Friday, March 9, 2018

School Shootings, Dick's Sporting Goods, And Real Numbers

Dick's Sporting Goods, Walmart, and Kroger's “Fred Meyer” stores have announced they will no longer sell rifles to anyone under the age of 21. This was done following the Parkland, Florida, shooting because the shooter is only 19.

Let's take a look at the supposed wisdom of this decision.

Since 2009 there have been 156 school shootings. They varied in scope, magnitude and number of victims but there were 156 shootings that were somehow school related, according to reports.

Of those 156 shooters only two were under the age of 21. If you do the math it comes out to .012%. So Dick's, Walmart and Kroger's decisions are hopefully going to prevent about 1/10th of 1% of future school shootings? Talk about overreaction.

I'm not trying to minimize what happened in Parkland. It was tragic. But neither the gun nor the age of the shooter were the problem. The problem in Florida was the lack of action taken by law enforcement when they not only made contact with the shooter multiple times but were told that he openly stated he wanted to be the next school shooter.

So Dick's, Walmart, and Kroger you can pat yourselves on the back if and when another shooter under 21 opens fire at a school and your name doesn't appear in the headlines as being the store that sold him the gun. But based on the numbers above the chances of that happening are miniscule. I wouldn't be boasting about it yet. It's likely you're going to get sued over it.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Time For Thoughtful Debate On School Shootings and Security

President Trump met with survivors of the Florida school shooting yesterday to listen to their ideas and concerns about the issue. I think it showed his personal interest and concern about the subject and I give him credit. I could not have sat there and listened to those kids' stories without breaking down myself. They were so heartbreaking.
Many of the kids were very articulate and grown up - especially for people who had suffered unspeakable tragedy so recently. Kudos to them for being able to communicate their feelings and ideas in a comprehensible manner.
Mr. Trump isn't reacting on emotion when he says he wants to do something. He's reacting as a leader. I may or may not agree with everything he comes up with but he's not on TV using it as a political ploy as the previous President used to do. Thoughtful ideas are necessary rather than "Ban military assault rifles and weapons of war." Military assault rifles, real weapons of war, are already banned. AR-15s are not military grade weapons regardless of what the media would have you believe.
I just hope school security is a part of the solution. Banning AR-15s is not going to stop school shootings - because most school massacres have been committed by kids with hand guns, not AR-15s. FBI statistics say rifles in general, including AR-15s, are responsible for only about 4% of homicides in this country while handguns are responsible for 62%. That may be a difficult fact to accept but it is a fact. AR-15s just seem to draw more attention.
Banning AR-15s is not going to stop school shootings. It will only change the way they are reported by the media. School security should be the answer first and foremost. Keeping dangerous people out of our schools is the solution. If they can't get in they can't shoot students in the hallways and classrooms. That's just a simple fact.
Putting armed security in our schools has become necessary. We may not want to accept that fact either but it's true. Allowing those teachers who want to be armed to do so will also help. Some teachers will opt out and that's fine. But I have no doubt there will be many who will be happy to be armed so they can protect their charges. Leave it up to them.
What matters most here is that this issue is debated in a thoughtful manner, leaving emotions out of it. The father who spoke out said this is not the time for arguments about gun control but for solutions to school security. I agree. Make our schools places where bad guys simply cannot get in and you'll solve the greatest problem. Why can so many people not understand that?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Stop Blaming The Gun

Every time there is a mass shooting with an AR-15 people start screaming about gun control and banning AR-15 “assault rifles.” These demands usually begin before the dead and wounded are even removed from the scene. Even progressive politicians are quick to get in front of the cameras and denounce Republicans for their “failure to increase gun control.”

The AR-15 is not an assault rifle – at least not the ones you can purchase in stores or online. The AR-15 is a semiautomatic rifle that fires one bullet with each trigger pull. It is designed in the style of the military M-16 but unless it has the capability to fire single shot, three round burst, and fully automatic it is not an assault rifle. AR stands for Armalite Rifles, not “Assault Rifle.”

The above photo is an M1 .30 caliber carbine. It is a semiautomatic rifle just like the AR-15 but fires a different bullet. It fires one round with each trigger pull and has various size magazines.

This photo shows a Ruger Mini 14 rifle. It is also semiautomatic and fires the same exact round as the AR-15.

I haven't heard anyone call for these weapons to be banned even though the do the exact same thing as an AR-15. Why is that, do you suppose?

