Another Day Another Terrorist With A Gun

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

I can’t remember the last time I have gone a day without reading about the tragedy that is gun violence or a month without hearing of a mass shooting. This morning I woke to reports of a mass shooting only to realize it wasn’t El Paso, but Dayton. Each time social media is filled with hateful people that cannot, or will not, have a civil conversation about a serious topic. Respectful disagreements can help move people to common ground, but what is most often reflected in society is matched in Congress and the result is more dead bodies and more grieving families. The policy changes that are needed will not be easy, but they are doable without changing the 2nd Amendment. More importantly, we are capable as individuals of changing our neighborhoods and ourselves. We cannot let fear be the enemy of reason. The House of Representatives has taken the first step, but the Senate refuses to do anything, but pray. Clearly, God has answered them with legislation from the House, but they do not have ears to hear.freed-heart-understanding-mind.jpg

For those of us that have lost someone, we love to senseless gun violence each new incident is a reminder that brings the pain rushing back. If you love your guns and the 2nd Amendment more than your neighbors then it will be impossible for you to understand my pain and the pain of every other person who has ever been impacted by gun violence. Each year on September 30 I remember my twin brother who was shot four times (two in the chest, one in the side, and one in the back) and died on my parent’s living room floor.  The bloodstain on the carpet is forever etched into my memory. He was not killed by an intruder, but rather in an argument with our brother. They had fought many times before resulting in typical injuries from fistfights. The problem was that a gun was lying on the table.  Without the gun, he would probably be alive. The police called it a “family matter” and did nothing. In fact, because my other brother was never charged with a crime he legally purchased many more guns.

The argument that the 2nd Amendment is without limit is not true and is usually followed by the statement that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It is reposted without adequate consideration to what this actually means.  In fact, people who own guns are more likely to kill people either accidentally or intentionally. Not all gun deaths come from People with guns do kill people.

This year alone there have been:

  • 33,028 incidents
  • 8,734  deaths
  • 17,308 injuries
  • 251 mass shootings
  • Of those, 390 were children and 1,796 were adolescents (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/)
  • And how many thousands of grieving families, lost incomes, children without parents, wives without husbands, and parents without children?

Additionally,

In the civilian population deaths from firearms are believed to be a good indicator of firearms violence. The rate of nonfatal gunshot wounds is estimated to be 2.6 times the rate of fatal gunshot wounds. You can find the death rates from firearms by state at http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparemaptable.jsp?ind=113&cat=2.

The 2nd Amendment is our Constitutional right, but it does not mean that one should own a gun.  I have the right to own a gun and choose not to because I believe they are implements of violence and are designed to take life and only bread evil in one’s soul. Yet this isn’t the only right we have that we can and should decline. Let us decline the right all actions that take a life – abortion, the death penalty, and war. If we value life then sometimes we make decisions not because it is our legal right, but because it is a moral obligation.

It is true that it takes a person to pull the trigger, but without a gun, it is much harder to kill. People do kill people, but people with guns are more likely to do so either intentionally or accidentally. “The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society” (USCCB). The sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of the human person cannot merely be about abortion or assisted suicide, but must include protecting all life and that means stopping gun violence and all violence.  My wish is for a day that no American chooses to avail themselves of the 2nd Amendment right. Peace is an amazing feeling and it begins in our own homes and hearts. Put fear aside, love your neighbor, and choose life. Don’t let the lust for an instrument of evil that has taken so many lives and caused so much pain replace reason and compassion. Don’t let your fear win.


What is a Worthy Celebration Nathan Bedford Forrest, A Racist

The first time I heard of Nathan Bedford Forrest was in Tennessee history in Junior High School. I’m not sure how much of his background was emphasized, but I also don’t remember him being presented as an honorable man. Prior to the Civil War, he was a repulsive human being who amassed his wealth as a cotton farmer that depended on slave labor and selling human beings into slavery among other business endeavors.

As a Civil War Army General, he was considered to be a good military strategist though clearly not an honorable one. Under his command, he ordered the massacre of Union soldiers, mostly black and some white Tennesseans fighting with them. Even at that time killing people who had surrendered was not honorable.

