When It’s Easier to Get a Gun than a Ballot

Dear Joel,

Wouldn’t it be nice if Dana Loesch and friends cared as much about voting rights as they do gun rights?

Loesch, readers will remember from just yesterday, is a conservative talk radio host and too-frequent guest on mainstream TV news whose ad for the NRA, released this week, called for violence against a vague “them”—liberals, progressives, members of “the resistance” (like, say, all those women and this winter’s Women’s March in DC), and Black Lives Matters advocates.

It’s just a hunch, but it seems like the NRA doesn’t care about wooing centrists who think that gun rights are worth protecting as part of the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. These folks, who claim to love the law (but mostly just love authoritarianism) love guns, not liberty.

As more and more states adopt conceal and carry and open carry and as more people choose to own guns, the NRA will have to keep upping its scary rhetoric to prove that guns rights are under attack when it’s clear that, in fact, they aren’t. Since gun rights are secure and guns are everywhere* in this country, the NRA doesn’t have much to work with in appealing to moderates.

Instead, it has to prevent members from slipping over to the even extremist Gun Owners of America. After all, if you’ve already won the “middle ground” (and the fact that conceal and carry is the “middle ground” tells you about the terror that rightwing gun advocates must feel all the time), you just keep pushing right. The only end of it can be zero regulation of guns: any gun, for any person, any place, at any time, with no government oversight of production or sales.

As, gun rights advocates think, the founders wanted (for white people, I mean).


Above, a man with “We the People” tattooed on his forearm and a pistol on his hip. Photo from The Guardian. 

Rhetoric around gun rights consistently links back to the founding period: We need guns to fend off a possible attack by our own government. (Gun rights advocates tend to leave off the part about the racist militias that were required to maintain the brutal system of slavery, but let’s be clear: today’s gun rights arguments are also arguments for maintaining white supremacy over the lives of people of color.) Your neighbor isn’t stockpiling to fight the Germans. His ultimate enemy is the US government—or, rather, the government as he imagines it: intellectual elites promoting multiculturalism and equality at the expense of his white supremacy.

And rightwing lawmakers encourage this kind of hostility toward the government. They protect the privacy of gun dealers and owners at the expense of public safety—a courtesy not granted the vast number of US citizens who have been surveilled under the Patriot Act. Lawmakers have made it extremely difficult to collect any data on gun ownership, even in ways that protect subject privacy. The NRA has fought hard to prevent doctors from asking patients if they own a gun and secure it separately from ammunition—the security procedures recommended by the NRA itself—even though they can ask about smoke detectors, car seats, and cigarette smoking in the home.

By law, records about gun sales cannot be digitized. Because there is no standard for reporting this information, some people in gun sales submit their information on toilet paper—a contemptuous act that makes it incredibly difficult to access information about a gun when a crime using that gun has occurred. The disrespect impedes police work and undermines justice for victims of violence—two groups that the NRA says they care so much about.

But let’s say you are a Constitutional fundamentalist: the Founders wrote it, you believe it, and that settles it. Let’s take a Church of Christ approach: if it’s not specifically listed in the Constitution or can’t be inferred from a narrow reading, it’s not legit. So the Founders said, in the Constitution, that we had an individual right to own guns (or did they?), but they never said that you had to show photo ID to get one (How could they when there was no photography?) or that you had to be 18 or that you had to demonstrate basic competency with a firearm. The 2nd Amendment doesn’t say that the government should track sales or require gun registration. The proper place of guns today is just where it was in the late 18th century (or at least where the NRA imagines it was).

And yet…

The Trump administration has demanded all kinds of personal information on voters from state attorneys general. A few have refused. More must.

Because, in previous centuries of American democracy, you didn’t have to show photo ID to vote. You didn’t have to navigate a complex paper ballot. (You very often just raised your hand, shuffled to one side of the lawn or the other, or tossed a bean or some other kind of produce into a hat.) You showed up (if you could make it past political opponents who were out to stop you), and you voted. No one asked for your government issued ID. And, afterward, no one collected the last 4 digits of your social security number (because, after all, we didn’t have one).

In other words, today’s pre-voting burdens and post-voting invasions of privacy are at least as offensive to the Constitution as are gun control laws, even if you read the 2nd Amendment as generously as possible.

“Second Amendment” people should be piping up very loudly right now. Their silence lets us know that they aren’t here to protect civil liberties or even to challenge an authoritarian government. Advocating for gun rights and against voting rights makes no sense unless the goal is to protect white supremacy, not civil liberties.

