21st Century Wild, Wild West

As the U.S. continues to struggle over gun violence, it appears that America’s love affair with the wild, wild west, where vigilantism and gun violence were rampant and romanticized has simply modernized and nationalized. We have regressed from using rifles and six-shooters in barely settled western towns to living in a nation where anyone can be killed or maimed at any time by assault weapons legally obtained by people on terror watch lists or toddlers pulling mommy’s handgun out of her purse and shooting her to death.

Hickock_Tutt_Duel_1867_Harpers_Monthly_Magazine

Hickok-Tutt duel February 1867-Harper’s Monthly

The real question, of course, is why 21st century American gun policy appears stuck in the 19th century. The latest polling data shows that a majority of Americans want more gun control:

  • 55% favor stricter gun controls;
  • 92% favor universal background checks that will forbid gun sales to those convicted of felonies;
  • 54% favor a ban on the manufacture, sale and possessions of semi-automatic assault weapons;
  • 54% favor a ban on the sale and possession of equipment known as high-capacity or extended ammunition clips;
  • 87% favor banning convicted felons from possessing guns; and
  • 85% favor preventing people on the U.S. terrorism or no-fly list from owning guns.

Yet, despite mass shooting after mass shooting from Sandy Hook to Orlando and countless tragic places in between, our dysfunctional Congress refuses to pass any meaningful gun control legislation. Worse yet, there are legislators who continue to propose legislation that would make gun possession more likely.

Contrary to any reasonable pro-business, local control ideology, a Wisconsin Republican state representative Bob Gannon is responding to the Orlando massacre by proposing legislation that would hold business owners liable for triple damages if they ban weapons in their business, but someone is shot there. Hopefully, this piece of retrograde legislation will be soundly rejected. However, the sad reality is that the United States will never change its gun laws until voters make gun control a deciding factor when they cast their votes.

The late, great disability advocate Justin Dart was well known for his saying, “Vote as if your life depends upon it, because it does.” In the case of reasonable gun control legislation, he was exactly right. In November, and in every election in the future, American voters can and should choose to vote as if their lives depended on it, and vote for candidates that support the majority view that we can and should have reasonable gun control across our nation. Every such vote has the potential of saving lives, including your own.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

When Murder Becomes Personal-Time for a Bullet Tax

The never ending string of random murders just keeps on growing, leaving us with innocent dead victims and grieving friends and family. Just last week, one of these tragedies became a little more personal for me.

As I was leaving a great concert put on by Elvis Costello & the Imposters, I checked my phone, and noticed an alert that a gunman had opened fire in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, and killed 2 people, injuring 9 others. In the lobby, after the show, I bumped into Wisconsin State Rep. Terese Berceau, who is a friend of mine, and she asked if I had heard about the mass murder. My pathetic response was that it was not a mass murder since only 2 people had died. We both bemoaned the sad fact that it seems impossible for state legislators or Congress to control the ever spiraling number of murders through effective gun control.

The next day, I noted this on my friend Alan Coulter’s Facebook feed,

This was an unimaginable tragedy. The loss of our precious, beautiful Mayci Breaux saddens the hearts of our entire family. Thanks everyone for your kind words and sympathies.

Here she is pictured with her boyfriend, Matthew Rodriguez, breaux25n-2-web

whom she planned on marrying, and who was wounded in the theater shooting.

Since, my friendship with Alan is mostly professional and I have not met his whole family, and since he lives in New Orleans, my immediate thought was that Mayci Breaux, one of the two murdered women in that theater, was a family member of his. So, in addition to expressing my sympathy to Alan, I asked, and it turns out that Alan was her great uncle, and they were getting ready to travel to a large family reunion in the near future.

I did not know Mayci Breaux, although everything I have read about her suggests that she was a wonderful young woman with a bright future ahead of her, that was snuffed out by a bullet.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, I put out a call to repeal the Second Amendment. While I knew it was unlikely that our nation could move that far, I truly, and it turns out naively, believed that the massacre of 20 young school children and 6 school staff would finally turn our nation towards effective gun control. Sadly, that did not happen.

