The Elephant Gun in the Room

When the Britons and the Americans communicate with each other, a huge subject that is hard to address is America and the 2nd Amendment.  Guns.  All I can attempt to do is try to explain my interpretation of what is going on here on this side of the Pond, the role of individual rights, and why just simply adopting a British level of gun control would not work within American culture.

I feel nothing but anger that I live in a nation where guns fall into the wrong hands far too often.  I can’t make any excuses, nor am I going to try. The wrong hands are not necessarily the ones you think you know, and I will explain what I mean further along.

Let’s go back to the beginning, the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment.  The text reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  As you can read, it is very open-ended and emphasizes the right of the individual to bear arms.  In fact, individual rights are what we value here in the United States, and our Constitution reflects that.  Most of our arguments usually revolve around which individuals’ needs take precedence under which circumstances.  This is very important to keep in mind as you read the post.

First of all, I am more of a moderate when it comes to gun ownership.  I have also lived in urban, suburban, and rural America, so I have a general idea how guns play in each setting.  As I said before in other posts, I am a veteran, so yes, I have shot a gun, though I have never shot anyone.  I have also done skeet shooting under the watchful eye of experts.  I understand that there is a place for guns out there, even though I am not a hunter.  There are the people who understand and respect guns, who use them for what they are.  They are not just weapons, but they are tools too.

I am not going to deny that we have people who mishandle guns and use them as the weapons they are to kill and injure.  Nor am I going to deny that people just do plain old stupid things.  The news is full of stories of people telling tales of such things, so I don’t need to provide evidence.  I just want to give the other side of the story to say that guns in the United States are not all about people opening fire in movie theaters.  I am trying to give the moderates a voice, since they seem to get lost in the arguments.

I am writing about the responsible hunters, and, contrary to what a lot of people would like to believe, they do not drive off for a weekend in their pickup trucks to take potshots at squirrels.  Nor do they have $50,000 to fly off to Africa to kill national treasures to assuage their egos.  They eat what they shoot or donate the meat to food banks.  These hunters are worth their salt and put time and care in what they do.  They would not dare poach or hunt endangered species.  These hunters also motivated by conservation purposes.  This is also something that is happening in the U.K. under The Deer Initiative, only they call them deer “stalkers”.  We just have a lot more land and wildlife to cover.

It is also a matter of understanding rural living.  That buck will save a ton of money and give your family valuable protein during those long winter months.  And the “just don’t eat meat” argument will not work for someone who is poor and lives a 45 minute to an 1 hour drive away from the nearest grocery store or food bank, and the car is riding on fumes.  Oh, and there is no public transportation.

As far as the danger, mechanical mishaps are very rare when using firearms.  When people get injured or killed during on a range or out hunting is usually when someone does not follow the safety protocols.  This is why when using any firearm, you have to take the time to educate and train yourself with reputable marksmen, and the vast majority of gun owners do just that.

There are even cases where open carry is acceptable.  Believe it or not, a lot of dangerous critters still roam this enormous country, and many of them will attack you.  Coyotes and bears will not introduce themselves before they will maul you or snack on your entrails.  And, let’s be honest.  Usually in deep rural America, people are usually few and far between too.  If there are cases where you may need police assistance, a squad car is not going to be handy in the matter of a few minutes.  You may be the law until the police arrive, and you, as you would be making a citizens’ arrest, would be bound to the same rules as a uniformed law enforcement officer.  And if you elect to live remotely, the onus is on you to be properly trained with the firearm, or you will have to live with the consequences of misusing it.  I am not saying it is the Wild West, but different communities have to have the flexibility to be able to use the tools they need for their own environments.  And if a gun is one of those tools, so be it.

We can also get into the matter of gun collecting and target shooting.  There is nothing wrong with either of these activities because we have the room in this large country to shoot guns safely on gun ranges and on private land.  If the guns are stored safely (gun in locked cabinet, ammo stored elsewhere) and well-maintained, and the owners are showing proper responsibility, why should we penalize them because of the actions of others?

So, remember when I said we live in a country that is based on individual rights? We have so many individuals with different needs and desires, and we are trying to juggle all of these balls with an open-ended amendment trying to accommodate everyone in the process.  We just can’t arbitrarily have a blanket government mandate across the board with a strict ban because it goes against everything that we value.  Each state has to decide on their own gun laws.  If we want to take drastic measures, we have to go through the process of amending the Constitution, and that is something we have to decide together as a nation.  And don’t think this idea hasn’t been suggested.  If you want to read more, John Paul Stevens, retired associate justice of the Supreme Court, poses and interesting notion of his own.

