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July 16, 2013

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Mondays with Mike has moved!

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Best regards,

The Staff of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

December 21, 2010

You've Got to Be Taught

As one media outlet after another conducts end-of-the-year reviews of the events of 2010—and images of extremists carrying loaded firearms to presidential speeches and children being terrorized by gunfire flash across my television screen—I am struck anew by the prescient words of Oscar Hammerstein in the 1945 musical "South Pacific":

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear
You've got to be taught
From year to year
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught
To be afraid
Of people whose eyes
Are oddly made
And people whose skin
Is a different shade
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught
Before it's too late
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
To hate all the people
Your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught

Exciting research data on the Millennial Generation, however, gives me tremendous hope for the future. Perhaps we can all vow to be a little more tolerant, a little more open, and a little more peaceful in the New Year. Happy Holidays to all!

December 13, 2010

The Shot Ignored Around the World

On November 29, at the close of a seemingly normal school day at Marinette High School in Wisconsin, 15 year-old Sam Hengel walked up to the front of his class, pulled out a semiautomatic handgun, and shot a hole in the room’s film projector. Hengel then held his teacher and 23 students hostage for approximately five hours before shooting himself when police entered the classroom. He succumbed to his self-inflicted injury the following morning. Authorities reported that the 9mm Luger High Point and .22-caliber Ruger semiautomatic handguns that Hengel brought to class with him that day were taken from a relative. Hengel’s duffel bag also held more than 200 rounds of ammunition. Grieving family and friends were baffled by the actions of the “model kid” they knew and loved.

Had this tragedy occurred in any other civilized country, it would have been breaking national news, with citizens glued to their television sets. Here in America, Sam Hengel’s death hardly made a blip on the media radar. The same disinterest was displayed recently when 19-year old Colton Tooley brought a semiautomatic AK-47 assault rifle onto the Texas University campus and ran amok before eventually committing suicide. In a country that loses more than 3,000 children and teens to gun violence ever year, these stories are, sadly, business as usual. Somehow, we’ve become tolerant of the fact that our nation makes deadly weapons readily accessible to young people.

To make matters worse, policy makers and jurists across the country are now considering measures that would put our teenagers at additional risk. First, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is pushing legislation in at least 10 states (Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia) that would force colleges and universities to allow guns on their campuses. Currently, only a limited number of schools in Utah, Colorado, Michigan and Virginia allow students and faculty to bring concealed handguns into classrooms, dormitories, libraries, etc. Both the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) strongly oppose the gun lobby’s campaign. IACLEA has said that it is “concerned that concealed carry laws have the potential to dramatically increase violence on college and university campuses that our Members are empowered to protect.”

Additionally, the NRA has filed two lawsuits in federal court in Texas that seek to overturn longstanding laws that prohibit 18-20 year olds from purchasing handguns from federally licensed dealers and carrying these weapons in public. During the past three years, the NRA’s plaintiff in these cases, 18-year-old James A. D'Cruz, has posted a series of violent comments on his Facebook Wall, including, "I will stare into your eyes as I pull the trigger and laugh as you hit the ground with your last, pathetic breath,” and “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, that’s why I take their heads.” Such comments differ little, if at all, from comments we have seen in recent years from school shooters. The NRA apparently has no regard for this young man’s well-being, or for the well-being of any young people in his age range. Currently, Americans ages 18-20 account for approximately 5 percent of the population but nearly 20 percent of homicide and manslaughter arrests. Allowing this demographic to buy handguns from licensed firearm dealers will clearly benefit gun industry profits, but not human life.

There are real solutions available to prevent the deaths of teens like Sam Hengel and Colton Tooley. 27 states currently have Child Access Prevention laws in place that impose criminal liability on adults who negligently leave firearms accessible to children. A 2000 study by the U.S. Secret Service found that school shooters got their guns from relatives more than 65% of the time. Studies have shown that Child Access Prevention laws are effective in stopping children from gaining easy access to firearms. "Adolescents act impulsively, whether or not they have psychiatric problems," said the associate director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, Matthew Miller. "It's up to parents—not children—to provide a safe environment."

We will have to overcome NRA opposition to such sensible policies to protect young people, but what else is new? First, however, we must acknowledge and overcome our current state of apathy about youth violence. We can’t save thousands of lives until we feel a sense of loss for an individual life like that of Sam Hengel.

August 23, 2010

A Day to Remember

By now, many of you have undoubtedly heard about the “Restoring Honor” Rally that will be conducted by Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the National Rifle Association on August 28 at the Lincoln Memorial. The date and location are significant. It was on August 28, 1963, that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the memorial during the March on Washington. Beck claims the planning of the event was “divine providence” and says, “Blacks don’t own Martin Luther King ... Far too many have either gotten just lazy or they have purposely distorted Martin Luther King’s ideas.” Those familiar with Beck’s daily rants, however, would be hard-pressed to find any common ground between his beliefs/tactics and King’s.

