Halloween Hands

I got on the elevator and saw this hand-print streaked down the wall next to the buttons to select which floor is your destination.

To me, it looked like the last effort of a dying man trying to hold himself upright as life slowly drained from his body. Perhaps that's a bit morbid. But 'tis the season. The practical joker in me wanted to outline it with red paint, letting it drip down the sides. Turn it into a bloody hand-print. Happy Halloween everyone.


Between Two Coaches

When it comes to football, I am not a gifted player. Actually, I'm not much of a player at all. When I was a teenager I fit the nerd stereotype being the last one picked my church youth group played a pickup game of football.

I couldn't help it. I was usually the shortest kid in the vicinity and fit the definition of scrawny. Even when I did play, the ball was never thrown in my direction. I never tackled anyone as I couldn’t keep up with whoever had the ball. The closest I ever came to making a big play was when I jumped high enough to tip a pass in 8th grade PE; I probably would have intercepted it but I was horrible at catching things back then.

Still am.

My brother had the privilege of playing sports with our dad. My father was able to teach Aaron how to throw and catch baseballs and footballs. They competed against each other in basketball and volleyball. By the time I was at the age where most dads are out in backyards demonstrating how to throw and catch and swing a bat or shoot hoops, my dad had suffered a back injury and was no longer physically capable of giving me the same lessons in athletics that he had given my brother.

That was OK with me. I preferred spending my time in the woods, climbing mountains and chasing wildlife. I found more satisfaction in art classes and drama club than in gyms and stadiums. My world was never destined for Sports Center.

Now as a parent with a child who loves just about every sport ever invented, I find myself ill prepared. I am learning how to play while teaching him at the same time. I might not know how I'm going to keep up with him as his talents grow beyond my skill set but for now, I am surprising myself.

Twenty-five years ago, I could never catch a baseball, but now it feels almost natural. Back then, I would not have been able to throw a football without an obvious wobble, but these days my throw frequently has a near-perfect spiral. Granted, I still demonstrate the athletic stamina and prowess of the typical comic book geek, but it is enough to impress my youngest son. I am starting to feel competent enough to fill the role of a backyard coach helping him run plays at the park next door.

Despite my nerdly ways, I am a devoted Seahawks fan. I might not be able to play but I can live tweet game commentary with the best of them. Last night's game is going to plague 12th Man memories like the unfortunate decision to draft of Brian Bosworth and the soul-crushing loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. I'm sure Arizona fans were not happy with the outcome either. In a game like that, the only true winners are pharmacies selling OTC antacids.

A day later, as real life carries on for fans of both teams, I want to reflect on statements from the two coaches: Seattle's Pete Carroll and Arizona's Bruce Arians.

The tied final score was the result of fierce defense from both teams and two failed field goal attempts in the final minutes of overtime. First, for the Cardinals, Chandler Catanzaro bungled an easy field goal attempt, kicking the ball into the upright where it bounced back onto the field.

Arians' response directed the brunt of his ire on his kicker. He was angry at the NFL for what he saw as bad officiating, but he also blamed the man who failed to score the winning points. In the press conference following the game, Arians had this to say about Catanzaro, "Make it. He's a professional. This isn't high school baby. You get paid to make it."

He did not have any kind words for Catanzaro but he did for the rest of the Cardinals. He praised the whole team, except for his kicker. "I think the defense played really well tonight. ... I thought our football team, other than the three plays in the kicking game, was outstanding. The offensive line battled all night. We put up those kinds of numbers, but not the number of points because of the kicking game."

Arizona's failed field goal attempt in overtime gave Seattle hope and those hopes were crushed a few plays later when Steven Hauschka also missed an easy kick, sending the ball way wide to the left.

In Carroll's statements, his tone was remarkably different than what Arians displayed. Much like Arians, Carroll praised the efforts of his team's defense. He also complimented the Seahawks camaraderie and Russell Wilson's continued efforts despite recent injuries.

When it came time to address the missed field goal that cost the team another win, Carroll chose to encourage Hauschka instead of criticizing him. "Steven will be OK. ... I can't remember a time we've asked him to kick a game winner when he didn't get it, so I'm counting on him doing it this week. He has been phenomenal for us. That's behind us and we've got to move ahead."

In yesterday's press conference, Carroll said Hauschka "made his kicks to give us a chance and unfortunately he didn't make the last one. He's been making kicks for years around here. Everything was in sequence. Everything went OK timing wise but we didn't hit it. But he's gonna hit a lot of winners as we go down the road here. ... I love him and he's our guy."

