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“How To ‘Make It Stop'”: A New Assault Weapons Ban, Written For The Realities Of 2016

Almost four years ago in Newtown, the victims were mostly children – first graders. Last weekend, the victims were mostly LGBT adults at a night club. But the one thing they all had in common is that their deaths were the result of an assault weapon in the hands of a deranged killer. Today the Boston Globe – in a bold statement – says simply, “Make it Stop.”

In this country, the federal government limits duck hunters to weapons that carry only three shells, to protect the duck population. But you can buy an assault weapon in seven minutes and an unlimited number of bullets to fire with it. For every McDonald’s in the United States, there are four federally licensed gun dealers and an untold number of unregulated private dealers who can legally sell an unlimited number of guns out of their homes, backpacks, and car trunks without requiring a criminal background check or proof of ID.

These weren’t the guns, and this wasn’t the America, that the Founders foresaw. That is why we need a new assault weapons ban, written for the realities we face in 2016.

For those of us who were already convinced, the Globe also asserts that any action on an assault weapons ban is likely to begin in the Senate. They give us the names of 6 senators who stand in the way:

Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)

Richard Burr (R-NC)

Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

Ron Johnson (R-WI)

Rob Portman (R-OH)

Of course there are other (mostly Republican) senators who would vote against an assault weapons ban. It’s clear that these 6 were chosen by the Globe because they are the most likely to be either convinced to change their position or defeated. That’s where it starts.

I am reminded of a commitment President Obama made back in January in an op-ed titled: Guns Are Our Shared Responsibility.

Even as I continue to take every action possible as president, I will also take every action I can as a citizen. I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform. And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve.

All of us have a role to play — including gun owners. We need the vast majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us after every mass shooting, who support common-sense gun safety and who feel that their views are not being properly represented, to stand with us and demand that leaders heed the voices of the people they are supposed to represent.

We can chose to remain cynical that anything will ever change, or make this a priority and keep fighting. I think about our historical heroes of reform. Some of them didn’t even live to see the fruits of their efforts – for example, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But that certainly didn’t stop them.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 16, 2016

June 18, 2016 Posted by | Assault Weapons Ban, Orlando Shootings, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What About Rights Of Those Killed By Gun Violence”: President Obama Isn’t Taking People’s Guns—But Maybe He Should

President Obama said a lot about guns in his teary press conference Tuesday, but the one thing that he is not saying, despite all the howling from the right, is that he intends to take away Americans’ guns. Yet equally significant is the realization that individual citizens are unwilling to free themselves of the destructive weapons that are wreaking havoc on our society. Numerous Americans care more about their individual freedoms than our collective freedoms, and they are unable to see how these individualistic desires undermine the essential fabric of a democracy.

This democratic fabric includes the Second Amendment, which has been contorted, misinterpreted, and applied in a way that destroys its intended meaning and threatens the safety and stability of our nation. And as the president pointed out on Tuesday, this grotesque emphasis on the Second Amendment impairs other Americans’ ability to freely exercise many of the other 26 amendments.

As President Obama forges a lone path toward gun regulation, we must wonder how we as a society have arrived to a point where “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” has morphed into allowing individual citizens to possess firearms for their individual protection with little to no concern about the security of a free state.

It is well documented that gun sales and gun-related deaths have increased since Obama came into office, but the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (PDF), which opened the floodgates and redefined the Second Amendment, rarely receives mention.

The court’s decision in the case went against 70 years of legal interpretations of the Second Amendment that stated in United States v. Miller that the “obvious purpose” of the Second Amendment was to “assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of” the state militia, and the Amendment “must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.”

In Heller and then in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court in a pair of 5-4 decisions determined that federal, state, and local governments could not create restrictions that could prevent an individual the right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense. The intent of the Second Amendment had shifted from allowing citizens to own firearms so that they could band together in an organized and regulated militia run by either local, state, or federal governments to allowing citizens to own guns for their own purposes so long as they fell under the individual’s definition of self-defense.

