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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Local History: Conducting the Ohio Underground Railroad


 

When Virginian John Randolph's 518 slaves were emancipated and a plan was hatched to settle them in southern Ohio, the population rose up in indignation. An Ohio congressman warned that if the attempt were made, "the banks of the Ohio ... would be lined with men with muskets on their shoulders to keep off the emancipated slaves."

Slavery and Ohio


When Congress established the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, one of the provisions forbid slavery in any new future state admitted to the Union, north of the Ohio River. Yet, to say Ohio afforded slaves freedom would be debatable in that blacks were denied many rights of citizenship. It is evident that Ohio abolitionists were not in the majority.

According to historian Leon F. Litwack, Ohio "provided a classic example of how anti-immigration legislation could be invoked to harass Negro residents."

The Ohio state constitution adopted in 1802, deprived blacks of the right to vote, to hold public office, and to testify against whites in court. In time, Ohio's position became even harsher when laws were passed saying that blacks could not live in Ohio without a certificate proving their free status. They even had to post a $500 bond "to pay for their support in case of want."

Blacks were prohibited from joining the state militia, were excluded from serving on juries and were not allowed admittance to state poorhouses, insane asylums, and other institutions. Some of these laws were not strictly enforced, or it would have been virtually impossible for any African American to emigrate to Ohio.

Later Congress added the Fugitive Slave Law on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free Soilers. It required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate in this law. Abolitionists nicknamed it the "Bloodhound Law" for the dogs that were used to track down runaway slaves.

The law made it a federal crime to give aid or harbor escaping slaves. It also penalized officials who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave, and made them liable to a fine of $1,000. Adding to this were rewards paid by plantation owners to freelance bounty hunters for slaves that were returned. This made life extremely difficult for slaves, even in a free-state like Ohio.

The population of Ohio in the early 1800s held opposing views about slavery. Ohio was being settled by two basic cultures: those coming from New England, and those coming from Virginia and other southern states. In New England, slavery had long ago been abolished, and quite the opposite held true for the southern states. These two different cultures led to clashes with regards to African Americans and the issue of slavery in Ohio. Even in rural areas, one town might be pro slavery and the one just down the road a few miles would be a stronghold of anti-slavery sentiment.

A third conflict arose from law-abiding citizens that may have opposed the issue of slavery, but so revered the letter of the law, that they felt obligated to turn in runaway slaves because the law required it.

Almost anywhere in Ohio, in almost any community, about half of the population would be pro-slavery, and the other half anti-slavery. This would be especially true in the lower half of the state where citizens were more likely to be former residents of Virginia or Kentucky or be descendents of family from these states. Slavery was a hot issue in Ohio. Pro abolitionists speaking at local rallies could often turn the event into a hostile conflict.

Even with all the impediments to equality and the considerable opposition to emancipation, Ohio became perhaps the most important state on the road to freedom. Many Ohioans help secure this claim as they took part in helping escaping slaves.

It was under these conditions that caused abolitionists to form secretive networks that could help escaping slaves move along a network that was neither advertised nor written. In fact, most of the people on the network only knew a few of the other members to help protect everyone's identity. That network became known as the Underground Railroad.

Underground Railroad

The Ohio Anti-Slavery Society was formed by a number of like-minded individuals that opposed slavery. Following closely the structure of the American Anti-Slavery Society that was founded in 1833, the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1835 in Zanesville as an auxiliary to the American Anti-slavery Society. The members of the society pledged to fight for the abolition of slavery and establishment of laws protecting African-Americans after they were freed. Their purpose, as stated in their constitution, was, “abolition of slavery throughout the United States and the elevation of our colored brethren to their proper rank as men.” In 1836, the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society grew from 20 chapters to 120 chapter covering every part of the state. By December of the same year, ten thousand Ohioans were part of the Society.

The Underground Railroad was neither underground, nor a railroad, but a system of loosely connected safe havens where those escaping the brutal conditions of slavery were sheltered, fed, clothed . . . and instructed during their journey to freedom. The term underground was used because this activity of helping escaping slaves was against the law and therefore these activities had to be concealed. The term railroad was used because those people involved in the activities used terms commonly associated with railroads, to describe different aspects of their activities.
  • Slaves were called cargo or passengers.
  • Hiding places or safe houses were called stations.
  • Guides leading the escaping slaves were called conductors.
  • People helping the escaping slaves, but not guiding them, were called agents.
  • People providing financial resources for these activities were called stockholder.
Although there were Underground Railroad networks throughout the country, even in the South, Ohio had the most active network of any other state with around 3000 miles of routes used by escaping runaways. Some sources estimate that 40,000 slaves escaped to freedom through Ohio. The reason for this is two-fold. First Ohio was bordered by two slave states: Virginia and Kentucky. That amounted to more than 400 miles of border between slave-state and free-state. In addition, of all the states involved in these underground networks, Ohio was the closest state to Canada with only about 250 miles or less from anywhere along the Ohio River to Lake Erie and freedom.

