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The President Stands With Families of Victims of Gun Violence to End the Epidemic

Valerie Jarrett   |   December 10, 2015    4:19 PM ET

Last night, I had the honor to speak at the 3rd Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, hosted by the Newtown Foundation. I joined more than 300 people at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., a group that included more than 60 families who had lost a loved one to gun violence, as well as members of Congress, advocates, and faith leaders. We came together to honor all those who have died from gun violence, and to rededicate ourselves to the urgent work of making ours a safer country. My message to the group was simple: Please do not grow weary, for you are inspiring our nation to perfect our union. You can read my full remarks below.

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Thank you to Reverend Schunior who has welcomed us to St. Mark's Episcopal Church this evening. To the Newtown Foundation. The families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. To our members of Congress, and faith leaders who provide great leadership and strength. And to all of you who are dedicated to stopping gun violence in America. Good evening.

My name is Valerie Jarrett, and for the past seven years, it has been my privilege to serve as one of President Obama's Senior Advisors. It's an incredible honor for me to be here with you.

We all come here with freshly wounded hearts from the vicious, mass shooting in San Bernardino last week. Fourteen of our fellow Americans gunned down during a holiday party. Right now, their families feel the excruciating pain that we here tonight, and Americans across our country, know all too well.

Families of a pastor and eight members of a Charleston church who opened their doors to a stranger.

Families of 12 moviegoers in Aurora out for a fun night.

Of a veteran, a police officer and a mother of two in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.

Six Sikh Americans worshipping in a temple in Oak Creek.

Twelve soldiers and a civilian doctor who were serving our country in order to keep us safe, at Fort Hood.

The family of 15 year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was chatting with her best friend in a park one mile from my home in Chicago.

The families of 20 precious six- and seven-year-old children and six brave adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Every single day, families from around our country share the bond of devastating grief caused by losing their loved ones to gun violence. First responders witness the immediate, shocking results of carnage, yet manage to professionally perform their duties. Faith leaders offer prayers of comfort. Whole communities in mourning rally together, providing much needed love and support.

And yet, when the headlines fade and the media's attention turns elsewhere -- when the world seemingly returns to normal -- the families and loves ones who are left behind -- well, they're never the same. They're left to face the pain created by a permanent void in their hearts. First responders are often haunted by post-traumatic stress that may go undiagnosed and untreated. And the human fabric that knits together the communities that have been affected are forever tattered and deeply scarred.

And we all ask ourselves: How could this keep happening again and again? Knowing that this cannot be normal? Or: Is this really who we have become? What is happening in America that leaves no community unscathed by gun violence?

I ask these questions not just as a White House official who has attended far too many memorial services during the last seven years, but also, sadly, as a granddaughter with first-hand experience.

My grandfather was an avid hunter and owned several guns. He practiced dentistry in an office on the first floor of his home here in D.C. When I was 15, two burglars broke into his office in search of opiates. They threatened my grandfather with what turned out to be a toy gun. In an attempt to scare away the burglars, my grandfather pulled out one of his guns. They grabbed his gun, then shot and killed him.

So to those who encourage the purchase of guns to protect ourselves, my grandfather's story proves that we are not always safer just because we own a gun.

I respected my grandfather's right to own his guns and his desire to try to protect himself, but for decades after his death I asked myself, "Would he still be alive had he not pulled out his gun?"

Of course, I'll never forget that day nearly 45 years ago.

I'll also never forget the day when I met many of the remarkable families from Newtown. On December 16, 2012, just two days after the massacre at Sandy Hook, I travelled with President Obama to a vigil in Newtown, where he comforted the families, and the Newtown community, who had lost their loved ones.

That evening, in speaking about the victims, the President said, "They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America." He also said to the families that they were not alone. And I am here tonight, three years later, to remind you all that you are not alone.

Now, we all know this type of gun violence simply does not happen in other advanced countries with the same frequency as we experience here in the U.S.

But whether from a mass shooting; a suicide; domestic violence; an accident; a disagreement that escalates out of control; or a gang member who murders an innocent nine-year old child, about 30,000 Americans are killed every year by gun violence.

With the help of many of you, President Obama pushed Congress to pass sensible background check legislation nearly three years ago. And even though 90 percent of Americans agreed with the President and all of you, our bill did not pass. But we did not give up. And thankfully, neither did you.

Because of your passion, energy and advocacy, we have made progress.

In consultation with many of you, President Obama signed 23 executive actions that took on gun violence -- from improving the background check system to improving mental health services.

We have and will continue to press Congress for commonsense background checks. For measures that would prevent people on the no-fly list from buying guns and to keep weapons of war off of our streets.

Now, I know our progress feels slow. But in the words of Dr. King, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The members of Congress who are here tonight have been such strong allies in this fight, and we will continue to work with them, while also channeling our efforts in cities and states across America.

Cities and states are passing commonsense laws to keep guns out of the hands of known domestic abusers. That gives me hope.

They are expanding background checks and making our communities safer. That gives me hope.

And, just two days ago, the Supreme Court declined to take up a case challenging a Chicago suburb's ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines -- weapons that have more in common with a war zone than any Main Street in America. That gives me hope.

Although the tragic reality is that slow progress means every day we lose more Americans to gun violence, Americans are mobilizing. And that also gives me hope.

Two weeks ago, I met at the White House with a group of gun owners who believe in the need for change. Many were former NRA members who made clear to me that the NRA no longer represents them. And they assured me that many more gun owners are doing the same.

The NRA paradigm that tries to pit those who support the Second Amendment against those who believe in commonsense reform -- we know to be a false choice. And Americans all across our country know too.

And so, I am hopeful.

Please know that President Obama shares your pain and frustration, as well as your steadfast determination to keep pushing to make us all safer. And he is prepared to continue to act.

That's why the President has directed his team, in short order, to finalize a set of recommendations on what more the Administration can do on its own to save lives from gun violence. And those recommendations will include making sure we are doing everything we can to keep guns out of the wrong hands, including through expanding background checks.

And so, in closing, let's remember that we are gathered here together under the banner of friendship and community, of brother and sisterhood, of interfaith fellowship. For just as our pain binds us together, we must continue to stand together in the face of the cynical political theater.

So in times of despair, when some try to use horrendous acts of violence to pit us against each other, it is on us -- all of us -- to instead continue to extend a welcoming hand to a stranger. To be more loving and inclusive. To reject divisive strategies, both old and new. To demonstrate, in both our thoughts and our deeds, amazing grace.

Mollie Reilly   |   December 10, 2015   12:12 PM ET

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) announced Thursday he intends to sign a "common sense" executive order prohibiting individuals on government watch lists from buying guns.

"This is a moment to seize here in America," Malloy said during a press conference. "It is incumbent upon leaders at all levels of government to protect its citizenry." 

Pending approval from the federal government to access their databases, including the "no-fly" roster, Malloy said he will sign an order requiring those who apply for gun permits to be screened against government watch lists. Those who are on such lists would be banned from purchasing handguns, shotguns, rifles and ammunition.

"If Congress will not act, we in the states will," Malloy said.

He added there would be an appeals process for people who say they have been unfairly placed on government watch lists.  

 Malloy's announcement comes days after President Barack Obama called on Congress to "close this loophole" following the shooting in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead.

"That is insane. If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous, by definition, to buy a gun," Obama said Saturday in his weekly address. "We may not be able to prevent every tragedy, but -- at a bare minimum -- we shouldn’t be making it so easy for potential terrorists or criminals to get their hands on a gun that they could use against Americans."

Congressional Democrats have joined Obama's push, and earlier this week attempted to force a vote on banning people on the no-fly list from buying guns. Republicans, meanwhile, have argued against the proposal, claiming the list is too broad.

