Gun control needed in a gun-loving country

Just about everyone in America is in favor of gun control.
None of us want children running around with hand grenades. None of us want our neighbors to walk through the grocery store with an AK-47. None of us want strangers to wear sidearms when they visit a first-grade class.
There are extremists who want no gun laws whatsoever, but they are a small minority, and they need to be ignored.
On the other side, almost no one wants to get rid of guns. In spite of the NRA-fueled rumors that “Obama (or Clinton/Gore/Kerry) is going to take away our guns,” very little action has been taken to restrict firearms purchases or ownership in recent years, regardless of which party is in power.
A few extremists may want to ban guns, but they too are a tiny minority who also need to be ignored.
In the center is the vast majority of Americans who believe in the right to bear arms but also in the need for common sense gun control.
The real debate should not be whether we need gun control, but how much and what kind.
Unfortunately, the debate has been hijacked by the extremists, to the point where even ridiculous arguments — arming teachers, for example — are treated with respect they don’t deserve, and the paranoid kooks who want machine guns to protect themselves from the government are given a soapbox in the interest of covering “both sides.”
After another horrific mass murder, too many Americans take stupid positions: either that guns are the whole problem, or that gun laws should play no part in our response.
Clearly, gun violence results from a combination of factors, including unrecognized or untreated mental illness, abuse, addiction, dysfunctional families, poverty, recidivism, genetics, and plain old evil. Many who want to kill are going to find a way to do it. Getting rid of guns will not get rid of tragedy.
But just as clearly, guns make it far easier to kill. Reducing the number or accessibility of guns would reduce the number and severity of tragedies like Sandy Hook.
To claim that guns play no part is to ignore the obvious: America has far more guns per capita than any other civilized country, and far more gun deaths — from accidents, suicide and homicide.
The catalyst in the mixture of mental illness and guns is a culture that glorifies gun violence as a means of solving problems.
It’s not just Hollywood. It’s in our history books and on the front pages of our newspapers. It’s in thousands upon thousands of TV episodes, action movies and video games. A hero, beset by evil, picks up a gun and dispatches the villains, saving the innocent community. From Lexington and Concord to Dirty Harry to Die Hard, it’s the same story — the central story in our cultural mythology.
Americans are immersed in stories of justice via gun. As a nation and individuals, we are quick to take up arms. We don’t just have more murders than other countries; we also start more wars.
Cultural myths that are a mere diversion to sane people are models of behavior for evil men who lack empathy, for delusional boys who can’t distinguish reality from fantasy, and for ignorant children who can’t comprehend consequences.
Give them a gun, and they’re heroes in a Hollywood revenge flick.
Reduce their opportunities through common sense restrictions on access to guns, and some will find the help they need.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

Barred owl, county board

Went for a ski today and scared off a barred owl. It perched nearby and stared me down with its brown eyes. I let out my best barred owl call (perfected over a summer of hooting for spotted owl, their nearest relative).

It didn’t answer back, just looked at me like I’d swallowed its mate.

Attended the Mille Lacs County Board meeting today.

By a 3-1 vote they approved the recycling contract with J. Vanderpoel, who will replace Jim’s Mille Lacs Disposal.

Board members alluded to the fact that they had received a lot of comments, some of them anonymous, calling on them to rethink their decision.

Phil Peterson of Milaca Township voted against.

There will be more in next Wednesday’s Messenger.

