“Like” if you ….

There is an interesting meme that goes around facebook and has yet to die. Most of them die within weeks. Thank goodness. This one comes in quite a few forms and seems to be immortal. 

I just want to clear a few things up so people don’t think I am a total jerk:

I love my mom (even if she is in heaven – as they all say) even if I don’t “share” a picture that says I do.

I love my son and he is “the light of my life”, my “true love” or “loved with all my heart” although I might not “like” the photo stating that fact. 

I have yet to click “share” on one of those posts that says “If your husband is the best thing that ever happened to you…. yadda yadda yadda” but I love my husband and he is pretty awesome.

I think all of the cancer kids with no hair are beautiful. I may not share every picture. However, I do think they are beautiful.

I love my brothers. Even if it’s not brother’s week, and even if you have “brother’s week” wrong, and even if I choose not to post a 200 word statement saying how they are my best friends, blah blah blah.

I hate cancer. Solidly against cancer. I just can’t copy and repost every single I hate cancer statement that comes across my wall. I’d be hating cancer all day. (not that I don’t)

I support special education week, autism awareness, prostate cancer awareness, childhood cancer awareness, and all the other awareness’s. Solidly for awareness here. 

I am not really a religious person, in the traditional sense of the word, but I would think that jesus or god would know I love them even if I didn’t post every picture that comes by stating that.

Every single month that has 5 Sundays, 5 Wednesdays, 5 weeks and whatever else people can find five of can’t happen every 1 thousand years. Because I see it every month. Or most months. I don’t really think it’s called “money bags” and I doubt it’s lucky to post something about it on facebook.

Last but not least, the most recent picture I have seen: A run down shack that is completely engulfed in fire. Trust me my son, husband, brothers, nephews, nieces, sisters, and Dad, I would run into that blazing inferno to save you, even if I didn’t repost it.

 

 

Giving / A crazy thing happened today.

A crazy thing happened today. As you could tell by my title. 

I had to go to the doctor. A simple appointment. On the way I drive through a very busy freeway off-ramp.

This off-ramp always has homeless people working it – and usually one on every corner. It must be a good spot for begging.

There was a man there who was obviously homeless – for a long time I would think based on the condition of his skin and hands and clothing. 

A woman was walking toward him with a small bag of belongings. She looked equally road worn.

I didn’t really believe his sign – that day labor had been slow this week and they were going to be evicted. Because they didn’t look like they had a home or like anyone would hire them for day labor. In fact, the look in his eyes suggested to me that he probably had some pretty deep problems.

But that’s not the point of the story.

Nor is the fact that the words of my parents and many others ran through my head – that he would use the money for drugs or alcohol. To be honest, that isn’t really my business. If I give someone money, I must realize that the money will be used for whatever the person wants to use it for. I must give it with no strings attached – with no “but you must” holding onto it. I have been working on that in my daily life. 

Here is the crazy thing that happened:

I saw his eyes and knew how cold it was out there and how cold it would get tonight. I thought about the holiday season and about how we have more than we need. All year round. How we have more than we use even. We recently went through our basement and donated boxes – boxes – of things we no longer need or use.

We are all waiting at the light – a good 30 cars or more – waiting to go through the light on to the rest of our lives. All looking at this man, or avoiding looking at this man, and his companion.

I reached in my purse and pulled out a bill larger than I have ever given a “beggar” in my life. (not so large my husband would be upset) I rolled down my window and watched as he hurried over to get it. Apparently people who give money to beggars don’t like to be kept waiting.

This is where it gets amazing.

About 30 seconds later he crosses in front of my car to the second row of cars. A man in his 20’s in a brand new fancy car and very nice clothing is holding out a bill. I watch him in the rear view mirror as he continues to walk between and around the cars. Most of the drivers are holding out money. Not just coins or one dollar bills either from what I can see. We even hold up the traffic going through the light a little. I am stopped at the next light and I look back to see the man walk to his companion, hug her, and collect their things. They were going to get out of the cold, I hope. 

Kindness is contagious. Would others have given so freely if they hadn’t seen me give? Or the young man next to me give? Would others have continued to avoid eye contact and rushed by thankful to be rid of this man’s stare?

Kindness is contagious. And what’s more it gives more to the person being kind than to anyone else. I felt better all day long. I felt happier and lighter and more “whole” all day long. I am still thinking of that man and his companion – hoping they are both out of the biting wind and snow.

Studies show that donating your time, volunteering, giving to charity, helping others, helps to alleviate depression, pain, high blood pressure and more. I don’t need a study to tell me it makes you happier and healthier. We all need to connect to other humans once in a while on a deeper level.

I have had a lot of people help me in my past – during my “bad” periods. People I knew, people I didn’t know. One stands out – I was very ill – in the middle of my cancer treatments a few months after a surgery. My husband and my son and I had gone to a large mall to celebrate mother’s day. I was weak and feeling ill after walking around just a little bit. We decided to get lunch and sit down, but I knew I couldn’t wrestle with my toddler right then. My husband took him to find a seat and I went to get food for us. The place I chose had just lost power to their card reader and couldn’t take my card. They hadn’t had a sign up. After I stood in line and was feeling like I might pass out from the heat of the heat lamps. I was short the cash by about $2.50. I just looked at the cashier stricken. I couldn’t see my husband to wave him down and I knew I couldn’t “go run get the rest of the money”. I almost started to cry. Not because I didn’t have the money, I could have gotten it and I could have gone elsewhere for food. I almost started crying because I felt (once again) the full weight of my illness, of being a mother when you are ill, of being helpless and reliant on others. I felt hopeless. Not just for that moment – but I felt like I would always be hopeless. A woman behind me saw my distress. Perhaps she thought I simply didn’t have the money and needed to feed my child or was embarrassed  Perhaps she just didn’t want to wait anymore for her own lunch. She handed forward $3 and the cashier happily took it. I thanked her as much as I could while stumbling away to find my husband. I have always remembered that moment – that moment when a stranger gave me a tiny bit of my hope back.

