Blog, Gun Control, Politics

Standing Up To Radical Gun Fundamentalists

Originally published June 20, 2016 on the Huffington Post

We are told by Donald Trump and others that we should not shy away from calling “them” for what they truly are: “Radical Islamist Terrorists.” To refrain from using the correct term is not only akin to siding with the terrorists, but unless we recognize and call it for what it is, we cannot combat terrorism effectively. Accordingly, we should not shy away from calling another radical group by what they are: “Radical Gun Fundamentalists.”

In 2009, Dennis A. Henigan, then vice president for law and policy at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, published Lethal Logic: Exploding The Myths That Paralyze American Gun Policy. It’s a must read for everyone who desires to curb the scourge of guns in American society.

A quote from an unidentified leader of the NRA says it all: “You would get a far better understanding if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.” In short, the 2nd Amendment is a fundamental article of faith that’s self-evident and undeniably “true.” So is the “fact” that the government cannot be trusted to keep us safe. Indeed, the government is to be feared. The only sane alternative is for each individual to be fully armed to protect him or herself from tyranny. There cannot and should not be any restrictions of the right to bear any and all types of arms.

There you have it: “Radical Gun Fundamentalism.”

If Orlando, Paris, San Bernardino, etc. show that we have much to fear from lone wolf terrorists acting in the name of Radical Islam, i.e., ISIS, then Orlando also shows that we have as much to fear from “Radical Gun Fundamentalists” who willingly allow those who have been on FBI terrorist watch lists to purchase legally weapons designed for war.

Standing up to Radical Gun Fundamentalists has never been more clear or important. One type of fundamentalism is as bad as the other.

Blog, Gun Control, Media + Politics, Politics

Black Lives Matter: A Dialectic

Originally published January 22nd, 2016 on the Huffington Post

In today’s highly charged, extremely volatile environment, it’s extremely risky to weigh in on anything having to do with race. And yet, because of the extreme importance of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the national conversation on race and policing that it has rightfully inspired, I deliberately choose to do so.

I am struck by the divergence between two of the nation’s most thoughtful and notable black writers about BLM. Their views are not only important in and of themselves, but even more, they constitute opposite sides of a powerful and important dialectic.

John McWhorter, Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University, has written that while he is not against the BLM movement per se, he is just as concerned, if not more so, with black on black crime. Because so many more blacks are killed regularly by blacks, black on black crime hurts the black community even more than the killing of unarmed black kids by white cops. As Professor McWhorter puts it, Do Black Lives Matter Only When Taken by White Cops? Does a black mother mourn the loss of a child any less when it’s taken by someone who is black than by a white cop? Do arcane matters of political philosophy–i.e., the underlying philosophical tenets of the BLM movement–really matter to someone who has just lost a child to street violence? For Professor McWhorter, this last point is so overwhelming that it essentially ends the discussion. This is not meant in any way to say that he either belittles or ignores the racism that is a prominent feature of many police departments and the harsh racist attitudes towards blacks that are held by far too many police, black as well as white.

On the other side of the dialectic is Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent forThe Atlantic Monthly. In his own words: “…’Black-on-black crime’ is jargon, violence to language, which vanishes the men who engineered the [racial] covenants, who fixed the loans, who planned the [housing] projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel. And this should not surprise us. The plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

For Mr. Coates, shifting the conversation away from the killing of blacks by white cops, especially unarmed black kids, is not only just another instance of whites taking over and controlling the discourse, but once again, of whites basically showing that they are able to do anything they want with the bodies of blacks with no recourse to justice. In short, the brutalization of blacks is written into the basic DNA of whites. For this reason, from its very founding, it’s really no surprise that the brutalization of blacks was also written into the country’s DNA as well. Is it not the case that Blacks have been subjugated longer than they have been free? Is it really any wonder that brutalization and subjugation persist to this day?

In Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, Professor McWhorter sees blacks hampered by three outmoded and self-defeating beliefs: Victimology, Separatism, and Anti-intellectualism. Yes, racism still exists, but it’s time for blacks to give up playing the perpetual victim card. There is no longer the kind of overwhelming and debilitating racism that blacks faced in the past. It’s also time for blacks to stop separating themselves from all things white. And finally, if they really want to get ahead in the modern world, the time is way overdue for blacks to embrace education. It’s the only way that blacks and whites can get ahead in today’s high-tech world.

In sharp contrast, for Mr. Coates, racism shows no signs whatsoever of letting up, especially since it’s hard wired into the DNA of whites. Since blacks cannot stop whites from practicing brutalization and subjugation, whites must ultimately stop themselves, if they ever really can.

I confess that of the two, Professor McWhorter is far easier to read. It’s not just that he excoriates blacks for what he sees them doing that is basically not in their best self-interest, but that it’s unbearably difficult to take the intense anger that boils off of every page of Mr. Coates’ book, Between The World And Me. Even though whites need to be made keenly aware of the unbearable trauma that black people have suffered repeatedly at the hands of whites, Mr. Coates’ anger towards whites is seemingly without bounds. To this reader, the same prime message comes through repeatedly, namely that whites are irredeemably evil.

Time and again, Mr. Coates pounds home the point that for most of our history, whites could do whatever they wanted with black bodies with little, if any payback. Further, the police are society’s most visible and potent symbol of the virtually absolute power of whites over blacks. Even though I don’t like to admit it, his intense anger made it all-too-easy for me, at least at first, to turn away from his very important message. It’s far easier for whites to accept Professor McWhorter, and by doing so, let themselves off the hook. However, in the course of putting together this dialectic, I came to appreciate Mr. Coates’s message all the more.

The best dialectic is one where a person is gripped by two equally powerful and opposing arguments, stories if you will. As a result, it’s never a simple choice of one versus the other. In this case, I believe that both messages contain important “truths” that I feel deeply.

It’s important to emphasize the basic points of the dialectic at which the stories disagree. In one, whites are the wrongful, if not inherently evil, party. In this story, blacks have been perpetually wronged. In the other, blacks have done wrong to themselves. In one, whites have to change, if they ever really can; in the other, blacks need to change. In both stories, philosophical tenets or beliefs system are important, but they are obviously not the same, and thus, their roles are not the same as well. In short, they differ over fundamental matters of good and evil, who the righteous versus the wronged parties are, who needs to change, etc.

If there is a point of agreement between them, and hence, a possible synthesis, however small it may be, it is this: Blacks and whites have profound changes that only they can make in themselves before they can live together in peace and harmony, let alone separately without each other. While this is undoubtedly true, none of us can change entirely on our own accord. We need others, especially those that don’t have the same take on things, who as a result push us further than we can go on our own. In brief, I believe that the need for others and the desire for change is also wired deeply into our DNA.

If the multiple killings of young black kids and unarmed black men is not a clear wake-up call that police departments everywhere are in need of fundamental reforms with regard to how cops use force, then nothing is. At the same time, having worked with cops over the course of my career, I know that every time they go out on a call, they live in abject fear of their lives, even though they often have trouble admitting it. Cops live in constant fear because in a society with over 300 million guns, one has to approach every situation as if everyone is armed with a deadly, high-powered automatic that can easily penetrate the best life-protecting vests. For this reason, if I had to assign blame, then I would put the lion’s share squarely on the NRA for contributing to and stoking the climate of fear such that far too many of our fellow citizens feel that they cannot trust the government to protect them.

In the end, I wish fervently that a direct action movement to curtail guns could take shape that was as full of as much passion as BLM. Indeed, I wish that BLM would expand its agenda to take on the role of guns in our society. That’s a movement I’d like to join.

