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“State-Sponsored Discrimination”: Florida House Passes Religious Exemption To Block Gay Adoptions

The Florida House on Thursday approved $690 million in tax cuts and a bill allowing residents fleeing hurricanes to carry guns without a permit, but the bill attracting the most controversy allows private adoption agencies to reject gay couples if they have a religious or moral objection.

The vote for that measure (HB 7111) was 75-38, with most Democrats opposing the bill, calling it state-sponsored discrimination.

Representative David Richardson (D-Miami Beach), likened the measure to the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans in the 1960s, citing the sit-ins at the lunch counters of Greensboro, N.C., in 1960.

“If you’re open to the public, you’re open to the public,” said Richardson, the first openly gay member of the Legislature. “If the lunch counter’s open, it’s open for everyone.”

Republicans, however, countered that forcing religious adoption agencies to either go against their consciences or shut down would ultimately lead to less opportunities for children in need of foster parents. Also, gay couples can go to another of Florida’s 82 adoption agencies if they are refused, they argued.

Representative Scott Plakon (R-Longwood), suggested lawsuits were already being lined up to restrain religious adoption agencies from refusing gay couples.

“You may disagree with their beliefs, you may even think that they’re crazy, but they are their sincerely held beliefs,” said Representative Scott Plakon (R-Longwood).

Social conservative groups put pressure on Republican legislators after the House voted last month to strike down Florida’s ban on gay adoption. An appeals court struck down the provision in 2010 and the Florida Department of Children and Families doesn’t enforce the ban, but the statute has remained on Florida’s books.

The bill still needs to pass the Senate.

Most Democrats also objected to SB 290, which would allow residents under mandatory evacuation orders to carry firearms without a concealed weapons permit up to 48 hours after the order is given.

Representative Ed Narain (D-Tampa), said the bill would bring unintended consequences, especially for black males, similar to the “stand your ground” law.

“It’s the potential combination of these two (laws) that could mix and create a deadly scenario that none of us want to imagine or even consider,” Narain said.

But Republicans in favor of the bill said it was needed to protect property during hectic evacuation periods, especially firearms that aren’t protected through permits or licenses.

“What some people in this chamber don’t understand…is that you can’t get a permit or a license for a rifle or a shotgun,” said Representative Neil Combee (R-Polk City).

The bill passed 86-26 and now heads to Governor Rick Scott’s desk.

A bill garnering more bipartisan support was HB 7141, which cuts $690 million in taxes, mostly from cable, satellite, and phone bills. The cut to the communication services tax will save TV and phone users $470 million, with the average cable user spending $100 a month saving about $43 over 12 months. The cut is a top priority for Scott.

Although some Democrats bemoaned parts of the bill cutting sales taxes on gun club memberships and providing a sales tax holiday for some firearms and ammunition on July Fourth, the bill passed 112-3.

The Senate has advanced individual tax cut bills but because of the uncertainty surrounding the Medicaid budget that the chamber is waiting to pass its preferred tax-cutting measures.

 

By: Gray Rohrer, Orlando Sentinel (TNS); The National Memo, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Florida Legislature, Open Carry Laws | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Extremism Is Dangerous”: No Panic Buttons For The Public: Why Open Carry Is Bad For America

It’s official: the phrase “open carry” has entered the American lexicon. That’s because gun extremists from Virginia to Washington to Texas and all across the country have started showing up in restaurants, state capitols, and other public places openly carrying loaded semiautomatic rifles. Occasionally donning kilts or gas masks and other attention-getting attire, these extremists look as though they are headed to battle instead of visiting their legislators or picking up milk at their local Kroger grocery store.

Why are we seeing these open carry displays more and more often? Because the radical rhetoric of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) leadership tells us that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” And that myth propels the idea that a loaded AK-47 is necessary when dining at Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, just in case you encounter a bad guy.

Thanks to the gun lobby’s insidious and formerly unchecked influence in our state legislatures, open carry is legal in more than 40 states. And in a majority of those states, it’s perfectly legal to open carry a long gun with absolutely no training, permitting, or even a minimum age requirement.

Add to that cocktail of crazy the fact that our lax federal gun laws allow criminals and other dangerous people to easily access firearms. Given that millions of guns each year are sold without a criminal background check, there is no way to know if a person who is openly carrying a semiautomatic rifle is a responsible gun owner, or if that person is a threat to moms and our children (and the gas masks don’t help either).

