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We Are Being Crucified Upon a Cross of Guns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In which world would you want to raise your child?

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

The Right To Bear Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

And let's cut the bullshit about mental illness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More of Warren's Writing at

God, Guns, and Feminist Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources for research on gun violence:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire Jindal blog post here.

Mental Health, Gun Violence and Blame

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Also on HuffPost:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

We Don't Need Guns on Campus

MaryAnn McKibben Dana   |   October 6, 2015    1:48 PM ET

"I hate you. You disgust me. How could you do this to me?"

It was fall of my sophomore year in college. I had just dropped the breakup bomb, and the guy was not taking it well. But as furious as he was, I was relieved that at least the worst part was over and we could start to move on.

Except this guy's version of moving on left something to be desired. At first, it was notes in my campus mail box and phone calls asking me to reconsider. When it was clear that I was really moving on, the tone shifted to jilted fury.

And then--harassment.

If I walked somewhere on campus with a male friend, my ex-boyfriend would let me know he'd seen me with another guy. I'd receive a message containing vile insinuations about what my friend and I must have been doing together.

When I came out of class, he'd often be waiting outside the door to walk back to the dorm with me. I begged him to leave me alone, but he persisted.

My dorm room was on the first floor, and sometimes he'd appear at the window, which was frequently open to the mild Houston air as I sat at my desk. "Hey," he'd bark at me, making me jump.

I had a weekly scheduled phone call with a friend back home. Over the course of our one hour-long conversation, the call waiting clicked at least 50 times. I didn't answer--this was in my ignoring phase. But he steadfastly refused to be ignored.

I looked into whether his behavior could be considered stalking. I consulted a resident associate as well as my uncle, a law enforcement officer in another city. Both were sympathetic, but felt there was little I could do. My ex seemed to know exactly how to make my life hell while staying on the legal side of the line. He never explicitly threatened me or laid a hand on me. But I have never been so afraid of a man's anger.

Senate Bill 11 is now law in Texas, the state where I grew up and attended college. The law requires the state's public universities to allow handguns in dorms, classrooms and campus buildings. Private universities are allowed to opt out of the requirement.

The Chancellor of the University of Texas, William McRaven, opposed this law when it was being debated. In a letter to the Texas legislature, he cited concerns from campus mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, and professors, then stated flatly, "I feel the presence of concealed weapons will make a campus a less safe environment." The law grants universities some rights to define specific areas where weapons may be prohibited, but I wish the legislature had taken Chancellor McRaven's concerns more seriously.

As I read the news of yet another shooting at yet another university, and consider the many implications of this law, I imagine being a 20-year-old college student today rather than two decades ago. I feel the sudden tightness in my chest when my ex shows up outside class, insisting on walking me home. I see myself enduring this menacing escort service, knowing that the sooner I get back to my dorm room the sooner I'm rid of him, at least for a little while.

In this imagined contemporary scenario, however, I picture him leaning forward to open the door for me... and I glimpse the flash of a gun inside his jacket.
The gun he is legally allowed to carry on campus as a 21-year-old.
The gun this new law requires a public university to respect his right to carry.

Two decades ago, this man made my life hell for several months, yet he broke no law--or even any official campus rules. In the contemporary scenario of my imagination, that's still the case, but this time he has a legal firearm he's allowed to carry.

And according to the logic of the NRA, his concealed weapon is what will protect me from the Chris Harper-Mercers of the world.

This logic does not comfort me; it terrifies me. Access to firearms increases the risk of intimate partner homicide more than five times than instances where there are no weapons, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Many people are understandably concerned about school shootings. They are happening too often, though a sensationalized media culture makes these events loom even larger--only 4 percent of mass shootings take place at schools. As horrific as these incidents are, they are dwarfed by the mass shootings that take place in private residences. But what college campuses have in abundance are jilted lovers, still stewing in the hormonal soup of adolescence. Campuses have newly-minted adults learning to navigate the stresses of college with brains that won't even reach full maturation until the early 20s. And campuses have lots and lots of alcohol.

What they don't need are lots and lots of guns.

Prayer Won't Stop Gun Violence. Legislation Will.

Robert Greenwald   |   October 6, 2015    1:31 PM ET

Last Thursday, Americans paused as they have become accustomed to doing, as national news reported a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. Politicians and lawmakers immediately began publicly sending their condolences and calls to prayer via social media sites like Twitter for the "senseless" loss of life. Ironically, many of those same politicians had the victim's blood on their hands as they offered their thoughts. In a new video (above) produced by Brave New Films, we highlight their culpability.

