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Envisioning a Gun-Free World

Charles Howard   |   October 26, 2015   10:54 AM ET


Envisioning the not yet and then watching it take shape is one of the small miracles of the writing process. And each ensuing revision should not be seen as imperfection, but rather as a gift and as being one step closer to the final draft.

I have written this piece several times now. In the first draft, I wrote from the point of view of being a person of faith -- specifically as a Christian. It focused on what I see as the dissonance between being a follower of Christ and owning a firearm for protection. I explored the deep tension in following the Prince of Peace whose non-violent, enemy-loving, other-cheek-turning love seems deeply inconsistent with the notion of owning a gun and being ready to kill another child of God when feeling threatened. One's salvation and one's being a Christian certainly don't hinge on this issue, but I argued in this original version, that by owning guns we are straying from the path laid out by Christ. This is an important conversation to have especially as in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, groups like the NRA have been encouraging churches to have armed individuals present in the sanctuary for safety purposes.

The second draft attempted to frame our nation's deep struggle with gun violence and our ineptitude to do much about it from a Black Lives Matter paradigm. The racial aspect of the gun industry and gun lobby is an under-explored angle that disproportionately affects Black lives.

In the U.S., African Americans make up only 13% of the population yet account for 55% of gun homicide victims. Research is clear that in states with greater gun control laws, the number of deaths by gun violence is lower. Yet for various reasons, particularly a very strong gun lobby, legislative leaders seem reluctant to act. The inaction of state and federal lawmakers (bodies that are primarily White in every state and in both houses of congress) coupled with the influence of the NRA, (which is also comprised of a mostly White constituency) around an issue that Black communities bear the burden of seems very much like a Black Lives Matter conversation. In this second attempt I tried to encourage fellow Black Lives Matter activists to focus on issues related to guns during the next phase of the struggle not only around tighter gun control, but around giving particular attention to the possibility of police officers substituting non-lethal weapons for the lethal firearms that officers carry during community policing. Seeing officers carry weapons that can kill us can make building real community difficult and more and more fosters distrust and fear.

Had non-lethal means of stopping an individual been employed in Ferguson last summer, maybe Michael Brown would still be alive - maybe many of the others who have died from police shootings would be alive, as well. With the recent police deaths (horrible and unjustified tragedies), this is a difficult though nonetheless important conversation to have also.

A Vision

I had been sitting on this piece for weeks experiencing writer's block in a way that I have rarely if ever experienced. It became so frustrating that I ended up speaking with my spiritual director about it.

As she and I were talking I had what I can only describe as a vision. I saw myself sitting at a large wooden desk writing. On that desk was a literal block which stretched to each end of the room and up to the ceiling. This block was translucent and light shone through it. In the vision I found myself standing up and tapping on the block and then suddenly falling through it to the world on the other side. I saw a family walking so I began to walk around as well. I was aware that the place wasn't perfect. It wasn't Heaven, but it was a cleaner, safer, and more peaceful world on that side. I kept walking and soon after turning around a corner I looked up at a billboard that caught my eyes. On it were the words "Gun Free World".

I rarely share dreams or things like this with others, but a part of what I got out of it was that this is not just an issue for the Christian or the religious world. Nor is this just for Black folks in the world to tackle. This is something that we each need to address. With 33,000 gun-related deaths a year -- that's around 92 a day -- we must do something.

Engaging our elected officials to pass common sense gun laws is important and can make a real difference. Stronger background checks requiring fingerprint licensing for all gun sales and gun transfers as well as a ban on the possession of military-style assault guns which allow the killing of greater numbers of people faster would indeed make a difference. But what if we didn't simply work for increased gun control - which might be the appropriate next step - but instead we worked towards moving to a gun free world?

Nuclear Free and Gun Free?

I recently read an article that spoke of how we can and should move to a nuclear free world. The author wrote of how the nuclear weapon is not only awfully destructive and terror inducing in ways that kill and traumatize multiple generations, but also of how clumsy a weapon it is. She goes on to say that:

Most civilized people likely wish that atomic bomb had never been invented...While technology can't be un-invented, it can be made obsolete - usually by better technology, but in some cases, by shifts in culturally shaped desires. After the iPod was invented, no one wanted a boom box. After the Reign of Terror, the guillotine lost its charm. In the midst of the Cold War, negotiation, was desired infinitely more than war. The desire to be peacemakers transforms our very way of thinking, being, and acting.
The same can and I believe will be true around guns and gun violence. We can't go back in time and un-invent the gun, but we can phase it out with new technology AND with the growing cultural shift around gun ownership and a desire for peace. Us moving to a gun free world is possible. It's not far at all. It's just a few steps away. And by way of technological innovation (some of which has already happened) and a change in cultural desires we can get there soon.

Cultural Changes

Rather than making it safer, having a gun in your house actually makes it more dangerous, especially if you have children. If security is an issue as it is for many, investing in a security alarm system is far more effective and safer than having a gun in a shoe box, under a pillow, or on a nightstand. So many of the in home tragedies that we hear about with children and guns happen because people had guns in their homes in the name of protecting themselves.

To me not having a gun for self-defense is a theological issue as I can't envision intentionally taking the life of another child of God. But for many the reasons go beyond religious or spiritual ones. Most experts are clear that arming for self-defense at home or in public rarely prevents crime, does not deter mass shootings, and does not prevent robberies. Adding more guns to a nation that already has more guns in the population (nearly 1 per citizen) than every other nation in the world will not at all decrease gun violence or make us safer. It would have the opposite effect. Instead, why don't work to decrease the guns in our population and get them out of homes where they are a great danger. Let's work to change the culture which tells us we need to be armed with lethal weapons to protect ourselves.

This is different than changing laws or revoking rights. This is an effort to change hearts. This isn't about taking away people's guns, but rather encouraging individuals to see that they don't need them for self-defense. To get to a world without guns, each of us as individuals will need to share our vision with others somehow. Maybe with your family. Maybe through social media. Talking about this "hot button issue" is just as, if not more difficult to discuss than politics or religion. And these conversations must be done in love and with hope. Shooting with words is just as destructive as shooting with bullets. But with upwards of 42% of homes in America having guns in them, we have to muster the courage to engage people in our lives around this issue.

And if/when you or those around you get rid of your gun make sure to safely get rid of it in a way that takes it out of circulation such as having it melted down or transitioned to a useful life-giving tool in the spirit of "beating swords into plowshares". One of the best examples of a group that does this work is RAWTools - an organization that will repurpose anyone's gun by turning it into a garden or household tool for free. They create symbols of change and symbols of peace, and are in a powerful way helping us move to a gun free world.

