Category Archives: Gun Control

Gun Apologists’ Excuses Lack Logic and Evidence

A mass shooting in Buffalo. Another racist massacre reminding us of the AME mass shooting in Charleston, SC.

Then another mass school shooting of elementary children in Texas. Reminding us of Sandy Hook.

Minutes after President Joe Biden addressed the nation about the cancer of mass and gun shootings in the US, another shooting.

The gun culture of violence and the willingness to simply live with that death and violence in the US has become a recurring and very dark part of the cultural parody that is the US: ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

The Onion has run that story so often that after recent mass shootings, The Onion ran exclusively all these posts on their main page.

This is the US, this is who we are:

America exceptionalism is a gun, or more accurately, all guns for anyone and everyone all the time—regardless of the carnage in the wake of worshipping an antiquated Second Amendment instead of community values and community safety.

Republicans, libertarians, and conservatives double down after each massacre with a baffling and nearly comical barrage of blame for anything except guns.

After children were slaughtered in Texas with an AR-15, Republicans began to blame doors—calling not for gun control, but for schools having only one door.

Regardless of the specifics of the mass shootings and excessive gun violence, Republicans and conservatives are beholden to the NRA, and not humanity. As a result, the blame and excuses defy logic and evidence.

First, the US is an extreme outlier in gun violence, mass shootings, and school shootings when compared to similar wealthy countries (see above) but also among states depending on gun laws:

And facts about gun violence clearly support that something can be done:

The evidence-based reality is that US gun violence and mass/school shootings are significantly correlated with the amount of guns in the US, the ease of access to guns in the US, and the types of guns and ammunition people can use.

Yet, again, gun apologists in the US will blame anything except gun.

Here, then, is the logic problem for gun apologists.

Is gun violence actually about mental illness?

First, people with mental illness are more likely to experience violence as victims than the rest of the population (see here).

Second, all of the countries listed in the chart at the beginning also have populations with mental illness, but not the excessive gun violence, not the mass and school shootings.

To that second point, all of the countries with nearly no gun violence or mass/school shootings have all of the social and pop culture experiences gun apologists blame for gun violence—access to video games and movies/series with violence, increases in so-called non-traditional family structures, changing cultures and shifting demographics.

One of the most illogical and contradictory arguments made by gun apologists is that banning guns will only hurt people following the law, that criminals will access guns regardless. These are the same people banning abortion, banning books, banning curriculum, by the way.

The Republican resistance to gun regulation, if extrapolated beyond guns, would mean there is no reason to have any law. It is insincere, factually untrue (regulations do work), and simply dishonest—since Republicans rush to ban and regulate many aspects of our lives based on their ideology and beliefs.

And finally, many Republicans and conservatives blame a lack of religion or the deterioration of religion in the US.

However, again return to the first chart above, Japan and the Czech Republican are two of the three countries with the highest population identified as atheist; the Czech Republic is over 70% atheist/agnostic. Yet, Japan is the least gun violent country (and Japan is also a country that has adopted much of US pop culture) with the Czech Republic among the least violent as well.

Here are two facts that the US and our political leaders must accept.

Gun violence, mass shootings, and school shootings in the US are the result of conscious political decisions and choice; different choices can and will make a difference (many other countries addressed successfully gun violence and mass shootings).

The amount of guns in the US, access to guns in the US, and the types of guns and ammunition available—these are the strongest correlations to gun violence and mass/school shootings.

In the US, guns matter more than any human. It is the political cancer of the country.

“No way to prevent this” is the unwavering motto of the Republican Party.

This is a lie, one that is a death sentence for innocent people as you read this.


Recommended

Opinion | 6 solutions to gun violence that could work

Gun Violence, Mass and School Shootings: A Reader May 2022

Another school shooting and another mass killing with an AR-15:

Another horrifying example of American exceptionalism created by the GOP and NRA:


For a meditative moment in the face of inexcusable negligence and another round of children slaughtered while sitting in school, I offer:

“The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

“Harlem,” Langston Hughes


Below is a reader addressing gun violence and school safety.

TL;DR: School safety is a subset of community safety. Active shooter drills, police on campus, security cameras, armed teachers/staff, and metal detectors do not make schools safer and often cause harm. U.S. access to guns and abundance of guns cause gun violence, mass shootings, and school shootings. People suffering mental illness experience more violence, but do not cause more violence.

Reader:


Addendum: Original Poetry

the world

accidental monuments to their shame

mirrors (we are monsters)

Republicans Embrace “Three Kinds of Lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics”

Misattributed quotes can still be valid, and such is the case with the often repeated, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” typically associated with Mark Twain (possibly the first person to attribute the saying to the wrong person).

Statistics are a powerful kind of lie because data allow people to state factually true statistics that still mislead or distort the topic being addressed.

Republicans and conservatives have used the statistical lie often as a dog whistle for their racist base. Two of those issues are fatal police shootings and black-on-black crime.

Let’s look at how these statistical lies work.

Republicans and conservatives are apt to note the raw numbers on fatal police shootings broken down by race:

Yes, police shoot and kill more white people per year than Black people, but a statistical fact of this data is that there are about 5 times as many white people in the U.S. as there are Black people; therefore, for this data set to be equitable, about 5 times more white people would be killed than Black people (note that the difference is only about twice as many).

Thus, a better statistic is the rate of fatal police killings by race:

Therefore, fatal police shootings are racially imbalanced (Black people shot and killed at about 2.5 times higher rate than white people), if not racist.

