Is it the guns or the violence?

Let me start this article by saying I am not a gun owner. I have no interest in owning a gun, not because of any strong feelings towards them, but because I just simply have no interest in them. I have about as much interest in guns as I do in motorcycles. I don’t own a motorcycle, or have any desire to own one, but I have no problem with other people owning motorcycles.

I know a lot of people who own guns, and with enough guns circulating in America to arm every man, woman, and child, numbers suggest you know plenty of people who own them as well. The vast, overwhelming majority of these people are kind, normal (whatever that means), average Americans.

What I do have a strong interest in, are my rights (not the rights I think I should have, like the right of way in almost any traffic situation). Specifically, the rights given to you and me as outlined in the Constitution. One of which is the right to keep and bear arms. I am suspicious and leery of anyone trying to reign in or limit the rights I have guaranteed to me as a citizen.

Watching the news, or reading newspapers one would easily get the impression that gun violence is out of control. That shootings and mass shootings are a common occurrence and guns need to be regulated as they pose an immediate public health and safety concern. Well let’s look at the numbers…

In 2014, guns killed a total of 33,599 Americans. Seems like an immediate public health and safety concern to me. However, suicide killed 42,773 Americans. Drug overdoses killed 51,966 Americans, and alcohol related deaths killed 88,000 working age (20-64) Americans. That is 1 out of 10 Americans ages 20-64 died due to alcohol. With a total of 182,739 deaths from suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol combined, compared to 33,599 from guns, I would argue that these issues deserve to be at the front and center of media coverage and political campaigns. So why aren’t they?

Well, that’s easy. Mental health awareness, substance abuse treatment, and the like don’t make good headlines. They don’t increase viewership or sell newspapers. Mostly importantly of all, they don’t make you afraid of anything. I’ve said before that fear is the best motivator. Fear gets people out to vote and spend money. There are a lot of people making a lot of money off of fear mongering these days.

The media is constantly feeding us things to be afraid of, and operates by creating a climate of fear. Fear of mass shootings, fear of terrorists, fear of terrorists committing mass shootings. The truth is we live in one of the safest times in human history. There is no world war, or crusades, or empires conquering and pillaging each other. Violent crime in America is the lowest it’s been since the early 1960’s, and you are more likely to be killed by your television falling on you, than by a terrorist (yes, seriously.) Creating an aura of fear to push through legislation isn’t a viable solution to our problems. All it does is skew people’s perception on the world around them and limits their ability to think about issues logically and rationally.

With all this being said I concede gun violence is a problem, especially in inner cities. But I am personally worn out by the endless legislation on gun control that does nothing to stop the problem. Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and they are blatantly ineffective. Gun violence is still out of control in Chicago.

Our problem isn’t so much the guns as it is the violence, coupled with what I can only describe as a culture of isolation.

We live in a violent society. Much of the music, films, and video games depict acts of indiscriminate, random, and unexplained violence. We taboo sex in our society more than most Western countries and replace it with violence. We’ve also become more isolated in the digital age. Opting for Facebook friends over real ones, virtual reality over actual reality, and texting over conversation.

I’m not saying peace and brotherly love is a tangible solution to a complicated problem like a deeply rooted culture of violence, or gun violence in the inner cities or anywhere else for that matter. That would be almost (but not quite) as absurd as thinking more gun legislature is a quality solution to the “gun problem.”

All I’m saying is a small willingness to connect, interact, and try to understand one another is a step in the right direction towards a real solution. Peace and love sounds like a pipe dream, a big fat pie in the sky. But I’m more willing to set my sights there to enact change than to give up my constitutional rights based on a manufactured climate of fear.

-Mike

(All statistics taken from the CDC)

United We Stand

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It seems like every time I turn on the TV I am bombarded with news story after news story that shows the uglier side of the human condition. Seemingly every issue that is raised immediately gets polarized and politicized. A line is drawn in the sand and people scramble to pick sides before the dust even settles. Added to this we are in the midst of a bitter presidential election, which has brought the worst out of some.

What I haven’t heard or seen much of these days in news or politics are real messages that aim to unify a population that is becoming more fragmented and divisive. I know they are out there, but they are definitely not on the mainstream news cycle I have been watching. There are many reasons for this but the main one I see is that when people come together they have hope, and when they have hope, they tend to be less fearful, and there is no motivator quite like fear. An entire Republican presidential campaign is being run by exploiting the fears of Americans. Fear of the economy, fear of terrorism, and the list goes on and on. It is the main motivation of many people as they decide who to vote for, where to spend their money, and what side of the line (or aisle) they need to be standing on.

