#666 – Dick Bernard: Newtown, to those who'd like to help change the conversation about Guns in America

If you’re interested in making a difference in this guns-in-America conversation, here are some thoughts:
Yes, it is Christmas time, and preparations take center stage such as each of us prepare for our own family rituals at this season.
Christmas is often a confusing time, desperately depressing for many, far too much ‘noise’ and competing priorities. We each have our own narrative. “Christmas shopping” is a major one.
Today and forward, the funerals continue in Newtown CT.
This morning some adult men were joking about going out to buy guns before they were made illegal; I had just read an excellent commentary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune from someone with Asperger’s Syndrome about sensitivity to those with such ailments. I wondered if the guns-trumping-everything bunch can see themselves as mentally ill….
As we continue to be overwhelmed by the horrific facts of Newtown, it is easy to become paralyzed into inaction, or, equally terrible, to rigidly refuse to consider other points of view. Neither mitigate towards change in the status quo that led to all of the hideous acts, Newtown only the most recent.
This is an opportunity for deep conversation and some change in course in our country, state and community in many areas: guns, mental health (including every single one of us), video games, sanctioned bullying demonstrated by adults in sundry ways… Even in my small corner of the communications universe, my first post on this topic last Saturday brought some comments (added at end of this post); and the same column used in the Woodbury (MN) Patch has ignited some continuing conversation [44 comments as of early Dec. 19].
Here are some other ‘threads’ not commonly seen to consider as this conversation hopefully continues.
1. The Status Quo is Very, Very Powerful
Newtown is not the first gun crisis we have experienced, and it won’t be the last. Those who do not want meaningful change know the simplest tactic is to simply wait out the initial turmoil – and life will go on, unchanged. Relevant, I think, is this handout from a workshop I attended perhaps 40 years ago which demonstrates the dynamics of response to a disaster. I prefer to leave it in its original form. It speaks for itself. This is a flow chart to spend some time contemplating, in my opinion.
(click to enlarge)

Worksheet from workshop circa 1972


We are the politics we like to criticize and judge, more so than the politicians. Change is possible, but takes lots of work, and persistence.
Ditto to the crisis sequence is the very real problem of instituting real and continued Change. Another old handout I have from the same time years ago showed what we all know is true: change is exceedingly difficult, even if one knows that beyond the resistance to change is a better something Change001. We embrace the status quo (think over-eating, etc) because it is very hard to change behaviors. The initial response to change is reduced efficiency (or pleasure, etc), which is why most of us do not actually change those behaviors we know that we should.
2. We will not Rid Our Nation of Guns. The best we can expect is a much healthier attitude towards them.
The guns the Connecticut Mom apparently kept to protect her from potential hostile others, ended up being the instrument of her own death, and of many others….
I have never owned a gun, and never will. I qualified as expert with the M-1 in the military (WWII vintage, something like a deer rifle with a small ammo clip).
A recurring image is at my 87-year old Uncle’s farm house this Fall. He showed me his guns. He had, if I recall correctly, six of them, including 30.06 and 12-gauge shotgun and some old-timers from his Grandpa’s day. My Uncle is no gun nut, and the guns were not for self-defense. He occasionally hunted for deer or for pheasants on his own property – that was it. He didn’t keep a stash of ammo. If he needed a box of shotgun shells, that’s what he bought – not cases.
He and I didn’t talk about the National Rifle Association (NRA), to which he belonged, off and on. It is pretty clear to me, though, that he has not much time for the present NRA.
