otherwise responsible

So this guy, Steve Pfeister, runs a fitness center in Vero Beach, Florida. He’s just sitting there in his office a couple weeks ago, right? Minding his own business and all, when guess what happens next. Never mind, don’t bother guessing, on account of I’m about to tell you what happens next.

A .40 caliber bullet rips through the wall, is what happens next. Rips right through the damned wall and hits Stevo in the right leg. But this is a .40 cal round, and it has less respect for the structural integrity of the human leg than it does for the wall. So it goes completely through Steve’s right leg and grazes his left leg. Guy’s sitting in his office and he gets shot in both legs with one round fired by somebody who’s not even in the same damned room.

Was this a poorly implemented drive-by shooting? No sir, it was not. An assassination attempt by a disgruntled fitness client? No ma’am, it was not. Was this the Amazing Fucking Kreskin with a grudge, shooting through walls with ESP? No, no, no, it was not. Shall I tell you what it was? I believe I will.

.40 caliber Glock 23 -- superior penetrating power, bitches

.40 caliber Glock 23 — superior penetrating power, bitches

It was an otherwise responsible gun owner sitting in the fitness center’s locker room, showing his .40 caliber Glock to another guy who was thinking about buying one. I don’t know which model it was. Maybe the Glock 22, maybe the 23, maybe the — you know what? It doesn’t matter. All three .40 caliber models of the Glock will punch a damned hole through a wall and a leg. That’s why you buy the .40 cal.

Now, you may be wondering why this guy felt he needed such a powerful handgun while he was at the fitness center. I’ll tell you why. Shut up, that’s why. It’s our god-given right as American citizens to tote powerful handguns any fucking place we want. That’s why Paul Revere rode his horse to that one place to warn the common people that the British had landed. Or were arriving. Whatever. Also? You take your .40 cal to the fitness center because you never know when you might be called upon to demonstrate its penetrating capacity by shooting through a wall and a leg. That’s why we have a Second Amendment to the Constitution of These United States.

And think about it logically. If you’re considering buying a weapon for your own personal protection, you want to know for certain and in advance if you can shoot some sumbitch in the next room. If you wait until he’s in the room with you, well hell — then you might just as well buy yourself a fucking sword, right?

You may be wondering if the guy who shot Stevo through the wall and one leg — did that guy get in trouble? No sir or ma’am, he did not. The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office responded to the shooting, as did the Indian River County Fire Rescue squad (all at taxpayer expense, mind you). But the victim, our poor bleeding Steverino, declined to press charges. He declined on account of the gun’s owner was a friend. And (this is my favorite part) he declined to press charges because (and I swear I’m not making this up) he considered his friend to be “an otherwise responsible gun owner.”

Seriously. The guy is totally responsible. You know…when he’s not accidentally shooting folks through the wall.

Some shit you simply cannot make up.

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two related but separate things

First thing: I’ve gotten several comments over the past few days suggesting that the only way to stop school shootings is to put armed guards in every school (and/or arm the teachers and school administrators and support staff). This is not entirely stupid. It’s pretty damned stupid — especially the notion of arming teachers and janitors and other school employees — but it’s not entirely stupid.

The sad fact, however, is that there have been armed guards present in many of the mass murders in recent years — not just in schools but in other public venues. They just don’t prevent these events from happening. That’s true for several reasons.

First, for the most part the shooters in these events don’t expect to survive. These shootings are often elaborate suicides, intended to make as many people as possible as miserable as the shooter is. Knowing there’s an armed guard present doesn’t dissuade a shooter who doesn’t intend to come out alive. Second, the firearms most often used in these shootings are semi-automatic weapons. Combine the ability for rapid fire with large capacity magazines, and you have a situation in which a shooter can kill a lot of people in an alarmingly short time.

