting magazines and assault weapons.

This is the beauty of a substantive debate, policies and ideas can be contested and the most sensible and applicable to American society can be cherry-picked to develop a sensible solution to a national problem.

Instead we're met with responses such as:

"The only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre in a press conference addressing the Sandy Hook shooting.

"As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies," Dr. Ben Carson said after the Umpqua Community College massacre. "There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking - but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away."

Charts from the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Center and UNODC show a direct correlation between gun ownership and shootings, so it's time to give the "more guns" talking point the Old Yeller.

According to Politifact, which analyzed statistics from the CDC, Gun Violence Archive, Mass Shooting Tracker and the National Vital Statistics System, there have been 301,797 gun related deaths in America in the past decade compared to 71 lives lost to domestic terrorist attacks.

In response to terrorist attacks, we have engaged in Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, used the NSA and PATRIOT Act to conduct unwarranted surveillance on innocent Americans, opened up a detention center in Guantanamo Bay and bolstered security at all American airports.

But we just accept mass shootings as a staple of American life, refusing to even push for a logical debate.

The fact that we refuse to politicize this issue isn't just an indictment of our political system, it just shows how dysfunctional and weary we have become as a society.

Whether you're a law-abiding Second Amendment enthusiast or a concerned soccer mom, both sides should be able to agree that gun violence deserves a serious discussion outside of the tried, cliché talking points that are as empty as a recently fired shell.

Otherwise, refusing to talk about this too soon after another mass shooting will be too late after the next one occurs.

Nick Baumann   |   October 8, 2015    1:28 PM ET

Ben Carson, a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, blamed the Holocaust on Nazi gun control in an interview on CNN Thursday.

Host Wolf Blitzer read a section from Carson's book, A More Perfect Union, in which Carson writes:

German citizens were disarmed by their government in the late 1930s, and by the mid-1940s Hitler's regime had mercilessly slaughtered six million Jews and numerous others whom they considered inferior ... Through a combination of removing guns and disseminating deceitful propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance.

"I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed," Carson elaborated in the interview. "There's a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first."

The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors and responds to anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, has long opposed the use of Nazi comparisons in the U.S. gun control debate. "The idea that supporters of gun control are doing something akin to what Hitler’s Germany did to strip citizens of guns in the run-up to the Second World War is historically inaccurate and offensive, especially to Holocaust survivors and their families," Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director at the time, said in 2013.

Conservatives have a history of comparing gun control advocates to Hitler and the Nazis. The ADL's 2013 comments were provoked by The Drudge Report's choice to use an image of Hitler to illustrate news that President Barack Obama was pursuing limited gun control measures after 20 first-graders and six school staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were murdered by a gunman.

Many historians disagree with the idea that armed German Jews could have prevented the Holocaust. And as Alex Seitz-Wald, a journalist then writing for Salon, explained in 2013, the full story of Nazi gun regulation is more complicated than Carson and his ilk might like:

University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt explored this myth in depth in a 2004 article published in the Fordham Law Review. As it turns out, the Weimar Republic, the German government that immediately preceded Hitler’s, actually had tougher gun laws than the Nazi regime. After its defeat in World War I, and agreeing to the harsh surrender terms laid out in the Treaty of Versailles, the German legislature in 1919 passed a law that effectively banned all private firearm possession, leading the government to confiscate guns already in circulation. In 1928, the Reichstag relaxed the regulation a bit, but put in place a strict registration regime that required citizens to acquire separate permits to own guns, sell them or carry them....

[Hitler's] "1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition,” Harcourt wrote. Meanwhile, many more categories of people, including Nazi party members, were exempted from gun ownership regulations altogether, while the legal age of purchase was lowered from 20 to 18, and permit lengths were extended from one year to three years.

The 1938 law did ban Jews from owning guns. But as the ADL explained in 2013, "the small number of personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000) remaining in Germany in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state," which eventually conquered most of Europe.

There was some armed Jewish resistance to the power of the Nazi war machine. But it often ended in death for the Jews involved.

In January 1943, Jews in the Warsaw ghetto rose up against the Nazis. Some 13,000 Jews died in the uprising. (They killed around 20 Nazis.) The rest were deported to concentration and extermination camps, where most were murdered.

My grandfather and grandmother had escaped from the ghetto before the uprising and gone into hiding in the countryside. They survived.

Also on HuffPost:

Guns, Politics And That Fake First Family: How To Create A Better World

Cathy Chester   |   October 8, 2015    9:55 AM ET

Sometimes I think we're living in some scary, cracked mirror world because it feels as if we're spinning out-of control. Odd, surreal and violent events are taking place every day. At times I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming.

The scripts Rod Serling wrote for "The Twilight Zone" seem to be closer to reality. He may have been more of a genius than we knew.


Point One: When the magazine "Cosmopolitan" declared on their cover that our First Family was not the President, First Lady and First Daughters but instead were a family of overpaid reality stars whose biggest claim to fame was that their daddy helped get OJ Simpson off of two murder convictions, and are the same ones whose toned, tanned and barely covered bodies are splashed all over the media, I needed to pinch myself.