In the case of fatal police shootings, then, the raw data are both accurate and misleading when trying to understand racial inequity.

A much more insidious use of statistics is the overuse of black-on-black crime in media, public, and political discourse.

Black-on-black crime rates are extremely high, often at a 90%+ rate.

But there is almost no media, public, or political rhetoric around the white-on-white crime rate, which is about statistically the same (high 80% rate). [1]

Crime rates are almost entirely within races in the U.S. (see p. 13 from the U.S. Department of Justice [2]) because the country is still strongly racially and economically stratified.

While highlighting the very high black-on-black crime rate is factually correct, omitting that most crime is intraracial makes that emphasis misleading, and another dog whistle for racists.

But Republicans aren’t stopping there; consider the Lt. Governor of Texas who has now blamed Black Texans for being unvaccinated and causing the newest Covid spike:

However, as you may suspect, there are problems with this claim:

Once again, Republicans are using the statistical lie as a dog whistle for racist constituents.

Many racial groups are under-vaccinated, and there certainly is a significant issue with vaccine hesitancy and resistance among Black Americans, but the sheer numbers in Texas make Patrick’s careless and racist claim more than preposterous.

Further, raw data on low vaccination rates among races also ignore causes for those rates. Black Americans are disproportionately poor and live in areas were vaccine access has been weak or even suppressed.

There is ample evidence that political leaders have always cherry-picked statistics and data to promote agendas, but there is also ample evidence that Republicans target statistics as part of their larger strategy to court their racist base.

Patrick’s most recent egregious use of the statistical lie is further proof that Trump did not create the Republican Party as a party of lies, but he certainly helped the strategy gain momentum.


[1] See data here:

crime_myths

[2] See:

De-Gun the Police: A Reader

Officer Who Fatally Shot Daunte Wright With ‘Accidental Discharge’ Is Identified

The police officer said to have fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man killed in what started as a traffic stop on Sunday, has been identified as Kim Potter.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in a statement on Monday evening described Potter as a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center, Minn., Police Department, now on administrative leave.

The department offered no other details about Potter’s career, saying, “Further personnel data are not public from the BCA under Minnesota law during an active investigation.​”

However, a report from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office dated Aug. 5, 2020, indicates that at the time Potter also served as the Brooklyn Center Police Union president.

Police officials called Wright’s death the result of an “accidental discharge” of a gun by a police officer.

Officer Who Fatally Shot Daunte Wright With ‘Accidental Discharge’ Is Identified, Becky Sullivan and Vanessa Romo

OPINION: To Lessen Police Violence, Remove Cops From Traffic Stops

The largest predictor of police violence in America is not poor training, lack of discipline, or militarization. The largest predictor is simply contact with the police — and the most common contact Americans have with police is traffic stops. There are at least 20 million traffic stops per year in the United States. Racial bias pervades traffic enforcement, enabled by its largely discretionary nature; there are more drivers speeding and violating other traffic laws than police have the capacity to pull over and ticket, so who are police disproportionately targeting? People of color.

To Lessen Police Violence, Remove Cops From Traffic Stops, Alessandra Biaggi

Inside 100 million police traffic stops: New evidence of racial bias

Now, Stanford University researchers have compiled the most comprehensive evidence to date suggesting there is a pattern of racial disparities in traffic stops. The researchers provided NBC News with the traffic-stop data — the largest such dataset ever collected — which points to pervasive inequality in how police decide to stop and search white and minority drivers.

Using information obtained through public record requests, the Stanford Open Policing Project examined almost 100 million traffic stops conducted from 2011 to 2017 across 21 state patrol agencies, including California, Illinois, New York and Texas, and 29 municipal police departments, including New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Inside 100 million police traffic stops: New evidence of racial bias, Erik Ortiz

Stanford Open Policing Project

A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States

We assessed racial disparities in policing in the United States by compiling and analysing a dataset detailing nearly 100 million traffic stops conducted across the country. We found that black drivers were less likely to be stopped after sunset, when a ‘veil of darkness’ masks one’s race, suggesting bias in stop decisions. Furthermore, by examining the rate at which stopped drivers were searched and the likelihood that searches turned up contraband, we found evidence that the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers was lower than that for searching white drivers. Finally, we found that legalization of recreational marijuana reduced the number of searches of white, black and Hispanic drivers—but the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers was still lower than that for white drivers post-legalization. Our results indicate that police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias and point to the value of policy interventions to mitigate these disparities.

A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States

Policing, Danger Narratives, and Routine Traffic Stops, Jordan Blair Woods

This Article presents findings from the largest and most comprehensive study to date on violence against the police during traffic stops. Every year, police officers conduct tens of millions of traffic stops. Many of these stops are entirely unremarkable—so much so that they may be fairly described as routine. Nonetheless, the narrative that routine traffic stops are fraught with grave and unpredictable danger to the police permeates police training and animates Fourth Amendment doctrine. This Article challenges this dominant danger narrative and its centrality within key institutions that regulate the police.

The presented study is the first to offer an estimate for the danger rates of routine traffic stops to law enforcement officers. I reviewed a comprehensive dataset of thousands of traffic stops that resulted in violence against officers across more than 200 law enforcement agencies in Florida over a 10-year period. The findings reveal that violence against officers was rare and that incidents that do involve violence are typically low risk and do not involve weapons. Under a conservative estimate, the rate for a felonious killing of an officer during a routine traffic stop was only 1 in every 6 .5 million stops, the rate for an assault resulting in serious injury to an officer was only 1 in every 361,111 stops, and the rate for an assault against officers (whether it results in injury or not) was only 1 in every 6,959 stops.

