How Has Racism Plagued The Obama Administration? Let Me Count The Ways:

I have conservative friends who deny that President Obama has been treated any differently than previous presidents. Setting aside the prolonged fishing expedition to find dirt on the Clintons and the natural reaction to a stolen election and the lies told by the Bush administration to justify its invasion of Iraq, (yes, I proudly wore an “Impeach Bush” button) let’s look at the conservative response to the nation’s first African-American president.

Even before he was nominated, Obama was beset by claims that he was not an American citizen. For the first time in US history, the political opposition demanded to see a presidential candidate’s birth certificate.

On the day of his inauguration, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, GOP leaders met to formulate a strategy to make him fail. At so-called Tea Party rallies, protestors carried racist images of Obama. They also showed up at presidential speeches armed with loaded guns and threatened to “exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.” At the same time, rednecks all over the South dug out their Confederate battle flags, planting them in their yards, on their houses and flying them in the back of their pickup trucks. Many covered their vehicles with stickers that read “NObama,” “One Big Ass Mistake America” and more blatantly racist slogans.

The Secret Service saw a dramatic increase in threats on the President’s life. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noted a dramatic rise in hate groups. At the same time, rightwing radio hosts and the NRA claimed that Obama was “coming for your guns,” which, in turn, dramatically increased gun sales.

When Obama prepared a video to encourage students to work hard and stay in school (something that other presidents have routinely done), conservatives howled, claiming that Obama was going to “indoctrinate” their children. They also ridiculed the First Lady for encouraging students to move for fitness and to make more nutritious choices for meals.

When Obama first addressed a joint session of Congress, a racist congressman openly shouted “You Lie.” In another joint session, conservative Supreme Court justices visibly shook their heads in disgust at the President’s justifiable criticism of the Citizens United ruling. (At least in my long lifetime, such displays of disrespect for the president have never previously occurred.)

In the Senate, the GOP blocked the President’s initiatives with a record number of threatened filibusters. Republicans also blocked a record number of administrative appointments and a record number of nominees for federal courts. And Obama’s most recent nominee to the Supreme Court has been waiting for a vote for a record length of time as a result of the GOP attitude that, with nearly a year left in office, Obama was to be considered a “lame duck.”

There have been a record number of conspiracy theories surrounding President Obama, including the lunacy surrounding the military exercise known as Jade Helm. There have been claims that he would declare martial law or, worse, declare Sharia law. Conservatives have claimed that he is a secret Muslim at the same time they have accused him of following a radical Christian pastor. They blamed him for the national debt, for shipping jobs overseas, for abandoning Iraq (even though our departure was negotiated by the Bush administration) and the creation of ISIS.

They accused him of coddling terrorists; of selling out Israel by negotiating an end to Iran’s nuclear program; of bowing to foreign leaders; of “selling out” to the communist Castro regime by normalizing relations with Cuba. They accused him of failing to secure our borders despite a record number of arrests and deportations. And, for the first time in US history, the GOP Congress invited a world leader (Netanyahu) to speak to a joint session without following protocol and going through the executive branch and the State Department.

Conservatives have circulated false emails and social media memes that falsely claim that Obama ordered crosses removed from military cemeteries, banned prayer at the military academies, and worse. They have compared the Obamas to gorillas. They have boldly stated that the First Lady is transgender and called for the Obama’s beautiful daughters to be raped.

At the same time, conservatives have not given Obama any credit for the good things he has done. They would have you believe that he only got Osama bin Laden based on previous efforts by the Bush administration. They have not credited him for trying to nominate a record number of members of the opposing party to his cabinet. They have not credited him for saving the US auto industry. They have not credited him for arresting the precipitous slide of our economy or for policies that have caused the stock markets to soar to record highs. They have not credited him for cutting the national deficit faster than any previous president. They have not credited him for preventing health insurance companies from exempting people for pre-existing conditions. And, instead of congratulating him for making health care available to millions of Americans, they have voted to repeal “Obamacare” dozens of times.

They have called President Obama the “food stamp” president, the “Imperial” president, the anti-gun president, a socialist, a fascist, and a n***er. They have blamed him for the gang violence in Chicago and violence against the police. They even blame him for the shootings of unarmed black men by police.

