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“Want Fewer Murders? Tax Guns and Ammo”: An Approach That Other Municipalities Could Adopt

With a new national push to combat gun violence, the city of Seattle has begun to tax firearms and ammunition in an audaciously creative way to get around Second Amendment protections on guns. The tax has passed its first court test, signaling an approach that other municipalities could adopt, with a $25 tax on every firearm sold in the city, 2 cents on every round of .22 caliber ammunition, and a 5-cent tax for every other round of ammunition.

The tax went into effect on Jan. 1 after surviving a challenge from the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups when King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Rubinson ruled in December that Seattle has the “constitutional and legislative authority to impose taxes”—which, as she noted, is separate from the city’s ability to regulate guns.

City attorney Pete Holmes was initially surprised the NRA didn’t ask for a stay in the judge’s ruling when filing its appeal Monday in state court.  If the NRA sought constitutional relief, they would have appealed in federal court. But, from a legal standpoint, this isn’t about the Constitution. “Everybody assumes this is about the Second Amendment, but it’s not, and that’s the story,” Holmes told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview.

“No one is telling you that you can’t own or buy a gun,” says Holmes. “We believe we are in a safe haven. We’re not regulating guns; we’re simply adding a tax.”

In Seattle, satisfying the Second Amendment is easier for gun-safety advocates than clearing “State Preemption,” a legislative barrier that the NRA employs to block gun-safety regulation in some three-dozen states, including Washington. It’s a short statute the gun rights lobby writes and then muscles through state legislatures; it says no other body, such as the municipal authorities in cities like Seattle, can regulate firearms. The NRA’s Institute of Legal Action (ILA) churns out the statutes and lawmakers in state after state are happy to oblige.

And with so many state legislatures wholly owned subsidiaries of the NRA, it’s an effective maneuver. Holmes says it was the undoing of an executive order issued two Seattle mayors ago banning firearms in city playgrounds and parks. The Court overturned the ban not under the Second Amendment but under State Preemption.

So it is a big deal in Seattle that this modest tax is in place, and that the money it generates will go toward compiling data about gun violence and putting targeted intervention programs in place. After the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre of first-graders, Seattle funded a study that found people with gunshot wounds treated at Harbor View Hospital, the regional trauma center, are 30 percent more likely to return with another gunshot, or as a homicide victim.

The study was the first of its kind done by a city, and researchers found parallels with alcohol-related injuries in the early 1990s. Spending 20-30 minutes with patients injured in such incidents before releasing them to talk about risk and their chances of being readmitted paid off in lower re-admittance rates.

That is now considered Best Practices in all trauma centers when it comes to alcohol. So could Seattle do the same for gunshot victims? It was worth a shot, and when the seed money ran out for the gun-violence victim research and intervention program, then-City Council President Tim Burgess, a former Seattle police officer, proposed the gun-violence tax to fund continued efforts.

Not all proponents of gun regulation are fully supportive of the Seattle tax. Ralph Fascitelli, Board President of Washington Ceasefire and a longtime gun-safety advocate, praises the tax as a “good morale boost” but says it is “more symbolic than significant” because gun buyers can easily avoid the tax by going outside the city limits for their purchases.

He would also rather see the money raised go toward smart-gun technology than more research. Noting that his organization has given its “civic leader of the year” award to both Burgess and Holmes, he says, “They’re doing the best they can, but they’re like Houdini in a straitjacket—getting oxygen at sea level is success.”

Asked for his response to the criticism, Burgess notes that the tax will raise $300,000 to $500,000 a year to fund research and prevention programs, which is hardly chump change. And while his friend Fascitelli argues smart guns are prevention, “we’re not there yet,” says Burgess.

Also, if people are counting, many millions are spent each year in uncompensated care at Harbor View to care for gunshot victims, and there’s no tax anybody dares to imagine at this point that would cover that.