President Obama gave an emblazoned and passionate speech a few hours after the reported tragedy. He lamented about the "routine" our nation has fallen into with our response to mass shootings. In 2015 alone there have only been 274 days, but 294 mass shootings. "Our thoughts and prayers are not enough!" President Obama said.

He is correct. Of the hundreds of tweets that were sent out from men and women of Congress, a strange contradiction occurred: dozens who offered their condolences were indebted to gun manufacturers and the NRA to keep them in office. Thus, they were the enablers of blocking the common sense gun laws that could have helped prevent the tragedy in Oregon.

While over 92 percent of gun owners and over 70 percent of NRA members support universal background checks and improved reporting of mental health checks when purchasing a firearm, the NRA DOES NOT support these common-sense measures.

In short, the NRA has become a front for gun companies to create marketing strategies that keep Americans in fear for their lives if they DON'T own a gun, and a vehicle to purchase politicians to clear the path for as little intervention as possible. The gun companies dole out close to $100 million dollars to the NRA who, in turn, generously donate to any politician willing to push the agenda of the gun companies, even if they are directly in contradiction to the wants of NRA membership. To keep membership high, they use those dollars to run smear campaigns of anyone that does NOT support their politics, claiming attacks on the 2nd Amendment, the desire to eliminate gun ownership, and an attack on American values. They do this by buying politicians.

Mitch McConnell, for instance, who tweeted his prayers to the families of the UCC shooting, has received over $37,000 in campaign contributions from the NRA. McConnell has used his social media in the past to mock Senator Harry Reid after aiding in a filibuster to stop a legislative provision for universal background checks after the Sandy Hook shootings. Presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham has been no stranger to speaking of the failures of universal background checks and offering prayers to victims like last week's shootings and the mass shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME church in his home state of South Carolina this year via social media. And yet his A rating from the NRA, his over $36,000 in campaign contributions, and his extensive record of voting in line with his friends at the gun companies didn't stop him from offering prayers to mourning families who's loved ones could have been helped if members of Congress like him not been bought out.

Watch the new film Prayer Won't Stop Gun Violence above by Brave New Films. Wherever you stand on guns, ask yourself if your true feelings are really being represented in Washington. Don't rely on the answers you've always given, but really decide if your perception of the gun violence problem in this country is based on fact or clever advertising models of people who have no regard for your life or your rights, but are determined to turn huge profits. Check your conscious. Pray if it suits you. But then get up and do something.

It's Personal

Bill Couzens   |   October 6, 2015   12:45 PM ET

I never speak out about anything but cancer prevention. You will never hear who I vote for or how I feel about many relevant subjects today. There's a good reason for that. When I founded Less Cancer, I understood that if I wanted to move the needle on cancer prevention I needed to stay focused. I could not be attached to other agendas or dilute the message of our work if we were to make progress in cancer prevention.

Fast forward 12 years since our founding when just last month I was in the basement of the Emanuel AME Church at 10 Calhoun St. in Charleston, South Carolina. On June 17, 2015, nine people were shot and killed inside the church. A 21-year-old white male suspect named Dylann Roof was arrested shortly after and charged with nine counts of murder. I had a conversation with the Church Treasurer Rosetta Singleton, who told me we were speaking at the very spot on which the shooting occurred and pointed to a picture on the wall of the victims. For a moment, I felt what I thought was a tear slipping out of the corner of my eye and I looked down with the hopes it would go unnoticed. It didn't; Rosetta hugged me. Since my visit with Rosetta, I have had an indelible mark on my heart. I was moved to see how these victims of unspeakable violence responded to the hate of a mad man with a gun with love.

The sorrow for the community of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston is compounded by the shame I feel for this racist crime, but I know that these feelings by themselves have little meaning unless I do what I can to speak up to end gun violence.

I have been wondering what do about that visit, how to make a difference and how to contribute in a way that would not be a distraction for my work with Less Cancer. It burns me: How we can stop gun violence in the United States? The news of the recent shootings in Oregon again push me to speak up and act on making schools safe from gun violence. No person in the United States wants to see more senseless student deaths.

People often speak about gun violence as if they had no control, or it wasn't their job, or they did not have a role in bringing about change; however, I have come to believe just the opposite. We all have a voice and a place in the fight against gun violence. No matter if we are the Less Cancer guy, a banker, a lawyer or work in a factory, everybody can help.

The Oregon school shooting is the 45th school shooting this year. Nobody wants to see this happen. Nick Kristof in The New York Times recently pointed out that, "In America, more preschoolers are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers who are in the line of duty (27 in 2013), according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI."

No one wants to outlaw guns. What we all want is to protect Americans from unnecessary and preventable gun violence especially in schools.