Point Two: I can't phrase it better than Jon Stewart. "The world running now: Whites are black. Trump's running for President. Does gravity still work?" Luckily Trump is losing ground in the polls, but it scares the hell out of me at the number of people who support and believe that this guy can really "make America great again."

Point Three: After the recent tragedy of the Oregon shootings President Obama had to make sense (is there any?) about massive gun violence and the laws that allow them to happen.

In 2015 alone there were 294 mass shootings, 45 shootings at schools, 9,956 people killed in gun incidents and 20,000 people injured in them.

"We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings," he said. "Friends of ours, allies of ours - Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it." ~President Obama

In 2016 I will be voting for a candidate who wants to make changes in gun laws. Columbine. Virginia Tech. The Batman cinema screening. Historic black church killings. Newtown. WDBJ7 news team.

Enough is enough. Gun violence must end.

Point Four: We've become accustomed to the divisiveness of our country because our political parties get nothing done in Washington, The gap grows wider between the two every day with shutdowns, putdowns and meltdowns.

The commencement speaker at my college graduation was an alum of my school. Tip O'Neill was an outspoken and influential liberal Democrat. Despite his vehement opposition to the policies of Ronald Reagan the two respected and admired one another and were "friends after 6pm", often walking across the political aisle to work together.

As Thomas P. O'Neill wrote of his father in an 2012 New York Times article after the Obama/Romney debate:

"That commitment to put country ahead of personal belief and party loyalty is what Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney and millions of Americans miss so much right now."


I'm no Pollyanna. I realize there have always been problems. Our grandparents lived through World War I and the Depression, and our parents suffered through World War II and the Korean War. We were born during the Vietnam War, civil unrest and shocking assassinations. There has always been poverty, hunger, inequality, inequitable education, issues with sustainable water and sanitation. The list goes on.

I'm inspired and hopeful by the recent Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. Take a look at them and tool around the UN website.


I'm not going to preach my personal views on how to solve the problems of the world. I'll leave that to the great thinkers. But as I recently heard Nicholas Kristof say in his presentation about his new book "A Path Appears: Transforming LIves, Creating Opportunities ":

"You don't need to invade a place or install a new government to help bring about a positive change."

It's the tiny ripples that can create a free-flowing river. Speak out. Volunteer. Sign a petition. Say a kind word. Open your heart to others. Donate. And read, read, read before making your own choices.

Here's to a better world for all of us.

This post was previously published on Cathy's blog, An Empowered Spirit.

Cathy Chester is an award-winning writer and health advocate who has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for almost 30 years. She writes about finding the joy in life despite disability. MS does not define her, so Cathy also writes about living a quality life in midlife, social good causes, animal rights, book and movie reviews, and the importance of using compassion and kindness as a way of making the world a better place. Her work has been published on numerous websites as she is passionate about helping others manage the difficulties of living with a chronic illness.

Follow Cathy on Twitter.

How to Change the Gun Debate

Adam Winkler   |   October 7, 2015    6:08 PM ET

In the wake of the horrific shooting at Umpqua Community College, Americans are once again wondering why such incidents don't lead to new gun laws. One reason, of course, is the National Rifle Association. Yet the source of the NRA's influence is often mistakenly believed to be its money and lobbyists. Understanding the real source of the NRA's power, however, highlights how gun control supporters can break the stalemate on guns.

The NRA's piles of money and armies of lobbyists certainly help spread the organization's no-compromises, anti-gun-control message. But elected officials ultimately vote the NRA's way because they believe the NRA can sway voters on Election Day. The NRA's influence, in other words, comes from voters.

After the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore failed to carry his home state of Tennessee in part because of opposition by the NRA, candidates have lived in fear of pro-gun voters. Supporters of strict gun laws ran away from gun control. President Obama, for example, downplayed the issue in both his campaigns, emphasizing instead his support for the Second Amendment.

These candidates recognized that the primary reason gun rights have been ascendant over the past 30 years is because gun enthusiasts are far more politically engaged than gun control proponents. One in five gun owners say they have called, written, or e-mailed a public official about gun laws, compared to 1 in 10 people who don't own a gun. Four percent of non-gun owners have contributed money to an advocacy group working on guns, in contrast to nearly 20 percent of gun owners.

Opponents of gun control are also often single-issue voters; they decide who to vote for based solely on a candidate's position on guns.

Support for gun control, by contrast, has been broad but not deep. While many people tell pollsters they support effective new gun laws, like universal background checks, few actually make gun control the sole issue determining their vote.

This was evident when Congress last considered gun control, in the wake of the Newtown shooting. Polls showed 90 percent in favor of universal background checks but the measure failed, losing the support of key swing-state Democrats. As Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota explained, calls to her office from constituents were "at least 7 to 1 against that bill." Someone who goes through the effort of calling about guns is likely to vote on guns.

Candidates kowtow to the NRA because the gun group can mobilize voters in tight races. In close elections, being able to turn out even two or three percent of voters makes a huge difference.

If supporters of gun control want to change the gun debate, they answer is easy: vote for gun control.

