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A Christian's Responsibility for Orlando

Robert Crawford   |   June 13, 2016    9:52 PM ET

With the great many voices out there about the tragic murders at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, I was reluctant to add to the fray. On top of that, it seemed that the things I wanted to say had already been said, and even refuted. But as time went on, my desire to speak out stayed the same, so here I am.

Everyone seems quick to place blame, that's the first thing I notice. Which is understandable; finding people and things to blame in times like these helps us cope. It helps us to say "well at least it's not my fault". I've seen the Orlando Nightclub Shooting blamed on guns, Christianity, Islam, Obama, Trump, The Islamic State, and even on gays themselves. And I've seen people equally coming to the defense of all of them, explaining why their particular group or person is not to blame.

Well I have no doubt where the blame lies. The blame lies solely with the man who murdered 49 people a couple of nights ago. He chose to do what he did; it is absolutely his fault. (I avoid using his name, because even if not true in this case, often these acts are carried out with a desire for fame, and I will not give him that. I would rather remember the names Oscar Aracena, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Amanda Alvear, and the others who were killed.) So to me, blame isn't a question here; I know who is to blame.

But let's talk about responsibility. Maybe it's only an argument of semantics, but I think it's fair to say that there's a distinction. To me, responsibility, unlike blame, can refer to much more indirect actions that affect other things as a whole, often without our knowledge. Well I'm not a Muslim, or an Obama supporter, or a Trump supporter, or a homosexual; so I don't really feel equipped to discuss what responsibility may or may not lie with any of the above.

I am, however, a Christian. An evangelical, Bible-believing Christian at that. And as such, I do believe that it is my place to speak to what I see as the responsibility that Christians hold. I fully admit that I don't know the full motivations behind these murders. Maybe it was done purely as an Islamic Terrorist attack like the Boston Marathon Bombings. Or maybe it was done just because this man hated gay people, such as the murder of Matthew Shepard. Maybe it was a random act of pure evil. Likely, there's no easy answer or one simple cause. However, I am not willing to dismiss the fact that those murdered were part of the gay community, a community that has a history of being trampled upon by our society and by my religion.

I do not believe that we can use terms like "The Rainbow Jihad" and "The LGBT Agenda", and then be completely surprised when a person comes to hate gays to such a degree as to do this. I don't think it is reasonable to deny a gay person the right to marry the person they love or to adopt children, and then expect people to still view them with all the humanity that people in general have. When we say that the correct stance for a Christian to take is to stand on and trample on a rainbow flag like pastor Douglas Wilson did, we shouldn't be surprised when someone out there comes to think that gays are not worthy to live. We use terms like "gross" and "disgusting" and "makes me want to throw up" to refer to homosexuality. And then we claim that we are only saying it because it is a sin. And yet I can't remember the last time a Christian used those words to refer to a man cheating on his wife with another woman, or to refer to a person who simply doesn't accept Christ as Lord and Savior (which, according to The Bible and evangelical teachings, is much worse than any other sin, it's the only sin that cannot be forgiven by the saving power of Christ).

Homosexuality has a stigma in our society. In many, if not all societies really, but I'm sticking with America here. It's getting better, sure, but not without a fight. As Christians, we have contributed to this stigma. We have done so in the name of Christ, and in the name of Love. We have said (truthfully) that pointing out sin in someone is loving. But we have done so in a way that has contributed to a group of people being marginalized and hated. We have done so in a way that has dehumanized them; has robbed them of their rights as both citizens of this country and as members of the human race. We have made them hide who they are, in fear of reprisal even from their families.

So I'm not saying to stop preaching the gospel. We should do so, and do so boldly. I'm not saying to change your beliefs or suddenly think that sin is ok. But I am saying to treat all sinners equally. To not take one group of sinners and say that they are less than human. To stop helping to create a world where a group of people are referred to as "disgusting", while so many other sins are given a pass. As evangelical Christians, let's take responsibility. Not because we are to blame. Not because it is our fault. But because maybe, just maybe, our words and actions have helped to create the mindset that caused the deaths of 49 people.

In The Aftermath of Orlando, Remember To Be Prideful

Outspeak   |   June 13, 2016    7:37 PM ET





As you've heard by now, over the weekend, 50 LGBTQ+ people were shot to death in Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It is, to date, the worst mass shooting in American history. Make no mistake, this is terrorism by way of Homophobia. It is an attack on pride meant to weaken a community. But in the wake of it all, David Collict reminds us that pride matters above all else.

You may not identify as LGBTQ+, you may not know anyone personally connected to the tragedy, but overcoming Orlando is on all of our shoulders. We must come together and exist visibly in support of LGBTQ+ people. We must all empower pride.

Personally empowering gender identity and advocating equal rights will create a safe environment of self expression, love and growth. In age of social media, we're past the point of disconnection. Being aloof to Orlando only reinforces the ideals that made it happen. We live in a global society. You don't get to opt out from tragedy.

It's not enough to change your profile picture or to share a status with #OrlandoUnited. The support is appreciated. But, let's be honest, it doesn't do anything. Instead, we need to be vocal about why pride matters, why acceptance should be the norm, and why we need gun control.

How many lost lives have been attributed to trivial ideologies? We can't empower the attacks in Orlando by blaming them on something else or by creating flimsy narratives that suit our current political climate.

Pride is the only way we can empower ourselves and future generations to fight for a better future for LGBTQ+ people. We have to empower pride as an engine of change.

We owe it to the victims to remain confident. We need to shine a light on love, support, and vocal communities. In the aftermath of Orlando, we owe it to each other to make pride more visible than ever.

Davidoutt speaks candidly about mental health and LGBTQ+ advocacy. Find more on YouTube and Twitter.