An out-of-date column, and other thoughts on guns

I had this column set to go for the 12/26 Messenger, but after the events of last Friday, it will need serious revision, or more likely a new start from scratch.
Thought I’d post it as a blog instead. Note the 7-word appeasement of gun rights advocates right off the bat — and more further down.
I don’t think I’ll start that way again.
For what it’s worth, here it is, with an addendum (or a preview of my column) at the end:
Are we literally going gun crazy?
I’m not a big gun-control advocate, but events of the last few weeks have me wondering if America’s love affair with guns has become a bonafide mental illness.
Case in point: A man in Little Falls shoots two burglars. Most agree he has the right to protect his health and home, but Byron Smith takes it a step further: After incapacitating the two teens, he executes them in a manner more befitting of the Mafia than the U.S. Foreign Service, where Smith spent his career.
Another case in point: A Rochester grandfather hears a noise outside his house, pulls out his 9mm handgun, and, with the cops on the way, shoots his granddaughter twice — apparently prior to shouting “Who goes there?” or “I’ve got a gun!” He tells police he was afraid because of a burglary that happened less than a mile away.
And another: In a gas station parking lot in Florida, Michael Dunn doesn’t like loud music blaring from a neighboring car, so he tells the passengers to turn it down. Although police say the men (who were black) were unarmed, Dunn thinks he sees a shotgun, so he fires eight times, killing one of the teenage occupants. His defense is Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows you to use deadly force when they feel threatened.
What these cases have in common is an apparent desire to shoot somebody. Not to wave a gun in front of a person to scare them off, which would have worked in all three cases, but to pull the trigger and bring down a fellow human being. What else can explain the quick action than an itchy trigger finger?
And there are many more cases in point of gun craziness in our culture, from a theater shooting in Colorado to a temple shooting in Milwaukee to a mall shooting in Oregon to a workplace shooting in Minneapolis to a cop shooting in Cold Spring.
We’ve heard the cliche a thousand times: “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” But the simple fact remains: People find it much easier to kill each other with guns than they do with hands, feet or any weapon other than a gun. Many who become killers only do so because they have access to a gun.
My point is not that we need stricter gun laws but that we need fewer gun-crazy people. Gun control advocates rightly point out that America’s rate of gun violence is far above that of any other civilized nation.
Gun control opponents rightly point out that some countries also have lax gun laws but don’t have the level of violence we do in the U.S.
Here’s the thing, though: Other countries may have few gun laws, but they also have a culture that keeps individuals from settling scores with guns.
In some counties, it’s just the opposite, with a violent, individualistic culture but laws that keep citizens from shooting each other.
Only the U.S. has a toxic blend of Wild West mentality and Wild West laws.
One or the other needs to change.
I’ll just say this: Own all the guns you want. Hunt with them, take them to the target range, teach your kids to use them.
But don’t become gun crazy.
If you’re afraid or angry, don’t let your fear or rage anywhere near your guns, because you’re far more likely to kill a loved one than you are to kill an enemy.
If you have a gun in your dresser drawer, or you carry a sidearm while snowshoeing (as a local columnist is recommending), consider whether you’re exhibiting symptoms of gun craziness.
After all, the number of fatal wild wolf attacks in Minnesota history is exactly zero, while the number of fatal gunshots is over 300 each year.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.
Addendum: The most interesting post I’ve seen after Sandy Hook is here.
Basically it shows how utterly out-of-step we are with the rest of the world in terms of gun ownership.
Bottom line: When you have way more guns, you’re going to have way more murders, accidents and massacres with guns.
People don’t have the will power not to use something that is made to be used.
No, it’s not just the guns, it’s the culture. As I said in the column, it’s a toxic blend of Wild West mentality and Wild West laws.
Our cultural stories, from Lexington and Concord to the latest blockbusters and video games, are all about picking up a gun and killing your enemies.
When you have a growing number of people who can’t interpret those cultural messages rationally or distinguish reality from fantasy, or who lack basic empathy or a sense of consequences, and they have easy access to firearms, the inevitable comes to pass.
Given the fact that we have families that are broken and don’t know how to communicate, parents who don’t know how to raise children, all manner of mental illnesses treated with all manner of drugs … it’s no surprise these incidents continue. Given that weapons technology improves, and laws don’t keep up, it’s no surprise that they keep getting worse.

First our emissions, next our firstborn

Thank God we have someone on our side fighting off the United Nations and their blue-helmeted troops.
You’ve probably heard of Agenda 21, but you may not know what it is, unless you’ve been listening to Glenn Beck or some of the courageous truth-tellers at Fox News.
Agenda 21, which Wikipedia describes as “a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development” is actually a nefarious plot to take away our property rights — including the God-given rights to mine for copper, poop in an outhouse, and clearcut our trees so we can better focus our binoculars on the hippies next door as they indoctrinate their children with UN propaganda like Agenda 21.
And who is fighting on our behalf to keep the UN’s violent environmentalist army from turning us all vegetarian? None other than my state senator, Dave Brown, who was rewarded for his vigilance with reelection to a second term in November.
Sen. Brown is the local version of those patriots in the U.S. Senate who voted down a UN treaty on disabilities last week.
According to the blog Bluestem Prairie, Sen. Brown attended a July meeting of the Southwest Metro Tea Party Patriots to report on Agenda 21.
Here are some of the minutes from the meeting:
Senator Brown began by holding up the 350 pages of the UN Agenda for the 21st Century and briefly outlined how it, under the guise of “sustainable development,” is progressing toward a global government, taking away our private property and civil liberties. Humans would have no more rights than nature and laws will be made to assure that humans and nature are equal.
Goals of Agenda 21 include redistribution of America’s wealth all over the world, control of property, strengthening the roles of major groups (not individuals) based on “communitarianism,” requiring all children to go to government schools, restricting the lifestyle of most Americans, and to be the vehicle for global government.
Not one to sit on his hands while the world is going to hell, Brown sponsored a bill in the Legislature that will cut the UN off at the knees. I found this part especially sneaky on Sen. Brown’s part.
“Subd. 5. Duties. The commission shall (1) study the impact of implementing United Nations Agenda 21 on the state, counties, regional commissions, towns, and cities, and (2) prepare a report to the senate and the house of representatives. The report shall include recommendations and draft legislation to prevent implementation of United Nations Agenda 21 by the state, counties, regional commissions, towns, and cities.”
At first glance it may seem odd that a small government conservative would advocate the creation of a committee to research a topic, when the conclusion is already written in stone.
But Sen. Brown is one step ahead of you. There’s no way the big government bureaucrats would do the common sense thing (vote to keep the UN out of our septic systems) without doing the big government bureaucrat thing (form a committee).
With Obama in office for another four years, we’ll soon start to see his true colors, as he turns over the keys to the ship of state to the UN’s Agenda 21 goons. First they’ll make us cut our emissions. Then they’ll take our guns. Finally, even our children won’t be safe.
Thanks to Senator Brown, we’ve got a fighting chance.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.
http://www.messagemedia.co/millelacs/opinion/our_columnists/brett_larson/article_5eb3e388-43b4-11e2-b537-0019bb30f31a.html

