Urgent: Reinstate Ban on Assault Weapons to Prevent Mass Killings
By Rev. Robert Moore
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the nearly 600 victims and their families of the largest mass shooting in US history last Sunday night in Las Vegas. The mass carnage made that city into what can only be described as a war zone. But our response needs to include more than prayers and moments of silence. We need to act to prevent more mass shootings, which are now occurring at an average of more than one per day.
The weapons of choice for such mass shootings are known as assault weapons. They were designed for the battlefield, which is the only place they should be allowed. They can rapidly fire bullets as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger. They were easily adapted by the shooter to become automatic weapons in which a single pull of the trigger can spray bullets with no pause.
The hopeful news in taking on such a monumental but urgent challenge is that New Jersey has banned such weapons since 1991, and they were banned nationally from 1994-2004. Tragically, the national ban had a sunset clause after ten years, so it automatically expired when then-President George W. Bush refused to seek its renewal.
New Jersey’s Assault Weapons Ban is a good basis for the feasibility of a renewed national ban. In 1993, after the NRA had helped elect an anti-assault-weapons ban majority in the NJ legislature in 1991, large majorities voted to rescind New Jersey’s Ban. Then Governor Florio vetoed the rescission, and a vote to over-ride that veto easily succeeded in the NJ Assembly.
Three weeks later, a vote was scheduled in the NJ Senate. We in Ceasefire NJ mobilized intensively in the faith community and elsewhere. Many of the 70% of New Jerseyans who wanted to keep the ban urgently contacted their NJ Senator.
What followed was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a legislative miracle: not a single NJ Senator voted to rescind the ban! When the Senator who represented our district, who supported the NRA, was asked why he voted to keep the ban, he said it was because he got 2,000 phone calls and 90% urged keeping the ban.
The fact that we were successful in breaking the NRA’s stranglehold in New Jersey at least partly inspired the successful effort the next year to pass the National Assault Weapons Ban. Despite that fact that, unlike the New Jersey Ban, that included a grandfather clause, reputable studies showed that the National Ban resulted in a nearly 2/3 reduction in shootings with assault weapons.
We can seek to pass a National Assault Weapons Ban again. We need to press to have it introduced and voted on before the 2018 Congressional elections. In the 2006 mid-terms, the Coalition for Peace Action, of which Ceasefire NJ is a Project, helped make the Iraq War a litmus test issue, and the majority of those elected were opposed to that war.
Readers interested in learning more or getting involved in such an effort are urged to visit peacecoalition.org and click the Ceasefire NJ icon on the right.
The Rev. Robert Moore is Executive Director of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action, of which Ceasefire NJ is a Project.
Look for the Helpers; Be a Helper
By Wim Laven
“This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said North Carolina resident Samuel Wipper, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations.” — The Onion (which publishes slightly different versions of this after every mass shooting for years)
Today members of Congress send thoughts and prayers to Las Vegas. The Onion, a satire site, posts: “NRA Says Mass Shootings Just The Unfortunate Price Of Protecting People’s Freedom To Commit Mass Shootings” and “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”
Guns are big business, this year they’ve looked to keep shooters’ eardrums safe, through the sale of silencers. Who cares that some students at the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 credited hearing the shots fired with keeping them at a safe distance?
Mass shootings are good for business, on the Monday following the deadliest mass shooting in American history it was quickly reported that: “Shares of Sturm Ruger (RGR) were up 4%, while American Outdoor Brands (AOBC), the company formerly known as Smith & Wesson, gained more than 3%. A company named Olin (OLN), which owns the Winchester brand of ammunition, rose 6% to an all-time high.” Guns are highly profitable and our representatives have been bought and paid for by special interests like the National Rifle Association and the businesses Congress is entrusted with regulating. A year ago the Washington Post reported, “Since 1998, the National Rifle Association has donated $3,781,803 to current members of Congress.”