Robert Steinhauser -- 13 teachers, 2 students, 1 police officer-- 10 minutes

Robert Steinhauser — 13 teachers, 2 students, 1 police officer– 10 minutes

Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 adults in less than 10 minutes. Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and an adult in about 4 minutes. Robert Steinhauser killed 13 teachers, 2 students, and a police officer in 10 minutes. Seung-Hui Cho killed 30 Virginia Tech students in around 11 minutes. They weren’t able to kill that many people in that short a time because they were superior marksmen; they were able to do it by firing a LOT of rounds.

We’re no longer talking about the ‘classic’ Charles Whitman-style mass murderer. Whitman climbed the clock tower at the University of Texas in Austin and methodically, almost leisurely, picked off his victims. He killed 17 and wounded 32 others over the course of an hour and a half. In today’s mass murderers, the emphasis is on mass.

Thomas Hamilton - 16 children, 1 adult - 4 minutes

Thomas Hamilton – 16 children, 1 adult – 4 minutes

Guards with weapons won’t prevent these mass shootings, but they will almost certainly reduce the body count — and that’s a good thing. But why not take other steps that can help reduce the body count? Why not limit the capacity of ammunition magazines? Every time a shooter has to pause to reload, there’s a chance for victims to escape and for courageous bystanders to act (Jared Loughner — 6 dead and 13 wounded in around two minutes — was tackled by a wounded bystander when he was forced to reload his pistol).

Adam Lanza - 20 children, 6 adults - 10 minutes

Adam Lanza – 20 children, 6 adults – 10 minutes (plus 1 earlier)

Why not require stricter background checks before letting a person purchase a firearm? Why not require background checks at gun shows? The weapons bought at gun shows are just as lethal as those bought through a licensed gun dealer.Why not require states to report and share mental health records with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System? Currently only 27 states have laws that allow (or require) them to report mental health records — and many of those states fail to do so because of state budgetary reasons.

Seung-Hui Cho -- 30 students - 9 minutes (plus 2 earlier)

Seung-Hui Cho — 30 students – 9 minutes (plus 2 earlier)

None of those things — armed guards, universal background checks, limits on large capacity magazines, mental health information — will stop mass murders and mass shootings from taking place, but each of them will have some effect on the body count. By combining several (or better yet, all) of those measures, we can reduce the body count even further.

Second Thought: Claire Davis died. She was the young woman Karl Pierson shot in the head ten days ago. I took a moderate amount of crap for suggesting that “nobody other than her friends and family will remember her in a couple of weeks.” That’s a horrible thing to say. It’s all the more horrible because it’s true. It won’t be very long before there’s another school shooting — or some other mass casualty event — with a new set of innocent victims. And for a few days, the names of the victims will be in the public eye, and then they’ll be forgotten in turn.

There have been 22 school shootings so far this year, resulting in 19 fatalities and 34 wounded. Do we remember any of their names? There have been 351 mass shootings so far this year — 351 incidents in which at least four people were wounded or killed. Most of them don’t result in multiple deaths, but they easily could. Do we remember any of their names?

Claire Davis -- not a statistic

Claire Davis — not a statistic

Their friends and family members remember them. For the rest of us, they’re numbers. It doesn’t lessen the pain felt by the family and friends of the victims. Nothing can. That pain can only be exacerbated by the ugly fact that their loved ones are reduced to mere statistics.

We can reduce those numbers. Maybe not by much, but we can reduce them. We can reduce them without damaging the Sacred Second Amendment. We really can reduce the body count.

But we don’t.

Update: I incorrectly located the Seung-Hui Cho mass murder at the University of Virginia; in fact, it was at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (more commonly called Virginia Tech).

in which i defend that duck dynasty guy, sorta

I’ve never watched Duck Dynasty, but I see the faces of those guys everywhere. As I understand it (and I admit my understanding is awfully shaky here), it’s a ‘reality’ show about an eccentric Louisiana family who made a fortune by manufacturing duck calls. Now a member of that family, Phil Robertson, has said something moderately stupid and offensive about gay folks. As a result, the network that produces and broadcasts the show has removed him from the show, at least temporarily.