The schisms we are seeing in our society are not going to be solved on a macro level. The word compromise is going the way of those out of date words from Shakespeare. Somewhere along the way compromise turned into weakness. Instead, laws are shoved through in backroom deals. When funding can’t be agreed upon, it’s considered better to shut the government down, and when a Supreme Court spot is left vacant, there’s not even a vote held to fill it.

Like it or not we all call this country home, and while we don’t have to agree with one another, we sure need to figure out a way to play nice with one another.

So while my hope for a call for unity on a macro level dwindles, my belief that real change can occur on a micro level remains strong. What I took away most from the Bernie Sanders campaign was his message that we need to work together to make our country a better place. Regardless of your political ideology, race, class, gender, or sexual orientation, we can in fact find a middle ground and a way to compromise because at the end of the day we are all in this together. His campaign had what a lot of campaigns lack these days: humanity. It was a local, personal, grassroots movement. Whether you agree with his politics or not is irrelevant at this point but the message of collectivity and unity which millions of people rallied behind is one that all of us can carry forward independent of who becomes elected president.

I grew up in New Jersey, lived in New York for a short period of time before spending a few years in New England, finally calling Santa Monica my home. Each of these places couldn’t be more different from each other, culturally, historically, and politically, each facing unique problems from one another. But regardless of where I have lived in this country, I have met genuinely good people from all walks of life. On a micro, person-to-person level I have been the benefactor of the kindness of people, more often than not. So, while the challenges that threaten the unity of this country are very real, I won’t accept that they are insurmountable, as my experience has shown me otherwise. Each one of us can begin to make a difference just by how we treat people in our daily interactions. For me the two worst places for my bad behavior are while driving and surfing, so that means I will try to let someone into my lane instead of cutting them off and be kinder to others in the water. Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.

-Mike

Lesser of Two Evils?

As a young American who studied political science in college, I got the pleasure of studying in depth my heroes such as JFK and FDR. However, I draw the unlucky card of having a Trump v. Clinton election as my first presidential election I will be voting in.

This election is one of those elections that is sure to rile up your racist, inappropriate uncle at the family get together.

But if you have half a brain, which if you have the capability to read this I assume you do, voting for Donald Trump is out of the question and Hillary excites you about just as much as morning traffic on the 405. So what is one to do with such a dilemma.

You can put your head in the sand and stay home on Election Day. But if you do that, remember that you are giving up one of your most inalienable rights as a citizen of the United States. That right of the people to decide who will govern them has been fought for and died over. People have struggled for that right since the first day man attempted to govern himself. Matter of fact the right to vote is so engrained in who we are that we’ve actually tricked ourselves into thinking we are entitled to it, and that abstaining from it is just as fine as cancelling that terrible tinder date you had planned.

So let’s assume you are an engaged citizen of this democracy who is going to vote. You have quite the dilemma. So if you don’t want to vote for a tyrant and possible second coming of Hitler or a lying, do anything to get elected, run of the mill politician, then vote for a third party. Or pencil in a name, and don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad about that.

This isn’t a rant on the two party system, there’s plenty of those out there. But the fact of the matter is, with the two party system we have, we as citizens only get the two options given to us. And if those two options sucks, then I won’t vote for either of them. We are citizens of the greatest society, the greatest nation in all of human history, (despite what your trump-loving uncle, or socialist college professor told you) and as a result we should not accept mediocre candidates to be shoved down our throat. If enough people are pissed off and sick of the mediocrity and refuse to accept it, then we will see change. If third party candidates, or other votes start significantly taking away votes from the two major parties, then we will see a change.

By voting for a third party your voice is being heard, loud and clear. It is not a wasted vote, it is not a vote for evil because your taking votes away from the good candidate. No. It is you exercising your right as a citizen of this democracy for your voice to be heard. This election I will not be voting for either Hillary or Trump. In all honesty I will probably just pencil in the first name that comes to my mind when I am in the booth and by doing so I am letting my voice be heard. As a citizen of the greatest nation in the history of civilization I refuse to have inept candidates forced onto me, I refuse to pick the lesser of two evils, and I refuse to stay home on Election Day because of it. As a result, maybe my vote, and millions of votes like mine will someday make a difference in creating change that will better our nation. That’s what my vote is for.

-Mike

Originally published in the Santa Monica Daily Press 9/23/16