“And as I’ve said on this floor before, it’s also hard to take seriously, Republicans’ passionate pleas for this body to defend the existence of an unborn fetus when they seem to care so little about many of the existential threats that are posed to every American after they are born. Today, this day, over 100 Americans are going to die from gunshot wounds, from murders and suicides… It seems that after birth, life matters a little bit less to some people in this body,” ~ Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn), May 10, 2022, on the floor of the United States Senate, 14 days before the Uvalde school gun massacre.
“I’ve always known what was at stake. That’s why my fight against threats to reproductive freedom, including abortion, has always been unyielding. These decisions should’ve never been left up to the courts. These rights must be secured and protected beyond elections.” ~ Rep. Renitta Shannon, Georgia House of Representatives
“…the ultimate authority…resides in the people alone…” ~ James Madison, Federalist No. 46, January 29, 1788
“I always say, complacency is the kiss of death.” ~ Shari Redstone, CEO, Paramount Global
In my role as an etiquette trainer, I generally have advised clients against initiating discussions of controversial issues. But in recent years, under our nation’s questionable leadership, decency, etiquette, ethics and empathy have diminished, with lingering and catastrophic results. As professionals — especially those of us who teach our clients not only which fork to choose and where to place one’s napkin but also how to put the comfort of others before our own — it’s necessary at times to take stands as well as action on critical and difficult issues. Of the many roles we all assume daily and throughout the course of our lives — parenthood, career professional, community member, friend, neighbor, family caregiver — the one of American citizen affects every facet of our lives and those of our loved ones. Hence, in that latter role, I am compelled on occasion when alarm bells are going off in my head to dust off my soapbox…
As if we didn’t learn a soul-crushing lesson from Sandy Hook, the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, reminded us in devastating terms, that even our youngest are vulnerable to killers with guns, often legally obtained, at what should be a safe place for them — their schools.
How did we get here? The Second Amendment historically has been clear; it referred to state militias, period. But in the 1970s, an organization called The National Rifle Association started lobbying for the Second Amendment to also apply to an individual’s right to “keep and bear arms.” Since then, gun-rights advocates have conveniently ignored the words, “well-regulated” and “militia,” with the NRA’s campaign culminating in the 2008 landmark Supreme Court ruling in D.C. vs Heller that overturned historical precedent and declared that the Second Amendment referred to individual rights.” The NRA has continued to grow in power — aided by another SCOTUS ruling that overturned a century of precedent in 2010, called Citizen’s United — and maintained a stranglehold on candidates and elected officials, particularly in one political party. The NRA’s lobbying has helped to increase the proliferation of guns of all types and prevent any restrictions, even though most Americans do not own guns and overwhelmingly want gun safety laws.
And now the current Supreme Court has proved that it is widening the gap between its decisions and Americans’ preferences on gun safety by last month overturning yet another century-plus-old gun law in my state. This is an odd — and terrifying — juxtaposition to the mass gun executions of civilians by civilians, and of police officers by civilians, and serves to facilitate the increasing and ongoing mass shooting threats that loom at the intersection of every aspect of our lives — in schools, on college campuses, in supermarkets, houses of worship, hospitals, malls, retail stores, concerts, clubs, movie theatres, workplaces, commuter trains, subways. and on the street. And this does not include street gang shootings, those killed by stray bullets, accidental and intentional shootings in homes, and suicides by guns. And now a sniper shooting at a Fourth of July parade, in Highland Park, Illinois, killing seven people, leaving one toddler an orphan, and wounding dozens.
The majority of justices on the Supreme Court are clearly out of step with the majority of Americans.
I come from a long line of hunters and gun owners, although I am neither. I’m a city gal born and bred, and never had the desire to own or use a gun (although my country gal mom apparently could outshoot Annie Oakley, even though she gave up guns and hunting when she moved to the city). Once, while visiting my country cousins during deer hunting season, one cousin and I were shot at while cutting through the edge of the woods on our way to our grandmother’s house. Dropping down as bullets whizzed over our heads and crawling out of the patch of woods, we managed to escape. Apparently, the hunter(s) mistook two young women walking along, talking and wearing bright red jackets and hats for deer! But while getting shot at accidentally is terrifying; being deliberately targeted and shot at with a firearm is unimaginable, but tragically a reality for too many Americans, including our kids.
