I have prosecuted sexual violence in two states. I’ve trained and consulted for the United States military and in 49 US jurisdictions. I’m not aware of a single one where grabbing a person’s genitals or genital area would not constitute a crime of sexual assault.
It’s the Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee, and it’s the Savior Gun.
“I have always believed that it is better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.”
That’s as far as the “thinking” goes for this man who currently holds high office in an American state. Having a firearm, at all times, in all circumstances, at the ready and fully loaded, is how Americans need to start living. All the time. Everywhere. Church. School. McDonalds. The supermarket. Back to School Night. That’s the only answer: A perpetual state of itchy readiness for gun violence.
Music this is, surely, to the NRA and it’s sugar-daddy the gun manufacturing industry. But back to Ron and his admonition. It appears to go something like this: All of you (you who are Christians anyway, and not anyone whose religion I might not trust):
Your new savior is a firearm. Let’s call it the Savior Gun. Having a Savior Gun and being a “good guy” is all that’s needed in Ron’s brave new world. Because after all:
1. The aim of the shooter behind the Savior Gun will always be perfect and true, despite shock, stress, ricochet, the natural non-preparedness of simply living one’s life outside of a perpetual combat zone, the shooter not being a professional or a marksman, the chance of slipping on a pickle chip, and an infinite number of other factors. In Ron’s world, the “good guy” will always hit the “bad guy” and save the day, period. There’s no reason to fear that a roomful of panicked shooters will hit each other, fleeing bystanders, or actual, professional first responders. There’s also no need to worry about whether actual good guys, the professional responders themselves, will know not to shoot the now pistol wielding “good guy,” as his intentions will always, somehow, be crystal clear and apparent during the melee.
2. The Savior Gun will never accidentally discharge and kill or maim the “good guy,” a classmate, bus rider, dinner companion, toddler, or anyone else.
3. The Savior Gun will never be stolen and misused, or fall into the hands of a child.
4. The Savior Gun will never be used in a suicide, a heated argument, or a misunderstanding, given the ease of which firearms make death something that can be dealt from a sanitized distance as an extension of one’s fist.
No, sir. Where the Savior Gun is concerned, all of these inevitable and oft-seen outcomes are either impossible or unworthy of consideration for Ron. Why? I guess he believes that, as a Savior Gun purchased by a Christian, it will itself surely anthropomorphize and adopt Ron’s benevolent Christian principles.
Adults, many of them police officers, understand better than Ron that guns are swords, not shields. Adults understand that the presence of firearms almost always means more death, not less.
Adults understand that the inconvenient realities around the actual nature of firearms, particularly when coupled with human frailty, tend to complicate attractive but dangerous teenage boy fantasies.
Adults understand that the reality of how firearms will likely be used in high-stress situations by non-professionals must temper the understandable but grossly unrealistic urge to view them as infallible protecters of innocence and virtue.
Adults see the necessity of firearms for qualified individuals and understand the importance of allowing individuals to defend themselves and their families appropriately- sometimes even with firearms. But adults also appreciate the grave necessity to control the accessibility to guns, and also the public carrying of them.
Adults know these things because they’re, well, adults.
I don’t what Ron Ramsey is.
As an Army civilian, I learned first hand that institution’s ability to distort and betray. After pushing back against two mid-level officers, one a pathologically bad manager and the other a manipulative egomaniac, I found myself marginalized, humiliated, and eventually professionally hunted. My record, integrity and work-product spoke for themselves then and now; if they saw me as a bad fit (particularly for things like insisting on more attention to same-sex sexual assault, a suggestion they ignored), they could have told me so. Instead, I was pushed out mostly on lies and laughable complaints. Eventually I learned to keep my head down and to let go of my vision for the job. I was able to leave on my own with official thanks a few months later. I also made lifelong friends and encountered largely honorable and decent people in the service of the Army. Still, it was demoralizing and sobering to see how far an institution can go in the wrong direction, even when most individual players want to do the right thing.
So I cannot imagine, knowing how much more he has invested as an actual warrior rather than a civilian lawyer, the sense of betrayal Sergeant First Class Charles Martland must be feeling. Martland is a decorated Special Forces member who the Army is trying to discharge. In his corner, among most of the people who supervised or served with Martland, is California Congressmen Duncan Hunter.
