Monday, December 17, 2012

Guns

This includes a whole lot of Steanso opinion.  Just so ya know...

So when I found out on Friday that someone had gone into an elementary school and killed 26 people, 20 of them children, with a high powered combat rifle, I felt a combination of sadness and horror and anger.  It took a few minutes before I realized that what I failed to really feel was a genuine sense of surprise or shock.  I thought for a few minutes about some of the many mass shootings that we've experienced since the time of the Columbine killings (off the top of my head, without doing any research or much thinking at all, I could think of the Virgina Tech, the school shooting that small university in Oakland from earlier this year, the Colorado movie theater shootings, the Jared Loughner shooting from Arizona, an Oregon mall shooting from earlier last week, and the Fort Hood shootings).  Although I was already, of course, furious with the Connecticut shooter who decided to throw some sort of temper tantrum by killing 26 people, I became angrier and sadder yet when I thought about the fact that the people in our country have done little more than shrug our shoulders in response to our growing epidemic of mass shootings.
So, yes, I'm talking about gun control.  I know it's a controversial topic, but I truly feel that at this point, given all of the violence that our country has endured, if we don't take some serious measures to curb gun violence, the negligence of our silence is beginning to make all of us complicit in these crimes.

Personally, I don't own a gun.  I've never owned a gun. 
I wouldn't say that I've never thought about buying one, though.
At various times I've considered buying a shotgun to do some trap and skeet shooting, and from time to time I've pondered the merits of owning some kind of handgun for self (i.e., home) defense.
I'm not rabidly anti-gun.  I have some respect for the rights and desires of people who wish to own firearms for hunting, sport, or defense.  I've got family and friends who are gun owners and who are responsible, careful gun owners.

I think that part of the problem with the gun control debate, like so many of the political discussions in our country, is that it's become extremely polarized.  Gun rights advocates seem to want no restrictions whatsoever on gun ownership, and many gun control proponents would like to see personal gun ownership all but eradicated.
It's worth noting that there's a lot of room for reasonable compromise somewhere between these two positions.  It seems like many "middle ground" positions are often ignored because of the emotion that the gun control debate stirs up, but there are probably some reasonable ways to curb gun violence without outlawing guns altogether.

I firmly believe that we need much tighter restrictions on the types of guns that people are permitted to personally own, and we probably need much tighter regulation of the buying and selling of guns.

I don't believe that Second Amendment entitles people to own any sort of weapon that they want to buy.  I don't think the founding fathers contemplated an era of automatic weapons in which criminals would be able to single handedly execute dozens of their countrymen, shooting innocent victims multiple times, within a matter of minutes.  Given the constraints of the technology of their time, the founding fathers weren't faced with questions relating to the amount of carnage that one modern day criminal can carry out with a high tech, high powered weapon.  If a criminal went crazy during the period of our constitutional framing, he might get one rifle shot off and take a few swipes at people with a knife or bayonnet before potential victims would have the chance to fight back or flee.
There are also arguments out there about how the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected in order to allow the citizens to protect themselves from the potential oppression of an out-of-control totalitarian state.  Well, unless we're going to allow private citizens to possess .50 weapons, unmanned drones, spy satellites, tanks, helicopters, chemical weapons, and every other instrument of modern warfare, I think that we're already at a point where our citizenry is pretty much stuck with safeguarding themselves through the political process rather than trying to mount an armed resistance in the face of alleged totalitarianism.  This is probably a very good thing.  Given the distorted way that certain radical groups have taken to their perceptions of government action (e.g., Branch Davidians, Republic of Texas movement, sovereign citizens movement, various armed militias, etc..), I'm just fine with the idea that individual groups are forced to opt for political solutions over armed conflict. 

Soooo... I think we definitely need a ban on automatic weapons, probably a ban on most semiautomatic weapons, and a ban on large capacity ammunition magazines that can quickly be swapped out.  It's not a magic bullet that will stop these mass killings, but it's something.
We've done this before.  Bill Clinton signed the Assault Weapons Ban into law in 1994 and it was in effect for 10 years before it expired under a sunset provision.  Since then our leaders have lacked the political will to renew it or pass something similar into law. 
I think that hunting rifles are fine, so long as they don't allow for too many shots in rapid succession before needing a reload, and I think that a six (or even five) shot revolver is as effective a weapon as anyone needs when it comes to self or home defense purposes (if they were good enough for most inner city police officers for may years, I'm not sure why every gun these days has to be a semiautomatic with a 15 or 20 round capacity and a quick loading magazine).  Shotguns that hold a few shells are okay, too.
Basically, I think we need guns that still allow people to accomplish the basic principles of sport or defense, but that aren't capable of rapidly shooting the volume of bullets that are being used in these shooting massacres.  Forcing shooters to have to stop and reload after firing a limited number of shots shouldn't hurt the purposes of the overwhelming number of legitimate gun owners, but it could certainly slow down these mass shootings.