Policing, Danger Narratives, and Routine Traffic Stops, Jordan Blair Woods

Berkeley Moves Closer to Ending Police Traffic Stops

What Traffic Enforcement Without Police Could Look Like

We Don’t Need Cops to Enforce Traffic Laws

Citation and Credibility: Three Lessons

In my three courses this fall, students are now all working on scholarly essays that incorporate high-quality sources (focusing on peer-reviewed journal articles). Since the work lies primarily in the field of education, students are using APA style guides.

Often when teaching students citation, we focus our lessons on (the drudgery of) formatting and idiosyncratic citation structures (APA’s annoying lowercase/upper case peculiarities, for example, in bibliographies) as well as the challenges of finding and evaluating a reasonable amount of valid sources to support the claims of the essay.

Students often struggle with evaluating sources for bias, and honestly, they are not well equipped to recognize flawed or ideologically skewed reports that appear to be in credible journals and are themselves well cited.

Part of the problem has been well documented by Gerald Bracey; citing Paul Krugman, Bracey confronts the rise of think tanks that promote their agendas through the veneer of scholars and scholarly reports. Then, Bracey notes, “[t]he media don’t help much. By convention, they present, at best, ‘balanced’ articles, not critical investigative pieces” (p. xvi). This is what I have labeled “both sides” journalism.

While scholarly writing and citation can often slip into a circus of minutia, one lesson needing greater care is helping students (and anyone making a research-based claim) recognize that their credibility and authority is built on the validity and quality of the sources they incorporate.

Here, I want to present three lessons illuminating that dynamic—all pulled from current issues.

Lesson One: The “Science of Reading”

One of the best examples of the problems with ideological think tank reports and media coverage occurred (again) at Education Week, a major publication covering education that has abandoned “critical investigative pieces” for simply reporting (crossing the Big Foot line) and “‘balanced’ articles.”

Ideological think tanks, as Bracey warned, are well organized and very aggressive, systematically alerting media and providing press releases so detailed that journalists have to do little work (except, of course, evaluating the credibility of the report to begin with).

Media routinely cover that think tanks release reports, and journalists have argued it isn’t their job to determine if those reports are valid or not.

For example, Education Week is so invested in the “science of reading” narrative and movement, that they eagerly present reports from NCTQ because their reports reinforce that narrative—even though, NCTQ itself has been repeatedly criticized for not meeting even the basic guidelines for scientific research.

Sarah Schwartz ignores that NCTQ is not a credible source for making claims about teacher training in reading. But with just a brief Google search, anyone can find that NCTQ has had numerous reports reviewed, finding a disturbing patterns: “Although NCTQ reports have been critiqued for their limited use of research and highly questionable research methodology, this report employs the same approaches as earlier NCTQ reports,” explain Stillman and Schultz in one of the most recent reviews (also concurrent to the report cited in EdWeek).

Students, like journalists, are often not expert in the topics they are addressing, and well-formatted reports can seem credible, but often fail the basic expectations of peer-review (NCTQ releases their reports without peer review and receive media coverage while the discrediting reviews tend to receive no media coverage).

The lesson here for students (and journalists) is that any claim is only as good as the sources used to support that claim.

If the “science of reading” is a valid narrative (and, in fact, it isn’t), citing sources that fail the basic test of being scientific certainly erodes if not discredits the initial claim.

Lesson Two: Gun Violence/Control

Since school shootings are a subset of the larger pattern of mass shootings unique to the U.S., I have been researching gun violence and school safety for many years. These topics have robust research bases that tend to contradict public and media assumptions about both.

I had just recently covered school shootings and safety with my educational foundations course when the highly publicized mass shootings near Atlanta, GA and in Boulder, CO erupted. So I returned to research on gun violence in two classes, having some students challenge what I was sharing. Those comments tend to echo typical pro-gun talking points and the common, but weak, arguments supporting gun ownership found in mainstream media.

Here’s the essential problem with research on school safety and gun violence/control: Gun advocates are ideologically driven and use compelling but false arguments to promote their gun agenda.

In other words, standard arguments for school safety (armed police on campuses, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, active shooter drills, etc.) and access to and ownership of guns (Second Amendment) are dramatically different than findings in existing research. Making this dynamic worse is that gun advocates have powerful organizations such as the NRA and even high-profile scholars offering discredited but popular arguments and research.

For example, John Lott is an economist and author of a high-profile pro-gun book; he also publishes research on gun violence that in many ways looks to students, the public, and the media like high-quality research.

Again, simply reporting on Lott’s research or citing that research in academic writing proves to be misguided since his work has been widely discredited once reviewed (see above).

The lesson here for students is that not all published scholarship is credible, and, possibly even more importantly, students need to seek out a body of research, never relying on only one study or the work of one scholar.

Lott is discredited but his work is also a distinct outlier; academic and scholarly writing loses credibility when relying on cherry picking (outlier research) in order to support a claim.

Lesson Three: Identity Politics

Another aspect of academic and scholarly writing grounded in sources is the importance of terminology—using disciplinary or technical terms in valid and accurate ways.

Recently, Barbara Smith took Megan McCain to task for McCain’s misuse of “identity politics”:

As one of three Black women who coined “identity politics,” Smith offers an incredibly important lesson for students because her Twitter thread offers credible sources for her claim, How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective and What Liberals Get Wrong About Identity Politics, the latter of which leads us to the seminal text itself, Combahee River Collective Statement.

