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Too Bad for the Black People of Ferguson that their Police don’t have the same Mindset as Inspector Simon Kefas in Jo Nesbø’s book, The Son

Too Bad for the Black People of Ferguson that their Police don’t have the same Mindset as Inspector Simon Kefas in Jo Nesbø’s book, The Son

Michael Brown, an unarmed eighteen-year-old black man, was shot six times and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. Witnesses report that Michael Brown was surrendering at the time he was shot in the head at point-blank range. Ten days later 25-year-old Kajieme Powell, another black man, was shot nine times and killed by St. Louis Police officers after he had stolen two cans of energy drinks and some muffins from a convenience store.

This is a passage from Jo Nesbø’s latest novel, The Son. It’s a conversation between Inspector Simon Kefas and his nephew Mats.

Simon and Mats went out into the hallway and the boy squealed with delight when he saw the black-and-white police cap which his uncle took down from the wardrobe shelf. But he grew silent and reverent when Simon placed the cap on his head. They stood in front of the mirror. The boy pointed to the reflection of his uncle and made shooting noises.

“Who are you shooting at?” his uncle asked him.

“Villains,” the boy spluttered. “Bang! Bang!”

“Let’s call it target practice,” Simon said. “Even the police can’t shoot villains without permission.”

“Yes, you can! Bang! Bang!”

“If we do that, Mats, we go to jail.”

“We do?” the boy stopped and gave his uncle a baffled look. “Why? We’re the police.”

“Because if we shoot someone we could otherwise have arrested that makes us the bad guys.”

“But… when we’ve caught them, then we can shoot them, can’t we?”

Simon laughed, “No. The it’s up to the judge to decide how long they’ll go to prison.”

“I thought you decided that Uncle Simon.”

Simon could see the disappointment in the boy’s eyes. “Let  me tell you something, Mats. I’m glad I don’t have to decide that. I’m glad that all I have to do is catch criminals. Because that’s the fun part of the job.”

Here’s a quiz in the form of a Jack Ohman comic I read in today’s paper:

Ohman Police Mindset Do I need to tell you the answer?

Justice for gun-violence victim Renisha McBride

Justice for gun-violence victim Renisha McBride

In Wayne County, Michigan last Thursday, Theodore Wafer was found guilty on all three charges of 2nd degree murder, manslaughter and felony firearm in the shooting death of 19 year old Renisha McBride on the porch of his house in Dearborn Heights, MI.

McBride was one of a depressing litany of unarmed victims who have fallen prey to gun carriers claiming self-defense.

Other well publicized cases included Trayvon Martin in Florida; Ronald Westbrook, a 72-year old man from Georgia suffering from Alzheimer’s who was shot in circumstances similar to McBride; Jordan Davis, who was shot dead while he sat in a vehicle in a convenience store parking lot; and Chad Oulson who was killed by a gun carrier following an altercation with an angry movie-goer with a gun over texting during the previews.

Convictions have been harder to come by than liberal Republicans in the gun-friendly legal environment that prevails in many states.

George Zimmerman, of course, was found not guilty in Martin’s case.

And a Florida jury deadlocked on whether Michael Dunn murdered Jordan Davis, although they did nail him for the attempted murder of his three equally unarmed friends, who were lucky to escape with their own lives after Dunn fired at them as they fled the car park. He is to be retried on the murder charge but, as with Ronald Westbrook’s killing in Georgia, prosecutors will again be seriously impeded by a lunatic stand-your-ground law that makes a conviction very difficult; more power to the prosecutors, therefore, that they won’t give up.

Depressingly, the alleged shooter of Westbrook was not even charged because prosecutors did not believe they could overcome Georgia’s stand-your-ground law to win a conviction.

The trial of the man accused of killing Oulson is pending.

Many saw the McBride case as one suffused with racial undertones but, in the end, a jury cut through all of that and simply saw a man who had acted recklessly and without justification to cut short the life of a young woman on a flimsy and ultimately unconvincing assertion that he felt threatened and in danger.

Too many states have virtually given gun carriers a license to kill with their misguided and dangerous SYG laws and, as we have seen all too often, holding the perpetrators accountable has been a huge challenge.

But Renisha McBride was not forgotten, not by this jury and not by the justice system that put her killer on trial and won a conviction.