Not surprisingly, countless Americans purchased more and more firearms to protect themselves from the “inevitable” moment when the government or “Obama” was going to forcefully take their guns away. Not surprisingly a byproduct of this new interpretation of the Second Amendment has been a rise in unregulated militias or American terrorist groups who challenge the authority of federal, state, and local governments. Ammon Bundy and his posse of men who call themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, who just this week forcefully took over a federal building in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, are just one such iteration of this emboldened unregulated militia movement in America.

The Oath Keepers, formed in 2009, are one of the largest unregulated militia movements in the nation, and regularly you can find them injecting themselves unnecessarily into conflicts. In Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, Oath Keepers arrived carrying semi-automatic rifles so that they could prevent looters from destroying property, and many of them said that they saw nothing wrong with taking the life of a looter to prevent the destruction of property. They also advocated that Ferguson residents obtain firearms so that they could protect themselves from the police.

Instability, terror, and death are the inevitable outcomes of a heavily armed citizenry, yet in the 1846 case Nunn v. State of Georgia, an integral case that the Supreme Court used in the Heller decision, the state of Georgia—my home state—argued that arming citizens and allowing them to openly carry firearms created a safer environment. And the referencing of this decision only continues the Supreme Court’s idyllic reimagining of America’s Southern states.

Georgia in 1846 was a slave-holding state where African Americans were counted as three-fifths of a person and were not allowed the right to vote. Firearms at this time were regularly used to keep blacks in line and sustain the South’s racist, oppressive society. Additionally, duels were a regular occurrence in the South during this time period. In this volatile environment, carrying a firearm out in the open actually did bring about stability. The reason for this was that carrying a concealed weapon was illegal. Therefore, the assumption within society was that most white men owned or carried a gun, so being able to see everyone’s gun made it less likely that anyone would be killed by a surprise bullet. Additionally, guns could not be removed from the society because they were needed to oppress, intimidate, and terrorize blacks in the state.

This was a society whose infrastructure and logic regarding social stability should no longer be applicable to modern society, yet in recent years it has been to disastrous effect. Democracy and valuing human life were not principles that were celebrated in the pre-Civil War South.

But far from rejecting that old logic, we’ve embraced it, and the application of the South’s antithetical principles have brought instability, danger, and a disregard for human life to rest of the United States. Armed and dangerous and unregulated militias are on the rise, in addition to the numerous lone-wolf attacks that befall schools, offices, shopping centers, and public spaces at a disturbing frequency.

Right now the Second Amendment is being applied in a way that takes away the rights of thousands of Americans each year. The president must address this crisis, and not only to ensure the safety and stability of the American citizens who are threatened by gun violence. He also must do it to preserve the ideals and institutions that govern our society that are being threatened by the archaic notions of stability from a racist and oppressive society and the unregulated militias of today that openly advocate armed conflict against the government.

Obama is not going to take away America’s guns. I would argue that he should, as countless Americans have displayed a gross misuse of the social responsibility that comes with gun ownership, except that using force to attempt to disarm people of their firearms might inevitably lead to more violence and bloodshed.

Gun owners should want to regulate and reduce their gun usage for the greater good, but our society is too consumed with the myopia of employing lethal force to resolve minor disputes that it cannot imagine an environment without widespread gun usage. And countless Americans are unable to see that their gun usage actually jeopardizes the very freedoms and liberties they have chosen to fight for and defend via the barrel of a gun.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, January 7, 2016

January 8, 2016 Posted by | 2nd Amendment, Democracy, Domestic Terrorism, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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

“A Symbiotic Relationship”: How The NRA And Gun Manufacturers Work Together To Scam Gun Owners

If you took gun advocates at their word, you might think they’re enormously displeased when President Obama discusses measures like the expansion (or if you like, clarification) of the background check system that he announced on Tuesday. But the truth is this: When Obama talks about guns, the National Rifle Association couldn’t be happier. When Republican politicians decry Obama’s moves as a dire threat to Second Amendment rights (“Obama wants your guns” declares a web page the Ted Cruz campaign set up in response, portraying the president as some kind of quasi-fascist commando presumably about to kick down your door), they smile in satisfaction. That’s because the NRA and the gun manufacturers are in a symbiotic relationship, where they both benefit whenever guns become a political issue.