Dear America, Love is Not Enough, You Need To Be Furious

Rich Hawkins   |   June 13, 2016    6:52 PM ET

Dear America,

The news coming from your shores this weekend has broken our hearts. The senseless, mindless murder of 50 innocent people and the injury of many more is unthinkable. We send our love, compassion and best wishes. You, on the other hand, need to do more. Sending love and prayers and thoughts is fine, but it is not enough. You need to be furious, and you need to send that collective fury to every elected official in your land.

Living in a country that even a man as intelligent and caring as Barack Obama cannot get strong gun legislation in place should make your blood boil. Living in a country that accepts mass bloodshed so uncaring lobbyists can uphold some made-up view point that carrying lethal, destructive weaponry is a testament to their freedom should make you livid. Living in a country that saw 64 school shootings, 372 mass shootings and 13,286 people killed by firearms in one year should make you want to scream. Living in a country that cannot own and tackle a deadly, reoccurring problem that kills your citizens should make you angrier than anything in the world. For many of you it does, but hold that anger beyond the next few days and use it every day to make a change. For those of you who don't feel that anger, be ashamed.

In the UK we also have a problem with violence, and it is something we too must tackle, but the news in our papers isn't even close to the same scale as that in yours, and there is no argument in the world to justify it. No country can outlaw knives, we need them for doing more than cutting human flesh, but you can outlaw guns - as close to totally as you can get it - because they are meant for nothing more than killing. Guns do not kill people, in the USA people kill people using guns because they are allowed to have them, and every single gun owner is a normal person with no record, until they aren't.

The attack this weekend was an attack on LGBT+ people, mere days before it was a young singer, before that schools and movie theaters and colleges. It is everybody, you endanger everybody, and you need to fight to stop it. There is no debate. Just end it. Keep sending love and keep showing you care, because we know you do, but do more. You have to do more.

Best wishes

The World

P.S. we really do send our love

Gun Control Laws Are Not Perfect. Let's Do Them Anyway.

Sanjeev K. Sriram   |   June 13, 2016    6:44 PM ET

"If car seats are so great, then why don't they stop drunk drivers from killing people? Just more stupid traffic laws getting in the way of freedom."

The above statement is dumb and irrational, right? Car seats and the laws requiring parents to use them for their children are not intended to stop drunk driving. When evaluating car seats and the laws surrounding them, we are focusing on a specific issue of child safety within the larger public health problem of traffic fatalities. We use various policies like vehicle registration, seatbelt mandates, and intoxicated driving laws to address a range of traffic safety issues. No single law or device can protect all of us when we are in traffic. Furthermore, all of our regulations and technologies were developed over time and continue to change as we learn more and as challenges arise. There are hundreds and hundreds of laws, devices, and behaviors that work together to keep us safe on the road.

This is exactly the approach we need to take with the public health crisis of gun violence. We can not expect every policy or technological innovation to stop every incident of gun violence. For example, about 31 percent of unintentional firearm deaths might be prevented if owners used both a childproof safety lock and a loading indicator showing whether a firearm is loaded. Would these devices stop an elderly person from committing suicide with a gun, or an enraged homophobe from shooting dozens of people? Probably not, but that is hardly an apples-to-apples question. Stopping gun suicides will require a range of policies, system changes, and cultural shifts that may or may not overlap with the approaches we use to stop homicides. And those approaches may not be enough to stop unintentional shootings (which are not accidents). One-size-fits-all does not work in any other area of public health, so why do we demand that now?

Since 1975, traffic fatalities have declined. There is nothing simple about that trend. It is the complex result of public health research, automotive engineering developments, cultural changes, policymaking at state and federal levels, and so on. Most importantly, we are safer on the road today than we were over 40 years ago because of a willingness among Americans to learn, adapt, and look out for each other. We are hardly perfect: drunk driving is still a challenge, and crashes are disproportionately high for teenagers. Over 32,000 motor vehicle deaths in 2014 is not an indication that traffic safety is a lost cause. On the contrary, we still have our work cut out for us in our homes, state legislatures, media networks, public health research labs, schools, police stations, and so on.

For gun safety policies, we are likely to face similar challenges. Last week, we learned from Everytown for Gun Safety that in 2009, many states failed to submit records to the FBI regarding people with severe mental illness who should not be purchasing guns. Since then, the number of records submitted by states has more than tripled because of laws and funding to improve record-sharing systems. There continue to be fatal gaps in the background check system, but upgrades in state-submitted records are still accomplishments. We must continue our efforts to pass universal background checks; connect those systems to the FBI's knowledge of suspicious individuals; stop people convicted of hate crime misdemeanors from owning weapons; and close the "boyfriend loophole" for domestic abusers.

Whether the public is healthier or safer under these or other policies are important questions. If Congress allowed the CDC and National Institutions of Health (NIH) to research gun violence, we could develop a better understanding of what kinds of gun and ammunition technologies raise or reduce the risk of injury; how and why people use or don't use certain gun storage practices; what approaches are most effective to help alcoholics avoid gun injury; and so on. These are just a few of the questions that could save millions of lives if answered with well-funded public health research. Unfortunately, just last week, US Senators continued to ban funding for the CDC to research gun violence.

Fortunately, a coalition of over 140 medical groups representing thousands of health care professionals across nearly every field of medicine is urging Congress to reverse its previous decisions and fund gun violence research at the CDC and NIH. For the past 20 years, appropriations bills passed by Congress have "had a dramatic chilling effect" on the CDC's efforts to study the health impacts of guns. We are overdue to thaw out the denial and get to the hard work of answering tough questions.