Martland’s career ending offense? In 2011, Martland and an officer, Dan Quinn, confronted and eventually assaulted an American-trained, installed, and funded local Afghan commander named Abdul Rahman. Quinn and Martland had received an in-person plea from the mother of boy who Rahman chained to a bed as a sex slave. The mother, beaten by Rahman for trying to rescue her son, brought him, limping, to the Americans who put Rahman in place after pushing out the Taliban. When Quinn and Martland confronted Rahman, he casually admitted to the allegations and laughed when it was suggested that he carry himself to higher standards. Then he got hit, although his injuries were reported as very minor.
It’s true that, in war, unholy alliances and difficult decisions must be made. Service members cannot generally react against orders even in ways their consciences dictate. Hence, Martland was punished at the time and has acknowledged the inappropriateness of his actions. Nevertheless, the Army wants him out. Never mind that, like the vast majority of our servicemen and women, Martland and Quinn were justifiably infuriated at both the acts of Rahman and his insouciant response. The Army, the one you pay a substantial amount of a $500 billion annual defense budget toward, is not above ending the career of a decorated, warrior who reacted the way every single instinct his cultural and American military values would have directed him to.
The issue goes far deeper, though, then just a moral balancing test. Forcing soldiers to powerlessly observe (and thus vicariously experience) the sexual abuse of children- within earshot in some cases- is a unique form of psychological torture in and of itself.
The sexual abuse of boys by men in Afghanistan, particularly powerful men, is time-honored and brutally well documented. Our military tolerates this so as not to stress relations with militants it places in positions of power, armed to the teeth, in lieu of Taliban extremists. Not only is this practice ordered to go unanswered in our service people’s midst, but by eyewitness accounts it has actually been tolerated inside of military facilities.
Think about that.
American service people, some of whom have heard the screams of children being sexually tortured in the next room, have had to make gut wrenching choices, understanding the realities on the ground, about responding to the cries of these children. A few of them, driven by the kind of morality, decency and sense of justice we pride ourselves in cultivating in them, have bravely made choices to stop it.
Your Army is ready to marginalize them and kick them out for it.
This is happening even as your Army not only tolerates child sexual abuse in Afghanistan, but also orders its soldiers, against everything they believe in, to literally and personally fortify and arm abusers in a way that allows them access to more victims. And, your Army is doing this in the face of an already alarming rate of suicide among service members.
Your Army, its commanders and its Commanders-in-Chief, present and past, need to account for it to you.
No, not you.
There nothing funny about the lives you shattered in a timeless, magnificent city and in an historical and magnificent church. There’s nothing to smile at with regard to the good and decent people you slaughtered, people who even you hesitated before murdering because they were so friendly to you. You’ll never know that level of friendliness or open-heartedness again, and that is just.
But that fact, like you, isn’t funny.
But here’s the thing: I think God is funny, in all of His/Her frustrating inscrutability. Or maybe it’s just the Universe. Or karma.
Whatever it is, It’s laughing at you, and so am I.
In 1998, a national prosecutor training center opened in Columbia, South Carolina, the capital of the state you tried (and failed) to soil. Over the years it became almost a second home for me as a consultant and trainer of prosecutors nationwide. The University of South Carolina campus (where the building stands) and the city beyond it provided a wonderful training and networking venue for thousands of DA’s from every state and territory. I was proud of the National Advocacy Center. I was proud of South Carolina and Columbia for hosting us. In the typical spirit of Southern hospitality, black folks, white folks and pretty much everyone else we encountered in the restaurants, shops and bars (we’re DA’s, Dylann, we love and need bars), were wonderful to us.
The only thing I thought was unfortunate was the reality of a confederate battle flag that whipped over the state capital building itself until 2000, while hundreds of federal and state prosecutors, many of them non-white and some from as far away as Guam, were shuttled past it from the airport every week. That got less uncomfortable when that flag was moved to the grounds of the statehouse rather than the dome. But still it remained, a hyper-prominent fixture on public ground.
I know it symbolizes “heritage” for many, but really we all knew, both us visiting and, in my experience, most of our hosts in Columbia itself, what it really meant.
Especially to people like you.
You hid behind words like “heritage” to use that flag as a signal. Unfortunately, the government of South Carolina, moving in slow motion and uncertain patterns as most representative governments do, allowed that hiding to continue even as it unfairly stained both your state and the good people who live there.
But now, you, young Dylann, have succeeded in creating a tipping point that would have been unimaginable even five years ago. You’ve inherited the wind; your act of murder has led to the removal of that flag, leaving it now to the only thing it’s good for, which is to commemorate bravery and document history.
