Holy Saturday — Short visits with an honest God [from Rita’s blog]

“Sit down,” I said to God. “Please just sit down and be something. I can’t stand you floating, digging, running, flying, vibrating, dying, living, and sizzling around me all the time. You don’t play fair. You don’t listen well. Even when you tell the truth, no one understands, so what’s the point?” God’s eyes welled […]

via Holy Saturday — Short visits with an honest God

A Modest Firearms Safety Proposal that Everyone will Hate (and why that’s a good thing)

Grove Creek Road

The fact that U.S. citizens can own an assault weapon and thousands of rounds of ammunition without having a license to own said assault weapon and ammunition is a special form of societal insanity that requires an intervention. This is a modest proposal for a national intervention.

The 2nd amendment guarantees U.S. citizens the right to keep and bear arms. Let’s forgo all debate about the meaning of a “well-regulated militia” and assume this right exists in full force. I say this because efforts to argue against this right inevitably result in old, polarizing, bumper-sticker rhetoric that serves no useful purpose.

This is a proposal for firearms safety, not gun control. It’s based on the following principles:

  1. In an ideal world there would be no guns, bombs, or other instruments of violence; we would all coexist cooperatively and peacefully.
  2. There is no ideal world. We must face the reality that guns and other weapons exist and that efforts to wish them away or confiscate them are equally fantastical.
  3. We live in world far different from the time when the 2nd amendment was passed. Gone are the days of muskets and gunpowder. Now we have automatic weapons and clips that allow gun owners to fire more shots in a minute than could be fired in an hour in the 1700s. Even if we affirm the 2nd amendment, surely it must be applied differently than originally construed.
  4. Supporters of the 2nd amendment need to accept reality; the world of firearms is more complex and dangerous than ever before.
  5. Gun control advocates need to embrace the right to bear arms. Arguing against that right only incites vehement resistance.

The proposal begins with an affirmation that everyone has the right to bear arms, but the number of firearms is limited to a reasonable number. Even though Costco sells gun safes that hold 48 long guns, I propose limiting firearm ownership. At age 18 years every eligible U.S. citizen would be provided a permit or license to own up to five firearms. These firearms must be registered. They MAY NOT include assault weapons. Children under 18 do not have the right to bear arms and therefore cannot be gun owners. Some U.S. citizens may be ineligible to bear arms because of criminal activity or a mental disorder.

Individuals who view themselves as gun aficionados or collectors will undoubtedly object to this plan. They want more than five guns and they want automatic weapons. The solution is simple: Individuals who want more firearms need to acquire a specialty license. Think of it like a commercial driving license. The specialty license would require professional training and psychological screening. Professional trainers would need to acquire a trainer’s license. The NRA, federal, state, and local government, and other appropriate stakeholders could have input on training, licensing, and psychological screening criteria. This is one way we can work together to responsibly move away from repeated tragedies and toward greater public safety.

This system would also include specific standards for losing the right to bear arms. In addition to certain criminal activities and mental disorders, not keeping one’s guns locked and safe, and other violations of these standards would result in a temporary or permanent loss of the right to bear arms.

In the end, the NRA and those who support unlimited firearms freedom will undoubtedly view this proposal as infringing on their inherent natural God given rights to own firearms. Gun control advocates will view this proposal as equally unacceptable and question why anyone ever needs to own five firearms or assault weapons. I hope both sides can see the logic in adopting a plan that both sides find unacceptable.

Let’s end with a thought experiment.

If you have children in your life, pretend they’re watching as we engage in this debate. If you hold religious beliefs, pretend God is watching too. How shall we proceed? Shall we continue to insist that all solutions be consistent with our own personal philosophies? Or shall we approach one another in the spirit of compromise and trust and hope for a better and safer future for our children. There may be ambiguity in the 2nd Amendment, but there’s no ambiguity about our need to move forward together. We must sit together and compromise. The fact that there’s no perfect solution shouldn’t be an excuse for us to do nothing because the longer we do nothing, the more likely we are to sentence our children to a more violent future and our God to perpetual disappointment in humanity.

Additional details on my six-point plan for firearms safety are forthcoming soon.

Thanks for reading and thanks for thinking about how to enhance the safety of our children and our communities.