With gun control measures stalled at the federal level, Connecticut has made significant strides since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In April 2013, the state passed some of the toughest gun regulations in the nation, including requiring background checks for private gun sales, banning the sale of magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds and expanding the state's ban on assault weapons.

"We can never undo the senseless tragedy that took place on Dec. 14 or those tragedies that play themselves out on a daily basis in our cities, but we can take action here in Connecticut and we can make Connecticut towns and cities safer, and this bill does that," Malloy said upon signing the legislation.

A study released in June linked the state's dramatic drop in gun-related homicide to the new regulations.

Also on HuffPost:

When It Comes To Gun Violence, Our Children Need Us To Do Better

Claire McCarthy, M.D.   |   December 10, 2015   11:45 AM ET

Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was telling me about how there had been threats of gun violence at her children's elementary school three times in the previous week.

I don't know what freaked me out more: the threats, or the fact that the school and the parents took it in stride.

As we come to the third anniversary of the unspeakable carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the world feels even more frightening to me now than it did then. Which is hard to believe, because it was pretty terrifying that a gunman shot a classroom full of first-graders. But now nowhere feels safe. Not schools, not concerts, not restaurants, not parks or streets, not even a workplace holiday party.

Nowhere.

As a parent and pediatrician, I don't know what to do with this -- because it means that there is no way I can keep my children and my patients completely safe from violence.

Every day, six children and youth die from gun violence. Since 2006, there have been more than 200 mass killings -- about one every two weeks. We are even getting to the point where those who are supposed to protect us are getting freaked out too, so badly that unarmed people are being shot, so badly that a little boy playing with a toy gun got killed by a real one. This is not the world we want our children to grow up in -- or the world we want to leave to them.

As a doctor, I'm taught to fight disease. Yet guns kill twice as many people as cancer, five times as many people as heart disease, and 15 times as many people as infections. I know what to do for cancer, heart disease and infections. I don't know what to do about guns.

Nobody does, really. But instead of working together to stop gun deaths, we have let our passions and our righteous rage get the better of us. Somehow, I'm incredulous to say, we are fighting harder to protect the rights of gun buyers and owners than to protect the lives of our people, our children. We blame Republicans, Democrats, the president, the police, Muslims, Syrians, ISIS, the mentally ill, the gun lobby, the gun control lobby, and anybody else that comes to mind -- as if blaming ever got anything done, as if it ever did anything except make matters worse. We let ourselves get distracted by the particulars of each incident, as if by doing so we can prove that it was an outlier that won't happen again.

Until it does.

We have got to try something different. Instead of thinking of gun violence in terms of rights and politics, we have to think of it as what it has increasingly become: a public health problem.

We cannot fix the world and stop everyone who might want to hurt others. But just as we came up with treatments for cancer, heart disease and infections, just as we found ways to make cars safer and help fewer people die from tobacco, we can help keep people safer from guns.

We could develop and enforce better systems for gun sales, including better and more universal background checks. We could be more careful and thoughtful about what kinds of guns are sold, and where. We could do better when it comes to education about safe gun storage. We could put real dollars into violence prevention programs, mental health programs and other programs that strengthen families and communities.

And just as we do with cancer and other health problems, we must do better research about gun violence -- because if we don't truly understand the problem, there's no way we will ever make any progress.

We can't take gun violence in elementary schools in stride. We can't let it become the new norm that nowhere is safe. We can't give up. Most of all, we can't let it tear us apart. Because the only way to solve a public health problem, or any other big, hard, complicated problem, is together.

If we are going to be full of passion and righteous rage, let's use it more wisely than we are right now. For the sake of our children, let's use it to build safety -- and peace.

Matt Fuller   |   December 9, 2015    7:28 PM ET


In an early preview of how congressional Democrats plan to attack Republicans in the 2016 election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is buying up radio time to attack vulnerable Republicans over their opposition to blocking people on the FBI's terrorist watch list from buying a gun.


The ads, which will be 15 seconds long and will be played during drive time radio, will run in 10 battleground districts and will call out the Republicans representing those districts for voting "to keep allowing suspected terrorists to buy assault rifles." The ads will also supply a phone number for constituents to call their representative.


That attack itself might be a bit of a stretch, as Democrats are using procedural previous-question votes to say that these Republicans are unsupportive of a bill authored by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) that would end the right of people on the terrorist watch list to obtain a gun.


But the national spokeswoman for the DCCC, Meredith Kelly, contends that these Republicans "have repeatedly blocked consideration of this commonsense legislation."


Kelly said that Republicans know they are on the wrong side of this issue when it comes to public opinion, pointing to a recent Public Policy Polling survey in which 85 percent of respondents were supportive of barring people on the terrorist watch list from getting a gun.


While Kelly wouldn't say how much Democrats are actually spending on the campaign -- in keeping with DCCC policy -- the ads could be a signal that Democrats plan to use the gun issue in 2016, which would mark a rhetorical shift from more traditional Democratic attacks, and might be an indication that strategists sense a tipping point on gun legislation.


In fact, according to Kelly, Republicans are going to see plenty of these attacks over the next year. "These radio ads are the first of many, aimed at ensuring that constituents in these districts are aware that their Republican representative voted multiple times to protect suspected terrorists’ access to guns," she said.


The ads will initially run in the districts of the following members of Congress:



  • Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.)

  • Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.)

  • Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.)

  • Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.)

  • Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.)

  • Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.)

  • Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.)

  • Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.)

  • Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.)

  • Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.)

9 Gun Arguments That Need to Be Disarmed (Part 3)

Sam Corey   |   December 9, 2015   12:45 PM ET

Part one discussed two gun arguments that are factually incorrect while part two addressed misguided perspectives on this topic.

This post will zoom in on common NRA and Republican tactics employed to avoid meaningful action and dialogue.

7. "The Only Thing Stopping a Bad Guy with a Gun Is a Good Guy with a Gun"

This was the infamous quote used by NRA's executive vice president Wayne LaPierre when addressing the horrific Newtown Sandy Hook shooting that claimed the lives 20 innocent children.

This rationale is used by devout gun owners who believe that mass shootings can be prevented if the victims were properly armed, or if more citizens with guns are present in such a grave dilemma.

This begs some questions:

How many citizens rose to the occasion and sought vigilante justice by standing up to Adam Lanza when he shot up Sandy Hook Middle School?

Or hunted down Dylann Roof when he killed nine African-Americans in a Charlestown church?

Or defiantly defended Umpqua Community College, Columbine or Virginia Tech?

Or bravely confronted the dark underbelly of domestic terrorism as the Wisconsin Sikh Temple was massacred or when three University of North Carolina muslim students were fatally shot?

Slate reports that instances of armed citizens preventing a mass shooting do exist, but such occurrences are rare.

Additionally, this would leave communities entirely dependent on the good will and bravery of a random passerby daring to place themselves in danger in order to save the lives of people they have no connection with.

Police have even commented that open carry laws make protecting their communities a more daunting challenge, leading to confusion and misinformation during a 911 call.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, Rep. Louis Gohmert called for every state to enact concealed-carry laws, citing that crime rate in states with such policy have experienced a plunge in crime rate.

While factually correct, the same can be said for states with tough gun laws, meaning this relationship is coincidental, not causational.

Of course, the NRA wants to push this narrative onto people as a scare-tactic to purchase more guns.

The NRA was once a grassroots organization who formerly advocated for gun control when its primary source of income came from membership fees.

Business Insider reported in 2013, since 2005 the gun manufacturing industry and its corporate allies have hijacked the NRA through donations between $20 million and $52.6 million through the NRA Ring of Freedom sponsor program.

