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On May 28, 2014, in Past Morning Briefs, by David

Spending time recently on a different kind of writing, but recent events have convinced me it’s time to speak up on the state of our nation and culture. I’m extremely saddened by the shootings last week in Santa Barbara and conclusions being drawn (and not drawn), as well as the recent Veterans Administration issues that have gone from the back-burner to headlines.

It’s long past time that we take action on these issues, and if long-running trends and the nature of public discourse is any indication, America appears poised to do nothing, which just isn’t an option any more.

There are a great many things we can say about this country, and most of them are uttered on television every single day. However, the long-standing trend of our government’s inability to act in times of crises, deferring instead to the status quo or, even worse, selfish and corporate interests, has created a nationwide malaise with some very clear cut results.

Shooting rampage in Isla Vista, CaliforniaAn article in The Onion throws last Friday’s massacre in Santa Barbara into relief. America has a crisis related to mass shootings and its politically-enabled gun culture, and no one is doing anything about it. And that’s not OK. Every time these events occur the same pattern results: intense media scrutiny, surface analysis, prurient details emerge, those close to the occurrence ask for action, the NRA swings into action, politicians shy away from the issue, more guns are sold, the pace of these tragedies increases so that when the next one occurs we do the same thing all over again with no divergence from the pattern.

Does anything feel new to you about the latest episode? We are averaging approximately two of these tragedies per month for the last five years. There are virtually no new gun laws anywhere in this country in the wake of Columbine…Aurora…Newtown. Just last week, the NRA labelled the Center for Disease Control’s announcement that they were considering research into the statistics behind mass shootings as “immoral.” Immoral research. That’s a new one.

Meanwhile, the NRA tactical talking points, which have basically consisted of “The 2nd Amendment” (a twisted interpretation) and “arm the good guys” have slowly expanded to include the phrase “mental health issue”. All of these are crafted toward preserving the NRA’s strategic objective: “More Guns.” But what’s insane is that the NRA are the ones pointing the finger and crying “immoral.”

The Isla Vista shootings have so many of the characteristics of previous events, with some notable exceptions. Both the things that are the same, and the things that are different are worth exploring.

At first blush, the patterns include: young, white, male perpetrators, disaffected and with latent anti-social tendencies and/or borderline psychological issues, enough fire-power to attack dozens or even hundreds more people than were actually assaulted, written or audio-visual manifestos, and the proximity to schools.

What’s different this time? Fathers of both one of the victims and the perpetrator have vowed to make it their life’s work to impact this horrific American trend. We’ve heard cries for activism in the wake of these disasters before, but this time seems a little different. Perhaps the parents of the Newtown tragedy would tell you otherwise. As a defense attorney, victim’s father Richard Martinez seems especially qualified to lead the charge here.

Even more significant, and an extremely new wrinkle in this case, is that both the shooter’s parents and police KNEW about this threat well before the deeds were acted out. We have become so accustomed to these stories that a fact like this may play out like just another sound-byte. Rest assured, it is a big deal that police were in this guy’s home days before the event, with his 140-page manifesto well under way and a cadre of guns and ammunition mere feet away behind his bedroom door.

Think about this: they knew this guy was disturbed, and a threat, and information was available that could have enabled the police to stop this incident completely (even the killer himself said so), yet nothing was done. They went to his apartment, talked to him, and found him to be quiet and shy, but a nice kid. I wonder if they would have pushed harder if the color of his skin was darker? Despite the fact that nearly all of these mass shooters are white. And men.

Yes, it’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking. But that shouldn’t stop us from drilling down into the issues and changing the game to prevent it from happening again. In fact, it should make us even more determined. When I try to wrap my head around this, the one thing I keep coming to is: information. There was information available to help prevent this tragedy, and it didn’t get into the hands of the right people at the right time. The mental history of the perpetrator, the actual threat he pre-announced, and his purchase (apparently “legally”) of several guns and hundreds of bullets.

NRA tactics of obfuscation aside, but with the privacy issues raised by the Edward Snowden affair taken into consideration, how do we make sure that the totality of this information, all knowable to us in advance, is put together to prevent future tragedy? The answer I keep coming back to is: a database.

A database that keeps track of all restricted firearms sold in the United States. A database that keeps track of all bullet purchases over 100 in the United States. A database that can be accessed by police and/or government agencies with judicial oversight so that investigations can be facilitated by the information and monitored by the courts. This is one of the failings of the NSA Security breaches uncovered by Edward Snowden – the information exists, but there’s no oversight on its dissemination.

And, ideally, a database that can be cross-referenced with a list of potential threats to the public peace, also with oversight. These would include, ex-convicts (including violent and sex offenders), documented mental health risks, and those who use public media sources (i.e., blogs, YouTube, etc.) to propagandize their violent intentions.

Here comes the oft-heard refrain – none of the bad guys will register their guns. Only the good guys. First, if the onus is on the gun sellers (and the manufacturers) to comply, you are at least forcing this commerce to the margins. Does it make anyone feel any better that Elliot Rodger’s guns were purchased legally? Had they been registered, and that information made available to law enforcement acting on a tip with judicial oversight, they would have known that a potential threat was in possession of heavy fire power and, in Rodger’s words, “it would have been all over.”

Moreover, we have no way of knowing that cars and drivers have registrations and licenses, respectively. Except that when something happens, we do. This is both a form of monitoring and controlling potentially aberrant behavior, and a deterrent against bad behavior and illegal activity. We’ve been trying the other way – no registration, no management of the issue at all, and always, to the NRA’s delight, More Guns, and where has it gotten us?