The lesson for students here is the need to clarify terms in valid ways, including finding the primary source for scholarly language.


In some frustrating ways, citation formats and structures are both tedious and powerful aspects of building a student’s or scholar’s credibility. But a far more important task for students in terms of establishing their credibility is finding bodies of evidence that are verified by the field itself, most often peer reviewed and sitting within the bounds of many similar studies.

Since the space for scholarship and evidence continues to expand, students need to be better equipped for the difficult task of determining when sources are valid and when they are mere ideological distraction.

Unfortunately, as I show above, we have ample evidence around us daily of the great divide among research, the media, and the public—a divide often manipulated by powerful organizations with ideological agendas.

Being an American, Christian, or Both: A Fundamental Problem of “Can” v. “Should”

March is a harbinger of spring.

March 2021 has also been an harbinger for some sort of return to normal after a year of living through a pandemic in the U.S. and across the world.

Mid-March now may force us to reconsider what we have wished for since the return to normal in U.S. includes two mass shootings in a week—8 murdered around Atlanta, GA followed by a mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, CO leaving 10 dead.

Mass shootings are so normal in the U.S. that they very much define what it means to be “American,” what it means to be a “Christian Nation,” routinely and darkly emphasized after every bloody event: ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

After the Atlanta shooting and the predictable debates about racism, hate crimes, and gun control, one meme proclaimed “You can’t be a Christian if” by detailing the contradictions between racism and Christian values.

The problem with this claim is that many people in the U.S. do in fact identify as Christian while also actively expressing racism or passively ignoring and allowing racism (see the history of the KKK and Southern Baptists).

The Boulder shooting prompted a similar refrain; “You can’t be pro life and be pro gun,” some posted.

Again, of course you can since the people who identify as “pro life” (a stance that is actually anti-abortion and pro forced birth) are often the exact same people who are pro gun rights.

And here is a fundamental problem in the U.S. that is often lost behind the partisan and angry debates over guns as well as reproductive rights.

Anti-abortion and pro-gun advocates are typically joined, not by ethics or logic, but by fundamentalism—a simplistic and black-and-white approach to issues grounded in authoritarianism.

Trying to unpack or refute this ideological marriage through logic, then, is doomed to failure.

Fundamentalism demands that beliefs remain simple: All life matters, and gun ownership is essential for individual freedom.

That simplicity need not be internally consistent or even consistent from issue to issue. Pro-life advocates do not extend that slogan to plants or animals, and often support the death penalty; thus, their embracing guns as fundamental to individual freedom is not illogical within their fundamentalism.

“All life” and “all guns” are fundamentalism at its core—both in the lack of logic and lack of ethical consistency between the two.

Anti-abortion advocates and pro-gun defenders fetishize the fetus and guns; it then is the fundamentalism that becomes the problem since it necessarily lifts the fundamental truths above everything or anything else.

As fundamentalists, anti-abortion and pro-gun advocates are not motivated at all, ironically, by policies and practices that would actually protect life or improve living. All that matters are the black-and-white causes that have become ends unto themselves.

Banning abortion, for example, doesn’t decrease abortions or unwanted pregnancies; but that ban does erode women’s health and even the lives and living of unborn fetuses.

Those facts are far too complex for fundamentalists, and thus, this never serves as a compelling argument to change their minds. No legal abortions becomes the singular goal regardless of the impact of that law on lives or living.

The same holds for gun regulation. Logic fails against the singular belief that gun ownership of any or all guns is essential for individual freedom.

Guns do not serve as protection (home invasions are incredibly rare, and people are quite bad at using guns, even trained police officers); good guys with guns rarely save the day (a policeman, good guy with a gun, died in the Boulder shooting); and the U.S. is unique in the world for mass shootings although all countries have citizens with mental illness, have access to violent pop culture, and have all types of racism, homophobia, and sexism present in the U.S.

Mass shootings in the U.S. are very clearly most strongly connected to the amount and types of guns available and the ease of access to those guns, especially in terms of the types of guns available (such as the AR-15). Countries that have addressed these situations with policies have greatly reduced and eradicated mass shootings.

But in the U.S., gun fundamentalism prevents a reasonable discussion of gun control.

Like the too often reposted The Onion articles on mass shootings, the ugly truth is that you can be an American, a Christian, or both and act in ways that completely contradict the ideal of either.

We are left with the often fruitless task of arguing that people shouldn’t live contradictions to aspirational ideals (the American Dream, Christian love).

Fundamentalism corrupts entirely everything it touches because fundamentalism becomes its own purpose, self-righteous blinders that shield too many in the U.S. from the bodies piling up around them.

Re-reading Faulkner in Trumplandia: “[H]is ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions”

Season 2 of Mindhunter focuses on the Atlanta child murders; in one scene investigators interrogate a local KKK member.

June Carryl, Crystal Lee Brown, and Siovhan Christensen in Mindhunter (2017)
June CarrylCrystal Lee Brown, and Siovhan Christensen in Mindhunter (2017)

As a lifelong white Southern male, I found the characterization of that man—what many would call a Georgia cracker—to be unsettling. He is arrogant, self-assured, and able, as he declares, to wrangle his way out of any trouble.

What is off, I think, is that in real life this type of poor Southern white man is an odd but distinct combination of embarrassed arrogance. They are stubbornly self-assured—and completely un-self-aware. But they are also painfully laconic, and if you look carefully, they often become flushed, the blood rising in their necks and faces as they swell with both anger and embarrassment.

