Monday, January 21, 2013


Reduce gun violence, sure, but don’t stop there

Rather than take away assault rifles, we'd save far more children by taking away the President's easy access to executive orders.

by Larry Geller

Perspective. We could use a little perspective to better understand whether a ban on assault weapons is going to be enough, or should only be the beginning of efforts to reduce violence in this country. I suggest that the larger subject is reducing avoidable deaths of all kinds.

We’ve written here about the role of government in causing avoidable deaths. Commercial media won’t go near the subject. How many articles have you seen relating the failure of Honolulu’s police department to enforce basic traffic laws to the record we set each year in traffic fatalities among the elderly? And of course, the numerous injuries don’t get counted or reported at all. We reported how, according to sworn testimony (watch the video), the state’s cutback in mental health services resulted in an increase in deaths. But does the newspaper attribute those deaths to our Department of Health?

If anything good can possibly come out of a massacre of school children, at least the media are now covering the issue of gun violence in America with some regularity. Perhaps something will be done. But don’t expect any results in our lifetime. There are too many guns out there for anything on the table to make a bit of difference.

While President Obama and the NRA and its supporters in Congress (both Republicans and Democrats) are engaged in the present round of skirmishes, it remains clear that no serious attempt to reduce avoidable deaths is being contemplated. The issue as been coopted into just one more way Republicans and Democrats can seek to damage each other. Shame on both of them.

With regards to the guns, it is only a matter of where a compromise will fall.

But gun violence is only one way people die, and it isn’t even close to the impact of other forms of institutional violence.

In truth, our government arranges for people to die. They quibble only about how to maintain profits while keeping the consequences out of public view. Arms manufacturers speak through the NRA, and are clear beneficiaries of the proliferation of weapons in this country.

But so do polluters, for example, profit while doing violence (see below).  Institutional violence should not be overlooked.

And there’s more than a little hypocrisy, as many have pointed out, in Obama shedding a tear one day and then ordering the killing of children himself another day.

Obama was no doubt genuinely moved by the deaths of so many innocent children and teachers, but does he shed tears for the children and families killed by the drone strikes he orders? Why doesn’t he stop, then?

From The Atlantic:

…The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported last August that in Pakistan's tribal areas alone, there are at least 168 credible reports of children being killed in drone strikes. Presidents Bush and Obama have actively prevented human-rights observers from accessing full casualty data from programs that remain officially secret, so there is no way to know the total number of children American strikes have killed in the numerous countries in which they've been conducted, but if we arbitrarily presume that "just" 84 children have died -- half the Bureau's estimate from one country -- the death toll would still be more than quadruple the number of children killed in Newtown, Connecticut.

Yet Obama has never remarked as he did Sunday that "as a nation, we are left with some hard questions" as a result of those deaths. He has never mused that "if there's even one step we can take to save another child or another parent... then surely we have an obligation to try." He's never asked, "Are we really prepared to say that dead children are the price of our freedom?"

[The Atlantic, The Guilty Conscience of a Drone Pilot Who Killed a Child, 12/19/2012]

Dropping a drone missile on a family is an example of direct deaths caused by a government. It is nothing new, and the drone strikes pale in comparison, of course, to the firebombing of Tokyo or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Those were also direct actions taken against civilians. They were mass killings carried out by our very own government in our name.

But that World Wart II stuff was in the past, you may say. In fact, we have simply found new ways to kill children, and we don’t even care if they live right here in our country.

Greg Palast reported on a presidential action that is projected to kill perhaps 9,000 children.

Last year, the White House proudly posted the statement of EPA's Administrator Sheila Jackson that her proposed boiler pollution rules would help "prevent 17,000 premature deaths [and] 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms."
Then, last month, the White House posted the REVISED EPA death count. The weakened boiler rule will now, "avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths and 52,000 asthma attacks."
Do the arithmetic.  Obama's climb-down on the rules will kill at least 8,900 people, and permit at least 68,000 asthma attacks compared to the original rule.
The deadly assault on unarmed Americans followed an Executive Order issued by Obama, after lobbyists stormed the White House, to cut costs to lung-choker industries.

If children die from gunfire, Obama has tears for TV. But if your child suffocates in industrial goo, neither Obama nor the news give a flying fart if your kid chokes or croaks.

