The Chronically Blue & Red State of The Union

Robot Painting by Eric Joyner

Robot Painting by Eric Joyner

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

“Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”                                       Mark Twain

It has been nearly two months since the grand proclamation of that “new  American moment” proposed by President Trump in his State of the Union address–that moment when those forces that thrive and profit on the unraveling of that delicate weave that is the tapestry of American democracy will be swept away in the wake of some bipartisan epiphany. But according to those who make it their mission to measure the metrics of our discord, distrust, and discontent–our house is sorely in need of repair and reunification.

Even in those areas where one might expect that we were like-minded there are apparent differences. A recent Gallup poll tied to last month’s Winter Games in  PyeongChang found that liberals are 25 percent more likely than conservatives to ski. That may explain why so many of my Republican friends are so concerned about those so-called  slippery slopes.

While it’s easy to blame the pundits, politicians, and the President for what appears to be disharmony by design, there is also the possibility that the incessant polling and pulse taking  is also adding to both the political and cultural divide. We are being convinced by the mere statistical analysis of our beliefs and behaviors that we can’t possibly work together to find solutions or common ground. Even now, as the nation tries to come to terms with another horrendous mass shooting, those on both sides of the gun control issue have their defenses and data points ever at the ready for another predictable partisan debate. And afterwards, what we are left with is just another case of numbness and nullification by the numbers, and the prospect that the United States Congress might once again fail to enact any meaningful legislation.

While I agree with Mark Twain that the search for truth by way of some  numerical measure of reality is folly, nonetheless, in this instance, I am going to stir some additional stats into this already overcooked stew:

  • The murder rate in Colonial America in the year 1700 was 30 per 100,000 people. By the time our Constitution was fully adopted in 1788, the rate had dropped to approximately 20 per 100,000 of population. And when Teddy Roosevelt assumed the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, the murder rate had dropped to less than 2 per 100,000.
  • During the Twentieth century, the murder rate for that 100 year period reached its peak of just over 10 per 100,000 during the Carter administration. The rate then dropped under President Reagan, it rose under George Bush, and then again dropped during Bill Clinton’s time in office.
Murder and Suicide Rates 1900 - 1998

Murder and Suicide Rates 1900 – 1998

  •   The murder rate in America in 2016, the most recent year of complete FBI crime statistics, was 5.3 per 100,000.
  • Of the approximately 33,000 gun related deaths that now occur each year, roughly 1.5 percent are the result of mass shootings.
  • There are an estimated 73-81 million gun owners in the United States, of that number about 8 million, or 3 percent of the total U.S. population, own 50 percent of all legally purchased civilian firearms..
  • Depending on whose count you believe, the NRA, the group which claims to be the legitimate voice of all gun owners, has somewhere between 4 and 5 million members.
  • There are currently about 236 million people of voting age in America. Of that number approximately 200 million are registered to vote.
  • Nearly 84 percent of Americans, including a large majority of gun owners, favor some level of enhanced regulation of firearms.
  • While nearly 100 percent of Americans seem to have an opinion on just about everything, those opinions don’t necessarily find their way into the voting booth. The average turnout for a presidential election is around 60 percent, the midterms attract about 40 percent of the voting public, and congressional primaries tend to bring out less than 20 percent of eligible voters.

So based upon these numbers, here are some of my observations and conclusions on the overall state of our union and how that might pertain to the contentious debate over guns and the Second Amendment:

1). The steep decline in America’s murder rate between 1700 and 1800 can most likely be attributed to the rule of law versus some frontier interpretation of Old Testament justice–as in an eye for an eye or perhaps a scalp for a scalp. Those brilliant minds that crafted the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution helped to bring about greater social order and a fairer system of criminal justice. But we should not lose sight of the fact that even our Founders, as borne out by the Hamilton and Burr dispute, were more inclined to settle their differences with pistols than we are today.

2). If we examine the homicide rate throughout the twentieth century, many of our notions as to when and why we are most likely to pull the trigger don’t hold up. In 1901, a year when there were virtually no laws governing the sale or use of firearms, America experienced its lowest murder rate ever. Neither is poverty, prosperity, or war necessarily an accurate predictor of human behavior.

