Bang! Your argument is dead.

I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m writing about guns. I know almost zero about guns, except to say that everyone I have ever known who owned guns acted responsibly with them. I grew up in a rural, mostly farming town, where most of my friends and neighbors hunted. We had off from school for the first day of hunting season. My friends took care of their guns, were trained on how to use their guns by responsible adults, and were good, conscientious hunters. An ex-girlfriend’s father would go sit in his tree stand and take notes – without his gun – before he ever shot a deer. Total respect.

While I was fascinated by guns, I never truly liked them. I didn’t think they were bad, I just didn’t care for the idea of hunting and killing animals. No judgment, because I happily ate venison supplied by those who did. It just wasn’t my thing.

Watching the debate over “gun control” unfold after the horrific and too many to mention school shootings, is difficult on many fronts. The arguments emanating from those who have suffered are compelling. You have to have a calloused soul to not be moved by their loss, whether or not you agree with their proposed solutions to mass school shootings. However, I believe that many of us who desire a change in how Americans purchase and own guns have started the debate from a place of weakness, because we give away our lack of understanding before we ever engage those whom we seek to persuade. We often don’t treat gun owners as equals, and we similarly don’t care whether or not they have well thought out, sound arguments. They do.

First, let’s stop saying some things. Phrases like “guns are only designed to kill.” They aren’t. Some are designed for sport. Some are designed for hunting. Some are designed for personal protection. Some are designed for military use. Killing is one thing guns can be used for, but not the only thing. Better to say, “it’s the killing with guns that really bothers us.” That’s more honest, and a place from which most responsible gun owners would be glad to step out with us in conversation.

We should drop the term, “assault rifle,” because it makes us sound uneducated about the “killing with guns that really bothers” us. The “AR” in AR-15 stands for Armalite, the original manufacturer of the gun. Are guns like the AR-15 used in war? Yes. We just shouldn’t say “assault rifle,” because we will be dismissed by people who have been regularly and vehemently attacked by many who know very little about what they are talking about beyond how they feel about “the killing with guns.”

Regarding the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, let’s not easily dismiss it as antiquated. It wasn’t written by a bunch of yahoos, but by the kind of people who get their faces carved into mountains. These were leaders who were hyper-aware of the tyranny of military-enforced governance. “Don’t tread on me!” To be wary of an illiberal government is not unfounded. Let’s respect that concern. We should argue from a place of mutual respect for the laws, documents, and individuals that shaped the nation we are today, imperfect as it may be.

Finally, consider this:

“One factory preset of the human mind is a tendency to assume that our models of reality are identical to reality itself.” – Roger L. Martin (The Opposable Mind)

Strongly held convictions and deeply felt emotions are no substitute for nuanced, thoughtful, evidence-based positions. These positions are never arrived at in a vacuum, much less an echo chamber. We must speak with people with whom we disagree, listen to them, and reflect back to them what we hear them saying until they tell us that we understand them. In the case at hand, if we believe lives are at stake, then getting it right is worth the time and relational commitment required.


I’m Still Not Black – Part 2

racism prejudice 2A a few weeks ago, I published I’m Still Not Black, my (then) latest installment in an ongoing series of race related posts.  The subject was what appeared to be racially motivated police activity in detaining actress Danièle Watts, questioning her as a possible prostitute.  A resident in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles called the police to report lewd activity in a parked car. Watts clearly saw the actions of the police as discriminatory.

Since the break of the story, new information has come out, including audio indicating that the only one being unreasonable in the exchange was Watts.  So much so, that local civil rights leaders, ones who came to her defense early on, are calling on her to apologize.  Here’s the audio of Watts’ interaction with police.  The police officer in this interaction, while becoming mildly frustrated, is the voice of reason here.

TMZ (I know, I know…TMZ!) has posted what they say are photos of Watts straddling her boyfriend in the front passenger seat of a car with door open. They also report that local business employees actually saw the PDA, and went and spoke with Watts and Lucas (her boyfriend) before the police were called.

So, if all this is true, it looks like Watts and Lucas were given the opportunity to stop, but feeling defiantly amorous, they continued, and the police were called – reasonable.  The police then asked for their ID – reasonable.  Lucas priovided his – reasonable.  Watts refused and, instead, became agitated, emotional, and uncooperative – unreasonable.  The police officer, simply attempting to follow up on a call, continued to seek to ID Watts, and ultimately chose to detain her in order to do so. Once he did, he released her – reasonable. Watts took to social media, and stirred up a story, that seemed plausible to many, myself included.  Things aren’t always what they seem.

From The Hollywood Reporter’s post regarding the response of local civil rights acivists:

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable president Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Project Islamic Hope president Najee Ali and other activists held a press conference Friday, telling reporters that they now have doubts about Watts’ side of the story.

“I was one that was very outspoken about it,” Hutchinson said about having come to Watts’ defense when her story first broke, as quoted by NBC 4. “We take racial profiling very seriously. It’s not a play thing. It’s not trivial.”

The Associated Press quoted Hutchinson as saying that Watts “cried wolf” regarding this incident being racially motivated.

Here’s my takeaway:

Both black and white people can be reasonable when it comes to race.

Both black and white people can be unreasonable when it comes to race.

Reasonable civil rights activists are willing to discern which situations are racially motivated and which are not, and will communicate their findings publicly.  

Danièle Watts “crying wolf” doesn’t therefore automatically make Darren Wilson innocent or Michael Brown’s death justified.

Racial profiling is “not a play thing.”  Nor is it trivial.  Racism exists.  Dialogue is necessary.  All involved must be reasonable.