[, Assault Gun Ban - Weapon of Mass Distraction, 12/21/2012]

Palast concludes from this:

So, rather than take away assault rifles, we'd save far more children by taking away the President's easy access to executive orders.

I do admire his way with words.

Of course, there are numerous other examples of government decisions that either save lives or cost lives. How are we doing? Who will issue the report card?

It’s sad that at every level of government decisions are made that result in deaths without a tear being shed. It’s sad that the news media do not see fit to report or editorialize on this avoidable loss of life.

It’s also sad that efforts to effectuate a government morality have been so unsuccessful. Neither ethics nor morality are more than mere words in a dictionary for many politicians. Worse, we, the public, no longer expect ethical behavior from those we elect. We don’t even expect that the words that they utter are anything but lies.

There’s a word I’m fond of that hasn’t even been successful enough to make it into the dictionary: Panetics. The International Society for Panetics has its own website, which has not been updated since about 2002 (I was, or may even still be, a member). It’s goal is broad:

The main aims of Panetics are to analyze the sources of inflicted suffering, develop practical ways to help reduce human suffering inflicted by individuals through governments, institutions, professions, or social groups, and encourage their application.

When we say that suffering (or death) is caused by government, of course that masks that government is made up of people. Although I do blame the Honolulu Police Department for causing avoidable pedestrian injuries and death by choosing not to enforce the laws, at base the HPD is lead by a Chief of Police, and of course, the Mayor also has a hand in establishing City policy. So responsibility for avoidable deaths not avoided rests not with an amorphous institution called the “HPD” but on the individuals within it who make the costly decisions. Perhaps I should reform my language and be more specific.

Panetics recognizes that people act through institutions.


Panetics is an integrated discipline to study and help reduce the INFLICTION of suffering by humans upon other humans. It was founded upon the conviction that a growing international consensus supports the right of people to be relieved from suffering inflicted by other people when they act through governments, institutions, professions and social groups. To that end, Panetics is an evolving, "pan-ethical" approach to research, policy analysis, decision-making and management."Panetics" is a term coined by Ralph G.H. Siu from "paneti" which means "to inflict" in Pali, the language of the Buddha.

Of course, there are many people and organizations working to end violence, from ending domestic violence all the way up to ending warfare. One, the Center for Global Nonkilling, is located right here in Honolulu (see Wikipedia page). This organization is alive and well and has several books available for free download from their web page.

I’m frequently saddened and mystified that peace, non-volence and anti-war movements in this country get so little traction, and that our media prefer the sensationalism of reporting on gun shootings so much more than reporting on efforts to end violence.

It’s important, I think, to note that the USA may be an anomaly. Here’s another free book you can download:

Nonkilling Societies
Edited by Joám Evans Pim
ISBN 978-0-9822983-4-3 (2010)

Summary: This volume arises from a crucial question formulated by political scientist Glenn D. Paige: “Is a Nonkilling Society Possible?” Paige (and much of the evidence brought for-ward in this book) reminds us that nonkilling societies, characterized by no killing of humans and no threats to kill, do exist in spite of having passed largely unnoticed to most of the scientific community. Most authors who are contributing to this volume have been repeating the same crucial fact for decades: killing-free societies, as those imagined by Paige in his book, are not a utopian dream; they are a genuine actuality that has been in existence for millennia. It can probably be said louder but not more clearly. This volume provides firm evidence that the only feasible answer to Paige’s question is undoubtedly affirmative.

Greg Palast supports this:

Here's the facts, ma'am: There are about 4.5 million assault rifles in American civilian hands. That's around the same number as in tiny Switzerland (population: eight million). Tens of thousands of Swiss keep a 9mm Sig Sauer, like the one used by the Newtown killer. But we don't see the Swiss sweeping dead kids out of their schoolyards.


Rotary International's Peace Forum at Hawaii Convention Center Jan. 25,26,27 will offer soft self change to peace as well as Dr. Pages Non-Violence workshop Hawaii Peace & Justice will have a table in the House of Friendship Rm.306AB offering info concerning real Visual Challenges to Peace that must be resolved in order to experience World Peace. Stop by!

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