A Letter From Parkland …

Today, February 14th 2019, marks one year since 17 people were killed, 14 of them students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  I would like to share with you a letter written by Jaclyn Corin, a senior at the school and the founder of March For Our Lives.  The letter was published yesterday in the New York Times.

Corin.jpgWhen I arrived at school on Feb. 14, 2018, like any junior, I was mostly caught up in Valentine’s Day chatter and events. But that all changed in the space of a few minutes that afternoon when a gunman opened fire on my classmates and my teachers, killing 17 of them and injuring just as many.

Despite the countless tragedies you see on TV, nothing prepares you for the day it happens to your community.

The familiar images of students fleeing their school as SWAT teams entered, of parents waiting by the perimeter desperately praying to get their kids back, were now my reality. They were my classmates and friends, too many of whom never came home.

After the shooting, my friends at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and I decided we couldn’t sit by as school shootings and gun violence became a normal part of life in America. We were determined to turn an act of violence into a movement, to do everything we could to send a powerful message to the country and to Washington.Parkland-2.jpg

There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of the shooting. When I hear the sound of sirens or fireworks, I’m taken back to that horrific afternoon. For me, Valentine’s Day will now forever be a reminder of loss.

Yet our community isn’t alone in its tragedy. In 2017, nearly 40,000 Americans died as a result of guns, an average of 109 people a day. And according to a tally from Education Week, there were 24 school shootings that resulted in gun-related deaths or injuries in 2018 alone.

While several states have taken positive legislative measures in response, there have been zero bipartisan investigations or new laws from Congress.

Not a single federal law has been passed since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 to address the crisis of school shootings. This year could be different — but only if we organize and insist on it.

Last week, Congress held its first hearing on gun violence prevention since 2011. This week, the House Judiciary Committee is poised to approve a bipartisan bill to requiring background checks for all gun purchases, a proposal that represents one important step toward keeping deadly firearms out of the wrong hands. However, it’s also likely this bill won’t get a hearing, let alone a vote, in the Senate.

That chamber’s majority leader, Mitch McConnell, needs to explain to all of us who have survived a shooting or lost someone to gun violence why the Senate won’t even vote on such a bill even though there’s been over half a million gun deaths since 2000, the year I was born.

And Americans should truly reckon with why this epidemic of gun deaths is treated so differently from any other health crisis in our country.

Imagine for a moment that all these gun deaths were caused by something else widely feared: airplane crashes. There’s no universe in which we wouldn’t see it as a national emergency worthy of our undivided attention.

In fact, 2017 was a remarkable year in aviation. No one died in a commercial airplane crash, meaning it was safer for me to fly than it was for me to go to high school. It would take hundreds of completely full Boeing 737 flights crashing without survivors to total the number of people who died by guns in America in just 2017.

If even a handful of such crashes occurred, the government would declare a national emergency. All 737s would be grounded, there would be an independent commission created to investigate the crisis, and Boeing would be called before Congress to answer for its failures.

So why then don’t more than 30,000 gun deaths in a year rise to the level of a national crisis for America’s conservative leaders?

The past year has been one with the deepest of lows and, at times, the highest of highs — moments when the hope that springs from fighting for a better world makes anything feel possible. On Thursday, the anniversary of the shooting, I will be in the only place that matters, nestled in my community and with my family.

And for the next four days, the organization I helped found, March For Our Lives, will go dark to honor those we lost and their memory.

I am deeply proud of all that my friends and I have accomplished in the last year. Still, I can’t help but wonder why so many lawmakers are ignoring — and, at their worst, enabling — the horrific gun deaths that occur in our country each day.

Parkland-1.jpgIn the year since the Parkland tragedy, nearly 1,200 more children have lost their lives to guns in this country.   When do we say, “Enough!!!”?  When do we put the lives of our children ahead of politics and corporate greed?  The sign above says it all … “Choose Me, Not Guns”.

Your Tax Dollars To Buy Guns …

I think that most of us with reasonably sound minds agreed some time ago that arming teachers, having guns in schools, was just a bad … really bad … idea. Those of us, that is, who believe the purpose of schools is to educate.  Those of us who do not believe the NRA mantra that “a good guy with a gun …”. Those of us who have not fallen prey to the horseshit that has been spewed by the NRA that more guns make for a safer society.

