Gun Violence: A Multi-Faceted/ Bipartisan Approach

I’m not sure why this particular school shooting has lead me to deeper contemplation than others, maybe it’s that a piece of my heart stayed in Florida after serving an LDS mission there, maybe it’s that I have a 3rd degree connection to the shooting (the daughter of a friend of a friend was shot and miraculously survived), maybe it’s that my own son is getting closer and closer to school age, maybe it’s that now I blog and I felt the need to share my voice.  It’s probably a combination of all of the above.

I didn’t want to just post reactively, because that just tends to get people more entrenched in their own way of thinking so I set out and did a decent amount of research.  Now by no means am I touting myself as an expert in this.  I did not research EVERY major shooting in recent years.  I do not know or understand all gun laws.  I have a very basic knowledge about guns in general.  But, I do know more about all of these things now than I did a few weeks ago.

My biggest suggestion to everyone is to go into this with an open mind and do some unbiased research of your own.  My research challenged a lot of ideas I had, it strengthened some of my opinions, and ultimately left me with a lot more questions.  That’s probably the definition of good research.

I hope people from all sides will read this, consider the ideas, do some more research, and ultimately work towards solutions rather than the stalemate we have put ourselves into.

Why are we so outraged by mass shootings?

When a mass shooting occurs it suddenly becomes a news and social media sensation.  It’s as if the instant it occurs it becomes a trending story, memes about gun control/ gun rights are immediately shared, online arguments ensue, someone asks if we can all just get along, and probably someone shares some statistic about why there are bigger issues we should be outraged by.

So, here’s some statistics we should keep in mind.  Mass shootings account for only about 1% of gun related deaths, and yet they get the bulk of the media coverage.  In 2013 gun deaths accounted for 1.3% of all deaths in the United States.  So mass shootings account for about 1% of 1% of deaths annually in the United States.  Also, more than half of those gun related deaths were suicide rather than homicide.

According to the CDC’s stats from 2015, of the 2,712,630 deaths that year in the United States, 23% were caused by heart disease.  That’s almost a quarter of deaths each year.  But I rarely see an outrage over this.  Next is cancer at 22%.  Now I do feel like there is a general fear of cancer among Americans.  In case you didn’t already add those two numbers together, cancer and heart disease make up for 45% or almost half of the deaths in America each year.  Put down the cheeseburger and the unorganic food and back up slowly.

There’s a pretty significant drop off percentage wise down to 3rd place at 6% which goes to chronic lower respiratory disease, which is typically caused by smoking or even second hand smoke.  Cigarettes should have us in the corner peeing our pants.

4th place goes to accidents (predominately car accidents) at 5%.  Driving is something most Americans do EVERY DAY.  Typically without a second thought to the fact that it is the 4th most dangerous thing you can do.  I don’t have the specific stats on how many of those were caused by drunk driver’s or other accidents involving alcohol, but they are included in this stat.  But more than cars and alcohol, Americans report themselves as being afraid of snakes, sharks… and shootings.

For the record, homicide does not make the top 10 list, but suicide does, in 10th place following strokes, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, and kidney disease.

Ok, so maybe this isn’t a fair way to look at our outrage meter because those stats do take in all age groups, so a lot of those people were really old so maybe it was their time and as I pointed out in my post about the death of my grandmother, those deaths aren’t necessarily an outrage.

So let’s break those stats down a little more.

Among white males suicide jumps up to 8th place or 2.6%, homicide is still not on the top 10.  Among black males homicide is the 5th leading cause of death at almost 5%, which was only 50 fewer individuals than the number killed by strokes, and about 2,700 less than were killed in car accidents (6.5%).  Suicide did not make the top 10 list for black males.  Among Latino males, suicide and homicide both make the top 10 list at 2.6% and 2.4% respectively.

Neither suicide nor homicide made the top 10 lists for any of the groups of women.

So statistically speaking, women have little reason to be afraid.  White men don’t need to be afraid of other people, only of taking their own life.  Hispanic males should be a bit more scared.  And black males ought to fear homicide at the same levels I suggested we all be afraid of driving.

Again, these stats are including all ages, and still for almost all of these group, heart disease was the number one killer, if not heart disease then cancer.  So what if we look at age groups, where people are significantly less likely to die in general.  What if we just look at untimely deaths.

For all groups ages 1-44 accidents are the leading cause of death.  About 30% of deaths for each group, except for the 15-24 year olds which jumps up to 41%.  Among 5-14 year old suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death with 7% of deaths, homicide ranks 5th with 5%.  Among 15-24 year olds (our high school and college age group) suicide ranks 2nd with 18% of deaths, homicide is a close 3rd with 15%.  Among 25-44 year old suicide and homicide drop down to 4th and 5th place with 11% committing suicide and 6% by homicide.

Now of course not all homicides or suicides are committed using a gun, but guns did account for 67% of homicides and over 50% of suicides.  According to the Academic Journal of Epidemiology, of those who have attempted, 90% who use a gun are successful.  More attempt using other means such as cutting or drug overdose, but only 3% of those cases are successful. And among attempted homicides, according to data from the Western Surgical Association, gun shot wounds (at least to the heart) have an 84% chance of death whereas stabbing victims have a 30% chance of death.

So what we can deduce is that, while other means are of course used, guns are the most lethal.  This also applicable when comparing statistics with other countries.  According to the American Journal of Medicine, the US has a homicide rate 7 times higher than the average for other populous developed countries with a gun related death rate 25 times higher.  Which means that other countries must have a higher percentage of deaths by other means.  It’s not that other countries don’t have issues with violence, they just have less issues with gun violence which results in fewer deaths in general because they are more likely to survive the violence if it was not committed using a gun.  I did not find a statistic for overall violent attempts between countries, which I think would be an important statistic to find and consider in the debate for solutions.

