Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Hosting Chore

I really don't care particularly who wins the Oscar as long as  the person deserved the award or the film was well done.  There are some that have won that, while good movies, were not really deserving.  I am not here to talk about Titanic or Rocky or The English Patient.  People are going to debate winners and losers each and every year.  What I am going to comment on is the host.  The fact is that the hosting selection for the Oscars of late has been abysmal.

This year's host Seth MacFarlane was no different.  I like good wit.  I like a carefully sarcastic or timely, well-crafted comment.  Unfortunately, MacFarlane has none of these.  He was largely tasteless, crude and classless.  Between the first twenty minutes of the Seth and Captain Kirk show in which MacFarlane demonstrated his talent by singing a song about boobies to the concluding "let's rub salt in the wounds" Loser Song, MacFarlane's idea of witless humor was far from doing something that is to honor the best in film.  It wasn't the idea that for him nothing is sacred, but the idea that it lacked taste.

Seth MacFarlane is, however, just another of the horrendous choices made by the Academy to host the Oscars.  The great hosts like Johnny Carson, Bob Hope and Billy Crystal seem to be of late more of an anomaly. I realize that MacFarlane is the flavor of the moment, but he is hardly a tried and true performer at the level of those above.  Now admittedly, there were a few like Steve Martin and Jon Stewart (2008) who did well, but there is also Anne Hathaway and James Franco, David Letterman, Chevy Chase, Ellen Degeneres, Rob Lowe, Jon Stewart (2006) and then there was the attempt to have an Oscars with no host in 1989 which most agree was the worst Oscar show ever.

The problem is does the Academy choose a host who is truly capable and has some standing or do they pick someone who is the current flavor but will probably be around for about twenty minutes?  Some choices that didn't work once worked fine a couple of years later, like John Stewart.  There is no sure fire way get a host that will succeed.  Still, one gets what they pay for and if you pick the creator of edgy - a nice way of saying tasteless - shows like Family Guy and Ted, you are going to get pretty much more of the same.  I cannot really blame Seth MacFarlane for being Seth MacFarlane, but I can blame the Academy for offering the job.

Friday, February 15, 2013

In the Background


It would seem to me that background checks are a no-brainer.  And such things as check and registration* are not covered by any portion of the second amendment that I could find.  It could become more complex with the mental health issue.  Many states already require background checks and registration at all levels, but most don't.  This is what has become known as the "gun show loophole."  In recent surveys over 90 percent support this check. I reiterate that we cannot stop all gun violence or prevent all Aurora theatre shootings.  But we can make a start.  The option of doing nothing is still doing nothing.  Even if this simple step saves a few lives; they are lives saved.

Selling guns under the table need to come with stiff penalties and using them in crimes automatically adds to the sentence. I would also say we need to stop the sale of guns and ammo on the internet as a part of this. Will it still occur? Yes.  Registering guns and background checks takes guns only from those who should not have them.  The second amendment still applies and honest citizens are in no way penalized.  A national database would make sure that a check could be done quickly and efficiently.  It would take less time than the average traffic stop.

A national background data base created is not a registration for taxes as the NRA has stated.  We already have a national registration on all kinds of things.  Automobile, arrest, fingerprints, DNA, and  a host of other items are already available for law enforcement.  As to a tax, we have this little thing called the IRS that already has that information and your social security number, as any identity thief knows,  can give people all kinds of information.  To have guns registered and checked is really for the most part minor information.  Besides for those of you who continue to believe that letting someone know you have a gun in your home is protection why would you object to letting someone know that you have a gun in your home.  Logic is a tough mistress. Isn't it?

Where it gets sticky is the inclusion of mental health issues.  That really is a privacy issue on one hand.  Some healthcare professionals are worried that those who need help may not come forward if they knew they might be reported.  I can understand this point, but that said, many states already have a requirement that mental health professionals report potentially dangerous individuals.  They have a duty to protect the society at large.  The adding of this to a national database then becomes a step to that protection.  If the requirement is placed that all checks are private, the reason for the rejection of the sale need not become public.  A background check should not give the seller information simply that the sale should not go forward.  They don't need the reason why; they just need a yes or no to the sale of the weapon.

