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Watch: Gunfighter Nation

Bill Moyers   |   December 16, 2013   12:17 PM ET

Previously published on BillMoyers.com

Cultural historian and scholar Richard Slotkin has spent his adult life studying the violence that has swirled through American history and taken root deep in our culture. He has written an acclaimed trilogy on the myth of the frontier that has shaped our nation's imagination. In Regeneration through Violence, The Fatal Environment, Gunfighter Nation, and other works of history and fiction, he tracks how everything from literature, movies and television to society and politics has been influenced by this violent past -- including the gun culture that continues to dominate, wound and kill. And he outlines how America's frantic expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific led us to embrace a mythology of gun-slinging white settlers taming the wilderness to justify a tragic record of subjugation and bloodshed.

"The myth holds," Slotkin tells us. "And it is stronger than the reality. Because those guns, particularly the Colt, are associated with one of the most active phases ̶ and most interesting phases -- of expansion. And therefore it has the magic of a tool -- the gun that won the west, the guns that created the American democracy and made equality possible."

Also, an essay about the role of the NRA in the firearms debate and a look at a new public service announcement by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which urges viewers to speak out against violence.

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.

Yes Virginia, Guns Do Kill People

Lisa Longo   |   December 15, 2013   12:39 PM ET

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying, yes, guns do kill people. Do other things kill people? Yes they do. Lots of things kill people. Lots of people die every day. But as far as I have found, only one of them is specifically designed to kill, and that one thing is guns.

Guns aren't also used for transportation. So do not tell me how cars kill as well. Knives, rope, even baseball bats. All have other primary purposes. Except guns. They have one goal. To kill. Or pretend to kill. And yes, I know many people have guns and they don't want to kill anyone. They have a gun for sport, or a hobby, or protection.

And that is why I say we have to have gun regulation, not to regulate the guns, but to regulate the people who own the guns.

And you know who I think would agree with me? Our Founding Fathers. They put the word "well-regulated" in the 2nd Amendment for a reason. They did not say a "well-armed" militia. They did not say everyone could or even should have a gun. They said you should have a gun to form a "well-regulated militia".

There it is people, our call to action. It is time people for us to insist on OUR rights. Because the Founders thought we had certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And I am sick and tired of allowing a few fanatics to lead this conversation down the rabbit hole of rhetoric and bullshit.

What the hell is wrong with us? Why are we allowing a few extreme lunatics to push their fanatic agenda on the rest of us? I've got a few hard truths to share today, and I am betting there are more than a few people who aren't going to like this, but this isn't a popularity contest so here goes.

First, guns do kill people. Absolutely. There is no doubt. This is not an argument, this is a fact. Guns do kill people. Here is the thing, they need a person to achieve that goal. A gun by itself cannot kill, but is the gun the implement that kills? It surely is.

Second, criminals don't follow laws but we have them anyway. Why is murder illegal? Rape? Theft? Obviously there are people still doing those things so why have laws against them? I'll let you puzzle that one out for yourself.

Third, most gun owners are responsible. Sure, so are most car owners, we still require a test, insurance and annual inspections of our vehicle. We legislate to educate those who are not responsible and to ensure those who are know the basic safety rules to safely operate a vehicle. Isn't that just basic common sense?

Fourth, any gun regulation is infringing. No, it is not. Infringing is infringing. Me putting barriers to ownership is infringing. But let me ask this, how is it not infringing to close health clinics to prevent access to abortion? How is it not infringing to defund health services to deny women access to reproductive health care? You cannot on the one hand insist on inspection of a woman's vagina via a trans-vaginal probe and counseling for women before an abortion and then tell me that an annual inspection of your weapon and a few questions about your fitness to own a weapon is infringing.

Fifth, people who want simple, sane, sensible basic gun regulation have to find their balls and stop allowing the NRA and Congress to push this aside. Yes people it is time to stop blaming others and get off our high horses, look in the mirror and then look at the photographs of every child murdered with a gun, put on our big girl pants and insist on basic gun safety regulation. Yes they are going to call us names. Yes it is going to be hard. But yes, it is going to save lives. Look at the person next to you. Now imagine that person dead with a bullet in their head. Then pick up the phone, call your member of Congress and tell them you want three things:

  1. Annual fitness training and testing at the gun shop or gun club of your choice
  2. Annual inspection of all weapons at a gun shop or gun club of your choice
  3. Proof of ownership of an approved gun safe

These three things will change everything. This is not infringing. This is making sure gun owners understand the responsibility that comes with the right to own a gun. It is enacting the well-regulated clause of the 2nd Amendment. And it is about time we did so.

