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Open Carry in Thoughts and Beads

David W. Peters   |   January 5, 2016   11:52 AM ET

It started just a few days after the Paris attacks. There was an awareness of how vulnerable I was and how vulnerable we all were.

For the first time in several years, I found myself staring at the door of my seminary classroom, imagining a man in a hood bursting through the door with guns blazing. My experiences in Iraq may have something to do with this feeling. I don't fully know. What I do know is that the classrooms I sit in are on the edge of the University of Texas, a school which will soon allow the concealed carry of handguns in classrooms, dormitories and other buildings. This law piggybacked the law authorizing the open carry of handguns. This one became legal in Texas on January 1, 2016. In the week between Christmas and the New Year, PSA videos by police departments told us not to panic and call 911 if we see holstered guns everywhere we go. I agree with proponents of Open Carry who insist that terrorists like to shoot people in gun-free zones.

Part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can feel like the loss of the illusion of safety. Coming face to face with raw violence changes a person's vision of the world. In this new, unsafe world, threats are everywhere and hyper-vigilance is the new normal. Can carrying a gun help a person feel safer? Can it, at least, give us back our illusion of safety?

I carried a concealed weapon when I lived in Pennsylvania, around the time I began to transition out of the Marine Corps Reserve. I had carried a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), a light, belt-fed, machine gun in the Marines as well as the standard M16 rifle. Having a pistol in my pocket helped me feel like I was in control, like I was safe. It gave me that feeling I got on the last day of boot camp when I marched across the parade deck as a Marine. I carried it for a few years before I moved.

I grew up around guns and I know how fun and dangerous they can be. I had one accidental discharge in all those years of recreational shooting. Just one, but it was one too many. I had been through Marine weapons training, I had qualified as an "expert" on the rifle range, yet I still made a mistake. I was embarrassed when the gun went off and shot a bullet in the patio bricks between my feet. I asked my two friends' forgiveness for my negligence. I'm glad I didn't kill anyone that day.

A couple years later I went to Iraq as an army chaplain. I didn't carry a gun over there, although everyone around me did. When I came home, people asked me if the Iraqis "liked us being there." My first thought was always, Yeah, they were real nice to us. Most people are nice to people who are carrying guns. Sometimes I said it out loud and only received confused looks.

In my experience, people carrying guns openly are communicating some pretty serious messages. One of them is that they can easily kill you. Immediately, the presence of open weapons creates an asymmetrical power relationship where you're never quite sure how people feel about you--if you're the one with the gun. Most people are nice to people who are carrying guns.

In Iraq at least, most people were rarely completely honest to people who were carrying guns. The handshake--one of the oldest signs of peace--is a way of showing that you are unarmed. Can human relationships flourish in a world where no one can truly shake hands?

Now I'm a parish priest in the Episcopal Church and I think about an active shooter stomping into my church's school or worship service constantly. So I do sprints. I do pushups. I wonder if I'll be able to tackle the guy in time. What if there are two of them?

So I started to Open Carry--beads not bullets. I found the box with the old stuff from my Army days as a deployed chaplain. I pulled out a set of Anglican rosary beads. They were made for me by parishioners of Trinity Episcopal Church, in Mount Vernon, Illinois. I'd only used them a few times.

Even though I was an Episcopal priest, I had little training with the beads. I had used them in Mount Vernon on the night they were given to me and twice in Texas at a contemplative service at a church next to the Fort Hood Army base. In my entire life, I've spent more times holding guns than prayer beads. I was an enlisted Marine, after all.

I googled Anglican rosary and printed the prayers that go with the beads. I picked the "Jesus Prayer", mainly because I could remember it and because the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of my Church, recently mentioned it in a talk. He said the Jesus prayer was a great way to deal with anxiety. According to Wikipedia, Anthony the Great was the first Christian to use prayer beads in the early Church. I have a picture of him glued on the inside cover of the prayer book I've used since my ordination. He's being assaulted by a dozen demons while he serenely prays. It always reminds me things could be worse.

I picked out a few other phrases from the website, grabbed my beads, and headed out to the street. As I walked, I thumbed through the beads, one after the other. Soon, the prayers merged with my breathing, as my thumb kept time. In class, when I would glance toward the door, I pulled them out and started working through them. I touched them every time I felt anxious, much like I had touched my M16 during my days in the Marines.

