December 25, 2008

Gloomy Christmas Meditations

Original post: December 25, 2008

Today was Christmas Day here in Tokyo. It's now 11:23 p.m., which means by the time I post this the day will be over.

Every Christmas since 2004 the first thought on my mind has been the tsunami that roared through the Indian Ocean that year and left around 230,000 people dead. On this day I always offer a silent prayer for those left behind. The dead, after all, no longer need my prayers. It's the living who bear the scars and live with the constant reminders of all they've lost.

This year I've spent most of the day doing research for a novel I've recently begun outlining. A lot of that research is focused on firearms, and that also means my mind drifts inevitably to our modern world where firearms have a reputation for being evil. How on earth an inanimate object can have a moral dimension is beyond me, but that is the reputation firearms have in the modern world.

Life is really odd. At least mine is. On April 17, 2007 (in Japan), I wrote a post about peace movements past and present. I was planning to start a long series about what peace means to me and why I think peace has eluded us for so very long. Unfortunately, while I was thinking about peace a young man named Cho was slaughtering his schoolmates. On April 18, 2007 (in Japan), I pointed out that to my mind, the entire incident was directly related to cultural marginalization of anyone who doesn't quite measure up to the glitzy, elitist assumptions of those Americans who go through life believing the world exists for the sole purpose of satisfying their every whim. On April 23, 2007 (in Japan), I reiterated my long-standing theme that individuals who are armed and vigilant have a higher survival rate than those who sit around waiting for the police to come rescue them.

My father spent his life working in law enforcement. My father, the cop, is the one who went to great lengths to teach me to shoot straight and hit what I aim at every single time. He knew first hand the sad fact that in reality, the police always arrive too late to rescue anyone. Life is not a television drama, nor is it a feature film. Out here in the real world if you are not prepared to defend yourself, sooner or later you will become a victim. There are no exceptions.

How many people could have been saved if an armed student or faculty member had killed Cho within the first few minutes of the intial shooting that triggered his rampage? How many people would have survived if a student or faculty member had shot down Harris and Klebold either out in the parking lot where their first victim fell or just as they entered the cafeteria?

Training, education, and competency. We don't need stronger gun laws. What we really need is for every single one of us to learn from a very young age how to defend ourselves when the need arises and then have incentives in place to keep those skills honed razor sharp.

I found a really odd article today. In New South Wales, Australia a rash of stabbings is prompting a call for tougher gun control! They are calling it an "amnesty". What that means is if you turn in your gun between now and the end of March they won't arrest you! Mind you, they won't refund you the purchase price or anything like that, and if you happen to be a collector I suppose you're up the creek without a paddle. There is also talk of a "tough response" to "legal" gun owners who don't "properly secure" their firearms. All this in response to a crime spree centered on knife attacks that have now become commonplace because ten years ago they bought back an estimated one-seventh of the civilian arsenal.

No, you did not read that wrong. A decade ago the Australian government bought just under 700,000 guns from its citizens and destroyed them. Now, ten years after the buy-back, they are again talking about stricter gun control in response to rising violence related to knives! I'm sorry, but I don't get it. How does a rise in knife-related crime create a need for draconian gun laws in a nation where just possessing a handgun is enough to earn a stiff jail sentence?

Sooner or later, and probably sooner, there's going to be another natural disaster with global impact. A number of geologic hotspots have been showing increased activity over the past ten years, including Yellowstone and the Marianas trench. Kiluea has been throwing out lava for over two decades now. If the igneous crust that has formed on that side of the island decides to split, it could send out a two hundred foot tsunami that destroys coastal cities stretching from Anchorage to Punta Arenas.

Life on Earth is hard, has always been hard, and will continue to be hard. Unexpected deaths are going to occur. Pain, suffering, and loss of those we love are inevitable. There are only two things that every single one of us must do in order to enjoy life on Earth: we must be born and we must die. Encouraging responsible use of firearms won't help prevent the next global disaster, but it will lessen the impact of the next crazed victim of social conformity who goes on a killing spree in a shopping mall, country church, or city school.

We can't control nature, and like it or not, nature breeds dangerous people just as easily as it produces earthquakes and hurricanes. The one thing we can do, regardless of whether it is nature or lunacy that threatens to take our life before we are ready to give it up, is be prepared. Part of that prepartion is keeping a freshly stocked first aid kit and good supply of preserved foods. An equally important part is learning fundamentals of self-defense, including the safe use of firearms. Your life depends on it and so does mine.