Here is the thing people, if a few loons on the far right wing can insist it is okay to stick a probe into my body I can damn well insist we inspect their guns.

Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

Tomorrow morning, I want you to call your member of Congress. And today, I want you to email or fax him or her. And I want you to do that every week. It doesn't have to be about gun control every time, pick your policy, and let your voice be heard. Because here is one thing I can guarantee, you being silent is part of the problem.

Remember, they work for us. Congress, legislators, police, Judges. They represent us, they do not rule us.

So let's dispel this myth that guns don't kill people. Yes, they do. They absolutely do. And you know what is really infringing, insisting you can stick a probe inside me because your religion disagrees with my rights. Now that is infringing, and we really have to deal with that too. It really is time to insist legislators stop using our bodies to pander to their base. We have sat back and allowed the extremists to take over.

Call your legislator, explain the definition of infringing, and then remind them, they represent us. And we are going to vote, donate, volunteer and elect candidates who understand that.

Here is where you get started, please, send this to your legislators, just email it to him or her, and send it to your local newspaper. Let it be known where you stand. Because your voice matters.

Find out how to contact legislators here.

You can also sign this petition I started and help get basic gun safety regulation passed by Congress.

Family's Grief After Gun Tragedy 'Doesn't Get Easy'

Jason Cherkis   |   December 15, 2013    9:22 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- One year after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., left 26 dead and a nation in shock, the anniversary was marked with quiet remembrances, vigils and moments of silence.

The images of that day remain harrowing. The grieving family members of the victims are imprinted on our consciousness. Though Congress failed to act on gun-control reforms in the wake of the shooting, Newtown remains a singularly horrifying moment.

But the shock of the Dec. 14 tragedy didn't mean even a temporary reprieve from gun violence. It continued to take lives that night and the next day and the next and so on. Schools continued to become crime scenes. There have been at least 28 school shootings since Sandy Hook -- including one at Arapahoe High School in Colorado the day before the Newtown anniversary. At least 194 children have lost their lives to gun violence since Newtown.

While President Barack Obama and thousands of others stopped on Saturday to ponder the horror that overwhelmed Newtown, a lot of families affected by gun violence dealt with their grief in private.

In Conway, S.C., Sheila Gaskin is still trying to save enough money for her grandson’s headstone. Last Christmas, 2-year-old Sincere Smith swiped his father’s loaded pistol off a table, and accidentally shot himself in the upper chest. He died hours later from his wound. Gaskin’s visits to her grandson’s bare gravesite are a daily pilgrimage.

“I just go and talk to him,” Gaskin says. “Every day, I go there.” On Sincere’s patch of earth, she placed white and tan landscaping rocks, and a tiny Christmas tree. She added ornaments -- the same ones Sincere hung on her tree before his last Christmas.

There’s still more to do. Gaskin bought two poinsettias for Sincere’s grave and has gathered some toys she wants to place around his graveside tree. The blue Spiderman bike she bought him for Christmas just before his death is still a point of controversy. No one is sure what to do with it. Gaskin says they are considering taking the wheels off the bike and planting it at his grave.

The grief, Gaskin explains, “it doesn’t get easy.”

Gaskin says her daughter, Sincere’s mother, “wants to shut down.” Her daughter has complained that Christmas decorations now depress her. But since Sincere’s death, Gaskin can’t bring herself to take down two Christmas trees from last year, even though her daughter moved in with her after the shooting.

When her daughter isn’t at work, she spends most of her free time asleep. “She’s not here,” Gaskin says. “Her body is, but that’s it.”

Everyone knows where Sincere’s father, Rondell Smith, is. After pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, he was sentenced in August to five years in prison. Now behind bars, he keeps a journal documenting his grief. Every memory he has of Sincere counts as something to reflect on. He thinks often of driving with Sincere, and looking back at him in the rear-view mirror, he tells HuffPost during a call from prison.

Smith thinks the grieving has only gotten harder. “I was a good father,” he says. “I miss my son dearly.”

Two weeks before the accident, Smith bought the .38-caliber handgun for protection after he thought someone tried to break into his home. He turned his back to call Sincere’s mother who had visited a friend. He’d left Sincere out of his sight for just that moment.

Soon after his son’s death, Smith told The Huffington Post about his last moments with Sincere as he rushed him to the hospital. “He couldn’t really talk,” Smith said. “Last thing I heard him say was ‘Daddy’. He kept trying to say ‘Daddy.’ Believe me, I hear it every day.”

On the Newtown anniversary, Gaskin visited Sincere. This time she brought along two grandchildren and a friend. They planted the two poinsettias, and added a toy cement mixer and two toy motorcycles. Sincere’s bike is on hold. Gaskin thinks it might get stolen if she leaves it at the cemetery.