Now to get this back into perspective, I gave the stats for how many deaths are accounted for by homicide and suicide, but that still doesn’t tell you how likely people are to die by these means without knowing the deaths out of total population.  Here’s where some math gets a little tricky because the census stats I found did not break down into the same age groups as the cause of death stats and the census stats are from a few years earlier than the cause of death stats.  These specific stats are another thing I think need to be looked at in greater detail and accuracy, but for the sake of perspective, here’s what I could piece together.  As of 2010 there were 166,786,747 individuals aged 5-44 years old.  The chance of dying of any cause in this age range sits at about 1%.  In 2016, 20,189 people in this age range committed suicide or .01% of the population.  Homicides accounted for 12,789 deaths in this age range, or .007% of the population.

If we look at just the high school and college range, those most likely to commit suicide or fall victim to a school shooting, the stats remain at .01% for suicide, but comes up to .01% for homicide.  Remember the stat from earlier that mass shootings only account for 1% of these gun related deaths.

I give these stats not to suggest that this is not a problem, or that we ought not to be outraged but to put in perspective that the chances of being killed are very small.

So then why are we SO outraged by mass shootings when they are statistically a small problem in general, and still considerably smaller than other problems related to gun violence.

I’m about to make some uncomfortable assertions, so hang on.  I’m not saying that this is how EVERYONE feels, or by any means that they are morally correct reasons, and by and large these come from my own observations not from any sort of research.

The Media

An NRA spokeswoman said, “Cable news loves school shootings.”  Think about it, when a disaster of this nature occurs, it plays continuously and everyone tunes in (at least everyone with cable).  Every day shootings, well, they happen every day so they don’t spike ratings so they don’t often report them.  But with a mass shooting their ratings spike, and the more they spike, the more they cover it.  The more they cover it, the more outraged we get.  We begin to fight on social media about it.  We can’t seem to let it go.  And, while I’m not into conspiracy theories, here’s one that’s fairly verifiable.  Russian Twitter accounts posted loaded and inflaming comments both for and against gun control immediately after the shooting.  So when you hop on and immediately social media is full of arguing and memes claiming that the other side is irrational and how dare they say that.  They DIDN’T SAY IT!  A Russian account said it to try and divide us, and we fell for it.

Privilege, Choice, and Prevention

There are some indicators that put people at higher risk of falling victim to gun violence.  These include having a prior criminal record or living in a poor urban.  Let’s combine those indicators with the other statistics and look at my risk factors which are probably similar to most of my readers.  I was born white and female, since that gives me an advantage when it comes to gun violence, that would be considered privilege in this situation.  Coming from a middle class background is also a privilege.  The financial and educational choices that my husband I have made in conjunction with this privilege have allowed us to purchase a home in a reasonably middle class neighborhood.  Not having a criminal record is based on the choices that we have made not to commit crimes, but there is certainly an amount of privilege based on our upbringing to have helped with those choices.  Considering all of these factors, my family is avoiding and preventing almost all of the risk of being shot.

So when I hear about someone being shot in a gang fight, or even if they were shot as an innocent bystander but in a neighborhood very different than mine I don’t really relate to it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not upset by it, or that by any means I think it is ok.  But I move on with my day rather quickly because I’m so removed that I can’t really put myself in their shoes.

But with mass shootings, particularly school shootings, I CAN relate.  I’ve been a student, I’m a parent soon to send kids to school.  And there is nothing about my privilege or my choices that can prevent being a victim of a mass shooting.  They don’t care about race, neighborhood, or background.  I can’t even say don’t be a bully because they don’t just target the bullies.  They shoot at EVERYONE.  And in a place where we ought to feel safe.  And while the statistic is still so low, how can know which school (or concert or club) will be next.  It’s scary because what if it had been my school growing up, what if it had been my college classes, and most frightening of all, what if it is the school where my children go.

That is what causes the outrage.

What do we do about it?

Here’s where we all start fighting and we get really ugly.  I’ve seen people from both sides say that they would be willing to have a rational conversation if only the other side would be willing.  For one, that’s immature, be the example and the bigger person.  For two, most people are willing to have a rational conversation, remember how the most offensive comments that appeared to be entirely irrational came from Russian accounts.  They are trying to divide us, because when we are divided we are weak and nothing can be fixed.  Only when we take a deep breath, calm down, and have honest and rational conversations on this, and any topic for that matter, will we be able to get anywhere.

So let’s start by stopping.  Stop posting things that put the “other side” on the defensive.  Stop assuming other people’s intentions or intellectual ability.  Stop jumping to conclusions that suggestions are impossible.

There will be some very difficult questions that will come up.  Rather than shutting down because of a difficult question, let’s be willing to find answers and solutions.

Here are some of my suggestions, and they are by no means perfect, I recognize that a lot of questions would need to be answered and determined, but I think they could at least help the situation.

Reform Gun Laws

I am by no means in favor of getting rid of the second amendment, or collecting everybody’s guns.  And while there are people that do hold this view, they are few and far between.  According to a poll done in 2004, 31% of Democrats own a gun.  So my Republican friends who like to share things about Democrats wanting to take away their guns, please stop, because it’s not true.

Let’s take a look at that second amendment, shall we:

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.

The opportunity to hunt is not specifically protected, nor is the opportunity for self protection, although we should not take that to mean that they are not allowable.  The opportunity to be a part of a WELL REGULATED militia is what is specifically protected.  The intent is that if there is a credible threat to the security and freedom of the State that it will be able to militartize it’s people in a well regulated fashion.

While I’m not suggesting that we adopt the same rigorous requirements for gun ownership that the military does for it’s recruits, if a group of people is going to defend my state I would prefer they were of sound mind and without criminal history as part of being a well regulated militia lest they turn on the State or it’s people.

