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“What Price Would Be Too High?”: The Question Gun Advocates Should Have To Answer

As we have yet another round of our repeated and possibly fruitless arguments about the role of guns in American society, there’s one thing I desperately want to hear gun advocates say. It’s not complicated, it would have the benefit of honesty, and it might enable us to move this debate to ground where we could actually make choices about what kind of society we want to have.

What I want to hear gun advocates say is, “This is the price America has to pay for the right some of us cherish.”

The reason I want to hear this is that on no other basic debate over constitutional rights that I can think of does one side argue that there are no tradeoffs, that exercising a particular right, even in the most extreme way, doesn’t actually involve any cost whatsoever. Only gun advocates say that.

When somebody shoots 49 people in a club with a military weapon that gun advocates work so desperately to keep as widely available as possible, they don’t say, “That was terrible, but the right to have guns is so important that it’s something we need to live with.” When confronted with the fact that over 30,000 Americans are killed every year with guns, they don’t say that this cost is acceptable, they say that guns had nothing whatsoever to do with all the people killed with guns. Maybe it was because of mental illness, or radical Islam, or video games. But guns? Why should we talk about guns?

There’s no other right we talk about this way. When the exercise of other rights produces things we don’t like, we don’t deny that we’re paying a price for something we value. When Nazis decide to hold a march and it makes us upset, nobody says, “Oh, we didn’t have to endure that hateful sight because of free speech; it was our road-building policy that made it possible. Speech had nothing to do with it!” We say that as unpleasant as it was, we have to tolerate hateful speech because of our commitment to free expression. Nobody denies that it has a cost.

Now to be fair, on some extremely rare occasions a prominent conservative has acknowledged that our national gun fetish has a price. For instance, Ben Carson said last fall that while he treated gunshot victims as a doctor, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” If your mind reels at how morally obtuse that is, then you know why it’s an argument you almost never hear. Instead, gun advocates say that the real answer to the carnage guns inflict is to saturate our society with yet more guns. In other words, there’s no tradeoff at all. It’s as though someone said that if you’re worried about the privacy we give up when we let the government snoop on our communications in order to stop terrorism, the answer is to just give the government all your passwords and set up a webcam in your bathroom, and then you’ll have real privacy.

Nor does anyone talk this way about less fundamental rights, the things we merely want and need. Cars kill the same number of Americans as guns, but even though cars are incredibly useful, nobody denies that they’re dangerous. So we try to make them as safe as possible. We build technologies into them, like seat belts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes. We try to make sure people are capable of handling them safely before we give them permission to drive. We pass new laws on things like texting while driving in order to eliminate the factors that make them less safe. Nobody says, “Well, the fact that your child was mowed down by a teenager texting on his phone doesn’t have anything to do with cars and driving—let’s put the focus where it belongs, on teen attention spans.”

Perhaps it’s because gun advocates look at their opponents and see people who put no value at all on gun rights, who would rather have America be more like, well, like almost every other industrialized country in the world, where guns are heavily restricted and gun ownership isn’t seen as a “right” at all. They may think that arguing against those people requires taking an absolutely categorical position at all times. Or perhaps it’s because that small proportion of gun owners, the ones who fight with fervid intensity against even the most modest restriction and regulation, really have sanctified guns in their own mind. An object so perfect in its wondrous glory can’t possibly be blamed for anything done with it.

But the truth is that gun advocates do actually think that the price we’re paying is a reasonable one for the existing gun regime, in which it’s so spectacularly easy for almost anyone to obtain as many weapons as they like. Nobody thinks that the NRA or your average Republican politician is happy about the 30,000 Americans whose lives are ended by guns every year, but it’s not a high enough number for them to embrace any measure that might inhibit gun ownership. It’s not even high enough for them to tolerate some inconvenience, like making gun owners demonstrate that they know how to handle them safely and are able to store them where children can’t get them.

Presumably, there’s some number that would be too high. Maybe it would be a hundred thousand Americans killed with guns every year, or five hundred thousand, or a million. But 30,000? That’s a price they think we can pay.

