Killing: The Great American Hypocrisy

About the tragedy: A week ago I had just left the Danbury/Newtown, CT, area, after spending a few days there for work. The people I worked with were kind and generous with suggestions of how I might spend my hours alone, easy to work with, and made me feel welcome. It makes this entire tragedy all the more personal to me. As a parent; hell, just as a human being, I can’t imagine anything worse than what is being endured by the poor people trying to live through the aftermath of what has happened there. Certainly some of those folks I worked with have been affected, if not directly, then a degree or two removed. If I were a praying man, they would certainly be in them.

I’m a gun owner. I know many reasonable people who love their kids and their neighbors and also own guns. I am acquainted with some folks who also have permits to carry guns, which they do. Generally those folks creep me out, but I give the folks I know the benefit of the doubt. Most of the people I see around here carrying also seem caught up in the image of it with their camo-themed clothing and various other tactical gear hanging off their belts. Those dudes scare me, and I give them a wide berth. They are pretty much all middle-aged white guys too.

When it comes to an armed citizenry, the last thing I want if someone pulls a gun is to have a bunch of other jackasses pull theirs and start slinging lead. So even though I believe in the right to keep arms, you can still sign me up as one of the people who do believe that something needs to be done. For an excellent essay on the subject that I agree 100% with, I’d direct you to my writing and Instagram pal Neliza Drew’s blog, HERE. An excerpt:

I need a license to drive my car. It’s big (compared to a human) and it’s dangerous when used improperly. I had to take a class. I have to follow rules. I have to renew the license. I have to carry insurance. I have to have a title showing I bought it from somewhere – even if it was my cousin and I paid him a dollar (note: where do I find such a cousin?). If it turns out there’s a problem, like my cousin stole the car from his neighbor, his dad, the mall parking lot, he either won’t have a title to give me (red flag not to buy) or what he’ll give me is a forgery, which can be tracked back to him).

You have a gun? Sure. Where’s your license? The title? This thing came from a reputable seller, not some kid on the corner, right? You have a permit to purchase ammo? Sure. No, sir, I can’t sell you rounds for a gun you don’t legally own. No, sir, I can’t sell you 100,000 rounds at one time. No, sir, there’s no reason for you to need an automatic weapon or an assault rifle. If you think you need one of those to hunt deer or wild boar or pheasant, you’re not a very good hunter and should probably stay indoors for the safety of all involved.

She says what I would say, so I don’t need to say more. Well done, Neliza.

I will add that there is a knee-jerk political side to all this that I find depressing, and equally sickening. I have seen this quote, or variations of it, a couple different times both on Facebook and via Twitter:

“4.3 million NRA members hold 312 million Americans hostage.”

That is utter bullshit. The reason we don’t have more gun control is because Americans really don’t want it. If those 312 million people really want to do something about it, it is only their own apathy stopping them. We have the laws we’ve allowed. We have the government full of millionaires we’ve elected. We have the media we prefer (the media being another target of much self-righteous twit-book postings). We live in the nation we’ve created and actively allow to continue. Enough with the “Someone needs to do something!” stuff. This from another excellent little commentary I read today:

It reminded me of the dichotomy between the two sides of this argument regarding gun rights. There’s a world full of people who just want to live their lives, not hurt anyone, and just be honest and sincere. Then there’s the world where a corporation wants to sell you whatever it’s making by any means necessary. This is where the NRA operates.

I can tell you this—most of the people I’ve met from the NRA don’t believe the bullshit they’re selling. Their ethos conforms to whomever pays their salary. That’s a trap much bigger than most of us bother to notice. But let’s take this small bite as we talk about how to keep people from shooting up kindergarten classrooms. Gun lobbyists, the guys drawing the big checks, aren’t nutjobs and they don’t love the Constitution any more than you do. They’re Americans in it for a buck. They’ve taken a profitable position selling a lifestyle to frightened people who buy that lifestyle, ironically enough, from the very industry that funds their fear. They’re not fanatics; they’re just capitalists. Don’t be afraid of them.

Like everything else in the USA, it’s about money and attention spans. The vast majority of people raving about gun control and cursing the NRA will have forgotten all about it by New Years. One of the funniest little social commentary one-liners I saw on the lead up to this last election was this: “If the Republicans win, does that mean Democrats will be anti-war again?”