After the Civil War ended and all of those who had been held as slaves were freed Nathan Bedford Forrest continued a life that dishonored the state of Tennessee and the United States. Since he could no longer hold slaves he became the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan which terrorized people of color. He denounced the violence in his later life, but even then apparently lied about his role. All he actually did was change his focus to a different form of slave labor.

After he left the KKK he secured the use of people who had been convicted of crimes to clear his land and work the same land. He used 117 prisoners to grow his wealth. Forced labor of prisoners is a stone throw from slavery at best. It should not go without notice that the majority of those people were black and in that era, the chances they had a fair trial was slim to none. They took black men and women out of the illegal chains and put them in the chains allowed by the law of the time which was incarceration.

It is true that state law in Tennessee mandates an annual proclamation, but it states:

Each year it is the duty of the governor of this state to proclaim the following as days of special observance: January 19, “Robert E. Lee Day”; February 12, “Abraham Lincoln Day”; March 15, “Andrew Jackson Day”; June 3, “Memorial Day” or “Confederate Decoration Day”; July 13, “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day”; and November 11, “Veterans’ Day.” The governor shall invite the people of this state to observe the days in schools, churches, and other suitable places with appropriate ceremonies expressive of the public sentiment befitting the anniversary of such dates.

Tennessee Code 15-2-101

The governor has the ability within the law to interpret appropriate ceremonies expressive of the public sentiment and befitting the anniversary of such dates. It is clearly within his authority to add language to the proclamation that states that it is appropriate to use this as a reminder of the evil of racism, our history of slavery, and the disgrace of being the home of the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. He could use the proclamation to call for a day of service to promote racial justice or as a day he gives clemency to deserving prisoners. There are many ways the law could be fulfilled that don’t continue to celebrate the man that had no honor and does not deserve our respect.

Until the day the Tennessee representatives change what is clearly a law that celebrates our racist past we should all ask and expect the governor to act with honor by preparing an appropriate proclamation. And if he refuses to act in an honorable manner there is nothing that stops us from planning now to make this a day that addresses racial justice in our communities.

When the elected officials refuse to lead with honor it is should never be the case that the citizens remain silent and do not act. We have a year to prepare. Let’s get started.


Pro-Human Dignity Revisited

“Those that proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow men and cooperate with them.”

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

The last few weeks have been filled with angry people aligning with pro-choice versus gloating people aligning with pro-choice. I hate both terms. They do little to describe what many of the people in the groups actually want. Pro-life is associated with people that want to end abortion, but many if not most of those people have little use for programs that support women before, during, and after pregnancy. In fact, some propose the death penalty for people that perform abortions or life in prison. Likewise, some people that are pro-choice only mean as it relates to women’s choices about their bodies. They frequently are not in favor of choice about such things as school choice or open carry laws for guns.

It would seem obvious that human life is sacred and that there is inherent dignity in all humans.  However, a quick look at public policy, media, and even individual human actions reveal that it is not at all obvious that life is treated as sacred or that there is inherent dignity in all humans.  One only needs to ask what it means to respect life and a heated debate may ensue with all parties proclaiming to be the sole holder of truth.  Most such discussions never proceed beyond abortion, the death penalty, war, and guns. Recently, I have seen more people add LGBTQ+ as an issue where no one can hear the other and where some brave soles like James Martin, SJ proclaim it to be a life issue and especially in countries where you can be executed for being same-sex relations.

When asked what is human dignity, a frequently provided answer is the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  No, it was not a question about the Declaration of Independence.  Yet, it appears that the representatives that signed the declaration understood human dignity and its foundation in our creation in the likeness of God, in stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Why then is this not part of the intellectual reasoning process when discussing these issues among friends, family, and colleagues and in public policy?  And, why for our entire history have we failed to live up to these words in the Declaration of Independence?

