I hesitated when The Edge asked me to write about Parkland. My first impulse was to fall back on all I’m doing right now. I’ve been pretty busy making a living while also keeping up with recent developments with the Mueller investigation for The Edge–the approaching cooperation of Richard Gates, the indictment of 13 Russians and the reality that 130 members of the Trump Team don’t have security clearance.
Quite frankly, my second response was a certain kind of fear. I found myself saying that it’s one thing to write about The Swamp, quite another to write about a subject I know from experience prompts participants in the conversation to go ballistic. Reason flies out the window when you talk about guns.
So I said no. Until the morning after, when, up early before work and nursing my first cup of coffee, I turned on CNN and watched a high school freshman explain how her geology teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had saved her life and the lives of her classmates, making sure they rushed back to their classroom, then taking the bullets that would have ended their lives.
I changed channels and heard Cameron Kasky say, “Our community just took 17 bullets to the heart and it feels like the only people who don’t care are the people making the laws.”
I started to read. “I lost two of my closest, closest people to me because of guns,” said survivor Kelsey Friend.
We are used to lies here. What with the politicians of every stripe and the bureaucrats who bolster them, and even within the alphabet soup of agencies that is my own bailiwick, the reality is that truth is a commodity that has become increasingly rare here in the nation’s capital. Somewhere along the line, the politicians pretty much all decided they couldn’t get elected if they told the people the truth. So many have followed suit. And, until very recently, the press shied away from investigating the news, preferring a well-crafted press release to finding the story beneath the story they’re selling.
Like most of those I know or work with, I’ve gotten used to the lies, used to the liars, and used to the cynicism and the well-earned hopelessness that accompany the unending cascade of untruths we abide. “This is the way it is,” we tell ourselves hour after hour. We’ve become comfortable with a certain kind of cowardice.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the young adults of Parkland were cutting through the layers of despair I had built up all these years. They were telling their truth with passion and conviction. They were smart but, most of all, they were present. They were real. And there were tears in my eyes.
Of course, these brave young people were almost immediately countered by The Professional Politicians–those who talk and talk and talk–rebuked by all those Rulemakers who, for so many years, have relied upon a false arithmetic. But these kids wouldn’t give them the last word. Because they could see clearly that 2 + 2 wasn’t 3. For them, more guns equaled more death. More bullets meant more dying. For them, the currently acceptable math about guns–of course we could have more guns, better guns, more lethal guns–clearly meant dead friends and fellow students no longer living.
Then, like clockwork, the man who represents those young people who died, who supposedly serves those families who have been irreparably damaged and those young folks who magically survived, well, he couldn’t help but wade in with his well-worn excuses. Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News it was too soon to be talking about banning assault rifles, that we didn’t know enough about the details of this particular mass murder. Rubio told this grieving community: “I think it’s important to know all of that before you jump to conclusions that there was some law that we could have passed that would have prevented it. And there may be, but shouldn’t we at least know the facts?”
It was not appropriate for his Senate colleagues to use the incident as an opportunity to call for increased gun control. Later in the day, he tweeted: “In days ahead will become increasingly evident that killer in today’s #FloridaSchoolShooting gave plenty of indications of what was to come.”
The next day, Rubio continued on: “You could pass a law that makes it harder to get this kind of gun in new condition … But you’re going to struggle to keep it out of the hands of someone who’s decided that’s what they want to use, because there’s so many of them out there already that would be grandfathered in.” Increased background checks could also be ineffective because someone who fails a check could simply purchase a gun on the black market. “I’m trying to be clear and honest here,” Rubio said. “Someone who has decided to commit this crime, they’ll find a way to get the gun to do it.”
Which was just a long way around to telling everyone that the old arithmetic works fine for him: There isn’t anything to be done. And while he wouldn’t come out and say it, he has no intention of doing anything. You could almost hear him crowing: “Checkmate!”
In the end, Rubio tweeted from the Bible: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world. John 16:33.”
Which, in the past, might have worked. But these young people know a new math. They had noticed what he hadn’t acknowledged: that he was neither clear nor particularly honest with them, and that his opinions on these matters–and his votes, unfortunately–are deeply influenced by money. He had failed to tell people that, of all our representatives, he had taken the second highest amount of money from the gun lobby–that, while he tells his deeply wounded constituents they should take courage, he is taking cold cash.
But he is only one of the many. Sen. Ted Cruz squeezed $360,727 from the gun folks, and Rubio’s $171,977 barely beat out the esteemed Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who took $176,030. How much money did you contribute last year to a Congressional candidate?
Here, apparently, is how Ryan earns that dough: “There’s more questions than answers at this stage,” Ryan told Indiana radio host Tony Katz. “I don’t think that means you then roll the conversation into taking away citizens’ rights — taking away a law-abiding citizen’s rights. Obviously this conversation typically goes there,” he added.