Though we may not know where exactly the path of smarter gun policies will take us, the current process of "thoughts and prayers" has predictably failed. If policy makers and public health experts offered only "thoughts and prayers" as thousands died in motor vehicle accidents, Americans would be justifiably outraged. However, as mentioned earlier, the persistence of traffic fatalities has not turned people against traffic laws and road safety. There is a very good chance that learning the complicated answers to tough questions about gun violence and passing smart, specific policies will require inconveniences and temporary sacrifices. We must find the wherewithal, patience, and decency to adapt, like we have done with wearing seat belts, using car seats, and following speed limits. It is also highly likely that we will have to adapt again when new gun laws are passed or old ones are revised -- just like we do with car seats, speed limits, and restricting teenage drivers. Neither the "freedom of the open road" nor the Second Amendment give us freedom from responsibility.

Note to readers: Since the Orlando shooting, leaders from the fields of medicine and public health have re-doubled their efforts to "end the ban" on CDC gun violence research. An earlier version of this article did not mention this advocacy, which is still developing.

What "Good Guys With Guns" Should Consider

Kevin Thornton   |   June 13, 2016    6:27 PM ET

Apparently I have a few aspiring action movie type heroes in my social media feed today, so called "good guys with guns." They imagine themselves saving the day during a mass shooting. "We should be thanking those with properly concealed weapons," one friend said. "We will thank them some day."

At some unfortunate time if they are present where a mass shooter enters and begins firing, in that shock inducing moment of terror will they back handspring in slow motion while bullets rain down around them? Will they then skid across the floor while they pull out their weapon and kill the shooter? I hope really dramatic music happens to be playing.

The answer, as Donald Trump recently suggested, is not to arm more people. We would all love to imagine ourselves as brave super heroes, but if you were strolling through the produce section and suddenly someone was spraying bullets, most of us would freeze in shock. It would be too late.

It's nothing more than a fantasy; a fantasy that justifies easy access to guns. It also offensively implies shooting victims are weak and in that moment they should have done something. In such a horrific moment, who knows how one might react or what one would do.

However, In this moment there are many things we can do, and one of them isn't to fantasize about being a gun wielding "good guy." We should just be good guys. Good guys who don't give in to the fear tactics of the NRA and instead take real action on gun reform.

The Only Way To Respond To The Orlando Massacre: Love

Jeanne Bishop   |   June 13, 2016    5:17 PM ET

News of the massacre in Orlando was just unfolding when I walked into choir rehearsal at my church in downtown Chicago this morning, June 12, 2016.

The other singers were gathering music folders and sharing bits of news in low, shocked voices. Fifty people dead... more wounded. Shot with the same type of weapon used in Newtown to mow down children, in Aurora to slaughter moviegoers. Some victims' families not knowing what had become of their loved ones, others grieving with the sure knowledge that the person they loved had died in gunfire and mayhem and blood.

I know that grief. I've felt it ever since a teenager broke into my sister Nancy's home years ago and shot her and her husband to death. Nancy was expecting their first child when two bullets from the killer's gun ripped through her abdomen, killing her and her baby.

Since that day, I've made it a point to learn about guns. Here is what I found out: they are easy to get, and hard to regulate. Small fixes that could have saved my sister's life--fingerprint identification technology or built-in trigger locks, for instance--simply aren't required in the manufacture of an implement of death. On the contrary, many guns and the ammunition that feeds them seem designed to kill the maximum number of people in the most efficient way possible.

So I lobbied Congress and my state legislature and village council for sensible gun laws. I wrote op-ed pieces. I donated money to groups like the Brady Campaign and the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. I campaigned for candidates like Democrat Brad Schneider, now running for Congress in the 10th District in Illinois, whose strong record on preventing gun violence puts the record of his opponent to shame. I spoke on panels about guns at libraries, churches, schools. I marched, with people like Father Michael Pfleger, through the bullet-scarred streets of Chicago. I went to the wake of Hadiya Pendleton, the young woman shot to death only a week after she had performed at President Obama's inauguration festivities. My older son came with me; he wrote on a poster where mourners could leave messages these words: "I didn't know you, but I've come to say goodbye to you. May your death have meaning."

Today, though, when news of the worst gun massacre in U.S. history washed over me, all I could do was sit down with my fellow choir members and sing. One anthem, "Sing Me to Heaven," was about death and grief, love and comfort, pain and passion, love songs and lullabies and requiems. It felt as if it had been written for this day of mourning.

Driving home from church, I heard a press conference on the radio at which Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer spoke, too, of love. "We need to love each other, and we will not be defined by a hateful shooter," he said.

Love, I thought. That's all I've got right now to stand up to this hatred and murder. I've got nothing else.

A middle-schooler once asked me: "Evil is out there--what do we do?" I answered without even thinking, "Love. Nothing else is stronger than evil. Only love is." That feels even more true today than it did then.

Tonight, my younger son, age 12, and I stood at a vigil at Halsted and Roscoe in Chicago--the heart of Boystown, the first officially recognized gay village in the United States. Not to speak or to write or lobby or donate or campaign--those things will come--but to honor lives lost. To love.

We were surrounded by a crowd as multi-colored as the rainbow displays that mark the parameters of Boystown. A Latina with glossy long hair wrapped her arms around her blond female partner; two young men leaned their heads together. There were families with kids, old men with tattoos, all of us with faces upturned toward the setting sun, listening to the speakers, who spoke of love.

The event closed with a prayer, and then an invitation. "Everyone turn to your neighbors," the speaker said, "and give them a hug." We in the crowd turned to one another, arms outstretched.

Damon Beres   |   June 13, 2016    4:56 PM ET

Smart guns hold promise, but firearms makers could implement these proven safety features right now.

If Orlando Could Teach Us One Thing: Humanity Will Heal

Karim Shamsi-Basha   |   June 13, 2016   12:33 PM ET

I had the same sinking feeling in my gut today that I experienced on 9/11/2001, when I saw two planes demolish the twin towers.

My cereal bowl hit the floor.

This past Sunday morning, I was driving when my son called with the grim news of the mass shooting in Orlando. I had to pull the car over and open the door.