Tragic footnote on December 27, 2008

Man Dressed as Santa Kills 8
Santa Killer Changed Plans During Attack

I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record. I am trying to counter the fear and paranoia that stories like the one above create. There were many failures that contributed to this event, all of them social in nature. What trauma from his childhood left him with the inability to accept the failure of his marriage? What scars and insecurities in both he and his ex-wife caused them to separate with so much pain and anger after only a year of marriage? Why was no one in the house armed, trained, and prepared to defend themselves?

We need to find solutions for the social inequities that lead to these kind of crimes. Each of us individually needs to learn how to forgive and forget when things go wrong. Most important of all, we all need to learn both how to meet the needs of those around us and how to clearly communicate our own needs without demanding that others make unwelcome sacrifices in order to meet those needs.

Love and tolerance, the old-fashioned Biblical kind, is the key to a better future for everyone. Intolerance, prejudice, and egocentricity are the main causes of violence in our world. It's not the guns we need to control, it's our own selfish desires and the narcissistic belief that other people exist for the sole purpose of servicing our needs.

Last but not least, we need to be trained and prepared to defend ourselves and our families when a gun-toting Santa comes knocking at the front door.

December 18, 2008

CNN reports on the death of Billy Joe Johnson

Original post on December 18, 2008

I grew up around firearms. Sure, I've been in Japan for over twenty years, but that doesn't change the simple fact I was shooting guns long before I was driving. At nine or ten, I often sat my father's garage helping him reload ammo. I shot my first deer when I was thirteen, my first wild pig when I was sixteen. Long before I joined the army I could spend a day at the shooting range, fire hundreds of rounds through a variety of weapons, and never have a single round land outside the center three-inch circle of a target, with the vast majority far inside the two-inch bullseye. I'm no expert, but I'm darn good with both handguns and rifles.

I haven't done much shotgun shooting. Very little. I wouldn't want to depend on taking a bird on the wing in order to eat. Nonetheless, there are certain facts that do not change no matter what kind of weapon you are using. Most important of all, in any gun-related death, there are only three possibilities: accident, suicide, homicide. That's it. So when I watch the video above, a few possible scenarios immediately come to mind:

1) The patrolman demanded to inspect a shotgun being carried in the back of the teenager's pickup truck. The teen, being foolish and unfamiliar with firearms, had put the shotgun in his truck fully loaded and while he was pulling it out something snagged the trigger and the gun discharged, killing the teen. Or perhaps the patrolman tried to remove it himself but the teenager grabbed it, causing the patrolman to accidentally depress the trigger.

2) The patrolman spotted the shotgun, felt threatened, pulled his sidearm and shot the teen.

3) The patrolman found the shotgun and shells in the back of the truck, pulled it out, loaded it, and was menacing the teenager when the gun went off accidentally because the officer in question was not properly trained to begin with, or perhaps he was just a rabid racist and decided to kill the teenager so he pulled the trigger intentionally.

4) The teenager was so humiliated to have been pulled over that while the patrolman was checking his license he retrieved his shotgun and committed suicide.

Somehow I simply cannot believe #4. There is no way in all creation that Billy Joe Johnson committed suicide. If he were that unstable, he probably wouldn't be carrying a shotgun around. So either the gun accidentally discharged while Billy Joe was attempting to remove it, in which case it's his own fault for being foolish enough to carry a loaded shotgun in his truck, or the patrolman pulled the trigger. The patrolman might not have been a rabid Mississippi racist looking for an excuse to take down a black kid. He might have been attempting to remove the shotgun when Billy Joe grabbed it and attempted to stop him. Again, if that is the case then Billy Joe made two mistakes, the first was transporting the shotgun with a round in the chamber and the other was interfering with the patrolman.

So basically, I am reasonably certain that one of two results will be determined by the investigation. Either the death was Billy Joe's own fault because he did not unload his shotgun before putting it in his truck, or the patrolman killed him intentionally and is now trying to cover it up.

In either case, human error led to this untimely death of a gifted high school student. It's not the fault of "lax" American gun laws. It's not the fault of "America's love affair with guns". It's either human stupidity or human sadism, neither of which can be regulated out of existence.

