Do Lives Matter? Or just guns?

Vigil with Chiu

California Assemblymember David Chiu, whose district includes The Bayview, speaks to Vigil participants

Candles lit, holding signs that read SPREAD LOVE, NOT VIOLENCE or COMMUNITIES AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE the group stood waiting to start. But nearly half of those expected were missing. It seems there had been a shooting several blocks away. One dead. A lot of police involved, traffic blocked.

 

The vigil to protest gun violence, delayed by gun violence, eventually got underway.

This was on a recent wintry night in San Francisco, when a group from Grace Tabernacle Community Church in the city’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood gathered for one of the regular vigils they have long held in memory of those killed by gunfire. It is a long list. The Bayview holds the unenviable record of having the most deaths and injuries from gun violence – by a large margin – of any area of San Francisco. It would be almost impossible to find anyone in the community who has not lost a family member, friend or acquaintance to gunfire; yet it is still home to generations of good people who continue to work for a better, even gun-free future.

Joining the Grace Tabernacle vigil group were a number of friends from Calvary Presbyterian church in the city’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, an affluent community which holds the unenviable record of having the city’s highest suicide rate. Some by gunshot.

Once the latecomers made it past the scene of the latest shooting, the group walked candles-aloft to a nearby corner where a young man had been killed not long ago. A collection of burned-out candles in colorful holders, some now broken, surrounded the parking meter at the spotVigil memorial.1 where he had fallen; the police had given up on it and let the site remain as a memorial. His name was Otis. No one knows who shot him; possibly he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Grace Tabernacle’s Bishop Jackson said a prayer and the group slowly moved on.

Occasionally they sang. (This Little Light of Mine . . . We Shall Overcome.) The wind repeatedly blew out candles, but there always seemed to be a flame somewhere. One candle-holder said to another, as she re-lit her candle by his, “I was shot in the shoulder on that corner a block away.”

The day after the vigil, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., presumably confident that no troubled person would ever be a student at Liberty, urged his students to arm themselves.

Also on that day the Senate once again failed to pass gun control measures, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill that would have prevented people on terrorist watch lists from being able to buy guns with which to commit terror.

Several days later, some who had attended the vigil heard John Weems, at Calvary Presbyterian, address the issue of gun violence. Weems had been part of the vigil, and made a biblically appropriate metaphor of the candles being blown out by the wind, but constantly re-ignited. Darkness, he said, cannot overcome the light.

At the end of his sermon Weems lifted a stack of 8 x 10 sheets about three inches thick, and a few helpers distributed them among the congregation. There were 353 sheets listing the date, location and number of people killed or wounded in each of the mass shootings (four or more killed or wounded) in the U.S. this year according to the only-in-America website shootingtracker.com. Another 45 sheets bore the names of the known 2015 victims of gun violence in San Francisco, the city named for a compassionate saint.

Gun collage

It would be impossible to know how many firearms are in private hands in this country, but it’s safe to say at least a few hundred million. Some of them – “assault weapons,” “semi-automatic rifles,” “sporting guns” by whatever name you choose – can kill more people faster than others; any of them can kill or maim. A wide range of weapons were used for the 353 mass shootings of 2015; all of them succeeded in wounding or killing human beings. The three sheets left to this distributor read:

DURHAM, N.C.; 8/21/2015. WOUNDED: 8. DEAD: 0

ROSWELL, N.M.; 8/21/2015. WOUNDED: 1. DEAD: 3

CINCINNATI, OH; 8/21/2015. WOUNDED: 5. DEAD: 2

It’s hard not to think about how much darkness might be prevented by having a few less guns in the U.S. Those who know that darkness best continue to light candles . . . and hope.

candles

 

 

 

Guns and children

Case O' Guns

Case O’ Guns (Photo credit: Gregory Wild-Smith)

There’s a women-for-guns photo floating around Facebook that should get an award for creepy-scary picture of the year. It features a pretty young blond with a baby in one arm and a rifle in the other. It praises all the brave women currently bearing arms (there are a lot of them, and we’re not talking military,) touts the second amendment and winds up with “…you could call it a woman’s right to choose.” For those of us already distressed about the growing infringements on women’s reproductive rights (not to mention the co-opting of  the term “pro-life,”) that’s a low blow.