Blog, Gun Control, Politics

Regulating Guns: The Social Equivalent of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction)

Originally published January 19th, 2016 on the Huffington Post

In the 1950s, at the height of the cold war, the U.S. and the Soviet Union realized that their huge nuclear arsenals gave rise to a fundamental paradox: they existed for the prime purpose of preventing their use.

To protect their missiles, both sides loaded them on submarines that were capable of hiding indefinitely in the vast oceans of the world. In this way, the side that was attacked first would always have enough missiles to retaliate, if not destroy, the other side. Since the situation was completely symmetrical, nuclear weapons existed for the prime purpose of assuring that neither side would start a nuclear war that no one could win. This was enshrined in the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD, an apt acronym if there ever was one.

Unfortunately, MAD was not the only paradox that enveloped nuclear weapons.

Both sides protected their land-based nuclear missiles by putting them in silos buried in the ground. Covering the silos with massive amounts of concrete offered further protection. More concrete led to greater or more felt security. In pithy terms, More Led to More.

But putting more concrete only encouraged both sides to load multiple warheads onto their missiles so they could more easily penetrate the silos. More concrete threatened the other side more and led to an arms race, i.e., More Led to Less.

It occurred that less concrete would threaten one’s adversary less and thus lead to greater felt security, i.e., Less Leads to More.

But, since it made no sense to have zero or fewer numbers of nuclear missiles than one’s adversaries, less missiles led to less felt security, i.e., Less Led to Less.

More Leads to More and Less Leads to Less are the two primary modes of thinking that have prevailed for thousands of years. An army with greater numbers of soldiers could generally defeat an army with fewer. But because of their enormous destructive power, nuclear weapons altered these long standing tenets. The side with more nukes was not necessarily superior.

The biggest paradox of all was due to the fact that thinking about nuclear weapons was constantly cycling through all four modes simultaneously. Underlying all of them is the fact that at some point what’s good in the small becomes bad in the large. That is, bigness turns back on itself.

Consider the highly contentious issue of guns. The U.S. has roughly 5 percent of the world’s population, but 40 percent of the guns. If more guns were the answer, then the U.S. would be the safest planet on the globe, which it is not, i.e., More Has Led to Less. More Guns Has Led to More Mass Shootings (i.e., Less). We are in the grips of a self-imposed form of MAD.

In sharp contrast, rabid gun proponents argue that there are no limits to the benefits of guns, i.e., More Guns Indefinitely Lead to More. They also argue that More Regulations Lead to Less Safety, Less Regulations Lead to Greater Safety, etc.

Increasingly, we live in a world where every aspect is governed by paradox. To survive, let alone prosper, means not only recognizing the basic existence of paradox, but that In many cases, Less Is More. How many more mass shootings will it take for us to finally realize that More Is Not Always Better, and to act on this fundamental realization?

Blog, Gun Control, Politics

Time to Face Hard Facts

Originally posted December 10, 2015 on Huffington Post

The response by the Republican Presidential candidates to the latest mass shooting in San Bernardino, plus the fact that only one Republican Senator voted to deny terrorists access to high-powered assault rifles, forces us to face six painful facts about U.S. society:

1. No amount of mass shootings, evidence, and rational arguments to the contrary are enough to change the deep-seated beliefs of Republicans regarding the rights of Americans to own guns. Any attempts to change such beliefs are doomed.

2. We are held hostage to a 200 year-old, antiquated law–the Second Amendment–that is completely unsuited to modern times. Attempts to change the Second Amendment are doomed.

3. Instead of calling for sensible gun controls, every mass shooting only causes people to arm themselves even more. Attempts to de-arm this society are doomed.

4. Grieving for innocent victims does nothing to stop the carnage. We’re just bidding our time before the next mass shooting. We’re doomed to experience them again and again.

5. Calls for better mental health programs and understanding of the motives of shooters are a gigantic diversion. We’re doomed if we think that any society can safely manage over 300 million guns.

6. The American people, and especially their representatives, show little will in taking action. We are doomed!

I am left with the painful conclusion that there is nothing that will change this society’s attitudes towards guns. In short, the Right has won. They control this society.