And for those of us who revere voting rights, perhaps we can take a page from extremist gun rights advocates. Let the members of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, who will meet in DC on July 19, know what you think. Kansas’ Attorney General Kris Kobach (who couldn’t find a voter fraud case if it was sitting in an area nursing home) is VP of the commission, and I encourage you to reach out to him to let him know your thoughts—and, yes, toilet paper is a fine way to send them.



Places I have seen guns in the last year:

  • Waiter at a restaurant open carrying as he brought me my iced tea (and, yes, I left).
  • Employee of a boat launch at a state park swimming hole (and, yes, I left, because a person wearing a gun over swimshorts is not a person I need to be near).
  • Sandwich shop—a man perhaps in his mid-20s comes in with his three young sons, one with no shoes and another wearing just a diaper. While the man couldn’t bother to dress his children or keep track of their shoes, he did manage to strap on a gun. (Note: Having contributed at least a dozen single baby and toddler shoes to the universe, I tend not to judge. But I also know that if you are too overwhelmed to dress your child, you are not going to have the attention to keep a gun secure. And, yes, I left.)

Goodbye, Jason Chaffetz!

Hi Joel,

It’s Jason Chaffetz’s last day of work (JK! The man hasn’t done his job in ages!) in Congress. He’s served as one of Utah’s Representatives to Congress since his election as part of the Tea Party sweep of 2008. He’s been a self-serving conman, a climber and a snake in the grass whose very name has become a verb meaning “to stab a mentor in the back,” as John Hunstman told the world. Chaffetz has always been at least as equally attentive to a future in reality TV or Fox News as he has to his actual job, which, unfortunately for America, has included serving as the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which ought to have been doing some oversight of Donald Trump’s violations of the emolument’s clause.

Other things to know about him: he’s cast doubts about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, his business background is in pyramid schemes, and he wasted lots of our time and money on a useless investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of Benghazi. It’s hard to figure out really, what, has been his worst moment, but I think it was when he said he wouldn’t vote for Trump because he couldn’t look his teenage daughter in the eye after the candidate bragged about sexually assaulting women simply because he was powerful, then changed his mind. Daughter Chaffetz: I hope you never, ever let him forget what a spineless act this was.

But though I can’t see why Orrin Hatch hasn’t had Chaffetz’s political ambitions strangled much sooner than this, lots of Utahns are okay with voting for a limelight-seeking, child-exploiter–which made his decision to quit partway through his current term raise eyebrows. Did the hostile town hall meetings finally get to him? Was it my constant barrage of mail and phone calls? Theories abound, though the most likely seems to be that he’s won a deal with Fox that is more profitable, either short or long term, than finishing the work he agreed to do for the Beehive State.

Above, in the reality TV show Freshman Year, then first year Representative Jason Chaffetz shows the camera how he sleeps on a cot in his office in DC as a sign that his real home is in Utah. Now he’s quitting his job early, invalidating the votes of Utahns who thought he would live up to his commitment to do the job they elected him to do. 

So, to the long list of people with every right be angry with Chaffetz (his daughter, Senator Hatch, John Hunstman, Americans who care about the Constitution, all the people NuSkin ripped off, Hillary Clinton), let’s add: all Utahns who voted for this man (and especially those who donated to his campaign), trusting that his willingness to run was a sign that he was willing to serve. Not only are Chaffetz voters not getting their money back OR their man in office, Republican delegates have been asked to make a $25 “donation” (not required but strongly encouraged) to vote in the election for his replacement.

Whoever wins Chaffetz’s spot, I’m not going to miss him, and it’s hard to imagine a representative doing less for the people he serves. Like everyone else in his life, Utah voters were just a stepping stone for Chaffetz to get to where he wants to go next.

But I will miss the ritual of calling his office and sending him mail. Perhaps it’s time to turn my attention back to one of the other junior dangers in Congress: Arkansas’ Senator Tom Cotton.


Who Shot First? Dana Loesch Edition

Hi Joel,

Thanks for sharing the NRA’s appalling new video, in which conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch basically calls for NRA members to hunt for liberals. She invites violence against a mysterious and vague “they” who are teaching America school kids that Trump is like Hitler (While I think the comparison can be useful, even if its overwrought, I’ve not seen in taught in public schools. In fact, where I live, the school teachers are heavily pro-Trump.), interrupting traffic (an allusion to Black Lives Matter), and calling NRA members racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic. (True, true, true, and also true.)