Remember, when you get a chance, you can always be a little kinder. You can always give a little more. If you don’t have money to give, give time. That means more than money any day.

It’s easy to say “I’m going to do more good, I am going to do more random acts of kindness, I am going to pay it forward.” But when do we really slow down to do so?

Every action we make is like a pebble in a pond. It ripples outward affecting all of the other people in our path. And other people’s actions make ripples too. Our one ripple can affect hundreds of people just by being bounced forward in the form of another person’s ripple. Ripples echoing through the whole of humanity. We can affect more lives in one day than we have ever dreamed.

Let’s let our ripples be good ripples – be ripples that put love into the world instead of hatred or pain. Let’s teach our children to be aware of their ripples and the effect they have on others. 

In 2013 I am going to find a way for my son and I to volunteer together. I think it will be a great form of therapy for him (since we are working on our people skills and our self esteem). I encourage everyone to do more in your communities. Make a small difference and know that no difference is truly small. 

“We can do no great things. Only small things with great love.” Mother Theresa

 

Raging Against the Machine

5 days ago, after the Portland Mall shooting, I wrote a blog post about guns in America. I truly tried to stay middle ground and research the subject well and look for ways that we can change different aspects of the gun laws and procedures that would make a difference while at the same time not proposing taking away law abiding citizen’s guns. Honestly I don’t want that.

If you would like to read my rational, well thought out, well written, kinder gentler version of “gun blog” – you may do so here: https://fishjello.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/guns/

Interestingly enough 4 days later after the Newtown Connecticut school shooting, there was a NY Times piece basically saying the same thing and quoting the same doctors I used in my conclusions. He had done a great job of succinctly putting into words things that could be changed that won’t harm the rights of legal gun owners. You can read that here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-do-we-have-the-courage-to-stop-this.html?_r=0

For 5 days I have attempted to have an honest and open and rational discussion with friends and family – some via social networking, but also some in person or on the phone – about what we can do to stop all of the gun violence in our country. I believe that we have to take back the discussion from the extremists and use the middle ground and work together.

I truly. TRULY. TRULY. do.

However, now I am angry. I am angry because of all of the asinine ignorant things I have read and heard in the last 5 days. (No, that’s not middle of the ground and it isn’t going to help the situation and if you see your argument here in my piece, maybe you SHOULD keep reading. Because maybe you are one of the people I am talking about.)

I am not calling all of these arguments completely asinine, but a lot of the ways I read them were.

I am now ready to rage against the machine.

Don’t think it’s not a machine – this violent, gun loving, child abusing, crime ridden country. Don’t think that 285 shootings a day or 569 rapes a day or the more than 6,000 people harmed by domestic violence a day isn’t a machine. It’s a well tuned, perfectly oiled machine, hell bent on continuing on it’s path.

Unless WE have the courage to do something to stop that machine, it will continue.

Violence in general is our problem. And I want to talk about that. I want to write all day and night about that. However I feel today I need to address a few things about gun violence.

I have a lot of friends that get a little riled up (or a lot) if someone mentions “gun control” or “gun regulation”. Why is this such a dirty phrase in our country? Somewhere in their brains they convert “gun control” to “give me your guns because we are outlawing every type of gun and burning them all and THEN we are going to let people come invade your country and you will be left with no defenses.” Or worse, I suppose, since I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about. Can some of my gun friends tell me? What is so scary about “gun control” – what goes through your mind when you hear that? Please educate me.

Over the past few days, when I have been desperately trying to keep an open honest middle of the road discussion about what can be done to help decrease gun violence in our country I have heard a lot of arguments. Most of which I absolutely don’t agree with. But I have TRIED to talk calmly and rationally because I think that is the key. Well, here, for one day, I am going to talk about all of those things I find so confusing. And why I don’t agree with them. And possibly just start posting my link on people’s pages on facebook in response to them.

1. “Even if we ban all guns, it won’t completely end gun violence. Criminals will still have guns. We can’t round up ALL of the guns so there will still be shootings all the time.” Ok. I get that. there are roughly 300 million guns in America right now – although we don’t know for sure because so many are unregistered or unaccounted for. I don’t see us a) being able to round up all the guns or b) being able to do so without a civil war starting or c) that being plausible at all. Honestly, I don’t know very many people who want to ban all guns. Or the sale of all guns, or to round up all of the guns. BUT, the whole “we can’t stop all gun violence, so why even try?” argument is SO off base.

Seatbelts don’t stop every single injury or death that results from an auto accident. But seatbelts help prevent a lot of deaths and bad injuries. I know that when I strap my son into his booster seat, it isn’t a guarantee that he won’t ever be hurt in a car accident. I also know it will help him be safe -ER. I know if we get into an auto accident, him being in his booster seat and me being in my seat belt and my airbags and crumple zones and every other safety feature on my car will HELP us to be safer in an accident. Do I think “WELL, if it’s not guaranteed to stop ALL of the deaths in auto accidents, why even bother putting my child in a seat belt? ” No, I most certainly do NOT think that. I figure if it LOWERS the risk, I will take it. If it LOWERS the number of deaths, let’s wear seat belts.

No, even completely banning guns wouldn’t completely erase all the gun violence. Even if we thought there was SOME way to get rid of all of the guns already in circulation. What I am  saying here is changing some of our laws about how we can buy guns, who can buy them and from whom, what kind of background checks we do, limit the number of gun purchases per month or year, stop the sale of high capacity magazines, make gun shows and private sellers follow the same rules the rest of the sellers do, use microchips when making guns to track illegal sales, use owner fingerprint technology that keeps people from steeling your gun and being able to use it. Those can ALL reduce gun violence without reducing the rights of the legal gun owners. Will it stop all gun violence? No. But will it lower that number form 285 a day? I would think that YES it would.

2. “People die every day in car accidents, but we don’t stop letting people use cars.”