Ohio also had a large Quaker population, especially in the east and southeast portions of the state. While the Pennsylvania Quakers were largely responsible for initiating the abolitionist movement, the Ohio Quakers seemed to be more directly involved in actually moving escaping slaves on their way north and freedom in particular those fleeing slaves coming from Virginia.

The River-To-Lake Freedom Trail in Ohio memorializes one of the most frequently-used corridors of the Underground Railroad. The trail generally follows the present-day alignment of U.S. Route 23 from the Ohio River at Portsmouth, north through central Ohio. North of Marion County the trail follows state Route 4 to Sandusky on the shore of Lake Erie.

Of course, the ultimate destination for freedom was Canada (and to some degree, Mexico in the south). Yet, once there, escaped slaves still found life difficult – with no work and with strong segregation. After escaped slaves arrived in Canada, they would often return to Ohio where they could join small enclaves of freed slaves in areas that were uninhabited and try to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

The recorded history of the Underground Railroad is lacking simply because its operations were conducted in secret. Records were not kept.

Crossing at Scioto County

 


James Poindexter

Many runaways from Kentucky on the River-To-Lake Freedom Trail were aided by Rev. James Poindexter. Poindexter was born on Sept. 25, 1819, in Virginia. His father was white; his mother was black and Cherokee. He trained as a barber and moved to Columbus in 1838. His shop at 61 S. High St., across from the Statehouse, was popular with city leaders and state politicians.

Simultaneously upon apprenticing himself to a barber, he hired a British tutor to teach him. From this time, instead of letting circumstances keep him down, he made them do his bidding and besides furnishing him an income his barbering also gave him an education.

All sorts of prominent men sat in his barber chair: politicians, statesmen, doctors, lawyers, and many others :in the know” around the state capitol. Before they knew it, these men found themselves deep in complicated discussion of some question of the day and, unlike the philosopher who wanted his hair cut in silence, they came as much to listen to the arguments of a well-informed young man as they did for a haircut.

Upon reaching maturity Poindexter exercised his right to vote and was the first Negro in Columbus to use his franchise. He knew his rights and privileges. An uncle of his, George B. Poindexter, was once governor of Virginia.

In 1847, Poindexter was a preacher at the Second Baptist Church when an event split the congregation in two and Poindexter emerged as a champion of freedom.

A black family that Poindexter knew from Virginia joined the congregation. The family had owned slaves in the South and sold them before moving to Columbus. Some churchgoers demanded that the family use the proceeds from the sale to buy their former slaves from bondage. The family refused and Poindexter led forty dissenting brethren to form the Anti-Slavery Baptist Church.

That church grew to 104 members before it merged with its parent church in 1858. Poindexter was named pastor of the combined church, a post he held for the next forty years.

Poindexter also served secretly as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, helping runaway slaves escape to Canada. Risking imprisonment and fines, Poindexter and a handful of both black and white Columbus residents gave sanctuary to escaped slaves and passed them, often disguised as cargo in freight wagons, north to the next stop on their journey to Canada.

During the Civil War Poindexter and his wife formed the Colored Soldiers Relief Society to help give soldiers and their families’ assistance since the State of Ohio failed to support its black veterans.

When the 15th Amendment allowed black voting throughout Ohio in 1870, Poindexter began his political career. In January 1871 he led the call for a statewide convention of African American men to encourage voting. Two years later Poindexter was nominated by the Republican Party for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives. He lost but in 1880 he became the first African American elected to the Columbus City Council. Reelected in 1882 Poindexter remained in the seat until 1884 when he was named to the Board of Trustees of the Ohio School for the Blind. In 1884 Poindexter was also appointed to the Columbus Board of Education and was reelected four times.

William McClain

William McClain was born in Virginia in 1807. His father, Hugh McClain, captained ships along the Ohio River. While little is known of William McClain's youth, he eventually pursued the same career as his father. He also became an abolitionist and actively protested slavery by ferrying runaway slaves across the Ohio River from the slave states of Virginia (now West Virginia) and Kentucky.

McClain usually brought the runaway slaves to J.J. Minor, who resided in South Webster, Ohio. He, in turn, would see them to the Dan Lucas or Joseph Love farms. The Lucas or Love families would take them 37 miles northwest to the PP Settlement in Pike County. This place was settled by former slaves and freed men from Virginia and North Carolina. The people here sent them to Chillicothe or to other places of safety. There, they followed the Scioto River to Waverly and to the free black community called P.P. Settlement in Pebble Township.

McClain died on September 10, 1867, in Portsmouth.

Connection to Huston (Houston) Hollow

Established in Scioto County, Ohio in 1830, Huston Hollow was a predominantly African-American community. It was located six miles north of Portsmouth, Ohio in what is now Clay Township. In 1830, whites in Portsmouth drove approximately eighty African-American residents from the city.