This, to absolutely no surprise, has pissed off a lot of conservative folks. They see the network’s action as an assault on free speech, an attack on Christian values, an insult to conservatives everywhere, and part of the gay agenda war against common decency. And probably some other stuff too.

duck dynasty1

It’s not any of those things. It’s not an assault on free speech; it was his right to free speech that caused this fuss. He freely gave an interview to a magazine, which freely published it, and which anybody who wants to read it can freely buy. It’s not an attack on Christian values; it’s a corporate decision involving Robertson’s contract, which gives the network the right to remove employees if their conduct is seen as harmful to the product (the show and the network, in this case). It’s not an insult to conservatives; it accurately depicts the opinions of a lot of conservatives about homosexuality.And it’s not a part of some mythical gay agenda; gay folks are just as diverse as straight folks, and there’s no more a gay agenda than there is a Christian agenda or an Asian agenda or a football fan agenda.

That said, Robertson has the absolute right to say whatever he wants, and good on him for being honest and open about it. And the network has the absolute right to enforce the contract they have with Robertson. And conservatives have the right to protest his termination, and gay folks have the right to boycott the network if they don’t push back against Robertson.

What this entire incident shows is the system working. Working in a way that’s sloppy, hypocritical, greed-driven, and entirely cynical, but it’s working. That’s capitalism, folks. Conservatives usually champion capitalism, and corporatism, and the right of a business to hire or fire workers as they see fit.

duck dynasty2

And by the way, I don’t recall conservatives being so upset when Alec Baldwin was fired for making anti-gay comments. I don’t recall them being so enraged when Isaiah Washington was fired from Grey’s Anatomy for making anti-gay comments. But Baldwin is something of a liberal, and Washington is black, whereas Robertson is a white conservative hunter with a really magnificent beard.

Personally, I think it’s pretty damned idiotic for a network to produce a ‘reality’ show then object to the reality.

Circumstantially newsworthy

So. Another school shooting. Kid named — well, it doesn’t really matter what his name was, does it. ‘School shooter’, that’s the only way Karl Pierson will ever be referred to from now on. Far as that goes, Karl wasn’t really a kid; he’d turned eighteen. Not old enough to buy beer yet, but old enough to go out and buy the pump-action shotgun and ammunition he used.

This shooting took place around the anniversary of the Sandy Hook slaughter. Which, let’s face it, is why the shooting has been so widely reported. If it had happened, say, three weeks ago, it would have been a local story. The national news media probably wouldn’t bother to report it. It’s a circumstantially newsworthy story.

Name doesn't matter; you'd forget it soon anyway.

Name doesn’t matter; you’d forget it soon anyway.

Nobody famous was involved, the body count was low (just the school shooter Karl), and the entire incident took place in less than two minutes. Yes, a 17-year old girl got shot, but if it weren’t for the Sandy Hook anniversary thing, the national news media would probably have ignored it. Still, they did what they could with what they had. They emphasized the Cute White Girl Who Loved Horses angle, making her a classic innocent victim. They found some really nice high school photos of her. What was her name? Kaylee? Claire? Callie? Something like that — pretty sure it starts with a ‘k’ sound. She got shot in the head. With a shotgun. Nobody wants to hear about that. And nobody other than her friends and family will remember her in a couple of weeks. Same with what’s-his-name, the school shooter. Karl.

Poor Kaitlin/Carly/Courtney wasn’t even the target. She just happened to be sitting there. The guy — you know, Karl — fired five rounds from his shotgun. Three were apparently just random shots down hallways. One took Kirsten/Cameron/Kendall in the head. The last round went into his own. Ninety seconds or so from the first shot to the last, and it was all over. Well, except for the girl — Kassidy/Kimberly/Caryn — who’ll be fucked up for the rest of her life. However long that’ll be.

