Monday, April 29, 2013

Protecting Businesses From People

Last week, in the closing hours of the 2013 Indiana General Assembly session, one the bills being hotly debated was the so-called “ag-gag” bill (Senate Bill 373) that, as originally written, was intended to stop people from taking secret photos or videos of farms or industrial operations that might prove damaging or embarrassing to the owners of those operations. It appears that the principal motivation behind the bill was the concern expressed by some large-scale farming operations that animal rights activists were finding their way onto the farms (including by “fraudulently” applying for jobs) and then taking photos of inhumane treatment of animals. Similarly, within the industrial community, there is apparently concern about photos of poor working conditions being taken by whistleblowers.

As the legislative sessions progressed, the bill was expanded and restricted, modified and un-modified, and subject to all sorts of changes. It was the subject of fairly intensive debate. At one point, reporters began briefly referring to the bill not as the “ag-gag” bill but as the “gag all” bill after it was expanded to cover far, far more situations and to remove some of the safe harbors. In the end, the bill died because the House and Senate weren’t able (at least not within the fixed time available before the session was scheduled to end) to agree upon compromise language (though Speaker Brian Bosma today told reporters that it wasn’t his intent for the bill to die; he’d hoped that the Senate would approve the House version). I suspect, however, that this bill will be resurrected for the 2014 session.

However, it’s not the actual content of the “ag-gag” bill that I want to discuss. Rather, I want to look at this bill as a concrete example of a simple difference between Republicans and Democrats. In case you can’t guess, Republicans supported the bill (with a handful of defections) while Democrats opposed it. I followed the debate about the “ag-gag” bill via Twitter (largely based on the excellent Twitter reporting of Mary Beth Schneider of The Indianapolis Star, who is able to tweet at a speed that rivals the texting skills of a teenage girl). It was this tweet that really caught my attention and got me thinking of how this bill fit into the proverbial “big picture”:

Text of the tweet (in case the embedding fails):

2:41pm 26 Apr 2013: Holdman says the bill has always been about protecting business in Indiana from people who secretively take video solely to do harm to biz.

Holdman is Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Northeast Indiana).

Go back and read that tweet again. Do you see why it caught my eye? Essentially, as I read it, Sen. Holdman was saying that it is the responsibility of the Indiana General Assembly to protect businesses from people. Sure, he couches it in terms of people who act “to do harm to biz”. But is that really (a) how people act and (b) why they act? I mean, do people take photos of farms being cruel to animals because they want to hurt the business or because they want people to know how the animals are being treated so that, perhaps, the animals might be treated more humanely? Does a whistleblower take a photo of poor (or even illegal work conditions) in order to harm the business or in order to force corrections and improvements? Or maybe you can turn it around backwards to think about it. Shouldn’t it, for example, be the job of government to protect people from businesses? Shouldn’t we be rewarding whistleblowers for alerting the public to unsafe working conditions?

I just don’t see people acting in a way with a primary focus or intent of doing harm to businesses; rather, I perceive the primary intent to be to inform people of how businesses are acting or to try to get businesses to change how they operate. But a change in operation is different than “harming” a business, isn’t it? If my friend has a poor diet and I try to get him to change his diet so that his kids will have a parent for a longer time, is my principal goal to “harm” my friend by making him eat more of things he doesn’t want to? Think of it in terms of the fertilizer plant that exploded a few weeks ago in Texas; a plant that apparently hadn’t reported having 1300 times the allowable limit of ammonium nitrate, didn’t have standard safety features (like sprinklers), and hadn’t been inspected by OHSA since 1985. Is it the job of government to protect that business from people who might have wanted to improve working conditions or to protect the neighbors from the possible bad results of a business handling dangerous materials?

When I read this tweet, I started thinking more broadly about the distinction between Republicans and Democrats. Let me ask this: If I told you that a legislator suggested that it was the job of government to pass laws to protect businesses from people, would you presume, knowing nothing else, that the speaker was a Republican or a Democrat? And if I told you that a legislator said, instead, that it was the job of government to protect people from businesses, would you presume that the speaker was a Republican or a Democrat? The answer to both hypothetical queries seems pretty easy to me. Republicans are constantly bemoaning “excess regulations” that “hinder business growth” or some other similar concepts, as if the purpose of those regulations was to prevent businesses from succeeding. By contrast, Democrats seek to impose regulations in order, not to restrict business growth, but to protect people from the unchecked activity of businesses.

Would we have things like the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act if it was the job of government to protect businesses from people? Rather, those sorts of laws are designed to restrict businesses in order to protect people. Today, it’s Democrats who want to talk about climate change and how to take steps to mitigate against its possible ramifications on people while Republicans refuse to even believe that it might be real. It’s Republicans who want to build an oil tar pipeline from Canada to Texas (where the oil can then be sold, not in America, but shipped overseas) and Democrats who are concerned about the possible environmental impact, such as damage to aquifers that supply drinking water to people. It’s Republicans who want to continue to allow gun manufacturers to sell their products with limited regulation while Democrats want to restrict the sale of weapons and high capacity magazines and such in order to protect people.

I don’t think that he really intended to do so, but Sen. Holdman quite succinctly summed up the governing philosophy of Republicans and put it in stark contrast to Democrats. One party believes that it is the role of government to protect businesses from people while the other views its responsibility as helping to protect people from businesses. What do you think the proper role of government should be with regard to the relationship of businesses and people?

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dinosaurs and Humans: Parochial Education Teaching That Science Is Wrong

As readers of this blog probably know, I am an opponent of school vouchers (see, for example, School Vouchers — Why I Oppose Them). My opposition stems from several concerns, including (but not limited to):

  • Taking away money from public schools;
  • Private schools being able to choose their students (where public schools have to take everyone);
  • Lack of academic standards for parochial schools; and
  • Use of taxpayer dollars to fund parochial/religious education.

Anyway, a story that I read last night (and the accompanying images) got me thinking about vouchers and a few other issues as well. The story comes from Snopes (which fact-checked it and found it “probably true”). The images that follow (copied from the article) are of a test given to 4th grade students in an unnamed (at least until the end of the school year) parochial school in South Carolina:


Note that the child received a perfect score! And a Smile! sticker.

I have no idea if any parochial schools in Indiana teach material similar to that which is reflected on this test, but I have my suspicions that the answer would be yes. And I have no idea if any Indiana parochial schools that are teaching this sort of material are accepting students who pay all or a portion of their tuition via taxpayer-funded vouchers. But again, I have my suspicions that the answer would again be yes.

If we were to discover that taxpayer-funded vouchers were being used to send children to a school that taught this sort of material, would that impact your view of the voucher program?

Ask yourself this: How well are children raised on this sort of education going to be able to compete on the global market? When employers are looking for intelligent, skilled workers, how well will people who received this sort of educational background fare against people from China or Europe? I doubt kids in China are learning about dinosaurs helping build the Great Wall; they’re learning math and science and skills that will help them compete … and thrive. America didn’t become the world’s superpower and dominant economy by rejecting science. The Bible didn’t split the atom or fly man to the moon; mistrust in science didn’t build the Internet or the computer; and trust in G-d didn’t create a vaccine for polio or enable organ transplants.

And yet we have parents willfully sending their children to schools where science is viewed as some sort of evil, liberal construct.