Technological innovation

The innovation and technological advances that we are witnessing are helping us to make progress in so many aspects of society. Whether it's electric cars, video conferencing, medical advances, or access to healthier food we continue to finds ways to live together better. The same innovation can and should be applied to guns.

As mentioned above, might we explore replacing the lethal firearms that our police officers and security personnel wear with other forms of equipment that could be effective at stopping individuals without killing them? What might this do not only for decreasing the number of lives lost, but for relationships between officers and community members? The goal here isn't to leave police officers vulnerable and unable to enforce the law or deter crime, but rather to replace current technology with something just as effective though not lethal.

What is missed by a lot of people, including myself at times quite frankly, is that there are many gun owners who are responsible and possess guns not with the intent of ever using it on another person, but rather for sport. Many of these owners keep their firearms safely secured and locked away. And rather than being motivated by fear to own their guns, they are motivated by the joy of hunting outdoors with friends and loved ones. In so many ways their voice is the most needed one in our nation's gun debate. Hunters who want to work for decreasing gun violence are and will play a critical role in the years to come.

But what if there was a way to replace even their guns with safer ones that don't kill. If one is hunting for sport, than let it be in a way that is safer and with far less possibility of that same weapon being used to kill another human being. We were not made to kill each other.

If and when lethal guns no longer exist in our world - when they are relegated to museums - that won't end violence. That won't stop people from hurting and even killing each other. But there is no doubt that the number of murders and mass killings would greatly decrease. And our fear of having someone walking into a school, a movie theater, or a church and start shooting and killing would decrease greatly. Our current situation can't be the new normal. We can do better.

It's hard to see it, but I truly believe we'll get there. This, I think is one of the great gifts of our world religions. Nearly each of their founders helped to paint a vision so that their followers might be able to live in a new way and in a new world of peace, salvation, enlightenment, holiness - even while still inhabiting this world.

In my own tradition, Jesus came not only to save and give eternal life, but also to invite believers to take up residence in what He called The Kingdom of God -- even while walking through the Roman Empire. This was a profound calling - to move to a world where enemies were loved, where peace reigned, where all were valued equally as children of God, even while still living in Rome. This notion of moving to a gun free world is not a new religion. In so many ways it's simply a reminder of the invitation(s) already extended. We too can move to a different world even while still living in this one. Let's help to build the Kingdom of God, The Beloved Community, The Peaceable Kingdom. It's just over there. And it's not as far as you may think. The last word of our nation's painful story with guns and gun violence has not been written yet. Help write the next chapter. #GunFreeWorld

Nick Wing   |   October 23, 2015   10:12 AM ET

House Republicans on Thursday introduced a bill that would eliminate a federal tax on gun silencers and would weaken licensing requirements that currently make the devices more difficult to buy than most firearms.

The Hearing Protection Act of 2015, proposed by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) and co-sponsored by 10 of his colleagues, would do this by removing silencers, which are also called suppressors, from the purview of the National Firearms Act, instead putting them in the same regulatory category as long guns. As its title suggests, the bill's sponsors are framing it as an effort to keep shooters from damaging their ears.

In 1934, in the wake of Prohibition-era violence carried out by heavily armed bootleggers and gangsters, sound-suppressing devices were included on a list of NFA weaponry and other hardware, alongside firearms like machine guns and short-barreled shotguns. Today, purchases of silencers are still subject to a $200 fee, which covers an extensive FBI background check that can take months to complete.

People looking to buy items covered by the NFA must also go through a specific federal registration process, which is more stringent than the one that governs gun purchases from a Federal Firearms License holder. To get a silencer, for example, a buyer must submit a certification from a local law enforcement official vouching that the silencer will be used for lawful purposes.

The penalties for possession of an unregistered silencer or other NFA hardware, or for using NFA equipment to commit a crime, are also significantly higher than for standard firearms.

However, Salmon's bill would make it as easy to obtain a silencer as it is to get any other gun or piece of equipment from a Federal Firearms License holder. The $200 fee would be removed, and anyone who paid the fee between Oct. 22 and the law's actual enactment would get a refund. The bill also includes a provision to nullify any state-specific registration or taxation on silencers.

Silencers are currently legal for civilian use in most states, though some places, like California and New York, still have bans on the books. A number of states only allow the use of silencers for certain purposes, like hunting. Minnesota lawmakers recently moved to legalize silencers.

Salmon's office did not return a request for comment.

The American Suppressor Association, a group that represents the silencer industry, said the legislation is a necessary response to federal restrictions. The ASA claimed those restrictions have primarily survived because of politics and emotion, not fact.

"Despite common Hollywood-based misconceptions, the laws of physics dictate that no suppressor will ever be able to render gunfire silent," the group wrote in a release Thursday. "Suppressors are simply mufflers for firearms, which function by trapping the expanding gasses at the muzzle, allowing them to slowly cool in a controlled environment. On average, suppressors reduce the noise of a gunshot by 20-35 decibels (dB), roughly the same sound reduction as earplugs or earmuffs."

Knox Williams, president and executive director of the ASA, said the group had worked alongside Salmon and the National Rifle Association in drafting the bill, in the belief that "citizens should not have to pay a tax to protect their hearing while exercising their Second Amendment rights."

In the past, the NRA had been hesitant to get into bed with manufacturers of silencers, largely due to image problems that have long plagued the devices. In 2013, Mother Jones reported on the history of modern silencers, going back to their creation in the late 1960s by a onetime CIA dark-ops contractor, as well as their early use by CIA death squads in Vietnam. The ASA was formed in 2011, suggesting that the silencer industry has lately taken more of an interest in public relations and political influence.

Supporters of stronger gun regulations regularly point to the potential hazards of making it easier for civilians to get hold of accessories that -- as manufacturers readily admit -- allow shooters to disguise their location by minimizing the noise and light produced by firing a gun. There's little evidence to suggest that silencers are used regularly in criminal activity, but there have been a number of cases in which gunmen, or would-be gunmen, were found to have used the devices or at least been in possession of them.

For example, Christopher Dorner, the former Los Angeles police officer who went on a killing spree in 2013, reportedly had a cache of weapons that included 10 silencers. In a manifesto laying out his plot, Dorner even argued that it was too easy for people like him to obtain this sort of equipment, which he claimed to have gotten by exploiting a loophole that allowed him to skirt a California law banning silencers. But authorities never presented evidence to suggest Dorner had used the silencers during his rampage.

Ladd Everett, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, says manufacturers are simply making a financial calculation in the current push to make it cheaper and easier for people to get silencers, despite the potential for misuse.

"The NRA and gun industry view accessories like silencers as potential profit areas, with guns themselves so well-saturated throughout their existing customer base. That’s why we’ve seen this multi-state effort to weaken laws in this area, the obvious consequences for safety be damned," Everett told The Huffington Post. "It’s about profit, nothing else."

