Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gun Laws - Some More Thoughts

We have a problem in our country. Well, we have lots of problems, but the one I want to address is the problem we have with people being killed as a result of gunfire.

In this country, since the Sandy Hook school massacre, there have been by some counting methods over 900 mass shootings. Of course, some will argue that we should use different counting methods, which gives us a number between 140 and 150.

During that same time period, there are by some counts over 32,000 people killed in this country by gunfire.

Those numbers are too big. No matter which numbers you use, those numbers are too big. Too many people are being killed by gunfire in this country - the statistics are comparable to some countries that are experiencing armed conflict (war).

I'm not interested in parsing the numbers. Maybe the ones I found online are off, and maybe you have better data. If we're going to parse numbers, the first questions I'm interested in asking would be, "How many people being killed by gunfire in this country is acceptable?"

Now as soon as we start talking about how many people die by gunfire, the conversation moves to the second amendment to the US Constitution (the assumption being, apparently, that government is planning to take away everyone's firearms). Of course, we'll have disagreements on the interpretation of the second amendment, particularly whether the right to keep and bear arms stands on its own, or whether that right in inextricably linked to the establishment of a well-regulated militia.

Then what happens is that individuals and groups seem to get entrenched in their position, calling for either more restrictions on firearm purchases and ownership or stating vehemently that we already have enough gun laws.

Fine. We disagree with each other. This is not the first time that's happened in anyone's life. Remember kindergarten? Remember learning how to negotiate the use of that one particular toy that two of you wanted? Some of us simply learned how to get the toy we wanted by yelling about it, or by simply taking it. On school playgrounds, those children are crybabies or bullies.

Those of us who learned conflict resolution in healthy ways learned how to listen to each other, and how to talk with each other. Surely by the time we get to be adults, we've discovered how to talk and listen, instead of whining and bullying (though to observe Congress, you might not think so).

So, no matter what the numbers are, I think we would all agree that something needs to change in our country in relation to how many people are killed by gunfire. If you don't think thousands of people being killed every year is problematic, you probably didn't read this far anyway.

I would propose the following:

1) Tighten the gunshow loophole. Set a limit on how many guns an individual is able to sell before they are categorized as a dealer. Maybe the number is 5 guns per month. Maybe it's 20 guns per year. Maybe it's a different number, but let's put a number to it so that the law actually has some teeth.

2) Restrict the sale of assault style and military style weapons. Unless a person is part of an assault team, or is in the military, I don't understand what reasonable use they'd have for that kind of weapon. And since we already restrict what kinds of firearms a person can own (I don't think it's legal for me to own anti-aircraft weaponry), this restriction is simply one of degree, not kind.

3) Restrict the size of ammunition magazines that citizens are permitted to own. If a person is truly and honestly worried about nine rounds not being enough to deter an intruder into their home, they either need better training in the use of firearms, or they have a reason to need police protection.

4) Require licensing, registration, training, and insurance for all gun owners. We do it for automobiles, we should be able to do that for firearms. Obviously some people wouldn't be able to pass the training. Some people don't pass driver's training either.

We don't allow those people to drive because we, as a society, have determined that they're not able to do so safely. If a person can't pass the training, they probably can't safely own a firearm ... and so probably shouldn't.

Obviously the simple fact of passing laws isn't going to force everyone to follow them. However, the reason we pass laws (ideally) is for the betterment of our society. In this case, I'd propose that we pass these laws in order to keep people safe.

Will everyone follow them? Of course not. We have laws on our books regulating the use of child safety seats in automobiles. Does everyone follow them? Of course not. Did the passage of those laws decrease the number of child deaths in car accidents? Yes it did. And for that reason, the laws are worthwhile.

If passing laws regulating firearms decreases the number of people who die from gunfire, then they're worth passing.


Some people, and maybe even some of you my seven readers, may disagree with me. That's fine. In fact, that's encouraged. I'm not so bold as to think I have thought through everything I need to consider. And I'm not so arrogant as to think I'm always right.

