Monday, June 27, 2022

A Small Yet Significant Step Toward Reducing Gun Deaths

Amazingly, the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre that left 21 dead — 19 elementary school students and two teachers — yielded a bipartisan effort in the Senate to pass very moderate legislation aimed at stemming gun violence. Once approved in the Senate by an unlikely and historic coalition including 15 Republicans, the legislation was rapidly passed by the House and signed by the president.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) was “deeply involved in drafting the bill, although the gun rights group ultimately opposed it,” according to The New York Times. That the bill passed, with 13 of the 15 Republicans voting for it having A or A+ ratings from the NRA, punctuates the unlikely outcome.

Unfortunately, Alabama’s two senators, Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville, voted against the bill, which prompted me to write each:

Senator,

I’m deeply disappointed that you did not support the gun safety legislation that, fortunately, passed Congress and was signed by President Biden.

The provisions in the bill are reasonable: requiring background checks for first time gun purchasers under 21, closing the “boyfriend loophole,” funding state grants to implement red flag laws, funding mental health programs, funding increased security at schools.

Your fellow conservative, Republican Senator John Cornyn, worked arduously to ensure the legislation does not infringe on our Second Amendment rights. So I cannot understand your unwillingness to support it and extend grace to the parents who have lost children to senseless and tragic mass shootings.

Respectfully,

Friday, May 27, 2022

We Want More Than Thoughts and Prayers

Another tragic massacre of 19 children and two teachers, killed by an angry 18-year-old with a semi-automatic rifle. The reflexive response from Congress is to offer thoughts and prayers for the families and defer any suggestion of tougher access to guns, saying this is not the time for politics. The country's seeming acceptance of the tragedy is infuriating. Surely this is not what the writers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.

My response, seemingly futile, is to write Senators Shelby and Tuberville and Representative Rogers:

Following another tragic slaughter of American children and their teachers, it’s time for Congress to do more than offer thoughts and prayers and lamely suggest we arm our teachers.

No, I’m not suggesting we disarm America. I do respect the Second Amendment and know that most gun owners are responsible.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment is not without limits, and we accept the longstanding law restricting the right to own automatic weapons. So placing additional measures such as requiring background checks, increasing the legal age for purchasing firearms, and licensing some gun purchases seem like reasonable steps that won’t violate the Constitution.

Yes, I know those steps won’t eliminate gun deaths, just as seat belts and air bags don’t eliminate deaths from car accidents. Yet seat belts and air bags have measurably reduced deaths and were implemented as part of a continuous process to improve automotive safety. We should adopt the same philosophy to reduce gun deaths — particularly mass shootings.

Our children’s lives are sacred, more than the NRA’s talking points echoed by too many of our elected leaders. We must do more than offer thoughts and prayers. It’s time to explore reasonable options with earnestness and humility, honoring these children whose lives have ended too soon and so tragically.

Sincerely,

Gary Lerude

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Alabama Politics Trumps Transgender Health

This is my first letter to an Alabama politician since we moved to Opelika in November: 

Governor Ivey,

I am distraught by your support of the so-called Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, which does not provide compassion or protection. Thankfully, Judge Liles Burke’s ruling stopped your misguided and harmful plan to ban puberty blockers and hormones for minors with gender dysphoria. His injunction provided ample justification for the ruling:
”the uncontradicted record evidence is that at least twenty-two major medical associations in the United States endorse transitioning medications as well-established, evidence-based treatments for gender dysphoria in minors.”
Further, your Tweet claiming knowledge of God’s intentions reveals hubris, a lack of knowledge of gender dysphoria, callous indifference for the mental health challenges faced by children with gender dysphoria, and disregard for parental rights — which I thought was a bedrock principle of Republicans. It’s really not simple.
"we’re going to go by how God made us: if the Good Lord made you a boy, you’re a boy, and if he made you a girl, you’re a girl. It’s simple."
For the health of the transgender youth of Alabama, I urge you to get to know several families with transgender youth and meet with the medical community to become more informed. It may not make for great election year politics, but it’s the principled step to take.

Respectfully,

Saturday, September 11, 2021

20 Years Later

On the 20th anniversary of the sudden shift in world history we call 9/11, the brazen and brilliant attack on America, I'm at a family gathering in the Great Smokey Mountains. I feel the cool morning warmed by the sun and hear the sound of Le Conte creek coming up through the trees outside our room. This morning, life is normal as our family catches up with each other's lives while the TV, sound muted, shows the memorial in New York City, the president and vice president looking somber, Bruce Springsteen singing. No one here is watching. We don't pause our conversation for the moment of silence observed by the crowd in New York.

