Bullet Head– The Teacher Who Could Kill With His Bare Hands

I am not making this up. I had a teacher in high school who bragged about how lethal he was. He claimed he was an ex-Marine.

Some of the fringe in Congress are talking about passing laws that require every teacher to carry a gun and be trained to shoot. They did not go to Pilgrim High School and sit in Bullet Head’s class, or they would have been grateful he did not carry.

I remember him vividly. Sadly, I have no recollection at all of what subject he was supposed to be teaching. Bullet Head– The Teacher Who Could Kill With His Bare Hands

A Nation of Grinning, Gun-Loving Fools

For almost anyone, anywhere in our country, a gun is easier to get than treatment for mental illness…

(CNN) — The gunman who killed two others before police ended his life in a shootout near Texas A&M University had been battling mental health issues on and off for years, his mother said.

Police say Thomas Caffall, known to his family as “Tres,” killed a constable and a bystander and injured four others Monday before police fatally shot him.

His mother, Linda Weaver, said the family became worried after Caffall quit his job in January and announced that he would never work again.

“We had been very concerned about him,” Weaver told CNN.

Caffall had withdrawn from the family, and the fear was that he might attempt suicide, his mother said.

There are many parents who fear for a child who can’t get help anywhere. It’s rightly difficult to involuntarily commit a person who refuses treatment, and the abuses of the past are something we shouldn’t repeat. But the bar to help is more financial than legal. Decades of cuts to health care have reduced the options for people with mental illness and strained the organizations that offer help.

On the other hand, decades of lobbying by the NRA have removed restrictions, such as the assault weapons ban, from anyone who wants to be their own loose-cannon militia.

Jesus’ General, a satirical site that tracks the extreme right, posts page views from Thomas Caffall’s Facebook page. Did anyone who knew him see this and figure out where he was headed? It’s all too clear now.

Where are we headed, a nation served violent images– real and dramatized– every day from every screen. We’re promised war without sacrifice, where the volunteer military suffers the wounds and our smart weapons kill only the ones who deserve it.

We’re at a point where stay at home spectators get to play war games on a new reality show– a concept so imperial that a group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates have petitioned NBC to cancel this embarrassment…

Signers of an open letter to the network include Nobelists Desmond Tutu, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Jose Ramos-Horta, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Rigoberta Menchu and Betty Williams.

“That might seem innocuous since spectacular, high budget sporting events of all types are regular venues for airing new products, televisions shows and movies,” the Nobelists’ letter explains. “But ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ is not just another reality show. Hosted by retired four-star general Wesley Clark, the program pairs minor celebrities with US military personnel and puts them through simulated military training, including some live fire drills and helicopter drops. The official NBC website for the show touts ‘the fast-paced competition’ as ‘pay[ing] homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services.’

“It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Military training is not to be compared, subtly or otherwise, with athletic competition by showing commercials throughout the Olympics. Preparing for war is neither amusing nor entertaining.”

Glenn Greenwald at Salon brings back some journalistic cautions from the Iraq War, and the circular relationship between bombs and ratings. And a voice from the past…

Experiencing great fun and pulsating entertainment from sending one’s military off to war is hardly unique to our time. Adam Smith lamented this warped dynamic back in 1776 in his Wealth of Nations:

In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.

Now even the taxes don’t inconvenience us, unless we are of the class that is taxed by cuts in ‘entitlements’ like disability, education, and, yes, mental health.

‘Stars Earn Stripes’ cynically pretends to be a tribute to ‘our troops’. It’s better for ratings to have a celebrity wave a gun than to interview a veteran, as
Nicholas D. Kristof does in this past Sunday’s New York Times…

IT would be so much easier, Maj. Ben Richards says, if he had just lost a leg in Iraq.

A car bomb in Iraq in May 2007 left Ben Richards, then a captain, with a severe concussion. A second concussion left him with debilitating injuries.

Instead, he finds himself losing his mind, or at least a part of it. And if you want to understand how America is failing its soldiers and veterans, honoring them with lip service and ceremonies but breaking faith with them on all that matters most, listen to the story of Major Richards.

For starters, he’s brilliant. (Or at least he was.) He speaks Chinese and taught at West Point, and his medical evaluations suggest that until his recent problems he had an I.Q. of about 148. After he graduated from West Point, in 2000, he received glowing reviews.

“Ben Richards is one of the best military officers I have worked with in 13 years of service,” noted an evaluation, one of many military and medical documents he shared with me.