For what it's worth, and being pure speculation it's not worth much, with the little information that has been released so far my first impression is that the patrolman shot Billy Joe Johnson with his sidearm, which makes the shotgun nothing more than a great big red herring.

Update on December 23, 2008

Now this is odd. Apparently another police officer was responding to a burglary just a few blocks from where Billy Joe Johnson was pulled over. Even stranger, the burglary victim had already identified Billy Joe Johnson as the burglar!

More information is here:
Newly Released Police Documents
Sun Herald Response to the Press Release

If I was slightly suspicious before, I am deeply suspicious now.

Update on August 5, 2010
According to a Fanhouse article from Feb. 12, 2009, a Grand Jury concluded that Billy Joe Johnson's death was accidental. I have not been able to find any additional details.

If I were to offer an assumption, my best guess would be heavy cocaine usage (as described in the original reports from his autopsy) contributed to careless handling of his firearm while he was removing it from behind the seat of his truck. Why he was removing it and what his intentions were will remain a mystery. Even if some evidence emerges later, the death remains a tragic end of a young life on the threshold of greatness.

Like everyone else at the time I allowed the media to manipulate my suspicions. For that, I am truly sorry. Over the past year and a half I have become ever more unwilling to believe the reports offered up in American media concerning events in our world. Nowadays I treat every report with a heavy dose of cynicism, especially if the report is attempting to portray some event as racist in nature or intent.

It is truly a sad statement of our times that we can no longer trust journalists to be objective reporters of the facts.

December 14, 2008

Facts are facts: Gun control encourages crime

More often then not, the facts speak for themselves. All we have to do is listen:

Sometimes I don't much care for of Penn and Teller's views, but this time I tend to agree:

A few more facts for consideration:

Funny thing about this next story, all of the major news networks that covered it failed to mention that Odighizuwa's rampage was brought to a quick and effective end when two armed students and one unarmed student stopped him as he left a building.

Wikipedia story on the Appalachian School of Law shooting

And just in case you think the Wikipedia article might be somehow mistaken, here's yet another voice saying the same thing:

The Price of Liberty

December 11, 2008

Fight back? Damn straight!

When my sons were four and five years old, I taught them how to make a fist and aim for the gonads. I taught them to punch the groin, the throat, the soft spot at the point over the heart where the ribs meet.

Remember this: Massacre at Virginia Tech
How about this: Massacre at Columbine
Does anyone remember this: Amish School Shooting
And, least it go unmentioned, this one: Grover Cleveland Elementary School Shooting

A bullet from a modern firearm will penetrate a desk as easily as it penetrates a sheet of paper. A masonite wall will slow it down, but leave it with more than enough velocity to kill. There are only two ways to survive when someone storms into a school or workplace and opens fire: fight back or run.

That's it.

You either disarm, disable, or kill the shooter, or you run like the wind and pray you don't get shot in the back. How many lives could have been saved in every single one of the incidents above if some student had thrown their desk instead of hiding behind it? How many lives could have been saved if the shooter faced a barrage of thrown books within seconds of opening fire? How many lives could have been saved if ONE person onsite had been armed and killed the shooter as soon as they opened fire?

There will always be insane people. There is no possible way for our world to be perfect enough that no one is marginalized, no one is left out, no one is rejected and left to fend for themselves. History clearly teaches that every single attempt to set up a human utopia has either begun or ended in genocide. Somewhere around seventeeen percent of any population group will always suffer from mental and emotional distress and some small minority within that seventeen percent will sooner or later pick up the nearest available weapon and lash out.

Reality is what it is. Reality is not what we imagine, nor what we hope, it simply is. Within the context of reality life is a fragile proposition, fraught with worry, filled with sorrow, and ever in danger of extinction. Teaching people to defend themselves is essential. Sooner or later every individual will find themselves in a situation of extreme danger with no help available to them. That is simply a fact of our reality. When that situation arises, when that moment comes, our reaction will depend on what, if anything, we have learned about responding to a crisis.

So I say, "Damn straight!" Teach your kids to throw books, throw chairs, punch in the groin, aim for the throat or heart, and if necessary, kill an attacker.

There is really only one piece of wisdom my father ever taught me: "Don't fight if you can run. If you can't run, don't lose."

Teach your kids how to defend themselves. Like it or not, their life depends on it!