If we are talking about individual rights, where do the people who are not comfortable around guns fit into all of this?  Don’t they deserve to have a place without a gun flashed their faces?  Yes, they do.  And I will be honest, I do not think we are doing enough to find places to accommodate them right now.  I am thinking about where I live in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.  This place is pretty good regarding violent crime.  Let’s put it this way, chances are, if someone is going to attack you, you are going to know the perpetrator and why that person has a beef with you.  I, personally, don’t see the need to pack heat to go to the grocery store or take the Sprog to the park where I live.  Meanwhile, Illinois became the last state to pass a conceal carry law, and an individual would have to go on a 16-hour training course in order to carry a license.  There is a whole laundry list of places where licensees can’t take the weapons (including schools, hospitals, daycare facilities, places that serve alcohol).  But individual communities do not get to opt out.  Just individual establishments.  The 2nd Amendment is so poorly worded that the right to bear arms has turned into the right to flaunt arms.  I agree the balance is off, and we need to get things back on track.

The National Rifle Association is part of the reason for this legislative shift.  I have to explain what is going on with them.  It’s the higher ranks and their policies, lobbying, and backhanded political deals (with the Republicans and Democrats) that are causing the problems.  They are catering to the gun manufacturers and the 2nd Amendment extremists that you hear so much about.   I am angry at all Americans, including me, for allowing them to get so much power, but my wrath is especially targeted at the moderate members of the NRA and the gun owners, for not doing more for combating what the upper echelon of this organization does.  The NRA on the ground level does a lot of work with gun safety and education, and a lot of its members cringe when Wayne LaPierre opens his big fat mouth, but they do nothing.

I don’t want to take tools away from the people who need them and know how to handle them just because the extremists are ruining everything.  But the moderates can’t hitch themselves to organizations like the NRA and the gun manufacturers who finance them, as powerful as they are, because their extremism is only going to hurt the gun owners’ cause in the long run.  Because the NRA is really reacting to the anti-gun extremists, and the anti-gun extremists are just as zealous as the NRA.  The general public is lumping the moderates in with rest of the extremists, and the moderates are losing credibility very quickly.

OK, now that I got that out of my system, I need to address gun violence.  Gun violence does not happen in a vacuum, so I have to address the problems that go along with it.  Like the U.K., we have a poorly funded mental health system and a culture that does not understand how to handle people who do have mental illness.  In 2013, 63% of firearm fatalities were the result of suicide according to the Center for Disease Control.  21,175 out of 33,636 to be exact.  We are losing people we should not in more ways than one, and the gun provides a quick way to make a permanent decision.  If I may go back to the NRA, if they were smart, they would promote a mental health advocacy campaign like, “Gun don’t kill people.  People are killing themselves.  Let’s work together to stop suicide.”  It would certainly take the wind out of some of the anti-gun extremists.

We also have the problem of poverty and with that drugs.  And mixed in with all of that we have the problem of systemic racism.  To demonstrate what I am talking about without telling the whole history of the city of Chicago, I can get a sampling of the statistics.  We can thank the good folks at Hey Jackass! for bringing us some interesting data and infographics from the Chicago Police Department and other reputable sources.  (Be sure to check out the Shot-in-the-Junk-o-Meter.)

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 9.09.32 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 9.02.34 PM

85% of these deaths are from gunshot wounds, and, you can see for yourself who is killing whom.  If you look at the map below, the neighborhoods that are maroon are where most of these homicides are happening.  Those are also where the poorest neighborhoods are. And I need to make another point.  Through a painful history of government policies and social constructs, Chicago itself is heavily segregated with the African-American community on the South and West Sides and the Hispanic community to a smaller extent in the Lower West Side.  Of course, there are plenty of good people in these neighborhoods who are struggling to make it, but the crime does not help.

city_map_2014

Drugs, especially heroin, are a huge problem in Illinois, and the Chicago PD barely scraped the surface with its recent drug bust.  You can also take a wild guess where they are too.  In fact, we can thank the El Chapo and the Sinaloa cartel for Chicago’s gang problem at the moment.

So all that we hear about shootings, Charleston, Chattanooga, and police killings, as horrible as they are, the national press overshadows where the vast majority of the gun violence really is.  We have suicide.  We have systemic racism, drugs, and poverty in isolated pockets.  Gun violence is not the cause of any of these issues.  It is a by-product of deeper problems.