So please disagree with me. But instead of simply railing against this (or any other) proposal, I invite you to offer your own opinion about what needs to change. Because obviously something does.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mass Shootings, Gun Control, and Politics ... some thoughts

I posted a link on Facebook to a website with mass shooting statistics for 2015. In response, a friend (who I really like, and with whom I disagree on any number of issues) asked a question privately. My friend asked what my perfect solution would be. Here’s my response to my friend’s question, expanded from what I responded on FB messenger.


The trouble with this issue (mass shootings that happen in our society) is that it's way more complicated than anyone seems to want to admit, especially politicians and others with a financial stake in any part of it. But here’s what I’d do.

I would probably advocate first (for non-politicians) that people put down electronic devices, get out of their houses and out of the friend groups that *only* reinforce what they already believe. I'd advocate that we interact with our neighbors, that we sit down and eat with people we don't know and with people we don't agree with. 

I'd want to require politicians to have dinner with a member of the other party at least once a month, and prohibit them from talking politics during that time. 

Both of these would help us to recognize that the people who might disagree with us are still people, valuable members of society. 

Further, I'd shorten the presidential and congressional campaign season and set a limit on political fundraising, getting big money out of politics and preventing elected leaders from becoming so beholden to corporations and wealthy individuals. 

Without doing those things, or something else that would achieve the same results (less animosity between individuals of different parties, less money in politics), we won't ever be able to come up with sensible regulations (of guns, of individuals' mental health, of corporations, of militias) for much of anything, and we'll keep yelling at each other instead of listening to each others' pains and struggles and joys and celebrations. 

It's not only about the mass shootings ... they're just a symptom of the dysfunction that is our political reality these days ... and after years of continued prevalence of shootings, nothing had changed - we've just gotten accustomed to people shooting each other, and that's not ok (imho).

However, while it’s not only about the mass shootings, that is the presenting issue … and along with the mass shootings, we must address our nation’s gun regulations.

We already live with gun regulations. For instance, I can legally own a handgun and a rifle and a shotgun. Some convicted felons, however, are prohibited from owning any of those. That’s regulation. And I’m relatively certain that I am prohibited from owning anti-aircraft weaponry. That’s regulation.

So the question for politicians to address is what kind of firearm regulation is appropriate. However, when politicians have received huge contributions from corporations and individuals who have a financial interest (for instance) in selling guns, they’ll have a tendency to vote against stricter regulation. When politicians have received huge contributions from individuals who have experienced personal loss as a result of firearms, they’ll have a tendency toward enacting stricter regulations.

The more money there is in politics, the less elected leaders are able to actually listen to constituents.

Further, and this is critical, when we see people who disagree with us as the ‘other’, we’re easily able to vilify our enemies, seeing them as less than us.

At the same time, if we have spent significant time with people who are different from us, we begin to recognize that they’re not too different from us. We begin to recognize that they’re people, too. We begin to recognize that it’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’ … it’s all ‘us’.

The thing is, I have to believe that politicians really do want the best for our nation, for our society. If I didn’t believe that, I’d simply sink into despair … so I really do believe that they all want the best for all of us.

So, to the guns. If politicians recognize that their opponent is a real person instead of simply an enemy … if politicians recognize that everyone wants the best for our society, and we simply disagree with each other about what that means … if the huge sums of money are removed from the whole political process … then the elected leaders might be able to sit down, actually listen to each other’s thoughts and concerns, and then come up with a reasonable solution.

But right now, it seems like no one actually listens to anyone else. Which is why I believe it’s a much bigger problem than just the guns.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Some Thoughts on Ferguson

The decision announced last night to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Mr. Michael Brown is no longer only about this one incident, if it ever even was. This incident has become, and is, about the state of race relations in this country that so many of us love.