It would be nice to think that more courts in other places in America will start to hold gun carriers accountable when their unreasoning fear or anger ends in an unnecessary death. But I won’t hold my breath.

Still, I’m glad that Renisha McBride and her family received a measure of the justice they so richly deserved. It’s not enough but it will have to do for now.

Stand up to “Stand Your Ground” – Boycott Florida

Stand up to “Stand Your Ground” – Boycott Florida

Florida, Florida, the redneck riviera
Florida, Florida, there’s no more pathetic place in America
yes a man must make unpopular decisions, surely from time to time
and a man can only stand what a man can stand
it’s a wobbly volatile line
– Vic Chesnutt

Florida is not alone in allowing the concealed conveyance of loaded firearms, unfortunately. Although the United States Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of permitting restrictions, nearly all states allow concealed-carry with few if any impediments.

In addition, however, Florida is one of more than twenty states with a specific stand-your-ground law that imposes no duty on an individual to retreat before resorting to deadly force even in situations away from the home.

The result of this lethal combination has been a number of well publicized use of deadly force cases (the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on the street, the movie theatre shooting death of Chad Oulson and the fatal shooting of Jordan Davis while he sat in a vehicle in a convenience store parking lot) and a 200% spike in so-called justifiable homicides in Florida according to a comprehensive report released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Even as the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis lobby to repeal or at least weaken Florida’s stand-your-ground law, GOP legislators in the state seek to limit media scrutiny of SYG shootings following an unfavorable report on the law’s application and outcomes by the Tampa Bay Times.

The combined effect of an armed and carrying citizenry and an expansive stand-your-ground law is that Florida has become an increasingly unsafe place. Not only do we have to worry about criminals with guns – every state in the union has to worry about them thanks to our overall lax national gun laws – but in Florida we also have to worry about the trigger-happy, law-abiding gun carrier who no longer is legally constrained to act responsibly; instead, he now has a legal get-out-of-jail-free card to shoot anyone who pisses him off while claiming that he felt threatened.

It was lunacy for the people of Florida to elect NRA-lapdog loonies to govern them and pass such laws. So maybe it’s time for the rest of us to bring them to their senses. And the best way to accomplish that is via the pocket-book, by mounting a tourist boycott of Florida.

Not convinced? Well, picture this: You’re a British (or New York) wife and mother holidaying in Florida to see Disneyworld. Your husband or teenage son, who’s gone back to the rented car for his sunglasses, gets into an argument with some jerk in the parking lot. Maybe he’s complaining about the way your car is parked too close to his. The argument escalates. Your son or husband is big enough that they’re not easily intimidated. The jerk gets angry, pulls out his pistol and shoots your son or husband dead. There is no witness close enough to see or hear exactly what happened.

Under Florida law the shooter will claim he shot in self-defense because he felt threatened, and that he was not required to retreat before using deadly force. There are no witnesses to contradict his version of events, the putative threat to his life for example; and the fact that your husband or son was unarmed will carry little if any weight, nor the fact that the shooter instigated the confrontation, assuming he admitted as much. The burden of proof that it was not a justified killing has already shifted to prosecutors and away from the perpetrator of the shooting. The jerk in this scenario will walk, almost certainly without being prosecuted.

There are, of course, a million possible scenarios for someone to claim a justifiable homicide, but it will nearly always be with a firearm and rarely when the victim is also armed. And not only does Florida’s SYG law almost always favor the shooter, it has the effect, whether intended or not, of encouraging the gun carrier to kill rather than wound; after all, we don’t want police to hear an alternative version of events, do we?

It’s true that being black almost certainly increases your risk of being shot by both the criminal and law abiding gun carrier alike. But let’s not kid ourselves that the rest of us aren’t at risk. Just ask Chad Oulson.

Florida is no longer a fit place to visit. We should send a clear message to Floridians and their deeply misguided politicians by giving it a miss from our vacation plans.

Concealed Carry Permits + Stand Your Ground Laws = Insanity

Concealed Carry Permits + Stand Your Ground Laws = Insanity

The family and friends of Jordan Davis, a black teenager, will have to wait several more months to find out if Michael Dunn, the white man who shot him dead outside a convenience store in Florida in 2012, will be punished for it in his retrial.

