Southern Exposure

Ruminations of a Native Son


Greater Washington. DC., United States
February 06
Compulsive writer (mostly memoirs and sociopolitical rants), musicologist, hermeticst, fiscal conservative, radical centrist, agrarian socialist; Charter member, Factualist Party; born and raised in DC, healthcare professional, retired businessman, civic and political activist on two coasts, civil rights movement veteran. An empiricist's worst nightmare, I believe in everything but I don't believe everything, including many things I believe in. Turned down by US Army in 1966 for medical reasons, thrown out of Col. Hasan's Black Man's Army in 1967 for being "too militant." Scion of a family only Tennessee Williams could have dreamed up. There's more. There's always more.


DECEMBER 15, 2012 3:33PM

Love Lies Bleeding

Rate: 14 Flag

(Written yesterday while OS was down for whatever reason)

I am supposed to be at a Christmas party right now. My fire department, which is dying a slow but natural death as a volunteer-dominated organization, holds these events annually. I planned to be there. I cannot be there. I cannot celebrate right now. There has been a death in the family. Actually several. Twenty seven so far, today. In the family of man.

We all know what happened in Connecticut today, the most recent all-American massacre of innocents which has become so routine that like the evening's body count during the endless Vietnam War, we are becoming inured to these deaths. Well, not all of us.

One of the first things that crossed my mind when I heard the news around noon today, Eastern time, was that someone very dear to me was teaching at a school somewhere - far from today's shooting - and that when she heard the news, when there was a break, she would hear it and she would be distraught, she would look around her at the children on this bittersweet last day before holiday break, and she would feel much the same things I was feeling: outrage, anger, but mostly a pain deep in her soul. We've talked about this issue often, and are both extremely passionate about the fact that it has to stop. My soul hurt then. It still does. And eventually she did get word, and registered her profound sadness and outrage. We two, we are not alone.

When I first heard the news I typed a status update on Facebook condemning the shooting and the factors that made it possible, and a spirited, sometimes bitter, discussion erupted. This was healthy, even when a friend who is Canadian, a brilliant poet and well-versed in the lexicon of metaphorical violence, told us we all needed to be quiet, took issue with our angst over the gun problem, told us our society (here in the States) was being "infantilized," and his comments were greeted with something less than warmth, it was all healthy. It was something that had to be said, all of it. It is still going on.

One of the most recent comments in that thread was by another friend who is very liberal generally, but who grew up in the gun culture. Her comment was taking exception to another which had suggested that when people obtain guns they intend to shoot them. "I own many guns & pray I will never have to shoot them."

The strangeness of this comment was lost on a lot of people, I think. "Many" guns, all of which the owner "prays I will never have to shoot"?

There are currently estimated to be close to 300 million guns in the hands of civilians in the United States (according to Jeffrey Goldberg in an article in December's edition of The Atlantic). If that number is anywhere near correct, that's one weapon for every man, woman and child in the country. Goldberg's modest proposal is that it would be impossible to disarm that many people, so perhaps allowing more sane, stable, well-trained people to own guns would, per the standard NRA argument, result in fewer gun deaths, because of course these people would often take out the insane shooter before "too many" people were killed.

I do not believe in learned helplessness. I do not believe in pacifism. I do not believe in murder. I do not believe guns are a very effective way to defend one's home or person. I do not believe we are obligated to bow to the Sacred Phallic Symbol that is a gun.

How in God's name did we ever manage to arm, statistically, every man, woman and child in this country?

But back to the story of the day. Matricide is now the word we are hearing, and hearing it dissected intensely, since the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School went there with the (successful) intent of killing his mother. With guns she owned. She owned "many" guns, and apparently had prayed she would never need to shoot them. And when she needed them she did not have a one of them at her disposal. If she had, if our public school teachers were, in fact, allowed to be armed (nothing insane in that), she might have...killed her son and saved her students? There's a scene from a Tarantino script no one would have bought. But then we now appear to live inside a Quentin Tarantino film that no one would be willing to produce.