3. The NRA and the Gun Industry Needs to be Called to Account.
This, too, will be hard. Our weapons industry provides lots of jobs. Think the problem of change.
The current version of the NRA is not all that old. When I first became teacher union staff in 1972, I can remember the first visits to our national headquarters in Washington DC. Across 16th Street, then, about a mile north of the White House, was an old standard issue office building housing the then-National Rifle Association. That NRA was a very different organization than todays version.
4. Is Change Possible? Yes. Is It Easy? No. Can it be Delegated to Someone Else? No way. It’s in each of our courts.
Some years ago I happened across a wonderful book, “Why We Can’t Wait”, written by Martin Luther King Jr in 1963-64 about 1963 in America. It remains in print and available. I highly recommend it.
MLK was then 34 years old. In his final chapter, “The Days to Come”, he talks a lot about political engagement and political leaders like Eisenhower, Kennedy and LBJ. At page 132-33, commenting on JFK’s assessment of the importance of Bull Connor to the Civil Rights successes, King says this: “It was the people who moved their leaders, not the leaders who moved the people.”
This is the powerful message to anyone who wants to impact change. It is the responsibility of each one of us to make our small bit of difference. It takes more than just signing a petition, or saying something else should do it. It is solely up to each and every one of us.
COMMENTS FROM THE PRECEDING POST ON THIS ISSUE:
From Mary Dec. 15
:
I attended a workshop yesterday by Noel Larson who is expert in treating people damaged enough to do these acts….and heard about Connecticut there in a large room filled with people dedicated to providing therapy to heal from abuse and perception of constant danger…ironic – if payment is available they have guarantee of work – very difficult work.
I am very sad.
From Jeff Dec 15: watched Congr. Carolyn McCarthy on MSNBC this morning. She is an RN, lost her husband and her son was terribly injured in a Long Island shooter incident in the early 90’s.
She should be watched, she is plain spoken and like most nurses, direct and doesn’t pull punches.
She and another panelist said we have to admit that gun owning is a right, the Supreme Court has determined that. We need to do something about automatic weapons, multiple bullet clips, closing the gun show loophole and strengthening background checks. Find common ground with responsible gun owners , sportsmen that can overturn the perversity of the extreme NRA views. (our political system is gerrymandered under our house districting system to allow the NRA to bully reps)
Michael Bloomberg is putting his money in the fight to find districts where tipping points can be influenced. That is a good thing.
The other thing Cong. McCarthy said is we need to emulate the campaigns against smoking, for seat belt use….long term changing of a culture and mindset by stigmatizing parts of the gun culture are necessary. So gun responsibility, gun safety should be the buzzwords… not gun control. (I note that both George Lakoff, and Nate Silver wrote about this terminology in the past few days).
Bob reminded me of his post from June 29, 2009, here.
From an elementary school teacher in MN: My principal was in the air force and today he talked about wanting to get a gun permit for conceal and carry in the school to protect everyone (which didn’t go over well at all given that everyone is so emotionally raw right now and does not want anything except stricter gun controls) Oh well……..he thinks he personally would save all of us and all 770 students. A little of his ego is involved here I think. Alot more discussion to follow.
From Carol Dec 15: “This morning, a madman attacked more than 20 children at an elementary school in China. As of this writing, there are no reported fatalities.
A few hours later, a madman attacked an elementary school in Connecticut. As of this writing, 20 of those kids are dead.
The difference? The weapon. The madman in China had a knife. The madman in Connecticut had three semi-automatic guns.”