What a difference between the two coaches. One voiced no confidence in his kicker and the other expressed full confidence. One threw his kicker under the bus and the other extended grace. One refused to accept an error and the other accepts that everyone makes a mistake. One said “I blame you” and the other said “I love you.”

Can you imagine how it feels to be Catanzaro? To know that his coach thinks everyone except him did awesome. Compare that to how Hauschka feels knowing he will continue to have his coach’s support.

I might not play in the NFL, but if I did, I know which coach I would rather have as my coach. Given the choice between Arians and Carroll, I would choose Carroll every time. As JJ gets older and joins little league and school teams, I hope he always plays for coaches like Pete Carroll.


The Violence Trap Part 7: Springing the Trap

On Friday December 14, 2012, a disturbed individual walked into Sandy Hook Elementary with his mother’s Bushmaster Rifle and started shooting. He killed twenty first grade students and six members of the school’s staff.

Later, that same day, after every news network had covered the story of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, there was another event with guns occurring on the other side of the nation. Anyone driving along Government Way in Coeur d’Alene would have seen a sign advertising a gun show being held at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds that weekend.

Bad timing? Insensitive? Callous? On the day America experienced the worst school shooting in our history, the fairgrounds were inviting Cd’A residents to go buy more guns. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dismay.

I understand that the gun show was scheduled long before the gunman entered the elementary school with evil intent. I know it was too late to cancel the event. And I realize there were sellers there with business that need to make a profit - dependent on customers showing up and purchasing guns. Even with those facts in mind, I still felt the brash street-side signage was disrespectful. They could have still held the gun show without putting out the signs.

When I drove by the fairgrounds that rainy Friday afternoon, I felt sick. And the responses to the picture I posted on facebook were simply disturbing.

“We can't put our lifestyle on hold. Life goes on.”
“Gun shows are a business, not some Broadway musical.”
“It is good business.”

These statements do not tell me anything good or bad about firearms. Rather, they speak volumes about our culture. Americans idolize guns – elevating them as something equal to or even greater than God. It demonstrates how badly we are trapped in a cycle of never-ending violence. We are stuck thinking that violence is the solution to all our woes.

When I hear someone say “We can’t put our lives on hold because of some tragedy,” I hear someone who is trapped.
When I hear the claim “Obama (or Clinton) is going to take away our guns!” I hear they are trapped.
When a Bushmaster advertisement states they’ll take away our man-card if we don’t own a gun, I see customers who are trapped.
When I hear someone say they need guns for “self-defense,” I hear someone who is trapped.
When I hear they need guns to “over throw our tyrannical government,” I hear someone who is trapped.
When a person argues “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” I hear someone who is trapped.
Every time I see a “We don’t call 911” poster with a picture of a sidearm on it, I see someone who is trapped.
When an old man walks into a children’s play area with a 9mm strapped to his hip and brags about how he has a badge for it, I see someone who is trapped.
When I see pictures of pistols on top of bibles, I see people who are trapped.
Whenever someone utters the words “God, guns, and glory” or “God, guns, and country” I hear people who are trapped.

We are better than this. Or at least we should be.

Before I get carried away, I must clarify that I do not wish to disparage any gun-owners. If I refused to be friends with people who owned guns, I would be a very lonely man. My objections are not to guns but to the attitudes of our culture that have us mired believing in redemptive violence. I reject the attitude that the second amendment is the greatest amendment. I protest the attitudes that guns bring us closer to God. Guns do not symbolize your savior, they do not symbolize your manhood, and they do not symbolize hope.

Guns may not be the problem, but they are definitely not the solution. What we have is a people problem. We are stuck in a trap and think we can shoot our way out of it.

Think about quicksand. While the younger version of me believed that the danger of quicksand would be far more prevalent than it actually is, it does exist and it is possible to get stuck in it. When caught, quick and panicked movements will cause someone to sink deeper. Simply put – fighting it makes it worse.

The myth of redemptive violence is like quicksand. We are stuck and the more we fight the worse it gets. We are sinking in clinging to our guns. We are sinking in anti-government rhetoric. We are sinking in gun shows. We are sinking in fatal police shootings and sinking further with riotous response to law enforcement. We are sinking in belief that we can fix our broken country with violence.

When stuck in quicksand, slow and careful movements are essential for escape. If we want to get out of our violence trap, we need to make deliberate efforts and stop fighting.

I don’t believe that banning guns will put an end to American violence. But I do believe that gun-proliferation will make it worse. Both of those extremes would be akin to panicked actions causing us to sink deeper in the quicksand. If we learn anything from other nations like Japan, Switzerland, Mexico, and Honduras, weapon regulations do not increase or decrease gun violence. While common sense gun-control could be beneficial, it won’t fix our people problem.