I remember that unforgettable Wednesday in 1963 and how I dressed that morning in my only suit. Participants had been asked to dress as if they were going to church. I made my way down to the Washington Monument. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was to begin at the monument at 11:00 AM and travel the short distance to the Lincoln Memorial. The monument grounds were filled with thousands of cheerful people from all parts of the country and all walks of life. The atmosphere was like a joyous church picnic. The crowd waited patiently for the March leaders to emerge from a meeting with Members of Congress.

I found a place under some large trees on the north side of the Reflecting Pool and was brought to tears when the program was opened by Marion Anderson singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” It was a poignant reminder of the time—she had been forced to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial because the Daughters of the American Revolution would not let an African American perform in their auditorium. The program featured speeches from the “Big Six”—leaders of the six major civil rights organizations—interspersed with performances by leading musicians and Hollywood actors.

The most memorable and inspiring speech came near the end when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. electrified the nation with his prophetic “I Have a Dream” speech, which became the hallmark of the entire event. King explained that the March had come to Washington “to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense, we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ … So we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

To honor King’s vision for America, social activists and civil rights leaders will hold their own event on August 28. The National Action Network, the National Urban League, the Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights are just a few of the sponsors of the “Reclaim the Dream” Rally and March. The rally will take place at Dunbar High School (1301 New Jersey Avenue NW—Mount Vernon Square/7th Street/Convention Center Metro Stop on Green/Yellow Line) in the District of Columbia from 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM on Saturday, August 28. At 1:00 PM, participants will march from Dunbar High School to the site of the King Memorial on the National Mall.

Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network insists that the “Reclaim the Dream” event “is not a countermarch to Beck.” National Urban League president Marc Morial also emphasized this point, saying, “It is very important to convey a positive message that America belongs to everyone. Our rally is not an ‘us against them.’ We want no confrontation with Glenn Beck.” This is very much in keeping with Dr. King’s nonviolent teachings. When his home in Montgomery was bombed, King told supporters, “I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them.” We can only hope that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent will reflect on these words on August 28.

At the same time, however, Morial made it clear that those attempting to reclaim King’s dream do “want a confrontation with the ideas [Beck] espouses. His ideas seem to be ideas of intolerance.” Such an exchange can only be healthy for our country. We should keep in mind that Glenn Beck is the same man who told listeners on his March 2 radio show, “I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church website. If you find it, run as fast as you can. ‘Social justice’ and ‘economic justice,’ they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!

On August 28, 1963, I was proud to be one of the 250,000 Americans that marched on Washington for the precise purpose of seeking social justice and economic justice. On that day, the nation was exposed to the vision of a brighter, more prosperous, more inclusive future for all Americans. We now have the opportunity to reclaim that dream for a new generation, in a time when it couldn’t be more relevant. If you still embrace the goals of social and economic justice, please come out and join me and thousands of others on August 28 as we rally and march to celebrate one of America’s greatest leaders and proponents of full democracy.

January 19, 2010

Remembering Dr. King

As I paused yesterday to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I recalled his own words spelling out how he would like to be remembered. In a 1968 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. King said:

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator — that something we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. Every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn't important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that's not important. Tell him not to mention where I went to school.

I'd like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity...

Dr. King, I can assure you, I said all those things yesterday. And I’m sure I was joined by millions of others across the globe.

December 21, 2009

Seek the Path of Love

As we prepare to say hello to a second decade of this new century, I am mindful of the wisdom of the ancient prayer we have come to know as "The Lord's Prayer." The prayer has been adapted by many cultures over the centuries. I am particularly taken by one rendition that comes out of Central America. I offer it as my wish to you for a Happy New Year.

Our Lord, whose Spirit is with us here on earth,
Even the hungry sing praise to your Holy Name.
They look to your "Kin-dom,"
a land rich with milk and honey.
Enable us to do your will,
to stand while others sit,
to speak when others remain silent.
We thank you for bread,
for the song of the bird,
for the miracle of the corn.
Forgive our silence in the face of injustices,
for burying our dreams,
for keeping our bread and wine to ourselves.
Help us to resist the temptations,
to turn our heads from hunger and injustice in resignation,
to close the doors of our hearts,
to take up the same arms as the oppressor.
Deliver us from all evil,
Enable us faithfully together,
to seek the path of love though it be only lightly trodden,
to persist despite hardships.
For it leads to your everlasting "Kin-dom."

It is my hope for all of us that we may be enabled to stand while others sit, to speak when others remain silent, and to persist despite hardships.

Happy New Year!