The two grandkids sang “Jingle Bells” at Sincere’s grave. The mood was light with a lot of talking and even a little laughter. “This wasn’t a tearful day,” Gaskin says. Her last words to Sincere were the usual: “I love you and I miss you. And I'll see you tomorrow.”

Gaskin still needs $270 for Sincere's headstone.

Small Town To Vote On Recalling Council Members Over Gun Permit Changes

Chris Gentilviso   |   December 14, 2013   10:34 AM ET

By The Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Residents in a small Rhode Island town are voting Saturday on whether four town council members should be recalled for proposing a change in the way the town issues gun permits.

The rare recall election was prompted by gun rights supporters who said the four Exeter council members ignored their objections to a failed proposal to allow the attorney general to oversee the town's concealed weapons permits.

Both sides were concerned about low-turnout with snow in the forecast.

The four council members supported a resolution asking the state's General Assembly to allow the state attorney general to process concealed weapons permits. Under current law, those seeking a permit may apply to either the attorney general or their local police. Since Exeter doesn't have a police department — just a single town sergeant — the job now falls to the town clerk, who the council members said lacks the resources to conduct proper background checks.

Even though the council's request never got a vote in the Assembly, gun rights supporters began petitioning for a recall, saying the town's leaders had ignored the concerns of hundreds of people who turned out for a meeting on the proposal.

Debates about gun policy have sparked similar ouster efforts elsewhere. In September, two Democratic Colorado state senators were recalled over their support for changes to gun laws following the theater massacre outside Denver in 2012.

The recall vote coincidentally comes on the anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

The four officials being targeted by the recall effort are Council President Arlene Hicks and Councilmen Cal Ellis, Robert Johnson and William Monahan. All are Democrats. A fifth member is not up for recall: independent Councilman Raymond Morrissey Jr., who voted against the resolution.

Should one or more of the council members be recalled, their council seats will go to the losing candidates from the last election. Daniel W. Patterson would get the first seat, Edward F. Nataly the second and Lincoln P. Picillo the third.

The fourth seat would be filled by a council appointment.

Polls close at 8 p.m.

Remembering Newtown, and Gun Control

Sanjay Sanghoee   |   December 14, 2013   10:00 AM ET

On December 14, 2013, the first anniversary of the horrific massacre of 20 young children and 6 adults by crazed gunman Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the town of Newtown, Connecticut has decided not to hold a public commemoration in order to avoid a media circus and out of respect for families of the victims. That is perfectly understandable.

What is not understandable is how little has been accomplished in the area of gun control since that tragedy. In the immediate aftermath, there was considerable noise from both gun control groups and gun rights advocates and battle lines were sharply drawn in the debate even as the public's support for gun control skyrocketed. That support may have declined since then but is still fairly high. A recent poll by the Associated Press reveals that 52 percent of Americans still want stricter gun laws.

Unfortunately, our politicians have been unable to take advantage of this tailwind to get anything substantive done. A possible new assault weapons ban was the first to be abandoned, followed quickly by expanded background checks. Individual states like New York, Connecticut, and even Colorado have passed their own legislation, but at the federal level, the Democrats have been ineffective in defeating the obstructionism of House Republicans or the National Rifle Association on this issue.

That will not change until the Democrats, and President Obama in particular, make gun control a national priority comparable to immigration reform or fighting inequality. Gun control cannot be an issue that is put on the legislative agenda every time there is a mass shooting, and then dropped from the agenda just as quickly.

It's a tough battle to be sure, with gun manufacturers and the NRA feeding vast sums of money to their Republican lapdogs in Washington to defeat any new legislation that comes up, but that does not mean that the Democrats should give up the fight. To accomplish anything, they need to keep pushing for stricter guns laws and to rally support from the public in an organized, determined, and persistent manner. If the president can stump tirelessly to promote economic initiatives to help the poor or Medicare expansion to help seniors, why can he not do the same to promote the right to be free of gun violence for all Americans?

The families of Newtown victims have done a lot to push for gun control and their work will surely continue to make a difference both in terms of public awareness and also legislation, but the burden of restoring sanity to a nation gone gun crazy should not fall to them alone. Organizations like Moms Demand Action are not going to wilt in the face of opposition but their efforts need to be supported by the White House and Congress in order to have a real impact.

It's acceptable for Democrats to lose individual battles on gun control, but not to abandon the war. Gun violence is an obstacle to a civilized society that cannot be broken through with a single strike of a legislative hammer, but it can be broken through with many little taps -- as long as the taps are applied unceasingly.