I’m fine with women packing heat if they feel the need. And if they recognize that the simple fact of having a gun around vastly increases the chance of violence to themselves and their loved ones. But baby on one arm and gun in the other?

When we were young, my oldest sister (there were four of us) awoke one night to find a man lying beside her on her bed. After a great deal of shouting and confusion the intruder, who had come in the side door, dashed down the stairs and out the front. Nobody locked their doors in Ashland, Virginia in those days, though I’ll admit that for a while after that we did. The town sheriff was called, but no one was ever arrested.

The next day — after a night that began with six people in five beds but finished with three sisters in one and the frightened oldest in between her parents — my father bought a gun.  It was theoretically locked, and appropriately set far back on a shelf. But we all knew about it. My father talked a lot about his cowboy childhood in dirt-poor rural Texas, about shooting rats down at the barn, even about being briefly in the Army; we were not reassured.

Within a few weeks the presence of the gun became too much. My sisters and I explained that we were not afraid of future intruders, but we were afraid of the potential damage to them, us or innocent others represented in that ugly piece of machinery on the shelf. Finally, my mother chimed in.

“I want my children to be safe,” she said. “That gun simply endangers their safety.” The gun went off to wherever unwanted guns go.

So I wonder about the young woman with the baby on her hip. My sisters and I ranged in age from 8 to 16, and our mother still just wanted us to be safe. I wonder if that gunslinging mother really wants her baby to be safe?

Things that matter

My daughter, having survived intact when her truck was totaled on Christmas Eve, mourned the absence of her pit/Great Pyrenees puppy, who took off when the truck flipped. Apple the dog apparently decided things might be calmer in the wilds of suburban Atlanta. (Flo the very old part-Lab, opted to stay put; a two-dog loss might have been too much for Mom.)

Apple’s disappearance was the bad news. Here’s the good news: the outpouring of support, in the form of e-mails, Facebook postings and offers from childhood friends who hadn’t been seen in years to go search local pounds was overwhelming. It gets REALLY hard to stay forlorn in the face of love and support from friends, family and people you never heard of who are offering comfort and help.

At Nancy Pelosi‘s annual January gathering there was another kind of support in evidence — and for me another reminder of the value of lasting friendship. I got a quick hug from my favorite star Democrat, California senator Mark Leno, who is often talked about as a potential successor to Pelosi. He gets my vote: Mark Leno is smart, level-headed, perceptive and impeccably ethical. (We could do with more politicians who’ve had rabbinical training.) He is also still graciously loyal to his life partner Doug Jackson, who died of AIDS decades ago in the early years of that grim time. Doug was the son of old friends of mine in Decatur, Georgia, so my affection for the good senator goes far beyond politics.

The bad news is that wars and sadness are everywhere. (Though Pelosi listed her priorities: jobs, safety — read: gun control, immigration reform and overturn Citizens United; that would spread joy.) The good news is that friendships are more powerful than all of the above. And if you hang onto them you can nearly always get a hug when you need one.

The curious world of cyberspace

Disappearing from cyberspace is a little like being a tree that falls in the forest. A very small tree. Having disappeared from cyberspace myself for a couple of weeks, I am comforted by the fact that the forest is very large.

It’s not that this space disappeared, just that Boomers and Beyond disappeared. Boomers and Beyond is a blog primarily about issues critical to over-50 generations, and it came to pass on  True/Slant.com a couple of years ago. It dealt with health care and fitness and housing choices and brain exercises and driving safety, and often diverted into rants about gay rights and abortion rights and gun control and other miscellany — because the True/Slant folks were a free-wheeling bunch and why should anybody quit worrying about rights and justice when they turn 50? All those profound words are archived in this nifty blog (this WordPress one right here) created by incredible friend-of-B&B-&-this space Mary Trigiani, so that if anyone stumbles into the forest and wants to study a small bush those twigs — OK, enough with the metaphor — are there to be read.