Donors include firearm companies like Midway USA, Springfield Armory Inc, Pierce Bullet Seal Target Systems, and Beretta USA Corporation. Other supporters from the gun industry include Cabala's, Sturm Rugar & Co, and Smith & Wesson.

The article states, "There are two reasons for the industry support for the NRA. The first is that the organization develops and maintains a market for their products.  The second, less direct function, is to absorb criticism in the event of PR crises for the gun industry."

This explains the incongruence of LaPierre's distant gun control stance in 1999, when he called for gun-free school, versus his more recent calls for the proliferation of gun ownership.

"Today's NRA is a virtual subsidiary of the gun industry," said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center. "While the NRA portrays itself as protecting the 'freedom' of individual gun owners, it's actually working to protect the freedom of the gun industry to manufacture and sell virtually any weapon or accessory."

Essentially, taking self-protection advice from a NRA lobbyist, who's driven by profit motives fueled by gun sales, is like allowing Ronald McDonald to convince you that a diet of Big Macs is the cornerstone of weight loss nutrition.

8. "We Need More Mental Health Funding"

Our current gun debate hones in on grisly mass shootings, but the CDC reports that 60 percent of gun deaths are caused by suicide.

Vox's Dylan Matthews explains this is actually one of the most compelling reasons for reducing access to guns, since an abundance  of research shows greater access to guns dramatically increases the risk of suicide.

The New England Journal of Medicine released a report that shows states with high gun ownership has the highest rates of suicide.

Additionally, Vox reports that guns allow people to kill themselves more easily, providing those with a bleak, tenuous hope of a happy life a quick and painless escape.

Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Preventionpreviously explained even delaying suicide is instrumental in its prevention.

"Time is really key to preventing suicide in a suicidal person," Harkavy-Friedman said. "First, the crisis won't last, so it will seem less dire and less hopeless with time. Second, it opens the opportunity for someone to help or for the suicidal person to reach out to someone to help. That's why limiting access to lethal means is so powerful."

She added, "[I]f we keep the method of suicide away from a person when they consider it, in that moment they will not switch to another method. It doesn't mean they never will. But in that moment, their thinking is very inflexible and rigid. So it's not like they say, 'Oh, this isn't going to work. I'm going to try something else.' They generally can't adjust their thinking, and they don't switch methods."

Mental health care is indeed a crisis that needs urgent attention in the U.S. Nearly one in five Americans suffer from a mental illness each year, and high costs are often a barrier to receiving treatment.

As 79 percent of mass shootings can be attributed to a history of mental illness, Republican politicians are absolutely correct in stating that this needs to be a top priority in addressing America's health crisis, but it should be one of many solutions.

But this becomes problematic, because "mental illness" has become a common tactic employed by Republicans to dodge substantive gun law reform, as depicted by John Oliver.

9. "Using Mass Shootings to Talk About Shootings Is Pushing a Political Agenda."

Talking policy in the aftermath of a horrific shooting, where emotions are highly volatile is inopportune, as we are left to grieve and deal with the shock of a horrific tragedy.

But this violence occurs so frequently, refusing to talk about guns in our society too soon after a mass shooting will be too late after the next one unfolds.

Over the course of his tenure as President, President Obama's passionate pleas for gun reform have slowly eroded into a jaded acceptance of the inevitable visceral opposition to his proposals. Regardless, he is met with vicious disdain from gun enthusiasts and Republicans alike for "political pandering."

Republicans' refusal to talk about gun violence under the guise of empty platitudes, including their "thoughts and prayers," is another form of politicizing the issue.

They're using the grieving process to justify governmental inaction in dealing with this issue.

This seems to make sense, as the NRA bankrolls many of their campaigns.

Additionally, they use the lurid portrayal potential of gun control legislation to fearmonger Americans into buying more guns, both to protect their rights and to guard themselves from the horrors of another shooting.

It's no wonder gun sales spike after high-profile mass shootings.

Comedian Larry Willmore dissects this strategy on his Nightly Show, as our national mourning is used to divert attention toward gun reform and push their agenda of boosting gun sales and deflecting any substantial legislative change that can curb gun violence.

Labelling someone seeking a discussion regarding reforming our gun laws as a political opportunist is just an easy way to vilify someone who is deeply concerned about the rising rates of mass shootings in America.

Ideally, America would have an opportunity to talk about dealing with gun violence at a time of tranquility, but if this is our course of action, we will be waiting for that moment for quite some time, as America has averaged one mass shooting per day since 2013, and during Obama's second term, a Sunday-to-Saturday calendar week has not passed without a mass shooting incident

Conclusion

Curbing gun violence is a complex issue, as it crosses mental health, socio-economic, poverty, educational and geographic boundaries.

This requires a collective effort in our communities and cooperation on a state and federal level - as gun violence in New York City or Chicago is vastly different than Wyoming or Vermont.

Each state and municipality should have a deep reflection on how to properly deal with this scourge that reflects their specific needs.

Igniting a level-headed, sensible discussion does not mean the federal government is going to take all our guns. Prohibition has been an abject failure for drugs and alcohol - since guns have become a staple of our society, this policy may likely falter as well.

Although gun control remains a hotly contested debate, it doesn't mean criminal and mental background checks, addressing mental health and poverty, increased security in schools and offices, and closing gun show and "strawman" purchase loopholes aren't feasible.

But it starts with a debate outside of these cliche, regurgitated arguments that not only blatantly defy reality and empirical research, but also stall us in an endless, perpetual cycle of bloodshed and frustration.

With all the senseless chaos Americans have endured this past year, reasonable debate has been drowned out by the white noise of loudmouth pundits, corporate-owned politicians and repeated gun shots.

As the Umpqua Community College shooting unfolded, I watched the news coverage on CNN with a man who survived the Aurora movie theater shooting.

He stared at me with the glimmering look of reoccurring fear in his eyes and his raspy tone described his life of uncertainty and constant fear of another spontaneous shooting at a seemingly unsuspecting location.

He said he will never know when another senseless gunman will pull out a weapon and open fire on people innocently trying to live out their daily lives. This resonating, deep-seeded panic has drastically altered the way he conducts himself.

We must ask ourselves, is this the type of country we want to live in?

One that resolves disputes in a contest of who has the most powerful guns that fire rounds the fastest? 

One that turns every conflict into a Mexican standoff, where our sense of security is defined by the size of our gun rack?

One where every citizen has a eerie, lurking awareness that their lives can be expunged at any moment and any location by the trigger pull of an emotionally volatile person seeking to vent their grievances?

If we want to successively balance our 2nd Amendment rights and reduce mass shootings, this involves a serious disarming of our current means of debate.

I Served My Country for 11 Years and I've Only Ever Been Shot at by American Citizens

Christopher Shane Coleman   |   December 9, 2015   11:43 AM ET

"Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause."
~ Abraham Lincoln

This essay has been one of the most difficult things I have ever written. It took me days to try and formalize my thoughts into something coherent, instead of the angry rants I kept composing. I know everyone is talking about the San Bernardino massacre right now but I want to focus on the shooting that took place in Colorado Springs in November. More specifically, I would like to talk about one of the victims -- Ke'arre Stewart -- and why his death hit me so hard. But first, I should tell you a little about myself.

