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The U.S. and its Love Affair with Weapons December 19, 2012

Posted by tackettmedia in politics.
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A couple of days ago, I read in a Swiss paper (online, of course) an article commenting on the massacre in Newtown and examining the prevalence of weapons among civilians in the United States.

I am trying here to summarize the article in English.

Per 20 Minuten about 650 million guns are owned by civilians across the world. Of those, approximately 270 million are owned by civilians in the United States. The paper lists as its source the Small Arms Survey.

Here are some other statistics I copied from the Small Arms Survey:

• Civilians own approximately 650 million firearms worldwide, roughly 75 per cent of the known total. Civilians in the United States own some 270 million of these.

• There are at least 875 million combined civilian, law enforcement, and military firearms in the world today.

• This is equal to roughly one gun for every seven people worldwide (without the United States, the figure drops to about one gun for every ten people).

• These figures do not include older, pre-automatic small arms still maintained by armed forces or craft-produced civilian guns.

• Nearly 79 million civilian firearms are known to be registered with authorities, roughly 9 per cent of the suspected civilian total.

• The rising availability of handguns has transformed urban weapons ownership, while semi- or fully automatic rifles have transformed possession in urban and rural settings.

• Organized destruction projects have eliminated at least 8.5 million small arms since 1991, three-quarters of which came from armed services. An unknown number are also lost through accidental wastage.

20 Minuten then continues to say that, according to a list put together by the UK paper Guardian, India has the next largest contingent of guns in ownership of civilians. Indian civilians own 46 million guns.

Therefore, with 88.8 guns per every 100 persons, the United States is the most armed population of any country.

(Of course, all these numbers are based on estimates).

However, if you compare countries by the lethal use of weapons at a per capita rate, the United States does not lead the list. Here is what 20 Minutes reports:

  • Honduras has the most murders with 68.43 killings per 100,000 people;
  • El Salvador is next with 39.9 murders per 100,000 people;
  • Jamaica follows closely (39.4); and
  • Venezuela is listed fourth (38.97).

The United States is ranked 28th with 2.97 lethal shootings per 100,000 people.

Therefore, the authors of the article in 20 Minuten comment, the high prevalence of weapons in the United States is surely a contributing factor when examining the amount of massacres in the past few years, but it is not the only explanation. They further explain that with 30.8 guns per 100 people, civilians in Canada are also well-armed. However, Canada only sees 0.51 lethal shootings per 100,000 people.

Next, the article talks about the efficiency of the weapons that are permitted to be purchased by the civilian population in the United States, namely semi-automatic guns. The reporters mention that this is the main discussion surrounding gun control.

If you have read my past blog entry, you know that I also believe some sort of ammunition control should be among any discussion of gun control. Is it doable? I don’t know. But with today’s technology, I sure hope that there would be some measures that allowed for a discussion about where and how ammunition can be purchased, what type of ammunition is permitted to manufacture at home and for which purpose, etc.

But back to the 20 Minuten article. It ends by changing the direction and examines the lack of general health insurance for all people, which contributes to the fact that many people with mental health issues do not get the treatment they need.

As announced in my previous blog entry, I’ve been asking questions around mental health issues for quite some time. I am not satisfied with any answers I have been given. Yet, I will not go into my views on mental health today. It deserves its own (or multiple) entry.




Newtown Discussion: Gun Control and Mental Health December 16, 2012

Posted by tackettmedia in politics, sustainability.
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As I am watching the Sunday morning political shows in the wake of the Newtown elementary school shooting, the themes are clear: Gun control and – albeit to a lesser degree – mental health issues.

As I write this, I am watching Meet the Press. I just finished following the discussion on This Week. Consistently everyone is calling for conversation around gun control and privacy issues surrounding people struggling with their mental health.

I wonder whether “conversation” is enough. Mayor Bloomberg said it best when he put forth the message that he supported President Obama’s second term run because the President had the right vision around certain issues, but now it is time to lead and implement that vision.

One of the themes that bothers me is that no one is talking about ammunition control. Yes, we can put laws in place that require background checks, make it harder for people to purchase guns, ban certain guns, etc. But all these measures won’t affect the guns that are already out in our communities.

There is also no “conversation” around the issue of whether the U.S. Second Amendment supports the creation of a militia society. I am from a country where each man is required to go through military training. They store their weapon, a gun, at home. I grew up with a gun in our spare bedroom closet. Consequently, you could say that I was raised in a militia society. Yet, there were and are still controls in place through ammunition control.

Especially with the technology we have available nowadays, it ought to be possible to put in place some sort of ammunition controls. It will not be perfect since enforcement of any laws always depends on people in certain positions to do their jobs. However, without looking at ammunition control, I believe no new laws will have any big effect.

In essence, we can talk all day about removal of guns, which is not realistic and will not make any difference. But we could talk about ammunition control.

And now to my view of mental health issues. I will likely have to write more about this issue in a separate blog entry since I am thinking about it often (and therefore, have a lot to say on the topic) in connection with my work around homelessness. However, I briefly would like to mention that there needs to be more awareness, more education, better definitions, and diverse approaches to assist individuals and families dealing with mental health issues.

During today’s debates I heard a few times that it was necessary to close mental institutions in the 1960s and 70s. It was also said that the systems that were to replace the institutions (community-based mental health care and halfway houses) never was put in place to its full extent. Well, then the question is why?

Why did mental institutions not work? Why did alternatives not work? Why is there not a larger range of services in place?

We need to examine cost issues, treatment options, family support systems, etc. But above all, we need to look at definitions of what mental health issues are. The terminology and wide range of definitions that we currently have confuses the heck out of me. All this screams to me that there is a need for widespread education and awareness surrounding mental illness.

