What Despair?

I read in a New York Times story today, that 4 firefighters were shot, 2 fatally, in an apparent ambush. They had been called to a car fire in Webster, NY. When they got there, they found both a car, and a nearby house on fire. The shooter, William Spengler, 62, was a man with a lengthy criminal record, who lived in the burning house. He had apparently set the fires in an attempt to draw out first responders, then lie in wait for them to arrive. As the firefighters began to work on the fires, Spengler started shooting from a hidden position behind a nearby berm, hitting 4 before the rest were able to take cover. Spengler was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. You can read the whole story here.

Walking home from the store this evening, I was attacked by someone's Pitt Bull that had gotten loose. I had my trusty Uncle Henry pocket knife in my pocket, but knew there was no way I'd get to it and open it before the dog got to me. The only thing I could do was stand my ground, and hope bravado would suffice. So I yelled and waved my arms. The dog body slammed me, but, thankfully, didn't bite. By that time it's owners had gotten there and had taken control of the dog.  After a few choice words about responsible pet ownership, I went on my way. As I walked, I reflected that my response must have looked like the threat display of an average gorilla. So much for evolution.

My point here is that there is no such thing as a risk-free existence. The very act of living carries with it some inherent risk. Certainly, risk can be managed to a point, like getting rid of assault rifles, and high-capacity magazines. But after that, there are some heavy trade-offs with regard to liberty vs. security. Weapons are only useful if you're planning to go into a dangerous situation (like, say, a war). But if you're caught by surprise, or if someone wants you dead bad enough, and is patient enough, odds are that you'll die.

Most people, like those firefighters, know this, yet still have the courage to go on about their daily lives.

I think even conservatives agree that the NRA's call for armed guards at every school is a stupid, unworkable, unsafe idea. Guns aren't a perishable item, and, taken care of correctly, can outlive their owners. But it's the NRA's job to make sure people keep buying guns. If that means sowing fear and discontent, so be it. Consequently, much of what they say regarding public safety, I find to be less than credible.

It's a complex problem, and I don't have all the answers. But I know that putting more guns into the equation is literally like adding gasoline to a fire.

I don't know what despair or insanity could compel someone to take the lives of innocent strangers, but we need to make sure that it's easier for them to get access to a mental health professional, than access to a gun.

Lessons We Refuse to Learn

It happened again. Just as we knew it would. I'm not sure I have the words to describe what I'm feeling. Soulsick comes close, I guess.  What compounds this horror are the inevitable, insensitive, callous comments of people like Mike Huckabee, who blames this tragedy on "God being driven from the classroom". If only we were that lucky.

Let's pretend for a moment that god is real. How stupid does one have to be? How little self-esteem does one have to have in order to worship a being that would willingly sacrifice 26 innocent people, most of them children, because he feels he isn't being worshiped sufficiently? A being like that is worthy only of my contempt. It's one of those times that I wish god were real. Then there would be someone to blame, an enemy to vanquish.

But that is not the case. Not much is known yet about the shooter, but given the nature of all the others, one can make some assumptions. In order for any human being to calmly take the lives of children and others who pose absolutely no direct or imminent threat to them, one would have to have suffered a serious break with reality.

Having spent a good portion of my misguided youth engaged in "better living through chemistry", I can tell you that, even under the most nominal of conditions, our perception of reality is built on little more than a house of cards. One of the most complex things that exists in this universe is the human brain. It's both fragile and resilient. Even with all the technological advances over the last 30 years, and our ability to store a lot of information in a very small space, the closest we've come to true artificial intelligence resembles more the brain of an ant, than a human. Our brains got us to the top of the food chain, and have created most of what we interact with in our daily lives. There is a lot of power there. So, when they break, things tend to end badly.

When those broken brains are in control of bodies that have access to a lot of firepower, things end badly for a lot of people.

To me, America's obsession with guns is indicative of fear. Canada has just as many gun owners per capita as we do, but less than half the gun violence. Why is it so much worse here?

Fear. Fear that has been carefully cultivated by those who have a vested interest in making, and keeping us afraid. We all know who they are. That fear, which we are being spoon-fed with on a daily basis, is one that many of us are all too willing to embrace. We're afraid of everything. Mostly each other.

It is a cowardice that, frankly, is embarrassing to witness.

The older I get, it seems, the less willing I am to take another's life, even to save my own. Mostly, I think, that it is because I have already lived through what they have yet to. How could I take a gift of that magnitude from anyone?

For the next few days, however, if anyone within arm's reach tells me that those children could have been saved if those teachers had been armed, or they try to portray this tragedy as "god's will", I may just make an exception in the form of a fat lip, or a poke in the snout.