At the congregation I serve as pastor, we've begun working in earnest to equip folks with the tools to intentionally share their faith with younger generations. We recognize that, as much as church leaders might want to be incharge of everything having to do with faith, parents have a much greater influence on their children than anyone else ever will.

Parents, or more specifically the adults with whom children spend the most time, are the ones who (intentionally or accidentally) share their worldview with young people. Kids learn how the world works from their parents.

I move through every day assuming that I'll be safe, that I'll be able to get what I need at almost any time, and that I'll have access to someone who has the power and authority to change what needs to be changed in order to make my personal situation the way it should be. That's how my parents taught me to move through the world

What do you assume about the world? If you're white, and especially if you're straight and male, you very well may make similar assumptions to mine.

If you grew up in this country black, or Latino/a, or Asian, or Native, or with any skin color darker than (northern) European, you almost certainly learned something different about how the world works.

See, we learn about the world from our ancestors. I grew up trusting authorities, at least in part because my ancestors had essentially been treated fairly by the culture in which we live.

Most people who grew up in this country with darker skin than mine grew up with decades or centuries of history of being treated unfairly. That deeply-embedded family history cannot be turned around simply because the voting laws changed 50 years ago. It takes generations of everything being different before culture even begins to truly be any different.

From a priviliged white perspective, this is what Ferguson is about. Folks are looking around, seeing that what we have is broken, and demanding that things change.

I'm not a legal expert, so I can't offer an opinion about whether Officer Darren Wilson ought to be indicted.

I do know that Mr. Michael Brown was killed without an indictment or a trial or a sentencing.

Which leads me to believe that our system, our culture, our world needs to be indicted, put on trial, and (most importantly) rehabilitated.

And the place to start, perhaps, would be to start trusting one another - specifically, for white people to start trusting that when people of color talk about how they experience life in our society, they're telling the truth.


Monday, July 7, 2014


The other day, the day after I arrived back at my home after a mont-long journey, I went to work out at the (amazing, fantastic, unbelivable) gym where I'm a member.

I walked in to the gym, into a large group of people, into a surprising welcome. I felt like the mere fact that I had returned and was going to work out again was celebrated - I felt like I had arrived at a place where I belong.

(At this point in the story, I'm compelled to recall the theme song from that 80s sitcom ~ a song completely and fully about welcome.)

Now, granted, I'm a regular at the gym, and have been for a couple of years. I'm not new, I'm there pretty frequently, and I show up a different class times, so I get to know more people than just one subset of the gym membership.

Of course some of the people there the other day didn't welcome me back, simply because they don't know me. But the ones who I'd spent tiem with seemed genuinely glad that I had returned.


I'm thinking about three specific families who I've known in my capacity as a pastor. Each of these families had been members of the congregation for at least four years (or as long as 15). For each of these families, life circumstance had taken them away from the congregation for between 6 months and two years.

When life circumstance brought them back, I observed them slip quietly into a pew with hardly any notice from anyone in the congregation.


What's the difference between my gym and many congregation?

  • Is it that I spend 2-5 days per week at the gym, while most people spend 2-4 days per month at church. I show up at they gym at least four times more often than most people show up at church?
  • Is it that we suffer together at the gym, while most people show up to church acting as if they don't experience suffering at all, and therefore don't need to share suffering?
  • Is it that the simple act of showing up at the gym is an implicit (or explicit) admission that we fall short and need improvement, while at church we do our best to hide our faults?
  • Is it something else?

These are real questions, and I'm genuinely interested to hear what my eight readers think.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014



* Royalty: an internationally-connected, and often wealthy, group of people who stewards a nation and provides for the large-scale needs of all of the people.

* Peasantry: a locally-connected, and often not wealthy, group of people who steawards the local land and landscape, and who provide for the small-scale needs of all of the people.

* Definitions you see above: idealistic visions of royalty and peasantry, which probably have never been and will never be realized in the actual world.


It doesn't usually work like this. And so royalty is baffling to me, a person who's never lived in a society with any collective experience of royalty. I don't understand the English fascination with royalty.

