We Don't Need to be Stupid, Really We Can Be Better...

Paul Evans

With respect to Einstein, doing the same thing over again and expecting a better outcome isn't just insanity, it's stupidity... And we do not have to be stupid – ever.

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of media coverage about the Clackamas Town Center and Sandy Hook Tragedies. In response, there have been a lot of thoughtful comments – and a few stupid comments.

With respect to Einstein, doing the same thing over again and expecting a better outcome isn't just insanity, it's stupidity... And we do not have to be stupid – ever.

This past week I was trying hard to remain silent on this issue because my views are complex and at times moderately contradictory. But after reading an impressive, thoughtful column by Carla Axtman this week I felt called to share.

Weaponizing the public school house, and the public square, is an idea that should remain in the “almost a good idea” category. People with training in weaponry could, in some cases, provide marginal counter-shooter capabilities. However, most people – even those that think they are experts – are not weapons experts.

We would likely see significantly more harm than good in making the classroom a de facto militarized zone. More importantly, it would just as likely provide tragic consequences (those that can and cannot be anticipated at this time). We need more sworn officers in the schools to be sure, but more for identification of potential threats and relationships with the students – than for “in the moment” counter-shooter options.

The good news is that America appears to be willing to remain engaged on this issue; usually a couple of news cycles past a tragedy and we are onto the “next” thing. Sadly, it took the loss of twenty (20) innocent children to hold our gaze. Thankfully, most reasonable people understand that we have reached a critical moment in history.

We know that widespread, unpredictable human-caused tragedies are unacceptable. We know that living in fear is the trapdoor for democracies. Fear invites erosion of civic and social liberties. We now that within this context, a “non-decision” is a decision: toleration of the intolerable.

As a gun-owner – and a veteran – I am frustrated with the overrepresentation of K-Street, the nut-jobs and the weapons industry. I am a believer in the 2nd Amendment, and believe that it is an important part of maintaining our individual liberties.

That said, I am quite certain that bullets and mass scale lethality were never on the minds of the Founding Fathers; if Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, or Washington lived in 21st Century America I doubt seriously if they would advocate for the right of every American to own an arsenal of Bushmasters, SKS’s, or Uzi’s…

Truth be told, our Founders wouldn’t understand why so many people could vote – much less own weaponry for war. As a group, the Founders were good men that envisioned a nation of free citizens with a government less tyrannical than the Crown; they did the best they could with what they had to work with.

Ironically, we often celebrate the fact that our America has evolved our concepts of life, liberty, and happiness. Since our origin we have expanded the franchise – our President is the manifestation of this success story.

But for some reason, some of us believe other parts of the US Constitution remain sacrosanct. That the original language (and intent) should endure without question... The point is, the document was given to us to make a more perfect Union, in our time, in our way.

The most powerful gift of our Founders – the US Constitution – was crafted with an understanding of its time-boundedness. The men that fought a war and waged a hard-earned peace among 13 headstrong states were great, not merely because of what they did but because they were aware that they didn't know everything - and trusted future generations with a structure and system that could support the necessary changes of the coming years.

Within its very construct is the mechanism for evolutionary improvement. We have ability, a duty, to amend it in keeping with the exigencies of modernity. And in 21st Century America there is (at least should be) a difference between the right to appreciate, celebrate, and own firearms – and the right to use said firearms in the pursuit of infamy.

The 2nd Amendment shouldn't be a fig leaf covering our own nakedness of courage, commitment, and foresight. Rights are neither sacrosanct nor free of responsibility.

Some of my most treasured memories involve family events that involved weapons. In my family we learned about weapons at an early age. Later, in the military, I learned to become proficient with certain and specific types of weapons as tools for sanctioned violence.

More than many I understand the dangers of firearms when introduced into any environment – especially an environment without constraints or widespread appreciation for the consequences (ref: instances where young people have been trained for violence through repeated scenario-based training). We must find ways to address these issues. And I am committed to helping do this.

However, as a veteran that has received (and will likely continue to receive – at least for a while) mental health care assistance from the VA, I am more than frustrated with the apparent “scape-goating” of the mentally ill. It is important for all engaged in our quest for enduring solutions that for those seeking treatment, and those that should seek treatment, sufficient stigma is already associated with doing so.

How in the world does the establishment of a registry (within the context of these tragedies) make seeking assistance anything but the mark of Cain?

In truth, the current leadership at the National Rifle Association (NRA) knows full well that such a registry would be nearly impossible to implement in a respectful or responsible manner; the NRA seeks to deflect the righteous indignation of millions of concerned citizens in order to survive the escalating groundswell for significant changes to present-day gun laws.

The NRA appears to be playing to its financiers and the most hard-liners among its membership because it understands something that most Americans have yet to discern: our electorate is comprised of feelers and thinkers. And nothing motivates “feelers” more than fear. For contrary to the myth of the “liberal bleeding heart,” it is the Republican Party far more than the Democratic Party that depends upon pathos for electoral success.