Currently there are some regulations about minimum ages to purchase and those that have been convicted of violent crimes or institutionalized for mental health concerns.  Here’s a few items I feel could be reformed while maintaining the balance of being well regulated and the rights of the people.

Raising the age limit

I am in favor of raising the minimum age for the purchase of all firearms to 21.  We have agreed to 21 as the legal age to purchase alcohol due to the risks involved, it makes sense to me then to raise that limit on weapons as well.  Would this completely solve the problem, no definitely not.  A lot of the shooters I researched were over 21.  But, while our laws about alcohol have not prevented all underage drinking, or all drunk driving accidents, our laws are not complicit with giving alcohol to people who are too young to make such serious decisions.  Likewise raising the age for purchase of weapons gives the message that this is a serious decision in which we are entrusting “the people.”

Restricting access to those with mental illness, violent tendencies, or criminal behavior

In every case that I researched, all of the shooters had known mental health concerns.  At what point should a mental illness preclude a person from owning a gun?  This is one of those really difficult questions that needs to be addressed.  It’s going to be difficult to research and determine, but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned.  A quick search for statistics on anxiety and depression gave numbers all over the place from 18% of adults experiencing anxiety and depression, but 13% being treated, up to another group reporting that 40% of adults have anxiety or depression.  Whatever the number is, there are a lot of people who experience at least mild anxiety and depression symptoms, do we ban all of them from owning a weapon.  Probably not.  But I do feel that it needs to be expanded to more than just those who are institutionalized.  And maybe not forever, it could be a temporary suspension, say 5 years, and then with doctor’s approval could be reinstated.

As for violent tendencies and criminal behavior, Nikolas Cruz had a history of killing animals, this is known to be a gateway to worse violence later in life.  Additionally, according to information retrieved via the Freedom of Information Act, the local Sheriff’s department had received at least 39 calls in regard to Cruz over the last decade.  Certainly that should have been enough to have him on the “no go” list for buying guns.  Maybe some of his infractions would have gotten him in the NICS database if they had been reported correctly.  I know warnings are given and sometimes officers don’t want to jump to giving someone a criminal record in hopes of rehabilitating them, but if that was the case, they did not do him or anyone else any favors.  So this might be more procedural reform than legal reform, but this type of behavior needs to be taken seriously, reported correctly, and should prevent the purchase of a gun.  Maybe a juvenile record shouldn’t prevent someone from ever owning in the future, but there could be a time frame with no other incidents before the right is restored.

I also suggest that school personnel (including Universities) ought to be able to report mental health and violent behavior concerns directly to the NICS database.  Similar to being mandated reporters for Child Protective Services.  The school knew that he had attempted suicide, and he had been expelled for fighting.  In my mind these are 2 definite reasons to restrict someone from buying a gun.  Similarly, in the incident at Virginia Tech, the University counseling department was aware of concerns that ought to have been reported.

But what if someone reports falsified information?  This type of thing happens with CPS reports, there is precedence for consequences to those who falsify reports maliciously.  Also there could be the opportunity for appeal, and as I’ve mentioned in many cases the restriction might be limited rather than permanent as long as there are no further concerns in a given time period.

But they’ll just get their weapons somewhere else.  Maybe.  But the fact of the matter is that, with the exception of Columbine and Sandy Hook, the rest of the shooters I researched obtained their guns legally.  The Columbine shooters obtained their guns through an illegal private purchase, which brings up another legal issue to be considered.   In the case of Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook), his mother obtained the guns legally and then left them lying around her house, so while he didn’t technically obtain them legally, he had very easy access.  I used to use this argument, that they would just buy them somewhere else, but now that I realize that in most cases they obtain them legally I feel differently.  While that is still a concern, and changes to these laws are by no means a full solution, I am disturbed that our laws have been complicit in these individuals obtaining guns.  While they may just go to the black market, at least we will know that we did not facilitate their actions.

Consider that if someone really wanted to rob your house they could find a way to do it, despite locks, alarms, etc.  There’s a whole genre of films dedicated to people finding ways to break through top security.  So while someone could just break a window and rob me blind, I still lock my front door, because I am not going to make it easy for them.

Schools

I think there needs to be more done logistically to protect schools.  Yes it will be expensive- but I’m sure at least some parents would be more than happy to donate money to help defray those costs, as opposed to buying wrapping paper or candy bars to help with I don’t even know what those fundraisers were used for.

What that is going to look like for each district and each school is a little too individualized to address, maybe it’s metal detectors, maybe it’s limiting access except through the office, maybe it’s more resource officers, maybe it’s a combination.

But Sandy Hook did lock doors and limit access and Adam Lanza just shot through the glass.  Yes, that’s something to take into account, and again why it will need to be determined on the local level of what will be practical.  This also is not a full solution, none of these suggestions are, but hopefully in combination, through a multi-faceted approach, we can prevent more incidents or at least slow down a shooter.

How about arming teachers.  This is one that I go back and forth on.  As a former teacher, I did not sign on for being willing to die defending my school.  I have the utmost respect for the teachers who have put themselves between a gunman and their students, but is it fair to ask me to choose between protecting my students and going home to my own children.  I know police officers do that every day, but they are trained and they knew the risks when they picked the job.

On the flip side, I was a classroom teacher when the shooting at Sandy Hook occurred.  When I learned of the event, then went back to my classroom and looked at my entire wall of windows, the thought occurred to me that if someone chose to come to our school with a gun, I would be entirely powerless to do anything.  If I took my students with severe disabilities into my office and locked the door, there was still a window that could be shot out and then we would be huddled all together with nowhere to go.  We could try to run, but how would I get 11 students who were at this school due to severe behavioral concerns to suddenly decide to just follow my directions and run with my staff and I.  I realized that most likely we would all be dead before the police had an opportunity to arrive.  In that moment I felt a desire to be able to defend myself, or at least have someone present who could do SOMETHING to defend us.  We did not have a resource officer- but a lot of good that did at Stoneman Douglas.