I know this is a controversial issue for Americans, and especially Texans. We live in anxious times and I'm thankful for 2,000 years of Christian reflection on the issues surrounding self-defense. These questions are not new. The venerable Saints Ambrose and Augustine thought it good for Christians to serve in the Army, however they denounced killing in self-defense for a number of reasons. Ambrose cited Jesus' command to "Put up thy sword, for every one that taketh the sword shall perish with the sword." He goes on to point to Christ's example of not defending himself against his enemies so he could heal the world through his wounds. Since then, most Christians have not been pure pacifists. I'm certainly not.

Like Ambrose and Augustine I see a need for soldiers and police officers to carry weapons. They are responsible to the community and act on our behalf. They are uniformed, set apart visibly for their duty to the community. Recent acts of injustice by police officers have highlighted the growing separation between the police and the community they work in. The Open Carry of guns, however, has very little to do with the community. Open Carry is centered in our modern worship of the individual. "I grew up with guns. I can handle it. I deserve to carry." What if my fellow Christians who endorse Open Carry took the time to reflect on whether their individualism is truly Christian, or merely American. Should a group so certain about the resurrection of the dead be so worried about dying?

Jesus did tell his disciples in the Gospel of Luke to buy a sword. It says he did this so Jesus could fulfil a prophecy that "He would be numbered among the transgressors." It's a cryptic statement, and if you interpret this verse to rubber stamp carrying a pistol in your purse while you go to Chipotle, I think you may have missed Luke's point.

I'm not trying to set out some kind of universal argument for or against the open carry of weapons. What I am saying is that there are other ways of dealing with our anxiety about violent death than carrying a firearm. Try some of them. Ask God for help with this. Get an Anglican or Roman Catholic rosary, an Orthodox chokti, an Islamic misbaha, a Buddhist or Hindu mala, or a set from another religious tradition and join me as I open carry.

Damon Beres   |   January 5, 2016   11:31 AM ET

America's interest in guns shifts depending on current events. Google search data reveals that after a mass shooting, interest in "gun control" usually spikes. Shortly thereafter, it fades. The pattern has repeated month after month, year after year.

On Tuesday, as President Barack Obama advocated for long overdue action on gun control, we decided to revisit Google's 2015 data to learn a little bit more about how Internet users approach the issue.

The search engine has long measured public attitudes by comparing searches for "gun control" versus "gun shop." It obviously isn't a perfect method for one major reason: It's impossible to determine why anyone's searching for a given term. A gun owner could be brushing up on "gun control" to further his or her pro-gun arguments, while gun control advocates might want to learn about "gun shops" in their area. Still, it's a useful way to get a broad view of where the American public stands -- and when opinions seem to shift.

In 2015 overall, states were overwhelmingly more interested in learning about "gun shops" than "gun control."

The only states that averaged more searches for "gun control" throughout the year were California, Utah, Alaska, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

"Gun shop" has been a more popular term in the United States overall for the past few years.

Meanwhile, guns kill an average of 36 people every day in the U.S. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 127 people have already been killed in gun incidents in 2016.

Mehreen Kasana   |   January 5, 2016   10:00 AM ET

What to know about the push to require everyone “engaged in the business” of gun selling to register as a firearms dealer.

Aaron Nemo   |   January 5, 2016    8:36 AM ET

Members of the armed group occupying a federal building on an Oregon wildlife refuge posted a plea on Facebook for care packages containing "snacks." It's an important reminder that if you want to overthrow the government, always start in a city that has GrubHub.

And remember, these folks are choosing to hold slumber parties at this remote location miles away from the nearest Papa John's. They are willingly putting themselves in a problematic situation to gain attention from the media, and aren't actually in need of charitable food donations like many Americans who find themselves below the poverty level.

That's why I've decided to do everything in my power not to help. I hope you can find it in your hearts to do the same.

Also on HuffPost:

The Glamorization of Toy Guns -- Counter-Productive Symbolism?

Iain Patton   |   January 5, 2016   12:46 AM ET

It's quite disturbing this Christmas to witness our high streets glamorizing weapons of violence in the lead up to the celebration of Christmas Day itself. A day, which is meant to symbolize peace, and goodwill to all men, and women, especially post the Paris 2015 atrocities. In the advent of a heightened paranoia around terrorism repeating itself in some other unsuspecting town or city, you would hope that both retailers, and parents would show some sort of leadership around this issue.

I was prompted to write this after recently seeing one high street retailer's front window, stacked high with replica toy machine guns. Whilst most toy guns might bear little resemblance to the real McCoy, many are close identical replicas and, from a distance could prove quite threatening to a casual observer.