If you want to live in a country where you are not afraid to go to school, church, the movies, holiday parties, etc., the only option is to move to another country that is not afraid to enact strict gun control laws. This is not that society. We are ruled by madness and fear.

Blog, Gun Control

Welcome to Gunlandia

Originally published 10/12/2015 on the Huffington Post

Once upon a time there was a very special land known as Gunlandia.

Gunlandia did everything in its power to help its citizens shoot one another; the more killed, the better. Besides, didn’t everyone have a God-given Right to shoot at one another and to be shot at in return? Why indeed leave mass shootings to chance? What fun was there in that?

To achieve its goal of endless mass shootings, the National Gun Box Association (NGBA) placed boxes that were conveniently located throughout all of Gunlandia’s major cities. Each box contained unlimited numbers of high-powered guns of all kinds. On each box, a sign clearly said, “Please take more guns than you need for the bad guys are always waiting to pounce. Fourteen is a good number!”

The NGBA did everything they could to ensure that the boxes were always filled with loaded guns because it was every citizen’s fundamental right to live next to a well-stocked gun box.

The NGBA never tired of saying that “Gun boxes don’t kill people; only people without gun boxes kill people.” “When gun boxes are outlawed, only outlaws will have unmarked gun boxes.” Etc.

After each mass shooting, the people were strongly encouraged to cry in public because the NGBA knew that this would only encourage people to have more gun boxes. The people were also encouraged to engage in endless conversations about the causes of gun violence to help ensure that the gun boxes were never removed. The more diversions, the better. This was in fact one of the best ways of furthering one of NGBA’s major goals: placing a gun box on the every corner of every street!

The NGBA came up with a special wrinkle of which it was especially proud. They placed brightly colored gun boxes outside of schools, churches, movie theatres, super markets, in short, wherever people gathered in large numbers. They strongly encouraged people to take at least one gun with them into every event and place. In this way, no matter where they were, more than one person was guaranteed to be terminated.

What better way of instilling apathy, fear, and hopelessness? Aren’t these the goals of any uncivilized society?

Blog, Gun Control, Politics

Enough! It’s Time to Put Our Bodies and Pocket Books on the Line for Gun Control

Originally published June 23, 2015 of Huffington Post

The shooting of nine people in a black church in Charlestown, South Carolina raises once again the god-awful issue of what to do about gun violence and gun control. Yes racism was a prime factor and undoubtedly so was the poor mental health of the shooter. As a result, the familiar bromides that we need to do more work on race relations and better mental programs are being offered once again. What sensible person could possibly disagree with these?

Personally, I’ve had it with the old remedies. I’m tired of mourning the innocent victims of another senseless act. We need to break out and try other things.

All the logic and rational talk in the world are virtually useless against racists and rabid gun proponents. (Obviously they are not useless for more rationally minded people or else why write this?) What we need is direct action. We have push hard against culture that is so deeply immersed in fear, guns, and paranoia that it’s lost its very grip on sanity.

More guns only lead to more fear and paranoia. If more guns were the answer, then we’d be the safest nation on the planet! Instead, we are the nation with the most mass shootings. Indeed, other Western industrialized nations actually have more crime than we do, but since we have vastly more guns, our crime is generally more lethal.

The best model I know for changing society are the civil rights protests of the 1960’s. Young people were literally willing to put their lives on the line by going down to the South and staging sit-ins at restaurants and other public places. As we know, a number died as a result.
The paradox is that one has to be willing to die for less gun violence!

We need to have mass, perpetual sit-ins outside of gun shows and in front of the NRA headquarters in Washington, DC. for as long as it takes to de-gun this society. No other Western industrialized society in the world allows the amount and kinds of guns that we have.