Finally, in a stunning show of hypocrisy, they actually have the chutzpah to blame him for increasing racism in the US! And the presumptive GOP presidential nominee who should never again be named is running on the slogan “Make American Great Again” – a dog whistle call to racists that may as well say “Make America White Again.”

Has The Democratic Party Awakened From Its Coma?

The recent filibuster calling for a vote on common sense gun safety gives me hope. It forced a vote which will put each member of Congress on record and make them accountable to their constituents instead of the NRA. After all, a whopping majority of Americans favor universal background checks. And an even greater majority favor blocking the legal sale of guns to potential terrorists who have been placed on the no-fly list.

That offers hope. But will Democrats show the same intestinal fortitude on other critical issues? Will they stand for income and wealth equality, including a living wage for all workers? Will they stand up for racial justice? Will they fight for equality of all people, regardless of gender, color or sexual orientation? Will they stand against Republicans who want to take food away from impoverished children? Will they stand up to the fossil fuel industry to address climate change? Will they stand against voter suppression? Will they stand against the corruption and waste of military contractors? Will they stand up for a woman’s right to control her own body?

Certainly, Democratic politicians have long given lip service to such issues. But they have seldom shown the courage of their convictions – to fight the good fight even if it risks their re-election.

This timidity has been used against them for decades. Republicans have long realized that Democrats can be steamrolled; that they’re willing to compromise, even if it means compromising their strongly-held beliefs. It has caused them to lose the respect of many voters who view them as spineless and weak – unable to get things done.

You see, many voters don’t look at the reasons behind legislative failures. They don’t understand the power of the filibuster and the willingness of Republicans to block Democratic initiatives even if it means damaging the nation. The voters only see failure. They see a party unable to keep its promises.

Hopefully, the Democrats’ strong stance on gun safety will mark a change that will benefit us all.

Mass Shootings Now Define Our Civilization.

Since the tragedy at Columbine, I have written blog posts calling for common sense gun safety. I have written and called my congressional representatives asking for universal background checks. I have taught self-defense classes debunking the notion that guns are a defensive weapon. I have demonstrated that carrying a gun does not protect you against an armed assailant who has the advantage of surprise. I have explained that being in a crowd of armed people makes you less safe. I have passed along academic studies that show that more guns equal more gun violence. I have tried to debunk the notion that an assault weapon is good for anything other than killing people. And millions of like-minded people have spoken out against gun violence.

None of it has worked.

Since Columbine, we have seen an average of more than one mass shooting (defined as incidents in which at least 4 people are killed or wounded) per day in the US. We’ve seen more than 100,000 shootings in our nation each year. We have seen lunatics with legal access to guns kill men and women. We’ve seen them murder theater-goers, church-goers and party-goers. We’ve seen them target black people, brown people, white people and gay people. We’ve seen them shoot doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, teachers, government workers and a congresswoman. We’ve even seen them murder school children!

Over all that time, I’ve seen people use the 2nd Amendment to defend the rights of any individual to gain access to weapons of war. I’ve seen the NRA bribe legislators and congressional representatives to create even greater access to such weapons. I’ve heard political leaders foment hate, then call for national prayer when people act on that hate. I’ve heard so-called religious leaders (and I use the term loosely) claim that mass shootings are God’s vengeance for abortions, for accepting gays, for legalizing gay marriage, for allowing transgender people to use the bathroom. I’ve heard friends and relatives claim that mass shootings are merely the price we pay for freedom.

For whatever reason, we’ve been convinced to view gun violence as a matter of politics; as a matter of religion or policy. It is not. In fact, it’s the very essence of who we are as individuals. It defines our society.

If you think discrimination against others for any reason is acceptable, you cannot call yourself religious. If your pastor damns any group of people – whether they are people who look different, pray differently, love differently or have different beliefs – you do not belong to a church. You belong to a cult of hate. If you support politicians who privately accept money from the NRA to vote against gun safety bills then publically pray for the victims of gun violence, you are an accessory to murder. If you think someone who performs a legal medical procedure should be stopped at any cost, you do not understand what it means to be an American, because you neither believe in democracy nor in the rule of law. If you think those who speak in favor of discrimination and hate speak for you. If you are someone I know who actually believes any of these things; if you prefer to embrace hate rather than kindness, I cannot call you a friend.