I was born in Kansas, a very conservative and very red state where I was raised on guns and Jesus. I consider myself lucky to have had that upbringing because I was taught how to handle a gun responsibly and was instilled with the virtue to know it should never be used. Sadly, many with the same heritage didn't absorb that lesson. My mother learned, and excelled in, marksmanship in high school and made sure that I knew that a gun was not a toy. It's a deadly weapon that should be leveled at another living creature only when there is no other recourse. We didn't take out our guns to "squeeze off a couple rounds" for fun. The only times I was allowed to touch the guns were when my mother needed target practice and when she wanted to teach me how to sight, shoot, and clean them. Other than that, they were kept under a lock and key that only my mother and father could access. I'm 39-years-old and my mother still does not allow me to go near her guns without a completely valid reason. To this day, that mentality is what I think of when I talk about "responsible gun ownership," and that attitude towards guns was reinforced when I joined the military.

When I was 18, I joined the United States Air Force. I was young, naive, and full of patriotism; ready to defend my country's principles even at the cost of my own life. The universe nearly took me up on that offer a couple times. On my 21st birthday, I was on a temporary deployment to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. I was working on an F-16 with my mentor SSgt. Gutmueller when we heard a call go out over the radio: "Attention all channels. Be advised we have a 55 gallon drum pinging positive for radiation at Checkpoint Charlie."

I looked at my mentor and asked, "What does that mean?"

He just kept working and said nonchalantly, "It means it could be a nuclear bomb."

I started to panic. "So what do we do!?"

He stopped for a moment, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Nothing. We'd be dead before we even heard the boom."

I was shocked and speechless. We went back to work and I tried my best to pretend like it didn't happen. But that incident left an indelible mark on my psyche and I still don't know if it was simply a hoax, but considering several days later they discovered an unexploded IED in the shower tent, it doesn't matter. The only other experience I had with an IED was with one that actually went off. I keep that experience close to my chest still and I have only talked about it with other veterans and my wife because it affects me too much to share with others who wouldn't understand.

But here's the thing: In the entire time I served in the military, I was never shot at. In fact, that didn't happen until after I got out of the service and it was done by one of the very citizens whose rights I sacrificed 11 years of my life to defend. That was the first time I faced the nightmare of surviving the military only to be nearly killed by those I swore to protect.

Since I left the military in 2006, I have been shot at, or been in the presence of a gunman, three times. I know that might not seem like much to some of you, especially to my fellow veterans. But think about it. Eleven years in the military and I was never shot at. Nine years as a civilian and I have had three different people point a gun at me. That's why Ke'arre Stewart's death hit me like a ton of bricks. He survived nearly a decade in the Army only to be gunned down in his hometown by an unstable American citizen with access to guns.

Ke'arre is the type of veteran I consider to be a personal hero. It doesn't matter why he joined the service. It doesn't matter how he managed to survive his enlistment. It doesn't even matter what his service records show. What matters to me is that in the last moments of his life, he still showed a tremendous amount of valor by attempting to save others. Just typing that makes me shake and cry with anger.

Have no doubt, I blame the shooter (whose name I refuse to mention as to not give him more publicity) for Ke'arre's death. But not as much as I blame the American people and the ineffectual politicians they elect. The politicians we have elected are the real terrorist in this country. That is what you call someone who, minutes after an act of violence, takes to the media and uses the attack to further their political aims; to me, that's the very definition of terrorism. They may not be pulling the triggers themselves, but by refusing to take action and allowing this violence to escalate, they are complicit.

2015-12-09-1449672148-1939514-gfgfhghghKEARRESTEWART_original.jpg

Friends and family remember Planned Parenthood shooting victim Ke'arr Stewart at Angelus Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, December 3, 2015 (Getty Images)


To Ke'arre's family, I would like to personally apologize. No parent should ever have to bury their kid as a result of random violence. Your son has my highest respect and you have my deepest sympathies.

To his daughters, I would like to say please, in the years to come, try not to become angry from having your father taken from you so suddenly and violently. Instead, try to remember your father's actions that saved the lives of others. I have no doubt that he would have done it again. Your father was, is, and always will be a hero.

To his wife: Nothing I can say will make up for your loss. Despite not having met your husband, he was my brother. I can't stop crying as I write these words because his death was pointless. It accomplished nothing aside from robbing you of your husband, your daughters of their father, and the world of a hero we so desperately need right now.

Finally, to the American people I would like to say: I don't want to take away your guns. Taking that right away would be against everything I stand for. But I have no problem requiring a strict application process for gun ownership, including medical and psychological evaluations. I also have no problem with restricting assault rifles to law enforcement and military personnel only. If I can guard the perimeter fence of a stateside military installation on 9/11, hours after the attacks, armed with nothing more than a radio and a Leatherman tool, you can defend your entire family with a .22 rifle. And if you can't do that, then perhaps you need more training. If my uncle can take down a grizzly with a bow and arrow, you can defend yourself with a low caliber weapon.

I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States to my dying breath, and just because my enlistment ran up does not mean my oath has. I joined the military because I believed in this country and the spirit of its people, and I still do. This nation was founded by ordinary citizens accomplishing monumental things in the face of strong adversity. We are and can be a great people. Right now, we simply lack the leadership to show it. But until that day arrives, I will continue to support our Second Amendment rights. I just refuse to die because of it.

________________

Christopher Shane Coleman was born and raised in Kansas and now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters. He is a comic book enthusiast, actor, artist, writer, veteran, and the one person you can always rely on to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

The Secret Weapon Gun Control Advocates Should Use: Antonin Scalia

David Ropeik   |   December 9, 2015   11:17 AM ET

The US Supreme Court has just refused to hear an appeal by gun owners of an Illinois ban on semi-automatic "assault" rifles and high capacity ammunition magazines. Curiously, Justice Antonin Scalia (and his apparent intellectual doppleganger Clarence Thomas) dissented with this decision, lamenting that lower courts that uphold limitations on gun ownership have been ignoring Supreme Court precedent on the 2nd Amendment. That is curious since, in his ruling enshrining the individual right to own guns, Scalia himself all but invited such bans. The Illinois ban seems consistent with Scalia's own precedent setting language.

In District of Columbia v. Heller, Scalia himself explicitly allowed for and even seemed to invite reasonable gun control, writing:

"Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited...". It is "...not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
"Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."
"We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller (an earlier case) said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those "in common use at the time". We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of 'dangerous and unusual weapons.' "

The court even recognizes a long-standing judicial precedent "...to consider... prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons."

Let's consider that Supreme Court precedent-setting language in light of current gun control proposals, all of which are blindly opposed by the paranoid libertarian fringe of the gun rights movement that calls any effort to limit gun control unconstitutional. The following ideas for reasonable gun control currently being proposed are explicitly sanctioned by the Supreme Court as constitutional;

"...longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill,"

"... laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,"

"...laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

(Like background checks, waiting periods, and closing the loophole that requires background checks on gun buyers in stores, but not on those who buy guns at gun shows (at which many stores set up and sell guns.)

Scalia also writes that the Supreme Court considers it constitutional for governments "...to consider... prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons."

And specifically as to the Illinois ban on military style 'assault' rifles and high capacity magazines, Scalia seemed to allow for that too;

"...the sorts of weapons protected (by the 2nd Amendment) were those "in common use at the time". We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of 'dangerous and unusual weapons.' "

This seems to almost explicitly state that semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines are not constitutionally protected. Yet curiously Scalia now seems to infer that the Illinois ban on 'dangerous and unusual weapons' ignores the precedent of his own language in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Gun rights advocates protest that any of these limitations would be unconstitutional. They are simply wrong. The ruling that gives them the right to own guns is expressly

"...not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."

In the 1970s a handful of fanatical libertarians took control of the NRA in a coup and turned guns into a symbol of their absolutist demand for individual liberties. That symbol has been adopted by anybody upset that the government has too much control over their lives, which includes a lot of people with a more conservative political philosophy.

