Liberty or Safety?

As a father of school-aged children, including one who loves concerts, the recent mass shootings in places like Las Vegas and Miami really trouble me. The fact that there are so many criminally — no, murderously insane people walking among us is scary. I think we are all nearly to the point of looking around and wondering who the next person might be who is capable of such violence. An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.  Something HAS to change.

In the wake of these events, especially the Miami school shooting, many are calling for stricter laws on guns. Some are calling for outright bans. Some want to just ban the sale and/or ownership of so-called ‘military-style assault weapons’ (e.g. the AR-15).  Some want stronger background checks. Some want longer waiting periods. Some want to stronger licensing requirements, rules around storage and safekeeping, or mandatory training.

Let me preface this by saying, I hate being able to see both sides of an argument. Some folks see things as all black or all white, and fail to see the gray areas.  Sometimes I wish I could be that way. That would prevent me from having arguments with my own conscience.

In this case, I DO understand why some people desire the aforementioned bans, laws, or rules. I get it. Many of them make sense from a 1000-ft view. There are many assumptions being made:
– “Guns kill people, so guns are bad. Nobody should have this ability.” = ban guns
– “I don’t need a gun because my government will protect me.” = ban guns
– “Nobody needs an AR-15 military style gun. They should not be sold.” = ban guns
– “People who own guns should all pass mental evaluations, stronger background checks, etc.” = many gun owners are unstable
– “People who buy guns should have to wait longer to get them; they should not be sold online.” = all gun owners/buyers are unstable
– “People who own guns should be forced to store them safely.” = safe storage will prevent bad things from happening
– “People who own guns should complete mandatory training.” = gun owners are by default unsafe

Sadly, I have even seen on social media (looking at you, Twitter) where “all gun owners are racist, fascist, murderers-in-waiting.” Some people will swim a long way to get to the deep end, others just jump right in.

Looking at the opposite side of this coin:
– Guns don’t kill people — PEOPLE kill people. Guns are the tool of choice. In most cases, if someone who is willing to take violent action does not have the tool they want, they find a tool that works.  Examples: Oklahoma City.  New York City. Boston.  Even in the events of 9/11, firearms were not used — it was box knives.
– There is a long, long history of governments rising up against their own people, including the Civil War (civilian deaths were inflicted by both sides), and in places like China, Russia/Syria, etc. Should we, the people, give up our individual right to defend our country, our property, or ourselves?
– Interestingly, the call to ban “military style” weapons is often called “FOBG” (Fear of Black Guns) by some.  In terms of functional differences between an AR and a hunting rifle, there often are none. People are making assumptions based on appearance.
– The idea to require mental-health checks insinuates that many gun owners are unstable. This is at least somewhat true, as clearly SOME gun owners have been unstable. BUT, so are many automobile owners.  Shall we ban cars? We can’t afford to over-generalize an entire populous based on the actions of a few.
– There may be value in requiring that people wait longer on the purchase of a firearm. However, in the case of most recent mass shootings, this has not been the case. The perpetrators have possessed their weapons for long periods in advance of their crimes.
– Requiring safer storage is interesting, and may work in theory. In the Miami high school shooting, however, the individuals caring for the shooter THOUGHT they had them secured and had the only key. Unfortunately, they were wrong. BUT, there is a lot to be gained from better rules around gun security.
– Many people who own guns have grown up handling them, and have been taught well to respect what they have. However, some certainly have not been. Is signing a waiver and form that lists the basic rules sufficient? Probably not.

Clearly, one can argue both ways and sound effectively informed. However, again, some folks only see one side or the other. The thing that many people do NOT seem to understand is the “how” of accomplishing many of the above-listed constraints.

– Given their pervasiveness (millions sold over many decades, many untraceable), HOW do you keep ANY gun out of the hands of mentally unstable people?
– HOW can people protect themselves in the event of civil unrest (ever watch The Walking Dead or other post-apocalyptic shows? We’re closer than you think. The outcome of an EMP-style attack on the US, or a global pandemic, would be devastating and would leave people fighting for food and resources. This includes protecting what you have.
– If there are no functional differences between an AR-15 and some hunting rifles, what is gained by banning them? HOW do you enforce this ban when there are already millions of them in circulation?
– The firearms and ammunition industry is a MAJOR player in our economy. It accounts for $51.3 BILLION (as of 2016!) and accounts for over 300k jobs! HOW do you replace this lost impact to the economy and jobs market?
– Requiring safer storage is noble and MAY help. Parents who do not safely store their weapons should be accountable. HOWEVER, keep in mind that gun safes are very expensive — often more so than the firearms themselves. HOW do you validate ownership? HOW can you make them more affordable?
– HOW do you better educate gun owners? Is it a mandatory course? A universal license? A test? And HOW do you validate their mental state? An evaluation? Who administers this? And if people take it and pass, does this reduce the number of gun-free zones since you are trusting owners to be mentally stable and well-trained?