You're going to have people, of course, who say that there are already a lot of powerful guns out there, and that we'll never get rid of them all, so we shouldn't even try.
I disagree.
I think that if you outlaw the possession of certain types of guns, then potential mass shooters won't be able to walk into your local sporting goods store and buy their ideal gun off the shelf, and I think that would be a huge start.  Programs that exchange guns for cash, groceries, gift cards, and other commodities have been effective in some communities in terms of getting people to turn over prohibited weapons to law enforcement, so maybe we could get some of these high powered weapons off the street that way.  Hopfully the idea of going to jail for possessing an illegal firearm might get a lot of people to rid themselves of their guns voluntarily.  Also, guns require some maintenance.  Over time the number of functional automatic and semiautomatic weapons in our communities would probably drop off as some became inoperative and were not easily replaced.
There would undoubtedly be some sort of black market for outlawed weapons, but that doesn't mean that making automatic weapons illegal wouldn't result in a drastic decrease in their overall prevalance over time.  Many of the weapons used in mass shootings have been bought easily and legally by the shooters.  There's really no telling whether these people would have gone through the extra, hopefully more difficult steps of buying their weapons on the black market, but we probably can surmise that the ready availability of powerful weapons at retail stores made it much easier for a number of socially awkward, alienated, isolated individuals to go out and procure dangerous weapons without having to navigate the black market.

I don't think we're ever going to be able to identify all of these rampage killers before they go off.  Security in schools is, of course, a good idea and probably serves as a good deterrent, but it's probably not enough when a gunman show up with assault weapons.  On top of that, although we can secure certain obvious targets (like scools) it's probably impossible to secure all of the potential places where shooters might choose to attack the public (malls?  movie theaters?).  You have to have an awful lot of security to stop a person with an assault rifle who launches an unexpected attack (and in the case of the Colorado shooting, body armor and a helmet).  I've heard suggestions that armed teachers and/or students are the way to go.  Do we really expect our teachers to be trained well enough to mount a counterattack under combat conditions?  How will the police differentiate victims from offenders if everyone has a gun?  Will civilians end up shooting each other?  And, of course, we can't arm elementary school children....

It's time to get serious about trying to do something about curbing these shootings.  We just have to.  I can't accept the notion that we're going to let more people die because this is a politically difficult topic that people don't like to talk about. 
Cutting off at least part of the supply of weapons might be a good start.  Personally, I think that limiting the possession of our most dangerous weapons- weapons that are used by very few people for very few legitimate purposes in the first place- is a reasonable sacrifice to make in the face of the rising body count that we're facing in this country.
I think we need a new version of the assault weapons ban.  Even if it fails, we need to put it to a vote.  If people want to argue or vote against it, let them do so on the public record, and with their registered opinion fully on display the next time one of these weapons is used in a mass shooting. 
I've heard some pundits say that the slaying of innocent civilians might just be a cost that a significant portion of our population is willing to pay in order to protect their right to own assault weapons.  If that's how our leaders feel, I think that their opinion needs to be part of the record, and I think that this record will provide some part of the answer next time the nation stands around asking "How did this happen?" in the wake of one of these mass shootings.  It's just time to have an honest conversation and to try to take a hard, pragmatic look at the costs and benefits of the gun laws as they currently stand in our country.

Weekend Update

Howdy!  Hope everyone had a nice weekend.
Amy and I went to San Antonio for the weekend for a sort of mini Christmas getaway.  I've been battling what I initially thought was allergies, but which I now think might be a cold, so our trip was kind of slow paced and relaxed, but it was nice.  We visited the San Antonio Museum of Art, which ended up being really cool.  The museum has some really interesting collections, ranging from modern American art to more traditional and contemporary Latin American and Mexican art to some ancient Greek and Egyptian pieces.  The museum itself is housed in a building dating back to 1895, formerly housing the Lonestar Brewery.  Even if it didn't have a bunch of great art in it, it would still be a  really interesting and attractive building. 
We also went to Market Square and had a nice Mexican dinner at Paloma Blanca in Alamo Heights.  We stayed at The Menger.  The Menger was decked out in its holiday decorations, and the place was buzzing with activity, both from guests and the holiday parties that it was hosting.
So we had a nice trip to San Antonio. The city looks particularly festive around Christmastime.
We got home yesterday and did some dashing around to try to take care of some errands before the weekend was over.
The weekend went by quickly, but it was a good one!