My heart breaks for the deaths of innocent people. No more for the families in Connecticut, though, than it does for those people in Pakistan who are under a constant and deadly barrage of drone attacks that have killed far more innocents than the murderer in Newtown did, courtesy of the American taxpayer. So when I see these Obama sycophants drop comments like, “Thank you so much for the heartfelt message President Obama!” I want to puke. Until those people step up and hold their guy as accountable for mindless slaughter in our name as they did when Bush was president, or that they would if some other Republican were in charge, then all their finger-pointing at the NRA is only so much hypocritical posturing. Fuck those people. Their hands are no less bloody than those of the folks who oppose gun control.

Stopping the war is an act of social change in which we’ve failed. I predict gun control will be the same thing. This country has made changes in the past, but they are expensive in time and energy and will. I question how willing most of us are to carry these kinds of efforts out anymore, because it is so easy to point across a line and blame someone else.

There needs to be common ground on issues like this. When it comes to guns and indiscriminate murder, you’re either for killing, or you’re against it. You can’t give “your guy” a pass in one arena while pointing your fingers at the “other guy” in another one.

 

 

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He lives and travels from Missoula, MT.

21 thoughts on “Killing: The Great American Hypocrisy”

  1. I was a very letdown by the cheering for the President. Do I believe he was moved to tears? Yes. Should he be praised for such? Absolutely not. The hypocrisy of bloodshed in other countries by our collective hand being okay when one guy is in charge and not okay when it’s the opposing party has been tearing at this country for as long as I can remember.

    Personally, I don’t think gun control will ever really work in any significant way. No matter what we do, it was always fall short of making a real difference. Even if we set aside the flow of guns on the street, we lack the resolve to make a real difference in gun regulation because we’ll always have the moron mating call of “Second Amendment!” from some sectors and the “let’s take away all the guns, but not my gun because I’m special!” hypocrisy of the anti-gun leaders.

    That sounds jaded. And I guess I am.

    I’ve seen the C&C test for Indiana. My eight year old could pass it. That’s some deeply ingrained crap that we aren’t going to see fixed anytime soon. No one needs to carry a gun. No one. I’m in full agreement with those who say only cowards carry guns, because it’s the goddamn truth. If a person is too chicken to leave their home without a gun, they need to stay the fuck home.

  2. I haven’t supported this war from the beginning. I have never fully supported Obama. I just mistrusted Romney far more.

    Kent, I won’t walk around with a gun unless I move someplace with dangerous wild things or conditions deteriorate much much worse.

    We can’t put the toothp aste back in the tube but I agree the current regulations are largely a joke.

  3. It’s definitely one of those questions where the answer seems unreachable, just because both sides of the argument are so unwilling to listen to even reasonable suggestions from the other side.

  4. Neliza, good point. If things deteriorate, that’s something else entirely. Which, hopefully, will long remain an If and not a reality. Fingers crossed and all that.

    Sadly, I think even if someone put out an ideal or close to ideal way of regulating firearm ownership, there would be folks on both sides of the argument who would feel it was not enough or too much.

    I used to think the analogies to getting a drivers license were silly, but they actually make sense. We could take all the homicides off the table and just look at accidental deaths by guns and it speaks volumes toward needing some sort of new and better way to determine who can and cannot have guns.

  5. If someone feels he or she must walk around armed, I don’t find it at all unreasonable to expect that person to have the same level of training expected of police and that they have to prove every year or two that they can still hit, within reason, what they aim at, that they haven’t developed schizophrenia or dementia or a raging addiction to Oxy or Percs, and that if it’s noisy or smoky or scary, they aren’t going to shoot their wife, their dog, or the innocent neighbor.

    The car analogy can be extended, too. A normal license applies to standard operation on standard roads at posted speeds. You want to race or do stunts, you need special training and a special track. If you want to participate in weapons-based competitions, like the cowboy shoots and sharpshooter stuff, you don’t get to just call a bunch of your friends and run around in the woods.

    More regulation would hurt the businesses of people like those reality show guys who make and sell rockets to people (!), but those could adapt. And if we don’t ban them completely, but rather regulate better, our economy is still benefited by shooting tourists of countries with bans who enjoy competition and the use of our ranges.