Finally, many gun owners do not want to be “on anyone’s list”. People often do not trust the government because it has proven itself to be untrustworthy.  If your name is on a list an an gun owner, or the owner of a certain type of firearm, etc., then you have essentially given up one of your core rights and freedoms. I don’t think anyone really wants to live in an Orwellian society.  People do not want the military knocking on their door, demanding they hand over their firearms. That would be a nightmare.

In 1755, Ben Franklin wrote “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” While he was actually writing about finance, the idea fits. If you are willing to give up an essential liberty (right to bear arms, own firearms), in order to give up temporary safety, do you truly deserve either?

Some things I think CAN be done immediately that would perhaps provide an immediate impact, which are not related to a ban on guns:
Better mental health evaluation of teenagers and processes for getting them effective help (not just expulsion from school)
Increased security presence at ALL schools, by an ARMED guard. An unarmed guard is the same as no guard at all.
Increased security processes at all elementary and secondary schools, including closed campuses, locked door rules, ballistic glass, etc.
Increased governmental spending for the above (mental health evals, guards and processes) — this is more important than building walls.
Tax breaks on the purchases of gun safes. They are extremely expensive, but might be more pervasive if they were more affordable.
More oversight on what makes a gun safe actually effective (there are a lot of cheap metal boxes out there).
Special requirements for purchasing and owning certain types of weapons or accessories. I do not advocate a ban on AR-15s, but if someone wants to own a silencer or a magazine that holds 50 rounds, I can agree that they should have to have some kind of stated need and/or qualification.
Improved/enhanced NICS checks. The church shooting in Texas proved this was needed.

Why not a national licensing system for concealed carriers, or more making it more difficult to obtain licenses? Because, simply put, that only punishes those who are willing to comply with the laws. You are basically charging the “good guys”. Just like gang members who possess illegal weapons, the bad guys who are willing to inflict mass casualties aren’t likely to care whether they have been properly licensed.

So what is the real answer here…  I think there are many, just as there remain many questions. The Prevention Institute has some interesting suggestions. Some can be answered, others are not so easy. But society needs to be careful what chips we are willing to bargain, lest we fold those we might need the most down the road.

~Mike

(note: updated 2/20/18 to clarify and deepen some points)

Ashes to Ashes

“For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” ~Ecclesiastes 12:7

Lately I’ve been watching “The Walking Dead” (AMC, but watching on Netflix). This show does a phenomenal job of representing a post-apocalyptic-type world where nothing is maintained and things fall apart. Things like running water and electricity are rare, and certainly no-one is bothering to mow their grass with zombies walking around. One great example of this is the ‘Alexandria settlement‘, which is like a planned luxury community turned into a (almost) zombie-proof fortress.

But this isn’t about TWD, so much as it is about the frailty of things – including relationships. Think about the people who have crossed your path in life, through high school, maybe college, various places of employment. Some of these folks you may have considered friends. At the time, at least, they were important to you. But then the time came when you had to take a different fork in the road. Perhaps you gave a hug… a “see you later” and “we’ll keep in touch!” And maybe for a while you did. I guess mow that we have Facebook, that is a little easier. But in the past, you made a best-effort. Perhaps you dropped by, sent a card, had lunch. But the hands of time move on, and slowly you lost contact. As you became more absorbed in those newer things in your life, the people and things of the past slowly faded away.

It’s really sad, how we “lose touch” with our past, and the things that were once so important. How the “new and shiny” friendships and places give way to newer and shinier. Hopefully as you age you hold on to a few things from the past… friendships, most importantly, but places as well. Everyone should change (for the better, I hope) as they age, but they should also hold on to at least some of what led you to where you are in life.

I’m a sentimentalist… when I see old places, I think “how sad… this was once a great place”. Others might see the same place and see only opportunity.  I think it’s important to see both. Check out the video below… it’s sad to see how we let things go. For reasons unknown, these places lost their grip on people.  Perhaps they were just not profitable, or maybe something newer just captured everyone’s fascination. But looking back at the old photos vs. the current photos, people once enjoyed these places. I’m sure if you visit them now, you could almost hear the echoes of the past.

~M

Update – the original video that accompanied this article (and kind of sparked it) was removed from YouTube for some reason. This video captures a little of the essence of what I was hitting on… enjoy.

Feel the Kneel?

Thus far, I have largely remained quiet about the NFL players — and now NBA players — kneeling during the National Anthem. The arguments have been many… for and against. They have a right to protest, they shouldn’t protest during the anthem, they are protesting respectfully and peacefully, they are disrespecting soldiers, veterans, police officers, etc. Joshua Perry, a linebacker for the Colts, recently penned an article stating his position. I believe his arguments are both valid, and flawed.

Honestly, like most things, the answer is likely somewhere in the middle. Sadly, what you believe may be ‘slanted’ by what you choose to read. If you read the National Review, for example, you’ll find that police violence against black people is rare and the media narrative is damaging. If you read US News, you’ll learn that black males are 3 times more likely to be killed by police (based on a recent study out of Drexel University). Sadly, most people do not take time to understand and absorb all elements and statistics. Along the lines of “you are what you eat”, you tend to believe most strongly what comes from the sources you trust and frequent.