Davis and three friends were parked and playing their music loudly when approached by Dunn who asked them to turn it down. An argument ensued and an angry Dunn opened fire killing Davis and nearly hitting two of the other teens. Dunn continued firing even as the vehicle carrying Davis and his friends pulled out to escape the gunfire. No shots were fired back at Dunn who claimed, in his stand-your-ground defense, that he saw Davis with a shotgun. No firearms were found in the Dodge Durango carrying Davis and the others.

The Florida jury in this case appears to have done the best job they could in the circumstances. While they couldn’t agree on whether to find Dunn guilty of the first degree murder of Davis, they did convict him for the attempted murder of the other three who were trying to flee. Even his SYG defense didn’t save him on those counts and Dunn will spend most of the rest of his life in prison, thank goodness.

The fact remains that the prosecution, even with an apparently thoughtful and conscientious jury, could not surmount the challenges of the SYG law on the shooting of Davis despite the facts as recounted by The New York Times:

In the courtroom, Mr. Dunn told the jury he shot Jordan Davis, 17, after the teenager pointed a shotgun at him from the window of a sport utility vehicle, threatened him and then got out of the truck. The two cars were parked side by side in front of a gas station convenience store.

But the prosecution said there was no shotgun: No witness saw one, the three teenagers who were in the vehicle with Mr. Davis said they did not have a shotgun, and the police never found one. While Mr. Dunn fired 10 rounds at the teenagers on Nov. 23, 2012, no one ever shot back.

In these circumstances, it seems reasonable to ask how the jury could fail to reach a consensus on Davis’ murder, even if it was on one of the lesser charges of second degree murder or manslaughter. But as the NYT piece explains:

Under Florida self-defense laws, people can use lethal force and do not have to retreat if they “reasonably believe” it is “necessary” to save their lives or avoid great harm. The jury must, in essence, decide what a “reasonable person” would have done under similar circumstances. “The law takes the position that you have to step into the shoes of the defendant,” said Michael Band, a Miami criminal defense lawyer who was a longtime prosecutor in the city.

In court, it is the prosecutor’s burden to prove that a shooting was not self-defense. Also, whether there was a shotgun is not nearly as important under the law as whether Mr. Dunn believed he saw one and then reacted out of reasonable fear for his life. “If he really believed there was a gun, then he acted appropriately,” Mr. Band said.

So just to be clear, Dunn didn’t have to see Davis with a shotgun to feel his life was threatened but merely imagine he had seen one – or simply say he saw it whether he did or not – in order to mount a credible and likely successful SYG defense.

By any reasonable definition, therefore, it is clear that the Florida legislature has provided a legal get-out-of-jail free card for shooting someone and claiming self-defense. The law’s turbid language renders it difficult bordering on impossible for juries to convict an SYG claimant, particularly if there are no witnesses to contradict the shooter’s version of events. Dunn’s undoing was that there were three others in the Durango and he continued shooting at them as they tried to escape. Had Davis been alone, Dunn would likely not have even been prosecuted.

Many have pointed to race as the key issue in this and other cases such as that of Trayvon Martin and I won’t dispute that it plays a role. However I would argue that the mental state of the shooter has far more relevance. After all, if the teenagers who angered Dunn had been white, how sure can we be that he would have acted differently?

The effects of firearm possession on our behavior and judgment will always be the subject of debate; certainly this blog has expressed the view that the deleterious effects far outweigh any benefits.

Concealed carry laws are a bad idea because they allow a particularly fearful segment of the population to take their arsenals into public places and jeopardize the safety of the rest of us. Thus armed with their gun and the faux courage it provides, many are willing to suspend common sense and sound judgment by initiating unnecessary confrontations which end with them shooting someone. Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman are prime examples of the breed.

And stand-your-ground laws such as the one in Florida now furnish gun carriers with the legal means to escape or at least minimize punishment for their actions. America is a much less safe place as a result.

Amanda Knox must never again see the inside of an Italian prison.

Amanda Knox must never again see the inside of an Italian prison.

If the Italian Court of Cassation (i.e. Supreme Court) upholds the latest conviction of Amanda Knox for the 2007 murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, Italy must decide whether to request her extradition. If the request is made, it should be rejected by the United States.