My breakfast stained the black asphalt.

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FAITH MATTERS

While I respect all roads to God, mine being Christianity, the faith of my childhood was Islam.

However, the Islam I grew up in does not condone flying planes into buildings, nor killing fifty people at a nightclub. The world needs to acknowledge the fact that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.

I know Islam, I was Muslim . . . In a way, I still am.

It wasn't a coat I took off.

My Islam is loving, peaceful, generous, cares for the hungry and sick and destitute. It loves lovers, honors mothers and fathers, adores sons and daughters, prays for neighbors, implores the best, hopes for the best, and seeks the best.

My Islam is kind, humble, patient, humane, and charitable. It is not apathetic, but full of empathy. It is not unjust, but full of justice. It is not hateful or vicious. It does not discriminate. It cherishes and embraces. My Islam loves all, esteems all, and treasures all.

What happened in Orlando has little to do with Islam, and much to do with sick political agendas.

AN OPEN LETTER TO ARAB LEADERS

I am shrieking with a voice tired of carnage: Where are you?

What will it take?

What will it take for the Arab world to unite against evil forces, striping us of peace and love and joy and songs and all things beautiful?

What will it take for Arab leaders to realize ISIS will drive Islam to collapse into itself? That if not stopped, it will contribute to the demise of all things harmonious and positive about the religion of my youth, when I prayed with my forehead on the floor in total surrender, and felt God closer than my skin. If ISIS is not illuminated, it will continue attaching terms like "radical" and "terrorist" to the faith of 1.7 billion peaceful people.

Arabs must take the lead. We have to unite and defeat this sick thorn. ISIS has shed a dark light onto the faith when I loved abstaining from food and water from Sunrise to Sunset in Ramadan, and thought of nothing but those who have not.

Beautiful? Indeed.

What will it take?

HUMANITY WILL HEAL

Islam needs a leader.

Where is our Mahatma Gandhi? Where is our Malala Yousafzai? Where is our Martin Luther King? Where is our Nelson Mandela?

Gandhi was imprisoned for aspiring, "when I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall."

Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for striving, "the terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born."

King was killed for dreaming, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Nelson Mandela was jailed for endeavoring, "our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future."

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Things may seem dire.

The human race has survived, and will continue to survive and live and flourish and reach the summit of virtues breathtaking.

We will not be rendered defenseless.
We will not succumb to defeat.
We will not surrender to horror.
We will not fall victims to terrorism.

We are loving and hate-free, strong and idle-free, inclusive and label-free, resilient and fear free.

We live in a country by the people, for the people. We don't have to be silent.

We should implore our senators and congressmen to ban weapons, fight terror, heal prejudice, educate ignorance, and most of all pray love.

Love is the only force that will defeat evil.

The spot of cereal from that September day will remain on my rug, and the spot of mourn for the Orlando victims will remain in my heart.

For more, visit: http://arabinalabama.com/

Don't Let Anyone Say It's 'Too Soon' To Talk About Gun Violence

Jessica Smock   |   June 13, 2016   12:09 PM ET

Why is it always "too soon" to talk about how to stop gun violence?

In 1996 another shooting massacre by another security guard killed 35 people, the largest mass shooting in the country's history. By that evening, the prime minister met with advisers and "discussed immediately the possibility of changing the law." Politicians "made gun control the focus of a nation in mourning." Within 12 days, gun laws were changed.

This was not the United States. It was Australia. And Australia has not had a mass shooting since.

In the United States, we post about our "thoughts and prayers" on Facebook, and we change our profile pictures but it's always "too soon" to have the difficult political discussion about preventing another shooting.

Last night I was unfriended by another mom on Facebook because, in response to her "thoughts and prayers" for the victims, I suggested that we should all check out what the presidential candidates promise to do to stop gun violence.

For some, it will always be "too soon" for us to demand more from our political leaders in the aftermath of a massacre.

We need to keep talking anyway.

Here's what you can say to another mom, a family member, a politician -- anyone who tells you that it's "too soon" to demand a conversation, too soon to work hard to prevent the next shooting, too soon to expect more from our politicians, too soon to do anything except come together to heal:

We have a mass shooting in this country nearly every day -- 133 so far during the first 164 days of 2016. If we can't have the hard political discussion about guns in the immediate aftermath of a shooting, then we'll never have it. Because we're always living in the aftermath of mass shootings.

We need to listen to the victims of gun violence and their families. When I see the victims and their friends and families on television or read interviews, their desires are almost always the same: They want their family member or friend back, but short of that, they want this never to happen again. They want justice now. A mom who was interviewed for ABC News, still waiting to hear about her son the morning after the Orlando massacre, wouldn't end the interview without asking, "Can we do something with the assault weapons so that we can stop this club [of parents of shooting victims] from getting any new members? I beg all of you please..."

The opponents of gun control do not want us to have this conversation at all, and that's why they tell us it's "too soon" to talk about policy change. The day after the Orlando shooting, it wasn't too soon to talk about terrorism. Or ISIS. Or, in the case of Donald Trump, about banning Muslims from entering the country. But somehow it was too soon to talk about the one thing that these shootings have in common: guns.

We don't use this standard for other types of tragedies. After plane crashes and natural disasters, we are able to talk about the causes and about accountability for these tragedies at the same time that we honor the victims.

Other countries have acted quickly to start to change gun laws in the aftermath of large mass shootings.

It's never too soon to talk about changing public policy to prevent another mass shooting, and the next time someone tells you that it is, tell them you won't stay silent anymore. We can empathize with the victims; we can think and pray; we can help them and their families to heal. But we can also demand more from our leaders, from the American public, and from ourselves than just thoughts and prayers.

In a tweet, Democratic congressman Jim Himes said that he will not attend another "moment of silence" for gun victims. He said, "Our silence does not honor the victims. It mocks them." He said that God will ask us, "How did you keep my children safe?"

