Speaking Freely is Risky

In spite of our Constitutional right of free speech, it is a fact that sometimes, when one dares speak out about something that is true, and not necessarily complimentary about our country or some powerful group, that individual stands to be, well, quieted.

I am thinking of two conversations that are swirling around our country right now. First, the presumptive candidate for Secretary of Defense, former Senator Chuck Hagel, has drawn criticism for saying that the “Jewish lobby is intimidating.”  And secondly, anyone who dares say that automatic and semi-automatic weapons should be outlawed in this country stands to be called “unpatriotic” and one who is not in support of the Second Amendment.

First, the “Jewish lobby” statement. Is it safe to say that the Jewish people have a lot of power in this country, and that they probably DO have a strong lobby that MIGHT BE intimidating to some? I didn’t know there was a “Jewish lobby,” but so what if it is intimidating? The National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby is intimidating, isn’t it?  Someone said today that former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords has a lot of courage because she and her husband are going to promote gun control. She has courage, this newsperson said, because she is going up against the NRA. The reason the NRA lobby is intimidating is because it has power, and it has power because it is well-funded and well-organized. There is nothing wrong with that; it is doing what an effective lobby group is supposed to do.

If there is a Jewish lobby, and it is “intimidating,” that means that this lobby group, like the NRA, is well-funded and well-organized. That’s a good thing. Lobby groups exist to advocate for their people, their groups, their causes. If the Jewish lobby is “intimidating,” then good! To say that it is intimidating does not mean one is anti-Semitic, not in my view. It simply means that it is respected for the work it does and for the effects and result it produces.

There are some things that we as Americans don’t like to talk about, and if someone says something about those “things,” he or she stands to be criticized, free speech notwithstanding. When the war against Iraq began years ago, one could be dubbed “unpatriotic” if one criticized it. When someone says that certain policies and practices in this country are racist, he or she is accused immediately of playing “the race card.” When attention to the treatment of women in this country came front and center, one could be called “sexist” if he or she said that a woman was not qualified, for example, for a job or position that she clearly WASN’T qualified for.

It is a ridiculous way to live, being afraid to say what’s true. Saying what’s true, in a polite and civil way, having the freedom to do that, is part of what makes America …America.  I don’t think America ought to allow the sale of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. We are not in a war. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons are for war, for military combat. They are meant to kill a lot of people in the shortest amount of time possible. I support the right of Americans to own guns – with proper procedures in place to check potential owners out – but there is no way ordinary people need to be walking around with semi-automatic weapons!

We as Americans think too narrowly. Just because I might criticize something America does or does not do does not mean I do not love America! If I criticize, or make a comment about the media being biased does not mean I hate the media. We are adults; we ought to be able to know the truth and talk about the truth, or even our opinion about the truth or untruth of a situation, without being labeled or shot down or criticized.

Whenever one has many rights and privileges, one also has great responsibility. The responsibility we have as Americans is to think more broadly and allow more views that our own, without labeling someone because he or she has a different opinion. Thinking so narrowly kind of makes a mockery of the “rights” we hold so dear.

A candid observation …


Second Amendment, Abused

Why do people go into populated areas and start shooting?

Walther P99, a semi-automatic pistol from the ...
Walther P99, a semi-automatic pistol from the late 1990s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am reeling with the news of the shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut, where it is certain at this moment that there have been “multiple fatalities,” including children and adults. The number keeps fluctuating, but it doesn’t matter. That anyone died in this manner is unconscionable.

Supposedly there were two gunmen. That has not been verified as I write this, but it doesn’t matter. The one alleged gunman who has been killed was wearing a bullet-proof vest, and reportedly had four weapons.  A witness said she heard about “100 rounds” shot. The news is just devastating.

There will be the usual call for gun control, and the usual protests against it, with proponents citing the Second  Amendment as the justification for people – anyone who wants to, basically – purchasing as many guns as they want. But when do the Second Amendment people wake up and smell the roses? Something is horribly wrong in this country.

Bob Costas got much criticism when he spoke up for gun control. He said nothing that does not make sense. He was not proposing that guns be disallowed entirely, but he did speak up for there to be control of the sale of certain kinds of weapons, like semiautomatic guns.

There is never a reason to go into a school or mall or church or post office and begin shooting, and there really is no reason for a civilian to own an automatic weapon. We are not a police state…are we?  Gun ownership proponents defend anyone who wants to be able to own any type of gun he or she wants, but why? Why is there not intelligent discussion and action going on to get semi-automatic weapons banned for sale in this country?

In the mall shooting that happened earlier this week in Oregon, the gunman had a semi-automatic weapon. A guest on the Piers Morgan program this week defended people owning semi-automatic weapons, repeating the oft-heard rationale, “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.  That’s true, but people with guns kill people, and in too many cases, the shootings have nothing to do with self-defense, which is why anti-gun control proponents say gun ownership is necessary. Having the right to bear arms does not mean you have a right to commit mass murder.

In this, the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” the “free” and the “brave” are taking advantage of this constitutional right. Perhaps there ought to be a review of the Constitution, or at least a review of this amendment, and perhaps a new amendment ought to be made that prohibits the sale of semi-automatic weapons in this country. Perhaps that amendment ought to say that the “right to bear arms” is limited to people owning handguns for self-defense and rifles and/or shotguns for hunting.

That would allow people to own guns and disallow people to purchase weapons for the “mass destruction” of human life.