When gun control groups can plausibly threaten to mobilize two or three percent of voters, the NRA will be neutralized.

The political environment is becoming increasingly favorable to gun control supporters. Although the gun debate has stalled in Congress, since Newtown we've seen many reforms adopted at the state level. Colorado, Washington, California, Maryland, New York, Connecticut and other states have tried to fill the gaps left open by Congress by strengthening background checks and restricting access to especially lethal weaponry.

These reforms didn't just occur because lawmakers were horrified by Newtown. They also happened because lawmakers thought that passing new gun control laws would not hurt them in the next election.

After gun advocates successfully recalled two state senators who voted for reform in Colorado, it appeared the lawmakers were wrong. But the next year, both seats were won back by pro-control candidates, one of whom used to work with the gun control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

More and more lawmakers are starting to question the NRA's influence in purple states. Sens. Tim Kaine (Virginia), Ben Nelson (Florida), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), and Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) keep winning elections despite F grades from the NRA.

Although 2014 was a bad year for Democrats at the polls, pro-gun control candidates scored notable victories. In Virginia, the NRA's home state, Terry McAuliffe was elected governor despite his embrace of gun control. He publicized his failing grade from the NRA. Guns were also a major issue in gubernatorial elections in Colorado and Connecticut, both won by supporters of gun control.

Demographics are also in gun control's corner. The white rural voters who make up the core of the NRA's constituency are dwindling. Meanwhile, Latinos, the fastest growing ethnic group in America, are among the strongest supporters of strict gun laws. Don't be surprised to soon see campaign ads targeting candidates with high NRA ratings for endangering your children -- in Spanish.

Outside of electoral politics, gun control advocates have already proven that there is a grassroots constituency waiting to be mobilized. Using social media and targeted boycotts, Moms Demand Action brought consumer pressure on national chains like Starbucks, Target, Chili's, and Sonic to force them to take a stand against guns in their stores.

Those consumers are also voters, which is why every major Democratic candidate for president has come out strongly in favor of gun control. Future presidential hopeful Andrew Cuomo even called for a shutdown of the federal government until new gun laws are passed. Politicians are losing their fear that being vocal on this issue will cost them on Election Day.

Now it is up to voters who favor gun control to match the political engagement of gun control's opponents. It's not enough to demand reform. People have to vote for it.

We Are Being Crucified Upon a Cross of Guns

Suraj Patel   |   October 7, 2015    5:21 PM ET

I remember going to school in the days and weeks immediately following Columbine. I was in high school in Beech Grove, Indiana. The shooting came as a shock, a wake up call for the nation and we thought, a way for my generation to begin to make it right.

I was on a Mayor's Youth Council back then, a short-lived foray into politics. We held vigils and roundtables, discussed mental health and bullying. For God sakes, we organized a "Violent Video Game Buyback" and yet in an utter indictment of our political system and our society, never once did we discuss guns.

We just buried 10 in Roseburg, 27 in Sandy Hook, 10 in Red Lake -- unfortunately this list goes on forever. In fact, since 1968, more Americans have died from gun violence than have died in all the wars in U.S. combined, from Lexington to Afghanistan.

We have to start asking at least at the most basic level why we think the Second Amendment protects the rights of domestic abusers, felons, stalkers and the mentally deranged to buy a gun more so than the First Amendment allows us to freely learn, worship and report without the constant fear of being gunned down?

A vocal minority has hijacked the gun issue in our country, armed with a bizarre reading of the Constitution, circular reasoning and a sense of "toughness" to elevate the absurd conclusion that more, not less guns will make us safer. So effective has this almost religious movement become, that unlike Columbine, our introspection as a society now last for hours, not even days or weeks. We have become numb and helpless.

The basis for of gun reform opponents' argument rests on a tautology. "More laws will only affect law-abiding citizens and criminals will always find a way to get guns," they say. Well, yes, guns are legal, therefore every mass shooter or shooter in general is law abiding until they break the law, at which point they become criminals, right?

It's true only criminals commit crimes because that's the definition of a criminal. This is why we need new laws to criminalize or at least make more difficult the commission of the crime of homicide, which includes mass killings, one-off shootings, and suicide.

You see, people aren't all good and all bad -- people aren't binary. Only an overly simplistic worldview would lead someone to believe that. Some people have mental disorders -- obviously anyone who shoots someone else has a mental problem, because much like the "crime is committed by criminals" thing, we use the "killing of large numbers of people" as a way to define mental illness, although, unfortunately, it is after the fact all too often.

One can't seriously think it is more realistic to identify and grade every person's mental state in America than to make obtaining a weapon slightly harder. No rather, it seems that all of these excuses and arguments against gun reform stem from a stubborn refusal to accept, or a strange fear of, change. We have done the same thing for 40 years -- a steady erosion of gun laws coupled with a significant increase in gun ownership corresponding with an increase in gun violence.

It's not rocket science, it's causal.

Simply put, guns lower the barrier to commit the crime of homicide.

