All You Zombies: Gun Violence Must Become the #1 Election Issue of 2020


Now another century nearly gone,
What are we gonna leave for the young?
What we couldn’t do, what we wouldn’t do,
It’s a crime, but does it matter?
Does it matter much, does it matter much to you?
Does it ever really matter?
Yes, it really, really matters.

-The Kinks, 1984

Hey, did you catch yourself forgetting to think about gun control for a week or two now–because there hasn’t been a mass shooting on the news, lately.  Yeah, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do.  Forget.  Because solving this epidemic is gonna mean a whole lot of people who are used to blaming other people for the nation’s problems are going to have to buckle down, and do something resembling work.

Non-Partisan Wake-Up Call 

All you Conservatives: Stop pretending that the least mention of Gun Control is a conspiracy to take your shotgun away from you, leave your home defenseless, and force you to hunt with a bow and arrow.  Just because you saw a “Ban Assault Weapons” poster, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to “keep and bear arms”; you invented that straw-man position.  Your God-given human rights are not under threat.  So cut the crap.

All you Liberals: Stop pretending that because you don’t own a gun and abhor violence that this problem of Mass Shootings is going away, or if it doesn’t go away you can’t do anything about it, and your neighbor who owns a gun is dumber than you are, and he’s responsible and part of the problem, but you aren’t.  We are all responsible, because we all have a part to play in the solution.  So cut the crap.

All you Zombies:  Stop pretending that you’ve thought this through for yourself, and have done the least bit of research outside of listening to someone else’s rant on television or radio, telling you what to think.  Have you ever held a copy of the U.S. Constitution?  Was it engraved on granite–or was it on paper?   You do realize it was meant, by the people who wrote it, to be changed in the future, as needed?  Or did you miss that day in 5th grade?  Cut the crap.



You’d go to the wall, if invaders came to our shores, wouldn’t you?  To defend all of our lives?  Wouldn’t you?  Every person reading this would.  And yet, because the war is inside any wall we could build around our country, you’re just gonna sit around on your hands, and hope for the damn best??

Recently, I was preparing to sit down and fill this space with a movie review of John Wick 3, the thesis of which would have been that such a film needs to be rated X for Violence (NC-17, today.)  In other words, children should not be allowed to see it.  At all.

Which is ironic, of course, because never did a movie follow the formula of a video game so closely: the gathering of gold coins and a slow, monotonous killing spree intercut by confrontations with various bosses (enemy characters with actual names and faces,) with a minor change of mission after each movement, until you simply run out of enemies to kill.  To compare it to a musical suite–some critics have– would be to overdignify a series of acts characterized by having to shoot ever-more-powerful-adversaries multiple times in the face, as the ordeal drags on.

Something, however, kept me from it.  Perhaps I had some inkling of what was happening in Virginia Beach, in the real world; a place I used to live.  I have friends and neighbors there, and hundreds of former students.

Mass shooting.  That’s what was happening.

Of course, my first reaction was to find out if everyone I knew is okay.  As far as I was able to determine at the time, they were.  Okay.  And then the whole cycle resumes: shock, disbelief, relief, outrage, depression. . .amnesia.

Amnesia.  It’s human.  “It happened to someone else, somewhere else.  Not me.  I’m okay.”  It’s cultural.  Like “We live in a society of trade-offs.  Guns are part of our freedom.”

And it’s crap.

The depression that sends us back to sleep after these mass shootings is a by-product of anger mixed with a feeling of utter helplessness.  We don’t seem to have a solution.  We hope it’s finally over.

Only trouble is: it ain’t over.  Seventeen years ago, I walked the perimeter of Columbine High School, while on a summer visit to Colorado.  As lonely and desolate as any abandoned desert prison. I thought the clear air might have something to teach me.  And whatever it was, has haunted me through the intervening years, as seemingly, like clockwork, this disease we cannot rid ourselves of has moved throughout the nation, on an ill wind, taking lives wherever it will.

If the daughter of a Supreme Court justice or senior senator were vacationing in Virginia, and happened to be paying a ticket at the facility at the corner of Princess Anne and the    Parkway, we would now be seeing the beginning of the end of this epidemic.  Because when it happens to you, apparently, is a language we humans seem to understand.  It’s why we didn’t enter World War II until Pearl Harbor.

And that’s crap too.  Because somebody knew the 12 people who died on that day.  They’re all somebody’s wife, daughter, mother, sister, father, brother, son.  Friend, neighbor.  Peter Baelish had a few wise things to say: “Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend.”  They’re not somebody else; they’re us.  And, damn it, it’s tragic because this problem can be solved.

The folks we elect need to do their jobs.  They’d rather argue about whether an abortion law the Supreme Court decided sixty years ago needs to be revised.  About whether a newly fertilized egg, a fetus, deserves life–when undoubtedly living human beings are being murdered regularly, systematically, and predictably now, in cold blood, and the laws that could save those lives are not even being discussed with any seriousness.  

Yeah, it’s hard.  It’s a lot of damn work.  Those people on the hill have to argue and decide: IF access to firearms should be restricted further than it is; HOW it can be restricted by laws, and enforced; and WHAT sort of firearms we are talking about.