    All that said, guns alone are not our problem. We have a lot of mentally unstable people and so far our responses to that include things like: parent better, get him locked up so he’s in the system, I’m sorry he doesn’t qualify for this program or trial, we don’t want to label him, you should medicate him…

  6. I try to give the benefit of the doubt to hoplophobes I know too, Chris. (Insert winking face thing that I don’t know how to do here.) Couldn’t agree with the last paragraph more, though. I have been amused that the only folks I’ve seen threatening violence on Facebook and the like have been anti-gun folks. Ironically crime writers, too, who, of course, see very little to criticize in their own contribution to the culture and mythology of violence that pervades every nook and cranny of this culture. (That’s me too, of course.)

    I would note two things respectfully about Neliza’s essay. First, I think the car analogy is flawed, in that the right to drive a car is not a constitutionally protected right. As such, I find it as silly to argue for automotive-based permitting to exercise it as it would be to require automotive type permitting to exercise your first or fourth amendment rights. Whatever you think of the second amendment, the intent of folks like Jefferson and Madison was pretty clear: it was set there to provide the ability to resist your own government, and the weapons have to be comparable to do so.

    As a student of the American Indian Movement, you understand how that right can be exercised, Chris. Imagine if folks like Dino Butler or Bob Robideau had to acquire permits. Think they’d be granted? The same goes for the Panthers, who used firearms to do a pretty good job shutting down police brutality in the late 60s in Oakland. It’s also worth checking into the history of modern gun control and its origination as a racist reaction to the Panthers. For all the bluster of the right, it’s worth remembering that most of the folks who’ve exercised the right to bear arms in its original intent have been on the left, and that goes all the way back to reconstruction and the state-sponsored terror thereafter. A lot of the anti gun folks (and the pro gun folks, for that matter) seem to be pretty soft on their history and always forget that.

    Secondly, there’s just some huge factual errors. For instance, automatic weapons have been illegal to own by any civilians but a very small set of collectors since the 1930s. That includes assault rifles which are, by definition, capable of selectable fire (meaning, automatic as well as semi-automatic fire). What everyday folks can buy are cosmetic clones without that capability. They’re all semi-automatic only, which is another scary term that means nothing except that you pull a trigger once and fire one bullet – not fire a burst or continuous spray like an automatic weapon. Meaning, they’re like every other gun on the planet, including most hunting rifles. In fact the only major difference between them and most hunting rifles is they’re underpowered. A .223 round, which is what the guy had his rifle chambered in at Sandy Hook, is basically an amped-up .22.

    There’s more, but I’m off to do regular stuff. Feel free to attack.

    1. Ben, you’ve said nothing here that I see as needing to be attacked. Most of my nervousness about folks who carry weapons is built on the environment I live in. We have a lot of scary, reactionary folks walking around this part of the country with firearms strapped on. Most of them don’t like lefties, longhairs, environmentalists, liberals, Mexicans, Indians, etc. Several labels of which could easily be applied to a guy like me!

      I don’t know that the car analogy is a perfect one, but I don’t tend to lean on the Constitutional aspect of gun rights as hard as many. Yeah, it’s in there . . . but I also think that document needs to be a living one, and subject to change, as dictated by the evolution of society. What’s ironic about this most recent tragedy is it appears the gun owner in this case did everything right, short of securing her weapons. Can any laws or regulations guarantee that we’ll live in a safe environment all the time? Hell no, nor is that a world I want to live in. I seem to recall a few years ago some old guy lost control of his car and mowed down a bunch of people at a farmers’ market or fair, and there were calls at the time for an age limit in driver licensing. We have a huge tendency to overreact in this country, to go along with a “shut the gate after all the horses are already out” mentality.

      I’m tired of all the back and forth bullshit. You’ve got the irrational left who don’t want guns at all, think even hunting is terrible, etc., vs. the crowd who bleat about the Constitution and “big government” who were the same people behind the biggest anti-freedom government bloat of all time, the Patriot Act.

      I guess where I come down is it would be nice to have a rational conversation. I don’t see that happening. I don’t see any real change happening, and I’m not even entirely sure what that change is, if any. And if there are regulatory steps taken, someone’s gonna get rich that probably shouldn’t. The only thing I AM sure of is that guns aren’t going away. People need to accept that. And all the arguments where folks say something like, “Well, in Scotland, they had a shooting and then made ammunition illegal and now there’s no more shootings.” Scotland is what . . . as big as Florida? Please.