As we approach challenges to Roe v. Wade, let us consider life.  Life is a right.  Unfortunately, it is a right that we appear not to value as a society and a right for which we too frequently fail to give meaningful thought.  Here are a few areas where there is significant disagreement, and where life is either not treated as a right, or the issue gets inadequate attention.

  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Culture of violence in video games, movies, and music
  • Death penalty
  • Domestic violence
  • Drug, alcohol, and substance use
  • Health care & mental health care- inadequate
  • Homelessness
  • Genocide
  • Guns
  • Malnutrition
  • Obesity
  • Poverty
  • Sex trafficking
  • Terrorism
  • Torture
  • Violence (rape, hate crimes, child sex abuse, etc.)
  • War

All of these either prevent, end, shorten, or seriously impact life or the quality of life.  There is no public consensus on how to address any of these issues.  Imagine what would be said if there was a gun law passed as restrictive as the Georgia or Missouri abortion laws. Imagine making it a crime to release a person from the hospital when you know they have no home and will be living on the streets. Imagine a 95-year sentence for the health care provider that over-prescribed opioids resulting in addiction and an overdose.

The next time someone asks you if you are pro-life be sure to consider whether life is sacred and whether it is the foundation of your moral vision of society.  We can only protect human dignity and have a healthy community if we protect human rights and fulfill our responsibilities to each other.  We cannot shrug off poverty because it will always exist and ignore our responsibility to the poor and claim to be pro-life.  We cannot justify rape because the vagina was not ripped to shreds or it was “consensual” and claim to be pro-life.  We cannot let our children be murdered or sexually assaulted (or cover up the same in our churches) and claim to be pro-life. We cannot turn a blind eye to sex-trafficking and claim to be pro-life.  We cannot fulfill our responsibility without first recognizing the value of sharing ideas, cooperating to advance policy that supports human dignity, and admitting that no one individual is the sole purveyor of truth.

As some states march toward an essential ban on abortion consider whether abortion is blinding us to all other aspects of life and human dignity and whether a sole focus on protecting the unborn has resulted in public policy that ignores the threats to life that are all around us.  Likewise, consider whether treating abortion as a bad decision made under difficult circumstances would impact our approach to human dignity in other areas.  Advancing the cause of human dignity in public discourse requires us to fulfill our responsibilities and that must begin by listening to other people and hearing those perspectives with an open mind.  Maybe we would be more successful if we became pro-human dignity.


Good Nursing is Prudence

The intellect and not our will must guide our decisions. Yet, it is often our will that gets in the way of sound reasoning. Don’t we all want what we want? Would we not prefer to get our way? I know I would and at times my own will has gotten in the way of hearing what others had to say.

When I joined the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) I wanted to work with the poor and underserved. I had a mental image of what that meant. Simply, it was those in poverty or homeless. It had never occurred to me to consider those in prison or detained by immigration as poor or underserved. Nor did I ever consider the disproportionate impact that disasters have on those that are poor or homeless.

Late in my career, I accepted a job with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) working for Daniel Schneider, who is now the Executive Director of the American Conservative Union and CPAC. I was fascinated by what he described to me. He wanted an office that would address the human services needs of people impacted by disaster and especially those that were poor or marginalized. He wanted the office and programs to be built on the principles of self-determination, self-sufficiency, federalism, flexibility and speed, and support to states. Of equal importance, he wanted a close working relationship with faith-based organizations. I was free to develop it as I saw fit so long as I understood that I was fully responsible for any success or failure. It was an opportunity to combine my work in disaster management and at the same time return to working with the poor and the underserved. I was all in and then I had my first meeting with faith-based groups that worked in disasters – ouch!

The first meeting was eye-opening. It was clear that people were angry and especially the person from the United Methodist Committee on Relief. There was bad blood and before I would ever be able to make progress fences needed to be mended. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do it alone. Two amazing organizations stepped forward and offered to help. The first was Catholic Charities, USA that filled me in on what had transpired following Hurricane Katrina. While I had worked in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response since 2001 I had no interaction with the human services programs. The second organization was the American Red Cross who suggested I let them host meetings on neutral grounds. I was grateful and realized that I needed to do a lot of listening.