In addition to a new policy that will aggregate and allow police and the public access to known threats who possess or have recently purchased weaponry, we have got to come to a 21st Century realization that the gun and bullets manufacturers are not to be treated as both a financial entity with the same for-profit rights as any other business that sells a product. The 2nd Amendment requirement to keep an armed militia in the United States does not equate to an individual’s “right” to have unfettered access to weaponry of mass destruction with absolutely no way for our institutions to know who’s got what.

We as a people need to get clear on this, and make this stance abundantly clear to our elected officials. Immediately. And in every election. Just as we have registered sex offenders so that we can keep tabs on them, we need to have the ability to see who is making large purchases of weaponry and bullets in our society and we do that because we need the information to help stop future tragedies like Isla Vista. As bad as this tragedy was, a locked sorority door was the only thing stopping this gunman from achieving his stated ambition: murdering every single woman inside the Alpha Phi sorority house.

Along with saying yes to CDC research on the topic and supporting private research into this malady as well, the U.S. Congress should create a bi-partisan task force to analyze gun control laws and best practices of all the industrialized nations so we might understand why we have far and away the highest frequency of unnecessary handgun deaths in the industrialized world. Other countries such as Australia, Canada, and Japan, not as vested in the rights of gun manufacturers and owners over the safety of the general populace, have successfully addressed tragedies like the ones that continually happen in the U.S.. They have taken action, and they have had positive results. Why not U.S.?

It’s unacceptable for the United States to be the lone hold-out on this issue, while death tolls continue to rise and our citizens – our children – are in danger. Every other country in the world responds to these types of crises with clear and decisive action. America’s history of in-action on this topic doesn’t make us exceptional, or better in any way. It just makes us stupid.

Let’s stop being stupid about guns in America.

Please. Enough is Enough.

#NotOneMore

IN BRIEF

TROUBLE BREWING AT V.A. >>> I was saddened to see that long-time American General and war-hero Eric Shinseki is becoming a political scapegoat in the Veterans Administration scandal. General Shinseki had been appointed to clean up a mess and ended up getting slimed himself. It sucks when we put good people onto a tough job and then the nature of the job does them in.

General Shinseki’s long years of service merit better treatment, and at least President Obama has been standing behind him until now. Recent right-wing attempts to make him the fall guy for a bureaucratic and political problem of their own creation could backfire in the face of a little truth-digging by journalists on the chronic under-funding of the VA. I hope that both Democrats and Republicans of Conscience (a rare breed indeed) will put aside the politics and fix the issue without turning a good man into political road-kill.

And even though it may not benefit them in the upcoming mid-term elections, I would like to see Republicans put the money where their mouths are and get behind our veterans – whom they put into harm’s way with a drummed up War in Iraq – by voting sufficient funds for them to be taken care of such that these issues of neglect at the hands of our very own government are a thing of the past.

#YESALLWOMEN >>> I’m not sure I totally get the true meaning of this popular, new hashtag, but I’m certainly a supporter of the issues it is here to represent. The rise of misogyny in both the public sphere and political discourse (Republicans and “Legitimate” Rape) is both alarming and counter-evolutionary. Women have been encouraged to share their stories of abuse and harassment at the hands of men, and I would like to share my own story of harassment as both a means of empathizing with the cause, and to offer yet another perspective to the conversation.

While working at the Walt Disney Company in 1990-91, I was sexually harassed in the textbook definition of the term by a high-ranking executive in the department of Feature Animation. The perpetrator was male, knew that I was in a committed, heterosexual relationship, yet continued to make unwanted advances, proclaiming that “Michael Eisner is gay,” peppering business conversation with sexual innuendo, and propositioning me on multiple occasions with phrases like “I’ll give you the business…” during one-on-one strategy meetings.

I was 27 years old at the time, working 70 hours a week at Mauschwitz, trying to make good on an extremely high profile opportunity, and this egotistical and sociopathic individual literally destroyed my career at Disney, an opportunity that I’d worked tirelessly to create for over six years in the film and TV business. When it ended, I was improperly discharged by Disney after having told Corporate HR about the issue in detail. I was left jobless with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and a debilitating skin condition it took four years to fix.

In addition to the time, money and career impact, I was left with a tremendous feeling of rage and loss. Unfairness was only the tip of the iceberg for me. Complete disillusionment. I chose not to sue because that’s not how I solve problems, and I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve watched our society victimize good people like Anita Hill and even Michael Ovitz (who coined the phrase, “Gay Mafia” at Disney) in years since. While part of me wishes I’d spoken up in a public way at the time  to stand up to the bullying of a miserable human being, and to prevent him from ever doing it again, my life has been better off for not having filed suit.

But now that people are telling their stories, I feel like it’s time for me to share mine. And to join the chorus of those who wish to oppose sexual politics, sexual bullying, and the general weaponizing of sexuality in our society. Maybe this is about gender. Maybe it’s about orientation. Maybe it’s about tolerance. Most definitely it’s about power. But I definitely think, at its core, it’s time for all of us to stand up and fight for equality. The freedom to be who we are. The freedom to associate with and marry whomever we want. The freedom to walk our streets without power-mad machine gun-toters threatening our peace.

And it’s time we started to get behind the idea that “all PEOPLE are created equal” and make it part of the bedrock of our society. This is something I believe deeply and passionately. Thanks for reading long enough to allow me share my beliefs with you.

 

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