In the meantime, here is a statistic that should chill you to the bone regardless of how you feel about gun control: According to CDC estimates, 33,173 Americans have died in gun-related violence since the Newtown shooting, which translates to almost 100 people per day this December 14.

The war against guns is not over.


SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator. He has worked at leading investment banks as well as at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. His opinion pieces appear in Huffington Post, TIME, Bloomberg Businessweek, FORTUNE, and Christian Science Monitor, and he has appeared on HuffPost Live, CNBC's 'Closing Bell', TheStreet.com, and MSNBC's 'The Cycle'. He is also the author of two thriller novels.

For more information, please visit www.sanghoee.com

On Stopping School Shootings and Building a More Humane Society

Robert Kubey   |   December 14, 2013    9:39 AM ET

Today marks the one year anniversary of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Yesterday, we had the recurring nightmare of it happening all over again, but this time in a high school in Colorado.

This most recent shooting marks the third notorious one just in Colorado alone: Columbine, Aurora and today, Arapahoe. But then we could go back to the 1760s for the first recorded school shooting in the U.S. It's not an entirely new problem.

It keeps happening. Virginia Tech might be added in and others as well.

But the debate around these kinds of crimes hasn't changed in the 45+ years I've been watching it.

We are more than stuck. All we can think about is guns, background checks, and which guns can be bought by whom. These are important issues, don't get me wrong.

But the discussion focuses on firearms policy entirely and nothing else it seems. We're a society with no imagination when it comes to violence. But mightn't there be another approach?

An approach that doesn't look purely at guns and who owns them and who kills who?

What about humanity and the promotion of humane behavior? What about emphasizing positive thinking for once, about who can help who in our culture, and how we need to learn how to help one another?

Are we prepared and more importantly, are we equipped to help one another in an emergency, or are we prepared to hurt or shoot one another? Of course things are not that black and white. I'm trying to make a rhetorical point.

How about trying to work slowly at building a more humane society, not one where we expect there to be no gun deaths ever, but one where there are fewer killings?

But even more importantly to my mind, and as I will propose in the remainder of this article, is a society where we treat one another in a more helpful and civil manner, a manner that might lead, however slowly, to fewer gun deaths.

But again, more important to my mind than the number of gun deaths, is how we regard our fellow citizens, how we treat them, and how they treat us.

And accept that we're never going to get down to no gun deaths a year, not ever, especially when you consider the little known fact that of the approximate 30,000 gun deaths in the United States, year in and year out, about one-third are suicides.

Taking Lessons

But let me begin my story. A woman I met on the train had just bought a rifle and told me, with pleasure, that "I wouldn't think twice about blowing the head off anyone who breaks in and dares to take just one step inside my house."

She signed up to take lessons at the local rifle range.

An acquaintance of mine is a classical pianist and his wife a successful illustrator of children's books. They live in a quiet, progressive college town -- as idyllic a community as one can find in the United States.

They're taking a course that will permit them to legally own and use tear gas, or
pepper spray. Knowing how to defend one's self can make a lot of sense.

And then there are my other friends and neighbors, and their children, who are taking classes in self-defense, especially kick-boxing and the like. A lot of people take up such activities just for the workout and challenge they offer. I get it, I really do. I used to take Aikido classes and it's stuck with me for decades. To me it's always been a very special martial art.

But I've also taken a different sort of course and I found it very valuable -- a class in first aid.

In just one day we learned the basics of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the treatment of cuts, wounds, shock, poisoning and burns; how to aid a person who is choking or has suffered a heart attack or stroke; how to apply bandages, splints and tourniquets; how to handle heat stroke, frostbite, eye injuries and much more.

Perhaps we should also have been taught how to aid someone who's been tear-gassed.

Here's my point. At present, our society sorely lacks a sense of mutual responsibility and community -- a sense that we are in this together.

First Aid vs Fire Arms, and a Dent

As things currently stand, it may well be more likely that a fellow citizen had been trained in the use of a firearm than in first aid. Our priorities as a society are backwards.

Wouldn't it be comforting to know instead that every citizen had been trained to help any other citizen in distress? That everyone knew first aid?

As the quality and frequency of our interactions with neighbors and strangers deteriorate, universal training in first aid might make a small, but appreciable, dent in our national proclivity toward violence, and increased alienation, suspicion and privatization.

It is my contention that taking responsibility for others and knowledge of first aid go hand-in-hand, and it is my very firm belief that first aid should be made mandatory in the nation's schools, and be taught throughout the years of compulsory education.

We need to develop a new essential core curriculum in primary and secondary schools that includes first aid.