If we want to end the violence, we need peace. We need to lay down our arms. We need a change of heart. Unfortunately, it is impossible to legislate morality. No law can ever force someone to be kind or humble. If we want to encourage peace, there are things we could do aside from revising gun laws.

Remember the biggest difference between Honduras and Switzerland? One nation is economically and educationally secure and the other is not. If you look at violence in America – the perpetrators and victims are both more frequently found among the most disadvantaged of our population. Poverty and crime dance in tandem.

Do you want to reduce the possibility of homegrown terrorism? Do you want to see an end to school shootings? To you want to see less senseless violence in major metropolitan streets?

Then we need to fix our broken education system that favors those with wealth and burdens kids in poor neighborhoods.

We need to do recognize wage disparity in our nation is a travesty and end corporate welfare.
We need to close the loopholes that allow the rich to get richer on the back of the poor.
We need to maintain safety nets to make sure that no one falls through the cracks.
We need stronger policies to crack down on school yard bullies.
We need to call out hatred and discrimination wherever it exists.

When everyone has access to hope and justice, we will stop believing in violence as a cure. We will be freed from the trap.


The Violence Trap Part 6: A Myth Undone

Theodore Parker was a transcendentalist and an abolitionist whose words influenced both Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. In an 1853 sermon, Parker stated “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

A little more than 100 years later, Martin Luther King Jr simplified the same sentiment, “I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

We should see this is true. Contrary to the headlines broadcast from cable news networks, life isn’t that bad. Our society is acting with more justice than it ever has before. Our kids are safer than ever before. The poor are wealthier than ever before. That doesn’t mean life is sunshine and roses for everyone, just that we are better off as a whole. Our culture isn’t perfect but we are heading in the right direction. We might find evidence of moral decay, but the same is true of any other era in history.

Despite the looming threat of terrorism – from both homegrown and foreign radicals, despite the increasing occurrences of mass shootings, despite the petty bickering over partisan topics on social media, despite the reports of collegiate rapes and sexual assaults finding more publicity, despite the news of police killing unarmed black teenagers, despite the reports of cops being killed in cold blood, despite of all that is wrong in our world, we are better off than previous generations. We continue to engage in war but fewer soldiers are dying in battle. Racism, misogyny, and other forms of hatred still exist, but we have come a long way from the days of slavery, women’s suffrage movement, Jim Crow laws, and the Trail of Tears. We have our flaws but the moral arc of the universe is bent toward justice. We are getting better and we will continue to improve.

But the moral arc didn’t always bend that direction. It once bent toward anarchy. The mythology of ancient cultures is filled with violence and chaos. From the Norse peoples to the Egyptians, from the Aztecs to the Mongols, from the Sumerians to the Romans. Ancient civilizations were inspired by tales of gods and monsters, dragons and warriors. For thousands of years, humanity lived in tribalism. We didn’t care about justice, we only wanted to protect our tribe. We needed heroes who would face our foes and shout “This. Is. Sparta!” Our tribes grew into empires and empires constantly clashed for dominion over the others.

Something changed. Something took the moral arc of the universe and twisted away from self-preservation, pointing it instead toward justice. I believe that change happened with a man, born into persecution in the hill country of Judea.


He was a strange man who preached strange words. When Jesus showed up, he started telling people about an alternative to the myth of redemptive violence. He said “Look, I know it’s always been like this, but there is another way – a better way.” The crowds had been taught to repay violence with violence. The law even allowed the penalty of an eye for an eye. But Jesus said “You don’t have to do it. You could turn the other cheek. You can repay violence with peace. You can respond to offenses with grace.”

Whether you do or don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, one thing can’t be ignored: Jesus inspired a group of people who believed that they could be different. Jesus led a ministry that emphasized justice, love, goodness, and mercy. In the centuries that followed, empires crumbled and civilization became more civilized. We went through an age of enlightenment. We industrialized, reformed, launched space shuttles, and tumbled face first into a globalized society. Along the way, we implemented methods of more humane treatment of farm animals, passed more ethical laws for the treatment of children, provided rights to women and minorities, gave relief to victims of natural disasters and refuge to those fleeing the turmoil in their homelands. Violent crime is going down. Murder rates are lower. Jesus gave us a glimpse of what justice could look like and we have been trying to achieve those ideals ever since.