The local sheriff said he believed what’s-his-name…uh, Karl…shot himself because he heard the approach of the deputy assigned to the school (think about that for a moment; we live in a society that has to assign armed personnel to patrol schools to shoot school shooters — how incredibly fucked up is that?). I don’t know. It seems unlikely to me that in the chaos of those ninety seconds the school shooter Karl would hear — and able to identify the footsteps — of an approaching school cop.

Pump action shotgun; brand doesn't matter -- they all do the same thing

Pump action shotgun; brand doesn’t matter — they all do the same thing

I think it’s more likely he saw what his shotgun had done to Carmen/Kasey/Kelsey and couldn’t live with it. I’ve had the misfortune to see what a shotgun blast can do to the human head. It’s not like it is in the video games young Karl played. It ain’t pretty.

So what happens now? You know the answer to that. Nothing. Oh, politicians will look earnest and say something like “We must do something to keep our children safe,” but nothing will actually happen. Or maybe it will. Maybe they’ll try to find the money to make the doors to classrooms bulletproof, so children will have a secure location to ‘shelter in place’ when the next gunman goes roaming through the hallways. But that would mean raising taxes, so probably not. For certain, we won’t do anything about guns. Because, you know, it would be wrong to punish all responsible law-abiding gun owners because of the actions of some disturbed kid.

Of course, what’s-his-name…young Karl…was assumed to be a responsible law-abiding gun owner when he bought his shotgun. In fact, he was a responsible law-abiding gun owner until he carried his shotgun into the school. And that guy (I don’t remember his name) who killed all those people at the Navy Yard recently? A responsible law-abiding gun owner until he took his weapon out of the car. And the mother of the kid who murdered all those 2nd graders and their teachers in Sandy Hook? Adam Something? She was a responsible law-abiding owner of over a dozen firearms when her boy shot her four times in the head while she was asleep.

That guy at the Navy Yard, no longer a responsible law-abiding gun owner.

That guy at the Navy Yard, no longer a responsible law-abiding gun owner.

That’s the thing, isn’t it. Most mass murderers are responsible law-abiding gun owners up until the moment they start their mass murdering.

Oh well, freedom isn’t free as the gun rights advocates tell us. The occasional school shooting is just the price we have to pay for living in a free society. Well, it’s the price Kaylee has to pay. Chloe? Claire? Whatever.

no, megyn kelly isn’t that stupid

If you’re not aware of it yet, FOX News personality Megyn Kelly (yes, that’s actually how she spells her name and no, that’s not her fault — blame her parents) said something stupid on her show. She was speaking about an article written by Aisha Harris in Slate. Harris wrote about the discontinuity of growing up as an African-American girl and having two Santas — the ubiquitous jolly white guy in the red suit, and “the Santa in my family’s household” who was black. When she asked her father about the two Santas, she got a perfect answer:

My father replied that Santa was every color. Whatever house he visited, jolly old St. Nicholas magically turned into the likeness of the family that lived there.

That’s incredibly sappy, but it’s also a perfectly lovely notion. But nonetheless Ms. Harris grew up feeling “slightly ashamed that our black Santa wasn’t the ‘real thing.'” So in her article she suggests (and I presume this is tongue-in-cheek) that we should abandon the notion of Santa Claus as a human and begin to present him as a penguin.

santa black

It’s too bad, in a way. Harris makes some important and interesting points about the duality of growing up black in what is essentially a white culture. The whole ‘Santa as Penguin’ business rather distracts from that — but still, the article is worth reading.

Enter FOX News in the person of Megyn Kelly. FOX News isn’t in the business of debating interesting social phenomena (nor is FOX News in the business of news, for that matter). FOX News is in the business of being outraged by interesting social phenomena. In a panel discussion about the article, Kelly categorically states that Santa is a white guy. And so, by the way, was Jesus.