With names like Shooting Play, Army Machine Gun and Rapid Firing Gun, are we not pretending that these toys are doing anything other than re-enacting death and destruction in a play format? Do these sorts of toys not reinforce and familiarise children with a destruction led, conflict narrative, normalising war and weapons, which is also regularly reinforced through popular entertainment, films, TV and video games?

Whilst gun culture in the UK is not remotely as prevalent as the US where there have been 294 mass shootings so far in 2015 we need to look at society and how our values are communicated as there appears to be no less promotion of guns and symbols of conflict in the retail arena, even though there's a noticeable rise in knife and gun crime among the young in most urban environments. Certainly to cite the US again for decades, the most dangerous piece of machinery was an automobile. But now, it's a gun.

It's also interesting when ones does a search on Google for 'children's toy guns' one finds an array of AK47's, military assault and hand guns replicas popping up.

As the current program on Channel 4 called "The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds" shows. This age is arguably the most crucial period in a child's development as they cross the threshold from family life into the social arena of school, and the tools of social interaction these children are learning can lay the foundations for the relationships they will form right across their adult lives.

Klaus Dodd's, Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London is examining the historical and contemporary play with Action Man over the last 40 years. He believes that parental concern with weapons, which also loomed large in previous decades, masks an even bigger issue now.

"There is a kind of anxiety that expresses itself through war toys about Britain and its relationship with militarism. We are a country addicted to war. We are a highly militarised society and I think children and the relationship to toys is one aspect of that broader debate about what Britain is and represents."

A generation ago or two, it wouldn't be unusual to see kids running around their neighborhood wielding toy guns as they played cowboys or cops and robbers. Myself included. But as school shootings have become frighteningly commonplace, playing with toy guns doesn't seem that innocent anymore?

Many schools around the world have even implemented zero tolerance policies on guns, and in some cases, have gone as far as suspending children for pointing their fingers in the shape of a gun and pretending to shoot another student. Therefore, understandably some people feel that playing with toy guns sends the wrong message, making light of a deadly weapon -- or worse, that toy guns increase aggression in children.

Playing with a toy gun can also have painful and even deadly consequences. There have been several incidences that involved children being shot accidentally.

It's easy to see violence and aggression in society as a whole and in the media, through TV, video and the cinema. And then one hears a sweet, innocent child saying "bang bang" and "I killed you." It's not surprising in today's increasingly violent culture not to worry that he/she could grow up to be violent.

In the same way that we go to the gym to train our bodies, we need to feed our minds, and those of younger generations and our good citizens of tomorrow. We need to do this with the appropriate symbolism through accessories and toys that promote goodwill, harmony and creativity as an antidote to extremism, violence and destruction. And there is no greater time to instil these values in society, than now, at Christmas, through play.

How to Reduce Gun Violence

  |   January 4, 2016    8:21 PM ET

Read More:

A Letter to International Students on How to Survive Your Education in America

Dennis Jett   |   January 3, 2016    8:30 PM ET

Dear International Students:

Welcome to America. There are nearly a million students of you enrolled at colleges and universities in this country contributing $30 billion to the U.S. economy. So it is important that you feel welcome.

Since adjusting to a new culture is always a challenge, here are some pointers that will help you understand this country and will make your stay here safer and more enjoyable.

The most important thing to learn about America is its gun culture. Foreign observers often consider it a nationwide obsession since, with 88 guns for every 100 Americans, this country has more firearms than any other in history. With just five percent of the world's population, we have somewhere between a third and a half of all the firearms in the hands of civilians.

Some would say that if those remaining 12 Americans could be convinced to buy guns, everyone would be safer. That is not true, but like most things in American politics, the facts don't matter all that much. Even though research on the gun violence is officially suppressed and feared, there are studies that show the more guns there are in a state, the more violent crime it has.

The number of guns in this country is due to its history and culture. As European immigrants landed on the eastern shore of the United States, they spread westward in search of land to farm, buffalo to kill and other resources and recreation. They often encountered native Americans and Mexicans living in these areas, however, who had to be convinced to make the necessary real estate transfers at gunpoint. Since there is the possibility that the original owners will some day ask for that land back, Americans, including those who are on the terrorism watch list or have been recently released from mental institutions, need guns to protect their property.

While this history has led to a proliferation of small arms and the violence associated with them, there is really little risk to international students. The violence mainly consists of white men committing suicide and black men being shot by other black men or, of course, the police.