We The People also realize that our current education system is falling into disrepair, that not enough money is allocated to do the job our schools need to do, and since Betsy DeVos became Secretary of Education, money has been diverted away from public schools and into her own pet projects, mainly charter schools that serve very few.

gun-pointingSo, what next, you may ask?  Ms. DeVos is proposing to take more money away from schools and use it to buy guns to arm teachers and staff in schools.  After the Parkland school shooting, students and activists urged the government to implement gun regulations, to make guns harder to get, but instead, Donald Trump who is a boot-licker to the NRA, called for more guns in schools!  A child could tell you this makes no sense.

“I want a hardened school. I would like to see true people with great talent at guns, being adept at guns, of which there is only a percentage of people. You can’t hire enough security guards.”

Oh for Pete’s Sake …

Research has shown that arming teachers or increasing the number of armed guards in schools will not keep students safer and may actually lead to more shooting deaths.

  • Armed personnel would have little chance of stopping a shooter
  • The more guns in schools, the higher the chances of deadly accidents or unintended casualties

In March, a month after the Parkland shooting, the House of Representatives passed the “Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018” that would have authorized grants to train students, law enforcement and teachers to identify the signs of school violence before it occurs.  Sensible legislation, especially given that in the case of the Parkland shooting, there were warning signs that were overlooked or misunderstood.  Such training might have saved the lives of those 17 students and teachers who died that day.  But the bill died in the Senate.

The Department of Education currently controls $1 billion that is set aside for Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants.  The grants are intended for academic and enrichment opportunities in the country’s poorest schools, and can be used for three specific purposes:

  • Promoting a well-rounded education
  • Improving school conditions
  • Ensuring the effective use of technology

None of these would cover the purchase of guns in my book, but in the mind of Ms. DeVos and her fellow fools, they believe that it would be classified as ‘improving school conditions’.  Oh yes, by all means, more guns floating around in lockers, teachers’ desks, and untrained hands will almost certainly lead to improved school conditions.

I no longer have children in school, but as a taxpayer, parent and a grandparent, I have knowledge and am entitled to my opinion.  Frankly, if I did have a child in a public school that was either arming teachers or hiring armed guards, I would remove my child from that school immediately.

The purpose of schools is to provide education, not to become a firing range.  Money allocated to schools should be spent wisely on hiring excellent teachers, purchasing textbooks, renewing and upgrading equipment, providing materials so that teachers do not have to spend their own money to do so.

For once, Congress was spurred to action and yesterday morning (Thursday), Senator Chris Murphy introduced an amendment to a massive funding bill up for a final vote as soon as Thursday afternoon that would block the Department of Education from allowing school districts using federal funds to purchase firearms.

“I’m introducing legislation today to block the arming of teachers, and I do so knowing that earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together to pass a bill that expressly opposed putting guns in the hands of teachers. Congress doesn’t think this is a good idea. Parents don’t think this is a good idea. Teachers don’t think this is a good idea.”

A voice with some common sense, but Senator Murphy is a democrat.  Will this proposal fly with the republicans in Congress?  I suppose it depends on how strong the link between them and the NRA still is.  The ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, said granting state requests to use federal funds for firearms would be “openly violating the spirit of the law as well as common sense about gun safety.”

“Redirecting that money to arm teachers and school staff will recklessly endanger the safety of both students and educators, while robbing underserved students of the support and opportunity they deserve.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said …

“We knew Betsy DeVos would try to do the bidding of the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers, but to even consider diverting resources used to support poor kids to flood schools with more guns is beyond the recklessness we believed she was willing to pursue.”

There was a time that this notion would have been laughed off the table and DeVos would have been quickly replaced for even suggesting such a thing.  But then, that was a time when DeVos would never have been given the position she is in.  That was a time when we had a legitimate government that remembered to whom they answered.

NRA Decides Constitutionality???

In the annals of lawsuits, this one has to rank right up there with the old woman who sued McDonalds (and won) for making the coffee too hot and she was burned when she foolishly spilled it between her legs.  Who’s suing who, you ask?  The plaintiff in the case, the sue-er, is none other than the infamous National Rifle Association, the NRA.  The defendant, the sue-ee, is the State of Florida.  And why, you ask, is the NRA suing Florida?  Because the State of Florida had the cojones to stand up and do something about the foolish free-for-all with guns that led to the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, on February 14th.  The State of Florida took the bull by the horns, listened to the grief stricken voices of the Parkland survivors last month, and said, “ENOUGH!!!!!”  My hat is off, and my thumbs are up to the Florida State Legislature and Governor Rick Scott.

