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“Not Just An Abstract Idea”: Want To Make Buying Guns Hard? Make It As Tough As Getting An Abortion

It’s not just an abstract idea. It’s a bill going through the state house in Missouri. Mandatory evaluations. Mandatory talks with local leaders. Mandatory accountability. One state rep wants it to happen—and soon.

Hours before shots rang out in San Bernardino, California, leaving 14 dead and 21 injured, Missouri State Rep. Stacey Newman introduced a bill with a simple premise:

What if the process to buy guns in America was as difficult as the one to get an abortion?

A flight crew member turned political consultant, Newman was inspired to run for office after watching her daughter Sophie, then 6, talk about guns and kids on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. After founding a statewide political action committee called Harriet’s List, she was elected to office in 2009, where she’s built a reputation of being tough on firearms.

Her Twitter bio, beneath a pink StandWithPP picture, describes her as: “wife, Mom, Nana, obsessive about reproductive justice, voters rights, women’s rights, equality & of course—gun violence prevention.”

Her bill, first reported on by St. Louis Magazine, isn’t modeled after the general restrictions to getting an abortion in America, but her state’s specifically. Missouri has some of the toughest in the nation. Missouri is one of just a few states operating with fewer than five abortion clinics, and one of four that enforces a 72-hour waiting period.

Beyond the difficulty of getting an abortion in Missouri, Newman’s bill was likely inspired by the level of firearm violence in her state. In 2010 Missouri’s rate of homicide, 5.6 per 100,000 people, was 56 percent higher than the national average—making it the fourth-highest in the nation. Gun deaths in the state have surpassed motor vehicle fatalities since 2013.

When The Daily Beast asked Newman for the impetus behind the bill, she replied, “utter frustration.”

“We were at our wit’s end,” she said. After spending 15 years arguing against guns the traditional way, she decided to get creative.

This bill, she knows, will never get a hearing, much less approved. That’s not the point.

“I’m on the defense team, I understand that,” she said. “A lot of my job is getting the word out there.”

Using an unconventional bill to raise awareness for an issue is a move she’s tried before. In 2012, she introduced a bill that would prohibit men from getting vasectomies unless the procedure was meant to prevent serious injury or death.

After the story gained traction this year, Newman decided to try the radical method again—this time using an issue for which conservatives have an “endless appetite”: abortion access.

There is only one abortion clinic in the entire state. There are at least 3,000 places to buy guns. But what if those numbers were reversed? From attending the funeral of a gun victim under 18, to watching videos of fatal firearm injuries, here is what it would look like if buying a gun in Missouri was as difficult as getting an abortion.

Prior to any firearm purchase in this state, a prospective firearm shall:

— Confer and discuss with a licensed physician the indicators and contraindicators and risk factors, including any physical, psychological, or situational factors, that may arise with the proposed firearm purchase at a firearm dealer located at least 120 miles from the purchaser’s legal residence.

— Submit to an evaluation for the physician to search the individual for indicators and contraindicators and risk factors and determine if such firearm purchase would increase the purchaser’s risk of experiencing an adverse physical, emotional, or other health reaction.

— Listen to oral statement regarding the risks associated with the purchase as well as read and sign a written statement that includes the following:

1. The name and license number of the licensed firearm dealer.

2.  The immediate and long-term medical risks associated with firearms, along with medical descriptions and photographs of fatal firearm injuries, as collected by emergency pediatric medical professionals, law enforcement, and prosecutors’ offices.

3.   Alternatives to purchasing a firearm, which shall include materials about peaceful and nonviolent conflict resolution.

4.    A statement that the dealer is available to answer any questions concerning the purchase of a firearm, together with the telephone number of the dealer that the dealer may be reached to answer any questions the purchaser may have.

5.    The prospective firearm purchaser shall obtain written consent of his or her parents in order to qualify for the purchase of any firearm.

— Watch a 30-minute video on fatal firearm injuries, as collected by urban medical professionals, law enforcement, and local prosecutors, and verify in writing he or she viewed the entire video in the presence of a licensed firearm dealer.

