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“Sensible Gun Owners Should Abhor The NRA”: The NRA Has Elevated Firearms Ownership To A Religion

My father loved hunting game in the woods of rural Alabama. His idea of a good time involved getting up in the wee hours of a chilly fall morning and going out to sit for hours in a tree stand, waiting for a buck to come within range.

As a gun owner, he was not at all unusual among his friends and family members, many of whom kept pistols, rifles and shotguns. A veteran of Korea, he saw firearms as an essential tool.

But my father would not recognize today’s National Rifle Association or its many counterparts — a gun lobby that insists Americans ought to be free to carry their firearms into churches, schools, and bars. He would have thought that was a crazy idea that would make the world more dangerous, not safer.

He would have been horrified by the plague of mass shootings, the latest of which claimed nine innocent victims at Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon earlier this month. And he certainly would not have believed that the massacre could have been prevented if more of the faculty and students had been armed.

What has happened to responsible gun owners like my father? Where did the sane hunters go? Why aren’t they standing up to protest the outrageous politics of the NRA?

My father died in 1984, before the gun lobby became completely unhinged. Indeed, its political transformation into a network of firearms extremists has been so complete that many Americans don’t know that the NRA started out as an organization of sportsmen who taught marksmanship and gun safety skills.

In 1934, Karl Frederick, then NRA president, told Congress, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one. … I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

Needless to say, the NRA has all but erased, Soviet-style, that part of its history from official records. By the late 1970s, the organization had started along a path of strident advocacy that has elevated firearms ownership to a religion. The organization and its several counterparts have formed a vast political network that threatens any politician who pleads for modest regulation, that insists on arming every man, woman and child, that feeds its supporters propaganda to fuel their paranoia. Its leaders have brainwashed their followers into believing that the government wishes to confiscate all guns and subjugate citizens, a proposition too crazy to tackle rationally (so I won’t).

But responsible gun owners certainly ought to be fighting back against that nonsense and demanding sensible politics from the gun lobby that purports to represent them. Why don’t they?

By 1982, the gun lobby had become so powerful that it was able to pass legislation that prevents the federal government from keeping a database linking firearms to their owners. In other words, the sort of information readily available about vehicles or houses is not available about guns. That makes tracing firearms used in crimes much more difficult.

The gun lobby has also managed to prevent the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence as a public health hazard. As President Obama noted after the Umpqua massacre,

“We spend over a trillion dollars and pass countless laws and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil. … And, yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?”

My dad never carried a pistol on his person. He certainly didn’t think he should have one at church or at the school where he served as principal.

He didn’t want me to own a gun, either; he thought I’d be better off with a good burglar alarm and a big dog. He knew better than to think that more firearms equal enhanced safety.

What happened to sensible gun owners like him?

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, October 10, 2015

October 11, 2015 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Punishing Those With Uteruses More Severely”: The States Sending Pregnant Addicts to Jail, Not Rehab

In response to a nationwide heroin epidemic, some Cincinnati hospitals are starting a new program to test all mothers or their infants for opiates, not just those deemed to be at risk based on their background.

The program is intended to help physicians identify newborns who could suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), a group of symptoms related to drug withdrawal including excessive crying, irritability, diarrhea, and seizures. Mothers who test positive will be referred to treatment while their newborns receive extended care.

It’s a bold approach to a growing problem but it may only be effective in a state like Ohio, which, unlike many states, does not punish pregnant women who suffer from drug addictions. Women already bear the brunt of the heroin epidemic and they may face additional criminal and civil consequences if they become pregnant while using drugs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use has more than doubled among adults ages 18 to 25 in the last decade, and heroin-related overdose deaths have nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. Among women, heroin use has increased by a staggering 100 percent from 0.8 to 1.6 users per 1,000 people, as compared to a 50 percent increase among men across the same time period.

Over roughly the same time period, the prevalence of NAS has increased from 1.2 to 3.39 per 1,000 hospital births, becoming a pressing public health problem in neonatal ICUs.

In light of the spike in heroin use, the CDC recommends that states increase access to treatment for drug addiction. But some states seem to believe that the best way to help NAS newborns is by threatening their mothers with jail time instead of providing treatment and social support.

In 2014, a Tennessee law went into effect allowing pregnant women who take narcotics while pregnant to be charged with aggravated assault, which could result in a 15-year prison sentence. In so doing, the state earned the dubious honor of becoming the first to pass a specific law that would punish drug-addicted pregnant women.

Weeks after it went into effect, a 26-year-old mother who admitted to using meth before childbirth became the first woman to be charged under it.