All crime at some level is opportunistic. Add even a small barrier and the commission of crime dramatically drops. Rather than remake a proven argument, I point to this wonderful article by Adam Gopnick about the reduction of crime in terms of opportunity:

"What the New York Police Department found out, through empirical experience and better organization, was that making crime even a little bit harder made it much, much rarer. This is undeniably true of property crime, and common sense and evidence tells you that this is also true even of crimes committed by crazy people (to use the plain English the subject deserves). Those who hold themselves together enough to be capable of killing anyone are subject to the same rules of opportunity as sane people. Even madmen need opportunities to display their madness, and behave in different ways depending on the possibilities at hand. Demand an extraordinary degree of determination and organization from someone intent on committing a violent act, and the odds that the violent act will take place are radically reduced, in many cases to zero."

Our society does not punish thoughts, it only punishes actions. And there is certainly a sliding scale of evil thoughts that drive people to evil actions. It stands to reason then, that inhibiting the ability to turn bad thought into bad action, even slightly, can and does dramatically lower the commission of those actions.

Well, the action of killing oneself or a fellow human being is universally held to be the worst possible act and guns make the commission of that act remarkably easy. That is their purpose - the gun was developed as a tool to kill people effectively. Yes, we use guns to hunt animals too, but we domesticated livestock 12,000 years prior to the advent of the gun. The gun, especially the handgun is a highly effective instrument for killing people. So, if someone is on the edge of considering killing someone, themselves, or a large number of people, the easier it is to act on it, the higher the chance that they will.

So often, gun reform opponents say, "if not guns, killers will find ways to kill -- cars, knives, bombs, etc." Well, bombs are illegal, knives are much harder to use to kill, and none of these mass shooters or daily killers seem to have simply driven their cars through campus or the school hitting every person in their path despite the fact that that could cause so much more carnage. There is something unique and symbolic about the handgun in the commission of violence, in each of these cases, it is being used for its purpose.

But rather than a simplistic debate over more guns or less guns, let's imagine two worlds. In one world, guns are very difficult to obtain and exist only for limited purposes like hunting and sport, and where handguns are available they are licensed subject to stringent background checks with stiff penalties for black market traders. In the other world, nearly everyone carries a gun, protecting themselves with the swift and ultimate justice of mutually assured destruction. In this world we rely on the judgment of individuals like George Zimmerman or the three people in my life who have called me a "Sand Nigger" to take it upon themselves to conclude, with all of their biases and none of the training, who is bad and who is good.

In which world would you want to raise your child?

Let's have a reasonable debate about this, study the gun problem, and then come up with common sense solutions that treat guns closer to something like vehicles, as a public health issue, because right now, with only zealots framing the debate, and we are being crucified upon a cross of guns.

The Right To Bear Tragedy

Warren Holstein   |   October 7, 2015    1:25 PM ET

I'm beginning to think we should just change the Second Amendment to the right to bear tragedy. Including the recent incident in Oregon, we've had 45 mass shootings at schools this year alone and 994 general mass shootings during the last three years. If you bother to do the math, that's nearly three times as many people who died in all four Rambo movies combined.

Yet, Republican politicians' only answer seems to be to actively ignore the root cause (guns!) and say "mental illness" as many times as possible until a Kardashian does something wacky and we forget about it all so they can go back to collecting money from NRA lobbyists while plotting the most effective way to control women's vaginas and profitably decimate the environment before the Rapture occurs.

2015-10-06-1444170748-7137623-KidGOP.jpg The GOP on mass killing

If none of them were swayed after Sandy Hook, what are the chances now? The only way they'd vote for gun control would be if corporations were getting shot because those are the only "people" they really care about.

And let's cut the bullshit about mental illness.

People with mental illnesses are no more likely to commit violence than anybody else. They commit just 3 to 5 percent of all violent incidents, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. In line with that, a new study from Vanderbilt University says: "Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness." Besides, how many Republicans would be willing to support a federal health care program that payed for heightened detection and treatment? The government will start shutting itself down if you just try thinking about it.

Look, my brother is mentally ill. I've grown up among his mentally ill friends and peers and visited various group homes he's lived in. The majority of people I've encountered are not violent. The only thing they're interested in killing is a bowl of ice cream. Most of them can't even drive a car or balance a check book, let alone get a permit, haggle for arms at a gun show or meticulously plot out a mass murder.

Even so, it's still probably not a good idea to give any of them access to an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, but then again, it's probably not a good idea to give any human being with emotions like envy, hatred and rage access to killing machines that can mow down an entire classroom in less time than it takes you to update your Facebook status. There's a reason nuclear weapons, flamethrowers and rocket launchers aren't sold publicly.

Perhaps we should reconsider types of guns and ammunition that make more sense in a war zone or a Terminator movie. You don't need those for self-defense. Who's fucking attacking you? An army of the undead? You don't need them to hunt, unless deer and bears start dressing in Kevlar and arming themselves to the teeth in a desperate attempt stay off your den walls and take their homelands back.