Generally speaking, the players are right… and they are wrong. They are protesting, which is within their right. They are protesting while on the JOB, which may NOT be right. Consider – are you allowed to protest at your job? Just because you have a national stage, does that give you the right to exercise that for your cause? I don’t believe most players who are protesting are necessarily trying to disrespect soldiers, veterans, or the flag itself. But it’s a narrative that has emerged. Certainly, NFL owners do not care for the protesting, because it distracts from their product — which is “selling” fun, good times, competition, etc.

And there’s the rub. My personal experience is that I watch and attend NFL games to ESCAPE the daily frustrations. It’s a good way to get away and just have some fun… a way to kind of “forget about the world” for a minute and just enjoy watching a game I love. I’m not there to argue or debate about concussions, police violence, etc. The more that stuff creeps into the experience, the less ‘entertained’ I am. Is that right or wrong? Again, it likely depends on your perspective. By no means am I trying to ignore the cause — I just simply don’t want to think about it at that moment. If a player like Colin Kaepernick wants to leverage his popularity and position to speak out while he’s off the field and outside the stadium, then so be it. Ironically, many people chastised Tim Tebow for taking a knee in prayer after scoring a touchdown. Many of these same people support Kaepernick. Conversely, many of those who supported Tebow are intensely angry at Kaepernick. Perhaps the difference was that Tebow took a knee in celebration, not consternation. He wasn’t trying to change anyone’s mind or influence anyone.

At the end of the day, I am well aware of everyone’s opinions. But that’s not why I consume the NFL product. If something tastes bad, you spit it out. Sadly, if players and the NFL are not careful, some will do the same with their product. For now, I’m not willing to give up my football just because some folks choose to exercise their position and influence others, rightly or wrongly. I’ll just tune out for the anthem.

Play on, players.
~M

1-800-273-8255 (there is hope)

Hey folks… I haven’t written in a while. Been busy, and haven’t been in the writing mood. Plus, WordPress goofed up my template and it was a pain to fix. But that’s not why I’m writing…

Today, I received word that a former co-worker and friend who had lost his job back in the summer (due to layoffs) took his own life yesterday. Gone. Just like that. He and I had communicated back in July about the whole ordeal. I wasn’t aware of anything at my company, but I put him in touch with a recruiter that often sends things my way. I know they made contact, and things sounded like they were looking up. In fact, I understand he was to start a new job soon. I don’t have any details. I don’t know what happened. We weren’t ‘close’, so I failed to reach back out and see how his search was going. In retrospect, perhaps I should have, though it may not have changed anything.

I’m aware of depression, but at this point I simply cannot fathom what brings a person to such a momentous decision. I also do not know what else may or may not have been happening in this man’s life. What I DO know is that this is absolutely not the answer or solution to any problem. In fact, it creates deep and lasting pain for those you love way more than it serves to ease your own. Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). My experience has been that this is true. If God brings you to it, He will see you through it. 

So if you need help, call 1-800-273-8255. There is hope.

RIP J.S.

Indiana Army Ammunition Plant

Years ago, at the forefront of WW2, the federal government quietly began buying up land near Charlestown, IN. Well – I’m not sure how quiet it was, as many were not happy about it. But in short order, the government had gobbled up homes, family farms, churches, the site of the former Rose Island Amusement Park (see a great video here as an amazing example of how nature has reclaimed this site).  Sadly, elements of the community that had been around for over a hundred years were suddenly part of the 12,000+ acre Hoosier Ordnance Plant. Many long-standing families were forced to move, with some even leaving the area entirely with a sense of distaste and rejection. Ironically, much of the land was likely not even needed, with hundreds to thousands of acres still being left to woodland and agricultural purposes. A huge part of the land was not even suitable for anything. Miles upon miles of fence and rail tracks were installed.

At its peak, the plant employed well over 25,000 people, and is given credit for pulling the area out of the Great Depression. However, it could be argued that the need for employees, cheap pop-up government housing, and the fact that the plant only operated in full capacity for about 5 years, actually led to significant long-term poverty and economic depression in the nearby city of Charlestown, IN.

Over time, the plant was slowly shut down. In 1960, a small chunk of land was given over to Clark County for the 4-H center. In 1992, it was finally shuttered for good. Between 1993 and 2004, around 5,100 acres were given over to the State of Indiana to form the Charlestown State Park (including the aforementioned Rose Island property).  Much of the rest (@3000 acres) has been transitioned over to the River Ridge Commerce Center, a fast-growing business and industrial park.

While the INAAP may be gone, it is certainly NOT forgotten. At least, not yet. Many remnants of the old plant still remain, and are slowly being cleaned up. A fascinating history of the plant, along with pictures, can be found here. Former military housing still stands, lost among the weeds. Public is not allowed in that area, but those who have been there report that many houses just appear as if folks up and moved without warning – appliances and furniture left behind for ghosts.

Below is a link to another fascinating photo journey through some of the remains of the old plant. Hopefully photos such as this can be retained for time as a reminder of our greatness and folly.

~Mike

INAAP: Indiana Army Ammunition Plant Charlestown, IN

Random thoughts from a regular guy…

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