I am speaking off-topic to Less Cancer, but I speak from my heart. At Less Cancer, we want to help change lifestyle, consumer habits and policies that can save millions of lives. My heart tells me this is a similar struggle.

School shootings must end. I appeal to you to reach out to civic and political leaders and make them act. Yes, there are solutions, and they lay with us. Children must not die in school and we must end these senseless deaths. Engage today. Get involved.

In America in 2015, This Is the Problem That We All Live With

Katie Mgongolwa   |   October 6, 2015   12:31 PM ET

Today at school, we had a lockdown drill. As the alarm sounded, and the ominous voice robotically warned, "This is a lockdown. This is a lockdown," students and teachers locked their classroom doors and found the least deadly place to hide in classrooms. Administrators roamed the halls, testing all the locked doors, and I found myself shivering when our doorknob rattled as we cowered in the dark room. Finally, the all-clear was announced, and classes resumed.

Although they never quite resume the same, do they? My high school kids made nervous, idle chitchat about the safest places to hide; they talked about bullets and blood and death. As a teacher, I felt my own mind wander. What would I do if the worst happened? Would I keep my students safe? Would I sacrifice myself if that's what it took? As the memory of the doorknob rattling lingered in my mind, I thought of my daughter and knew I didn't want to have to face that choice.

My daughter is beautiful and smart and imaginative and strong. She is also biracial, which means that as a white parent I have had to quickly learn how to navigate the world for my brown daughter. Two months after she was born, Trayvon Martin was murdered. This was my awakening, that the world might not love and protect my daughter as much as I do. Then, on my daughter's first birthday, a young man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and massacred children. At that point I remembered the absurdity I felt during student teaching in 2008, when the high school I was working at did their annual lockdown drill. I'd graduated high school in 2003 and had never experienced a lockdown drill before. As kids shuffled outside, I wondered, This is what we do? We practice staying alive? That lockdown drill back in 2008 was my first realization that becoming a teacher was signing on to protect students, even if it meant sacrificing my own life. Parents send their most precious assets to us. But I never signed up to be a soldier.

This is what I think about now, during lockdown drills. I think about how kindergarten is just around the corner for my three year old and I wonder at the lunacy of her future self, participating in lockdown drills, practicing on learning how to stay alive. I've had to worry about that to some degree since she was born and I began to understand how the world treats brown children differently. But I don't want my kid to grow up learning how to avoid being murdered at school or the movie theater or church. I want politicians who proactively try to shift the paradigm. I want to vote everyone who accepts NRA money out of power (the NRA gave $27 million to politicians last year, proving once again how money buys power). If only.

If only ammunition was as regulated as Sudafed, which requires you show an ID at the pharmacy.

If only the NRA and gun lobbyists were treated like Cecile Richards, placed in a Congressional hearing, disparaged.

If only we could have an honest conversation about the prevalence of white supremacy in our country that may lead to less mass killings by young white males, instead of re-segregating schools and making police officers omnipotent.

If only we could put preventative efforts on gun safety like we currently try towards voter fraud, which incidentally has been proven to be a non-issue.

If only pro-life arguments extended to victims of guns, where more toddlers (82) than police officers (27) were killed by guns in 2013, according to the FBI and Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

If only guns were regulated as well as cars, as Nicholas Kristoff recently pointed out in a New York Times article, reminding us that since cars have required a driver's licenses, seatbelts, airbags, padded dashboards, safety glass and collapsible steering columns, we've reduced the auto fatality rate by 95 percent.

If only we took gun deaths as seriously as a shoe bomber at an airport, a single event which completely transformed airport security.

If only we went to war against gun deaths like we go to war against terrorism; gun deaths have caused over 313,000 deaths in the last decade, compared to 313 deaths by terrorism, according to CNN.

If only we treated guns as seriously as books and allergies; we ban books and make peanut-free schools, while our kids learn how to not die from a gunman.

I was in eighth grade when the Columbine massacre occurred. Why wasn't that single, horrific event enough to change a nation? How is it possible that 15 years later it has only gotten worse? That we have not only tolerated mass violence in our schools and public arenas, but promote it? Politicians- the people we elect- are enabling this. It is infamous now how Sheriff John Hanlin, the sheriff (yes, an elected position) serving Umpqua Community College, wrote a letter after Newtown calling gun control "an indisputable insult to American people". I personally feel worried that so many people, after learning about the massacre of children, are concerned about their guns above all. I think about this, each time I watch students cower in dark corners while doorknobs rattle ominously. Look at what your love of guns has done to our children, America. You have bought and paid for your guns on the back of our children. And when the time comes to join the rest of the developed world in valuing children's lives over virtually unregulated gun ownership, I hope there are still children left undamaged and whole.