But it didn’t end peacefully for Jesus. The Roman government executed him in the most violent method they had available at the time: crucifixion. Yet even the death of Jesus debunks the myth of redemptive violence. Instead of a savior committing violent acts to redeem us, The Savior redeemed us through suffering the violence committed against him. Jesus could have resisted. He could have overpowered those guards sent to arrest him. He could have called lightning down upon every centurion who participated in nailing him to the cross. But he didn’t. He showed compassion and asked God to forgive them for their ignorance.

In Jesus, we are given a new model. Violence is not defeated by violence. Violence is conquered by sacrifice. Violence is ended by a love that is willing to lay down its life for its friends. Redemption isn’t found in the perpetuation of violence but by breaking the cycle of violence.

Which brings me back to another statement from Martin Luther King Jr’s 1965 sermon. Before he said anything about the moral arc of the universe, he talked about redemption: “If physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children and their white brothers from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.” Taking a life will not redeem you, but giving up your life will. In a way, King was echoing the words of Jesus, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

There is no such thing as redemptive violence. But there is a sacrificial redemption.


The Violence Trap Part 5: A Violent Myth

There is a lie we all believe: violence stops violence. Some even take it further proposing that violence prevents violence. There’s even a term for it: The Myth of Redemptive Violence. It has become a common story model from ancient legends through modern action movies.

The Babylonian creation myth is one of the oldest examples. It begins in chaos with warring gods and heroes. The worst of them oppress the gods and thrives on breaking the rules. Eventually, one god steps up with a plan – he will defeat the antagonist in exchange for the right to rule above all of the other gods. The agreement is made and absolute power is given to this one god who proceeds to annihilate his foes with increasingly creative and gory methods of sadistic vengeance. Once evil is conquered, this violent god creates the world from the corpse of his greatest enemy. Babylonian mythology teaches how humanity’s existence was built upon brutality – that the violence of the gods redeemed us.

When I was a kid, my favorite show was The A-Team. Unjustly disgraced war veterans make a living as soldiers of fortune, rescuing the oppressed while evading military police.

image courtesy of NBC

Like many episodic shows of the era, The A-Team’s plot followed the same formula from one week to the next. The team worked as mercenaries, hired by people that were in trouble with an array of villainous villains: religious cults, corrupt cops, drug runners, Vegas mobsters, street gangs. Their first attempts usually failed so they hatched a new plan. There was a montage of them MacGyvering a collection of weaponry and modifying BA’s GMC creeper van – all set to epic 80’s action music. This was followed by an all-out assault on the bad guys, their clients were freed from their troubles, and the A-Team walked away heroes just before they could be arrested by the authorities.

The A-Team was one of the most violent shows on television at the time – despite no depiction of bloody wounds or bruises, and the team never killed anyone. The show also perpetuated the myth of redemptive violence. Episode after episode, they confirmed the idea that the weak and powerless could only be saved by an onslaught of machine gunnery and gratuitous explosions. It taught that a peaceful resolution was impossible and an exercise of brute force solved all problems.

We continue to see this myth in superhero movies. Superman defeated General Zod but half of Metropolis was destroyed in their battle. Destruction follows The Avengers wherever they go, from Manhattan, to Malibu, to Sokovia to fight off the threats of demigods, aliens, madmen, and killer robots. Even Captain America and Iron Man viciously pummeled each other over a difference of ideals.

In the real world, we flex military muscle. These days, we engage in preemptive conflict – the absurd notion that we can prevent war with war. We believe that the only way to conquer our enemies is to destroy them. We don’t even restrict our wars to foreign battlefields. We bring it home to our own turf. Rival gangs. Drunken bar-room brawls. Clashes between protesters and police. Martin Luther King Jr – the advocate of peaceful protests repeatedly said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

We believe that mightily overcoming the enemy is the solution we need, but instinctively we know it isn’t true. We know that violence does not bring peace. Violence creates greater violence. This is proven if you’ve ever seen a pair of junior high kids get into a fight. It starts with an insult, then a comeback. The invectives and name-calling escalate into threats. Soon one bumps into the other and the other pushes back. Push comes to shove and the shoves become more and more potent until someone throws a punch. Left to their own devices, the retaliatory punches continue until both are rolling on the ground kicking and pulling hair and choking each other.

In theory, we think that violence redeems us, but in practice, violence is a mold that spreads exponentially. Jay-Z knew this to be true. In his song ‘Justify My Thug,’ Jay-Z rapped, “Now if you shoot my dog, I'ma kill yo' cat. Just the unwritten laws in rap. Know that for every action there's a reaction.” In essence, his words are a warning. If you push me, I punch back. If you step on my shoes, I’ll burn your house down. You injure me, I’ll bury you. Jay-Z knew that life is much more primal – that retaliation will always be bigger than the originating offense.