True/Slant didn’t actually disappear; it got bought by Forbes, and is gradually reappearing (as a New And Improved Forbes blogsite) there. Boomers & Beyond is reportedly going to reappear thereon, as soon as a contract appears. In the interim, it is just sitting there inert, and after several watchful readers noticed its inertia (posting anything new isn’t an option at True/Slant any more) I decided to venture once more into cyberspace.

It’s pleasant to meet you here. I hope we’ll meet again soon.

One more (anti)-gun law progresses

Glock 19 Pistol,

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday the California state Assembly approved a bill 45-25 that would ban “Open Carry” — the carrying of unloaded handgun in public. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The measure by Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego, came in response to advocates who have been toting unloaded pistols in public in an attempt to expand Second Amendment gun rights.

She and other Democrats behind the measure, AB1934, called it a public safety issue and said law enforcement groups support the bill. Republicans said the measure targets law-abiding citizens.

Visitors to this space reading earlier posts about the Open Carry debate were essentially unanimous in saying I have no constitutional right to feel safe in public; 45 state Assembly members apparently see banning Open Carry as a way for people to be safe in public. Or more so, to some extent. The debate continues.

Assembly bans openly carrying guns in public.

Guns, drugs & sit/lie laws: who's got the real rights?

Discussions stirred up by the comments in this space a few days ago (see below) concerning gun rights v public safety rights ranged from the specifically pro-gun and pro-open carry (“citizens use firearms for self-defense between 150,000 and 3,052,717 times a year. The lowest estimate comes to about 410 times a day, and the highest estimate is 8,363 times a day,” says willbill; “How many times has an open carry proponent shot someone? If you use statistics rather than “from the hip” anti gun rhetoric, you will find legal gun owners are not the problem. Illegal gun owners are the problem,” says airtechjr) to the pointedly anti-gun (“Besides looking really stupid, having a gun visible – even if unloaded – is scary! Do you know how fast you can jam a clip into a Glock Automatic? 3 seconds,” says Tom Medlicott.) Emeryville, CA Police Chief Ken James says it’s 1.3 seconds.

In the long run, though, the argument is not about gun rights v public safety rights, says carlfromchicago, because I have no constitutional right to feel safe in public. And this all started because I admittedly did not feel safe while attending a panel discussion on the proposed California Open Carry ban (AB #1934 now in the state legislature) and learning that I was the only unarmed citizen within three solid rows of citizens carrying (presumably legal) concealed weapons. According to Carl,

Whether people are comfortable around guns is a very interesting and relevant social discussion. But this is not a question of two rights pitted against one another. As much as we all want to feel safe, it’s simply a frame of mind. The right you have is to think what you wish, and feel what you wish … but that compels no one, or the government, to ensure what you think or what you wish becomes reality for everyone.

This brings us to San Francisco’s currently proposed sit/lie ordinance. It says (more or less) you may not sit or lie on the sidewalk. It means, please get the drug pushers and increasingly obnoxious defecators-on-front-steppers out of the ‘hood. It arose out of frustrations in San Francisco’s famously tolerant Haight Ashbury (remember the 60s?) neighborhood where things recently have gotten somewhat out of hand.

This space is a strong supporter of humane treatment and expanded rights for homeless. Countless local and national programs, some good, some better, are in place and worth everyone’s attention; I try to make regular, teeny contributions of time and resources. But should I have the right to walk along Haight Street in broad daylight without tripping on a soiled, zoned-out kid whose dog is only loosely tied next to him? That’s the question. And should we now have a law enabling law enforcement officials to wake him up (if possible), move him along or toss him in the paddy wagon to be deposited in a jail cell? That may not be the answer. Either way, it is generating great heat and not a lot of light in my beloved hometown.

San Francisco is not alone in this dilemma. City Watchdog blogger Melissa Griffin, on her Sweet Melissa blog, reports having dug up a report (“Big pdf here,” she warns) on “Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities.”

The report surveyed laws in 235 cities (including San Francisco) and made some interesting findings:

  • 30 percent prohibit sitting or lying in certain public places.
  • 47 percent prohibit loitering in certain public places and 19 percent prohibit it citywide.
  • 47 percent prohibit begging in certain public places; 49 percent prohibit aggressive panhandling; and 23 percent have citywide prohibitions on begging.

