Tag Archives: danger

Gunning For Change: Gun Safety in America

Whatever one’s feelings about the 2nd amendment, individuals’ gun rights should not supersede the health and safety of the American people.

I was in middle school when the massacre at Columbine happened. Everyone was devastated and appalled – those kids were only a little bit older than we were! What if it had been us? Our school officials took that reaction to its next logical step and started preparing us for such an eventuality with “lockdown” drills. We turned off the lights, closed the shades, and hid – scrunching along the wall that bordered the classroom door to avoid scrutiny from the door’s window. We were told not to let anyone in, regardless of who they were or how much they begged and pleaded. Anybody could be a potential shooter or hostage. The exercise was equal parts terrifying and surreal.

That was 17 years ago and what scares me more than the possibility of my own demise is how commonplace such carnage has become in our country. The actions that shocked us in their gruesomeness have now become almost banal in their regularity. Reports on the number of mass shootings vary depending on sources’ definitions and available information, but tend to agree that that number has increased in recent years. The American Journal for Public Health (AJPH) published a report on the matter:

By most estimates, there were fewer than 200 mass shootings reported in the United States often defined as crimes in which four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events between 1982 and 2012. [27, 28] Recent reports suggest that 160 of these events occurred after the year 2000 [29] and that mass shootings rose particularly in 2013 and 2014. [28]

As frightening as such occurrences are, people killed in mass shootings make up less than half of 1 percent of the people shot to death in the United States. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year. According to Snopes, toddlers actually kill more people (accidentally) than potential or suspected Islamic terrorists within the US. And yet, the frenzy of fear surrounding the latter group has fueled infinitely more federal and state action.

Vivek Murthy, served as the 19th and 21st Surgeon General of the United States under President Obama and President Biden. was clear in his opinion that guns have become a public health issue. In fact, many cite the NRA’s lobbying efforts against him as the reason his nomination took over a year to receive approval. It makes sense, though, that he would be concerned about something that has such a profound effect on the safety of the American people.

“Guns are a consumer product. We’ve taken a public health approach to reducing product-related injury for every other product, from automobiles, to toys, to airplanes. Every product is regulated from a health and safety perspective with the goal of reducing accident and injury. The only exception is guns,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center.

 Comic relief: SNL’s take on the safety of consumer products.

 

Certain politicians enjoy passing this off as a mental health issue, reasoning that it’s not the guns, but the crazy people holding them that we have to control. It’s not actually that simple – most people who have mental illnesses pose no harm to themselves or others.

… surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum, [25] less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness. 26 (AJPH)

Believe it or not, you don’t actually have to be “crazy” to want to hurt someone (or act on that thought). Not only that, but the same politicians who use the mentally ill as scapegoats refuse to pass legislation that would actually benefit their wellbeing. Yes, we do need reform on how we treat people with mental illness, but that’s not the question at hand.

The real issue here is that we need to get serious about reforming our gun control laws. This isn’t even a radical idea – the vast majority of Americans agree that at the least, we need more background checks and enforcement of existing regulation.

Chris Rock has famously said that we would be better served regulating bullets (pricing them at $5,000 each) than guns. Maybe he’s right. In any case, we need to start looking into creative and common sense ways to fix this problem.

Truthiness: How Hard Can the Windbags Blow?

Truth, Fact, Interpretation, Misdirection – In An Age of Liars, We Need A Decoder Ring

Think about this: we know the difference between truth and lies. Presumably, we form our opinions from the information given to us. Certainly, this ought to be the case for things like policy decisions. Shouldn’t our elected officials be able to incorporate relevant facts and factors into their plans of what to do next? Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” is alarmingly relevant right now.

When I was in college, I took a tremendous class from well-known writer Francine Prose, called “Language, Literature, and Lies.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a great primer for my work in PR. One of the most lasting exercises was to read the same big news story in three major outlets (The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Guardian). We pored over the articles, picking out how the authors referred to their subjects (e.g. President Obama, Barack Obama, Obama, Mr. Obama, the president, etc.), which snippets of quotes they chose to cite, how they framed an issue, and who they gave the last word. Subtle choices conveyed biases. As humans, it is nearly impossible for us to describe happenings completely objectively – the nature of language is that it necessarily filters everything through our own lens; our own version of truth.