Yet the majority of Americans, including the majority of NRA members, support the idea of reasonable gun control, like the controls specifically sanctioned as constitutional by the Supreme Court.

So why do the gun rights absolutists win? They care more. They are deeply upset that society that is changing on many values questions in ways they don't like. They see these changes as signs that they don't have control over their society and their lives and their futures. Powerlessness is scary. We all need a sense of control we all need to help us feel safe. The deep fear of gun rights extremists exceeds the general public's fear of guns, either the personal fear of being shot or the general moral fear that innocent people will be shot. There is a passion gap, which is why the NRA is winning the political battle over gun control.

To counter that imbalance, the majority that wants gun control should start using Justice Scalia's own ruling to demonstrate that being conservative does not mean rejecting any and all gun control. The concern that government has too much control over our lives does not mean, even to arch conservative activist Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia, that government can't have any. And it is the very ruling on the 2nd amendment establishing the individual's right to own guns that says so.

Also on HuffPost:

Death and The Donald

Bronwyn Fryer   |   December 9, 2015   10:20 AM ET

"Washer-Dryer Taken; Man Suspects ISIS".

That was one of the recent headlines in our small local paper in Montpelier, Vermont. The headline would be funny if it weren't so sad. It demonstrates the increasing depth of paranoia in the minds of some people -- even here, in the capitol of the dark-blue state Bernie Sanders calls home.

Many years ago, the historian Richard Hofstadter demonstrated that paranoia is part of America's cultural DNA. His observations still hold true. Currently that fearful streak, particularly on the right, seems to be widening into something even more malevolent than the old Red Scare stuff of the 1950s and 60s.

So, let's say you sit down with your Fox News-addicted uncle over a holiday dinner and ask him "What are you so afraid of?" His list of answers might range from the general (government; climate scientists; "feminazis"; immigrants; Muslims; the media) to the small and specific (the liberal New York Times-reading neighbor; the Mexican gardener; the lady in the hajib). But naming all of these various targets of fear doesn't get at the deepest heart of his darkness. He's afraid of something much more threatening that he doesn't want to talk about.

Fundamentally, your uncle - like all of us -- is afraid of death. That's simply human, no politics about it. But neuroscience has shown that conservatives tend to be more fear-driven and more stimulated by death anxiety overall. And in America, conservatives spend a whole lot of time worrying about both literal death by the hands of other people (terrorists, bad guys with guns), and symbolic death (the end of their privileged way of life).

I began to better understand the connection between the deep-rooted fear of death and the paranoid streak in American politics from three social psychologists (Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski). In their book The Worm at the Core: The Role of Death in Life, they explain that because we human beings are the only creatures on earth that know for sure that we're going to die, we have to rely on two basic psychological defenses: 1) we shore up our personal self-esteem by doing things that make us feel more important (say, buying fancy cars and a bunch of guns) and 2) we adhere to our cultural worldviews (cleaving to our political party, organized religion and other entities that we believe will endure after we die).

The authors show how even the most neutral of people became more conservative and harsher when reminded of their own mortality. For example, a group of court judges was asked to complete a questionnaire about how they felt about their own deaths, right before deciding on a sentence for a fictional prostitute. They punished the woman many times more strongly than they would usually have done.

In other experiments, the authors asked subjects to consider three different types of leaders - specifically, a "charismatic" leader who forcefully says, "You are a part of a special nation!"; a "task-oriented" leader who unambiguously promises to fix your specific problems; and a "relationship-oriented" leader who wants you to be part of movement. The participants had to choose the statement with which they most identified. Before being reminded of death, only 4 out of 95 chose the charismatic leader's statement. But afterwards, there was an 800 percent increase in favor of the charismatic leader's.

All of this this goes a long way toward explaining the appeal of right-wing extremists like Donald Trump and his ilk. We're reminded of our morality every time we read, watch or listen to the news, and our terrors get reinforced by right-wing pundits and politicians who use fear to their advantage. The Nazis were fond of this hat-trick: keep people afraid, and you have them in your power. "All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked," said Hermann Goering at the Nuremburg trials, "and denounce the pacificists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." Trump (who has reportedly enjoyed reading Hitler's speeches) is using the same kind of demagoguery that Goering did.

So it's no surprise that people are attracted to charismatic goons like Trump who promise to eradicate perceived "evil." He and other right-wing leaders have always understood that fear, defensiveness, and perception of being persecuted are exquisitely potent political tools.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Americans are constantly surrounded by death reminders, thanks to sensationalist, "if it bleeds, it leads" media. Stressed-out people don't understand how politicians deploy mortal terror to their own advantage, or what to do with the anxiety they feel after watching death play out day after day on TV screens. That anxiety has to go somewhere, and people express it in all kinds of ways. If they're relatively psychologically healthy, they can shake it off with sports or exercise, and gather with friends to talk and comfort one another. If they're not, they might grab a gun and shoot someone, and in so doing both shore up their personal self esteem and demonstrate their allegiance to their cultural worldviews.

It's really no wonder that some paranoid people with twitchy trigger fingers want to take out anything that threatens their self-esteem. In Biloxi, Mississipi, a guy shot a waitress in the head when she asked him not to smoke in the restaurant. In New Mexico, a four-year old was killed in a road-rage incident when a driver fired into another car. In 2015, we've already seen more mass shootings in the U.S. than there are days so far the year. The response? People cowering in fear go out and buy more guns, abetted by the NRA and right-wing media, in a vicious cycle of violence. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, was a huge day for gun sales - up 15% over last year. Over at the NRA, Wayne LaPierre must be giggling with delight while he writes out another fat check to Mitch McConnell.

Is there a better way to deal with all this anxiety? I'm not a psychologist, but I'd say that first, we have to name it. If I'm in a conversation with my right-wing uncle, I might ask, with compassion, "What are you really afraid of?" and invite him put down his gun and spill his guts. And maybe, maybe, by showing some love, he might open up. Maybe he could understand how living in fear is not serving him or anyone else, and that there is more to life than paranoia. He might disagree and want to lash out, but the conversation might help to lower his psychological temperature a bit.

After Obama's Address, a Conversation With My Sons

Taymullah Abdur-Rahman   |   December 9, 2015    9:56 AM ET

Sunday night I watched President Obama's address about the war on terror with my sons; ages 7, 10 and 12. When the speech was over I turned the television off and this is the conversation that ensued:

Ten year old: Who is ISIL?

Twelve year old: A group that says they're Muslim but they kill people for no reason.

Seven year old: Why do they kill people?

Me: Because they believe that Allah commands them to.

Ten year old: What?

Me: Yes, they think that everyone living in the west is the enemy so they have the right to kill them.

Ten year old: But we live in the west, right?

Twelve year old: Yeah, they kill Muslims too. No one is safe.

Ten year old: So what are the police doing?

Me: There's not much anyone can do because no one knows who these people are.

Ten year old: So what can we do to help?

Me: We can first be good Muslims. And that includes being good Americans. That's what the Quran says.

Seven year old: Wait... it says to be good Americans in the Quran?

Me: (reaching for my Quran and opening to chapter 5, verse 5) No, it doesn't literally say to be good Americans but it says:

O you who believe fulfill your oaths

That means when we pledge our allegiance to America, in exchange for this country allowing your dad to get a good job, and you to go to a good school and for the Muslims to be able to build mosques and celebrate our holidays, and for us to be protected by the law, we must obey the law and follow the rules.

Twelve year old: But I'm reading now in school, about slavery and lynching and the discrimination of the Civil Rights era. America made a lot of mistakes...

Me: Yes, but I want you to think of one country that has made as many mistakes as America but has also tried to correct them along the way. Imagine that our forefathers were slaves, and now we have an African American president...