Republican leaders often care little about the rationality of policy; Republicans lead through appeals to belief, the future, and sacrifice (especially if the sacrifice is required of others). Republicans benefit whenever the public can see itself as the vulnerable, unassisted target of evil.

Democrats appeal to the rationality of possible choices (and associated policies) hoping to educate, inform, or persuade the public to act in ways that serve the public interest. Most Democrats are weary of talking in good/evil terms and in this way, we often fail to connect with the public on the most important issues of the day.

It is hard to explain complex issues in codex: budgets can do good and evil, but are inherently neither - until defined in such terms.

We are locked in battle between what feels good (read easy) and what we know should be done for the benefit of all involved. Sadly, we accept the quick and easy path to failure instead of the slower and more difficult trail to securing success. We need strategies that link beliefs and policies to progressive outcomes; our future is dependent upon it.

Unfortunately it is far easier to fix blame than to fix our problems. And right now we are on a dangerous course: watch the subtle and not-so-subtle swipes at those requiring mental health care. It is imperative that we understand the costs of what we do not implement at least as much as what we do. The fiscal cliff fight is not in a vacuum. We must make policy with open eyes. And we need a comprehensive approach to mental health care, but merging the needs for mental health care with the imagery of these tragedies as the singular cause is a bad, bad idea.

Damn all those seeking to establish a registry for those seeking (or receiving) mental health services – in most cases, the very same men and women that have spent the past two decades underfunding so-called non-entitlement (discretionary) domestic spending on science-based, systemic health and human services programming.

The Reagan Revolution defunded social programming in order to strengthen our military and global reach (without breaking the federal budget too far beyond what it did break it). In the early 1990s the “Contract on America” provided the excuse to continue the deconstruction of the structures and systems of programs that helped prevent the kinds of tragedies we are now becoming all too familiar with.

Only in the alternate reality of the modern GOP could it make sense to hobble people and then blame them for failing to survive a marathon. On top of that, with millions of returning veterans (some of which requiring mental health care), we are making things worse.

It is time we undertook real action. It is time we undertook a national, state, and community-driven effort to implement the kind of policies that can only result from open dialogue, from transparent “sausage-making.”

We must rethink public spaces and schools. We must remember why class sizes matter. We must remember why school counselors matter. We must remember why passive security-based construction matters. We must remember why adult volunteers in the schools matter. And yes, we must remember why sworn school resource officers’ matter.

Arming a 21st Century PTA Militia is not a solution, it is a sound-bite for an organization that has played to the extremes for survival for so long – and so intensely – that it cannot change course. It is the last, desperate cry of a pressure group that will continue to lose political prowess and power.

Americans need Washington to be invested in a long-term solution, but we must not wait for them to lead. It is time we undertook action at the neighborhood, county, and state levels. And it is time we developed and implemented a comprehensive approach that fundamentally changes our present, policies that secure our future.

There is no perfect plan but the following is offered for consideration for debate and dialogue:

  1. Amend the US Constitution providing the US Congress and the States the power to define the 2nd Amendment (with specific-provisions for home defense, hobby, and hunting), munitions, and sales of weaponry;

  2. Statutory requirement for registry of automatic weapons (hand guns as well as rifles) through the same agency that regulates and registers concealed weapons (in Oregon, this would be through the county sheriff offices);

  3. Implementation of a federal and state tax structure for munitions that incentivizes lesser lethal choices (hunting rounds cheaper than hand gun munitions, assault weapon munitions taxed at higher rates);

  4. Expansion of statutory powers for removal of gun rights from certain/specific types of offenses (in many cases, non-violent offenses do not carry automatic negation of gun ownership rights – DUI should be included);

  5. The US Government, the State of Oregon, and local governments (counties, cities, school districts, public safety districts) should develop a 20 year plan for reinvestment in mental health care services – with an automatic placement on the 2013 Ballot for a funding package);

  6. The State of Oregon should be provided added authorities, programming, and support for permanent, secured, care for individuals with the science-based profile traits associated with mass murder – with respecting the rights of appeal and annual review;

  7. The State of Oregon should develop a set of passive defense standards for any/all public spaces – especially schools. Implementation would be similar to the statewide seismic rehabilitation program but with more funding available for grants, and increased local tax structure flexibilities for near-term added costs;

While I hope our state and communities will seize this opportunity and save the lives of untold numbers of our neighbors, I know that it will take that most rare of political assets: will.

We will either confront this moment to make a better, safer America or we will not. If we want change badly enough to force our elected leaders to respond – respond they will.

This Holiday Season we should be grateful for all we have, thankful for the people in our lives. Soon we will begin a New Year. Let us resolve to make it a better year.

Let us resolve to make this season, the season we said enough was enough and committed ourselves to making the 2013 Holiday Season (and those that follow) at least marginally more secure from the darkness that clouds 2012.

We cannot – and will not – prevent every tragedy. Together we can make tragedies like Clackamas and Sandy Hook rare.

The choice is ours.

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