There is also an interesting idea that one or two states may try that is a related idea to background checks and a national registry.  The idea is one of making gun owners carry liability insurance for their weapons.  It has not been determined about how much liability insurance coverage would be required, but in the advent of a gun being stolen, used in a crime, or even an accidental shooting would make the gun's owner liable for the act.  What this law does do is make it possible for insurance companies to ensure that the gun is properly stored and secured in a person's home without involving law enforcement.  There is precedence for this as most business, homeowners and car owners are required to carry this insurance.  Since many or the anti gun safety laws like to point out that many shootings are accidental, I would like to point out that liability insurance is issued for that very reason.  Most car, work and home injuries are also accidental.  Gun owners should take responsibility too.

I, personally, think all guns should be registered and licensed.  I know the "pry my gun from my cold dead hands" crowd are appalled by this idea. I saw some one on FaceBook proclaim we should register cars as dangerous weapons.  Well, folks, we do register cars and we license the drivers and we try to prevent them from driving if they behave recklessly.  Arguments about baseball bats and knives are silly and when you make that argument you sound silly.  We are talking about protecting the lives of people to the best of our ability vs. the right of an inanimate object and its owner.  I vote for the lives.

*I should note that at present no proposal at the national level includes registration for guns only background checks on purchases.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Ban 2


The next suggestion of banning in the gun safety issue is one that I agree with.  That is the sale and use of the over-sized clips.  According to polls, nearly 65% or more of Americans agree on this.  Again, this issue is not like the movies.  The villain or the hero don't stride down the street easily dropping clips in slow motion from his semi-automatic pistol or Oozie and then reaching into his coat pocket and smoothly slamming the next clip into place without missing a step.  Reloading takes time.  Even if it is a few seconds, but in the middle of the madness that occurs during most mass shootings with a most likely inexperienced shooter, it could take longer.  These seconds are vital to for finding cover or escaping.  The shooter must pause and trying to make sure he must pause more often only makes sense.  If the assault rifle or for that matter any rifle or pistol someone owns is for defense or sport, these over-sized clips serve no function.

If a person cannot hit what he or she is shooting at in ten shots, he or she needs to practice.  If a home is invaded by more people than a person can defend with ten shots, that person is in serious trouble no matter how many bullets they have.  There is zero reason to have these except to inflict as much damage as possible or because someone is too lazy to reload.  In target shooting, an over-sized clip adds extra weight and effects the balance of a - true sporting and target weapon.  Again, if the person thinks he or she needs these clips to protect himself from the evil government coming for him, I have a documentary film for them.  It's called Men in Black.  

So what do we do about the clips already out there?  We cannot really  ban them, but we can make them illegal to use anywhere but on a shooting range.  We add to the jail time of any person who is caught using an over-sized clip in the commission of a crime and we hold accountable the people who have them in their possession.  If someone owns one of these and a shooter gets a hold of it, the owner of the clip can be held responsible for not making sure it was secure.  In other words, own these clips at one's own risk. These clips are not protected the second amendment and I believe this is one ban that could make a difference.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Ban


I've spent a great deal of time thinking about the most controversial aspect of the gun safety issue is true gun control.  That is the assault weapons ban.  I am honestly torn on this.  Assault weapons, semi-automatic guns, are more or less designed on the basis of war weapons if not just altered versions.  I am torn because at this stage I am unsure how much good it will do to ban them now.

There were at best estimate in 1994 about 1.5 million at the time.  Since then if estimates based on percentage of production, sales and requested background check, then the numbers have risen dramatically to 3.5 to 3.75 million of the assault-style or as the gun industry calls them "modern sporting rifles" in the US. Estimates of total gun ownership in the US is around 350 million so that means assault rifle is about 1 percent of the weapons out there.  What is more, most crimes, the vast majority, are committed using handguns.