Over the last couple of days there’s been an indignant cascade of cheerfully pissed off folks railing against Kelly. They’ve explained in detail the ethnology of the tribal cultures that inhabited Galilee in the first century. They’ve expounded on the symbolic and social evolution of Nikolaos of Myra from a tall, thin, Turkish-Greek priest to the jolly red-suited fat man created by Haddon Sundblom in the 1930s for Coca Cola adverts.

santa white

In effect, folks have been calling Megyn Kelly stupid. Profoundly stupid. Stupid on a galactic scale. People have been suggesting that the sheer mass of Megyn Kelly’s stupidity is so great that it’s capable of affecting tides. But folks, she’s not stupid — not at all. She’s worse than that.

There’s no shame in being stupid or ignorant. If you lack the capacity to be intelligent, it’s not your fault that you’re stupid. If you lack access to accurate information, it’s not your fault that you’re ignorant. If you lack the means to obtain a good education, it’s not your fault that you’re uneducated. The shame is in being willfully stupid, deliberately ignorant, consciously uneducated.

Megyn Kelly is intelligent, has easy access to accurate information, and received a quality education. In other words, the shame begins with the fact that Megyn Kelly works for FOX News.

megyn kelly

It’s her job to be outraged and to engender outrage in others. That’s the FOX News mission — keep their viewers uninformed and angry. Keep them feeling victimized. Because if you’re a victim, then you’re not to blame. If you’re a victim, you have a right to defend yourself. You have the right to defend yourself against minorities who want a non-white Santa. Against gay folks who want marriage equality. Against women who want to control their own reproduction. Against people who believe in evolution. Against anybody who believes differently than you do.

Megyn Kelly isn’t stupid. She’s a willing participant in an organized movement to prevent change. Megyn Kelly isn’t stupid; she’s just getting paid to act that way.

bad news and good news

Okay, first the bad news: Barack Obama is going to seize your children and give them to homosexuals. Then he’s going to take away your guns. Or maybe he’s going to take away your guns and then give your children to homosexuals. That point’s not entirely clear. But I’m absolutely confident it’s your children he’s going to give to homosexuals, not your guns. So there’s that.

Oh, and then he’s going to lead an Army of Black Negros to imprison and/or kill all the white folks.

President Barack Obama (of Kenya, Africa)

President Barack Obama (of Kenya, Africa) wants to take your children.

No, I’m not making this up. This comes directly from the highest possible authority: the intertubes radio show of Stan Solomon. In a highly intellectual discussion of the issue with well-known Advocate for All Sorts of Freedoms, Phyllis Schafly, Solomon reveals the scope of the Obama Child Abduction Program (OCAP):

“I think the next step, they’re going to say ‘We have the right, because you’re mentally in the wrong direction, to take your children, whether they’re in the womb or already born.’  There have been several cases, and it’s gotten very little publicity, where they took the child…and gave that child to a homosexual couple or a homosexual individual. And then that homosexual individual — in every case I’ve seen, a male — has taken the male child — I’m not saying it’s happened in all, or most, but it’s happened in several — they take that male child and they use that child for sexual gratification, and use that child for pornography…and the media won’t even talk about it.”

The media won’t even talk about it, you guys. And you know the media normally loves to talk about the homosexuals. Why so quiet on this issue? Coincidence, or conspiracy?

President Barack Obama (Negro homosexual with godless metal boobs)

President Barack Obama (Negro homosexual with godless metal boobs) will take your guns.

That’s how it starts. First they come for your kids, and then they come for your guns (or, you know, maybe the other way around — let’s not get distracted by those details). Stan Solomon gives us a fair and balanced and totally not-crazy report on what’s inevitably going to almost certainly might happen in his opinion (not based on facts):

I also believe that they will use a — this is my opinion, not based on facts that I can offer you at this moment — but I believe they will put together a racial force to go against an opposite race resistance, basically a black force to go against a white resistance, and then they will claim anyone resisting the black force they are doing it because they are racist.”

