Monday, December 17, 2012

Neil Macdonald: Death and delusion in a nation of assault rifles

 from December 17, 2012

Neil Macdonald
Senior Washington Correspondent
Yet another "national discussion" about guns is under way here, and it's so anti-rational, so politically cowardly, so …unbearably stupid that you have to wonder how a nation that has enlightened the world in so many other ways could wallow in this kind of delusion.

Twenty children are dead, and journalists and politicians have assumed those breathy, semi-hushed tones that have become so much the norm in covering tragedies.

Everywhere, there is talk about "the grieving process," with pious asides thrown in about the need to "go home and hug your children," or pray.

As if that is going to accomplish anything.

The American audience is a giant emotional sponge looking for distraction from its collective gun craziness, and the media obliges, broadcasting endless montages of victims, with sombre, hymnal piano music playing underneath.

After the state medical examiner had finished talking about multiple bullet wounds in each young victim, all inflicted by the same Bushmaster rifle, one reporter asked the man to talk about how much he'd cried — "personally" — while performing the autopsies.

To repeat: the 20-year-old shooter used a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle, a commercial model of the military M-16, and the reporter wanted to talk about crying.

The weapon is designed for war, firing ultra-destructive bullets that travel at 3,000 feet per second. It is designed to destroy human life as efficiently as possible, causing maximum internal damage.

As a colleague of mine so bitterly remarked, just perfect for a kindergarten operation.

The shooter's mother, apparently the first victim in this rampage, is being described in media reports here as "an avid sporting enthusiast" who "enjoyed the independence" of shooting.

She reportedly trained her disturbed son (whom she had once yanked out of the system and home-schooled) at the firing range.

When he left home for the elementary school on Friday, he chose the Bushmaster and a few semi-automatic pistols, leaving behind his mother's slower, conventional rifles, along with her dead body.

Terrifying logic


Now, as the so-called national conversation proceeds, politicians and pundits talk sternly about the importance of remembering that gun ownership is a constitutional right, practised responsibly by millions of Americans.

In this country, people actually speak about "enjoying" shooting something like a Bushmaster, as if that were some sort of normal activity.

Jason Chaffetz, a Republican congressman from Utah, proclaimed on Sunday that the real problem underlying these kinds of incidents is the mental health issue: "I am a concealed carry permit holder. I own a Glock 23, I've got a shotgun, I'm not the person you need to worry about."

Well, sorry, senator, but you are certainly one of them, at least in my (admittedly Canadian) book.

If I understand properly, you live in an urban area, and carry around a .40-calibre pistol with up to 17 bullets in the magazine, capable of firing up to five a second, just like one of the pistols the Connecticut shooter toted.

In other words, you pack the means to kill more than a dozen people in moments if you choose, and we just have to trust you to be sensible and hold your temper.

Chaffetz's position is, basically, the core of the pro-gun message in this country: The destructive power of the weapon is not the issue. It is all about personal responsibility. And personal freedom.

The logic is terrifying. You could extend it to hand grenades or flame-throwers. Some people here do. (Though grenades are actually illegal here).

Flame-throwers don’t incinerate people, people incinerate people, to paraphrase a favorite gun-lobby aphorism.

The 'child-killing lobby'


For the moment, politically powerful pro-gun groups — "the child-killing lobby," as the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, another Canadian, called them Friday — and most of their lawmaker allies are silent, save for the occasional declaration that this is a time to mourn, or to denounce "the gun control vultures already circling the corpses."

The National Rifle Association's website contains not a single word about the Connecticut massacre.

But just watch. Soon enough will come the talk about how the Newtown school shooting just underlines the need for even more ordinary Americans to arm themselves in self-defence.

And the weird, horrible reality here is that there is some truth to that. The NRA has helped ensure it.
There are currently about 300 million guns in this country, and gun laws are looser every year. The high courts have slapped down states that have tried to restrict gun use.

It is now quite normal to see people carrying pistols on their hips in shops and restaurants. Plenty more carry concealed weapons.

And many of these are criminals. Police are overwhelmed.

At the same time, it's a safe bet that if Sarah Dawn McKinley, of Blanchard, Okla., didn't have a gun last January, she'd be a statistic, too.

Alone with her toddler as intruders tried to break in, she called 911. The operator told her to do what she had to do.