— Verify in writing by a licensed physician that the purchaser has toured an emergency trauma center in the nearest qualified urban hospital on a weekend between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. when gun violence victims are present.

— Within 72 hours of a firearm purchase, the prospective firearm purchaser meet with at least two families who have been victims of violence involving a firearm and two local faith leaders who have officiated, within the past year, a funeral of a victim of violence involving a firearm who was under the age of eighteen.

Perhaps if these measures were in place, Newman suggests, some of the more than 32,000 people who die from gun violence in the U.S. each year would be saved. It’s a sentiment echoed eloquently in a now-viral Facebook post by Brian Murtagh, who suggested (like Newman) that we treat young men who want to buy guns the same as we treat women who want an abortion.

“Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and beg him not to buy a gun,” he writes. “It makes more sense to do this with young men and guns than with women and health care, right? I mean, no woman getting an abortion has killed a room full of people in seconds, right?”

With 20 to 30 abortion bills filed each year, Newman wants to capitalize on the momentum. Mirroring the restrictions for abortion access, she says, allowed her to show the “ridiculousness” of both the pro-gun lobby and the pro-life one.

“If this is one way that I can influence a voter to keep this their number one issue, then it’s something,” she said. “It’s something.”

Correction 12/4/15 3:45 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that Missouri had two abortion clinics. It has one.


By: Abby Haglage, The Daily Beast, December 4, 2015

December 6, 2015 Posted by | Access for Abortions, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence, Women's Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sam Brownback’s Kansas Disaster Is Getting Even Worse”: Conservative Policies Are Both A Moral And Practical Disaster

Politics is all too often couched in terms of morality and ethics, rather than simple right and wrong. What I mean by that is that reasonable people can come to different moral value judgments about ethical dilemmas: is it more moral to ensure that everyone has access to a social safety net even if some people game the system, or is it more moral to ensure that people keep all their private property and never have to give it up to someone less hardworking than themselves?

But it’s important to remember that it’s not just about empathy and ethics. It’s about what works and what doesn’t. And every day in every way, we are learning that conservative approaches simply don’t work–not in terms of social policy, and certainly not in terms of economic policy.

Exhibit A in the utter failure of conservative dogma is Sam Brownback’s trainwreck in Kansas. Here are the latest figures, courtesy of Yael Abouhalkah in the Kansas City Star:

This has been a bad week for Gov. Sam Brownback and others who believe his massive income tax cuts are going to dramatically boost employment in the state. A new report Friday showed that Kansas had lost a whopping 4,300 jobs in July from a month earlier.

The unemployment rate climbed for the fourth straight month, up to 4.6 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And look at this disastrous note: The Sunflower State now has 1,700 fewer jobs than it did at the start of 2015.

One more fact from the latest report shows that Kansas has added a puny 5,600 total jobs in the last year — from July 2014 to July 2015. The new information shows that the tax cuts that have drained the Kansas treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars the past two years are not working to attract employers and jobs.

Keep in mind that Kansas’ atrocious performance has nothing to do with the state of the midwest or the manufacturing sector generally, because both manufacturing and Kansas’ neighbors are actually doing pretty well comparatively:

Meanwhile, Missouri celebrated much better news in the latest BLS report. The Show-Me State gained 11,900 jobs in July, and now has added 30,900 for 2015. Yes, that’s without the huge tax cuts that Brownback and Co. put in place.

Earlier this week, a separate report showed Kansas is missing out on the growth in manufacturing employment, which is happening across much of the rest of America. One key statistic: Kansas lost 39,000 manufacturing jobs during the recession but has added just 4,000 since it ended.

All this as Brownback’s tax cuts are destroying what remains of the state’s educational system and social services. Brownback and his allies suffer under the delusion that supply-side economics really works, and that if they cut taxes enough on rich people and businesses that there will be an explosion of jobs and economic growth. That’s not just immoral because it increases inequality and hurts the poor. It’s as wrong as 2+2=5. In all but the most extreme cases, cutting taxes on the rich does nothing to create jobs, but slashing the salaries of teachers and cutting welfare benefits means less consumer demand, which in turns drives the economy into recession. The immorality would at least be somewhat tolerable if the ideology functioned at a broad utilitarian level, but it doesn’t.