So would an assault weapons ban do anything?  I don't know.  What I do know is that in the recent mass shootings the primary weapon was the assault-style weapon.  These guns are designed for shooting a lot of bullets and at a lot of people.  I still don't know why anyone would own one of these except for show.  The idea that someone owns one of these to protect themselves from the government is laughable.  The evil government that you elected who has more weapons than your AR-15 at its disposal than you could ever possibly afford and  is hardly going to balk at your assault rifle.  Those who believe this nonsense are living in a very paranoid, tin-foil hat, wack-a-doodle world.

There is also the argument that these weapons are protected by the 2nd amendment but the Supreme Court would seem to disagree.  As I pointed out, the most conservative of the judges, Justice Scalia, has stated that limitations and registration on such weapons would not be protected.  Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, another conservative Supreme Court Justice, stated in 1991, "[The Second Amendment] has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word 'fraud,' on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime." So again the idea that a ban would somehow violate the second amendment will not stand the scrutiny.

The same goes for the argument that the ban was in place during the Columbine shootings and didn't prevent it.  By that kind of logic, I would point out that Columbine has armed security guards and that didn't stop it from happening either.  You cannot use one piece of logic in the debate and ignore the other.  The problem is that we already know that no one solution will ever stop crazies.  What is true is that since its lapse, such shootings have gone up, but that also does not mean one follows the other because gun violence is down.  The issue is not so much, I think, the ban as it is controlling these weapons.

Banning to some degree may be, to be trite, closing the barn door after the horses are out.  Still, we need to get control of how these weapons are sold and who has access to them. I am not sure that the ban would do much, on the other hand is that if it stops just one mass shooting, then it is worth it because all the arguments I've heard against it just don't stand up. So I remain torn.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Stop or My Teacher Will Shoot!


One of the first "bright" ideas in answer to the gun crisis from a number of states: Arm the teachers.  I forget where I heard it, but one response pretty much sums up mine. The person said something like,  "I've known science teachers who couldn't navigate a Bunsen burner and someone wants to give them permission to carry a gun?" While no one is actually offering to force teachers to carry a gun, there are plenty who actually could get a gun permit and probably even a few who would love to carry a gun. I renew my point of view that most of the folks I know with a carry permit, are far from marksman shots.  I am actually of the opinion that if someone would love to carry a gun, they probably shouldn't be allowed to carry one. In fact, most people who have handled a pistol will tell  you that they are terribly difficult to be accurate with one.

I've seen all the statements and memes about how if we had guns in Aurora or Sandy Hook the blood shed would have been stopped.  It might have ended sooner, or odds are that  it would have been much much worse.  One that struck me was all the armed passengers pointing guns at the 9/11 highjackers.  All I could  think of was the massive decompression that was about to occur.

I cannot imagine what the cross fire would have done in Aurora given a few well-heeled permit carriers.  Shooting when the target is returning fire and Dirty Harry is not in the room is not like it is in the movies.  Too many folks seem to have this movie version of highly trained shooters in a room as they roll and dive, shooting with the accuracy of Bruce Willis while the bad guy has the aiming ability of a Star Wars stormtrooper.  Reality, with a pistol, for most good, well-practiced shooters is they are lucky to be accurate maybe 70 percent of the time.  There are no splitting a slug with another slug like Robin Hood and the arrow and your target is armed, possibly covered in Kevlar, and shooting back at you with a semi-automatic, pistol-gripped riffle with a 300 round mag attached, having just filled the room with smoke bombs.

If ten expert marksman open fire each shooting a clip of  eight, that's  80 bullets that are now in the air going through a panicked crowd in a theatre or through wall of a classroom in  a school. To qualify as an expert marksman in the Army one must hit the target at least 26 out of 30 (86.6% accuracy) times with a pistol.*   If we use the Army's standard, out of the 80 bullets fired by our experts as many as 10 of them are stray.  We now have 80 bullets that weren't there before and we have no idea where 10 of those bullets are going. Now multiply that number by those who have had a permit-to-carry.  They may only hit five out of eight shots or less.

The class to carry a concealed weapon is seat work.  There is no actual shooting practice.  In fact, you can get this license in some states online.  These are the Dirty Harry wannabes.  If they can get their gun out of their holster, while they are trying  to shoot at the bad guy, they are going to shoot the furniture and walls and ceiling and floor and sadly each other and others who aren't Dirty Harry.  There is a reason why Barney Fife had only one bullet and had to carry it in his pocket.  There are actually far more Barneys than Harrys in the world.