Bus 098 leaves Missoula at 1:45 p.m.


This is a short piece of creative fiction. It’s based on several of my recent bus rides back and forth from Missoula to Billings. It’s not exactly true; but it’s not exactly not.


This not being my first bus riding rodeo, I arrived early and intentionally find a seat toward the front. Last time, I mistakenly sat too far back, where a sketchy guy with a Russian accent asked to borrow my phone. I was too nervous to refuse. Now I’m worried my phone number is on Robert Mueller’s list.

Today is a different day on a different bus in a different city. But, as I board, I still avoid eye contact with everyone sitting in the back.

Butte is our first stop. There are some tough ass dudes there, and although I have a Montana Handgunning Certificate of Achievement, I’m not packing. The driver, a wrinkled woman who looks older than Grandma Moses announces, “Federal law prohibits guns, knives, and weapons on the bus.” That’s the government for you; always taking away our freedoms.

A man across the aisle uses the word fuck so often that it blends in and hovers around with the bus buzz and body odor. “That fucking manager. He fucking won’t let me do fucking anything. So then when I got fucking sick I was fucked, but he don’t fucking care about shit.”

Judgment flows into my pores, through my thoughts, picking up speed like a downhill skier. He sounds like an angry asshole. I glance over. He looks like an angry asshole. That figures.

Later, as dusk softens the light in the bus, the angry asshole’s voice changes. “Hi Sis,” he says. “Thanks for calling me back.” The word fuck is absent. Instead, there’s sad talk of divorce. Anger surrenders to pain. I’m close enough to hear about his daughter, his dead-end job, and an upcoming birthday.

“Hey Sis,” he says. “Can I borrow 20 bucks to buy Clarice a birthday present?”

One problem with judgment is that it’s easy to lock it in, even when it’s wrong. Once locked in, it’s hard to revise. I’m a mental health professional. I get paid big bucks to make judgments about whether thoughts are rational, about mental health, and about mental fitness. It occurs to me that’s ass-backward; we should pay people like me to not make judgments.

In this moment, on this planet, how many annoying jerks are riding in buses on American freeways? How many are on a round trip from anger to pain, only to get re-routed to sadness and despair before arriving back where they started? Resentment is there too, sometimes it’s my seat-mate, except for when it’s not, because I’m cradling it in my lap.

I’m thankful for federal law. None of these difficult emotions have to go online to buy tickets; they ride for free.

Harsh judgments rode with me until we got to Livingston. They whispered sweet somethings in my ear, telling me I was better, than the smoking, swearing, smelly, rabble around me. Then, I found a twenty dollar bill and left it, along with my judgment, at the Livingston bus stop.

Not to be dismissed, judgment caught up with me in Billings, when the man in the front seat started sounding off about the bitches who were trying to take down the government. But boy-howdy, that 115 miles from Livingston to Billings, that was one nice fucking bus ride, even if I do say so myself.


My Open Letter to the NRA

IMG_0928Dear NRA.

About five years ago, 20 children and 6 six adults were killed by a Bushmaster XM 15-E2S and Glock 20SF.

More recently, 2 of America’s most deadly mass shootings occurred in the past 90 days. There were 58 killed in Las Vegas (10/1/17). Twenty-six more were executed in a church in Sunderland, Texas (11/5/17).

These shootings are so completely and mind-numbingly sad that hardly anyone knows what to say or do. I know your thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and their communities. That’s nice, but your thoughts and prayers are ineffective as deterrents to future firearm deaths. In this case, it’s not the thought that counts; action is what counts.

So I’m wondering, can we work together to Make America Rational (#MAR)?

Let’s start with data. There’s nothing like data as a foundation for rational thinking.

On those three days—Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Sunderland—110 innocent people were gunned down for doing nothing but going to school, attending a concert, and being at a church service. Losing these lives is a massive tragedy. However, as you likely know, tracking lives lost from mass shootings is only the tip of the iceberg. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there are, on average, over 90 gun-related deaths EVERY DAY in America. That’s like Sandy Hook plus Las Vegas, every day of every week.