Conservative policies are both a moral and practical disaster.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 22, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Kansas, Sam Brownback, Supply Side Economics | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Stigmatizing The Poor”: New GOP Lie: Food Stamps on Cruise Ships

The headlines are sensational:

Kansas bans welfare recipients for spending food stamps on cruise ships.

Kansas will make sure welfare queens can’t get their palms read on the Caribbean.

The new law awaiting Governor Sam Brownback’s signature also prohibits a long list of activities including shopping at jewelry stores, lingerie shops, video arcades, theme parks and even swimming pools.

Republican lawmakers in the Sunflower State want to make sure none of this waste would happen again.

If it even happened.

(It hasn’t.)

Think of it as the 21st century’s answer to Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen, who existed mainly in the minds of conservative critics.

Nobody has offered a current and/or concrete example of a person receiving TANF funds (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) using their EBT card (Electronic Benefits Transaction) aboard a cruise ship, but that hasn’t stopped the Kansas legislature from passing a law to prevent it.

A provision included in their restrictive legislation will prevent TANF recipients from withdrawing any more than $25 a day from an ATM machine.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, says since most ATM machines don’t deal in $5 increments, the $25 is effectively $20, plus an 85 cents fee that TANF attaches, plus another couple dollars for the ATM fee, and the result is, “We’ve just made it harder to be poor, as if it weren’t hard enough,” she says.

The list of prohibited items reads like something out of the Legion of Decency, a now defunct Catholic organization that rated films according to their moral content.

And while no one is arguing these racier activities—like patronizing adult entertainment or casino gambling—should be permissible with government funds, banning them is more about stigmatizing the poor than creating any real hardship. The real problem is the $25 limit.

“This is not about a real problem, this is not a public policy decision,” says Liz Schott, of the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities. “This is all about politics and creating a wrong impression that public welfare recipients can’t spend their money wisely.”

The Kansas bill passed the House last week by voice vote and the Senate 30 to 10. Among the 10 opponents were the chamber’s eight Democrats plus two moderate Republicans.

Minority Leader Anthony Hensley told The Daily Beast the bill is “very mean-spirited, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, Holy Week, leading into Easter. This is not something Jesus would have approved of in my opinion.”

Kansas is not alone in modifying its TANF program, and under the welfare reform law signed by President Clinton in 1996, states have the legal right to make adjustments.

States like Kansas with a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled legislature are in the forefront of the crackdown. In Missouri, a Republican state legislator has introduced legislation that would ban “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak.”

What’s behind this wave of legislation, says Brookings scholar William Galston, is a familiar grievance felt by the middle class and the working class that programs of assistance are “either not going to the right people, or they’re not spending the money in a responsible way.”

These are voters who think the Democratic Party caters to the poor, and that politicians are buying their votes with programs like TANF (overlooking fact that the poor mostly don’t vote).

The misimpressions are on all sides, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. Cotsoradis, with Kansas Action for Children, calls the cruise ship ban “my personal favorite” because it is so ludicrous when you consider a family of three in a high-paying, more urban county in Kansas receives $429 a month; a rural family gets $386 a month.

The way TANF works, recipients take their dollars out of an ATM, and with the $25 limit, “a cruise ship is probably out of the question,” she says.

They can use their card like a debit card in a supermarket, but there’s no way to track where they spend the dollars they withdraw from an ATM. “So we have legislated something that by and large we can’t enforce,” says Cotsoradis.

Some of the provisions are just mean, says Schott, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It’s not even clear you can take your child on a hot day to a municipal pool,” Schott says.

How infractions like that are policed would be prone to arbitrary enforcement. Would somebody report their neighbor?

“There could be a lot of biases,” says Schott. What’s clear is the gulf between the law and the people whose behavior it is meant to regulate. “I don’t think it’s coming from a lot of fact,” says Schott.

Many if not most TANF recipients are “unbanked,” and without a checking account, how will they take out enough money to pay their rent?