For a long time, since then, out of frustration, I gave up on  the ability of our state and federal governing officials to engage in effective gun control. But the murder of Mayci Breaux reminded me that it is not in my DNA to give up when something is as important as stopping the rampant daily murder of innocent people in our nation. Indeed, it brought to mind the lesson my mother taught me during the Vietnam war, when every Friday, the nightly news would announce the body count of dead, wounded and missing in action. Then, since I lived in Detroit, the local news would follow with the weekly and annual murder count. My mother wisely taught me that the numbers numbed us into forgetting that each one of these deaths was of a real human being who left behind loved ones.

In the spirt of not giving up, and since my business is Systems Change, it dawned on me that since our nation seems incapable of controlling guns, perhaps the better route is to treat guns and bullets like we treat cigarettes, another legal vice, by raising the taxes on them significantly. After all, raising taxes on cigarettes has proven to be an effective method to reduce smoking, especially among youth and low-income people. Best of all, the 2nd Amendment does not prohibit taxing weapons.

As I did some research on this issue, I discovered that a bullet tax has been proposed before. The late, great Sen. Patrick Moynihan proposed one. In 2013, the California Assembly considered, but did not pass a bullet tax. The fact that these two proposal did not pass, does not mean that they cannot pass, so today, I challenge Congress and every state legislature to institute a bullet tax so high that our nation  finally ends the ever rising spiral of senseless murder that brings new tragedy to new victims every single day.

We cannot afford to give up on effective gun control. Not if we hope to avoid more tragedies like the murder of Mayci Breaux.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Getting to Yes in the 21st Century

In their seminal book, Getting to Yes, originally published in 1981, Roger Fisher and William Ury’s subtitle, Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, only begins to describe how this fairly short 200 page book, gives valuable lessons on the art of negotiating Win-Win solutions, instead the more commonly experienced Win-Lose, or worse yet, Lose-Lose solutions.  These lessons are needed today more than ever before.

As I previously described in, The Great Dysfunction or Lessons in how Not to Govern, our political environment is poisoned by politicians and their funders who believe that their sole goal is to obtain or retain the political majority.  Sadly, the recent failure of the U.S. Senate to pass the mildest of gun control reforms when it allowed a minority of Senators to block the background checks that roughly 90% of Americans want, demonstrated that the desire to obtain a Win-Win solution was unable to carry the day in the face of the NRA’s desire to “win” at all costs.

While there are numerous other examples of the failure of our political leaders to obtain palatable outcomes on the important issues of our day, rather than point fingers and accuse one side or the other of their responsibility for this miserable failure of leadership, the lessons taught so well in Getting to Yes need revisiting in order to change the unfortunate dynamic we are currently experiencing.

Fisher and Ury explain that we all negotiate on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not.  We negotiate with our families, our co-workers, those with whom we do business, as well as in the legal and political arenas.  While it may feel good to “win” when one negotiates, the long term outcome of having someone you deal with on a regular basis “lose” the negotiation, may not be worth it in the end.

I regularly explain this to parents of children with disabilities, whom I represent, when they want to “win” their legal claim against a wrongdoing school district, but may end up destroying relationships with the very educators whom they need to provide a quality education to their children.  Thus, I regularly remind them to “keep their eye on the prize,” which is the quality education they seek for their children, and not the pound of flesh which their anger may cause them to desire.

Many people who are in the midst of a dispute assume that there will always be a winner and a loser when the dispute is resolved.  This assumption is patently false, as there are two other possible outcomes:

  1. Neither side wins because the dispute remains unresolved (e.g., Israel and Palestine); and
  2. Both sides lose because though the dispute is resolved, neither side is happy with the outcome (e.g., a lawsuit results in a Pyrrhic victory for one side because that side obtains a fraction of what it sought and spent more money on attorneys than it gained through the resolved dispute).

So, how do Fisher & Ury suggest obtaining Win-Win solutions?  They do so by focusing on five key elements of principled negotiations:

  • “Separate the people from the problem.”  In other words,  the goal in negotiating should not be beating the other side.  It should be solving the problem at hand. Successful negotiation should not be considered the equivalent of a competitive sport if the parties are truly interested in solving the problem.
  • “Focus on interests, not positions.”  In the special education advocacy example mentioned earlier, the parents’ interest is in getting their children a quality education, not in having a judge rule in their favor to prove to the school district that they were right.
  • “Invent options for mutual gain.”  This is where win-win negotiating really becomes an art form.  Creative negotiators seek opportunities where both sides can gain from the outcome.  For example, when a school is dealing with a difficult behavioral situation, the win-lose situation is the child either stays in school with continued misbehavior, or the child is expelled, relieving the school from having to deal with the child, but putting the child on the Schools to Prison Pipeline.  The win-win solution involves bringing in a behavioral expert to observe the child in school and to provide sound suggestions to educators on how to improve teaching techniques and behavioral interventions to teach the child appropriate behaviors.
  • “Insist on using objective criteria.”  All too often, negotiation takes place on emotional terms or even outright falsehoods.  We saw this in the recent background check debate where the opponents to background checks simply lied about the bill before the Senate by raising false fears that the bill would prevent sales between family members.  No problems are successfully resolved by relying on falsehoods or emotions alone.
  • “Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)”  On a regular basis, I must counsel clients on what the likely outcome is if they fail to come to a negotiated agreement.  Without knowing this, the client (or politician) cannot truly make an informed decision as to whether to accept the offer presented.

This is not to suggest that Getting to Yes is easy.  In fact, it takes hard work, checking egos at the door, and regular reminders of what you are really seeking in the midst of your negotiation.  For nearly 28 years, I have had the professional privilege of assisting clients, non-profits and policymakers negotiate Win-Win solutions with the assistance of Getting to Yes principles.  Perhaps it is time for our political leaders to read and follow the rules of this invaluable book.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Violence Begets Violence–Time to Repeal the 2nd Amendment

Like most Americans, ever since the massacre at Sandy Hook, the issue of the place of guns in American society has been ever present in my mind.  President Obama declared that we must change, but he has yet to offer concrete changes.  Sen. Feinstein has introduced a bill to outlaw assault weapons prospectively, which would do nothing to get those weapons off our streets.  The NRA says it will propose concrete actions, but has yet to offer any particulars.

While politicians and pundits discuss ways to regulate lethal weapons, at Systems Change Consulting, our purpose is to change systems so that we do not have the same tired conversations again and again, resulting in remaining mired in an unsatisfactory status quo.  It would be nice to think that legislation would be sufficient to  end the violence which guns have wrought on American society.  Yes, we do have more gun related deaths than any country in the world, other than Mexico, with nearly 10,000 homicides committed in the US in the most recent reporting year.

Our Supreme Court has completely distorted this simple amendment which reads:

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.

Not only is this Amendment an antiquated artifact directly resulting from the Colonial revolution against the British, but the Supreme Court ruled in its 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, that the militia clause has nothing to do with the right of the people to bear arms.  In that case, the Supreme Court found that the District of Columbia’s handgun and trigger lock ban violated the 2nd Amendment.

The Supreme Court then expanded that misguided logic in 2010, in its McDonald v. Chicago decision applying the 2nd Amendment to state and local governments, declaring the City of Chicago’s handgun ban unconstitutional.

With Supreme Court decisions like these, and the never ending onslaught of violence  and death caused by guns, it is time for this nation to repeal the 2nd Amendment.

Some may declare that such a proposal is unrealistic.  That may be true, given the strength of the NRA and the inherent difficulties of amending our Constitution, as any amendment must be passed by 2/3 of the members of both Houses of Congress, and then approved by 3/4 of the states.  This is, indeed, challenging.

However, if Sandy Hook is the wake up call that our nation needs to get out of our cycle of violence begetting more violence, then now is probably the best time to repeal the 2nd Amendment.  Even if the amendment is not ultimately ratified, it will put the NRA on the defensive and allow ever stronger gun control legislation to pass and may even cause the Supreme Court to re-think its most recent decisions which make most sensible gun control legislation virtually impossible.

Since amending the Constitution is necessarily a long and difficult process, let me suggest one other piece of legislation that has yet to be raised and should raise no Constitutional concerns.  While the 2nd Amendment arguably allows citizens to own weapons, there is no Constitutional right to manufacture lethal weapons.  So, let’s start by banning the manufacture and importation of assault weapons.  It is too easy to buy these weapons.  You can even do it on-line from Tactical Arms Manufacturer, which brags on its web site that its assault weapons, the same ones used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, are Made in the USA.

So, let’s get serious about stopping the cycle of violence.  Let’s repeal the 2nd Amendment and in the mean time ban the manufacture and importation of assault weapons in the USA.

Or, we could just follow this simple 12 step program.

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For more information e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.