Monday, January 17, 2011

The Tucson Shooting

There has been a lot of opinionating on the shooting in Tucson. It was a tragedy brought about by a single disturbed person. It’s interesting that people still try to discuss the ‘violent rhetoric’ even after it’s been shown that this guy was obviously crazy. I’ve heard programs where the announcer basically says that yes, the partisan rhetoric probably had nothing to do with this case, but the rhetoric really is creating a situation that could lead to a situation like this.

Tom Ashbrook talked about how this kid had grown up in the current environment of nasty political rhetoric. But I think someone who is crazy will seize upon anything they hear and expand it into whatever crazy reason to hurt people. They don’t think rationally. There was no Tea Party or Sarah Palin when Hinckley took a shot at Reagan. He was trying to impress Jody Foster. The guy in Florida wasn’t whipped into a frenzy by Glenn Beck, he decided to end his life while killing school board members and the reason he gave was because they fired his wife. Two years ago.

The President, in his memorial speech, said that Right vs. Left rhetoric was not the cause of this, and yet people seem to be still trying to bring it up.

In fact, we have sort of similar situations between this and the guy in Florida. Except the Florida guy didn’t spawn a bunch of angry tweets about Sarah Palin. Why is that?

Could it be because that guy didn’t hurt anyone? Maybe it was because it was caught on video and his intentions were pretty irrefutable.

The Florida school board were all elected officials, Florida is a mostly gun friendly state, the shooter was deranged and bent on mayhem. Did the latest guy get more coverage because he succeeded in killing people? That could be part of it. I don’t want to think of news people as being so arbitrary as to run with the Arizona thing simply because Giffords is a Democrat in conservative state. That contradiction can’t be the only reason why this story got so much coverage.

Maybe it’s due to Cable news’s new found obsession with Twitter. They pay attention to Twitter and then it influences the way they edit their content. When Twitter got all bent out of shape, unleashing all the pent up rage against Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, the producers of news decided that the “controversy” was what people wanted to hear, and so they chased after the opinion of their audience, instead of trying to determine the facts. That could be a symptom of a lot of things wrong with the news these days.

So, instead of blaming media characters, let’s look at what allowed this kid to purchase America’s most popular 9mm handgun. Some say that we need a law to prevent dangerous crazy people from buying guns. Sounds reasonable.

What they don’t say is that such laws already exist.

Ok, then how do we define crazy? Is someone a crazy dangerous lunatic in the eyes of the law if they have had a session with a therapist? Most people would say no, because most people have had contact with psychiatrists at some point in their life, and are not crazy. What about people who are diagnosed with certain mental illnesses? Someone who is described as a paranoid schizophrenic or a sociopath, probably shouldn’t be able to buy a weapon, right?

What if the diagnosis was made 20 years ago? Can people change? (I don’t know about schizophrenia, personally, I’m just thinking with a keyboard here.)

As a child, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. It meant that I had to work harder than most kids to keep my attention span at an age appropriate level. It used to take me four hours to do 30 math problems in elementary school. Having the diagnosis and a mild ritalin prescription helped me to learn how to focus appropriately. I feel like I have basically addressed the problem by now.

But does it mean that I shouldn’t be able buy a deadly weapon? I don’t think that past diagnoses by themselves are a good predictor of future behavior. I have the opinion that past behavior is a better predictor of future behavior. The law agrees. (Or I agree with the law)

The Justice System punishes people according to what they have done, based on evidence that proves that they did it. It doesn’t work 100%, but the idea behind it is good. So if someone has never been convicted of a crime, could you legitimately call them a dangerous person? I mean, everybody has dark thoughts at some point in their life, everyone loses their temper and says hurtful things. But if they never physically harm anyone, they aren’t really a danger. They are able to control their impulses and not commit crimes.

People who are unable to control their impulses, or who decide that their own desires are more important than social norms are criminals. They break the law.

However, most humans live lives out of habit. So criminals make a habit out of committing crimes. Since people are mostly born good, they have to work their way across the spectrum to being hardened criminals. So most criminals start out with petty crimes like shoplifting. Once they start getting into the habit of committing felonies, our Justice system says they can no longer be trusted with a firearm. It may not stop them from getting their hands on one, but it carries stiff penalties when they get caught with one.

The instant criminal background check that is conducted when you purchase a handgun looks for felonies in your past, things that would prohibit you from owning a handgun.

So how was this wacko in Tucson able to go buy a handgun at Cabela’s?

He didn’t have a criminal record that would prohibit him from doing so.

He had admitted to smoking pot and he had some run-ins with the police, but I believe you have to be convicted of a felony, or a misdemeanor within five years to be prohibited from owning a gun. That means you have to have a trial and a sentence passed against you. For most people this is a reasonable process.

But this kind of thing that happened in Tucson is so rare that it makes national news when it happens. This guy had a unique jump to the dark side, going from pot smoker to mass killer. He doesn’t fit the norm of criminal progress, so he kind of took us off guard.

That leads us to ask, Could we have done anything to prevent this from happening? Probably not a whole lot, since he seems to have been harboring a grudge against Giffords since 2007. I’ve read that he has had numerous interactions with law enforcement, perhaps at some point they would have noted his strange behavior and been able to get him an evaluation that would have made him a prohibited person.

But on the other hand, it’s not a crime to be disturbed or crazy, so maybe no one wanted to pry into this guy’s business.

In instances like this, we try to find a reason why something like this happened. As Michael Bane said recently, the why doesn’t really matter. As a society, we can’t predict when something crazy is going to happen, our models for prediction are based on reason, not random insanity. If we were to attempt to actually know enough about the lives of all Americans, we would get the surveillance state of the UK. And that experiment hasn’t worked, there is still violence there. In fact, it has become so expensive that they are beginning to dial back the government’s involvement in the lives of the citizens, encouraging people to be more responsible for themselves.