Arm teachers? Really?  Do we need security in our schools. Yes.  Should that security be armed? Only if they have real training and I don't mean what the NRA or volunteer posse calls training.  I mean actual police or military training.  What we don't need is to turn our schools into armed camps with someone who can afford a license, a holster and gun.  There are days that I am truly glad that I retired when I did.  When I hear of some politician's dumb plan to arm teachers or put guns in lock boxes in class rooms next to the fire extinguisher, I have to wonder at the intelligence of some elected officials or if they have had their meds that day.

A well reasoned action is always better than one that is knee-jerk and only looks good.

*I'm not using the NRA standards which are based on placement in a shooting contest over a 120 shots where the person ranks a certain percentage among  the other shooters not on the basis of how many shots hit a target.  It is less stringent since there is no actual number of on target shots set. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Other Extreme

I wrote about the NRA as the extreme on gun safety's right but what about the left.  There is not one organization with the voice of the NRA which I can really point to that's on the left.  If I search for extreme gun control on the left, I end up with a listing of right wing reports on the evil left.  But I promised to look at extremists on both sides, so I had to go back a bit.  With the events of Newtown, people are listening to what the gun safety groups a bit more carefully these days.  That said, it has not always been the case.  As recently as last year, there were even politicians who said that the "gun control issue" was a dead issue and then along came Newtown and everything changed.

There have been to strong proponents on "gun control" over the years, and it is those voices I will look at.

The first is Senator Diane Feinstein. This has been her personal crusade since she became a senator in the early 90's.  She was one of the people primarily responsible for the original assault weapons ban.  Her newest proposed ban is very broad.  Her most recent proposed ban would cover about 157 assault riffles, shotguns and pistols from continued sale.  Her stance on weapons has always been a strong one despite her reputation as a fairly moderate Democrat.  I would also point out that she does not want to ban all weapons. Her current proposal would exempt some 2,258 weapons.  While the NRA and other groups maintain that this is a violation of the second amendment, those on the gun banning side are not quite so sure.  The Supreme Court has made it clear that individuals have the right to own guns.  They stop short, however, of saying what kind of guns.  Even the most conservative of Justices, the Honorable Justice Scalia, told Fox News that the while the second amendment protects individual rights, it also clearly does not prohibit restrictions on some firearms and the carrying of some firearms.  So while some on the left may like to ban all weapons, which they cannot do, it does not mean that some limitations cannot be placed on them.  In his brief, Scalia wrote:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. [United States v.] Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.

So where does that leave the Feinstein ban.  While it may be extreme to include semiautomatics shotguns and pistols, it is still a very difficult battle.  There is also the little problem of what the Supreme Court will hold as "dangerous and unusual weapons."

There have been some other voices that have had some extreme points of view or even names. One is  the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  Like the NRA, the Brady Campaign was started with noble intentions following the shooting of Reagan Press Secretary, James Brady.  There original mission statement is  "to enact and enforce sensible gun laws, regulations, and public policies through grassroots activism, electing public officials who support gun laws, and increasing public awareness of gun violence."  That said it was once known as Handgun Control, Inc.  In 2001, the Violence Policy Center's executive director published a book titled Every Handgun Is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns. Not semi-automatic but all handguns.  This is fairly extreme.

The banning of all guns or, as is usually the case on the extreme left, the banning of all handguns would be a clear violation of the second amendment no matter how it is framed.  Even the banning of many weapons is an uphill battle. Again, if we are going to get control on gun safety, we cannot just pick "evil" weapons without doing something about their owners. If you'll excuse the pun, a shotgun approach isn't going to work either.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

NRA, We Hardly Knew Ye


Yesterday I asked if we can be reasonable with gun safety measures.  To get a handle on this, we need to look first at the extreme voices on both sides.  On the right is the NRA.