I’m not even certain that I can call you human.

Do Facts Still Matter?

Based on statements by the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, one would have to say no. (More than 90 percent of Trump’s statements have been rated untrue.) Moreover, the voting record of Republican congressional representatives consistently shows that, on most issues, they base their votes more on ideology that on facts, or even the majority opinion of the people.

How else can you explain Republican opposition to expanding background checks on gun sales despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans support them? How else can you explain the fact that our Republican-led Congress refuses to act on climate change in direct opposition of the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists, the majority of the nation’s leading research institutions, the Department of Defense, NASA, even the world’s religious leaders?

The list of public-supported issues that are consistently blocked by Republican representatives is a very long one. Yet the public has voted for a Republican majority in Congress. They have voted for a depressingly large number of Republican gubernatorial candidates. And they have voted for an even more depressing number of Republican legislative candidates.

This phenomenon can only be explained by the following:

Psychological studies have shown that conservatives and Republicans base their political decisions on faith. Not facts. Similarly, studies of media habits have shown that Republicans limit their exposure to media that are ideologically aligned, while Democrats seek out media that present various opinions. Worse, conservatives believe that any facts that don’t align with their strongly-held beliefs are bogus. They refuse to trust Democrats, the so-called “lamestream” media, or even their own government.

They are utterly and completely immune to facts.

Keep that in mind as we approach this coming election. Go ahead and confront your conservative friends and relatives with the facts. Encourage them to learn the facts from books such as “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, “That’s Not What They Meant!” by Michael Austin or “Antidote to Fact-Free Politics” by yours truly. At least you can feel that you’ve tried to expose them to the truth.

But don’t expect to change their minds.

Still, knowing that you tried to make a difference may help preserve your sanity when you learn that they voted for a lying, misogynistic, self-aggrandizing, tantrum-throwing, fact-denying, mob-connected, tax-evading billionaire bully who will almost certainly act against their interests.

Our Present And Future With Guns.

According to Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center, only 22% of Americans are gun owners. Yet there are an estimated 300 million guns in the US, not including those owned by our military. More than 6 million Americans own 10 or more guns. 10 or more? Seriously? Let’s see…a small gauge shotgun for small birds, a large gauge shotgun for larger birds, a small caliber hunting rifle for small game, a large caliber hunting rifle for large game, a small caliber handgun for accuracy, a large caliber handgun for “stopping” power, a military-style assault weapon for potential government tyrants, a .50 caliber sniper rifle for assassinations and blowing holes in the occasional engine block, and…??? That’s only 8. What am I missing? I’m at a loss to explain what more a 2nd Amendment-spouting, freedom-protecting “patriot” could need to arm themselves for any eventuality.

Obviously, the US has a love affair with guns. But though we all face the consequences, that love affair is far from universal.

As previously stated, the majority of guns are in the hands of a few. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, consider this: A large percentage of those 300 million guns are in the hands of the members of the 784 hate groups as recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center, including KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Nationalists, Skinheads, Black Separatists, Neo-Confederates, Anti-LGBT, Christian Identity and other assorted general hate groups and individuals, such as the Sovereign Citizen Movement. Shockingly, a not insignificant percentage of their members are ex-military, active-duty military, former law enforcement officers and border patrol…even active-duty law enforcement (which may help to explain the increase in police brutality against minority populations)!

These people seem to believe that guns are the answer to most every conflict – a view endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and modeled in many US-made movies, television programs and video games. But our choices of entertainment are, most certainly, not the root of our gun problem. In fact, the source of our problem is the NRA and the gun manufacturers it represents, which have flooded our communities with guns – guns that are becoming increasingly more lethal. Though other nations share our taste in entertainment and celebrate our culture, and though many other nations are less religious than the US, no other advanced country rivals the US when it comes to the number of gun deaths (including homicides)!

