Bang Bang

hardin-reward3John Wesley Hardin (1853-1895) was a real hard-guy. An American outlaw who claimed to have killed 42 men. Trigger happy? You bet. He once shot a man to death for snoring.

Yesterday in Florida, an ex-cop allegedly shot a man to death for texting.

I think we are soon approaching the day when you’ll have to go through a metal detector to enter a movie theater. When that happens, another precious piece of the America we once knew will have been shot to death, too.

Starting at about age 8 or 9, I used to go to movies by myself, at the wonderful, grand Orpheum Theater in Wichita, Kansas. If I had a kid that age these days, I wouldn’t let him or her out of the house. Hey, if they can’t go nowhere, they can’t get shot. Yesterday in New Mexico, a 12 year old boy opened fire on his fellow classmates with a shotgun .  .  .

As I, and others, have said before, our right to be safe trumps anyone’s right to own and carry a gun. People should feel safe in a movie theater. Young people should feel safe at school.

But I understand the rage that certain annoyances provoke. Believe me, if I were a different sort of person and a gun-owner, there is a good possibility that the streets of Hollywood would be littered with the bodies of dead leaf-blower guys. Almost as annoying is the now wide-spread practice of conducting private telephone conversations in public, and when it’s done in a loud voice, it just makes you want to scream, “Shut the fuck up!” Texting, though, is a relatively quiet activity, and even if it wasn’t in yesterday’s incdent, hardly anything to shoot someone over. Ex-cop or not, no one needs to take a gun to the movies. There’s enough on the screen already.

The story about John Wesley Hardin is probably a tall tale. The fact is that in the Old West more people died from gun accidents than from gunfights. Sadly, that’s not true today. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in the United States during 2010, only 606 people died accidentally from unintentional firearm injuries, whereas guns were used in 11,078 homicides.

Every time we have a school shooting, we hear the public outcry and we listen to our politicians (the good ones) promise to take action on gun control. But nothing ever changes. The complacency in all quarters is astounding and unacceptable. But having said that, I admit I am not sure about the answer. Threatening to restrict guns just drives sales up. There are actually few places where guns are not allowed (airports, courtrooms, and supposedly, schools), yet banning guns in more places would only cause those who are rabid about their 2nd Amendment rights to ignore the bans. In Los Angeles, it is unlawful to operate a leaf blower within 500 feet of a residence. In one of the most massive and successful, yet disappointing, acts of civil disobedience in the history of the world, gardeners in this town have paid absolutely no heed to that ordinance.

So, in lieu of a solution, here’s a cool song. To listen just click on the arrow. Lyrics below.

Guns – Flo and Eddie

flo and eddie
Flo and Eddie: A couple of peace-loving, dirty, commie hippies.

Ever fly a B-52?
Not a lot you gotta do
Never seeing nothing but little yellow lights
On a panel full of buttons
Ever see a face in the crowd?
Never hear the sound of the tears rollin’ down
But, it’s all right, tonight
While we’re cuddled up tight
In the name of victory
It’s a shame that you and me
Can’t stop them guns

Guns a’marching, guns a’shootin’
Gun’s a’firing, guns alarming me
They’re aimed at me
Gotta stop them guns
Guns deployin’, guns destroyin’,
Guns a’blazin’, guns amazing me

Ever see a young baby fawn
Learning how to drink from a pond?
Peeking through your rifle
Lining up those cross-hairs
Must be quite an eyeful
Ever see an old fashioned doe
Who just didn’t know
It was time to let go?
And tonight, the lights
On Broadway will shine
On the fur and ivory
In the name of victory
It’s a shame that you and me
Can’t stop them guns.

Can’t stop those guns,
Guns a’marching, guns a’shootin’
Gun’s a’firing, guns alarming me
They’re aimed at me
Gotta stop them guns
Guns deployin’, guns destroyin’,
Guns a’blazin’, guns amazing me

© 1976 Howard Kaylan / Jim Pons / Mark Volman


Through a pair of glasses, darkly

Last week, Yoko Ono weighed in on the U.S. gun control debate when she tweeted a picture of the blood-stained glasses her husband, John Lennon, was wearing the night he was assassinated by a crazed stalker. The tweet was in commemoration, for lack of a better word, of their 44th wedding anniversary.

The photo stands on its own, a picture worth more than a thousand words. No doubt sensing that, Ono simply added, “Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the USA since John Lennon was shot and killed on 8 Dec 1980.”