The botched investigation of the case resulted in a questionable conviction of both Knox and her then Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. No DNA or other physical evidence was found at the bloody murder scene to link either Knox or her boyfriend to the murder. Putative bloody footprints attributed to both Knox and Sollecito turn out not to be bloody at all. The prosecution claimed that Kercher’s DNA was on a kitchen knife found at Sollecito’s place but court appointed independent forensics experts challenged this evidence as being unreliable, as was the finding that Sollecito’s DNA was on a rusted bra clasp of Kercher’s discovered by police six weeks after the murder.

Other elements of the case are more troubling. The pair’s protestations of innocence were not buttressed, for example, by what many might consider inappropriate behavior in the immediate aftermath of the murder, such as public smooching and Knox performing cartwheels at the police station. More damning were the various accounts they provided police of their whereabouts during the crucial hours when Kercher was murdered, their recollections likely clouded by being in a pot-induced fog at the time and by a long and relentless police interrogation.

The fact remains that the evidence of the involvement of Knox and Sollecito in Kercher’s murder is thin, to say the least, whilst that for a small-time drug dealer from the Ivory Coast, Rudy Guede, is overwhelming. His DNA, for example, was found all over the crime scene including on the victim. Guede has been convicted for his role but prosecutors continue to insist that their original suspects, Knox and Sollecito, were Gudde’s accomplices. The original motive was said to have been a putative sex orgy. When that theory was widely ridiculed, prosecutors suggested an argument over a dirty toilet may have been the trigger. Really, a dirty toilet? And prosecutors have not been shy about suggesting yet other motives.

It’s understandable that the police initially set their sights on Knox and Sollecito in light of the pair’s struggles with their alibis and Knox’s perplexingly insouciant behavior at the police station. What is much harder to understand once Guede’s strong connection to the murder was discovered, is the obsession on the part of police and prosecutors to continue to link Knox and Sollecito to it, lack of evidence notwithstanding.

And this reluctance on the part of police and prosecutors to admit error in their initial theory of the crime and focus on a particular suspect even after new evidence reveals a more plausible suspect and motive, is not peculiar to Italy, unfortunately, as anyone who happened to catch the January 31 edition of Dateline NBC can attest.

It recounted the story of David Camm, a former Indiana state trooper, accused of the 2000 shooting murder of his wife and two young children, whose bodies he found in the garage of his home after he had returned from a basketball game. His wife was on the floor of the garage, while his children were in a nearby SUV.

For reasons I won’t go into, Camm himself quickly became the prime suspect, despite a stunning lack of evidence and the fact that he had an alibi (playing in a basketball game with some friends). Only the tireless efforts of his uncle and a smart team of lawyers eventually resulted in his exoneration, after three trials and thirteen years of hell.

What struck me, however, was the similarity to the Knox case in the single-minded, boneheaded and stubbornly incompetent pursuit of Camm as the perpetrator by the police and three successive prosecutors in Indiana against all logic and, more importantly, the evidence.

The Amanda Knox case may not be quite as much of a slam-dunk as Camm’s disgraceful persecution, but it is difficult for me to believe that anyone other than Guede was involved in Kercher’s brutal murder. The fact is that the physical evidence links him to the murder scene and the motive, that he tried to rape her, is logical and straightforward.

Guede’s original 30-year sentence was reduced on appeal to 16 years. Knox faces a term of imprisonment of 28 years for a conviction that seems to have more to do with the fragile egos and prejudices of the police and prosecutors in Italy than with the evidence. It would be a travesty of justice to allow such an outcome.

If the Italian Supreme Court upholds Knox and Sollecito’s most recent convictions, I hope the Italians have the sense not to press for her extradition. But if they do the US should refuse to extradite her, treaty be damned.

The presence of a gun in confrontations too often leads to the exercise of poor judgment – with deadly consequences.

The presence of a gun in confrontations too often leads to the exercise of poor judgment – with deadly consequences.

Curtis Reeves was the quintessential law abiding gun owner; a 71-year old retired Tampa police captain with numerous commendations and a record of leading other agencies in gun safety training. He was a poster child, in other words, for the NRA’s narrative that gun restrictions only impede the likes of Curtis Reeves and not criminals. That is until Reeves shot dead Chad Oulson, a married father of a little girl, in a movie theatre altercation triggered by the victim texting during the previews. Reeves is claiming self-defense after the argument escalated when Oulson allegedly threw a bag of popcorn at Reeves, receiving a fatal gunshot in return.