I also want to stir the pot by proposing that other countries impose a tourist embargo on the U.S. Why come to a country where one’s life is constantly threatened? While I don’t expect that this alone would remove the over 300,000,000 guns in the hands of private citizens, perhaps money will finally get our attention. If rational logic doesn’t work, then we have to hit people where it hurts!

The point is that the time for talk is over. Until we are ready to put our bodies and our pocket books on the line, we’ll just have more and more mass shootings!

Ian I. Mitroff is Professor Emeritus from USC. He is a Senior Investigator in The Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley. He is President of Mitroff Crisis Management. His most current book is Dumb, Deranged, and Dangerous: A Smart Guide to Combatting Dumb Arguments.

Blog, Gun Control, Media + Politics

All Cops Are Not Bastards

Originally published December 29th, 2014 on the Nation of Change

In Oakland, California, where I live, an elevated BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) line runs directly above one of the busy streets on which I travel frequently. During the recent nation-wide demonstrations against police brutality, a particular bit of graffiti that was sprayed prominently on one of the major pillars that supports the elevated BART tracks caught my attention. Since the pillar was exactly at a stoplight where I had to wait, I couldn’t help notice the crudely written message, “All cops are bastards.”

I don’t dispute the fact that there are racist cops. But in my experience in working with police, the number of cops who are overtly racists is small. Nonetheless, given their power, one racist cop is one too many

I also don’t dispute the fact that there is a “culture of policing” that often views the members of the communities that police are sworn to protect through jaundiced eyes. Many police departments are aware of this and are working hard and honestly to correct it. But, more are needed to do so.

Furthermore, I agree strongly that police in general need an aroused public to push them to adopt even greater reforms.

Nonetheless, I wish to argue for the need for increased respect for police and the dangerous jobs they do. Police live daily in abject fear of their lives. In a nation with roughly 300 million guns, police have no choice but to approach every situation with the ever-present and all-too-real possibility that they can be killed at any moment.

Constantly living in fear of one’s life subjects one’s body and mind to unbearable stress. It rewires the mind such that one is literally always on edge. This is not to excuse for one second those situations where lives are wrongly taken.

In short, by any measure, the deaths of unarmed black men are unjustifiable! The deaths of any unarmed citizens are a terrible tragedy. If this isn’t a clear wakeup call for police, then it will only get even worse before it gets better.

However, if I had to lay primary blame for the predicament in which we collectively find ourselves, it would be with those individuals and organizations that seriously undermine reasonable gun laws.

We are living in a dangerous and deluded fantasy world if we think we can have the large numbers of guns that we have and yet remain safe from gun violence, whether by the police or anyone else.

Even if by some miracle we fixed overnight what’s currently wrong with the police, we’d be just as vulnerable to a gun culture that is completely out of control.

Blog, Gun Control

Police Shootings: Young Black Men Pay a Heavy Price for America’s Lax Gun Laws

Originally posted December 12, 2014 on the Huffington Post

As a human being, I deplore the recent shootings and deaths of young black men. They make the notion of equal justice a sham. How and why could so many unarmed black men be killed so easily?

However, as a social systems scientist, I am equally disturbed for other reasons. Given the multitude of factors that are involved in every situation, why do we focus on so few factors and give others that are just as important so little consideration?

The quick and easy answer is that just a few factors are primarily responsible for police shootings and misbehavior. Therefore, if we correct these few, then we will lower substantially the chances of future tragedies. Supposedly, if we’d just do a better job of selecting and training cops, and weeding out those who are racist, then we’d lower police shootings dramatically. Were it all that simple!

Of course police officers are the end links of the chain. They are the ones who decide whether or not to fire or to use force. But enumerable other factors are at play as well.

Yes, drugs and poverty certainly breed crime, but other countries have just as much drugs, poverty, and crime as we do and yet do not have nearly the same rates of police shootings and fatalities. In fact, some countries have even higher rates of crime and yet they don’t experience anything near what we do. Guns almost ensure that if there is an altercation between the police and others, then it is more likely to result in deadly consequences.

