Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Final Word on Guns for 2012

Going into 2013, its interesting to reflect back at this past year. A year in which the theme was curiosity, exploration, and advancement, a glaring tarnish must be discussed. With all of the good things that happened in 2012, what cannot be overlooked is how guns and gun violence have left their permanent stamp on this year. From the shootings in an Oregon, Aurora, and Sandy Hook, it seemed as though each month or at least every other month there was a major shooting which rejuvenated the “gun” conversation. It is an issue that seems to divide the country so emotionally and definitively, that no solution is ever achieved. No one ever seems to empathize, or consider each others arguments and while we argue people keep dying, guns sales increase, and the problem just gets worse. In our arrogance as a society we refuse to listen to each other, we become so emboldened by our positions, we forget that words meant to inspire one group could be painful to another. 

Wayne LaPierre (Executive Vice President of the NRA
No one was exactly surprised by the reaction of the NRA to the shooting in Sandy Hook. Did any one honestly think that Wayne LaPierre was going come out and say anything that wasn’t a full throated defense of firearms? No. LaPierre said “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,”. The problem I have is this, he has people he needs to represent. The NRA, represents an idea, a right, and an American way of life. There are a lot of people out there good, bad, and indifferent who believe in everything the NRA has come to represent. Just like the president and vice president must represent their side by creating new, stronger, and more aggressive gun  control laws. The problem with both responses is that they are knee jerk reactions, one side is digging their heels in deeper, and the other is only reacting to an horrific massacre that could make anyone question their stance on the second amendment. 

Although it maybe self serving for me to say common sense is the solution, common sense is something that we all need to use when discussing gun control. To pass and make legislation now would only be a reaction to the situation at hand. Never in the history of the world has that been a good idea. It is also not a good idea to blindly defend something that is one of the main reasons why twenty children are dead. I am not taking credit away from the shooter, but the sheer amount of ammunition and weaponry owned and purchased by the shooters mother is certainly a key factor as to why the massacre committed by Adam Lanza was so brutally effective. 

The first question that needs to be asked, what role should guns play within our society?  A gun is a tool, like any tool it serves a specific purpose. Ultimately the purpose of a gun is to kill. Now the times in which you use this tool can be different every time, but when you use it, you are using it to kill. A gun is useful for hunting, which not only can be used for food and supplies, but as a tool for population control, for animals whose numbers can spiral out of control. An excess amount of certain animals can damage livestock, land, and threaten the lives of people. For this guns play an essential role. 

In terms of personal protections, guns can and do protect people everyday from home invasions, burglaries, rape, kidnapping, and murder. The idea of calling the police and having them be at your home very quickly is a luxury that is only had by people in highly populated city areas. Once you get to areas of the state and country that are open and less populated the appeal of having personal protection greatly increases. Areas of the country where the average police response time could be upwards of eighteen minutes and your nearest neighbor could be miles away, protecting yourself, your family, and way of life can only be achieved with a firearm. So in this case, guns play an essential role.

The next and most important question is this, what types of guns should be legal or illegal? For some this question is easy to answer, others it is much more complicated. To me, it is complicated. Many people think that no matter what, the second amendment and the constitution entitles any american the right to purchase any firearm, because the constitution doesn’t say "specific arms", it just says "arms", meaning guns. In this day and age that right can be, but is not limited to, cannons, grenade launchers, high capacity magazines, high caliber long range sniper rifles, and specialty grenades. To me it all comes back to common sense. For personal protection I feel you should be able to purchase whatever firearm you feel is necessary to protect yourself or your family, as long as that guns intention is to do that, and is not modified beyond its purpose to do so. For example, I have no problem, with a person purchasing a standard AR-15, with a fifteen round magazine, that fires a semi automatic .223 round. However I do have a problem with someone purchasing a fully automatic AR-15 that fires a .223 round. Furthermore I don’t think that person should be allowed to purchase that same weapon with a fifty to two hundred round magazine, and a grenade launcher. Is that an extreme concept? Yes. With proper licensing can a person attain such a firearm in the United States? Absolutely. If you are going to preach that personal protection is the reason to keep assault rifles, then consider using common sense because, you aren’t going hunting with a rifle that fires two hundred rounds, and the day you can logically and realistically justify the use of a grenade launcher in a non-war scenario, is the day I change my position on outlawing the legal purchase of grenade launchers. 