December 14, 2009

Stress in the Workplace

In Joshua Ferris’ national bestseller, Then We Came to the End, he details the foibles and tedium of modern office life through the story of a group of Chicago advertising employees attempting to find meaning and continued employment during the dot-com bust. The novel was a National Book Award finalist and deemed “One of the Ten Best Books of the Year” last year by at least seven top book reviews. It’s one of the funniest novels I have read in a long time.

In the midst of the humor, one episode in the book struck a chord with me. After one employee, Tom Mota, is fired, his fellow workers begin to wonder if Tom might return to the office seeking retribution. As Ferris describes it:

Tom subscribed to Guns and Ammo. He had a sizeable collection of firearms in his possession. Most of those guns, however, were collector’s items and probably couldn’t even fire anymore. Well, some of us thought, what’s stopping Tom from going out and buying new guns? How easy it is to visit a gun show and later find yourself in possession of the assault weapons ideal for a situation like the one we were envisioning...[or] after some less-than-truthful data entry, using a shady Internet dealer, he might be taking possession of those unsportsmanlike items from a UPS man even as our debate raged.

Ferris succinctly captures the real possibility of workplace violence and the touch of anxiety many workers feel. An average of 500 homicides occur in U.S. workplaces every year and a 2005 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that workplaces where guns are permitted are five to seven times more likely to be the site of a workplace homicide compared to workplaces where guns are prohibited. This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that, since 2005, the National Rifle Association has pressured at least 12 states to enact laws that restrict employers’ ability to exclude firearms from their premises.

Hopefully, our legislators will acquire the backbone necessary to stand up to the gun lobby at some point in the near future so future readers will see novels like Then We Came to the End as nothing more than fiction.

December 7, 2009

A Profile in Courage

Over my many years in the gun control movement, I have been privileged to work with, for, and against many interesting people. One of the most interesting is a man named Bob Ricker who, sadly, was taken from us on Friday after a bout with cancer.

As a promising young lawyer, Ricker was hired in 1981 to be the Assistant General Counsel for the National Rifle Association (NRA). Ricker represented the NRA in many important federal and state legislative battles and gained a deep understanding of the political and legal process. Eventually, he became the executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council (ASSC), the gun industry’s leading trade organization at the time.

In this position, Ricker participated in a series of gun industry meetings between 1992 and 1997, during which manufacturers questioned whether they should take voluntary action to better control the distribution of guns. As Ricker later stated, gun makers had long known that “the diversion of firearms from legal channels of commerce to the black market” takes place “principally at the distributor/dealer level.” This is because corrupt dealers make it easy for criminals and juveniles to buy guns by allowing practices like “straw purchases,” in which an individual with a clean criminal record buys a gun(s) on behalf of someone who is prohibited under federal law from doing so (i.e., a convicted felon, domestic abuser, “mental defective,” drug addict, etc.).

During these industry meetings, Ricker heeded Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice that, “A little integrity is better than any career.” At a time in life when men are supposed to be incapable of real change, he had the moral resolve to transform his thinking regarding the gun industry’s business practices. Ricker proposed strict standards and guidelines to his industry colleagues. Under his plan, firearm manufacturers would have been able to sell guns only to distributors and retailers who could demonstrate that they had a firm understanding of applicable laws, safety rules, and warning signs for illegal firearm trafficking. Dealers would have also been prohibited from selling multiple guns at one time to a single individual. His plan was rejected. As Ricker described it, “the prevailing view was that if the industry took action voluntarily, it would be an admission of responsibility for the problem.” Ultimately, the industry’s lawyers decided that even holding the meetings was “dangerous” and they were stopped altogether.

Ricker was not done, though. Following the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, he traveled to the White House on behalf of ASSC to meet with President Bill Clinton and see if something could be done to prevent future school shootings (the teenage killers had acquired their guns through unregulated private firearm sales). For an NRA run by “right-wing wackos,” this was the last straw. Ricker was forced to resign and the ASSC was disbanded in favor of the more conservative National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

In 2003, Ricker would go public with his concerns about the gun industry when he provided testimony in an affidavit for a lawsuit by 12 California cities and counties against the gun industry. A few months later, he appeared on “60 Minutes” to tell his full story. When he was asked why he would risk his reputation and the wrath of gun rights activists by coming forward, Ricker stated, “I don't want to have to come home some night from the office and have my wife tell me that, ‘Your son was shot in a drive-by shooting,’ or, ‘The neighbor's kids were killed.’ And these people who sit up there in their corporate offices, they know about the problem. They've known about it for a long time. And the time is up.”

In his final years, Ricker backed up those words. He worked with the Virginia Center for Public Safety as they campaigned to close the Gun Show Loophole in that state. He was also a co-founder of the American Hunters and Shooters Association, a more moderate gun rights group that has been willing to acknowledge the legitimate public safety concerns aroused by gun violence in this country.

