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“I’m More Scared Of Criminals Than I Am Of Guns”: For Policymakers To Address A Problem, They Must First Understand The Problem

In the wake of this week’s shooting in Virginia of two journalists, President Obama mentioned in an interview, “What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism.” As a simple matter of arithmetic, Obama’s assessment is plainly true.

But Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie wasn’t impressed with the factual observation. “I don’t know that anybody in America believes that they feel more threatened by this than they feel a threat by ISIS or by other terrorist groups around the world,” the New Jersey governor said on Fox News.

It’s a curious approach to the debate. For Christie, the president may be right, but the facts don’t “feel” true. The governor doesn’t know anyone who actually believes the truth – statistically speaking, reality tells us Americans really are more threatened by gun violence than international terrorism – and as such, the facts are somehow less important than the perception.

But this was the line that really stood out for me.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) said Thursday that enforcing existing gun laws should take precedence over new legislation, a day after the deadly shooting of two journalists during a live broadcast.

“I’ll tell you what I am more scared of, I’m more scared of criminals than I am of guns,” the 2016 presidential contender said during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

That seems like a line that would score well with focus groups, but it doesn’t mean much.

Vox had an interesting report yesterday that pointed to an under-appreciated dynamic: “America doesn’t have more crime than other rich countries. It just has more guns.”

Wednesday’s Virginia shooting, like so many shootings before it, seems likely to raise a debate we’ve had many times before: Why does the US have such a high rate of gun murders, by far the highest in the developed world? Is it because of guns, or is there something else going on? Maybe America is just more prone to crime, say, because of income inequality or cultural differences?

A landmark 1999 study actually tried to answer this question. Its findings – which scholars say still hold up – are that America doesn’t really have a significantly higher rate of crime compared to similar countries. But that crime is much likelier to be lethal: American criminals just kill more people than do their counterparts in other developed countries. And guns appear to be a big part of what makes this difference.

Christie’s argument seems to be that criminals are the real problem – they’re the societal factor the governor is “scared of.”

But the available data tells us that the United States has so many gun deaths, not because we have more criminals, but because we have more firearms.

In order for policymakers to address a problem, they must first try to understand the problem.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 28, 2015

August 31, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Need Gun Control To Stop More Than Criminals”: Gun Violence Isn’t Only Committed By Classic Criminals

Opponents of any kind of gun restrictions argue that they are meaningless, since criminals by definition don’t follow the law, and therefore won’t allow gun laws to hamstring their criminal behavior. That’s true. But gun violence isn’t only committed by classic criminals, as recent gun-related tragedies show.

There’s the 12-year-old who apparently took a shotgun out of a musical instrument case and shot and injured two classmates at a middle school in New Mexico. His behavior would make him a criminal (and what is a 12-year-old doing with a gun?). But most likely, his classmates and teachers did not see him as your basic law-breaker. He was, the Los Angeles Times reports, a bright but distant boy. He was able to get a gun because his family is a gun family, enjoying hunting. Are they criminals? It doesn’t sound like it. The boy simply had easy access to a gun, without which he would not have been able to do the damage he has done. We don’t yet know the circumstances of the origin of the gun used, but could the tragedy have been averted had there been mandatory safety stopgaps – either on the weapon itself, or with a requirement that the guns be kept in a locked structure?

A man in Florida, meanwhile, shot and killed a fellow movie-goer after said viewer refused to stop texting. The annoyance of the shooter is more than understandable – and many of us might have no problem with grabbing a phone from a theater-goer, throwing it on the floor and stomping on it – but the fact that this man felt he could shoot and kill someone for behaving so boorishly is alarming. Is he a criminal? It didn’t sound like it, based on evidence from before the shooting. In fact, he was a retired police office with a spotless record. And early reports indicate he thought he was being threatened (turns out the “threat” may have just been thrown popcorn). The point is he had a gun, had it with him in a movie theater, and could not have killed someone if he had not had the weapon with him. If people were not allowed to carry concealed weapons into the theater, this particular tragedy may not have happened.

On Wednesday night, a gunman opened fire at an Indiana grocery store, killing two people with a semi-automatic weapon before police shot and killed the gunman. That offender may well have been a classic criminal before the episode. We may never know, as he can’t tell us his back-story. If he was a troubled person (and his behavior suggests that he was), would a simple background check have kept him from getting such a gun?

Ban guns and only criminals will have guns, we are told. Put restrictions on gun ownership, or require people to undergo background checks first, and we will only make it harder for law-abiding citizens to get guns for protection, gun rights advocates say. They are right on both counts. But it would still prevent a great many murders.

 

By: Susan Milligan, Washington Whispers, U.S. News and World Report, January 16, 2014

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In America, Being Poor Is A Criminal Offense

It takes a special kind of bully to target the most vulnerable and neediest families in society, which millionaire politicians like to argue are draining America’s treasury.  I am referring to Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), who recently introduced a bill that would require states to implement drug testing of applicants for and recipients of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  This is reminiscent of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) failed legislation last summer to drug test the unemployed and those receiving other forms of government cash assistance, which ultimately died in the Senate.  So far, Boustany’s proposal is following the same fate as Hatch’s, but around the country states are taking matters into their own hands.

In at least 30 state Legislatures across America, predominately wealthy politicians are quite impressed with themselves for considering bills that would limit the meager amount of state help given to needy families struggling to make ends meet.  Many have proposed drug testing with some even extending it to recipients of other public benefits as well, such as unemployment insurance, medical assistance, and food assistance, in an attempt to add more obstacles to families’ access to desperately needed aid.