I have little doubt that some gun advocates genuinely believe that they’ll probably have their home invaded by murderous gangs, or that they need their concealed carry permit because there’s an ISIS strike team waiting at the supermarket, or that society is eternally on the brink of complete breakdown and their guns are the only way to protect their family against the cannibal hordes. But they also won’t say to the rest of us what they say to each other, which is that guns are fun, guns are cool, guns make you feel like a man and that’s the reason that guy in the shop is buying his fifth or tenth or 12th gun, not because he’s the only thing standing between the rest of us and government’s tyranny.

And the AR-15s that are getting so much attention? They aren’t as popular as they are because it’s impossible to defend your home without one. They’re popular because they’re relatively affordable, because they can be easily modified (so you can trick yours out with lots of cool accessories), and because having a gun designed for the military makes you feel like a real warrior.

That’s a truth that can’t withstand the light of day. If it’s really not about needing guns but about people wanting them and loving them, then we’d have to ask exactly what price we’re willing to pay for some people’s love of guns. So maybe that’s the question gun advocates should answer: If 30,000 dead Americans is an acceptable price to pay for your version of freedom, what price would be too high?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, June 29, 2016

June 26, 2016 Posted by | Gun Advocates, Gun Control, Gun Deaths, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Weren’t Their Voices Heard?”: The Awkward Question About Flint That No One Wants To Answer

Flint does not look much like the rest of the state of Michigan, or even the average American city its size.

More than four in ten of its residents live in poverty. A majority of them are African-American. Their homes are worth about one-third of typical houses in Michigan, and the families get by on about half as much income.

This picture, the city’s new mayor believes, helps explain why state officials were slow to respond to a long-building water crisis in which thousands of Flint children may have been exposed to toxic levels of lead — even well after residents first began to cry about the city’s murky water.

“Would this happen in a different community?” Mayor Karen Weaver asked, as she attended a national conference of the country’s mayors in Washington on Wednesday, after meeting with the president. Her city, she points out, has high unemployment (9.7 percent). It’s been governed by a state-appointed emergency manager. It’s the kind of place that garners little attention and few favors.

If the poor and minorities tend to wield less political power in America, here was a whole city of them, 70 miles north of Detroit.

“It’s a minority community, it’s a poor community, and our voices were not heard,” Weaver told reporters. “And that’s part of the problem.”

Her comments echoed a provocative jab by Hillary Clinton in the final Democratic debate on Saturday night. “I’ll tell you what,” Clinton said, “if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would’ve been action.”

The problems in Flint began nearly two years ago, in April 2014, when the city began to draw its water from the Flint River to save money. Residents immediately began to complain about the look and smell of the water, and last year researchers at Virginia Tech confirmed that lead was present in water samples at rates that could cause kidney damage and neurological problems in children.

Still, Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Snyder did not declare a state of emergency in Flint until Jan. 5 of this year. He didn’t mobilize National Guard troops to help distribute water until a week later.

Weaver’s question — and, by extension, Clinton’s — is less about whether another community might have similarly fallible infrastructure, but whether the rest of us would be willing to leave it unaddressed for so long. Flint’s health risk has been apparent for more than a year, but equally importantly, people who live there have been asking for help for just as long.

“We have been crying about this for what will be two years in April, and that’s what we want to know: What took so long?” Weaver asked. “Because it didn’t take a scientist to tell us that brown water is not good.”

That’s a fair, if awkward, question to ask. American history is full of environmental injustice: poor communities saddled with landfills or singled out for toxic neighbors next door. It’s not a conspiracy theory to worry they might also get a slower cleanup.

As for herself, Weaver says she and her husband stopped drinking the local water back in 2014, as soon as the city switched from the Detroit system (she wasn’t elected until this past November). “It’s sad that I would say ‘thank God my kids are grown and not there,’” she says, “but everybody can’t say that, and we shouldn’t have to say that.”

 

By: Emily Badger, Wonkblog, The Washington Post, January 20, 2016

January 25, 2016 Posted by | Flint Michigan, Lead Poisoining, Rick Snyder | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Poisoning Of Flint”: A Nightmarish Example Of How Misguided Austerity Policies Can Literally Poison The Public

In early 2015, shortly after his victory in a heated reelection contest, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) began exploring a run for president. With his business experience and electoral success in a blue state, Snyder was considered a viable potential candidate, so he embarked on a national speaking tour and set up a fundraising organization. Its name: “Making Government Accountable.”