Moreover, don’t think that it’s just a few isolated religious schools. Just two hours southeast of Indianapolis, you can find the Creation Museum which says of itself (emphasis addedd):

The state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers. The serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Majestic murals, great masterpieces brimming with pulsating colors and details, provide a backdrop for many of the settings.

It also has exhibits depicting humans living with dinosaurs:

I shit you not.

But some people actually believe this dreck.

And they teach it to their children.

In schools.

Maybe even using your tax dollars.

Part of me says, hey, if these people really want to stunt their children’s intellectual growth, that’s not my problem. Have at it. It will just make it that much easier for my kids to climb one rung higher on the ladder. But the better part of me understands (and I know that this sort of claim will infuriate the right-wingers in the room) that in a way, children belong to all of us. They represent the future, not just of their parents’ bloodline, but of our communities and our culture. That is one of the primary reasons that we have public education in the first place, why we demand that even those without children help pay (via taxes) to educate all of our children, and why we make it the law that children must be educated (even if only via so-called “home schooling”). So, no, I’m not really OK with the idea that we have schools teaching our children that science is wrong. Would you object to a school teaching kids that 2+2=5 or that the Sun orbits the Earth? Exactly.

But even if I could get by that problem, I see no way around my objection to tax dollars — money that should be used to pay for a public education for all children, regardless of race, income, socio-economic status, or disability — being diverted to allow some parents to teach their children that science is evil, wrong, or the enemy, so that their children will grow up to help lead us into the past rather than forward to the future. Similarly, those tax dollars shouldn’t be spent to teach kids that Jesus is the only way to heaven or that Muhammad ascended to heaven on a winged horse or that Moses spoke to a burning bush.* Leave that for church, mosque, and temple. Not school. Or at least not using our tax dollars.

Education that denies science is wrong. It’s dangerous. And using tax dollars to pay for any sort of religious education is also wrong.

For an interesting look at the Creation Museum, please take a few minutes to watch the video Atheists at the Creation Museum.

Updated to correct errors in links.

*I’m still waiting for the outcry when someone finds a voucher being used to pay for an education at a Muslim madrassa that teaches a fundamentalist form of Islam of the same sort that has been at the root of many terrorist attacks. I’m sure that people who want their children to learn that Adam rode a dinosaur will love knowing that their tax dollars are being used to pay to teach some kids that America is the Great Satan, that democracy is incompatible with Islam, and that jihad against America is good.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Guns in America: Background Check System Excludes Those on the Terrorist Watch Lists

In last week’s post Guns in America: Background Checks, I made the following statement with regard to the current National Instant Background Criminal Check System (NICS): “There is also one glaring omission from the list of people who will be denied the right to purchase a gun: Those on a terrorist watch list.” Several people have asked me about this and, when I’ve mentioned the omission to gun rights proponents, they’ve been either doubtful or incredulous. Well, this morning National Public Radio had a story on the exclusion of the those on terrorism watch lists from the NICS background check system.

But first, this video from al-Qaeda’s American spokesman Adam Gadahn:

So, no, the fact that background checks aren’t required to purchase weapons at a gun show is not a well-guarded secret. But what about the notion that the NICS system doesn’t prevent the purchase of a gun, from a licensed dealer, by someone who has been placed on one of the terror watch lists?

Here’s the story from NPR’s Alisa Chang (listen to the story here):

Even al-Qaida gloats about what's possible under U.S. gun laws. In June 2011, a senior al-Qaida operative, Adam Gadahn, released a video message rallying people to take advantage of opportunities those laws provide.

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” Gadahn says, explaining that “you can go down to a gun show at the local convention center” and buy a gun without a background check.

Then a faint smile crosses Gadahn’s face. “So what are you waiting for?” he asks.

Under current laws, if a background check reveals that your name is on the national terrorism watch list, you’re still free to walk out of a gun dealership with a firearm in your hands — as long as you don’t have a criminal or mental health record.

Data from the Government Accountability Office show that between 2004 and 2010, people on terrorism watch lists tried to buy guns and explosives more than 1,400 times. They succeeded in more than 90 percent of those cases, or 1,321 times.

“It’s absurd that we allow people to buy unlimited AK-47s, AR-15s and Uzis, even if we feel they are too dangerous to be allowed on a plane, even after they've gone through a security check,” says Jon Lowy, a lawyer for the Brady Campaign, a gun control group.

But Michael James Barton, a White House counterterrorism official during the Bush administration, points out that there’s a lot more leeway to limit someone’s right to get on a plane.

“The U.S. Constitution specifically protects the right to purchase firearms. The Constitution has no specific right to use transportation of any mode,” Barton says.

Before the government can limit anybody’s Second Amendment rights, he says, it needs a pretty good reason. And in his experience, a lot of totally innocent people end up on the terrorism watch list — such as business associates, roommates or landlords of suspected terrorists.

“Some of them are merely individuals who have proximity to terrorism suspects and are not themselves the focus of any investigation or any suspicion whatsoever,” he says.

Barton says the terrorism watch “list” actually refers to several lists of names, including the “no fly” list. All of the lists are secret, and no one can control getting on or off them. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says that’s why the lists shouldn't determine whether someone should buy a gun.

“I think anyone who's on the terrorist watch list should not lose their Second Amendment right without the ability to challenge that determination,” says Graham, noting that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy showed up on the no-fly list in 2004 because a suspected terrorist was using the alias Edward Kennedy.

Gun rights supporters also ask: Why tip off an actual terrorist that we're on to him by telling him he failed a background check?

“We're gonna go, ‘Boy, we're so good, we prevented those terrorists from getting the guns.’ No, we didn’t! We prevented them from getting them from a legitimate source, where we had an opportunity to follow them,” says Richard Feldman, who heads the Independent Firearm Owners Association. “Now we don’t know if they're ever going to get them, when they get them, where they got them.”

But gun control supporters are scratching their heads at that logic. Why not just pass a law giving the government discretion to block a dangerous person on the terrorism watch list from buying a gun? The gun lobby has pushed back hard on that idea.

“This is yet another example of zealots on the far right of the gun movement throwing away the baby with the bath water,” says Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which supports tighter gun laws.

Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has tried since 2007 to push for legislation that would close the terrorism loophole. Under the bill, if a background check reveals a gun buyer is on the terrorism watch list, the U.S. attorney general would have the discretion to block the gun sale.

The Department of Justice under the Bush administration had supported the legislation.

The proposal was filed as an amendment to the gun control bill last week, but things ground to a halt in the Senate after every major gun control proposal failed.

First, I want to address an wildly inaccurate claim made in the NPR story. Michael James Barton, identified as a White House counterterrorism official during the Bush administration, says:

The U.S. Constitution specifically protects the right to purchase firearms.

Um, no, Mr. Barton. It doesn’t. Not even close. The Second Amendment actually says:

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.

Do you see anything about a right to purchase in that language?* Nor do I. For that matter, I don’t see an exclusion in the Second Amendment for felons, the mentally ill, those who’ve engaged in domestic violence, or even children, to keep and bear arms. Yet, we don’t seem to have a problem with those exclusions, do we (well, other than some in the pro-gun movement who really do think that “shall not be infringed” is an absolute prohibition).

It’s probably also worth remembering that President Bush’s Department of Justice also supported adding people on the terrorist watch lists to the NICS system.