Now, people can look at these problems and think the solution is to implement a British system of gun control.  Let’s just say we do that, but we don’t address the core issues.  Because we wouldn’t because we can’t legislate away deeper problems.  What will we have left?  Well, we would something similar to the U.K.  Because the U.K. has its own problems with anger, mental health, racism/immigration, and substance abuse, namely the drinking.  It’s a different culture, of course, so the reasons for these problems are different.  However, there are similarities.  I bet some people would think that is wonderful, if the guns were strictly controlled.

Not so fast, my friends.  Let’s look at some stats.  I am going to use England and Wales as the examples for my point.

I have a report from CIVITAS who compiled international crime data from the U.N. affiliated European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control.  The latest numbers I could get was from 2012.  All numbers are in cases per 100,000 in population.  Now I will take the lashings for my country.

3rd in Intentional Homicide with 5 .0 compared to E & W’s 22nd ranking with 1.1

10th in Vehicle Theft with 258 compared to E & W’s 14th ranking with 215

Punitivity Ratio (Sentenced incarcerated persons/Persons convicted)  – We’re #1 with 1.471 vs. E & W’s ranking at #27 with 0.049  (I am sure you like this stat, U.K., as far as FIFA is concerned.)

It is what it is.  I’m not proud.

It looks like we are close as far as rape (US is #4 and E&W is #5) and robbery (E&W #7 and the US is #8).  Let’s give each other a high five for that one.

We are now left with assault resulting in serious injury.

Congratulations, England and Wales, you won the bronze on this table with 730 cases per 100,000 people.  The United States is 16th on the list with 262.

A lot of Britons turn around and call the United States an uncivilized country because we like to kill each other, but the Britons like to beat each other to a pulp.  Yes, the victim hasn’t died, as far as the violence is concerned, but it is very hard to call a nation civilized when the rate of maiming is that high.  By the way, Scotland came in first with 1487.  Look at the report for yourself.  I am not making this up.

I could certainly do what the sensationalized form of media does right now.  I could add up all the violent crime stats (homicide, rape, and assault) from England and Wales vs. the U.S.  I could say, “Gee, there were 758.8 per hundred thousand people who were victims of a violent crime vs. 295.6 people who were victims of a violent crime.  What is wrong with England and Wales?   It’s so violent over there!  I know! I should list all the solutions the Americans have implemented to keep their violent crime rates down and impose them on another country regardless of their cultural values, including suggesting that they increase their incarceration rates and arm themselves with guns.  Perfect!”

Of course, I won’t do that because I am not that big of an asshole.  I understand the U.K.’s problems are complicated, just like ours are.  That’s why I can’t entertain a reductionist solution from anyone.  Even if we take away the guns, the violent urges of the people are still going to be there.  I don’t know if the guns happen to act as a deterrent to more widespread crime.  I am not a criminologist who studies these things.  If they do, I would rather let them be until we can actually implement proper long-term solutions to the underlying problems like mental health care, poverty, racism, etc. rather than potentially create different problems by something that seemed like a good intentioned idea on the surface.

But this is what it is like when someone points a finger from across a border with all the answers to America’s problems.  The United States is country filled with people who left or descended from people who left their countries of origin because they could not conform to those original societies’ morés.  We are one of those Land of Misfits with a relatively new system of government with which we are still working out the kinks.  Like it or not the 2nd Amendment is one of those huge kinks that we are working out, and having our countries of origin shouting, “You’re doing it wrong!  Do it our way!” is what made our ancestors (and people like the Boffin) want to leave in the first place.  And I will be the first to say that the United States is also guilty of imposing our solutions on others, and that doesn’t make it right when we do it either.

So America is left with a quagmire.  It is not within us to punish the whole class for what a few kids who have misbehaved have done, unless it is a last resort.  So we are left with each individual state throwing out various levels of carry permits and regulations while we get understandably upset over mass shootings.  As tragic as they are, and I am not trying to minimize those loss of lives one bit, our panic and upset glosses over deeper, underlying issues behind what is really going on that we aren’t really addressing.  We have to dig into some really ugly parts of ourselves to get to the bottom of the problems.

In other words, if the solution were simple, we would have implemented it already.

We Need To Talk About Cecil

Heather Christena Schmidt said what I wanted to say about Cecil the Lion and how it relates to the bigger picture very eloquently. It saved me quite a bit of writing. Thank you, Heather.

CeciltheLion

I was called an idiot over social media today. Facebook. Comments. Big surprise.