That said, while most media outlets use specific language to shape their version of events, they still stick to the same basic facts in news. That’s something we expect; why read or watch news if none of it is true? So it is jarring to note that when it comes to picking candidates for the presidency, many voters are keen to disregard flat out lies so long as they serve a particular agenda. The author of Wag the Dog recently wrote a biting op-ed about this in Al Jazeera, and multiple papers have referenced Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter” with regards to candidate claims (it ranges from true to pants on fire).

I’m a big proponent of free speech, but I do believe that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are, by nature, true. They are true whether you believe them or not. The converse is not the case. Unfortunately for some of us dreamers, simply believing something very fervently does not magically make it true. There is a danger to pandering to that falsehood. We can handle the truth, and we must if we expect to do anything helpful or relevant in life.

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness

Warning Signs: Inoculation Against Action

We all do it. Your mom tells you to clean your room, or take out the trash. You say, “Yeah, I’ll get to that,” then promptly forget to do so. She tells you again; you agree again. Eventually you stop actually listening to her. “Yeah, yeah, OK.” The problem is that we apply these same habits when it comes to bigger problems and the stakes are higher than a tongue lashing or grounding.

Climate change, police brutality, student debt, wealth distribution… these are all big issues that are confronting our world today, each of which has disastrous consequences for our present and future. How many times have you heard about them recently? How many articles, pictures and petitions have you seen go by on your Facebook feed? Now be honest: do you actually read or pay attention to each of these? When someone gives the rallying cry of “We are the 99%,” does it still bring your blood to a boil the same way that it did when you first heard that 1% of the world’s population owns almost half of its wealth? Or do you roll your eyes and say, “We already knew that”?

The media does the same thing. As a pr professional, I see it more keenly because I’m constantly trying to get outlets interested in certain stories. When you’re dealing with an ongoing issue – even when it’s important, affects a lot of people and has a heart-rending human element to it – after a while, the reporters get sick of covering it. They want to know what’s new. It’s called news, after all.

Pretty soon, the message that climate change is happening, the ice caps are melting and we need to take immediate action starts to sound an awful lot like the notices you get that your subscription to such and such service is expiring and you must “Act Now.” This is dangerous on a lot of levels. While it’s true that out of sight is out of mind, the converse seems to be the case as well; the over-coverage makes these issues nothing more than background noise. Of course we care, but much in the same way that we are more likely to donate money at the onset of a natural disaster than later on in the recovery process, our impetus to act fades away. And yet, in order to make an actual difference, we need to hold on to our outrage and remind ourselves that we need to do something about these issues and it has to be more than once.

Fear of Ebola or Fear of Telling the Truth?

The biggest word in the news right now is Ebola.  Of course, the right wing has taken despicable advantage of this epidemic to try to strike fear into the hearts of Americans by saying, over and over, that the US is in jeopardy.  However, as someone recently said on twitter, “More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola.”  While Ebola is a definite concern, since we should always be concerned when any other nation’s people suffer and the world’s health is in jeopardy, it’s clearly not an epidemic that will have an enormous impact here in the US.

Conservative forces have been successful, once again, in playing a game of three card monte with us; they are showing us the hand that isn’t doing the trick, distracting us from what’s really going on.  And, what’s really going on?  Aside from the obvious attempt to paint the current administration as incompetent and uncaring, they are masking their own major failure to protect our health; they have held up, for more than a year, the appointment of a Surgeon General. (And yes, the Surgeon General’s office does more than print those warnings on the side of cigarette packs.) There’s an acting Surgeon General who is not actually confirmed, so he has no power.

Oh, you say you didn’t know that?  You are not alone.  This fact has been well buried.  As reported in Politico, the nominee – Dr. Vivek Murthy – has had his confirmation held up by Republicans and conservative red-state Democrats because of his outspoken views on gun violence and public health.  It was apparently this tweet that sent right wing forces over the edge:

 

 

So it turns out that the real “fear” here is that the new US Surgeon General will openly make the case that rampant gun violence constitutes a major public health threat and that, in turn, will unleash the NRA’s public relations machine which, in turn, will try to defeat any Republican or Democrat who votes to approve Murthy’s nomination.

Unfortunately, fear does tend to work.  So, while spineless elected officials try to hold up the appointment of the Nation’s leading doctor for fear of not be re-elected, Americans are being told to fear a disease that is not killing them.

A confirmed Surgeon General would not only help focus American attention and resources on the real threats to American health – including gun violence – but would obviate the need for a so-called Ebola czar and create real US leadership on the issue.

Demand that Congress confirm Dr. Murthy now. NOW.  As a matter of fact, if you go here, you can sign a Credo petition that asks for the Senate to do just that.