Every year there are roughly 10 million injuries resulting in disabilities lasting one day or more. Accidents causing permanent disabilities number between 300,000 and half a million. Nearly 100,000 people die accidentally. For youths between 15 and 24, accidents claim more lives than all other causes combined.

And teaching first aid in schools doesn't have to cost a lot. Girl and boy scouts have been getting merit badges in lifeguarding and first aid for decades.

Teenagers taught and supervised by adult volunteers can be certified and then pass their knowledge down to younger children, who would later become instructors themselves.

Indeed, first aid can be taught by young people (the minimum age for a Red Cross instructor's aid is 16), and in so doing, our youth will gain an increasing sense of responsibility as they grow older.

The growing sense of responsibility for others is more important, to my mind, than the first aid teaching itself.

Finding Purpose in Life

At present, all too many young people find themselves in limbo, between childhood and adulthood, with nothing important to do in the vast period called adolescence. They feel they don't have much to contribute to the world, but helping people out of pain or rescuing someone who is injured makes one feel just about as good as anything can.

I don't want to get all sentimental and hokey, but it truly is the case that it is not only more blessed to give than to receive, but it also feels incredibly good. Indeed, I've had this experience a couple of times just in the last few months.

Once, just a few weeks ago, a friend collapsed and I knew what to do until the paramedics came, and the other was when I gave a bunch of money to someone who really needed it in a hurry and I had no real prospects of getting it back.

But it was more than worth it. These were among the best feelings I've had in my life. I knew for sure that I was a good person when I did those things. After all, I'm human, and sometimes I have my doubts if I'm the kinda guy I want me to be.

Let me tell you about a young friend of mine who sometimes works with young children who are physically challenged. But he has no trouble dragging himself out of bed each morning and drive an hour to work because those kids really need him, sense that he is there to help them, and they love him for what he does for them, and he loves them right back.

When I was young I knew what it was to have a job where I didn't feel like I was doing much of anything of any value for myself, or anybody else. Boy did I know what it was like to have pry myself out of bed.

First aid instruction also offers children and teenagers the opportunity to apply what they have learned in other areas of study. Knowing how to stop bleeding or manage a sudden eye injury allows for a practical appreciation and respect for both the strengths and fragilities of human anatomy. Such understandings may also reduce the likelihood that one would abuse one's own body or that of another.

I even believe that a potential young offender, who would otherwise beat a defenseless elderly woman while stealing her handbag, might find it a tad more difficult to inflict bodily injury if he had been steeped in first aid over a period of 10 to 12 years of
schooling.

First Aid and School Shootings

Indeed, universal first aid training could even have an impact on these unimaginable school or theater shootings we've been experiencing. Why? As often as not we learn that the shooter was horribly teased, either of late, or in their earlier childhood, or through much of their lives.

Maybe if the kids who would otherwise be teasing another had spent time every year
learning how to set splints, bind wounds, attend to a stroke victim, or do CPR they would have better understood the humanity of all those around them and not been so cruel to other the children or teenagers around them.

OK, color me idealistic. It's true. I grew up in the 1960s, and in Berkeley no less.

But isn't having some hope and thinking about ways out of this mess better than staring into the abyss of hopelessness and just accepting that these damn shootings are going to keep happening, over and over?

And if teasing by itself isn't an explanation, how about feeling left out and alienated, an outcast from one's peers? After all, is it likely that someone who has lots of friends is going to go in and shoot 20 sweet, innocent six-year old children at point-blank range?

You don't need to be a psychologist to have a hunch that such a person has to
be in pretty horrible and unimaginable psychic pain to do such a thing. That perhaps the only way he thinks he can expurgate his own sense of self-revulsion after so many years is to get it outside of himself, and by inflicting pain elsewhere. God knows Adam Lanza needed help. Very sadly he didn't get it.

The Media

We do now know that Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was obsessed with mass shootings. He had created a spreadsheet on murders, and on mass shootings, and had played a video game called "School Shooter." And rumor has it that his mother may have volunteered in that same class of first graders at some point and that he was jealous. Others say that it isn't true.

Of course, a videogame like that raises the whole matter of the media's role and needs to be the subject of another article. How, after all, do the media over-report on such stories?

Do the media inspire copycat crimes and the next school shooter by putting ideas in people's heads? Would today's Colorado shooting have taken place without the one in Connecticut before it?

How could it be otherwise? Did the media permit both Adam Lanza and Lee Harvey Oswald, both lone alienated individuals, to gain a true measure of notoriety via their acts of murder and mayhem?

But please don't blame the media either. Not entirely, that's for sure. What are they supposed to do? Not cover the news?

Yes, they don't have to cover it wall-to-wall and make it seem more important than anything else.

They don't have to lead the news with it night after night living by the mantra "if it bleeds it leads."