Seattle, like every city in America, is “awash in guns,” says Holmes. “We’re looking to do something to help reduce what is a public health issue.” Automobile deaths are second to gun deaths in America for the first time in part, he says, because as a society we treated car accidents as a problem we could solve. He’d like to see the same approach to guns.

“I’m a hayseed from Virginia,” Holmes says. “I go hunting; I was on the skeet and trap team in college. I own guns. I want to be able to talk to my friends from the rural areas and tell them if you want an AR-15 in the country, you probably won’t be doing much damage.”

Washington is an open-carry state, but when a bunch of people with loaded AR-15’s showed up at the state’s annual gay pride parade, Holmes says that “spoiled the parade and alienated a lot of people.”

That’s the kind of behavior that can get states with a deeply engrained pro-gun culture to embrace new regulations. Washington passed a ballot measure in 2014 expanding background checks. Gun groups protested the new law by coming to the state capitol in Olympia, brandishing their guns and loudly objecting until the lieutenant governor banned bringing guns into the state house.

Common-sense gun laws are the new refrain, and while they don’t go far enough for some people, they look more achievable than they have in a long time. More regulations are inevitable, and the question now is how many cracks will it take in the NRA’s façade for its cloak of invincibility to crumble.

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, January 7, 2016

January 8, 2016 Posted by | Ammunition Taxes, Firearms Taxes, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republicans’ Do-Nothingness On Guns”: Assuming A Superior Posture Of Purposeful Neglect

It is axiomatic that congressional Republicans will oppose anything smacking of “gun control,” which may as well be read as “ your mama.”

Thus, it comes as no surprise that President Obama’s announcement of executive actions to clarify and enhance federal gun laws prompted reflexive, hyperbolic responses from the right.

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said “Obama is obsessed with undermining the Second Amendment,” while Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) averred, “We don’t beat the bad guys by taking away our guns. We beat the bad guys by using our guns.”

Spoken like a true Canadian-born Texan who has been busy burnishing his “outsider” Outdoor Guy image. What’s next? Cruz drinking the warm blood of a freshly slain (unarmed) beast?

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) criticized the president for a “dangerous level of executive overreach” and for circumventing congressional opposition — as though Congress has been working feverishly to reduce gun violence. Rather, Republicans focus their laser beams on Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s political motivations, shocking to none, and remind us that we already have enough gun laws.

This may well be true, but couldn’t we stand to tweak them a bit? Or, perhaps, enforce them? And isn’t it possible to reduce the number of guns in the wrong hands without surrendering our Second Amendment rights or invoking the slippery slope of government confiscation?

Of course it is — and we can.

Obama made an artful and poignant counterargument to the usual objections Tuesday during a news conference at the White House. He reminded those gathered, including many who have lost family members to gun violence, that other people also have rights — the right to peaceable assembly and the right to practice their religion without being shot.

In fairness to the gun lobby, which may not deserve such charity, one can understand reservations about limiting access to guns. What is less easily understood is the refusal of Republicans to take the reins of any given issue and do something constructive rather than invariably waiting to be forced into the ignoble position of “no.”

It is one thing to be in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. It is another to do nothing and then assume a superior posture of purposeful neglect, as though do-nothingness were a policy and smug intransigence a philosophy.

The steps Obama is trying to take won’t save every life, but they seem minimally intrusive and could have significant effects. Summarizing briefly, he’s clarifying existing law and more tightly defining “gun dealer” in order to impose broader background checks; upgrading technology for improved information-sharing and safer guns; increasing relevant workforces to speed up background checks; and closing loopholes that have allowed criminals to buy guns online and elsewhere with a separate set of rules. Or no rules.

Giving the FBI more resources to modernize its system will help. So will giving $500 million to mental- health services aimed at keeping guns away from people determined to hurt themselves or others.

Requiring shippers to report stolen guns will also be helpful — and investing in smart -gun technology could be a game changer. As Obama said, tearing up at the mention of the Sandy Hook shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders, if we can keep children from opening aspirin bottles, surely we can prevent their pulling the trigger on a gun.