Florida’s Legislature has passed a bill that will require welfare applicants to take drug tests before they can receive state aid.  Once signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, which is likely, all adult recipients of federal cash benefits will be required  to pay for the drug tests, which are typically around $35.  In Maine, Republican lawmakers introduced two proposals that would impose mandatory drug testing on Maine residents who are enrolled in MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income and disabled residents.  Under a similar bill that passed both the House and Senate in Missouri, recipients found to be on drugs will still be eligible for benefits only if they enter drug treatment programs, though the state wouldn’t pick up the tab for their recovery.

In Massachusetts — where about 450,000 households receive cash or food assistance — a bill introduced by state Rep. Daniel B. Winslow (R-Norfolk) would set up a program requiring those seeking benefits to disclose credit limits and assets such as homes and boats, as well as the kind of car they drive.  His reasoning is “If you have two cars and a snowmobile, then you aren’t poor. If we do this, we will be able to preserve our limited resources for those who are truly in need and weed out fraud, because we know there’s fraud and we’re not looking for it.” State Rep. Daniel K. Webster (R-Pembroke) filed a budget amendment requiring the state to verify immigration status of those seeking public benefits.  Webster made it clear that his proposal does not mean he dislikes poor people or immigrants, but “this is all unsustainable and the system is being abused.”

This is rather shocking because I can’t recall any Republicans or Democrats demanding that the CEO of Bank of America or JP Morgan disclose inventory of their vacation homes, private jets, and yachts before bailing them out in what amounts to corporate welfare.  Nor did they insist that these CEOs submit to alcohol and drug screenings before receiving taxpayer money.  No objections were made regarding the immigration status of the people running these companies or whether they happen to employ undocumented workers for cheap labor.

Some would argue that corporations are different, in that they create jobs.  To that I will point out that corporations are making record profits, even as they layoff workers and pay next to nothing in Federal income taxes.  And this doesn’t even begin to scratch at the surface of corporate abuse by the very entities that are soaked in taxpayer money.  Just contrast these proposals with the way the rich are treated in this country with billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks.

This is simply an extension of a conversation that began in 1996, when President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich passed bipartisan welfare reform, whose results have been tragic to say the least.  The 1996 Welfare Reform Act authorized, but did not require, states to impose mandatory drug testing as a prerequisite to receiving state welfare assistance.  Back then, unproven allegations of criminal behavior and drug abuse among welfare recipients were the rationales cited by those in support of the bill’s many punitive measures that were infused with race, class, and gender bias.

The majority of the proposals for drug testing require no suspicion of drug use whatsoever.  Instead they rest on the assumption that the poor are inherently inclined to immoral and illegal behavior, and therefore unworthy of privacy rights as guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment.  These proposals simply reaffirm the longstanding concept of the poor as intrinsically prone to and deserving of their predicament.  Jordan C. Budd, in his superb analysis Pledge Your Body for Your Bread: Welfare, Drug Testing, and the Inferior Fourth Amendment, demonstrates how the drug testing of welfare recipients is part of what’s called a “poverty exception” to the Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment, a bias that renders much of the Constitution irrelevant at best, and hostile at worst, to the American poor.

Kaaryn Gustafson extensively documents the trend toward the criminalization of poverty.  She demonstrates how, in her words “welfare applicants are treated as presumptive liars, cheaters, and thieves,” which is “rooted in the notion that the poor are latent criminals and that anyone who is not part of the paid labor force is looking for a free handout.”  I would argue that given the disdain that has been shown for “entitlements” over the years, it won’t be long before this treatment extends to Social Security, Medicare, and even Financial Aid recipients.

The notion that the poor are more prone to drug use has no basis in reality.  Research shows that substance use is no more prevalent among people on welfare than it is among the working population, and is not a reliable indicator of an individual’s ability to secure employment.  Furthermore, imposing additional sanctions on welfare recipients will disproportionately harm children, since welfare sanctions and benefit decreases have been shown to increase the risk that children will be hospitalized and face food insecurity.  In addition, analysis shows that drug testing would be immensely more expensive than the acquired savings in reduced benefits for addicts

With regard to welfare legislation, it’s beneficial to highlight where on the class ladder members of Congress stand.  According to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics released late last year, nearly half of the members in congress — 261 — were millionaires, compared to about 1 percent of Americans.  The study also pointed out that 55 of these congressional millionaires had an average calculated wealth in 2009 of $10 million dollars and up, with eight in the $100 million-plus range.  A more recent study released in March, found that 60 percent of Senate freshman and more than 40 percent of House freshmen of the 112th congress are millionaires.

Why is this so important?  Because very few of our lawmakers understand what it’s like to struggle financially.  Millionaires can generally afford healthcare without grappling with unemployment, foreclosure, or an empty refrigerator.  The majority of our representatives haven’t a clue what the daily lives of the people they represent are like, let alone the constant struggle of single mothers living below the poverty line.  They are constantly arguing that we all must sacrifice with our pensions, our wages, our education, the security of our communities, and with the belly’s of our children, while they sit atop heavily guarded piles of money.

With the ranks of the underclass growing and the unemployment level at a staggering 9%, it’s more clear than ever that the wealth divide between “we the people” and our representatives has caused a dangerous disconnect.  State and federal legislators claim to be acting fiscally responsible, but they support budgets that create unimaginably difficult circumstances for the lives of the most vulnerable people, especially children.  There is no question that these newest proposals amount to class warfare, and the longer we ignore it, the more it will spread.

By: Rania Khalek, CommonDreams.org, May 14, 2011

May 14, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Corporations, Economy, GOP, Gov Paul LePage, Gov Rick Scott, Government, Governors, Health Care, Income Gap, Jobs, Lawmakers, Maine, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Unemployment Benefits, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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