(Everyone quietly thinking...)

Me: Well...?

Twelve year old: Umm... I don't know. I guess you're right.

Me: Listen, thank Allah that you're from America. A lot of children around the world wish they could have the opportunities you have, and some can't even read and write, son.

Seven year old: Really? Why? Even I can read and write!

Me: Because their governments don't allow them to get a decent education.

Ten year old: So why don't their parents just teach them?

Me: It's not that simple. Some of them can't read or write either.

Twelve year old: How do they eat? What do they do for work?

Me: I'm not sure. But I know they don't eat whatever they want, like you do. They can't just play video games when they want, like you do. They don't have camps to go to, and amusement parks, and huge parks to play sports and a gazillion different schools and colleges to choose from.

Ten year old: So why don't they talk to their government or vote for better people who will give them books and stuff?

Me: That's where ISIL comes in. ISIL blames America for everything that's wrong in Muslim countries. And they use Islam as an excuse to commit acts of terror.

Ten year old: But why? What does terror do? That won't get them books or food... that doesn't make sense. Islam doesn't tell them to commit terror.

Me: They don't want books or food. They want everyone to be so afraid that we won't go to work or go to school and things will be bad for all of us.

Twelve year old: That sounds like pure jealousy. Like bullying...

Seven year old: Why would these crazy people be using religion to hurt people? Religion is supposed to be good. It doesn't make sense!

Me: I know that, and I'm glad you know that. But they don't care what makes sense. They don't care what Islam says or Allah says. They just want to kill. And then when they hurt innocent people, all the good Muslims suffer because ISIL says they do it for Islam.

Ten year old: Is that why all of a sudden you told us we couldn't go out with mom and put the Boy Scout bags for canned goods on people's doors?

Me:. Your mom wears a head scarf, and people might be angry if you walk to their doors because they don't know whether to trust us or not. So, it's just not safe right now, son.

Seven year old: Not safe for us?

Twelve year old: Because people don't trust us.

Seven year old: Why? We're not terrorists.

Me: But we're Muslim.

Ten year old: So what are we gonna do?

Me: We're gonna continue to be Muslim. And we're gonna continue to do good things in our community. But I want you to promise me something...

All of them: What?

Me: Promise me you will always stay close to what Islam says about being truthful and being honest and being loyal. That means saying your prayers, being good to your mother, getting a good education and a good job and being loyal to the country that gave you the opportunity to have those things.

Twelve year old: That's easy. But does being loyal to our country mean that we can never criticize something that we don't like about it? I'm reading in school, that that's how some laws get passed that help citizens; when people criticize the government.

Me: It doesn't mean you can't criticize, because you're right, that's how some things change for the better in society. You should be able to criticize for the right reasons. That's what being a patriot is. It's when you love something so much, that you want to see it be as perfect as possible so you constantly try and make it better.

Ten year old: Kind of like what you and mom do when you tell us we should be getting As instead of Bs and Cs.

Me: Exactly. Because we love you. And to love is to critique.

Seven year old: What's critique mean?

Me: It means to look for all the small things that could be better and then working on them until something is close to perfect.

Ten year old: So we can criticize?

Me: Yes, but you can never become violent or encourage others to be violent. That's un-Islamic and America doesn't deserve that, because we've built a good life for ourselves here. And that's why you go to Islamic school, to learn what Islam teaches about respecting others and living with many different kinds of people, peacefully.

Twelve year old: I would never hurt people. Mom doesn't even let us play violent video games.

Me: I know you wouldn't, but I'm telling you anyway.

Ten year old: Where are these ISIL people learning Islam? It seems like someone is teaching them the wrong stuff.

Me: I don't know. I think they get a lot of bad information from the internet. That's why I'm always telling you never to search about Islam on the internet. When you have a question about Islam, ask me or your mom. But don't go on Youtube and look up videos to learn. That's not how you learn. That's how you get tricked into believing crazy things about Islam and about a lot of other things.

Ten year old: But not everything on YouTube is bad.

Twelve year old: Yeah, but how would you know how to tell the difference?

Ten year old: (pointing to me) Umm... I'll just ask you.

Me: Well I'm telling you now. You can watch your anime and your video game tutorials on YouTube and that's it. If you want some cool Muslim websites to go to, I'll make a list for you. Some even have video games and funny stories.

Ten year old: Okay, anime and video games. Got it.

Me: Does everyone get it?

All of them in unison: Got it!

Me: Good.

We're all at a loss right now. None of us are quite sure what to do. But as Muslims, we must begin to have these difficult conversations in our households if we haven't already started them. Fear is the only thing stronger than reason. But the one thing greater than fear is education. Education can only happen when we communicate with one another. Let's start the dialogue; at home, and elsewhere.

God help us all...

Religious Fervor and Guns

William Duggan   |   December 9, 2015   12:32 AM ET

Jihad is an Arabic word, but "holy war" is not limited to Islam. The Christianization of Europe, for example, featured both voluntary conversion and forced conversion at the point of a sword. Charlemagne alone exterminated whole tribes that resisted. The Thirty Years Wars in seventeenth century Europe pitted Catholic jihadists against Protestant jihadists. In all these cases, extremists justified the death of civilians in religious terms.

The world right now is suffering an Islamic jihad by extremists who do the same thing: they justify the death of civilians in religious terms. Even the United States, far from the main theaters of war, has suffered almost four thousand civilian deaths on our soil. And the most recent case -- in San Bernardino -- has intersected with another jihad on our soil: the justification of civilian deaths by extremists who believe that owning guns is a religious right.

All jihadists have their sacred texts. The American gun jihadists have a simple one: the Second Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. There is a big debate between moderate Muslims and Islamic jihadists about whether or not their sacred texts justify the murder of civilians. There is no debate among American gun jihadists: their reading of the Second Amendment justifies civilian deaths, period.

The religious fervor of the gun jihadists gives them an answer to all objections to their interpretation of the Second Amendment. In San Bernardino, Islamic jihadists killed civilians. Any American gun jihadist will tell you what the innocent civilians in San Bernardino should have done: become gun jihadists. If every civilian in San Bernardino had a gun, they could have killed the Islamic jihadists.

The American gun jihad has killed far more American civilians than the Islamic jihad. And it will continue to do so, week after week after week. Moderate Americans are a majority, and they want to end the gun jihad. But gun jihadists, though fewer in number, have religious fervor on their side.

Who will win?

A Day in America

Beth Leyba   |   December 8, 2015    6:30 PM ET

On Wednesday I woke up exhausted after a pain flare in the middle of the night that had me writhing for at least an hour.

I struggled to get moving and was grateful it was my day off. I made coffee and breakfast and sat down with my laptop. I was on Facebook seeing what all my friends were up to, when all of a sudden I started seeing lots of "BREAKING NEWS" updates: active shooter situation in San Bernardino.

My heart sank. Not again. Why? When will this stop? I posted one of the news stories with the caption "I seriously don't want to live here any more."

Gun violence has touched my life. My uncle was murdered via gunshot when I was just 5 years old. When I was 22 I was a passenger in a car that was shot at during a road rage incident. The driver of the car I was in had simply honked when the other driver cut him off. The back windshield was shot out and I felt my hair move as the bullet passed through just inches behind my head.

I live in Colorado; home to Columbine, the Aurora Theater massacre, and just a few days ago, an attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. When Columbine happened I was 19 and had become a mother six months before. My first gut instinct when I saw the live coverage on television was to frantically mutter, "Where's my baby?" even though my baby was literally a baby, not a teenager in high school, and safe with her grandma while I worked on my college coursework.