I hope everyone is doing well.  The holiday season is building to a fever pitch.  Everyone stay merry! ;-)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Weekend Update, F for Fake, Life of Pi, Babies

Hey!  Hope everyone had a nice weekend.  The parking lots, shopping centers, and grocery stores seem pretty darn busy as things accelerate in the lead up to the holidays, but hopefully everyone is staying jolly and merry as the frenzy builds!
Our weekend was good.  On Friday Amy joined me for one of the big, courthouse-wide holiday parties that's thrown by one of the local defense attorneys.  It was a nice shindig.  Good food, free drinks, and a chance to get together and socialize with some work people without having to talk too much about work.  It was a pleasant event, and I got a chance to introduce Amy to a few more friendly folks from the courthouse and the office.

(F for Fake rocks the Hotel
Vegas)
After the party I went out to see F for Fake, a band that my friend Charlie is in, at a place on East 6th called Hotel Vegas.  For Fake put on a good show, as usual.  They were pretty tight for a band that doesn't play out on a super regular basis, and they played with a subdued, controlled energy.  They played a few songs that I had only heard on their album, The New Heiroglyphic, and it was cool to hear how those songs sounded live (the album tracks sound good, but they've got a little more shine and polish to them).  I like F for Fake.  I wish they played out more often.  Given that I'm in a band that only plays out a handful of times a year, though, I guess I won't be throwing too many stones.
As a side not, when I was looking up Hotel Vegas on Yelp in order to figure out the address, I was sort of discouraged to see that the place had been pretty viciously panned by a lot of the reviewers.  I walked into the place with very low expectations, but it turned out to be a completely serviceable music club and bar.  It was basically a big, empty room with a small stage, a PA, and a bar.  Out back there were picnic tables and another bar.  There are a lot of new places along East 6th Street, and it's definitely an interesting,  up-and-coming drink, food, and entertainment scene.  The place is crawling with hipsters, though, and hipsters love to get themselves onto the internet and hyperanalyze the sheeyat out of anything new.  Hotel Vegas was a healthy reminder that it's not always good to believe everything you hear- especially when it comes to internet reviews.
So that was Friday.  Nice evening.


(and suddenly I have a commuter
bike!)
Saturday went by pretty fast.  On Wednesday I had bought some new tires for my bike, so I put them on.  They're Forte Gothams, and they're commuter tires that are skinnier and meant to grip the street a little better than my old offroad tires.  It's a total bike geek thing to be excited about, but I've been having fun with them.  They aren't magic (sadly, they don't increase my speed when going up hills), but they roll a bit easier than my old mountain bike tires on level ground or when going downhill.  So I put the tires on, readjusted my bike computer, put some tire slime in the tubes to help avoid pinprick blowouts, and put a tube protector in on my back tire (which has the most problems because it bears more of the weight).  We went to the store and did some shopping, and then I went for a medium long bike ride while Amy went to a party where she decorated Christmas cookies with friends.
When Amy got home we went to the movies
We went to see Life of Pi, and I really enjoyed it.  Life of Pi is a movie by Ang Lee about a boy who ends up trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger, struggling to survive after a calamity at sea (admittedly the plot sounds a little far fetched, but it really does make more sense once you've seen the film).  From a standpoint of art direction and cinematography, Life of Pi is just a beautiful movie to watch.  It also has solid acting performances, a compelling story, and themes of spirituality and religion, the last of which kept me thinking about the multiple layers of meaning in the film long after I left the theater.  I didn't really know much about Life of Pi before going to see it, but Amy had read the book and recommended the movie, and I'm really glad that she did.  The movie was a bit of a rarity for our contemporary market- making excellent use of computer imaging and digital technology to tell a good story that never involved aliens, monsters, or superheroes (I like me some aliens and superheroes, but it felt good to step outside of a familiar genre) .  I would recommend Life of Pi, and if you are considering watching it, I would recommend seeing it on the big screen.  It's a visually stunning movie.
On Sunday we went to church.  Afterwards we joined some friends, Jessie (who works with Amy) and Jason, for lunch at Central Market.  Unbeknownst to us, it was Hannukah celebration day at Central Market, so we chatted and ate to the sounds of traditional Jewish music while the band and a medium sized collection of dancers bounced festively up and down.
In the afternoon I took another bike ride.  I raked a few leaves.
Eric, Reed, and Jim came over for band practice around five.  We had an acoustic practice, which is always both fun and a challenge for a band that's used to distorted amps and boost pedals.  We mostly managed to keep the feedback in check, and I think we had moments that sounded really good.
After practice the guys left and Amy and I had dinner.  Amy made chicken masala, and it was really, really good.  Sometimes I'm a little gun shy about Indian food, but the chicken masala was really delicious.  I know that it takes a bit of effort to make, but I hope it reappears in the not-so-distant future.  I am lucky to live with someone who not only enjoys cooking, but who's really good at it.
After dinner we watched BabiesBabies is a two hour documentary style film about, well, babies.  When Amy first told me that she ordered Babies from Netflix I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical.  After a bike ride, band practice, two beers, and the aforementioned chicken masala, though, relaxing beside the Christmas tree while watching Babies sounded okay by me.
And you know what?  Babies was pretty entertaining!
It follows four different babies in four different parts of the world- San Francisco, Tokyo, Mongolia, and Namibia- and tracks various events in their development as they move from birth to walking and talking.  There's almost no dialogue in the film, and some of the cinematography is pretty incredible.  The kids are, of course, very cute, and it's pretty fascinating to watch these children go through similar developmental stages, albeit in the context of strikingly different environments and cultures.  As simple as Babies is, it still makes an interesting statement about how we're all born into an early life that shares certain common events (e.g., learning to eat, becoming more aware of the world around us, learning to manipulate our environment and interact with it, becoming aware of the people around us, etc.), but these events, fo course, play out in different ways depending on the particular culture and surroundings that we find ourselves in.  Babies is far from heavy handed, but it still has something to say about universal aspects of human nature versus the environmental and societal differences that shape us from our earliest moments.
Also, those kids are cute.  Especially when viewed following a good dinner, with Amy next to you,  Cassidy snoozing nearby, and a glowing Christmas tree to keep things festive.
That's it for now.
Hope you're finding some peace in your holiday season!      