The other day, we visited a palace. The beauty and impressive grandeur of the place were inescapable. I was impressed.

But just below the surface and equally inescapable to our perception, was a very uncomfortable class system that made itself evident in our experience of the palace - that gave me the feeling of being used by the aristocracy for their own gain at my expense.

What I expected was a tour of the palace and an opportunity to see how a palace might have functioned in the past. That's what we got at the other historical places we've visited on this trip - why wouldn't we expect the same?

I would have loved some kind of compare-and-contrast presentation - maybe a look at the staterooms and the kitchen as they functioned in 1800; maybe an articuilation of the differences between the bedrooms used by a dutchess and her maid's chambers; maybe an explanation of the differences between the life of a 10-year-old son of the duke and the 10-year-old son of the footman.

What we got, though, was a walk thorugh a few staterooms and an un-engaging history of the palace, while most of the palace was private residence and therefore off-limits to the public. Of course, I also got the feeling that my money is being used to prop us a system that benefits very few and has virtually no place in today's world.

Of course, I'm willing to stipulate that there may still be a place in the world for royalty. For that to be the case, though, the whole system would necessarily have to be restructured - everything would have to start from scratch in order to get anywhere close to the ideal.

Of course, one could make similar criticisms of the church.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Public Houses

I've had the pleasure of enjoying some extended time in Scotland and England over the past couple of weeks. While most of the trip has been fantiastic, I'm interested right this minute in public houses (pubs). Sure, I enjoy having a beer - but my interest is deeper than that.

Dictionaries don't seem to distinguish, but common parlance here in the UK seems to note a difference between the following: pub, ale house, tavern, bar. (Because this is posted on the internet, I have no doubt that if I get this wrong, someone will correct me ... in fact, I expect someone may correct me even if I get it right.) To wit, I heard the following: "He went into a pub ... no, it was more of an ale house."

The bars I've been in, most of which have been in the US, seem to exist so that people can drink. Sure, there are often other things to do in bars (pool, darts, conversation, etc.), but drinking is primary.

On the other hand, my experience of Scottish and English pubs is that they exist as gathering places. Sure, ales and lagers and whiskies are consumed, but the conversation that happens as community gathers together seems to be central.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a pub. Around me there are three groups of 2-5 people sitting and sharing conversation. I'm the only person sitting alone, and that's only because I'm writing.

At another pub, there were at least 35 people in a 12'x12' space. In addition to the musician singing from behind his guitar in one corner, there were no fewer than five conversations, at least one of which was between strangers. I know this, because the person next to me started a conversation with me even while I was writing. Then, when the musician took a smoke break, another patron stopped his own conversation in order to sing his own song.

Another time I was interrupted in the midst of writing was when I was surrounded by at least 60 people gathered almost shoulder to shoulder filling a pub that was also filled with friendly conversation and impromptu live music.

It may well be simply because I'm in a foreign place that I see with idealistic vision - or maybe the pubs I've been in have just been really great. Still, the culture seems to be that whoever shows up at a public house has a place to belong, and everyone who shows up belongs there simply because they've walked in the door.

I appreciate the idea and practice of a local establishment being a regular gathering place where everyone is welcome, where ideas can be exchanged, and where life can be lamented and celebrated.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Some thoughts on individual rights and freedoms

I grew up with a western-USAmerican mindset, where the natural inclination for a person is to do as they please, and for that person to allow others the same priviledge. It's a culture of self-reliance and of independance and of individuality - qualities that I see as virtuous. At the same time, though, they also lead toward self-centered conservatism and isolationism and a lack of concern for fellow citizens.

A sense of independant & self-reliant individualism is intimately connected to the idea of inalienable individual rights (which, most of my seven readers will recall, are deeply imbedded in the US Constitution). Those are the foundation fo western civilization, and particularly of USAmerican culture.

