Our Rightward March into Oblivion on Guns

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I’m a gun owner. I bought my first gun in 2011, when I became a homeowner, after reading about one-too-many black folks being mistaken for burglars and killed by police in their own homes. I own a 12-gauge shotgun and a .40 S&W carbine. I enjoy going to the range and going away for my semi-annual dude trip, where we go trap and target shooting. Obviously, I’m not a gun abolitionist, but I think our current gun policy conversation borders on the preposterous.

NRA Spokesman Wayne LaPierre’s “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun” might be the dumbest piece of propagandistic claptrappery to penetrate common parlance in my lifetime and is one of the clearest indicators of the drift into absurdity of the US gun debate.  

Like most Americans, I’ve watched in horror, the recent spate of mass shootings. Pulse Nightclub in Orlando: 49 dead, 58 wounded; the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas: 58 dead, 851(!) injured; Stoneman Douglas HS in Florida: 17 dead, 14 of them children. Sadly and predictably, there will be more.    

This is a uniquely American problem. We are an outlier. We choose to let this happen.

A contributing factor to our current situation is the insular nature of American politics. Too few Americans travel abroad, consume international news, or have friends who live abroad. We don’t understand how preposterous and atypical our levels of gun violence are. We are literally the only developed nation where people are murdered with regularity using weapons of war. We are literally the only developed nation where the open carrying of guns is viewed as acceptable behavior. We are literally the only developed country in the world where the idea of arming teachers is being treated as a serious policy proposal (it isn't).  

One of my colleagues, Ms. Bockus, does a lesson in her AP Language class about the syntax of the Second Amendment (quoted in full for those unfamiliar): “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.” It is a complex sentence: several subordinate clauses and one independent. Certain folks in the gun debate focus on the “shall not be infringed” clause, while conveniently disregarding the “well regulated” portion of the Amendment. But, under any reasonable reading of the entire amendment it is clear: Americans have a right to bear arms and the government has the right to put reasonable limits on said right.  

But, reasonable policies that were passed on a bipartisan basis a generation ago are somehow considered radioactive in our modern politics:

  • In 1967, under the leadership of Governor Ronald Reagan, California passed the Mulford Act, banning open carrying of firearms in the state
  • In 1994, in a bipartisan vote, Congress banned the sale of new assault weapons. This ten year ban was allowed to sunset by Congressional Republicans in 2004
  • In 1999, following the shooting in Columbine, Wayne LaPierre came out in support of gun free zones in schools stating, "We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools. Period."

Our current gun policy debate, with the president proposing the arming of teachers, is a fundamental departure from common sense and historical trends and precedents. This is a recipe for more mass shootings. More extensive background checks, red flag laws, magazine capacity limits, and an assault weapons ban (grandfathering-in existing weapons) are examples of sensible policies that can save lives and make more sense than arming teachers.

We need to learn lessons from abroad and locales with lower rates of gun violence. We need our politicians to show courage in the face of the gun lobby. We need reasonable gun owners to speak out for sensible policy.  None of this is Earth-shattering, but it requires putting aside pride and getting out our political bubbles. The mass shootings are becoming more lethal; five of the ten most deadly US mass shootings have occurred since 2015. Our children deserve better than to inherit a broke, hyper-violent, dystopian Wild West. We can do better.

NRA Spokesman Wayne LaPierre’s “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun” might be the dumbest piece of propagandistic claptrappery to penetrate common parlance in my lifetime and is one of the clearest indicators of the drift into absurdity of the US gun debate.  

Our National Amnesia: Remember, Immigrants Make America Great

 NYC in the distance from Alaska Air Flight 11 on Wednesday, January 24

NYC in the distance from Alaska Air Flight 11 on Wednesday, January 24

Earlier this week, I spent a few days in New York City at Inman Connect. On the way into the city when I caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, I commented in my broken Spanish to my Lyft driver: she’s still there, she’s still beautiful.

For me, this trip was a timely reminder of our history. Unless you are a Native American (they were here first), an African-American descended from chattel slavery (we were brought here in chains), or a Mexican-American from one of the areas “ceded” in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (they didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them) you are likely either an immigrant or descended from immigrants.

In 2016, during the GOP primary, the $20,000,000,000 wall that candidate Trump wanted to build along our southern border was a punchline that other candidates rightfully derided. Now, mainstream GOP figures have gone from mocking the Wall to embracing it. It is now the centerpiece of the immigration plan being proposed by the congressional majority. The capitulation on the Wall, first by Republicans, and now by Senate Democrats is an indicator of what ails us.  

If you are white or believe yourself to be white, your family’s story likely goes something like the plot of Sergio Leone's 1984 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in America: They arrived from the working class neighborhoods or farms surrounding Sicily, Dublin, Stuttgart, Krakow, Sarajevo, or East London. Many of them were not considered white in their lifetimes--they were called Wops, Polacks, Jews, Krauts, Olafs, Squareheads, and Micks. They arrived broke as hell. They arrived not speaking English. They moved into neighborhoods full of other immigrants and shopped at ethnic markets. They found work, backbreaking manual labor--farm work, construction, working in sweltering hot kitchens, driving taxis for 60+ hours a week. They lived in crappy apartments or small rural houses. They met someone and settled down. They put their children in school and taught them the value of hardwork. Their children spoke English at school and their native language at home. They sent long letters home in pidgin English singing the praises of America and the opportunities here. More recent immigrants sent home remittances via Western Union. Soon others from their villages, towns, and neighborhoods followed the paths they tread to America. They learned English over time, but spoke with a heavy accent until their death.