So what do you think? Which is worse: Allowing people who are on a terrorism watch list to legally purchase weapons or to (possibly) inconvenience someone who wants to purchase a gun but who has mistakenly been placed on a terrorism watch list? I guess I can see the problem if someone can find themselves mistakenly placed on this list with no way to get taken off. But if there is an appeal process, either to say “take me off the list” or even just “let me buy a gun” then I find that I’m not terribly sympathetic to the notion that the harm to the innocent purchaser outweighs public safety. Remember, of course, that opponents to expanded background checks have used “inconvenience” and “cost” as reasons not to close the gun show or private sale loopholes.

On the other hand, whether or not a possible terrorist would be blocked from buying a gun at a licensed dealer because of the NICS system is probably irrelevant. Why? Because as al-Qaeda’s spokesman noted in the video above, all a wannabe terrorist has to do is go to a gun show and avoid the background check system altogether.

So, if your Senator voted against the increased background check bill last week, be sure to call and thank them for being sure that terrorists still have easy access to guns. After all, we wouldn’t want to wipe that little smile off Adam Gadahn’s face, now would we? 

*Barton is also being disingenuous when he says that “The Constitution has no specific right to use transportation of any mode” forgetting that the Supreme Court long, long ago held that freedom of movement was a fundamental right under the Constitution. So no, it doesn’t make reference to “any mode” of travel any more than it talks about a right to “purchase firearms”, but it does protect freedom of movement.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

One Child Is Holding Something That’s Been Banned in America to Protect Them: Commenting on a Comment

Every now and then, I like to highlight some of the comments that I receive on this blog. Today, I’d like to look at a comment that I received this morning to last week’s post One Child Is Holding Something That’s Been Banned in America to Protect Them: Powerful Gun Control PSAs from Moms Demand Action. The comment was posted anonymously (gee, I wonder why?):

Typical libtard bullcrap. Giving a child a gun to hold and not even teaching them proper trigger discipline. You can all go choke on a dick, asswipes.

Now it’s always a smart move, I think, to begin your comment with not just an insult, but a double insult: “libtard bullcrap”. This way, those reading your comment well recognize immediately that you are a serious person interested in an intellectual discussion of important issues. (By the way, what precisely is the “bullcrap” in my post?)

Then, of course, it’s important to move on to the totally trivial and completely irrelevant without any sort of notion of what you’re actually looking at or reading. As in, do you really think that Moms Demand Action gave those children loaded guns to hold in the PSAs? For that matter, what is the likelihood that these children will be exposed to guns such that they need to learn “proper trigger discipline”? And, of course, might it just be possible that the children were asked to put their fingers on the triggers for effect? You know, to make people even more nervous? But apparently Mr. Anonymous can’t get past the notion of poor “trigger discipline” to even contemplate the issue of reasonable gun control legislation.

Finally, it’s important to finish your comment with additional insults and, when possible, the use of either threats or a desire for something bad to happen to the author of the post upon which you are commenting. If you can make the insult racist or homophobic, all the better. I haven’t quite determined why the insults suggesting death by homosexual act are so frequent, but there you have it.

Most important, though, when posting a comment, is to be sure never to discuss the actual content of the post or the issues raised therein. Why bother with discussion of substance when you can just hurl insults? I mean, what fun is that? If you actually take on the substance, the author just might engage you or try to get you to elucidate on your ideas. It’s so much better to represent your side of an issue by framing the position as one of insult, avoidance, and more insult. That way the world can see just how that particular viewpoint is represented.

In all seriousness, I look forward to engaging in discussions of the issues that I raise, whether via comments, email, or even in person. That is part of why I write this blog. Yes, I want to influence people, but I also want to hear opposing viewpoints and to commence dialogue to see where we might find common ground, maybe even to tease out the strengths and weaknesses of my position (and of those who disagree with me). And I want to learn. I’ve been known to (occasionally…) change my mind or alter my perspective on an issue. Present me with a valid, well-reasoned argument, and who knows what might happen. If I make a mistake, show me (with some evidence, preferably…). But this sort of comment, to quote a current Internet meme, shows us “why we can’t have nice things”.

And it suggests that the commenter has no legitimate argument to make.

One other odd thing worth noting: The comment appears to have been posted by someone in Zurich, Switzerland.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

I Don’t Have a Single … Friend, I Don’t Understand Them

There are several reports that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the brothers accused of responsibility for the Boston Marathon bombing (and related violent incidents), said:

I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them.

I find that statement to be chilling, but not for the reason that you might think. Let me make one slight edit to the statement and then I’ll ask you to read it again:

I don't have a single … friend, I don't understand them.

How many American teenagers go to sleep every night thinking just that sort of thought?

Fortunately, most American teens who feel this way don’t build bombs and look for ways to hurt their fellow citizens.

They just kill themselves.

When they tire of being alone or of being bullied or of thinking that nobody understands or cares, they pull the trigger or pop the pills or put the noose around their neck.

But what if they didn’t? What if, instead of finding a way to commit suicide, they lashed out at society? What if the victims of bullying decided to go out in a “blaze of glory” … and to take the bullies with them? What if they sought revenge on the system that didn’t protect them or the society that they felt didn’t care about them?

Perhaps the reason for this terrorist incident is religious fanaticism or extremism. Perhaps. But might it have been triggered or the radicalization have been enabled by a sense of not belonging?

I don’t know.

But I think that I can safely say that, among all of the other possible lessons to take from this horrible series of events, is the idea that we, as a society, need to reach out to those around us who might not fit in, who might not be part of the “popular crowd”, who might look a little different. That small effort of reaching out a hand of friendship or even simple caring and concern to those who might feel that society doesn’t care about them, might be all that it takes to begin to bring someone back from that dangerous precipice. Perhaps a kind word, maybe telling a bully to back off, some kind of random of act of kindness might be all that is needed help someone know that they’re not alone in the world.

Will those simple acts stop acts of terror? No. Probably not. But I doubt that it would make the situation worse. And, especially as it relates to Muslim kids our our communities, how might they react to the Islamophobia that is so rampant in our society? If you watch Fox News or listen to right wing radio, there is an almost palpable blood lust being expressed toward Muslims. How comfortable would you be if everyone thought that you and people like you were terrorists or capable of horrible violence just because of your religion (or your skin color or any other train)? Perhaps just letting our Muslim acquaintances know that we don’t blame them for the acts of other Muslims, would lessen the likelihood that they’d take solace in the message of radical anti-American belief. Perhaps.

But might simple acts of friendship and kindness help stop a teen’s depression from growing so severe that suicide seems the only response? I’d like to hope so. Friendship may not stop terrorism, but I’d like to think that it will help teenagers get through … well, life.

Please take time over the next days and weeks to look around you. Look at people, especially teens, who seem to be alone or disaffected. And reach out a hand in friendship or caring. Try. And suggest that your children do the same. Ask your kids to do something as small as saying something nice to their classmates or maybe sit at lunch with someone who usually sits alone. Maybe even just a smile.

It can’t hurt, can it?

