The Baby and The Bathwater

I should be used to it by now. The knee jerk reactions that make it so difficult to really affect and effect change.  Somehow, we always end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater – despite our best intentions to do otherwise. And yet I find myself getting more and more irritated with stupidity.  Two great examples of this are the current hot button issues of gun control and dog ownership (particularly pit bull ownership).  Owning a gun and owning a dog carry many of the same responsibilities if you think about it.   You have to make sure your guns are well maintained (cleaned, oiled and stored properly), and you have to do the same for your dog (vet visits, shots, grooming etc) .  You have to make sure your dog is properly leashed or fenced in your yard, and you have to be sure your gun is stored safely and properly and the safety left on when not in use.

For some reason, we cannot seem to figure out a way to hold offenders accountable for their actions. For some reason, its easier to restrict the activities of the population at large than it is to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate criminal offenders.  I’ll use an example from the workplace.  Most workplaces have a dress code. Enforcing said code presents its own particular set of challenges that may or may not be quite humorous on occasion.  Like dealing with an employee who showed up to work in their jammies and couldn’t for the life of them figure out why they were being sent home – because they dress that way to go to the mall….. sigh.  Or, banning everyone from wearing sleeveless dresses, shirts or tops in the summertime because some of the men decided to cut off the sleeves of their t shirts and the gaping holes gave everyone a glimpse of nasty pit hair…. Instead of telling these guys they had to classy it up they just tell everyone – NO SLEEVELESS.  Baby. Bathwater…. and gone…..

So many people are negiligent when it comes to pet ownership and gun ownership.  Letting their dogs roam free to chase and bite people; leaving their guns out where children, toddlers, and flat out  crazy people can access them (with tragic results).  So what do we do?  Can I get a “Harrumph?” from you all? Because thats what we do. We get on our sanctimonious soapboxes and engage in inefficient hand-wringing – then we make ridiculous blanket laws that restrict and penalize mature,  RESPONSIBLE dog and firearm owners.  Look what just happened in Maryland with regard to pit bull ownership.  Look whats happening within the Gun Control Debate.  You only have to witness the political posturing to become really really annoyed. And I am. Annoyed. To the Max. I’m a centrist, basically. Common sense dictates we need reform -not blanket all or nothing restriction.  Nor do we need to jump into the Way Back Machine and head for the Wild Wild West.  Because we’re doing it again – throwing the baby out with the bathwater; instead of engaging in thoughtful dialogue and compromise to come up with solutions that work for the majority of responsible hard working Americans. Let me list a few ideas:

Brindle pit bull

Brindle pit bull (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dogs –

1. If you want to own a pit bull you must register them for obedience classes and give a copy of the certificate to City Hall in addition to the rabies tag number when you get the dog licensed.  You must demonstrate re-certification of obedience training every 3-5 years. You must be a homeowner to own a pit bull, or have sufficient assets to cover a lawsuit if the dog injures someone. This goes for other breeds like Rottweilers, Pinschers, German Shepherds, Chows, Dalmatians, and Akitas too – since all these breeds have aggressiveness bred into them. There may be a few breeds I missed here feel free to add…

2. Dog owners already pay increased  homeowners premiums, (depending on the breed, and they may not even cover you if you have a banned breed)  but all dog owners should be required to submit proof of vaccination and licensing to their policy carriers.

3. All dogs should be required to be on leash or in a fenced in yard  when outdoors- subject to fine and/or seizure of the dog if non-compliant. Not all communities have leash laws, and those that do may only sporadically enforce them – doing so only after there is a problem.

4. Dog owners should be required to notify the public that there is a dog on their premises.

There’s probably more but that’s all I can think of right now. It comes down to common sense , really – Which ain’t quite as common as it should be, sadly enough.

219px-Weapons1                                             (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guns –

1. I’ve listed several things in other posts so I’ll just summarize here: Background checks for all sales.  Private sales should be illegal.  No actual possession of said  firearm by the buyer until a training course is completed and certification of the ability to use and store said firearm safely is on file with the gun seller, and the new gun owner’s insurance carrier. Yes I do think you should have to insure your guns. No sale to anyone with a history of mental illness ( improve those background checks) Your right to be bat-guano ga-ga does not supersede my right to keep breathing safely.  No sale to anyone who lives with a family member with mental illness. PERIOD. No sale to anyone under the age of 16.. Proof of age required to purchase. Possession of a firearm by anyone not carrying an FID card and proof of ownership should invite criminal charges for both the possessor and the registered owner. Magazine clip size should be limited. Modification kits – illegal.  If a tragedy does occur and the investigation reveals that the gun owner stored the firearm unsafely or improperly or knowingly allowed  someone other than themselves to use the firearm – then the gun owner should be held civilly and criminally responsible.