After the First World War, the murder rate climbed steadily for over a decade. But those soldiers who returned from Europe and the Pacific in 1945, were mostly content to leave the tools of their trade behind on the battlefield. And while America’s worst recorded murder rate occurred in the midst of the 1980 recession, during most of the depression years of the 1930s, the murder rate was well below that of the boom years of the Roaring Twenties.

3). The idea that we can legislate away mass murder is akin to thinking that we can stop tornadoes from occurring. But in both instances, we have the tools to better forecast the threat of an outbreak and the capability to reduce the number of dead and injured. When it comes to the regulation of firearms, commonsense and moral responsibility dictate that our laws address the mental health of those that have access to guns and the lethal potential of civilian firepower.

2nd Amendment

For those who view the Second Amendment as some immutable piece of inspired text, I would simply point out that  ever since the Civil War some of the best long robes and legal minds have not been able to find consensus over the use of twenty-seven words and two commas. Even the term “well regulated” has been the focus of rigorous debate. So for all the praise we heap upon the Framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it seems that even these enlightened mortals were susceptible to ambiguity, questionable punctuation, and bad grammar.

The common approach when dealing with any controversy that might arise because of the wording of the Constitution has been an attempt to glean the original intent of those that penned the document. The difficulty with that approach is whose intentions are you going to believe, Mr. Hamilton and his Federalists, or the Anti-Federalist crowd spurred on by the likes of Jefferson and Madison?  So picking your favorite Framer is like our choices for cable news, one can always find a source that will support their point of view.

While our Constitution is the result of some bitter philosophical battles and quite a few compromises, it is probably safe to assume that all those involved in its creation shared the common goal of insuring domestic tranquility for the greater good of all Americans.  The Framers certainly had their fair share of distrust of government, but at the same time, they also were somewhat leery of rule by way of the angry mob. I don’t suspect that they would have called for a well-regulated government sanctioned military entity without also considering putting some limitations on an armed civilian population.

4). With the next midterm election less than eight months away, there are those who are hanging their hopes on the next blue wave while another large part of the nation will opt for a rerun of the red tide. As for myself, I’m not concerned about the color of my state. The solution to our political problems has never been about more Democrats or Republicans–more liberals or conservatives. Positive change can only come about when principled people in power choose the welfare of the country over the survival of their party.

Later today, young people will gather in mass to express their fears and concerns about the violence that has ruined so many lives and shattered so many families. Those among us who we normally ask to march off to war on our behalf will be marching on the nation’s capitol and hundreds of public squares throughout America. Those long marches will be in vain if the rest of us fail to make that short walk to the voting booth!

Posted by: Chris Poh  for American Public House Review 

Author’s note: I began writing this particular piece several weeks ago after a long political conversation with my friend and musician Mike Kratzer. It took a very different path after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Here is a link to Mike’s song Chronically Blue which reflects upon those somewhat old age cynical leanings that even I give into after another one of these American tragedies.

 

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The Safety and Solace of a Sunday Morning

White Horse Tavern in Newport, RI

When challenged over the years about my somewhat spotty church attendance, I am proud of the fact that I never made excuses for my utter lack of piety based upon those hypocritical professions one tends to hear from the pulpit from time to time. So many of my like-minded  contemporaries had used conflicted doctrine and dogma as their convenient reasoning for not being on bended knee on the Sabbath. But my absence from the pew on Sunday morning usually had more to do with my presence on the bar stool on Saturday night. Sadly though, in present day America, one could actually make the argument that you’re safer in a bar than in a church.

The mass murders that occurred at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, once again exposed that seemingly insurmountable political divide that confronts this nation when it comes to regulating firearms. In this instance, the fact that Devin Kelly’s conviction for domestic violence, while on active duty in the Air force, was not properly reported to civilian authorities has somewhat dampened the normally contentious positioning that occurs after these shootings. Second Amendment advocates can point to the fact that the laws and procedures were in place that could have prevented this horrific event, and that it was the actions of another armed citizen that was instrumental in limiting the potential for any further loss of innocent  life.