That terrible commercial might be the most honest thing Loesch has ever said: The NRA is full of racist fear mongers who rile up anxiety about gun control in order to justify violence against people who threaten white supremacy and patriarchy. They would like for their members to take up arms against people of different races, religious, and political backgrounds. They love authoritarianism and prefer the comfort of a police state to the anxiety of a plural America.


Above, Dana Loesch, who both believes she has something important to say and that her words won’t incite violence. You can catch her next on FoxNews after this week’s forthcoming mass shooting, denying that she has anything to do with it and selling more guns. 

(Every day, conservatives come up with a new answer in the “Causes of the Second Civil War” category in a distant game of Jeopardy!)

If you are a good guy with a gun, you should have long ago abandoned this powerful lobby, which cares far less about rifles and far more about making sure that you turn out to vote based on fear.  Being a member of the NRA doesn’t tell the world that you’re a brave American ready to fight for freedom. It tells us that you’re afraid and that you can’t negotiate a changing world without the assurance that you can do violence against people who have a different perspective. You gotta have a gun in your back pocket, just in case you don’t get what you want. It tells us that you are okay with the thinking that Loesch invokes here: that your fellow Americans are your enemy and that you have the right to wage war–or at least reign down sniper fire on a BLM rally or a Women’s March–on them. It also tells us that you are kind of… well, naive, but not in the charming way. More in the stupid, lazy, and entitled way: the kind of person who probably buys stuff from Kevin Trudeau or tried to get a degree from Trump University.

Oh, and the ad–it was made in April, before House Majority Whip Steven Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, along with three others, was shot in Alexandria, Virginia by a man citing his left-wing politics as motivation for the attempted murders.  So, no, it’s not a response to that event. It’s just what the NRA thinks all the time. Thanks, Dana, for being clear.

The next question is: Who is going to die because of these words?






The NRA hates you and me

Dear Rebecca:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the interplay between civility and justice lately, resisting the idea that we have to hate our neighbors who think differently than us, feeling like any political victories we achieve in such an atmosphere might be hollow and rickety.

But then there’s this ad from the NRA:


(Sorry, the video is not embedding. Follow the link and watch.)

And, um, I’m terrified.

It makes me wonder if civility is beside the point. Safety is first, then justice. I see no love for their fellow citizens in this ad, no understanding – or even a care to understand – what might motivate them. All I see is hate and rage.

They hate you. They hate me. And they love it. They need it.

God help us all.

Millennials are Killing Stuff. Thank them!

Hi Joel,

You may have seen one of my new least favorite genres of commentary: the Things Millennials are Killing piece. This kind of writing bemoans the fact that younger people are changing the economy by their stubborn refusal to buy the consumer goods that their parents and grandparents thought signaled adulthood: cars, homes, diamonds, televisions. It is in the vein of the Why Won’t Millennials Work Like We Did essay, which complains that Millennials won’t pledge loyalty to or arrange their schedules around jobs that will never, ever pay them enough to buy the cars, homes, and diamonds that they aren’t buying. The bigger story: Millennials are questioning the relationships among work, stuff, and happiness. And science backs up their decisions to spend money on experiences–including eating avocado toast, getting massages, and traveling–rather than material goods.


Above, mmmm…. Avocado toast, three ways: with tomato, with fried egg, and with bacon. Don’t like it? Maybe you should pay wages that will allow young workers to save up for a down payment. In the meantime, “let them eat toast!”

Why these stories get reported as emergencies is clear: there are a lot of people labeled Millennial (full disclosure: I’m of the Oregon Trail Generation, those born between the release of the first and third films in the original Star Wars trilogy: born analog but reached adulthood in the digital age, and, because of my delayed entry into adulthood (grad school), my financial habits are more Millennial than Gen X.), and they matter a lot to the economy, but as consumers. We’ve structured our economy so that many of them were graduating from college with insurmountable debt and lousy job prospects, but we still need them to buy stuff.

But the urgent tine of these essays doesn’t tell us how very important this change is. It’s a shift produced by a number of factors, primarily economic (They don’t have the money.) but also out of a recognition that rampant consumerism is unethical; it hurts the earth and, frankly, it’s pretty hard to accumulate stuff without participating in human slavery and other forms of labor exploitation. Maybe if Millennials had the money to do it, they’d buy diamonds, but since they don’t, they might as well also note that the diamond industry is deeply damaging to people and the planet. Or, as Sarah Kendzior says it in an article for Quartz, “Many millennials do not have a lot of choice. They are merely reacting to lost opportunity.”)