There is no justification for what happened in Connecticut today. Children who woke up and went to school are now dead; some families’ lives have been changed forever. A principal and school psychologist are dead. Just who were these children and school officials threatening?

I think that no matter how bitter the thought, those who believe in gun control ought to speak up. Yes, I know the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a strong lobby with lots of power, but sooner or later the people have to speak truth to power, and the truth is…America’s gun policies are encouraging either sick or bad people to commit mass murder. A trial after the fact is not enough. A trial cannot bring back a beloved family member, innocently gunned down because someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or someone didn’t take his or her meds…It doesn’t bring the loved one back. Surely, gun control opponents understand the tragedy of that reality? Surely they sympathize with people whose lives have been ruined because someone decided to shoot a bunch of people they didn’t even know?

I think of Jim Brady and Gabby Giffords, whose injuries and changed lives we have all seen because of their name recognition, but I am also thinking of the families whom we do not know, families like those of the children and adults killed this morning, who have been thrown into despair. I don’t think the Second Amendment was meant to defend acts that bring that kind of despair on innocent civilians. That amendment was made in a time when new Americans were facing a hostile England, who wanted to take them down. That’s a very different situation than what we have now.

I cannot imagine being a parent shocked into the reality that his or her little child is gone because someone decided he had a right to take lives. The Second Amendment does not give anyone the right to commit mass murder.

A candid observation …

The SKS is a semi-automatic Russian rifle
The SKS is a semi-automatic Russian rifle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes, Prayer is Not Enough



New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opening ...
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opening the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I am a pastor. I believe in God with all my heart.  But sometimes, prayer is not enough.


It COULD be enough, I think, if people were fervent prayers as a matter of course. But we are not. We as a people are more “situational” prayers, or we pray in times of crisis. That kind of prayer is helpful, but not effective when a task of mammoth proportions, perhaps Biblical proportions, lurks before us.


This latest tragedy – the shooting and killing of innocent people who were at a movie – lifts up at least two issues that politicians will more likely fight over than treat as life-changing issues, which, ignored, are contributing angst and danger to our country.


Those two issues are gun control and mental health.  With both issues, there is a Goliath which require prayers first, certainly, and then, action, and to most people, those two issues are too big, will take too much energy, to fight. Goliath is just too big.


Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit at Goliath yesterday when he said that politicians, first and foremost at this point, President Obama and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, ought to speak out for gun control.  Nearly everyone is enraged that the suspect in the Colorado theater incident, James Holmes, was able to buy so many guns and nearly 6000 rounds of ammunition legally.


I am reminded that not everything that legal is right. Everything the Nazis did to the Jews, including murdering them, was legal…but it was not right.


Certainly, our politicians cannot keep quiet on the fact that the obsession by some to protect Second Amendment rights at the expense of the lives of innocent American citizens. Opponents of gun control say that guns are not bad; people are. I counter that and say that of course, guns are not bad, but not everyone who buys guns, or does bad things with guns, are not bad. Many, many times, they are sick.


But to come out for gun control in this presidential election year would be like facing Goliath. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful lobby groups in this country. If the NRA is not already pouring money into either camp, to speak out for tougher gun control would be like committing political suicide.


But sometimes, politicians ought to show America that they are more interested in pushing for the rights and protection of the American people than in being elected. Sometimes, we ought to see that they are willing to put politics down, pick up a stone, and confront a cowering, arrogant Goliath.


The second Goliath which this incident brings to the surface is mental illness. Nobody wants to talk about it or deal with it. I am convinced that the shooter in yesterday’s incident is not bad, but he is certainly sick – and I am sure he has been sick for a long time.


To lift up the fact that funds need to be spent on researching and treating mental illness will bring out cries of  “no more spending!”  I guess spending on mental health would be spending on yet another “entitlement,” and that is not something the President wants to get his opponents using against him. I don’t think Mitt Romney would dare bring the subject up.


And yet, in the masses of American people that both candidates are appealing to for votes, there are scores of people who are mentally ill. Much mental illness begins in childhood; in urban schools, I am convinced that many children labeled as “bad” are in fact mentally ill, and mentally ill children, whether they are from the ghetto or the suburbs, grow up to be mentally ill adults. There needs to be regular screening – and  treatment – for mental illness. AND, we as a nation ought to stop being so ashamed of it. Mental illness is as prevalent as is diabetes or hypertension. Why are we so afraid of it?


What we have in the Aurora, Colorado incident, I think, a mentally ill or emotionally troubled young man who was free to buy all the guns and ammunition he wanted, legally. He knew what he was going to do, but that does not preclude that his connection to reality is off-balance.


What does all this say about evil? Well of course there is evil in the world, and prayers ought to name the evil or evils in earnest. But after the praying, those who prayed are really mandated to get off their knees and confront the Goliath, away from the comfort and security of a sanctuary or a private prayer space. We are called to pick up our stones, and walk toward the Goliath that laughs at the very thought of being confronted.


Sometimes, prayer is not enough, like now. Sometimes, prayer needs to be followed by a team of people moved to action by their prayers, including and led by politicians who are seeking election or re-election. Who will be the David in this situation, a little boy in the Bible who declared that God had protected him when a lion or bear came to carry off sheep he was tending. Little David said, “I went after it… Your servant went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine. (1 Sam. 21: 34-37)


If we pray, we have to confess our faith in God. We pray not only for comfort, but for the strength to confront the Goliaths all around us.


At least 12 people in Colorado who were alive on Thursday and who are now gone, need that from us.


A candid observation …