Where do we start? When something is overwhelming there is a tendency to give up. We've done it before, after analyzing to death (no pun) the factors involved. From Columbine (now in second place in the US Mass Murder Hall of Fame), to VA Tech, to the DC Sniper, to all the random drive-by shootings and, perhaps worst of all, those countless accidental shootings by children of their parents, siblings, selves or friends by guns left unsecured; or those heat-of-the-moment shootings, those acts of passion that would not have happened had not a loaded gun been so handy at the crucial time.

Police armed like they were just deployed to Iraq, because that's what life is supposed to look like in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave So Long as You Have Your Piece on You.

Blood. The blood of innocents. Children again today, the easiest targets, and a mother who was also a teacher, murdered on sacred ground, inside a public school, the cradle of our democracy. Children loved by parents, friends, relatives, children including a 20 year-old man who was the child of his mother, and undoubtedly loved by her at some point. Maybe even today. Love. It is nothing less than the murder of love, even if in some cases the only person who loved the victim was him or her self. Life itself is love given form.

So we have an "impossible" situation where there are some 300 million firearms out there in the hands of mostly law abiding citizens - except for those who are not, except for those who are insane or "troubled," except for those who will snap in a moment of passion or anger and grab one of those guns and fire it at someone, perhaps a loved one, perhaps himself, or perhaps accidentally discharge it and kill someone, because despite NRA propaganda accidents DO happen, and who are we to deny anyone his or her precious Second Amendment rights, crafted at a time when the most sophisticated weapon available was a flintlock, and that during a revolution in which nearly everyone was a participant.

How do we fix this aberration? How do we rein in the holders of those three hundred million weapons? Is it really impossible to do something to make access to those items less easy?

"Obama is coming for your guns." Yeah, right. He's knocked himself out to stunt the availability of handguns and semi-automatic weapons by doing what? So far, nothing. You may disabuse yourself of that delusion. And perhaps for good reason. What could the president hope to accomplish with the backwash residue of the Tea Party still controlling the House and still talking about revolution?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do know this: It is personal when this happens. We are all connected. Everyone is somebody's daughter or son. I love my children and grandchildren. I love people. I love life. I do not love untimely, violent, unexpected and unjustified death. I do whatever I can to help find a solution to this problem, and I know it will not come over night, but it will remain personal, it will remain real, real as a gun, until we begin to rethink who we are and what we are supposed to be.

Meanwhile we will continue to live in country that falls into nightmare conditions periodically, that leads the world in gun-related deaths (and trails in most other, more positive areas), and no one can assume he or she is safe. Teachers and students are always fair game, it seems.

The teacher I mentioned in the beginning of this tirade is a treasure to her students and their parents and to her co-workers. I have watched her work, watched children engaged and learning important skills, and was transported back to a time when I was that age (the age of the children who were murdered today, 5-10 years old), when I was being impressed by some of my teachers and engaged by them and with them. That learning is what made me able to enjoy life to the extent that I do today. That took place on sacred ground, and I loved and continue to love learning, I love my children and by extension all children, I love people generally, and today, once again, love lies bleeding, hearts lie broken, families are shattered, and we, the world's richest and most powerful nation, are culpable because we cannot, will not, bring our most base instincts under control, cannot or will not even discuss how we might correct this abasement of human life, how we might reduce the number of gun deaths - which, need I remind you, can only be caused by guns - because, you see, it is impossible. The problem is too big. And so instead we will look deeply into the sickness of today's shooter, his relationship with his mother, all the distractions we need to get past the problem that made this atrocity possible: easy access to guns we pray we'll never have to shoot.

Impossible? I don't care. Whatever the solution may be, start here, now!

Meanwhile, love lies bleeding. Shoot out the lights.