I don’t know the exact number but there have been close to 1,280 gun deaths in the United States since Sandy Hook. And that incident was a little over 90 days ago. It’s insane.

Last week we also witnessed the incredible cowardice of the U.S. Senate when they stripped the assault weapons ban, a core element of President Obama’s agenda to curb gun violence, from proposed gun control legislation. No wonder that according to this month’s Gallup poll Congress has only a 13 percent approval rating. But since Congress cannot even do anything to help the economy, it is not surprising that they continue to act in a gutless manner on this issue, too.

This country needs sensible gun control. Congress needs to act responsibly. There are times, and this is one of them, when we have to force them to be responsible to us, the citizens they represent. If you feel strongly about gun control, you need to tell your Representative and Senator how you feel. Call them. Let your voice be heard. The number is 202-224-3121.

If you don`t know who your senator or member of Congress is, then go to and enter your zip code to find your congressional representative and to find your senator.

If we, the people, don’t take action, then the words below are true.

(Image credit: @yokoono/Twitter)
(Image credit: @yokoono/Twitter)

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe.
Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind,
Possessing and caressing me.

Jai guru deva om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world.
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world.

– John Lennon


Guns, with Occasional Music.

Monday in Los Angeles, elementary and middle school students returned to their campuses after winter break. Security at the schools was increased in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. Officers from the LAPD, the County Sheriff’s department and other law enforcement agencies visited many of the campuses. While high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District have long been dangerous places and under the watchful eye of law enforcement, elementary and middle schools have not been on LAPD’s daily schedule before, but now the agency plans to have patrol the more than 500 public elementary and middle schools on a daily basis.

Around 8:30 a.m. on Monday, the Glendale Police Department received a call from RD White Elementary School, stating a bomb threat has been made to the campus. All 880 students and staff were evacuated and reassembled in the parking lot of a nearby Whole Foods store. After a preliminary search of the campus conducted by police and fire departments, nothing suspicious was found.

When I was in elementary school the worst threat you had to fear was some older kid who might bully you into forking over your lunch money. Well, there was The Bomb, the A-bomb, but even as a kid, I never thought the Soviet Union would be crazy enough to use it. Now, as an adult, I live with a certain amount of fear, or at least concern, that terrorists, who are crazy enough to use it, just might. And kids, who should be greeted by teachers when they come to school are met instead by armed police, and they now must live in daily fear, not so much that a terrorist will threaten them with a bomb, but that a regular citizen will. A citizen with mental health issues and access to bomb making material who could very well carry out his threat, or just show up with semi-automatic weapons.

I watched a rather sick citizen Tuesday night when ultraconservative radio talk host Alex Jones appeared on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” shouting, raving, and ranting with such angry velocity that he made Rush Limbaugh look like a shrinking violet. “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!” he screamed. For once, I had to agree with Alan Dershowitz, who said afterwards, “You just see him speaking and you say to yourself, I don’t want that man to have a gun.” If I was a gun rights advocate, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want Jones representing my point of view either. But evidently, several million people think he has his finger on the pulse of the nation. Let’s hope that’s all he has his finger on.

On the saner, yet sadder side of the gun issue, Tuesday was the second anniversary of the Tucson, Ariz., attack that killed six people and critically injured former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She and husband Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, marked the anniversary by writing an op-ed published in USA Today announcing their Americans for Responsible Solutions initiative:

Forget the boogeyman of big, bad government coming to dispossess you of your firearms. As a Western woman and a Persian Gulf War combat veteran who have exercised our Second Amendment rights, we don’t want to take away your guns any more than we want to give up the two guns we have locked in a safe at home. What we do want is what the majority of NRA members and other Americans want: responsible changes in our laws to require responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence.”

As Giffords and Kelly imply, the right-wing is using their most formable weapon, fear, to bolster opposition to gun control. Fear that the tyrannical government, the pinko liberals, the unbelievers, the bogeymen, will take away your rights. It’s irrational and just not true.

Here’s a graphic I made some weeks ago and posted on Facebook that I think puts the question of rights in proper perspective:


85% of children killed in the world by guns are killed in the United States.


The title of todays post based on Gun, with Occasional Music, a novel by Jonathan Lethem.



“After the first death . . .”

There are amazing people in the world.

Brave people, like Victoria Soto, the 27 year-old first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., who ushered her students into a closet, and put her body between them and the shooter. “She was found huddled over her children, her students, doing instinctively what she knew was the right thing,” said her cousin Jim Wiltsie.