She killed one intruder with her late-husband's shotgun long before police arrived. He was armed with a 12-inch hunting knife.

The new normal


There are, of course, other good reasons to own guns, especially in isolated rural areas. There always have been.

I remember a large dog, obviously rabid with foam on its muzzle, staggering toward our farmhouse in Ontario when I was a child.

My dad shooed my brothers and me inside, fetched his bolt-action rifle from the bedroom, slipped in a single round, and shot the beast dead. (He was a pretty good shot).

Another time, he walked out with that rifle in the middle of the night and faced down a car full of menacing, drunken, hoodlums in our lane.

Years later, a neighbour on a nearby farm was murdered by the "Ottawa Valley killer," while watching TV. The nearest police station was an hour's drive from our rural gravel road.

But my father never owned a Bushmaster. Or an Uzi. Or a sniper rifle. Or a flame-thrower.

What's taken hold here in America is lunacy. There have been 16 mass shootings in the U.S. just this year alone, leaving 88 people dead. It's the new normal.

Some of the killers wore body armour and fired weapons that scare Marines.

President Barack Obama has tearfully called for "meaningful action" on guns, just as he did after another mass shooting during his last term, and followed up by doing, well, nothing.

Perhaps he will try something this time, now that his last election is behind him and the history books beckon.
But what, exactly? His first election sent gun lovers racing to stock up on ammo and new weapons, for fear Obama would take their guns away. He had to assure them he wouldn’t.

Now, one of Obama's congressional allies, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, is mulling the notion of restricting weapon clips to 10 bullets. "We need a new paradigm," declared Schumer.

How about this instead: Start by taking weapons of war away from people who aren't soldiers or police.

Fuck Guns!

from The New York Times
December 16, 2012

In Town at Ease With Its Firearms, Tightening Gun Rules Was Resisted

People in the rural, hilly areas around Newtown, Conn., are used to gunfire. In one woodsy stretch, southeast of downtown, the Pequot Fish and Game Club and the Fairfield County Fish and Game Protective Association, where members can fish in ponds and hunt pheasant, lie within a mile of each other, and people who live nearby generally call them good neighbors. 

But in the last couple of years, residents began noticing loud, repeated gunfire, and even explosions, coming from new places. Near a trailer park. By a boat launch. Next to well-appointed houses. At 2:20 p.m. on one Wednesday last spring, multiple shots were reported in a wooded area on Cold Spring Road near South Main Street, right across the road from an elementary school. 

Yet recent efforts by the police chief and other town leaders to gain some control over the shooting and the weaponry turned into a tumultuous civic fight, with traditional hunters and discreet gun owners opposed by assault weapon enthusiasts, and a modest tolerance for bearing arms competing with the staunch views of a gun industry trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has made Newtown its home. 

The place that witnessed one of the worst mass killings in United States history on Friday, leaving 20 schoolchildren and 8 adults dead, is a bucolic New England town comfortable with its firearms, and not an obvious arena for the nation’s debate over gun control. But the legislative battle right here shows how even the slightest attempts to impose restrictions on guns can run into withering resistance, made all the more pointed by the escalation in firepower. 

“Something needs to be done,” said Joel T. Faxon, a hunter and a member of the town’s police commission, who championed the shooting restrictions. “These are not normal guns, that people need. These are guns for an arsenal, and you get lunatics like this guy who goes into a school fully armed and protected to take return fire. We live in a town, not in a war.” 

The gunman’s mother, Nancy Lanza, had collected several weapons, including powerful handguns and a semiautomatic rifle that she and her son, Adam, were fond of shooting, and it remains unclear where they took their target practice. Much of the gunfire and the explosions reported by residents to the police in recent months came from a spot less than three miles from their house. Police logs identified the spot as one of the town’s many unlicensed gun ranges, where the familiar noise of hunting rifles has grown to include automatic gunfire and explosions that have shaken houses. 

“It was like this continuous, rapid fire,” said Amy Habboush, who was accustomed to the sound of gunfire but became alarmed last year when she heard what sounded like machine guns, though she did not complain to the police. “It was a concern. We knew there was target practice, but we hadn’t heard that noise before.” 

Earlier this year, the Newtown police chief, Michael Kehoe, went to the Town Council for help. The town had a 20-year-old ordinance aimed at hunters that included a ban on shooting within 500 feet of occupied dwellings, but the chief complained that the way the law was written had left him powerless to enforce the rules or otherwise crack down on the riskiest shooting. 