At almost 200 pages, the report provides an exhaustive discussion of the legal landscape in 90 cities. Some have definitely used creative methods:

  • In Billings, Mont., it’s illegal to “aggressively solicit” and/or lie about being “from out of town, a veteran, disabled or homeless” while asking for money.
  • In Boerne, Texas, all panhandlers have to buy a license to solicit (like other solicitors and vendors) at a cost of $115. Durham, N.C., charges $20 for a panhandling permit.
  • Las Vegas, briefly had a law that prohibited sleeping “within 500 feet of a deposit of urine or feces.”

I am getting right back on the fence. Public safety does seem to me both an appropriate issue for discussion and an individual right. How far it can be legislated (there are over 20,000 gun laws already on the books across the country, uncertain wrote in) is debatable. I still wish guns would just go away. I don’t know what to do about obnoxious sitters/liers upon the sidewalks. Both seem obstacles to the peaceful communities some of us have in our memories and all of us have in our imaginations.

Handguns, the second amendment and the public safety

One young man with a suitcase, one with a hand...

Image by State Library and Archives of Florida via Flickr

Two sides of the gun control debate squared off in San Francisco this week, focus of a mini-battle over the fully loaded question: Does your right to walk around with a loaded gun in public override my right to feel safe when I don’t know if you might go off your rocker? This writer discovered, thanks to a show of hands at the Commonwealth Club sponsored panel, that I was the only unarmed person within a back-of-the-house three-row section. This revelation guarantees discomfort but keeps you alert.

California is among the majority of U.S. states which allow anyone to carry unloaded guns in plain sight, or licensed individuals to carry loaded guns concealed. Variations of gun laws — can you have a few in the car? how about in a restaurant? suppose your taste is for machine guns? — are complex and mind-boggling. Gun proponents fall back on the second amendment; gun-control advocates tend to cite public safety and privacy rights. Reasoned debate is pretty much out of the question.

The tempest in the California teapot arose over gun folks’ dislike of the “may issue” state business. California is a “may issue” state, meaning a permit may be issued to a law-abiding applicant; as opposed to a “shall issue” state, meaning you (law-abiding citizen) will darned well get that permit once you apply. In protest over the “may issue” situation, California gun buffs recently took to the streets — or to the local Starbucks, as the case happened — with prominently displayed weaponry. Some latte drinkers were not amused. Gun buffs were defiant. Starbucks reportedly wishes they had picked Peets. Meanwhile, CA Assemblymember Lori Saldana introduced a bill, AB 1934, to ban “Open Carry,” and the battle was joined.

At the recent panel, Emeryville CA Police Chief Ken James, University of CA Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring and Executive Director Sam Paredes of Gun Owners of California restated most of the familiar arguments. Throughout, James was expressionless, Zimring frowned, and Paredes wore an expression that can generously be described as a not-too-friendly smile. There were assertions (thousands of lives are saved every year by people armed and defending themselves or their neighbors; police don’t need to be stopping people all over the place asking if that gun is loaded; police can’t do their crime-stoppers job without the help of law-abiding, armed citizens; it’s not easy to know when an armed citizen will misuse his arms…) that all have elements of truth and elements of fantasy.

Two details are worth noting, though. Zimring pointed out that in the 2007  Supreme Court decision (District of Columbia v Heller), Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the 5-4 majority, took things a little farther than they had been by specifically mentioning handguns, which had not been invented when the second amendment was written. It’s handguns in public places that tend to rile up both sides. Therefore the hoopla over open carry, Zimring said, is not where the discussion should be. Eventually, the right to bear handgun v right to public safety will need to be settled. In other words, when does your right to pack a gun interfere with my right not to be around you when you do?

At the end of the discussion, moderator John Diaz, editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, asked a question about whether panelists were packing heat during this event. Off-duty Police Chief James was not, because he feels guns invite problems. Professor Zimring was not, because he said if he tried to hit a target everyone around would be in trouble. Citizen Paredes was. A concealed weapon, because you never know if another citizen might need you to leap into action. Was it loaded? Yes.

Somehow, this did not make me feel safer.