“This is not based on any understanding of the daily reality of making ends meet on these inadequate benefits,” she says.

The only evidence anybody can cite of a remotely recent abuse is a widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance.

But apparently that was enough to resurrect and perpetuate that long-ago myth first spun by Reagan.


By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, April 7, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Poor and Low Income, Sam Brownback, SNAP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Making A Just Outcome More Likely”: The Prosecutor In The Michael Brown Case Must Go

Lots of people in and around Ferguson, Missouri, don’t trust Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor who is presenting the facts about Michael Brown’s killing to a local Grand Jury. In fact, more than 70,000 of them have reportedly signed an online petition calling for the appointment of a new, special prosecutor to replace him.

These critics have their reasons. They think McCulloch’s record suggests that he is unlikely to construct an aggressive case against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Brown, who is black. And without a serious effort at prosecution, these people say, a Grand Jury is more likely to conclude the case is too weak to pursue.

I don’t know if that assessment of McCulloch and his motives is correct. I also don’t think it matters. McCulloch should step aside.

I don’t say this because I’m sure that Wilson is guilty or deserves indictment. On the contrary, the precise circumstances of Brown’s death still seem murky. Pretty much everybody seems to agree on how the incident began twelve days agowith Wilson stopping Brown in the street, an altercation ensuing, and then Wilson firing at Brown as he gave chase to him. But the witness accounts that have become public so far diverge on a few key points, including what Brown was doing when he eventually stopped and turned. At that moment, when one of Wilson’s bullets delivered a fatal blow to Brown’s head, was the 18-year-old trying to surrender? Or was he charging at Wilson? The angle of the shot has gotten a lot of attention, because it suggests that Brown, who was six-foot-four, had lowered his head before getting hit. But that could actually be consistent with either of the theories.

The twelve-member Grand Jury will eventually get to see more evidence. It will get the results of ballistic tests, for example, and it will hear a much fuller range of witness testimony than anybody in the public has heard so far. But more evidence won’t necessarily clarify what happenedor whether Wilson should face criminal charges. Not everybody will remember the event the same way. Tests can be inconclusive or contradict one another. The Grand Jury will ultimately have to decide whether there is “probable cause,” but that’s a pretty fuzzy standard and open to interpretation. Inevitably, a lot will depend on what kind of case the prosecutor decides to present.

The issue with McCulloch isn’t whether he’s capable of mastering and presenting the material. It’s whether he’ll do so in an impartial way. Prosecutors are always close to police, because they work closely on investigations. But McCulloch seems to have particularly strong feelingsstrong enough that, when Governor Jay Nixon called in the state highway patrol to take over security in Ferguson a week ago, McCulloch criticized Nixon strongly and publicly. “It’s shameful what he did today, he had no legal authority to do that,” McCulloch said. “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.”

One reason McCulloch may feel so strongly about cops is that several relatives have served on the force. (One of them, McCulloch’s father, died in the line of duty when he was shot by an African-American.) Critics have also taken note of a 2001 statement McCulloch made, in a controversial case of police shooting two unarmed men. McCulloch called the victims “bums.” McCulloch presented that case to a Grand Jury. It declined to indict.

“Nobody thinks Michael Brown can get a fair shake from this guy,” Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman, told the New York Times“There is very little faith, especially in the black community, that there would ever be a fair trial.” McCulloch has bristled at such criticism and pledged to see the case through. “I have absolutely no intention of walking away from the duties and responsibilities entrusted to me by the people in this community,” McCulloch said in a radio interview. “I have done it for 24 years, and I’ve done, if I do say so myself, a very good job.”

It’s entirely possible that a fair-minded Grand Jury will conclude the evidence doesn’t justify an indictment, let alone a conviction, at least according to the legal standards of Missouri. As my colleague Yishai Schwartz has written, the state’s laws make it unusually difficult to convict a police officer who claims that he fired in self-defense. But the difficulty of the case is precisely why McCulloch shouldn’t be the one presenting it. It needs a prosecutor whose intentions and motives are not in doubt. Otherwise, people will assume a decision not to indict reflects lack of prosecutorial effort, rather than the facts of the case.

