Is the NRA America’s Taliban?

Six Taliban militants killed 145 people and injured another 100 on December 16th in a school in Peshawar, Pakistan.  The dead included 132 children, 10 staff school members and three soldiers.  CNN.com reported:

“Seventh-grader Mohammad Bilal said he was sitting outside his classroom taking a math test when the gunfire erupted. He fell into bushes before running to the school’s gates to safety.  Ahmed, the 14-year-old student, remembered being in the school’s auditorium when four or five people burst in through a back door “and started rapidly firing.” After getting shot in his left shoulder, the ninth-grader lay under a bench.

Bajwa told reporters that Pakistani security forces reached the school 15 minutes after the attack began.

They found, he said, “the children … drenched in blood, with their bodies on top of each other.”

As horrific as this story is, it really shouldn’t surprise Americans.  After all, we had 26 children gunned down at Sandy Hook and yet our leaders were unable to enact any sort of meaningful legislation to ensure more gun safety.  Since the tragedy in Newtown, there have been 74 more school shootings resulting in 38 deaths and 53 injuries.  In general, 282 people are shot each day in the U.S. – that’s almost 12 an hour.

The fact that not even the Sandy Hook tragedy lessened the seemingly stranglehold the National Rifle Association (NRA) has on our leaders at all levels, has led me to begin to think of the NRA as the American Taliban.  I’m quite sure that just as we look at the Taliban in Pakistan with total dismay for the killing of 145 innocents, other countries around the world look at us and think how crazy we are to continue to accept death after preventable death. After all, per the Brady Campaign, “our firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.”

I’m okay with gun ownership, but believe your right to own, carry and use does not trump my right to feel safe.  Truth is, I don’t feel safe in a public place with civilians openly carrying guns.  I know how to use guns, and I qualified as “Expert” during my 22 years in the Air Force.  There is a time and place for guns however and I don’t think that includes the grocery store, library, school, etc.  It also doesn’t include automatic weapons with extended clips.  And it surely doesn’t include allowing nine year olds to fire weapons they are not equipped to handle.

We know what we need to do to improve gun safety.  Many Americans want it done.  Those who don’t, have been convinced by the NRA that ANY safeguards put in place are just a toe in the door to ban guns all together.  That’s just B.S.  Gun ownership is a constitutional right.  But, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are also important principals to Americans.  Unfortunately, until we realize the NRA is out to protect their own interests (money and power) versus those of American citizens, they will continue to be major players.

I often see NRA stickers on people’s cars indicating they are proud of their membership in this organization.  Along with the NRA stickers, will often be military stickers, or US flags or something about patriotism.  I’ve got news for those folks.  Being a member of the NRA does not make them patriots.  It is more akin to their worshipping a false idol.  I view the NRA organization as domestic terrorists.  Just like the Taliban, they build their power base through fear and intimidation.  Just like the Taliban, they claim they have a higher purpose, but the truth is, they want power and money.  Just like the Taliban, there is probably no negotiating with them because they don’t ever operate in good faith.  And just like the Taliban, they don’t care how many innocent people are killed to maintain their power base and achieve their goals.

I urge patriotic Americans to drop their membership in the NRA.  Take a stand today that the status quo they’ve been perpetuating is unacceptable and we want common sense gun safety enacted.  Do it for yourself, for your family and for your country!

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Our Brother’s Keeper

I find myself these days, thinking about how America seems so less kind than when I was younger. Am I’m just less naïve now? Or, as Charles Pierce recently wrote in Esquire, is the system really “too full now of opportunities to grind and to bully? We have politicians, most of whom will never have to work another day in their lives, making the argument seriously that there is no role in self-government for the protection and welfare of the political commonwealth as that term applies to the poorest among us. The rising rates of poverty no longer surprise us. The chaos of our lunatic public discourse no longer surprises us. We make policy based on being as tough as we can on the weakest among us, because cruelty is seen to be enough, seen to be the fundamental morality behind what ultimately is merely the law of the jungle. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like a cold river, and we call it our politics”.

I see cruelty at work in the corporate reform movement. Not only are teachers not properly valued for their contribution to society, but the corporate reformers have managed to vilify them as a blockage to improvement. Not only have they spread the message that public schools are failing, but they’ve also managed to push budget cuts and competition for resources intended to make their allegations a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yes, the national corporate reform of education movement claims public education is failing and the only solution is to privatize our system to let market forces produce better results. What they fail to acknowledge though, is that it is not the schools that are failing, but our social policies. Poverty is the issue, not public education. When we compare apples with apples in the area of developed world education performance, we are very near the top. The problem is that we educate and test all comers, not just the best performing ones as the countries at the top do. We will never get our public education where it needs to be until we address the affects of poverty on public education success.

Open enrollment is not the answer; it only serves to create competition amongst public schools for precious resources. School choice is not the answer; it only shifts the responsibility from the state to the parent. Parents shouldn’t have to make a choice; every public school should be a good school. Vouchers for disadvantaged students to attend private schools aren’t the answer. Very few of those students will have access to take advantage of the opportunity and those that can’t, will be left in schools sucked dry by the privatization movement. The only real solution is to buckle down and address our real issues.

None of this is complicated, but neither is it easy. For all to have equal opportunity, all must start at the same place or, have access to a “bridge” to cross the divide. Building the “bridges” is hard work and will take serious funding. There isn’t a quick fix politicians can claim with sound bites on the evening news. But, it also takes commitment from the voters as well – to hold their representatives accountable, to be willing to provide funding, and to be patience to let the real, good work be done. It also takes the outlook advocated by John Dewey over a century ago: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

Survival of the fittest is the law of the jungle, but it shouldn’t be the law of a civilized, democratic republic that considers itself the “city on the hill.” Contrary to what our talking heads spew forth, concern for the common good is not socialistic or communistic. It is patriotic, it is democratic, it is, some might even argue, quite Christian-like. What would Jesus do? I suspect he would be kind and tell us that yes; we are our brother’s keeper.