As for expanding background checks, only the criminal or the suicidal object to waiting a day or two before taking home a gun. And if the government doesn’t complete the process within three days, seller and buyer can proceed anyway.

What concerns most people, meanwhile, are those weapons, especially semiautomatics with large magazines, whose only purpose is to kill people. Many argue that no current law could have prevented any of the mass shootings in recent years, but is this sufficient justification for doing nothing when doing something could make a difference we may never know about — the child who didn’t die because new technology prevented him from firing a pistol? The Islamic State-inspired terrorist who didn’t murder holiday revelers because he failed an online background check?

Obama’s actions won’t go unchallenged, needless to say. And much political hay will be threshed, bundled and sold to Republican primary voters in the meantime. But GOP voters should be as skeptical of those ringing the gong of doom as they have been of Obama. In a civilized society, more guns can’t be better than fewer.

 

By: Kathleen Parker, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 5, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Congressional Republicans, Gun Control, Gun Deaths | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Murderous Minds Are Here To Stay”: Altering Gun Laws Isn’t An Absolute Answer, But It’s Change Within Our Control

What made a young couple walk into a health facility and start shooting people? It wasn’t our gun laws. It wasn’t the easy ability to purchase a weapon in this country.

If such things made people killers, all Americans would be killers. In that narrow way, gun advocates who bristle at any change after the San Bernardino killings are right.

No one makes you pull a trigger.

But if you stop the argument there, you’re being naive — as naive as saying no one makes you abuse drugs, no one forces you to drink and drive, no one tells you to give your money to phony investment advisors. Yet we have laws regarding all those things.

Laws, smartly written, address the dangers facing a society. The item in question should be less important than the threat.

But our biggest gun law was written 224 years ago, and it remains mostly about that — guns, and the ownership of them. It’s not about bad behavior, murderous thoughts or anything else that guns frequently exacerbate. We have been arguing over this law, the Second Amendment, for centuries.

But we don’t touch it. Because it’s part of our Constitution. Because it’s cherished by many. And because, supporters argue, it’s not the law that makes people put on vests, drop their baby at a relative’s house, then go on a mass murder spree and die.

That’s a sick mind.

And you can’t legislate against a sick mind.

Recently, the New York Times ran its first front page editorial in nearly 100 years. It called for the end of the “gun epidemic.” Before that, the New York Daily News, in criticizing lawmakers who offered prayers for victims but no new legislation, ran the headline “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.”

Naturally, both papers were buried in insults, dismissed as “typical liberals,” and argued against with an avalanche of selected facts and figures that make the case for doing nothing — or for arming more Americans, not fewer. President Obama, calling for tougher gun laws, was shouted down by a well-practiced chorus of critics, who cynically noted, “How’s it working for Paris?”

But being loud and being right are two different things. It’s always easier to scream against change than to create it. Especially since what change would be 100 percent effective? If we banned every gun in the country, some criminals would still get their hands on them, or use bombs instead, etc.

But is that a reason to watch the next whacked out fundamentalist go freely into a U.S. gun shop, legally purchase guns designed for quick, multiple killings, then use them on fellow citizens to go out in a blaze of infamy?

Because you know it will happen again.

I don’t have a fast answer for this. Nor do I have the energy or stomach to argue with hate-spewing people who are so mesmerized by gun possession they won’t budge an inch. It’s pointless.

But I do take issue with those who refuse to accept that mass killings with assault weapons fall under the same category as a hunter wanting to go after ducks. Yes, we have had guns in this country since its inception, but we have not had other things: a media that sensationalizes violence on a global scale, a population that feels alienated, video entertainment that numbs you to murder and a Internet that can connect all these elements with warped minds that see death as a badge of honor.

