Blame the Guns or Blame the Hate?

This morning’s news of another school shooting in Ohio is tragic. There’s simply no other way to describe it. When we send our children to school every weekday morning, we fully expect them to be safe and return home at the end of the school day (whether or not they’re educated is a different column for a different day). Today, one Ohio family won’t have the luxury of the latter and every single Chardon family will now question the former. As of this writing, one student is dead and four others are injured. According to MSNBC, the suspect is a fellow student and is in custody.

When these things happen, I try to take a deep breath, say a prayer for those affected, and think about what would make someone shoot and kill a fellow human being. Politicians would be wise to do the same but instead we’ll most likely see the now-mundane reactions from both sides of the political aisle. Democrats will by and large decry the tragedy and then scream loudly for more “gun control.” Republicans will express sympathy, affirm their unshakeable faith in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and then pray like hell the story will go away. Both sides are missing the point.

Just after the tragic shooting of former-Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others in Arizona in early 2011, I discussed this issue on MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show.  If you watch the clip, you’ll get the gist. If not (and you should, not because I’m in the clip but because it’s a great debate amongst my colleagues Dylan, Karen Finney, and Susan Del Percio), here are my points:

  • While guns are easy to scapegoat, they’re just a weapon. Timothy McVeigh didn’t use a gun on that terrible day in Oklahoma City, OK; he used a homemade bomb. The 9/11 hijackers didn’t use guns but instead used planes filled w/ innocent people and jet fuel to kill others. Adolph Hitler didn’t use guns to kill most of the six million Jews during World War II. He gassed most of his victims. And finally, those men who killed Matthew Shepard used their bare hands.
  • Just because you fire a gun at someone doesn’t make you “crazy” or mentally ill. Sure there are plenty of examples of men and women with mental illnesses who’ve exacted violence on others. And we already have laws on the books that prohibit the mentally ill from owning guns (albeit loopholes abound). I, for one, though don’t buy the line that all criminal murder defendants are “nuts” and not guilty by reason of insanity.
  • The common thread running through all of these examples of murder is learned HATE. When you kill six million people of the same religion, you hate them. When nearly 3,500 black men and women in the United States were lynched, Southern white law enforcement officials claimed the prevention of rape and murder. Sorry but the sad reality is they were lynched with ropes by white men because they were black.

My father slept with a loaded revolver underneath his pillow every night. I knew it was there and not one single time did I ever get anywhere near it. We had a gun case down at our Pee Dee River house filled with shotguns and rifles and the only time I ever went near it was to pull one out to go hunting. From an early age, I was taught guns were used for to defend yourself, your family, your property, and to hunt for food. This isn’t just a “southern thing” as one friend pointed out. Good, law-abiding people all across this great country from the Northeast, to the Great Lakes region, and yes even Californians own guns. When you’re taught to respect the weapon and use it for the above purposes, I don’t have problems with gun ownership. It’s when there’s a lack of respect for others that I draw the line.

Man has employed the use of firearms since the 12th Century for purposes beyond hunting and defense such as war. And while war is an entirely different matter, how we treat each other during peacetime is where the rubber hits the road. Prejudice against others is nothing new in this small world of ours. I’m of the opinion we all have varying degrees of prejudice in us. It’s when you’re taught to hate someone because of their skin color, their gender, their religion, or their sexual orientation that you’re running slap up against Judeo-Christian beliefs. As I have said on tv several times, I was taught blacks were an inferior race to my own race. I was taught that to be gay was against the “will of God.” I’ll never forget the time I was in the car with my Daddy, listening as he screamed and hollered about how terrible Jews were.

I am without a doubt “Southern” in so many ways, my accent being the least of them. But as I struggled with my own sexuality as a kid, as a teenager, and then as a young adult, I had to admit to myself eventually that I was either going to recognize the worth of my fellow man or I was going to stay in the closet and let my own self-loathing express itself on others simply because they looked different than I looked. This awakening, per se, this realization of how to respect my fellow man was perhaps the most emancipating thing I’ve ever experienced. Let me be clear: I’m judgmental. Ask anyone who knows me well: I let my opinions be known far and wide. And yet, despite my ability to judge others so easily, it takes a hell of a lot for me to disrespect someone and by God, I can’t think of a single person on this planet who I truly hate. Perhaps I just didn’t drink enough of the Kool Aid.

When parents teach their children to hate someone either deliberately or in passing, they’re passing down a set of values. When I’d hear my Daddy use the “N” word, I of course thought it was fine for me to say exactly the same thing.  And I admit using that horrible word freely as a teenager and young adult. When our politicians espouse their religious and so-called moral beliefs on the campaign trail to deny equal rights to others, they’re passing down a set of values to their constituents. When our religious leaders stand by silently as their parishioners’ civil rights are trampled upon, they’re complicit in their silence.

