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Blind Shots At A Moving Target
A call for talk but no solutions to gun violence
Len Morgenbesser wants to get illegal guns off the streets of
Albany. People are dying, remove the cause. Simple, a no-brainer.
As far as Len is concerned (or Dr. Leonard I Morgenbesser Ph.D.,
as he often signs his name) illegal guns are not merely criminal.
They are a public health issue, an epidemic. And like any contagion
that causes an epidemic, guns on the street must be contained and
“If we had a disease causing as much harm and death,” he
told a public gathering over a year ago, “we’d have
a public health emergency.”
Dr. Morgenbesser has turned this into a one man crusade. Many
public officials in Albany have grown accustomed to his endless
emails. Civic groups of every description have listened to his
presentations. Chief of Police Turley grimaces at the mention of
his name. Everybody in town who is involved with public life knows
Len, the gun violence
No one seriously argues with Len’s message. After all, he
is right. The problem is that he isn’t offering any direction
toward a solution to the problem.
Since essential police data is kept secret from the public, he
has painstakingly surveyed media reports of gun incidents in the
City. He calculates about 90 incidents a year, or one every four
days. “And since not all incidents get into the media,” he
told me, “this is underestimating.”
What Len wants is to start a public dialogue, one that involves
all parties. He wants everyone in one room, politicians, law enforcement,
neighborhood associations, clergy, public health advocates and
ordinary citizens of every stripe, rich and poor. He wants everybody
to start talking, to work together to unravel this pressing problem,
and above all, find a workable set of solutions.
Everyone agrees that Something Ought To Be Done. But to Dr. Morgenbesser’s
endless puzzlement, no one wants to do anything. With one notable
exception, no elected officials have done more than provide lip
Custom Colt Commander
Indeed, The Mayor and police officials have reacted negatively
to this idea. No surprise here, both the police and City Hall are
famous for excluding the public as much as they can in all things.
They see what Len is doing as a challenge to their turf, a public
encroachment on their monopoly of information.
And, the authorities see an encroachment on their personal power,
particularly their monopoly on legal violence. They see his proposals
as an indictment, an exposure of their continuing failure to control
gun violence in the City.
But what about everybody else? Why is Dr. Morgenbesser alone?
He does not understand why an outraged public is not rising up
with one voice and demanding that public officials get off their
fat butts and deal with this crisis. Back in September he vented
his frustration to me in an email:
Dan, is a community wide meeting a good idea? Who would call this
meeting? Would there be competing and even conflicting claims as
to whom has jurisdiction to call the meeting, or are WE THE PEOPLE
in the end the ones with the jurisdiction to call the meeting?
And where oh where are reverend clergy and lay leadership of the
faith communities? Why do I sense that they are not stepping forward?
As much as I hate to say this, I think that Dr. Morgenbesser’s
worthy efforts are going nowhere. The way he approaches the problem
of gun violence is doomed to failure.
Or, to be more precise, the way he stands aloof from the issues
at the center of gun violence is self defeating. Let me try to
There is one politician who has tried to jump start Len Morgenbesser’s
crusade, the inimitable First Ward Common Council member Dominick
Calsolaro. Back in 2003, Dom introduced a measure in the Common
Council calling for public dialogue on gun violence. After The
Mayor’s minions on the Council sidelined the proposal, he
took matters into his own hands and organized a conference which
was held at First Lutheran Church.
Well, word got out to the out-of-town pro-gun people, who showed
up in force. A majority of the participants of the conference were
the locals, Albany residents who wanted an end to guns on the street.
We sat in the front and middle of the hall. The gun people populated
the back rows.
It seems strange to say this, but I believe that I was the only
participant who crossed the invisible line and talked to the visitors
in the back. All the other locals appeared to have the attitude
that the pro gun people were intruders on their scene. But guess
what? I discovered that they were human beings interested in preserving
their essential rights and liberties.
My main purpose in crossing the line that day was to talk about
the so-called “Patriot” Act, which at that time had
been sneaked through Congress and was little known by the public
at large. I was delighted to discover that the these gun folks
already knew about this threat to our collective well-being, particularly
as concerns the Second Amendment. I wanted them to join the fight
against this unconstitutional assault on our inherent rights by
Unfortunately, none of the gun folks I talked to were themselves
able to cross the invisible line in the room, either. My impression
was that they felt that what I was asking them to participate in
was too “off message” for them.
Around that time, some of us alarmed and terrified
citizens had organized an Albany chapter of the Bill of Rights
Defense Committee (BORDC) with the specific aim of getting the
Albany Common Council to pass some sort of measure in opposition
to the so-called “Patriot” Act.