I don’t know if arming teachers is the right choice, but if we are going to consider that avenue it needs to be voluntary but well regulated, and maybe it shouldn’t be guns, maybe tasers lest we turn innocent students into accidental victims.

Overall schools need more resources to stop letting students fall through the cracks.  We need more school counselors and psychologists to do handle mental health and behavioral concerns so teachers can focus on their job- teaching.  If a teacher notices an issue they should have proper reporting channels, but the actual reporting and follow up on the issue should go through counseling or social work departments.  While these positions exist, they are overworked and underpaid just like everyone else in the education field which does not give them a lot of opportunity to follow up on concerns.

But all of those suggestions are really expensive!  Yep.  So we’re going to have to sacrifice the money somewhere else in the budget and/or tax something- maybe guns.  This is going to require a significant amount of bipartisan cooperation and compromise, but that’s something that needs to happen not just about this issue but everything, especially education budgeting.  So instead of quibbling about it being hard, let’s sit down and figure it out.

Home and Community

This is where I think the biggest changes need to occur.  And this is not something that can be legislated.  Seeing how I just spent time discussing legislative and logistical suggestions, obviously I am in support of those, but they are band aids, and while band aids have an important role in the healing and protecting process, they do not get at the root cause of the issue, they will just hopefully do some prevention and protection once someone has hit the point of wanting to take lives.  Ultimately this needs to come down to taking a deep and honest looks inside ourselves, our homes, and our society to determine what is causing people to become shooters.

Gun ownership by household has actually been on the decline in recent years.  According to the General Social Survey in 1970s roughly half of households in America owned a gun, in 2015 it had fallen to 32%.  Individual gun ownership went from 31% in 1985 to 22% in 2014.  While there are other surveys that show some different numbers, none of them have shown an increase in household or individual gun ownership.  While the overall number of guns owned has increased, this would suggest that those who do own, own multiple, but the numbers of those who choose to own is dropping.

According to private research done by scholars from Harvard and North Eastern University from 1982 to 2011 mass public shootings happened at a rate of once every 200 days.  From 2011 to present, that rate has dropped to once every 64 days.  The rate has more than tripled.

If mass public shootings are increasing, but overall ownership is decreasing, gun ownership is not the root cause of this issue.

So what has changed that might be causing more and more people to become so violent?

Just in my lifetime (I was born in the late 80s for reference), I have seen some major changes in our society and overall culture.  I might throw in a “back in my day” so be warned.

Life plugged in

Video games have existed fairly mainstream for most of my life but they were pretty new so today’s 30 year olds were the first group to really be raised on video games.  We started out with really crummy graphics and games like Mario where we jumped on creatures’ heads to destroy them.  There were probably games with blood and guns, but they would have looked really cheesy.  You also couldn’t play ALL day because your system would certainly overheat, so we still spent a decent amount of time playing outside as siblings and with neighbors.  It didn’t take too long to get better and better graphics and more and more games with guns and blood, and less overheating allowing for longer and longer playing sessions.  I remember when my older brother was in Jr. High my mom started to be concerned about which video games to let him play because some of them apparently started to have sexually explicit material.

About this same time, the internet went and got itself invented and mainstreamed.  This opened up a whole new world for gaming.  Graphics were still not amazing, especially if you ever wanted it to load, but now you could play with friends without leaving your house or having them over.  This also opened up a lot of doors for the pornography industry.  Porn at your fingertips without the awkwardness of going to the store to buy it, you just had to be patient enough to let it load.

Somewhere along the line the internet got faster, the graphics got better, and more and more of our daily tasks moved online.  We can work over the internet, we can shop, we can keep up with our friends, and all this without ever having to leave home.

Then we took it a step further and put all of that on our phones as well, which don’t even remotely resemble what a phone looked like back in my day.  Now I can be constantly entertained, shop, access whatever content I feel like accessing, and tell myself that I am socializing from my couch, room, or toilet and unless someone specifically comes and looks over my shoulder, they will have no idea what I’m doing, and I can do it for hours on end.

There are so many amazing things that have come from access to technology, but it can also become a terrible trap.  Marriages and lives have been destroyed over excessive gaming and pornography.  Concerns are being raised over a correlation between high rates of social media use and depression.  Other researchers find a correlation between violent video games and emotional desensitization.  In general we are becoming less connected to each other because we are so consumed by technology.

My concern is that with how virtual our society has become, we are losing touch with the value of human life.  In a virtual world we can manipulate things and people with the click of a button, if we mess up, it can be fixed.  If we die we can just wait a minute and come back to try it again.

But it isn’t life, or death, or people, or even things.  They’re just images and code.  I fear that with so little being done in reality we are losing touch with it.  When you look at it that way, it’s not JUST the extremely violent or sexually explicit content, it’s when anything virtual begins to consume our life and take up more of our time, energy, and priorities than reality.

Most of the shooters I researched did engage in excessive gaming, and most spouted racist and misogynistic rhetoric.  It makes sense to me that if, in conjunction with mental illness, you repeatedly engage in extreme violence virtually you could begin to picture yourself completing the act in reality.  It makes sense to me that if you are always the hero in the game, that you could be the hero in your own mind no matter the situation.  It makes sense that if repeatedly with the click of a button you can make women give you sexual gratification, that you would have little or no respect for women in reality and feel that women owe you.  It makes sense to me, that if most of your interactions are with images with no real value, that you might forget the value of human life.  It makes sense to me that if you can just restart the game after you die and all of the other characters also come back, that you might begin to lost touch with the finality of death.

I realize what I just said was very controversial and a lot of people will disagree strongly.  A lot of people play violent video games and do not turn into murderers.  A lot of people view pornography and do not become rapists or embrace misogynistic values.