In the end, Ricker left quite a legacy of good works. But what I admire most about him is his courage to reexamine his beliefs and priorities. He risked—and lost—a lot of friendships in the pro-gun movement because of his determination to be a responsible citizen in our society. He was pilloried, mocked, and made an object of scorn for making this stand—but he never wavered. Even in his last months, Ricker was focused on making good public policy for the benefit of all.

Perhaps the best epitaph for Bob comes from Psalms 112 from the King James Bible:

1. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.

2. His descendants will be mighty on earth,
The generation of the upright will be blessed.

3. Wealth and riches will be in his house,
And his righteousness endures forever.

4. Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness,
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.

5. A good man deals graciously and lends,
He will guide his affairs with discretion.

6. Surely he will never be shaken,
The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.

7. He will not be afraid of evil tidings,
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

8. His heart is established,
He will not be afraid,
Until he sees his desire upon his enemies.

9. He has dispersed abroad,
He has given to the poor,
His righteousness endures forever,
His horn will be exalted with honor.

10. The wicked will see it and be grieved,
He will gnash his teeth and melt away,
The desire of the wicked shall perish.

November 23, 2009

Giving Thanks

As we prepare this week to share a Thanksgiving meal with family and/or friends, I offer this Litany by Eugene Pickett, former President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, to remind us of some of the things for which we can be grateful:

We Give Thanks This Day

We give thanks this day.

For the expanding grandeur of Creation, worlds known and unknown, galaxies beyond galaxies, filling us with awe and challenging our imaginations:

We give thanks this day.

For this fragile planet earth, its time and tides, its sunsets and seasons:

We give thanks this day.

For the joy of human life, its wonders and surprises, its hopes and achievements:

We give thanks this day.

For our human community, our common past and future hope, our oneness transcending all separation, our capacity to work for peace and justice in the midst of hostility and oppression:

We give thanks this day.

For high hopes and noble causes, for faith without fanaticism, for understanding of views not shared:

We give thanks this day.

For all who have labored and suffered for a fairer world; who have lived so that others might live in dignity and freedom:

We give thanks this day.

For human liberty and sacred ties; for opportunities to change and to grow, to affirm and to choose:

We give thanks this day. We pray that we may live not by our fears but by our hopes, not by our words but by our deeds.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

November 16, 2009

A Familiar Tragedy

I am constantly amazed at how easy it is to overlook the obvious until somehow the facts connect to our own experiences. Eleven days ago, as I was recovering in the hospital from back surgery, I heard the news of the Fort Hood massacre. Naturally, most of the news coverage focused on the number of dead and only briefly mentioned that 31 people were wounded.

As I was attempting to cope with the pain of a highly-controlled, planned-in-advance surgery, I found myself thinking of the pain and agony of those 31 human beings who were dealing with the trauma of unexpected gunshot wounds. I was forced to reflect how often we concentrate on the death totals of gun violence in America and overlook the fact that every day in our country 215 people are shot with guns and survive. What about them? They deserve more from our society, both in terms of resources and support.

I was also struck by the irony that Fort Hood is located in Killeen, Texas. Killeen is where one of the deadliest rampage shootings in American history took place in 1991, when an unemployed ex-Navy enlistee crashed his pickup truck into a popular cafeteria, pulled out two handguns, and killed 23 people before taking his own life. That tragedy held the "record" for America's worst shooting massacre until 2007, when a Virginia Tech student shot and killed 32 students and faculty. In another tragic twist, it turns out the Fort Hood shooter was a graduate of Virginia Tech in 1997.

The state of Texas reacted to the 1991 shootings in Killeen by enacting a law freeing up gun owners to carry concealed handguns in public. At the behest of the National Rifle Association, many other states followed suit. Perhaps predictably, the reaction from the gun lobby was similar after the Fort Hood shootings. Describing military bases as “gun-free zones,” commentators like John Lott have blamed the tragedy on their strict rules concerning concealed, private handguns. “The law-abiding, not the criminals, are the ones who obey the ban on guns,” says Lott.

Of course, there is an irony here as well. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood Shooter, held a concealed handgun permit in the state of Virginia. Furthermore, Virginia permits are recognized as valid in the state of Texas. Hasan, by Lott’s definition, was one of the “law-abiding citizens” who would have made his fellow service members safer by carrying a concealed handgun on military installations.

That type of “logic” is exactly what our service members don’t need, and hopefully it will be rejected by the U.S. Congress as it considers how to respond to the tragedy. For now, however, we should all turn our thoughts to the families who have lost loved ones, and to the 31 brave Americans who have long recovery processes ahead of them.