This is the standard AR-15. It has a collapsible stock, military sights (if so desired) a flash suppressor and a pistol grip. Guess what? None of those things make it any more dangerous than the other two rifles.

Although the way the gun functions is different than the carbine or the Mini 14, it fires essentially the same round and the same amount of rounds as the other two. It is no more dangerous than the other two yet some people say it needs to be banned.

The reason? AR-15s look different. That's essentially the difference. Oh sure, the AR-15 firing mechanism is a little different than the other two but the rounds coming out of the barrel don't know that. It's a semiautomatic rifle that fires on bullet for each trigger pull.

The AR-15 looks like a military weapon – but it isn't. The media began calling it an assault rifle after it was used in a mass shooting. Others call it a “weapon of war.” Some even believe that AR stands for assault rifle but they're wrong. It's no different in firepower than the other two. It's a rifle.

The reason most mass shooters use these rifles is because the media has succeeded in turning the weapons into assault weapons in the eyes of the general public. They're easy to use and can hold large capacity magazines. But so are the other two. The other two just look more like conventional weapons.

Like any other weapon, AR-15s don't do anything unless they are in the hands of a person who pulls the trigger. And if someone on the other end of the barrel gets shot it's certainly not the fault of the gun. Guns don't think. Guns don't hate. Guns aren't evil. They are tools and only as deadly as the person firing them.

It's time we stop blaming inanimate objects for the actions of humans. There are lots of things that contribute to the makeup of a person who commits a terrible act like this. Most of the recent mass shooters were on some type of psychotropic drug. Many had violent histories and/or histories of odd or inappropriate behavior. Others were a complete surprise to everyone. But their gun of choice had no responsibility in their decision to kill.

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Hole In The AR-15 Narrative

In April of 2007, a student at Virginia Tech University opened fire on fellow students and faculty, killing 32 and wounding 17. He eventually turned the gun on himself

The shooter used an AR-15 “assault rifle” to kill and injure all of these people.

Wait... no he didn't. He used two handguns – a 9mm pistol and a .22 caliber pistol. He didn't have an “assault rifle” yet he killed more people than any other school shooting since 1927. It was the second deadliest school shooting in American history. No pun intended but that kind of shoots holes in the narrative that AR-15s are the problem.

The shooter had mental health issues. He had been diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder but had no issues that showed up on a background check. He was able to purchase his weapons legally.

Was that wrong? That depends on who you ask. If one is diagnosed with anxiety but is not institutionalized for it does the government have a right to know your diagnosis? I would say no since medical information is private unless your physician determines you are a danger to yourself or others.

Does anxiety make you dangerous? And do we really want the government to have access to our medical records? Again, I would say no, unless the doctor feels it's necessary. And that doctor better be sure of himself/herself.

But wait.... the AR-15.....

An AR-15 does not kill, does not even fire without the human element. But hey - neither does a handgun. The human element is the thing that gun control advocates like to leave out of the equation. Or they say "If mental health is the issue let's pass more legislation to keep guns out of the hands of those who are mentally ill."

OK. What legislation would you pass that will prevent someone with no criminal record and no public record of mental health problems from buying guns? Would you have mental health providers contact the government and report any and all patients they see? Would any mental health treatment qualify one to be placed on a "no buy" list? How many liberties are you willing to give up in order to accomplish your goal?

Gun control is not about the guns but about control of the people. The left wants to disarm Americans to make them easier to control. The should ask themselves this question. How did that work out for the Jews in Nazi Germany?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Tragic School Shooting Triggers "More Gun Control!"

The news of the school shooting in Florida yesterday kind of put a damper on joy that many feel on Valentine's Day. The horror of hearing about 17 students being senselessly murdered at the hands of an obviously twisted young man was heartbreaking to say the least. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy.

Immediately, before the dead and injured had even been taken from the scene, the anti-gun advocates began blaming the weapon used and blaming the National Rifle Association. They didn't even know how the shooter obtained the weapon yet they said more laws are necessary to prevent this from happening.

Was the gun his? Was the gun stolen? Was the gun given to him by someone else? Until these questions are answered there is no logical way one can say “More laws are needed to prevent this.”

The other question is “Do those laws work?” Short of outlawing all AR-15s and proceeding with a nationwide forced confiscation process (which not only wouldn't get them all but would be massive government overreach), new laws won't prevent crazy people from obtaining the weapon(s).

