A Uniquely American Problem

gunI grew up in Texas with guns in the house and was taught the proper handling and respect for such weapons. I grew up inundated in what is now called “gun culture.” We’d shoot at turtles in my grandpa’s tank when I was a kid and I even now would go out with family for a some target practice should the occasion come up.  i have numerous family that “carry” and are enthusiastic gun hobbyists. As for myself, I don’t own a gun now, and don’t really feel the need to, but it’s not out of unfamiliarity, only disposition.

But I also believe in common-sense gun control. I don’t mind a background check to make sure that people who are proven to be able to take the responsibility of gun ownership are the ones getting the guns. I question the need for universal access to military/police-grade weapons. I do feel that the “well-regulated” part of the 2nd Amendment tends to get ignored far more often than the the “shall not be infringed” part.

My moderation certainly makes for some interesting conversations with friends and family.

The thing is, I see the tragedies that keep happening: Parkland, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Newtown, Connecticut–the list goes on, and on, and on–and I wonder “Why here? Why is it that this seems to be a uniquely American problem?”

I see posts and memes (you know, the usual thoughtful sources of political discourse today) popping up in my feed that try to explain it: lack of corporal punishment for children, lack of Gawd, Hollywood and video games (Really? Again? Geeze–didn’t blaming these go away with the 1980s and Tipper Gore?), mental illness (usually when the shooter is white)–again, the list goes on. But the thing is, other First World countries have these things–but they don’t have the mass shooting problem we have. Lack of discipline for children is not unique to the US–yet the students in other countries aren’t dying in bloodbaths at school. Most of our compatriots in the world come from fully secular countries where religion is on the decline–but they don’t have this problem. They often watch the same movies and play the same games as we do, yet they aren’t killing each other in the public sphere. They, too, have citizens that suffer from mental illness–and yet, they aren’t gunning down people from high rise windows.

What we do have, what is uniquely American, is an actual lobbying machine feeding money to our government to ensure that people are given unfettered access to guns, as well as funding efforts to obscure the effects of gun violence on our society so that people cannot make informed decisions about the issue. We also have a gun culture rooted in fear: fear of the criminal and fear of the government.

I saw a meme going around essentially saying that mass shootings really started about 30 years ago, when we stopped disciplining our children. Well, setting aside the question of what kind of historical marker was used as the date we stopped disciplining our children, and the fact that this represents a logical fallacy (correlation does not equal causation), there is another event that occurred some 30-40 years ago that is equally as interesting to this debate: in 1977, the NRA began actively lobbying Congress instead of merely informing their members of relevant legislation. They went from being informative of issues to assisting in the crafting of legislation. In 1986, their lobbying was instrumental in one of the first “firearms protection” acts passed in Congress. And the rest is history. They were also instrumental in the formation of the Dickey Amendment which bars the Centers for Disease Control from performing research on the effects of gun violence on our society.

But again…correlation does not equal causation. It is an interesting coincidence, though.

Now, we are tentatively having this debate again as yet another cohort of school children are gunned down in what should be a place of safety.

The same arguments both for and against gun control are being trotted out, but with some distinct differences. One, the difference that gives me hope, is that the student survivors of the attack are leading the charge for some actual action on the issue. I think this is powerful and gives me hope for the future. But another difference is now there are strong calls to arm our teachers and create better protections for our schools. This proposition does not give me hope–it only feeds my despair.

The idea that we need to lock down our schools and arm our teachers is anathema to me. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that this is a viable solution. Teachers are neither trained to use guns in the course of their certifications, nor are they the people that should ultimately be made responsible for protecting children in such a dire situation. None of them signed up to become de facto security details for the schools that they work for. They are educators, not law enforcement. Even if some have had the training in their private lives, that does not mean that they should be given the responsibility of performing such a duty while on the job.

Typical gun classes for concealed carry and even open carry do not include the type of in-depth training needed to handle an active shooter situation. Knowing how to handle a gun in your personal life is a far cry from being able to actually be a security or law enforcement professional.

I don’t think everyone has thought out the implications. What if, by giving these “good guys with guns” responsibility for protecting our children from shooters, that they find themselves in a situation in which they fail? What if the shooter ends up killing a few kids before they are finally brought down by Schoolteacher Sheriff? Can that teacher be held liable for not acting fast enough? What about the teachers that didn’t sign up to be security personnel? Are they liable for not stepping forward (“We didn’t have enough good guys with guns…that was the problem…”)?

Further, teachers and schools are often underfunded as it is. Now we’re going to require them to put their lives on the line without hope of compensation or training? We can’t even seem to fund books for kids, much less such an audacious retooling of the basic responsibilities of educators.

I heard a legislator from Florida wondering out loud at why our schools are not as well-protected as gated communities. Which made me cringe. We used to joke when we were kids about schools being prisons–now we want to actually turn them into maximum security centers.

All this instead of addressing the actual issue: powerful weapons are far too easy to attain in a society that counts the death of children and adults as secondary to the right to unfettered access to firearms.

That’s what it boils down to. We, as a society, have essentially chosen to turn a blind eye to the violence, to the death, because we value the right to bear arms as more important the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to guns is more important than the right of children to go to school with the expectation of safety. The right to guns is more important than the right of people to gather at an outdoor concert and to expect not to need to seek cover from a madman across the lawn. The right to guns is more important than the right of people to attend church with an expectation of sanctuary from the violence.

I’m not saying we need to ban all guns. I understand that the vast majority of gun owners are good people with a proper respect for the machines that they own. But what I do rail against is “unfettered” access. Background checks, regulating access to the mentally ill, closing the “gun show loophole,” controlling access to military/police-grade weapons, etc. There are moderate solutions to this problem without turning our educators into wardens and our schools into Leavenworth.