The market for silencers is growing rapidly, even with the current federal restrictions. According to data released earlier this year by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there were nearly 800,000 silencers registered under the National Firearms Act as of February 2015 -- a 39 percent rise from 2014 numbers, which showed that 571,150 such devices were registered.

Also on HuffPost:

What The FAA Regulation Of Drones Can Teach Us About Gun Safety

Robert L. Cavnar   |   October 23, 2015    9:56 AM ET

This week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced its plan to require registration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones). This decision is a textbook example for how government should exercise its authority to regulate potentially dangerous activities with devices that can do harm.

For years, the FAA has had the authority to regulate the flight of unmanned aircraft including radio controlled model aircraft and drones, but has chosen not to do so to avoid a burden on those who operate these aircraft safely. However, with the proliferation of drones in recent years, and the increasingly unsafe and illegal operation of those drones in the vicinity of major airports risking thousands of lives, the FAA has decided that it will begin regulating unmanned aircraft by requiring registration of all devices INCLUDING drones and model airplanes.

The registration requirement is to enable law enforcement to more easily identify and catch irresponsible drone operators when they fly them illegally. The pilot community, represented by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) strongly supports this decision, because it improves safety.

There is a lesson to be learned here, and demonstrates how a civilized society should actually respond to a danger to public safety.

In the case of drones, idiots flying near airliners and athletic events risk a collision which could easily cost human lives and millions of dollars in potential losses. Even though there are thousands of people flying drones safely, there are a few of said idiots acting irresponsibly; therefore, the government must now step in to protect the public safety. And, at least so far, there isn't anyone from the National Drone Association or a member of the Congressional Drone Caucus screaming that this requirement is the first step in drone confiscation. Additionally, the vast majority responsible drone pilots, while maybe not liking this new requirement, understands and supports its purpose of protecting the public safety.

In the case of gun violence in this country, we can take a lesson from this move by the FAA. Over 30,000 Americans are killed every year by gun violence, yet the NRA and politicians in their pocket continue to block simple, common sense measures that could save a large number of those lives. In the face of growing gun deaths, especially mass public shootings, isn't it long past time for our elected leaders to exercise the same kind of common sense to protect the public safety from idiots with guns?

It's the role of representative government to protect the public safety. Of the millions of responsible gun owners, there are a relative few who cause gun violence. That doesn't mean, though, we should just stand there doing nothing. It also doesn't require confiscation of all guns. It does mean, though, that we should certainly implement universal background checks, hold all gun owners responsible for violence committed by their guns (especially by children), place limits on lethality of certain weapons, and keep guns traceable, so we can find and hold the idiots responsible to protect thousands of lives.

Let's learn a lesson from the FAA's action on drones. We're way overdue for a little common sense to be injected into the conversation about gun violence, and long past time for actual responsible gun owners (I'm one) to start speaking out.

Gun Krazy Kansas and More Fun Stuff

Charlie Allenson   |   October 23, 2015    9:14 AM ET

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was one day late for his April Fool's gag. But I guess he thought he could get one in anyway. It's a killer. On April 2, 2015 Brownback signed a thigh-slapping piece of gun legislation.

Simply stated, the Personal and Family Protection Act allows anyone in Kansas over the age of 21 to carry a concealed firearm with no permit and zero training. Zero. A true perversion of the Second Amendment. Well, since April 2 a lot has happened.

Take the Kansas man carrying a concealed weapon into a movie theater. Did I mention he shot himself in the leg? While in the theater? With other audience members well within range?

And it's not much of a stretch to see that bullet going through his leg or missing his leg altogether and finding a new home in someone else's body.

Then there's the Kansas guy who was in the bathroom, with his trusty pistol in his pocket -- just to be clear we're talking an actual pistol here.

BAM! The man shot himself. Ended up in the hospital. I suppose the bright side of that tale is that in a hospital you have at least a reasonable expectation of walking out of there. As opposed to the morgue where leaving under your own power is pretty much not happening.

Another concealed carrying Kansan did something really spectacular. He managed to shoot another guy in the chest without even touching his gun. Seems the shooter, an upstanding citizen in Derby, Kansas kept his pistol concealed in his pocket. He reached into that pocket for something other than his gun -- maybe some gum (only one letter difference). The gun fell out of his pocket, hit the ground, fired itself and badda-BOOM! The gun had one less bullet. And the victim's body had one bullet too many. Magic? No, carelessness. Also preventable. Let's all give a cheer for these amazing events.

Hey, hey it's the Brownback way. With a little help from the NRA.

In an interesting twist, a 28-year old Kansas man, Kenneth Richards seemed to be fiddling with his gun while driving. He shot himself in the thigh. What's interesting about this is although the gunshot itself wasn't fatal, driving himself to hospital was. He crashed his car and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Captain David Mattingly, of the sheriff's department astutely commented, "It's not a good idea to handle a gun while driving. Fumbling with a gun while distracted can lead to unintended gunfire." Who'd a thunk it?

Hey, hey it's the Brownback way. With a little help from the NRA.

A frightening number of NRA-backed governmental officials, at the federal, state and local levels are all party to this madness. And not just in Kansas. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), Congressman Tom Cotton (R-AR). And the list is disturbingly long.

Each of these NRA bedfellows received anywhere from over $7,000 to nearly $10,000 in one election year to help insure they vote the way the NRA wants. How's that working out? Financially and job-wise it's great those members of Congress. For the rest of us not too well.

We've got nearly 17,000 gunshot injuries a year. And those are just the accidental ones. Then are the tens of thousands of murders and suicides.

According to a number of studies, you're now more likely to be killed by a gun than by a car. That becomes even more frightening when you realize a car is basically a mode of transportation. And gun is, well, designed for only one purpose: killing.

The NRA is not a god. Though so many treat it that way. It can be reined in. It should be reined in. For the lives of our kids, our life mates, our parents, our friends. And if our elected leaders won't do it, it's up to us. Call, write, tweet, post, show up in person. Become a real thorn in the side of your state or local government.

This insane gun machine needs to be stopped. Every day it keeps rolling more blood and body parts decorate our streets and homes. More people die. More families are devastated. It's time. In fact it's way past time.

Bill Bradley   |   October 23, 2015    8:45 AM ET

There are a bunch of reasons why zombies on "Walking Dead" are called "walkers," but mostly it's because they're slow as hell.

Walkers are also extremely loud. They constantly make this guttural sound like they're trying to hawk up a loogie but just can't, which could also explain why they're so cranky. 

Despite all this, the zombies on the show seem to move around like military black ops. They pop up around corners, they reach out and grab people from the trees and just suddenly show up out of nowhere and eat everything like an unwanted college friend. And everyone's always surprised until they're already eating their faces off.