And don't give me that baloney that people are just going to buy it on the black market anyway. If you stop production on these types of weapons it will cause the price of the ones in circulation to skyrocket, especially on the black market. That's how America works. Supply and demand. Most of these lone wolves live with their mommies or in a one-room apartment above a lighting store and wouldn't be able to afford to easily get their hands on one. How many Richie Rich mass shooters can you recall?

The Oregon shooter (who lived with his mommy) was found with a 9mm Glock pistol, a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson, a .40-caliber Taurus pistol and a .556-caliber Del-Ton, as well as five more ammo magazines and a flak jacket containing steel plates. Seven more weapons were found at his apartment including a shotgun, four rifles and two pistols. How can one man who isn't John McLane be allowed to have access to such an extensive armory? What would he need it for?

Jeb "the Establishment Candidate" Bush summed up the GOP's stance best when he said: "Stuff happens, there's always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something and it's not necessarily the right thing to do."

Highly insensitive words that aren't so surprising coming from the son of a woman who insinuated that the poor black survivors of Katrina crammed into the Astrodome never had it so good. Yeah, why would you want to try to change anything in the face of repeated massacres that practically happen on a daily basis, Jeb? Shoot! That's just life.

Jeb also said, "A child drowns in a pool and the impulse is to pass a law that puts fencing around pools, well, it may not change it...the cumulative effect of this is in some cases, you don't solve the problem by passing the law, and you're imposing on large numbers of people, burdens that make it harder for our economy to grow, make it harder for people to protect liberty."

Why should I be inconvenienced by a pesky latch because your stupid toddler fell into an unnatural standing body of water without learning how to swim before reading? I might get a splinter or prevent an unintended tragedy!

The funny thing is that even Jeb doesn't believe the horseshit analogy spewed from his mouth to pander to the fringies. After a child fell into a pool and nearly drowned when he was governor in Florida, Jeb signed a law in 2000 requiring pool owners to pick a way to prevent unsupervised kiddies from going into the water.

The law made it compulsory for pool owners to either install fencing around the pool, safety covers, door alarms or self-latching doors. The alternative was to face jail time or a fine. Wow! That sounds like a highly sensible solution to a horrendous problem that actively deters future pain and suffering through action instead of hollow words.

What ever happened to that guy? He should run for president.

Read More of Warren's Writing at

God, Guns, and Feminist Theology

Susan M. Shaw   |   October 7, 2015   12:29 PM ET

As it usually does in the days following a mass shooting, the gun debate in the US is raging. While mass shootings are spectacularly appalling, they are not the majority of incidents of gun violence in this country. Two-thirds of homicides and half of suicides are by gun. And research shows, the more guns people have, the greater the incidents of gun violence.

Christians are divided on the issue of guns. Some Christians want to take their guns to church, and several states allow them to do just that. Some Christians want us to put all of our guns down. A lot of Christians want to own their guns for hunting or target practice or protection.

As a feminist, however, I think that it's important that we think about how our social location--our place in the world and our various identities--affects how we think about guns. If I am a white man in the rural United States, I may think differently about guns than if I am a black or brown mother in an urban area. If I am a woman whose husband threatens me with a gun as he beats and berates me, I may think about guns differently than people who have never been subjected to violence in their own homes. If I am black or brown I may imagine the gun in the hand of a police officer very differently than white men and women. If I am gay, lesbian, or transgender--especially if I am a transgender woman of color--I may feel differently about guns than people who have not been threatened for their sexuality or gender identity. If I am a woman, I may likely have a very different relationship to guns than a man.

Gun violence is gendered. Most gun violence is perpetrated by boys and men. Men own most of the guns in the United States (women make up about 20% of gun owners). Women are significantly more likely to be the victims of gun violence at the hands of husbands and boyfriends and exes than strangers, and a woman is much more likely to be killed by her abuser if he has access to a gun than if he doesn't.

Our cultural fascination with guns is also gendered. Guns are closely tied with our culture's understandings of masculinity and power. Guns are power, guns affirm masculinity, and guns allow (mostly) men to feel and to exercise power and domination over others through violence or the threat of violence.

Gun violence is also racialized. Blacks are much more likely to die from gun violence than whites, although whites are much more likely to have guns in the home than blacks.

Our cultural acceptance of guns is also predicated on our fear of the imagined Other who is out to do us harm. Many gun owners explain their gun ownership by their need for protection, despite reams of research that clearly show that owning or carrying a gun does not make someone safer. In fact, more people are shot and killed in arguments than in attempting to stop a crime, and owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide, and accidental death.

Perhaps instead of convincing ourselves we need guns to protect ourselves, we need to ask questions about the structures and ideologies that make us fearful or the pressures of masculinity that make so many men feel they need a gun to feel like a real man. We also need to challenge the myths of women as beings that need protection--by men or by guns. We need to examine the ways we have internalized oppression and dominance in how we think about, feel, and express power, danger, and violence.

For Christians, these are theological questions. Theologies of liberation envision the oppressed as a class of people for whom God has a preference. If we conceive of victims and potential victims of gun violence as an oppressed class, then we see them as people for whom God has a preference over their violent victimizers. For Christians, God's preferential option for the oppressed is a clarion call to join with God in action to end oppression, in this case, gun violence. And research is clear--guns will not end gun violence.