The glaring difference between the US and those other countries is the availability of guns.

For example, in a recent attempt to determine how easy it is to obtain guns in the US, a reporter for The Guardian found that it took just 2 hours for him to be offered an AK-47, an illegally-modified fully-automatic AR-15 and numerous handguns – some of which had been smuggled and some of which had been purchased legally. His experience is hardly unique. In many neighborhoods in many of our nation’s cities, you can purchase a gun within a few minutes, local gun laws be damned. For example, many of the guns used in crimes in Chicago are originally purchased legally in Indiana and cities along the I-35 corridor where gun laws are weak. They are then resold in Chicago to individuals wishing to avoid background checks. This pattern is supported by studies that show the majority of guns used in crimes are purchased illegally from unlicensed gun dealers or uncaring dealers in states with the greatest gun culture and the weakest gun laws.

And, thanks to the NRA’s stated belief that the best solution for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, there is a growing vigilante movement in the US exemplified by the armed woman who took it upon herself to shoot at shoplifters in the parking lot of The Home Depot in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Contrary to the gun lovers’ beliefs, such behavior is the worst nightmare of most law enforcement officials. After all, imagine you’re an officer responding to an active shooter situation and you see several armed people shooting at one another. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Are they all bad guys? You simply have to treat them all as threats.

And what about the legal implications of the “good guy” behavior? Disregarding the fact that few crimes are stopped by armed citizens and that armed citizens are more likely to be shot with their own guns than to stop a crime, such vigilante behavior poses problems. Police are supposed to be restricted from shooting at a suspect in a non-life-threatening situation. What about the armed “good guys?” Is it acceptable for a private citizen to shoot and kill a shoplifter? If the criminals are not armed and not threatening others, is it legally permissible to shoot to kill? If an unarmed shoplifter is subject to lethal force, is a bully engaged in a fistfight? How about a citizen engaged in a shouting match? An unarmed robber? An armed robber? Where do we draw the line?

The fact is, this nation is being held hostage by the gun lobby. We have allowed the NRA to write Conceal and Carry, Open Carry and “Stand Your Ground” laws that encourage people like George Zimmerman to shoot innocent, unarmed people. The NRA wants even more people to be armed. And it refuses to consider common sense gun safety laws. Despite a large majority of its members supporting more thorough, universal background checks, the NRA leadership has drawn a bright line in the sand. Any restriction on gun ownership is seen as a violation of the Constitution (if you choose to ignore the first phrase of the 2nd Amendment). Moreover, mass shootings are good for business as demonstrated by the gun shop owner in Roseburg, Oregon who stocked up on guns and ammo following the shooting at nearby Umpqua Community College. She knows that there is always a run on guns and ammo following mass shootings. Such greed aside, more guns are not the answer to gun violence. In fact, numerous studies have clearly shown that more guns equal more gun violence. Not less.

More important, the blatant lies of the NRA which pronounce guns the solution, not the problem, may well lead to a breakdown in our legal system. Vigilante “justice” could soon replace our courts. The entire US could resemble the Old West – only with more shootings and less shame.

You Don’t Need To Pull The Trigger To Be A Mass Murderer.

There are many examples of such people – the friends and family of mass shooters who ignore warning signs of impending violence, the people on social media who encourage potential shooters, the National Rifle Association for pushing laws that benefit gun manufacturers at the expense of shooting victims, courts that have twisted the Second Amendment (which was intended to provide for a well-regulated militia in the absence of a standing army) to mean that anyone can own and carry guns, gun dealers who fail to perform background checks and sell guns to felons and the mentally ill, politicians who bow to the wishes of the NRA instead of their constituents, and citizens who prefer to bury their heads in the sand rather than call for action after another mass shooting.

These people are all responsible. They all deserve to be known as mass murderers.

How else would you describe people who enable more than 3,000 shooting deaths each year, including the deaths of more than 500 children? How else would you describe people who stand idly by while more than 7,500 children are wounded by guns each year? How else would you describe people who ignore hundreds of mass shootings each year, including the 42 that have taken place on school campuses already this year?