Yet Richards’s intellect almost exacerbates his suffering, for it better equips him to monitor his mental deterioration — and the failings of the Army that he has revered since he was a young boy.

The fact that ‘homeless veteran’ is a cliche says a lot about how we support our troops.

Just like the war tax went under the radar to be exacted in the most destructive way– eroding the foundation of social equality– the cost of war falls on a volunteer military. Traumatic brain injury is the signature wound, mental illness the invisible scar. And every year less help and more guns.

For anyone who follows the links, Salon and Jesus’ General,the picture of gun-waving celebrities grinning like fools is interchangeable with Thomas Caffall’s Facebook page. These violent outbreaks are not random and not unexplainable.

Cranking up the fear helps to sell guns, helps to build walls, helps hate groups and extremists justify their invitation to circle the wagons and retreat from a free and open public life.

Whether there’s intention, or toxic philosophies growing in a toxic spin of addiction to violence, we need truth tellers to remind us that it is a violation to put a bullet into a human being, and that war is not glorious for those who know firsthand the cost.


Army Navy Store on Thayer Street

My father-in-law told me a story about self-defense with a gun.

The family lived far out in the country, and in Alabama in the 1930’s there was no justice for Black people in the courts of law. One day when the adults were away, a gang of racists drove out to the house planning some act of terrorism. The sight of a rifle barrel poking through the window persuaded them to move on. My father-in-law laughed at the fact that the rifle was held by a twelve year old boy.

A rifle in a farmhouse, though it saved a family that day, could not protect the Black community of Selma from many other crimes and violations. It took the intervention of the Federal Government to bring equal protection under law to those citizens.

For some people a gun is a means of self-defense. But where is the self-defense in an assault weapon? How many rounds of ammunition does it take to stop a housebreaker?

Why are our politicians so afraid of an extreme fringe that confuses self-defense with the ‘right’ to build a private arsenal and buy weapons of mass destruction? Who does it serve when one gun is not enough, when accountability is seen as an intrusion on individual rights. When each senseless, horrific murder of innocent people is a murder of our right to peaceably assemble– without high security, without fearing our neighbors.

Words Fail.

Before we get bombarded with news stories about the shooter, feeding into the myth that will inspire the next criminal to grab a gun and the headlines– here’s from Associated Press…

Twelve people who died in the Colorado movie shooting have been identified by the Arapahoe County coroner.

—Jessica Ghawi, 24, of Denver; aspiring sports journalist

—Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, whose mother was critically injured

—Matt McQuinn, 27, of Denver; technical support provider

—Alex Sullivan, 27, of Aurora; worked at Red Robin restaurant

— Micayla Medek, 23, of Westminster, Colo., student at Aurora Community College

—John Larimer, 27, of Buckley Air Force Base, Navy cryptologist

—Jesse Childress, 29, of Thornton, Colo., Air Force cyber-systems operator

—Gordon W. Cowden, 51, of Aurora, small business owner and father of two teens

—Jonathan T. Blunk, 26, of Aurora, worked at a hardware store, served five years in the U.S. Navy.

—Rebecca Ann Wingo, 32, of Aurora customer relations representative at a mobile medical imaging company

—Alexander C. Teves, 24, of Phoenix, earned master’s degree in counseling psychology in June from University of Denver

—Alexander J. Boik, 18, incoming freshman student at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design who planned to become an art teacher

Trying to Make Sense of It

Two weeks after the rampage in Tucson, survivors struggle with ‘what if’…

So does Suzi Hileman, who days after the shooting awoke in her hospital bed shouting: “Christina! Christina!”

That Saturday morning, Ms. Hileman picked up Christina-Taylor Green, her 9-year-old neighbor, and promised the girl’s mother that they would return in three or four hours.

Ms. Hileman, 59, had simply wanted to take Christina to meet their congresswoman. They would make a day of it — going for lunch and a manicure after the “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a local Safeway. Instead, a gunman opened fire, killing Christina and wounding Ms. Hileman.

“I never got to bring Christina home,” Ms. Hileman said. By now, her voice is almost matter-of-fact. But her sadness is betrayed by the long pauses she takes, the way she buries her face in a throw pillow when the tears start to fall.

The guilt comes in waves. It was there in the hospital. It still lurks, threatening to return at any moment. When someone asks about it, she calls her husband over to hold her hand as she answers.

