On Gays, Guns, and Dogs

160614-Pulse-HEADERI have ended each of my podcasts with the words, "be kind and thoughtful." Certainly it's my intention to have people who listen to my podcast consider those words as they go about their days but I want to acknowledge that I'm saying those words to myself; I often neglect being kind and am constantly thoughtless in word and action. These days it's so easy to forget what other people go through, what others endure and so often we judge each other based on our limited assumptions of what is right for others with no consideration for their personal experience and feelings; we assume much about others based unsophisticated understandings of what their life is. I use that as a preamble to my following message; it's not related directly but in some ways should be a throughline of anything we encounter.
 
My heart goes out to the friends and family of the victims of the Orlando shooting at the Pulse Night Club. The pain and suffering you are going through right now is unimaginable. I'm sure every common thing that can be said about death will be said to you ad nauseum in the coming years, but there are lots of people that grieve with you, who are your allies, who will stand with you despite what may seem like the stunning silence of millions. My family and I count ourselves among those who have cried with you and in some other city, on some other day may have been in that very same club dancing with your loved ones.
 
Very quickly these days, symbolic gestures are dismissed as meaningless. I think that's a shame. Symbolic gestures, like showing solidarity by saying "We Are Orlando," and other such slogans provide a way for those who can do so little so demonstrate that you are not alone. I grieve for you because I can imagine myself being in a similar situation. More importantly, I grieve because I am human, and I know what being human feels like and the loss of so much life should affect all humans.
 
An audio version of this article can he heard on There's No Time to Explain Podcast #10 at time code 02:10

 
And yet it does not. Some humans are unaffected, and other still take particular delight in the deaths of some because of the divisions between us that they have a stake in maintaining. They divide us for their own purposes, but we need to acknowledge that in doing so, they have forsaken their own humanity. Anyone who has reacted to these deaths in some way other than horror and sympathy is simply less human.
 
These divisions are the seeds of apathy. These divisions are why we ignore calls to fix the problem of mass shootings time after time. We are so divided on issues about who we are and the relative worth of human life that we have stopped regarding each other's lives as valuable. We have stopped being kind.
We have balkanized ourselves into factions that weave through society holding tight to each other with invisible tendrils, and those connections bind us to each other unseen until something like the shooting in Orland cuts so deep that those bonds are exposed. Certainly no one owes the world a stupid Facebook opinion about anything, but it has been shocking to me how many people, who would otherwise speak up about nearly any injustice have been eerily silent on this. I, myself, cannot be. On this issue, silence is complicity.
 
edited 1465762889713My wife and I had the pleasure of knowing Edward Sotomayor Jr, the national brand manager for Al and Chuck, the travel agency who arranged the Drag Queen-themed cruises we've enjoyed. On board the cruises, Eddie worked extraordinarily hard to make sure that all the participants on the cruise had everything we needed and that all the events for our contingent went off without a hitch. He wore a top hat, so he was easy to find in a crowd and people lovingly referred to him as Top Hat Eddie. I cannot claim to be his friend, as our interaction with him was always professional, but my wife and I have genuine friendships with many people he was near and dear to. Just by being involved in such a niche group dedicated to such a specific thing as a TV show about Drag Queens, you start to regard people who are into the same thing as your as extended family.
 
When word of the shootings in Orlando hit the general news Sunday morning on the west coast, my wife Victoria and I had already been following the frantic posts of his friends who were desperately trying to ascertain the whereabouts of Top Hat Eddie. His name was the very first name released on the list of confirmed deceased. Shot in the back, as he helped his boyfriend to safety. Even in his last act, he was as selfless as any interaction I'd had with him on this earth.
 
I cannot be silent as yet again the country tries to downplay the homophobia that caused this. I cannot be silent as yet again we ignore common sense gun legislation. I cannot be silent as garbage like Donald Trump uses this tragedy as fodder for self-aggrandizement. I cannot be silent as Christians who condemn gays try to pass blame of this on another religion that holds the exact same views. I cannot be silent as the commentariat uses this slaughter as a way to advance any particular bee in their bonnet, to deflect or defuse, from False Flag conspiracy theory nonsense to tortured comparisons to Wounded Knee. I cannot be silent as people parrot the faulty argument that if the murder didn't have access to guns he just would have used some other weapon. I cannot be silent as the nation finds any excuse to diminish the value of the lives of those killed and justify not acting. Silence is complicity.
 