At the time, many white Ohioans had no desire to live near or face economic competition from African Americans. Free blacks found that it was difficult to get fair treatment, and they often formed their own communities away from whites for protection. Several of the displaced African Americans formed the community of Huston Hollow. Among the community's more prominent residents were the Love and Lucas families. Members of both of these families actively assisted runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad. This was part of the River-To-Lake Freedom Trail.

Huston Hollow remained small in size during its existence, averaging less than one hundred residents. By the mid 1900s, Huston Hollow had lost its identity as a separate community. With whites increasingly showing African Americans tolerance, many African Americans began to find acceptance in traditionally white communities.

Despite the growing opposition to slavery by some whites during the early 1800s, communities, such as Huston Hollow, illustrate the prejudice that existed in Ohio during the years before the American Civil War.
 

James Ashley

Ashley was born on November 24, 1822, to John Ashley, a bookbinder and Campbellite preacher who evangelized in Kentucky and West Virginia, and his wife Mary A. (Kilpatrick) Ashley of Kentucky. near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he was four years old, his family moved to Portsmouth, Ohio. As a boy in the Ohio River Valley, Ashley saw coffles of chained slaves being walked to the Deep South, boys his own age being sold, and even white men who refused to let their cattle drink from a stream in which his father had baptized slaves. He grew to hate the "peculiar institution" (which he considered a violation of Christian principles) and the oligarchy that supported it.

He had begun helping slaves to escape as early as 1839, and late in his life Ashley relished telling stories of the families he had saved as a 17 year old.

Although Ashley's father was a bookbinder, many of his ancestors had been Baptist ministers. Ashley's father encouraged his son to pursue a career in the ministry. Ashley refused and ran away from home at the age of fourteen. He spent several years as a cabin boy and later as clerk on steamboats on the Ohio River. He then returned home to Portsmouth in 1848 where he became a journalist—first at the Portsmouth Dispatch and later editor of the Portsmouth Democrat. The following year, he was admitted to the Ohio Bar but did not practice. the printing trade.

In 1851, abolitionist activities caused Ashley and his wife to flee Portsmouth and move to Toledo to avoid prosecution under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. There, Ashley opened a drug store (which was soon burned down) and also became involved in the new Republican Party (campaigning for its presidential candidate John C. Fremont and Congressman Richard Mott.

Ashley quickly became prominent in the party and served as chairman of the Ohio Republican Convention in 1858. In that same year, Toledo voters elected Ashley to the United States House of Representatives. He was reelected four times until he lost in 1868 by fewer than one thousand votes.

An active abolitionist, Ashley traveled with John Brown's widow to Brown's execution in December 1859, and reported the event in the still-extant local newspaper, the Toledo Blade. In 1858, he led the Ohio Republican Party. As the year ended, Ashley was elected to U.S. House of Representativs of the 36th United States Congress, and took office the following year.

In Congress, Ashley championed abolitionist causes. During the American Civil War, Ashley took an active role in supporting the recruitment of troops for the Union Army. He also became a leader among the Radical Republicans, writing a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia in 1862. On December 14, 1863, he introduced the first bill which ultimately (with Ashley as House Majority floor manager) became the Thirteenth Amendment to the United State Constitution by a 2/3 margin of 2 votes on January 31, 1865, formally abolishing slavery.

Ashley also served as the chairman of the House's Committee on Territories and helped organize Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and Montana. Ashley strongly opposed Mormonism and polygamy, and he successfully campaigned to reduce the size of Utah to limit Mormon influence. He also played a leading role in President Andrew Johnson's impeachment. In 1867, he demanded that the House Judiciary Committee begin an investigation of the President. Ashley lost reelection in 1868 principally because of his radical views on race issues. Increasingly, white Ohioans rejected government actions that would increase equality between whites and African Americans.


Sources

James Mitchell Ashley.” biography.com.

James Ashley.” Ohio History Central.

The Crossing at Scioto County.” The Underground Railroad The Historical Marker Database.

Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D. “Abolitionists & the Underground Railroad. sciotohistorical.org.

Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D. “The Good and the Just': Slavery and the Development of Evangelical Protestantism in the American South, 1700-1830.” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Kentucky, 2001.

Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D. “James Ashley & the Thirteenth Amendment.” sciotohistorical.org.

Ann Hagedorn, Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2004.


Henry Howe. Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes. Vol. II. Cincinnati, OH: C.J. Krehbiel & Co., Printers and Binders, 1902.

Huston Hollow, Ohio.” Ohio History Connection.

Raelin Ingram. “The Life and Times of James M. Ashlety.” PDF. Cincinnati Civil War Round Table.


Rev. James Poindexter, Conductor on Underground Railway.” Columbus Bicentennial Blogspot. April 01, 2012.


Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: W. W. Norton. 1982. 
 
William McCain.” Ohio History Connection. 
 
Leonard L. Richards. Who Freed the Slaves?: The Fight over the Thirteenth Amendment. 2015.

Underground Railroad in Ohio.” touringohio.com.