But fault lies with that person you see in the mirror every day, too. Are each of us doing everything we can in our communities to make sure that everyone is involved, that no one is left out? Is each of us making sure that we don't contribute to Global Warming? I'm surely not.

But with regard to the media, and us, think of this. One of the top songs from 2011 was "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People. The song is very catchy, and no wonder.

Its creator, Mark Foster, was a commercial jingle writer when he penned the song filled with the homicidal thoughts of a troubled young man while he is carrying out a mass shooting.
Here's a song based in the imagined thought process of a mass murderer and it's at three on the Billboard Hot 100 List for 8 weeks!

It's been praised by numerous critics and was up for a Grammy.

It's just the sight of people dancing to the song that seems nearly perverse once you understand what the song is actually about, but then you realize that many of the dancers probably don't know what the song is about either.

Offering Hope

Now, I'm not saying that first aid training is some panacea. I don't believe that first aid training is going to directly stop a group of criminals from shooting up a bank or a school or that it will address every social problem that plagues us. But it does mark a step in the right direction.

Famous Harvard developmental psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg, now deceased, encountered limitations in his ability to get young people to make moral judgments via mere classroom discussion around moral dilemmas. But I wonder if we might improve the moral education of the young by helping children obtain the skills necessary to act morally.

Human beings must acquire a sense of mastery and competence in their early development in order to become healthy, productive adults.

What better way to empower our young people than to impress upon them at an early age that they can be indispensable in the saving of a life, or at least limiting the consequences of an accident, and that they, too, can teach such essential skills for living and helping to others younger than themselves?

And so, in time, and not all at once, we will begin to change our culture from one that is too much about every one for themselves, to one where we have institutionalized a culture of communal caring.

Give children and adults the skills to act responsibly, and more of them will.

And if you're taking a course in karate, guns or tear gas to protect yourself, why not balance your course load with at least one class that teaches you how to help and heal as well.

Robert Kubey, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist who lives with his
family in New Jersey.

Alexandra Schuster   |   December 13, 2013    4:58 PM ET

One year has passed since 20 children and six teachers were shot and killed in Newtown, Conn., and yet, Washington, D.C. has still failed to enact major legislation on gun control. Using #ShameOnDC, Americans throughout the country wrote in to HuffPost Live to express their frustration, advocate for change, and make their voices heard.

"I am a mother endowed with old-fashioned common sense and respect for the sanctity of human life. And I am here on behalf of my two children unafraid to say that the gun lobby emperor has no clothes."
-- Jennifer Mendelsohn, mother of two children

"I know longer think of gun violence as something that happens to somebody else. Those meaningless numbers are real people to me now."
-- Pam Simon, 2011 Tuscon shooting survivor

"It's such a magical age... A six-year-old may want to be a veterinarian one day, a ninja the next, and a banker after that."
-- Kimberly Wilkins, mother of seven-year-old son

"The instant he drew his last breath was when I decided that too many [children] have died."
-- Mary Leigh Blek, lost son to gun shooting in 1994

"The service we ask of you is one that demands you imagine what isn't yet, what appears to be beyond what you can accomplish and then make it happen."
-- Rabbi Aaron Alexander

"It's a terrible thing to know that your government would rather cave to gun lobbyists and their money than to stand up for innocent children, students, employees, and citizens."
-- Ariana Henderson, student at Penn State University

Dominique Mosbergen   |   December 13, 2013   12:48 PM ET

Released just days before the Dec. 14 anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that took the lives of 20 young students in Newtown, Conn., last year, a video produced by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) highlights the continued toll gun violence is taking on our nation and its children.

According to the video, guns are one of the leading causes of death among kids in this country, and gun injuries to children, teens and young adults "cause twice as many deaths as cancer, five times as many as heart disease and 15 times as many as infections."

"This is clearly a public health issue," AAP president Thomas McInerny says in the powerful new video. "Every child who dies due to gun violence is someone's son or daughter, brother or sister, and it's a tragedy that is repeated over and over again."

"Sixty years ago, children died from things like polio and meningitis and diphtheria and then we discovered that we could prevent these diseases. Gun violence is the same. We can prevent this," McInerny adds.

As part of its campaign against gun violence, the AAP has released several videos this week featuring pediatricians across the country discussing the profound effects that gun violence has on children, families and communities.

"[This issue] strikes everybody," Dr. Renee Jenkins, a pediatrician, said in a YouTube clip. "I think everybody knows of a family or a young person who has been impacted by gun violence."

According to Slate's gun deaths project, at least 11,435 gun-related deaths have been reported in the United States by the media since the Newtown shooting. This number, however, is likely a gross underestimate; using 2010 data on firearm deaths provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Slate estimates the number of gun deaths since the Newtown tragedy is probably closer to 33,100.