I will not spend time considering the identity of the killer because the systemic solution for mass shootings won't be found in any one shooter. This person has proven himself unworthy of our regard, and I wish we never knew his name or saw his face. I regret not taking note of author of this tweet when I saw it; it is not mine, and if anyone can help me properly attribute it, I would be grateful. "The only thing stopping anyone from committing a mass shooting is whether they want to or not." We are a nation of nearly 300 million people. Every single adult, notwithstanding serious legal circumstances, has relatively easy access to guns capable of firing 30 bullets in a clip. (although being a domestic abuser under investigation by the FBI was not enough in this case.) I live in California, where such guns are illegal, but without admitting to anything or implicating anyone, I know, right as I sit here, how to get my hands on one with several 30 round capacity cartridges. I could make one phone call and have one in my possession in 20 minutes, no money exchanged, no questions asked.
 
If only one hundredth of one percent of our population ever arrived at the mental state required to commit a mass shooting, that is nearly 30,000 individuals with the capacity to kill indiscriminately, in a society that has abandoned the means to assist them with their mental health needs, in a world that is rife with social divisions, and a culture that is bent on scapegoating the most powerless among us, with a majority of religions promising salvation after death which undermines the importance of life on this earth, and a Congress that has been wholly bought and paid for by a lobby that has done everything in its power to assure that access to the most effective, easy to use guns in the history of the planet, designed expressly for the sole purpose of killing other humans in an urban setting has not been infringed, a Congress that has prohibited the collection of statistics on gun violence, a Congress that refuses to allow gun legislation to even come up for a vote.
 
This is a systemic problem that has impacted nearly every facet of our society. It demands a systemic solution. Asking everyone to be individually responsible will not work because those who are committing these acts have already forsaken the social contract and by most accounts the perpetrators of these acts engage in them not expecting to survive them.
 
I don't have a solution beyond the commons sense solutions that have been proposed time and time again when this happens. They are ignored by Congress who would rather keep taking NRA money than protect the lives of those they serve. Even with the highest death toll of any mass shooting on record, I wonder whether anything will ever happen to improve this, even marginally, or if we are all forced to validate the fragile masculinity of those who have built their identity upon a centuries-old law still on the books otherwise known as the Second Amendment. If we can ignore the death of children, clearly we have all failed. 21 dogs died in an Arizona kennel due to a faulty air conditioner in 2014, and there was legislation proposed right away to address the issue. 21 dogs dead and people in the state of Arizona were not about to throw their hands in the air and say, well, I guess there was nothing we could have done about that. 21 dogs.
 
This can't wait until we all know someone who has been killed in a mass shooting. We have to remember that we have other values that should be considered here, values like compassion, values like safety, values like common sense. We cannot be held hostage in our own country by those who value their warped sense of self over the good of everyone around them. I say this as a believer in the American experiment; I say this as an admirer of the Founding Fathers; I say this as a gun owner. I own a car, and I believe in traffic laws. I own a business, and I believe in business regulations, I own a goddamn dog, and I support animal control. The irrational fears of a frightened few are preventing a whole nation from applying a bandage to a hemorrhaging wound.
 
This has to end. The blood of every future shooting victim is on the hands of every congressperson who kicks this can down the road. We have pretended that our hands are tied for too long. It seems like minority factions in Congress can use rules of the floor to shut down Congress for any little thing these days. It's time to shut down the government for a thing like mandatory federal background checks that search criminal arrest and mental health records in every state paid for by the application fees of gun purchasers, requiring the collection of gun violence data, requiring guns be locked when stored, requiring training and insurance, closing the gun show loophole, outlawing straw purchasing in any circumstance, and the banning of assault rifles. If we can shut down the government over money, how about let's shut it down over the lives of our citizens and children.
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