The Violence Trap Part 4: Polite Society

There is another rhetorical meme that is common when discussing violence and gun control that bothers me: An armed society is a polite society. It sounds believable yet it gives me a creepy sensation.

Why is that?

The idea behind this statement is the assumption that people will be less likely to say something rude or act belligerently if there is a greater likelihood that the target of their ire is armed. In other words, as the chance that you have a gun increases, my willingness to express anger decreases. People who cling to this desire for an armed society believe that people will stop picking fights in there is a good possibility that everyone has a concealed weapon.

Politeness doesn’t exist under duress or obligation or anticipation of lethal retaliation. That is not what it means to be polite. That is called fear. An armed society is not a polite society; it is a society that is afraid. A fearful society is not a safe society. Terror engages our flight or fight mentality. People act stupid when they are scared.

However, the idea of stockpiling weaponry is somehow responsible for creating polite citizens is backed up by statistics. Well, allegedly supported by numbers, as demonstrated here.

The best lies are wrapped in a shred of truth. Yes, both nations have comparable population in terms of gross numbers, however the demographics are vastly different. Honduras does have the highest homicide rates of any nation on earth. Switzerland’s homicide rate isn’t the lowest, but it is extremely low. But the factual statements in the infographic end there.

Are Swiss citizens required to own a gun? Well, yes and no. The government requires all men to enlist in mandatory military service and all members of the military are issued a gun. However, the soldiers can only bring the gun home without ammunition and all government issued weapons are returned upon completion of military service. Civilian gun ownership is allowed but far more restrictive than the above infographic implies: automatic weapons are banned. Concealed weapons require a license, and there is a mandatory background check for all handgun purchases.

What about Honduras? Handguns are the weapon of choice in a vast majority of their murders. Analyzing the map to study the geographic location of deaths in Honduras, it is easy to see that most killings are related to drug trafficking – a problem that is nearly non-existent in Switzerland. And Honduras doesn’t ban guns. Most of the 9mm guns used in violent crimes were legally purchased. Watchdogs describe gun laws in Honduras to be less restrictive than other nations in the region from Brazil, to Venezuela, to Mexico.

Guns are readily available and legal in both Honduras and Switzerland. Yet one nation has the highest murder rates in the world and the other experiences very few homicides. Both societies are armed, but one is clearly more polite than the other. What is the difference? Perhaps some additional comparisons could be relevant.

Consider some of the nations with lower murder rates than Switzerland: Japan, Singapore, Iceland, Monaco. Their gun laws are extremely restrictive and they all see less than 0.5 homicides per 100,000 population. These countries are industrialized, wealthy, and educated. At the other end of the list ranking intentional homicides by country, the top ten with the most murders include many of Honduras’ neighbors: El Salvador, Venezuela, Belize, and Guatemala. These are uneducated, impoverished, and caught up in drug-trade; some are governed by militaristic regimes.

We have one set of nations with gun laws ranging from strict to permissive with low rates of violent deaths. The other set of nations also have gun laws ranging from strict to permissive but experience the higher rates of homicide than anywhere else in the word. What sets the two groups apart is not an accessibility or lack of weapons. The laws in these nations have minimal impact on gun violence within their borders. The difference between the peaceful and the dangerous nations is a matter of economic and educational opportunities.

An armed society is not a polite society. Perhaps the best phrasing might be that an educated society is a polite society.


The Violence Trap Part 3: A Matter of Statistics

After every major shooting or headline grabbing gun-related death, the rollout of statistics is inevitable. Both camps do it. The pro-second amendment people. The pro-gun control advocates. The NRA. Major news networks. Bloggers. Conspiracy theorists. Comedians. Your drunk neighbor. Everyone has a statistic to confirm their biases.

(pictured: your drunk neighbor)

That doesn’t bother me; I love statistics. I am a numbers guy with an analytical personality. The more data, the better. Give it to me in an Excel spreadsheet and I will geek-out for hours. I have worked as a data analyst and a reporting technician so numbers make sense to me. Charts and graphs are fascinating works of art. I have built predictive models based on trends in business metrics. I have used historical measurements and forecasts to make staffing recommendations. I have designed reports to update in real time to give an evolving view of what has happened, is happening, and will happen.

Because of my work background, I have a slightly different perspective than many people. I understand numbers and the math behind them. That comprehension has taught me a valuable lesson: numbers do not lie, but they can be manipulated. You can make numbers say whatever you want them to say.

