Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Our Democracy is Dead

An intimidated group of US Senators, in the minority, recently denied what the vast majority of Americans want in terms of a modest first step to begin to limit the reckless distribution of guns in our country:  expanded background checks that will prevent criminals and the mentally unstable from buying them.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “democracy” as “a government by the people, ”especially rule of the majority,” inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s exquisitely simple and profound declaration, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

These latest actions by our US Senators demands that “democracy” be redefined along the following lines:  “a government by the few, its citizenry beholden to a self-serving ruling class intimidated by enabled power mongers set on realizing their own agendas, the cost to its citizenry be damned.”

To the 45 Senators who killed the bill to expand background checks for gun buyers - more than 90% of whom are Republicans:

You were elected to serve the people.
“The American people have spoken,” as you so often claim when it justifies your position; well, not your position - but the positions you choose to take, allegedly in deference to the people who vote for you.
Except when powerful, monied, influential lobbyists, and their self-serving funders believe otherwise.
And then, so do you.
You show your true colors.
You demonstrate, again and again, that you have no beliefs of your own.
No integrity.
You demonstrate over and over that your only motivation is to hold office.
Not to serve the people who put you in your office.
Just hold it.
And just who are these constituents you claim to be serving?
The American people?

You were elected to serve the people.
But in this case you have elected to serve the NRA.
Nearly ninety per cent of Americans embrace the idea of security clearances before you can buy a gun.
Seventy per cent of NRA members support it.
At one time even the NRA itself supported expansion of background checks.
The American people have spoken.
Again and again.
But the NRA, and their powerful financial backers – most of whom are gun manufacturers - have intimidated you with their utterly unfounded position against any reasonable limitations applied to the purchase of guns.
You have created false pretenses – “willfully lied,” as President Obama declared (MSNBC, et al, April 17); and have empowered a vocal minority of gun owners who believe your version of the 2nd amendment entitles them to own assault weapons and multi-round magazine clips without limitation.
It does not. 
To own any gun - without even so much as a simple, reasonable background check.
It does not.
Nor should it.
And yet an estimated 20 to 40 per cent of all gun sales now take place without any background checks whatsoever (NY Times, 18 Apr).
The cumulative effect of this blatant fear mongering is to arm the hardened minority with the ungrounded fear that our government’s (Obama’s?) ultimate goal is to disarm the entire country.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Of the nearly $25 million the NRA spent either for or against office seekers in 2012, 65 per cent of it went toward supporting Republican candidates and 30 per cent was levied against Democratic candidates (Open Secrets.org).
It is time we held these people accountable for more than their blind allegiances to the NRA.

You were elected to serve the people.
But you are in the minority:  you are 45 of 100 senators.
How does this represent a democracy, where majority is supposed to rule?
The 45 of you represent primarily rural constituents whose values and beliefs do not reflect the America we live in today (see immigration, the economy, women’s rights, climate change, same-sex marriage, voter ID laws, sex education, et al, et al).
Even at that, the majority of your states’ residents support some limitations on gun purchases, including expanded background checks.
And yet you voted against it.
How does this represent a democracy?

In only 13 states did both US Senators vote against this bill (Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming) – the vast minority.  Those 13 states represent a mere 22.78 per cent of the US population (2010 US Census Bureau) – a vast minority.
How does this represent a democracy, where majority is supposed to rule?
At the risk of sounding elitist, these states rank among the country’s highest in unemployment, out-of-wedlock children, crimes, trailer park residences – and gun ownership, and among the lowest in education and income.  They are all through and through red state Republican.  We are all Americans, but this constituency does not represent the current majority in many if not most of the prevailing issues today.
And even at that - even the majority of them support at minimum some kind of expanded background checks on gun purchases; how else would we get to a near 90% national majority on the issue?