When I took the hunter's safety course  oh so many years ago, I took it through the NRA.  If I recall,   the class took several evenings to complete and there was even some practice time required.  It came with workbooks and a safety test.  It came with a membership in the NRA which was, at the time, kind of like becoming a member of the Junior Rangers or Justice League.  That, however, is no longer the case.  The NRA has become the gun lobby with a budget ranging in the hundreds of millions.  It has long since left its roots to protect and teach young hunters.  The NRA was founded to teach gun safety to kids by veterans of the Civil War.  Its first political voice  was in support of the gun control measures in the 1930s, but for the most part, it was a safety organization and for many states a requirement or  recommendation for a hunting license.  And then the NRA became radical...

In the 60's they did some opposition to gun control, but it wasn't as it is now. Sometime in the late 70's or early 80's the NRA began to oppose gun safety.  They coined the saying that "guns don't kill people..."  They had the very public  speaker of Charlton Heston as their president.  And as their radical stances became more and more anti-anything gun safety, membership began to drop.  That's right, the much vaunted membership of the NRA dropped as the gun owners saw sense in some of the proposals left the more radical organization.  Flash forward to the election following the first assault weapons ban in the 1990's.  The NRA's membership which had declined from 3 million to 2.3 million in 1990, had found a strong and often radical point-of-view and then they were able to take credit for the defeat of several politicians who had voted for the ban.  They became more and more uncompromising on any sort of "gun control" legislation.

But what is more, they also became not just the voice of "gun owners" but in actuality the voice of the gun manufacturers.  It is the manufacturers that have given the lobby even more clout.  If truth be known, however, the people they've targeted to be replaced in elections for their "anti-gun" stance in the last election was statistically an immense failure.  What makes them powerful? It is money and they've convinced many a politician that they wield tremendous power.  All they need to do is force a primary which will give the more radical base a chance to support their candidate and oppose a more mainstream candidate.

Enter Wayne LaPierre who began working for the NRA in 1977.  His rise to vice-president of the NRA and spokesperson and why anyone would listen to him still amazes me.  Shortly before the Oklahoma bombing, he wrote a fundraising letter calling Federal agents "jack-booted government thugs" wearing "Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms." In the late 90's, accused Clinton or tolerating a certain amount of violence because it strengthened the case for gun control and still, in 1999 while testifying before Congress he supported the background check of all gun sales.  So what happened?

"The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" is the new mantra.  It is also more than a bit scary.  Every thing that is offered in the statement blames everything but guns...movies, music and video games.  Yet no explanation is offered as to why other nations have these same movies, songs and video games and not the extreme violence.  It almost seems the argument is now the best way to stop gun violence is more guns.  We tried that.  It was called the Arms Race.  It didn't work. Adding more weapons will not, cannot, solve issues in a culture of guns.  Am I the only person who finds it interesting that the solution for gun violence is by adding to the sales of more guns from a lobby that is supported by gun manufacturers?

It is clear from recent interviews the NRA no longer represents its own constituency.  In a recent survey ninety percent of Americans support the idea of background checks.  Even 75 percent of the membership of the NRA supports the idea. And what is the NRA's stance, "I think what they'll do is they'll turn this universal (background) check on the law-abiding into a universal registry on law-abiding people," says LaPierre.

Suddenly something the NRA's membership supports will become a registry and a way for new taxes.  The evil government will use it to spy on gun owners. Next in his interview comes the flyers from the Obama campaign which tells how Obama will not take your guns.  He forgets that these flyers were in response to his own flyers and emails sent to gun owners about Obama taking away guns and gun rights.  It is political. It does not represent the problem.  It is fear mongering.  It is something which radical groups are very good at.  There is not one shred of evidence that background checks will become a registry or a tax although I am not so sure a national registry of guns is a bad idea.

The NRA has come up with one suggestion that many support and that is added security at schools, but that will hardly solve the problems at churches, malls, businesses.  It is in fact over-simplification of the problem.  So what can we take out of all this? Fear mongering is not a solution.  It is a problem.  The answer to gun violence is not more guns.  We need to look at reasonable voices and reasonable solutions. The NRA says it has four million members. In a nation of nearly 314 million people, it is hardly a staggering number.

So we have the fringe on the right of gun safety making big noise and getting good press.  Next we need to look at the fringe on the left of gun control.