Really? Ok, let’s go there. Cars and their use are governed by a very complex system of federal and state and local laws. We have not only determined legal standards (and continually change those standards I might add) by which cars have to be made to be the minimum amount of “safe” they can be, but we also have hundreds of other things we do to keep driving safe. As drivers we have to take a test to get a license to drive. Some states require drivers education courses be taken. We have to have eye tests and in the case of some illnesses, a doctors note saying you are fit to drive. We have to renew our licenses every so often to make sure that as we age or change, we haven’t gone outside the requirements of what is safe. On the roads and highways we have painted liems and arrows and cross walks and more to tell us where to drive, how to turn safely, where to park and not park, which way to go. We have speed limits and stop signs and stop lights and signs telling us “caution curve ahead” or “watch for falling rock” or “slick in spots” or “6% grade, downshift” or “one way do not enter” or “school zone” and a million other things. But that’s not all, oh no, that’s not all. We have police officers who enforce where we park, whether we are driving within the law, if we are obeying the speed limit, if we are following all the posted signs and all of the laws we are required to know to even get our license. We get tickets and pay fines and go to court for speeding, improperly parking, not using a tuns signal, not updating our license plates, having a tail light out. We have to have insurance in case we do get into an accident. AND THEN, then, if we disobey the laws too often or too extremely as in the case of a DUI or a accident that was the result of reckless driving, we can LOOSE the right to drive at all. We can even go to jail if we are too reckless with our cars.

In contrast we avoid any laws governing gun use and sale like the plague. Do we have to take classes to own a gun, or pass a shooting or safety test? No. (that’s not totally true – to get a HUNTING license many states require a hunting safety class. But that is for a hunting license  not for buying a gun.) Do we have to own insurance or do yearly safety checks or eye exams or get a doctors note saying we (most likely) won’t have a seizure while shooting our gun? No. Do we have to go shoot targets in specially designated areas which have posted rules and safety measures? Honestly the target practice laws vary state to state, city to city, and so do the firearm discharge statutes, but in my experience, you don’t always have to go to a target range to shoot a gun. And what do we do if you are caught illegally using a gun? Not much at all. The punishments also vary from state to state, but are minimal (as in a fine) in most cases. Until someone shoots another person. That’s when we start to care.

I know, this paragraph is a bit simplistic. Every state has different requirements  We DO background checks (though I think they could be much more in depth, we DO require a permit to purchase some places – which doesn’t require a usage test, just the background check. We DO require special classes and special permits in special instances, for example, if someone wants to carry a concealed weapon. The laws should require more on the part of gun owners and should be uniform across the board. And one of the first places to start, in my opinion, is private and gun show sales.

3. “There are already laws about buying guns. Not everyone follows them and THAT is the problem.”

Ok, you are right. There ARE already laws about guns and gun usage and buying guns. Those laws are riddled with holes. I have to show my state issued ID to do most things. I have to show it to buy some cold medicines, to pick up a prescription, to cash a check, to use my debit card, to be seen at my doctor’s office (or at least to have them bill my insurance). I have to present valid ID to board a plane, to walk into some state and federal office buildings, to get my taxes done at H&R Block. The government tracks the sale of sudaphed, because sometimes people don’t use it for a cold, but use it to make meth. But it doesn’t track the sale of bullets in large quanitites. If I want I can buy a gun at a perfectly legal gun show without ever showing an ID. These laws need to be the same across the board and enforced.

4. “The best way to fix this problem is to arm people.” No really. I have heard it all the past 3 days, arm the teachers, have armed guards at the schools. When I say that it’s not just at schools – it has happened at a movie theater, a college campus, a mall, a temple, the empire state building, a grocery store parking lot, and many many more places. When I say that the problem isn’t WHERE – it’s how and who and more – I have had people start suggesting to give movie theater employees tasers.  WHAT???????

Let’s collect ourselves a minute here. Take a deep breath.

So… you are trying to tell me, that if we want to stop gun violence, we don’t need to limit the amount of guns, or change the laws governing guns, or look at the violent culture we live in, or have harsher punishments when people are caught with an illegal gun or when people commit a crime using a gun as a threat – BEFORE they get to the killing people stage. You are telling me that instead we need MORE guns in the population (in fairly untrained hands) and also more OTHER weapons? That doesn’t make sense. Not to me and not to most rational people. I’m sorry. But stop. Think. A gun in a classroom? A 16 year old with a taser? Come on people. In the movie theater shooting the perpetrator went into the theater, then he left out the back exit, propping it open, then he came back in and started shooting. HOW in the hell is a taser in the hands of the 16 year old popcorn girl going to help that? Please. Let’s keep these conversations to reality here. More deadly weapons can not equal less deaths. It simply can’t.

5. Dear family – I apologize if this paragraph hurts your feelings. I will try to be as kind as possible. I am not making fun of your belief system. I am just trying to say that THIS is not going to fix it all. “We need to pray in school again. That would stop all of the school shootings.” Ok.

EDIT – see below.

Let’s put all of this aside: 1. More deaths have probably been caused in the name of “god” in all his forms than any other thing in the history of the world. That doesn’t tell me that praying stops death. 2. If I did believe in a god that was all seeing and all knowing and changes people’s lives and is also kind and benevolent and fair…. Then I would also have to believe that either he/she/it stops terrible things from happening (I’ve seen some pretty terrible things lately) or that he doesn’t. I would have to believe that either the god who people say “saved my life” every night on the news does that all the time for all of his children OR that he allows people to make their own choices and have the consequences follow. I just don’t feel like I could pick and choose which good things god creates and which bad things god fixes or prevents. I mean, why some things and not others? I think if I believed in that sort of god I would have to believe in the kind of god that would really want to stop 20 children from being killed, but also feel like what we do on this earth is our choice and we have to be free to do it and able to accept the consequences  even if it’s something he doesn’t really like.  I would have to believe that because otherwise, where was he when I got cancer? Where was he when my friend’s brother died? Where was he when my high school friend shot his family? Where was he when my mom got Alzheimer’s and was so despondent she killed herself? Where was he on 9/11? Where was he on Friday when 20 babies were shot to death in terror? If I believed in that kind of god, I would be forced to conclude that he doesn’t do those things because that’s not how life is supposed to work. We are supposed to go through things that hurt. We are supposed to die. We can’t live forever. We wouldn’t want to. We can’t have all wonderful and no bad, because how the hell do we know it’s wonderful if we have nothing to compare it to? God doesn’t stop psychopaths (not a reference to mental illness – a reference to the actions) because that is part of life. Dealing with things that make us think we are going crazy – that’s part of our world, our lives. Praying – in your homes – with your kids, that’s wonderful. Honestly – if something like praying or going to church or religion makes you happy and more whole, DO IT. Because we need all of the happy and more whole we can find. We do. If that’s what helps you DO IT. Believe it. Love it. Hold it close. Talk to others about it. (not necessarily me) But, don’t tell the rest of us that 20 children in Connecticut were killed yesterday because we don’t believe in your belief system. Don’t tell the rest of us that if we asked to have prayers in school every day our children would somehow be suddenly safer. Because that’s not how this world (that you believe god made) works.