While I listened I also knew that good policy had to be evidence-based or adapted from a policy that has historically been effective. It could not be based on emotion or lack intellectual reasoning. I understood that there had been hurt feelings and a lack of listening in the past, but I would not ignore that there were successful programs that could serve as models. While the population served was different the goals and objectives were the same. We needed to get to mutually agreeable principles and we needed to use evidence-based policy.

The stakeholder meetings revealed that health care was largely excluded from the services offered by Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADS) and case managers rarely had health care experience. I wanted the case managers to be nurses, but the VOADS and my contracted faith-based organization wanted them to be lay people. We compromised and had a combination of case managers we trained and nurse case managers. When all the research was completed and the program pilot tested it turned out that what was primarily needed was the lay case manager with nurse case managers to be available for people with complicated medical needs and for consultation. Because I first listened and because we were all willing to follow the evidence we ended up with a program that we could all support. You can learn more about the ACF Disaster Case Management program at: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ohsepr/response-recovery/disaster-case-management .

I considered the development of the Disaster Case Management program a great professional accomplishment. I had an amazing team, exceptional partners, and political appointees that trusted us to do our jobs and have the best interest of the country in mind. There was mutual respect. However, the sense of professional accomplishment paled in comparison to the change in my spiritual life.

When I was in Baton Rogue with Catholic Charities, USA I was asked to stay with them at the retreat center. They gave me free access to the grounds and the chapel and said I could use it anytime. I hadn’t been to a church of any kind since my twenties and so I was amused. Then I listened as CCUSA had to remind the Catholic sisters that they couldn’t give away all of the food. I watched as CCUSA personnel and volunteers worked with compassion and patience and with their dedication exemplified what it means to serve. I, on the other hand, could only see a mission to be accomplished and my cadre of young officers as tools to accomplish it. While CCUSA saw the humanity in everyone I wasn’t even seeing it in my own people. By the time I left something had changed. I was no longer listening with my ears, but with my heart. The VOADS and the faith-based organizations had a different perspective than the government. It wasn’t about sitreps, or numbers proving the success, but rather compassionate care provided to people that were suffering.  I woke up one day shortly after our time in Baton Rogue and announced I intended to retire. Not long after the project was completed I was working for a small Catholic university where I found what I sought and though I left the university after three years what I found and what they nurtured has never left me.

Following the evidence resulted in a policy that ensured better services to the poor and underserved impacted by a disaster. Letting the spirit transform the knowledge into an accomplishment for good put the program in hands that are filled with compassion. By being open to what was good and just rather than tactically efficient government and faith-based organizations were able to bring the best of what each has to offer to serve those in need.

I am forever grateful to Dan for the opportunity, to the administration at the time for prioritizing the poor, and to Brent whose faith I am sure crafted the principles on which the program was built and through which I found my faith. The experience showed me what I lacked as a human being, what I no longer wanted to be, and a path to a more compassionate existence.

Prudence is the birth mother of all virtue.

compassion


Women Won the Day, but America Won

Today I was proud to be a woman and proud to be from the South that stood for equality and respect for all people. In the last year, women have found their voices and consistently stood against men who abuse and disrespect them. The country is speaking in many ways on respect: respect for women, respect for standards of decency, respect for those brave enough to say #MeToo. The country also said loudly, if you hold repulsive attitudes toward raping a woman or child you will not be elected by either party. We said, if you think it is funny to touch a woman’s breast without permission or sexually harass her at work or shame her in public we will stand up and stand together. We will use our voice to support those that feel threatened and harassed. We will push you out of your office, your job, and if necessary respectable society.

Respect for all people now requires that we make important decisions and I hope all the passion that went into the election goes into fixing our problems with how we treat women in the workplace. We voted to end sexism but now comes responsibility. We need to work for equal pay. Women that are not financially dependent on men find it easier to stand up and say no more. We must work to reduce violence and ensure that men and women understand what it means to rape and be raped – it is never legitimate. Sexual harassment is never acceptable, but we must define what it means. If you want to reduce sexual harassment you must know that not all people share the same cultural views on hugs or a kiss on the cheek or even a handshake. We must learn cultural sensitivity and expect it. We need to clearly define what is acceptable and unacceptable – it begins with you.