How else would you describe politicians who refuse to permit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to track gun violence along with the other major causes of deaths? How else would you describe politicians who make laws that prevent pediatricians from discussing gun safety with parents; who have made it easy for anyone to own the weapons of war – assault rifles, 50-caliber sniper rifles, semi-automatic handguns, armor-piercing bullets…even silencers; who have refused to pass even the most benign gun safety laws?

How else would you describe politicians and manufacturers who have made our nation the world’s largest weapons dealer – weapons that are often turned on our own soldiers?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Not that many years ago, Australia’s conservative government reacted to a mass shooting by passing laws that banned most gun ownership and bought back guns from its once heavily-armed populace. Indeed, most other advanced nations restrict gun ownership. Even places like Dodge City and Tombstone in the Old West once had restrictive gun carry laws – that’s why historic events like the gunfight at the OK Corral still stand out. They once were far from commonplace.

But, now that nearly everyone is allowed to own and carry guns, gunfights are an everyday occurrence. Though the percentage of gun owners is declining, those who do own them own more guns than ever. These people have an irrational obsession with guns. They justify that obsession by claiming their guns are needed for self-protection from criminals, the government and “those people.” They carry them everywhere. In fact, many are so paranoid, they will not enter an establishment that prevents the carry of guns. But the reality is that guns are seldom successfully used for self-protection. More often, such guns are stolen or used for suicides. They are used in road rage incidents, in domestic disputes, in neighborhood disputes, in drive-by shootings, in theaters, in workplaces and in schools. They are used by the mentally ill, by frustrated loners, by jilted lovers, by angry husbands, by racists, and by rogue cops. They are used to threaten and intimidate. They are even used to threaten government officials who are carrying out their lawful duties.

What can be done to prevent more shootings?

We can start by improving mental health care to help the nearly one in four Americans who suffer from mental illness. We can improve our database of the criminally-ill and potentially criminally-ill. We can pass a law requiring universal background checks. We can require a 30-day waiting period for gun sales. We can make it illegal to open carry in public places. We can roll back our conceal-and-carry laws by requiring gun owners to show a need for a carry permit. We can ban large caliber weapons, such as .50 caliber sniper rifles and all other weapons of war. We can, once again, make the sale of silencers illegal. We can ban armor-piercing ammunition. We can ban large capacity magazines. And we can pass gun laws that are uniform nationwide so that rogue gun dealers in one state can no longer sell guns to residents from other states and other countries.

Finally…and this will be the most controversial suggestion…we can ban the sale and ownership of all semi-automatic guns. After all, these are not needed for hunting or even for self-defense. They are designed to make it easier to kill people. Period.

A Voter’s Guide To The GOP Debate.

Now that the defacto head of the Republican Party, Roger Ailes of Fox News Channel, has announced the participants in the first GOP presidential debate, here are a few things you should know about the candidates:

Donald Trump – You already know he’s rich (he tells everyone at every opportunity) and that he’s a bully and blowhard. But did you know that, despite inheriting a fortune from his father, he has filed for bankruptcy protection four times? Or that, on multiple occasions, it has been reported that he has ties to the Mob? Or that Trump was the target of a 1979 bribery investigation? Or that virtually every statement he has made during his presidential campaign has been a lie? To learn more, watch the documentary at TrumpTheMovie.com.

Jeb Bush – You know that he is the son of George HW Bush and the brother of George W Bush. But do you know that it is well-documented that he actively subverted our democratic process by helping to steal the 2000 presidential election in Florida? Did you know that he has the same neo-con foreign policy advisors as his brother – the ones who led us into an unnecessary and unjustifiable war in Iraq? Did you know that the job growth he claims as governor of Florida came almost exclusively from the housing bubble? And that, when the bubble burst, the median income for Floridians declined by $5,700 – double that of the nation as a whole? Or that 200,000 fewer Florida families own their homes than in 2005?

Scott Walker – The only presidential candidate currently under indictment. John Dean, general counsel for the Nixon administration has said of Walker, “I find him more Nixonian than even Richard Nixon himself…a conservative without a conscience.” After Walker was elected, he has shown himself to be the ultimate bully and dictator. In addition to stripping state employee unions of collective bargaining rights, he led the gerrymandering of legislative districts, stacked the state’s Supreme Court then rewrote campaign finance laws and tried to narrow the open records law.