Fear Of Going To School
When I was going to school during the Cold War era of the1950s and ’60s, my biggest safety concern was protecting myself from nuclear annihilation. But, in reality, any thought of an atom bomb actually dropping on my school was an idea that seemed less of a possibility than my being turned into a pod by creatures from outer space or getting trapped in Vincent Price’s haunted house. And duck & cover exercises (which continued from the 1950s until the early 1980s in some schools) weren’t meant to frighten schoolchildren, but rather simply prepare us, often in lighthearted ways if you can imagine that.
Today’s attacks on schoolchildren, however, are horrifyingly real and have become a regular thing. So much so that, increasingly, children are afraid to go to school for fear of another attack, and parents are fearful of letting them go. Many teenagers and teachers worry, as well. The murders of children and adolescents are tragic, but so are the mental and emotional health issues of the survivors, and the fear and terror that spreads across the nation’s communities and affects millions of schoolchildren, parents, teachers and others. The gun-rights crowd’s absurd solutions include arming teachers and making fortresses out of school buildings. Never mind that armed and trained police officers have demonstrated that even they cannot always save students who are under fire.
School Horrors Increase
Just as the 20th century neared its end, along came the horrific Columbine High School shooting that killed 12 students and one teacher and wounded 21 others. Even back then, a slow and methodical police response meant that many were not rescued. Shock reverberated throughout the country, and numerous schools implemented awareness programs and addressed issues such as student bullying and mental health awareness. But the root of the problem was not addressed: too many guns and too few gun safety laws due largely to the continued cult-like allegiance to the NRA by elected officials.
As a result, between Columbine to 2018, more than 311,000 students have experienced gun violence at school. But school shootings are not the only way America’s young people are dying by firearms — there are also gun accidents in the home, suicides by gun and neighborhood gun violence. By 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of death for American children and teenagers, which increases the chances of a young American someday being in the crosshairs of an AR-15 or other firearm.
What does this say to the rest of the world about the U.S., whose military has defended itself and other countries from aggressors, but cannot defend its own children from being slaughtered by civilians? How can the United States maintain its global leadership when its civilians can purchase and use guns with no restrictions, when its military and law enforcement agencies require its soldiers, officers and agents to be highly trained and tested before they can use their weapons? This is certainly an embarrassing tail wagging the dog scenario.
When I was coming of age in the late 1960s and ’70s, the world was changing in major ways, and my contemporaries and I rode the waves of social revolution. The wretched Vietnam War ended; the consumer became king — or queen, actually; and Roe v. Wade changed women’s lives, getting the long arm of the law out of our wombs and granting us the opportunity of equality in the workplace, the same sexual freedom as men and the right to make our own reproductive choices.
When our daughter was born, my husband and I were grateful that she would have the reproductive freedom and options that I had not had before my generation won this major battle. But I knew that there remained fierce opposition to a woman’s right to choose. As the decades passed and Roe survived numerous court challenges, I became more confident. Until the unthinkable occurred: two unscrupulous guys were elected in strategic positions — one in the Senate and one in the White House — who would in their Machiavellian approaches pack the Court (as well as federal courts) with highly politicized jurists who did their job and overturned Roe v Wade, delivering a massive gut punch to American women, essentially returning their status to second-class citizens and control of their bodies to the government.
Men, as well, will suffer from this ruling, including the added pressure of being the sole breadwinner (back to the 1950s?), not being able to plan their families around career and financial concerns, pursuing IVF, enjoying sexual relations without having to worry about pregnancies, etc. Women’s reproductive rights very much strengthen relationships and families, the economy and our precious democracy.