But there’s hope.  “The ballot is stronger than the bullet,” said Abraham Lincoln in a speech in 1856, a statement that has even greater meaning today than when he said it.  Of the 33 Senate seats up for re-election in 2014, 15 of them voted against the bill to require expanded background checks for gun purchases.  Each one of them should be held accountable for their cowardly, inexcusable, unjustifiable position.  And they should be asked why they voted against it?  What specific, tangible, rational justification can they offer for voting … no??  Here they are, with their NRA ratings* noted:

            Jeff Sessions, R-Ala A+
            Mark Begich, D-Alaska N/A
            Saxby Chambliss, R-GA  A+
            Jim Risch, R- ID A+
            Pat Roberts, R-Kansas A
            Mitch McConnell, R-KY A
            Thad Cochran, R-MISS  A
            Max Baucus, D-Montana  A+
            Mike Johanns, R-Neb  N/A
            Jim Inhofe, R-OK  A+
            Lindsey Graham, R-SC  A
            Tim Scott, R-SC  A
            Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn  A
            Jim Cornyn, R-Tex  A
            Mike Enzi, R-Wyo  A

* NY Daily News, Apr 18, 2013/NY Times, Dec 19, 2012

They also need to understand that there’s more, much more, about holding office than their sycophantic relationships with the NRA.

Lincoln also said this:  “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”

A government by the people.  It is clear now that it is we the people who must assume control, who must once and for all have our way with the officials we bless with the position of serving us, but are not yet held accountable for it.  “The American people have spoken,” and we demand sensible steps toward a safer place to live and raise our children from you, or we are going to elect people who finally, truly represent us. For the sake of democracy.  For the sake of the people who count on you to do everything in your power to provide the rest of us a reasonable chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – without having to arm ourselves to get it.

You were elected to serve the people. 

Tim Arnold
23 April 2013


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What Gun Control Opponents Won't Admit: It's all about the money.

“This past Veteran’s Day weekend, my wife and I decided to take a well-deserved trip down to our favorite getaway spot in Gatlinburg, TN.  While my wife selected the appropriate clothing for the four-day weekend from the closet, I selected the appropriate hand gun from the gun safe.”

So writes Scott W. Wagner in a column for Concealed Carry (Jan 2013), a glossy magazine for gun enthusiasts, because hey, you never know what kind of life threatening killer criminals or terrorists you’re going to run in to down in Gatlinburg.  A companion piece is entitled, “Dead Eye: When you shoot, aim to protect yourself and take out the threat.”  I assume they’re not talking about a deer. 

Is this what America has finally come to?  When picking out which pistol to pack is as routine as which tank top to wear to Grandma’s?

Concealed Carry is only one of dozens of regular publications for gun … people.  And only part of a multi-faceted, powerful conglomeration dead set, to borrow a phrase, against allowing any kind of limitations to be imposed on gun ownership.  Any.  A powerful force, rich with resources: galvanized by the NRA, who contributed nearly $20 million in the 2012 elections, much of it coming from their “Golden Ring of Freedom” members – which requires a minimum donation of $1 million each; further funded by gun manufacturers and ultimately enabled by sycophantic, “craven, feckless politicians” (as described by Nicholas Kristof in a recent NY Times editorial) who themselves are beholden to these collective forces and steadfastly refuse to stand up to the NRA.

Gun Control opponents have managed to cloak their opposition in glorified 2nd Amendment principles and good old American values and, according to them and their literal reading of it - what they’re convinced our forefathers intended when they guaranteed “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” - as ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State in 1791 – 222 years ago!

The constitution is and was meant to be interpreted, just like the Bible.  Numerous scholars have interpreted these words many different ways over the years, and what they apply to. And consider the numerous ways the constitution itself has been interpreted since it was written - at least 27 different times, witness the 27 amendments it has engendered since then, including five ratified since 1961 – and Supreme Court and lower court rulings ad nauseum. 

For many – and especially the most vocal and influential opponents of gun regulation in America – our 2nd Amendment is an excuse of a platform, cloaking their real motivations:  it’s all about business.  The business of buying and selling guns - enabled by sycophantic politicians who have sold their souls to gun advocates in order to maintain their financial support and to hang on to a business – congressional office – that insures its holders’ lifelong financial comfort the first day they’re in.  And all of it celebrated by howling gun enthusiasts who have their 2nd amendment to stand behind.

The National Rifle Association – founded in 1891 as a grassroots organization dedicated to marksmanship – is today considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, and has been for several years.  They raise some $200 million each year from fundraising and membership dues (Bloomberg Businessweek, 11 Jan 2012).  In turn they’re in the top 1% of contributors to political candidates and PACS – having contributed some $20 million in 2012 in “defense of the second amendment” (opensecrets.org/National Rifle Association).  Their 2012 funding supported 56 candidates who won – and another 6 who didn’t (ibid).  And, no surprise, 96% of these funds backed Republican candidates or opposed Democratic candidates (ibid).