In early November, Renisha McBride a young (and, reportedly, inebriated) black woman was killed by a shotgun blast to the face in the early morning hours on the porch of a house in a Detroit suburb where she had evidently sought help after crashing her car. The white homeowner is claiming self-defense but has been charged with second degree murder.

Later the same month in Chickamauga, Georgia, Ronald Westbrook, a 72-year old man suffering from Alzheimer’s was shot and killed in similar circumstances to McBride when, disoriented and confused in the middle of the night, he knocked at the door of a house and was taken for an intruder by the fiancé of the homeowner. Again self-defense was claimed. No charges are likely.

Finally, we have the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida at the hands of a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who was charged with second-degree murder but exonerated by a jury that accepted his assertion of self-defense.

In the daily grind of gun violence in America these cases are not exceptional other than as clear illustrations of the folly in believing that an armed citizenry makes our society safer. After all, the shooters here were not criminals or gang-bangers, they were not manifestly mentally ill, nor had they snapped as a result of some traumatic event such as a painful divorce or losing a job.

Yet they each shot and killed another law abiding citizen who was, incidentally, unarmed. The cases highlight the way in which the presence of a firearm changes the dynamic of a situation, and the behavior of the one who is armed.

Renisha McBride and Ronald Westbrook, for example, had the misfortune to encounter individuals so scared of the world outside their front door that when faced with an imaginary threat from someone knocking on it in the middle of the night, they opened fire. Unfortunately, fear seems to be especially prevalent among gun owners, which may explain why they arm themselves in the first place.

Chad Oulson on the other hand was the victim of an angry man who also happened to be armed. Anger is another driver of gun violence even, as in this case, when the offense caused is over something as petty as texting.

George Zimmerman is an example of yet another sort of “law abiding gun owner”; the sort who derive false courage from possessing a gun. Does anyone believe, for example, that Zimmerman would have risked a confrontation with the six-foot Martin by leaving his vehicle to follow him had he not been armed? And when Martin confronted his armed stalker he ended up dead.

The common thread in each case was that the presence of a firearm drove the judgment and behavior of the shooter, thereby changing the outcome from what it would otherwise have been had there been no gun.

In the absence of a firearm, common sense would have prevailed, the police called and both Westbrook and McBride would have been returned safely home. An unarmed George Zimmerman would have followed the advice of the police dispatcher and stayed in his vehicle while the police checked out Martin. Who knows what Curtis Reeves would have done but without a gun nobody would have got seriously hurt in that movie theatre.

The Oulson case is particularly disturbing, however, because it explodes the myth that we have nothing to fear from the law abiding gun owner and concealed carry permit holder toting his arsenal around with him in public. After all, if we can’t rely on a Curtis Reeves to behave with restraint, how can we ever trust that we won’t end up like Chad Oulson the next time we piss off someone for whatever reason in a bar, or a shopping mall or a movie theatre and they happen to be armed?

What’s the Bombing Syria Debate really all about?

What’s the Bombing Syria Debate really all about?

Tom Tomorrow pretty much nailed it in this week’s edition of This Modern World.

TMW War air quotes frames 4-5

Click on the comic to read all six frames.

And Jon Stewart got it right in this segment from the September 3rd show.

“Oh right, we have to bomb Syria because we are in seventh grade.”

And about that red line Obama drew about a year ago: “The red line that they crossed is actually a dick-measuring ribbon.”

Yes, we are upset that Assad is an asshole dictator who uses heinous methods to kill his political opponents and any women and children that happen to be nearby. We wish he would stop, but does the United States have to bomb Syria and kill even more people to make him stop? I don’t think so.

This week there was a an opening for a diplomatic solution to the global-attention-getting, chemical-weapons problem proposed by Secrtary of State John Kerry.

Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over. All of it, without delay. And allow the full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it.

Turns out maybe he is about to do it. We’ll have to wait and see, but let’s hope he does.

Tyranny of the Gun Toting 34%

Tyranny of the Gun Toting 34%

In the wake of the mass shooting of primary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, we were told that legislative reforms of our gun laws would be hard given the 47% of households with firearms.