But consider this.  While video games may not be causing violent tendencies, they certainly are not teaching our children how to value life, how to interact respectfully with others, or how to love, they are at best neutral.  Pornography is certainly not teaching our children about consent, it’s not teaching them that sexual intimacy is about love, respect, and admiration.  While some may claim it is harmless, it certainly is not teaching them how to show respect to women.  You can argue whether or not social media is what it causing depression and higher suicide rates, or if children with depression are just more likely to use social media, but excessive social media use certainly isn’t helping them.

Parents- we need to PARENT.  I’m not suggesting that we raise our kids under a rock and never let them online.  What I’m suggesting is that we need to be more present and more involved.  We should set boundaries on screen time and the type of media we allow them to access with a family media plan.  We should be monitoring what our children are accessing so we can help them process what they are seeing, and guide them if/when they access material that they shouldn’t be accessing.  We should do activities with them.  We need to teach them both by word and example how to value life, how to love, and how to show respect.  This can be done through regular family nights in which you discuss an applicable topic and then just spend time together doing fun activities to build a bond.  We need to turn off the TV, set down our phones, and interact.  If we don’t take that active role, other influences will fill it that may not be teaching them the things we want them to learn and emulate.

We need to be willing to get them help when we notice a problem beyond our capabilities to handle.  Having a child with depression doesn’t mean you did something wrong, or that they are weak.  But if we as parents are too weak to be willing to get them help, then we will have done something wrong by them, and potentially by other people.

I was shocked when reading about the shooters at Columbine to find out that they were building bombs, buying and practicing shooting guns, and their parents were completely unaware.  Maybe this is naive of me because I have not raised teenagers, and as far as teenagers go I was a pretty innocent kid.  But, I doubt they were having family dinner together.  I doubt their parents were checking in on their internet use.  That’s not called snooping, it’s called parenting and should be part of a media plan.  I doubt their dads were taking them fishing so they could have a chance to bond and talk about life.  It’s never too late to start, but it’s definitely easier if you start earlier, and will help fewer kids fall through the cracks of parental negligence.

Multi-faceted

None of my suggestions are a full solution in and of themselves.  We can’t regulate how parents are raising their kids, and in the unfortunate case of Jacob Cruz, he had lost his parents.

Stricter gun laws may prevent or slow down some would be shooters, but if determined enough, they will find a way to gain access to a gun.

Making schools more difficult to target is expensive, controversial, not very practical in the University setting, and does not address other .

But, if we combine the power of these multi-faceted approaches, hopefully we can make a difference and save lives.

 

Suggestions and Concerns

I am very open to other suggestions or your concerns about my suggestions, I just ask that before you respond you take a deep breath and think instead of just react.  Please respond civilly.  Here’s some ways to do that, “I respect your thoughts about_____, my concern is that______”  “While I understand where you are coming from, have you considered that_______.”  “What are your thoughts on _______.”  “I disagree and fear that ________ could lead to _________.”

 

 

 

 

The worst solo I ever did sing: A more realistic holiday update

A week before Christmas I posted a 2017 update for our family, I saw a lot of other people post similar types of updates.  Ours went a little something like this (I don’t post names for privacy/ security, so you just get titles here):

“Family Adventures 2017!
-Husband was asked to serve as the Elder’s Quorum President (president of one of the men’s organizations in our congregation) and is still working for [insert company].
-I started a blog and continue to teach Relief Society (the women’s organization in our congregation) once a month
-Son started preschool, he is LOVING it and learning lots
-Daughter is 15 months now, she’s been walking for a while now and starting to talk a little. Her favorite things so say are, “All done” and “NO!”

We’ve done a lot of traveling this year including-
-Houston and San Antonio with a little jaunt up to Waco
-Husband got to go to Philly for work and took a side trip over to Baltimore to see his brother
-I took the kids and youngest sister in law to Utah to visit cousins
-Utah (again as the whole family) including a family reunion in Lindon/Provo area, Vernal for Dinosaur National Park, petroglyphs at McConkie Ranch, Fantasy Canyon, Arches, and Goblin Valley
-Several trips up to Flagstaff for Lowell Observatory and Sunset Crater
-Sedona
-Grand Canyon
-I went to Utah (so much Utah!) for a girl’s weekend and got to see a life size replica of the Ancient Biblical Tabernacle at the old BYU stomping ground
-Husband took several trips to CA for work, in October we all tagged along and took a day to go to Sea World
-After Thanksgiving we rode out on the Apache Trail to see the ruins at Tonto National Monument”

Based on this it probably sounds like 2017 was really hunky-dory and we are just having so much fun over here.  And we are having fun, and we have so much to be grateful for.  But 2017 was actually a pretty rough year.  I realized after I posted focusing on only the positive that I had actually left out most of the amazing blessings we have received and lessons we have learned this year and in so doing, kinda left God out of our update.  So here’s a more accurate portrayal of how 2017 went.

We’ll start at the end and work our way around:

At the beginning of December our ward choir director approached me and asked me to sing a solo as part of our special Christmas Sacrament meeting program on Christmas Eve.  I love to sing and am always happy for the opportunity so of course accepted.  She gave me the song- Star of Bethelehem– which to be honest, I have never particularly liked.  It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, I have just always thought it was a little cheesy.  But, again, I was happy to sing it.

The week before Christmas Eve (on my husband’s birthday/our anniversary) I caught the cold from Hades.  I mean this thing has morphed more times than a Power Ranger- it’s still lingering 2 weeks later.  I never anticipated that I would be sick for a whole week (let alone 2) but with how much other craziness was going on (I’ll fill in those details later), I got to the Saturday night before Christmas Eve and the cold had settled all of it’s mucus in my nose and sinuses.  This makes singing a little tricky but it was a little too late to try to find someone else to cover for me.  I practiced it a few times, and though I knew I wouldn’t be at my best, I sounded fine.