Law enforcement leaders have come out in opposition to open carry because it forces them to ask questions that jeopardize their ability to ensure public safety, like “Does this person have a permit? Is he a felon?” And it’s a drain on law enforcement resources as well. As this video posted by open carry extremists highlights, there is nothing normal about seeing men marching around carrying rifles; it causes genuine concern. Subsequently, when people call 9-1-1, a police officer must be dispatched and forced to deal with difficult open carry extremists.

In Texas, an open carry activist with an arrest record for interfering with police duties recently posted a video threatening Texas state legislators with death if they oppose legislation to legalize unlicensed open carry of handguns. These same gun extremists were responsible for forcing the Texas state legislature to install panic buttons in their chambers last month.

This extremism is dangerous and, not surprisingly, encouraged by NRA leaders given their support and continued push for open carry expansion. For decades, the NRA has attempted to normalize behaviors that are unsafe, and expanding open carry is simply an attempt by the gun lobby to make it acceptable for anyone to openly carry guns anywhere.

In Tennessee, the law allows permit holders to carry guns openly or concealed, but last year, the NRA sponsored legislation that would remove the permit requirement to open carry in Tennessee. This would have made it legal for stalkers and certain other criminals to openly carry loaded handguns in Tennessee, and it would be legal for anyone to openly carry a loaded gun without any gun safety training whatsoever.

But just like Rick Perry (someone I never thought I would cite as an example), who said this week that he was not “all that fond of this open carry concept,” Moms are not willing to go down the NRA’s slippery slope. We know that respecting the Second Amendment requires responsible gun ownership and practicing gun safety.

The safety of our children and families in our communities is paramount, and open carry is not a step in the right direction. We refuse to have to consider whether people who are open carrying around our children and families are members of law enforcement sworn to protect us, or if they are activists making a political statement, or dangerous criminals we should run from.

And while we wait for legislators to do their jobs instead of catering to extremists’ tantrums and pass laws that protect people instead of gun lobby profits, we expect businesses to do their part. Simply following state and local laws is not enough. In states where no background check is required to buy a semiautomatic rifle and carry it openly in public, businesses have a duty to protect their employees and customers.

This is why Moms are asking retailers like Kroger and restaurants like Raising Cane’s to prioritize customer and employee safety. And it’s why we’ve worked with other restaurants and retailers like Chipotle, Sonic, Starbucks and Target to stand up to this extremist behavior and ask their customers to leave their firearms at home.

Open carry extremists have shined a bright light on the NRA’s vision for the future of America, and it’s not pretty. Moms won’t let the concerted efforts by the gun lobby and open carry extremists to put our families and communities at risk go unchecked. With rights come responsibilities, and for the safety and security of our restaurants, state capitols, and other public places, we must push back on armed intimidation. After all, there are no panic buttons for the public.

 

By: Shannon Watts, Founder, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America;The Blog, The Huffington Post, February 13, 2015

February 14, 2015 Posted by | Gun Extremists, Gun Lobby, National Rifle Association, Open Carry Laws | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Escalating Confrontations That Go Beyond The Black Panthers”: Texas Gun Slingers Police The Police—With A Black Panthers Tactic

On any given night in Arlington, Texas, a group of open-carry activists turned self-appointed cop-watchers can be found walking by the side of the road, in safety-yellow reflector vests with cameras pointed at police. They carry “FILM THE POLICE” signs, and sometimes, in a habit that’s become of increasing concern to the officers being watched, they’re carrying guns of their own.

These armed activists’ mission—ostensibly to hold the police accountable by recording every interaction—has found new meaning in light of recent deaths of unarmed citizens like Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Indeed, members of the Texas group have adopted the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” cry popularized during protests of the men’s deaths.

The group is led in part by Kory Watkins, an Olive Garden bartender trainer and a bandwagon activist who also presides over Open Carry Tarrant County (OCTC). (He’s also the host of Open Carry Cop Watch, an Internet radio show that’s launching this week.) Chasing leads from police scanners, members of OCTC and a local faction known as Cop Block—another loosely organized group of anti-law enforcement libertarian-leaners—have been gathering in the approach to DUI checkpoints and speed traps to warn motorists of the police presence, responding in real time with cops to 911 calls, making impromptu stops to film strangers’ traffic violations, all while trolling the police they observe. (During the heckling, bacon references abound, and some cop-watchers even wear police hats with pig ears attached as they follow officers.) According to Watkins, who often carries his AK-47 while cop-watching, the group makes as many as 20 stops a session, depending on the night.