Time to Find Common Ground on Reducing Gun Violence

Paul Helmke   |   December 13, 2013   12:45 PM ET

It has been one year since 20 young children and six of the adults at their school were senselessly massacred, most riddled with at least 10 bullets each from the killer's high-powered guns. While some states have taken steps reducing easy access to such weapons, as a nation we've done nothing.

At least the U.S. Senate had a rare debate on what to do to reduce gun violence for a few hours in April. But while there was majority support for requiring most gun sellers to do background checks (since approximately 40 percent of all gun sales are completed legally without anyone checking to see if the purchaser is a felon, or has been found to be mentally dangerous), this provision (and others, like putting restrictions on access to many semi-automatic weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines) failed to get the 60-vote super-majority that the Senate requires to take action. Similarly, efforts by "gun rights" advocates to require nationwide reciprocity for concealed carry gun permits also fell short.

The political reality is that nothing is going to be done nationally on the gun violence issue until our elected officials work to find common ground. This shouldn't be as hard as we've made it. The U. S. Supreme Court decision in 2008 which declared that the 2nd Amendment provided an individual right unconnected to a "well-regulated militia" also made it clear that this right, in the words of Justice Scalia, "was not unlimited" and that some restrictions on who can get guns, how guns are sold, where guns can be taken, how guns are stored, and what kinds of guns are available are all "presumptively lawful."

Using this framework, we could review the current list of "prohibited purchasers" initially outlined in the Gun Control Act of 1968 to see if there should be additions or clarifications (add violent misdemeanants? eliminate non-violent felons? better definitions of "mental defective" or "drug user"?). If there are some people we have a pretty good idea are predisposed to violence, let's work together to tighten up that list.

Of course, it doesn't do any good to have a better list of people we don't want to have guns if those names aren't put into a data base that can be accessed by gun sellers and if many of those who sell guns aren't required to check who they're selling to. These are primarily operational, not policy, issues. If there is a strong argument that some sales shouldn't require a background check because of a family relationship, or have a different type of check because of access to the data base is not readily available in some parts of the country, then let's work out those specific issues and keep moving on overall improvements to the background check system.

The fights over an "assault weapon ban" show that it may be harder to reach an agreement on what guns should not be readily available to the general public. Here, the example of what we did in the 1934 Firearms Act to deal with machine guns should be instructive. Fully-automatic weapons were not banned, but access to them is strictly regulated. Firearms have come a long way in the last 90 years but our laws haven't been updated to reflect the new levels of lethality that can result from modern weapons. Let's see if we can figure out what should be regulated more like machine guns and what doesn't need special restrictions.

How we treat those with state-issued permits to carry loaded weapons in public is another area that has generated a lot of conflict. The U. S. Senate has narrowly blocked attempts by "gun rights" advocates to get national reciprocity for these permits. The concern of many has been that this would gut some existing state and local restrictions. However, if gun enthusiasts were willing to agree to some minimal national standards for who gets to carry concealed weapons, maybe a broad compromise could be reached on national reciprocity in exchange for agreements on what kinds of guns are available and how to strengthen background checks.

While common ground shouldn't be that hard to find, the political reality is that this won't happen until our elected officials feel the pressure from the public, and the NRA feels the pressure from its supporters, to be willing to compromise.

There are a lot of things that need to be done to help stop the all too frequent killings -- and no single thing is going to make the difference. Coming together to find common ground decisions that reflect gun responsibilities and risks, as well as gun rights, is the first step.

(This column was originally published in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on December 8, 2013).

Remembering Sandy Hook: It's Time to Change Our Culture of Violence

Monique Svazlian, CPCC   |   December 13, 2013   11:54 AM ET

As the anniversary of Sandy Hook approaches, perhaps it's time to have a candid conversation about our culture of violence. Sadly, we are not any closer to real gun legislation in this country, and we continue to be addicted to violence in all its forms. Although guns are the weapons that kill, there is another more insidious killer that pervades our culture: violence in the media. As the nation's rhetoric revolves (no pun intended) around guns, I think it's time we shift the conversation to the cultural and societal addictions that are the hidden drivers of our obsession with guns.

We all know the cold, hard facts. The amount of shootings, murders, homicides and other horrific acts in the U.S. surpasses all other countries. A recent survey showed that the United States has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents. None of the 16 other countries included in the survey came anywhere close to that ratio. It's no surprise; we also own more guns then anyone else. Now couple these stats with the fact that you can't turn on the TV without being inundated by violence - whether on the news, movies, TV and now even social media, and you have a bad tasting cocktail. We have become a nation obsessed with violence, anger, hate and all things dark and evil. Not only are we obsessed, we are paying to be fed this type of entertainment. Every time you watch a violent TV show, movie or buy a video game for your child, you are supporting the corporations and sending them this message: "Please make more violent media for my consumption. I will pay you a lot of money for it!"