The next morning I practiced with the accompanist, it sounded fine, not as great as I knew I could do, but fine.  When it came time to get up to sing in the program, I don’t know what happened.  The snot shifted weird or something, but I could hardly get a note out.  I had very little control over what my voice was doing.  That’s a very humbling place to be as a singer because your body and your voice are just not doing what you want them to do.

Then I got to these lines:

“A sweeter face I ne’er will see
Than of those loving eyes smiling up at me.
I found a King, I found a Friend,
That night in Bethlehem”

Since becoming a mom, singing about the Christ child has become very emotional for me. My kids have been giving me a run for my money lately, and maybe that added to it.  But thinking about Christ as a baby, and then referring to Him as our friend, I just lost it.  So on top of being sick now I was emotional which is just really not a great combo for beautiful singing.

I tried to get it together, which I probably could have done better if I weren’t also ill, but then came to these lines:

“And though I stumble and fall I can hear someone call,
“Do not despair, your star is still there.”‘

And I thought about the struggles we’ve been going through which pale in comparison to some of the other struggles going on in our congregation.  We have three members dealing with very serious cases of cancer.  One of those is a child.  And there are many other serious trials that people from our church family are struggling with.  So I completely lost it again and barely tripped along through the rest of the song.  I’m telling you it was the worst singing I think I have ever done publicly.

But…

Afterwards several people thanked me and told me they had been crying through it right along with me.  I think that if I had not been sick and therefore more humble than my typical self, and had not become emotional, it would have just been a simple (and maybe a little cheesy) song.  It might have sounded nice, but the message and the impact might have been lost.  I think we all needed a good cry together.  If I hadn’t been sick and emotional I know I would have missed out on a blessing and a lesson, and might not have been able to deliver the message that Heavenly Father needed delivered in that moment.

And that’s kind of representative of how 2017 went for us.  So here’s a summary of the craziness we have faced this year:

January- my husband woke up with his uvula so swollen that he couldn’t talk or swallow, and could only breathe through his nose.  Emergency room visit #1

February- husband had surgery to hopefully fix the issues that caused the great uvula debacle of January.  I also finally decided I was sick of being in constant pain following my second pregnancy and started physical therapy.  Which was very helpful, but finding a babysitter once a week (times 8 weeks) for 2 kids was a little bit stressful.

March- actually I think this month was ok over all

April- my anxiety hit a pretty high point due to some external stressors including my husband’s business trips, I gained back any and all weight I had lost post pregnancy

May- We started solids with baby girl and her stomach did not agree with certain baby foods.  She started waking up in the middle of the night with horrible gas pains and would scream for about 3 hours. Every. single. night.  Hoping to help clear her out I started giving her pear juice, and more pear juice.  Turns out pears were one of the problems.  We didn’t sleep for a month.

June- lots of traveling, fun, but taxing.

July- discovered nodules in my thyroid, had several suspicious moles removed two of which were found to be moderately concerning (don’t freak out there’s still severely concerning and pre-melanoma before you get to melanoma)

August- got said moles removed which meant no lifting for a while (that’s really easy when you have 2 small children), got in to a thyroid specialist (pretty sure I just like lived at the doctor this year- this started a round of monthly blood draws and doctor visits)

September- husband experienced some unsettling symptoms and ended up in the emergency room again- turned out to just be a complex migraine

October- car started making some weird noises

November- husband got a nasty cough that turned into chest pains that turned into another visit to the ER.  Everything with his heart was fine- they sent him home not knowing what the problem was.  With 3 ER trips in a year I decided we needed to start weeding out what could be causing him to get sick so often and decided to start with a mold test.  Look no further, we found mold.  Which as it turns out could cause ALL of the random symptoms he had experienced.  Just after Thanksgiving we started the mold removal process which meant emptying our playroom and having it tarped off.  Weird car noises constantly looming.

December- Just keep that construction zone in the back of your mind, lots of noise, lots of workers in and out of the house and coordinating schedules.  Then the heater broke, luckily it was an easier fix than we were worried about.  Then husband left town again for work.  I don’t do very well anxiety wise while he is gone in general, but on top of everything else it was really rough.  I had several commitments in the evening which meant finding babysitters which is nice for the break but the act of finding them was contributing to my anxiety.  And then to top it off, the afternoon before daddy got home, the 3 year old did this:
IMG_20171214_154758 (2)

Then I started getting that dreadful cold I referred to earlier.  Happy birthday/ anniversary honey, I feel like death warmed over!  However, we did have tickets to the Nathan Pacheco concert for the day after the Birth-aversary.  At this point we were both sick but decided it was worth venturing out.  We went to a Thai restaurant right next to the Mesa Arts Center.  We got seated right away and our order was taken quickly and then we waited and waited and waited.  Eventually when I was already starting to get anxious that we were going to have to rush through our meal, our waitress came over to inform us that she had forgotten to put in our order.  She offered to put it in right away but it would be another 25 minutes.  No time for that so we got Subway for our romantic anniversary date.  The concert was AMAZING.  But, a mom and her teenage daughter sat in front of us.  For the first 3 songs, the mom, not the daughter, had her phone out constantly taking pictures and recording with her phone screen in my face.  PSA- this is technically illegal as it’s copyright infringement and there were signs posted, but it’s also really rude and distracting to the people behind you.  After the third song I leaned forward during the applause and tapped her on the shoulder and said, “I’m really sorry, but could you please keep your phone off, the light is really distracting.”  She responded, “Oh, my phone’s not on.”  “Well, it’s been on during the songs.”  Seriously??  Why was your first inclination to LIE?  You could have just said, “Oh, I’m sorry.”  Again, this was not the teenager, this was the 40 year old woman.  I could go on this rant for a while, but I’ll save that for another post.