And go away with the specious argument about “knives killing people, too” or other such nonsense. When a single person can kill 60, injure 800, all from 1000 feet away (like the Las Vegas shooter) with a knife then I’ll join your call for common sense knife control.

The fact is, Americans don’t want to talk about this. We’d rather trot out the usual excuses and move on to something else. It’s a tough conversation to have–and frankly, for law makers, millions of dollars are on the line. But it is high time we had this discussion, come to a solution, and protect ourselves against ourselves. I had thought the incident at Sandy Hook elementary would have been a starting point–but we managed to ignore the problem even when small children paid the price. Now, with the students in Florida being pro-active with their demands for action, I have renewed hope.

You don’t have to agree with me–in fact, I know that many of you won’t. But we, as a society, need to talk about this. We need to have a mature, open discussion that is based on solutions. We need to be able to disagree but still address the problematic nature of the issue.

It’s a tough conversation, but we need to have it. For all our sakes.

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The Horizon and the Darkness

So 2017 is done and what a long strange trip its been. Looking back, it has been a curious year.

Writing wise, it has not been my most productive. I have mostly been concentrating on my role-playing game output. Still being creative, but not in a traditional “writer” sense. I did, however, attend a really nice writer’s workshop at FenCon that really inspired me and I dusted off a story that wasn’t working and I think made it better. It’s currently being shopped around. I also got to meet Cat Rambo–a great editor/writer (and, it turns out, RPG-er). So that was pretty cool. I tried to do NaNoWriMo–for about a week. Oh well…

Reading-wise–this year was a bust. I haven’t read anything. Which is bad. I definitely need to fix that. Too much time on social media, not enough time absorbing words.

Real-life wise–I have been much more politically active. I have contacted my representatives on a variety of issues and have contributed to a number of causes. I live in a state that is traditionally contrary to my beliefs, so I don’t know how much good my calls into the darkness have done, but I try.

I also feel like this year I’ve gotten a real handle on my depression. I’m no longer in therapy and I feel like I can control my down times much more. I still have them, to be sure, but they don’t control me as much as before. Which is good.

Hobby-wise, this has been a boon year. I have gamemastered so many games and have even done a charity event and plan on doing more conventions in the next year.

2018 looks to be a good year. I look forward to more gaming. I hope to write more, but we’ll see. I’m not going to force it. I definitely look forward to reading more. No matter what, I’m looking forward, not back. I’m seizing the future, not dwelling on the past. It’s all about the horizon, not the darkness behind me.


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Girding My Loins for NaNoWriMo

YoucandothisSo, for the first time in about 5 years, I’m going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve been neglecting my writing for too long and I’m hoping this will get me back on that horse.

I’ve selected a genre and a title: I’ll be

Crimson Duchess Cover

working on a steampunk novel currently titled “The Last Voyage of the Crimson Duchess.” Now I just have to figure out what that means…

So, if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, look me up. I’m “pencilneckgeek.” I’m always happy to be a writing buddy.

Wish me luck!

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The Weirdest Writer in the West

34621320Last week I took an online writing class hosted by incomparable Cat Rambo on writing steampunk and weird western fiction. The class was a 2-hour Google hangout where the participants not only got a great brief history of the genres, but an interesting discussion of the tropes/traditions/trappings of the genres and great ways to use them and yet ensure that you are doing something fresh, new, and (most importantly) page-turningly exciting with them.

It was a great experience and I fully intend to take advantage of some of the other online courses that Cat offers.

For more info on the classes Cat is offering, go to http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/upcoming-online-classes/.


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Review: Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry

GhostwalkersGhostwalkers (Deadlands #1) by Jonathan Maberry (2015) : Tor Books (9780765375261)

Full-disclosure: My wife and I are currently playing a Deadlands campaign together. It’s great game with an interesting poker card-based mechanic and a setting bubbling over with the possibility of great stories. So when I saw that Jonathan Maberry (Dead of Night, Rot & Ruin, King of Plagues) had written a novel based in that world, I was there faster than a silver bullet.

Grey Torrance is a gunman who is constantly running from the literal ghosts of his past. Putting his nose where it doesn’t belong embroils him in the machinations of a robber baron with dreams of conquest who is sucking the town of Paradise Falls dry of resources and people. With the guidance of Thomas Looks Away, a Sioux scientist, and the drive of the beautiful and fiery rancher Jenny Pearl, Grey seeks redemption in the impossible defense of the town.

Ghostwalkers is the first in a trio of tie-in novels set in the Deadlands universe. And it is a great opener. Maberry does an excellent job of painting the setting and creates a whiz-bang plot for the characters to play in. There are strange ghost-rock powered gizmos, plenty of zombies, Harrowed gunslingers, mad scientists, fell creatures from deep beneath the earth, and even undead dinosaurs thrown into the mix. This is a tale of high adventure and Maberry delivers.

The writing is punchy and the dialog is fun. Each chapter ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, throwing you into the next step along the way. It’s just good, pulpy writing and keeps you interested, even during the expository bits. The characters are a bit one-dimensional, but still engaging. There is just so much going on that there isn’t much time for deep character development–and, really, this plot-driven pulp. Deep character study isn’t really necessary. The Sioux character of Looks Away is slightly problematic. While Maberry doesn’t dip into Native American cliche’s with the character, the scientist’s British mannerisms are a bit forced–especially as it is established that he didn’t go to England until he was 20 years old.

Ghostwalkers is a ripping yarn, a wild roller-coaster ride of a novel, and a great introduction to the weird western world of Deadlands.

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