As Snyder was testing the presidential waters, however, his government was being shamefully unaccountable to constituents who were concerned about their water supply. The city of Flint switched its primary water source from Lake Huron, through Detroit’s system, to the Flint River in April 2014. Approved by an emergency manager appointed by the governor, the move was supposed to save the beleaguered city millions of dollars. But residents soon began reporting tap water that appeared discolored, smelled rotten and caused kids to break out in rashes. Today, Flint has become a nightmarish example of how misguided austerity policies can literally poison the public.

We now know that Flint’s water supply was contaminated by lead that it collected from deteriorating pipes. In recent weeks, Snyder has issued a public apology to the city, declared a state of emergency, activated the National Guard and requested assistance from President Obama, who declared the situation a federal emergency on Saturday. The state health department is also looking into whether an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has killed 10 people in the area is connected to the water crisis. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating the state and local government’s actions, while it could cost up to $1.5 billion to fix the city’s water distribution system.

All of this is the result of the Snyder administration’s stunning lack of accountability, beginning with the fateful decision to put Flint under the control of a political appointee who was unelected and unaccountable to the public. When the city’s residents initially reported their concerns in 2014, officials responded by pumping hazardous levels of chlorine into the water. When complaints persisted, officials assured citizens that the water was safe to drink, repeatedly disregarding clear evidence that it wasn’t. But when elevated levels of lead showed up in children’s blood this past fall, the government was forced to admit there was a problem. Snyder appointed a task force to investigate the crisis, which found, among other things, that legitimate fears were met with “aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit” the individuals speaking out.

“They cut every corner,” said Flint resident Melissa Mays. “They did more to cover up than actually fix it. That’s criminal.” Snyder’s then chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, acknowledged the administration’s deplorable response in a July 2015 email, writing: “These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight).”

But the water crisis in Flint represents more than a catastrophic political failure. It is also a direct consequence of decades of policies based on the premise that government spending is always a problem and never a solution. Long before Flint tried to reduce spending by moving to a cheaper water source, the pipes that ultimately poisoned the water were neglected. Across the country, crumbling infrastructure is a pervasive threat that is creating serious issues in other cities and could produce similar crises . As Michigan State University economist Eric Scorsone explained , “Flint is an extreme case, but nationally, there’s been a lack of investment in water infrastructure. This is a common problem nationally — infrastructure maintenance has not kept up.”

Unfortunately, the biggest obstacles to desperately needed public investments are politicians like Snyder who conflate “accountability” with austerity. For Republican technocrats in particular, more accountability almost always means less spending on government programs that help ensure the public good.

With less than a month until the Iowa caucus, the conventional wisdom is that voters are fed up and that their anger is reflected in the polls. That frustration and distrust of government is understandable when politicians like Snyder and their cronies are so blatantly unaccountable to the public. Indeed, when government is polluted by officials who put corporate interests above their constituents and cost-cutting above the common good, it too often fails to fulfill even its most basic functions, such as protecting access to safe drinking water. But instead of giving in to anger and austerity, in this election, we should be having a vigorous debate about how government can be truly accountable to the people it serves.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 18, 2016

January 20, 2016 Posted by | Austerity, Flint Michigan, Rick Snyder | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Guns We Don’t Talk About”: The One On The Nightstand Whose Most Likely Victim Is Yourself Or Someone You Love

It was a good day to die.

In early September 2003, I spent the morning shuffling my children off to school, used our last 10 dollars to put gas in the tank, folded a basket of laundry, and tidied up the tiny motel room we lived in. And then, I went to my car and pulled the small, .22 caliber revolver from the locked glove compartment.

I sat in the dimly lit room—for minutes or hours, I do not know—surrounded by the remains of my life, haunted by a broken marriage that was nearly 10 years gone, a failed business, a pile of overdue utility bills, and a string of eviction notices. We were living, if you could call it that, on $150 a week in child support and a few hundred dollars each month in food stamps. What was left of our furniture was in storage, paid for by our church benevolent fund. There had been two flat tires, but no job interviews that week. The weekly motel rent was due again and there wasn’t a dime left on my credit card to cover it.

I placed my gun on the bed and kneeled down on the carpet to pray. I listed my complaints and my failings. “Father, help me.”

I remember feeling tired when I turned on my old desktop computer, logged in to AOL, and started to type out what I intended to be a final message to family and a few close friends. “I want to thank you,” I started.