Getting rid of guns completely is not the answer. It just doesn’t make sense, because all you do is take the guns away from the people who would actually use them to protect themselves, and the people who would commit a crime with a gun will ultimately find a way to get them anyway. So all you effectively do is disarm and make vulnerable the innocent who would only use their guns for “good”. For every situation that you can make in which a gun can hurt people, there is another situation that can be created or cited, in which the gun has saved people. So for that reason guns serve a purpose in society, and you cannot get rid of them. The reasons why some people are so passionate about threats against their guns are not because they are stupid, or uneducated, or ignorant, stubborn, etc. Those are not the reasons at all. They are not threatened because you are taking their toy away, they are threatened because you are taking their security away, their way of life. For that reason and that reason alone they deserve to be heard from and not dismissed as arrogant because their reasons to have guns are just as important as your reasons to outlaw them. 

All I really have to say is that we need to talk to each other. We need to listen to each others arguments and not feel self righteous about our positions because of written words or use an unspeakable atrocity as propaganda for a cause. Again, as self serving as it maybe, common sense needs to win the day, and all that requires us to do is listen to each other, overlook political and personal ideology, and just look at the facts. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Should Hate Speech Be Free Speech?

Let me answer that question right now, there is no reason for the freedom of speech to be infringed upon. I don’t care what it is, I will never disagree, that the rights outlined in the first Amendment of the Constitution be infringed upon.

I bring this up though, because over the course of the last week I have been seeing a lot of people posting and talking about the Westboro Baptist Church. If you don’t know who or what the Westboro Baptist Church is by now, they are a fringe, radical group of religious protestors who picket the funerals of dead soldiers, AIDS victims, celebrities, and other high profile funerals. They have been known, and gained a lot of notoriety by picketing the funerals of dead soldiers holding up signs that say “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, “Thank God You Are Dead”, “Thank God For 9/11”, and a whole bunch of other signs that get your blood boiling. Though recently they seem to have stepped up their hate game and brought it to a whole new level by protesting the funerals of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims. Holding up signs that say “God Sent The Shooter”. This is undoubtedly the most heinous thing I have ever heard or seen in my life. What bothers me more, is that now I have to defend them.

Please don’t get me wrong. I despise these people, I would like nothing else but to see these people wiped off the face of the planet, but as American citizens they are entitled to the same rights as everyone else in this country and that first Amendment in my opinion is and should always be uncompromising. I have signed petitions and other futile things like that, but the bottom line is, it is their right to do this. Like I said, I have seen and heard comments coming from everywhere including government officials, saying that, “they should be arrested”, “they shouldn’t be allowed to protest at funerals”, “the government needs to be stop them”. As unfortunate as it is there is nothing that can be done by the government, or should be done. Just because something may be hard to hear, or disgusting to hear it does not mean that voice should be silenced. It is the cornerstone of what makes this a democratic and free nation.

What can be done? Well just because the government can’t do anything about it, that doesn’t mean actions can’t be taken and it doesn’t mean as Americans we can’t exercise our own first amendment rights. For example the day the Westboro Baptist Church was set to protest the Sandy Hook Funerals, a group of off duty firefighters and police officers that I know personally went to Connecticut to shield the families of the victims from the WBC. From what I understand the amount of first responders and civilians that showed up to counter protest and shield the families of victims out numbered the WBC members that where there to protest, significantly. Which means although the WBC was there, the families where able to mourn in peace without having to worry about seeing a sign that said “Thank God Your Child Is Dead”.