“Hopefully it will send a signal to other women who are pregnant and have a drug problem to seek help. That’s what we want them to do,” a county sheriff told the local ABC affiliate.

But critics including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) say that such measures do not encourage women to seek help but rather discourage them from seeking prenatal care. Some medical experts even believe that legal prohibitions on pregnancy during drug use may increase abortions among women who would feel pressure to terminate their pregnancies in order to avoid prosecution.

And if Tennessee lawmakers are truly concerned about the welfare of drug-addicted pregnant women, perhaps they should consider funding a specific program to help them recover.

As it turns out, the states that punish drug-addicted pregnant women and the states that prioritize their welfare have a disappointingly narrow intersection. According to the Guttmacher Institute (PDF), 19 states have created or funded targeted drug treatment programs for pregnant women. Tennessee does not number among them. Nor do 10 of the 18 states where it is considered child abuse, although five of them do give pregnant women priority access in general programs.

Of the 15 states that require mandatory reporting to the state when substance abuse is suspected, only six have created or funded treatment programs for pregnant women.

Including Tennessee, a handful of states have gone beyond state reporting requirements and standard definitions of child abuse.

In 2013, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the conviction of two mothers who had used drugs while pregnant and ruled that drug use during pregnancy constituted chemical endangerment of a child because “the plain meaning of the word ‘child’ in the chemical endangerment statute includes unborn children.”

With this ruling, Alabama joined the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled in 1997 that a viable fetus was a “person” and that “maternal acts endangering or likely to endanger the life, comfort, or health of a viable fetus” could be considered criminal child abuse.

Neither Alabama nor South Carolina has funded specific substance abuse treatment programs for pregnant women.

Reuters reports that five other states have tried to pass legislation similar to Tennessee’s new law. In March, for example, North Carolina legislators pushed for a law that would classify drug use while pregnant as assault, a class 2 misdemeanor in the state.

But women who use drugs while pregnant have also been charged under the “fetal harm” and “fetal homicide” laws that are already found in a majority of states. Last year, a chronically depressed and uninsured Wisconsin woman named Tamara Loertscher spent 17 days in jail because clinic discovered methamphetamines and marijuana in her system when she went in for a pregnancy test. Loertscher said that she stopped using drugs as soon as she suspected she was pregnant but it was too late.

Many “fetal homicide” laws were originally intended to punish those who injured or killed pregnant women—now they are being applied to punish and demonize pregnant women themselves.

As ACOG notes, several major medical and public health organizations in the United States have argued that states should try to curtail drug and alcohol use during pregnancy through treatment rather than criminal prosecution. The American Medical Association fought the 2013 Alabama Supreme court ruling and opposes legislation that criminalizes drug use during pregnancy. And the American Psychiatric Association said in a 2001 position statement that “societal resources [should] be directed not to punitive actions but to adequate preventive and treatment services for these woman and children.”

Even new universal testing initiative in Cincinnati is not without controversy. As Reuters reports, some advocates would prefer a screening program for pregnant women to mandatory testing. But if mandatory testing can be effective anywhere, it would be in a state like Ohio where there are no criminal consequences for drug-using pregnant women, no mandatory reporting requirement, and state-funded treatment available for pregnant women.

What a novel idea: Help people recover from drug addiction instead of punishing the ones who have uteruses more severely.

 

By: Samantha Allen, The Daily Beast, August 12, 2015

August 13, 2015 Posted by | Abortion, Drug Addiction | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“To Your Health?”: The Right-Wing Belief That Food Inspection Isn’t Terribly Important And Constitutes A Waste Of Time And Money

Brother Benen and Rick Perlstein have long written about “E. coli conservatism,” the right-wing belief that food inspection isn’t terribly important and constitutes a waste of time and money. (Rachel Maddow ran a great segment in 2011 on this mentality.) “E. coli conservatism” almost rivals climate-change denial as the scariest manifestation of right-wing dementia; after all, what person in their right mind would not care about their own health, to say nothing of the health of our planet?

If the right had its way, what you eat would likely wind up eating you. A story from the Boston Globe illustrates the importance of food and restaurant inspection–and the foolishness of those who don’t take this issue seriously.

City inspectors last year found multiple instances of the most serious type of health and sanitary code violations at nearly half of Boston’s restaurants and food service locations, according to a Globe review of municipal data.

At least two violations that can cause food-borne illness — the most serious of three levels — were discovered at more than 1,350 restaurants across Boston during 2014, according to records of inspections at every establishment in the city that serves food, including upscale dining locations, company cafeterias, takeout and fast-food restaurants, and food trucks.