It turns out that this number was inaccurate and that the correct figure is 34%. Interestingly the percentage has declined from 50% in the 1970s and has been particularly marked in southern and western states where the gun culture is strongest.

This means that 66% of households in America don’t have a gun of any sort, yet their voice in the gun-control debate is all too often drowned out by the screams, squawks and histrionics of the gun zealots.

Now it’s true that not all of the 34% are as unreasonable as the NRA leadership and the more fanatical elements of the gun lobby, and are open to some new restrictions. Similarly, there are undoubtedly some among the 66% who do not own firearms who nonetheless oppose government regulation.

Nonetheless, we hear way too much about the rights of the 34% and too little about the effect of lax regulation of firearms on the lives of the 66%. The Second Amendment is not an absolute right, and the gun lobby will be sorely disappointed if they believe even this conservative Supreme Court will set aside laws aimed at curbing the firepower of deranged gunmen or criminals and making it more difficult for them to arm in the first place.

We should applaud the political courage of legislators in New York who passed tough new common-sense restrictions, and the continuing efforts of legislators, in Connecticut, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State. We should also salute the ongoing efforts in the United States Senate. In all cases, it is Democrats who are striving to bring at least some sanity to this issue and Republicans providing the head wind as lapdogs of the NRA gun-zealots.

But when the next mass-shooting massacre happens as it surely will, which side will be able to look in the mirror and honestly say they did their best to prevent it?

NRA wants to make America the stupid country

NRA wants to make America the stupid country

Listening to the leaders of the NRA and their congressional lapdogs spouting nonsense in their opposition to changing the legislative status quo regarding curbs on guns in America is a truly surreal experience.

Here we are living in a country awash in guns and with the highest murder rate in the industrialized world; where Americans are twenty times more likely to be shot to death than their contemporaries in other advanced countries; where mass shootings are a common occurrence and where you can’t turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without learning of a new tragedy involving firearms: a child abducted from a school bus after a deranged gunman shoots the bus driver; a teen in New Mexico shoots his parents and two sisters to death for who knows what reason; another teen who marched in a band at President Obama’s inauguration gunned down as she’s standing under a shelter in Chicago. And of course just a short time ago, we had the massacre of twenty Kindergarten and 1st grade children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.

And yet the country’s legislators listen with respectful solemnity to the insane ravings of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre as if he actually has something serious to say on the subject of gun violence in America; a man who would be the subject of ridicule and derision if he tried to peddle his drivel anywhere else but Somalia.

The gun lobby’s position can be boiled down to this: gun laws already on the books don’t work or are not enforced and, anyway, only inconvenience law-abiding citizens and are useless against criminals. It’s an incredibly weak argument for inaction that flies in the face of the experience of other countries, as any international comparison of murder rates and gun violence shows conclusively.

Yet unbelievably the prospect of a meaningful strengthening of national gun control laws grows dimmer by the day. Republicans embrace the power of the gun lobby while Democrats continue to fear it.

Thanks to a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that have made a mockery of the Constitution by making it perform pirouettes, hand stands, triple axels and all manner of gymnastic contortions to make it fit their ideological predilections, we have a deeply misguided 5-4 ruling that upholds the right to private ownership of firearms. One day perhaps they’ll explain how the right of the Newtown killer’s mother to amass an arsenal of weapons relates to the need for a well-regulated militia but I won’t hold my breath.

The gun fanatics and their GOP allies have tried to deflect attention from guns by focusing on violent video games and people with mental health issues, as though America has a monopoly on either (which is not to say we shouldn’t work hard to improve services to the mentally ill). The sole factor that sets America apart from all other industrialized nations in explaining our elevated levels of serious violence and murder, however, is our obsession with firearms and anyone who argues to the contrary is either ignorant or delusional.

Guns and people are like the parts of a binary weapon system. It is only when they combine that they have the capacity to become quickly lethal to multiple targets and with little or no risk to the shooter. That is what sets the gunman apart from, for example, the knife wielder.

With its ties to gun manufacturers, the fanatics who lead the NRA have a valuable stake in making America the stupid country. In the wake of the tragedy at Newtown and as witnesses to the ongoing gun violence that afflicts our country daily, it’s up to us to make sure they don’t succeed.