I also believe we need to have a serious discussion about abortion. We cannot let a pedophile almost win a national office because abortion is a litmus test for Democrats and Republicans alike. We need to find a common ground where we all agree that we should work to reduce abortion and explore all the ways to do so. Pro-choice and pro-life should be welcome in both parties if we are to solve this problem.

I love this country and I have always been proud to be from the South and have always believed that Southerns are more patriotic and love the country more than most. Democracy is amazing and especially so when people put aside party loyalty and vote their conscience as did the people of Alabama. We should tip our hats to Republicans today. They put country before party. Thank you Alabama for showing we change the world through our votes and through the exercise of conscience.


Gun Ownership is a Moral Issue

Gun ownership is a choice and a moral decision that has a significant consequence to the entire community. I can choose to own a gun or I can make the moral decision to decline the right to bear arms. This is not to say that all people have a choice to make. Some, by virtue of their professions, must own or carry a gun – police and military. Others may need one for a legitimate reason – ranchers. However, most of us do have a choice. Choosing not to bear arms does not impact anyone else’s Second Amendment right.

Can you remember the last time we have had a day without reading about gun violence or even a few days without hearing about a mass shooting? We average over 9 deaths a day from guns and a mass shooting almost every day. We ask ourselves what is the cause and we hear guns, mental illness, inadequate laws, immigration, gangs, terrorism, and a culture addicted to violence. We look at other similar countries and ask why they don’t have the same problem and the only differences are easy to access guns and/or culture.

In our culture we let fear overrule reason. The argument that the Second Amendment is without limit is not true and is usually followed by the statement that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It is reposted without adequate consideration to what this actually means.  In fact, people who own guns are more likely to kill people either accidentally or intentionally. People with guns do kill people and are more successful at doing so from a distance than by any other means.

This year alone the Gun Violence Archive has documented 52,436 incidents, 13,164 deaths, and 307 mass shootings. This doesn’t even begin to address the actual impact of wives that lost husbands, parents that lost children, children that lost parents, and the countless friends and neighbors that feel the loss.

 

gun violence

Make a Moral Decision

The Second Amendment is our Constitutional right, but it does not mean that one should own a gun.  I have the right to own a gun and choose not to because I believe they are implements of violence and are designed to take life and only bread evil in one’s soul. Yet this isn’t the only right we have that we can and should decline. Let us decline the right all actions that take a life – abortion, the death penalty, and war. If we value life then sometimes we make decisions not because it is our legal right, but because it is a moral obligation.

“Those that proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow [wo]men and cooperate with them.” –Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

I frequently wonder if we give enough thought to what it means to make a moral decision. I worry that we are so stuck in ideology and bound with fear that keeps us from a rational contemplation of the very serious issue of gun violence and violence in our culture. I am certainly not the sole arbiter of truth, but I have an opinion I hope you will hear and consider

Six-Steps in Considering the Morality of Gun Ownership

  1. Gather the information on injuries and deaths related to firearms.

People will give various reasons for wanting a gun. They list the least benign as a desire to kill Bambi or Thumper. Some genuinely believe they need to defend self or family and a gun is the only mechanism. Others have a false belief that a rifle will protect from an abusive government that has nuclear bombs, tanks, and other massive munitions. Whatever the stated reason one must consider whether the purchase of the gun to achieve the end is morally right? Do the circumstances (living in a dangerous neighborhood, traveling alone in an unsafe neighborhood, going to school) affect the action? Do the risks outweigh the danger of a gun in the home? This year alone defensive use is barely higher than unintentional shootings. In other words for every person that uses a gun in self-defense, another is accidentally shot.

The more I deliberated the more I reflected on Matthew 5:21-26:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca, is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

I came to the conclusion that I could not live with a primal instinct to defend my home or self by the use of lethal force over a possession. Nor could I live with accidentally harming another.