The police department logged more than 50 gunfire complaints this year through July, double the number for all of 2011, records show. Some of the complaints raised another issue. Gun enthusiasts here, as elsewhere in the country, have taken to loading their targets with an explosive called Tannerite, which detonates when bullets strike it, sending shock waves afield. A mixture of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder, Tannerite is legal in Connecticut, but safety concerns led Maryland this year to ban it. 

Mr. Faxon, the police commission member, who is a lawyer, said he wrote the new ordinance, which would have imposed additional constraints on shooting, including limited hours, and a requirement that any target shooting range, and the firearms that would be used there, be approved by the chief of police to make sure they were safe. This was no liberal putsch, Mr. Faxon said; three of the five commission members are Republicans, and two members are police officers. 

“I’ve hunted for many years, but the police department was getting complaints of shooting in the morning, in the evening, and of people shooting at propane gas tanks just to see them explode,” Mr. Faxon said.
The proposal was submitted to the council’s ordinance committee, whose chairwoman, Mary Ann Jacob, would play a heroic role on Friday. Ms. Jacob is a librarian aide at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where she is credited with protecting many lives by throwing two rooms crowded with children into lockdown as the gunfire erupted. 

“We’re growing,” Ms. Jacob said in an interview on Saturday, describing a town where hikers and mountain bikers now compete with gun owners for use of the many trails and wooded areas. “The police chief is not looking to change behavior or go after a group of people, but rather he’s trying to give his officers the ability, if an incident occurs, to react appropriately. Right now, if you’re standing on your property and my house is 20 feet away, you can shoot.” 

The first meeting took place on Aug. 2, with about 60 people crowding into the room. Some spoke in favor of the new rules, the meeting minutes show. But many voiced their opposition, citing the waiting lists at established gun ranges. Among the speakers was a representative of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, who was described as saying he believed there was a greater danger of swimming accidents. “No privileges should be taken away from another generation,” he said. 

The president and spokesman of the group did not respond to messages left Sunday. Citing the continuing investigation, the group said on its Web site it would not be commenting on the massacre, but that “our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community.” 

A second committee gathering in September drew such a large crowd that the meeting was moved into a high school cafeteria, where the opposition grew fierce. “This is a freedom that should never be taken away,” one woman said. Added another, “Teach kids to hunt, you will never have to hunt your kids.” 

“No safety concerns exist,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation spokesman said, according to the minutes. 

The proposed ordinance was shelved, and Ms. Jacob said the committee was in the midst of researching a more limited rule, perhaps one restricted to making the existing ban on firing weapons within 500 feet of an occupied building more enforceable. 

“Five hundred feet!” Mr. Flaxon said in an interview. “A BB gun can go that far.” 

Newtown residents said many of the ranges in the area have long waiting lists of people eager to join, which has led to the profusion of informal ranges. 

On High Rock Road, where many gunfire complaints originated, what appeared to be three or more gun ranges were set back from the road. 

The owner of one, Scott Ostrosky, said he and his friends had been shooting automatic weapons since he bought the 23-acre property more than 12 years ago. It is safe, he said, because his land is sandwiched between two other gun ranges, the 123-acre Pequot hunting club and the 500-acre Fairfield club. 

The explosions his neighbors hear are targets that are legally available at hunting outlets. “If you’re good old boys like we are, they are exciting,” he said. He said he was distraught at the school massacre but said guns should not be made the “scapegoat.” 

“Guns are why we’re free in this country, and people lose sight of that when tragedies like this happen,” he said. “A gun didn’t kill all those children, a disturbed man killed all those children.” 

Reporting on the Connecticut shootings was contributed by Alison Leigh Cowan, Robert Davey, Joseph Goldstein, Kia Gregory, Raymond Hernandez, Thomas Kaplan, Randy Leonard, Andy Newman, William K. Rashbaum, Michael Schwirtz, Michael D. Shear, Ravi Somaiya and Vivian Yee.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

An Oil & Gas Haiku

The video below shows oil and gas PR apologists pretending to have the best interests of the people of Fort Chipewyan in mind.
From the film, White Water, Black Gold (2011)

the following is a haiku written by the 2007 VegNewsletter haiku contest winner, Lucy:

when you're dying of
cancer, fried chicken is not
really the answer