Update: Almost immediately after posting the foregoing, I realized that some might think that I’m excusing these acts of terror. I’m not. Not in any way, shape, or form. I don’t condone terrorism for any reason (and I’d think that readers of this blog would recognize that). My point, with regard to the Tsarnaev brothers (and others like them) is that perhaps if we were able to find ways to help them feel as if they are a part of the community as opposed to apart from it, they might not be so easily swayed by the lure of radical Islam in the first place.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Guns in America: Background Checks (redux)

Driving home yesterday, after posting Guns in America: Background Checks, I found myself listening to President Obama’s speech on the Senate’s capitulation to the NRA and then thinking more about some of the issues. As the evening wore on and I read more responses and thoughts on Twitter and elsewhere, I grew even angrier than I was when I published the post. And so I want to examine a few of the other thoughts regarding this whole fiasco.

First, I want to be very clear about something: Senators had a chance yesterday to do something to help protect our children, our families, and our communities. They had the chance to adopt legislation supported by at least 80% of the population, if not 90% of the population. They had a chance to adopt legislation that most of the population already thinks is the law. But they didn’t. And so I have this to say to those who voted against expanded background checks: The next time a child is killed with a gun which, with expanded background checks would not have been so readily available to the shooter, the blood of that child is on your hands. You traded your integrity, even your soul, for a few precious bits of NRA blood money. And I intend to tell them just that.

The NRA isn’t playing a game here; they’re willing to lie and spend millions to get their way. So why should those of us who want to see the passage of additional reasonable gun control legislation continue to “play nice”? If I have the chance to talk to Senator Dan Coats, for example, I will tell him that he has blood on his hands and ask him whether those NRA campaign contributions help him sleep at night. And when I talk to friends who are members of the NRA and who claim to support reasonable enhancements to gun control legislation, I’m going to ask them if they told that to the NRA leadership. Because the NRA was certainly lobbying in those people’s names even if the lobbying efforts weren’t what the NRA membership supposedly wanted (according to at least some reports, nearly 80% of NRA members support enhanced background checks and closure of the gun show loophole). If NRA members didn’t speak up to let the NRA leadership know that the positions the organization was taking weren’t reflective of their views, then that silence makes them equally complicit.

Whew. Breathe. Breathe.

I also want to touch on a few of the other idiotic arguments that I heard from the pro-gun lobby.

First, I saw several people making the argument that the background check legislation shouldn’t be passed because it wasn’t going to stop all gun violence. Of course it won’t stop all gun violence. Seat belts and air bags don’t stop all traffic fatalities. But you know what? They stop a lot. Weigh the burden of submitting to a background check against the burden to families and society of violent death, especially of children. Hmm. I think I’m willing to take the few minutes (presuming I wanted a gun) to fill out a fucking form. And remember, we’re not talking about adopting a new background check law. Background checks are already the law. What we’re trying to do is to eliminate the loopholes that allow people to get around the requirement of a background check and make the existing system far less effective than it should be.

Here’s an analogy: How would you feel if we required people who bought airline tickets from the airlines to go through security but if people who bought their tickets from Orbitz or Expedia or a friend didn’t have to go through security? Doesn’t seem like such a good idea, huh? Well, that’s a pretty fair comparison to the current background check system.

Similar to the preceding argument, I also heard the suggestion that the expanded background check legislation was inappropriate because it wouldn’t have stopped the Sandy Hook massacre. So is the measure of legislation now whether it will prevent one very narrow particular type of bad occurrence and none other? Seriously? So we shouldn’t take steps to keep convicted felons who have been dishonorably discharged from the military and who regularly beat their wives while high on meth from buying guns via the Internet because, you know, that wouldn’t have stopped Adam Lanza from massacring first graders.

Perhaps the most vile and disgusting lines of argument suggest that the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook shouldn’t really be voicing their opinions. For example, consider this comment from Republican and Tea Party darling Rand Paul who said of the families of the children killed at Sandy Hook:

In some cases, I think the president has used them as props.

Props? Facilitating the effort by people who have suffered unspeakable tragedy to try to influence legislation aimed at preventing similar horrors in the future is just using people as “props”? (For more on this claim and the role of the Sandy Hook parents, please take a few minutes to read An insult to the Sandy Hook families by Greg Sargent). Or consider this from GOP consultant Ed Rogers:

It was cruel of the president to involve the Sandy Hook families in a fight that was not their fight. For all the good they can do and all the deference and respect they deserve, it is a travesty that the families of the Sandy Hook victims were used as props and lobbyists and that the tragedy of Sandy Hook was contorted into a Washington legislative battle about expanding the federal paperwork required to make a gun purchase. The Sandy Hook families didn’t create this farce; it was the president’s idea.

Or there is this more raw comment from Minneapolis-based radio talk show host Bob Davis:

I have something I want to say to the victims of Newtown, or any other shooting. I don't care if it’s here in Minneapolis or anyplace else. Just because a bad thing happened to you doesn't mean that you get to put a king in charge of my life. I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don't force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss. I’m sick and tired of seeing these victims trotted out, given rides on Air Force One, hauled into the Senate well, and everyone is just afraid — they're terrified of these victims. … I would stand in front of them and tell them, ‘Go to hell.’

That’s right: “Go to hell” for even daring to voice an opinion that differs from that of Bob Davis or the gun rights lobby because, you know, “liberty”.

As Sargent put it in his article:

All of this aside, the “props” line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn’t be thanking the president.

You see, what’s really going on here is that there is a segment on the right that just doesn’t believe that people have much of a role in trying to influence the government (well at least not people with whom they disagree). It’s just fine for highly paid lobbyists and advocacy groups to make their voices heard (as coins jingle jingle jingle into campaign coffers), but whoa to the individual who tries to make a point. It’s sort of like Mitt Romney’s 47% comment, in a way. Some people just count more than others. And if you’re brave enough to voice your opinion publicly, the the attack machine kicks in. Think I’m overstating it? How about Lily Ledbetter? Sandra Fluke? Gabby Giffords? I could go on. The point is, though, that rather than addressing the issues, there has grown to be a tendency to strike out not with ad hominem attacks but sometimes even with attacks of personal destruction. How dare those who’ve been directly harmed express their opinion. How dare they!

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guns in America: Background Checks

So it looks like the so-called Manchin-Toomey background check amendment will fail to obtained the required majority sixty votes necessary for passage this afternoon, even though most polls show that around 80% or more of the American public supports enhanced background checks. That is just pitiful. Disgraceful. Disgusting. We are witnessing our representatives caving in to the pressure of the NRA and gun rights supporters for whom no gun control legislation is ever going to be acceptable.

Now I don’t profess to be an expert on the current gun control laws or on the new bills and amendments pending before the Senate. So what I’m going to discuss below is based largely on what I’ve heard and read in the past. If I’m wrong about something, please let me know. But be specific and provide me with a source.

With that out of the way, let’s think about why enhanced background checks are needed. First, though, let’s look at who the current National Instant Background Criminal Check System (NICS) blocks from purchasing a gun. The existing NICS system blocks a person who:

  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  • Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or who has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;
  • Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; or
  • Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year

OK. Seems like a decent list. However, it is my understanding (and remember, I’m not an expert) that states haven’t always been the best at putting information into the system, especially with regard to the mentally ill and those against whom restraining orders have been issued for incidents of domestic violence. There is also one glaring omission from the list of people who will be denied the right to purchase a gun: Those on a terrorist watch list. Unless I’m mistaken, the NRA lobbied successfully to keep the terrorist watch lists separate from the NICS system. Thus, we have people in our country who will be prohibited from flying but who can pass a background check for a gun purchase.

