We Are Not Hopeless

Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960
Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960
This is a story I heard yesterday. It was told by a young guy at the cafe table next to mine, with a shaved head and rippling muscles, wearing a tank top, cargo shorts, and dog tags. Earlier that morning, he explained, he had been sitting by himself outside when a stranger approached him.

“I think I’m going to kill myself,” the man said.

“Excuse me?”

“I think I’m going to kill myself.”

The young guy looked him over. He believed the man. “Okay,” he said. “Sit down and talk to me.”

The stranger wouldn’t sit down, but he didn’t leave. “Why do you want to kill yourself?” the young guy asked. The man told him he’d had enough. He said he planned to shoot himself. He didn’t know what else to do.

“I’d like to help you. Can I help you?”

The stranger shrugged.

“Can I call the police to come help you? I’ll stay here with you until they get here.” The man nodded.

“Are you carrying a weapon?” He nodded again. “Okay, look — we don’t want there to be any trouble when the cops come. So can I take your weapon away from you?”

Another nod. The young guy stood and gently patted the man down. He found a pistol in his clothes, which he removed. He ejected the clip, unloaded it, and set the disassembled gun down next to them. Then he called the police.

When the cops arrived, they talked to the stranger and asked if he wanted to come with them. He said that he did. So they led him to the car, taking the young guy’s phone number before they left. They called him that afternoon to tell him the stranger’s name and that he was getting the help he needed.

We look at the hate and death in the news today, and it’s hard not to despair, but we are not doomed. We feel helpless, but none of our actions are futile. We change the world the most by intently being as good as we can, by approaching every decision with the aim of being kind.

“I guess I did a good thing today,” the young guy said without pride or drama. We are not hopeless.

Let’s Stop Helping the People Who Want to Kill Us

A lesson on gun control from al-Qaeda

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Someone (Possibly I) Told Someone (Possibly Ya) So

toldYaSoFrom the See, I Told You desk:

• A little over a month ago, I wrote about Missouri and other states’ struggle to find new ways to execute people now that they’re having difficulty getting their hands on classic, fan-favorite lethal injection drugs. I proposed that states could save themselves the trouble if they try the groundbreaking idea (in that God carved it into the ground) of not killing people. Ohio must not read my blog, because yesterday they were the first state to try a new toxic chemical mixture, which they injected into murderer Denis McGuire. The head of Ohio’s prisons promised that the midazolam/hydromorphone combo would result in a “humane, dignified execution,” 1Adjectives which, by the way, can’t rightly be applied to any execution. but instead it resulted in exactly what McGuire’s lawyers predicted: an agonizing death while McGuire audibly suffocated for 20 minutes as his family watched. Ohio Assistant Attorney General Thomas Madden said regarding the tortuous method, “You’re not entitled to a pain-free execution.” Here’s to Mr. Madden for leading our nation backwards into a medieval society in which our leaders actively push aside mercy and rationality in favor of painful blood vengeance.

• Speaking of moving backwards into a medieval society, on January 6 I predicted that since it’s now legal to carry concealed handguns in every state, soon nowhere would one be safe from being killed by some angry and/or drunk idiot that’s not Ohio’s assistant attorney general. Sadly, in less than two weeks I’ve been proven right, with the news that a suburban Tampa man was shot and killed for texting during a movie. Chad Oulson and his wife Nicole took a day off to spend time together and go see the new Mark Wahlberg special forces movie Lone Survivor. Chad sent a text to his three-year-old daughter’s daycare, annoying the guy in the row behind him. That guy turned out to be a retired Busch Gardens security guard packing a .380 semi-automatic, with which he shot Mr. Oulson in the chest, the bullet passing through Nicole’s hand as she tried to protect her husband. Florida issues concealed weapons permits to anyone over 21 who has passed “any firearms training or safety course.” Yesterday on the Guardian, Ana Marie Cox drove home the idiocy of those sort of laws, pointing out that “otherwise unpremeditated murders, where people kill out of momentary rage, are the single most common type of gun homicide in America.” Frighteningly, those murders will only become more common.

• Lest you join me in feeling physically ill at the realization that America has moved to dystopian DEFCON 2, here’s some good news. In the run-up to the 2012 election, I loudly whined about my birth-state of Pennsylvania’s restrictive voter ID law, which required all voters to show a not-easily-obtainable government-issued photo ID. I say “required,” because this very morning Pennsylvania Commonwealth Judge Bernard McGinley ruled the law unconstitutional. His Honor called the statute “a substantial threat” to voters, adding “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal.” This makes me very happy, but I’d be much happier if a Pennsylvanian walking into a polling place to legally vote without carrying an ID couldn’t legally be carrying a concealed gun with which he could kill someone and then legally be killed in return.