Nonetheless, since having a gun around triples the chances for a homicide or suicide, for your personal safety, it would be a good idea not to go to school in certain states. For instance, the attorney general of Texas recently issued an opinion banned from dorms or classrooms. Given that binge drinking is to campus culture what apple pie is to America, having guns in residence halls filled with inebriated teenagers might not seem like a great idea.

Even stranger is the fact that there are college presidents, like the one at a small Baptist college in Virginia, who encourage their students to carry guns. Perhaps a concealed weapon is just his way of displaying his Christianity.

As these two examples demonstrate, the situation is complicated and varies not only from state to state, but from institution to institution. To determine the overall environment, check, which provides each state a letter grade on overall gun policy. It would appear to not be a very bright class as 33 of them received a "D" or an "F". It would be wiser to study in the 17 with passing grades.

How states treat guns on campus is not entirely consistent with the grade received for their overall policy, however. Conditions vary widely, but states fall into five general groups:

1. States that allow guns on campus. Since guns are usually carried in a concealed fashion, it will never be clear who is packing one, so these are the most dangerous states: Colorado, Idaho, and Utah.
2. Other states allow guns on campus, but let schools decide on limitations. Since such policies can easily be changed by court decisions and the opinion of an attorney general, these states should also be considered unsafe: Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, and Wisconsin.
3. Some states allow guns to be kept in cars. Enroll in institutions in them only if you don't intend to drive, ride in a car or walk near a parking lot: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
4. Many states provide no guidance and allow institutions to set their own rules. So check with each college you might want to attend in these states: Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
5. And let's not forget those few remaining states where guns on campus are prohibited by law and you will be relatively safer: Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Wyoming.

A few other tips for avoiding problems while in America. If you approach, or are approached by, law enforcement officers, always do so with your hands up and ask a friend to video the encounter. And finally don't go near any borders or it will be assumed that you entered illegally.

Enjoy your stay and thanks for coming.

Igor Bobic   |   January 3, 2016   10:05 AM ET

President Barack Obama will sit down for a live one-hour town hall on guns hosted by CNN on Thursday.

The event, titled "Guns in America," will air at 8 p.m. EST. It also falls a day before the fifth anniversary of the shooting of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords (D) at a constituent meeting outside a supermarket in Tucson. 

According to CNN, the president will discuss gun violence and take questions from the audience. 

The event follows news that Obama is readying executive actions that would expand background checks on gun sales. The move could come as early as next week, or be timed to coincide with the State of the Union address on Jan. 12.

Obama has repeatedly expressed frustration with Congress and its reluctance to take steps to curb gun violence. In December, after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Obama again urged lawmakers to take action.

"We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world," he said.

The reported executive actions are most likely to face fierce resistance from Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail. Real estate mogul Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner in the race for the White House, promised he would "unsign" the actions if he were elected president.

Also on HuffPost:

Jessica Schulberg   |   January 3, 2016    9:52 AM ET

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) came out in support of President Barack Obama’s plan to bypass Congress and tighten rules on gun ownership through executive action.

“I would prefer that we could have bipartisan support, but the truth is Republicans are not interested in doing anything about gun safety,” Sanders, a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Sanders, who represents a state once dubbed “gun rights paradise” and who has a mixed voting record on gun control, said that the American people have reached the point where they want action on gun laws.

“The vast majority of the American people are horrified by the mass shootings we have seen. They want action,” said Sanders. “What the president is trying to do now is to expand the instant background check by closing the gun show loophole. I think he’s doing what the American people would like him to do.”  

Frustrated by congressional inaction on gun control, Obama announced on Friday that he would meeting with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to discuss ways he could reduce gun violence without waiting for lawmakers. The president is expected to focus on requiring some currently unlicensed gun dealers to get licenses and run background checks on customers.

Republican presidential hopefuls threatened to undo any progress made by Obama on gun control if they were to take office in 2017.

I don't like anything having to do with changing our Second Amendment. We have plenty of rules and regulations,” real estate mogul and Republican front-runner Donald Trump told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“The one thing good about executive orders,” Trump continued, “the new president, if he comes in, boom. First day, first hour, first minute, you can rescind that.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie accused Obama of acting “as a king” by moving on gun control without lawmakers.

“If he wants to make changes, go to Congress and convince Congress they’re necessary,” Christie told Fox News. The governor promised to take executive action of his own if elected president to reverse any changes Obama makes to existing gun laws.