I’m pretty sure if America in 1791 had IEDs, jihads and YouTube, our Second Amendment wouldn’t read the way it does. But we cling to words written 224 years ago in a world that changes by the blink. This fact remains: people without a previous criminal history can make their first bad deed a doozy with legally purchased American guns, and killing them once they do only speeds up what many of them hope for: a sensationalized death. This is not limited to Islamic fundamentalists. Mass shootings in Colorado Springs (three dead), Oregon (nine dead) and Charleston, S.C. (nine dead) — all in the last six months — had nothing to do with Islam.

We can leave gun laws untouched, but something else will eventually give: maybe surveillance on every home and business; metal detectors on every door frame; random interrogations, sweeping immigration reform, airborne snipers, rounding up of particular religions. All things that will make America look a lot less like America than if its people were a little less armed.

Our choice. But sick, murderous minds are here to stay. How easy we make it for them is the only thing we can control.

 

By: Mitch Albom, The National Memo, December 30, 2015

December 30, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Gunsense, Gunshow Loopholes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Down In The NRA Bunker”: NRA TV; A Day In The Life Of An American Gun Nut

Wayne LaPierre stood in front of an artificial backdrop the color of a cartoon midnight sky. He was dressed like a funeral conductor, in a black suit, white shirt and dark purple tie, but he looked like the corpse. Beneath his rimless glasses and permanently-furrowed brow, his face was hollow and his skin was gray, perhaps an effect of the grim topic he was preparing to broach.

“You and I didn’t choose to be targets in the age of terror,” he said.

“But innocents like us will continue to be slaughtered in concert halls, sports stadiums, restaurants and airplanes. No amount of bloodshed will ever satisfy the demons among us.”

As he spoke, an aria fit for a horror movie played in the background, making his message feel all the more dire, like an end-of-days commercial you might see on some far-flung channel in the middle of the night in between ads for Snuggies and home gyms.

“When evil knocks on our doors, Americans have a power no other people on the planet share: the full-throated right to defend our families and ourselves with our Second Amendment,” he said. “Let fate decide if mercy is offered to the demons at our door.”

LaPierre is the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and this one-minute ad, released on November 30, after the Paris terror attacks, is part of the NRA’s effort to attract more members with commonsense fear-mongering as mass shootings—two in the last few weeks alone, in Colorado and California—and one-off, viral gun deaths—like the case of a 9 year old girl who accidentally shot her instructor in the head with an Uzi—threaten to tar the group’s reputation in the eyes of a incessantly-shaken public.

In 2014, the NRA unveiled plans to launch its own television network of sorts—a series of programs available “anytime and anywhere on your computer, tablet or mobile phone, or web-connected TV via browser, YouTube or Roku streaming player” that would allow people to see how empowering, fun and not-murderous gun culture can be.

NRA News, as it’s called, bills itself as “the most comprehensive video coverage of Second Amendment issues, events and culture anywhere in the world,” but it doesn’t feel of this world at all. It feels like how TV might be in a dystopian future where citizens hoard weapons inside their chrome hover-trailers, which they leave only to restock on Soylent and return to with a sunburn.

The network is broken up into different categories:

Commentary, from a varied cast including LaPierre, right-wing radio host Dana Loesch and Colion Noir (not his real name), a young black man who wears baseball hats, hates “political correctness and dishonesty” and, before being discovered by NRA News, had achieved minor YouTube fame with his pro-gun rants.

Investigative, which has a familiar-sounding show called “Frontlines” that covers things like how America’s energy infrastructure is vulnerable to terror attacks or, in the frantic words of NRA News, “The Fight For Light: The Coming Catastrophe.”

Lifestyle, which houses a vaguely-porny series called “Love At First Shot” that follows youngish women as they learn to shoot firearms for the first time with the instruction of other youngish women (sample description: “Julie Golob is about to show 21-year-old Kaytlin that with the proper instruction and safety in place, she can shoot large calibers with ease).