I understand this may not curb criminal activity or criminal’s access to firearms, but it will damn sure make it less likely that a toddler can pick up his fathers gun and kill a Tennessee Sherriff’s wife with it. And it will make it extremely difficult – if not impossible – for idiots like Nancy Lanza to provide their mentally ill child with access to firepower.  I am in no way saying people should not have guns if they want them. But they need to assure those of us that don’t  they can own and use them responsibly.  SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY. And,  SAFETY.

It is a great privilege to own a firearm, and be a pet owner. Both carry great responsibility with them .  If we enforce the laws we already have on the books, that will help also. But if people start understanding that they are responsible for the safety of themselves and others and will be held ACCOUNTABLE by laws that make sense for the majority of people  – then perhaps that baby I’ve been talking about can go get toweled off, powdered, and re-diapered instead of floundering around in the mud. Rant concluded. Thank you, that is all  (for now)


“I’ll take ‘Meaningful Conversation’ for 500 Gazillion, Alex…”

Hello. Yeah, its been awhile.  Like the rest of the country, and the world – I  have been mourning the precious, priceless lives lost in Newtown, CT last week.  And having a very, very, very  hard time dealing with it all.  The incessant media coverage most particularly.  While I want to stay up to date with breaking news, I must – and have – shut down the news except for brief periodic check ins for no more than 10 minutes at  a time.  My Christmas tree, so incandescent and sparkly at this time last week – has lost its brightness and luster.  Christmas Carols make me cry.  I’m crying at odd moments regardless. The feelings are overwhelming. We’ll get through it – but we won’t EVER get over it.

So, just how DO we have “meaningful conversation” about this horrible tragedy and move towards prevention of a repeat? The issues are so multi layered and interconnected.  The knee jerkers would institute a broad ban of firearms.  I speak now as a country girl with a long family history of responsible firearms use behind her.  My grandfather was featured in a 1967 issue of American Sportsman magazine (before it was a TV show) – as one of the preiminent hunter/sportsmen in the New England area.  At his knee, we all learned how to responsibly and carefully use guns (in my case a .22 rifle). One of the things I learned was this, :  “Use the gun you need to get the job done, nothing more, nothing less.”  Which brings me to my first thoughts:  Civilians do not need to own or have access to assault weapons. These firearms belong in the hands of well-trained and evaluated military and police personnel, period.  Hunters and outdoors men don’t use HK6’s or a bushmaster to shoot deer or elk.  There wouldn’t be much left to the carcass if they did.  Sure, it gives people a thrill to utilize that kind of firepower -but these types of guns are not necessary for hunting or for self defense for the average citizen.  A 9mm Glock, or a Smith and Wesson.38 or .45 will do the job quite nicely, thank you.  Just because one WANTS the rush of a 100 round a minute shoot-em-up does not mean one NEEDS to have it.  Its time we wake up and realize as Mick and the boys would say ” We can’t always get what we want.”  Or rather, we SHOULDN”T always get what we want.

I am a strong supporter of the right to bear arms. But with that right comes a great and terrible responsibility.    In my mind, this has to mean meaningful CHANGE in the processes by which we allow our citizens to arm themselves.  It should not be easy to obtain or retain ownership of a firearm.  I propose a certification and training system similar to how we license people to drive.

1. Minimum age requirement. I suggest 18 and up. My hometown was sadly the scene of a horrible tragedy in 2008 when an 8 year old was STUPIDLY allowed to fire an Uzi; shot and killed himself in the process because he did not have the motor skills or the hand eye coordination to handle the weapon safely.

2. Certification from a physician that in their medical opinion there is no physical or mental impediment to the person owning and using a firearm.

3. Completion of an intensive multi-hour training and certification course (like drivers ed at least 20 hours of gun range time and also classroom instruction) BEFORE you are allowed to even purchase a weapon. And, mandatory recertification every few years. We can track when dog licenses expire and fine owners.  We should be doing the same type of thing with firearms.  (and generate a new revenue stream in the process….)  Also, making ammunition more expensive.