The Underground Railroad in Southern Ohio.” angelfire.com. Written for Lest We Forget, published by Bennie McCrae, 1997.




Sunday, October 15, 2017

"Tied to the Whipping Post": Trump and the NFL Plantation System


 

What defines the character of a person? Can an individual escape the consequences of his wrongful words and actions by merely making excuses or claiming his behavior is not intentionally hurtful? Of course not. Any person must own his own mistakes, learn from them, and modify his behavior to strengthen character.

President Donald Trump is unable to do this. He has a long history of harboring racist attitudes, and he shows no signs of changing. Oh, he has said, “I am the least racist person that you’ve ever encountered,” and when asked about how he would persuade those who believe he is a racist otherwise, he ignored the question and said, “I’m not concerned. Actually, I’m not concerned because I don’t think people believe it.”

However, it is ludicrous to account for his racist words and deeds by saying, “Oh, that's how he is – impulsive and provocative. He doesn't really feel that way.” Trump is the man behind his divisive behavior. Even if he doesn't completely understand how he displays prejudice, he is clearly at fault. In truth, I believe the bias is much deeper than his atrocious inability to communicate.

Donald Trump has done many things that reveal his prejudiced character. For example …

* He attacked Muslim Gold Star parents of the late Army Captain Humayun Khan and seized on Ghazala Khan’s silence to insinuate that she was forbidden from speaking due to the couple’s Islamic faith.

* He claimed a judge in his class action against the for-profit Trump University.was biased because “he's a Mexican.”

* The Justice Department sued his company, the Trump Management Corporation twice for not renting to black people in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

*Workers at Trump’s casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, have accused him of racism over the years. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission fined the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino $200,000 because managers would remove African-American card dealers at the request of a certain big-spending gambler. A state appeals court upheld the fine.

* He refused to condemn the white supremacists such as former KKK leader David Duke, who were campaigning for him.

* He questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States.

* He treats racial groups as monoliths – calling them “the blacks, the Muslims, etc – while claiming he “loves” the group in question and ignoring that people are individual human beings.

* He encouraged the mob justice that resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of the Central Park Five by taking out full-page ads in four New York City-area newspapers. 
 
* He condoned the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally in Alabama.

* He stood by his “blame on both sides” at Charlottesville comment even after Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., discussed with him how to improve race relations and policy issues of specific concern to communities of color. Plus, he came down squarely on the side of keeping Confederate monuments saying : “They’re trying to take away our culture.”

* He pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who implemented discriminatory policies, flouted the law, and violated the civil rights of the people he was elected to serve.

* During what was supposed to be a stump speech for Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), he drifted away from campaigning to ask members of the crowd if they'd love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired’?” He also encouraged fans to boycott the league over the protests.

* He often treats African-American supporters as tokens to dispel the idea he is racist.

So, is it any wonder Trump keeps inserting himself into a debate over National Anthem protests? By making the issue about himself and not about blacks, not only does he wish to force his views about managerial power and patriotism, but also he willingly asserts his racist character. He doesn't care that the protest started by Colin Kaepernick is meant to open a national conversation about race and justice while fighting oppression through education and social activism. Trump's vision of “making America great again” is a return to a time when nonwhites were second-class citizens.

Although Trump claims his actions “have nothing to do with race,” he continues to ignore the real issues of the protest, and he has taken it upon himself as president (from a bully pulpit) to condemn those who use their right to protest in order to draw national attention to a very pressing issue.

Donald Trump knows the racial composition of the league – blacks represent 70 Percent of NFL players while the fan base is 83 percent white. The NFL has no African-Americans majority owners of a team and no African-American CEOs or presidents. In fact, Reggie Fowler, who owns 40% of the Minnesota Vikings is the sole black major ownership member.

In addition, Trump knows that “since at least 2014, owners who donated to him have consistently had fewer African-American execs, general managers and vice presidents than teams whose owners did not donate.” In fact, owners who did not give to Trump were found to be roughly 2.5 times as likely to have black general managers or vice presidents than Trump-donating owners over the past three football seasons.”

Believing that ownership would reciprocate and overwhelmingly support him, Trump exploited this inequality and essentially declared, “It's time for the masters to force a stop to all these problems on the NFL plantations.” By saying any player who didn’t stand for the anthem was a “son of a bitch” and should be fired by his team’s owner, he played to his base while using the excuse of patriotism to urge political obedience.

Face the facts – this is a time of a near unparalleled rise of racial tension. Now, the United States is experiencing the most profound demographic change since the turn of the 20th century, with minorities already comprising a majority of all students in the K-12 public school system nationwide. Demographers such as the Pew Research Center project that as soon as 2020 kids of color will comprise a majority of all Americans under 18. White Christians, who represented a majority of Americans for most of our history, fell below 50% of the population sometime around Barack Obama's reelection in 2012. And, the share of the US population that is foreign-born is on track to reach its highest level ever by around 2025.