This business about stricter background checks (“WHO””) is a distraction.  The WHO is everybody.  It’s everybody’s problem, because everybody is at risk–and so everybody has to give up something.

The WHAT is far more pertinent.

Don’t pretend there can’t be a limit on “arms,” as (not) specified in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  There already is.  As a private citizen, you can’t own an M1-Abrams tank.  You can’t own a functional 50-caliber machine gun.  Do you really think you have a good reason to own a semi-automatic, concealable weapon capable of killing or wounding 30 people in 30 seconds?  Do you?  Cause if you’re afraid the National Guard might someday come to your house, I got news for you: your little cache of AR-15s and 10,000 rounds of 5.56mm aren’t going to defeat the National Guard.  You ain’t John Wick.

By now, the answer to “IF” should be painfully clear to anyone without an investment in a gun collection and several thousand rounds (most of my former neighbors in Virginia Beach, for example.)  It’s really just a matter of wrangling out HOW.

These so-called pre-election “issues” are crap too–to the extent that they are far less immediate, and distract from immediate dangers.  Instead of solving the real problems of our society: institutionalized racism disguised as “border security,” employment statistics manipulated to disguise the fact that real, full-time jobs have been replaced by pseudo-jobs, and exploitation is the New Normal; an entire generation of kids being sold into debt and wage slavery; farmers and small businesses being starved out, to name a few–politicians get us looking the other way.  It’s sleight-of-hand.  The oldest trick in the book.  And they do it, not because they aren’t smart enough to do the real work–but because it’s too damn hard.  Especially if you’re safe: you’ve got the Secret Service, or something like it, and security at home and fences and metal detectors and ADT and a reputation and a big lawn and money between you and the problem.  Then you’ve got no motivation to solve the problem; because you tell yourself the lie that it’s not your problem, or that it’s too big of a problem.

“But if you restrict guns by law, only the criminals will have them.”  You’d have to be 5 freakin’ years old to fall for this stupid line.  Examine a law–ANY law.  Just because some people break laws, does that mean you just give up and not make laws?  Is this how you raise your children?  By this logic, because some people insist on driving drunk, we shouldn’t bother making it illegal, or enforcing it, or punishing offenders.  Brilliant.

Post 9/11 especially, we have given up so much freedom already, in the name of security.  It should count for something we can point to, and say: For this, we made a sacrifice.  We all chose to willingly give up a little something, so that everyone else could have their fair share.  We already do it every time we stop at a traffic light, and wait for the other guy to, as the Declaration of Independence names it, “pursue [his] happiness.”  It’s not total freedom.  It’s what the Founders who wrote the U.S. Constitution–yes, the same ones who called it a human right to bear arms–called Liberty.  A restriction on freedom, to protect the greater good.   When people–regular people–say “Freedom isn’t free,” what they really mean is that, by its nature, liberty isn’t free.  You earn it.  WE earn it.  By deciding what’s really most important, and letting the rest go.

You wanna Choose Life for another person?  Turn off the BS screens and the rhetoric and the class-loyalty and race-loyalty and party-loyalty long enough to realize that choosing bullets is not even close to Choosing Life.

Call to Action: What can we do?

I’d like to lay it at all at the feet of the lawmakers, but I don’t have the heart to do it anymore.  They’re clearly not able.  They need our help.  Not just Democrats, not just Republicans, or Indies, or non-party members.  ALL OF US.

We need to hold Congress accountable.  To do their jobs.  To represent us.

We need to reconsider what’s more important: loyalty, or life.

I swear I will go out and change my party affiliation for this.  Because crap is crap, no matter what name it calls itself by.

As election time approaches, and politicians start sending mailings and shaking hands and kissing babies, you wait, because someone is going to come to you for a vote, from Dog Catcher to President.  Liberal or Conservative, shake their hand in a gesture of peace, and then challenge them with a direct question:

What are you DOING about gun violence? At your level?  NOW?

No promises, no plans or visions.  ACTION.

Any equivocation should be met with a single response:  You will not have my vote on election day without a clear ACTION LIST, not a PROMISE, for what you are contributing to the elimination of gun violence in America.  And if your opponent, of whatever party–Republican, Democrat, Indie, Green, Blue or Pink–has one that’s better, s/he WILL get my vote.

Then watch something happen. . .because, as a wise American once wrote, No matter how small the beginning, something once well-done, is done forever.









September 11 Reflection, for Kids: Do the Twin Towers Still Stand in 2014?


By Shawn StJean

On this date, the anniversary of our great national tragedy, we often invite ourselves and others to “reflect.”  That is the purpose of this short primer.  It is intended for younger children–those born since 2001, perhaps, but we can all use reminders, sometimes.

“. . .life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . .”  –Declaration of Independence

“. . .secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. . .” –U.S. Constitution

“. . .with liberty and justice for all.”–Pledge of Allegiance

“. . .give me liberty or give me death”–Patrick Henry

We often speak carelessly of FREEDOM today, and the word has become a replacement somehow for a more complex concept that forms the first symbolic pillar or tower of our republic, as its founders conceived it: LIBERTY.  Rarely will you find the word “freedom” as you study the early documents of our country, but the word liberty is abundant.