Ever since the deregulation of the major media outlets back in the '80s and '90s, our TV programming has gradually disintegrated as corporate cable channels started to spring up. Currently, broadcast television networks are banned from using explicit profanity and "non-sexual" nudity between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. If the networks don't comply, the FCC is permitted to impose fines of up to $325,000 per incident. This is in contrast to cable networks (FX, Comedy Central, AMC, etc.) who don't face these same restrictions.

As cable networks continue to push the envelope with violent/sexual/crude humor series like "American Horror Story," and "The League," and "Breaking Bad," they also see increased ratings according to Nielsen data. With an increase in ratings, advertisers want to advertise on cable networks more than broadcast networks. We are essentially giving advertisers the green light to produce more violent programming for our viewing pleasure.

If you ask a TV writer in private whether they feel good about what they write, I'm sure most of them would say their conscience is eating away at them. But they don't have a choice. BIG TV run by BIG media decides what sells. Violent programming is rewarded, as we recently saw with the hit show "Breaking Bad" receiving numerous Emmys. The message it sends to the entire industry is that violence sells, and you better come up with something even more depraved if you want to compete. They have absolutely NO incentive to change their programming or to come up with programming that is positive, loving, makes you feel good, uplifting or educational for that matter, and the cycle goes on and on, until you feel your soul leaving your body.

The outcome of all this is that we are becoming more and more desensitized to violence. Our tolerance for violence has gone way up, and so has our appetite for it. We believe that it's cool to shoot guns, make and sell drugs, kill people for money etc. Our children watch this and think it's normal -- they don't have the ability to distinguish TV from reality, the way adults can. They are highly influenced, and the video games, TV shows and movies they watch are all sending them the same message: Violence is cool. Violence is OK.

The sad part is that not many of us are linking violence in the media to what's happening in our society. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the relationship between violent images and violent behavior, like the studies that show the link between violent video games and rates of aggression amongst kids. More and more children are turning violent, and recently a 12 year old in Arizona shot and killed his teacher and then himself. Is this the world we want to live in? Is this the world we want to raise our kids?

I sure don't, and that's why I'm asking you to stand up and do something about this. It's up to us to flex the power of our purse string and begin choosing what we consume. We have to accept that the solutions are not going to come from our politicians or government. It's time to take full responsibility and realize that we have more power than we think to influence change. Just imagine what would happen if all of us became more conscious and decided not to purchase or view violent TV shows, movies, and video games.

Our consumption habits drive media and advertising. If we can change our consumption habits and give up our addiction to violence, then we'll be able to shift the message to: "Stop feeding us violence.". What would eventually happen is that media and advertising would have no choice but to change their programming. Dare I suggest that we could even replace our preference for violence with the opposite, like openhearted programming centered around themes of love, compassion, collaboration and kindness? Aren't these the values that you'd like to see reflected in the world around you?

Because here is the depressing alternative: living in a world of increasing fear. Fear that you or your child might one day be the victim of a violent crime. Increasing rates of violence, suffering, and tragedy in a more violent world. More Sandy Hooks. And the insanity goes on and on and on.

It is not normal for a first world, democratic, advanced society like ours to have the rates of violence that we have in this country. We need to wake up to that fact, face the dire situation we are in, and begin to make choices that can have a positive impact on all of us. It starts with what we value, and ends with what we consume.

Join me in this movement and lets make Sandy Hook our nation's rock bottom, instead of making it just the tip of the iceberg.

  |   December 13, 2013   11:34 AM ET

While our politicians have done little to pass gun control legislation, individuals and small groups across the nation have stepped up to help their communities in the wake of Newtown.

  |   December 13, 2013   11:27 AM ET

HuffPost Live takes a look at the state of gun sales in America, and their significant rise after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting in December 2012. What does this say about our country's stance on guns and violence one year later?

  |   December 13, 2013   11:15 AM ET

Newtown families were promised a fight against gun violence, but the fight on Capitol Hill has lost momentum. What happened? We hear from HuffPost community about their disappointment on gun control legislation post-Newtown. #ShameOnDC

  |   December 13, 2013   11:10 AM ET

After Newtown, President Obama pledged meaningful, swift action on gun control. Though the President signed a list of executive gun control orders, an effort to expand background checks failed in congress. We examine what led to the failure.