I heard all of the emergency vehicles the night the Aurora shooting happened. I lived three miles from the theater at the time. A friend was visiting from out of town and we were up late, hanging out on the front porch on a lovely summer's eve. After several minutes of nonstop sirens I knew that something was terribly wrong. The news was horrifying. I couldn't help but wonder why my state seems to have the worst mass shootings.

Because of that reality and the collective trauma of living in an infamous for shootings state, for years I have taken note of the location of exits and possible hiding spots when I'm at the bank, in the movie theater, in a college classroom, in a store, and eventually pretty much anywhere, since we all know that it happens everywhere. No place is sacred. Some mornings I feel ill putting my 10-year-old daughter on the school bus, and wonder if today will be the day her school gets shot up.

I have thought about the location of her classroom relative to the school's entrances and thought about how if she were in her homeroom and not a specials class she would probably be okay unless the shooter went systematically classroom to classroom and had a long time to do so. I have thought about how if she were to go through a school shooting and survive, the trauma would take years to work through and the grief would be with her always. And of course I've thought about losing her.

When I was a kid we didn't have these thoughts. The doors to our schools weren't permanently locked. We didn't know the terms "lockdown drill" and "active shooter." Several months ago my daughter told me, rather nonchalantly, about what they had to do in a lockdown drill, which was essentially "hide and don't make any noise so that if someone is shooting they won't find us," and my stomach sank as I listened. We had fire drills when I was a kid, and a rare tornado drill, but that was it.

Anyway, on Wednesday, I couldn't handle the news out of San Bernardino. I cried. I felt like vomiting, and it's because I know. I know what it is to get the call that your loved one has suddenly and tragically and violently died. My stepson died in a fiery car crash in August of 2014, and then I lost five more family members in the next nine months. To say that my family is incredibly traumatized is an understatement.

In fact, Wednesday was to be our first night of grief support therapy at Judi's House, a local nonprofit that helps children and their caregivers deal with grief. We were planning to leave when my youngest got home, which is generally via the school bus at 4:00 p.m.

At 4:07 p.m. I got a text from my teenager who had gone to meet the bus: The bus isn't here.

I told myself that the bus had been late before and there was no need to panic.

Another text came at 4:11 p.m.: Still not here.

I started to get worried.

At 4:17 p.m. I received another text, but this time from my adult stepdaughter: Are you guys okay??

I had no idea what she was talking about so I quickly got on a local news website. There had been an officer involved shooting a couple of blocks from the elementary school, which was placed on lockdown. I called the teenager and started to cry, asking her to please stay there in case the bus came. I called the school. No answer.

I quickly got in my car and went to the bus stop. The grandmother of a couple of other students was in the same boat I was. We had no idea what was going on or who to call for information. I decided to go to the school.

The entire school was surrounded by emergency vehicles, with all the roads blocked off, news crews setting up on corners and helicopters circling overhead. I was told by a police officer that I had to stay in my car and not proceed on foot, and he directed me past a blockade where I ended up stuck in a line of cars.

My cell phone rang and it was from an unknown caller. I answered and heard the fear in my sweet girl's voice. "Mommy?!"

She immediately started talking a mile a minute. "Mommy we had a lockdown. A real one. I'm in my classroom and I'm safe but I was scared Mommy. I'm calling you from my friend's phone. He let me use it. Are you coming, Mommy?"

I assured her that I was just outside and would get to her as soon as I possibly could. I followed the other parents around me and turned down an alleyway so we could park a few blocks away and proceed on foot despite being told not to.

When I got close to the school there was a line of parents snaked all the way down the block and I was at least 100th in that line. It was freezing. I felt like crying because I was so worried about my girl, who deals with anxiety even on normal days. A school staff member handed me a form to fill out with my name and my student's name.

As I stood there in the cold willing the line to move faster, I had thoughts about my daughter calling me from a friend's phone and decided that she would be taking her cell phone to school daily, regardless of school rules.

What an awful thought to have. I want my child to be able to call me if and when death is imminent, at least if she gets a chance to. I want to be able to tell her how much I love her and how special she is. I again felt like vomiting.

The school principal came outside to reassure parents that students were safe and that they would reunite everyone as quickly as possible. She asked if anyone had special circumstances and I told her that we were already 20 minutes late to grief support group. She kindly took me to the front of the line and personally went and retrieved my daughter.

The look on my daughter's face when she saw me, and the way she ran into my arms, makes me cry even now, just as it did in that moment.

We made it to group, albeit late, and when the facilitator pulled me aside at the end to check if I was okay after yet another traumatizing event, I burst into tears yet again.

No, I told her. I'm not okay.

Mass shootings literally everyday and thousands upon thousands of Americans dying annually by guns is NOT OKAY.

Yes, it was a nearby threat and not a madman stalking the halls of my child's school, but even nearby is too damn close.

I don't know what the answers are, but I do know that I am sad and I am angry, and that living in this gun crazed culture where a stray or intended bullet might find me or my children at any time sure doesn't feel like living.

It feels like waiting to die.

I'm Afraid of Americans and Their Guns

Claire Zulkey   |   December 8, 2015    5:37 PM ET

A few years ago I was working at Northwestern University when, one dull afternoon, everyone's phones, desk and cell, started ringing at the same time. I picked up my cell and heard an automated message that a gunman had been seen on campus and everybody was supposed to lock down.

Oh, I didn't realize it until now, but this is my worst nightmare, I thought to myself. I wonder if I'll die.

Eventually the lockdown got called off and I don't know what ever happened to the gunman -- it might have been a figment of someone's imagination, or maybe he just walked away. That wasn't, of course, the first time I ever contemplated how dying in a mass public shooting is a horrific way to lose your life (or, perhaps even worse, to hear that it happened to a loved one), but it was closer than the other ways I had experienced it, which was through the news.

Stories of public shootings in the States have always distressed me but since I've had children, I've become nearly obsessed, reading the stories and then going into the comments and tweets and Facebook threads because I live in disbelief that there are people -- many many people -- in this country who think that things are fine the way they are. If I'm being quite honest, it fills me with an ironic murderous rage, like, yes, if I could shoot the person who would cast the deciding vote against amending gun control so that things like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting never happened again, I would. Good thing I don't own a gun.

So I do what I can, which is donate money to causes I believe in (which exist, for the record, to pass better gun control laws, not to take away existing guns), correspond with my congresspeople and try to speak my mind in a somewhat cogent way on social media, because I think ending a post with "idiot" does not do much to earn you credibility or new listeners.

However, I don't feel like I'm doing much, and that only stokes my fear. My fear used to be that I would be caught in some sort of public shooting, or, worse, that my children would be, but lately that fear has been replaced by a new type of terror:

I'm scared that people live in fear of terrorism but not enough to demand legislation that prevents potential terrorists from legally purchasing guns.

I'm scared that some people are against "big government" and then donate money to the NRA, which has control over what the CDC is allowed to study and report.

I'm scared that people feel comfortable advertising how lightly they take putting guns into the hands of their children despite the fact that things like this can and actually have happened.

I'm scared that many people thought it was, I don't know, brave or funny or kick-ass to fire rounds into a copy of a newspaper that reported the news that many people are frightened.

I'm scared that people have decided that when the founding fathers wrote the Second Amendment, it meant that it would be appropriate and patriotic to stalk around a place of worship with weapons visible.

I'm scared about how we repeatedly let ourselves get caught up in time-wasting semantics about whether another murder is terrorism or "merely" a mass shooting, making sure we know the killers' skin color and religion and political beliefs before we really pass judgment on the event, and whether it's disrespectful to suggest that actions and policy are more effective than thought and prayer, as if once we establish all that we can really get to the business at hand.