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Brilliant post, AJ. Needed to be said. I only hope something will change.
Beautifully written, AJ. I love your common and inclusive sense that stems from caring. "Whatever the solution may be, start here, now!" Yes.
An FB friend whose whole family is in the military (so I doubt she shares my aversion to guns) and is stationed in Germany shared a link to the website hosted by the Sydney University providing evidence-based, country-by-country, intelligence on international firearm prevention and policy. Gun ownership is legal in Germany but with sensible restrictions that include no automatic firearms. A comparison of deaths by firearms - USA 9146 vs Germany 158. A good fact to consider, along with how the right to arms has cost many others their right to life.
Thank you emma peel 2. We have to hope - and do everything we can think of, even if it's not perfect or brilliant. We'll only get there if we start.
Maria, thank you for that. It is a very telling statistic and fact. One of my daughters and several of my friends (all former military) feel comfortable keeping guns, and while it wouldn't be my choice (it's not my choice!) I do understand their sense of being qualified in every reasonable sense. It's those others who are marginal at best, who own guns for no apparent reason and who often have acquired them by questionable means or do not regulate them in their homes that worry me, along with those who believe weapons will keep them safe. In some rare instances that may be true, but for the most part, speaking in clinical terms, the risks far outweigh the benefits.

Thanks again for your comment, and for having the patience to get in here, read and comment. That means a great deal, given the conditions here on OS currently. Ahem...
Rated. Maybe comment....we'll see......I think guns should be replaced by soft pillows.

Pillow fights are better than gun fights!! ~nodding~
Great post.

I've spent a lot of energy and time ranting on FB today. I guess we're not *friends* there, because I didn't see your post. I'll send you a Friend Request. (My name is Gina Ellis on FB...and, for that matter, in real life.) There are a few idiots, but there is also a great upswelling of emotion and also in the media. I don't expect any of this to have any effect in Congress.
Myriad, I've done the same thing, and also given people room to just vent and carry on. It's one way to get some sort of conversation started and maybe even refined a little. So far so good. I'd be honored to be friended (is that really a word?) by you on FB. Will look for your request. As for all the sound and fury of the moment not having any effect on Congress, probably not any time soon, but I do believe if we continue to pound them (and each other) starting now, there will be an effect, even if it is delayed. It's been delayed forever up till now, so if we don't let up maybe this time we'll actually see something down the road. It's always a matter of starting and then keep going. If we do that we may just get somewhere. If we don't we guarantee nothing will continue to happen. Nothing good, at least.
Tink! I didn't see you there before! I blame the OS machinery and that damn mop. But I digress. I'd get behind pillow fights as an alternative to gunfights any day. Great way to make new friends and beat the old. ;) Thanks, man. Thanks for taking the time to even get in here.
Take one upset, borderline personality, outsider/isolate, never help him learn to embrace and cope with feelings (especially hurt, rejection and anger), give him a sense of entitlement and power over his fantasies, raise him in a culture of violent mass killings in videogames and all over TV in crime shows and the news (such as when someone "goes postal" anywhere) and what do you get? A monster.
We need to raise children in families, with love and fair discipline, with training to cope with life by thinking and talking (rather than popping a pill or losing oneself in technology) and with an education which expands their worlds and opportunities, rather than estranges some as "weirdos" who will never "fit it."
Your post is most excellent in terms of thought and writing . I agree 100% with your thoughts.

I hope that an oracle will arrive to lead to a stop to the sanities.

Earlier this year, I posted an article on the Colorado theatre murders. You might care to read it.

I am a Canadian, but I am a human being.

Best regards.

Thank you for a brilliant post. Action is needed now; like the action Gt. Britain took in 1996 after the Scotland school shooting: Ban all private ownership of cartridge ammunition handguns, regardless of caliber. Result: no school shootings since. We for sure need that in U.S. - and much more. We need people to tap into their humanity more. We need people like you - to put it all together. Namaste.
Well said, AJ. I totally agree with you. It is time that we quit making laws that kill people while making corporations and their CEOs and a few others rich. There is NO reason for anyone to own a repeating firearm. I don't care how many are already owned. They should be outlawed, and their manufacture and sale prohibited. If there are no legal assult weapons, it will be much more difficult for anyone to plan and execute these crimes. It just makes sense.
Amen. So true, so very well said, AJ Calhoun, and such true comments, too. One gun for every person, why? Civilians with semi-automatic weapons, WHY?

