Posts Tagged ‘guns’

I’ve been trying to think of the words to say for hours. I’ve been wondering if I should say anything. I’ve wanted to throw myself into anime or a book or into any form of entertainment, because sometimes the made-up worlds are better than the real one we inhabit. In the end though, I had to say something. I think I knew I was going to the moment I heard what happened today. And I had to let you know, I’m afraid in a way I don’t like to be.

Earlier today, a man named Robert Bowers opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three different services for three different congregations were being held that morning, with nearly a hundred people in the synagogue. Eleven people were killed and several more were injured, including four of the police officers who showed up to subdue Bowers, who has made numerous statements on social media about the Jews and “invaders,” aka immigrants and refugees. Tree of Life has been active with organizations that help out immigrants and refugees, including most notably HIAS, which may have played a role in Bowers’s selection of Tree of Life as his target. He has been captured and is awaiting being charged, including federal hate crime charges.

I found out about the shooting this afternoon while out with my cousin, who is here in Columbus for an internship. A friend sent me a link to an article about it. I felt my blood go cold, but I didn’t tell my cousin. I didn’t want to ruin the day for him. I’m sure by now he knows. And he’s probably as scared as me.

This is the second mass shooting in the United States that has been associated with one of the facets of my identity. The last one was when Pulse was shot up in Orlando, Florida, two days after my twenty-third birthday. Pulse was a gay nightclub. Fort-nine people died. I’m bisexual. I wasn’t affected directly, but I was affected.

This was worse. I’ve been Jewish, knew I was Jewish well before I was aware I was bisexual. I feel connected to my religion in so many ways. In college, I studied the Holocaust and have pursued it further since. I’ve noticed the climb in anti-Semitism in the United States over the last two years.

And I knew people from Tree of Life. In high school, my synagogue’s youth group would meet up with other youth groups from throughout the region several times a year to hang out and be Jewish as a group. Tree of Life would sometimes join us.

And before my family moved to Columbus, we considered living in Pittsburgh. We even visited to look at houses and to see what the schools and synagogues were like. I don’t remember what synagogue we were considering joining, but for all I know, it could’ve been Tree of Life. And even if it wasn’t, who knows where I might’ve ended up worshiping later in life. Who knows what might’ve happened if my parents had decided Pittsburgh was a better choice than Columbus?

I’m afraid. I’ve known for a while how anti-Semitism in the US and around the world have been making a comeback. I knew it was real. But it’s no longer that far removed from me. It struck close today.

I’m terrified. But I don’t want to be terrified. And, as happens when I’m scared, I have to fight and conquer what scares me.

We need to do more to stop monsters like this poor excuse for a man. Or more like him will copy him. And many more may die.

The Anti-Defamation League said this was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in this country, and that it’s “unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.” I say that it was not only thinkable, but more than likely to happen at some point. And that’s the problem we need to fix.

People are going to offer thoughts and prayers and suggest armed guards to stop this from happening again. The thing is, the people at Tree of Life were thinking and praying. Among our liturgy are prayers to be kept safe from the enemies of our people. And many synagogues already have security in the form of retired or off-duty police officers. And as we saw at the Stoneman Douglas shooting earlier this year, the presence of an armed guard doesn’t always deter a violent man with a gun and a goal in mind.

I’m a big believer in the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” I also believe that if you take a step towards a goal, the universe takes a step with you. And I think it’s high-time we treat this chronic disease we’ve been dealing with in the United States for far too long. Very soon, Americans everywhere will have the chance to set the course of our country for the next couple years. I’m asking every American reading this, and all the ones who aren’t, to take advantage of this opportunity to set this course. And to please set a course that involves making the requirements to own a gun as stringent as the ones to drive a car, as well as increased care and research for mental illness, and for higher tolerance for all peoples, not just the Jewish people.

Because in the end, we are all one humanity. Forty-six genes in every cell, five fingers and toes on each limb, same organs and blood that is red and carries oxygen to our cells. And if we can’t make members of our species realize that, what good are we as a whole?

I also encourage you to donate to HIAS and other organizations that try to foster understanding and help those less fortunate than others. Because in the face of hate, the most powerful weapon we have is love. So show love.

Make your voice heard.

Take action.

Because all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And we can’t allow that to happen.

Be brave. Fight back against evil. And above all, be safe.

Thanks for listening.

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I’m both shocked and, at the same time, not surprised that I’m on this topic again. I was really hoping to talk about something writing related this morning, but events this weekend have caused me to shift gears. So prepare, because I’m about to do one of my world-famous gun violence posts!

Now if you’re unaware, on Friday evening at 10:30pm in the city of Orlando, Florida, singer, YouTube star, and “The Voice” contestant Christina Grimmie was shot by a deranged fan who apparently drove from St. Petersburg with the express purpose of killing her. Grimmie’s brother (without a gun of his own, no less) tackled the shooter to the ground, probably preventing more people from being killed. Grimmie later succumbed to her injuries and died, leading to a powerful outpouring of grief on the Internet. Even I, who only had a casual acquaintance with Grimmie’s work, felt her passing deeply.