EDIT – after having a good “conversation” with a family member about this – if what y’all mean by “let’s put god back in schools” is “let’s stop being a bunch of jerks to each other and put more good than bad into this world,” then I am for it. If what you mean by prayer in school is a moment of reflection during the day where christian kids can pray christian prayers an muslim kids can pray muslim prayers and kids can meditate or calm their mind or whatever each indivdual chooses, then YES, by all means, bring back prayers in school. If you aren’t telling kids what kind of god to pray to or what kind of “prayers” to say or how to say them, let’s do it. I’m in.

Let’s put ALL of THAT ^^ aside and ask this: if you are willing to say praying in schools will help the situation, why are you not willing to say that there are other measures we can take? If you are willing to force everyone else to do something that is against their belief system and in line with yours, WHY are you not willing to find ways we can change gun laws. Let’s take away the rights of people to pray how and when and where and to whom they want, but not take away the rights of people to own guns that shoot 50 rounds per minute? Some people have said in the same sentence that we need to pray in schools, but don’t touch their right to bear arms. The last I checked, freedom to worship who and how we choose is a right too.

6. “It’s a slippery slope to ban assault rifles”.

I don’t buy the slippery slope argument anymore. And trust me, I have used it in other arguments. We have laws that prohibit certain types of alcohol (absinthe for example), but all other types are legal – if they are legally produced. We have laws that limit how cars can be made – but cars are still legal. We have laws that limit the way you can discipline your children when it comes to corporal punishment, but you are still allowed to discipline your children. We have laws that limit certain types of prescription medication which is available in other countries, but there are an enormous amount of other prescription medicines on the shelf. We have laws the limit the use of certain words in music on the radio, but music on the radio is still legal. We have laws that say you can’t scream fire in a crowded theater if there is no fire, but you can stand on a street corner bad mouthing the president all day long. We have a lot of laws that limit certain parts of any one activity or product, but not all of them.

I know I am missing some of the arguments – I will be coming back – but for now, this is a good start. Please, people, realize – most of us don’t want to “pry your guns from your cold dead hands.” We want a safer place for our children.

Fear

It’s interesting how life turns out somedays. I had decided to write a post about fear in our country today. About how everyone is afraid of everything and about how the media and the extremists seek to cause more fear in us. About how it controls us and about how we loose when we let it.

Then there was a shooting in a kindergarten room/elementary school in Connecticut. 

As I sat there watching the footage I felt that fear. I knew that some times the fear is real, and it is necessary, and it is right.

I went to pick up my son a little earlier than usual from half day kindergarten and I sat in the parking lot for a little bit and I saw the other parents who were upset and sitting in their cars too. Many of us walked up to the doorway earlier than usual. Some moms had some tears on their faces. An aid who brought out the boy in a wheelchair she helps was beside herself because she had just been informed of the shooting. 

Some of the moms were contemplating keeping their children home next week during the school party day because so many people would be in the school – parents coming to the party. 

I don’t feel that way really – I understand the sentiment. But these days, this could happen in a theater, in a mall, in a grocery store parking lot. 

No, I would rather let my child try to live a normal life. I want to protect him, but I can’t protect him from everything. I have learned that. I got cancer, my mom got a terrible disease that ate away at her brain, some kids down the street from where I worked a few years back got shot in their high school. It was called Columbine. 

I won’t stop looking for solutions, but I won’t let the fear stop me from living either. 

Hm. Maybe cancer taught me even more than I know. There is real fear. There is fear of the known. There is fear of the unknown. There is fear involved in raising a child. Entrusting him to people who aren’t his parents, letting him go off on his own some one day. Then a lot, then move away. Raising a child these days – it’s hard and it’s scary. I don’t want to change the way he lives because of it though. We do that enough with stranger danger and holding hands to cross the street and safety seats and a million other things. He should be able to go to school without being afraid. Even though I have that fear, he doesn’t have to and I won’t make him.

My thoughts are with all the families in that Connecticut community. I know it will take a lot of healing to get through. In the next few days we will hear all the stories, see the sobbing parents, learn more about the perpetrator and the victims. 

Let us not let the fear overwhelm us. 

Guns

Sometimes things happen in your periphery that make you stop and think. Make you truly wonder how you feel about a particular subject, make you stop and decide what side of the fence you are on.

I have been around guns most of my life. I was raised around guns – my family did small amounts of hunting, we had small rifles. I went hunting a few times, my brothers went hunting, though none of them liked it much. I had an uncle who had a pheasant farm for a while for hunting. My community was a hunting type community. I never felt badly about hunting or people who hunted. I have eaten dear and elk and other types of game meat. I like it. My husband has a pistol. He needed it when he was working on armored trucks and now he just uses it to shoot once in a while – go to the firing range and shoot. I am careful about the gun safety since I have a son, but not overly so. I am comfortable around a gun. We keep our gun locked in a digital safe, with the ammunition in a different place. I don’t discourage my husband from teaching our son about the gun, and it’s danger/uses. I think it’s important for all the people in the house to know about any gun the family owns and how to be safe around it. He has showed him how it works, how to load it, how to make sure it isn’t loaded and doesn’t have a round in the chamber. I have encouraged him to take him to the firing range soon to let him see the power a gun carries and let him get his curiosity out about this thing we have in our house. I think he is big enough physically as well as mature enough now to go try it out with his dad in a safe setting. I am not anti gun in general by any means.