McCulloch has said that he will step aside if Nixon asks him to do so. Nixon (whose own motives are open to question) has declined to take that step, arguing that it would exceed his authority. It’s not clear exactly how far the governor’s power extends in cases like these. I’ve read and heard different accounts about what Missouri law allows. But nobody questions that McCulloch can decide to recuse himself, clearing the way for Nixon to name a special prosecutor.

McCulloch should seize the opportunity. It would demonstrate that he has the integrity some think he lacks. It would also make a just outcome more likely.


By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, August 21, 2014

August 23, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fire This Time”: In Ferguson, A Sense Of Being Left Behind

The fire this time is about invisibility. Our society expects the police to keep unemployed, poorly educated African American men out of sight and out of mind. When they suddenly take center stage, illuminated by the flash and flicker of Molotov cocktails, we feign surprise.

The proximate cause of the rioting in Ferguson, Mo., is the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was stopped, a witness has said, by a white policeman for walking in the street rather than on the sidewalk. Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown at least six times, according to a private autopsy and, reportedly, one conducted by the St. Louis County medical examiner. Two of those bullets struck him in the head.

There we have the familiar narrative: another unarmed black man unjustly killed. Brown thus joins a long, sad list — Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, etc. — that seems to have no end.

This story line is unassailable. Anyone who thinks race is not a factor in these fatal encounters should have to cite examples of unarmed, young, white men being killed by trigger-happy police or self-appointed vigilantes. Names and dates, please.

But the violence in Ferguson tells of a deeper, more fundamental narrative about what African Americans have done, and what has been done to them, in the decades since the urban riots of the 1960s — the fire last time.

Tempted to conclude that nothing has changed? Please note that the Missouri Highway Patrol commander, brought in to bring proportion and discipline to what had been a provocative local police response, is black. The attorney general who interrupted his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to order a Justice Department investigation and a third autopsy is black. And, of course, the president and commander in chief — who also took time from a Vineyard holiday to address the crisis in Ferguson — is black.

Also note that this undeniable evidence of progress on the issue of race — which would have been unimaginable when Harlem exploded in 1964 over the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy — makes no apparent difference to the young men who have been rampaging through the streets of Ferguson.

Why not? Because the tremendous gains achieved by some African Americans have not just left some others behind but made their situation more desperate and hopeless than it was 50 years ago.

When the unrest in Ferguson is over, I predict that there will be a flood of ambitious journalism seeking to assess the status of black America. Most of this analysis will be ignored because it will so contradict what many Americans see every day with their own eyes.

Millions of African Americans took advantage of the opportunities created by the civil rights movement to climb into the middle class — and in some cases far beyond, as exemplified by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Yet millions of other black Americans did not reach the middle class. This group, mired in poverty and dysfunction, finds the paths others took are blocked. They live in neighborhoods with failing schools that cannot prepare them for today’s economy. Secure, high-paying blue-collar jobs are a thing of the past. Racial bias in policing means African Americans are much more likely to be arrested and jailed for minor nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession, than whites who commit the same crimes.

Increasingly, these African Americans who were left behind are invisible. Their neighborhoods either get gentrified — which means they can no longer afford to stay there — or simply bypassed by development. What happens in poor black neighborhoods has less and less to do with the everyday lives of middle-class Americans, white or black.

Yet in Ferguson and other such pockets across the nation, millions of young black men and women grow up knowing that the deck is stacked against them. Did Michael Brown have a chip on his shoulder? Not according to his friends and family, although the convenience store video suggests otherwise. Would it be understandable if he did? Might he have wondered if white kids, living in more affluent parts of town, routinely got hassled by the police for jaywalking?

Brown had no police record. He had graduated from high school. He was about to enter a technical college. Given where he came from, it’s hard to do a whole lot better — and easy to do a whole lot worse.

Now that the streets are filled with incoherent rage — and the rioting must be strongly condemned — we can see Brown’s struggle. Momentarily, at least. After the smoke clears, we will be blind once again.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 18, 2014

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Black Men, Ferguson Missouri, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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