I sat there a while longer, realizing there was nothing I really wanted to say, until an instant message popped up on the screen.

“Hi, Mom! How are you?”

“Hey, Katie Lady…”

“I’m in the computer lab and guess what?”

“What is it sweetie?”

“I won the election!”

“That’s great, honey.”

“I’ll see you after school!”

“See you then…”

Tonight, as the country continues a national conversation on gun control, I am thinking about my old gun. I purchased it and two others over the years. They were handguns, bought legally, as a means of personal protection.

Each year, there are some 30,000 victims of gun violence in the U.S. Nearly half of those deaths come at the hands of another. Whether it is the Bushmaster that cuts down a classroom of schoolchildren, an assault-style weapon used to carry out a massacre in a church basement or a movie theater, or one of the thousands of cheap, illegal handguns that flood our streets, gun violence continues to capture national headlines. When we talk about gun control, invariably we are talking about those guns.

We don’t talk about the gun in the nightstand. We don’t talk about the one in the lockbox in the top of a bedroom closet. We don’t talk about the one, like mine, secured in the glove compartment of a car.

And even when we do discuss mental health as a factor, we rarely—if ever—mention the nearly 15,000 Americans who commit suicide each year. When we talk about expanding access to mental health care, we mean for the mass shooter who wipes out an entire kindergarten class. We mean for the loner who walks into a movie theater and shoots indiscriminately into the darkness. We mean for the man who targets a Planned Parenthood clinic.

We don’t mean the uninsured, unemployed, single mother battling depression, who begs the heavens for a reprieve.

The president has proposed a myriad of solutions, including expanded background checks. Taken together, his planned executive actions may work to dampen the tide of guns. Closing the so-called gun show loophole may hamper a straw-purchaser’s ability to buy firearms in a state like Indiana and later sell them on the streets of Chicago.

I lost my father and two brothers to gun violence and all were killed with illegal handguns that were used in other crimes. Growing up, it was all too easy to get a gun in our neighborhood in East St. Louis. Placing reasonable restrictions on the most dangerous consumer product on the market isn’t a violation of the Second Amendment. It’s common sense.

However, in this country, suicides outnumber homicides almost two to one. We should not forget that when an individual owns a gun they are more likely to kill themselves and/or someone they love. Survival rates among those who attempt suicide by other means, such as a pill overdose or hanging, are higher than for those who use a gun. It is no accident that states where guns are most prevalent also report higher suicide rates. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, people who live in homes with firearms are two to three times more likely to be murder victims or commit suicide.

We can debate the notion that more “good guys with guns” is the answer to violent crime or if the cast of solutions proposed by the president will make a difference in practice. There are no easy answers. But we should try everything within the confines of the Constitution if it will make it harder for criminals to stockpile guns. We should impose more meaningful barriers to high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire weaponry, if it means curtailing a mass shooter’s ability to slaughter and maim. If it means more children will be safe walking to school in America, that people can enjoy a prayer service at church or join their family for a night at the movies, we should do it. Maybe, as Chicago’s Father Pfleger suggested during tonight’s town hall on CNN, we should “title” guns like we title cars.

Tonight’s broadcast focused almost solely on the potential for homicide, with little or no conversation about the thousands of people who take their own lives each year. But, make no mistake: A self-inflicted gunshot wound is an act of violence.

My oldest daughter Katie was in the eighth grade the day I decided to die and I know that her message saved my life. That year, she would go on to be valedictorian of her graduating class and give an incredible speech at the ceremony. Today, she is an Ivy League alum, an extraordinary schoolteacher, and expecting her first child this fall.

When we talk about gun violence we almost always focus on the criminal aspects, and forget the public health questions. We forget that there are thousands of gunshot victims who die by their own hand. The president briefly broached the topic, saying that while the majority of young homicide victims are black or Latino, the overwhelming majority of suicides by young people are white. If we are to truly host a national conversation about gun violence and commit ourselves to real solutions, we cannot forget the people who die alone in the dark. They rarely make the news and, like tonight, too little attention is paid to their pain.

I am grateful for this life, thankful for my children who are now taking the world on their own terms. I cannot wait to hold my second grandchild. Too many Americans will miss moments like these.

We can do something about that.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, January 8, 2016

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns, Suicide | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“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

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