Lately, though, I have wondered what I really believe about guns in the general population. Last night there was a news clip about a shooting in a Portland Mall right before I went to bed. I didn’t hear the whole story about how many people were wounded, etc until this morning. This summer there was a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Co not 15 min from my home. I have been reading a book which has at it’s beginning and as a recurring theme the Columbine shootings. I lived here in the Denver area then, and remember the horror of watching that – the terror of it’s unfolding on the TV before me. The feeling of shock and anger and sadness in our community is still fresh in my mind and heart. I have watched since then for years as every year another school or college or church or mall or theater is attacked by gun wielding “madmen”.

Last night as I lay in bed thinking about all of these things I decided I need to think about what my position on guns and the general population is.

I do not know if this will be the first in a series of posts yet or not. I will say I am researching as I write – I am looking at facts. Numbers, statistics, meaningful and measurable things. I am formulating opinion as I go along. Let me just say right up front that I don’t know WHAT the solution is right now. I don’t know HOW we change this problem, but I do think it needs to change and that we as a population need to change it. I hope to find some answers in this discovery process. Answers I can be a part of.

Violence in America is an epidemic and gun violence is a big part of that. Compared to other industrial countries, an American child under the age of 15 is 5 times more likely to be murdered, 2 times more likely to commit suicide, and 12 times more likely to die of a gun related death.

On average 24 people in the US are killed every day by people with guns. This does not include suicides or accidental shootings. It is one person being shot by another person. If we include all of the accidents and suicides and attempted suicides and the cases where police officers are forced to shoot someone, that number increases to 268 people a day.

268 people a day are shot by a gun in America.

Shockingly (to me) according to the Brady Campaign, “Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.” That’s compared to the 23 most wealthy countries in the world. (Obviously places like Darfur and the Sudan have more gun deaths, I assume.) This fact floored me.

So, what goes into this whole “Americans with guns and violence” equation?

First – why do people own guns in America? 1. For hunting. If you own guns for hunting you only need to own rifles or shot guns. No one needs a pistol or a semi auto gun for hunting. I have read the forums with people arguing that semi autos have a place among hunters. I don’t buy it. If you can’t shoot it with a rifle or shotgun, you don’t need to be hunting it. People shot bears and moose and caribou for hundreds of years with regular rifles. If our forefathers could kill all of the meat their family needed for the year with a musket, we can shoot animals we mostly shoot for sport with a rifle. There is no reason to own a semi auto for hunting. That is my opinion and I am sticking to it. 2. Protection. This is where the pistols come in. People feel that pistols are more powerful and more easily accessed in an emergency. Also, they are easier to carry with you. 3. For sport. Some people keep guns for hunting as a sport (not to eat), some people skeet shoot or target shoot. This is a common reason for owning guns. Especially the big, semi auto guns and the pistols.

Let me get the hunting part out of the way first. According to several gun owner organizations, between 11 and 15% of Americans report being active in hunting. That certainly can’t account for the enormous number of guns out in our population. I feel people should be able to hunt for food if they want. Really, I don’t mind trophy hunting all that much, I don’t see it as necessary, but there are a lot of things we do that aren’t necessary. I’d like to see people who hunt use the meat for food and leave the trophy part out of it. That being said, am not really in huge opposition to it. I think hunting helps keep elk, deer and other populations down, and I think it is good for our ecology. I think rifles should be used in hunting and I think that if used/stored properly, hunting rifles are fairly “safe” type of guns. In fact, hunting rifles and other long barrel guns make up less than half of the gun deaths in our country per year and are mostly accidental deaths, not homicides and suicides.

I was surprised to find out that in homicides from 1976 to 2004 in the US handguns were used more than 2 times as often (some years 3 times as often) as other types of guns (including assault riffles), more than 2 times as often as knives, more than 3 times as often as “other methods” and more than 5 times as often as “blunt objects”. Some years the handguns were used up to 8 times more than other methods. I know that if someone wants to kill another person, “they will find a way”. I also think that guns make killing another person easier. They put some distance, some anonymity, between the victim and the killer. They take away the up close and personal part of the killing usually. They make it an easier split second decision.

Now, let me address the home protection part. I think people have a right to protect their homes and their families. I also think that guns are rarely used in this type of protection. (By rarely I mean comparing how many people say they own a gun for protection, and how many of those people actually USE the gun for protection.) The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence states on their website:

“DID YOU KNOW? On the whole, guns are more likely to raise the risk of injury than to confer protection.

  • A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide (11x),criminal assault or homicide (7x), or unintentional shooting death or injury (4x) than to be used in a self-defense shooting. (Kellermann, 1998, p. 263)
  • Guns are used to intimidate and threaten 4 to 6 times more often than they are used to thwart crime (Hemenway, p. 269).
  • Every year there are only about 200 legally justified self-defense homicides by private citizens (FBI, Expanded Homicide Data, Table 15) compared with over 30,000 gun deaths (NCIPC).
  • A 2009 study found that people in possession of a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault (Branas).”

Those statistics say a lot to me. If less than .6% of all deadly shootings are legally justified self defense, I would say that self defense is really a negligible part of this equation. I would also go on to say that it is a poor excuse for owning a gun. IF there were to be some sort of foreign invasion on our soil (the type that includes large numbers of people coming into our country by foot or car which we could actually shoot at), or IF there were to be some sort of zombie apocalypse, or IF there were some sort of “post apocalyptic fall of society” then yes – guns would be useful as protection. Except with the zombies. Everyone knows shooting zombies doesn’t stop them. Unless it’s in the head. (A little humor in this serious blog post.)