There are so many headlines like the current Newsweek, “Congress Has Basically Done Nothing On Gun Control Since Sandy Hook Shooting,” and they tell stories of polarized politics and a failure to act. Even in the areas of huge public support (89%), like broad agreement on policies to ensure responsible gun ownership, nothing happens, we’re going about it wrong. What can we do with this apparently endless cycle of tragedy? The endemic problem of gun violence is real, but hope need not be lost.
Fred Rogers, famous for his role as Mr. Rogers, has shared the advice his mother gave him. As a boy, when he would see scary things on the news, “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” Conditions are grim, but they are not hopeless. With the shooting in Las Vegas, just like the others, there are always more people doing good than than the person/people doing bad. Countless people putting themselves in harm’s way, sometimes as literal shields. Never forget, the good outnumber the bad.
Oct. 2nd also serves as the 148th anniversary of the birth of Mohandas K. Gandhi and we can look to his wisdom. “In a gentle way, you can shake the world,” and “Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.” When we focus on love, like the kind Mother Teresa is credited with: “We can do no great things — only small things with great love,” we focus on what we can do.
Do not forget the strength of truth. On September 11th, 1906, Gandhi introduced the world to satyagraha, truth-force or soul-force. He opposed a law discriminating against Asians that was passed by the British colonial government of the Transvaal in South Africa. Gandhi’s campaign forced an end to that law, and Gandhi’s teaching show us how we can nonviolently change the world. We see we see many more cases of nonviolence working, from civil rights and bus boycotts in the U.S. to resisting the Nazis in WWII Europe to Gandhi’s successful campaign in Africa and his Salt Marches in India.
It’s true, citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations but it’s also true that we can change the world if we truly commit to it. Like Willy Wonka says: “If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it; want to change the world… there’s nothing to it.”
Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, worked on reconstruction in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, and is an instructor in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University.
The violence comes home again
By Robert C. Koehler
In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, as in the wake of all the high-profile mass shootings that preceded it, the big question looms: Why?
John Whitehead puts the question this way: “What is it about America that makes violence our nation’s calling card?”
This is the enormous question — you might call it the $700 billion question, which is the size of the 2018 military budget recently approved by the Senate — that most media and law enforcement personnel do not ask or acknowledge, as they search for clues about the motive behind Stephen Paddock’s rampage on the night of Oct. 1 amid the scattered wreckage of the killer’s life.
He was a “lone wolf.” He was a “psychopath.”
He was an American.
And he was in possession, in his various dwelling places, of 47 firearms, some of which were used to kill at least 59 people and injure more than 500 others as they attended a country music concert. And some of these firearms were modified by “bump stocks,” a cheap, legal device that allows a semiautomatic rifle to fire like an automatic.
Whitehead puts the answer out there with terrifying clarity: “Perhaps there’s no single one factor to blame for this gun violence. However, there is a common denominator, and that is a war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex that has invaded almost every aspect of our lives.”
This is America, a global empire engaged in endless war, with an entertainment and news media that sells violence as a spectator sport and a consequence-free solution to pretty much every problem you can think of. We believe in having enemies — not in a personal sense but in the abstract: people who are different in some defining way and symbolize, in their differentness, the cause of our troubles. In other words, we dehumanize. We call people gooks or ragheads or … we all know the list of obscenities, past and present.
Sociologist Peter Turchin, in the wake of the Sandy Hook killings nearly five years ago, wrote: “On the battlefield, you are supposed to try to kill a person whom you’ve never met before. You are not trying to kill this particular person, you are shooting because he is wearing the enemy uniform… . Enemy soldiers are socially substitutable.”
And mass murderers behave the same way as soldiers, except the “orders” they are obeying are their own or those of some marginal hate-community. The defining characteristic of mass murder is not that it’s senseless or random, but that, to the murderer, the victims symbolize evil. This sort of behavior, in other circumstances, is publicly celebrated. Suddenly, for instance, I’m thinking about the outpouring of praise Donald Trump generated from much of the media when the U.S. dropped a MOAB bomb — the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the American arsenal — on Afghanistan. Some commentators declared that he became “presidential” after this action. The poor slobs who died because of it couldn’t have mattered less to the cheering spectators.