      Ultimately, I don’t think the guns in these cases are where the debate should be. Lack of mental healthcare seems to be the problem, taking guns away is just a bandaid on a bigger problem.

  7. Care for the mentally ill is beyond a joke. I’ve heard the “He’ll get some help once he does something that gets him arrested.” line, or some variation of it, many times. Which, to my ears, is the same as “We’ll get him some half-assed help, maybe, once it’s too late.”.

    A big part of the problem (maybe) is that we want to find one thing, try to fix that one thing, and then close the book on it. Deep down, I think everyone knows it can’t work that way.

    Maybe gun owners and any adults they reside with all need to pass rigorous psych evaluations before they can get a gun. That would be fair. Never happen, it’s not foolproof, but it would help.

  8. Ben wrote: “I have been amused that the only folks I’ve seen threatening violence on Facebook and the like have been anti-gun folks. Ironically crime writers, too, who, of course, see very little to criticize in their own contribution to the culture and mythology of violence that pervades every nook and cranny of this culture.”

    I’ve been thinking about that very thing for awhile now, long before last week’s events. There’s a lot of swagger and bluster out there. It’s also been weighing on me how, while not all of it by any means, but a lot of crime fiction is a glorification of violence and/or an obsessive look at the worst humanity has to offer, and part of me is thinking maybe there is nothing at all valuable about such work for me anymore.

    It also struck me as the news was breaking on Friday that somewhere out there, a crime writer probably got a kernel of inspiration. I’m not at all good with that.

  9. I find the swagger and bluster silly, I guess. But I always find internet swagger and bluster silly. I do carry a gun, and if that makes me a coward, so be it. (No offence, but instead of taking that personally, I kinda saw it as bluster also.) I have reasons and a rational, and am no danger to anyone. To Neliza’s point, I feel that with the right to carry a gun comes the responsibility to know how to use it safely. Last I checked most police departments require somewhere south of two hours of shooting a year to maintain their qualification, and I easily exceed that. Most all of the concealed carry folks I know also do.

    Also, as you said, Kent, part of the problem I have with the kneejerk anti gun reaction is that I think the causes are far too deep rooted for any single fix. But I do think crime writers are perfectly positioned to discuss violence, to write about it, and to explore it honestly. And I think that’s work that needs done. (I probably fail in my own right, but shit, unless this were to happen in France, I highly doubt anyone could point to me as a problem – so few read my fucking books.) Anyway, I’m not ready to write crime fiction off yet. I just get irritated at the self-serving nature of much of the blustering.

    I think one of the problems we have is that we only conceive of certain kinds of violence as violence. Violence that we approve of, we are more than happy to allow. Those rape rooms we euphemistically refer to as prisons come to mind. As do the reservations we occupy entirely by use and threat of violence in the interest of resource extraction. And, of course, I’m eternally amused at the rabid outpouring against violence from the same folks who I saw, just two months ago, providing equally rabid outpourings of support of a man who wakes up every morning and signs off on the bombing of brown folks into a mist – some of them children.

    The fact is, we are an incredibly violent people. Our way of life is predicated on violence, our national myths are wholly violent, and who we are is inextricably intertwined with violence. There has not been a time in my life when we were not visiting violence upon some corner of the world, and I’m fairly certain there has never been in the history of the country. And most of us thoroughly enjoy the privileges of that violence in our lives. It maintains our lifestyle and our national identity. We just don’t like to have to see it, and we are utterly shocked when it is visited on our own. (And I should note that by we, I mean middle-class white people, like myself. I don’t meet a whole lot of folks on the receiving end of our violence who’re confused.) As long as it’s so completely who we are, I don’t see any way out of it.

    That said, do I think that if you could confiscate every one of the 270 million guns floating around that many these incidences could be avoided? Sure. But I’d like to hear how that would be done, because to me it sounds like fantasy thinking. How many of the rest of the Bill of Rights would have to be violated in, say, house to house searches? I’m not as willing to dismiss those rights as you are, Chris, because talk about the Constitution being a living, breathing document always seems to precede a removal of individual rights into the hands of the state. And I spend most of my book time reading about American violence, so I’d like to retain as much power to the people as possible.