You can hate the people, you can hate their message, but you cannot doubt their resolve. Their ambition and persistence is unceasing. They don’t care about what people think about them and all they care about is attention. People talking about them is exactly what they want. So the second thing that can be done is just ignore them. They are exactly like children in the sense, that if they are not the center of attention they will scream and yell and do stupid things until they get heard. We just need to keep ignoring them. By talking about them, all we do is give them legitimacy. Which is why I rarely write about them or even talk about them. If their threats went unacknowledged maybe they wouldn’t follow through.

Finally, people say that allowing a group like this to exist makes us as a country look bad, Christian groups don’t like the WBC, because they fear the people will group actual churches of peace into the same category. Just because it may not be right, people have tried taking official action against them. In 2010 Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 8-1 that the WBC absolutely has the right to protest the funerals of dead soldiers and that just because their speech may be defined as hate, it is still nonetheless, speech.

My final point is this. We as a people need to learn to care about each other more and learn from each other. Groups like the WBC exist and are completely self serving. What we need to do is not rely on the government we need to help ourselves. Take action like the civilians and first responders who shielded the mourners. Create groups whose sole purpose is to counter the WBC. Fight their hate with love and peace. Groups that go around to protect mourners from the protests, groups that are designed to counter the WBC protests. We don’t need take people’s rights away, we need to take advantage of the first amendment just like they do and be better then them in every way possible.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2013 The Year of Opportunity for the Unemployed?

As the year 2012 comes to an end, many Americans, about seven millions Americans are reflecting back at a lost year. There are seven million Americans currently in this country who do not have regular employment. Which leaves millions of Americans asking and wondering “Will 2013 be a better year to look for work?”. 

The unemployment rate in this country is currently at 7.9%. Many economists and political analysts feel that the number speculated by the department of labor is much higher. Many reputable and legitimate economists feel that many Americans have simply stopped looking for jobs. Many say around fifteen million unemployed Americans have stopped looking for work, simply because there aren’t jobs out there. Basically, because the labor department bases the unemployment rate on the number of people searching for jobs through their networks, and not other commercial and private search sites such as or, the number could be closer to 15%-20%. That combined with the people who have stopped looking for work entirely you are looking at an unemployment rate close to if not over 30%. 

Those numbers are of course speculation and can be inflated as a scare tactic, for example some members on the right would like you to believe that with some fancy math the unemployment rate is over 50%. Now obviously that number is extreme and even over 30% seems to be a little inflated but just ask around? It doesn’t take a thirty year political analyst to know that the unemployment rate is over 7.9%. Everyone knows at least two people who are unemployed, or underemployed, many of whom lost their job this year. So it is my opinion that the actual unemployment rate is closer to 15%-20%, with all of the above factors considered. 

What’s causing the unemployment rate to be so high? Well there are a lot of answers ranging from very complicated to very simple. One of the first reasons is kind of common sense, and that is businesses just don’t have the money to employ people. Company’s are downsizing and laying off divisions of people just to maintain a bottom line and stay in the black. There just aren’t as many well paying jobs out there because company’s are very afraid of the unstable economy.

The next reason is directly related to the the previous one, because there aren’t a lot of jobs, there is a flooded job market. With the classes of 2011 and 2012 searching, the market has become completely flooded with people searching. There are young adults from the class of 2011 who are still looking for a job, and the ones who where lucky enough to find jobs have most likely been laid off. Then the class of 2012 graduates expecting an open job market and there is quite literally nothing out there for them. So now you have recent college graduates searching for jobs and taking menial labor jobs, a millennial unemployment rate at nearly 40%, 48% of the classes of 2011 and 2012 combined are unemployed, and of the supposed 7.9 percent unemployed nearly 42% are under 25 years old. This is the first generation in American history that is not doing better and may not do better then the previous generation. What all of this means, is that this is an employers market. Employers can be very selective about who they hire and they can choose people whose resumes’ are exactly matching the job description. 