Still, under pressure from Trump and despite promises by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the protesters would face no reprisals, NFL team owners will consider requiring football players to stand for the U.S. national anthem. Trump has even suggested using tax laws to penalize the league for players who kneel in protest of racial injustice. This from a man who has refused to disclose his own tax history.

The population is changing. Not that this would matter to Trump. The nation must practice less resistance to changing viewpoints and identities to avoid unnecessary division; however, pressure from the top down prevents a clear perspective from emerging. The ownership of NFL isn't afraid of Trump, per se. It is more that they resemble him much too much.

Author and The Nation’s sports editor, Dave Zirin, explains ...

“It’s not fear of Trump. It’s that they are Trump. Billionaires are not allies in the fight against the white-supremacist, anti-labor aims of this administration. They are the beneficiaries. This has gotten twisted in recent months, as people have been grateful for the diverse, proudly political voices that ESPN has hired in recent years, as well as the sight of NFL owners backing their players after Trump’s abhorrent Huntsville, Alabama, speech, where he called NFL protesters 'sons of bitches.'”

Trump is as Trump does. This can also be said of those who support his reckless ways. Trump is an accelerant for white supremacists and other less outspoken racists. As LeBron James said, “He's now using sports as the platform to try to divide us.” How can you not see his intent as he condemns the NFL while while, at the same time, saying he is “so proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans” for not tolerating “disrespecting our country or our flag.”

This president wants people to take sides, and, believe me, his “side” has nothing to do with equality. He may say the country needs solidarity; however, he defines any unanimity as a strict adherence to what he deems important to him and to his divisive supporters. He quickly attempts to demean opposition by encouraging an “us versus them” mentality. The single polarizing agent time and again is race.
Joe Feagin, a Texas A&M professor who has studied race relations for decades says …

“The closest comparison to Trump in recent decades may be the former Democratic governor of Alabama, George Wallace. In his presidential campaigns, Wallace was stylistically similar to Trump in his aggression on the stump; he blamed “anarchists” for disrupting his events and the country at large, much as Trump has often impugned today’s protesters. As a renowned segregationist, Wallace didn’t have to talk openly about race; instead he talked about blocking fair housing laws initiated to protect minorities...

“It’s hard to find somebody as bold and blunt as Trump is without going back to George Wallace. It’s more of a megaphone than a dog whistle...

“At the center of this seems to be a strong resistance to racial change and reform and racial justice. The bodies of black and brown people seem often to trigger a strong response in him.”

(Cathleen Decker. “At Trump's bully pulpit, it's 'us' vs. 'them,' with race often used as a device to polarize.” Los Angeles Times. September 23, 2017.)




Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Whipping Out Your Man Card: Loving Guns In America


 

No other first-world nation suffers from the paranoia that Americans do when it comes to their government and the thought of revolution against it. No other country suffers from the delusion that safety comes from the abundance of assault rifles and ammunition.
And yet this isn't treated as a mental illness.

It is time to stop treating people who feel they need to stockpile assault rifles as if they are not suffering from a mental illness. It's time to stop treating those who fantasize about war against their own countrymen as patriots. It's time to stop coddling the paranoia of bitter white men as being somehow justified. It's time to stop treating fear of a fictional boogeyman politician who doesn't exist as if it is rational. It is time to stop pretending the fear and paranoia and distrust of other Americans somehow makes sense.”

--Ward Anderson, award-winning comedian, author, director, and host of the SiriusXM talk radio program "Ward and Al"

Despite numerous requests by the Center for Injury Control and Prevention, the unparalleled power of the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers makes it virtually impossible for any government funds to be assigned to research on gun violence.

"Today's NRA is a virtual subsidiary of the gun industry," says Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center. "While the NRA portrays itself as protecting the 'freedom' of individual gun owners, it's actually working to protect the freedom of the gun industry to manufacture and sell virtually any weapon or accessory."

Thus, America continues to feed its obsession with guns and the potential violence they can inflict. The “sell” is the main force of both the NRA and its faithful contributors in the gun industry. Weapons are frequently advertised with appeals to men's machismo, sex, and military themes.

* A Bushmaster ad declares, “In a world of rapidly depleting testosterone, the Bushmaster Man's Card declares and confirms you are a man's man, the last of a dying breed, with all the rights and privileges duly afforded

* The Patriot Ordinance Factory's ad uses the iconically sexist mudflap girl silhouette, with the company’s flagship assault rifle emerging from her breasts.

* A Remington ad says, "Attention Politicians: Over 5,000,000 sold. The world's largest army ain't in China.

Is it any wonder so many youth are raised believing in the glamor of guns while remaining indifferent to the havoc and horror they create? And, isn't it clear how fringe groups find support for their anarchic, nihilist views in the gun lobby?

The image of the "crazed psychopath" is a convenient one. It allows the average American to dismiss mass shooters as someone who just snapped one day. But, who is the mentally deficient potential mass shooter? He is very often a bitter man – usually white – with an overabundance of weapons that he thinks – in some distorted philosophy – makes him a patriot, a defender of individual rights.