I had commented on one of the hundreds of articles shared this week regarding the death of Cecil the Lion. If you don’t know what happened – i.e. you live under a rock – Zimbabwe’s, and perhaps the world’s, most beloved black-maned lion, Cecil, was shot with a cross-bow by a hunter that paid roughly $55,000 for one of his routine hunting excursions.

The details and the truth of how Cecil – a radio collared animal – was killed and beheaded are still to be uncovered, and the bullshit needs to be filtered out. The dentist who fired the shot, from Minnesota, claims that he was unaware it was Cecil, and that he believed he was paying for legal hunting led by professional trappers. But the semantics are muddied, and I’m sure it’ll be a while before…

View original post 1,445 more words

A Danger of Literalism

The normal American pile of junk mail.  This household needs a cat to sit on it.  By Dvortygirl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The normal American pile of junk mail. This household needs a cat to sit on it. By Dvortygirl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The Boffin was showing me catalogs one-by-one, so I could give the approval whether to keep or recycle. He showed me the latest book of adult education class offerings from one of the local school districts. This was the organization with the knitting class that went pear-shaped that I mentioned in my How Do You Make Close Friends? post.  Of course, I reacted with my usual level of decorum.

“FUCK THAT!”

The Boffin, with a look of puzzlement on his face, looks at his crotch and retorted:

“But I’ll get paper cuts.”

Let’s Check in with the Presidential Election So Far…

With the Republicans, I would say we were at the gorilla exhibit at the zoo, but the gorillas are usually far better behaved.

image
Bobo is not impressed.

It’s the Trump show right now, and there are a cluster of people who are liking his “tell it like it is” rhetoric.  Well, what you see is what you get, and what you get is a narcissistic, pompous dickwad with an “America First” agenda who thinks any publicity is good publicity.  What some people don’t seem to get is that this is not the student body president election in high school.  Electing someone because he is popular and you like his style is not enough.  The stakes are much higher here and someone who is just going to barrel through with the “my way or the highway” attitude when dealing with all the issues will do more harm than good when we are so interconnected on a global scale.  But, hey, at least, he is entertaining.

Meanwhile the other Republican candidates, bless their souls, are trying to get everyone else to pay attention them and only demonstrating just how out of touch they are with the American people in the process.  Rand Paul took a chainsaw to the federal tax code.  OK, he may get the lumberjack vote.  Lindsay Graham destroyed his phone after Donald Trump gave out his number.  The American reaction?  Why would we want a President who still uses a flip phone?  Ted Cruz had a go at Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell for being a liar in session (A big no-no. You call your colleagues liars to the press. Silly Ted.); McConnell saw it as the attention-grabbing stunt for what it was, and we did too.  Mike Huckabee, in his critique of the Iran deal, is invoking Holocaust imagery by saying it would “basically march them (the Israelis) to the door of the oven”.  Nice to know he is keeping his usual level of tact.

Scott Walker just wants to start World War III by reneging on the whole Iran deal. All I know is that Scott Walker will be in Philadelphia today and will be sampling cheesesteaks from Pat’s and Geno’s.  Considering that both places are highly overrated and cater to the tourist crowds, he deserves whatever he eats.  I wouldn’t say I hope he chokes on it because I am not evil, but I wouldn’t mind if he receives a bit of verbal flak on behalf of the natives from my home region. Because they can give it good.

Meanwhile, there is Jeb! Bush who is trying to tell everyone to get along and stop all this infighting, which is admirable.  But then when he opens his mouth to address an issue, he is 12-years behind the times.  Phasing out Medicare when private healthcare costs are skyrocketing?  Riiiiiiiiight. His gilded upbringing is showing through in spades here.

So what is going on with the Democrats?  They are doing more conventional campaigning and letting the Republicans duke it out in their steel cage match.  It’s the smartest move on their parts, as far as electability.  Hillary Clinton just made a speech on climate change in Nashua, NH, but nothing of substance came of it. To be honest, I am not holding out any hope for her. I have always wanted a female president ever since I was watching Free to Be…You and Me in elementary school, but she is the political equivalent of a cheap American chocolate bunny. Hollow and leaves a foul taste in your mouth. Bernie Sanders is trying to hold Hillary’s feet to the fire like he was setting out to do, but she is still being rather evasive about her goals at this point on a lot of key issues. I understand the campaign strategy, but the country wants to know who can demonstrate proper leadership. Lingering in the background when the country is in flux only shows you are a slave to opinion polls.

To sum it up, I think Bobo should put his hat in the ring.