Profiles, home of “Armed & Fabulous” which, in episode 4, documented the life of Sandra Sadler, who looks like your average grandma except when she’s holding a dead animal by the antlers. She has, the narrator said, “a deep appreciation for the outdoors.”

Campaigns, another channel for the ads like LaPierre’s.

And History, which airs “The Treasure Collection,” the “Antiques Roadshow” of NRA News.

The videos are beautiful and slick, in the style of modern presidential campaign commercials or global warming documentaries. On YouTube, where over 200 of them are posted, they accumulate thousands of views. The clip of LaPierre has over 100,000. (The number of viewers for the shows on the NRA News website is not available, and the NRA did not immediately reply to a request for that information).

Aesthetics aside, the videos are attractive because in life inside NRA News, there are Good Guys and Bad Guys, Cops and Robbers, Freedom-Lovers Like Us and the godforsaken Them. Things are, apparently, simple when you are packing heat.

To the NRA, everything is black and white—but mostly white. Almost everyone featured on NRA News is white, except for Noir, David A. Clarke, a sheriff in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin who became a minor right-wing celebrity by attacking President Obama and Al Sharpton after the Ferguson protests and was featured in a video the NRA posted on 9/11 called “My Honor” (oddly, the NRA didn’t include Clarke’s name in the video, leaving it up to YouTube commenters to identify him), and an elderly woman whose name the NRA also did not include who, in a video titled “My Rights,” said she needed a gun because she lived in government housing where “gang-bangers walk down our halls every day.”

But it’s up against the NRA’s alternative universe of gun-slinging girls and mostly-white patriots in suits who want to preserve your rights that a different narrative is fighting competitively.

On Sunday night, from the Oval Office, Obama used an address about terrorism to condemn gun culture. “We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino,” he said. “I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies—no matter how effective they are—cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do—and must do—is make it harder for them to kill.”

Obama’s speech came a day after The New York Times ran an editorial on its front page, titled “End the Gun Epidemic in America,” which called for the “outlawing” of “certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition.”

Conservatives reacted in fury. Erick Erickson, the right-wing radio host, sprayed his copy of The Times with 7 bullets and posted a photo of the remains on Twitter, where it currently has over 1,000 retweets.

The Times editorial came a day after The New York Daily News ran a cover with a photo of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, above a row of white men: 4 of them mass shooters, one of them LaPierre. Farook was a terrorist, the News conceded, “(But so are these guys…AND this guy).”

On NRA TV on Monday, Cam Edwards, the burly red-headed, bearded host of Cam & Co (sponsored by Nosler, the ammunition manufacturer) nearly filled 3 hours of airtime with talk of the anti-gun elites in the media.

With the Times op-Ed, Edwards said, “they’ve let the mask slip. They’ve let their intentions be known.”

Behind Edwards, there was a sign which read, “KEEP CALM AND EAT BACON.”

Only in the universe of NRA TV does such serenity—punctuated by bouts of paranoia—seem possible.

 

By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, December 8, 2015

December 9, 2015 Posted by | 2nd Amendment, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association, NRA News, Wayne LaPierre | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hysteria About Refugees, But Blindness On Guns”: There’s An Unrelenting Average Of 92 Gun Deaths Every Day In America

For three weeks American politicians have been fulminating about the peril posed by Syrian refugees, even though in the last dozen years no refugee in America has killed a single person in a terror attack.

In the same three weeks as this hysteria about refugees, guns have claimed 2,000 lives in America. The terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs were the most dramatic, but there’s an unrelenting average of 92 gun deaths every day in America, including suicides, murders and accidents.

So if politicians want to tackle a threat, how about developing a serious policy to reduce gun deaths — yes, including counterterrorism measures, but not simply making scapegoats of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The caricatures of Syrian refugees as jihadis who “want to kill us,” as one reader named Josh tweeted me, are unrecognizable to anyone who spends time with these refugees. I think some of the harshness might melt if readers could stand with me on a beach here in Lesbos and meet the refugees as they arrive on overloaded rubber rafts after a perilous journey. The critics would see that Syrian refugees are people like us, only wet, cold, hungry and exhausted.