I would like to address the issue of guns as recreation. I suppose I really don’t have a problem with this part either. Though the kinds of guns generally used in recreation are the kinds often used in crimes.

The problems we have, then, become criminals owning or finding a way to get guns into their possession, people using guns they already have in a crime, and domestic violence/home accidents.

Obviously, making gun safety and education a priority in homes that have guns is an important factor. This would cut down on the accidents. Domestic violence involving guns is a much more complicated matter and will have to be an entirely different post, I suppose. But needless to say there are things we can do to help prevent domestic violence in general, including incidents involving guns.

The guns which most often used to commit crimes? Handguns, as we have already established, are the type of guns most often used in crimes. So… how do we keep handguns out of the hands of people who use them for killing?

Now, I am not one of those people who think that rounding up all the guns and taking them away is a good idea. I am not naive enough to think that the criminal element will not still retain the ability to purchase/locate guns and I am not naive enough to think that there wouldn’t be major fall out from something like this. I know that in studies done on the Australian gun ban and buy back, it has shown to not be extremely effective in reducing  the number of gun related homicides and crimes. There has been a healthy decline in the rate of suicides in general and gun relates suicides in particular. But there are still guns in the population and people still die by gun violence. I do think something has to be done here in the US to lower the rate of gun related crimes and deaths. So what is that something?

I think we need to look at gun violence as a bigger picture. Why are Americans so violent in general? Why do we have such high homicide rates? Why do we have people walking into malls and theaters and schools killing each other? Why do we have children killing other children? Why do we have children being bullied so terribly that they kill themselves? Why do we have strangers walking into public places shooting at people that they have never even met before? These aren’t all robberies gone bad or home invasions turned murder or abusive husbands being shot or one child being angry at another child or group of children. These are very often random killings committed by Americans who don’t even know each other, without an explanation as to the reason. Why? Why are we so violent.

I would like to mention 2 things in the wake of those questions I posed above. First, we are a violent country. We have always chosen war over peace. We were birthed in war. The Europeans slaughtered Native Americans and African slaves. They fought against their own mother country for the right to be a separate nation. Less than 100 years after becoming a country we were at war with ourselves. We have fought many wars since then and I am sure will continue to fight more. We go off attacking other nations, trying to democratize them, saying they are a threat to us, saying the way they do things is wrong. We go to war to help others, sometimes without them asking for our help. We go to war over things like oil and land and control. We go to war claiming that our way of life is the best way and everyone else needs to do it our way, all the while having our own problems here at home that need to be addressed. We are a warring country. We teach our children to fight, we use words that are violence based when talking about most things. Our entertainment is more violent than not, even in the children’s entertainment. Movies, games, music and more all condone and promote violence. We tell our children “stand up for yourselves”, “be brave”, “don’t let yourself be picked on”. While I tell my son these same things I realize only now that they are violence based. Fighting is the solution for my 6 year old boy? Being brave at night in his room alone is the solution? Where does it end? We war with everyone and everything that even slightly resembles a threat. And yet, even war has changed – become faceless and less personal. We have unmanned planes and weapons that go into battle that are controlled by someone no where near the strike zone. We used to fight face to face and hand to hand, looking into the eyes of dying men and women, but now more often than not, it is impersonal, at a distance, and more deadly with the stronger, faster, better weapons we have. Then we bring those soldiers home and expect them to go back to real life without help. And our returning soldiers now have a suicide rate unparalleled to any other group of soldiers in our history.

Second – we are an easily frightened people. Easily frightened people are not only easily controlled, but also easily spurred to violence. Part of the problem with violence in this country is the fear we all have. Fear that the government is “taking over”, fear that the violence is coming to our home, fear that people of a different race or class are coming for us, fear that poverty will take us over. (*one thing that would help our violence problem would be for us to work on our poverty, race, and class issues) Michael Moore spoke about our fear in a very well written post after the Aurora shootings:

“What are we so afraid of that we need to have 300 million guns in our homes? Who do we think is going to hurt us? Why are most of these guns in white suburban and rural homes? Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, number one in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer. Maybe we would take better care of each other.”

We are a violent people. I don’t think anyone can deny that. Look at the statistics. We have the most violent crimes in all of the free world. The most homicides, the most gun violence.

In my readings I came upon the best answer I have found yet. I believe, after reading a lot about this, that he thing we need to change is the way we look at this phenomenon. We need to change our perspective. We need to look at this violence as a human health issue. As a disease that can be treated. I don’t believe that guns should be ripped from the hands of “well meaning citizens”. I do believe that there needs to be a lot of changes made. Do we make it harder for people with a mental illness, a past record of violence, a previous attempt at harming someone with a weapon to get a hold of guns? How do we decide what needs to be changed and when and where to make those changes?

If we take a step back and look at gun violence in a public health approach, it becomes more cut and dried. It becomes less emotional. People stop freaking out that there is “so much gun violence” and that “someone is going to take their guns away” and start looking at the causes, repercussions, and treatments of the epidemic. (Let me note here, I think looking at all violence from the perspective of a public health approach would help as well, but since gun violence is the topic of this piece, I will focus on that here.)

I don’t believe the answer is going to come to us in a drastic way. I don’t believe taking guns away, banning guns, dramatically changing gun laws will help. I believe the answer is going to come in subtle, scientific ways.

On of the doctors who found himself treating victims of the Sikh temple shooting last year has written in the Wisconsin Medical Journal about the gun violence epidemic. He says that just because it is becoming the norm doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. Dr Hargarten has stated that looking at it as a public health issue is the way to go. I think I like his (and many others) way of thinking.

“Unlike almost all other consumer products, there is no national product safety oversight of firearms,” he wrote in the Wisconsin Medical Journal. Why is this? We are so afraid of loosing our right to own guns that we don’t even want to make sure the products are safely made? We don’t want them to go through the same testing and oversight as a car or a child’s toy? This is our first step. To make sure that guns are being produced properly and safely.