All of which is why these Republicans are beholden to the NRA, and sure to support favorable legislation – which has included the federal law that limits liability claims against gun makers (2005); various states’ laws allowing virtually anyone to carry a concealed weapon; and insuring the Assault Weapons Ban was lifted in 2004.  Getting the liability law established “… saved the American gun industry from bankruptcy,” according to Sandy Froman, past NRA president (Bloomberg).  Since the assault weapon ban was lifted rifle production has escalated 38% (BATF), and “… is probably the only reason we have a US firearms industry anymore,” said Mike Fifer, CEO, Sturm Roger – one of the country’s leading manufacturers of firearms (Bloomberg Businessweek, 11 Jan 2012).

And guess what?  Sturm Roger is also one of the biggest financial contributors to the NRA, among more than fifty firearms companies that donate money to the NRA every year (Bloomberg).  Other major contributors?  Remington Arms and Smith & Wesson, the other two US leading firearms manufacturers.   According to BATF there were 5,400 licensed firearms manufacturers and 950 licensed importers in the United States.  And between 2004 and 2010 the NRA’s income from fundraising (primarily from gun manufacturers) grew two times faster than that from membership dues (Bloomberg).

Follow the money:  from gun manufacturers to the NRA to the Republican congressmen who support laws favorable to … gun manufactures … who in turn put more money into the NRA  … who then puts more money behind compliant congressmen … most of whom get re-elected – so far. 

A wickedly vicious circle. 

How else to explain congress’s utter and absolute refusal to do anything directly connected to guns and the massive, reckless distribution of weapons in America? … ANYTHING … !  To be clear:  I am not advocating the elimination of guns.  I’m not advocating the abolition of the 2nd amendment.  And I’m certainly not limiting the issue of guns to gun control  - at the expense of mental health, societal values, gratuitously violent entertainment, parenting or anything else. Most people aren’t. What I am advocating is to apply some reasonable limitations to the gun industry that will at least demonstrate to our citizens, and the rest of the world that, finally, we’re “ …mad as hell and (we’re) not going to take it anymore!”  And begin to make a difference. 

There are more than 5000 guns shows in the US each year, each one attended by 2,500 to 15,000 people (BATF, Firearms, Explosives Investigative Operations at Gun Shows, June 2007).  The “Gun Show Loophole” allows individuals “not engaged in the business” of dealing firearms, or who make “occasional sales” within their state of residence – to sell guns without requiring any background checks, a gap in the BATF regulations that is even advocated by terrorists (CBS News, 28 June 2011). Currently 33 states place zero limitations on gun sales at gun shows, which means thousands of guns are potentially sold illegally every year. Texas has more than 150 gun shows every year (Wikipedia, Gun Shows in the US).  Handgun Control Inc estimates that 25% to 50% of all guns sold at gun shows come from unlicensed dealers (Cato Institute).

92% of US adults support requiring background checks for all gun show purchases (Gallop.com/poll, 27 Dec 2012) – including the majority of past and present NRA members – which would dramatically impact gun sales at gun shows.

Ay – there’s the rub, again.  All of this gun control business is bad for the gun business.  Applying any reasonable guidelines would be bad for the gun industry – good for Americans, but bad for the gun industry.  The Remington’s and the Smith & Wessons would start trimming back their contributions to the NRA.  So the NRA loses funding and is unable to support their sympathetic congressmen and women to the degree they have been.  The congressmen won’t have quite the funds they’re accustomed to for campaigning, and less of the monstrous lobbying efforts behind them – hell, some of them might actually fail to get re-elected!   And the rest of us get some reasonable gun control.  A much different and ultimately safer circle than the vicious one we are now trapped in. 

Vice President Joe Biden has announced he will deliver his gun control recommendations on Tuesday (15 January).  We’ll learn soon enough if our government has the courage to take on these gun control issues.

Don’t want to call it “gun control?”  Call it gun limitations.  Call it the “Right to Live.”
Tim Arnold

Our nation stands challenged by yet another horrific, violent act at the hands of another deranged, damaged soul who had access to a weapon of mass destruction that should not have been available to him under any circumstances.

When, at long last, is enough enough? 

As President Obama so eloquently posed in his condolences to the grieving citizens of Newtown … “Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
"I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.”

Indeed we must.
And if not now, when?
If not us, who?

