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, March 06, 2021

Masks and Personal Freedom

This week Governor Greg Abbott of Texas announced the state's mask mandate will end March 10, saying citizens "no longer need government running our lives." Yet, in a subsequent interview with KTRK TV in Houston, he said, "We are still urging people to continue to wear the mask."

I've been surprised that masks became and remain such a lightning rod in the country's response to COVID-19. More precisely, the issue is whether the government has the authority to require wearing masks in a public space.

The argument for wearing masks is they reduce the risk of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has led to the deaths of some 525,000 Americans (and counting). As part of its responsibility for public safety and health, governments have the authority to require wearing masks, at least in public spaces, to reduce the risk of infection, hospitalization, and death.

Those opposed to mandates argue governments are infringing on an individual's freedom and liberty, adding people will act responsibly if presented with the evidence, presumably then choosing to wear a mask.

I side with a government mandate for these reasons:

1) The government has a responsibility for public safety and health, with the authority to impose regulations to ensure appropriate standards.

The history of the country has been a progression of government regulation to improve safety and health, either as society gains more knowledge or to address violations. Perhaps stop signs and red lights were controversial when first proposed, yet today we accept them, trading the expectation to safely drive to the grocery store for the loss of time and personal freedom.

2) Behavioral and cultural change takes time, while a pandemic grows exponentially.

When COVID-19 first exploded in New York City, then spread across the country, we didn't have much time to socialize wearing masks and overcome the inconvenience, discomfort, and self-consciousness doing so. If I'm the only one in a store wearing a mask, I'll take it off so I won't stand out and be embarrassed — particularly since wearing masks quickly became polarized, an unfortunate symbol of a different argument.

Intuitively, wearing a mask reduces the transmission of particles to and from the lungs, and much experimental data confirms their effectiveness. Their use is accepted in other countries: I've seen many people wearing masks in China, whether to prevent disease or reduce breathing pollutants from the air.

I doubt my reasoning will convince those who see this as a violation of personal freedom. I suspect the issue is not COVID-19, it's the relationship between the individual and society. COVID-19 is simply a battle in a much more expansive philosophical war.


Also posted at my Hey World blog.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Politics or the Constitution?

Ten of the 211 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump on January 13, just one week after a mob of angry partisans stormed the Capitol, following a speech where the President told his followers, “We must stop the steal and then we must ensure that such outrageous election fraud never happens again, can never be allowed to happen again.”

Of course, there was no election fraud.

Peter Meijer, a newly elected representative from Michigan, was one of the 10 who voted to impeach the president. Michael Barbaro, host of The Daily podcast, interviewed Meijer yesterday to understand Meijer’s hopes entering Congress, his response to the claims of election fraud, and what led him to vote for impeachment and place himself in a small cohort of unpopular, endangered — electorally and possible physically — Republicans.

In a world of political spin, I found Meijer open, honest, and vulnerable. I sent him the following feedback:

Representative Meijer,

I listened to your interview with Michael Barbaro on The Daily and want to thank you for being so thoughtful and open, describing your hopes as a newly elected representative, assessment of the claims of election fraud, and decision to vote to impeach President Trump following the attack on the Capitol.

I have been disheartened by the tone of political discourse, particularly about the election, and respect your principled decision to choose our democracy over the Republican party’s allegiance to President Trump. May your leadership be an example to the party.

May you be safe and have a successful term, building bridges with your colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Reference

House of Representatives vote to impeach Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors. Roll Call 17 | Bill Number: H. Res. 24

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Impeach Him Again? Yes.

I sent the following to Representative Annie Kuster today.

I am writing to support the impeachment of President Trump in response to Wednesday’s violent mob attack on the Capitol, which interrupted Congress’ acceptance of the votes from the Electoral College and, more profoundly, threatened the safety of government officials, led to the death of Brian Sicknick, and desecrated our democracy.

As you know, the Constitution provides a process for removing a President from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” In my view, President Trump’s false, absurd, and continued gaslighting that the election was fraudulent, culminating in his rally on Wednesday, where he instructed attendees to go to the Capitol to “stop the steal,” is sedition — which certainly qualifies for impeachment.

President Trump’s subsequent video telling supporters to go home, that he loved them and knows how they feel, did not condemn the violence and lawlessness, and he continued to falsely claim a fraudulent election. Only the following day did he release a video addressing the “heinous attack on the United States Capitol” and, for the first time, conceding the election — perhaps because Congress had, indeed, certified the election.

Although President Trump has now acknowledged he will leave office on January 20, impeachment is warranted: to warn those extremists who flagrantly attacked our democracy and to provide a coda to this travesty of governance, that the House of Representatives held a delusional and despotic President accountable.

References

Transcript of President Trump's Save America rally speech on January 6.

Transcript of President Trump's video telling protestors "So go home. We love you. You’re very special."

Transcript of President Trump's video acknowledging "a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20th."

Thursday, December 31, 2020

President Pence?

Just over a year ago, on December 18, the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The articles were submitted to the Senate on January 16, 2020, which voted to acquit the president of both charges on February 5.

Suppose, however, at least 67 Senators had voted to convict the president on one or both of the articles. Donald Trump would have been removed from office and Vice President Mike Pence would have assumed the role.

A more emotionally stable President Pence would have been less divisive and may well have handled the pandemic more responsibly than the man he replaced.

Pence would logically have been the Republican candidate for president in the 2020 election. With the anti-Trump fervor gone, the nation could have rallied around Pence, supporting his efforts to develop a more coherent strategy to combat COVID-19.

The Republican party would be in a far better place inaugurating a President Pence on January 20. Its fealty to President Trump led it down a blind alley promoting false claims of a fraudulent election, claims that undermine our democracy and relegate the party to infamy.


Audio Version