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1. Adjectives which, by the way, can’t rightly be applied to any execution.

Concealed Weapons are Now Legal Everywhere

heatPackingGrannyAnd just like that, there’s nowhere left in the United States where it’s safe to assume that the guy sitting across from you isn’t seconds away from blowing a third eye into your forehead. This week Illinois will start issuing permits to carry concealed handguns, the last state to do so, bringing America fully into a new Heat Packing Era.

If you’re like me and grew up with TV cops using “carrying a concealed weapon” as a default charge to bust otherwise unbustable bad guys, you might be as surprised as I was to learn that our laws have reverted to full-Deadwood. Just 25 years ago hidden guns were illegal in 16 states and authorities could deny a concealed-weapon permit at their own discretion — e.g. the applicant met the legal criteria for a permit but had spinning bloody pinwheels for eyes — in 24 more “may-issue” states. Since then the number of sensible states has dropped 80%, from 40 to only 8 may-issue holdouts. Even more frightening, five states allow unrestricted concealed weapons, meaning residents can shove a Glock down their pants without anyone’s say-so. 1Though bafflingly those states will still issue meaningless permits to “those who wish to have them,” I guess to shoot at. Let’s take a moment here to give special recognition to one of those five: Arkansas, cross-eyed and with its finger shoved up its nose, decided not only to legalize concealed handguns, but also to criminalize unconcealed handguns. The Natural State likes to keep its citizens on their toes.

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1. Though bafflingly those states will still issue meaningless permits to “those who wish to have them,” I guess to shoot at.

One More Thing That Stops a Bad Guy With a Gun

Antoinette TuffIt’s a brave woman armed with only her voice.

Though word’s now starting to spread, far too few people have heard about Antoinette Tuff, a clerk in Atlanta who on Tuesday talked a man with a loaded AK-47 out of massacring a school full of children. While the gunman exchanged shots with police, Ms. Tuff gently talked to him, relating her own hardships and explaining how she learned that we can, and must, overcome the worst moments in our lives. She reminded him, “You don’t have to die today.”

And he didn’t. Ms. Tuff convinced the attacker to put down his rifle, lay on the floor, and let the police peacefully apprehend him. Just like that, it was over. Ms. Tuff saved an untold number of lives — the gunman had piled ammunition clips in front of her — including likely her own.

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In California You’re More Likely to Be Killed by an Illegal Gun Than by a New Toyota

California GunsGood news! The number of guns in the hands of Californians who aren’t legally allowed to own them is only about 40,000! That’s just a few thousand more guns than the number of Toyota Corollas sold in the state last year and works out to a shade over one illegal gun per 1000 residents. 1CA population of 37.7 million ÷ 40,000 guns = 1 gun per 942 residents

I’m proud to say that 40,000 illegal guns is enough to hand out one to every resident of my hometown of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania (one of the largest suburbs of Pittsburgh) and still have 6,000 or so leftover to stockpile in the Red Lobster. And I feel secure knowing that my adopted state is well protected against invasion by the Dutch, because just those 40,000 known illegal California firearms equal about six percent of all the civilian-owned guns in the Netherlands. 2Netherlands population of 16.7 million x per capita gun ownership of .039 = 651,300 guns. I updated this stat from my earlier misstated 15%.

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1. CA population of 37.7 million ÷ 40,000 guns = 1 gun per 942 residents
2. Netherlands population of 16.7 million x per capita gun ownership of .039 = 651,300 guns. I updated this stat from my earlier misstated 15%.

Zombie Carl Sandburg Says “Guns Baaad!”

Manuscript of the newly discovered Carl Sandburg poem, 'A Revolver'

One of my favorite poets has spoken from beyond the grave, and he’s been watching Law & Order out there, because what he has to say was ripped from the headlines!

A previously unknown, 45+ year-old poem by Carl Sandburg was discovered by an 83-year-old volunteer in the University of Illinois library. Called “A Revolver,” it’s a screed against guns and against the evil power we instill into them through our idolization.

If this all sounds like just another case of a lefty octogenarian trying to score political points with middle America by forging the work of a dead 1920s socialist labor poet, take note that the work’s been declared authentic by two Sandburg experts, in part because the manuscript includes specific key flaws known to exist on the poet’s typewriter.

Here’s the full text of the poem, emphasis mine.

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