We got to the car afterwards and headed towards my parents’ house to pick up the kids.  Now there’s this place along 202 Red Mountain Freeway where I have broken down several times in several different cars.  I’ve run out of oil, had a tire blow out, and run out of gas.  This stretch happens to have about 3 miles with no exits.  While in this stretch my car made a clunk noise and started losing speed and would not accelerate.  Got to the next exit and thought we would just turn into the nearest gas station, oh there aren’t any within 3 miles of the freeway there.  Managed to hop the car along the last 8 miles to my parents’ house.  They got it in to the dealer for me the next day and we discovered that it would cost more to fix than the worth of the car.  Something about spark plugs like exploding, I don’t really know much about cars, but bad things happened.

So needless to say I am kinda ending this year as a hot mess.

But, through all of this there have been amazing blessings and tender mercies.

Through all the ER and doctor’s visits, people have willingly and gladly stepped up and watched our children.  It’s hard to have had to ask for help so many times this year, but it’s beautiful to know that we have amazing friends, family, and a church family who will help us on a moment’s notice.

Discovering nodules in my thyroid was scary because I thought it might mean surgery, but it meant that I had to see a specialist instead of my primary care doctor.  The specialist immediately looked at me and said, “Let me guess, they keep telling you that you are ‘low side of normal’? Well, if you’re developing nodules then obviously that’s not good enough for you.”  I’ve literally been saying that for YEARS!  He suggested trying to up my meds in lieu of removing my thyroid.  I immediately started losing weight, the swelling in my thyroid has gone away, and the nodules are not growing- as long as they stay their current size they are fine.  So this medical problem ended up being a blessing in disguise.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about having the moles removed and not being able to lift for a week.  You don’t exactly get sick leave from your children.  As I was trying to figure out what on earth to do, my little brother ended up deciding to move back to Arizona to search for a job, which meant that he didn’t have a job yet when I had to have the procedure so he was able to come and be my nanny.  In general having him back has been a huge blessing to our little family.

And the mold/heater/car issue.  All of those right on top of each other.  People often ask, “Where is God?” when they go through a significant trial.  It’s hard to keep perspective and rarely are we given the opportunity to see how bad things COULD have been.  Not that we should constantly dwell on that while going through trials, but when He does help us with the perspective it can be very strengthening.

The mold issue was bad, and initially we weren’t sure if insurance would cover very much of it.  We were being faced with the possibility that this would decimate our savings.  Then our heater went out on top of that, which was a possibility for another $4k right there.  And on top of that the car was not sounding good.   We are pretty big savers and avoid debt as much as possible so this was really scary.  We talked it over and agreed that we would keep Christmas gifts really small as we couldn’t justify spending more money when we were so unsure of how things would work out.  I immediately felt a burden lifted realizing that I didn’t have to spend effort on finding gifts, and I did have a box of books in the closet that I had been saving so there would be at least some gifts for the kids.  Then we found out that heater was actually a very simple fix, only about $100 instead of $4k.  Then we found out that the insurance company was going to cover almost all of the mold/ water damage remediation.  We still have some out of pocket expenses but nothing compared to the total.  The car died close to my parents’ house and they work at the same school together so they were able to loan us one of their cars without any extreme inconvenience on their part.  And while we did have to get a loan for the new car, which was something we had hoped to avoid, it’s not the end of the world.  Plus we got to upgrade to a van which has already been a blessing on many occasions.

With this set of trials we have been able to see how devastating everything COULD have been, and yet at each turn it has turned into more of an inconvenience.   We have seen the hand of God helping us through.  Kind of like how that song wouldn’t have been as meaningful if I hadn’t been sick and emotional, if we hadn’t gone through these struggles we wouldn’t have necessarily recognized all of these blessings.

I’m grateful for the challenges because of the blessings they highlighted, I’m also grateful for the positive and fun things we experienced.  But overall, here’s to 2018 being far less interesting than 2017!

Tool vs. Trap

Being the ripe old age of 30, I remember life before the internet and cell phones.  As a child one of my biggest pet peeves was when someone forgot to rewind the VHS because it meant I had to wait longer before my movie was ready.  I watched commercials and was limited to whatever shows were playing at the time.  When I wanted to call a friend I called their home phone and had to talk to whoever happened to answer and then wait patiently for my friend to get to the phone.  At one point, just before my little brother’s voice changed, no one could tell his voice and my voice apart on the phone which made for some interesting conversations when his friends asked if I could come and play or if my friends started venting boy drama to him.  When I started driving, if I didn’t know how to get to a place, I had to mapquest it before I left.  If I got lost, well, good luck.

My kids will never understand the frustration of rewinding.  Goodness, we went on a trip this summer and my son watched cable TV for the first time and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t watch the show he wanted WHEN he wanted, and commercials, those were crazy.  About a year ago, my son, who was 2 at the time, picked up an old corded phone that we keep around as a toy and shouted at it, “Ok google, show me some pictures of dinosaurs!”  With those googling skills, he certainly will never be lost while driving or be in want of random factoids.

I’ve been catching up on some old Star Trek recently on Netflix.  They had the concept down for a tablet to read reports and such from, but they had to have a separate one for each report, book, etc.  It’s a little funny to watch this “future” technology now, when we actually have things that are more advanced.  My cell phone alone holds the Bible, Book of Mormon, other scripture, multiple magazines, and audiobooks, as well as offering me the ability to check messages, emails, the news, and the weather wherever I want all in one hand held device.  Take that Star Trek!

Just in my lifetime I have witnessed some amazing technological advances.  In many ways our society and culture are very different because of these advances and conveniences.

