Culture of the Gun

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”                 – attributed to Albert Einstein

As a retired teacher I have suffered over the deaths at Uvalde…and Columbine…and Sandy Hook…and…so many more. Late in my career I participated in “active shooter” drills and helped to produce strategies to counter an attack. We locked our doors even though the only thing between us and an active shooter was a five-eighth piece of sheet rock.

Since the brutal deaths of nineteen students and two teachers in a Texas school, barely a week after the shooting of six, one killed, in a California church, and ten killed in a New York grocery store many have opinions on what needs to be done to ensure the safety of our children and ourselves.

Most of the reactions follow a familiar path, “thoughts and prayers”, media outcries for change, pro-gun rights folks debate anti-gun rights folks including deflection, time passes with nothing happening except more guns are bought until the furor dies and we are again shocked with the next mass shooting. The debate begins again and honestly…we don’t seem to be as shocked as we once were.

I’ve seen suggestions from arming teachers, my least favorite out of myriads of least favorites, to we must “harden the targets.” That sounds like something from a war zone or a “sh!th@le” country. All ignore the underlying issue. A culture that embraces violence over diplomacy and access to weapons to execute that violence.

Another suggests “evil exists, and laws will not change that.” The next time a highway patrolman pulls me for speeding I think I’ll try that one out. No, I’m not equating speeding to murder, but the comment has me wondering why we have laws at all. Laws are for honest people?

Let me be fair. It is not just about school, church, or supermarket shootings. It is the drive by in LA, or gang violence in Chicago or Baltimore, or the drunken good ole boy who decides to William Tell a PBR can off his friend’s head and misses a bit low with his hunting rifle.

It’s about four students wounded while walking to their prom. It is about gunfire due to road rage and looking cross eyed at the wrong person. It’s about good old boys strapping AR-15s to their back when they get a coffee at the local coffee shop. It is about a lack of empathy and ignoring the sanctity of life in favor of an amendment.

In 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of youth death’s surpassing automobile accidents. Most were suicides. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2020, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (24,292), while 43% were murders (19,384). The numbers came from the CDC and were backed by other sources. According to CNN, personal safety tops the list of reasons why American gun owners say they own a firearm, yet 63% of US gun-related deaths are self-inflicted.

It is a fact that it took a finger to pull the trigger, the gun didn’t do it on its own, and these Pew and CDC statistics do not reflect accidental gun deaths or where guns were a contributing factor but not the cause of death. It is also true that we live in a gun rich environment. Five percent of the world’s population owns 44-46% of the world’s civilian firearms depending on the study you might be reading. According to a recent CNN study, we own more guns than we have people, one hundred-twenty guns per one hundred people.

According to a Scientific American study in 2015, assaults with a firearm were 6.8 times more common in states that had the most guns, compared to the least. More than a dozen studies have revealed that if you had a gun at home, you were twice as likely to be killed as someone who didn’t.

Research from the Harvard School of Public Health tells us that states with higher gun ownership levels have higher rates of homicide. Data even tells us that where gun shops or gun dealers open for business, killings go up. There are always exceptions to the rule, but some politicians would have you ignore the overall data and quote the exceptions rather than the rule.

In an article by Fortune Magazine published by Yahoo, Gun rights groups spent $15.8 million on lobbying last year, compared to just $2.9 million in lobbying from gun control groups. Beyond lobbying, gun groups have contributed $50.5 million to federal candidates and party committees between 1989 and 2022, with the vast majority going to Republicans. They spent especially heavily in the 2020 election, with $16.6 million in outside spending.

Oh, but the Second Amendment…. I’m not going to debate it except to say that one side always ignores two words, “well regulated.”

Will there be a change after Buffalo and Uvalde? If history repeats, why would I expect there would be change. I don’t believe I am an overly cynical person but why would I expect change? Guns are as much a part of our culture as mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Other than exchanging duck and cover drills for active shooter drills little has changed.