Perhaps I’m simply naive to dream of a world where we can mostly get along. Perhaps I’m just too near-sighted to think that despite my Daddy’s bigotry towards pretty much anyone who wasn’t lily-white, that he wasn’t a terrible or immoral man. He was taught his bigotry pure and simple.

I caught a rash of hell from my friends on the professional Left for “going soft on guns” after the Giffords’ shooting. From my friends on the Right, utter silence. Perhaps some of my Republican buds think if you don’t talk about the issue, it will go away. I’d rather talk about it, hence this column. Having a dialogue or discourse on how we treat each other is a good thing. While a national dialogue on hate is too late for the Ohio family who will bury their child in the coming days, it’s not too late for any other parent who sends his or her child to school every single day. Blaming the gun or choosing to sit silently doesn’t solve the problem. The child who died this morning deserves better and frankly so does the kid who murdered one of his own classmates.

On the surface, it looks as if we as a society have failed both children. That’s something we don’t have to keep doing. Hate is something we definitely don’t have to keep doing.

Posted on by jimmy in Congress, Equal Rights Comments Off on Blame the Guns or Blame the Hate?

Governor Christie, Please Read The Help

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a smart man.

Since his arrival on the national stage, I’ve been impressed with his ability to boil down policy positions into “plainspeak.” Christie actually has that rare ability to relate to people in a way most politicians simply cannot (yes, I’m referring to you Mitt Romney). While I don’t always agree with the Governor, I respect his ability to communicate and have watched him with admiration and interest the last couple of years.

Last week, the Governor vetoed a bill passed by the state legislature that would have mandated equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Christie’s veto came as no surprise since he declared weeks ago he’d do just that.  And while I think this move was shortsighted, the Governor did something far worse when he suggested that the issue of gay marriage should be put on the ballot this fall (during a presidential election year). On the surface this sounds like a sensible thing to do but in politics, this is a poison pill. Imagine the hundreds of millions of dollars that would be poured into New Jersey by the right-wing groups to deny gays and lesbians equal rights. If you don’t believe me, just ask California how that fight is going.

Where my proverbial jaw hit the floor though is when Christie stated “People would have been happy to have referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South” during the Jim Crow era. Uhm really? You’ve got some nerve Governor. At best Christie is displaying wanton ignorance and at worst this kind of pandering to conservatives is shameful.

I’m a son of the South. I was raised in South Carolina, a product of a home with, yes, a black nanny and all the bad and good baggage that goes with it. When I heard the governor say this, I was immediately reminded of Kathryn Stockett’s wildly-popular novel The Help. In her epilogue called “Too Little, Too Late” she writes:

What I am sure about is this: I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.

I “get it” having lived it first-hand. Anyone who’s read The Help or even seen the movie should know putting equal rights for African-Americans on any ballot in the South during the Jim Crow era would have dealt that community a massive blow in their just fight for equal rights. Anyone who thinks it would have been ethical to put to popular vote in 1958 equal rights for Mississippi or South Carolina blacks as Mississippi or South Carolina whites is willfully ignorant.

Notice I’ve used the term “equal rights.” I don’t know what a “black” right is. I don’t know what a “gay” right is. Frankly I don’t want anything my fellow citizens can’t enjoy. What I do want is an equal right to marry the man of my dreams and raise our children in a loving and stable environment. For me it’s ironic that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously issued the Loving vs. Virginia decision in 1967, which is the same year I was born into a racially-segregated South. Loving declared all state laws banning interracial marriage unconstitutional, not just Virginia where the case originated. It leveled the playing field for all races to marry, including New Jersey.

When one state declares a group of people to have lesser rights than their neighbors, the courts and the legislatures should step in. The same standard applies today to the struggle for equal rights for gays and lesbians. Popular polling shows majority-support for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. The New Jersey legislature, legally elected by the people of the “Garden” state, has passed this legislation and now Governor Christie has vetoed it. That’s his right. I disagree with him but he’s a co-equal branch of government in New Jersey and he has the right to have his opinion. Let the voters of New Jersey decide when he’s on the ballot whether he deserves a second term. I’d vote against the governor if I were a resident of that state.

Not by accident, all of this comes after Christie recently nominated the first openly gay man to the New Jersey Supreme Court, a laudable move in its own right. This nomination just isn’t enough to give him cover for trying to kill equal marriage rights for gays. One nomination doesn’t make this right and frankly it wreaks of a pathetic game of political cuteness.

So I’d like to recommend The Help to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Reading it could prove vital to understanding my humanity not to mention that of his own gay, lesbian and black constituents.

Posted on by jimmy in Equal Rights 2 Comments
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