To finish this blog, I believe it will be easier for politicians to tackle the gun law issues. Yet, in the end, we can expect another watered-down law and a lot of back-slapping politicians congratulating themselves for their actions.

Mental health, I fear, will have to take another backseat.

Libya… (too bad Zimbabwe) March 29, 2011

Posted by tackettmedia in politics.
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President Obama’s speech on March 28, 2011, that aimed to justify U.S. military involvement in Libya, left the door wide open for criticism. If the United States were to save all the people in the world from their dictators, which countries should we attack next? Is there a secret list?

In any case, my big criticism is that the United States, nor any other country that I am aware of, does not have clear principles or policies  in place that outline when a situtaion demands consideration for attacking a sovereign nation. My suspicion is that in the case of Libya, contrary to presidential sermon, moral issues were trumped by economic ones. We all know that Libya is a main supplier of oil to Europe. Furthermore, NATO pressure means that the United States needs to listen. If Europe’s economic base is hurting, the United States will share some of the pain.

Let’s shift scenery to another African nation. While President Mugabe of Zimbabwe brutally suppressed his people after they had elected another person, the World watched rather quietly (maybe there were some whispers).

Shift back to Libya. Yes, Libya is one among many north-African and Muslim countries in turmoil right now. However, if moral standards were the true reason of involvement in Libya, then why not helping Zimbabwe’s citizens?

The main difference that comes to mind is oil (a little humor is inserted here: http://www.dailysquib.co.uk/world/1407-oil-found-in-zimbabwe-uk-and-us-to-invade-next-week.html)

Europe’s interest and economic well-being affects us more than Southern Africa’s. Economic reasons always top moral reasons – and maybe they should in politics. But if that is the case, then please, don’t think we, the people, are stupid. Just be forthcoming and explain what is really going on.

Soldiers Returning Home March 11, 2010

Posted by tackettmedia in politics, sustainability.
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I’m a soldier’s wife.

During my husband’s deployment this past year, I have been educating myself about the status of mind I can expect him to be in upon his return from Iraq.

My husband has been back in the United States for about a month now and as expected, there are some emotional issues and sleep problems he is dealing with.

It is not hard for soldiers to return back home to their families. Ours is a stable situation. We’re both entering middle age and he has an officer status. Officers are less affected by PTSD than younger, enlisted soldiers. Still, it is not easy to re-integrate.

Having said that, I want everybody to think about how multiple deployments will affect our society in the long term. I cannot imaging how young soldiers  in their early 20s who have been doing foot patrol and have endured several tours overseas are dealing with the stress. We all are hearing reports about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, sleep disorders, and worse. But not many people talk about the sky-rocketing divorce rate.

These young people return back home to be faced with mental distress and a broken family. They are barely grown ups.

Why, I ask, is it not possible for the U.S. military to ensure that each returning soldier goes through six months of counseling?

It will not help every one, but it is a start and it is certainly better than giving them lectures for two weeks and teaching them how to drive on U.S. roads again. We are facing a crisis in this country. The poverty rates in our cities are high. Homelessness is on the rise. And now we’re conveniently forgetting about our returning soldiers. Yes, we lament and discuss, but we don’t know what to do.

The military has options and opportunities to overcome the stigma that lets soldiers shy away from seeking out the help they need. Young wives feel helpless and rather leave with their children than succumb to the additional burden of dealing with a husband who seems emotionally detached from them. These young families are left with nothing, facing financial instability, which in turn will in the long term cost us as a society.

Even for people who are dealing relatively well with the stress and adjustments a deployment brings, it can’t hurt to ensure that everyone undergoes some form of life skill treatment. Cost could be an issue. But if we cannot afford taking care of our soldiers, then how and why can we afford a war and the rebuilding of another nation?

It is up to us to start the discussion. Please join me, call on your congressional representatives and your senators. Keep bringing these issues to the forefront.

Education needs to be top priority in Afghanistan January 19, 2010

Posted by tackettmedia in politics.
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When Pres. Obama addressed the nation announcing a troop surge in Afghanistan a few months ago, I was not surprised at all. A first-year president, regardless of his political affiliation, really had no other choice than to take the direction he did.

However, there were two topics that I missed in his speech – education and a definition of victory.

For one, it was clear to everybody listening to the President’s reasons for a troop surge, that the Obama administration has re-defined what victory in Afghanistan looks like. However, the President did not clearly state what this new definition is, which made me question whether he believes in an American victory in Afghanistan.

Secondly, education is probably the most important aspect of stabilizing a nation where a majority of the population does not remember a time without foreign occupation or civil unrest. Basically, the Afghan people do not even know the concept of government. (At least the Iraqi people know the concept of government, even though they were living under a dictatorship).

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, 44.5 percent of Afghans are 14 years of age or younger, 53 percent are 15 to 64 years old and 2.4 percent are 65 and older.

The War in Afghanistan started in 2001, nine years ago. Consequently, 45.5 percent of the population (likely more than that) grew up during this current war situation. We know that prior to that, the Afghan people were in a civil war (1996-2001) under Taliban repression. And before, there was another civil war. Then in the late 70s/early 80s the Soviets were fighting in Afghanistan.

What I’m getting at is this: we need to engage in educational outreach if we want people to understand what government means and if we want them to be able to stabilize their own country. I’m not talking of imposing democracy or any other form of government. I’m talking about basic education: reading, writing, math and providing people with the resources necessary for doing their own research. Without this, how can a people understand the purpose of government? And, what is more, how can we leave in 18 months and expect Afghans to be able to maintain internal stability?

Again, close to half of the population in Afghanistan is under 20 years of age and has never lived under a functioning government.

Sources mentioned in this blog:

The World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/af.html

President’s speech: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-address-nation-way-forward-afghanistan-and-pakistan