California has some of the most strict gun laws in the country, particularly concerning AR-15s. Yet the San Bernardino shooters managed to go around the laws by getting a third party to purchase their weapons. Laws only work for honest people.

Some say more thorough background checks could have prevented this incident. There has been one report that the gun used by the shooter was legally purchased by the shooter himself. That has not been verified. There are questions about how he would be able to purchase the weapon given his history of problems in school and his odd behavior. We don't know what was in his record as far as mental health issues and treatment. We know he was considered “weird” by his classmates and that he had been expelled from school and it is being reported that he was being treated at one time for mental health issues but that he stopped going to treatment. Should there be an automatic ban on gun purchases for anyone expelled from school? Should there be an automatic ban on gun purchases for anyone who has ever sought mental health treatment?

The old narrative that “There are no background checks done at gun shows” is simply false. All federally licensed gun dealers at gun shows are required to do background checks just like they are required at any store where firearms are sold. Some states allow non-licensed sellers to participate in gun shows but each of three studies that I read said that the results of their studies were “inconclusive” as to what percentage of sellers were not licensed.

Some states don't require background checks for private sales but if the gun in this instance was purchased legally, changing that law would be irrelevant.

It is now being reported that the shooter's behavior was reported to the FBI back in September. I can't verify that at this time either but if it's true - who dropped the ball? Or was his behavior not enough to make him a person of interest?

The simple fact is that more gun laws will not prevent a crazy person from getting his/her hands on a gun and killing people if that is their intention. The San Bernardino shooters proved that. The Sandy Hook shooter proved that. He killed his mother and stole her gun. The Texas church shooter was able to buy guns because the Air Force failed to enter his criminal background information into the FBI database. The Las Vegas shooter purchased his weapons legally but there was nothing in his background to prevent that and no way his intentions could have been predicted.

People say the one common thing about these shootings is the AR-15. But the most common thing about these shootings is the people factor. No gun, be it handgun, “AR-15 assault rifle,” shotgun, hunting rifle, etc., kills anyone without a person pulling the trigger. And in the cases of these mass shootings those people are disturbed.

More gun laws are not going to prevent bad guys from obtaining weapons and killing innocents. That's just the sad truth that is proved every day around the country. Perhaps arming teachers or hiring armed security (such as unemployed veterans) would be a better solution to school shootings. Gun free zones are always targets. Why give them the opportunity?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Finding God's Joy Again

February 10th was the anniversary of my son's death 16 years ago. One of my sisters sent me a note on my phone that hit me pretty hard – but in a good way.

She reminded me that I had been through tragedy and had been on a long journey over those 16 years. And that is true. Besides dealing with his death I dealt with difficulties at work, a few moves, a couple of failed relationships and the death of my father.

Then, in 2011, my life took a dramatic change for the better. I found my wonderful wife, Arden, and made one final move – from Florida to Texas.

2011 was a big year in another way as well. I began going to church again after a long hiatus. Not that I had lost my faith. I never did. But I hadn't regularly attended church in a few decades.

Arden took me to her church for the Singing Christmas Tree performance in December of 2011 and introduced me to her pastor, Dr. Carroll Marr. I was impressed by both. (Being a preacher's kid myself I was rather picky about pastors after leaving home and my dad's church.)

Arden and I were married by Dr. Marr in 2012 and I officially joined the church in 2013. We have attended regularly since then. It's been a joy to finally be back in a church home – particularly one we both love.

In 2015, the same year we went with a group from our church to Israel, I volunteered my abilities with the Praise Band, playing acoustic guitar. I say “abilities” rather than “talent” because the people I play with are far more talented than me. But they let me be a part of it and it's something I truly enjoy. I have played in three of the Singing Christmas Tree performances to date.

Annette reminded me of something I already knew but it hit home when I read it, particularly in light of the February 10th anniversary. Over the years since my son's death, through all of the pain and difficulties, God brought me to this place in my life and has blessed me tremendously. I have a wonderful, loving wife, a son and daughter-in-law, a wonderful, beautiful, granddaughter, and a second granddaughter on the way.

When my son died I never really believed I would one day be a grandfather. I was in various relationships with women who had children but they didn't work out and I never really saw it happening. Today I am a “Grampa” and couldn't be happier.