Systems thinking not only looks at more factors, but it looks at more potential interactions between them, especially those that we are prone to ignore or to downplay. Given the fact American society is so heavily armed — there are over 300 million guns in private hands — police officers have little choice but to approach every situation with the ever present and all-too-real possibility that deadly force can and will be used against them and those they are charged with protecting.

Of course racial stereotypes play an important role. We can’t do enough to confront and to weed them out. And yes, we need more black policemen everywhere, especially in black communities.

But we are basically kidding ourselves in believing that we can continue to have so many guns in American society and not pay a terrible price. Unfortunately, young black men pay a higher price than young white men. The effects of America’s lax gun policies are anything but equal.

Blog, Gun Control, Psychology

Living in a State of Constant Paranoia: The Time is Way Overdue to Ban Toy Guns That Look Like the Real Thing!

Originally posted on Nation of Change – December 6, 2013

On October 22, 2013, a 13-year-old boy, Andy Lopez, was fatally shot by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus in Santa Rosa, California after he was warned repeatedly to put down what looked like a real automatic rifle. When Lopez turned around with the fake gun pointing directly at Gelhaus and his partner, fearing for their lives, Deputy Gelhaus fired eight times killing Lopez instantly.

Because of the tragic loss of a young life and the understandable outrage that naturally followed, I am afraid that the full lessons have not been drawn from the episode.

Unless we understand and learn from them, we will only see future such tragedies.

While there are few if any excuses for the taking of any life, because I have worked with the police over my career, I want to put forward a different understanding of the tragedy. To do so, let me take a step back and indulge in a bit of theory.

Melanie Klein is one of the most influential child psychoanalysts who ever lived. It is contended that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. Working with children as young as newborns up to pre-teens, Klein pushed back even further our understanding of the roots of human behavior.

One of Klein’s earliest discoveries was what she termed the “paranoid-schizoid position.” The child’s earliest state was “paranoid” because of its incessant fears that it would be abandoned or hurt by its first caregivers, typically the mother when Klein worked early in the 20th century. It was also “schizoid” because the young child’s mind was not sufficiently developed to understand and accept that the “good mother,” that one that fed, cared for, and met the child’s every demand, was also the “bad mother” who couldn’t be there all the time and had to discipline the child. Fortunately, with love and understanding, and without overreacting to it, the mother helped the child to heal the “split” between these two diametrically opposite images. In time, the child was able to see and accept that the “good and the bad mother” were one and the same person. She also helped the child to see that there was a “good” and “bad side” to everyone including the child itself.

But if there were prolonged trauma, then the splits would never heal properly and even continue to grow. Indeed, even with healthy development, all of us on occasion split the world into “good and bad guys.” The constant demonization by Democrats and Republicans of one another in Washington is sadly only one manifestation of this phenomenon, albeit one of the worst!

Unfortunately, paranoia and splitting are also furthered by society and certain occupations. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that police live and work in a constant state of “paranoid-schizoid.” They are constantly in fear for their safety and lives.

This is not meant in the slightest to excuse or wish away the tragedy that happened. It is also not to say that there aren’t bad or racist cops. There are. But this often obscures more difficult lessons. At the very least, we are not only aware of bad cops, but we try to do things about it. But, we are generally unaware and try not to correct for the earliest states of mind that Klein identified.

If there is any blame to go around for the tragedy, I place it squarely on the makers and the sellers of toy guns that look so much like the “real thing” that they make such tragedies almost inevitable. What kind of society would even allow such things?

There is no excuse for such “toys,” let alone real assault weapons that are too easily available.

Contrary to gun proponents, we are not safer as nation by having 315,000,000 guns, approximately one for every person. Toy guns are now part of the same lethal mix.

If there is any good that can come out of such a tragedy, the California legislature is considering a bill that would ban the manufacture and sale of toy guns that “look like the real thing.” I fervently hope that such a bill passes.

One death is one too many!