One of Solomon’s patriotic guests acknowledges that “If Obama can take your guns away he can take your car, he can take your home, he can take your bank account, he can take your very life.” Your car, you guys. Obama can take your damned car. Oh, and yeah, your kids too. And he’ll give them all to homosexuals. Do you really want to see a homosexual — and probably a Negro homosexual — driving around in your car?

Is this the America you want to live in? Is it?

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama (Chromium Muslim) will exterminate you.

Okay, that’s the bad news. Yes, yes, Obama is going to take your guns and children (and probably your damned car) and he’ll give them to Muslim Homosexuals to use for Negro pornography (the kids, not the guns — that would be sick) and then he’ll start a race war. But don’t despair; there’s also good news.

The good news is this: eighty years ago on this very day Congress searched around and found its balls long enough to chunk the 18th Amendment of the Constitution of These United States in the trash. Sure, you remember the 18th Amendment — the one that prohibited:

the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof.

Eighty years ago today Prohibition was repealed — making the 18th Amendment the only constitutional amendment ever to be repealed. Congress said “America, y’all can drink again.” And we did, we surely did. And lawdy, after listening to Stan Solomon and his guests, we all need a drink.

Good decent American (after a few drinks).

Good decent American (after a few drinks).

And ain’t nobody, including the president, going to take the booze away from us again. Aye, drink and you may die. Stay sober, and you’ll live — at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell Obama that he may take our guns, he may take our children, he may take our damned cars — but he’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM! (And by ‘freedom’ I mean, you know, booze.)

not a bad job

It’s eight-thirty in the morning. Dense fog and a deep, soaking mist. Cold, and getting colder. I’m walking around with my little Fujifilm X10, shooting manually because the fog and mist completely bitch-slapped the autofocus and light metering. Not many people on the street; not many people are stupid enough to be outside in that weather.

And I see this guy. He’s got a short broom — looks sort of like a modern version of an old-fashioned besom — and a long-handled dustpan. And he’s sweeping up trash off the street. At 0830 hours, in the cold, foggy mist. I shoot a couple of quick frames, thinking to myself “This poor bastard must be miserable.”

kent at work

I keep walking, he keeps looking for trash and sweeping it up. I nod to him and smile and say “You’ve got a cold morning for it.” He smiles and shrugs and says “I don’t mind so much, long as it’s doing this…” and he waves his hand up and down, like a karate chop “…and not doing this.” He waves his hand back and forth like he’s polishing a table. “Yeah, least there’s no wind,” I say.

His name is Kent. He’s been keeping the city streets clean for nearly three years. He says it’s not a bad job. “I like being outside. I get to meet people, walk around, don’t have to stay in one place.” He’s learned which business owners are nice, which ones ignore him like he’s not there, which ones are rude. He won’t identify any of the rude ones.

Kent says there’s about a dozen folks cleaning up the downtown area. He thinks most of his co-workers are pretty good or okay; a couple are lazy and some complain about the weather, but mostly they’re good people. He knows that most of the people he meets on the street don’t appreciate what he does, but he says clean streets sidewalks make the city a better place. He won’t say his job is important, but it’s clear he feels like he’s doing something worthwhile.

kent2

We talk for about ten minutes. We could have talked longer, but it’s obvious Kent feels he should get back to work. Sidewalks aren’t going to clean themselves, are they. I ask if I can take his photo. Kent sort of shuffles his feet, but nods. I take the shot, show it to him, and he grins. He tells me to stay safe; I tell him to stay warm. I go back to walking around, shooting photos; he goes back to picking up trash.

When people complain about their taxes — when they talk about cutting taxes and reducing the size of government — they’re talking about folks like Kent. Every single working day, regardless of the weather, this guy is out there making his city a more livable place. He’s making a meaningful contribution to the common good, which is a lot more than most of the folks complaining about their taxes do. Kent might not be comfortable saying his job is important, but it surely is.

And you know what’s really cool? You probably have somebody like Kent working in your city too. These folks don’t just exist in John Prine songs, you know. So take note of the people out there, and be sure to say hello to them.