But far beyond that even, your viciousness has exhumed truths that will now be discussed and eventually accepted even as they were whitewashed and buried before.
Truths like, just as an example, the real reason behind the Second Amendment, which we’re now discovering was more about enabling slave patrols to murderously put down efforts at freedom than it was the security of free states. That amendment, after all, in its heretofore traditional interpretations, allowed you to legally possess the gun you used to slaughter people in prayer and fellowship. Maybe that interpretation will continue to hold sway.
But now that you’ve foolishly snapped open a valve of righteous anger, long-buried pain and gloriously, tamped-down common sense, who knows?
Were it up to me, Dylann (assuming you’re legally sane, factually guilty and found so in a court of law) you would die at the hands of the state in a lethal injection chamber. I still support such an outcome, although with increasing reluctance as I grow older for reasons I won’t describe here.
But I also know that my view on the death penalty, as well as on the far, broader notions of Judeo-Christian right and wrong that have underpinned my professional life, are all being challenged. And I have to admit as I fade from relevance that those challenges are not unmerited. In fact I believe they stem from the better angels of our nature.
You would know nothing about that. But if you’re lucky, the better angels of our nature will spare you, just as the families of your victims largely forgave you in that remarkable court hearing after your arrest. If you’re less lucky, God help you.
But either way, I hope you can hear the laughter.
To Nicholas Kristof, columnist, The New York Times:
Your May 23, 2015 column was entitled “When the Rapist Doesn’t See It As Rape.”
When I saw that you were taking this issue on, my heart soared. I’ve adored you for years. I love your compassion, your courage, your wit, and your willingness to embody my favorite of all journalistic pledges, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” So criticizing you does not come easily.
You wrote a timely, needed column on the phenomenon of non-stranger sexual violence that takes place in every area of society, but has gained attention most prominently within the college environment (mirrored by the military environment and many high school ones as well). But why did you lead (journalistically “lede”) with the story of Brian Banks and Wanetta Gibson, one of the very rare but most bluntly clear examples of rank false reporting seen in recent years?
As you note, Gibson not only recanted, but was demonstrated to be lying thanks to a sting video captured by lawyers who were rightfully assisting Banks in uncovering the crime of a baseless lie that appears to have been inspired by Gibson’s mother. Wanetta Gibson, from what is believed, was inspired by her mother to falsify an accusation against Brian Banks so that a payout could be obtained through a civil action against the school district she attended. The Gibsons pocketed 1.5 million dollars in a settlement, and that false accusation cost Banks not only five years in the California state correctional system, but apparently a professional football career as well. Banks has been gracious since his exoneration was, thankfully, made official by the Los Angeles County District Attorneys Office in May of 2012. Were it up to me as a prosecutor, I’d likely have gone after at least Wanetta’s mother (Wanetta was a juvenile at the time of the false allegation) assuming the facts are as they’ve been presented in the media.
But moving on from that, I am at a loss as to why you, in a column that otherwise correctly describes the daunting challenge of responding to sexual violence that is and has always been a sadly regular part of collage life, chose to spend roughly a third of your powerful piece on something that almost never happens.
You yourself point out the rarity of false allegations in rape cases. You then correctly spend the rest of the piece on the far more common and present danger to young women (and some men) posed by predatory people on college campuses who get away with rape again and again because of familiarity, culture, and institutional self-protection.
Still, you return to the convenient myth of allegations of rape that are the result of sexual encounters that are, “complex, ambiguous, fueled by alcohol, and prone to he-said-she-said uncertainties.”
Hogwash, Mr. Kristof.
In fact, most rape is predatory in nature; you yourself allude to Dr. David Lisak’s ground breaking research. Worse, most predators, whether articulate enough or not to describe it, are gleefully aware of the alcohol fueled, “he said, she said” patina of doubt that saves them from consequences and that you problematically promote even as you claim to do the opposite.
But more importantly, most victims of rape, meaning women and men who have been clearly perpetrated against by any commonly accepted legal description, do exactly what perpetrators hope for and expect: They blame themselves, they fold the experience into their lives, and they move on. The idea that false or “mistaken” claims of sexual assault are anywhere near as a big a problem as sexual assault itself is simply baseless and misleading.
I don’t doubt that you believe these things, sir. I only wonder why you structured a column that seems to devalue those far more profound truths in the interest of giving column inches to what is largely a dangerous distraction.