Monday, December 17, 2012

Mental Illness + Guns = Death

How 10 minutes with Chris Matthews has challenged me to fight for gun control

By Robert Hudson Westover

The recent massacre of innocent children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, will haunt our nation for years to come.

It should.

The horrific tragedy that overtook our country last Friday has perhaps convulsed the American people into taking stronger action at stricter gun control measures.

At least I hope so.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with legendary liberal commentator Chris Matthews, and the subject of getting serious action on gun control came up.

This wasn't the usual forum for an intense discussion on such a heated issue. It was a book signing for Chris Matthews’ Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero at Politics and Prose in  Washington, DC and that was all—no lecture and no Q&A. However, a chance meeting with my former colleague would change all that. Paula Terry and I hadn't seen each other in years but I remembered her as a staunch advocate of liberal causes.

Robert Westover with Chris Mathews
She would not disappoint.

Before my and Paula’s encounter with Mr. Matthews no one dared to get “real” with the MSNBC political pundit.

The married couple in front of Paula and me knew Mr. Matthews and Chris thanked the gentleman, who had years ago apparently enlisted him in Toastmasters, thus changing his life, while the two men worked together on Capitol Hill.

Then it was my turn.

My clever way of “gettin’ jiggy” with the liberal icon was to mention we knew someone in common. I’ve been working on a book called Lessons in Nobility based on my memories of a friendship I had with a Russian Countess, who was Hugh “Yusha”D. Auchincloss III’s aunt (still with me?) Chris and Yusha are friends and I reached out to Mr. Auchincloss last summer to let him know of my intentions to publish these memories and we have since become pen pals. As many readers know, Yusha is Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ beloved older stepbrother and since Mr. Matthews’ book signing was about JFK—I went with it.

It worked. We spoke a little bit about getting together with Yusha at the famed Metropolitan Club and I got my photo op.

But Paula really got things going.

She wanted a clearer understanding as to why we Americans don’t have a stronger legislative commitment on preventing the sales of semi-automatic weapons. Matthews answered with a question, “What politician is going to risk losing his seat for supporting gun control?”

Paula Terry with Chris Matthews
Paula wasn't giving up, “Someone needs to take stronger action,” she insisted, “Times have changed and many gun supporters have since lost their seats…”

Matthews said back, “Who?”

At this point I jumped in and said, “We need more guys like me. I’m a third generation Marine. I grew up with a profound respect for guns. I want them registered…”

“And most cops agree with you…” Matthews added and then said what I feel is going to give the vital emotional connect to reach the minds of rational folks all over our country on some type of gun control, “Mentally ill people should not be allowed to own assault rifles.”

“That’s it. That’s the tagline,” I said. And then added, “Mental Illness + Guns = Death.” (At the posting of this blog, a Google Search indicated this exact tagline has not been used or trademarked.)

Feeling erudite I added, “If we accept the argument that semi-automatic rifles fit the circumstances of Second Amendment era muskets and primitive revolvers, the fact that we experience the insanity of mass murder from the mentally ill then perhaps we should not be shocked when they are turned against us.”

By this point another fan had bravely approached with that agitated look of “get a room” on his face. Our time to move on had come, but thanks to Paula and Chris I now have a tagline that I can develop into an awareness campaign and, with God’s help, work to prevent another Newtown massacre of the innocents.  

And I think I've already begun...

Tags: Chris Matthews, Hardball, MSNBC, #newtown @chrismatthews, Robert Hudson Westover, Yusha Auchincloss, gun control #guncontrol

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New York Times Reporter, Iver Peterson, Helped Bring Awareness to Plight of the SS United States

By Robert Hudson Westover

I so clearly remember the day I met Iver Peterson. How could I forget when it was in front of the great SS United States! Filled with the excitement of touring through the interior of the massive ocean-liner, we behaved like school boys peering down dark passageways and staring into the cavernous space that is the forward engine room of the storied vessel.

Iver was interested in writing a story about the plight of the ship and the nascent organization I was forming to save her. I didn't know it at the time but Iver's story Group Battles to Save Luxury Liner Big U, and Glory of Its Day published on Easter Sunday in the entire New York Times syndicate, would bring my fledgling organization, the SS United States Foundation, into national prominence and launch a worldwide effort to Save the United States.

His story was (and is) invaluable to the still ongoing effort to Save the United States. And his subsequent follow up stories kept the flame alive for many years.

Iver had a passion for the Big U because as a child he sailed on her many times. His parents were a Washington, DC power couple and in his dining room a picture of his  famous mother, Ester Peterson, riding shotgun next to President Lyndon Johnson in his convertible Lincoln Continental said it all.

No doubt the SS United States held such fond memories for Iver simply for the fact that on this ship, for a few days as it crossed the Atlantic, he could have an adventure with his family.

When it became obvious that the direction to change tactics for preserving the former national flagship, Iver said to me at Christmas party in his home, "Robert, you are a puritan...and I respect that but you're going to have to consider alternatives."

He was right.

In the end, I would turn over the Foundation to others and Iver would never pen another story about the fabled ship.

It was time for a new direction on the path that we puritan preservationists had forged.

Iver died August 1, 2012. Sadly, I just discovered his obituary in the online edition of the newspaper he wrote for The New York Times.

Sail on Iver. Sail on...

For more information about helping the effort to Save the United States go to the SS United States Conservancy. #ssunitedstates #savetheunitedstates 

This was the first New York Times story (releases across the newspaper's entire syndicate)about the SS United States since 1969 and with a readership of over 25 million (including The Dallas Morning News, The Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune) it brought world attention to the plight of the great vessel.