Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Guns, Alcohol, Marijuana

The Super Bowl isn’t until this coming Sunday, but the longsuffering Kansas City Chiefs’ fans (of whom I am one) are already looking forward to next season. With a new coach (Andy Reid) and a new general manager (John Dorsey), Chiefs’ fans are trying to forget the past year by anticipating better things this fall.
But as terrible as the past season was on the field, it doesn’t match the tragedy last month of the murder-suicide by Jovan Belcher, the Chiefs’ player who killed his domestic partner and mother of his young daughter and then, a few hours later, killed himself in the presence of people high up in the Chiefs’ organization.
That tragedy spurred some public media commentators to write about the need for more stringent gun control. At the same time, others linked that tragic act of violence to alcohol. And, sure enough, when the autopsy report was released earlier this month, Belcher was found to have been legally drunk at the time of his death.
I have already written this month about the high number of murders caused by guns and the high number of deaths caused by drunk drivers. But alcohol is also linked to many of those murders as well. So, again, in order to save lives, there surely needs to be greater control of, or at least more responsible use of, both guns and alcohol.
At the present time, some politicians, beginning with the President, are making a concerted effort to pass meaningful control gun legislation, or at the very least to increase gun safety. But in spite of all the bad results that stem from drinking alcohol, as far as I know there is no new legislation about that problem being considered at all.
But what about marijuana? As most of you know, last November two states (Colorado and Washington) voted to make the recreational use of marijuana legal. (The medicinal use of marijuana had previously been legal in 18 states.) What should we think about such a change in public policy?
Let me be clear: I have never tried marijuana, and don’t intend to, legal or not. But it is my considered opinion that if alcohol is accepted by society as a legal drug, which it has been since 1933, then probably marijuana should be too. (That is certainly not true for meth, cocaine, heroin and other “hard drugs.”)
Marijuana does not seem to be as harmful as alcohol, and it is not as addictive as either alcohol or tobacco. In fact, the effects of marijuana may be far less detrimental to individuals and society than the effects of drinking alcohol or of smoking tobacco.
While certainly there should be laws against the use of marijuana before driving, the evidence seems to show that the rate of marijuana use to traffic accidents is far lower than the rate of drinking to traffic accidents. And there is a much lower rate of violent crimes related to marijuana than to alcohol.
In addition, decriminalizing marijuana would not only keep many young (and some older) people in the nation from becoming felons, it would also shift a tremendous amount of money from illicit drug merchants to tax revenues.
At any rate, I find it highly hypocritical for people who freely drink alcohol to be strongly opposed to the legalization of marijuana. While I would prefer for them both to be illegal, in reality probably they both should be legal.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Right to Bear Arms

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Those are the words of the Second Amendment as ratified on Dec. 15, 1791. They are not difficult words, but how they should be interpreted, and how they should be implemented in 2013, is a matter of much heated discussion.

There are some who seem to think that the Constitution’s statement about the right to bear arms means that gun ownership should be virtually unregulated or uncontrolled. For such people, including perhaps a majority of National Rifle Association (NRA) members, almost any type of gun control is seen as the violation of inherent Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.

Since the tragic shooting of the school children in Connecticut last month, talk about increased gun control, including the proposals the President unveiled last week, has led to a huge surge in gun and ammunition purchases, a substantial swelling in the membership of the NRA, and angry protests in the media.
The NRA directly links its opposition to gun control legislation to the Second Amendment. They exclaim on their website, “What’s happening RIGHT NOW in Washington, D.C. could spell disaster for YOUR guns and YOUR Second Amendment rights!” 

Last Saturday (Jan. 19) was the nation’s first “Gun Appreciation Day.” It was promoted by a dozen organizations, including the Second Amendment Foundation and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. 

On the same day there were also “Guns Across America” rallies in 49 of the state capitals across the nation. Newspaper headlines proclaimed that those who gathered were “Second Amendment supporters.”

Probably like some of you, I have received pro-Second Amendment, anti-gun control e-mails that included these words attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

But while Jefferson did support the right to bear arms, there is no evidence that he ever penned the words just cited. Yet the rhetoric on the right is relentless, and some who quote the spurious words attributed to Jefferson are shrill in their charge that the current administration in Washington, D.C., is becoming more and more tyrannical.