And what about Wisconsin’s economy under Walker? Thanks to GOP-style tax cuts, the state’s spending exceeds revenue, the state’s GDP ratio has dropped to -9.9 percent and the state’s federal spending to revenue ratio has nearly doubled. Wisconsin now receives $1.59 for each $1.00 it contributes in taxes.

Mike Huckabee – Once a fairly moderate governor, Huckabee seems to have gone nuts. Maybe it’s because you have to be batcrap crazy to win in the GOP. Maybe he spent too much time on Fox News Channel. Or maybe he’s been hearing too many voices. He calls evolution a theory (By the same standard, gravity is just a theory), not an established fact. He doesn’t believe in gay marriage, contraception, abortion or transgender rights. He wants to change the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards. He thinks it would be great if Americans were forced at gunpoint, if necessary, to listen to every message from David Barton (evangelist and author). And he is delusional enough to believe that most of our Founding Fathers were clergymen. (Yeah, that’s why they called for separation of Church and State.)

Marco Rubio – The GOP’s great Latino hope, Rubio has long claimed to be a refugee of Castro’s Cuba. Only the records show that his family left Cuba more than two years before the Cuban Revolution. He doesn’t believe man has contributed to climate change. He doesn’t believe in the minimum wage, abortion or employer coverage of contraception. He does, however, support comprehensive immigration reform. And though he receives a handsome salary as a US Senator, he moonlights as a university teacher, causing him to miss 99 Senate votes in 4 years – 8.3 percent!

Ben Carson – He’s smart and a celebrated surgeon, but when it comes to politics, he’s a wacko as they come. He supports a flat tax (he calls it a “proportional tax” in reference to the biblical tithe) which would destroy the poor and the middle class. He is stridently anti-gay rights, believing homosexuality is a choice and he likens gay marriage to pedophilia and bestiality. He said the Affordable Care Act is “the worst thing that has happened to this nation since slavery.” His answer to Obamacare is creating a health savings account for every American at birth. Apparently, when the money in the account has run out (and for many it will), you die.

Rand Paul – Anti-government, anti-tax, anti-abortion, anti-gun control and pro-states’ rights. He believes the primary Constitutional function of the federal government is national defense. ‘Nuff said.

Ted Cruz – Mr. filibuster and Tea Party darling. Cruz’s only real accomplishments prior to the Senate were to strengthen the NRA, help prepare testimony for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and help steal the 2000 election for George W Bush. In the Senate, about all he has done is to shut down the government, sponsor bills to repeal Obamacare and lie. Of the 50 statements fact-checked by Politifact Texas, 35 have been rated mostly false, false or pants on fire false.

Chris Christie – A bully who showed his true colors with Bridgegate, the conspiracy to punish a mayor who did not support his re-election. He also sold out his constituents by allowing Exxon Mobil to pay less than 3 percent of the cost to clean up the environmental contamination at two sites. And, under Christie’s leadership, New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded nine times in five years.

John Kasich – Literally, one of only three GOP candidates (the others, Jim Gilmore and George Pataki, were not included in the debate) who has a history of success and working across the aisle. Of course, that means he doesn’t stand a chance of getting the GOP nomination.

So there you have it. That’s the list of leading GOP presidential candidates. Proceed with caution.

What If We Applied The NRA Philosophy Internationally?

Since the latest mass shooting in the United States comes at a time when Teapublicans are denouncing the Iran Nuclear Agreement, it makes me wonder: “What if we treated all armaments the same way as the National Rifle Association and its Teapublican supporters want us to treat guns?” If their answer to mass shootings is to place guns in the hands of more and more people, why not treat nuclear arms the same way?

According to NRA and Teapublican logic, that should make us all feel safer.

