About Gary Nilsen

I'm a writer. I have a lot of things to say - sometimes I like to tell stories and those show up in the books I write. Sometimes I get angry or frustrated by the things I see in the news, so comments about these will be showing up on this blog. Social injustice is the spark to my fuse... I live in New York with my family and two Old English Sheepdogs. I've lived in far off places - the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and have been fortunate to visit many other parts of the world. Stay tuned...

Gun Violence, Gun Control, Where Do We Go From Here?

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I haven’t written much since the new administration took over The White House. A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece called The Day America Died that drew upon evidence gleaned from observations of what people had to say after the Republican National Convention. The overwhelming lack of understanding that faced the nation by choosing something like Trump to be the leader of the United States was disturbing. I realized the country I loved was a myth.

As if I needed more proof, monitoring the debate over gun control and gun violence reaffirms the presence of a cancer eating at the healthy, vibrant tissue of our society. Yesterday, across our nation, young people stood to address the reality of guns in our midst. Posting of a video in which a young man eloquently addressed the truth of gun violence and control on Facebook was followed by the same kind of sick retort I witnessed after the RNC. Here are some of those:

John Mitchell: “in case you forgot student, you still can’t vote.”

Larry Stark: “moron”

Thomas C. White: “Poor lost souls… this court was built with guns… and guns are what keeps us free”

Tara Ann LeNeave: “There parents should be ashamed of there selves, if u had been doing ur job at home before they went to school all this wouldn’t be going on, lazy parents=out of control children”

Charles Jerger: “This kid is an idiot. Rely on the government for everything. Sounds like communism.”

Fbio Rodrigo Milani: “begins with beautiful speeches and full of noble reasons, but the truth is that in the end they open up space for masked dictatorships of democracy, like Venezuela or my Brazil. Weapons are necessary for self-protection against other men and especially against the state itself.”

Johnny Cook Jr.: “You have no idea what you are talking about. Let me ask you a question respectfully. What makes and AR-15 an “Assault Rifle?” Seriously…. why do you call it that?”

Chuck Barnes: “Anybody that thinks the problem is guns their just delusional. The problem is society letting it’s youth get away with whatever they want and having no consequences.”

There are ten thousand other responses to that post, some in support of the students, many are not. Some were just in-eloquent enough to simply post an emoji giving them the finger.

Not a single day goes by where someone being shot and killed by a gun hits the news. EVERY…SINGLE…DAY. If we as a country have demonstrated one thing, it’s that we are not responsible enough to possess guns.

So, cue the second amendment:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In the late eighteenth century, our fledgling nation was vulnerable to invasion. As we did not possess the world’s strongest military, nor an early warning detection system, it seemed reasonable to allow for the population to raise a militia to defend our shores. We’re way beyond that now. Proponents of guns love to take what they want from the second amendment. It’s simply stated, but there are three commas in the text of the compound sentence. The first part suggests the purpose, the second establishes the mandate, the third the right, and the fourth offers the protection. Taken as a whole, when the first two parts are either out of compliance (I dare anyone to name the militia they belong to) or not even needed (you’re going to accomplish what our military can’t?), the second two parts cease to be relevant.

Since we are incapable of being responsible, it’s time to repeal the second amendment. Handguns and assault rifles should be made illegal outside the confines of law enforcement and the military. This is not something that would happen overnight; in fact it would take a generation or more to remove the millions upon millions of guns in private ownership. I believe the ability to make that happen rests with the youth of our country. My generation seems incapable of doing anything.

I can picture every gun owner reading this stamping his or her foot, having a little temper tantrum, and spitting out all the arguments about how they need guns for protection against armed bad guys, or to prevent home invasions, or for when Russia or North Korea land on our shores. Once all handguns and assault rifles were gone, you wouldn’t have need for a gun to protect yourself from a bad guy, and if the Russians or North Koreans get past our military and invade our cities, your little guns won’t be worth a damn. Simply put, I call bullshit on every argument I’ve ever heard about having a gun.

I love guns, in fact for many years I made part of my living carrying one. I grew up in the same culture everyone else did, the same one that glorifies guns. What kid didn’t want a cap gun or a cowboy gun or a plastic assault rifle – nerf gun or otherwise? I did. I love movies that involve blowing things up or ones with heavy weapons action. But they’re movies, the place for fantasy. I love Harry Potter, too, but I can’t conjure a Patronus charm. Reality is where guns don’t belong. No parent should see on the news that their children’s school is on lock-down because of an active shooter. No mother should be at a traffic light and have their five-year-old shot in the head by accident because two drug dealers decide to shoot it out on the street. No one should have to go to an outdoor concert and worry some nutcase might be lurking in a window somewhere about to open fire. I surrendered my weapons in July 2016. It was difficult, like quitting smoking, but it was the right thing to do, the healthy choice.