And a serious segment of the national economy depends on the continual flow of enemies and their elimination. It depends on selling weapons.
For instance, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, pointed out in a recent Democracy Now! interview that the Trump administration has eliminated human-rights restrictions on small-arms exports, putting them under the control of the Commerce Department rather than the State Department, as well as “restrictions on fighter planes and bombs and the large weapons, the kind that are being used by Saudi Arabia to kill civilians in Yemen.”
Remarkably, domestic gun sales had slumped after Trump’s election — gun owners apparently became less fearful that the government would take their weapons away — so “gun manufacturers are desperate for more foreign sales. And they don’t care who the guns go to,” Hartung said. “And I think that’s really the problem.”
He concluded by quoting Martin Luther King’s speech against the Vietnam War: “I can’t in good conscience fight violence at home if I don’t stand up to my own government, which is the greatest purveyor of violence around the world.”
Only in this context does it become relevant to talk about gun control legislation. By themselves, such basic regulations as universal background checks, a reinstating of the assault-weapons ban and required permits for gun ownership feel like a frail wall against American violence and the ease with which the next “lone wolf” can plan his assault.
Indeed, gun control laws are basically just stopgap measures perpetually debated by a violence-addicted society. They swell in significance because they’re so viciously opposed by the NRA. I’m not against them, but they’re not enough.
“And I awoke Monday hoping that maybe this shooting is the one that will persuade America to reclaim the mantle of global leadership that has been at our core since our origin,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy wrote in the Washington Post the day after the Las Vegas massacre, calling for sane gun control legislation.
Yes, this is crucial. But I can’t help but note that Murphy was one of the 89 senators, including, of course, most Democrats, who voted last month for the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, bestowing $700 billion on the U.S. military next year, an increase of $80 billion, which is even more than the Pentagon or Trump requested.
“Mass shootings,” Murphy acknowledged, “happen almost nowhere else but the United States.”
This is not because of tepid gun laws. It’s because the country funds — and benefits from — endless war and violence of all sorts. Occasionally the violence comes back to haunt us.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.
Satan Rises in Las Vegas – Angels Fly High
By Dr. Glenn Mollette
Doubters of Satan were furnished all the proof they should need as a living Satan arose to the top of Mandalay Bay hotel last Sunday night and unleashed hell for about eleven minutes.
Stephen Paddock acted only as Satan and someone possessed with evil knows how to act. He wreaked devastation in the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States. Fifty-nine deaths and over 500 wounded people were the result of Paddock’s calculated, well strategized maneuver to bring about mass carnage.
Evil works hard to find a way. Evil is cunning, calculating, sly, secretive, hypocritical but works toward the goal of destruction.
Whether we are talking about devils who were involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks that resulted in about 3000 deaths or Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombing or the recent attack on a theatre in Paris, France, evil finds a way.
Evil can use a car driven into a crowd or a homemade bomb to mangle people. Evil can use knives, fire, poison, acid or other ways. We don’t have to name all the ways that evil can bring about sadness and sorrow because evil works day and night plotting and thinking of how it can succeed in stealing, killing and destroying good people just so their lust for innocent blood is briefly satisfied.
Whether you believe that Satan is a horny-headed figure walking around with a pitchfork, a spirit, a fallen and disgraced angel from heaven or something else, surely you believe in the reality of evil. We saw evil, once again, on Sunday night in Las Vegas embodying Paddock and doing what evil always does.
We see evil breaking into people’s houses and robbing people. We hear of evil robbing convenient stores. We hear of evil killing one another in Chicago or evil abusing a child or hurting a spouse. Evil rises up in all kinds of ways. Sunday, evil briefly rose up but seemed like an eternity, to those fleeing for their lives. Las Vegas, our nation and especially all the families involved were forever changed.