In the audio of the wiretap that leads to this KKK member being interrogated, there are hints that Mindhunter is softening the characterizations (that dialogue, and the verb usage, is far too formal) so the scene that bothers me seems to be a reasonable cinematic decision—although it fits into a current narrative about white men now who seem to be afraid of losing status that they never deserved in the first place.

Within a couple days of watching that scene, I happened to finally view Burning, a celebrated Korean film based on Haruki Murakami’s “Barn Burning,” which is the Japanese author’s take on William Faulkner’s story of the same name.

After seeing the film, I decided to re-read both Faulkner’s and Murakami’s stories.

My experiences with Faulkner began flatly in high school, “The Bear,” and then more seriously in a Southern literature course where I found myself deeply embarrassed and suddenly aware of how much I did not know as a junior English education major. Immediately after I graduated college at the end of the first semester of my fifth year, I set out to read everything by Faulkner as I spent several month substitute teaching and doing a long-term sub—all while applying for what I hoped would be my first teaching job that coming fall.

Faulkner then provided for me, still deeply uncritical, an influential combination of modernism filtered through a deeply familiar Southern voice; there was much there that was technically and verbally dazzling (or so it seemed to me as a twenty-something want-to-be writer and teacher).

In 2019 Trumplandia, however, as I rapidly approach 60, I found a much different Faulkner in my re-reading of “Barn Burning”—one now informed by, for example, James Baldwin’s confrontation of Faulkner and the uncomfortable reality that even my well-educated friends now lament that times are really hard for white men in this #MeToo era.

If you are not from the South and you want to understand my opening concerns about the absence of the embarrassed arrogance in the KKK member being interrogated, or if you can’t quite grasp yet who Trump voters are, I suggest you wade into Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” to witness Abner Snopes. A few pages in, readers have the central character of Snopes detailed:

There was something about his wolf-like independence and even courage when the advantage was at least neutral which impressed strangers, as if they got from his latent ravening ferocity not so much a sense of dependability as a feeling that his ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions would be of advantage to all whose interest lay with his.

And later in the story, once the family has been once again relocated because of the father’s serial criminality, Abner Snopes chastises is young son Sarty (the eyes of the story) for nearly betraying his father in court:

“You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you. Do you think either of them, any man there this morning, would? Don’t you know all they wanted was a chance to get at me because they knew I had them beat?”

You will witness Snopes go before the Justice of the Peace twice, quite guilty both time and quite determined that he should not be punished because his actions, to him, are entirely justified—both the burning of a barn and tracking horse manure across the rug when he arrives at Major de Spain’s farm. Snopes is all rugged individual (“wolf-like independence”) and white nationalism/tribalism (“‘your own blood'”) bundled into Southern embarrassed arrogance.

Few things anger many poor white males in the South more than questioning or challenging their honor code, a code wrapped in white nationalism; Snopes rations out his justice and expects everyone else to step aside, recognize its authority.

Re-reading the story also revealed to me how Faulkner incorporates a distinct element of materialism to the theme of individual versus communal justice. Snopes destroys the property of those wealthier than him to assert his dominance in the same way Snopes uses racial slurs about and at black characters in the story.

Snopes is just as domineering with his family, the women and children subject to his verbal and physical wrath, his expected but unpredictable lashing out. Snopes desperately clings to the mythical fiefdom he has manufactured thoughtlessly in his mind.

Faulkner’s story ends with the boy’s sense of “‘truth, justice'” finally coming to a deadly climax with his father’s barn burning, but even as the boy feels compelled to betray his father, his blood, Sarty cannot rise above the engrained but distorted myth of his father:

Father. My father, he thought. “He was brave!” he cried suddenly, aloud but not loud, no more than a whisper: “He was! He was in the war! He was in Colonel Sartoris’ cav’ry!” not knowing that his father had gone to that war a private in the fine old European sense, wearing no uniform, admitting authority of and giving fidelity to no man or army or flag, going to war as Malbrouck himself did: for booty—it meant nothing and less than nothing to him if it were enemy booty or his own.

As Faulkner is apt to do often, the story reveals itself as one of the self-defeating South, where pride in tradition fails any reasonable effort to ground that pride in an ethical unpacking of the past.

Today the laconic embarrassed arrogance has shifted to rants on social media defending the Confederate Flag and arguing that the South fought the Civil War for state’s rights or wildly claiming many blacks fought in Confederate uniforms in that sacred war.

Especially in 2019, both Murakami’s story and the film adaptation help put Faulkner’s story and today’s angry white men in a sharp relief.

Murakami tends to traffic in disassociated men, what can be misinterpreted as sympathetic narratives about the male condition. His “Barn Burning” is steeped in the naive narrator (the film directly mentions The Great Gatsby, but those familiar with Murakami’s work can feel a sort of Nick narrator in this story, fascinated with the mysterious and wealthy boyfriend who appears with the younger woman at the center of the story).

Barn burning is the surprising confession by that mysterious new boyfriend, who decides to confide in the narrator and give the story both an air of mystery and a much more ambiguous (although still detached) moral center than Faulkner’s stark display of Southern honor:

“I’m not judging anything. They’re waiting to be burned. I’m simply obliging. You get it? I’m just taking on what’s there. Just like the rain….Well, all right, does this make me immoral? In my own way, I’d like to believe I’ve got my own morals. And that’s an extremely important force in human existence. A person can’t exist without morals.”

