The Three Deadliest Issues in the Firearm Debate

Violent Crimes in the U.S.

The problem underlying the rationale for restrictions on gun ownership is the prevalence of gun violence in this country.  Homicides committed with firearms rose to record height in1993 with a peak of 17,075 deaths that year but declined in number until the turn of the century.  In 2005 the number of gun-related homicides was 11,346, the highest it has been since 1999[1].  As seen in Figure 1, handguns are consistently the most common weapon used in homicides, followed by other types of guns as the second most common weapon used in this century.

handgun

Figure 1: Handguns are unquestionably the most common weapon used in murders while homicides committed with other types of firearms have been increasing since 2000.[2]

Although according to an analysis of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) there was half the number of nonfatal firearm related crimes committed in 2005 compared to the height in 1994, there were still almost a half of million victims in 2005 from such crimes.[3]  Nationwide in 2006, 68% of homicides, 42% of aggravated assaults, and 42% of robbery offenses involved firearms.[4]

The two largest groups affected by gun-related homicide are people between the ages of 15 and 24 and the victims of intimate partner violence.  Since 1976, 77% of homicide victims between the ages of 15-17 were killed by a firearm; and as of 1990, 67% of intimate partner homicide victims died from firearm related injuries.[5] Continue reading

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Rights and Dignity in the Face of Homelessness and Addiction

DC Christmas homelessness

To live free from sexual assault is not a comfort that must be earned – it is a right.  The NY Post editorial entitled The New York Times’ ‘Homeless’ Hooey disagrees and calls the mice and mold infested rooms at the Auburn Family Residence where residents risk being the victims of sexual assault and other violence “too generous” for the families living in it.

“Yes, the family’s housing has problems, including mice and reports of sexual assaults and other crimes. But the Times and Elliott, like much of the liberal establishment, seem to think it’s the city’s job to provide comfortable lives to outrageously irresponsible parents…

If the city is at fault here, it might well be for having been too generous — providing so much that neither the father nor mother seems much inclined to provide for their kids. That would be a story worth reading.”

This was the response of many to the NY Times’ article Invisible Child: Dasani’s Homeless Life.  This article follows the 11 year old girl living at the 600+ person shelter by my old High School, Brooklyn Tech.  According to the article the shelter is not up to code and has many serious violations including passing out expired baby formula and food to residents.

Rather than being appalled by the conditions these children live in, some prefer to argue that they deserve it, if not less.  Dasani’s parents have been addicted to opiates for years and are currently battling through withdrawal and the psychological damages of addiction.  Many use this as justification for cuts to programs designed to feed kids and get families jobs and housing.

Our society discriminates against people living with mental illness, especially those battling addiction.

People with severe mental illnesses have been the victims of brutality and homicide by our own police.  Recently, a 90 lb teen with schizophrenia was helded down by two officers, tased, and shot dead by a third officer.  This was in response to a 911 call by his parents to get him to a hospital.

And while not true of many people living without permanent housing, addiction and other forms of mental illness – depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar are prevalent among those in the shelter system.

20 – 25% of the homeless population lives with SEVERE mental illness (compared to the general population’s avg. of 6%)

Mental illness creates an invisible minority group.  And when that minority status is exposed like an unbandaged wound the rest of the world backs away.  Others become uncomfortable and develop a system of victim blaming.  This only results in further discrimination and victimization.

All people are deserving of the same rights and the same human dignity – from others and from our government.  Mental illness and homelessness can happen to anyone.  There is no such thing as the deserving/undeserving poor.  People, especially those fighting mental illnesses like addiction, do not have to earn human dignity.  They are not less of a person for their situation and illness.

And EVERYONE has the right to safety from sexual violence.  It does not matter if they live in a shelter, public housing, or a pent house.  And despite what the NY Post says, it is the city’s job to protect that right.

I encourage everyone to read Dasani’s story of her life as a homeless eleven year old. 