The gun folk will say these crazies will use another means of delivery if guns are not available – like a truck that they can use to ram into a crowd. This represents stupid clouding of the real issue: trucks have many other uses than random assassination. They aren't designed to kill while guns are.

Or arms defenders say “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” We all understand that people with guns are much more likely to kill them … masses of them, especially while shooting lethal, assault-style weapons.

I understand the belief among Americans in the right to bear arms as an article of faith. I do not want to restrict the normal, sensible right to bear arms. However, I do want to refute the efforts of the NRA, the gun lobby, and gun manufacturers when they support unbridled freedom with firearms. These groups have perpetuated myths that encourage people to make a false, “spiritual” connection to bigger, more powerful weapons.

The gun culture is founded on a small amount of facts and a large amount of fiction and romance. Still, many people embrace political support for gun makers. It is time to change. It is time to protect the innocent from angry bullets fired by twisted, gun loving criminals.
Author and reporter Chauncey Hollingsworth wrote …

“We see gun violence - Columbine, gang shootings, this Holmes guy in a movie theater -- and we buy the rhetoric that we need to defend ourselves - with more guns, of course. We stock up on ammo, get the conceal-and-carry permit, and we complete the process of fulfilling our fears (not our hopes). In other words, we become part of the problem. And now we're standing, guns drawn at ourselves, poised in a standoff that is all too American. 

“My father died in 1997, and I think of the guns he passed on to me as family heirlooms. Yet I feel a pang when I imagine what guns might do to my own children, what movie they might be watching when a troubled loner descends on them. Two years before I was born, my dad's first wife drove out to a prairie and took her own life with one of his revolvers. In his private moments, I wonder if my father thought about the way the pieces fit together.”

(Chauncey Hollingsworth. “How I Ended My Lifelong Love Affair With Guns. The Atlantic. July 25, 2012.)


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Refusal to Address Gun Violence in America


 

After the worst national mass killing in Las Vegas, the debate on gun violence is raging once more. The gun lobby continues to argue that any measure of control infringes on the Second Amendment and the sacred right of Americans to bear arms.

However, there were at least 126 mass shootings between January 2000 and July 2014. In the face of these massacres, proponents of gun control seek new measures to prevent mass shootings. Seeking solutions, they call for smart gun laws, background checks, and more protections against the mentally ill buying guns.

A December 10, 2014 Pew Research Center survey found 52% of Americans believe the right to own guns should be protected while 46% believe gun ownership should be controlled, a switch from 1993 when 34% wanted gun rights protected and 57% wanted gun ownership controlled.

On January 16, 2013, President Obama released his plan to address gun violence titled “Now Is the Time: The President's Plan to Protect Our Children and Our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence.”

The President’s plan included:

1.Closing background check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands;

2.Banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,and taking other common-sense steps to reduce gun violence;

3.Making schools safer; and

4.Increasing access to mental health services

Let's look at what happened to the President's suggestions:

Background Loopholes

Congress had other ideas. A bipartisan amendment to the 2013 gun control bill, sponsored by senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, which would have closed the gun show loophole and instituted background checks for internet sales, but not for sales between individuals outside of commercial venues, was defeated in the upper house by a vote of 54 to 46. Five Democrats voted against the bill. Four Republicans, including former presidential candidate John McCain, voted for it.

So, you can legally also buy a gun from a private party and never have to even show your identification. The “private sale loophole” includes guns bought at gun shows – such as those used in the 1999 massacre at Columbine high school. The New England Journal of Medicine, in a 2010 study, estimated that 40% of gun sales in the US fall into this loophole.

Military-style Assault Weapons

A new assault weapon ban, which would have been stronger than the 1994 ban and include high-capacity magazines, was introduced in the Senate by Dianne Feinstein in January 2013, less than a month after the massacre at the school in Newtown, Connecticut. It was defeated in the Senate 60 votes to 40. Only one Republican – Illinois’ Mark Kirk – voted for the bill, and 15 Democrats voted

Seven states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York – have some measure of assault weapon bans in place, and Washington DC, Chicago and Boston have city-wide measures on the books.

Connecticut and New York enacted bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in response to the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Gun Violence Research

The Centers for Disease Control defied Congress with work its researchers have not done in almost 20 years: study gun violence. But the health agency balked under a threat from lawmakers, who since 1996 have funded research only on the explicit condition that scientists do not study gun violence.

Today the CDC still avoids gun-violence research, demonstrating what many see as the depth of its fear about returning to one of the country’s most divisive debates. The agency recently was asked by The Washington Post why it was still sitting on the sidelines of firearms studies. It declined to make an official available for an interview but responded with a statement noting it had commissioned an agenda of possible research goals but still lacked the dedicated funding to pursue it.