Another survivor, Joseph Zamudio, had a gun and came within a second of shooting one of the bystanders who was trying to stop Jared Loughner. It was a scene of mass confusion.

After the disaster ended, we were no less confused about who to blame, what to do.

What if we made treatment for mental illness as accessible as treatment for physical illness, instead of cutting mental health services? What if we demanded more accountability from people who buy and sell guns? What if we limited bullets as strictly as we limit how many pseudophedrine tabs we can buy? What if we re-instated the ban on assault weapons?

Since the Tuscon shootings the background noise of gun violence continues. More children have been shot, four police officers shot by a man who walked in with a gun drawn and ready.

Guns don’t make you safe if you don’t know how to use them. If you don’t keep them out of the hands of children. If you can’t ensure they won’t get stolen. If someone in your family is having a mental breakdown. There’s such a thing as responsible gun ownership, but it’s not politically correct to support stronger gun laws.

We can’t make sense of it until we recognize that glamorization of guns, loose gun laws and a culture of hate speech makes it certain that susceptible and troubled individuals will try to achieve fame and glory with a mass shooting– a crime that we are almost getting used to.

Recipe for Disaster

Dora Calott Wang, MD in Psychology Today describes what we all know– cutting back on mental health is costing us all…

As a psychiatrist, I remember when I once did everything in my power to keep a disturbed patient stable, and society safe. I’d see the patient every day, or hospitalize the patient for months, if necessary. Needless to say, this degree of attention is impossible today, given limited resources, and the fights my staff and I regularly undertake with insurance companies to get even routine care approved.
For decades, the American health care system has prioritized profits, often by excluding the sick. This travesty is now coming to roost, in the form of mass violence, such as the recent shootings in Tucson, at Virgina Tech, and in communities across the country, including my own. Medical care for our most disenfranchised citizens will never turn good profits-yet basic health care for everyone, is necessary for the stability of society.

She points out that it’s easier to get a gun than to get mental health treatment. Arizona had cut budgets for mental health, and most other states have as well.

People with mental illness are more likely to be poor, more likely to lack connections or influence. When we cut the social safety net, they suffer first. Most people with mental illness don’t act violently, they suffer quietly.

Dismantling the very small first steps toward health care reform will do nothing to help people whose illness keeps them from being able to get a job with good insurance, and tax cuts won’t take the place of coverage for the care they need.

Every tragic incident makes us more scared, more angry. This isn’t random, it’s predictable. Neglecting people in trouble brings trouble for the rest of us.


From today’s New York Times…

Gun Fair Organizer Acquitted in Boy’s Uzi Death
Published: January 14, 2011

Filed at 3:20 p.m. EST

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts jury acquitted a gun fair organizer of manslaughter in the 2008 death of an 8-year-old boy who accidentally shot himself in the head with an Uzi submachine gun.

A Hampden Superior Court jury found former Pelham Police Chief Edward Fleury not guilty on Friday of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Christopher Bizilj (buh-SEEL’) of Ashford, Conn. The charge carried up to 20 years on prison.

Fleury was also cleared of three charges of furnishing machine guns to minors.

Prosecutor William Bennett told the jury that Fleury was criminally reckless in running the event because he allowed children to illegally shoot machine guns under the supervision of a firing range officer who was 15 at the time and didn’t have a firearms license or certification.

Fleury’s lawyer, Rosemary Curran Scapicchio, denied the allegations and blamed the boy’s father, emergency room Dr. Charles Bizilj, for allowing Christopher and his then-11-year-old brother Colin to shoot such a dangerous weapon. Scapicchio noted that Charles Bizilj signed a waiver at the expo acknowledging the risks, including death, and absolving anyone of liability if something bad happened.

I’m wondering what reasoning the jury used? How a chief of police organized such an event with so little eye to safety? How the father will live the rest of his life? How adults are rushing to blame each other? Whether the public will consider the adults in this situation to be as innocent as they regard themselves?

More Guns and the Elderly

Family troubles made worse by a deadly weapon…

Police records show 84-year-old Edward Portner was arrested Tuesday night after showing up at [his daughter] Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter’s house with a gun and struggling with her briefly. Ritter ran to a neighbor’s house and later told officers she feared for her life.

He was angry because she wouldn’t endorse him for mayor, and now he’s in jail. If they let him out I hope they take away his guns.

Guns and emotional instability are a bad mix too–Gun-Toting Soccer Mom Shot to Death.