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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.


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

Jesus > Religion?

I wanted to share a video I was recently shown. Overall, it’s a pretty powerful message, and I it really strikes a chord with me. I have struggled for a long time with my feelings about religion and ‘the church’ seeming to be more important (in some instances) than the core of our beliefs. Especially with regard to some specific Christian denominations. I understand the concept of tithing, of being generous with what God has provided in your life. But at times I have felt like that is the core message: you need to give more time, more money, more effort, etc. And in many cases, especially recently, people are using their ‘religion’ (Christianity) to ridicule the lives of others. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, right?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying organized religion is bad — in fact, we absolutely need it to help connect those who are seeking God with His message. But in some churches, I feel like the message is lost in self-righteousness and self-justification. I am someone who strongly believes I do not need someone to ‘intervene’ in my relationship with God. I do not need to seek “permission” or follow a doctrine to take communion or to be worth of worshiping in His house. I only need the love of Jesus to cleanse my sins – not the blessings of a human middle-man.

The speaker in this video, Jefferson Bethke, is a pretty young guy.  So I’m not certain he has all the answers in life, and there are certainly some flaws in this argument. But this poem is powerful, and carries a strong message. Do I agree that ‘Jesus hates religion’? Not entirely. But I do believe strongly in John 14:6, and the idea that is instilled (through some religions or Christian denominations) that you need to be in God’s house, listening to another man speak, to receive His Word and blessing. What do you think?



(Note: this entry was originally posted on 03-30-2004 on a earlier blog. I passed this place again Sunday and remembered this old entry. Sadly, the place is now falling apart even more, and will likely soon be consumed by time)

Off to the left of I-64 West, near Jasper, IN, there’s an abandoned farm that sits nestled in the trees, along a bubbling creek.

Notice I said farm. That’s because the whole place is there — house, barn, outbuildings, everything. Bit by bit it’s starting to crumble and fall. In just the past few years, the large barn has collapsed. The wood on all the buildings is weathered and old. Nature is slowly reclaiming what were once well-worn pathways and barnyards.

I’m not really a collector of “antiques”, but old things bring me pause. I can’t help but to let my mind drift when I see abandoned homes, old furniture, or forgotten heirlooms. I wonder about the people and families who once owned and cherished these items. What were they like? Where were they from? What happened to them?

I’m a sentimental nut… I don’t know who owned (or now owns) this farm. I don’t know why it was abandoned, or why it still stands. Perhaps flooding from the creek eventually drove the owners to higher ground. Or maybe tuberculosis rendered the family unable to care for the place. Slowly it fell into disrepair. Slowly it was forgotten.

But someone sawed the boards for that house by hand, and nailed them in place with pride. Someone meticulously laid that stone fence by hand. Someone carved the ornamental dresser with care and detail. And someone once shined that pocket-watch daily, winding it gently to keep it in time.

Legacies live and die… The Cracker Barrel restaurants have great food and an inviting atmosphere, but I nearly despise their decor. It makes me sad to see the portraits and pictures on the wall. Our ancestors dressed and posed with dignity, only to be forgotten generations later. Faces without names. The fruits of their labor now forgotten, discarded in favor of the present.

Have you ever wondered what your mark upon this world will be once you’ve left it behind? Have you made provisions to ensure your children will know where they came from, and how they got here?

Next time you are in a Cracker Barrel, do more than glance at the pictures. Look into their eyes. See their hopes and dreams, pain and suffering, love and loss. Remember these were once living, breathing people — not decorations.

Then ask yourself… in 100 years, will this be me?