And I'm still scared to live in a country where 20 children -- children -- can be shot to death and nothing, and the government didn't change a single thing about it. (Compared to when, say, the Our Lady of Angels School fire killed 87 children in Chicago in 1958 and sweeping changes in school fire safety regulations were enacted nationwide to ensure it never happened again.) Sandy Hook could happen again tomorrow and every day this week and still many people would say, "Your dead kids don't trump my rights."

How can this possibly be? How can we all live in the same country and use the same currency and postal system and celebrate the same government holidays and watch the same sporting events and use the same social networks? I'm terrified that I live amongst these people.

I have come to realize that I can do a few tiny things but I can only do so much, take in so much, before I start to lose my mind and the gratitude and joy for the many things I have. It has happened a few times in the last few weeks where I was distracted from my healthy, beautiful, bright children because I was caught up in reading as many facts and comments as I could about shootings and gun control and gun rights, which is not a good use of my time. A trip to Target felt morbid last week as I contemplated how easy it would be to shoot up a place like that, how hollow and ridiculous all the Christmas decorations were when the country is like this. But at the same time, my boys don't know that. It's my job -- and my privilege -- to make this time special to them. But it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit though, I tell you.

Maybe in some respects the world was better before social media, when I merely lived in this country but wasn't so blatantly aware of exactly what my fellow citizens all think. It feels bizarre and purposefully ignorant to aspire to close myself off from the world, especially as a writer and a blogger, but now this is what I'm facing. I feel like if the world is this frightening, if I can't do anything about it beyond donating money and saying what I can say, at a certain point all I can do is try shut down and pull the covers above my head, at least sometimes. Maybe it's safe under there.

Originally published on Zulkey.com.

Mehreen Kasana   |   December 8, 2015    3:58 PM ET


In relentless succession, a parade of towns and cities have this year joined the bloodstained ranks of American mass shooting locations.

9 Gun Arguments That Need To Be Disarmed (Part 2)

Sam Corey   |   December 8, 2015    1:08 PM ET

Part one of this blog series targeted two common utterly erroneous gun arguments, this post will cover three perceptions that are misguided.

3. "We Need Guns to Protect Us from the Government"

As the Founding Fathers and Revolutionary soldiers emerged victorious from a revolt against the world's most powerful imperial nation, they were suspicious of a tyrannical government rising from the smokey, blood-soaked battlegrounds that birthed the Colonies' independence from Great Britain.

However, the 2nd Amendment, which guarantees every citizen the right to bear arms, was written during a time when muskets and cannons were dominant in military arsenals and when America was too broke to afford a standing army.

Regardless, Americans who conspicuously fret over a federal government takeover are free to defend themselves of the horrors of Social Security, Obamacare, the IRS and the potential of Donald Trump's sun-bleached skunk tail wig becoming the First Lady in 2016.

For the sake of satisfying the concerns of Alex Jones-inspired, Area 51 conspiracy theorists, let's entertain the notion that the federal government wants to invade a country that they've assumed full control over since 1776.

The U.S. has an estimated 7,560 nuclear warheads; the second largest standing army in the world of 1,361,755 active soldiers; the most powerful navy in the world with 430 active ships; an air force of 329,500 active airmen and 5,032 aircraft; thousands of tanks, armored fighting vehicles and artillery weapons; drone striking capabilities; military-designed "Iron Man" suits; and an NSA surveillance program that can track our every email and phone calls through data collecting surveillance.

It's safe to say, if the "Feds" really have an insatiable desire to take control of our homes, it has every capability of doing so - a rag tag, wannabe paramilitary band of neighbors who confuse skeet shooting with strategic special ops training isn't going to stop a government that spends more on military and security than the next seven countries combined.

4. "There Are More Automobile Deaths Per Year than Gun Deaths, So Does That Mean We Should Ban Automobiles Too?"

Car crashes killed 33,561 people in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Firearms killed 32,251 people in the United States in 2011, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control has data.

The difference between automobiles and guns is automobiles serve a constructive purpose outside of killing or wounding living beings.

This presents a cost-benefit analysis for our society: motor vehicles are instrumental in transporting both people and goods to different places, a cornerstone of commerce in the modern American economy. Therefore, as a nation, we have determined that the benefit of having automobiles providing an essential function outweighs the potential of danger that accompanies driving.

Nevertheless, we have regulations that reduce the harm of operating a motor vehicle: driving tests and licensing, traffic signs and speed limits, DUI laws, emissions tests, driver's insurance, among others. These laws have made driving safer while allowing us to property utilize our automobiles.

If we still believe that guns provide an essential service to our country, why can't regulate them while promoting our 2nd Amendment rights?

Freedom of Speech is also an entrenched civil liberty and it's modestly constrained: libel and slander defamation laws limit the press's and the individual's ability to spread malice without evidence; inappropriate language is banned on public television and radio; and harassment and threats are criminal offenses.

Meanwhile, we still enjoy this Constitutional right outside of the extremist college PC buzzkill parade.

In actuality, however, guns are projected to outpace automobiles as America's top killing machine, which begs the societal question: Is the "benefit" of having unrestrained circulation of firearms worth the cost of over 30,000 lives per year?

5. "Gun Free Zones Are a Hotbed for Killers"

Gun rights supporters scapegoat gun free zones as a cause of violence, asserting the killers know these areas contain defenseless victims.

John R. Lott, an outspoken and notable researcher of gun-free zones and a vociferous opponent of gun laws, authored More Guns, Less Crime, which posits gun-free zones account for most mass shootings.

However, this argument assumes shooters are rational actors and even Lott himself admits that about half of criminals who commit mass shootings have received a "formal diagnosis of mental illness."

Our melodramatic media portrays these murderers to be insane, morally depraved, emotionally unstable individuals. But in the context of mass shooting in gun-free zones, they suddenly become hyperrational, cold-blooded killers who deliberately calculate and target gun-free environments to maximize casualties.

If these depictions seem a bit inconsistent, it's because they are.

The aforementioned FBI study of 160 active shootings shows that in 63 percent of shootings occurring in commercial or educational areas, the shooter involved has some relationship with the place.

The report states, "Of the 39 shootings in the study that occurred in educational environments, 31 of the shooters had some relationship with the school  (27 were current or former students). Out of 23 businesses with no pedestrian traffic (i.e., private offices rather than stores) where shootings occurred, 22 of the shooters were current or former employees."

In an article for the Trace, Evan Defilippis and Devin Hughes write, "In reality, many shooters target a location based on an emotional grievance or an attachment to a particular person or place. These shooters are overwhelmingly motivated by some grievance rather than a desire to maximize casualties, which makes it highly unlikely that a gun-free policy had any bearing on the choice of target."

6. "Criminals Will Just Break the Law and Buy Guns Anyway"

Another popular conservative talking point is the notion that laws won't stop criminals form buying guns.

While this is true, this logic asserts there is no point in passing legislation without 100% guaranteed compliance. Applying this rationale to other statutes in America would result in the repeal of all laws until we reach a state of pure anarchy, defined by the state of nature.

What's the point of laws against murder, rape and theft if criminals will inevitably partake in such devious activities, right?

Law enforcement allows victims wronged by criminals to seek retribution via the criminal justice system, deters potential criminal behavior and shapes social norms which govern appropriate (and legal) conduct.

People push for gun reform because they long for a society which diffuses strife through conflict resolution, compassion and diplomatic communication, not deterrence through mutually assured destruction.

Brazil and Australia enacted gun reforms that helped curb gun violence, there's no reason why such action shouldn't occur in the U.S.

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The final post of this series will point the barrel at typical NRA and Republican dodge tactics that avoid meaningful discussion and reform.