    Other than that complete removal, I don’t see much that would do any good. Not all, but most of the people pretending to endorse more “gun control” don’t seem to know anything about the gun controls already in place, the history of them, or the firearms they’d have controlled – let alone seriously contemplated the cognitive dissonance in their own positions on violence. What they’re doing is making a show of their own personal purity. That’s their right, of course, but I don’t feel any more urge to enter into serious discussion with them than I would somebody trying to strike up a conversation about crime writing who’d never read anything but Agatha Christie.

    Of course, I also think that you could stop a lot of these incidences by heavily censoring the news media to eliminate their hyperventilating coverage of them. Though we’d also have to censor our glowing coverage of the uses of righteous violence by the state, so that probably ain’t gonna happen. Or, for that matter, we could heavily censor fiction and cinema to eliminate the glorification of violence. Though that would have to include, again, state-sponsored fictions like Zero Dark Thirty and Seal Team Six, so I find that unlikely. And I think filtering the shit out of the internet would probably help too. Or eliminating it altogether. We could even enter our children in reeducation camps where they could learn a version of American history and American violence that wasn’t a lie top to bottom. (Chomsky for headmaster!)

    Obviously, I don’t endorse any of those either. I do endorse single payer health coverage, but I don’t think that would be the panacea that others do. Again, I think the roots of this lie far deeper. That’s the only thing I’m sure of. That and that every one of us is culpable.

    Just my two cents.

    1. I’m sure a lot of gun owners, possibly even the majority, are very responsible, and probably out-qualify the police. And I am unlikely to ever be accidentally shot by one of them.

      Still, I know people who own guns because they are scared. They live in fear. Those are the last people who should have guns, because it’s those folks who present a real danger to themselves and everyone else.

      There are also a boatload of yahoos out there, their cars and truck emblazoned with ignorant tough guy slogans, and I don’t like the idea that such folks may very well be packing when they’re at the store picking up some beer for the Bears game.

      I’m all for gun control, though I think it might be about as effective as it’s ever going to be at this point. I was opposed to the ban on handguns we had here until recently. I still don’t believe anyone needs a handgun, which might be a contradiction, but so be it.

      I just flat out oppose C&C in urban areas, but seeing as how I’m as immovable on that as someone who’s for it, there’s little reason to attempt a dialogue there. I used to listen, but no one ever had anything to say.

      I admit, I personally get cheesed off big time as soon as the “If only someone had a gun!” cries get going when something happens. And with the number of shootings we have here, it’s a fairly constant barrage of that sort of thing.

      I think a lot of crime fiction does an excellent job of looking at the causes and effects and roots of violence. That’s probably when it’s at its best.

      The stuff that leans more toward the stories of unhinged psychos, glamorous criminals and all? I’m finding less and less value in that. My time as an editor didn’t exactly help, because there were a number of stories from people who should really be living out their days in a padded room somewhere.

      In the end, I have far more questions than answers, and it will probably always be like that.

  10. It’s an interesting debate, for sure. I appreciate everyone’s comments. It just goes to show how regional attitudes, personal experiences, etc. influence our attitudes toward the discussion. As a city dweller, Kent has views about guns based on his living environment, which is radically different from where, for example, I live, in Montana. It just makes it all the more clear that one boilerplate, one-size-fits-all Federal solution can’t work. Combine that with people on both sides of the argument who are more than happy to let emotion overpower facts, and it becomes one of those issues that most people aren’t mature enough to rationally discuss.

    I probably come down more on Ben’s line of thinking than I do the typical gun control crowd my politics usually align me with. There are things that I might wish were different in a pie-in-the-sky world that just aren’t realistic, and I’m not willing to give up what would be necessary to give up to get there. It would just be nice if there were some regulations with teeth in them that could be enforced. Kind of like it would be nice if drunk driving laws were consistent and enforced (how many kids die every year from drunk drivers? More than 20, you can be certain!). But the ideas that what most gun control advocates seem to demand sound way too much like prohibition, and that didn’t work for booze and certainly isn’t working for drugs. Both attempts of which only exacerbated the gun “problem.”

    Again, thanks for adding to my musings on the subject. And thanks for being civil about it.