“Right now, I think we need to take a breath and collect the facts.” Ryan called the shooting “horrific,” and said that he thinks Congress needs to wait for more facts about the shooter’s motivation and past criminal record.
Like Rubio, Ryan retreated to the Lord. “I think we need to pray, and our hearts go out to these victims,” Ryan said. “And I think, as public policymakers, we don’t just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data.”
I suspect that, while John 17:17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” might be a bar far too high to pass for many of our lawmakers, it might more aptly apply to the survivors of Parkland.
As Audra D. S. Burch, Patricia Mazzei and Jack Healy reported for the New York Times: “when a gunman killed 17 students this week at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., the first response of many of their classmates was not to grieve in silence, but to speak out. Their urgent voices — in television interviews, on social media, even from inside a locked school office as they hid from the gunman — are now rising in the national debate over gun violence in the aftermath of yet another school shooting.
“While many politicians after the shooting were focused on mental health and safety, some vocal students at Stoneman Douglas High showed no reluctance in drawing attention to gun control.
They called out politicians over Twitter, with one student telling Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, ‘YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.’ Shortly after the shooting, Cameron Kasky, a junior at the school, and a few friends started a ‘Never Again’ campaign on Facebook that shared stories and perspectives from other students who survived the rampage … ‘People say it’s too early to talk about it,’ Mr. Kasky said. ‘If you ask me, it’s way too late.’”
With “way too late” echoing in my ears, I went to work, where it didn’t take too long before I was witnessing a heated debate about the Second Amendment–amongst white men, by the way–and the right to bear arms. It didn’t take long before I heard that, if you take away guns from the law-abiding, only the criminals will be armed, or the claim that a better solution to Parkland was not to take away guns but arming the teachers. Round and round and round we go, I thought.
I told The Edge I’d do my best.
It wasn’t long before I got a text from my co-worker Karen over at the Asia desk. Short and sweet: “Parkland. The kids and the comic and Bess Kalb,” with a link that took me to late-night TV host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue. It took just a moment for Jimmy Kimmel to remind me how he had brought humanity to the health care debate when he shared the story of his newborn’s need for complicated heart surgery and his great concern for the many, many parents without his considerable financial means who wouldn’t be able to provide the same level of care for their children.
This is what Kimmel told his studio audience and those watching at home: “As I’m sure you know and feel, this is another very sad day in America … At least 17 lives have been lost. More than a dozen people are hospitalized, and our president, as he should, weighed in on the tragic events this morning from the White House.”
The host then showed clips of Trump’s speech from the White House on Thursday morning in which the president said, “No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning.”
“Agreed,” Jimmy Kimmel responded. “Here’s what you do to fix that. Tell your buddies in Congress–tell Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Marco Rubio, all the family men who care so much about their communities–that what we need are laws. Real laws that do everything possible to keep assault rifles out of the hands of people who are going to shoot our kids.”
Kimmel added that politicians and the president like to say that mass shootings are a mental health issue. He then reminded us that one of the first acts of Trump’s presidency was to roll back a regulation designed to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. “Your party voted to repeal the mandates on coverage for mental health,” Kimmel told the president. “So I agree this is a mental illness issue because, if you don’t think we need to do something about it, you are obviously mentally ill.”
Kimmel finished his monologue by saying that viewers could write or call their representatives to demand gun control. And if they don’t listen, he said, people can vote those representatives out.
“Whatever you do, do something because I, for one, am very, very, very, very tired of this,” he said, before showing clips of politicians and the president saying it’s too early to talk about gun control.
“Yeah, no, it isn’t,” Kimmel said.
Thanks to Karen, I learned that one of the members of the Kimmel team, Bess Kalb, who refers to herself as “a girl TV writer and a real piece of work,” counterpoised the saccharine tweets of the politicians with the amount of money they’ve received from the gun lobby.
Here are a few of their tweets and Bess Kalb’s responses:
Beholden as they are to the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers, is it surprising that these politicians tell us it is too soon to talk about, study, let alone actually act to ban the assault weapons that kill our kids and their teachers.
Could it be that Rubio and Cruz and Ryan and Trump would rather have the cash than save innocent lives? Not surprisingly, I learned from Marketwatch that the NRA and other gun groups have targeted 98 percent of their campaign contributions to Republicans.
Now, you and I have made a certain kind of peace with the NRA in much the same way as we have made a certain kind of peace with men sending our young to fight wars that don’t need fighting. My parents’ generation might have protested Vietnam, but they didn’t stop it. Later, the nonsensical war in Iraq destroyed a nation that didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, and we killed and wounded another generation of our young and pretty much abandoned them to PTSD.