To some it seems like a big plot hole that walkers can move around with such stealth, but it turns out there could be a logical explanation after all:

The explanation: Walkers get so close unnoticed because everyone has massive hearing loss from all the guns they fire without ear protection.

The theory was posted on Reddit recently, and it does make a lot of sense. The Redditor explains:

Rick went mostly deaf in that tank in Atlanta, everyone else had a similar experience off-camera. Now they don't even flinch when a gun goes off, they're all deafer than fuck, stomping through the woods, yelling at each other constantly. That's why they keep attracting walkers: They have no clue how loud they're being.

Comments on the post just offered more support. One person confirmed, "firing guns indoors without protection is absolutely terrible for your ears. Another added, "This is very plausible. Every time [I] fire my weapon I immediately know if my hearing protection is in properly."

The University of Chicago Medicine website actually cites "firing guns and other weapons" as one of the primary examples of noises that can cause hearing loss "immediately or over time," while the Cleveland Clinic lists one of the signs your environment is too loud as "difficulty hearing someone who is within three feet of you." Hm ... sound familiar? You almost wish they'd add, "For example, see every character on 'The Walking Dead' ever."

Could hearing loss actually be the reason walkers sneak up on people so easily? If anything, this at least explains why Rick needs to yell Carl's name so much.

Image: Pinterest

H/T Reddit

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Meet the New Holocaust Revisionists

Rabbi Jack Moline   |   October 22, 2015    6:56 PM ET

There was a time when Holocaust revisionists were sophisticated crackpots pretending to be academics. With the creative math skills of a crooked accountant and some wishful thinking, they sought to force six million Jews and three million others to die a second death by denying they ever lived.

Today, that revisionism has a new iteration and has found its way into the ridiculous notion that a flood of private weapons would have eliminated (or at least reduced) the Nazis' genocidal efforts in Europe. Proponents of these viewpoints do not hate Jews; it would be wrong to group them with classic anti-Semites. Indeed, today's revisionists actually seek to court the Jewish community while misusing the memory of the Holocaust for political purposes. To make matters worse, the argument is advanced to compound the grief of families of the victims of mass shootings who were not prepared to offer armed resistance in a classroom or a church.

There are three reasons these arguments make no sense.

On a logical level, we cannot read back into history what we learned after the fact. The Nazi death machine, which used sophisticated weaponry and the power of the state, relied on the disbelief of victims and observers alike. A credible lie is often more effective than an incredible truth. The Jewish victims, especially outside of Germany itself, were overwhelmingly naïve about German plans. In that sense, they were not much different than the rest of the world. In 1938, there was no precedent for what the Nazis began. It is an argument we cannot make today, but to put the understanding of a contemporary American into the head of a Polish Jew born in the late 1800s is like suggesting that Lincoln could have been saved if they had just called in a neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins.

Next, individuals who are criminals, terrorists or homicidal sociopaths are not part of an evil government. Even presuming that Jews and others could have been armed to offer widespread resistance to deportations and executions, the uniforms and tanks would have given away the enemy. In what universe would a pastor draw on a stranger who comes to Bible study? Who would hire a first-grade teacher who insisted on keeping a loaded semi-automatic pistol in her desk "just in case?" And under which circumstances would a creative writing professor at a community college include on his syllabus a requirement for students to come to class armed?

The Jews in the Warsaw ghetto lived with a clear and present danger. Their heroism was unparalleled and inspired others to resist the dehumanized philosophy of German racialism. Armed resistance was necessary when the rule of law was undependable; though forms of government may vary, the protection of all law-abiding citizens is a presumption of legitimate statehood. An armed and authorized citizenry may be the result or cause of the breakdown of law, but either way it is a vote of no confidence in the values of a society.

Lastly, from the point of view of faith, a moral society should not encourage the proliferation of weapons. Indeed, we should not give mere lip service to the prophetic vision of beating swords into plowshares. Arming a peaceable citizenry and encouraging vigilantism run counter to the lessons we admire in every faith tradition represented in this great country. Replacing God with a gun, the Bible with a bullet and peace with a piece is a surrender to the lowest aspirations of our basest instincts.

Worse still is deflecting harm to someone else. "Don't do it to me, do it to that other person" resonates with the ultimate defeat of Winston Smith, the protagonist in Orwell's 1984. It is what he cries out when he is stripped of his freedom by being immersed in his worst fears.

Our society will be safer and more secure when we embrace the aspirations of our founders to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under the rule of law. The courage to stand up to those out to harm the individual body and the body politic does not depend on a sidearm but on a conscience inspired by the same faith or philosophy that guides the medical profession: first, do no harm.

Until a person understands that courage does not depend on the caliber of a bullet, he cannot understand that the Nazis were defeated because goodness refused to be redefined by evil.

For National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Let's Close the Boyfriend Loophole

Sanjeev K. Sriram   |   October 22, 2015    5:28 PM ET

"Never let the hand you hold, hold you down." These are words of empowerment for millions of survivors of domestic violence in America. The words could also apply to many members of Congress, who must let go of the hands of gun industry lobbyists. Their hands hold campaign contributions but they also hold down gun safety legislation. Closing the "boyfriend loophole" could save thousands of lives because it means stopping access to guns for all domestic abusers, including dating partners. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a great time to pass this commonsense (and common-ground) legislation.

Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which is current federal law, gun ownership is prohibited for only certain kinds of domestic abusers: current and former spouses, people who have fathered children with a victim, and abusers who live with their victims. A "boyfriend loophole" exists because the language of the Brady law does not include dating partners and stalkers.

In 2013, Senator Amy Klobuchar proposed legislation in the Senate to close the loophole, and earlier this year, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell proposed the exact same legislation in the House -- and two Republican Congressmen are co-sponsors. As of now, neither the Senate nor the House have moved the bills to a vote.

In America, one in three women and one in four men have suffered physical violence from their partners at some point in their lifetime. 94 percent of victims age 16-19 and 70 percent of victims age 20-24 were abused by a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend. Based on data from the FBI, every month 52 women are shot and killed by their intimate partners. While some think arming a woman with a gun is an appropriate response to domestic violence, there is ample evidence proving that the mere presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent -- and those victims are the abused, not the abuser. A recent report from the Violence Policy Center showed that 62 percent of women shot and killed by men in 2013 were wives or girlfriends. Guns are a threat, not a protection, to the lives of women struggling with domestic violence.