I have also been blessed with the opportunity to share my story with others, about how God brought me through that horrible time in my life, both in the church and online. I gave out or sold at least 12 copies of my book, “How Do You Say Good-bye?” in the last year. (Fellow club members get theirs for free.) My story, or parts of it, was told at the church three times last year and I had church members who are club members ask me for copies of my book.

It is apparent to me that God is using me and my life experiences to help others. I have had countless thank you's from people who have read the book and applied it to their own grief. One friend I met here last year lost his son to a tragic accident. After reading the book he said “Thank you. You said in your book exactly what I was feeling but was unable to articulate."

God at work through me. What could be better than that?

My sister used the phrase “joy again.” And that's pretty accurate. After a long period of pain and feeling lost, I found my soulmate, returned to the church and began giving back to God, and things keep getting better and better. My life changed drastically in 2002. And in the last six years God has changed it drastically again. I have joy again. And all I can say is “Thank you, Lord.”

By the way - the picture above is the last known picture taken of my son, Christopher. He's the good looking one on the right.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Some More Truth About Correctional Workers

My friends and family know I worked in corrections as my career. I spent 22 years working in federal prisons.
As a correctional officer/lieutenant and captain in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I had to deal with some of the worst people in society - people who would have killed me if they needed to in order to do what they wanted. I worked the U.S. Penitentiary Lompoc, California, and the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, each for 3 years. The men there weren't there for being nice guys. The other 16 years were spent at medium security and administrative (pre-trial) institutions. But the men and women in those institutions were bad guys as well.
As bad as the inmates were, I can say without a doubt that I worked alongside some of the best people in society. I worked with people who had my back; people who would risk their own lives to save mine. They were dedicated law enforcement officers/staff who volunteered their own safety to protect the public - people they didn't even know.
One of the advantages of being a correctional worker over a police officer on the streets is that correctional workers know who the bad guys are. Police officers don't always know that. They encounter people every day in the course of their duties - some who are bad guys and need to be put away and others who are merely law abiding citizens who need their assistance.
In the world of corrections there are no law abiding citizens who just need assistance. There are bad guys who need assistance sometimes - but they're still bad guys who are incarcerated because they were not law abiding citizens at some point. And the higher the security of the institution where they are assigned, the worse their crime(s) were.
When correctional workers begin their shifts every day they know who the bad guys are. They know each inmate who approaches them for something is there for a reason. Certainly there are inmates who don't cause trouble; who serve their time quietly and without drama, and eventually go home without returning. But the majority are repeat offenders. They make their livings by committing crimes, knowing they will return to prison if and when they're caught.
According to federal and state statistics, the recidivism rate for inmates is between 67% and 77% within the first five years following release from custody. Those figures are part of the reason that the concept of rehabilitation has mostly been abandoned in US prisons. In reality, inmates become law abiding citizens for one reason only - they don't want to return to prison. But that doesn't apply to most inmates. They live their lives of crime with full knowledge that prison will be a part of it. And most are OK with that.
My point here is that some of the best friends I have in life are people with whom I worked in the Bureau of Prisons. They had my back then and they still have it now if need be. And I would do the same for them. Law enforcement officials trust each other with their lives. It's a special bond, very similar to that of combat soldiers. When you put your life in the hands of another person, knowing that his/hers is in your own hands, you form a special bond. And we as correctional workers have that bond with hundreds of others.
The other point I want to make is this: The Bureau of Prisons is facing budget cuts and staffing cuts at an alarming rate. While the inmate population continues to increase, the staffing levels go down. Retiring staff are not being replaced in many institutions. (I have friends who are still working who are telling me this.) Cameras and technology are replacing staff these days. But cameras and technology do not respond to emergency situations in which staff and inmates are in danger. Lawmakers don't seem to understand this concept.
I was never a union person but I absolutely agree with the union that staffing levels need to be maintained for the safety of everyone. The inmates already outnumber the staff by a large margin. Reducing staffing numbers at institutions makes that even worse.

When I was a Captain I was instructed by the regional office to create a new staffing roster for my department (Correctional Services) reducing the number of correctional officer positions by five. That was in 2006. It's been 12 years since I left there and I have no doubt those numbers have decreased again since then. It's dangerous.
As much as I hate to say it - it's going to take some major incident in the Bureau of Prisons, that makes national news, before lawmakers in Washington are going to pay attention to staff shortages and the need to increase the ratio of staff to inmates. It will take a riot, an escape or the murder of a staff member to bring this danger to light with the American public. I hope none of those things occur. But mark my words... one or more of them will.