What is the difference between freedom and liberty?

The second contains the first.  Freedom is the right and ability to do whatever you want.  LIBERTY is the right and ability to do whatever you want, as long as it does not interfere with the rights and abilities of others.

In short, liberty is freedom with limits, just as a republic (what we really live in) is a democracy (what we say we live in,) with limits.

Think of a stoplight: it’s, to me, the perfect symbol for liberty.  Without it, two cars approach an intersection, each driver freely pursuing his happiness, and often this works fine.  But, by chance, it may not: BANG! Collision.  With a stoplight in place, each citizen agrees to surrender a small piece of his freedom (in this case, time) so that everyone can remain free.  Other examples can be substituted: the paying of taxes to support government programs, service in the military, even the trouble it takes to educate oneself to vote.  Young people contribute, too, by sharing, by standing in line and waiting their turn, by walking up public stairwells on the right side, by respecting another person’s right to speak, or be different.  All require a limitation on total freedom.  So when you hear the phrase “Freedom isn’t free!,” you are hearing about the sacrifice required for the greater standard of LIBERTY.

People say “It’s a free country,” as if that were a struggle that ended 200 years ago, or 70 years ago, with our grandparents.  But our country is only as free as each one of us can make it, today.  As the American abolitionist Henry Thoreau wrote, “We have used up all our inherited freedom.”  And songwriter Tom Petty continued his thought: “Everybody has to fight to be free.”  “Fighting” may not be as dramatic as it sounds, day-to-day.  It may only be not interrupting someone else, or cutting the lawn for Mom without having to be bribed, or apologizing when you hurt someone, or doing your homework (which means contributing your fair share,) or helping another kid who’s having trouble.

Liberty is, without question, the first pillar or tower of our society.  It can never be laid low by outsiders: We can only do it to ourselves, by forgetting a simple concept: if everybody isn’t free, then nobody is free.

As for the second tower, I think the existence of the first enables the freedom for every free person to build it for herself or himself.  In the coin pictured above, the Goddess of Liberty holds both a symbol of Peace (an olive branch) and a symbol of Vigilance and Defense (a shield).  Notice, no offensive weapons.  In fact, this original design reveals a mother’s bare breast, suggesting Health, Kindness, and Love.  The gate she strides through names God.  For others, a pillar of their lives might be Generosity, or Charity, or Strength, Courage, Fortitude, or Intelligence.

So what’s your second tower?  And, Never Forget (as they say on this important anniversary,) that everyone has the right to build her own.


Speech May Be Free, But It Sure Ain’t Cheap


Now that Election Day has arrived, we might take a moment (perhaps while standing in line for a booth, waiting to vote for one of the two available parties,) to be thankful for our freedoms [insert your favorite one here.]  The freedom to publish the following post is vitally appreciated, believe me.

I’ll be especially grateful to be free of campaign advertisements of the smear-and-attack variety.  I haven’t seen much bash-Obama or anti-Romney stuff on TV this past week, but I sure hate it when the local Democrats and Republicans pre-empt my IPad endorsements, just to sling mud back and forth like two-eleven-year-olds who never have to come home to dinner.

The brilliant strategy being, I guess, to make potential supporters negatively associate one’s opponent’s name with bad leadership, waste, and lying, as least as much as they do oneself.  Because if I see/hear Brand Y’s ads 12 times per hour, and Brand X’s only 7 times per hour, and being as uninformed/ignorant as I am, well, I have damn-near no choice but to mindlessly go and cast a ballot for Y, right?

I’d really just rather get back to being sold on some product I don’t need, a service that promises what it fails to deliver, an idea that can’t be put into practice, or persuaded to take an action that makes me believe I matter.  Yeah, that would be a nice, refreshing change from politics.

Speaking of dinner, ask yourself: in order to run all those “necessary” attack ads, how many teachers went without needed seats, books, and supplies, how many veterans without physical and mental therapy, how many police and fire departments and hospitals without vital staff and equipment for protecting the community?  And how many people got laid off this year because the corporations that employed them made big donations, or otherwise supported the political machine? How many people in the path of Hurricane Sandy could use the reported $50,000 the American flag shown above cost?

How many little election trinkets have we all seen that would never in 100 years change our minds about who to vote for, let alone huge billboards, candidate biographies, countless phone calls by robots, and all those lovely e-mails?  Elections aren’t quite the monsters at throwing good money after bad that wars (of the military variety) are, but they sure seem like it, when the war in your back yard is a media war.

My point is a simple one.  Some people will try to convince you that all money is not the same, just like during the Vietnam War, when they told Martin Luther King that the billions spent on that war were not coming out of social programs in the U.S.  He disagreed, and 45 years later I still find his position more compelling.  If my oversized hunk of the pie didn’t take anything out of your mouth, whose mouth did it come out of?  They don’t grow on trees.

How many kids are losing decent futures in our country, by slow degrees, because the people with access now to money spend it not only foolishly, but downright selfishly?