Also, we were trying to work around the corporate media’s
ban on information about this issue and educate our community.
Eventually, we succeeded with both goals, as did hundreds of communities
across the country.
It’s hard to remember this today in 2007, but opposing the
so-called "Patriot" Act was a hard sell back then. Corrupt
corporate politicians from both major parties were trying to quietly
shut down the Bill of Rights. Meanwhile, the corrupt corporate
media actively colluded in this effort by suppressing vital information
about this fascistic scam.
Let’s not forget that we are still living with many of the
same politicians who tried to do this to us, and we are still infected
with the same lying corporate media.
Anyway... my fellow co-conspirators at the Albany BORDC, an excellent
group of patriots, had an astonishing blind spot. Whenever we discussed
finding allies for our effort, I would suggest talking to the gun
advocates who were concerned about the Second Amendment. “We
don’t have to agree with them,” I said. “They
don’t have to agree with us. We have a common cause, and
that’s what’s important.”
I was met each time with cold stares. No one even wanted to discuss
talking to “those people.”
It was these two experiences, along with other observations, that
brought me to understand a very basic point about who wants guns and who doesn’t. We’re not talking rocket science
here, but a consideration so simple and obvious that no one bothers
to think about it.
In urban areas, and in the inner suburbs, there is no reason or
opportunity to discharge a gun, thus there is no reason to own
one. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of people in densely populated
areas consider guns to be a nuisance. No one would fire a gun in
the city except to cause havoc or commit a crime.
In the outer suburbs (exurbs) in farm country or in wilderness
areas, the majority of people consider guns to be necessary tools.
Guns are used for pest control, and they are used for collecting
food, specifically animal protein. Very importantly, guns are used
for defense. In places where law enforcement is distant, perhaps
hours away in some cases, that shotgun or rifle in the closet is
the only way to defend your family and your property from marauders.
I consider this the key to the whole discussion, the starting
point for any solution. We are seeing two world views, two cultures
that are not based on something as artificial and crude as “liberal” vs. “conservative,” state
boundaries, political parties, or even regions of the country.
There is an invisible line between the inner suburbs and the exurbs,
and on either side is a different attitude toward gun ownership
I’m not addressing the merits of either view, and by no
means do I claim that the prevailing view on both sides of the
line is unanimous. I know several people in my neighborhood who
have guns in their homes and are strong advocates of gun ownership.
But I hasten to add that that these neighbors of mine a) have never
discharged their firearms inside the City, and b) always take their
firearms out to firing ranges or wilderness areas far from the
City to use them.
One of my neighbors told me how he confronted a would be burglar
who had busted through his back door. He stood in his hallway with
a loaded handgun aimed at the burglar's face. After a few seconds
that seemed like a few hours, the burglar very very slowly backed
up and fled out the back door.
I asked my neighbor, “When he started to move, why didn’t
you pull the trigger?” He looked at me like I was the most
mentally deficient person he had ever met, and shook his head.
In any case, he was able to provide police with a precise description
of the burglar, and despite the police denial of service in my
neighborhood at the time of this incident, they eventually caught
Here is the problem that Len Morgenbesser presumes to address.
It is not gun ownership that is the problem. The problem is that
the “wrong kind of people” are in possession of guns
and using them in what is considered an irresponsible manner. And
the “wrong kind of people” are using guns that are
And who exactly are these “wrong kind of people?” For
the most part, BLACK, POOR, MALE and YOUNG.
It’s what Michael Parenti calls The Holy Triumvirate:
race, class and gender. With age thrown in to stir the pot. In
Albany, most gun violence is committed by young black guys who
belong to street gangs shooting each other. Only rarely is the
line crossed, and we almost never hear about someone white, middle
class, older than 30 or female stopping a bullet except by accident.
I suspect that Dr. Morgenbesser, like so many other people, is
simply afraid to address the subject of racial and class divisions
as a central factor in gun violence. Especially race. But nothing
can be done about the problem until we all look these scary monsters
I asked a certain Albany activist (a white middle class guy who
shall remain nameless) about the lack of response to Dr. Morgenbesser’s
calls for a solution to gun violence. After some back and forth
discussion, he had this to say:
Dan, obviously, you are right about race and class,
and the fact that none of my white friends are really upset about
this just goes to show that we've all figured out that it's basically
black kids killing each other and all we really have to worry
about is poor aim. Cynical, I know, but I think it's a fact that
there really isn't much concern about anything in the ghetto — just
keep it there.