“It is possible for us to conduct firearm-related research within the context of our efforts to address youth violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, and suicide,” CDC spokeswoman Courtney Lenard wrote, “but our resources are very limited.”
Congress has continued to block dedicated funding. The CDC is no closer to initiating gun-violence studies.

Mental Health Services

State-level funding for mental health provision did rise sharply after Sandy Hook, with 36 states and the District of Columbia increasing funding for mental health services. The January 2014 expansion of Medicaid in 27 states, which brought 7.5 million people access to a range of mental health treatment options, helped.

But the momentum has since slowed, a December 2014 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) showed. Rhode Island cut over $30 million in mental health funding in 2014; Michigan cut $136 million. Nationwide funding for mental health services is still below pre-recession levels.

“Twenty-two states and DC increased funding in both 2013 and 2014 although the overall increases are not nearly enough to make up for cuts between 2009 and 2012,” the report noted, adding that “sadly, despite much talk about the mental health crisis in America since Newtown, little of substance on mental health care has been accomplished in the sharply divided, partisan Congress in the two years that have ensued.”

Research available shows that mass shootings represent national awakenings and moments when seeming political or social adversaries might come together to find common ground, whether guns are allowed, regulated, or banned. Doing so, however, means recognizing that gun crimes, mental illnesses, social networks, and gun access issues are complexly interrelated, and not reducible to simple cause and effect.

Other findings report that notions of mental illness that emerge in relation to mass shootings frequently reflect larger cultural stereotypes and anxieties about matters such as race/ethnicity, social class, and politics. In addition, the aftermath of mass shootings is often viewed as a window of opportunity to garner support for gun control policies, but it also exacerbates negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness.

The Future

We cannot continue to chalk off mass killings as unavoidable tragedies requiring no measured defensive response. Whatever steps necessary to reduce gun violence must be taken … and the sooner they are taken, the better.

Some conservatives would tell you the only way to reduce this violence is to have people acquire more guns. This is morally irresponsible and patently untrue. It is a stand that is built from fear and perpetrated by greedy gun manufacturers and the NRA.

Granted, gun violence is a complicated issue, one that will require much research and dedication to effect needed change. Yet, facing the issue and seeking answers will save innocent lives. Perhaps the first step is to convince a distrustful segment of the public that gun control does not come at the expense of personal freedoms. Reasonable policies can be found … if the American public demands action.

Sources

Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, Deanna Pan, and Maggie Caldwell, "US Mass Shootings, 1982-2012: Data from Mother Jones' Investigation," www.motherjones.com, December 28, 2012.
"Growing Support for Gun Rights." www.people-press.org. Pew Research Center. December 10, 2014.
E.E. McGinty, D.W. Webster, and C.L. Barry. “Effects of news media messages about mass shootings on attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness and public support for gun control policies.” Am J Psychiatry. May 2013.

Jonathan M. Metz., MD, PhD and Kenneth T. MacLeish, PhD. “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms.” Am J Public Health. February 2015.

“Supreme Court rules on states' assault weapons ban.” CBS News. June 20, 2016.

Alan Yuhas and Nicky Woolf. “What happened to President Obama's plan to reduce gun violence?” The Guardian. December 04, 2015.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Marketing Mass Murder: Assault-Style Weapons Are a Distinction Without a Difference


 



America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. Some of these weapons are now known as “the gold standard for mass murder.” Compared to other firearms, assault-style rifles make it fairly easy to kill or injure many people within a short period of time. They are being employed to do just that.

Even before the recent deadly attack in Las Vegas in which Stephen Paddock employed up to 17 firearms to kill at least 59 people and injure hundreds more, the 10 mass shootings with the highest number of casualties – killed and wounded – in the U.S. included seven that involved the use of an assault-style rifle. Agents with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have yet to determine if Paddock modified mechanical components to a semiautomatic rifle to make it fully automatic.

Paddock also could have used a legal modification like an attachable crank to simulate automatic fire, which depresses the trigger faster than a finger and can be bought online for as little as $40.

It should be noted that some states, such as California, regulate the size of magazines used in these weapons, but Nevada – the home of Stephen Paddock – does not. A trained shooter can easily remove one magazine from the weapon, load another from a tactical vest or pocket, and continue firing within seconds.

It is true that semiautomatic guns may not be legally modified to automatic. Anyone who wants to buy an automatic weapon must undergo the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives background check and registration process.

Yet, there are plenty of automatic weapons available for sale on the Internet.

In addition, guns made before 1986 may be owned by anyone who passes a background check and registers the gun. A letter from ATF to the National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association last year indicated that there were 490,664 automatic weapons in ATF’s National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record system.

The ease of purchasing guns in the U.S., even ultra-powerful ones designed to kill many people in a short period of time, is a pressing problem. Of the 79 mass shootings since 1982 for which Mother Jones was able to determine purchasing information, 63 were committed with guns purchased legally. Most states don't require background checks for firearms purchased via private sales at gun shows. And, most states don't require showing ID to purchase a firearm from a private seller.