Silence is not an acceptable answer.

Why Gun Control Can't Move Forward

Kelly A Scaletta   |   June 13, 2016   11:59 AM ET

Remember Sandy Hook? That was 1,276 days ago, and since then, 1,209 mass shootings have occurred, according to GunViolence.org.

The latest 50 names on that list are the result of an apparently homophobic/religious extremist unable to cope with reality that people live lives in a way he can't cope with.

No "law" was going to stop him from wanting to do that. No law was going to make it impossible. But there certainly are things that could have made it a whole heck of a lot harder.

But things are the same as they ever were. Our gun laws have not moved at all. And it's time change that.

Here are some other fascinating numbers for you:

  • Well over 100 million guns have been sold in the United States since Barack Obama was elected president, including almost 20 million last year alone.
  • There are over 357 million privately owned guns in the United States.
  • This year, of the 23,158 people who have been shot, only 711 -- just barely three percent -- were in self defense.
  • There were 1,043 people shot by accident.
  • For every person shot in self defense, there were two minors shot (1,520).

From this, we can surmise a few things.

First, if Obama is really trying to "grab your guns" he's doing a pretty piss-poor job of it.

Second, there are a whole lot of guns and a whole lot of shootings. I know correlation doesn't mean causation but hey, maybe having a bunch of guns floating around the country has something to do with all those people getting shot.

And for the most part, the "good guys with guns" are too busy accidentally shooting themselves or other people to help out much with the war on the "bad guys with guns."

So how did we get to bogged down in such stupidity?

Well, for starters, we have the wrong conversation with the wrong people.

Rather than engaging in honest discourse with good faith, the opponents of gun control derail the conversation with strawman arguments about "gun grabbers" and "Second Amendment rights," as though either were even remotely pertinent to the conversation as gun control is neither an attempt at the first nor a violation of the latter.

Gun control -- as the name implies -- is nothing more than a desire to control guns. Namely, who can buy them and what kind they can buy.

The vast majority of Americans agree that, as long as you are a non-violent, sane individual, you have every right to buy a gun. We also generally agree that a violent felon probably shouldn't be walking around with an AR-15 strapped to his back.

If you're one of those sane, reasonable people who is in the great vast chasm of in-between those two extremes, perk up! This is for you.

See, Americans have been duped into thinking that this is a discussion of just the two extremes of the spectrum.

But it's really only established by the tiny minority of paranoid, misinformed, self-deceived, jingoistic, arrogant, obstreperous and contentious group of gun nutters who have somehow determined that they alone are what stands between the U.S. federal government running the country and whoever is running it now.

I'm talking about the kind of "patriot" who thinks he's defending America by terrorizing moms who don't want to see their children killed.

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And if you're one of them, and your little feelings are hurted by me saying that, too bad. I don't really care what you think about things because you are in the tiny minority and you should be irrelevant.

But here's the problem: You aren't.

Whenever good and well-meaning people who don't want to "snatch your guns away" try and engage you, we let the discussion get derailed by idiot-speak about how you're going to save us from the day that the "liberals" do whatever they are going to do and then invoke your latest Allen West-inspired lunacy.

So I'm not talking to you, and I'm sure as heck not listening to you.

No, this post is for the sane, rational, thinking people of the nation who are still wondering when something is going to change.

This is for the people who believe the interests of the 100,000 who have died outweigh the fringe, demented and whacko conspiracy theories of the few who are dug into believing that "gun control" means "gun ban."

So if you're planning some sort of "rebuttal" I promise not to read it because I've already refuted it. I've seen the same trite drivel, debunked studies, dishonest statistical arguments based on England or Australia or whatever it is you think you're going to "destroy" me with already. And it didn't get any less mind-numbingly stupid since 100 more people got shot.

Just type in your argument and the word "fact check" into Google. Then go read something that isn't posted on your favorite right-wing, Trump-supporting propaganda page you call "objective journalism."

You're wrong. You just don't know it, and if your mind were open, you would have already changed it. You're not worth my time or energy.

I already know why you're wrong, and I'm done explaining it to people who think reading The Blaze is considered "research."

Our problem isn't really you, though. Because, like I said, you are a tiny and minuscule, albeit obscenely loud and shrill, fraction of the population.

It would be easy to blame Congress. After all, it's Congress that hasn't gotten a lick done. But that would be oversimplifying things.

It's not rocket science here as to why that is. According to OpenSecrets.com, Since Sandy Hook, the NRA has spent almost $13.5 million lobbying Congress. Throw in contributions, and that figure climbs well over $15 million.

Then factor in the almost $30 million in "outside spending" in the 2014 election cycle, plus whatever ungodly figure this year brings, and you're sitting at well over $50 million.

And nothing has gotten done. Nothing.

What does that tell you about what the NRA's goals are?

The NRA has spent well over $50 million to see that nothing changes since -- literally  --  a classroom full of children were murdered.

But I don't really blame the NRA. I mean how much scruples do you expect from a group which endorses the manufacturing and selling of "toys" that children can use to kill people.
The real solution here lies with us. The sane, rational, thinking voters. The NRA can buy your congressman, but they cannot buy your vote.

What is their stance on two things?

  1. Closing the loophole that allows felons to buy guns without a background check if they're purchased privately.
  2. Limit the type of guns that can be sold. There is no good reason you need to be able to shoot 180 people in a minute.

This election, make yourself a one-issue voter if you have to. Refuse to vote for anyone in the pocket of the NRA. Change in gun laws won't come until the change in the Congress. And that change won't come until we force it.

A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.