That morning, 20 years ago, I was working in my office in Lowell, expecting a colleague from Roanoke to fly up for a meeting and dinner. I don't recall whether he called or emailed saying he wasn't coming, referring to a plane crash. Ed was somewhat cautious and didn't enjoy flying, so I initially thought this was a convenient excuse to cancel the trip. I walked upstairs to the cafeteria and stopped in the auditorium, where a large group had gathered around a TV, watching the smoke billowing from the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It was immediately obvious, underscored by the horror of seeing the towers fall. This was no accident. The twin towers, the attack on the Pentagon, then the downed airliner in Pennsylvania, mercifully crashed while heading back to a target in Washington.

9/11 dramatically shifted the agenda of the U.S. government, and those decisions will shape the country for generations. First, the invasion of Afghanistan to quell Al-Qaeda, then on to Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, incorrectly accused of being a collaborator and a terrorist threat.

U.S. armed forces have been mired in both countries for 20 years — just extracting ourselves ingloriously from Afghanistan, enabling the Taliban to recapture the country without a fight. We tried to leave Iraq during President Obama's term, creating a vacuum that enabled the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria, which required a renewed military campaign to defeat it. Defeat is too strong an assessment; weaken and disperse are more accurate and hopefully sufficient to prevent ISIS from again threatening innocent people with their fundamentalist and brutal orthodoxy.

While I find leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban deeply troubling, especially the uncertain fate of the country's women, I support President Biden's decision, although not the way it was implemented. Staying there would be a forever war if we retained a military presence to keep the Taliban from taking over while acquiescing to the massive corruption.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — the lives lost, the financial cost, the distraction from other global priorities — was a policy blunder equal to the one in Vietnam in the 1960s, a blunder born of anger and hubris. War is a blunt act of vengeance, often harming the innocent more than the enemy. Establishing a just, representative government in a country is a goal that has consistently evaded U.S. policy.

Perhaps the clearest act of justice in response to 9/11: Osama bin Laden is dead, killed by U.S. special forces at his hideaway in Pakistan after an unrelenting 10-year search.

Reflecting on the course of these 20 years, I wish those who lost family and friends will be comforted and inspired by memories of the good times and how they lived. For those who served valiantly in Afghanistan and Iraq, seeking justice and helping plant the seeds of democracy, I hope they can find satisfaction from their efforts, despite the inability to see those seeds fully bloom. And I pray our leaders will find humility as they steer the ship of state in this uncertain world

Initially published on September 11, 2021 on my HEY World blog.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Variation on a Theme

The resurgence of coronavirus infections from the Delta variant seems like a variation on the tragedy of the commons.

As originally proposed, a tragedy of the commons refers to individuals acting independently in their own self interest, ultimately depleting a natural resource until it's no longer available to anyone. The players pursue their short-term interests without considering the needs of others nor their own long-term interest. A group of farmers who let their cows graze on a shared field (the common) until the grass is gone was reportedly the example used to illustrate the initial concept. A real, current example: restrictions to prevent overfishing the waters off New England.

Turning to the variation: the SARS-CoV-2 virus keeps mutating, a clear example of evolution, with the surviving variants better adapted to infecting people and propagating the virus. The Delta variant first appeared in India last fall, where a huge unvaccinated population provided a fertile environment. Travelers then carried it other countries, and it seems to be the dominant variant in the U.S., hospitalizing and killing the unvaccinated. As troubling, it is infecting the vaccinated, who have mild symptoms yet serve as carriers to spread infections.

It's a tragic reversal for Americans, just as we were shifting back to "normal" and enjoying the summer.

The best way to defeat the virus hasn't changed since the start of 2021: get vaccinated, avoid gatherings with groups in tightly packed spaces, and wear a mask around anyone who could be a carrier. Straightforward, yet some Americans feel being told to get vaccinated and wear a mask are infringements on individual liberty. They resist and protest, encouraged by political leaders who fan the "don't tread on me" flames.

And so we have a tragedy, like a tragedy of the commons. As individuals exercise their personal liberty, society suffers. Infections increase and people die.

Governments and businesses are now imposing vaccinate or test mandates and requiring that people wear masks. Ironically, this response could have been avoided if only those advocating personal liberty had chosen to get vaccinated and wear a mask "for the good of the country." Unfortunately, paraphrasing Voltaire, no snowflake feels responsible for the avalanche.

Initially published on August 1, 2021 on my HEY World blog.