If you want the opportunity to volunteer at the Auburn Family Residence please check out New York Cares. There are currently two programs to work with the kids at the shelter:

Art Explorers at Auburn Family Residence
Bedtime Stories at Auburn Family Shelter

The Issue with Same-sex Marriage

*Disclaimer: I believe that marriage is a right that belongs to every consenting adult.  I support state, federal, and international recognition of same-sex and different-sex marriages as well as the marriages of those that do not fit into binominal gender categories.

However I have had many conversations with people who are against the government’s recognition of same-sex marriages.  It is important to understand where they are coming from.  In parts of this entry I present common arguments against same-sex marriage in a -hopefully- unbiased manner.  I don’t want to offend anyone but I do wish to respectfully summarize the opposing view before pointing out their flaws.

The Issue:

In the last election, four states voted on the issue of whether to legally recognize marriages between two members of the same sex.  This discussion has been a public issue in the United States since the peak of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights movement in the 1980s and continues to hold national interest as states pass and reject laws regarding same-sex marriage.  Because marriage is the basis of the family structure its definition holds many legal as well as social implications.  Adoption procedures, child custody cases, and taxes are only some of the instances in which the legal recognition of marriage is a deciding factor.  The question is one of opposing moralities – the immorality of threatening the family institution against the immorality of denying gay men and women the right to marry.

Arguments Against: The ma and pop definition of marriage

Arguments For: Equal rights for all families

Recognition of the rights of LGBT americans and people around the world is slowly increasing.   However people are still being attacked, jailed, and humiliated because of something as intrinsic as  love and attraction.

How to Help:

Voting is power! Register to vote and make it to the polls every election.
Contact your local and state congressmen.
Educate yourself.
Learn about the discrimination and criminalization of homosexuality in the US and internationally.

And most importantly… Talk to people! You can be an advocate for marriage equality.  It is the personal conversations we have that creates change in the world.  Don’t shy away from the discussion of same-sex marriage.

Arguments For Same-Sex Marriage

Arguments For: Equal rights for all families

Contrary to these arguments are supporters of same sex marriages who argue that anti-discrimination laws did not go far enough in creating equality among different sexual orientations.  By not allowing gay men and women to enter same sex marriages the government is denying them rights given to heterosexual couples.  Even in states which allow same sex marriages, discrimination will not be eliminated until the federal government acknowledges those marriages.

The lack of federal acknowledgment is discriminatory because it prevents married gay men and women from having the 1,138 federal rights given to heterosexual marriages including:

  • Social Security benefits upon death, disability or retirement of spouse, as well as benefits for minor children.
  • Family and Medical Leave protections to care for a new child or sick/ injured family member.
  • Workers’ Compensation protections for the family of a worker injured on the job.
  • Access to COBRA insurance benefits so the family doesn’t lose health insurance when one spouse is laid off.
  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) protections such as the ability to leave a pension, other than Social Security, to your spouse.
  • Exemptions from penalties on IRA and pension rollovers.
  • Exemptions from estate taxes when a spouse dies.
  • Exemptions from federal income taxes on spouse’s health insurance.
  • The right to visit a sick or injured loved one, have a say in life and death matters during hospitalization 11

Even state level civil unions fail to recreate these rights to any extent because there is no state level equivalent.  Social Security benefits, tax exemptions, shared property rights, and decision making/ visitation rights during hospitalization are real consequences of federally recognized marriage.  These inequalities affect the quality of life of same sex families by preventing children and spouses from having access to extended healthcare insurance provided by the other spouse’s employment, a right protected for heterosexual marriages. Continue reading

Arguments Against Same Sex Marriage

*Disclaimer: I believe that marriage is a right that belongs to every consenting adult.  I support state, federal, and international recognition of same-sex and different-sex marriages as well as the marriages of those that do not fit into binominal gender categories.

However I have had many conversations with people who are against the government’s recognition of same-sex marriages.  It is important to understand where they are coming from.  In parts of this entry I present common arguments against same-sex marriage in a -hopefully- unbiased manner.  I don’t want to offend anyone but I do wish to respectfully summarize the opposing view before pointing out their flaws.