Or on another front, another kind of accommodation, men have let other men sexually abuse women–the dreadful reality that we didn’t stop the Harvey Weinsteins in profession after profession, from rising to such power and prominence as they pressured, assaulted, raped women with less power, that we have accommodated ourselves to the presidency of a man who boasted he can kiss any woman he wants or grab the pussy of any woman he chooses.
I can’t help but think what we’re seeing and hearing from the young men and women of Parkland is but an extension of the #metoo movement, and Times Up. For it seems clear that at the heart of this is a new commitment to truth-telling, to reclaiming the quintessential moral core that we used to believe lay at the heart of the American experience–a young and vital multiracial, multicultural community demanding to be heard, demanding a shift in power from the representatives back to the represented, demanding that those who are quick to claim they serve actually do some serving.
What immediately became apparent was that, for these young people and their parents–prompted by such deep grief and profound pain, loss so profound–the normal bounds of political discourse dissolved in a heartbeat.
Clearly Trump’s remarks about the shooting failed to comfort the Parkland community. He told us: “Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families. To every parent, teacher, and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you — whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain. We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also.
“No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school. No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning …
In these moments of heartache and darkness, we hold on to God’s word in scripture: ‘I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you.’
“We trust in that promise, and we hold fast to our fellow Americans in their time of sorrow. I want to speak now directly to America’s children, especially those who feel lost, alone, confused or even scared: I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you. If you need help, turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer, or a faith leader. Answer hate with love; answer cruelty with kindness.”
The grief-stricken mother of 15-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff transfixed a CNN reporter when she spoke through their camera directly to Trump: “How do we allow a gunman to come into our children’s school,” asked Lori Alhadeff? “How do they get through security? What security is there? … There’s no metal detectors … The gunman, a crazy person, just walks right into the school, knocks down the window of my child’s door, and starts shooting. Shooting her and killing her.”
Then according to David Choi of Business Insider: “Alhadeff’s emotions poured out as she vented her frustrations against President Donald Trump, who responded to the shooting by urging children who were ‘lost, alone, confused or even scared’ to seek help.
“President Trump, you say ‘What can you do?’” Alhadeff said. “You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands. Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools. What can you do? You can do a lot,” Alhadeff continued. “This is not fair to our families. That our children go to school, and have to get killed. I just spent the last two hours making the burial arrangements for my daughter’s funeral.”
Trump, who hadn’t mentioned guns, decided to raise the issue of the mental health of the shooter, scolding the community for its failure to report his problem to the authorities in an early morning tweet:
Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, spoke Saturday at a rally: “Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see. Since the time of the Founding Fathers and since they added the Second Amendment to the Constitution, our guns have developed at a rate that leaves me dizzy. The guns have changed but our laws have not.
“We certainly do not understand why it should be harder to make plans with friends on weekends than to buy an automatic or semi-automatic weapon. In Florida, to buy a gun you do not need a permit, you do not need a gun license, and once you buy it you do not need to register it. You do not need a permit to carry a concealed rifle or shotgun. You can buy as many guns as you want at one time …
“ … Australia had one mass shooting in 1999 in Port Arthur (and after the) massacre introduced gun safety, and it hasn’t had one since. Japan has never had a mass shooting. Canada has had three and the UK had one and they both introduced gun control and yet here we are, with websites dedicated to reporting these tragedies so that they can be formulated into statistics for your convenience.”
It’s clear she had read the president’s tweet: “There is one tweet I would like to call attention to. So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities again and again. We did, time and time again. Since he was in middle school, it was no surprise to anyone who knew him to hear that he was the shooter. Those talking about how we should have not ostracized him, you didn’t know this kid. OK, we did. We know that they are claiming mental health issues, and I am not a psychologist, but we need to pay attention to the fact that this was not just a mental health issue. He would not have harmed that many students with a knife.
“And how about we stop blaming the victims for something that was the student’s fault, the fault of the people who let him buy the guns in the first place …
“If the President wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.
“You want to know something? It doesn’t matter, because I already know. Thirty million dollars. And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one and one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump? If you don’t do anything to prevent this from continuing to occur, that number of gunshot victims will go up and the number that they are worth will go down. And we will be worthless to you.
“To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.
Crowd chants, shame on you.
“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS. Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS.
“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS.
“They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS. If you agree, register to vote. Contact your local congresspeople. Give them a piece of your mind.”
(Crowd chants) Throw them out.”
Like many of you, I’ve had my share of arguments. Each time there’s a mass shooting I’m filled with fury. But it passes. I’ve learned to deal with unacceptable death, unspeakable murder. But I have a feeling, for these young people, there won’t be a passing until there’s real action.
They’ve begun a movement and will March For Our Lives: “March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar. In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now …
“The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country. Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear. It doesn’t have to be this way. Change is coming. And it starts now, inspired by and led by the kids who are our hope for the future. Their young voices will be heard. Stand with us on March 24. Refuse to allow one more needless death. MARCH FOR OUR LIVES!”