So that brought me to consider what exactly would happen if several
nice, middle class, middle aged white Albanians were shot and killed
by economically disadvantaged young black fellows. For whatever
reason, robbery, anger, insanity, fun and thrills.
It follows that the nice rich white old people would almost certainly
demand institutional violence against the nasty poor young
black guys. There would be an open and insistent demand that The Police
get rid of the problem and clean up the town. There would be a
call for total war against the underclass.
Is that what we want? Should we sacrifice our liberties for a
little temporary security... from Them?
But if the dreaded underclass had no access to illegal guns,
then the race and class war simmering in the ghettos would have
no firepower. Right? Unfortunately, that’s also not a simple
problem to solve.
Dr. Morgenbesser is not willing to confront the corporate machine
that markets illegal guns through illegal channels. Legal gun ownership
has dropped by some 20
per cent in the last thirty-five years,
yet gun production by gun manufacturers is at an all time high.
Somebody is buying these guns, and the only possible conclusion
is that these overproduced guns are sold illegally and owned illegally
to serve the god of corporate profit.
There is much talk about cutting off the flow of firearms into
New York State from such places as Georgia, where almost anybody
can purchase guns. But even supposing such channels can be suppressed,
as long as guns are being manufactured by the gun corporations
there will be channels for their distribution to those who want
We live in a society where corporations decide for us what we
want, and what we get. Thus, if we want to stop the flow of illegal
guns we have to confront the ideological justification for corporate
power in our society. Personally, I’m all in favor of overthrowing
corporate control and reestablishing the rule of law and the Bill
of Rights. But that is certainly a tall order.
And that brings us back to the Second Amendment, which Dr. Morgenbesser
refuses to directly confront. As we all know too well, the gun
manufacturers hide their behavior behind popular support for the
badly misunderstood “right to bear arms.”
It’s a variation of the highly effective divide and rule
political technique, and it works really well. For example, look
at how the Second Amendment has been used to divide people who
want to defend the Bill of Rights from the so-called "Patriot" Act.
Gun ownership under the Second Amendment is a limited right. Freedom
of speech, of religion, a free press and a fair trial are universal,
rights of conscience that cannot be restricted. Not so gun ownership,
which depends upon whether or not the individual is capable of
making the right decisions about using a firearm. Like my neighbor,
who would not shoot the burglar backing out of his hallway.
Custom Glock Model 20 With Matching Knife
I could go on and on about this. The more I study the Second Amendment
the more my head spins.
But I will say one thing that I have learned. Universal gun ownership
is the last thing intended by the Founding Fathers who wrote The
Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
Those rich white men were trying to become the new nobility of
the new nation. They did not want the citizens to have unrestricted
firearms and compete with their power.
That being said, there is a consistent belief among the American
populace, primarily country folk, that all citizens have a right
to access to firearms. This belief, or tradition, is not expressed
by the Second Amendment, but it is a legitimate point of view and has a long pedigree.
This sort of clash between popular tradition and the legal wording
of the Bill of Rights has happened before, notably individual freedom
of speech and the individual’s right to a fair trial. These
two freedoms, which we almost take for granted, had to be clarified
by the Civil War and subsequently by the 14th Amendment in 1866.
So this clash of ideas about guns needs to be hashed out in public,
and brought to an agreeable public conclusion. Instead, we have
both sides in the gun control debate spouting jingoistic sound
bites and periodically retreating into sullen silence. No one seems
to want to talk to the hated other. This refusal to confront reality
can only lead to a violent conclusion, sooner or later.
So then. Len Morgenbesser wants guns off the streets of Albany.
He needs to look at race and class
(etc.) in our society, right outside his door. He needs to look
at corporate power and irresponsibility. He needs to look at fundamental
law issues that strike at the heart of American identity. And he
has to understand who wants guns and who doesn’t, and why.
He won’t do it. He has repeatedly told me that he refuses
to seriously examine any of these things. He will not choose a
position and take a stand on any of them, he will not work
to resolve any of these fundamental problems at the heart of the
gun violence issue. Instead, he wants everybody to get together
and figure out a magical solution to a problem that he refuses
to properly define.
Getting everyone to talk is not a bad thing, nor
is it a novel idea. Dominick Calsolaro continues
to pursue the idea. It's a start.
But talking without direction will lead to exactly nowhere.
Len Morgenbesser wants somebody to do something. In the end, no
one knows what to do, and nothing gets done. And he offers no constructive
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