If we look at the issue as a “public health issue” there are certain classifications we look at. It gives us a scientific method to follow. Some of the things to look at are as follows:

“_”Host” factors: (for example) What makes someone more likely to shoot, or someone more likely to be a victim. One recent study found firearm owners were more likely than those with no firearms at home to binge drink or to drink and drive, and other research has tied alcohol and gun violence. That suggests that people with driving under the influence convictions should be barred from buying a gun, Wintemute said.

_Product features: Which firearms are most dangerous and why. Manufacturers could be pressured to fix design defects that let guns go off accidentally, and to add technology that allows only the owner of the gun to fire it (many police officers and others are shot with their own weapons). Bans on assault weapons and multiple magazines that allow rapid and repeat firing are other possible steps.

_”Environmental” risk factors: What conditions allow or contribute to shootings. Gun shops must do background checks and refuse to sell firearms to people convicted of felonies or domestic violence misdemeanors, but those convicted of other violent misdemeanors can buy whatever they want. The rules also don’t apply to private sales, which one study estimates as 40 percent of the market.

_Disease patterns, observing how a problem spreads. Gun ownership – a precursor to gun violence – can spread “much like an infectious disease circulates,” said Daniel Webster, a health policy expert and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore.” “There’s sort of a contagion phenomenon” after a shooting, where people feel they need to have a gun for protection or retaliation, he said.”

That was evident in the wake of the Colorado movie-theater shootings. Reports came up around the nation of people bringing guns to “Batman” movies. After Columbine some teachers reported thinking teachers should have conceal and carry permits.

The above examples are just a very few of the things we can look into and find answers in. Subtle changes can make a difference. Treatments to health epidemics often come in the form of education and prevention as well. For example, the spread of HIV slowed down dramatically when how the disease was spread was discovered, and education about how to prevent the spread was widely distributed.

If we take a logically based approach there is actually a lot we can study and use to make gun violence decrease. If we stop freaking out about our second amendment rights and our NEED to have a gun, we could do a lot of good. If we stop freaking out about “the enormity” of it all and stop trying to ban all weapons and work WITH gun owners and gun sellers and gun organizations, we could learn a lot. We could study how guns get into the hands of people like the theater shooting perpetrator or the columbine kids (their 18 year old friend went to a gun show and bought them – no background check, no wait time), and we could make gun laws based on how they are bought/procured and by whom. (why do private sellers not have to do background checks? What happens to guns that are in evidence lockers around the country? How do illegal gun runners operate and what can we do to stop them?) We could study what kind of people are more likely to commit gun violence, we could increase our violence prevention tactics.

I feel like I have started to find an answer here among my research.

We, as Americans, have a gun violence problem. A handgun violence problem to be more specific. We, as Americans, want that to decrease without loosing the rights of the majority of people. We, as Americans, don’t have a crystal ball to see what might happen in the future, but if the last 20 years is any indication, gun violence will continue to rise.

I would like to finish this part of my journey into “how I feel about guns” by saying this: I know that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” but really, how many of those people would kill with a different weapon? There are plenty of estimates on this, some say as high as 85% of violent crimes and 80% of suicides by gun would not happen without access to a gun. In other words, when asked if they would have tried the same thing without a gun, perpetrators said no – up to 85% of them. Yes, violence happens without guns every day. A small town close to where I grew up (Casper Wyoming) was recently devastated by a suicide murder in which the perpetrator shot 2 other people with a bow and arrow before turning the weapon on himself. I ask you this, would the Aurora theatre shooter been able to kill or hurt so many people in such a short amount of time without the weapons he had? If he had a knife or bow and arrow, would all of those people be dead or injured? I don’t believe so and I doubt you do either.

Only we can change the violence in our country – only we can heal this epidemic of gun violence. Please, stand with me to stop the dramatic extremes in our opinions about guns, look logically at the problem, and find ways to fix it. We can all play a part. Leave the emotions at the door and look at it through the eyes of scientists and doctors and public health nurses and help to heal this disease.

More reading:

http://www.bradycampaign.org/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-moore/its-the-guns-_b_1700218.html

http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_21292776/treat-gun-violence-public-health-issue-experts-say

https://fishjello.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/death-and-life-in-america/

 

****EDIT: in talking with some like minded friends about this article it seemed to me that I had left something unclear in it. I don’t think anyone needs to have a military grade weapon in their possession unless they are active military/police force. There are plenty of very responsible gun owners out there who take the time and care to store and use their weapons carefully. But there are some people who don’t. Weapons end up in the hands of criminals all the time – through home invasions or store robberies. These guns, when used in mass shootings such as the Aurora shooting, are more damaging and much easier to use to hit a large number of moving targets. The gun the Aurora shooter used first was an Ar-15 assault rifle which can expend up to 50 rounds per minute. This gun would have been illegal to buy from the early 1990’s until 2004. This year he was able to buy it with no problem. My biggest problem with a gun like that is this: during a mass shooting like this a shot gun, a handgun, a normal hunting rifle, etc – they all have to be aimed and fired and reloaded. This man just shot and moved the gun, pointing it into the crowd. He didn’t have to take time to aim or time to reload. These things may seem trivial, but it could have given some people a chance to run, escape, hide more, try to get away from the bullets. The rounds this gun uses are also very powerful. They shot completely through the wall of the theater into the theater next door and wounded and killed people there. Those walls have sound containing panels and everything. That is a pretty powerful round I think.

I have to admit, I used to think that taking these weapons out of the hands of the majority of the population would do the most good. I don’t anymore. I think it’s part of the equation that needs to be addressed, but it also happens to be a small part of the equation. Hand guns seem to be the weapons most often used in gun violence, and while it might help with the mass shootings we have seen, it won’t help with the other 200 + people shot on a daily basis.

Vacationing at the YMCA

My husband had to take his vacation time this week. Long story short, he thought he could just cash it all in like he did last year, but they wouldn’t let him cash any in unless he took a week off. Take a week off, cash a week in. (Thank you, universe.) So, he took all of this past week off.