At the state level, there has been a promising amount of progress made at stopping domestic abusers from getting access to guns. As of last year, in Minnesota, people convicted of violent crimes, including domestic assault, are banned from owning guns -- for life. Wisconsin and Washington passed laws making it easier for law enforcement to confiscate guns from people under restraining orders, protection orders, or domestic abuse injunctions. These policy accomplishments are bipartisan, and what's even more shocking, NRA lobbyists have been credited for playing a helpful role in these important reforms. Oregon passed a bipartisan law prohibiting guns for domestic abusers as well. However, when the original language of the legislation tried to expand domestic abusers to include dating partners, the NRA objected to Oregon's attempt at closing the boyfriend loophole. Another gun lobbyist expressed concern for false accusations of domestic violence leading to gun confiscation.

Clearly, it is time for Americans to demand Congress stand up to gun lobbyists' scare tactics and cheap semantics. Regardless of whether a domestic abuser is a boyfriend, spouse, ex-spouse, or father of his victim's child, that person should obviously lose the privilege of gun ownership. We must address the very real dangers of guns in dating violence and domestic abuse by closing the "boyfriend loophole." Passing sensible gun safety will not fix broken men, but it can prevent them from taking innocent lives.

Samantha Guff   |   October 22, 2015    4:21 PM ET

Read More: gun shoot, kentucky, murica, usa, guns

Even movie magic can't create a explosions like these. 

Picture a single machine gun firing a round of ammo into an oil drum and sending it into flames. Satisfied? 

Now watch what that looks like times a thousand, courtesy of this video posted by

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It's the Knob Creek Gun Shoot, where hundreds of machine gun owners let their bullets fly freely into a field of cars, boats and other fuel laden receptacles. Because, you know, 'Murica.

The event takes place twice a year in West Point, Kentucky and is the largest gun shoot in the country. The shooting spectacle lasts for 15 minutes, during which the detonation of 50,000 rounds of machine gun ammo creates explosions like you've never seen before. Nearly 20,000 people gather to watch the good ole' fashion firey fun. 

But for those who'd like to stay far, far away from flying machine gun bullets, the drone footage will do just fine. 

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Top 3 Ways to Prevent a School Shooting

Susie Sampson   |   October 22, 2015    2:04 PM ET

School shootings are a common occurrence these days. The shooting in Oregon shook America... but not enough to do anything about it. Because guns don't kill people, people kill people. But even when people say the issue is about mental illness, nothing gets done. So here are some out of the box ideas on how to keep school shooters at bay. GOP, take note.

Ben Carson: Should We Take Him at His Word?

Frank Islam   |   October 22, 2015   12:30 PM ET

According to the polls, Dr. Ben Carson is one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination for President.

His primary qualifications for that position appear to be his outsider status (he has never run for nor held a political office); his calm demeanor and soothing voice; and, his propensity for making outlandish and/or uninformed statements.

These statements have been far-ranging but tend to be concentrated around guns and other matters that have appeal to the hard-core Republican faithful.

The question is does Ben Carson mean what he says and if he does what does it mean and say about him? Let's do a work-up and examination and see what can be determined beginning with the good Doctor's prescriptions on guns.

Dr. Carson does not appear to be afraid of anything or anyone. That's true because he has guns and God on his side.

And, for Dr. Carson, while God may rule in the great beyond, guns rule here on earth. Here are some of the things that he has said about that supremacy.

  • On his Facebook page in 2014, Dr. Carson proclaimed, "The baton of freedom is in our hands. We must make absolutely sure that we will never let the right to keep & bear arms be removed from those who follow us in this nation. Let me make it absolutely clear that I am extremely pro-Second Amendment. I will never let anyone tamper with that right."
  • In an interview with Don Lemon of CNN, Dr. Carson opined, "Well, it makes me question, you know, what's happening to us as a people. You know, people are the problem, not so much guns. You know, people use knives, people use bats. People use hammers to bludgeon people to death. And I don't hear anybody taking about taking those things away."
  • In his new book, A More Perfect Union, Carson redefines history asserting that if the Jews had been armed they might have been able to stop Hitler. Specifically, he writes, "through a combination of removing guns and disseminating propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance."
  • When asked on CNN about his commentary regarding Hitler's Germany and whether gun control laws led to the slaughter of 6 million Jews, Carson responded: "I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed. I'm telling you there is a reason these dictatorial people take guns first."
  • Almost immediately after the tragic shoots at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Dr. Carson offered an education lesson stating that he would not 'just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.'" Later, he told CBS, "I want to plant in people's minds what to do in a situation like this. Because unfortunately this is probably not going to be the last time this happens."
  • When he got pushback on his community college comments, Dr. Carson defended his position observing in a post, "I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away."
  • Dr. Carson does not restrict his advice to the college level. He extends it down the educational continuum past the primary level right into kindergarten recommending that teachers there add gun use to their pedagogical tool kit. He told USA Today, "If I had a little kid in kindergarten somewhere I would feel much more comfortable if I knew on that campus there was a police officer or somebody who was trained with a weapon...If the teacher was trained in the use of that weapon and had access to it, I would be much more comfortable if they had one than if they didn't."

That's a sampling of Dr. Carson's pronouncements on guns. They are not "politically correct" using the usual definition of that phrase. If, on the other hand, being politically correct is saying things that appeal to your desired voting bloc, Dr. Carson's pronouncements are totally politically correct.

With that perspective in mind, here is a smorgasbord of comments that Dr. Carson has made that may be constituency focused:

  • "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I would absolutely not agree with that." (Meet the Press interview)
  • "You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery." (Values Voter Summit)

  • "I think some people have that (welfare) as a way of life...."perhaps some of the things that are going on right now which could be easily remedied are not being remedied in order to keep the economy depressed because there would be no appetite for many of the social programs if people were doing well." (Fox Interview)

  • "Being gay is a choice...because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight-- and when they come out, they're gay." (Chris Cuomo interview)

  • "I find the Big Bang Theory fascinating....I mean you want to talk about fairy tales that is amazing." (2012 speech)

  • "If you're gonna' have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war," he said. "Other than that, we have to win." (Fox News Interview)

Here's a possible take on this. Dr. Carson is the Sarah Palin of this presidential cycle (although we are not certain whether he can see Alaska from his front porch) making statements intentionally designed to evoke Pavlovian responses from his intended audience. In so doing, he panders and reduces his political commentary to the lowest common denominator.

While Carson's words and approach would probably not draw a positive response from many in the mainstream and the media in general, it stokes up his base which appears to be the guns, God and guts (i.e., true-blue, red-blooded Americans) crowd. Put simply, he is engaging in what has become politicking as usual for some candidates in this era when politics and elected officials are held in low regard at best and contempt at worst.

Let's assume that Carson is not really serious in much of what he says but is being intentionally provocative and evocative to generate excitement and allegiance from his targeted segments. That's the positive interpretation.