Happy thoughts can’t kill the Balrog

Gandalf the Gray stood hip-to-shoulder with the hobbit Lardbo Larson at the great stone doors of the Mines of Moria (1). They were holding their noses.
“I don’t think that killed him,” said Lardbo. The stench of the Balrog (2) still poured from the doors, infecting the whole countryside with an odor worse than the breath of the old dragon Smaug.
Gandalf (3) shook his head. “I thought for sure that would work. Remind me, Lardbo, what we’ve tried thus far.”
“Well, there were the magic oils (peppermint, tea tree, and oregano) and the apple cider vinegar concoction. Then we tried flooding him out (4) by blowing up the dam on the Great River and diverting the water into the mines. Finally we tried burning him out (5) by setting fire to the ancient forest, Fangorn, and calling on your eagle friends to fan the smoke into the mines.”
“Maybe it’s your stress level,” said the wizard. “Have you tried yoga?” Gandalf performed the downward dog.
Lardbo crouched and looked his old friend in the eye. “So you’re saying if I just think happy thoughts, we can kill the Balrog?”
“Couldn’t hurt,” Gandalf replied. “C’mon. Chant with me! OHHHHMMMMMMMM!”
Lardbo turned to his faithful companion, Robwise Pamgee, and whispered. “Ride old Bill to Isengard and find Saruman (6). Tell him we’ll give him Gandalf if he can kill the Balrog.”
Robwise was shocked. “The evil white wizard? Didn’t he already try to kill the Balrog with an army of goblins (7)?”
“Yeah, they killed the cave trolls but not the Balrog, and now they’ve taken up residence in the mines. I hear Saruman has a new weapon that can clear the mines once and for all.”
When Robwise arrived at Isengard, Saruman rubbed his hands together in glee. He’d been trying for centuries to capture Gandalf and his silly bag of fireworks, ancient spells and remedies. “Unleash the Orcs (8),” he hissed.
A terrible army of 10,000 Orcs went forth from Isengard to the Misty Mountains. Ignoring Gandalf and Lardbo, they rushed headlong into the mines. At their heels was Saruman, the White Wizard, who stopped beside his old nemesis, Gandalf.
In minutes, the Orcs emerged, carrying the corpse of the evil Balrog on their shoulders.
“I think it was the yoga that killed him,” Gandalf said. “He was probably dead before the Orcs ever found him.”
Saruman said, “Think what you want” and clubbed Gandalf with his staff.
“What did you do that for?” the gray wizard cried.
“I’m banishing you to the Tower of Orthanc,” said Saruman, “where you can no longer fool poor hobbits with your bag of tricks.”
Two of the Orcs grabbed Gandalf by the arms and led him away.
“But Lardbo!” Gandalf shouted over his shoulder. “We have more adventures before us! Dragons to slay! Evil to conquer!”
Lardbo and Robwise looked at each other, then at Gandalf.
“I’m going with this guy,” Lardbo said, jabbing Saruman with his thumb.
Saruman put his hand on Lardbo’s shoulder. “Mr. Hobbit, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
1. In this allegory, the Mines of Moria represent your poor editor’s sinus cavities. 2. A horrific sinus infection I’ve been fighting for six months. 3. Purveyors of homeopathic remedies. 4. Neti pot and sinus rinse kit. 5. Steam treatments and hotpacks. 6. Good ol’ western medicine. 7. 10-day course of Augmentin, 10-day course of Cipro. 8. Clindamycin, 300mg, 3x/day for 14 days with refill.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger, and yes, his recent illness has sent him off the deep end.
This column was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on Dec. 5, 2012.

Absurd to the third power

Diane and I are getting used to the idea of the empty nest, as our kids, a senior and a sophomore, spend more and more time away from home.
So last night we were sitting in the living room clicking through the channels and came upon a little-known TV show called “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
It struck me how much weirdness on top of weirdness that show represents.
After all, you start with a legend about Santa and flying reindeer, which is weird enough, then you add a song about a reindeer whose red nose lights up the sky so Santa can pull his sleigh.
Then, for even more weirdness, add an abominable snow monster, a prospector, a talking snowman narrator, an elf dentist, a Charlie-in-the-Box, an Oz-like Lion king — and bring them all to life with low-tech stop-motion animation.
And the end result of all this imagination gone haywire?
One of the most popular programs in the history of television.
And then we watched “Purple Rain” — a whole ‘nother set of problems.
I need a new stack of good books.