May 26, 2014

Shockingly, more guns is really not the answer.

Another random mass shooting. More hashtags. Plenty of hand-wringing. And lots of fear.

And more people trotting out their hobbyhorses to ride across the press. I generally try not to contribute to the cacaphony, but do want to weigh in here briefly.

Even among the wealthy, mental healthcare is seriously broken in the US. Due to lack of bedspace in facilities and lack of funding for mental healthcare, there is a very real reluctance by healthcare and police to admit anyone for mental health evals - too much need and not enough resources. At this point the person has to be verbalizing a plan to kill themself or others. People of color are picked up more often, but usually are jailed rather than hospitalized. Way more prison beds and money.
What? Yes, I am VERY cynical. Thanks.

Guns. Oh guns. I have guns, grew up and have lived someplace where there was a damn good reason for them.
Now I live in the city, so a .22 hunting rifle my mom gave me years ago is it for me. Unloaded in a closet, if it is ever used it would be for hunting small game.
I know how to shoot and am comfortable handling a gun, but I do not have a pistol in my bedroom. Because statistics show clearly that carrying or having a gun in the home increases the chances of being shot. With your OWN GUN.
Newsflash: Bad guys do not stand outside your house alerting you they are coming inside. Bad guys wait until you are gone, generally. If you happen to come home while they are still there, then if you have been considerate enough to arm them they may very well shoot you.
Bad guys who are already armed and intending or willing to shoot you? They already have the drop on you. They have a gun, loaded, and often in hand. They are not going to politely wait for you to fumble out your piece, load it, and aim at them.
So what? Walk around with a loaded gun in your hands, proactively shooting anyone who seems like a threat? I think gun advocates should think long and hard about that one. And read a whole bunch of tweets about what many of us live with everyday threatwise. Do you REALLY want us demonstrating our lack of a sense of humor about your little "jokes"? Do you actually think it is a good idea that we could shoot you for that "friendly" ass pat?
We had the same brilliant solutions suggested after school shootings - "Arm the teachers!" Because crossfire is a great solution to a shooter among panicked kids.

Yeah, so maybe the problem is complicated. Maybe even too complicated to be solved by a hashtag.
Maybe someone who has been treated for violent or suicidal ideations shouldn't have legal access to semi-automatic weapons. Maybe not even guns at all? Maybe fewer guns overall would mean less easy access to illegal guns? Sure, stabbings and the like still occur in places with strict gun laws - but not too many instances of people being stabbed from moving vehicles. Shootings from moving vehicles are way too common here, and only make the news if shooter/vicitims are famous or rich.
Maybe we rethink the idea that the best thing for the mentally ill is living in the park? That making people "responsible for their own healthcare" is insanely stupid for folks who have demonstrated a deficit in caring for themselves adequately? There is a world of difference between "warehousing" the mentally ill and throwing them out the door to fend for themselves.
And maybe, just maybe, we teach the privileged and the talented, the rich and the powerful, that the rules apply to them too. They are not entitled to ANYTHING, we are not here for their convenience or pleasure, they have no right to us or ours.

May 1, 2014

Justice in life and death

Hey, remember her?
The recent stories in the news regarding the death penalty have created some really interesting discussions among my group of acquaintances and friends.

In my years of working with the dying and chronically ill, I have been called upon to care for people who were exceptionally good and kind people and also people who had done exceptionally evil and horrific things. And a lot more of the rest of us who fall somewhere in the middle.

Life is not something you deserve or earn. Neither is death. Both are the terminal points at the end of a lifeline. Nothing more. You did nothing exceptional or noteworthy that resulted in your birth. And death is. For all of us. Saint and sinner. People don't die because they deserve to die. They die because death.

Capital punishment chosen as a solution to a problem. This problem is that the state has someone who is a clear danger to the public and must be removed for the safety of us all.
Capital punishment has not been shown to reduce crime or violence. It certainly does not save the state any money as it is currently implemented.
So if you need to remove someone from the population, why choose to kill them rather than imprison for life?

We as individuals, and collectively as the State, make choices based on who we are. If we choose to care for people with respect and dignity we do so because that is the people we choose to be, not because someone does or does not "deserve" respect and dignity.

The same goes for execution of prisoners. If we choose as a State to kill people who are convicted of certain crimes then we do so because that is who we choose to be - NOT because they "deserve" death.

To be clear here - I have absolutely no moral issues about killing someone who presents a clear danger if there is no other option. Which is about MY personal ethical system, not about the merits or lack of merits of the individual. However, my sense of justice does not demand that someone dies.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the show Babylon 5.
I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, 'wouldn't it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?' So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.  
Which leads us to our current system. This system has been shown to have many faults, with inordinately high capital crime conviction rates for minorities and the poor.
Being personally accountable for every single person who dies in my name, who is imprisoned in my name, I have no choice but to decide that we have much better options than killing people. Especially in light of the problems our system has in identifying those who actually ARE a clear danger to the public and the lack of equity on how justice is currently dispensed.

Life imprisonment is reversible. Life imprisonment without ANY chance of parole removes a threat without the danger of killing who was wrongly convicted. Killing someone does not magically reverse the wrong they did, the life they took, the people they destroyed. It is simply a choice we make based on who WE choose to be.