The Rage For Assault-style Arms

With the decline of the civilian firearms industry in the United States, the David Bohnett Foundation and The Joyce Foundation conducted a study in 2010. The research found the industry enjoyed “periods of temporary resurgence,” usually primed by “fear marketing” – encouraging people to buy guns by stoking fear of crime, terrorism, violent immigrants, or government control.

Therefore, selling militarized firearms to civilians – i.e., weapons in the military inventory or weapons based on military designs – has been at the point of the industry’s civilian design and marketing strategy since the 1980s. Militarized weapons such as semiautomatic assault rifles, 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifles, and armor-piercing handguns define the U.S. civilian gun market and are far and away the “weapons of choice” for groups like organized criminals, drug traffickers, and violent extremists.

The research found this flood of militarized weapons exemplifies the firearms industry’s strategy of marketing enhanced lethality, or killing power, to stimulate sales. They now try to appeal to the “soldier within” who wants new and more lethal designs. The resulting widespread increase in killing power is reflected in the toll of gun death and injury in the United States – a relentless count that “every year takes 10 times the number of lives as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Semiautomatic assault weapons—especially inexpensive AK-47 type imports are increasingly popular, and the lax regulation and easy access to these relatively inexpensive military-style weapons has resulted in “their being smuggled on a large scale from the U.S. to criminals throughout the Western Hemisphere – including Mexico, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America – as well as to points as far away as Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Africa.”

The gun lobby has spent three decades trying to “rebrand” civilian assault rifles as mere sporting guns. The recent studies refute the gun lobby’s recent attempt to “rebrand” semiautomatic assault weapons civilian versions of automatic military assault rifles (like the AK-47, the M-16, and FN’s high-tech P-90 and automatic military assault pistols like the UZI) – as “modern sporting rifles.”

Key Points About Assault Weapons:


* Although civilian assault weapons are not machine guns, this is a distinction without a difference in terms of killing power.

Civilian semiautomatic assault weapons incorporate all of the functional design features that make assault weapons so deadly. They are arguably more deadly than military versions, because most experts agree that semiautomatic fire is more accurate than automatic fire.

Semiautomatic weapons can also legally simulate automatic fire with “bump” modifications to the stock that reduces recoil and lets the shooter hold the weapon in a way that allows rapid fire.

As the U.S. Army’s Rifle and Carbine Training Circular notes, “Automatic or burst fires drastically decrease the probability of hit due to the rapid succession of recoil impulses and the inability of the Soldier to maintain proper sight alignment and sight picture on the target.”

* The distinctive “look” of assault weapons is not cosmetic.

It is the visual result of specific functional design decisions. Military assault weapons were designed and developed for a specific military purpose—laying down a high volume of fire over a wide killing zone.

* Civilian assault weapons keep the specific functional design features that make this anti- personnel function easy.

These functional features also distinguish assault weapons from traditional sporting guns.

* The most significant assault weapon functional design features are: (1) ability to accept a detachable high-capacity ammunition magazine, (2) a rear pistol or thumb-hole grip, and, (3) a forward grip or barrel shroud.

Taken together, these are the design features that make possible the deadly and indiscriminate “spray-firing” for which assault weapons are designed. None of them are features of true hunting or sporting guns.

* Although the gun lobby today argues that there is no such thing as civilian assault weapons, the industry, the National Rifle Association, and gun magazines enthusiastically described these civilian versions as “assault rifles,” “assault pistols,” and “military assault” weapons to boost civilian sales throughout the 1980s.

The industry and its allies only began to use the semantic argument that a “true” assault weapon is a machine gun after civilian assault weapons turned up in large numbers in the hands of drug traffickers, criminal gangs, mass murderers, and other dangerous criminals.

Coming to Grips With Reality

The gun industry is not just a “sporting” industry. It never has been. It now generates huge profits from militarized weapons sold to the public. We must see their marketing as it really is. That marketing underwrites mass shootings as it exploits fear – racial fear, ethnic fear, and political fear. Assault-style weapons kill innocent people. They are what a mass murderer desires to commit insane national tragedies. They are far too available. Yes, the gun DOES play a role ... a most deadly one.

Sources

“Bullet Hoses—Semiautomatic Assault Weapons: What Are They? What’s So Bad About Them?” www.vpc.org/studies/hosecont.htm. Violence Policy Center. May 2003.

Alex Horton. “The Las Vegas shooter had 17 guns. Here’s what we know about them.” The Washington Post. October 02, 2017.

Christopher Ingraham. “Assault rifles are becoming mass shooters’ weapon of choice.” The Washington Post. June 12, 2016. 


Tom Jackman. “Some automatic weapons, as possibly used in Las Vegas shooting, are legal but heavily regulated.” The Washington Post. October 02, 2017.

“Key Points About Assault Weapons.” Violence Policy Center. www.vpc.org. 2016.

“The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market.” The David Bohnett Foundation and The Joyce Foundation. Violence Policy Center. June 2011.