Just a little over twenty-four hours later, a man armed with an assault rifle entered the Pulse, a popular Orlando gay bar and dance club, and started shooting, leading to a hostage situation that ended with the shooter’s death. The latest numbers show fifty confirmed deaths and even more injuries, making this the worse shooting in American history, worse than Newtown and Aurora. All this happened despite the fact that an armed police officer (a good guy with a gun) was on scene at the club.

All this, barely a day and a half apart, in the same city, in a state with very lax gun laws and a high amount of gun violence. Both shootings involving guns.

I wrote last year after a spate of shootings that America’s gun problem is like a chronic illness, a constant condition that plagues and grieves us, and needs treatment to be fixed, even when the treatment isn’t always available or the subject doesn’t want to admit there’s a problem, let alone that they need treatment. And that comparison still holds water nearly an entire year later. America is plagued by shootings. We’re the only developed nation with this much gun violence, to the point where it’s almost considered normal. Guns are causing more deaths than the United States should have.

These aren’t toys. They’re not meant for anything creative.

Now, I know some people will say, “But Rami, how can an inanimate object cause murder? People cause murder.” Well, people cause murder, that’s true. But guns, like missiles and military drones, are designed to facilitate killing. They’re made with that express purpose. The first firearms were used for military purposes, and so were the cannons and flintlock rifles that came later, with hunting being a secondary use for the latter. They were invented for the strategic purpose of taking enemy life, not for baking cookies or improving home decor. This is in direct contrast to knives, which unless made for military purposes like the Marine Corps Ka-Bar combat knife, has other primary uses like cutting and preparing food.

There’s no argument around this. Guns are made for killing, whether it’s animal or human life. 

In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be seeing renewed calls for restrictions on gun sales and ownership, as well as push back from the NRA and other Second Amendment advocates trying to frame this as a mental health issue (in the case of Christina Grimmie’s killer) or as an issue with ISIS or Muslims (early reports indicate that the shooter at the Pulse had ISIS leanings). And while I do believe that mental illness and terrorist ideologies may have played a part in these tragedies, Christina Grimmie might still be alive if the deranged fan had gone at her with a knife instead of a gun, and I doubt fifty people would be dead if the killer had a knife. Maybe a couple people, but after the first few attempts at stabbing, someone’s bound to tackle this guy.

And it’s hard to argue mental illness or terrorism when a man uses a gun to intimidate his wife, which happens all too often, unfortunately.

The problem is, both these tragedies, and so many more, have been made possible by the use of guns.

Luckily, there is treatment for this problem. In Australia, Canada, England, Japan, and many other developed nations, gun violence is at waaaaaay lower levels than in America. The difference is that they have restrictions on who can have guns and what kinds of guns. Not a blanket ban on all guns, but some restrictions are in place. And I’m sure, that if America were to institute similar restrictions, we would see the same results. In fact, states with more gun control measures have lower instances of gun violence than states that do not. If we were to implement the same thing on a nationwide level, imagine how much the loss of life could be lowered.

And for those who say that gun control measures don’t work because bad guys will still get guns, so it’s best to give the good guys guns instead, I have this to say: if there are still people who run red lights, do we throw out traffic laws and just let people drive as they wish without consequences? If a boat or a house has a leak and water comes in, do we destroy the boat or the house and say they were useless and never would have worked? No, we prosecute the people who run the red lights for violating traffic laws. We patch up the holes so that water can’t get in. And if people are still getting restricted weapons and committing acts of violence with them, then doesn’t that prove even more that they’re criminals, and that they were willing to go to unsavory means to commit acts of violence? I think it does.

Not to mention, how do you know who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy? It’s not as if the good guys are marked in green and the bad in red when they pull out their weapons. And in a crowded room where everyone has a gun? Really hard to tell!

It’s time to put a stop to displays like this.

Treatment is available. We just have to be brave enough to take it.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to have incidents like what we experienced this weekend, and families will wake up without loved ones because tragedies that could’ve been prevented weren’t. We need to admit that there’s a problem, we need to take measures to stop the problem, and we need to do this now. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not next year, or in another years.

Now. Let’s push for expanded background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and banning assault weapons or other military-grade weaponry on the open market. Let’s also put aside funding for research into gun violence for the CDC, and expand the requirements needed to purchase and use a gun (a yearly gun safety course, for example, sounds sensible enough). If we can do that, I’m sure we can prevent more innocent losses of life.

Or we can go on as we have been doing. And we can’t allow that, under any circumstances.

Note: Immediately after finishing this, I saw a report that a man with weapons in his car had been arrested in LA near the Pride Festival there. Thank God law enforcement caught him, or who knows how many people might’ve been killed.