These young people know all about homework. Well, I have a few suggestions for you. Go back and read the Pentagon Papers or watch the PBS special on Vietnam. Re-familiarize yourself with what happened when a bunch of arrogant white men who loved power and guns and bigger guns convinced themselves that invading a faraway country whose language we didn’t understand and whose history and culture we didn’t appreciate was somehow an enterprise worth killing more than 50,000 Americans and 1 million Vietnamese.
Read the reports compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1973 about some of the surprising consequences of owning a gun at home. You’ll understand why the NRA-purchased Congress stopped our government from producing similar reports.
Here’s a short summary: “In 1993, a group of researchers published a study that challenged the most basic assumptions of many gun owners: That owning a gun makes you safer.
The study, rigorously conducted by ten credentialed experts, and appearing in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, found instead that the reverse is true. ‘Although firearms are often kept in homes for personal protection, this study shows that the practice is counter-productive,’ the authors wrote. ‘Our data indicate that keeping a gun in the home is independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide in the home.’
“The previous year, the same researchers had published a similar study finding the same link between gun ownership and suicide. Both studies were funded by the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
The next time somebody lectures you about the Second Amendment and how important it is for people to have and keep their guns, ask them if they’ve ever read Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller. Then try and read it yourself. I lose my mind halfway through.
Now, I know many will disagree but, to me, Heller is the quintessential example of lawyering, a masterful display of cherry-picking the historical record and linguistic analysis worthy of a Ph.D. dissertation in English and American literature all to arrive at a predetermined conclusion. I don’t doubt for a moment that Scalia could have done the same impressive job arguing the opposite opinion. Somehow “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” dispenses with militias and has brought us to a mentally-unstable teenager bringing a weapon more efficient than the weapon that our soldiers used to kill so many Vietnamese into a Florida school.
I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. I’m an analyst and often think too much.
I’ll leave you with the promise of a new day and a new generation bringing new eyes, new minds and open hearts to an issue we’ve failed to address.
Emma Gonzalez put it this way: “We don’t want these people in charge of us anymore …We have to be the politicians in this instance. We have to be the people calling for change and demanding a change.”
“Students call for change, stricter gun laws in wake of Parkland shooting”
Feb. 16, 2018
“Rubio: Shooters ‘will find a way to get the gun’”
Brandon Carter, Feb. 15, 2018, the Hill
“Ryan: Don’t roll Florida school shooting conversation into ‘taking away citizens’ rights”
Avery Anapol, Feb. 15, 2018, the Hill
“A ‘Mass Shooting Generation’ Cries Out for Change”
Audra D. S. Burch, Patricia Mazzei and Jack Healy, Feb. 16, 2018, New York Times
“Jimmy Kimmel to Trump after school shooting: ‘You’ve literally done nothing’”
by Frank Pallotta, Feb. 16, 2018, CNN
Jimmy Kimmel YouTube Video
Trump’s speech addressing the Parkland school shooting
Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, CNN
“What can you do?: Mother of 15-year-old Parkland shooting victim demands action from Trump”
David Choi, Feb. 15, 2018
“Florida student Emma Gonzalez to lawmakers and gun advocates: ‘We call BS’”
Feb. 17, 2018, CNN
The Pentagon Papers, officially titled “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force”, was commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967. In June of 1971, small portions of the report were leaked to the press and widely distributed. However, the publications of the report that resulted from these leaks were incomplete and suffered from many quality issues.
“Blackout: How the NRA suppressed gun violence research”
Zachary Roth, Oct. 2, 2013
“Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home”
Arthur L. Kellermann, M.D., M.P.H., et al
N Engl J Med 1993; 329:1084-1091
DOI: 10.1056/NEJM199310073291506, October 7, 1993
http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199310073291506 – t=article
“Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership”
Arthur L. Kellermann, M.D., M.P.H., et al
N Engl J Med 1992; 327:467-472
Second Amendment – U.S. Constitution
Amendment Text | Annotations
“Prior to the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the courts had yet to definitively state what right the Second Amendment protected. The opposing theories, perhaps oversimplified, were (1) an “individual rights” approach, whereby the Amendment protected individuals’ rights to firearm ownership, possession, and transportation; and (2) a “states’ rights” approach, under which the Amendment only protected the right to keep and bear arms in connection with organized state militia units. Moreover, it was generally believed that the Amendment was only a bar to federal action, not to state or municipal restraints.
However, the Supreme Court has now definitively held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that weapon for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Moreover, this right applies not just to the federal government, but to states and municipalities as well.”
“School Shooting Survivor Emma Gonzalez Speaks Out: “We Don’t Want These People in Charge Anymore”
Elaine Aradillas, Feb. 19, 2018, People Magazine