The Other Assault Weapon

17 Dead.
Yes, another 17 dead,
Killed by a madman fueled by demons unseen
Using an assault weapon to end lives of innocents.

There will be much talk in the days ahead
About how to stop such senseless tragedies.
We will propose laws, craft legislation aimed at a target,
The easiest one target to find, label and vanquish.

Yes, there is no rational explanation
For the private ownership of military-style weapons.
The Second Amendment protects hunters, sportsmen and those who want to be safe.
It does not, arguably, protect those who want to overthrow the government.
Despite the soaring rhetoric of the Declaration, Treason is still punishable by death.

But long after bills are signed and corked popped by those who have “won”,
There will still be assault weapons out on the streets of America,
Ones we are allowed to use with little to no restriction.

Everyone one carries this weapon every day
And whether we use it to protect or assassinate
Is wholly up to the owner.

The weapon of choice of most of us is sleek in design
And most efficient in its ability to maximize pain and suffering.

The assault weapon we use every day, often without impunity
Is the tongue. Our words are the bullets, often silver, as they can slay
The mightiest of opponents.
“The tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do,” the ancients remind us.

We proudly beat our chests and demand our freedom of speech,
As if it is not also a responsibility.
We want freedom from religion in any form, but crave the power to use words as weapons.

I am castigated if I share my faith with you, offer prayer and encouragement,
But if you call someone an F—ing whore on a school campus or a Snapchat story,
Well, that’s just freedom of speech.

What it is is something else.
But, while I have the freedom to hurl the invective,
I choose to employ enough self-restraint not to.

Yeah, but how bad can it be?
They’re just words.
They disappear like mist as soon as they are spoken.
10 seconds and they’re vapor.

O, the lies of instant messages instantly forgotten.
For your information, more teens die by their own hand each year than by another.
And you know, deep down in the hidden cavern of your soul,
You know those hate-filled daggers of insults cleverly phrases we love to compose
Are at least one of the weapons that lead to their unfortunate and unnecessary demise.
It’s also part of the reason they pick up guns and rifles and come after the most vulnerable among us.

So, what if you don’t say such things?
What if you the one who says nothing
When others say something?
You are free from blame, right?
You keep telling yourself that.
Let’s be honest with ourselves.
“No one does good, not even one.”

You might think I am trying to divert your attention,
Change the subject so that real reform does not happen.
That I want to protect rights and kill children.

How dare you!

I spend each day in a classroom.
I am on the front line. These killers are coming to my place of work, not yours.
They are aiming for me, not you.

Of course I want a safe campus.
But I know that more of my students are under assault every day
And we don’t do nearly enough to regulate the use of their firearms.

Of course, this begins with us, you and I.
I am very, very good at the clever retort,
My insults are razor sharp and can wound just as well as yours.

So, here’s a thought.
Let’s stop the verbal barrage on others,
Setting a horrid example for those who watch our every move
And know when we step false.

I am not simply mad about this situation,
Like I would be about being late to dinner.
I am enraged, livid, dismayed and disgusted.
I also am unwilling to accept the status quo.
We must not accept the unceasing discharge of this silent killer of soul and spirit.

But the only way we can win this war on the soul of our nation.
Is through mutual disarmament.
So, I’ll put down my assault weapon, if you put down yours.


The Four Lessons of ‘24’

When “24: Live Another Day” came on the air, my wife and were quickly hooked on the narrative of Jack Bauer: a deeply flawed protagonist fighting incredible odds to save a world not always very appreciative of his methods, and with good cause.

This summer we set a challenging goal for ourselves — to watch the entire series from the beginning. And, starting with season one, we did just that. To be fair, we had points where we wanted to give up on the story, but eventually we saw it through to the end. From this intense viewing experience, I learned four valuable lessons about the world around me.

The first thing I was reminded of was that our world is a very scary place. To be fair, we have not been attacked with nuclear weapons, had buses exploded in downtown L.A., or watched world leaders die on our soil at the hands of assassins, but I imagine that is not from a lack of trying by terrorist groups or foreign operatives. When we hear of such plots being disrupted by our intelligence agencies, I imagine I am not the only one who wonders how many other operations were halted that the public never learns about. I know this is an argument from silence, but considering the violence and unrest occurring in other parts of world, I doubt we are as immune, or as safe, as we would imagine. And, while I often cringed at the methods Bauer used to obtain the information he sought, and how this offended the civil liberties we cherish, I understand those who argue such methods have kept our country safer. The fact we have to decide whether to use such tactics, even when they violate our core principles, is part of what makes me worry.

The show also reinforced the idea that while we may live in a world dominated by moral ambiguity, negotiating with terrorists never ends well. Every time I see a bad character on a TV show or in a movie uses blackmail as leverage, I wonder, often out loud, why you would negotiate with someone who is threatening you or your way of life. Perhaps is our fear doing the thinking for us, but what makes anyone believe a person who threatens to kill you will actually let you live if you comply with his or her wishes? On a grander scale, there is a reason nations refuse to negotiate with terrorists: when you give in once, people reasonably assume you will do so again.

A third lesson I learn is one that bears repeating in our celebrity-obsessed culture: Sometimes those who are right aren’t always popular and the ones who are popular aren’t always right. While he may have been written at times like a comic book superhero, we have to agree Jack Bauer was right much more often than he was wrong. People refusing to listen to his wisdom did so at their own peril. The challenge was he didn’t always have the ability to follow up on his leads because those in power blocked such moves for their own, often selfish, motives. Watching the struggle between these tensions made you want to come back for more each episode. and made me think about how often people in the real world with deep insights but little power and influence chafed under such limitations?

The final thing I discovered is a lesson I have been learning through my own adventures in self-publishing: Criticizing the perceived writing flaws of others is really easy when you don’t have to make a living being a writer. Even those who were diehard fans of “24” admitted it went to the same well a bit too often. Aside from the plot or dialogue contrivances that inspired irreverent drinking games, one wonders how a real intelligence agency would survive for very long if it was as riddled with moles as CTU was. It is easy to point out these weaknesses, but hard to dispute that people kept returning week after week wanting to know what would happen next. Those who are armchair screenwriters may have a lot to say, but who can argue with a fan base so strong the show’s creators brought it back after a four-year hiatus?

I can’t dispute that kind of success. Besides, what would Jack Bauer do to me if I did?