Our history is rife with violence, mostly involving a gun. Our country was born from violence and expanded using violence. Do we have a greater propensity for violence than other countries? I don’t know but other countries have done a better job of curbing theirs.

We have violent games, violent movies glorifying the gun and the heroic figure welding it. I’m just as guilty. Several of my novels include violence…gun violence but the good guy with the gun always saved the day…unlike real life. 

When I read my comic books, Zane Grey, or Louis Lamoure, I knew it was fiction. James Arness or John Wayne wasn’t really gunning them down in the streets. After I became a history student, I found out their fiction was…based on fiction. There were few gunfights in the streets and the Gunfight at the OK Corral lasted about thirty seconds. My novels are no different.

Other cultures have violent games, movies, and literature, but they don’t have real-life violence like we do here. Maybe we should work to keep guns out of the hands of the violent. Maybe we should look at the underlying issues that lead to violence and attempt to correct them.

It is mental illness. I believe someone who goes out and kills nineteen children is mentally ill…but that doesn’t give him a free pass. Other countries with much lower murder rates have mental illnesses too. Could it have something to do with our health system? Maybe we should work to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

It is parenting. Probably but why? Single parent homes? Parents having to work multiple jobs leaving their children to their own devices. Cycles of poverty? We don’t seem to care much once a child is born.

Criminals will always find a way…yes probably. Why are we not cutting off access at the source? Gunmakers and smugglers? Everything is done after the murder instead of trying to prevent it. Could it be gunmakers and politicians are making too much money off the sale of legal and illegal firearms?

Maryland was one of the outliers in the Pew study. Strict gun laws but a higher number of gun deaths. Sixty-five percent of the guns used in violence in Maryland that could be traced came from other states with laxer gun laws. I don’t know the numbers but the same can be said about Chicago, I’m sure. Just something to ponder.

Cain killed Abel with a rock. Yep, if the Bible is to be believed. I would rather confront a killer walking around with a bag of rocks than a bag of thirty round magazines and a rifle or pistol to put them in.

Along the same lines, “We’ve taken God out of … fill in the blank.” There are many countries who aren’t considered “Christian Countries” who have much lower gun homicide rates. Research Shinto Japan and while you are at it research their gun laws. Japan has a very violent history at times. Somehow, they decided to overcome it as did other less Christian countries.

It does seem we have lost our appreciation for the sanctity of life…all life. Our hatred for others leads us to violence. Disagreement has become life threatening. Some Christians will say it is because we have become Godless, I will say that some Christians have driven me from organized religion because they are Jesus-less. If you can’t appreciate the Earth and the people who live on it I want no part of you.

I don’t expect any of this will change anyone’s mind about guns…or violence…or mental illness and I don’t believe any effective change will occur. Gun violence is too engrained in our culture, and we pass it on to our children. I fear it is who we are.

***

For clarification, Albert Einstein had many thoughtful quotes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” was not one of them. The quote, or a similar quote, first appeared in an Al-Anon article in 1981. There is no evidence Einstein ever said it.

Research cited


https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-is-clear-gun-control-saves-lives/

https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/26/world/us-gun-culture-world-comparison-intl-cmd/index.html?fbclid=IwAR2vEhlMbsPbVhwBEXTyXtC6iUkx2VAkGf37uCdLzyMABlHEDSPSANOacV0

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/lobbying-gun-rights-groups-hit-152634408.html

My Southern Heritage Doesn’t Require a Flag

…or a monument.

Summer is upon me.  According to John Phillips, “The Mississippi River runs like molasses in the summertime.”  I know the summer humidity is as sticky as molasses…just like discussions about my heritage. 

The steamy humidity is a part of my heritage, as are lightning bugs and mosquitos, or violent thunderstorms, and the refreshing cool afterward.  Cutting sweet corn off the cob and salting it with the sweat off my brow.  Seems much of my heritage runs the gamut between opposite poles of good and bad.