For every Satan that rises there are hundreds and thousands of angels. We have heard many, many stories of good and wonderful people saving lives and rescuing people in Las Vegas. Countless stories have been told of people who gave their lives saving someone else. There are so many stories of heroes who did so much to aid and save people who had been wounded. Say whatever you want about Las Vegas, there were a lot of God’s people at work helping people in that scene of real hell.
The massacre in Las Vegas reminds us that we live in a world of good and bad. Satan is real and he embodied Paddock to carry out his work. God is also very real and he embodied thousands of people in Las Vegas Sunday night from the police to the many concertgoers who worked so heroically to overcome evil with good.
We have to keep helping each other and working together. We must be angels soaring higher. We have to put race, religion and partisan politics aside. We have to be on the lookout because there is always another Satan lurking and waiting to rise.
Glenn Mollette is a syndicated columnist and author of twelve books.
Needed: A “Men Against Gun Violence” Campaign
By Rob Okun
“Well, I won’t back down/ No, I won’t back down…
I’ll stand my ground/Won’t be turned around…
I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down,
Gonna stand my ground” — Tom Petty, “I Won’t Back Down”
Again. Worse than ever. A horrifying mass murder by a lone killer. This time in Las Vegas.
Republicans call for improved mental health screenings. Democrats revive demands for tighter gun control. Sure, fine; have at it.
Meanwhile a clue stares us right in the face, a key to preventing this madness and mayhem: the race and gender of the shooter. White and male. Again.
Okay, guys, white guys — all guys — this is our moment to say, “Enough!” This is the moment to start a national “Men Against Gun Violence” campaign. Right after Newtown, women launched “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense” the day after the murder of 20 six and seven year-olds, and six staff at Sandy Hook elementary school.
The day after! What are we waiting for, guys? You want to show courage? You want to act tough and strong? You want to stand tall for your family, your country? Then, let’s do it! NOW.
Let’s organize legions of men to question our gender privilege and challenge men to chart a new course in the gun violence debate. And in the process, accelerate the transformation of our ideas about masculinity and manhood — including, especially, how we raise boys.
Men in their sixties, for instance — age mates of the 64 year-old shooter, Stephen Paddock — could be among the organizers of the campaign, demanding we recast US gun culture. Like me, a lot are grandfathers; many have time on their hands, as well as money and access.
They could, for instance, start a project to convince 58 senators — one for each of the murder victims — to vote not only for gun control, but also for funding the CDC to study how boys are socialized.
Then, since there were 520 people wounded, they could call for all 435 members of the House of Representatives to vote for sane gun legislation.
Add the governors of all 50 states, plus the mayors of the 35 largest cities in the country and it totals 520. See, in a campaign like this we are limited only by our imaginations.
Fathers, single men, gay men, men of color, indigenous men, white men, male coaches, clergymen, mailmen — the list of potential men to join the campaign is long.
Let’s not forget athletes and coaches in the NFL, and MLB, the NBA, the NHL. Even team owners could link arms in such an effort.
Musicians could play a part, too. Caleb Keeter, lead guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band, which performed just hours before the hail of bullets rained down on the Las Vegas music festival, could be recruited.
“I’ve been a proponent of the [second] amendment my entire life,” Keeter posted on Twitter the day after the murders. “Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.”
Guys, we’re problem solvers, so let’s figure this out. The National Rifle Association considers most men tacit supporters. Part of our speaking out must include calling out the NRA. If we stay silent, they have us right where they want us.
The common denominator in all the mass shootings — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Orlando, the list goes on and on — is that all the shooters were men. Let’s not shy away from that sad truth.
A lot of white men today feel the diversity train has left them in the station. Instead of playing the victim, these men have a lot to offer a society undergoing a major social transformation. This is not just an invitation; it’s a call to action for men to use the power and privilege we hold to start a “Men Against Gun Violence” campaign in every state and territory — and to include boys and young men each step along the way.
Too many men have been the shooters; it’s time for some to be the peacemakers. What are we waiting for?
Viva Las Vegas.
Rob Okun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor of Voice Male magazine and a member of the board of North American MenEngage, a gender justice organization.