This self-identified barn burner, then, is a more expressive Abner Snopes, and Murakami’s version is far more ambiguous about the barn burnings and how the reader is supposed to judge, or not, the three main characters—the married narrator, the twenty-year-old woman involved with both men (and who falls asleep easily), and the new boyfriend who flatly states he burns barns.

Another twist added by Murakami is when the narrator confronts the barn burner about not being able to find the most recently burned barn: “‘All I can say is, you must have missed it. Does happen you know. Things so close up, they don’t even register.'”

A brief exchange but, I think, a valuable commentary on anyone’s lack of self-awareness—the inability see the things so close up but that still drive who we are, what we do, and how we navigate the world as if our morals are the right ones.

Murakami leaves the reader with more unanswered, however, capturing some of the indirect and ambiguous also lingering at the end of Faulkner’s story.

[Spoiler alert for the film Burning.]

And this brings me to the film adaptation that moves beyond Faulkner’s modernist and Murakami’s post-modernist tendencies.

Ah-in Yoo, Steven Yeun, and Jong-seo Jun in Beoning (2018)
Ah-in YooSteven Yeun, and Jong-seo Jun in Beoning (2018)

In the film, the barn burning mystery (transposed to burning greenhouses) becomes a frame for the new boyfriend being a serial murderer and the central character being pushed himself into asserting violently his own moral code.

The movie adaptation steers the viewer into a psychological mystery. As we watch along with the central character, Lee Jong-su, a disturbing picture develop. Ben declares to his new girlfriend, after Shin Hae-mi has disappeared, that burning greenhouses is merely a metaphor (that the viewers and Jong-su recognize as a metaphor for his being a serial murderer of young women).

To work through Faulkner to Murakami to Burning is more than a journey through literary/film theory and genre/medium. This an exercise is coming to recognize the very real and violent consequences of the anger that rises in men of a certain type (maybe, as the film suggests, all men) who cling to their individualistic moral codes to the exclusion of everyone else.

These are not just the men of a short story or movie; these are the agents of mass shootings and the daily terrors of domestic violence and sexual aggression and assault.

As a white man from the South, I struggle with the sharp awareness that the tension in Sarty between some larger communal ethics and the myth of this father remains a reality for young men in 2019. I also fear that the new narrative that the world is becoming too hard for men is very fertile ground for the sort of unbridled arrogance and violence that pervades the U.S.

Faulkner’s story ends in allusion. The barn burning blazes behind Sarty, who understands what the gun fire he hears confirms. Yet, he walks away, and “[h]e did not look back.”

If Faulkner is being hopeful here, I cannot muster that same optimism today.

See Also

Cormac McCarthy’s Mostly White, Male Mythology: Rethinking the Canon

Post-Truth U.S. Doesn’t Have a Prayer

Before I could examine a renewed interest in public school prayer prompted by a court ruling in South Carolina, school prayer was once again grossly misrepresented in the wake of two mass shootings, the cancer on the U.S. that political leaders refuse to diagnose or treat properly.

man praying
Jack Sharp

I taught and coached in a public high school in SC for 18 years, the same high school I had attended in my home town. As a coach, I lived a very direct example of how most people completely misunderstand both the laws and practices connected with prayer in public schools.

Sports, like graduation (the source of the recent SC court ruling), have strong and problematic connections with organized religion, especially in the South. Coaches tend to call players to prayer quite often, notably right before a contest.

Since I recognized that coaching and teaching are both positions representing the state, I refused to coerced my players into prayer. Pre-game prayer was optional and organized by players, to be performed before we gathered as a team to start a contest.

This is a key element in how people misunderstand the laws concerning prayer in public schools. Athletes join sports teams for the sports, not for religious purposes, and students are compelled to attend school (until the age designated for dropping out).

However, these same students often voluntarily join religious clubs within public schools, such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes or Teens for Christ.

So here is the law and the distinction.

Prayer by students has always been and remains completely legal and fully protected by the law in U.S. public schools. Despite the misinformation promoted by political leaders, prayer was never banned in public schools.

The law from the 1960s did something quite different and in the interest of religious and non-religious people; it banned coercing children or teens to pray.

Religious freedom in the U.S. should be both the freedom to be religious or not and the freedom from government endorsement or denial of those beliefs or lack of organized faith.

If prayer is absent in public schools in the U.S., then that is the result of the choices of students—not a compelled outcome of the state through the institution of public schools.

But the argument that mass shootings in the U.S. are the result of prayer being banned in schools is not only flawed because it is factually untrue, but because it remains one of the many ways that political leaders and pro-gun ideologues use post-truth and failed logic to distract from the fact that only a couple real conditions exist to explain how the U.S. is by far the outlier in mass shootings among countries similar in any way to the U.S.

The absence of prayer cannot be the cause of mass shootings since prayer is not banned in public schools.

Mental illness is not the cause of mass shootings because the evidence shows that mental illness is more strongly associated with being a victim of violence, not committing violence. And all of the countries with few or no mass shootings also have citizens struggling with mental health.

Video games are not the cause of mass shootings because the research fails to show a connection between playing and violence, but as with mental health, all of the countries with few or no mass shootings also have access to violent video games.

Baseless scapegoating of prayer, mental health, and video games is a powerful example of how post-truth public discourse and political leadership are themselves deadly.

The real distinctions between the U.S. and countries with few or no mass shootings are access to guns and the amount as well as types of guns.