So if I’m a former member of the armed services who was dishonorably discharged, then convicted of battering my wife while high on meth, and against whom a restraining order has been issued, how am I supposed to get a gun to kill her and those damn kids? The NICS background check would stop me … probably. What to do, what to do. I know! I’ll just buy my guns at a gun show instead. Or online. Or from a friend or other “private” seller. Quick access to a gun and no background check needed.

Now, thankfully, some states have expanded their background check requirements to gun shows and other private sales. But not all. Not most. And if you live in one of those states, you can probably just drive across the border to a state that doesn’t impose universal background checks. I’ve seen the estimate that as many as 40% of gun purchases are made without a background check. Feel safer now?

And yet it looks like 41 or more senators will vote against a bill to expand background checks, even though that bill doesn’t go far enough to close all of these loopholes (for example, it still allows “private” sales to be conducted without a background check).

The arguments being used against enhanced background checks are, for the most part, idiotic, too.

For example, just this morning I heard Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Utah) express opposition to the current bill because it might be difficult for those engaging in a private sale to get a background check if they live in a small town without a licensed dealer able to perform the check. I suspect that creative minds could find a way around this problem (hint: there’s this new-fangled thing called the Internet). But I note that Republicans across the country seem to be fine with requiring women to travel vast distances, repeatedly, if they want to get an abortion. Remember, the Supreme Court has ruled that abortions, like guns, are protected by the Constitution. Sen. Flake also, I believe, commented on the cost of a background check. Cry me a fucking river. What does a background check cost? $10? $25? Seems a reasonable sum to be sure that people who shouldn’t have guns don’t have guns. And again, isn’t it just … um … odd? … that Republicans are upset about a small fee for a background check to buy a gun but have no problem with requiring people who want to vote to be forced to spend money to obtain identification (and the documentation necessary to get that identification)?

Another common objection is that background checks are the first step toward a national registry of gun owners (you know, so that the tyrannical New World Order or the North Korean invasion force can come and take guns away). Well, if the background check system is the first step, then why has it been in place since 1998 without the creation of a national registry? Moreover, just how would that national registry come into being? Wouldn’t, you know, Congress have to pass a law to create it? In other words, the argument is that we can’t do something that might be a better situation now because some legislature in the future might do something more that we don’t like now. Do I have that right?

Some of the objections also seem to be just classic examples of “grasping at straws” or “red herrings” designed to demonize the very idea of background check expansion. For example, I recently read where a gun rights advocate claimed that background checks would prevent a father from leaving a gun to his son in his will. Bullshit. That transaction isn’t a sale. And even if it were somehow within the spectrum of a sale, it would be easy to offer a simple amendment to except out of the background check requirement, a transfer of a gun via probate. There, done. Then again, should a convicted felon who was dishonorably discharged from the military and who regularly beats his wife while high on meth be allowed to get a gun just because it was his father’s and left to him in a will? Another gun rights advocate said that those running hunting lodges wouldn’t be able to loan or rent guns to their guests. First, I’d again note that those transactions aren’t sales. Second, I’d ask why those running the hunting lodge couldn’t avail themselves of the NICS system. I mean what’s wrong with being sure that the person to whom you’re handing that hunting rifle isn’t someone likely to misuse it?

And of course the “best” argument against enhanced background checks is that they’re unnecessary because criminals won’t obey the law anyway. Criminals, the logic goes, will find other means to buy guns, so why burden the good law abiding folk. See any flaws in that logic? First, so what if there is a burden? I suspect most people are willing to be a bit burdened if it might help reduce (note, I didn’t say prevent) the access to guns for people who ought not have that access. We take off our shoes before getting on airplanes. Yeah, it’s a burden and really annoying. But I don’t really mind if it will help keep the plane from being blown up. Perhaps that mentally ill person won’t know of another way to get a gun; perhaps the abusive husband will calm down in the time it takes him to find an illegal supplier of guns. And let’s not forget that most people who use a gun to commit a crime (or suicide) weren’t criminals prior to their use of that gun. They were good, law abiding people. Until they pulled the trigger. But, gee, what other sorts of laws might we subject to this sort of tortured logic. I mean, only criminals would rob banks, right? So why bother with laws against robbing banks? Only criminals would drive at dangerously high speeds, right? So why bother with speed limits? Only criminals would use cold medicine or fertilizer to make drugs or bombs. So why bother restricting access to those compounds? Good law abiding folks would never do something wrong. Hell, let’s just eliminate all of our laws because only law abiding people follow them anyway.

The problem is really quite simple: Some people don’t think that any restriction on access to guns is acceptable. And the NRA and the gun manufacturers it represents (who, you’ll certainly recognize want to sell more guns) have to be opposed to anything that might cut into the bottom line. So, because of some gun rights zealots and a powerful lobby, we all have to live with a much greater risk than any civilized society should have to accept.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Those legislators who take campaign contributions from the NRA and related lobbies are taking blood money. They are putting their own campaign coffers above the safety of our children. How many more children, how many more police or firefighters, how many more of our friends and neighbors have to die before our legislators will say “no thank you” to NRA blood money and, for a change, do what’s right for the American people?

But you know what? Unless you pick up the phone and call your Senators and Representative nothing will change. Nothing. Because unless your voice becomes louder than that of the NRA and Ted Nugent and the rest of the gun lobby … well, until then, your and the rest of the American electorate just don’t matter. Your kids, your families, your communities are just meat to be fed through the gun rights grinder and if a little blood is spilled, well too damn bad … at least your Congressional representatives will have full campaign coffers.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

One Child Is Holding Something That’s Been Banned in America to Protect Them: Powerful Gun Control PSAs from Moms Demand Action

I just wanted to share some new public service ads from the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (an organization formed here in the Indianapolis metro area). For additional information on these ads (including explanations of the things depicted and why and where they have been banned), please see the article Gun Control PSAs By Moms Demand Action Are Striking And Powerful at Huffington Post.

gun control psas moms demand actiongun control psas moms demand actiongun control psas moms demand action

Lest you think that these ads are a little over the top, here is a photo taken at a recent rally in New Hampshire to (apparently) protest the repeal of the state’s “stand your ground law”.

The flag says "come and take it"

Though it may not be clear, the gun that the boy is holding is apparently an AR-15 — the same sort of gun used in the Sandy Hook massacre. Oh, and the boy? He’s 11 years old. Think about this: He’s apparently old enough to carry an assault rifle, but he isn’t old enough to go to a PG-13 movie on his own or to even play Teen rated video games.

But guns! And freedom!

If you’re a parent of young-ish children, you’ve no doubt encountered all types of safety features on toys and household goods to keep your children safe. Whether it’s warnings about small parts or screws on battery compartments, child-proof pill bottles or latches on cabinet doors, car seats or bike helmets, as a society we’ve placed a premium upon the safety of our children and recognized that because they are children accidents will happen. Yet day after day we read about children getting access to a parent or sibling’s gun and … boom. If I’m not mistaken, I read that last week three toddlers accidentally shot family members. Toddlers. Who somehow managed to get their tiny hands on guns.

Let’s regulate what our kids are allowed to read (we wouldn’t want them to learn about sex or drugs, now would we?).* Let’s regulate the games that they play so that they don’t get hurt. Let’s even regulate their toys so that they don’t hurt themselves. But regulating guns? Tyranny!