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Nick Wing   |   June 13, 2016   10:44 AM ET

As investigators continue to sift through the carnage at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, familiar details are emerging about the man responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Omar Mateen, 29, the U.S. citizen who killed 49 people and injured 53 early Sunday, was driven by radical hatred that he took out on the LGBT community. Authorities were investigating the extent of his connections to Islamic terrorism, but it's clear the killer committed his attack with a powerful assault-style rifle that's available to pretty much anyone who wants one.

This adds to a disturbing trend. According to some counts, there have been nine mass shootings in the past year, including a massacre at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, the anniversary of which will be observed this week. In six of those mass shootings, perpetrators were armed with assault-style rifles. In a seventh -- the November attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado that killed three and wounded nine -- the shooter was widely reported to have been armed with an AK-47-style rifle, along with other guns that authorities haven't specified. 

There's plenty of debate over what constitutes a mass shooting -- as well as what drives those who commit them. But it's increasingly clear that individuals who want to inflict mass casualties are taking advantage of the widespread availability of weapons of war.

These weapons are meant for use on the battlefield.

Renowned firearms engineer Eugene Stoner developed the first AR-15, or ArmaLite Rifle (hence the "AR"), in the late 1950s, using advances in technology and materials to revolutionize battlefield weaponry. Stoner's rifle was marketed to national militaries interested in a lightweight firearm with precision accuracy and high lethality at long range. Colt Manufacturing Co. eventually purchased ArmaLite and convinced the U.S. military to replace the M-14 with its M-16, which employed many of the advances in the AR-15.

Many modern AR-style rifles are modeled off of these rifles and their successors, which have been the standard issue for the U.S. military since the Vietnam War. But there is one key difference: Battle-ready assault rifles have a selector switch that allows automatic fire (a continuous spray of bullets with a single pull of the trigger), or semi-automatic (one shot with each trigger pull). Civilian versions are semi-automatic only.

The AR-15's influence is apparent on the .223 Sig Sauer MCX rifle reportedly used in Orlando, according to Mother Jones.

Here's how a recent reviewer described the Sig Sauer MCX:

SIG SAUER developed the MCX rifle for America’s special forces. Their goal: a firearm that’s as quiet as an MP5, as deadly as an AK-47, and more modular than anything ever designed.

The manufacturer touts the same qualities, saying the rifle is designed to be "silenced, light and short."

These rifles are designed to kill as efficiently as possible.

These weapons are designed to fire off bullets very, very quickly. Some manufacturers boast that an experienced shooter could fire as many as 45 rounds in one minute. Magazines containing fresh ammunition can be swapped out in a matter of seconds.

The specifications of assault-style rifles vary depending on ammunition, but many tests put the muzzle velocity of a standard round from an AR-15 at 3,200 feet per second, making it accurate up to 500 yards -- more than a quarter-mile.

This makes rounds from an AR-15 or other assault-style weapons far more devastating than those fired from small-caliber handguns.

Here's a video of a 5.56mm caliber round -- the kind used in many assault-style rifles -- being fired into ballistic gel meant to mimic human flesh. You can see how a single shot inflicts massive trauma, regardless of where it hits the target.

And that's just one round. A standard AR-15 magazine holds 30 rounds. But in most states, the rifles can be legally outfitted with high-capacity magazines that can hold 60 or even 100 rounds. A gunman in Texas recently managed to fire off 212 rounds from an AR-15 during a standoff with police, though it's unclear if he used high-capacity magazines. Six people were shot during this exchange, none fatally. If the shooter had chosen a more densely populated target, the outcome could have been much different.

AR-15 and similar weapons also are highly customizable, allowing for the addition of aftermarket sights, grips, suppressors and other accessories that make them more effective and easier to wield in combat situations.

Assault-style rifles are relatively cheap and easy to buy.

The average price of an assault-style rifle fluctuates somewhat with supply and demand. Online distributors currently offer versions for under $200, though the average price appears to be around $1,000. A Sig Sauer MCX like that used by the Orlando gunman retails for about $1,700.

In most states, anyone legally allowed to possess a handgun can also purchase an AR-15 or other assault-style rifle, with no further requirements. In Florida, for example, there is no waiting period for would-be buyers of rifles or other long guns. 

Not even people on the terrorist watch list are barred from purchasing assault-style rifles. An attempt to close that loophole was voted down by Senate Republicans last year.

These guns are already everywhere.

There are estimated to be millions of assault-style rifles already in civilian hands, according to recent manufacturer reports, with dozens of companies offering versions. Most of these weapons will never be used in crimes. But the threat is nonetheless present.

A suspect arrested Sunday in Los Angeles had three of AR-15 rifles in his car, along with bags of ammo and explosive materials. He reportedly told police he was on his way to the city's gay pride parade.

And it's not just a matter of AR-15s and their higher-tech variants. Hundreds of thousands of new assault-style rifles flood the market each year. This includes high-powered weaponry like the AK-style rifles used last year by the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado Springs, or the gunman who attacked a military recruitment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Some states ban assault weapons -- but gun manufacturers have found ways around the restrictions.

A number of states, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, have laws limiting or banning the sale of assault weapons. California, for example, has banned AR-15s and other rifles with detachable magazines, which allow shooters to quickly reload. However a recent feature called a "bullet button" allows magazines to be quickly replaced, while still technically remaining fixed, rendering this law largely ineffective. State lawmakers are attempting to close this loophole by introducing legislation prohibiting future sales of rifles with bullet buttons.

Gun manufacturers have managed to easily circumvent other state laws by making small modifications to the weapons, such as replacing the grip or other components.

Federal attempts at banning assault weapons have been largely unsuccessful.

In 1994, then-President Bill Clinton signed a federal ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. The law specifically banned certain semi-automatic weapons, including the AR-15, as well as rifles that could accept detachable magazines. That ban lapsed in 2004, when Congress did not reauthorize it.