Tonight is the last night of summer break, right before the new semester starts. Later I’ll be cracking open a beer and savoring what will most likely be the end of my last summer break before heading to bed. And all around Ohio State, all around Columbus, all around Central Ohio and even farther beyond, many OSU students will be doing the same or similar things, finding ways to relax and get mentally prepared for 16 weeks of classes, studying, part-time jobs, campus events, clubs, trying to eat healthy, not fall off the wagon, maybe talk to that special person you keep seeing around campus and maybe see if a romantic relationship is in the cards.

What none of us want to have to hope for though, is something that we should all be hoping and working actively towards: a year without school shootings.

I know that’s a somewhat silly thing to hope for. According to StopTheShootings.org, since 1992 we’ve had 387 school shootings in the United States since 1992, or about 17.6 a year. Most of the shooters tend to be between the ages of 10 and 19, the same age as a majority of victims. And children ages 5-14 are apparently thirteen times more likely than children from other industrialized nations to be murdered by guns. Statistically speaking, we’re up against some tough odds.

So what can we do to minimize shootings? I do not feel that making guns easier to get hold of is a very good option. Do we fight arsonists by lighting fires ourselves? Or do we stop thieves by stealing from them? Clearly not. Improving mental health is one option that has been advocated for (and is the only one Congress has actually gotten their lazy butts up to pass). Still, mental health won’t make the problem go away. We hear reports every day from Chicago of inner-city violence being committed with guns. In fact in the past twenty-four hours 2 people died and ten wounded from guns. Clearly, not everyone in Chicago who’s fired a gun is mentally unstable or challenged, so more must be done.

Clearly, no one wants to think of a campus like this as the possible scene of a shooting. But nevertheless, reality dictates we consider the possibility for our own safety and the safety of others.

Another option is placing some limitations on what is portrayed in the media. As much as I hate to admit it, there has been correlations between amount of violent content taken in while watching TV or playing video games and aggression. However, that is only showing the correlation between violent content and aggression, not gun violence. People who get aggressive playing games don’t necessarily become killers, and violent content doesn’t always lead to thoughts of murder, if it ever does. Or in short, correlation doesn’t mean causation. Not to mention that media is often a reflection of the society it is created in, so it seems unfair to artists who are trying o create a harmless representation of their worlds because it might contribute to real world problems. And if we were to police media that could cause violent conduct, we’d have to start with the Bible, because long before guns became an issue, the Bible was encouraging people to kill in the name of God, and in far greater numbers.

A third option is placing limits on guns, where they can be sold or distributed, what sort of guns are available, and where they can be openly carried or who can carry them. Studies show that states with stricter laws of this type have lower rates of murders or suicides because of guns than states without them. And a vast majority of Americans support laws like universal background checks, even within the NRA. And in Australia, the number of mass shootings fell steeply after they initiated a ban on automatic weapons. Clearly placing restrictions such as these might be helpful in reducing gun violence.

We don’t want to see any more memorials like this one created after Sandy Hook, do we?

Sadly, there’s a huge lobby against stricter gun regulations in the United States, and more laws seem to have been passed that have eased gun restrictions rather than tightening them. I don’t want to go into the arguments these lobbies have given against tighter regulations, but it is troubling that a lobby made up of companies that sell guns are advocating for laws that will increase their sales. The best way to combat this sort of lobbying might be in cutting corporate influence in elections and lobbying, but of course that is another difficult and controversy-fraught issue altogether, so I won’t delve into that either.

Finally, some have suggested training school officials in firearms or hiring full-time security guards. While I’m sure there are teachers who would be willing to be trained in firearms and keep them in the classroom, I’m sure there are plenty of teachers who would not feel comfortable with firearms in the same building as them, let alone in the same classroom. Some would even refused to be trained. And even if there were teachers or faculty willing to be trained and keep guns in the classroom or office, there are security risks to this method, especially if students were to get their hands on the guns. And while I like the idea of a trained officer or several on campus to protect students, some school districts do not have the funds to pay for a full-time security guard. And in overcrowded school districts, particularly ones with histories of gang violence, it’d be difficult to check students each and every day for firearms.

Perhaps the best option would be a combination of all of these. Sure, implementing any ofthem would require a lot of work, cooperation, dedication, and compromise on the parts of several people and parties, but in the end, a combined approach to a problem often yields more results than a singular approach (especially if that approach features some major logic flaws). And in the end, working together might bring together this highly fractured country and make it a bit more unified than it’s been in recent years.

So let us work together. Let’s stop the partisan and ideological bickering to start working on a solution to a horrific problem. Eighteen shootings are supposed to happen this year. That’s eighteen tragedies we can avoid. Even doing minor things like teaching children about gun safety or by forming neighborhood watches can do worlds of good. Because our children, and the nation at large, deserve so much better than another Virginia Tech, Columbine, or Sandy Hook. At least, that’s what I think, as I hope and pray for a school year without a shooting.

Please note that I will be screening comments for this post, so be aware that any comments that I find insulting, unacceptable, or off-topic will be deleted immediately. Thank you for your participation in this ongoing discussion.