Update (May 13, 2013): I've noticed that this post has received quite a few hits from outside the United States. If you're reading this post from outside the United States, please leave a comment telling me how you came upon this post, where you're from, and what you think of the issues that I've been discussing. How does the rest of the world view the gun culture of the United States?

Me he dado cuenta de que este mensaje ha recibido un buen número de éxitos de fuera de los Estados Unidos. Si usted está leyendo este mensaje fuera de los Estados Unidos, por favor deje un comentario diciéndome cómo llegaste a este post, de dónde eres, y lo que piensa de los temas que hemos estado discutiendo. ¿Cómo funciona el resto del mundo ver la cultura de las armas de los Estados Unidos?

J'ai remarqué que ce poste a reçu pas mal de coups venant de l'extérieur des États-Unis. Si vous lisez ce post en dehors des Etats-Unis, laisser un commentaire en me disant comment vous êtes arrivé à ce poste, où vous êtes et ce que vous pensez des questions que j'ai discuté s'il vous plaît. Comment le reste du monde voir la culture des armes à feu des États-Unis?

Ich habe bemerkt, dass dieser Beitrag hat durchaus ein paar Hits von außerhalb der Vereinigten Staaten erhalten. Wenn Sie dies lesen post sind von außerhalb der Vereinigten Staaten, hinterlassen Sie bitte einen Kommentar erzählte mir, wie du auf diesen Beitrag kam, wo Sie sind, und was Sie von den Fragen, die ich besprochen haben. Wie der Rest der Welt sehen die Pistole Kultur der Vereinigten Staaten?

שם לב שהפוסט הזה קיבלה לא מעט להיטים ממחוץ לארצות הברית. אם אתה קורא את הפוסט הזה מחוץ לארצות הברית, בבקשה להשאיר תגובה אומר לי איך אתה נתקל בפוסט הזה, מאיפה אתה, ומה אתה חושב על הנושאים שאני כבר דן. איך שאר העולם רואה את תרבות האקדח של ארצות הברית?

*Query the likelihood that the parents most likely to ask a school to ban a book are also the parents most likely to be opposed to gun control or other “infringements” on parental rights (like the requirement to use a car seat or keep cigarette smoke away from children). My guess is that the correlation would be really, really high (especially if the book to be banned was attacked because of depictions of sex, alcohol or drugs, foul language, or on religious grounds; oh, wait … I think I’ve just described a large portion of attempting book banning incidents). So, yeah, infringe upon what my kid can be taught and read in school, but how dare I try to keep my kid safe by limiting your kid’s access to a gun because, after all, clearly your Second Amendment right outweighs my right to keep my child safe, right?

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

North Carolina Republicans Want the Right to Establish a State Religion (Update and Possible Explanation)

A few days ago I wrote, somewhat incredulously, about the effort in North Carolina to pass legislation allowing the state to establish an official religion (North Carolina Republicans Want the Right to Establish a State Religion). So when I came across an article yesterday that helps to explain this motivation, I felt that I had to share.

NC lawmaker equates Islamic prayer with terrorism

An N.C. House lawmaker is equating any prayer to the Islamic God with terrorism.

In an email exchange with a constituent, Republican state Rep. Michele Presnell of Burnsville was asked whether she was comfortable with a prayer to Allah before a legislative meeting. Presnell responded: “No, I do not condone terrorism.”

The first-year lawmaker who represents a district in the North Carolina mountains is a co-sponsor of House resolution 494, a measure asserting that North Carolina can establish a state religion. She did not return a call for comment Monday about the string of emails obtained by Dome.

“The famed ACLU is telling Rowan County they may not pray before commissioners meetings,” Presnell wrote to Britt Kaufmann, a constituent. “We pray in Raleigh before our legislative meetings, U.S. Congress prays in Washington DC, why can they not pray?”

Kaufmann replied: “Yes, I do understand that the ACLU is suing Rowan County and I think they have clearly articulated why they are not comfortable with prayer before the commissioners meetings. I wanted you, as my representative, to know that I do not think the proposed bill is a good solution to that problem. … Would you be comfortable with a public prayer to Allah before a legislative meeting in Raleigh?”

Presnell equated Islam to terrorism and added, “We just need to start taking a stand on our religious freedom or it will be whisked away from us.”

The email exchange ends with Presnell telling her constituent: “No, you are wrong. Have a good day.”

Her stance appears to differ from that of the primary sponsor of the bill, Rep. Harry Warren, a Salisbury Republican, who later apologized for the resolution’s poor wording and how it embarrassed the state.

Go read that second paragraph again. When asked if she would be comfortable with an Islamic prayer to Allah, Rep. Presnell (a co-sponsor of the bill to establish a state religion) equated such a prayer to terrorism. She didn’t say that she would be uncomfortable with a prayer from a religion different than hers. No. She essentially said that a prayer to Allah was terrorism; that Islam itself, is terrorism. And note further that, at the same time that she is saying that the legislature shouldn’t have a prayer to Allah, she is also complaining about “religious freedom” being “whisked away”. In her myopic worldview, a prayer in Jesus’ name is good, but other forms of prayer … um, not so much. To make a governmental body stop Christian sectarian prayer is whisking away religion freedom but even the suggestion of a Muslim prayer is terrorism.

Look, I’m not surprised that some uneducated people who have never had an opportunity to interact with anyone who looks or thinks differently than they do might harbor views such as those expressed by Rep. Presnell. But this woman is an elected official. Can you imagine how she would react if someone equated a prayer to Jesus with with the murder of Jews? I mean, how many Jews have been killed over the centuries by people who claimed to be acting pursuant to the teachings of or in furtherance of Christianity? But just as I don’t blame every Christian or every prayer to Jesus for centuries of anti-Semitism, nor should Rep. Presnell or others blame every Muslim or every prayer to Allah for the actions of Muslim terrorists.

We cannot continue to allow this sort of religious bigotry to be uttered with impunity, let alone spread to those who are so willing to soak it up and spit it back out as “truth”. Unfortunately, we now have many elected leaders who have no compunction about spewing just such bigotry and no shortage of people willing to believe it, repeat it, and vote in favor of it.

Right now it may just be Islamic prayers to Allah, but how long before any prayer that isn’t to Jesus will begin to be the subject of ire and bigotry? How long before Hindus and Buddhists are made to feel like outsiders solely because they don’t pray to Jesus? How long before this sort of bigotry once again begins to target Jews as “Christ-killers”? Even if North Carolina doesn’t establish a state religion, we shouldn’t sit idly by while its elected officials make statements that suggest only adherents to a particular faith are welcome or true participants in the governing process and worthy of the rights associated with being citizens.

When we hear people — especially elected officials — make these sorts of horrible, bigoted comments, we owe it to ourselves, to our children, to our communities, and to our sense of what America is supposed to represent, to call out those statements and those making them, as nothing less than the hateful bigoted viewpoints they really are. And then we need to vote those people out of office.

Before it’s too late.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Guns in Schools

Indiana is considering becoming the first state to require that every public school in the state have an armed … um … er … well, someone with a gun. I think that this is a terrible idea.

First, let me offer a quick anecdote. Shortly after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when talk of placing more guns in schools began to become common, I asked my 13-year-old son (a 7th-grade public school student) what he thought of the idea of arming teachers. He thought for a moment and then answered:

“Well that’s a really stupid idea,” he said.


“Well what if a kid finds the gun,” he answered.

“Any other reasons?”