If on the other hand, Dr. Carson is serious in his words, he is frightening. He is expressing a level of ignorance and arrogance and, most importantly, a subtle bigotry that flies in the face of informed civic discussion and dialogue.

Bigots come in all sizes, shapes and colors. They can be doctors, lawyers, and maybe even Indian chiefs. Bigotry is not a crime but it is not an answer to the problems of a great nation.

The answer to bigotry is democracy. This year's presidential primaries and elections will determine which prevails. (In the interests of full and open disclosure, Frank Islam is on the national finance committee for Hillary Clinton.)

Guns Do Not Make Us Safer

YWCA USA   |   October 22, 2015    9:42 AM ET

To the people who think guns make the world a safer place for women,

Over 51 percent of intimate partner homicides are committed with firearms.

This is a fact I hope that you were ignorant of, simply because of your willingness to use survivors of domestic violence as props for your anti-regulation arguments. In preaching that these nameless, faceless women you "know" now feel so much safer as gun-owners, you are neglecting to mention that 6,410 women have been murdered by their male intimate partners with guns in between 2001 and 2012.

6,410 women murdered in a little over a decade. More women dead at the hands of gun-toting abusers than the total number of U.S. soldiers who were killed in action during the span of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

6,410 women who you blatantly disrespect when you advise young girls that if they had carried a gun they would have escaped sexual assault. You construct fantasy women, who suffered abuse once, then shot their abuser to prevent a second occurrence. You do this, not to congratulate them for their show of strength, but to use them to bolster your arguments at the expense of all those who did not or could not take that action. You do this at the expense of the women who are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun here, in the United States, than women in other high income countries.

When you propose guns as a cure-all for the problem of intimate partner/domestic violence in order to avoid stricter regulations, you are saying that the inconvenience of more stringent background checks is more of a heavy burden to bear than the lives lost at the hands of ill-intentioned gun-owners.

The indifference of federal and local law to the lives of domestic violence survivors has ensured the argument of ineffective background checks persists. There are at least 11,986 individuals in over 20 different states convicted of misdemeanor-level stalking who are still allowed access to firearms under federal law. Three states, Connecticut, New Mexico and New Hampshire, account for 79% of the FBI's NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) database files. How can you possibly say that background checks are ineffective and therefore should be ignored as a method of gun control when 79% of the data these checks are based off of comes from a minimal fraction of the U.S. population? There are glaring, cavernous gaps in your anti-regulatory rhetoric and the very real violence that women in America face, and that very rhetoric is contributing to the passe way these incredibly dangerous lapses in state and federal judgement are being perceived.

Asking that domestic abusers be denied access to firearms is not an infringement upon your second amendment rights. Asking that states submit up-to-date records on individuals convicted of crimes such as stalking, domestic violence or sexual assault in order to ensure background checks are effective is not a violation of your right to privacy. Asking that the government do its part to protect its citizens and ensure them all a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not an attack on your civil liberties. In portraying the call for stricter gun regulations as a left-wing crusade against the rights of Americans, you brush under the rug that no one wants to take away your guns. Gun safety and regulation is not a gun ban. It is simply the request that only those who have been vetted, and know how to properly handle a weapon, be allowed to keep them in their homes; a weapon that is responsible for 29.7 homicides per million people in the United States.

In the wake of another tragic mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, gun control will become a hot-button issue again. Massacres should not be the only time we question the amount of gun violence in our country. Every day in the United States, five women are killed with guns, and in many of these cases, by an intimate partner. Five women a day is five women too many.

Dear people who think guns make the world a safer place for women,

Survivors of domestic violence are not an allegory.

Real women need real help. The 20th anniversary of the YWCA's Week Without Violence starts October 19th and goes until the 23rd. Join us in our efforts to #EndDVNow. Contact your local representative and demand more stringent gun regulations.

Nicollette VanDePlas is the Youth Programs and Advocacy Assistant at YWCA National Capitol Area. She is a Political Science major at Temple University, specializing in feminist political theory and the critique of oppressive policies and politics. She enjoys spirited debates, French literature and cuddling pitbulls.

YWCA's Week Without Violence is an annual campaign that takes place nationally and in communities across the country to end violence in all of its form, wherever it occurs. As the largest network of domestic service providers in the United States, YWCA is focusing our efforts on ending domestic violence - NOW. Everyday YWCA addresses the root causes and immediate needs associated with domestic violence. As we mark our 20th annual Week Without Violence, we invite you to join us. To learn more visit and join the conversation with #endDVnow. Read more great Week Without Violence blogs!

Guns, Mental Health and Insurance

Mark O'Connell, L.C.S.W.   |   October 21, 2015    6:06 PM ET

Talk therapy has been scientifically proven to increase mental health and to ease conditions such as schizophrenia. This fact comes to us in a new study by The American Journal of Psychiatry, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, as Congress debates mental health reform and as we consider the role of mental illness as a factor in America's mass shooting epidemic.


Can we now all agree that long-term talk therapy is important? Can we as a culture value the powerful opportunity to explore the inevitable complexity of one's mind and emotions in a safe relationship -- especially with an appropriately trained therapist? Can we appreciate that what we call mental illness does not only afflict a handful of people in distinct and obvious ways, but all of us at various points in our lives due to a variety of circumstances? And can we effectively convince insurance companies to cover such treatments as they would any other service that has been proven to lead to optimal health?

We can't identify who is going to be the next shooter with tests and diagnosis. But we can adjust our thinking regarding optimal mental and physical health and, rather than continuing to stigmatize those individuals engaged in long term talk therapy, accept the fact that it provides great benefits for all of us.

Here is a piece I wrote for HuffPost on the subject shortly after the Sandy Hook shootings of 2012. I am posting the link so that you can read it exactly as it was, since little to nothing has changed. Let's please make an adjustment in our thinking and where we put our money before this happens again.

Texas: Neutering Democracy

David Morris   |   October 21, 2015    1:15 PM ET

In Texas liberty trumps democracy. The Texas Supreme Court itself says so.

In a recent decision, three of the five Justice majority bluntly declared, "(O)ur federal and state charters are not, contrary to popular belief, about 'democracy.'" They are about "liberty's primacy."

The Justices concluded the Texas Constitution gives primacy to liberty because of the sequence of wording "That the great, general and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and established," is how the Constitution begins. The word "liberty" comes first.

Relying on the sequence of words to establish primacy could have gotten the Justices into trouble when it comes to the federal Constitution, a situation they adroitly finessed by quoting only part of the Preamble. "The federal Constitution, in the first sentence of the Preamble, declares its mission to 'secure the Blessings of Liberty,"" opined the Justices. But before securing liberty the Preamble lists several other objectives that would have primacy: "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, (and) promote the general Welfare."