My Southern heritage is being debated across the far reaches of this country…again.   The left is celebrating a statue of General Lee and Traveler, along with Stonewall Jackson being whisked off to a museum and the Right continues to debate the evils of Critical Race Theory, a theory I believe most have never studied…including me.  CRT is a graduate school or law school course that has been around for some forty years and is beyond the scope of what is being taught in grade schools.  Some people are confusing the truth about our checkered past for CRT.  I notice the folks crying the loudest about General Lee are also crying the loudest against CRT.  Maybe they aren’t confused at all.

These statues were erected to glorify men so gallantly in their Confederate gray or butternut.  Many monuments were bought and paid for by the Daughters of the Confederacy.  Statues bought and paid for by our grandmothers and great grandmothers can’t be bad, can they? 

The problem is many were erected in the badly segregated South of the Jim Crow era, celebrating men who caused the deaths of so many and who brought havoc and destruction to the South.  Erected by those who advanced a segregated society for another hundred years after the war. I find nothing to celebrate on this issue.

I believe there is much to celebrate about my Southern heritage. What I celebrate doesn’t increase the resentment associated with enslaved people bullied and beaten by gun bulls and patty rollers on tall horses.  The enslaved whose present and futures were lorded over by Southern aristocrats whose propaganda led poor whites to their deaths on distant hillsides.  Our heritage doesn’t have to involve a Battle Flag that flew over an army in the employ of a rebellious cluster of Southern states intent on keeping and expanding their “peculiar institution.” A “country” that only lasted for four years.

Is there nothing else we can celebrate regarding Southern Heritage?  Is there nothing else to be proud of?  Is there nothing more than flags flown from pickup trucks and belt buckles and bumper stickers proclaiming “Forget, Hell!!!!”  Are we simply the sum of our rebellious past?

We have a rich culture that doesn’t have to harken back to “old times there are not forgotten.” If you are going to lionize the exploits of soldiers on a battlefield, why look past the Revolutionary War?  More Revolutionary War battles were fought in my state than any other and some of the greatest military leaders of the war fought here.  South Carolina born and bred, Sumter, Marion, Pickens, and Moultrie, along with adopted sons like Morgan, Greene, and Shelby left their mark, not only on my state but on the nation as a whole.

Wait just a “cotton pickin’ minute.”  Weren’t some of these men slave owners? Yes, some were and despite this fact, we should neither purge them from history books nor should we discount their contributions.  As some of my right-leaning friends have told me, “It’s history”.  I agree, it is history and history should be taught warts and all.  It shouldn’t be sanitized, nor should it be taught as propaganda like my eighth-grade Cold War Civics class. History is simply what was. We shouldn’t cover it up and we shouldn’t hide from it.

We have a rich Southern culture and heritage going back centuries despite our “peculiar institution” and resulting Jim Crow…let me rephrase that…” including our peculiar institution and resulting Jim Crow.” It’s history.  We don’t need a flag or statues to worship under any more than we should deny the existence of mosquitoes and high humidity in our travel brochures.  They are facts we can’t or should not attempt to escape.  Facts are facts and history is history.

We have a rich and diverse heritage in my state alone.  Gullah language and art from the coast to Appalachian culture in the mountains and foothills and to German Lutherans in the “Dutch Fork” middle.  Native American tribal influences from the Catawba River, across to the Savannah, and down to Pee Dee just to mention a few.  We have art, music, and literature that sprang from slaves and sharecroppers. Beautiful cities and small towns.   Architecture, music, visual arts, cuisine, sports, a heritage that shouldn’t include praise for men enslaving other men or men who fought for them. 

When I say “shouldn’t include” do I mean we should ignore it?  Certainly not.  We shouldn’t heap praise upon the heads of my long-ago, dearly departed great, great grandfathers for fighting under the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia.  Whatever their motivation, they rebelled in the name of supporting slavery. If there was any honor in that flag it was lost when it was co-opted by the KKK and like minded white supremacists while we or our parents did nothing.