Bullet, Not Gun Control

Murray Rosenbaum   |   January 1, 2016    2:56 PM ET

Gun control has been the subject of debate for years now. Some people want to tighten gun registration and licensing, while others demand their second amendment right be recognized and protected without limitation. Seeing how banning guns seems nearly impossible, people are trying to find a middle-ground. There are many possible solutions out now, but they are all focused on guns themselves, but there maybe another solution. Jim Dwyer, writing in The New York Times, quoted United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said: "we have only a three-year supply of ammunition."

In 1993, Senator Moynihan proposed that we ought to give up on gun control as a way to reduce criminal violence. "These mostly simple machines last forever," Senator Moynihan said. "On the other hand, we have only a three-year supply of ammunition." He proposed a tax on bullets. But he proposed a "Ten thousand percent" tax on hollow-tipped bullets. The result, a 20-bullet pack would cost $1,500. "Guns don't kill people; bullets do," said Moynihan.

It didn't happen, but maybe it should have.

I did some research to see how much handgun ammunition costs, and I was shocked. Anyone can buy 50 rounds of basic 9mm ammunition, which is used in any common handgun, for about $12. This rounds out to be about $0.24 per bullet. No ID, no background check, just put in your credit card into Sportsman's guide and wait for your bullets.

Yes, there are background checks for guns. Yes, people can bypass that background check by buying a gun from someone at a gun show. But, logically, having more guns won't make someone more dangerous. If you have a gun and no bullets, the gun is just for show at that point. If you have a single gun and over 50 bullets, you could be a public danger.

Comedian Chris Rock said, the trick is making bullets more expensive. How many issues do you think Senator Moynihan and Chris Rock agree on? He wouldn't take away peoples guns, but instead create a barrier to stockpiling a militias supply worth of ammunition. If someone lives in a rural part of the country and they want a gun to protect themselves and hunt, that's perfectly reasonable. The amount of ammunition you would need to keep your home safe from potential thieves and those who would cause you harm wouldn't be even close to 100 rounds of anything. A single clip is more than enough to be threatening and protective if worse comes to worse.

While I do think this is a useful solution, I have no doubt there are plenty of other people who would claim that I'm endorsing the destruction of the second amendment. They can say that all they want, but in the end the Constitution says "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." but it doesn't say anything about bullets. People can petition for better gun control all they want, but gun control isn't the problem. Guns are merely a tool while the real killer is the bullet, which is significantly cheaper and easier to buy.

Texas Open Carry Law Puts Pro-Gun Arguments to the Test

Mike Weisser   |   December 31, 2015   10:04 AM ET

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment gave Americans the Constitutional right to keep a loaded, unlocked handgun in their homes to use for self-defense, the pro-gun nation has been trying to push the notion of armed, self-defense beyond the home and into the street. This strategy has taken two paths; on the one hand promoting concealed-carry licensing, on the other, bringing weapons into gun-free zones. There's nothing but anecdotal evidence supporting the idea that a gun can protect its owner from crime, but there's plenty of serious research which shows the opposite to be true.

The latest effort to widen the scope of armed defense is about to be unveiled in Texas with the law allowing open carry to take effect on January 1st. This law was the brainchild of a former Army Master Sergeant, C.J. Grisham, who parlayed an argument with a cop over how he was openly carrying a gun into a statewide movement which even made him briefly consider a run for the State Legislature until his campaign ran out of dough. Bottom line is that even though an earlier attempt to promote open carry in Texas was condemned by the NRA, those fearless advocates for gun rights in Fairfax, VA, eventually saw the light and lined up behind the bill that Governor Abbott signed into law.

Believe it or not, I'm really happy to see the open carry law go into effect in Texas, because I think the result is going to be exactly the reverse of what the pro-gun nation hopes to achieve. First of all, the law has an opt-out procedure known as 30.07, which allows merchants to post signs at the entrance to their establishments stating that only shoppers who carry their guns concealed will be allowed on the premises after January 1st. And I am frankly astonished at the extent to which major merchandisers in Texas have announced that they will not welcome folks openly carrying guns into their stores.

Take, for example, a company like Simon's, which operates malls and discount outlets in 39 states. They run 35 major shopping destinations in Texas, including such flagship locations as the Gateway in Austin, The Galleria in Houston (which includes the first Webster boutique outside of Florida), and the Shops at Clearfork in Fort Worth. Simon's is opting out of open carry, and so are major food chains, like H-E-B, which has supermarkets in 150 towns, and national chains like Safeway and Whole Foods. Opting out of open carry is also now spreading through the religious community, with the Catholic Diocese in Lubbock, Dallas and other areas posting notices that guns aren't welcome on hallowed ground.