There's been debate about how well the ban actually worked. It didn't apply to guns manufactured prior to 1994. According to NBC News, more than 1 million assault-style rifles and 25 million guns with high-capacity magazines were grandfathered in. A 2004 study by the University of Pennsylvania found that while the ban did result in a measurable reduction in crimes involving assault weapons, crimes involving non-banned guns remained steady or increased.

"We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence," concluded the study. "There has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence, based on indicators like the percentage of gun crimes resulting in death or the share of gunfire incidents resulting in injury."

Pro-gun activists say this shows a new assault weapons ban wouldn't affect gun violence. But if the ban hadn't expired, it's difficult to imagine these guns proliferating to the point of becoming the weapon of choice of mass shooters.

After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, some members of Congress sought to renew the assault weapon ban. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013, but was excluded from a vote by the full Senate due to Republican opposition. An attempt to re-attach the measure by Sen. Dianne Feinsten (D-Calif.), one of the ban's most ardent supporters, was voted down 40 to 60.

House Democrats again pushed for renewal in late 2015, following the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, but there's been no action on it since.   

Every time a gunman carries out a massacre with an assault-style rifle, sales go up.

Gun sales, particularly those of assault weapons, tend to spike after each mass shooting, fueled in part by fears that lawmakers will crack down. Already immensely popular, AR-15s and similar rifles flew off the shelves after Sandy Hook. Gun shop owners saw a similar spike after San Bernardino.

This trend is so pronounced that gun industry executives have admitted mass shootings are good for business.

Families of gun violence victims are fighting back against this profit windfall. The parents of nine Sandy Hook victims and one person who survived the massacre are suing Remington, the manufacturer of the rifle used in that shooting. The suit accuses Remington of negligence in selling a military-grade weapon for civilian use, arguing that the guns were purposefully marketed to young men as personal weapons of war.

"Remington took a weapon that was made to the specs of the U.S. military for the purpose of killing enemy soldiers in combat -- and that weapon in the military is cared for with tremendous amount of diligence, in terms of training, storage, who gets the weapon, and who can use it," the families' attorney, Joshua Koskoff, told CNN in February. "They took that same weapon and started peddling it to the civilian market for the purposes of making a lot of money."

Handguns are common in most single-victim gun violence, but military-style rifles are becoming the weapon of choice for mass shooters.

Tens of thousands of people die in gun violence every year, and the overwhelming majority involve handguns, not assault-style rifles or other long guns. At least 68 percent of the gun-related homicides in 2013 were committed with pistols, according to FBI data.

When shooters do turn to heavy weaponry, however, the results can be catastrophic.

Weapons of war have been used in some of the deadliest shootings over the last several years. In addition to Orlando, AR-15 style rifles were used during mass shootings in California, Connecticut, Oregon and Colorado, according to Mother Jones. 

The gun industry is trying to convince you these weapons are just for fun.

Gun advocates insist assault-style rifles are ideal for hunting and target shooting. A fact sheet published by the National Shooting Sports Foundation in 2013 condemned the "assault weapon" label, claiming the term was "conjured up by anti-gun legislators to scare voters into thinking these firearms are something out of a horror movie." The group has repeatedly argued that the guns are useful for marksmanship competitions and hunting large game. The NRA champions the AR-15 as "America's rifle."

The industry has coined the term "modern sporting rifles" to describe assault weapons, and the term is used by major gun retailers like Cabela's, and manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson and Remington.

That message may resonate with gun enthusiasts. The weapons are versatile and efficient, and if you like the idea of shooting things for sport, the appeal is obvious. Assault-style weapons look cool. Shooting one might even make you feel like a badass.

But the very same traits that have made them the preferred weapon for military personnel and sport shooters are what make them a natural choice for those who want to inflict senseless violence with maximum casualties. 

It now seems the toll of mass killers is limited only by their choice of weapon, their training and their target. The political response to that terrifying reality has been to hope that people will choose not to kill. That plan clearly isn't working.

Ryan Grenoble   |   June 13, 2016   10:21 AM ET

Gun stocks trended sharply higher Monday morning, a day after the deadliest mass shooting in American history killed 49 people and wounded 53 more at a gay nightclub in Orlando. 

Given the increased frequency of these types of attacks, at this point, the sad correlation between mass shootings and gun manufacturers' stock prices surprises no one -- not even the gun manufacturers themselves.

In a letter to shareholders early last month, Sturm, Ruger & Co. CEO Michael Fifer noted a "significant spike in demand" that "was strongly correlated to the tragic, terrorist events in Paris and San Bernardino."

A shooting early last December at a social services center in San Bernardino, California, left 14 dead and 21 wounded. A month earlier, terrorists in Paris killed 130 people and injured hundreds in coordinated attacks.

"[In the past decade] there have been some significant ups and downs in demand, as political rhetoric and threats have spurred demand above the underlying normal rate of demand," Fifer wrote. "These spikes in demand have been followed by periods when demand retreated as the threats to gun rights failed to materialize to the degree that caused the spike in the first place."

True to form, in trading Monday, Sturm, Ruger & Co. was up 8.6 percent:

Smith & Wesson also jumped in early trading, opening up 10 percent before relinquishing some of the gains as the day continued:

"The No. 1 driver of firearms sales is fear," Brian Ruttenbur, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets, told Bloomberg in December, after the San Bernardino shooting. “Primarily, fear of registration restrictions, banning and things like that.”

Ruttenbur added that people may also fear for their personal safety.

Apparently that fear has become a dominant force. There are more guns in America than there are Americans.