Rather, we need a prophetic cry for conversion of our gun culture. If we as Christians are called to be life-affirming participants in God's community, we must find another way.

Theologies of liberation ask us to imagine a preferred future in light of God's liberating action on behalf of the oppressed in the world. If we take seriously Christian values of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22), then we must imagine a preferred future in which violence has no place, and we must work toward that future.

Certainly, gun owners can make a Second Amendment argument for their constitutional right to own guns. As Christians, though, perhaps we should listen rather to the arguments made by the Apostle Paul that sometimes we ought to give up things we have a right to for the sake of others. So as Americans we may have the right to own a gun, but perhaps as Christians we should not invoke that right for the sake of all of those who suffer from gun violence. In fact, perhaps as Christians we should work actively to move our world toward that imagined future with no threats, no violence, no murder, no guns--a world that is safer and healthier for all of us.

Sources for research on gun violence:

Dave Gilson, "10 Pro-Gun Myths, Shot Down," 2013.

Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, "Statistics on the Dangers of Gun Use for Self-Defense," 2015.

Jonathan Stray,"Gun Violence in America: the 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers)," 2013.

Igor Bobic   |   October 7, 2015    8:56 AM ET

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) blames the murder of nine people at an Oregon community college on abortion, single motherhood, and the deceased shooter's father.

In a lengthy blog post published Tuesday, the presidential contender laid out why “cultural rot,” not gun violence or mental health, led to yet another mass shooting in America.

"We devalue human life, we have no regard for the sanctity of human life in any regard, from the unborn, to the old, and to every single person in between, we devalue it and act as if we have almost no regard for humanity," Jindal wrote.

 The Louisiana governor, who has courted evangelical Christians since announcing his campaign for president, pointed to a breakdown of the family unit.

"When he was asked what his relationship was with his son, he said he hadn’t seen him in a while because he lived with his mother. Case Closed," he said.

But Jindal was most critical of the shooter's father.

"He brags that he has never held a gun in his life and that he had no idea that his son had any guns. Why didn’t he know? Because he failed to raise his son. He should be ashamed of himself, and he owes us all an apology," he said.

"He’s a complete failure as a father, he should be embarrassed to even show his face in public. He’s the problem here," he added.

Jindal isn't the only Republican presidential candidate to weigh in on the matter. Famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson on Monday said the victims of the shooting didn't do enough to save themselves, and that he would have been more aggressive in confronting the attacker.

Read the entire Jindal blog post here.

Mental Health, Gun Violence and Blame

Stampp Corbin   |   October 6, 2015    9:36 PM ET

Another mass shooting perpetrated by a young white man. I use that description because if these shootings were being perpetrated by young Latino or black men, it would be the headline but I digress before I really get started.

Another mass shooting by a person who is mentally unstable. There is plenty of blame to go around. Since many think I have a liberal bent, let me start with my liberal friends at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has been a tireless advocate for the rights of the mentally ill, so much so that it is extremely difficult to, as my grandmother used to say, "put someone away." In fact, the ACLU has said the goal should be "should be nothing less than the abolition of involuntary hospitalization."

Now families have limited ability to take action when their loved ones exhibit bizarre behavior. To get their loved ones help is almost virtually impossible due to the rights of the mentally disabled. While I am for personal rights, why should the rights of the mentally disabled trample someone else's right to live? Are we willing to let innocent lives be lost to protect a mentally unstable individual's rights? The ACLU believes the answer to that question is yes.

The pendulum needs to swing in the other direction, families need to be able to more easily commit their loved ones who they believe are a danger to themselves or others. The liberal ACLU needs to admit their responsibility in the increase of mentally unstable individuals roaming our streets, some who perpetrate mass murder.


Then there is the GOP. The Republican Messiah, Ronald Reagan, bears some responsibility for mentally unstable and homeless on the streets of America, particularly in California. In 1967, then Governor Reagan signed into law a bill that made it extremely difficult to commit a loved one involuntarily. The result, homeless, mentally unstable people on the streets because they were released from mental hospitals with episodes of violence like mass shootings. As California goes, so does the nation. other states adopted the California plan, all in the pursuit of saving money and reducing the size of government.

Then there are the so-called Second Amendment advocates. You should be able to buy a gun, anytime, anywhere. No background checks, no mental health screenings, no mandated licensing. So the mentally ill can easily purchase a gun and inflict carnage at the local school, mall or workplace. The unfortunate perfect storm.

The ACLU protects the rights of the mentally ill making it harder to commit a loved one, Ronald Reagan and the right created the release of the mentally ill from state run hospitals to save money and the gun lobby allows the mentally ill easy access to guns. Is it any wonder that mass shootings have so dramatically increased? Unfortunately, all of the stands taken by each these interest groups seems intractable. That means we will be talking about another mass shooting in about 150 days. Then the conversation about what needs to be done will begin again. And nothing will change.

Kelly Chen   |   October 6, 2015    8:41 PM ET

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The mother of a gunman who killed nine people and himself at an Oregon community college allowed her troubled son to have guns and acknowledged in online posts that he struggled with autism, but she didn't seem to know he was potentially violent.