The public discussion over this new law has also given GVP advocates like Moms Demand Action an opportunity to engage store owners and other operators of public venues with their unique message about gun violence, as well as providing 30.07 signage and instructions for opting out of the new law. Anyone who thinks that Shannon Watts and her ladies aren't playing a visible role in promoting 30.07 at the grassroots level will be in for something of a surprise as more signage denying access to open carry continues to appear.

I believe that wearing a gun in a public venue does nothing to promote public safety. And the merchants who have opted out of open carry evidently agree, with most citing concerns about guns endangering rather than protecting their customers, particularly in places where alcohol is served. In that regard I am particularly interested in the fact that Gringo's Mexican Chicken and Jimmy Changas, two of Houston's most popular Tex-Mex restaurant chains, will be going 30.07, because if gun folks like to do anything more than argue about the 2nd Amendment, they love to eat. And when all is said and done, I predict that consuming a burrito will turn out to be more important than wearing a gun.

2015: Best & Worst in Health Justice

Sanjeev K. Sriram   |   December 30, 2015   10:03 AM ET

As we close 2015, let's reflect on how we harmed and helped each other's health and wellness with two Top 5 lists for the year: the first for our shortcomings, and the second for our successes.

2015's Worst in Health Justice:

5. Lead in the Water? Seriously?!?!: For about a year in Flint, MI and neighboring areas, thousands of children drank tap water tainted with lead, a chemical known to cause damage to growing brains and nervous systems. Excuses abound, but rather than argue the policies of Detroit's bankruptcy, we must ask why children are paying the price with their health. This far into the 21st century, it's about time we accomplished safe, free drinking water as a basic human right worldwide.

4. Measles Made a Comeback: In another moment that left many Americans wondering in what century do we live, a measles outbreak that started Christmas 2014 in Disneyland continued into 2015, spreading to 24 states and Washington, DC. The measles virus' "success" has been linked to low vaccination rates, where communities may have few requirements for vaccines before enrolling in school or certain jobs. Or maybe they have too many anti-vaxxers with ignorance and arrogance toward science. Regardless, the lesson is vaccines and the herd immunity they provide are effective -- but only when each of us does our part for our collective health.

3. Police Killed Over 1,100 Americans: While some see this strictly as a criminal justice problem (and some don't see it as a problem at all), police violence against civilians has an impact on the health of everyone involved. Physical and psychological trauma are carried by victims and their families, especially minorities who bear a disproportionate amount of the injustice. Tracking police-related injuries and deaths under a public health model, like the one proposed by Harvard scientists, could offer valuable perspectives on how we improve criminal justice interactions and save lives.

2. Attacks on Reproductive Health: In addition to the infamous videos made by frauds, the mass shooting in Colorado Springs, and arsons at other Planned Parenthood clinics, attacks on reproductive health rights have also come from federal and state politicians. Congress wasted time with witch-hunt investigations and plans to defund Planned Parenthood. In state legislatures across the country, a variety of laws were passed requiring doctors to manipulate and lie to patients about abortion. Against all medical evidence and advice, states are forcing women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasounds, wait 72 hours, and/or travel to distant hospitals. These policies are about misogyny, not medicine, and we must end them in 2016.

1. On Guns, Congress sided with NRA money... again: After the mass shooting at a Charleston church this past June, and again after the San Bernardino shooting earlier this month, Congress decided to maintain the ban on the CDC researching gun violence. Even if over 300 mass shootings had not occurred this year, there were still nearly 20,000 Americans who committed suicide with a gun and over 700 children who died because of guns in 2015. Rather than pass any practical gun violence prevention policy that would save lives, Congress responded to this nationwide public health crisis with moments of silence, thoughts, prayers, and open hands for millions in NRA donations.

But all hope was not lost this year. Here are 2015's Best in Health Justice:

5. On Guns, State Legislatures sided with common sense: Thanks to the advocacy of everyday Americans, state legislatures passed important policies to stop gun violence this year. In August, Oregon started requiring background checks for people buying guns from unlicensed firearm sellers and private sales. Domestic abusers were prevented from obtaining guns in 9 states. State legislators in 15 states stood up to the gun lobby and stopped concealed weapons from being carried at our children's schools. We need similarly strong leadership at the federal level, because the safety in states with strong gun laws can be undermined by guns from states with weak laws.