What I personally find to be the real issue in this particular case is the almost bipolar response by our President depending upon the perceived source of the atrocity. There is that sad and somber tone accompanied by an almost sense of helplessness when the perpetrator appears to be one of our own, and then there is that aggressive, bellicose, and provocative air on full display when the threat is considered to be foreign in nature. An attack in New York committed by someone born in Uzbekistan will bring about that clarion call for extreme vetting at our borders, but those murderous rampages carried out by some homegrown natural born killer is apparently not even worthy of a conversation about extending background checks at a gun show. That lack of coherent leadership in the Executive Branch only adds to the paralysis that grips the Legislative Branch when it comes to our nation’s gun laws.

For too many years, we’ve been fed this idea that additional legislation will do little to curb the rampant gun violence that plagues the United States–and statistically that is probably true. In fact, it is estimated that we would only see about a 3% decrease in gun related deaths if we were to implement universal background checks, nationwide waiting periods to purchase, and tighter mental health screening. But in a country that now loses over 33,000 human beings a year to guns–a thousand less premature funerals and the many thousands of less shattered lives and broken hearts is well worth some sensible legislation.

Time and time again, we’ve been subjected to that shopworn slippery slope line of reasoning that asserts that any further limitations on the ownership and use of firearms will ultimately lead to the total abrogation of the Second Amendment. If that were true, those privileges granted under the First Amendment would have been lost a long time ago. Ever since the tail end of the nineteenth-century, the Supreme Court has done its fair share of legal tinkering with that celebrated first portion of The Bill of Rights. And while we may not always agree with the remedies and interpretations handed down by the Judicial Branch, I believe most Americans would agree that the intent and integrity of the First Amendment remains intact–so I suspect will be the case with Amendment II of the United States Constitution.

The intriguing irony through all this is the fact that many of those same politicians, including the President, that are reluctant to limit what comes out of the muzzle of a gun would love nothing more than the ability to limit what comes out of the mouth of a reporter.

As I’m writing this, exactly two weeks have passed since the shootings in Sutherland Springs, and already our narrowly focused, short attention spans have been shrewdly targeted away from the serious and toward the salacious. Our back fence and bar stool chatter is now consumed with the possible improprieties of those who seek power and those who have already found their seat at the table. Keeping score on Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, and Al Franken is far less taxing on our social conscience than coming to terms with the body count at a Baptist church.

Closing Time at the Indian Rock InnThere are still those moments when I long for the safety and solace of those Sunday mornings past–but for now this old bartender will remain content with the silence and sanctuary of those Saturday nights after last call.

Posted by: Chris Poh for  American Public House Review

Arming for Armageddon

Jupiter Ballistic Missile

As far back as I can possibly reach into my conscious memory, there has been some person in authority warning us of the impending possibility of our earthly expiration. From the preachers in the pulpit to the pols in the public square, there has been no shortage of voices giving us reason to cower under our actual or metaphorical desks. The latest message of an approaching Armageddon is being delivered by Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. And in a rare break with my usual inclination of wanting to shoot the messenger, at this particular crossroad–I actually share the concerns of the courier.

As the  President prepares for his trip to Asia next month, I question whether or not there is either the capacity or the judgement needed to bring about a peaceful curbing of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. But ever since the Second World War, we’ve spent trillions of dollars, risked armed conflict, and sacrificed thousands of American lives in order to put limitations on the firepower available to those nations and outside groups that were perceived as threats to our national security. While those policies of containment may have been a necessary evil, one might question why there is not the same resolve or expenditure of resources when it comes to protecting our citizens from those legitimate threats that exist within our own borders.

Why is it that our leader’s and legislator’s eagerness to regulate the killing potential of those seemingly unstable and unfriendly types that inhabit our planet tends to always stop at the water’s edge? Perhaps it’s because terrorists and rogue regimes may possess the firepower, but in most instances–they just haven’t yet acquired the lobbying power.