Why am I bothering with this open letter to you, the NRA? Everyone knows that open letters are pathetic acts of desperation. Likely, you won’t read this and if you do, you’ll tape it to a target and shoot holes in it. Forgive my cynicism. Cynicism is just a byproduct of desperation and powerlessness.

Most Americans know your position. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” As true as that statement is, it’s equally true that, “People use guns to kill people, and to kill themselves, and do so more effectively and efficiently than by any other means.”

Is any of what I’ve said arguable? Do you dispute the data? If not, then let’s engage in a rational discussion.

If you concede to these facts, I’ll give you the right to bear arms. Although it’s not as clear in the second amendment as you claim, let’s agree on the constitutionality that you (and I) have a right to bear arms.

This brings us a big sticking point. Even if we agree that (a) there’s a gun-related death problem in the U.S. and (b) we have a right to bear arms, our next step is to talk strategy and solutions, and this is where we likely disagree.

In the past, you’ve trotted out the same old and tired strategy. To address Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Sunderland, you suggested that we need more guns in schools, in Vegas, and in church. My apologies for more cynicism here, but if you say (again) that we just need more guns to stop gun-related deaths, then I know you’re not willing to look at rational solutions. Think about Vegas. Would a well-armed group of concert attendees have helped that situation? We can’t know, but most rational people recognize that more guns in Vegas wouldn’t reduce gun-related deaths in Vegas. Why? Let me count the ways: Alcohol, gambling, suicide, and not even knowing where the bullets are coming from. More guns do not equal fewer gun-related deaths. If you go down that road, you’re clearly not rational about this and don’t care to be rational about this. If you go down that road, either someone has purchased your soul or you’re just out of your fucking mind.

I’m sorry for that last statement. I really am. It comes from sadness, frustration, and anger. In fact, as you read this, you’re probably thinking I’m out of my fucking mind. That’s the way polarization works. But I’m still hoping we can come together to think rationally together and engage in constructive problem-solving.  I’m hoping you can find compassion in your heart for the victims of senseless gun-related deaths. Let’s agree on another point: We should have compassion for gun victims and their families. I’m sure we can agree on that.

What if I offer even another concession? How about I say this: “Let’s not do gun control?” Are you with me on that? I think you are. So let’s move on.

Instead of gun control, let’s do gun safety. But please don’t you start with any of that imaginary slippery slope bullshit. Please don’t act as if banning bump stocks will inevitably lead to the confiscation of all guns. If you want to oppose and rebut gun safety with facts, that’s fine. What I’m hoping is that we can work together to get serious about gun safety.

One more piece of bullshit I don’t want to hear from you, or anyone. Don’t go blaming gun-related deaths on the so-called mentally ill. Paul Ryan did that after Sunderland and, I swear, he’s either ignorant or playing politics when he brings that up. People with mental disorder diagnoses are NOT more inclined to commit acts of gun violence toward others. The truth is that they’re more likely to be violent toward themselves, but that’s a different issue. Next thing you know, Paul Ryan will be blaming gun violence on children or some other marginalized group with minimal resources to fight back. If you want to go with victim-blaming as a substitute for learning about and addressing the problem of gun deaths, well, that’s a damn good definition of cowardice, so please don’t go there.

Instead of going with the slippery-slope theory and instead of blaming people with mental health problems, I’ve got an amazing offer for you to contemplate. This is my hook. I’ve developed a five-point secret plan for preserving gun rights, while improving gun safety in America. I want to share it with you and work toward our mutual interests.

But here’s the catch. My plan is secret. I want you to commit to TALKING ABOUT OUR MUTUAL INTERESTS before sharing it. For now, I’m just writing this pathetic open letter and asking for a reply. Will you please work with me (and others) to make America safer?

One thing I can tell you about my plan. It will take courage and compromise . . . so don’t bother writing back if you’re hung up on being cowards who can’t compromise. If that’s who you are, and you can’t join in on making America rational (and safer), then just keep holding onto your firearms until someone has to pry them out of your cold, dead hands.

Sorry again for the sarcasm and cynicism. Feel free to poke me back. What I’m asking is  for you to let go of your guns for a minute and grab onto this olive branch; that would be fabulous, because we’ve got important work to do together.

Sincerely yours,

John Sommers