There are statistics that prove gun-control is working. The state of Hawaii has fewer gun deaths per 100,000 citizens than any other state in the union. Hawaii’s homicide rate and suicide rate are among the lowest in America, and they have the least prevalence of incidents of non-fatal gunshot injuries. However, only one fourth of Hawaiians own a gun – a percentage that is lower than other state in the USA. Furthermore, Hawaii’s gun control laws are far stricter than anywhere else in our nation. Mandatory universal background checks and two week waiting period. Gun owners must all obtain a permit. All firearms must be registered individually and the process to complete the registration is elaborate, requiring multiple trips to fill out paperwork. The permission to grant concealed carry permits is granted at the sole discretion of county police chiefs. It takes a lot of effort to legally obtain a gun in Hawaii.

Contrast Hawaii with the states with the highest rate of gun deaths per 100,000 citizens. Those states tend to be those with lax gun control laws: Utah, Kentucky, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, West Virginia, South Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alaska. For most of these states, no permit is required to purchase a firearm. Many of them allow open carry – the ability to openly carry a gun without any training, certification, registration, or licensing. Some of them allow the carry of a concealed weapon without a permit. These states also tend to have a higher percentage of gun owners. There seems to be a correlation between the ease with which people can purchase and/or carry a weapon and a higher number of per capita gun deaths.

But there are also statistics that prove gun control isn’t working. Cities with the highest murder rates are those with some of the most restrictive gun laws: Chicago, Washington DC, Baltimore, Detroit, and St. Louis. There seems to be a correlation between difficulty of legally obtaining a firearm and a higher rate of murders.

Here is where the numbers go askew.

The statistics about gun deaths that appear to support a need for more restrictive gun control include all deaths involving a firearm – homicide, suicide, and accidental discharge. Murder rates in some of those states are comparatively low. No one in Montana, Wyoming, or Alaska are going on shooting sprees. Accidents happen, and those accidents roll into this statistic. At my local Walmart, a mom was accidently shot and killed by her two-year-old son when he pulled the trigger on a handgun concealed in mama’s purse. An instructor at a gun range in northern Arizona was killed by a nine-year-old student when he gave her an uzi that was too powerful for her to handle. Neither of those two incidents could be considered manslaughter but both contribute to the complete count of gun deaths in their states.

The statistics about murder rates that appear to support a need for looser gun control laws include all killings regardless of weapon. While guns are the predominant instrument of choice, the murder rates include death by knives, blunt objects, strangulation, fire, poisons, and explosives. There are more ways to kill a person than by shooting them. The statistics about higher rates of homicide in cities with strict gun laws also ignore how it is still legal to purchase firearms somewhere else (where it is easier to obtain a gun) and bring that weapon back into the city with stricter laws.

What we have here are two contradictory statistics. Both are true. Both use factual evidence and data. Yet both lead to completely opposite conclusions. There are those that want to take away guns and those that want proliferation. And both will find convincing data to prove why they are more correct than everyone else. Advocates will point to Canada and Australia as examples of where gun control is working. Opponents will point to Switzerland as an example where a high rate of gun ownership is working. Are these statistics even relevant if we know that anyone can find facts and numbers to support their argument?

Yes. Of course.

We might not be able to agree on what should be done to curb gun violence. However, regardless of which statistic you use, one thig is clear: we have a problem. Don’t believe me?

In the USA, there are 112.6 guns per 100 residents. We are the only nation on earth with more guns than people.
Gun sales have spiked in the aftermath of every mass shooting in the US since Columbine in 1999.
In 2015, toddlers shot themselves or someone else an average of once a week. This year so far, that tragedy is happening more frequently.
In 2015, gun related fatalities were practically equal to the number of deaths from vehicle related accidents. Experts expect there to be more gun deaths in 2016 than motor vehicle deaths.
Nearly two thirds of all gun deaths are suicide. The violence we inflict upon ourselves is far worse than what we do to others.

These statistics cannot tell you what to do but I hope it convinces you that something should be done.

Of course, there is one statistic that few ever talk about – especially on networks like CNN and FOX News: the rate of violent crime is actually improving. Handgun related deaths have steadily decreased since the early nineties. The total number of murders are lower than they have been since peaking in 1993 and the rate of murders per 100,000 people is less than half of what it was in 1980. Other crimes like robbery and aggravated assault are also on a downward trend. Despite more frequent occurrences of mass shootings in churches, schools, theaters, and nightclubs, fewer people are getting shot from one year to the next. Despite the increased news of terrorist attacks, we are becoming a more safe, peaceful, and civilized society.