There are such painfully simple, indisputable actions that can be taken, that do not infringe on fundamental constitutional rights, that do not conjure up threats of thought police, that do not limit adults from owning reasonable guns ... beyond simply enforcing current laws - which we do not do anyway - which will underscore school security efforts, and training, and begin to signal to parents, and teachers, and theater goers and mall shoppers and neighborhoods that the fears they harbor - which would have been unimaginable 20 years ago - are at long last being addressed, so that some day their children's children, and grandchildren, can once again live in the America we once had every right to expect.

Consider the following (and I'm citing from *Nicholas Kristof's compelling op-ed piece in Sunday's NY Times (16 Dec), "Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?" http://tinyurl.com/cezcr79)...
    More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
    Firearms claim one US life every 20 minutes.
    Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries.
    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has five pages of regulations on ladders.
    We regulate toy guns - by requiring orange tips.
    We regulate food, medicine, the sale of alcohol, and on and on ...

But, put no restrictions on guns – as legions of steadfast clingers to some distorted interpretation of our 2nd amendment would have it? - because, after all, guns don't kill people, people kill people ...!

Well, cars don't kill people either, people driving cars kill people. But we didn't just do nothing on that front.   Not only do we strictly control who can legally drive a car, and in what condition they need to be in, but we regulate the hell out of cars, too:  require headlights at night, seat belts, air bags, child seats, crash safety standards, speed limits, stop lights, etc.

With guns, it's none of the above - especially since nearly half of all guns sold are sold at gun shows - and there are zero regulations on gun shows.

American school children are protected by building codes, school bus safety standards and licensed drivers, and cafeteria food is regulated for safety.  "The only things we seem lax about are the things most likely to kill," says Kristof.

What to do?

For one, stop depleting federal and state health care funds for mental health!  Since 2009, $4.35 billion has been cut from states' mental health spending (Nat'l Assoc of State Mental Health Program Directors http://tinyurl.com/bg5azr6).  And arguably this hurts those the most who need it the most.  Reinvest in this fundamental form of preventable health care to begin to get at the root of these troubled souls before they act out their rage, their fears, their distorted sense of themselves.

Plus - enact the following restrictions on the sale of guns - all within the 2d amendment and certainly built on fundamental common sense and moral values:
    BAN assault rifles except for the military (and police).
    BAN multi-round ammunition clips ...
    Limit gun purchases to one per month.
    Impose universal background checks on all gun buyers.
    Require a 28-day waiting period for purchases (like Canada).
    Make series numbers on weapons harder to erase.
    Back California in its effort to require all new handguns imprint micro-stamps on each shell.
    Include all gun shows in all of the above.

Will this eliminate homicides by murder?  Of course not.  Should all weapons be banned?  Of course not.

Will the above moves begin to reduce homicide by guns, and begin to reduce mass murders?  Absolutely.  Want proof?

Australia enacted a "national firearms agreement" (a decree by their prime minister), following a mass killing of 35 people in 1996.  It "... banned certain "rapid-fire long guns" and led to the buy back of some 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands."  It did not end gun ownership.  It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the ones most likely to be used in mass shootings.

In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings - but not one in the 14 years after the law took effect!  Their murder rate has dropped by 59 per cent!  And the suicide rate by firearm has dropped by more than half!  http://tinyurl.com/d49xle6.

Coincidence?  I don't think so.  More like substantiated documentation that all of us should take some learning from.  But at the end of the day, we don't need Australia to prove the need for some kind of gun regulations.  We have all the proof we need in the face of the mass shootings our country has become famous for.  And ridiculed for.  

Something must finally be done.  And I think this time it is going to happen.  The citizenry is outraged.  The dialogue is engaged.  Our president is committed to doing something.  West Virginia’s Republican Senator, Joe Manchin, he with his NRA A-rating, has called for a ban on assault weapons and a bi-partisan conversation on reforming gun laws.  Dick’s Sporting Goods stores have pulled assault-type weapons off their shelves.  It’s a start.  There is no ignoring it any longer. There is no ignoring the facts.  After all, how much longer can “craven, feckless politicians” refuse to stand up to the N.R.A in the face of all this?, as Kristof describes them in his op-ed piece?

Is our generation going to live in history as the last one to allow for all this horror without doing something about it?  Or are we going to be the first that did?

If not now, when.
If not us, who?

Tim Arnold