On Jan. 16 the President announced sweeping proposals for reducing gun violence in the nation. Those proposals include 23 executive actions. Opponents of the President have been outspoken in their criticism of the proposed legislation and especially of the executive actions. 

Later that day, one blogger screamed, “The 23 Scandalous ‘Executive Actions’ Dictator Obama Signed Today to Rob Us Of Our Freedoms!” 

Much more worrisome, though, is the response of key politicians. For example, Senator Grassley (R-IA), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused the President of exceeding the limits of his executive authority and charged that he was using executive action “to attempt to poke holes in the Second Amendment.”

And Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is reportedly proposing legislation to nullify President Obama’s executive actions, saying that many of them could be construed as an attempt by the executive to make laws in violation of the Constitution and the Second Amendment.

But one of the “scandalous” executive actions calls for the launching of “a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.” Tell me, does that sound to you like an outrageous proposal for robbing U.S. citizens of their Second Amendment rights?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Big Day for BHO


Official Portrait (by Pete Souza, 12/6/12)
It will happen at noon today (EST). That is when Barack Hussein Obama will officially be sworn in for his second term as POTUS. Since it is Sunday, though, the public swearing in ceremonies, as you know, will not be until tomorrow (Jan. 21).
Presidents used to assume office in March, but the Twentieth Amendment was ratified in 1933, so ever since President Roosevelt’s second swearing in ceremony in 1937, inauguration day has been on January 20. (Missouri became the 36th state to ratify the new amendment, on 1/23/33, satisfying the requirement that three-fourths of the states approve it.)
Twice before, Jan. 20 fell on Sunday so the public ceremony was held the following day. Coincidentally, all three times (Eisenhower in 1957, Reagan in 1985, and now Obama in 2013) have been for a President’s second term.
So this is a big day for BHO—and even though his middle name has negative connotations for many Americans, I wish the President would go by the initials BHO (rather than BO!) and that BHO would become as commonly used as FDR and JFK.
This is not only big day for the President, it is the beginning of a very challenging four year term. The biggest challenge is, doubtlessly, the problem of national debt and the “spending” of the federal government. At least that is the source of the major opposition to the President in the House of Representatives.
Over the next three months we will be hearing more and more about the problem of raising the debt ceiling and about the adoption of a federal budget that will significantly reduce spending.
Actually, as you know, raising the debt ceiling is sort of a “no-brainer.” That doesn’t approve any additional spending; rather, is allows the federal government to borrow money to pay for past expenditures. But a large number of Representatives are likely not going to be willing to approve raising the debt ceiling—at least not for long—unless there are concomitant spending cuts.
Throughout his first term, there were relentless attacks on the President, verbal attacks perhaps more vicious than on any President in the last fifty years, or longer—although Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush were also often and strongly maligned.
It is hard not to think that part of the visceral criticism of BHO is racist. But one of my Thinking Friends, whom I believe when he declares that he is not racist, says that to him President Obama is “repulsive.” That seems to be the feeling of a significant segment of U.S. society—and that is quite worrisome.
During the last four years I have been worried about the President’s safety. And now that he is pushing for extensive gun control legislation, he is probably in even more danger. Just yesterday there were nationwide “Gun Appreciation Day” activities and “Guns Across America” rallies.
President Lincoln, whose Bible BHO will be using in tomorrow’s ceremony, was assassinated just six weeks after he was sworn in for his second term of office. Even though there are several similarities between Lincoln and BHO, let’s earnestly pray that that will not become another one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Inconvenient Hero