First, let us look at the bill that was passed by the Florida State legislature, and then signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott on Friday.  The new law raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 and extends the waiting period to three days for the purchase of all firearms. It also gives law enforcement more power to seize weapons, prohibits the sale of “bump stocks” — devices that can be put on semi-automatic weapons to increase their rate of fire. The measure also allows some school personnel to be armed.  The bill is too little; it is, perhaps, merely an effort to pay lip service to the young people who have made a valiant and determined effort to stop the madness, but still, it is a start. A small step.  Small steps are better than no steps.  A journey of a thousand miles, as the saying goes, begins with a single step.

The NRA had been on a long leash, obviously, waiting and knowing the moment was coming, for they filed their suit only one hour after Governor Scott signed the bill into law.  Since when does a lobbyist group have the right to write the laws in this nation?  Since when does the NRA decide constitutionality???  Since when is the NRA the Supreme Law of the Land?

The NRA claims “We filed a lawsuit against the state for violating the constitutional rights of 18- to 21-year-olds.”  Seriously???  18-21-year-olds have a constitutional right to murder?  To buy and carry, concealed, a weapon that can cause mass destruction and take as many as 400 lives in a single 60-second minute?  That’s right, people … the gun the shooter in Parkland, Florida, used on 14 February was an AR-15, which can fire up to 400 rounds per minute.  And we believe that the founding fathers intended children age 18 to be in control of one of these weapons???

No, the NRA filed that suit because they were told by the people controlling their purse-strings to get rid of that law at all costs, for it might cost a few thousand sales to the gun industry.  Might also save a few thousand lives, but hey … no big deal, right?

Personally, I would have liked to see the law go even further, to include universal background checks and a ban on assault rifles.  And I would, again, have preferred not to call for armed personnel within the school.  However, I still must applaud especially Governor Scott, for it took courage for him to stand against the NRA.  Scott has previously had an A+ rating with the NRA, yet he ignored their threats and signed the bill.  For once, perhaps, he put the safety and the wishes of his constituency above the corrupt gun lobby.  And I also applaud the Florida Legislature, where 67 republicans with A ratings from the NRA also voted for the bill.

If Florida could do it, so can the rest of the states.  Come on Texas, South Carolina, Utah, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota … get off your collective patooties, grow some cojones, and follow suit.  Don’t let the NRA lawsuit worry you.  The public, the citizens, the voters stand behind stricter gun laws, and the lawmakers damn well better put a higher value on We The People than they do the NRA.  Most gun owners do not belong to the NRA.  The NRA actually represents a very small group of ordinary people.  Their bigger concern is the manufacturers and sellers of guns.  Just think, if every state in the nation passed even the watered-down law that Florida passed, the NRA would bankrupt itself filing lawsuits against every single state!

I wonder if I can file a lawsuit against the NRA, for here I sit at 5:00 a.m., seething as I write this story, drinking my umpteenth cup of coffee and eating pretzels with peanut-butter, as my fingers literally beat the printed letters off my laptop keyboard.  A rather unhealthy lifestyle caused by the angst of reading of the hypocrisy of the NRA.  I should think that at the very least I could sue for a new laptop, as I no longer have an “N” printed on the key between ‘B’ and ‘M’.

This nation has lost its way if we place more value on giving guns to 18-year-olds than we place on human life.  We have lost our way when lawmakers are actually unwilling to do their job for fear of reprisals from an unsavory organization like the NRA.  Wayne LaPierre is not one of our lawmakers.   We The People did not vote him into office, nor has he been, to the best of my knowledge, appointed to a judicial position.  There was a time I would have predicted that the suit by the NRA would have no teeth, no chance of winning.  Today, I am less sure.  I think the answer is for every state to pass similar, or even tougher gun laws.  Make the NRA spread themselves thin trying to keep up with all their lawsuits.  I know of no other answer, for the members of Congress have already shown us that our wishes, our very lives, have less value to them than their NRA funding.  This nation needs to stand up to the bullies in the gun industry … NOW!

The NRA’s Path To Power

It’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue, at the center of most discussions, in the headlines of every news outlet:  The National Rifle Association, aka NRA.  The debate about gun regulations is raging, much the same as it always does after a mass shooting, particularly one involving children, but this one may be different, for those children were on the cusp of adulthood, and their friends, those who survived the shooting in Parkland, Florida almost two weeks ago, are old enough to be outraged that a young man, one of their former classmates, was able to buy a military-grade assault weapon, ammunition, and mow down their friends without a thought.  They are outraged to hear politicians skirting around the issue of gun regulation, rather than answering their tough questions.  They are old enough to become activists, and they have a vested interest in doing so.

At a Town Hall just days after the shooting, 17-year-old Cameron Kasky asked Senator  Marco Rubio this question:

“Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?”

And Rubio’s response?

“I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda.”