My grandfathers were poor men with little education.  Maybe they bought the propaganda about the state’s rights that included the right to enslave.  Maybe they believed in an unfair tariff that was placed on goods raised on the backs of the enslaved.  Maybe they believed it was a War of Northern Aggression.  I doubt they thought much past the surface.  Wars are started by rich, old men and fought by young, poor ones.  Still, they fought and died under the wrong banner and should not be memorialized or immortalized. 

No, I’ll stick with being proud of a heritage that includes BB King from Mississippi singing the Blues, a Southern invention.  I might sip a bit of Jack Daniels from Tennessee with a bit of Coca-Cola invented in Atlanta, Georgia.  Maybe later I’ll select from a menu that includes Cajun or Creole food from Louisiana or BBQ from anywhere in the South or shrimp and grits, from my state.  I’ve eaten enough Soul food to cause my arteries to collapse.

Afterward, I might go sit on my front porch, a Southern culture trait in itself, while smelling honeysuckle, jasmine, or gardenia with a Pat Conroy, Ace Atkins, or a James Lee Burke novel.  All notable Southern authors who follow a lineage of fine Southern authors from Faulkner, Walker, O’Conner, and Williams to name just a few.

Depending on the season I might watch my favorite sports teams, The Braves from Atlanta, The Tigers from Clemson.  I might catch a NASCAR event, a sport begun in the South that sprang from moonshiners and dirt track racers.  We have a Southern heritage attached to our sports teams and college football is a recognized religion with an attending congregation in the millions on any given Saturday.  Why can’t we Southerners be proud of that?

Again, and with fervor, my Southern Heritage doesn’t involve a battle flag or statues saluting dead Confederates.  My Southern Heritage is too rich for that.   My Southern heritage is about beautiful and historic homes and cities, sharecropper shanties, and Sears cottages. It’s about kudzu, cotton, and long-abandoned textile mills.  It’s about old men, white and black, plowing behind a mule on the river bottoms.

It is about rich music from Nashville or Muscle Shoals and even richer food from New Orleans, Atlanta, or anywhere on the coast. It’s great literature that can be as heavy as Southern humidity or as light as the scent of Jasmine.  My Southern heritage is about beautiful flower and vegetable gardens, and cotton fields bursting white in the fall.  It is about sitting on the front porch with family and friends after church and a Sunday dinner. 

My heritage is about friends and families of all races.  It is about celebrating diversity.

If I haven’t turned you off, further works by Don Miller may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0A3XCeFAUGkHotYyrBgt6V-v3Rl-6mVzt2hmVK3o_4rtITkiH874sjYQs

Image of Lee’s statue by Paul Mayer, Office of the Mayor, Washington, DC.

Stories I Need to Tell My Grandchildren

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

An Introduction

The time and place of my birth and early life seems alien today…the middle of the Twentieth Century in a Southern, rural, farming community. There is little resemblance of my childhood world to the modern one. A Baby Boomer, I might have grown up in a foreign country…or another planet. I did grow up in a different century. It is certainly not your world, my grandchildren, my loves.

I feel the need to tell stories. Hopefully you will recognize the language, hopefully you will learn that your roots run deep.

The hands of the clock moved slower then…there had to be more than twenty-four hours in the day.  Not because we were bored but because it seemed we did so much in the time that we had. Days so rich and so filled, there had to be more minutes in the day than the 1440 we have now. 

In the time of my youth, cotton was still king with cotton gins and textile mills running at full capacity.  Pulp wooders were still stripping the hills of pine trees to feed the hungry paper mill just across the river from my home.  John Deere tractors pulled disc harrows or hay bailers toward the river bottoms. There were more cows than people, when “backyards” included vast pastures and mixed forests. There were no traffic lights and few stop signs.

Dark-skinned truck drivers were still carrying huge loads of red clay past our house to Ashe Brick Company in distant Van Wyck.  Distant…which was just down the road a piece but might as well have been on a different continent.

Little white boys with crew cuts and flattops standing out in their yard giving the black truckers a universal sign of pumping fists they smilingly returned by blasting us with their air horns.  They seemed to never tire of it, I know we didn’t.  Huge grins blindingly white against dark complexions.