4. Marriage Equality in all 50 states: In June, the Supreme Court upheld the fundamental right to marriage for same-sex couples. This triumph has an impact on public health. Married same-sex couples can now obtain the same health benefits from their employer as non-LGBT couples. States can not deny same-sex couples access to Medicaid. Now same-sex couples who qualify can use provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to bond with a newborn, to welcome a newly adopted child to their home, or to care for a sick family member. These are encouraging developments in the journey to reduce health disparities for our LGBT brothers and sisters.

3. Obamacare is Winning and Working: The Supreme Court delivered another health justice triumph when it upheld the Affordable Care Act's subsidies to help over 6 million Americans afford health insurance. Also this year, Alaska, Indiana, and Montana opted to expand Medicaid, and there are signs Alabama, Louisiana, and South Dakota will consider doing the same. During the current open enrollment period, 8.3 million people have already signed up for health insurance on, beating last year's numbers and proving the ACA is working.

2. Addressing the Health Consequences of Climate Change: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if we do not meaningfully address climate change, 250,000 more people will die from diarrheal diseases, malnutrition, and malaria by 2030. Fortunately, earlier this month in Paris, at the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP 21, world leaders agreed to reduce the effects of climate change. The Paris Accords include a goal to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (as recommended by scientists) and review mechanisms to hold countries to their pledges. Millions of healthcare providers worldwide are glad for these first steps in addressing an ever-growing threat to individual and public health.

1. The Fight Against Ebola: Just this week, the WHO declared Guinea to be free of Ebola, while Liberia and Sierra Leone are counting down days to similar declarations. Over 11,000 people have died from the Ebola virus, and there is still a long road to recovery for families and communities in West Africa. While the news of developing an Ebola vaccine is exciting, what has inspired me this year are the thousands of health care providers like pediatrician Dr. Jude Senkungu, lab technician Sidie, and nurse Catherine Koroma who lost their own friends, family, and colleagues to Ebola, but still found the resilience to care for others and keep hope alive. Resource-rich countries should have and still can do more for West Africa, perhaps by following the example of Tim Cunningham and other volunteers from around the world who summoned their courage and deployed their compassion to care for communities so different from their own.

As we approach the health justice work that lies ahead in 2016, the most valuable lesson to learn from the Ebola fighters, climate change scientists, gun safety advocates, LGBT activists, and other champions of health justice is to recognize men, women, and children as people, not problems. Regardless of our differences, we are all worthy of each other's kindness, resourcefulness, and willpower. The lessons learned and the accomplishments won in 2015 should fire up our resolve, burn off our excuses, and light the way to realizing health and dignity for all of us.

Trying to Reach New Demographics, the NRA Is Outmatched

Mike Weisser   |   December 28, 2015    2:46 PM ET

You may recall that before he was appointed Attorney General, Eric Holder gave an interview in which he said that the way to deal with gun violence was to tell kids that guns "weren't cool." That statement unleashed a storm of acrimony from the NRA and its various noisemaking minions, all of whom were committed to a strategy that promoted guns to millennials and other non-traditional gun-owning demographics on the basis that they were, in fact, cool.

Probably the most outrageous attempt to sell this 'guns-are-cool' nonsense has been the video antics of an African-American lawyer who calls himself Colion Noir, who prances around the NRA video channel coming up with all kinds of hip and cool reasons why we should all own and carry guns. The folks who write his scripts have come up with some kind of concocted blather about using guns for self-defense, but what's really going on here is an effort by the NRA to capture the hearts and minds of younger minority folks, most of whom don't appear to be all that interested in owning guns.

Of course the truth is that Colion Noir and the NRA in general have about as much to do with defining "cool" as the veritable man in the moon. Most NRA members are older, White men who listen to country music and live in Southern states and smaller, Midwestern towns. They represent a demographic that's about as far away from anything hip and cool as could ever be imagined; getting this audience to respond to an inner-city, jive-talking Black dude would be tantamount to bringing back the Miles Davis Quintet or Ahmad Jamal to play the weekly barn dance at Grand Old Opry in Tennessee.

Which is why I sat up and really took notice when a group of NBA players announced they were joining with Mike Bloomberg's Everytown to run ads on messages about gun violence that first appeared during a series of marquee games that will air on Christmas Day. The ads feature NBA players like the Warriors' Stephen Curry and the Clippers' Chris Paul, along with testimonies from survivors of shootings and relatives of folks killed by guns.

I knew something was up when I noticed Spike Lee becoming very visible on the gun violence issue, particularly when he and Al Sharpton announced a gun violence initiative following the premiere of Spike's new movie, Chi-Raq, which is all about gun violence on Chicago's South Side. At that press conference, Spike and the Reverend Al pledged to hold a series of summit meeting in various cities, but you can't begin to compare the impact of such meetings to the power and force of the NBA ads that are running on national tv.