This is the American story. Immigrants to the US have always come from what some might call "shithole countries" and "shithole neighborhoods". But, they came with dreams. They worked, saved, bought homes, and helped bring other family members here. This is the “chain migration” our national leaders refer to with such derision. Chain migration is simply a means of family reunification.

 I have shirt that says “Immigrants Make America Great.” I don’t wear it to make a political point. I wear it because I know our nation’s history.

I have shirt that says “Immigrants Make America Great.” I don’t wear it to make a political point. I wear it because I know our nation’s history.

A call to my conservative readers and friends: Over seventy-percent of Americans support protections for Dreamers. Reasonable people can disagree about policy: should DACA recipients be eligible for citizenship or just permanent residency? Should we have a diversity lottery or move to a points based system like Canada? Those are points up for debate. But, we can’t allow American nativists to dominate the national immigration conversation with their ahistorical tales and white-nationalist tirades. We can’t normalize the Breitbarts and Stephen Millers, nor their monochromatic, ethno-nationalist lexicons and worldviews.

Watching our national conversation about immigration, I feel like we’re losing a part of our collective humanity. Watching Christians whom I’ve known for decades turn into belligerent nativists is breathtaking. Seeing folks who claim to support family values, prattle on in dehumanizing language about “anchor babies” or “the illegals” shows how lost we truly are. The Dreamers I teach have committed no crime and are as American as my US-born students. My immigrant students from Africa give their all in the classroom and then work after school to support their families. My Salvadoran grads work hard and then set up side hustles selling pupusas out of their homes to make tuition. They are all as integral to the American tapestry as you or I.
 

Fam, I’m Not Here for your Millennial Shaming

 Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 1946, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump were all born. The planet may never recover.

The Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation defeated fascism, built the interstate highway system, and most of our modern infrastructure. They electrified Appalachia, ended Southern Jim Crow de jure segregation, rebuilt a third of the planet via the Marshall Plan, and artfully avoided vaporizing the planet in a nuclear holocaust in the Cold War.

In contrast, the Boomers still can’t get over Vietnam.

I was born in 1979, the tail end of Generation X and Boomers have dominated American politics my entire adult life. They’ve waged a pointless, polarizing, five decade long culture war. Boomers wasted billions in a racist and classist war on drugs that has militarized local law enforcement, and fueled mass incarceration. They’ve delayed maintenance on the infrastructure they inherited to the point that bridges are literally falling down and our rail system falls somewhere between Poland and Morrocco’s. They have poisoned our politics through congressional gerrymandering, corporate media consolidation, and dumbed-down-cable news-soundbite politics. Most damaging, they killed the idea of “Americans as Citizens” -- people with a sense of shared obligation and ushered in the period of “Americans as Taxpayers” -- atomized, lone wolves with no appreciation of history, civics nor the common good.

The evidence of decline is all around us. Our most beautiful and important bridges and infrastructure were all built decades ago. I recently returned from a trip to Eastern Washington where I visited the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams. While standing in their respective visitors’ centers, I realized that they, like almost every Park Service or Interior Department facility that I’ve visited, are frozen in amber relics from the 1980s. This is about the time Congress started taking a hatchet to the non-defense discretionary budget in order to pay for endless waves of tax cuts for Boomers.

The Laffer Curve could only come from and could only work on this silly, selfish generation. They have lavished benefits on themselves: Medicare Part D, mortgage interest deductions, and decades of war abroad -- all while demanding tax cut, after tax cut, after tax cut. This is the essence of Boomer economics: after benefiting from more taxpayer subsidies than any US generation, they’ve hollowed out of the commons in order to provide tax breaks to themselves, and debt & deficits in perpetuity for us.

 From Bakersfield Observed

From Bakersfield Observed

I am a part of the last generation of Americans who could feasibly work their way through college and graduate debt free. Somewhere in the late-aughts driven by stagnated wages and skyrocketing tuition costs, working your way through college became nearly impossible. In half a lifetime, college tuition costs have risen from under $500 per year to their current levels, where the typical graduate crosses the stage with +$37,000 in debt. Rising tuition costs are driven by declining state support for universities, which is driven by tax cuts. Boomers are the worst.

Boomers have waged inter-generational financial warfare on future generations, all the while calling them lazy, undisciplined, and impractical. How exactly do we build a future middle class if higher education is out of reach for those who need it most -- the working poor? This is a problem the Boomers lack the capacity, willingness, and empathy to solve, but it is one we must confront in the near future.

I’ve had my fill with Millennial shaming. The business press concern trolls debt-ladened Millennials (and soon Gen Z kids) with petty, hot-take articles about them destroying the diamond industry (good riddance to De Beers), bar soap (because it’s gross and unsanitary), Applebee’s (it won’t be missed), and my favorite -- the housing market (spoiler: they're delaying buying homes because of low wages and the aforementioned $37k average student loan debt).

I've met with and lobbied Boomer policymakers at every level of government. It’s an exhausting exercise. But, in my 9-5, I've spent the last eleven years teaching Millennials and now Generation Z kids. It's not even a contest. The kids are more empathetic, less judgmental, more collaborative, and more justice-oriented than the folks running our country today. They're less ideologically rigid and think the current era of partisan gridlock is dumb (which it surely is). The kids are alright. A future built by Millennials and Generation Z kids will be far brighter and egalitarian than the present. I pray I live long enough to see the world they'll create, if the Boomers don't destroy it all first.