Texas politicians love to sprinkle their orations with words like liberty and freedom but even they must concede that all societies establish formal and informal rules governing individual behavior and virtually all interfere to some degree with someone's freedom of action. No matter how extreme our libertarian bent, most of us accept the need for driving licenses and the restrictions one-way streets and stop signs impose. And however reluctantly we agree that the government can take our money even while profoundly disagreeing on how public money should be spent.

Most of us also accept that property rights are not absolute. Just because we own land doesn't mean we can build a 30-story building or a slaughterhouse in an otherwise residential neighborhood.

Who should make the rules? Again I believe most of us prefer that decisions be made closest to those who will feel the impact of those decisions that is, by local government. More remote levels of government should defer to governance closer to the people except in rare circumstances.

Keeping this framework in mind, how did the tension between democracy and liberty play out in this year's Texas legislative session?

Democracy came in a distant second.


It is often said that local government is where the rubber meets the road. It is at the local level that we ultimately must confront the issues of public safety and public health, poverty, and violence, homelessness and bigotry. Cities and counties may lack the capacity to resolve these issues, but they are our first responders in addressing them

Among the most pressing problems confronting cities is the lack of affordable housing. Rents are rising while wages stagnate. In the 1930s the federal government stepped in to create long term, low interest fixed rate mortgages to enable private home ownership and federally financed local housing authorities to manage public housing.

By the 1960s public housing projects had come under attack for building high-rise ghettoes and concentrating and isolating the poor and people of color. The federal government responded by embracing a market-based strategy: the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), now the largest federal housing program serving 5 million people and 2 million families. In 2014, 66 percent of non-elderly, non-disabled households using vouchers were working or had worked recently.

Individuals who receive vouchers can choose to live in any housing provided the rent does not exceed certain levels. The renter pays 30-40 percent of his or her household income to the landlord while the local public housing authority, utilizing the vouchers, pays the difference between the tenant's portion and the market rent.

Vouchers sharply reduce homelessness and offer families an opportunity to move to safer, less poor and more diverse neighborhoods. "These effects, in turn, are closely linked to educational, developmental, and health benefits that can improve children's long-term prospects and reduce costs in other public programs," the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes.

But the voucher program suffers from a basic flaw. Landlords do not have to accept them. Many do not. "Having a voucher is on par with having an eviction or having a felony. You get the same number of 'no's,'" says Abby Tatkow, a landlord outreach specialist with Caritas of Austin. Recipients can wait for years to gain access. And if they cannot find housing they eventually lose their vouchers.

The demand is large and growing. A third of all households in the Austin area have incomes low enough to qualify for vouchers but only 3 percent receive one. But the supply is small and shrinking. A 2012 survey by the Austin Tenants Council found that owners of only 12 percent of eligible units would accept vouchers.

In the past, Austin restricted a landlord's liberty (read property rights) by expanding classes protected under its Housing Discrimination Ordinance: student status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and age.

In December 2014, after two years of intensive and extensive debate the city council unanimously added another protected class: "Source of Income."

Previous expansions did not spur state intervention. The addition of source of income did. The legislature quickly overturned Austin's ordinance and banned any other city from adopting one.

Why did the legislature intervene? Some view the move as racially motivated since people of color hold about 90 percent of Austin's vouchers. Bill sponsor Sen. Charles Perry argues the issue had only to do with securing liberty and protecting against the overreach of democracy. "I don't think that local control gives a city the right to override property rights...," he maintained. Nevertheless the legislature explicitly allowed cities to override landlords' property rights by allowing them to prohibit landlords from refusing to lease or rent to a "military veteran" using federal housing vouchers.


While Austin was tackling the lack of affordable housing, the fast growing city of Denton was trying to protect its population from rapidly encroaching gas and oil drilling. "The Barnett Shale is what's known as a "tight" reservoir, meaning it requires more intense fracking to extract hard-to-get gas, and major portions of the field are in urban areas, with Denton at its core," Newsweek reports,

Citizens tried to work out a compromise with oil and gas companies. Adam Briggle vice president of the Drilling Awareness Group told Newsweek. "We're Texans -- we are obviously used to drilling and seeing rigs around town." Over a dozen wells operate within city limits.

In January 2013, Denton passed setback rules to keep fracking away from residential homes. The oil and gas companies ignored the rules. By September, they had begun fracking less than 200 feet from homes.

Briggle recalls, "The realization was that you can either have fracking or you can have a healthy city, but you can't have both."

Citizens gathered enough signatures to force a vote by the City Council. When the Council rejected a ban the citizens forced it onto the ballot. In November 2014 60 percent voted in favor even though the oil and gas industry outspent those in favor by 15-1.

The legislature quickly passed a law stripping cities and towns of the authority to enact drilling ordinances unless the industry deems them "commercially reasonable."

At a capitol signing ceremony Gov. Greg Abbott explained why he found the new law "incredibly important": its "profound job of protecting private property rights."

In Texas liberty trumps the desire of a community to protect its residents health or to tackle discrimination in housing. As James Quintero of the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) observes, "What we're arguing is that liberty, not local control, is the overriding principle that state and local policy makers should be using."

In a speech to the TPPF Governor Abbott decried the epidemic of local sovereignty, "Large cities that represent about 75 percent of the population in this state are doing this to us." Some might wonder whether 75 percent of the population might constitute "us."


And then there is the issue of guns, the ownership of which is synonymous with liberty in Texas. Again the Justices made their sentiments clear, "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote."

Before the start of this session the Texas legislature had passed laws allowing concealed weapons on college campuses, but not in classrooms, dorms and other inside spaces. In 2015 legislators were determined to lift that prohibition.

Thirteen Texas student body presidents elected to represent over 300,000 students wrote the Governor pleading with him not to sign the bill. The executive director of the Texas Association of College Teachers insisted an "overwhelming majority" of his members opposed allowing guns in classrooms. University administrators responsible for the safety of their students were just as adamantly opposed.

The legislature ignored the voices of the students, the faculty and the administration of state universities. The only debate involved whether to treat public and private universities differently. Ultimately the legislature decided it should. Private universities can opt out. Public universities cannot. State schools can ban guns on designated parts of campuses but chief sponsor Sen. Brian Birdwell warned these must be "very limited, reasonable prohibitions."

Why the distinction between private and public colleges? As Birdwell maintained, "I am duty-bound to protect Second Amendment rights parallel to private property rights. We must protect most private property rights equally, and not protect one or the other."