For the NRA, it’s about members and money. For the gun manufacturers, it’s about sales and protection from legal liability. And as long as gun owners are kept agitated, angry, and afraid, they both win.

Here’s how it works. There’s a mass shooting, then President Obama suggests we really need to do something about gun violence. Maybe he has a specific proposal as he did this week, or maybe he doesn’t. But the details don’t matter. Immediately, the NRA condemns him and other Democrats, then shouts, “They’re coming for your guns!” to its members, and all gun owners. A healthy chunk of those gun owners respond by rushing down to the gun store to buy more guns, lest they miss their chance before Obama comes to take them away. The threat always turns out to be imaginary; more background checks wouldn’t stop anyone legally authorized to buy a gun from doing so, let alone take away guns people already own. But no one seems to notice that the NRA is the boy who cried “wolf” again and again. Within a month or two, the cycle will repeat itself.

The NRA gets tens of millions of dollars from gun manufacturers, through a variety of channels, not just checks but advertising in NRA publications and special promotions the manufacturers run. For instance, every time someone buys a Ruger, the company donates $2 to the NRA. Buy one from Taurus, and they’ll pay for a year’s membership in the NRA.

And even though the relationship isn’t always perfectly friendly — the NRA has organized boycotts of manufacturers it felt weren’t towing the properly extreme line on regulations — with the NRA’s help, there’s never been a better time to be in the gun business. Gun sales are booming, and 2015 was the best year yet. We can use FBI background checks as a proxy for sales (even though many sales don’t require a background check), and last year, the agency performed a record 23 million checks. That has more than doubled just since 2007, which was by sheer coincidence the year before Barack Obama got elected.

What’s particularly remarkable about this increase in gun sales is that it comes at a time when gun ownership is on a long, steady decline. With fewer Americans living in rural areas and hunting no longer as popular a recreational activity as it once was, far fewer Americans own guns today than a generation or two ago. According to data from the General Social Survey, in 1977, 50 percent of Americans said there was a gun in their home; by 2014 the number had declined to 31 percent. That’s still a lot, of course, but given the demographics of gun ownership — among other things, members of fast-growing minority groups like Hispanics are far less likely to own guns — the downward trend will probably continue.

The numbers tell the story of a transformation in gun culture, from many more people owning a gun or two (often a rifle or a shotgun) to a smaller number of owners each buying many more guns, mostly handguns. And this is just what the NRA encourages, by feeding twin climates of fear. First, the organization, particularly its chief Wayne LaPierre, regularly describes America as a kind of post-apocalyptic hellscape right out of Mad Max, where only the armed can survive. As he wrote in a 2013 article, “Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face — not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival.”

Second, the NRA cries that no matter what’s going on in the political world, it portends an imminent massive gun confiscation. President Obama wants more background checks? Nope, he’s really coming to take your guns. There’s an election coming up? If Democrats win, they’re going to take your guns. You shouldn’t just have a gun, you should have lots of guns, and you should buy more right now because you never know when the government are going to send their jackbooted thugs to invade your home and take them away.

What do you call the frightened, paranoid, insecure guy having a midlife crisis who prepares for the inevitable breakdown of society and shakes his fist at the president? You call him a customer. He’s the one who responds to every “urgent” appeal from the NRA to donate a few more dollars and go buy another rifle or handgun or two, while the manufacturers watch their profits rise and their stock prices soar. He’s money in the bank.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, January 7, 2016

January 8, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Manufacturers, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A President Cries, And The NRA Trembles”: A President Taking On The Gun Lobby That Has Held Our Country Hostage

Two of my closest friends are also my steadfast movie companions. It is our habit, whenever possible, to sit in the same row of our favorite theater.