If you think me naïve, meet a 16-year-old Syrian boy here whom I’ll call Ahmed. He lived in a part of Syria controlled by the Islamic State and decided to flee to the West after, he says, he was flogged by ISIS bullies.

Ahmed had to leave his family behind, and he can’t contact them directly for fear of getting them in trouble. I’m not sharing his real name or hometown, to avoid harming his family, but his relatives who have also fled confirmed his account.

Schools have been suspended since ISIS moved into the area, so Ahmed found a job in a pharmacy. When he ran out of a medicine one day, he went to borrow some from another pharmacy — but that was run by a woman, allowed to serve female customers only. Ahmed was arrested.

“They wanted to chop my head off because I spoke to a woman,” Ahmed explained.

Eventually, he was released, but Ahmed has seen more beheadings then he can count. The executions take place every Friday in the town square, and all the people are summoned to watch the swordsman do his work. The bodies are left on public display, sometime in a crucifixion position.

“If someone didn’t fast during Ramadan, they put him in a cage in public to starve for up to three days,” Ahmed added. Ahmed himself was accused of skipping prayers and sentenced to 20 lashes. A Saudi man administered the flogging with a horsewhip.

After that, Ahmed’s family members gave their blessing to his flight because they feared that he might be forced into the ISIS army.

So what should I tell this 16-year-old boy who risked his life to flee extremism? That many Americans are now afraid of him? That the San Bernardino murders may only add to the suspicion of Syrian refugees? That in an election year, politicians pander and magnify voter fears?

Here in Lesbos, the fears seem way overdrawn. Some of the first aid workers Syrian refugees meet when they land on the beach are Israeli doctors, working for an Israeli medical organization called IsraAID. The refugees say they are surprised, but also kind of delighted.

“We were happy to see them,” said Tamara, a 20-year-old Syrian woman in jeans with makeup and uncovered hair. The presence of Jews, Muslims and Christians side by side fit with the tolerance and moderation that she craved.

The Republicans are throwing mud against the wall, hoping that enough of it will stick to take the focus off of the common denominator in…

Iris Adler, an Israeli doctor volunteering with IsraAID, said the refugees were often excited to receive assistance from Israelis. “We are still in close touch with many of them,” she said, including a mother whose baby she delivered on the beach after landing. Hostility to Israeli aid workers, she said, came not from refugees but, rather, from some European volunteers.

Historically, we Americans have repeatedly misperceived outsiders as threats. In 1938 and again in 1941, one desperate Jewish family in Europe tried to gain refugee status in the United States but failed, along with countless thousands of others. That was Anne Frank’s family.

So while it was the Nazis who murdered Anne, we Americans were in some sense complicit.

“We’re facing a great threat from Islamic extremists like ISIS, and we need to be smart about how we confront it,” said Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, who has focused on refugees. “By humiliating and rejecting those who are fleeing from ISIS, we create a sense of anger in much of the Middle East. The ultimate outcome of rejecting Syrian refugees is a propaganda victory for ISIS.”

If politicians want to tackle a threat to our safety, they might cast an eye not far off on desperate refugees but closer to home — on potential terrorists and also on guns. It’s absurd that the Senate refused to block people on the terror watch list from buying guns; suspected terrorists can’t easily board planes but can buy assault rifles? Presidential candidates and governors should stop fear-mongering about refugees: After all, 785,000 refugees have been admitted to the United States since 9/11 and not one has been convicted of killing a person in a terrorist act in America.

“We, too, are human, and we have a right to live,” an 18-year-old woman named Rahaf, who wants to be a lawyer, told me on a drizzly day in a camp here. “We’re not terrorists. We’re running away from war. I just want to have children who can grow up in peace.”

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 5, 2015

December 6, 2015 Posted by | Gun Deaths, Syrian Refugees, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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