Several countries have taken actions that have in fact resulted in curbing gun violence, but that action had to begin with the truth, a truth grounded in guns themselves.

Yes, the U.S. also has ample evidence that a type of misogyny and male anger is also connected with mass shootings. These domestic terrorists are often white males who have expressed and even acted on racist beliefs and hatred or dehumanizing of women (domestic violence is a disturbing marker of predicting mass shootings).

But even these factual acknowledgements are incomplete unless we face the cold hard truth that access to guns and the amount and types of guns common the U.S. are essential parts of how the country is known for mass shootings and gun violence.

As the body count continues to increase and political leaders and the public grow numb to the horrors of mass shootings, some have come to see the “thoughts and prayers” response as hollow, even offensive.

In the wake of El Paso and Dayton, efforts to blame inexcusable terror on a lie about prayer in public school are themselves gross and immoral examples of post-truth politics and public discourse.

And thus, the darkest of ironies: The post-truth U.S. doesn’t have a prayer.

Consent, Policing, and School Safety

A recent controversy at an Arizona Starbucks spurred anger across social media:

Starbucks on Sunday apologized after an employee at one of its stores in Tempe, Arizona, asked six police officers to leave or move out of a customer’s line of sight, triggering social media backlash.

The officers had visited the store on July 4 and had paid for the drinks, before one company employee approached them about a customer not feeling safe because of the police presence, the Tempe Officers Association said on Twitter.

Conservative pro-police voices called for a boycott of Starbucks, and eventually, the company issued an apology.

The outrage toward customers in Starbucks finding the presence of police officers intimidating is a uniquely American response, but not one common to all Americans.

Several months ago, I was having a late dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant after I finished teaching an evening course at my university. Just as I was eating chips with salsa and drinking the XX I ordered, in walked four officers with the county K-9 unit.

These men were typically outfitted like militia—several visible weapons and fatigues. They were dressed for war—not to serve and protect.

Image result for greenville county K-9 units

I was deeply uncomfortable when they sat beside me; in fact, I always find armed police officers intimidating because they have guns.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

For many years now, U.S. police forces have become more and more militarized, through training and acquiring equipment from the military.

The uncomfortable Starbuck’s customers are, in fact, embodiments of what research shows about heavily armed and antagonistic police forces—especially when compared to London policing, which is grounded in policing by consent from 1829:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Research on “deterrence models,” “based on the idea that offenders and would be offenders are responsive primarily to the risk of punishment,” where “agents of criminal justice need to send out signals of strength, force, detection and justice” and “legitimacy” models where “authority has the right to exercise power [because] it commands consent (a sense of obligation to obey) that is grounded in legality and moral alignment” support the problems with the former and the value in the latter.

That research concludes: “Policing by consent is based upon the idea that the police gain voluntary approval and cooperation from the public not through aggressive control of the population, but through fostering a close social connection between the police and public.”

And thus, citizens in London have a distinctly different experience with police:

[M]ore than 90 percent of the capital’s police officers carry out their daily duties without a gun. Most rely on other tools to keep their city safe: canisters of mace, handcuffs, batons and occasionally stun-guns.

This is no accident.

The Metropolitan Police, which covers most of London, was founded in 1829 on the principle of “policing by consent” rather than by force.

Giving everyday police officers guns sends the wrong message to communities, so this thinking goes, and can actually cause more problems than it solves.

…In the year up to March 2016, police in England and Wales only fired seven bullets….

These officers fatally shot just five people during that period, according to British charity Inquest, which helps families after police-related deaths.

The contrast with the U.S. is stunning:

It’s a world away from the United States, where cops killed 1,092 people in 2016, according to figures compiled by The Guardian.

Of course it’s easier for police to remain unarmed if civilians do the same. Out of every 100 people in Britain, fewer than four of them owns a firearm, according to GunPolicy.org, a project run by Australia’s University of Sydney. In the U.S. there is more than one gun per person.

And for people living in Arizona, “on average, it happens every five days: An Arizona police officer aims a weapon and shoots at someone.”

That armed police officers enter a coffee shop and cause discomfort is not reason to boycott a lucrative chain but a clear signal about the harm being done to democracy and safety in the US. As Jonathan Mummolo’s research details:

The increasingly visible presence of heavily armed police units in American communities has stoked widespread concern over the militarization of local law enforcement. Advocates claim militarized policing protects officers and deters violent crime, while critics allege these tactics are targeted at racial minorities and erode trust in law enforcement. Using a rare geocoded census of SWAT team deployments from Maryland, I show that militarized police units are more often deployed in communities with large shares of African American residents, even after controlling for local crime rates. Further, using nationwide panel data on local police militarization, I demonstrate that militarized policing fails to enhance officer safety or reduce local crime. Finally, using survey experiments—one of which includes a large oversample of African American respondents—I show that seeing militarized police in news reports may diminish police reputation in the mass public. In the case of militarized policing, the results suggest that the often-cited trade-off between public safety and civil liberties is a false choice.

The public and political misguided belief in militarized police units is eerily similar to the public and political calls for turning public schools into prisons through armed guards (and teachers), surveillance cameras, metal detectors, and active shooter drills.

Just as militarized police forces do not deter crime or protect officers, commonly embraced safety features being implemented in schools do not make schools more secure and can often increase unsafe behavior by students.

To protect a democracy and the public schools that in theory feed that democracy, and to foster a society that is both free and safe, the concept of policing by consent is both more effective and better matched to the ideals often claimed for the U.S.