Arguments Against: The ma and pop definition of marriage

The legal recognition of same sex relationships in the United States started with Vermont’s legalization of civil unions in 2000, six years after the Romer v. Evans Supreme Court decision which ruled that exempting gays and lesbians from anti-discrimination laws was unconstitutional.  The trend in extending rights to gay men and women – which recently has culminated in same sex marriages – is argued by critics to exceed basic equality and now trespasses into changing social institutions.

The argument is that anti-discrimination laws protecting gay men and women create equality while civil unions and marriages are unique privileges which create the legal basis of the family institution.  Gay men and women cannot procreate or raise a family without outside measures such as adoption or fertilization with another biological participant.  Because of this they do not have a basis for creating a family and have no need for the legal institution of marriage.  The reality is that facilitated measures such as adoptions and third party fertilizations have resulted in legal issues ranging from custody battles to changes in the language surrounding the parent-child relationship.

At the basis of the argument against the government recognizing same sex marriages is the definition and function of marriage.

Marriage creates familial ties, generates lines of decent, defines the status of children, solidifies economic ties and dependencies, and regulates sexual relationships 1 .  Government acknowledged marriage functions as the legal foundation for the cultural institution of family.  Marriage has a procreative purpose and the rights given to those in such a union are meant to ease the socially necessary burdens of raising children and to protect property rights so that families can inherit wealth.

This definition of the function of marriage is supported by the nature of the measures listed in the 1,138 federal rights given to heterosexual marriages such as Social Security benefits upon death of a spouse or exemptions from federal income taxes in certain cases 2.  Most of them either ease the burden of maintaining a family or protect property rights.  The government gives tax breaks to and makes sharing insurance easier for married couples because doing so is an investment in their potential and purposive function of birthing and raising children.

The reason same sex couples are excluded from this function of marriage, and subsequently from marriage itself, is that there is evidence which supports the view that households without the biological mother and father present are detrimental to the development and outcome of children raised in such homes.  One recent study found that people who report that their mother has had at least one same sex relationship are statistically different in terms of education attainment, depression, employment status, and marijuana use than people who were raised in a household with both their biological mother and father 3.  This study measured a large sample of approximately 3,000 participants who came from a diverse background of family structures and supports many of the claims made by those who favor male-female unions as the optimal family structure. Continue reading

When The World Turns Upside Down…

Everyone experiences life changing heartbreaks, disappointments, and tragedy.  We lose a loved one or have our own futures snatched from us.  Our lives are turned upside down.

But people are resilient.  Out of the Holocaust came newly forged families.  Countries rebuild following civil wars, genocides, and natural disasters.  The past tragedies become our new normal.  We live and adapt.  There is substantial research on grief and our ability to move on.

So what if our lives were literally turned upside down? In 1950, Ivo Kohler and Theodor Erismann documented their experiments in human perception at the university of Innsbruck, Austria.  Kohler wore a unique pair of glasses that used mirrors to make the world appear upside down.  At first he had difficulty with everything from pouring tea to grabbing a pen.  Up was down and down was up.  He found it very difficult to function.

However as time went on Kohler adapted.  At first it took work and practice.  He had to get out of bed and try really hard just to complete everyday tasks that had been second nature before.  It was frustrating.  But every day became a little easier. Every day had a new accomplishment.  And after two weeks his life was normal again.

When we face personal tragedy it feels as though our world is turned upside down.  We lose our ability to function.  Daily activities become a struggle and we just want to give up.  But research and personal experience has shown me that people are resilient.  The kids and adults I have worked with in shelters and respite centers evidence the fact that terrible things happen that completely change every aspect of our lives.  But everyone can regain control of their life.

Two weeks – and the world will start to turn right side up.

Kohler, I. (1964). The Formation and Transformation of the Perceptual World. New York: International Universities Press.
Gregory, R. L. (1998). “Eye and Brain.” The Psychology of Seeing fifth edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 138 -190.
Stratton, G. M. (1897). “Vision without inversion of the retinal image.” Psychological Review. (4) 341, 360-463.

 

Quote

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Nelson Mandela
– Long Walk to Freedom (1995)

“For Love Comes More Naturally…