I Can't Get Behind 'Do Nothing And Hope For The Best' As A Strategy

Shawn VanDiver   |   June 13, 2016    9:50 AM ET

The worst mass shooting in U.S. history happened yesterday morning at 2:00 a.m. eastern time. 50 human beings were killed and 53 were wounded at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

It was only a matter of time until Virginia Tech was outdone. Although we are still learning the details of the attack, we know that the shooter swore allegiance to the Islamic State and went to Pulse with the intention of killing members of the LGBT community. We also know that he, like the gunmen in the vast majority of the 16 most recent mass shootings, bought his firearms legally and with a federal background check. We know that at least 8 of those 16 gunmen had criminal histories or documented mental health problems that did not prohibit them from obtaining their guns.

Conservatives across the country tell us to be angry, but not with the those who deal out these deadly weapons or refuse to pass laws that may have protected 50 innocent victims today, and an average 91 Americans every other day.

Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA) gets it. "Thoughts and prayers are not enough, moments of silence are not enough maybe Mr. Speaker, instead of giving Americans a moment of silence you could give Americans a moment of action."

Exactly, it is not enough to have empathy, our elected representatives need to grow a spine, face off against the NRA, and implement laws that could change our country's direction.

Thoughts don't bring back the 50 human beings that were killed at the Pulse nightclub. Prayers don't prevent guns from getting into the hands of criminals or terrorists. Laws do.

The gun lobby likes to equate guns to cars. When we had an epidemic of automobile fatalities in our country, the CDC studied it and we took action. We implemented lower speed limits. We enacted and enforced seat belt laws. We took a hard line on driving under the influence. Guess what happened? The epidemic was addressed and fatality accidents dramatically reduced.

The gun lobby also likes to say that the states with the strictest gun laws still have problems with gun violence. Don't believe their hype. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that with disparate gun laws across all states and the open borders we enjoy, guns sold in one state are easily brought into another.

So what can we do?

Instead of thinking and praying -- pick up the phone and call the NRA and GOP lawmakers. Keep calling them. Over and over. Tell them that you want gun violence studied by the CDC with follow-up legislation. Tell them you're tired of people dying because they refuse to act.

Instead of a moment of silence, why not write your own letter to the editor or op-ed in your local paper?

Tell them what you want. I know what I want. I think a program administered by a state or national agency is the answer. The three ideas below should be ongoing requirements on a 3- to 5-year cycle.

  • Background checks for ALL gun purchases
  • Training requirements for all purchasers. More robust training requirements for CCW holders
  • Mental health screening
Stop feeling bad and start getting angry -- put all that pain into pressuring those who have the power to change who gets a weapon the next time. Hoping for the best is not a strategy, despite what the NRA and GOP lawmakers will tell you.

Confessions of a Serial Songwriter: On Father's Day-Since You've Been Gone

Shelly Peiken   |   June 13, 2016   12:10 AM ET

2016-06-12-1465749275-882303-008Scandadandshelly.jpg

Dear Daddy,

Since you've been gone the world has gone a little mad. I miss you so, but there are things I'm happy you didn't have to witness.

In 2001, terrorists flew a plane into the World Trade Center and both buildings crumbled to pieces. We watched it in real time on TV. Thousands of people lost their lives. It was horrible, Daddy. I'm so glad you didn't have to see that.

In 2012 this crazy kid stormed into an elementary school and shot 20 little children. Can you imagine their parents' heartbreak? You're lucky you didn't have to.

I also take heart in knowing you didn't have to read about the guy who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Florida. And a few days ago fifty people from the LGBT community (an acronym we now use for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender), were gunned down at a nightclub and a young girl was a fatally shot signing autographs after her concert. I knew this girl, Daddy. I can't stop thinking about her.

There's so much gun violence...in movie theaters, shopping malls, army bases, college campuses, even churches. Nothing is sacred.

Then there were these two brothers who left a bomb in a knapsack at the Boston marathon. They were part of this extremist militant group called ISIS. I'll spare you the details of what they've been up to.

What I'm trying to say is...as much as I wish you were still here I take comfort in knowing you escaped some very painful times. At least that's what I tell myself when I want to feel better about missing you so much.

On a lighter note (or maybe not), the political climate is a circus. One of the big issues during the presidential debates this year was whose penis was larger. Can you imagine Kennedy and Nixon having that discussion?

Speaking of politics, I know you'll smile when I tell you that in 2008 we elected our first African American POTUS. And this year, there was a Jew running and he was taken very seriously. The presumptive Democratic nominee however, is Hillary Clinton. First woman ever to be nominated for President. That's kinda cool, whether you're with her or not, right?

I know you'd have some opinions about the Republican nominee, Donald Trump. You heard me right. Donald Trump. Things are very interesting down here.

Oh, and Daddy...we have these devices called iPhones. They've become the hub of our existence. They remember everything for us. (Maybe that's why I can't remember anything myself.) We don't need maps or photo albums or alarm clocks. They tell us how to go places, precisely when we'll get there and if we'll run into a pot hole along the way. I kid you not.

You know what else iPhones do? They send electronic text messages. This is a convenient way to let someone know if you'll be late or remind your hubby to pick up milk on the way home. But people are also using it for other reasons. A Congressman (named Weiner)!!! texted pictures of his privates to a stranger. He got busted so he had to step down from office. But then he ran for Mayor. I'm telling you, Daddy. I can't make this stuff up.

Oh, and Daddy...I've had some hit songs and received a Grammy nomination. I wrote a book that's actually in stores. How I wish I could share all of it with you. We could do that via Facebook. What? Oh, Facebook is this social media platform on the Internet. What? Oh, the Internet is this information superhighway on our computers. We can keep in touch with friends and family all over the world--see their children, their pets, their haircuts, their meals. You could have seen pictures of Layla every day, Daddy. Who's Layla? Oh Daddy. She's my daughter. She arrived three years after you left. You would have adored her. She's the one thing I'll never get over you not seeing.

You could have talked to her over FaceTime...What? Oh, FaceTime is a phone call where...Oh never mind, Daddy. It's not important.

Happy Father's Day. I love you.

Give Mommy a kiss.