What we do know is that the situation could have been much worse if no one had acted. If I understand correctly, it was someone’s grandmother that was the first to tackle the bad guy when he attempted to reload his weapon. Other people in the crowd joined in and got his weapon away from him. Joseph Zamudio came running from Walgreen’s, prepared to shoot the bad guy, but found he had already been subdued. All of those people deserve medals. They acted with the safety of others in mind, at extreme danger to themselves. Our president needs to recognize the heroism of these people.

For the families left behind, all I can say is that I’m sorry, though I had nothing to do with the tragedy. I don’t know what to say to someone who has lost a daughter for no good reason. At least we can be confident that she is now in a safe, happy place, where she is free all cares and sorrow. And I hope that the man that cut her life short is punished to the full extent of the law.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thoughts on God, Life and Death

I’ve left that previous entry up for quite a while now. I mostly posted it because it had gotten me rattled and taught me that it’s incredibly stupid to argue with strangers on the bus. On the other hand, if someone were accosting me on a bus, I would hope that a fellow passenger would come to my aid, even if they felt like a fool afterward.

This past Sunday I fasted for the first time in a long time. I fasted to be able to get a job. Or to have more motivation to look harder for a job. It’s frustrating to fill out application after application, to send my resume to email after email, and to hear back from maybe 1% of the time, and then they tell me no 100% of the time.

But, and this is a pretty big but, nobody is obligated to hire me. I shouldn’t be upset that the employers that have a lot of money floating around, don’t want to take a chance on a College graduate who has not done an internship at a major agency. They have their own livelihood and reputation to think about, after all.

So I’ll keep looking, send applications to companies who say they are looking for someone with my skills. And in the meantime keep applying for the (allegedly) easier to get jobs that will get me a paycheck quickly.

In church, we were discussing how to persuade someone that they should accept the gospel. We said that accepting the gospel, getting baptized and all that jazz would bring happiness. The teacher replied with, “Ok, so if I join up and then terrible things happen to me, does that mean it’s not true?”

The answer, of course, is no. God exists whether or not bad things happen to you. Bad things may happen to you if you believe in God or not.

I thought for a minute and my answer was that if you have truly accepted the gospel, you will have peace and clarity within yourself, and so even then if you lose your job, get a disease or lose a loved one, you wouldn’t say that your life is horrible.

In 2010 I lost a couple of cousins. One died of a drug overdose of some kind, in front of her toddler children. I hope her kids can get over it, but kids as young as hers were can get over things like that. For her, it was the last in a line of very poor decisions. I wish she hadn’t died, it seems like such a dumb thing to die over, but she was the one that made that decision.

My other cousin, was a soldier in the 101st Airborne division, who was killed in Afghanistan. I guess in a way his decision to join the army and be in the infantry was what placed him in Afghanistan, but his death seems to be a lot more unjust than my other cousin’s. He was serving his country, had gone through grueling training to become a Ranger, had achieved the rank of Sergeant, he was a good person doing good things.

His death brought a lot of grief to the family. But I have to say that I felt his funeral was a positive, uplifting experience, and at the same time, very sad. I was sad for his wife, and for his mom, both of whom were overcome with grief. The worst part was when his casket was closed for the final time, and the funeral began. It will be a long time before it’s opened again, and Aaron steps out in a perfected state.

I’ve been to funerals before, but they are mostly for old people who have lived a full life, nobody is really shocked that they died, and everyone’s ok with it. It was really depressing to think of all the things that Aaron and his wife won’t get to do together, they hadn’t even had a one year anniversary yet.

On the other hand, I was impressed by the soberness of the military personnel, in the way they conducted themselves at the funeral. There was a great deal of ceremony and respect in the attitudes of all present. There was a group of soldiers who took shifts standing guard at either end of the casket. They stayed there through the entire viewing. The Patriot Guard Riders were in attendance, including a good friend and teacher of mine, to create a sense of safety and comfort by surrounding the church were the funeral was held, and the gravesite during the interment. Even Brandon, Aaron’s twin, executed his orders to the letter as Aaron’s official escort.

I felt happy to hear the loving tributes written by Aaron’s comrades, one of whom has joined Sgt. Kramer on the other side. I found myself wishing I could have known this man better. I feel good knowing that he is ok, now. If soldiers are treated with such care and reverence by those of us left behind, I can only imagine the amount of love and care they receive when they reach the other side. My grandfather, Keith, was undoubtedly the first person that Aaron met when he passed, and Aaron is not very far from his family here on Earth. I also feel optimistic about Sgt. Flannery, because Aaron is undoubtedly the first person he must have met when he passed.

The purpose of the gospel, in times like this, is not to diminish, or disrespect anyone’s grief. It’s not there to make us feel guilty about feeling sad at the loss of a promising, smart young person. I think that probably throughout human history and through all cultures, there is a wishful hope that we will see our loved ones again. Logic or prevailing ideas may try to drive that notion away, but most people want to believe that death is not the end of a person.

The restored, complete gospel of Jesus Christ affirms those instincts. It assures us that we will see our loved ones again, that they exist somewhere and are being taken care of. It eases the pain of death, by letting us know they aren’t gone forever.

I still feel a tremendous sense of regret that I didn’t know Aaron very well, I still feel a tremendous sense of waste that someone so smart and good could have so much time and money invested in them by the United States, only to shot out in the middle of nowhere, by people who want to impose their violent and evil perversion of Islam on others. But at least Aaron Kramer is not lost forever, even if we won’t be able to embrace him for a while.

If I ramble, I apologize, I didn’t get to write this all in one sitting.