  1. I identified the ethical problem. The ethical dilemma was between the individual rights or good versus that of the rights and the good of the community.

It is certainly true that guns are sometimes used for self-defense. This year there have been 1,724 times guns have been used for defensive purposes. Of course, that pales when compared to 54,436 gun incidents in the same time period of which 1,699 were accidental shootings. Is the fear one person has for his or her safety more important than the safety of those around who are by all evidence at greater risk due to the presence of the gun? We are one of the nations with the greatest number of guns per capita and we are one of the nations with the greatest gun violence. People can cite urban vs. rural, and this city or that, but in the end, we are one nation with one shared problem that is violence committed using a gun.

  1. What approaches can I use to analyze the problem?

I first approached the problem from a veil of ignorance, which is to say if I were the person who was the least powerful and the most vulnerable what would I want? I concluded that while I wanted to live and be safe, but for that to happen it would be best for no one to have a gun. I also wanted all those around me to live and be safe. The risk to others from a gun in the house was greater than the risk to others and me without one.

I then used a disaster framework to consider what actions I could take to avoid risks that didn’t involve owning a gun. When considered within a framework it is easier to see that there are actions that can be taken, provided the public or individual has the will to do so, to keep oneself safer. For example, self-defense class, active shooter training, non-lethal force, security systems, and even owning a dog.

  1. After gathering the information, determining the moral dilemma, and using a framework to logically examine the problem it was time to make a judgment to determine which means are best under the current circumstances.

There really are only a few practical alternatives: 1) accept the status quo, 2) actively advocate for a rational change in gun laws, and 3) decline the right to bear arms and encourage others to do the same. I do not see repealing the Second Amendment as a practical alternative and thus it is not included. There are those that disagree with me including the editors of America Magazine. The Second Amendment is too ingrained in the culture, has too big of a lobby supporting it, and would not be supported by the majority.

  1. Act

Once I made the decision to decline the right to bear arms it was time to act. A moral decision occurs when the intellect and the will come together, but without action serves little purpose. First, I am acting for myself in pledging never to own a gun. I decline the right to bear arms. Second, like many other pledges, people may take I encourage others to also take the pledge and to share that they have. Third, I will never be silent.

  1. Evaluate the process and outcomes

The final step is always to determine if the choice and the action was effective. Only time will tell.

I pledge that I will never own a firearm of any kind. My heart will be guided by love and there will be no door opened for fear. When that door of fear is cracked it lets in evil and blots out reason. Not just the reason that comes from a well-developed human conscience, but the reason imparted through faith. When fear enters evil works to darken our souls to the inherent value of all life. That evil convinces us that property is of such great value that we can ignore the commandment not to kill and choose things over people. Fear causes us to listen to evil telling us that there are good guys with guns and that no harm will come from this instrument of death. Arm yourself with reason and faith and there will be no need for a gun.

“The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society” (USCCB). The sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of the human person cannot merely be about abortion or assisted suicide, but must include protecting all life and that means stopping gun violence and all violence.  Don’t let the lust for an instrument of evil that has taken so many lives and caused so much pain replace reason and compassion. Don’t let your fear win. Decline the Right.

 


Stop the Bleed

As nurses, we must be prepared for mass casualty incidents and know how to respond. It was good to see the people trained in first aid (firemen, prior military, nurses, and others) respond and help even as the shooter was still firing. Would you be prepared to stop the bleed of a person with a gunshot wound?

You can follow these easy steps, but it important to practice in advance. While there are videos online they do not replace hands-on training. If you want to be trained you can contact your local school of nursing, EMS, or Red Cross. You can purchase a stop the bleed kit on Amazon.com or through the American Red Cross. Just search “Stop the Bleed”.  If you are in the Knoxville area feel free to reach me at the University of Tennessee, College of Nursing and I will be happy to help arrange training for you.  Get involved, get trained, buy a kit and keep one at home and one in your car.

stop the bleed

Learn more about how to Stop the Bleed by watching this video prepared by the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health.