Already you’re hearing the excuses: Timothy McVeigh didn’t need guns to kill all those people, the terrorists on 9-11 didn’t need guns to kill all those people, yadda yadda. As though a 20-yr-old living with his mother could have pulled off a massive truck bombing or flown planes into buildings. An unstable 20-yr-old needed guns.
I’m not going down the rabbit hole of Patch comments, etc. again. Nothing changes with these idiots. Somebody by now has probably claimed that if some kindergartener’s mom had only packed heat in their lunchbox, they’d all be safe.
From Barbara Dec. 15: I am totally freaked out about this. It must be because of the little kids. Little kids, for God’s sake. Evil, evil, evil.
I am on a massive personal inventory about my complicity via relative silence, and how to mitigate against that going forward.
For starters, Heather Martens and Protect Minnesota have infrastructure in place (and have had for years) about guns and violence. So in MN, there’s a foundation in place.
From Jeff Dec 15: This thing has made me numb… and I can still not comprehend it.
Something has to be done to question the ethic of violence in our society, from these types of murders, to video games, to movies to our own govts reliance on violence to pursue its foreign policy.
Merry Christmas.
From Will Dec 15: Dear Folks: I just finished writing the President most of you voted for plus my Congresspeople urging them to stand up to the NRA and immediately introduce much stricter controls on those types of weapons that are most frequently used in massacres such as at Newtown CT and the others.
My heart wasn’t in this next part but I suggested if they focus on assault weapons, maybe their constituent voters who murder only animals aka “hunters” will not be vindictive at election time. After all, some of these Congresspeople do some good work even though they’re Democrats and need to be dragged much farther to the left such as The Green Party or Workers International League/SocialistAppeal.org.
When I wrote Mr. Obama, I noticed his list of subjects, like my Sen. Amy Klobuchar (but unlike Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Betty McCollum) did not include guns nor gun control. So, flustered, I hit the Homeland Security button which promptly was refused and I tried a few others (Drone, Rice, Boehner, Bachmann) before finally managing to sneak under the wire with “other.”
From Greg Dec 15: Regarding a comment in the Gail Collins column that if more good people carried guns they could respond when a person starts killing. A number of years ago I read a story that I wish I had saved.
It occurred outside a county court house in a rural Texas county. A man accosted his ex-wife as she was about to enter the court house, I believe for a post divorce hearing.
The man started shooting at her. Nearby an uninvolved man saw what was happening. he drew his gun and began shooting at the first man who then began firing at this second man. Result: the second man, a good Samaritan, was shot and killed.
At Sandy Creek school and at the theater in Aurora the shooter was said to be clad in protective armor. Thus not only must a person be able to draw and fire at the attacker, but must connect with a head shot … virtually impossible in those circumstances.
The proposal for rifle storage and usage [Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun] tracks closely my experience in the 1970s while on U. S. military duty in then West Germany. Gun clubs existed in cities where people could store their weapons under lock and key and go to shoot at targets. Seems like a reasonable approach.
People who think they are protecting themselves by keeping a loaded gun in their homes may wish to reflect on the experience of the Rochester Minnesota minister who accidentally shot his grand daughter after mistaking her for an intruder.
From Jeff Dec 15: People who want to reform the gun madness have to start from the premise that gun owning is in the constitution and the Supreme court has recently upheld individual rights to own guns and been very hesitant to strike down certain limitations or restrictions.
aa) change minds with spending money on the same campaign that reduced smoking and diminished it to nearly pariah status… enlists teachers, doctors, police, military men , actors, hunters, religious, etc. to work on changing the gun culture, and part of that will have to be rewarding positive gun ownership
bb) work on closing the gun show loophole, work on passing the ban on automatic weapons, multiple ammo clips,
cc) strengthen and bring technology to bear on background checks
dd) allow pediatricians to ask parents if they are gun owners and how they store their guns
ee) increase funding for mental health, and remove the stigma attached to mental illness (remember Paul Wellstone)
Find common ground with gun owners and sportsmen…they are parents and grandparents too.
Jeff Dec 16: we need to ask ourselves what would our governments and our fellow citizens be doing now if the Newtown killer’s name was Abu Abdallah? I can only imagine the actions that would follow, the unmitigated demands for investigations , etc. Yet a madman takes his gun owning mothers automatic weapons and kills 28 people and we as a nation wonder what our elected reps might be able to do? The Patriot Act was forced down our throats as a result of 9/11, the HSA is one of the largest departments of the govt ,,,, yet it seems every week we endure shootings like this.
Paul Dec. 16: Here is another strong voice in support of the commitment of teachers to their students. The bravery of the Sandy Hook teachers in the face of an unimaginable nightmare is astounding.
From Judy Dec 16: This is wonderful.
From Flora Dec 17: My heart is heavy from the tragedy at the elementary school in Connecticut.
This Wednesday, Jefferson High School will show a film made by last year’s senior from Edina High School, called “Minnesota Nice”. It is the film on bullying, followed by homeroom discussion. I hope every effort matters in making the schools a better place for everybody.
Wishing for Peace everywhere,
From Norm: Excellent piece Dick.
I singled out the following ready to send around because where ‘serious’ can’t do the trick maybe a little
tongue-in-cheek will work:
A safe society is one where everyone packs heat all the time: wouldn’t it build character for citizens to learn their responsibility early on? There’s no problem finding a firearm for
small hands: if every one of them had had a piece in his desk, and opened up on Lanza from all directions right away, only a few more would be dead now, maybe even fewer, and the survivors would have learned about pride and self-sufficiency instead of fear and surrender. We have fire drills; don’t we care enough about our kids to give them rapid-fire drills? And come to think of it, kindergarten is not too young to learn freedom through armed revolt (see lesson one above): what more oppressive, authoritarian institution is there than a school to its students? K-12 students with suitable weapons could be learning to fight tyranny before the school crushes their spirit and turns them into slaves of big government.
From Greg Dec. 17, to his Church in Minneapolis: Many people are probably like me, we want to do something tangible for the dear people of Newtown Connecticut. I think it was upon the death of Princess Diana that a book of condolences was placed in the Minnesota Capitol rotunda. People were able to come and sign their names as a demonstration of their sorrow and desire to connect with the people of Great Britain. I did.
In the news coverage of events from Newtown I’ve seen a number of images from St Rose of Lima Church and its pastor.
Let’s place a book of condolences on a pedestal at the crossing next Sunday for people to sign. Priests can make an announcement this Sunday so people will be aware of this opportunity to connect with our sisters and brothers in Connecticut.
Thanks.
Greg

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