To the proponents of gun ownership and to the NRA, yes, I do want the government to come for your handguns and assault-style rifles, because you can’t handle them. I don’t care if you’re the “responsible” gun owner. I call bullshit on that argument as well because it simply perpetuates the culture and makes you complicit in gun violence and death.

I’m not opening this post to debate. I’ve heard it all before. If you don’t like what I’m saying, tough! If you agree, print this out and mail a copy to your elected officials. It’s time to bring down the second amendment. It’s time to put on our grown-up clothes and do what needs to be done.

My generation and the one just after mine are leaving a diseased legacy to our children and grandchildren – from the decimation of our planet to the continuing degradation of our society. Let’s try to eliminate at least this threat to our nation.

One Voice, One Vote…Time for a New Amendment

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Four times in American history, the Electoral College has propelled a candidate to the highest office in the country at odds with the popular vote, and twice in just the last sixteen years. It’s disturbing to consider that the process by which a president is elected has crumbled like the decaying water mains that run beneath the streets of New York City. There was considerable debate in 1787 as to just how the election of the President and Vice President would be determined. Several proposals were presented and argued with the intent of having the most representative way of achieving such an election, one that would be free of contamination by undue influences.

Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist 68 that the “sense of the people should operate in the choice”. Given this was written in 1788, one could appreciate his desire for the ultimate in fairness. He also suggested that those elected to the “college” would be “most likely to have the information and discernment” to make a selection that represented the best choice for the person to govern the country. No one in the late 1700s could have imagined the form of technology and communication that we have at our fingertips today. It clearly allows us to act on his desire for choice, but renders his concern for access to information and discernment moot.

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Electoral College put George W. Bush in the White House. Under his watch, we experienced 9/11, the worst economic downturn in nearly a century, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and a call for a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. Now again, with Trump, the Electoral College has failed to deliver on its mandate to use its ability for information and discernment to avoid the election of someone “not in eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”. Instead, we have a president that is a domestic and international embarrassment.

The concept of the Electoral College is now as archaic as those NYC water mains. We no longer need a body of electors who have since 1824 given a winner-take-all (except for Maine and Nebraska) series of votes to a candidate who lacks the popular sentiment. What we need is a new constitutional amendment. We’ve done it twenty-seven times in the last 230 years. We need to make all that urging to exercise our civic duty to go out and vote mean something. What’s the point in voting if the ultimate outcome says thanks for your vote, but we’re going to ignore you anyway?

One can argue the fine points of constitutional law and Federalist essays all day long, but let’s cut through the garbage – in our day and age, with our ability to communicate to the world at large photos of our cats and pictures of our favorite recipes, we have the means to cast an informed vote by ourselves. It’s simple: one voice, one vote.

The Day America Died

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By international standards, despite our 240 years, we are still a young nation. European and Asian countries measure their existence in millennia. Our early development launched as a country of malcontents and criminals; our national identity has continued to evolve as newer waves of immigration sought the hope of refuge on our shores. The one thing that set us apart, as opposed to the national identities of other nations, the single tenet that transcended the consolidation of multiple cultures and races was the understanding that the rights of the individual were to be accepted and safeguarded against persecution. As a nation, we struggled and continue to struggle for wider acceptance of all, especially those of other religions and nationalities and those with alternative sexual orientations. It seemed we were making significant strides to live up to the American mandate, however painfully slow it appeared. That all changed on January 20, 2017. It is the day America died. We might as well strip the Emma Lazarus plaque from the Statue of Liberty. Good luck to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free; you’ve been Trumped right along with women, the people within the LGBTQ community, Muslims, and non-whites.

Perhaps the vision of America we took pride in projecting was nothing more than a myth. The mass of people who wriggled from the rotting foundation of our country to vote for Trump have in all likelihood always harbored the racial bias, the intolerance, and the hatred that now stands fully exposed. People say we need to give this president a chance. Even if we do, the country that was America before the inauguration no longer exists. Whatever happens going forward, it will be a new America, a lesser America, no longer the country that was once the envy of the world. Or perhaps it’s simply that the truth of what we have always been has caught up to the rhetoric. Perhaps the other half of us just believed in the myth. It’s gloomy to consider.

When I was twenty-seven and living in the Middle East, I was tasked with the delivery of a proposal to the Brazilian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Walking through the diplomatic quarter in Jeddah, I turned a corner and saw the American flag flying above our consulate. It had been several months since I’d been home, and the sight of the stars and stripes quite literally brought tears to my eyes. I was young, and I believed in what we stood for, what the American flag represented. If a country can be loved for its natural environment, I will confess to harboring a love for having been born here. On the other hand, if a country is measured by the content of its people, then that love has been tarnished like a piece of badly oxidized silver. I have lost respect for at least half of my fellow Americans; it has been replaced by disdain for those who carry the ignorant notion that men like Trump and Pence can move our country along a path toward the ideals that made us stand apart. Watching the news footage of the moving trucks laden with President Obama’s possessions, a phrase, one emblematic of another time in our history that signified horrific disunity, came to mind. America as we knew it has gone with the wind.