While I find the thought of ICBMs in Iran and Nukes in North Korea to be somewhat disheartening, that which brings the most discomfort to my domestic tranquility is the thought of bump stocks in the barnyard and that loose cannon in the West Wing!

Loose Cannon Hop 3

 

Personally, the only Loose Cannon that makes the cut in my life is that wonderful IPA from those exceptional brewers at Heavy Seas.

 

 

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

 

Closed for Repair (Take Two)

 

Closing Time at the Indian Rock InnIt was brought to my attention by a number of readers of the last post that something might have gone terribly awry with my attempt at condensing my thoughts into a bit of poetry. I want to assure those kind folks that I was not in anyway trying to emulate the unconventional style of E.E. Cummings, nor had any of my own fragmented behaviors and tendencies now become manifest in my writings. Apparently the problem was a matter of browser perspective. In my world of Google Chrome, everything appeared as it was meant to be. But for those using other browsers and smart phones that may have not been the case. So hopefully, this change from straight text to an image file will assure everyone that I am only mildly disjointed in my thinking.

Closed for Repair

Closed for Repair_3j

Blue Tag

 

 

Published in: on July 3, 2014 at 5:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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We the Fearful People

S&W 357 Magnum

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In the last few days, I’ve allowed myself to become a party to no less than three heated bar stool discussions concerning the current national debate over the Second Amendment, and the potential impact by way of regulatory legislation on our rather well-armed citizenry–I myself being among that gun-toting populace. As usual those on both sides of the argument are armed with their  statistics, perceived truths, and enough claims to the moral high ground that it might appear to the average detached  American that both sides are right. And to some degree both sides are in fact justified in wanting to cling to their much cherished positions on the matter. Because the national discourse of the moment reflects some of the same misgivings expressed by the Framers of The Bill of Rights in 1789.

As to the Second Amendment, there were those Founders who felt that the only way to insure the future freedom and security of the new nation against the possible tyranny of government, be it foreign or domestic, was to make sure that a citizen’s right to own and carry arms was  enshrined in the Constitution. But there were also those equally wise and well-educated men of the time that were fearful of the potential mayhem, mob rule, and anarchy posed by arming a civilian population. So like those much revered fellows of the eighteenth century, we find ourselves once again bringing our own exaggerated personal fears into play when trying to consider the proper and legal role of the gun in American life.

There are those who live in  fear of  that armed threat lurking in the shadows that wants to take away their lives. And there are those that live in fear of that threat lurking in the legislature that wants to take away their arms. But for better or for worse, we have as much of a right to our fears, no matter how unfounded, as we have to our personal perspectives concerning firearms and freedom of speech. So perhaps we would be better off  if both the gun advocates and the gun control people admitted that their passions are more likely fueled by fear than by actual facts. And at this particular juncture in our nation’s history we might consider a respectful dialogue in lieu of demonizing those with an opposing  point of view.

My own personal instincts on the issue tend to put me in league with those that believe that additional laws banning the use of certain types of weapons will do little to stop the type of carnage recently experienced in Newtown, Connecticut. On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded 32 others at the University of Texas in Austin using only a shotgun, an M1 carbine, and a couple of standard hunting rifles. On the other hand though, if some of the measures being suggested today, such as a waiting period to purchase and using mental health records as part of an overall background check, were in effect at the time of the Texas Tower shooting that tragic event may have been avoided. Charles Whitman purchased weapons at two separate locations on the day of that random killing spree. And months earlier, he had sought out both medical and psychiatric help in an attempt to deal with an ever-growing sense that he would soon lose control of the ability to keep in check his own violent urges and fantasies.

Lastly, the term well regulated was apparently key in the penning of the Second Amendment. And even though the case can be made that rules and regulations don’t necessarily change behavior, it is those decrees coupled to the force of law that says who we are as a society. We the people might want to consider foregoing a few of our own fears in the interest of domestic tranquility–and the possibility of actually achieving that more perfect union.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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