“Yeah. What if the teacher’s having a really bad day or what if the teacher’s crazy to begin with?”

“Would you feel safer if the teacher had a gun?”

“No. Teacher’s aren’t the police.”

And that’s where we left the conversation.

You’d think that if a 13-year-old could see those flaws with more guns in schools, perhaps legislators could too. But apparently not in Indiana.

But those aren’t the only reasons that I think the idea of mandating guns in schools is a bad idea.

However, before I go through my objections, let me note that I don’t oppose the idea of properly trained, armed police in schools. The key though, at least to me, is that the arms are born by properly trained police, not just school employees who have undergone a training seminar. The police undergo constant training and skills practice. That is crucial. They are taught a host of skills beyond just “point and shoot”. And, before someone becomes a police officer, there is a sort of screening (at least I presume there is) to be sure that the person is suited to the rigors and stress of being a police officer. The job, skills, and decision-making processes incumbent upon teachers (or school administrators) and trained police officers are dramatically different and we shouldn’t just presume that a few hours of training will equip a teacher with the skills or decision-making processes necessary to protect children in the event of a tragedy like Sandy Hook.

Furthermore, it seems to me that the decision of whether to have armed guards — and the number and sort of guards involved — is best left to local school administrators with input from parents … and students. Thankfully, it seems that at least some members of Indiana’s General Assembly share this view and the bill currently being considered may, apparently, be changed from a requirement to an option.

But let’s consider some other issues, too, just in case the requirement language isn’t removed.

It’s worth noting at the outset that Columbine High School had an armed security guard but that fact didn’t prevent the massacre that occurred there. Virginia Tech had an entire SWAT team. So we shouldn’t assume that the presence of some kind of security guard — or even properly trained police — will be sufficient to prevent or even lessen the severity of the next school shooting (and just how sick is that I have to write that as “next” with the almost certainty that it will happen again).

What will the cost be to the schools to have armed teachers or security guards (who aren’t police)? Include in these costs not just the weapon but also the training costs and likely increases in insurance. At a time when we’re making schools cut back on all sorts of programs and when we’re allowing class sizes to increase rather than hiring more teachers, how are schools supposed to absorb these additional costs? Maybe they can cut out music or art or just fire a few more teachers.

What do we do when the teacher assigned to be the school security officer is sick or on vacation? Does each school need to actually have two armed “guards”? Actually, schools probably will need more than one armed guard. After all, except for the smallest of schools, most probably have multiple entrances through which an armed assailant could enter. Won’t schools need a guard to protect each of those entrances? And if the guard is actually a teacher, how do we expect that teacher to respond to an event occurring elsewhere in the school, especially if it’s a large school? And do you want to the teacher with responsibility for your child to be the one teacher in the school expected to race out to confront the gunman? While other teachers are locking their doors, escorting children out of the building to safety, or hiding where they can, your child’s teacher will have to leave the kids behind to go in search of a lunatic with gun.

And what, do you suppose, will be the ratio of “bad guys stopped” to children (or other teachers) accidentally shot by school security guards? You might take a few minutes to search online for just how many people are killed accidentally by gunfire. How many accidental shootings will be too many? Do you think that your children will be safer … or at greater risk?

You might also ask yourself whether that armed guard will be present for all school-related activities. Will there be an armed guard at the football and basketball games? What about the cross country meet or the choir performance? Will the armed guard be outside at recess to protect the playground or inside protecting other students?

Furthermore, why just public schools? I mean, hey, my kids go to a public school, so yeah, but if your kid goes to a private school then either your tuition just went up (to pay for an armed guard) or your kid’s school just moved a few slots up on the list of preferred targets. I mean, if my school is required to have a guard and your school isn’t required to have one…

Should colleges also be required to have armed guards? Is that one armed guard for the entire college or maybe one per building? Or maybe we should just require every college student to go to class packing heat. For that matter, why can’t 18-year-olds in high school take a gun with them? I mean, if we want to have guns in the schools to make them safer, then won’t armed students help? It’s my understanding that in Indiana an 18-year-old can get a concealed carry license (not to mention join the Army); so why can’t that kid take his gun to school as a sort of backup to the school’s armed guard. Maybe we should even think about arming elementary school hall monitors. You know, just in case. What? That idea doesn’t make you think your kids will be safer? Hmm.

Oh, and does anybody find it ironic that Republican dominated state legislatures like the Indiana General Assembly go after public schools, public school teachers, and teachers unions … but are willing to task those same public school teachers with the job of protecting students from armed assailants. They don’t trust the teachers to teach, just to shoot the bad guys?

What kind of weapon are we going to give to these school protection officers? Pistols? Remember that many (if not most) of the recent mass shootings have involved assault weapons with high capacity magazines. Query the effectiveness of a moderately trained person with a pistol up against a lunatic with an assault weapon and body armor. Of course, we could always provide the teacher with a machine gun and body armor, too. Maybe some grenades. Perhaps we should even have the children wear body armor to school. Just in case. Perhaps instead of giving kids iPads or books for school, we could provide them with bulletproof Disney princess or Avengers backpacks (apparently sales have been brisk since Sandy Hook):


And why just schools? I mean, once schools are locked down with armed guards, won’t places like playgrounds or athletic fields become prime targets for wannabe school shooters? We’ve also seen mass shootings in movie theaters. So I suppose that we should require every theater to have an armed guard too. Again, though, the question becomes whether that is one guard per theater building or one per screen in the giant cineplexes.

What about shopping malls? It would seem that we might want to think about armed guards there too, and I don’t mean Paul Blart and his Mall Cop buddies.

Post offices seem like prime places for mass shootings, too, so we probably need to expand the budget of the Postal Service to allow for armed guards.

The more that I think about the issue, it seems like the more places that we protect with armed guards, the more that we’re just shifting the best soft targets of opportunity to other places where people gather. Maybe we should just put an armed guard in all public places where people might gather. Like parks. Green spaces. Public speeches. Places to which we send firefighters. And street corners.

Yep. That’s what will keep us safe. Let’s put an armed guard on every street corner, in every park, in every post office, in every theater, at every door in a shopping mall, and at every door to every school in the country. And, just in case, maybe we should require that everyone be armed everywhere they go, all the time. You know, just in case the armed guard is on a bathroom break or crumbles under the stress of a live shooting incident. I think guns everywhere we look will make us all much safer, don’t you? Maybe we could even erect guard towers along our streets and at the perimeters of each park or public area; we could arm them with our most advanced anti-personnel weaponry. You know, just in case. Maybe even some drones patrolling our skies, just watching for the lunatic with the gun.

Or, perhaps, we could address how readily available guns are and aim to reduce the number of guns in our society. Perhaps if we increased the efficacy of our background check system, fewer people who shouldn’t have guns would have access to them and the killing potential they represent. Perhaps if we reduced the availability of the deadliest weapons and the capability of destruction and mayhem that they offer, the toll of mass shootings, when they occur, would be lessened.

I don’t think that the answer to school shootings is to put more guns in more schools. I think that answer is to find ways to have fewer guns on our streets.

You might also consider the following: The push to have an armed guard in every school comes from the National Rifle Association. What is the principal role of the NRA? To help gun manufacturers sell more guns.