For our Mennonite readers (and others) who take the call to live simply seriously, we should be enthusiastically supporting Millennials who reject consumerism. And we could probably all benefit from applying Millennial’s detachment from things–especially since, in the end, they might be the ones deciding just what to do with your stuff.


In Christ there is no East or West

Dear Rebecca:

I’m sorry I haven’t posted lately. My silence has been driven by two things: Busyness, but also a deep anger about our politics — with heartless Republicans and smug liberals — and, well, I haven’t trusted myself to comment rationally and persuasively.

I went to church this morning, though, and got to sing the traditional version of this untraditional Mavis Staples take on an old hymn:

The United Methodist Church has an interesting website devoted to the history of hymns. About the original version, it says this:

As UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young observes, “[t]he theme of Oxenham’s hymn, one of the most durable hymnic statements of Christian unity in the twentieth century, is from Galatians 3:28: ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ.’”

Though originating in the missionary movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries, this hymn gratefully lacks the triumphalism and hegemonic assumptions of so many mission hymns of this era. Perhaps the author’s extensive travel helped him develop a sense of Christian unity beyond the racial and cultural differences that he observed.

This is my animating idea when it comes to the church, I guess. It’s why I resist Christianity as tribalism, or as a force that reinforces our tribalism. If there is a god and that being is the God of us all, what excuse do we have to separate ourselves and to exult in, be prideful about, those separations?

It was a good morning to be in church. A time to be reminded of some important stuff.


Books for Woke Kids

Hi Joel,

It’s summer time, which means it’s time for public library reading programs! My kids each get a certificate from the school district superintendent if they read 10 “age appropriate” books or a total of 1000 pages over the summer, plus prizes along the way from the library. We spent the morning at the university library working on this project, with the oldest reading a passage on cuttlefish from Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and the middle child working her way through a book on women saints. The major family reading list this summer including Benito Cereno in response to Ariel Dorfman’s call for us to use Melville to understand the age of Trump.

Books, just as much as my politically active parents and Mennonite church experiences, helped me develop the empathy, historical knowledge, and ability to see how personal experiences illuminated structural and institutional injustices. Books occupied a very special place in my upbringing. My siblings and I were never told “no” when we asked to buy them through the Scholastic book order program, and I consider that unlimited generosity one of my parent’ best gifts to us. Each of us had our own bookshelf–and not a little one, either, but something at least chest-high. I’m not sure if, growing up, you could have thrown a ball without hitting a book or stack of magazines or newspapers in our house. One of our most treasured possessions was an excellent set of gilt-edged encyclopedias, which could only be handled after we’d washed our hands.

Books matter just as much in my own family now, as the many saints who have helped us move them can attest.

My own children are now in preschool, upper elementary, and middle school. I’ve written elsewhere (specifically about supporting refugees) about how important books are to foster our hope that our children will be caring global citizens (and sometimes they get it, and sometimes it works!). Here are three favorites we’ve read and re-read, individually and as a family, to get our kids thinking about the ways we want to be in the world.


Above, Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shows a beautiful painting of King’s face, smiling. The book has won numerous awards for children’s literature. 

You know you love it when the book is held together with paperclips, rubber bands, or other basic office supplies. That’s the case for Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. The book’s clear words and beautiful illustrations tell the story of a childhood King who is himself beginning to understand the racism that is shaping his life.


Above, the cover of The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum shows a young Dorothy comforting the Cowardly Lion as Toto and her new friends Scarecrow and Tin Man look on. 

From start to finish, it’s a radical book that celebrates diversity and is unabashedly pro-queer and feminist.


9781902593579-usAbove, the cover of Addicted to War: Why the US Can’t Kick Militarism shows an illustration of a white man in a suite sweating as he attempts to hold too many items in his arms: tanks, military helicopters, an Air Force jet, missiles, a naval ship, and nuclear smokestacks. 

Addicted to War is a graphic nonfiction book by Joel Andreas was brought to our attention by folks at Joy Mennonite Church in Oklahoma City. It provides an accessible introduction to US military history from the conflict perspective, always asking, “How did this benefit the people in power?” If you have a child interested in warfare but you’d rather not romanticize it, this is a great choice. We’ve worn through two copies of it already and are on our third.

Readers: What books helped you see the world differently? Made you more empathetic? Introduced you to figures from history or fiction who changed your life? What books do you want your children to read? What books of their generation are you reading and learning from now?