We cleaned out the basement some, he hung out at home some. I tried to get him to go out with his friends but he never did.

Thursday we left to go up to the mountains and stay at a “lodge” and enjoy the winter activities.

We went to the YMCA of the Rocky’s Snow Mountain Ranch. It’s an old farm that was converted into a guest ranch. There are still historical buildings there, and the history has been preserved throughout the ranch. They have several types of living quarters. The lodges provide a basic room with bathroom. Some of them have a mini fridge and microwave in them, some don’t. It looked like they all had a balcony, lobby area where games, coffee, tv’s and books were provided, ours had a fireplace in the lobby which seemed to be a drawing point. There were also cabins, small and large, newer and older. The cabins were for more than one family and out of our price range for this weekend, though it might be a lovely place for a family reunion. There were “vacation homes” offered, which I didn’t get to check out, and in the summer there are yurts and campgrounds available. All in all the actual accommodations were fine. Not exciting or luxurious, but clean, well taken care of, safe and comfortable.

To explain a little about our trip I will explain something about myself, I am a planner. If I don’t get the normal time to plan things out, I feel totally unprepared and wierded out. I didn’t get time to plan this trip – and I didn’t get to do enough research. As a result, we really hit the mountains too early – not enough snow to even sled, the ice skating rink hadn’t frozen over yet, we heard the ski conditions were terrible so we didn’t want to spend the money on that, which disappointed my son. We ended up in the cold, with no winter wonderland. I believe the ranch would be pretty fun when the snow comes in and packs up. They have cross country skiing, snow shoeing, dog sledding, horse drawn sleigh rides, ice skating, a sledding hill, and more. Most of that was closed still, as we have had a dry late winter.

We made the most of it. The boys hit the pool several times – I hit it once (swimming really takes it out of me now). The pool was clean, well taken care of, and they had a small slide and a climbing wall which you could jump into the pool from for older kids. They also had life vests for the little ones, which my son really took to. There was a craft shop which my son really loved. There were a large amount of options to choose from, the prices were reasonable, and the lady who was working there both times we came really was helpful. We made a ceramic owl piggy bank together and they fired it. It turned out lovely and my son is so proud of it – it looks professional with the fired glaze and the details we put on it. We did a few smaller crafts too. There was a game building with Foosball, a pool table, ping pong, large trikes that the boy had fun on, rollers skates, balls, etc. They do have a climbing wall but that was closed because they were completely re-vamping it. There were some family programs we participated in. Dodgeball seemed to be a big hit with both of my boys, a free craft in the library was offered, family game night. We rode horses for an hour in the freezing and blowing cold. We played board games  (some we brought and some they had to borrow) did homework, read, hung out together, used our imagination, had an art contest, just had a great time. The boys “tussled” a lot – which is what the 6 year old was calling wrestling this weekend. The second day it did snow and was frigid, but the snow was light and dry so sledding and snowball fights and snowmen didn’t work, even when they were brave enough to go out in that cold.

Yesterday on our way home we stopped by a big snow tubing place for the boys to get their sledding fix. That was fun for them. They had more than an hour of sledding down a giant hill, being towed back up, and going again. I stayed in the nice warm hut.

All in all we had a great time.

The “ranch” we stayed at would be perfect for a family going skiing. It would make a great base camp. I think it would be even better to meet a group of family friends at or your cousins – if the kids had someone to play with it would make the ranch much more fun. If you had a family who enjoyed skiing with you and the kids could entertain themselves in the evening, it would be ideal. The rooms were clean and warm, there weren’t any “extras” but we didn’t really want any. There was a TV in the lobby of each lodge – I liked not having one in the room and didn’t take our portable dvd player either – no movies or cartoons for anyone for 3 whole days. (Well, mom and dad watched Netflix on the kindle fire after the boy was in bed one night…) We really spent time together as a family away from home and distractions. We learned some things about each other and we enjoyed each other’s company. The food options were limited but tasted good and weren’t too “fast food”. You do have to watch the time for the cafeteria – they have a set time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and if you don’t get there, you may have to eat at the grill if it’s open. The grill food was fine – but more fast foodish. They offered things like grilled cheese, microwave pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, etc. We had brought healthy snacks and food for my son who doesn’t eat regular food, so we were fine if we missed a meal at the cafeteria. The ranch was fun, but I think it would be better as part of a larger vacation – as I said, as a base camp for skiing and then to use the facilities at the camp on one of the days for relaxing, or in the evening.

I would like to see what the ranch offers in the summer. I think that might be more our style. They have fishing, hiking, horse riding, canoeing, campfires, a very nice lake close by, several hot springs areas close by, archery, a zip line, and a lot more. They still have the craft store, the game building, and the swimming pool as well as some family programming.  I noticed a lot of “groups” up there, some were a bunch of teenage boys together with very little adult supervision – but they were polite at the cafeteria and allowed my son to play with them in the game room without complaint. Some were even nice to him and included him without being asked. One group of teens were from out of the country, one group seemed to be more abled teens paired up with less abled teens, working together, helping them out, and in charge of their partner’s well being. That program intrigued me. The ranch also has camps in the summer, so I suppose that would be something to keep in mind as far as how busy it is.

Over all, the ranch wasn’t quite what I expected. We went at the wrong time (which is my fault) and the facilities weren’t all as I had pictured – but I suppose that is the danger of assuming how a place might be. If you are looking for a cheap alternative to family or couple’s weekend near a ski town (there is one at Winter Park Colorado and one at Estes Park Colorado which I can’t speak to the quality of) and have plenty of adventurous spirit, check it out. It isn’t new, shiny, luxurious, or exotic (to me), but it is a nice, clean, safe mountain vacation spot with plenty to do and an opportunity to spend time away from the normal every day experience. If you like the outdoors and want a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, this might be just your thing. I am glad we went and got away from it all.

As we ate breakfast the last morning I asked my son what his favorite part of vacation was. He said “spending time together.” Any vacation that makes a boy say that is a winner in my book.