And let me leave you with one final set of queries: If Indiana (or your state) adopts a law requiring guns in schools or, perhaps, authorizing teachers to carry concealed firearms, would you want to know if your child’s teacher is, in fact, armed? Should you have the right to know if your child’s teacher is armed? Should you have the right to demand that your child be assigned to a teacher who is not armed (or, I suppose, to the teacher who is armed)? And, should there be an unfortunate mistake and a child is accidentally wounded or killed by a school security officers, should the state’s tort claims limit apply to limit the amount that could be recovered to compensate for that child’s injuries or life?

If you don’t think that Indiana should require that every school have an armed guard, please call your legislator and let him or her know what you think. And if the decision is made to give schools the right to have armed teachers, please be sure to let your local school board know your thoughts on that as well.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

North Carolina Republicans Want the Right to Establish a State Religion

Just how far to the right have some elected Republicans lurched? I’ve already written about bills to give states the right to nullify federal laws that they don’t like (The Stupid Just Keeps Getting More and More Stoopid (part 1)) or to require federal agents to get permission from local sheriffs before executing on federal warrants or making arrests for federal crimes (The Stupid Just Keeps Getting More and More Stoopid (part 2)). I’ve written to explain to an idiotic Congressman that yes, indeed, the Supreme Court has the power to decide what is — and isn’t —constitutional (Yes, Mr. (Idiot) Congressman, SCOTUS Does Decide if Laws Are Constitutional). I’ve written about a Missouri bill to make it a felony to introduce gun control legislation and a Montana bill to grant corporations the right to vote (More of the Stoopid). I even had to write about a bill to call for an Article V constitutional convention (The Perils of an Article V Convention). And those bills just deal with the core issues of how our governmental systems work, not with other far right issues like a requirement for multiple transvaginal ultrasounds, required recitation by students of The Lord’s Prayer (Republicans Want to Require Indiana Students to Recite The Lord’s Prayer (Redux)), paranoia of Agenda 21 (Just How Paranoid Are Some Indiana Legislators? Beware the Agenda 21 Boogeyman!) or sharia law, and other hot button targets of the right and its Republican representatives.

But now some North Carolina Republicans have decided to go yet a step further, a feat that seemed almost impossible. For them, it’s not enough to suggest that the state has the right to nullify laws that a majority of legislators don’t like (e.g., The Affordable Care Act/Obamacare). Nope. Not good enough. No, these Republicans want to undo nearly one hundred years of American constitutional jurisprudence and provide that the incorporation doctrine is barred by the Tenth Amendment. And they want to make clear that the Supreme Court does not get to decide what is and is not constitutional.

Let me parse that legal mumbo jumbo a bit. The incorporation doctrine is the notion that the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution essentially means that most of the Bill of Rights applies not just to Congress but to the states as well. The Tenth Amendment, by contrast, says that rights not specifically given to the federal government are reserved for the states. However, you’ll note that the 14th Amendment was ratified long after the Tenth Amendment. Moreover, courts have long held that the powers that are granted to Congress in the Constitution tend to be very broad, thus bringing very few things within the limitation of the Tenth Amendment.

Anyway, why, you might ask, do these North Carolina Republicans want to undo the incorporation doctrine and the Supreme Court’s role in determining the constitutionality of laws? Well that, my friends, is easy. They want to undo all that jurisprudence and the very framework upon which it is built — so that North Carolina can have its own state religion.


You read that right.

Here are the operative provisions of North Carolina Joint House Resolution 494 (the “Rowan County Defense of Religion Act of 2013):

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

Apparently, some nasty non-Christians (or perhaps “faux Christians” that believe in the separation of church and state) complained via the ACLU about the Rowan County Board of Commissioners using an overtly sectarian prayer (either referring to G-d as “the Father” or offering the prayer “in Jesus’ name”) to open sessions. The Board apparently views these prayers as “time honored traditions”. I’m wondering whether, after the conclusion of its meetings, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners goes outside to engage in the “time honored tradition” of lynching a nigger* or maybe these days it’s smearing pig’s blood on a Muslim. Good “traditional” fun, I’m told…

Now we probably shouldn’t really be surprised that a bill like this would come from North Carolina; after all, Article VI Section 8 of the North Carolina Constitution disqualifies from public office anyone “who shall deny the being of Almighty God” (even though that provision was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)). Nevertheless, just think about this proposed legislation for a minute. Some North Carolina legislators (including House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes) want to give their state the right to establish a state religion, perhaps the “Evangelical Church of North Carolina”. What would the establishment of a state religion mean, especially for those who don’t profess to follow that religion? Could North Carolina discriminate against those who aren’t members of the Evangelical Church of North Carolina (for example, different tax rates based on membership in the Church)? Could the public schools be required to teach the doctrine of the Evangelical Church of North Carolina or be prohibited from teaching “theories” that aren’t an accepted part of that doctrine (you know, like evolution, global warming, respect for diversity, gravity)? Could public school students be required to recite a daily prayer in accordance with the proper liturgy of the Evangelical Church of North Carolina? Could laws that might otherwise be improper be upheld on the basis of their fidelity to the doctrine of the Evangelical Church of North Carolina (for example, let’s say that the teachings of the Church held that inter-racial marriages were abomination or that good, G-d-fearin’ white folk shouldn’t have to hire them uppity blacks ifn they don’t wanna)?

As I’ve written posts for this blog over the last few years, I’ve been sorely tempted on many an occasion to refer to some of these far right ideologues as the “American Taliban”. For the most part, I think that I’ve managed to avoid using that highly charged phrase or comparison. But when I read about bills like this one, I have a hard time holding back from making that comparison. The Taliban are a group of religious fundamentalists that believe that they have the right or moral obligation to be sure that everyone else adheres to the their religious-based worldview. And they use violence to accomplish that. More and more often, especially with bills like this one or some of the anti-abortion legislation, the distinction between the efforts of the American right to impose their often religious-based worldview upon the rest of us differs from the Taliban only in that (so far) they haven’t resorted to violence (though threats of violence such as “Second Amendment remedies” have certainly become a part of the script).

It’s time for moderate Republicans, or perhaps Republicans who care primarily about fiscal issues and less about social issues, to recognize what their party has become … and do something about it. Otherwise, we’re going to see more and more of these sorts of legislative proposals that will drive bigger and bigger wedges between Americans and make these United States seem ever less united and more a collection of red states and blue states with fundamentally different notions of what is right, what is fair, and what is constitutional. Kind of like the situation in 1861…

Note: I wrote this post on Thursday, but didn’t have a chance to proofread and publish it then. In the hours that followed, North Carolina’s Speaker of the House “killed” the bill. That, of course, is good news. Nevertheless, I think the fact that bills like this are being proposed, let alone being co-sponsored by numerous legislators — including legislative leaders — is a truly worrying development. Thankfully, there appear to be some Republican legislators who still have a sense of … oh, I don’t know … reality? … about them (though it may be that the Speaker killed the bill, not out of a sense of what is right, but because he is considering a run for the United States Senate against a Democratic incumbent). But if the Republican party continues to move further and further to the right, how much longer will that be true?

*Yes, I used that highly offensive term on purpose, and no, I don’t know if Rowan County, North Carolina, has a history of racism or religious bigotry. But I wanted to find the easiest way to directly attack the implied discrimination or bigotry that I perceive when I see elected officials using words like “tradition” to explain away conduct that is simply wrong. And no, I don’t condone the use of racist or bigoted words like that.

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