Five or more of the most serious violations were discovered at more than 500 locations, or about 18 percent of all restaurants in the city, and 10 or more of the most serious violations were identified at about 200 eateries.

A violation is classified under the most serious category when inspectors observe improper practices or procedures that research has identified as the most prevalent contributing factors of food-borne illness.

Examples of such infractions include: not storing food or washing dishes at proper temperatures, employees not following hand-washing and glove-wearing protocols, and evidence that insects or rodents have been near food.

Now imagine if those inspectors weren’t on the job. Imagine if some right-wing hyper-libertarian nutjob managed to convince Bostonians that the restaurants could regulate themselves, that unelected bureaucrats shouldn’t interfere in private business transactions, that government was the problem. How many Bostonians would wind up dead as a result?

Right-wing ideology can be fatal. Just how fatal? Think about this.

Food-borne illness typically causes relatively minor symptoms — the US Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 1 in 6 Americans get sick from food-borne illness each year — but it can be much more serious. An estimated 128,000 people nationwide are hospitalized because food-borne illnesses each year and 3,000 die from them.

That’s right. Because we don’t inspect enough, because we aren’t vigilant enough, because we haven’t pushed back against we-don’t-need-government! ideology enough, we suffer the equivalent of a 9/11 death toll every year.

I’d love to crack a joke about right-wing parasites, but “E. coli conservatism” is no laughing matter. Right-wing ideology is quite literally hard to stomach.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 31, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Food Borne Illness, Food Inspections, Public Health | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Pressing Public Health Problem”: The Study That Gun-Rights Activists Keep Citing But Completely Misunderstand

Few issues divide people like guns.

Just consider the starkly split response to our piece this week about how the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still had not resumed researching gun violence, two years after President Obama ordered the agency to do so.

Gun rights supporters argue the CDC shouldn’t get involved. The agency should stick to controlling and preventing disease, they say.

There’s also a healthy dose of distrust of any research the CDC might conduct – which is why the agency essentially stopped studying the issue in 1996 after the NRA accused the CDC of advocating for gun control. The resulting research ban caused a steep decline in firearms studies nationwide. As a University of Pennsylvania criminology professor explained it, “I see no upside to ignorance.”

But even that is a contentious point. So the recent article on the CDC’s continued failure to kick-start gun studies was met by wildly different responses.

Here’s Everytown for Gun Safety, Michael Bloomberg’s advocacy group.:

The CDC still isn’t researching gun violence, despite the ban being lifted two years ago http://t.co/fuEuehM7bw pic.twitter.com/PpUNWyokKT — Everytown (@Everytown) January 15, 2015

And the response is from Dana Loesch, a conservative talk show host and author of “Hands Off My Gun: Defeating the Plot to Disarm America”:

 @Everytown Seriously? Yes they did. And it wasn’t the outcome you wanted: http://t.co/SKgRhMGzhn #gunsense #MomsDemand2A — Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) January 15, 2015

Loesch’s point was echoed by many: The CDC studied gun violence in 2013, after Obama’s order, and found a wealth of facts that didn’t fit the narrative that guns are dangerous. And that’s why the study didn’t receive the attention it deserved.

An article in the New American Magazine summarized the study: “If the president was looking to the CDC report for support on how to reduce the threat of firearm-related violence through legislation restricting the rights of American citizens, he was sorely disappointed. Perhaps that’s why so few of the media have publicized the report.”

Game over, some activists declared:

@DLoesch @Everytown They need to just suck it! — Jodee (@jodeenicks) January 15, 2015

So what does the study say?

It’s hefty, running 121 pages. The title is “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence.” The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and National Research Council published it in 2013.

And the study clearly makes the case for why more gun-violence research is needed.

The CDC requested the study to identify research goals after Obama issued his January 2012 executive order. The National Academies’s study authors clearly see gun violence as a problem worth examining:  “By their sheer magnitude, injuries and deaths involving firearms constitute a pressing public health problem.”

The authors suggested focusing on five areas: the characteristics of firearm violence, risk and protective factors, interventions and strategies, gun safety technology and the influence of video games and other media. The document is peppered with examples of how little we know about the causes and consequences of gun violence — no doubt the result of an 18-year-old CDC research ban.

But gun-rights supporters zeroed on in a few statements to make their case. One related to the defensive use of guns. The New American Magazine article noted that “Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year, in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.”

So it would appear the “good use” of guns outweighs the “bad use.” That may be true, except the study says all of those statistics are in dispute — creating, in the study authors’ eyes, a research imperative.