Monday, December 03, 2012

Update

Hey!  Happy December and merry pre-Christmas to all of you!  (or pre-Hanukkah)
Things have been going pretty well on Tejas Trail.
Well, mostly pretty well.
Amy has been a bit ill, so that's been slowing us down a little bit, but she seems to be on the mend. We'll be back to full speed pretty soon.
Our weekend plans were a little subdued in light of said sickness, but we had a nice, relaxing time, anyway.
Friday night we ate dinner and went out to buy a few Christmas ornaments.
On Saturday Amy did some work for a few hours.  I did some chores and rode my bike downtown.  I stopped at Target on the way home and bought some more Christmas stuff.  We decorated our Christmas tree and listened to some carols.



(so far Cassidy has been able
to successfully avoid collisions
with ye olde tannenbaum.
Knock on wood.)
The tree is very cool.  It's not like monstrously tall or anything, but it's the first grown up sized, real deal Christmas tree that I've ever had as an adult.  I'm guessing it probably never would have happened without Amy, so it's a holiday style reminder of the positive changes that have occurred in the last couple of years as Amy and I have built a life and celebrated holidays together.  I really, really like it.  Looks good, and makes the house feel cozy and Christmassy.
Saturday night I went out to dinner with my parents, cousin Sue, and my parents' friends, Willie and Marion.  (Amy ended up having to duck out because she still wasn't feeling well)  Willie and Marion are friends from my dad's time with Cameron International, and they were back on a trip and in town visiting Texas friends after retiring to their home country of Scotland.  We went to Fonda San Miguel, so the food was great, and it was nice to have dinner with them and have a chance to catch up.  It was a really pleasant dinner.
After eating we all went over to Ryan and Jamie's house where they were hosting their annual Christmas party. 
The party was really nice.  There was some good food (I had eaten dinner, but moved had some treats for dessert), and the company was great.  There were a number of people in attendance who I just don't get to see all that often, and even a couple of Ryan's old friends from high school that I only see on rare occasions.  Drinks, merriment, and tasty party food.  I had a good time.
 
Sunday I went for another bike ride, and we ran a few errands. 
Sunday night we had band practice.  Eric didn't make it (he had to work), but we got together without him and soldiered through some old and new songs with a fair amount of success.
After practice we ate dinner and I fell asleep in the big chair to the sound of jazzy Christams tunes while Amy read and Cassidy snoozed.
And that was the weekend.
I hope everyone is doing well.
Enjoy December.  Don't let the holiday craziness get to you.
Peace on Earth!!!!
 
** P.S.- Amy made a key lime pie this weekend that looks really good and I don't get any because she's taking it to work.  Grrrrr!!!! ;-)