These ads represent a level of interest and concern that could be (pardon my pun) a real game-changer when it comes to the national discussion about guns. Because the people featured on these ads aren't paid to get up and lament the loss of our 'freedoms,' they don't represent pitchmen for the manufacturers who want to sell guns, and they certainly aren't some amateur-hour video huckster who wants you to think he's a real, hip dude because his skin color happens to be something other than white.

I never thought that gun violence was about race, or poverty, or inner-city life or anything of that sort. I always thought that gun violence was about one thing and one thing only: guns. And the remarkable thing about this television campaign is that every person in these ads talks about guns and what guns have done to their lives and to the lives of people they love and used to love.

I was in a high-end burger bar Christmas afternoon when one of these ads played on the widescreen that was tuned to the NBA. This restaurant tends to be a noisy place, but it quieted down when Carmelo Anthony said what he had to say. Way down.

Santa Claus Shot and Killed in Home Invasion

Warren J. Blumenfeld   |   December 27, 2015   12:17 AM ET

Breaking News: Santa Claus, of unknown age, was shot and killed by home owner, Jack Koff, 41, for allegedly breaking into and entering his residence at 007 Patriarchy Lane without authorization. The deceased was found wearing a bright red cap and full-body microfiber suit with white piping around the collar, sleeves, and pant legs. He also sported a full white beard and bushy eyebrows.

Though no weapon was found at the scene, tossed near the bullet-riddled body was a large canvas bag filled with brightly colored wrapped packages. Police department evidence officials later discovered that the boxes were filled with children's toys.

According to police Lieutenant Justin Tyme, "We have clear indication that Mr. Claus penetrated the home by shimmying down the chimney. We believe this because his clothing contained large amounts of ash and grime."

Responding to reporters' questions on the porch of his home, Koff stated that around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of December 25, while he and his wife and three lovely children were asleep on the second floor of their residence, he was startled out of a deep sleep by the apparent sounds of a pack of animals walking across the roof. Fearing a home invasion, Koff took his AK-47 rifle from his bedroom closet and walked slowly and silently down the stairs. As he reached the living room, he saw the image of an intruder exiting the fireplace.

"I took aim and fired a number of rounds into the guy," said Koff. "I have three young kids, and I'm not going to let some pansy pervert come into my home."

The town coroner, Helen A. Basket, determined that Clause died instantly with numerous bullet wounds to the head and upper back with one puncturing his heart. At a press conference held later in the day, Police Chief Reed Mylipps indicated that while the incident is still under investigation, at this point his department does not intend to press charges against Mr. Koff since it appears to be a case of justifiable homicide.

Claus leaves behind a wife, nine flying reindeer -- one with a bright red nose -- and a gaggle of elves. The coroner's office shipped the body back to his home at the North Pole where Ms. Claus will bury him on New Year's Day in a private ceremony.

This is the second incidence of the shooting deaths of home invaders on Patriarchy Lane in just the last three days. On Tuesday, home owner Lance Boyle killed M&M Red and M&M Green as they filled bowls around his house with what appeared to be sweet chocolate centers -- some which included peanuts -- surrounded by hard candy shells. Boyle splattered Red and Green's little bodies on the walls and ceiling of his living and dining rooms leaving nothing for the coroner to autopsy.

Addressing the public during a nationally televised speech today, Wayne La Schmuck, spokesperson for the Nationalist Rifle Association, asserted:

"The justifiable shootings of Claus, and M&M Red and Green prove our point when we rightfully argue that 'The only thing that blows away a bad dude with or without a gun is a good dude with a gun'!"

La Schmuck urged the relatively few home and apartment dwellers who have not already purchased at least one hand gun, one hunting rifle, and one semi-automatic firearm to run to the gun stores and buy them soon. He reminded parents that weapons not only save lives, but firearms also provide great ways to bond with their children.

"There's nothing greater than pulverizing paper and clay targets on the shooting range with your kids on the weekends," he said. "This is real quality time."

The United States ranks number 1 of 178 countries researched in 2014 for the highest rate of firearms with 112.6 per 100 residents, with Serbia coming in a distant second at 69.7, Yemen third at 54.8, and Switzerland forth at 45.7. On "Black Friday" after Thanksgiving 2015, requests for firearms background checks reached historic proportions with over 185 thousand on this single day.

According to La Schmuck, "Keep up the great work America!"