There are nine countries confirmed to have nuclear weapons and delivery systems. If we follow the NRA’s logic, shouldn’t we encourage all nations to obtain them? Do you feel safer knowing that Pakistan has nuclear weapons? North Korea? I suspect not. Then why should Americans feel safer knowing that crazy Uncle Larry has an AR-15 assault rifle? Why should the recently divorced woman feel safer knowing that her ex is armed with a semi-automatic handgun? Why should we feel safer in the knowledge that, without universal background checks, virtually any sociopath can obtain such firepower? Why should we feel safer knowing that domestic terrorists, such as the racist young man in Charleston, the young man in Chattanooga and the angry anti-government “patriot” in Lafayette have easy access to guns?

Of course, we shouldn’t feel safe. Because, thanks to the NRA and our insane gun laws, any American can choose from a wide array of weaponry of ever-increasing lethality.

Teapublicans say that Iran should be denied nuclear weapons at all costs. They say the Obama administration shouldn’t have negotiated any deal with Iran; that we should have increased economic sanctions until Iran buckled; or, following Netanyahu’s advice, we should just attack Iran’s nuclear installations. Yet that stance is completely counter to the Teapublicans’ stance on the ever-increasing proliferation of semi-automatic handguns and assault weapons in the US.

Why the difference?

If we want to make this a safer world, we should not allow Iran and other far less stable nations to obtain nuclear weapons. The new international agreement is the best possible way to ensure that. Likewise, we should not allow the continued proliferation of increasingly lethal guns in the US. A law requiring universal background checks and a ban on the sale of all semi-automatic weapons to civilians will reduce the number of mass shootings.

There Is No Freedom Without Responsibility.

The Fourth of July has long been declared a national holiday so Americans can take time to celebrate our freedom. To many Americans, that makes us unique. But, in reality, the US is not the only country with freedom. Indeed, based on a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which looks at 60 indicators in five separate categories measuring pluralism, civil liberties, and political culture, the US ranks only 19.

That means 18 nations in the world offer greater freedom than the US. Further, 75 of the world’s nations are democracies. Another 41 are governed by a hybrid system. In fact, of the 167 nations measured, only 52 are listed as authoritarian regimes, including several friends of the US, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Obviously freedom is something to celebrate. But have some Americans taken the concept of freedom too far? And are all of the citizens of the US truly free? The answer to those questions may well depend on who you ask. Certainly, the thousands of people incarcerated or on probation for drug use might not consider themselves free. Likewise, those who have been convicted of felonies and can no longer vote or find a suitable job despite having served their time may not consider themselves free.

In addition, the African-Americans who have been segregated into the poorest areas of our largest cities with under-funded schools, disproportionately high unemployment and few opportunities might not consider themselves truly free. American Muslims who are discriminated against for the way they choose to dress and worship might not consider themselves entirely free. The so-called “Dreamers” who were brought to the US by their parents at a very young age, and now live in fear of deportation, are unlikely to celebrate their freedoms. And the Native Americans who live in some of the nation’s worst conditions, and who continue to watch their traditional lands stolen by large corporations without fair compensation, may not think themselves free.

At the same time these people are denied their freedom, others – namely some greedy and mean-spirited Americans – abuse theirs.

For example, many corporate leaders, bankers and hedge fund managers use their freedom and wealth to buy favor with politicians. They then use a variety of legal tricks to “legally” steal money from ordinary Americans. They ship American jobs offshore. At the same time, they use their wealth to convince politicians to cut taxes. And for good measure, they often stash their money in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Faced with less revenue, our federal and state governments cut the funding of public schools and universities. The inevitable result is that our nation lags behind many others in terms of upward mobility.

Corporate-owned news media have used their freedom to boost ratings with propaganda. Instead of reporting on things that really matter, such as bringing transparency to our government, they focus on sensational trials and violent crimes – especially those involving people of color. The result is to create more fear leading to more segregation.

Following gains by the civil rights movement, some racists in the South resurrected the Confederate battle flag under the guise of celebrating history. To the descendants of slaves, this was an obvious show of power intended to keep them in “their place.” At the same time, a small portion of our citizens have stockpiled weaponry with the express purpose of intimidating their neighbors and threatening the government to which they pledge allegiance. (Does the name Cliven Bundy ring a bell?)

Freedom, then – at least in the US – is relative. For some in the US, there is too little. For others, there is too much.