But, while this decision is horrific on so many fronts, so is the reasoning that led up to it. Take, for
instance, Justice Alito’s justification for his decision by referring to the warped ideology of England’s 17th century Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale, a misogynist who crafted the concept that women who report rapes should not be trusted and who sentenced women as “witches” to be hanged. Justice Alito needs a reality check as to which century we are living in. Never mind sending women back to the 1970s, or even 1788 — Alito’s addled judgment has sent 21st century American women back to the 17th century, and a bit too close for comfort to the Republic of Gilead.
Moreover, this decision was handed down by justices in opposition to their declarations in their confirmation hearings, including Alito’s 2005 confirmation hearing statement that “Roe v. Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court.” But the Dobbs majority opinion ignored both precedent and public opinion. As well, Hale’s — and, apparently, Alito’s — view that women can be witches and should be hanged is right in line with the draconian actions from some states. In addition to outlawing abortion, these states, variously, want to declare embryonic tissue as legal persons, outlaw miscarriage and criminalize contraceptives. Lurking about are even more extreme villains (I can almost see them twirling their mustaches and jiggling their eyebrows): According to the New York Times: “The most extreme, like Mr. Durbin, want to pursue what they call “abortion abolition,” a move to criminalize abortion from conception as homicide, and hold women who have the procedure responsible — a position that in some states could make those women eligible for the death penalty.”
We truly are in bonkers territory here, friends. And speaking of bonkers, Texas governor Greg Abbott could give Justice Alito some competition in the addled department; recently declaring that he was going to eliminate rape in his state, which leads the nation in rapes — so women don’t have to worry about being raped anymore! Good grief. If this situation wasn’t such a catastrophe, such reasoning and comments be hilarious! Instead, it’s a grim situation that a relative handful of highly radical elected and appointed officials who have a clearly evil agenda can control the lives and deaths of millions of women and children.
Before legalization, I supported a friend who underwent an abortion — and I have friends who supported friends in such circumstances — and those experiences were both frightening and dangerous. After legalization, I accompanied another friend to a local hospital, where she received an early, quick and safe abortion. And, according to the World Health Organization (WHO): “Unsafe abortion is a leading – but preventable – cause of maternal deaths and morbidities. It can lead to physical and mental health complications and social and financial burdens for women, communities and health systems. Lack of access to safe, timely, affordable and respectful abortion care is a critical public health and human rights issue.”
Healthcare professionals, statisticians and women also know the issues associated with pregnancies — both planned and unintended. wanted and unwanted — and how they affect women during pregnancy and after giving birth. For most women who choose to become pregnant or continue their pregnancies, the process is pretty straightforward. But for many women, teens and even children — including victims of rape and incest — pregnancy can be fraught with issues, including the need for the very rare late-term abortion, in some cases to save the mother’s life and in other cases to end the suffering of a doomed fetus.
Roe has saved the lives and health of millions of women, and helped families and children survive and thrive. Death and suffering are ahead for millions without it.
Further, with the overturning of Roe, there are signals from the SCOTUS that other rights might be on the chopping block, such as contraceptive use, including Plan B, and same-sex relationships. And by turning over women’s rights to the states, chaos and confusion abound, even among some healthcare providers, over what is legal or not in some states now.
And, what does all this say to the world about the United States, just as other countries are legalizing — or at least decriminalizing — women’s rights to an abortion, such as Mozambique, Ireland and Mexico? What does it say to other first world countries that offer paid maternity and parental leave? What does it say to developing nations, as long a beacon of women’s rights — which are human rights — that the United States’ light has now been extinguished as the rights of women are rolled back at this dark moment that will go down in history as a day of infamy for all Americans. For women, it feels like we are terrifying close to becoming Gilead.
Some Americans are consistent in their views on the sanctity of life; they are pro-life across the board — against abortion and capital punishment and for strong gun legislation. But many more Americans, including elected and appointed officials, by their words and deeds at least, believe that embryos and fetuses have more of a right to life than the women carrying them. These same people also fight to prohibit legislation that would preserve life by restricting the availability and ownership of guns that maim and kill children, and damage or completely ruin the lives of survivors.