We’ve been doing this for years, but during our most recent excursion, one of them quietly asked during the previews, “When we sit here, do you ever think a man with a gun–.”

Her wife and I didn’t even let her finish her sentence as we started to nod.

“That we would be the first to be shot?” one of us asked.

“That we would die?” the other asked.

Oh, yeah, we all agreed. We think about that.

This is an absurd mental exercise on our part. As Plain Dealer Editor George Rodrigue III wrote in a recent column in my hometown of Cleveland, “If you lived in America last year you were less likely to be shot by an Islamic terrorist than by a toddler.” This is just as true about the likelihood of being gunned down by a homegrown terrorist shooting up a movie theater.

We know this, my friends and I, but there we were anyway, imagining the rain of bullets. I am embarrassed to admit to this, in part because such fear is so irrational but also because it suggests the right-wing fearmongering has had its way with me, a lifelong liberal. Only for a moment, mind you, but it’s the sort of lapse in rational thinking that can eat away at you if you aren’t vigilant. Before you know it, you’re parroting talking points from the National Rifle Association, which acts more like a mob syndicate than it does a lobbying organization.

Right after New Year’s, President Barack Obama signed 23 executive orders designed to address gun violence, including tightening loopholes on who can sell guns and who is allowed to buy them. As The New York Times duly noted, these are guidelines, not binding regulations, and the president will face “legal, political and logistical hurdles that are likely to blunt the effect of the plan he laid out.”

That’s a gentler way of saying the gun zealots and the Republicans who pander to them are acting as if the devil just galloped into town to lasso the whole bunch of them and drag them back to hell. Not a wholly unpleasant scenario to imagine, but it has nothing to do with the president’s plan.

Republican right-wing propagandist Ted Cruz said: “We don’t beat the bad guys by taking away our guns. We beat the bad guys by using our guns.”

If he weren’t serious, he’d be hilarious. It’s so easy to imagine all 5 feet 8 inches of him standing there in the dirt with spurs jingling as his hands hover over the Colts in the gun belt slung around his hip-huggers.

I can’t even.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that “rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, (President Obama) goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”

I am so tired of these men thinking we’re this stupid. Every credible poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans want gun reform. In October, for example, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 92 percent of Americans favor background checks for all gun buyers. That included 87 percent of Republicans who were polled.

The NRA, preferring to channel the voices in its collective head, claimed otherwise this week. NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker, in a statement to Fox News: “President Obama failed to pass his anti-gun agenda (through) Congress because the majority of Americans oppose more gun-control. Now he is doing what he always does when he doesn’t get his way, which is defy the will of the people and issue an executive order.”

Hear that? That’s fear talking. For the first time in a long time, the NRA hears the American people pounding on a door it doesn’t want to open. So of course, it declined to participate in the president’s town hall on guns with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

At his White House news conference Tuesday, the president began to cry when he started talking about the victims of school shootings.

“Our right to peaceful assembly, that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette,” he said. “Our unalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara and from high schoolers at Columbine and from first-graders in Newtown — first-graders — and from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun. Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.”

Many right-wing pundits and lollygaggers on social media mocked the president for his tears. This disrespect outraged a lot of President Obama’s supporters, but it made me feel optimistic about gun reform for the first time in years.

Who mocks a man for showing the same hollowed-out grief most of us feel when we think of those babies being gunned down? Who makes fun of a president standing tall with the majority of his citizens?

Scared people, that’s who. The ones who are trembling in their boots because, finally, we have a president willing to take on the gun lobby that has held our country hostage for far too long.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist; The National Memo, January 7, 2016

January 8, 2016 Posted by | Domestic Terrorism, Fearmongering, Gun Lobby, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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