Cop-watching—the practice of observing and documenting police interactions to try to reduce brutality and civil-rights violations—was started by the Black Panther Party in Oakland in the 1960s. Panthers carrying shotguns or wearing pistols on their hips would hit the streets with law books and watch the police to demand accountability. The open carrying of guns was perfectly legal then, though laws were soon enacted to restrict the practice, due in large part to the Panthers’ enthusiastic exercising of their rights.

Today, cop-watching is back, mostly in response to killings of unarmed citizens by police and controversial policies like New York City’s stop-and-frisk. Many cop-watch organizations like to tout the Black Panthers’ origin story, but due to laws or common sense, no longer arm themselves. “Today, our cameras are our weapons,” New York City’s People’s Justice says on its site.

Not so much in Texas.

According to the Arlington Police Department, cop-watching has been going on in that city for about a year. Though early interactions were uneventful—Sgt. Jeffrey Houston told The Daily Beast both the filming of police and the open carry of firearms are “a constitutional right that the department supports”—recently, the cop-watches have been escalating in hostility and frequency and several members have been arrested.

“The police department in Arlington is out of control and keeps wrongfully arresting people for doing things that are well within their rights,” Watkins said in part of a statement provided to The Daily Beast. “It’s wasting taxpayer money and it’s violating the rights of the people.”

Jacob Cordova, 27, is the latest activist to be jailed for their activities. Cordova, an Air Force veteran who sports a Ron Paul “rEVOLution” tattoo on his right arm and flashes a peace sign in his Facebook photos, was on patrol last Saturday as a part of the Tarrant County Peaceful Streets Project when, according a two-minute video of the event, he was arrested. “[For] a pre-1899 black powder pistol, which isn’t against the law. I want them to,” he says as two cops approach. The arresting officer says, “You’re not allowed to have a firearm. I’ve asked you to put it up.” Though the gun is actually legal in Texas, which allows the open carry of long guns and certain antique revolvers, Cordova was taken into custody and charged with the misdemeanor of interfering with public duties.

According to police, Cordova drove up to a traffic stop, got out of his car, and began yelling at officers and pulling up his vest to show them he was armed.

“When you see somebody being aggressive, interfering with a stop, and armed with a deadly weapon, the officer can’t just ignore that,” Sgt. Houston said.

Open-carry activists are known for baiting cops into on-camera arguments about the Second Amendment and state laws. And Cordova has had his share of run-ins with authorities, including an ill-advised attempt to issue a citizen’s arrest for a police officer for double parking.

Arlington police say they’re gotten used to open-carry activists, and even the biggest firebrands among the cop-watch crowd. “It’s the combination that creates an enhanced threat to officer safety,” said Tiara Richard, a spokeswoman for the Arlington Police Department.

Cordova refused to comment on the officer’s allegations—he and others in the group are reluctant to talk with reporters about Cordova’s arrest or their cop-watching activities—but wrote in a Facebook chat with me, “What you see on the video is what you get.” The posted video, however, starts conveniently just before the officers arrest him and leaves out any possible inciting incident by Cordova.

Cordova’s arrest was the second of the night for the cop-watch gang. The first was 26-year-old Pablo Frias, who showed up to record as police responded to a 911 call for a woman had been threatened with a rifle. According to police, Frias got into a disagreement with a bystander at the scene. “Officers had to go stop an elderly lady from being assaulted,” Sgt. Houston said. Frias—who was arrested in 2013 for interfering with public duties and public intoxication—was not carrying a gun at the time.

In September, Watkins; his wife, Janie Lucero; and Joseph Tye, a leader of Texas Cop Block, were arrested on charges related to interfering with a traffic stop. Later, Lucero posted photos online of bruises to her arms, alleging she’d been manhandled by police.

The ratcheting cop-watches and arrests come at a time of anti-police sentiment and heightened concern over officers’ safety. An Arlington PD spokesman noted that in the last fortnight, two New York officers were shot dead in their car, two Los Angeles officers were shot at as they responded to a call, and an officer in Florida was shot and killed responding to a noise complaint.

“It’s a real threat,” Sgt. Houston said.

“We don’t mind them cop-watching. Just leave your guns in the car. Leave your guns at home,” Lt. Christopher Cook told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

But such a bargain seems unlikely. Certified letters from the Arlington Police Department requesting a meeting with the cop-watch and open-carry groups have been denied and ignored. Responding to Cordova’s arrest, cop-watch leader Watkins posted a video doubling down: “You disobey the oath that you took and you kidnap and harass citizens who are well within their rights and this is what you get: pissed off patriots. And it ain’t going anywhere.”

 

By: Brandy Zadrozny, The Daily Beast, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2015 Posted by | Cop Watching, Open Carry Laws, Police Abuse | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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