Another large contributor to the unemployment rate, is that 2012 saw the lowest retirement numbers in American history. Millions of Americans decided that they weren’t going to, afraid to, or absolutely couldn’t retire because of the economy. This has left millions of jobs that should have been vacant and filled by someone younger or eager to work, occupied. So because people aren’t retiring, now the people who can’t find jobs have to look elsewhere. 

Which leads me to the final reason. There are no jobs out there. Yea simple and obvious I know, but the bottom line is that there are no more American jobs. There is no such thing as American industry anymore. Now I have spoken about college graduates, and people with years of business experience but the unemployment problem is not just confined to the city. The heartland is the hardest hit. The areas of the country where higher education isn’t easily accessible and typically the youth turns to farming and industry, but now those jobs aren’t even there. The farming jobs that generations of families have had are becoming nonexistent and industries such as steel, auto, oil, and coal are being shipped over seas. Our country imports more then it exports and corporations make there money on what they can buy and sell for the highest profit instead of what they can make and sell for the highest profit. Nearly 80% of the United States wealth is concentrated within seven banks. The rest is spread throughout various industries the main one being agriculture. So the jobs, just don’t exist.

With the fiscal cliff looming, unemployment benefits are apart of the items to be slashed on December 30th. That means nearly two million Americans will be completely without any source of income come January 1st along with three million more set to lose there benefits from February to April. This combined with no job prospects, and more people beginning to search for work, the outlook for 2013 is not good for those who are currently unemployed. Bottom line, 2013 doesn’t exactly look, like the year of opportunity.

Monday, December 17, 2012

We Don’t Live in an Ordered Universe

By: Jack Sorensen

What transpired in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday was mind-numbingly horrifying. I can only describe my reaction as resigned to disbelief. I acknowledged the reality of what happened, but I could not fully accept it. After turning off the news, I felt an emptiness. The only question I can ask is, “Why?”. There is not an answer, at least not so soon after the tragedy.

Try as I might, I could not avoid slices of the 24-hour news cycle. It was on everyone’s lips, both on and off screen. Commentators prattled on about a possible motive. Journalists interviewed friends and family of the deceased. A shadow hung over a town as every camera focused on its grief-stricken citizens. The journalists were only doing their jobs, but it felt too soon.

It is safe to say that nearly everyone who heard about this searched for an answer. Many of them looked up. A friend sent me a text asking, “Where was God in Newtown?” He was expressing anger at those who tried to fit this massacre into the framework of some divine plan. Both he and I are agnostics. We are searching for the truth, but we are wary of those who claim they have it.

Of all the explanations offered for this shooting, two stand out most prominently. One will only receive a passing glance in this piece because of their status as a fringe group, but it warrants mentioning. The Westboro Baptist Church blamed, as they blamed most things, on what they call “fag marriage”. They reason that God caused the death of 28 people because gay folk can get married. That is absolute nonsense, and I will not try to reason with extremists.

The second response came from Mike Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas and contender for the Republican nomination for President in 2008. On Fox News, he argued that the tragedy was caused because “we have systematically removed God from our schools”. He left mental health and guns out of his equation.

Mike, schools minus God does not equal the death of 20 children, 6 women, the mother of the shooter, and the shooter himself.

It seems safe to say that Mike and many others believe in a benevolent God. One to whom people can pray. One who will reward the pious. One who protects his flock. If that is the case, why would a just and loving God take away the lives of 20 children before their lives barely began? I do not mean to lessen the importance of the other deaths, but this tragedy is compounded by the deaths of those children. All of those futures are gone.

I cannot reconcile a belief in a benevolent God with a plan with the actions of a disturbed 20-year-old who had access to some terrifyingly powerful weaponry. How can that be? How can a massacre of that scale be divinely warranted?