People who are wise in the way of compassion, like Robbie Parker, the 30 year-old father of Emilie, age six, one of the victims at Sandy Hook. Saturday afternoon, he faced a crowd of reporters and resisted the temptation to speak of hate and revenge; instead, he projected empathy with these words: “It’s a horrific tragedy, and we wanted everyone to know that our hearts and prayers go out to all of them. This includes the family of the shooter. I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you and want you to know that our family and our love and support go out to you as well.”

Compassion is not the providence of only the mature, evidenced as Parker described his daughter: “My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims, because that’s the type of person she is . . . I can’t count the number of times that Emilie noticed someone feeling sad or frustrated and would rush to find a piece of paper to draw them a picture or to write them an encouraging note.”

Another mass shooting and what can be said? That we are saddened beyond measure and question the senselessness of it? Definitely. That we need to do more about mental illness. Certainly. That we must do something to curb the easy access to guns. Absolutely. But we’ve said all that before.

Friday afternoon, President Obama delivered a statement on the tragedy, and said, “We have endured too many of these tragedies.” I thought of the line in the song Bob Dylan wrote 50 years ago, “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” I have a small sense that the shooting in Newtown is the tipping point, and that maybe, finally, too many people have died.

This weekend, we are a nation in mourning. But perhaps we have mourned enough over these many senseless deaths, perhaps we have spoken enough of the words we always speak in the aftermath . . .

Dylan Thomas, the great Welsh poet, once wrote a poem in memory of a child killed by fire, presumably from the German bombing of London during World War II. He refused to mourn, he wrote, and yet he did. In expressing his stubbornness about the act of mourning, though, he is telling us that to feel sadness, regret, at death is only grief, and that loss of even a single life demands something more than merely that. He does not tell us what exactly, however, I suspect that this Dylan, too, would say the answer is blowing in the wind . . .

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London

by Dylan Thomas

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child’s death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London’s daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

You can do something in the wake of this terrible incident. You can go to the White House website and sign the petition (in the site’s own words) “to force the Obama Administration to produce legislation that limits access to guns.” It’s a beginning . . .


Guilt Is Not a Buddhist Concept

Guilt, according to some scholars, is something that can be overcome. It does not exist in Buddhist terminology.

– Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

A commenter to Sunday’s post on moral responsibility said he did not believe in collective guilt. I don’t either. However, I am not always sure what people mean when they use the word “guilt.” I don’t believe in guilt period. Buddhism views guilt as a negative. Guilt is an emotional attitude that produces nothing but unproductive shame and an unnecessary sense of unworthiness.

Perhaps it is only a matter of inference, yet “responsibility” seems to be a different matter. Buddhism encourages us to take responsibility for our lives, the choices we make, the actions we take. And since we are not alone in this world, life is a collective affair. That seems to me to imply that we have a collective moral responsibility in regards to shared problems.

A murderer may feel guilty about the act committed, and yet may try to escape responsibility. Guilt is passive, while responsibility requires some action, if only to pay a debt to society or to resolve never to do it again.

I’ve always felt that the idea of Buddhist monks secluding themselves in monasteries or hiding away in forests was not in the true spirit of the Buddha’s original teachings. I don’t believe the Buddha advocated becoming so detached that one’s responsibility as a member of society was abolished. He and his followers did not seclude themselves. They always stayed on the edges of cities and villages, and interacted with ordinary people on a daily basis. The Buddha envisioned the bhikkhus with a different kind of responsibility, a more spiritual one, to show the way to overcome suffering. While few of us live in monasteries or forests, it is easy become insular and detached from the problems of the world as we abide in the present moment.


In Japanese Buddhism, a word used for mercy or compassion is jihi. It consists of two Chinese characters. The top character means “to care, to cry,” and the bottom one, “to remove the cause for suffering.” From a Buddhist perspective, it is not enough merely have to empathy with others; we must do something about their suffering.

Based on what I have heard and read in the last few days, it seems that many Americans have given up on removing the cause of gun violence. It is sheer insanity for people to have automatic weapons that fire 50 to 60 rounds per minute. Other countries have been able to do something about this, and while they still have violence, they don’t have the kind of mass violence committed by “ordinary” citizens we have in America.

Gun control is not the only solution, but it is a practical one. How you feel about it is up to you. I’m just stating my opinion, for whatever it is worth, that we have a collective responsibility to prevent massacres like the Aurora movie theater shooting. However, I am not suggesting that we assume some huge guilt trip. Guilt, to paraphrase John Webster, is tedious. Guilt is just another suffering.