Businesses can ban guns, but the state makes it challenging for them to do so. They must post conspicuous signs at all entrances. Each sign must contain a 38-word message in both English and Spanish, in contrasting colors, with letters an inch in height. The Texas Association of Business asked the 2015 legislature for a break. On its behalf State Rep. Poncho Nevárez introduced a bill to allow businesses to post smaller signs by shortening the statutory language required to appear on each sign. "If you own a business and want to keep somebody out if they've got a gun, you should be able to do it simply," The bill never made it out of committee.

Indeed stating in January Texas businesses must display two giant signs, one for the newly permissible open carry and another for concealed carry.

Adding insult to injury, this legislature drastically reduced the penalty for ignoring these signs from a $4,000 fine or up to a year in jail, or both, to a fine not to exceed $200 and no jail sentence. One gun advocate scarcely contained his delight; "This is especially helpful for concealed carriers who feel it necessary to break the law for their own protection."


At a signing ceremony Governor Abbott justified the state's repeated overturning of the local popular will, insisting "we are ensuring that people and officials at the local level are not going to be encroaching upon individual liberty or individual rights."

However, in Texas one basic individual right does not appear to have primacy: the right to vote.

Texas may have the strictest voter registration rules in the country. Non-Texans are barred from registering voters; anyone registering voters must undergo training through the county; all voter registration applications must be personally delivered, rather than mailed.

One might cynically note that voter registration barriers disproportionately affect the poor, minorities, and young people, all those groups that tend to vote Democratic. Some 2 million Texas Hispanics are unregistered and just 39% of eligible Hispanics in the state voted in 2012.

Texas twice sued the federal government for interfering with its right to require a voter photo ID even though it could offer only two proven cases of in-person fraud that would have been prevented by an ID requirement since 2000.

In May the group Battleground announced it might sue Texas under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), a law requiring states to use their Departments of Motor Vehicles and other government agencies to facilitate voter registration. Battleground found over 4,600 complaints from would-be voters about the lack of such assistance and concluded, "voter registration failures are widespread and systematically undermining the right to vote in Texas".

Prior to 2015, the Texas voter law allowed "a form of identification containing a photograph that establishes a person's identity (such as an employee identification card)." That included student IDs.

This year the legislature de-listed student IDs but added a new form of ID that would gladly be accepted: a handgun license.

Confessions of a 14-Year-Old NRA Dropout

Paul Boorstin   |   October 21, 2015   12:37 PM ET

I was a 14-year-old high school freshman when I began collecting guns. It was Chicago in 1958, a time before a metal detector had ever darkened a school doorway. Disciplinary problems in most American classrooms meant kids sneaking out without a hall pass or sticking old Juicy Fruit under their desks.

Hanging on hooks, the antique weapons covered an entire wall of my bedroom. I remember that among them was a Remington carbine, a Winchester rifle, a dueling pistol, a Colt .44 handgun, a long-barreled Springfield rifle, and a Smith & Wesson revolver. Oh, and I also owned a few bayonets and a cavalry saber.

Today, as a gun-control supporter, I ask myself, what possessed me to do this? First of all, in those days, collecting guns, even antiques, was an inexpensive hobby. They would cost a lot more now (the Winchester 1873 rifle I bought for $35 back in the '50s would go today for over $1000.) I ordered the weapons from the mail-order catalogue of a New York antique-firearms dealer. There were no background checks, no checks at all except the ones my father mailed off with the order form. I'm sure he bought them in his name, but though I was 14, it wouldn't have mattered back then if I had used my own.

Shouldering an unwieldy Civil War rifle or squinting down the barrel of a Colt revolver put me in touch with my Walter Mitty fantasies. I would imagine myself as a soldier fighting at Gettysburg or a gunslinger blazing away at the OK Corral. Handling these weapons, like exploring the most secret aspects of manhood, was something intimate and personal, and as such I pursued it only in the privacy of my own bedroom.

While collecting guns, I got the idea to join the NRA. Back then, the National Rifle Association was about as controversial as the gas company. For my membership, I received a subscription to The American Rifleman, a glossy magazine featuring wholesome crew-cutted teenagers and their wholesome crew-cutted parents blasting away at targets or bagging the occasional unfortunate bighorn sheep.

I never met any NRA member in the flesh. But for a poetry-writing loner with a rich fantasy life, the membership gave me a sense of belonging, allowing me to join a club without actually having to meet anyone else in the organization face to face.

The biggest perk of belonging was a little gold lapel pin sporting the NRA emblem. I wasn't a member of a high school fraternity, but many of my coolest classmates wore frat pins to indicate they belonged. The NRA pin helped me to hold my head high at school dances. No one ever asked me what the emblem meant; they knew it meant I belonged to something.

Looking back, the weirdest part of my gun collecting passion was that in choosing firearms to buy, I insisted they be in firing condition. This was strange, because I never loaded them with ammunition. But somehow knowing they could actually be fired made those lethal artifacts that much more valuable. And okay, maybe it made me feel a little bit powerful.

The idea of actually loading one of the guns and shooting at a target (much less firing at an animal or a human being) was about as distant to my 14-year-old brain as the mysteries of sex, which I had trouble imagining even in the distant future. (I had never even seen a photograph of a completely naked woman, but that's a whole other story.)

Who was I back then? Just a moody, awkward teenager like so many others my age. From the desk where I did my homework, I would look out the second-floor window of my bedroom at tree-shaded Woodlawn Avenue, our quiet residential street, and watch the people passing on the sidewalk below. Sometimes I caught sight of lithe teenage girls from my high-school class, laughing and playing Frisbee on the lawn of the house across the street. I did not have the nerve to join them. At those moments, in my own isolated world, maybe surrounding myself with dangerous weapons made me feel a little less vulnerable.

My romance with firearms soon fizzled. Puberty slammed me with the force of a shotgun blast. My fascination with guns evaporated as my testosterone surged. I was more obsessed with covering up a pimple on my forehead than with buying another revolver to hang on my wall. I focused on learning how to shave, knot a necktie, and dance the jitterbug. By Junior year, I was elected president of my class. My subscription to The American Rifleman lapsed, and I could only dream of someday being allowed to subscribe to a recently founded new magazine called Playboy (knowing this would never ever happen).

When I went East to college, I left the guns hanging on my wall in Chicago. I never saw them again. My parents later told me they had sold off my private arsenal. It didn't break my heart. For me, collecting guns was a passing childhood fancy, like collecting electric trains or bowling.

I haven't owned a gun since.

But I still remember what it was like to look out the window of my bedroom at the lithe freshman girls playing Frisbee on the sunlit lawn across the street, how I felt alienated and alone. I can't help imagining a deeply troubled teenager, a disgruntled loner, with a collection of guns in firing condition like the ones I had on my wall. For a kid like that today, angrier and crazier than I was, what would he be capable of?

Unfortunately, we all know the answer.