Going to Class Should Not Be an Act of Bravery

Tamar Abrams   |   October 5, 2015    5:49 PM ET

Throughout the lives of our children, we have to caution them against real threats -- strangers, crossing streets, drugs and alcohol -- in the hope that we can keep them safe. As my daughter nears her 23rd birthday and graduation from college, I had begun to cut back on the warnings. But now the warnings are coming in fast and loud, and not from me.

What must she and her friends think when they see nine innocent college students mowed down in Oregon? How do they feel when it starts to appear that Americans value their firearms more than students? What is their anxiety level as terrorism, home-grown and global, seems to surround them?

This all became too close when I saw that the FBI and ATF had issued a "non-specific threat of violence against a university near Philadelphia" to take place today. My daughter has three classes at Drexel University today. Amid the buzz she was hearing, she sent me an email asking what she should do. It was a good question: How to tell her that there is danger everywhere, all around us, and there is so little we can do to protect ourselves? How to explain a nation obsessed with the Second Amendment even in the face of growing evidence that it is long past its expiration date? How to tell her that sometimes going to class is an act of incredible bravery? And how to ignore the voice in my head urging her to get on the next train back to Virginia?

In the end, I texted, If it were really credible, Drexel would cancel classes. Go.

She is in class as I write this. Only four other students and the professor showed up. Her education is not currently being interrupted by bullies, or madmen, or pranksters. But the fear that she and her classmates are surely facing is real and will color their lives as they become the leaders of the next generation. And the question that will linger for all of them haunts me: Why didn't we do more to protect them when they were young?

The Chief Culprits of Gun Violence Are Never Named

Mike Weisser   |   October 5, 2015    3:43 PM ET

Ever notice how the chief culprits are never identified or even mentioned in the great blame game that breaks out after every horrendous shooting? Now don't me wrong. The unintended injury or death of any human being is horrendous, but we don't register the daily, humdrum gun violence affairs; we wait until a really bestial, mass murder takes place to which we then assign terms like' horrible,' 'unthinkable,' 'tragic' and the like. Then we play the great blame game.

To the Reds, as I like to call them, the blame is now squarely fixed on something called "very very sick people." Or at least this is how Donald Trump began his contribution to the blame game after the Oregon massacre last week. It was basically what he and other presidential wannabes said after the August 26 gunning down of two television journalists in Virginia; funny how these guys (and a gal) all agree that we should do a better job of collecting information about the crazies among us but, at the same time, we don't need to extend background checks. So what should we do with all this new information that we'll get when we 'fix' the mental health system?

Everybody's getting down on Jeb Bush for his cogent "stuff happens" response to the blame game, but maybe he's decided that, given his standing in the polls, he'd be better off not blaming anyone or anything at all. And when all is said and done, I give Baby Brother a high-five for at least having the honesty to come right out and say what the words of the other red-meat candidates really mean; namely that, when it comes to gun violence, they don't want to do anything at all.

But I'm not so sure that the blame game is generating anything more credible from the other side. What was Hilary's line? "Sensible gun control measures," whatever that means. And from the woods of Vermont, Bernie Sanders issued a statement which began, "We need sensible gun-control legislation." Wait a minute. I thought that Hilary owns "sensible." Joe, who hasn't decided yet whether he can afford to be unemployed after January 20, 2016, pushed back on the "sensible" argument to remind us that the 2nd Amendment didn't protect the rights of someone who wanted to own a "bazooka or an F-15." I like Joe and I'd vote for him if I had the chance. But what the hell was he thinking?

If you want the official blame-game entry you have to turn to Nick Kristof's op-ed in the New York Times. And what we get here is a remarkable and novel approach to gun violence, namely, that guns aren't safe. He comes right out and says it! After all, the British cut suicide rates by switching from coal to gas, the latter much less lethal, hence ovens in England are safer. "We need to do the same with guns." Want to make guns safer Nickie-boy? Design them so that when you pull the trigger, out comes a squirt of H2O.

So that's where things stand in today's great blame game. Everybody's got a way to fix the problem but nobody's saying anything reality-based at all. But recall I said in the very first sentence that the real culprits of gun violence are never named. So I'm going to name them now and it goes like this: Beretta, Charter, Colt, Glock, H&K, Kahr, Sig, Smith&Wesson, Springfield, Walther -- I'm probably missing one or two more. These crummy little companies make the products that kill and injure 100,000 Americans every year. Want to tell me that guns don't kill people, that people kill people, go lay brick.

It's not about background checks, it's not about mental health, it's not even about "stuff." It's about a lethal consumer product being cynically and dishonestly promoted as the most effective protection from violence and crime. It's not true, the gun makers know it's not true, and it's time we stopped looking around for something else to blame.