Rushing to the sound of gunfire

Rushing to the sound of gunfire

Whenever I think of the events of 9/11, the image that always comes to mind, in addition to the horrific crash of the planes into the twin towers, is that of New York’s first responders stoically filing into the burning and doomed buildings from which most would never emerge. For me, their singular devotion to duty at enormous personal risk is the light in what was otherwise a dark moment in our history.

And so it is that when thoughts turn to the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting on  December 14th and the horror that occurred that day, I will always remember the unbelievable heroism of the principal, teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary as they sought to save their children from the evil of a deranged gunman.

Of how when the shots first rang out the teachers and staff protected the children by hiding them as best they could from the gunman or leading them to relative safety. Of the staff member who used the intercom to sound the alarm and the janitor who ran down corridors shouting a warning. These acts and many more displayed a courage that placed the lives of the students before any instinct to flee for safety. Uncommon valor was, indeed, a common virtue and if those words were coined in a different place and time*, they are no less appropriate to the actions of the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary on that terror-filled morning. After all, while we ask much of our children’s teachers, courage in the face of gunfire has never been part of the job description.

Those who made the ultimate sacrifice included 27-year-old Victoria Soto who hid as many of the children in her class as she could and then lied to the gunman telling him they were in the gym. She was shot standing between him and her children. Special education teacher’s aide Anne-Marie Murphy’s body was found covering those of a group of her students. And Principal Dawn Hochsprung who, along with school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, rushed to confront the gunman and, reportedly, lunging for him before being gunned down.

Some have lamented the fact that none of the staff were armed but this is insane and merely serves to trivialize the magnitude of their courage.

It seems unimaginable that any light can come from so much darkness. Yet even as the world saw us at our depressing worst with yet another unbalanced individual with access to an arsenal of lethal firepower murdering innocents, the actions of the principal and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary also showed us our best – the very best, in fact, we have to offer. And that at least is surely some comfort to a community and nation in grief.

And we as a nation, as a society can and must ensure that something worthwhile comes from this unspeakable tragedy that honors the memory of those who died at Newtown and ensures it will not be in vain. We, the sane majority, must take on the mindless fanatics who lead the NRA and their political enablers in congress, and steel the spines of our politicians to force through meaningful legislation that will ban the weapon that killed the children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary and all weapons like it, ban high capacity ammunition clips and strengthen background checks on all who want to purchase firearms, particularly semi-automatic ones. To fail in this will be to dishonor the dead of Newtown as well as the daily victims of gun violence in America, most of whom do not make the headlines, but above all, ourselves.

It won’t be easy and the NRA will rely on time and a fading memory of the horrific events of December 14th to blunt the intensity of the call for action on guns and weaken the resolve of our politicians, as they have so many times before. But if the courage of our legislators begins to falter, and they place their political future ahead of the welfare of the nation, then they should be reminded what bravery really looks like: of Victoria Soto, shielding her 1st grade students with her body, of Anne-Marie Murphy, giving comfort to her special education kids in their last moments on earth, and of Dawn Hochsprung rushing to save the children of her school and towards the sound of gunfire.

The roll call of Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School:

  1. Charlotte Bacon, 6
  2. Rachel D’avino, 29
  3. Daniel Barden, 7
  4. Dawn Hochsprung, 47
  5. Olivia Engel, 6
  6. Anne Marie Murphy, 52
  7. Josephine Gay, 7
  8. Lauren Rousseau, 30
  9. Ana-Marquez-Greene, 6
  10. Mary Sherlach, 56
  11. Madeline Hsu, 6
  12. Victoria Soto, 27
  13. Dylan Hockley, 6
  14. Catherine Hubbard, 6
  15. Chase Kowalski, 7
  16. Jesse Lewis, 6
  17. James Mattioli, 6
  18. Grace McDonnell, 7
  19. Emile Parker, 6
  20. Jack Pinto, 6
  21. Noah Pozner, 6
  22. Caroline Previdi, 6
  23. Jessica Rekos, 6
  24. Avielle Richman, 6
  25. Benjamin Wheeler, 6
  26. Allison Wyatt, 6

*By Admiral Chester B Nimitz in characterizing the sailors and marines who fought on Iwo Jima, 1944, in World War II.