One more thing.  Now that some time has passed, and ISIL (ISIS / Islamic State / Bill Maher & Ben Affleck, etc) and Ebola are the new 24 hour news cycle darlings, the issue of race and equality in the United States has returned to its designated back burner, on slow simmer.  Until another race oriented issue turns up the heat, and things begin to boil over.  This must become unacceptable to us as human beings.

I am a classic avoider.  If something isn’t immediately calling my attention, I can ignore it.  And I have paid stupid tax on that behavior over and over again.  How long will we wait – how much stupid tax will we pay as a nation of human beings before we say individually and collectively say that it’s just not worth it?  Why wait for one more Ferguson, one more Danièle Watts incident, one more…one more.

Don’t say that you aren’t prejudiced in any way towards others, because prejudice is basic to being a human being. The most important step is to admit it as a way to combat it.

My name is Bill.  I am prejudiced.  Let’s work on our prejudices together.


I’m Still Not Black

broken-chainLast week, black actress Danièle Watts was detained as a possible prostitute for making out with her white husband in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles. They were in their Mercedes with the door open.  A resident alerted the police that there was a prostitute having sex with a man in car on the street.

When the police arrived, Watts refused to provide her identification, as she believed she had done nothing illegal. The police then cuffed her and questioned her, before releasing her, stating that there is no record of the incident, as no crime was committed.

Here are three different accountings of the story, one from Business Insider, one from The Root, and one from Global Grind.

Watts talked about the times her father came home “frustrated or humiliated by the cops when he had done nothing wrong.”

In my post from a few weeks ago, I’m Not Black, I suggested that whites had an opportunity to open dialogue by seeking to understand, generally, what it is like to be black in America. With that in mind, I have questions:

Would anyone have called the police if Watts were white?

Would she have been taken for a prostitute if she were white?

Would the police had even asked for ID or questioned the couple’s relationship were she white?

Was there an actual crime committed, meaning, were her civil rights violated?

Please know that I am not seeking to be incendiary, but rather to gain perspective. I can only imagine the outrage and potential shame she experienced. Her response is gracious and strong, regardless.

What do you think?




FOX Colored Glasses

Scary News“Army Officer Denied Entry to Michigan High School While Wearing Uniform”

“School Security Guard to Army Officer: You Can’t Come In While Wearing Your Uniform”

“Under Fire – School Won’t Let Army Officer Wear Uniform”

These are three titles/subtitles from the same story on I first became aware of the story through a friend on FB. He was outraged at the violation of civil liberties. I respect my friend very much. He is an intelligent, gifted, hard working family man, and he has drawn the wrong conclusions from the story, just like FOX has.

The article states that “Lt. Col Sherwood Baker, had stopped at Rochester Adams High School in Rochester Hills during the day to clear up an issue with his daughter’s class schedule.” Upon attempting to enter the school, Baker was told that “he could not enter wearing the uniform because it could offend people.” He was given the option of coming back in street clothes, or calling the school. At that  point, Baker and his wife called the superintendent’s office from the parking lot, and a staff member let him in.

The superintendent was “appalled,” the principal expressed regret to the family, the district apologized  and made it clear that “[it] does not have a policy excluding individuals in uniform and will be working with administration and the firm that handles [its] security to make sure district policies are understood and communicated accurately.”  In an interview, Baker’s wife, Rachel Ferhadson, said, “I feel a lot better about it now than I did 24 hours ago. … They have taken steps to correct what happened.”

When I saw the headline, I was concerned but also skeptical.  It didn’t seem right to me.  After reading the article, I would sum it up this way. An Army Officer was initially, and incorrectly, denied entrance to his daughter’s school  because he was told by a security guard that the military uniform he was wearing may offend some people. Not accepting this as reasonable, the officer promptly informed the school superintendent of the situation, who immediately allowed the officer and his wife entrance to the school. The superintendent made the security company aware that the actions of the guard were inappropriate and did not reflect district policy. The story here seems to be that reasonable people, faced with an unreasonable challenge, engaged other reasonable people to reach a solution, which they swiftly did.

This is an encouraging story for anyone anywhere on the spectrum of reasonableness. Unfettered political correctness did not win the day. Blind patriotic outrage did not create a tempest. A man who serves our country and a man who serves our children got together and solved problem in a way that serves us all. Why can’t we see news this way? Why must we be goaded into offense, outrage and fear?

To be fair to my FB friend who originally posted the story, he did write that the problem was solved, but he began his post with outrage and ended it with the call to fire the security guard for abridging civil liberties. His premise and outrage obscured the real story line, one that showed how cooler heads prevailed in a potentially ugly situation.

It’s time for us to think critically when it comes to news, especially from sources that share our ideological leanings. Otherwise, we are being fed news and information like that which a mother bird feeds her baby chicks – predigested and easy to swallow. We need to feed ourselves, and draw reasonable, truly “fair and balanced” conclusions, with our tendency towards confirmation bias on the table at all times. It’s not wrong to read people and sources with whom we agree, but we must do so employing critical thinking, and we would do well to read people and sources with whom we disagree, in exactly the same way.

The general public shapes the news cycle by engaging certain outlets like FOX, MSNBC, and others. Why not access news through NPR instead of MSNBC, or The American Conservative rather than FOX? If viewership and page visits equal advertising dollars, let’s help funnel Madmen cash to sources that are more intellectually rigorous, that speak with authority rather than yell with outrage, and that possess a self-awareness that allows for, and encourages, rigorous debate and productive dialogue.  Let’s have better conversations about the most important things.