  11. Thank you, Chris, for hosting it.

    It’s kinda funny, because I am a gun guy of sorts, but I tend to think it’s a distraction issue. I like shooting, I feel better having a gun around, but the stats are heavily skewed on both sides — both how many people guns save, and how many they kill — and most of the back and forth I see looks like it has more to do with folks claiming that aforementioned personal purity than anything.

    As I tell my kids when we talk about guns, they’re good tools that you will probably (hopefully) never ever need, like a fire extinguisher, and it doesn’t hurt to know how to use one, but my Swiss Army knife and my first aid kit see a lot more use. In fact, when folks get on their kick about being prepared, I always recommend those first (especially if you’ve got kids — the tweezers in the knife are a Godsend).

    1. And see, what really chaps my ass is that because you say anything at ALL in favor of guns, people would label you a gun “nut.” That’s the kind of rhetoric that I’m seeing all over twitter and facebook that drives me nuts.

  12. Where we live probably plays an enormous role in how we feel about this stuff. As Chris said, that would also make a big Federal solution impossible (the city here, let alone the Feds, are unwilling to address the kind of gun violence we have going on). We can’t, as a country, all agree on anything, so there’s no solution that is ever going to make us all feel like we can live with it.

    I don’t think you can trust the stats at all. For instance, when someone puts forth the number of homicides via handgun, that includes all the gang related fatalities, and I think it presents an unclear number. The poor soul who gets it in the head in a park while a banger is running chickenshit trying to kill another banger from a distance shouldn’t be in the same set of stats at the person killed in an argument over sports (both of these occur far too often). Just as we can’t, or shouldn’t, say the person who killed an unarmed intruder is a statistic proving guns can be an effective means of self-preservation. Whatever the numbers are trying to prove, it’s always going to be fudged in some way to the point which is trying to be made.

    Ben and I, on the issue of guns, there’s a vast gulf between us, but we can surely agree on the value of a Swiss Army knife. I use those tweezers more often than I ever would have imagined.

  13. Have not read the comments but I truly believe that nobody can truly believe that it should be easier to get a gun than a driver’s license. And in most places in this country it is. We are letting the NRA destroy us.

    1. I don’t know, Patti. Personally I feel cars are a much deadlier weapon than guns, used much more indiscriminately. I never fear for my family’s safety as it relates to guns. Every time one of them is out at night, though, I fear some asshole in a car is going to leave a bar shit-faced and cause a personal tragedy.

      1. Yeah, I think the stats on that one are pretty clear. And it’s worth pointing out the the thing that folks like the Brady Bunch don’t like to foreground: most of the firearm fatalities in this country are suicides. Accidental shootings are so low as to be a statistical anomaly in a country of 300+ million, and though homicides are far too high, they’re nothing compared to the deaths caused by automobiles.

  14. I’m neither pro-gun or anti-gun control (if that’s possible). I think that what most people are forgetting here is that the shooter didn’t go out and buy these guns, these guns were already in the possession of his mother.

    So tell me how it’s right for people to go off the deep end about gun control when this moron didn’t go out and buy them to begin with?

    Shouldn’t we be doing more about the mental health issue and the fact that medical privacy laws probably do more harm than it good when it comes to mental health?

    I’m not sure about everyone else here, but I’m probably like most folks here in Connecticut who are not only appalled about this shooting, but really haven’t been able to wrap our collective heads around it to begin with. I can’t tell you the amount of people who I worked with who were stunned when I gave them updates on this throughout Friday afternoon.

    As Chris can tell you, I work for a guv’ment agency here in Connecticut and I do payroll for a juvenile criminal facility. I can probably say with certainty that a good percentage of the juvenile inmates where just as shocked and devastated like everyone else was over this tragedy.

    I would like to point out one particular inaccuracy that the media has latched onto this tragedgy: Not counting the shooter, 27 people died. Please don’t forget that the shooter killed his mother prior to going on his rampage.

    1. I think you raise a couple good points. I think the larger issue here IS a health care one — mental health care. Plenty of anecdotes out there in the aftermath from people telling stories of troubled family members that most of us are probably totally unaware goes on.

      As for the gun control aspect, I think this issue really does touch on where I think needs addressed: penalties for people who legally own guns but don’t properly control them. This woman obviously paid for her life, and we will probably never know how she chose to secure her weapons, but that to me is the hugest issue of all when it comes to the discussion of gun control, because guns certainly aren’t going anywhere.

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