The world is too chaotic to warrant that kind of belief. Just across the pond in China, a crazed 36-year-old man stabbed 22 students and an elderly woman. Where was God there? What about the shopping mall in Oregon? The theater in Aurora? Columbine? Oklahoma City? Why would all of these needless deaths happen on His watch? And how would a godless education be the catalyst for such carnage?

My understanding of thermodynamics is rudimentary, but the second law holds that entropy increases or stays constant. Put differently, as time progresses, things gradually slip into disorder. I do not ascribe to the notion of an ordered universe in which a gun-toting 20-year-old kid kills his mother and then breaks into a school to kill 26 women and children before turning the barrel on himself. Some speculate the death toll might have been higher had the police not arrived.

I am making no statement on God’s existence. I honestly do not know whether or not God exists. I do think that a creation presupposes a creator, but how that creator interacts with his or her creation is up for debate. At least, it needs to be debated now that the Sandy Hook massacre is an unfortunate part of our reality.

It is both terrifying and liberating to think that we do not live in an ordered universe. We are responsible for our actions. A 20-year-old kid is responsible for 28 deaths. The reason cannot be shifted to the divine because that is too easy.

We have to deal with this reality.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blame the Shooter Not the Gun

Well I am sure everyone knows by now that there was an horrific massacre in Connecticut yesterday. Twenty children where killed, as young as kindergarten and no older then fourth grade, along with six adults, and the murderer himself. This is an unspeakable tragedy only made worse because of the ages of the victims. A total of twenty seven people where killed for as far as I am concerned, no reason at all. As of now, know one knows why the killer went on a rampage at an elementary school, he killed his mother first and then headed towards the school, so as of now the massacre is completely unexplainable. 

I am sure in the weeks to come, if not already there will be an outcry for gun control and gun law lobbyists will take complete advantage of this situation for their cause. Not that they don’t have a valid point but I have to quote a friend of mine who said it perfectly. “People are so very quick to blame an inanimate weapon for tragedy instead of the human being wielding it. Stop absolving these monsters of their guilt by blaming it on the guns they carried. It makes me ill.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am not anti-gun and I am not a card carrying NRA member. I am ambivalent when it comes to guns. I have fired guns before, its fun to go to the range and shoot some targets, I understand the hunting and personal protection issues but this is certainly not a cause that I am constantly thinking about. 

“But Sal you should be?! Its your Constitutional right?!”

Absolutely, it is my constitutional right to bear arms. That is why I am not anti-gun. I believe that people should be able to purchase weapons for personal protection, hunting, and recreation, but I believe that legislation needs to be made based on where you live. Not even at just state level, but gun laws based on local legislation. It just makes sense especially for states like New York or any state (all 50) that has densely populated areas. My favorite example is New York, I am for strict gun control in New York City, but upstate New York and Long Island, reasonable gun control is completely sufficient. Having to commute to work everyday, if I was allowed to buy and carry a gun on me I would have killed someone on the seven train or on the platform, its just that simple, and I like to think I am a normal and sane person.

This is all completely insignificant. Regardless of your opinions about guns, regulations, and laws, the bottom line is, twenty innocent children are dead, six adults, and the murderer, in spite of his actions is a victim. When people discuss gun control laws after events like this, it always infuriates me, because it takes the conversation and spotlight away from the victims and turns it on “an inanimate weapon”. On a certain level it takes the blame away from the person who wielded the weapon that took the lives away from people who had so much left in life to experience. 

A gun is a tool, like any tool it needs to be respected. Like any tool it has a purpose, and it might not have any other use but to kill or maim, but if and when you need to use a gun, it might just save your life. My final point is this, blame the murderer, who killed twenty children and six innocent adults, for no reason at all. As far as I am concerned any future explanation is insufficient. It is a slap in the face to all of the people who died to blame the weapon instead of blaming the person, blame the shooter not the gun.