The online writings by Laurel Harper date from a year ago to nine years ago and offer fresh insight into the gunman, 26-year-old Christopher Harper-Mercer, and his relationship with his mother.

The Associated Press didn't speak with Harper about the online postings; a knock on her door went unanswered Tuesday, and her phone's voicemail box was full. However, the postings included an email address that is linked to Harper.

She and Harper-Mercer shared an apartment outside Roseburg. Investigators have recovered 14 firearms — six found at Umpqua Community College, where the killings occurred, and eight at the apartment. Neighbors of the mother and son in California, where they lived before moving to Oregon in 2013, have said the two went target shooting together.

Investigators say Harper-Mercer's mother has told them the son was struggling with some mental health issues.

In her online postings, Laurel Harper talked about her love of guns and her son's emotional troubles, but there are no hints of worry that he could become violent.

"I keep two full mags in my Glock case. And the ARs & AKs all have loaded mags. No one will be 'dropping' by my house uninvited without acknowledgement," reads a 3-year-old posting.

She was referring to a Glock handgun and to military-style rifles. A Glock and a military-style rifle were among the weapons seized after the Roseburg shooting rampage.

Laurel Harper wrote in another posting: "I love the long guns & I have an AK-47 en route." She complained about gun-control efforts in "lame states."

She posted several times that her son had Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism.

One posting reads: "He's no babbling idiot nor is his life worthless. He's very intelligent and is working on a career in filmmaking."

She wrote that she read aloud to her unborn son from Donald Trump's "The Art of The Deal."

Investigators have not yet said whether they suspect a motive in last Thursday's shooting rampage, where Harper-Mercer killed eight students and a teacher before killing himself.

While living in California, Harper-Mercer graduated from a learning center for students with learning disabilities and emotional problems. His parents divorced when he was a teenager and he lived with his mother.

Harper-Mercer's father, Ian Mercer, still lives in California. Over the weekend he said he had no idea his son had any guns.

"How on earth could he compile 13 guns? How could that happen?" Ian Mercer told CNN on Saturday.


Also on HuffPost:

Does Dr. Ben Carson Have a Good Plan for Gun Control?

John A. Tures   |   October 6, 2015    3:25 PM ET

The newly anointed front-runner for the Republican Party also has a new idea for gun control. But is it a good idea? Would it have stopped the Oregon killer, or even the South Carolina shooter? And would fellow Republicans embrace it?

Dr. Carson's recently released book, A More Perfect Union, is more than just a great title. It also contains a blueprint for attempting to solve the rash of school shootings.

In an interview with Business Insider
, Dr. Carson suggested developing a massive database of "dangerous people" who should not own a firearm.

In the case of both the shooter in Aurora and the one at Virginia Tech, there was evidence that these were dangerous people. And that could be easily in a database. We have the mechanism for doing stuff, but we have to act on it. Common sense will tell you that you're not going to put dangerous weapons in somebody's hands like that. That seems like a big part of our problem. Common sense -- we don't seem to have it anymore.

Anyone studying the issue knows that there are lots of background checks going on. But despite the reams of data, there's little integration of this data. Perhaps that's why a Georgia court ordered John Russell "Rusty" Houser to be committed for threatening his wife and daughter over the latter's wedding. But over in Alabama, nothing was done about it. Houser even got a gun from an Alabama pawn shop legally, so he could carry out his murderous rage at a feminist comedy film in Lafayette, Louisiana. If he couldn't kill his wife and daughter, he could find some surrogates at a movie for women.

Dr. Carson's plan might have stopped the Virginia Tech shooter and the Aurora Theater massacre, perhaps, if those who have been treated for mental illness are denied a weapon, as Dr. Carson's plan calls for. It wouldn't have stopped the Oregon community college shooter, unless there is any additional evidence uncovered that would show the killer had encountered any mental health treatment (instead of claims by someone that the shooter might have had mental health issues, an item that wouldn't register on a Dr. Carson database). It wouldn't have stopped the Charleston church slaughter, unless the shooter could be denied a weapon over illegal drug possession and trespassing at a mall (unless Dr. Carson calls for this as well).

Moreover, knowing that mental health hospitalization would cost a person the ownership of a gun, people would act to make sure they never encountered a mental health official or institution.

Dr. Carson would have a fight on his hands, but not necessarily from Democrats, who think the plan's not such a bad idea, but doesn't go far enough. Instead, he would have to battle fellow Republicans. Amazingly, Georgia responded to the Sandy Hook tragedy with some lawmakers seeking to make it easier for folks who voluntarily sought inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse, to get a gun. It passed the Georgia House by a 2:1 margin.

According to the Associated Press' Ray Henry, the bill's sponsor, Rick Jasperse of the GOP said, "Simply being hospitalized doesn't make a person a criminal or a threat."