The study (available as a PDF) calls the defensive use of guns by crime victims “a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed.” While it might be as high as 3 million defensive uses of guns each year, some scholars point to the much lower estimate of 108,000 times a year. “The variation in these numbers remains a controversy in the field,” the study notes.

The authors also say gun ownership might be good for defensive uses, but that benefit could be canceled out by the risk of suicide or homicide that comes with gun ownership. The depth of the relationship is unknown “and this is a sufficiently important question that it merits additional, careful exploration.”

Another point gun-rights activists make about the National Academies’s report is that “the key finding the president was no doubt seeking — that more laws would result in less crime — was missing.”

And they’re right. The key finding is missing. But that’s because we don’t know the answer — one way or the other.

That, some would say, is exactly why the CDC needs to conduct research.

 

By: Todd C. Frankel, The Wonk Blog, The Washington Post, January 16, 2015

January 18, 2015 Posted by | Firearms Research, Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tidings Of Comfort”: On Multiple Fronts, Government Wasn’t The Problem; It Was The Solution

Maybe I’m just projecting, but Christmas seemed unusually subdued this year. The malls seemed less crowded than usual, the people glummer. There was even less Muzak in the air. And, in a way, that’s not surprising: All year Americans have been bombarded with dire news reports portraying a world out of control and a clueless government with no idea what to do.

Yet if you look back at what actually happened over the past year, you see something completely different. Amid all the derision, a number of major government policies worked just fine — and the biggest successes involved the most derided policies. You’ll never hear this on Fox News, but 2014 was a year in which the federal government, in particular, showed that it can do some important things very well if it wants to.

Start with Ebola, a subject that has vanished from the headlines so fast it’s hard to remember how pervasive the panic was just a few weeks ago. Judging from news media coverage, especially but not only on cable TV, America was on the verge of turning into a real-life version of “The Walking Dead.” And many politicians dismissed the efforts of public health officials to deal with the disease using conventional methods. Instead, they insisted, we needed to ban all travel to and from West Africa, imprison anyone who arrived from the wrong place, and close the border with Mexico. No, I have no idea why anyone thought that last item made sense.

As it turned out, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite some early missteps, knew what they were doing, which shouldn’t be surprising: The Centers have a lot of experience in, well, controlling disease, epidemics in particular. And while the Ebola virus continues to kill many people in parts of Africa, there was no outbreak here.

Consider next the state of the economy. There’s no question that recovery from the 2008 crisis has been painfully slow and should have been much faster. In particular, the economy has been held back by unprecedented cuts in public spending and employment.

But the story you hear all the time portrays economic policy as an unmitigated disaster, with President Obama’s alleged hostility to business holding back investment and job creation. So it comes as something of a shock when you look at the actual record and discover that growth and job creation have been substantially faster during the Obama recovery than they were during the Bush recovery last decade (even ignoring the crisis at the end), and that while housing is still depressed, business investment has been quite strong.

What’s more, recent data suggest that the economy is gathering strength — 5 percent growth in the last quarter! Oh, and not that it matters very much, but there are some people who like to claim that economic success should be judged by the performance of the stock market. And stock prices, which hit a low point in March 2009, accompanied by declarations from prominent Republican economists that Mr. Obama was killing the market economy, have tripled since then. Maybe economic management hasn’t been that bad, after all.

Finally, there’s the hidden-in-plain-sight triumph of Obamacare, which is just finishing up its first year of full implementation. It’s a tribute to the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign against health reform — which has played up every glitch, without ever mentioning that the problem has been solved, and invented failures that never happened — that I fairly often encounter people, some of them liberals, who ask me whether the administration will ever be able to get the program to work. Apparently nobody told them that it is working, and very well.

In fact, Year 1 surpassed expectations on every front. Remember claims that more people would lose insurance than gained it? Well, the number of Americans without insurance fell by around 10 million; members of the elite who have never been uninsured have no idea just how much positive difference that makes to people’s lives. Remember claims that reform would break the budget? In reality, premiums were far less than predicted, overall health spending is moderating, and specific cost-control measures are doing very well. And all indications suggest that year two will be marked by further success.

And there’s more. For example, at the end of 2014, the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which tries to contain threats like Vladimir Putin’s Russia or the Islamic State rather than rushing into military confrontation, is looking pretty good.

The common theme here is that, over the past year, a U.S. government subjected to constant bad-mouthing, constantly accused of being ineffectual or worse, has, in fact, managed to accomplish a lot. On multiple fronts, government wasn’t the problem; it was the solution. Nobody knows it, but 2014 was the year of “Yes, we can.”

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 25, 2014

December 26, 2014 Posted by | Christmas, Federal Government, Public Safety | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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