The root problem in the U.S. continues to be guns and seemingly unbridled tendencies toward authoritarianism.

The Starbucks customers had rational reactions not only to the presence of the police officers but to the reality those officers represent—that in the U.S. militarized police forces do not make us safer but often create violence and even death.

Dare the School Build a New Social Order?: A Reckoning 86 Years Later

The candidacy seemed at the time nothing more than sideshow, perverse reality TV, and then Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination for president, prompting many pundits to note that as a death knoll for the Republican Party.

Yet, Trump was elected president.

During the primaries and throughout his run against Hillary Clinton, Trump proved to be relentlessly dishonest, a liar. However, mainstream media avoided calling a lie “a lie,” including major media outlets directly arguing against such language. President Trump hasn’t budged from overstatement, misleading statements, and outright lies.

Notably, major media publish Trump’s lies as if they are credible, despite fact-checking exposing lie upon lie upon lie.

Early on, many opposing Trump called for media simply to call out the lies. Here is the truly bad news, however.

During my Tuesday role as caregiver for my 2-year-old grandson, I flipped through my cable channels during his nap for a brief reprieve from NickJr. I paused on CNN, even though I loath all of the 24-hour news shows.

What caught my ear was that the newscaster was repeatedly calling Trump our for lies, using the word “lie”—over and over. This, I felt, was a real new normal I had called for, but never expected.

Next, the newscaster replayed a segment from the day before focusing on a fact checker of Trump’s many, many lies. The fact checker noted a truly disturbing fact: Trump’s supporters, he explained, recognize that Trump lies, but doesn’t mind the lies; in fact, Trump’s supporters revel in those lies because, as the fact checker emphasized, this drives liberals crazy.

It is here that I must stress two points: (1) It appears those of us believing that exposing Trump as a liar would somehow derail his presidency were sorely mistaken, and (2) we are now entering a phase of U.S. history in which the long-standing slur of “liberal” is code for taking evidence-based stances, especially if those evidence-based stances swim against the current of American ideology and mythology.

Let me offer a couple example.

In my own public and scholarly work, contexts that prompt responses that discount me as a “liberal” (with false implications that I am a partisan Democrat), I have made repeated and compelling cases against corporal punishment and school-only safety measures.

Neither of these issues is both-sides debates since the research base is overwhelmingly one-sided.

Corporal punishment is not an effective discipline technique, and it creates violent youth and adults. A powerful body research prompted by the school shooting at Columbine and including studies by the Secret Service reject school-only safety measure such as security guards, surveillance cameras, active-shooter drills, and metal detectors, all of which are not deterrents and may even create violence.

Therefore, to embrace evidence-based positions on corporal punishment and school safety is the liberal or progressive (seeking change) stance, while the traditional or conservative (maintaining established practices) positions (ignoring the evidence) cling to corporal punishment and fortifying schools while refusing to address the wider influences of communities and our national mania for guns.

Let’s consider that last point more fully next.

There is an unpopular and upsetting fact driving why school-only safety measures are futile: K-12 and higher education are essentially conservative.

Despite political and popular scapegoating of all formal education as liberal, the evidence of nearly a century reveals that all forms of school more often than not reflect the communities and society they serve. In no real ways, then, do schools meet the former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s hollow mantra that education is the great equalizer, some sort of silver bullet for change.

Evidence shows that at different levels of educational attainment, significant gaps persist among racial categories and those gaps are even more pronounced once race and gender are included (see p. 34).

In the 1930s, a golden era for idealism about communism and socialism in the U.S. after the stock market crash, major educational thinkers such as John Dewey (a socialist) and George Counts championed the potential for progressive education (Dewey) to shape U.S. democracy, and then for social reconstruction (Counts) to reshape the nation, as Counts detailed in his Dare the School Build a New Social Order? (1932).

As an early critical voice, Counts spoke to the educational goals that appealed to me as I eventually found critical pedagogy in my doctoral program and doubled down on my early commitment to be the sort of educator who fostered change with and through my students.

Yet, here I sit in 2018, 86 years after Counts’s manifesto. And the U.S. is being led by a pathological liar supported by more and more people who directly say they don’t care about lies or evidence because it makes liberal mad.

This is the pettiness our country has wrought, despite more people today being formally educated than at any time in U.S. history.

My 35 years and counting as an educator, part as a high school teacher and now in higher education, have been a disappointing lesson that answers Counts’s titular question with a resounding “no.”

I shared with my foundations education class the proofs of a chapter I have prepared for a volume now in-press, Contending with Gun Violence in the English Language Classroom. I then briefly reviewed the evidence against in-school safety measures, prompting a student to ask what, then, should we do in schools.

Address our larger gun culture and violent communities, I explained, reminding the class that I have stressed again and again that they need to understand at least one essential lesson from our course: Schools mostly reflect communities and society, but they simply do very little to change anything.

I don’t like this message, but it is evidence-based, and I suppose, a liberal claim.

For many years, I have quickly refuted those who assume I am a partisan Democrat (I am not, never have been). I also have rejected labels of “liberal” and “progressive” for “critical” and “radical.”

But I feel the time is ripe for re-appropriating “liberal” when it is hurled as a slur.

In Trumplandia, to be fact-free is to be conservative, traditional, and to acknowledge evidence is to be liberal, progressive.

This is what the evidence reveals to those of us willing to see. Everything else is a lie.

There’s both sides for those who want it.


Recommended

College campuses are far from radical