Today (Jan. 15) is his birthday, although the national holiday celebrating it will not be until next Monday (Jan. 21). I’m writing, of course, about Martin Luther King, Jr., about whom we will be hearing much this year. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered 50 years ago, in August 1963. And then it was 45 years ago, in April 1968, that he was assassinated.
“I Have a Dream” is one of the best, most powerful speeches of all time. I get chills down my spine every time I listen to it—the last time being only last month. And it is the King of 1963 that is most remembered in the celebrations of his birthday.
But I have just read an essay that focuses on King’s talks and activities during the last five years of his life, the years after his famous 1963 speech in Washington, D.C. That essay is titled “The Inconvenient Hero,” which is also the subtitle of Martin Luther King (1996), the book in which it appears. Both the essay and the book were written by Vincent Harding.
King at Riverside Church, 4/4/67
Harding, born in 1931 in Harlem, taught at Iliff School of Theology (in Denver, CO) from 1981 to 2004. Early in his career, though, he was a friend of and co-worker with King. Harding, a Mennonite, even occasionally drafted speeches for King, including his noteworthy anti-Vietnam speech, “A Time to Break Silence,” which he (King) delivered at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinated.
Not long after his “I Have a Dream” oration, there was an escalation of racial violence in the nation, and King himself talked about his dream turning into a nightmare. “Four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered” (King’s words) when the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed in September 1963, an act of racially motivated terrorism.
Then in the summer of 1964, twenty African-American churches were firebombed in Mississippi and in June of that year three civil rights workers were murdered in that same state. (The latter is the subject of the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”) And then the terrible Watts Riots in Los Angeles took place in August 1965.
King also wrote (in 1967), “I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating.” So in his last years, he began speaking out more and more in opposition to the war, seeing it as an extension of the same type of injustice and violence being done to African-Americans in the U.S.
King’s speech at Riverside Church was a powerful one, and it is not hard to see why it is not quoted more often—or why the one who gave that speech is referred to as “the inconvenient hero.” He referred to the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.
King understood that violence as being linked partly to our nation’s refusal “to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.” And so he spoke out strongly against the “giant triplets” of racism, materialism, and militarism.
Being the Baptist preacher that he was, near the end of that 4/67 speech, King quotes 1 John 4 and calls for “an all-embracing and unconditional love” for all people.
Inconvenient or not, here is a hero still worth our serious consideration.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pessimistic about Gun Control

Let me be clear from the beginning: I am strongly in favor of increased gun control in this country, especially the outlawing of assault weapons and guns with high-capacity magazines. I am for such control because I believe it would save the lives of many innocent victims, such as those children shot to death last month in Connecticut.
Specifically, I am in favor of the bill that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is proposing to the 113th Congress. That bill is basically the same as the one that was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994 and then expired in 2004.
Surely something needs to be done. For many years now the U.S. has averaged nearly 11,000 homicides per year by firearms. That is over 30 per day! That is more people shot to death every day of the year than were murdered on that terrible morning in Newtown, CT, on Dec. 14. Perhaps most of the daily homicides are not innocent children—but some of them are.
But I am not optimistic that meaningful gun control will soon be enacted. Both the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the opposition by owners of firearms are likely too strong for new gun-limiting legislation to be passed. I hope I am wrong.
There is one other cause of many tragic, and needless, deaths every day in this country, and that is the wrongful use (overuse) of alcoholic beverages. If there are those who think guns should be controlled in order to lessen the number of homicides, as I do, there are also those, such as I, who think that if alcohol was also banned there would not only be fewer murders but also far fewer people killed in traffic accidents.
Even though I haven’t heard them say so, I am sure that my friends who regularly drink alcohol, as some of my best friends do, would say that the problem is not alcohol but drinking irresponsibly. And that, no doubt, is true.
But that is exactly the same argument used by the NRA and others opposing gun control: the problem is not guns, they say, but the irresponsible use of guns. As you probably have heard, they often declare, If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. That might be true to a large extent.
Even though there are laws against driving under the influence of alcohol, DUI is quite common—and many people are killed each year as a result. Nationwide there are about 28 people a day who are killed in drunk-driving accidents.
Many years ago, long before there were so many deaths because of drunk driving, alcoholic beverages were outlawed in this country. But Prohibition was repealed 79 years ago last month, and there is virtually no chance of it being enacted again.
Reflecting on what happened with Prohibition and on how so many people drink in spite of all the problems caused by alcohol makes me pessimistic about any meaningful new gun control laws being passed by Congress.
Sadly, I’m afraid people in this country will just have to learn to live with, and many to be killed by, both guns and alcohol.