We are making progress, but there is more work to be done. We can still do better.


The Violence Trap Part 2: The Good Guys

It is a common argument: the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If that’s true, who are the good guys?

Are the good guys law enforcement? We should hope so. Their duty is to serve and protect. They are the individuals who undergo extensive training on how to properly handle and fire a weapon. They routinely practice with targets in a firing range and in high stress environments so that they are better prepared to act in the pressures of their job – skills needed when any random citizen they stop in the streets could have murderous intents. More often than not, our movies and TV shows portray police as the good guys. It’s the cops and robbers trope: the criminals are up to no good and the cops must stop them from harming innocent civilians. Our police should be the good guys. Yet the news preys on stories of police brutality. Our headlines are filled with stories of unarmed African Americans being shot by white officers. Elsewhere they killed a six-year-old boy who had autism. Reports abound of evidence of misconduct being buried and reports falsified to protect the thin blue line. Even in the town where I live, an officer shot and killed a dog enclosed in a locked vehicle parked at a coffee shop then lied about the breed. Around the same time, a pair of deputies detained and harassed a couple of kids under suspicion of being drug dealers outside a gas station after the boys made a joke about the band Nickleback. These are the good guys?

image courtesy of NPR

Are the good guys the so-called patriot militias like the motley miscreants that invaded the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge this last winter? Their stated goals seem altruistic – standing up for the freedom of men they perceived to be persecuted, defending the rights of the average citizen, and something about the constitution. They called themselves peaceful protesters. But at the same time, they were armed as if they were prepared to go to war. They gained a reputation of being snide and threatening to local residents who complained of being followed and harassed by members of the Bundy Militia. They were disrespectful of the property they occupied and left a mess in their wake. They caused physical damages to the grounds and buildings; disrupted the lives those who were employed at the refuge, and financially burdened local, county, state, and federal officials sent to control and arrest the insurrectionists. These are the good guys?

image courtesy of Raw Story

Are the common open carry citizens the good guys? These are the people who believe everyone should have the right to carry any firearm of their choice in public without any training, background check, or permit. Studies have shown the average person is not able to draw a gun during an active shooter situation, let alone fire accurately. We want to believe that an armed bystander can save the day and stop the bad guy. There are news reports of that very scenario happening, even though police can mistake the good guy for the bad guy and the good Samaritan is treated as a hostile suspect. For every story where a good guy with a gun is able to stop a crime in progress, there are stories like that of Joseph Wilcox, who tried to stop a cop killer but was murdered by a second gunman. These are the good guys?

image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

I do not believe we can ever objectively determine who is or is not a good guy. By all accounts, Micah Xavier Johnson was a good guy until July 6th. He spent six years in the Army Reserve and was deployed in Afghanistan. Fellow soldiers described him as goofy, nice, religious, and sociable. After discharge, he was providing care for his mentally disabled brother. His rifle and handgun were purchased legally. He wore body armor that was purchased legally. Then on July 7th, Micah Xavier Johnson became a bad guy with a gun when he fired into a crowd of what most people would describe as good guys with guns. Many in attendance at the protest were armed - both open and concealed carry. Johnson’s main targets were the armed police officers who were there to maintain peace. So many good guys with guns and none of them were able to stop the bad guy with guns.

If you want to have a productive conversation about ending gun violence in America, then don’t start with the claim that good guys with guns are the only method to stop bad guys with guns. It just isn’t true.


The Violence Trap Part 1: An Anecdote

Saturdays are our adventure days. Anything to get out of the house. Go for a hike. Picnic at the park. Friends' birthday parties. But plans change. Kids get sick. Weather sours. Sometimes, we camp out in the apartment and do chores.

One rainy Saturday, it was obvious the kids were getting cabin fever. Their rooms were clean. Laundry folded and put away. Dishes washed and dishwasher empty. Video game time used up. Hours spent reading. All before lunch. (My kids are early risers.)

By mid-afternoon, they were turning bug-eyed from the doldrums of being cooped up and the dismal weather outside was not encouraging. They were like caged animals looking for a way to escape their enclosure and would soon turn against their zookeeper. Me.

With that in mind, I took them somewhere dry to play: Carl's Jr. We had already eaten lunch so we ordered sides of fries; I let them play while I caught up on my own reading.

Carl's Jr isn't my favorite place in the world. It always smells odd, but their food quality is a step above McDonald’s and their play area is easier when managing multiple children. For that one wet-weathered Saturday, we had the place to ourselves for most of the time we were there.