Dr. Carson did claim that he wouldn't rule out lifting the ban allowing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to study gun violence, in the Business Insider interview. This would put him on the side of President Barack Obama and the Democrats, but won't him many friends with the Republicans, who are loathe to admit that the issue needs studying. But at least one Republican agrees with Dr. Carson: former Rep. Jay Dickey, who originally authored the CDC ban on gun research.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at

Boy Talk at Recess: Pokemon, Light Sabers, and Things That Go Boom

Heather Wolpert-Gawron   |   October 6, 2015    2:57 PM ET

As a parent, my heart sank when I got the email at the end of my day. It read, "Re: Son's Bad Choices." It was from my son's classroom teacher and it chronicled my 9-year old's decision to use his parent-led classroom art time to express his recent interest in morbid-talk.

I came from a family of girls, and when I was a younger mom, I was somehow surprised to learn that young boys will turn anything, from juice boxes to string cheese, into guns. Now, as a mom to two boys, both of whom with leaves in their hair at any given time, hearing them in the backyard threaten invisible zombie hordes with a bloody-Pikachu-light-saber-fight-to-the-death is par for the course. As a teacher, I totally understood why his teacher needed to reach out to me.


My son, on the other hand, was totally baffled about her email, to the point of tears. He knew there were rules at school. He knows, for instance, that he can't talk about weapons at school even though we play Dungeons and Dragons weekly at our house, and his dwarf warrior has a tendency to swing first and ask questions later. He knows he can't bring his Pokemon cards to school even though he attends a Pokemon camp on his vacations that is hosted by a local speech and debate academy as a means to get elementary kids debating, strategizing, and talking. But that doesn't mean he understands why.

"We can't talk about weapons. We can't walk about Pokemon because they battle. We can't talk about magic. We can't talk about war. What do they think boys want to talk about...Fluffy purple unicorns?!" As he sees it, the school has banned all discussions that reflect what "boys are into."

Now, we can debate the fact that I was a comic-book lovin' girl who loved D & D growing up, and that this really isn't a boy/girl thing, but that's not his point. His point is that there are topics that are fascinating to him and that he is encouraged to embrace at home, but that come to a screeching halt come the morning bell.

I had to support the teacher and the rules, of course. After all, my kid was clear about what he couldn't talk about in schools, and he still chose an academic activity in which to launch his questionable artistic protest. Nevertheless, I also totally understood his frustration and I owed it to him to explain why these rules exist.

My simplified explanation, however, wasn't enough; he wanted to see some changes made. But I explained that you couldn't have a hand in changing rules if you don't respect them in the first place. People don't listen to people who just complain.

That's when this incident began to get really interesting, and that's when his teacher proved that while she also had to follow rules, she was a person who was flexible enough to leverage sincere student interest into a learning opportunity.


Her class is currently developing questions for their Genius Hour. My son's first plan was to ask how much code it would take to make a Lego Robot break down. But, with his teacher's guidance, he enthusiastically decided instead on the following:

"Why can't boys talk about certain things at school, and what can we do to make the rules more reasonable?"

His teacher and I are happier with this more sophisticated topic, but we're more nervous too. His new topic posed a challenge in how to guide him safely through his research while still ensuring that he was the one who did the research.

That led me to a tool I have used when training teachers, but I'd yet to use it for my own son: the Google Custom Search Engine.

If you want to know how to set up your own Google Custom Search Engine, check out this screencast here.

The Google Custom Search Engine allows a teacher (or parent) to create their own browser and load it only with the websites that they wish. In this case, I loaded it with kid-friendly news sites and articles that I vetted about various related topics. I loaded it with Newsela, TimeforKids, and articles about the banning of Pokemon cards, first amendment information, and various other posts from parenting outlets. Some of these focused on deflating fears about "gun talk" in young children while others focused on why it was so scary to teachers and parents to hear that kind of talk. I tried to load it up with both sides of the issue, and I'm hoping that my own bias isn't evident in the resources I provided.

So, in other words, when my son goes to his unique browser (aptly named "Google Gawron"), he can enter keywords of his own choosing: guns, boys, school, etc...and not get adult-level graphic descriptions of recent school shootings. He can also develop his own questions and type in, "Why can't we battle Pokemon cards in school?" and get applicable websites that address his issues.

He's learning media literacy while not seeing something he can't then un-see. I created the browser so that I could then confidently walk away to let him conduct his own research.


I'm not sure where this topic will lead him, but his teacher and I are emailing back and forth to ensure that we're guiding him to move independently through a really sophisticated topic. I sent her the URL of the Google Gawron browser, and she's already sent me another website to add to it that she feels would help him in his research. His job is to stumble on these resources with his selection of keywords and questions. We're not feeding him his inquiries, but providing the safe environment in which to maneuver.

In the end, my son claims he wants to make a change in his school's policy. That might mean a meeting with the principal or even a speech to the district Board of Education. Who knows? But if those stakeholders can recognize the learning moment as quickly as his teacher did, my kid might have a shot at feeling like he's made a difference in his small community.

The Internet is a scary place, to be sure. But luckily, there are tools out there to help us as both parents and teachers. And I'm grateful to his teacher that she was willing to work as a team to show my son that his learning is more important than the school handbook.