When Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead visited Capitol Hill last week to push for tighter gun control measures, he had some unwanted help from a felon back in Texas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Halstead was meeting with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in Washington, D.C., to discuss gun control concerns of the Major Cities Chiefs Association…
At that time, his concerns were being played out at a Haltom City auto shop, where one of his officers and personal friend—21-year veteran John Bell—was shot [in the head] by a convicted felon being pursued by Haltom City police.
This should serve as a compelling illustration of why our country needs tighter gun control laws. But then, so should the murder of 20 elementary schoolers by a maniac with an assault rifle—and we all know how far that has gone to sway people like Cornyn.
If anybody can change the minds of Republican senators, however, it's probably somebody like Halstead, who represents a "cowboy town" in what's arguably the most pro-gun state in America. "We almost see every week where we have officers being ambushed by people who have no right to possess those weapons," Halstead told the Star-Telegram.
Halstead's Major City Chiefs Association is part of a coalition of nine national police organizations that supports a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and advocates expanded background checks.
On May 20, 2010, on a highway in West Memphis, Arkansas, a father and son armed with a handgun and AK-47 assault rifle pumped 14 bullets into a police officer who'd pulled over their minivan on a routine traffic stop. The dead cop's partner took cover in his squad car but the AK-47 sliced through it and killed him too. A county sheriff and his chief deputy responded and were also hit. The last man standing was state wildlife officer Michael K. Neal, who sped his patrol car through the carnage, rammed the minivan, and opened fire through his broken windshield with an M-4 carbine. Within minutes, the suspects were dead.
Gun control advocates held up the horrific episode as a textbook argument for banning assault rifles. Officer Neal, meanwhile, soon found himself at a Virginia meeting of the National Rifle Association, accepting its "Officer of the Year" award—and a complimentary Smith & Wesson pistol.
Awards and prizes are just one way that the NRA reaches out to law enforcement, a constituency that's shaping up as a key voice in the debate over gun control. In 2011, the gun group launched a slick recruiting program called NRA Life of Duty, which offers complimentary memberships and insurance benefits, training opportunities, and steep product discounts to public safety officers and members of the military. The cost of these premium memberships are covered by individual and corporate sponsors such as the gun maker Colt's Manufacturing, firearms supply house Brownells, and the weapons training company Tactical Response—whose CEO, James Yeager, recently went ballistic on YouTube. (Yeager earnestly claimed that he was "going to start killing people" if the government went "one inch further" in its gun restrictions—a tirade that prompted Tennessee to suspend his handgun carry permit.)
In addition to free subscriptions to all of the NRA's magazines and the standard benefits offered to civilian members, Life of Duty members receive $27,500 in free accident insurance coverage and steeper product discounts than civilians are offered—45 percent off hunting and camping products from Browning and Alps Mountaineering, for instance, and big savings on gear at Brownells' PoliceStore.com.
Free-range chickens, yoga, doulas, the paleo diet: They're no longer just for hippies. The '60s subculture that conservatives loved to hate is now about as controversial as motherhood and apple pie—especially if those apples aren't organic. But is "natural living" always better? The son of two die-hard California hippies, Nathanael Johnson brings a critical take to his parents' ideology in his new book, All Natural: A Skeptic's Quest for Health and Happiness in an Age of Ecological Anxiety, which comes out this week. Think of him as Alex P. Keaton, but without the suits and Reagan fetish. In a face-to-face chat at Mother Jones HQ, we touched on modern medicine, raw milk, and when it's safe to let your kids roll around in the dirt.
MJ: You write that when you were five, you suddenly realized you hadn't been raised like everyone else.
NJ: We'd moved up to a new town in the mountains in California, and there was a lake where all these kids were swimming. I just stripped off all my clothes and swam out there. All of the kids look at me, and this little girl just shrieks, "He's naked!"
MJ: In the book you call your parents "hippies." What does that mean, exactly?
In Texas public schools, children learn that the Bible provides scientific proof that Earth is 6,000 years old, that the origins of racial diversity trace back to a curse placed on Noah's son, and that astronauts have discovered "a day missing in space" that corroborates biblical stories of the sun standing still.
These are some of the findings detailed in Reading, Writing & Religion II, a new report by the Texas Freedom Network that investigates how public schools in the Lone Star State promote religious fundamentalism under the guise of offering academic courses about the Bible. The report, written by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, found that more than half of the state's public-school Bible courses taught students to read the book from a specifically Christian theological perspective—a clear violation of rules governing the separation of church and state.
Many school districts pushed specific strains of fundamentalism in the classes:
"The Bible is the written word of God," proclaims a slide shown to students in suburban Houston's Klein Independent School District (ISD). Another slide adds: "The Bible is united in content because there is no contradictions [sic] in the writing. The reason for this is because the Bible is written under God's direction and inspiration."
A PowerPoint slide in Brenham ISD in Central Texas claims that "Christ's resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space—that is was, in reality, historical and not mythological." (emphasis in original)
In North Texas, Prosper ISD promotes the Rapture, claiming in course materials that "the first time the Lord gathered his people back was after the Babylonian captivity. The second time the Lord will gather his people back will be at the end of the age."
Some Bible classes in Texas public school appear to double as "science" classes, circumventing limits placed on teaching creationism. Eastland ISD, a school district outside Fort Worth, shows videos produced by the Creation Evidence Museum, which claims to possess a fossil of a dinosaur footprint atop "a pristine human footprint."
Perhaps the wackiest Bible lesson was the one presented to students at Amarillo ISD titled: "Racial Origins Traced from Noah." A chart presented in the classroom claims that it's possible to identify which of Noah's three sons begat various racial and ethnic groups. Chancey explains:
According to the chart, "Western Europeans" and "Caucasians" descend from Japeth, "African races" and Canaanites from Ham, and "Jews, Semitic people, and Oriental races" from Shem. A test question shows that the chart was taken seriously: "Shem is the father of a) most Germanic races b) the Jewish people c) all African people."
In Texas, public schools have the legal right to offer these kinds of classes—up to a point. In 2007 the state legislature passed a law allowing school districts to offer "elective courses on the Bible's Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament." The Supreme Court long ago ruled that such classes pass constitutional muster, as long as they don't advocate for a specific religious view. As Chancey points out, the state of Texas obviously needs to do a much better job of educating its teachers about what that means.
In this thought-provoking read, Harper's contributor Nathanael Johnson weaves stories of his patchouli upbringing with trenchant interrogations of both "natural" and "technological" solutions to everything from pig farming to child rearing. For example, he cites studies showing that laboring mothers died at a higher rate in the mid-aughts than they did in the late 1990s as a symptom of how hospitals overtreat us—in this case with unnecessary C-sections that raise women's mortality risk. On the flip side, Johnson recounts his own home birth in Berkeley, where his hippie mother was bleeding uncontrollably by the time her midwife called in a doctor.