Late in the afternoon, and older man came in with his granddaughter. Hunched back, grayed hair, grizzled scowl, defined wrinkles - I would estimate his age to be five to ten years older than my father. He carried himself with the boredom and contempt of a man that is not enjoying retirement. He also had a large firearm strapped to his hip.

The gun did not bother me. I have a few friends who open carry, more who have a permit and conceal carry. They are all calm and competent gun owners. None of them flaunt the fact they are armed.

I was not worried about the old man with the big gun. Since I live in North Idaho, I would wager I am in the company of people packing heat far more than I realize. It is something people do around here.

But my daughter was worried. As soon as she saw it she came up to me and whispered, "That man has a gun."

"Yes, he does." I tried to downplay it as best as possible. "It's OK though."

"But why?" She asked, still at a conspiratorial volume.

"A lot of people do it," I whispered in reply, "It isn't anything to be scared of."

As I finished trying to calm my daughter's fears, my oldest son came around the corner with the same observation. "Did you know that guy has a gun?" Christian was whispering too, but not as quietly as his sister.

Before I could give him an answer, the old man did it for me. "And I have a badge for it," he barked from the far side of the room.

That is when my opinion changed. In one grumpy retort, he went from being an old man wanting to spend some time with his granddaughter to a jackass with a gun. He went from being an ordinary citizen with a weapon to a potential danger. He went from carrying a gun for self-protection hoping he'd never need it to carrying a gun in hopes of confrontation.

I know that is a lot of projection and speculation. Yet, if he was a responsible gun owner, he would have respected my ability as a parent to deescalate the situation with my own kids. There was no need for him to butt into our conversation. Even if interruption was necessary, the manner in which he responded was defiant. It was hostile, terse, and angry. There was no kindness in his voice. No attempt to ease their fears. To the contrary, his irate shout made them even more scared.

When I looked at him he was sneering at us. He knew he intimidated my kids and he was enjoying it.

I was offended. I was pushed into fight or flight mode so we left. (To be honest, we have not been back to Carl's Jr since then.)

As we drove away, the questions came. "Was he breaking the law?" No, no he wasn't. "You mean he's allowed to have a gun like that?" Yes, he is. "Is that normal?" Well, lots of people have guns.

The next question was not as easy to answer. "Why was he carrying a gun?"

The first answer that came to mind: "Because he's a jerk." But not everyone who carries a gun is a jerk. As I said before, I have friends who are always armed. They are good people with valid reasons for keeping a firearm with them at all times.

But this guy? This crotchety old man? "Because he's a jerk" is the only answer that fit. How bitter and broken does someone have to be to get a thrill from scaring elementary aged kids?

And he has a badge? I call BS. You do not get badges for gun ownership. Some states require permits for concealed carry, but not Idaho. We also allow you can openly carry without a permit. The only reason he would have a badge is if he was in law enforcement, but he was far too old to be an active officer or a security guard.

He's grouchy. Most likely dishonest. If he's expecting terrorists to attack a small town fast food joint or preparing to be the hero if a disgruntled ex-employee returns to extract vengeance, he's paranoid and/or delusional. And he derives pleasure from scaring kids. Jerk is the only descriptor I can contrive.

When it comes to talk about gun violence in America, it is hard to escape the rhetoric. Both sides use it. Those in favor of and opposed to any measure of gun control have a weapons cache filled with statistics and witty one liners that support their political stance. The arguments come out after every mass shooting. After every high profile officer involved death. After every riot. After every headline that include the words toddler, accident, and gun.

Murder rates, gun deaths, comparisons to Canada and Australia, spotlights on mental health, second amendment, militias, gun grabbing feds. When I hear these tired terms, "facts," and figures, I can't help but think one thing.

One of the most common pro-gun talking points is that guns are not the problem; people are. It was cleverly turned into a meme trying to draw parallels between Walter Palmer and Christopher Harper-Mercer. It said that a when the gun is used to kill a lion liberals blamed the person, but when the gun is used to kill Christians liberals blame the gun. Ignoring the logical fallacies and false equivalences in that meme, it highlights something that I do believe to be true.

America has a problem with violence. It has an obsession with guns. We have a problem of the heart and a crisis of soul.

If you want to say that guns are not to blame, I will agree with you. If you claim people are to blame, I am with you. People are the problem. But if you believe people are the problem then you should be willing to cede that some people should not be allowed to have guns because of those problems.

In my opinion, that old man at Carl's Jr getting kicks off of scaring my kids is one of those people who should not be allowed to carry a gun in public.