Yes, the NRA is a powerful lobby, with many of our elected representatives firmly in their pockets.  Rubio’s agenda?  It’s whatever the NRA tells him it is, if he wishes to maintain his A- rating with the NRA and keep the campaign donations and other perks rolling in.  But it wasn’t always this way.  The NRA did not start out to rule the nation from behind the scenes, but rather began with the goal of teaching rifle competency and safety.  It wasn’t until 1934 that the NRA created its Legislative Affairs Division, prompted by what they saw as attacks on 2nd Amendment ‘rights’.  Until 1975, the group contented itself with merely informing its members of pending gun legislation.

hands-tiedIn 1975, however, the group created its Institute for Legislative Action, in response it says, to “the critical need for political defense of the 2nd Amendment”.  Then in 1990, they created the NRA Foundation, a tax-exempt organization that allows the NRA “to raise millions of dollars to fund gun safety and educational projects of benefit to the general public.”

The reality, however, is that the NRA actively supports, both through direct campaign contributions and through advertising, those political candidates who vote against any and all gun regulation.  And they advertise against those candidates who support such things as a ban on assault weapons, enhanced background checks, waiting periods or any other restrictions on gun ownership.  They also provide legal services to those convicted in gun-related cases.  If you shoot me and I sue you, the NRA would likely pay your legal fees. (Don’t get any ideas, okay?)

The NRA’s power once again increased in 1994, after President Clinton signed the ban on assault weapons, as well as the Brady Bill, which called for background checks and a waiting period for purchasing a gun.  The NRA went into overdrive, and since it was a mid-term election year, were quite successful in helping candidates opposed to those two measures get elected.

On April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado, two Columbine High School students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, armed with four guns killed 12 classmates, a teacher, and themselves.  Less than two weeks later, the NRA held its annual meeting in Denver, just 34 miles from Littleton, where Planet of the Apes actor Charlton Heston gave a speech, saying that the NRA is often “cast as the villain,” but that they “must not let tragedy lay waste to the most rare, hard-won right in history.”

And then came December 14, 2012, and the tragedy that lives on in our memories, the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.  Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 young children and six adults.  The following month, President Obama unveiled proposed legislation aimed at reducing gun violence.  The NRA response?  An ad, attacking not only Obama, but also involving his children:

“Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”

And now, here we are today, on the heels of yet another tragic and preventable school shooting, and the NRA is up in arms once again.  But this time feels different.  This time, the victims weren’t little kids, and this time we are all sick and tired of seeing our children die senseless deaths.  This time, the NRA is the one ‘under the gun’.  Last week, ThinkProgress identified some of the companies who partner with the NRA, providing service discounts to members – car rental companies, hotels, banks, airlines***.  In response to the public outcry, many of those companies, the notable exception being FedEx, have severed ties with the NRA.  FedEx has declined to sever ties with the NRA, saying it would be ‘discriminatory’.  Many shippers say they will switch their business to UPS, DHL, or the USPS.  I ship little, but will not use FedEx in the future.

Today, ThinkProgress published a list of all the banks who are financing the assault weapons industry.  The list contains some of the largest banks in the nation, including JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America.  The banks may not quite as easily sever their ties, but citizens with a conscience may well take their business elsewhere.  I was pleased to see that neither of my own banks was on the list. On a positive note, Bank of America issued the following statement:

“We are joining other companies in our industry to examine what we can do to help end the tragedy of mass shootings, and an immediate step we’re taking is to engage the limited number of clients we have that manufacture assault weapons for non-military use to understand what they can contribute to this shared responsibility.”

It’s a start, folks.  A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, yes?

Yes, the NRA is a powerful lobby, one that exists solely to help gun manufacturers, sporting goods companies, and others involved in the manufacture and sales of firearms and ammunition.  Make no mistake … the NRA is not about the safety of this nation and its people … it is all about money.  Two weeks ago, this nation suffered a massive tragedy, one that could have … would have … been avoided had it not been for the firearms industry and the NRA, and the elected officials who are in their pockets.  It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last.  But this time feels different.  This time, the young people are raising their voices and saying #NeverAgain.  And the NRA is feeling the heat, as evidenced by Wayne LaPierre’s off-the-wall speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which will be the topic of my next post.

*** Note:  Just as I scheduled this post last night, I saw the following headline:  

Georgia’s lieutenant governor says he will ‘kill’ Delta tax break unless airline reinstates relationship with NRA

“I will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with the NRA,” tweeted Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, referring to a bill that could save Delta taxes on jet fuel. “Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”

See what I mean, friends?  It is not about the safety or well-being of this nation.  It is about profits, plain and simple.