4. Legislation that would hold gun owners completely liable if they do not store and lock their weapons safely and someone gets hurt as a result of their negligence.

5. If you are living with someone with mental illness you cannot own or possess a firearm. You should be held criminally responsible if you do, and something happens.

Meaningful conversation about this also MUST include a discussion about mental health. I have worked in Human Services for over 30 years and I can tell you we are most definitely NOT doing enough to assist our brothers and sisters who are afflicted with developmental disabilities and mental illness, their families, or  the hardworking staff who support them in their daily lives.  I started out in the field doing per diem shifts at group homes for the mentally ill.  Doing “awake overnights” much of the time. And being scared, a lot.  Staff are provided “applied non-violence” training which consists of about 24 hours of hands on and classroom instruction about how to defuse explosive situations and physically get yourself out of hairpulls, choke holds etc. And how to restrain someone when necessary.  I can tell you from experience this training is only helpful when you have to use it on a regular basis. And, if the individual gets hurt as a result of any intervention a staff does, the staff is required to report themselves to the DPPC (Disabled Persons Protection Commission) as an alleged abuser – even if the person just got a bruise in the course of being restrained.  Direct care staff take off their rights as individuals when they arrive at work just like you take off your jacket when you get home. I have multiple scars from bites and scratches, and arthritis in my shoulder and hip from injuries I received while working with aggressive individuals.   All this staff do for the bargain basement price of about 10 dollars an hour, barely above minimum wage.  That in itself is not right.  Direct support is an incredibly difficult job. Staff must be caretakers, negotiators, mediators, teachers, chauffeurs, and also dispense medication. They are also required to do charting, write progress notes and reports as well.  Most of them are not college educated.

My experience as a direct support staff working with the mentally ill ended thusly:  I worked the awake overnights at an “Intensive Supervised” apartment program in town. Which meant I worked with people with severe mental illness.  I was on my own from 10 pm to 8am with 3-4 individuals. I could ring a buzzer to summon a staff from the third floor if there was a problem but back in the 80’s that buzzer was high up on a wall – I could not press it wirelessly.  One day, we were informed at a staff meeting that we would be getting a new admission. This young man had been arrested in town after breaking into a gun shop and wandering down the street with the loaded rifle – while hearing voices that he should kill people. He was promptly involuntarily admitted to the State Hospital which was still in operation at the time. The clinician who was reporting to us at the meeting said that, while he was still having issues and hearing voices, he was considered stable enough to be discharged.  That night, I had a horrible nightmare that I arrived at work to a bloodbath on the walls and the young man jumped out from behind a wall with a bloody axe – screaming in my face  “You’re next!”   I quit before he was admitted to that residential program, and found meaningful work within the developmentally disabled population, where I have remained ever since.  I brought up this incident a few years later in conversation with The Viking. In a strange coincidence he informed me that he had been asked to come down to the police station for a line up  identification after the gun shop break in – because he lived down the street and had the same physical description as the mentally ill young man (6’1″, blond hair, blue eyes, late teens/early twenties)   Weird, huh? These days I work in an administrative capacity – direct support is most definitely a job for younger folks than me.  But I digress.

Better care of the mentally ill starts with better medical insurance coverage for families who’s members suffer from this terrible disease.  It contunues with better access to facilities for treatment, better access to psychotropic medications at an affordable price, and a more streamlined involuntary commitment process (in balance with and a sensitivity to individual rights of course) And a system that is willing to assist people in making difficult choices.  We must keep in mind that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.  We must  increase wages for direct care staff and provide them all the support and training they need to help the individuals they work with every day.  In my opinion we must also reopen discussion about institutionalization for those with severe mental illness. Those who present a danger to society because of their disease. This is already happening within our penal system. We are warehousing the mentally ill in places like Rikers Island in New York and have been doing so for quite some time.  Prison is not the place for these people, surely we can do better. These folks have no choice about their behavior.  We have to assure that those folks living in the community stay on their medication, and if they won’t – make sure they are institutionalized safely where they cannot harm anyone.  We must also support family members to monitor their loved ones.   Its not gonna be easy. EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE ON THE TABLE in order for any conversation or solutions to be “meaningful”.  These issues are too important, we need to act thoughtfully, responsibly and quickly.  I’ll end with a prayer:

Dear Lord:

Please guide our steps and heal our hearts as we move forward through our grief to finding sensible solutions to the problems we face. Help us protect our most vulnerable citizens; and give our leaders the moral strength to make the decisions that do the most good for the greatest amount of people. Please place your loving protection around the families who have lost so much – and help the rest of us to support them as we too grieve their loss.  Amen.