One political party has long stood strong for making it easy for criminals and potential criminals to have ready access to the guns that have massacred schoolchildren and others in the U.S. But it’s not just guns that feed the hypocrisy. So called “pro-life” advocacy comes to a screeching halt after babies are born. These elected champions of the unborn have a history of cutting nutritional, health and education programs and blocking or killing bills and laws that benefit babies and children, including paid family leave and childcare. Moreover, this party has repeatedly stalled legislation that would protect pregnant women on the job, despite the other party’s repeated efforts to pass bipartisan legislation. Even worse, it has stalled or blocked legislation that would protect the health of pregnant women. This party also repeatedly tried and failed to kill the Affordable Care Act, held the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) hostage, and voted against Medicaid expansion, all of which has saved and improved the lives of millions of children and families. Another hypocrisy of this party is its 1970s playbook, “family values” – to distract from the ERA; and they are up to their old tricks again, trying to resurrect this old chestnut to distract from and justify the overthrow of Roe. Again, wrong decade and wrong century.
And while we can applaud the recent bipartisan gun safety bill passed in a generation, thanks to the tenacity and leadership of Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, this bill is far from perfect. That said, it’s progress toward comprehensive gun legislation should the current party in control wins a supermajority this fall. Because if the party that is in favor of enslaving women and weak or nonexistent gun legislation regains control of Congress next year, we can say goodbye to any further gun safety legislation. And there will be no hope of restoring women’s reproductive rights, evidenced by the Senate bill just introduced by the majority to codify women’s reproductive rights failing.
However, if voters this November return a supermajority in the Senate to the party currently in control by a paper-thin margin, as well as in the House, women’s reproductive rights could be codified either through legislation or perhaps an amendment to the Constitution, and sensible gun safety laws could be expanded.
This is urgent, because the facts are: (A) Among developed countries, (1) American women experience the highest maternal mortality rate and (2) the U.S. still does not have paid parental leave. Nor does the U.S. have universal healthcare that protects women who do wish to continue their pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. (B) The U.S. has nearly as many guns as people, and possibly more, and leads the world in “consistently higher death tolls from firearms across age groups and consistently higher rates of firearm deaths.” And despite the conclusion of a well-known media personality blaming authoritative women for the nation’s gun massacres, the problem remains too many guns and too few gun safety laws.
So, how do those who proclaim to be pro-life square anti-abortion legislation to protect the unborn with a pro-gun stance that fails to protect other life, including first graders to college students?
Since Columbine, there have been many more school shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun murders, the Marjorie Stoneman slaughter, Virginia Tech massacre, and now the tragedy at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. These ongoing firearm killings have taught us that too many of our elected officials, at all levels, value guns over children. They balk at addressing the real problem and passing sensible gun safety laws, instead harping on their go-to song: let’s do something about the mentally ill and arming teachers. Mental illness must be addressed as a healthcare issue, but the gun-rights crowd seem to care about mental illness only as something to blame for gun violence. And, of course, they conveniently overlook the fact that mental illness exists in other countries that do not have the level of gun violence that exists in the U.S.
And in Missouri, just for one example, its legislature passed some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, even as they vigorously defend gun rights. But Texas, reportedly, has the most restrictive abortion law and among the most lenient gun laws. Alarmingly, the following states, as well, reportedly have very restrictive abortion laws and very lenient gun laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming. And now, apparently — following the Texas vigilante model — there is a movement to prevent pregnant women from traveling from abortion-banned states to abortion-allowed states by empowering private citizens to sue those who assist pregnant women in such travel, terrorizing and essentially imprisoning and enslaving women in their home states — a condition I’m sure the Taliban would admire.
Reprehensible is the hypocrisy of defending the unborn to justify trampling on a woman’s Constitutional right to make her own decisions regarding her body, while blocking gun legislation that would help prevent the murders of schoolchildren from gun violence, not to mention those of adults, as well as to prevent the often lifelong trauma of survivors.