Eve Ensler once said, "I actually realized once in Kosovo, when I watched a man break down, that bullets are actually hardened tears, that when we don't allow men to have their girl self and have their vulnerability, and have their compassion, and have their hearts, that they become hardened and hurtful and violent."

Our gun-sale lobby, entertainment, international weapons sales, even our middle and high school curriculums make us more violence-based, instead of emphasizing peace building and humanity. My sister sent me a bunch of places to write, most for gun control, but also: Entertainment Software Association
575 7th Street, NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20004, lobbyists for violent gaming.

Where we put our resources and attention is what we become...why is that so hard for us to understand?
jackie2: You have hit the first and most important nail squarely on the head. Without some essential change of heart, of attention, of caring for each other and for changing what we believe makes for a great society and nation, we can take guns out of the equation and still be a miserable, violent people. This, the things you have enumerated, are the first huge step - and probably the most challenging.

Thanks for your very insightful comment.

Lyle Elgram: Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I, too, hope for an oracle or someone who can at least focus and galvanize us in a way that changes our hearts and minds. I will look for your article on Columbine. Thanks for mentioning it.

All Canadians - and all people - are human beings. We may not all agree at all times, but that doesn't have to stop any conversations or break any friendships.

Thanks again for your comments.

dragonlady: Thank you. While our challenge re: disarming the populace is a far more daunting one than that faced by the UK, we certainly can bring things under tighter and more reasonable control, even if we never get all 300 million weapons removed. We can try. We can actually take some action toward that end. We may not make the world (or our country) perfect, but we surely will, if we reach for a solution, make it better. And better is, well better. Better than what we have now would be a worthy accomplishment and might well get us moving toward a far better society. Thanks again for your fine comment and kind words.

C Berg: Thank you so much. Yes, the goal may seem overwhelming, but if assault weapons were illegal it would make it more difficult and would serve as a discouragement to the trade in these weapons of destruction. If we pass comprehensive laws it will, over time, reduce the number of available weapons and make it more (appropriately) difficult to obtain them. It won't happen over night, but we will at least, finally, be moving in the right direction. Eventually a movement reaches the point of critical mass, where the rest are pulled over to the good side. It has to begin, though. It's time. It's that simple. Your comments just make sense.

clay ball: "Where we put our resources and attention is what we become." Truer words were never spoken (or typed). We are what we eat (consume) and we become what we behold. The hardening of hearts (mostly male ones) has been a long but quantum process moving in the wrong direction. Ernest Becker broke down solving the problem of human existence into two opposing philosophies: The destructive solution (and we have witnessed its results) and the creative solution. It is time to overthrow the destructive using the creative as the lever. We need to place far more emphasis on humanities and the arts, on creativity and intellect and reason rather than simply bludgeoning our way along a path to nowhere.

Thanks for sharing the address of the Entertainment Software Association, as I believe it holds an inordinate degree of influence over the notion that destructiveness is not only good, but that it is entertaining. That is an important target.

Thank you for your great comments. Much appreciated.
A.J., this is a very fine piece, timely, heartbreaking, necessary. thank you for articulating the depth of our problem's complexities. I want change, some sense brought back to our lawmakers, with bans put in place as Chicago did in the late 70's with their handgun ban. Unfortunately these important laws are being overturned in precinct after precinct..state after state.
I've read a lot of articles and posts about the shooting, and this is one of the finest pieces I've read yet.
I like the idea of pillow fight as well.Instead of killing someone we might end up creating new life.
Evidently you've been around a while. Sorry I haven't noticed. I admire your honesty and your writing. The chance any of us would ever be alive is vanishing small. all those spermatozoa eagerly swimming to be someone and one made it to be you. Life every minute is chancy and the universe cares not at all about when it happens and when it ends. I shot for US Army record back in 1944 and never needed nor wanted a gun since. A gun, after all is an instrument and instruments make their purpose easy. I would prefer that purpose to be very hard for me and perhaps impossible. And I have been lucky.