My little brother playing in a sandy ditch using his voice to mock the trucks as they shifted through their gears, pushing his Tonka Toy Truck as he did.  My parents worried he would destroy his vocal cords if he didn’t quit. I might have wished that he had…but just a time or two.

Sitting under a huge pecan tree on a hill above a two lane blacktop, watching the sparse traffic and being able to recognize the cars of friends, family, and acquaintances, some by their distant sound.  There was always a stir when a new model cruised by. Knowing who the occupants were just by the cars they drove. Everyone waved and smiled.  It truly was a different era.

It was a different time because my family was still intact, and the place of my youth still existed.  Family and place are important. Two hilltops and two ‘hollers’ filled with extended families.  Grandparents and Great Grandparents, uncles and aunts, all making sure we always toed the line. The old Nigerian proverb ‘Oran a azu nwa’, “it takes a community or village to raise a child,” certainly was true.  

Cousins to play with even though I was between generations.  Younger than one generation and older than another, I sat dead in the middle, alone. It didn’t matter.  My closest friends of the same age were just across the road or just up the road apiece, all within walking distance.  I am amazed at how long an hour of playtime was during those days.

Forays through our mixed forest into the piney woods across the “crick “ to the Morris’ home or across the road, walking past the scary kudzu shrouded ravine to the Jackson’s.  An active imagination wondered what might be lurking there. What animal or monster, or if the kudzu might reach out and kidnap me. An unofficial club house in a privet shrouded share cropper’s home that sat abandoned next to my house.

If we had a penny we might trek to Pettus’ or Yarbrough’s store for a small Sugar Daddy or BB Bat. “You be careful crossing that road, now, Stop, look, and listen.” Traffic was sparse but our parents still worried.

There were few families in my little world I wasn’t related to.   If the last name was Griffin, Pettus, Perry, Rodgers or Wilson, our family trees probably merged at some point…sometimes becoming quite tangled or maybe without limbs at all. An aunt on one side of the family was also an aunt on the other side of the family, and also my third grade teacher. I need to ask questions because I don’t exactly remember how that came to be. The last name, Miller, was a rare one but then my Dad was a transplant from Fort Mill, thirteen miles away.

Playing football or baseball in the stubble of harvested hay, or corn, or cotton in the field across the road.  At least we didn’t have to worry about avoiding cow patties, but we never learned to hook or popup slide, either. 

Corn cob fights around the corn crib and barn where we did worry about cow patties.  The forts and tree house we built on a bluff above a stream that led to the distant Catawba until cut by one of Bowers’ lakes…not so distant after all.  Playing war in the eroded red clay banks between the cotton and corn fields.  Our parents threatening to tan our hides because of the ruined clothes, once white tee shirts forever stained by the red clay.

Walking or riding my bike down the dusty “river road” to Bowers’ ponds teaming with blue gills, largemouth, and the occasional catfish.  On to the river that seemed so distant then…probably no more than two or three miles away today. Could it have moved closer?

I wish I had asked my grandparents more questions. “What was it like during the depression?” “What did it feel like to see your first car?” “What was it like to work on the railroad.” “How did you make your biscuits so moist on the inside and buttery crisp on the outside.” Hopefully these stories will answer some of your questions after my soul joins “The parade of souls marching across the sky.”

I’m going to tell stories that will be alien to you.  I hope you will take the time to read them sometime.  Hopefully, they will be educational.  Hopefully, you will want to read them.  Maybe you should read them to your mother and father, too.  Some will be humorous, some painful, some will just be.  All will be written with love.

An introduction to Stories I Need to Tell My Grandchildren, a work in progress.

***

Don Miller’s Amazon site: https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0jXxoLIhO8m6Oz6EZ3yUhX3TS3YHpsX0ldPJIFZxBDXQNB8JiA4in1Sgw

Quote from Goodreads.

Image produced by Canva

Quote “The parade of souls marching across the sky.” from the song Wheel Inside a Wheel by Mary Gauthier.