A few weeks ago my phone died.  Not like it ran out of battery died, it gave up the ghost, went the way of all the earth, went to the great charger in the sky.  I had some warning signs, it was kinda coming in and out, so we ordered a new one and I hoped that it would stumble along until the new phone arrived, but none such luck.  It left me with about 5 days with no phone.

It was weird to say the least.  I had to physically write out a grocery list, think of the poor trees that were sacrificed!  I had no idea what time it was when I was out and about, a lot of places don’t have wall clocks anymore.  I didn’t really know what to do with my hands.  And overall, I actually kinda liked it.  Not enough for me to cancel my order for my phone, but it definitely got me thinking about the impact of technology on my life.

Technology can be an amazing tool.  As I’ve already mentioned it allows us to be in contact when we need to, find places easily, and gives us access to the media we want to enjoy.  It has done amazing things in advancing the work of family history, you can track health goals, find recipes, find ideas for basically everything, learn how to replace or fix pretty much anything, stay connected with friends, and share ideas all with a few clicks or thumb swipes.  It is truly amazing and such a blessing.

So then why did I kinda like not having a phone for a few days?

Technology is a blessing and a curse.  It can be such an terrific tool, but it can also be a terrible trap.

There’s some obviously dangerous traps such as pornography, and predators that stalk the internet, but I don’t want to focus on those.  I’m going to focus on things that are a little less obvious.

Before my phone broke I was definitely guilty of aimless Facebook scrolling.  I am by no means anti-Facebook.  Chances are if you are reading this, you found it on Facebook.  I really like keeping in touch with old friends and connecting with new friends.  I regularly use it to plan play dates and it’s how I connect with Lifting Hands International to sign up for opportunities to serve refugees.  But all too frequently it turns into a major distraction.  As a mom who does not work outside the home, sometimes I can start to feel a little isolated.  I think I turned to Facebook thinking that it would help me feel more connected to people, which sometimes it does connect me to people, but more often than not it turned into a mind numbing abyss that distracted me from reality.  You know, like my kids that are growing up too fast, the food that doesn’t cook itself, the dishes that don’t wash themselves, and just actually living my own life.  I would finish a scroll sesh feeling unfulfilled, bored, and sometimes rather anxious.  It got to the point where I couldn’t even claim it was relaxing and I certainly wasn’t feeling more connected to other people.

Now I’m not suggesting that this is what everyone should, or must do, but if you find yourself falling into the trap of aimless scrolling, here’s what I did.  When I got my new phone, I did not install the Facebook app and I vowed to myself not to open it through the browser.  When it was on my phone it was just too easy to hop on when I had a second of time that was not specifically designated for another task, which then turned into too much time.  I didn’t have to think about getting on.  Regularly I would grab my phone to do something else, check Facebook for a second which turned into lots of seconds, and then forget what I actually got on my phone to do.  Now, I have to grab my computer if I want some Facebook time.  It has to be an intentional decision to get on.  Now Facebook serves as the tool it should be.  I use it to connect, make plans, share my blog, and some relaxation time.  It’s far less of the time sucking and mind numbing trap it was before.

This issue isn’t limited to Facebook, really it’s anything that sucks up your time and distracts you from your reality.  It might be Instagram, the news, a game, Pinterest, or whatever other new fangled things the kids are using these days.  All of these have a time and a place and can be amazing tools.  I use Pinterest frequently to find healthy recipes and help with creative ideas.  Playing games can be relaxing and can even help keep your brain sharp.  Keeping up with current events is important for many reasons.  I’m not on Insta- but I hear it’s cool and less political than Facebook.  The problem is when these things prevent us from living our lives.  Are we actually playing with our kids for the sake of playing with them instead of either ignoring them or just hoping for good photo ops to show off on social media.  Keeping up with current events is good until it prevents you from keeping current with your family and friends or contributes to anxiety and depression.  Playing games can be relaxing and mentally stimulating but unfortunately can also take over people’s lives and prevent them from having a reality.  There are so many great ideas on Pinterest, but if you spend all of your time searching for the perfect idea or meal and never actually making them then what is the point.

The April 2017 Ensign (a magazine published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), had an amazing article titled “Growing a Healthy Technology Garden.” While published by a church affiliated magazine, notably this article is not specifically religious in nature, I would definitely encourage readers regardless of religious preferences to give it a look over.  The main point that really hit me was creating a “family media plan.”  The author, Marissa Widdison, offers some guiding questions, or if you click on that hyperlink it will take you to a search with several organizations that offer ideas for how to set one up.

I wanted to highlight the first guiding question: When is using technology OK, and for how long?  I can’t answer this for anyone else, I’m still working on completely answering it for myself.  But here’s some things you might consider as you create your plan:

  • Will I designate a certain amount of time, or designate specific times when I don’t use technology (family time, meals, etc.), or a combination of both
  • Are there things I should get done before I allow myself designated media time (household maintenance, exercise, church/ community responsibilities, personal/ spiritual development)

I am working on putting my phone away for specific times to devote to my children without any distractions and have decided not to have any Facebook time until I have exercised for the day.  This is what’s working pretty well for me (far from perfect), but again, figure out what works best for you.

Here’s what I have kept on my phone to make it a tool:

  • Fitness tracker- counting calories, tracking macro nutrients, reminding myself to drink more water, tracking exercise, it’s all super convenient
  • Gospel library app- now instead of browsing Facebook while I feed my daughter her bottles I read scriptures or church magazines- a really great pick me up in the middle of the day
  • Facebook messenger- I can stay connected easily with friend and family
  • Audible/ Overdrive- audio books have kinda become my thing lately, check back later for some reviews of some of the books I’ve “read” recently
  • Organization apps- I’ve got my calendar of course, but also meal planning, and Wunderlist to make checklists that can be shared with my husband
  • Pinterest- so I can access and find recipes conveniently

It’s liberating.  I don’t miss it.  Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) make you miss out on your actual life.  Make your devices tools not a traps.