Some excuse such things by claiming that freedom is, by its very nature, noisy and messy. However, Germany is free. As a matter of fact, it currently ranks 6 places ahead of the US. Yet in Germany, it is illegal to display the Nazi flag. That may restrict the freedom of some, but it shows a clear sense of responsibility and a compassion for those harmed by Hitler’s regime.

Maybe it’s time the US embraced such values. Even after 239 years, we can still learn and improve our nation. We should understand that with great freedom comes great responsibility – that in a nation of more than 330 million, you cannot do everything you want without infringing on someone else’s freedom. That’s where responsibilities and regulations come into play. As well-educated men of means who celebrated enlightenment, I believe the Founding Fathers assumed our citizens would understand that concept.

Unfortunately, too many don’t.

Guns For Everyone, Everywhere!

For years, I thought the National Rifle Association could stoop no lower than its role as shill for the gun manufacturers. The US has never restricted gun ownership, but the NRA has routinely pushed for increased accessibility and ever more lethal weapons. As a result, Americans may now purchase a 50-caliber semi-automatic sniper rifle powerful enough to blow a hole in a car’s engine block at a distance of 1,000 yards. You may now own a semi-automatic assault rifle with high capacity magazines that will permit you to shoot dozens of people without the inconvenience of having to stop to reload. And, if the NRA has its way, you will soon be able to legally purchase a silencer for your weapons that will allow you to shoot people while avoiding detection.

Who wouldn’t need that?

What began as an organization dedicated to helping young men improve their marksmanship for hunting and for possible military service, has morphed into a lobbying group with a mission of eliminating all laws and restrictions with regard to the purchase and carry of handguns. Now the NRA is working on open carry laws that will allow any paranoid dimwit to openly carry a loaded weapon anywhere at any time. By contrast, in many cities and towns, martial artists are still unable to purchase or carry nunchuku, shurikens (Asian throwing stars) or certain kinds of knives. After all, without such restrictions, the national nunchuku murder rate might soar to…ummm…one. And convenience stores would be under constant threat of being robbed at shuriken point.

Sarcasm aside, those restrictions came from a day when the American public actually cared about preventing violence. From a time when the lack of a conspicuous presence of guns was a sign of advanced civilization. A time when the primary reason for owning a gun was for home protection and for hunting. A time before the gun manufacturers and the NRA convinced the most paranoid amongst us that carrying a gun was the only thing that stood between them and tyranny.

In order to keep the majority of Americans from understanding the true dangers of our obsession with guns, the NRA has successfully lobbied to prevent the government from tracking gun deaths, to prevent the registration of firearms and ammunition, to prevent universal background checks of gun purchases, to prevent so-called straw buyers from purchasing guns for felons, even to prevent pediatricians from talking to parents about gun safety in the home.

All of that is bad enough. But now the NRA is fighting proposed gun restrictions for those who have been convicted of domestic abuse and those who are mentally ill, stating, “Not only is this unjust and stigmatizing, it creates disincentives for those who need mental health treatment to seek it, increasing whatever risks are associated with untreated mental illness.”

In other words, the NRA wants everyone to own guns and to carry them everywhere. Anything less is, in the NRA’s words, “an assault on the Second Amendment.” The problem is that the NRA conveniently ignores the first part of that amendment. Yes, the amendment does say, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” But only after it states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”

Reading the many papers written by the Founding Fathers, the intent of the Second Amendment becomes clear…since the new nation had no standing army, the Founders saw a need for a citizen militia to protect the nation. They had no concern of tyranny from within – the democratic process was considered protection from that. The real threat was from the British Army and the armies of other foreign governments. But now that the US has the most powerful military force on Earth, there is no longer a need for an armed militia. As a result, the Second Amendment has lost its meaning and its true purpose. All of those guns that are owned and carried by Americans are being used to shoot other Americans at a rate of more than 33,600 per year…roughly the equivalent of twelve 9/11 attacks each and every year!

The Founders could have never foreseen the lethality of the weapons available today. Just as they could not have imagined that a lobbying group representing a tiny fraction of the population would be so effective at convincing Congress to suspend common sense and reason.