Finally, a word about those who oppose abortion based on religious beliefs: As someone who rejected the hypocrisy of my evangelical church in the late 1960s, I believe that neither the church nor the state has any business interfering in women’s constitutionally guaranteed privacy, with the aim of controlling women’s bodies by limiting their healthcare options. It is generally understood that the decades-long white evangelical movement — has much to do with the overturning of Roe. That said, I applaud Roe in achieving the correct balance in protecting both women and fetuses, and, as a moderate, believe it is a fine blueprint for legislation and / or a Constitutional amendment. As for guns, some evangelicals disagree on the issue, and there is a history of churches wanting to ban many guns. The answer should be that both the church and the state have a responsibility to do everything possible to protect human life outside the womb, especially that of our children, who should be valued more than the cold, hard guns that kill them.
How We Can Fix This
The possibility of a second civil war has been raised, due to the deepest divisions in our country since the mid-19th century. But if civil war is coming, I prefer to fight it not on the battlefield but at the ballot box.
We the People have the final word through the most direct and conclusive means: our votes. Yes, voter suppression is on the move by that aforementioned party; but that is all the more reason that we all need to vote to keep the right to vote. Our right to vote is powerful, but if we don’t use it we could lose it.
But, we have two obstacles to overcome: (1) the distraction of the current economy and (2) chronic low voter turnout.
First, the current global inflationary period we’re in is a bear — literally! Coming out of the pandemic, we are faced with supply-chain and worker shortages combined with sudden increased consumer spending; U.S. support of Ukraine and sanctions against Russia resulting oil and grain shortages; companies might raise prices to cover the surge in higher wages; suspected corporate greed; decreased supplies of goods and services and increased demand of same all equal inflation. Government’s ability to provide relief requires time and a delicate balance. What we, as consumers, can do: According to a report by KTVU-TV, Brookings Institution’s Wendy Edelberg, advises, “The most effective thing we can do to fight inflation now is buy less, a lot less, until decreasing demand meets up with now increasing supplies. Pull back on our goods spending. So, that would certainly help and reduce the pressure on our goods sector.”
Second, roughly half of Americans who are eligible to vote don’t vote – roughly 80 – 100 million people! Consequently, only half of the voting public determines how the country, as well as states and local communities will be governed. Many non-voters want gun safety and women’s reproductive freedom, but they allow others to decide who will lead the nation and often deny them what they want and need. Whatever the reasons that people don’t exercise their power, they are depriving themselves and their country of the best election outcomes — and best outcomes for their lives. Remember, we cannot expect perfection from any party or candidate, but what we should expect is progress. What we, as citizens, can do: Those who generally don’t vote, or only vote in presidential elections, should register and vote for candidates in federal, state and local elections this year and beyond who will ensure gun safety and reproductive freedom (as a bonus, those same candidates are also likely to vote for legislation that ensures voting rights, addresses climate change and protects our democracy, all of which are in danger at present). For those who vote regularly, try to get at least one person you know who normally doesn’t vote to vote this year in every election that applies to them.
Two helpful voting websites are: vote.gov and vote.org. These sites contain guides on how to register to vote, the ID requirements in each state, and the number to call should obstacles to voting be encountered, as well as other valuable information.
Recovering the rights that have been taken away from us — as well as preventing more losses that could be coming — seems like a heavy life. But simply exercising our right to vote could bring about dramatic results regarding our right to control both the proliferation and easy access to guns and our own bodies. Elections matter! And, as a bonus, if we elect the right candidates, we are also likely to get comprehensive and honorable legislation passed on voting rights, climate change and immigration. What a different country this would be!
As we pass the 246th anniversary of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, we are at a watershed moment in our nation’s history. Let’s pay homage to the Founders who gave us the great gift of liberty by voting not only in this year’s elections but every one in the years to come, to keep America a democracy.
The reason to vote regularly is beautifully captured in the words of two great American leaders:
Adlai Stevenson – “Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
President Franklin Roosevelt – “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
See you at the polls! Let’s get this fixed!
Thank you for reading this extra-long post. I appreciate it, and I appreciate you. That’s all I’ve got for now (okay, I can hear you cheering, or maybe that’s snoring I hear… 🙂
In any case, I would love to know what you think. Meanwhile, stay well, stay strong and keep the faith.
Until next time,