This British-American Life in the Kitchen – Blueberry Muffins

I think it would be safe for me to say that few Americans would turn down the opportunity to each a freshly baked blueberry muffin when given the chance.  It is such a classic American baked good, we just take it for granted that we can get it everywhere.  They even sell them at Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, and of course, they are the size of your head.

Of course, most people make them in the normal cupcake tins at home.  The recipe I use is a regional one and is based off a beloved department store muffin that King Arthur Flour developed.  Jordan Marsh in Boston served these muffins to their hungry shoppers until the 1990s when it was bought out by (Surprise, surprise, Americans.) Macy’s.  (As an aside, the balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are filled with the ghosts of the late regional department store owners whose shops they took over.  It’s true.)

Marshall Field was in here.  By Anthony Quintano from Hillsborough, NJ, United States (The 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Marshall Field was in here.          By Anthony Quintano from Hillsborough, NJ, United States (The 87th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Actually, I recommend to my U.K. readers to explore the King Arthur Flour site for American recipes.  King Arthur’s flours are the closest to the U.K. flours as far as protein content, so you can do like for like.  And they have a handy click function that automatically converts recipes from volume measurements to ounces and to grams.  They also are very good at responding to problems you have in the comments section.  I am also a veteran home baker, and it’s my flour of choice.  So, while I am waiting for my royalty check…

King Arthur Flour’s Famous Department Store Blueberry Muffins

    • 4 ounces unsalted butter
    • 7 ounces sugar
    • 2 American large or U.K. medium eggs
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence (extract) or 1/2 tsp almond and 1/2 tsp vanilla essence (extract)
    • 8 1/2 ounces plain (all-purpose) flour
    • 4 ounces milk
    • 12 1/2 ounces blueberries, fresh preferred
    • 1 3/4 ounces course decorating sugar, for topping

1) Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas Mark 5. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin; or line the tin with papers, and grease the papers.

2) In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined.

3) Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and beating well after each addition.

4) Beat in the baking powder, salt, and vanilla or vanilla/almond combination.  You can also add some fresh lemon or orange zest to pick up the flavor too.

5) Add the flour alternately with the milk, beating gently just to combine. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.  I highly recommend doing this by hand.  To get the proper crumb texture of the muffin, the flour just needs to be incorporated.  Where people make the mistake is to think the batter needs to be smooth and cake-like.  The truth is the opposite.  

6) Mash 2 oz of the blueberries. Toss the rest of the blueberries with enough flour to just coat them, so they don’t sink to the bottom of the tins when they bake.  Add the mashed and whole berries to the batter, stirring just to combine and distribute.

7) Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan; an ice cream scoop works well here.

8) Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon sugar atop each muffin, if desired.  Demerara sugar works, if you can’t find the coarse sugar.

9) Bake the muffins for about 30 minutes, until they’re light golden brown on top, and a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean.

10) Remove the muffins from the oven, loosen their edges from the pan, and after about 5 minutes transfer them to a rack to cool.

Yield: 12 muffins.

One note about this recipe: This one does not form the traditional muffin top, the bit of the muffin that spills out over the side to form that well-baked harder bit that so many people love.  However, it creates a lovely sugar crust on top, so give it a chance.

Blueberries are in season in my parts, as you know from my last couple of posts, but I know they are not quite ready in the U.K.  Keep this post in mind wherever you are, and consider making these muffins.  Tell me what you think, if you do.

The Boffin Family in a Traffic Jam

On the way back to the blueberry patch yesterday, we got stuck in construction traffic, as to be expected.  This was on I-94 in Indiana.  Those of you who know the road also know that it gave us time to admire the many billboards advertising attorneys and their services, mainly how they can help us collect money from the many ways we injure ourselves.

“Got your head stuck in a garbage disposal?  We can get you cash!”

Anyway, at one point, two drivers in front of us decided to lunge for the same empty spot and nearly collided.  Of course, since I remembered the Pauli exclusion principle which states that two identical fermions cannot occupy the same space at the same time, I had to speak up.

Me:  You know, there is this thing called physics.

The Sprog:  Yeah, other people use it.

The Boffin:  They were trying to make a neutron star.

Neutron Star Illustrated By Casey Reed - Penn State University (Casey Reed - Penn State University) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Neutron Star Illustrated By Casey Reed – Penn State University (Casey Reed – Penn State University) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Of course, a full lesson on black holes and neutron stars for the Sprog ensued when she didn’t understand her father’s joke.

Like I said before, I live in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.  This is the conversation every family has in the car, surely?