(Unfortunately, our societal push toward freedom in founding this great nation trampled on the personal & societal rights of millions of individuals who were part of the scores of Native (North, Central, and South) American societies. Further, our individualistic push toward the pursuit of life & liberty & happiness trampled on the personal and societal rights of Africans and their decendants who were individually and societally enslaved in order to build profit for some.)

I'm thinking about where individual rights begin and end over the past couple of days. Let me explain.

I'm traveling with my family through the United Kingdom this month. We spent a few days in London at the outset of our trip, and I was paying attention to the cyclists that are all over this city.
There were quite a few people on bikes - all kinds of people and all kinds of bicycles.

In addition to the bikes and cyclists who were all around, I also noticed London's cycling infrastructure. There are cycle lanes on almost every major street, and also on most of the intermediate streets as well. The minor streets were generally unmarked for cyclists - however, people on bikes were traveling on those just as they did on intermediate and major streets - in the midst of and alongisde cars and trucks as if bikes were traffic. What a beautiful thing.

In addition to the cycle lanes painted on many streets, I also saw that on some streets, physical barriers (cement curbs) had been installed, as if the city wants to keep people on bicycles safe. Additionally, bicycle parking seems to be readily available almost everywhere, and we walked by scores of rental bike stands.

What's the difference between London (where drivers slow down for cyclists in the road, recognizing perhaps that any delay the cyclist causes will amount to no more than 30 seconds) and Denver (where in a 25 mph zone I was buzzed by a driver who passed me when my speed was 27, and who proceeded a few minutes later (after I'd passed him at a stop) to honk and yell at me because he had to wait no longer than five seconds extra for me to get through an intersection)?

[Of course, I'm probably not giving him the benefit of the doubt, but he seemed to be self-centered and lacking in concern for the perspective of his fellow citizen.]

What's the difference? I wonder if our understanding and embrace of western individualism plays a role?

Did the driver believe that I was trampling on his right to not be delayed as he drove his truck? Does he believe that I have an individual right to ride a bicycle on the street?

Does that driver consider that my right to ride a bicycle on the street is restricted - that I ought not occupy the whole lane most of the time? And does that driver also believe that his right to drive a truck must sometimes also be restricted by my right to ride a bicycle on public streets?

Here's the thing. In a free and equal society, no ond has unrestricted rights. I have the right to freely swing my fist - but my right to swing my fist ends (is restricted at the point where) someone else's nose begins.

So I find myself facing a balancing-act sort of dilemma, particularly with regard to the "right to keep and bear arms" issue.

On the one hand, I absolutely don't want to restrict the rights that our USAmerican constitution provides - the right for citizens to keep and bear arms. On the other hand, do we extend that right so far that it takes away rights from other people?

Does the right to keep and bear arms extend so far as to allow individuals to bring military-style rifles into places of business? I'd like to say yes. But what if an individual who openly carries a semi-automatic rifle into a department store curtails someone's right to the pursuit of happiness? Or, what if carrying a loaded weapon into a restraunt curtails a group's right to peaceful assembly?

Say, for instance, a family's breadwinner just received a promotion, moving the family from a poor neighborhood in San Diego where there are regular gun battles between drug cartels, and where a relative was killed in crossfire. And what if they moved into a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Dallas. What if, when they're shopping for school supplies in a middle-class department store for their kids' school clothes, a group of young men come in the store walking around with pistols on their belts that look just like the guns carried by the cartels? The family is traumatized, and their pursuit of happiness is curtailed.

Who's rights are more important?

Or, for instance, what if a group of Iraq war veterans meet to discuss and work through the PTSD they're living with in the aftermath of their experience in conflict? And what if they go out to lunch together after the meeting? And what if, as they're enjoying some delicious burritos, a couple of young men walk through the doors carrying semi-automatic military-style rifles? The instincts of those veterans will kick in, and their right to peaceful assembly will be immediately curtailed.

Who's rights are more important?

These truly are genuine questions - I'd be interested in a genuine and thought-filled answers ...or at least a respectful conversation.