Warning: Gun Control and Poor Parenting Rant in 5..4..3..2..

OH.MY.GOD. I am amazed – and not in a positive way – at the utter stupidity of some people. The news has been full of this story since yesterday, and I was gonna blog about it then but decided to wait until the heat under my collar had died down a little. (And also to get some further information before I went off half-cocked) For better or worse at this point my ire hasn’t died down yet – in fact its worse since I have discovered more information- so I decided to start writing anyway. Oh, you lucky people…. So for those of you living under a rock, yesterday a troubled 9 year old third grader from Washington State brought a handgun to school in his backpack and when he slammed it on his desk the gun inside went off – critically injuring an eight year old classmate.

The Third Grader leaves the Courtroom, (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Ken Lambert, Pool)

This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened, nor are these the youngest children involved in such a thing “In 2000, 6-year-old Kayla Rolland, a Michigan first-grader, was fatally shot by a 6-year-old classmate who brought a gun from home. Last year, a 6-year-old kindergartner at a Houston elementary school accidentally fired a gun as he was showing it off to friends, injuring three students.” As a human being, a parent, and a strong advocate of PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY I am absolutely horrified by events like these. These things should not be happening – ever.

Let’s look at this logically for a minute – Gun Ownership is a constitutional right that carries a heavy responsibility. Safety Safety Safety. Guns must be kept locked up where children cannot get access to them and unloaded when not in use. It’s common sense. If you choose to own a gun, then it is also your responsibility to not only decide who has access, but also when; and to assure that they have the proper training and the maturity (physical and emotional) to handle the firearms in a safe and responsible manner. Elementary school age children do not have the arm or upper body strength, the fine motor skills, the hand/eye coordination- or most importantly the judgement – necessary to handle firearms safely without extremely close supervision and instruction – and any responsible parent/gun owner should know this. 8 year olds and Uzi submachine guns DO NOT MIX. This lesson was tragically learned by a family from CT at a Gun Show and Exhibition in my city in back October of 2008. It’s not rocket science. Unless you’re a DumbAss. And I’m choosing that word very very deliberately.

Back to current events: I guess my biggest rhetorical question is How in the hell did a 9 year old get hold of a handgun in the first place? I’ve made my share of parenting mistakes but I’m certain I had control of what my children were doing at that age. Allowing them access to firearms was most definitely not on my list of things for them to do. I knew where they were and who they were with at all times. Sadly, I read this morning that the boy isn’t even the legal ward of either parents. Both of whom have criminal records – the father is a “deadbeat dad'” who’s had restraining orders filed against him by the boy’s mother. And the mother is a meth head with drug convictions. Model citizens, upstanding members of the community. Riiighhhhttt…… DumbAsses. The boy apparently took the gun from his mother’s house when he was on a visit, and it was her boyfriend’s gun. Parole violation?? I hope so. Poor parenting…. lack of supervision….. same old sad song. Parenting is a god-given privilege folks – and it galls me to see sooo many people screwing it up so very badly. Sometimes I wish there was a licensing requirement for becoming a parent. You know, have to pass a test and be certified before you can actually have children.

And now I’m also certain the blame deflecting and finger pointing will start. The parents will make every effort to blame the school and whoever else they can find. It wouldn’t even surprise me if they tried to sue the school for some cockamamie reason or other. They won’t “cowboy up” though – I’m absolutely positive of that. None of these people ever do. Witness the debacle that followed the Uzi incident here in Westfield. The promoter/sponsor of the event was put on trial. Sorry folks, but the blame for that poor kid’s horribly senseless death lies squarely with the dumbass of a parent who let his 8 year old pick up a submachine gun in the first place. And the blame for this current tragedy – with the dumbass parents who lack the brains and common sense to keep their 9 year old away from loaded firearms. Whew, thank you – that is all….

Photo by David Molnar / The Republican As his father, Sean Connery snaps a photograph, left, Devin Connery of Lunenburg, fires a Heckler & Koch Universal Machine-Pistol at the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo sponsored by the Westfield Sportsman Club and C.O.P. Firearms and Training on Sunday. Later in the day, an 8-year-old boy accidentally shot himself to death while shooting an UZI.

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