Nel's New Day

December 16, 2019

Despite Congress, Gun Culture May Change

Last Saturday was the seventh anniversary of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown (CT) when a 20-year-old killed 20 children between six and seven years old and six adult staff members. People hoped that this tragedy would change the culture of unrestricted gun ownership in the U.S., but the number of mass shootings accelerated with more huge tragedies such as the one on Valentine’s Day in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland (FL) where a 19-year-old killed 17 people.

In a study of mass shootings since 1966, the DOJ discovered these commonalities among shooters: an experience with childhood trauma, a personal crisis or specific grievance, a “script” or examples that validate their feelings or provide a roadmap, and access to a firearm. The study used the FBI definition of killings of four or more people in a public place excluding the shooter(s).

Mass shootings are more frequent and deadly with 20 percent of the 167 episodes in 53 years occurring in the past five years. Those shootings in the past five years show a dramatic increase of shooters motivated by racism, religious hate, and misogyny. More shooters are motivated by hate than by mental health issues. Nearly 70 percent of shooters were suicidal before or during the shooting with higher numbers for school shooters.

One theory of curbing the number of mass shootings is giving them no attention in the media and connecting people with outside resources. But the study also recommends limiting access to weapons. That’s the one thing that the current Congress refuses to do. Yet almost half the shooters bought weapons legally, and another 13 percent got them from friends and family.

One month ago, two Democratic senators were trying to persuade Republicans that they should strengthen background checks for gun purchases to make them for all people, not just those who buy from licensed dealers. People can buy from individuals and at gun show with no checks. The House had already passed the bill. At the same time of the debate, a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita (CA) shot and killed two schoolmates before killing himself.

During the Santa Clarita school shooting, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) objected to “fast-tracking” a background check bill because she might not be able to lend a rifle to her grandson. She saved her GOP colleagues from being forced into a vote that would get them in trouble with either their constituents or the NRA. A year ago, Hyde-Smith told her constituents that voter suppression is a “great idea” to make it harder for liberals to vote. Video here.

The 42 “active shooter” incidents at Pre-K through 12 school grounds between 2000 and 2018 identified by the FBI overlook many shootings that go under the radar. Definitions of school shootings differ. Everytown, an independent, non-profit group studying gun violence, reported at least 99 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the first 345 days of 2019. These included three suicides and 63 injuries in addition to the FBI “active shootings.” In a database from the Gun Violence Archives defining a shooting by at least one person shooting at another person at a school during regular hours or an extracurricular activity on the property, ABC found 26 shootings since January with half of them on Fridays. Six people were killed and 44 were injured, not including the assailant. The majority of incidents—57.6 percent—were at the end of or during sporting events, specifically basketball and football games. Those events are detailed here.

Overall, over 370 mass shootings occurred in the first 330 days of 2019, an average of eight mass shootings a week, according to the Gun Violence Archive. It defines mass shootings as four or more people, not including the shooter, shot but not necessarily killed.

People minimize school shootings because they are a small fraction of firearm crimes, but these occurrences devastate schools and communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children exposed to violence can suffer “a wide array of negative health behaviors and outcomes, including alcohol and drug use and suicide.

Families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre gained a victory from the Supreme Court that ruled they can sue Remington, the maker of the AR-15 used in the attack. The case proceeds in the Connecticut courts. Although Remington will likely win the case, discovery will require the company to turn over documents that reveal its marketing secrets that may show the company encouraged the shooter to use the weapon for the slaughter. Suing gun manufacturers has been almost impossible since a congressional law passed in 2005.

The Supreme Court is also hearing a case that has been settled by law. When the NRA objected to New York City transportation restrictions, the state changed the law, and the case was settled—until SCOTUS decided to hear it. To “win” the case, plaintiffs need Chief Justice John Roberts who only cared about the fact that plaintiff wouldn’t suffer if a majority declared the case moot. The DOJ, on the side of the NRA, claimed that a declaration of moot would keep the plaintiffs from seeking damages for a past violation of their rights. In the past six years they have not made that request, and their lawyer admitted that this has never before come up in a case. Samuel Alito’s and Neil Gorsuch’s questions favored the plaintiffs, and Brett Kavanaugh joined Clarence Thomas in staying silent. The plaintiffs’ lawyer Paul Clement wants the court to send a message.

The existing background check has a loophole that keeps people from complying. Hundreds of thousands of gun background checks are never completed because those that take longer than 88 days must be stopped and purged from the computer system. The FBI fails to complete over 200,000 checks a year—over 1.1 million background checks in the past five years. Background checks may be delayed because law enforcement agencies fail to provide incident records or other records.

Buyers don’t need to wait for a complete background check. After three business days, the dealer can sell the gun; the killer of nine people in the Charleston (SC) church could buy a gun because the background check wasn’t completed. Of the 276,000 background checks now completed within three business days last year, the buyer couldn’t legally own a gun in at least 3,960 cases. The FBI asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to reclaim the weapon.

Because of the 88-day deadline, the FBI concentrate on ones it could quickly complete and largely ignored those taking longer than the three days. Almost three-fourths of checks taking longer more than the initial deadline are never completed. The House has passed a bill to extend the deadline before a sale, but Hyde-Smith blocked it.

A loophole in Florida’s gun laws allowed a Saudi Arabian man to legally buy the gun that he used to kill eight sailors and wound eight others at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. All the 21-year-old foreigner in the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa needed for the purchase was a hunting license.

Since Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling assault-style weapons and all guns to those under the age of 21, its net sales grew 5.6 percent, the best quarterly same-store sales performance in six years, showing the success of exchanging narrowly focused hunting goods in favor of items with broader appeal, including women’s and athletic apparel. Now, the chain removed all guns from 20 percent of its stores.

Despite the GOP resistance to saving lives from guns on the federal level, Sandy Hook is having an influence on the state level. In seven years, 21 state legislatures expanded background check requirements, 17 states pass red flag laws allowing law enforcement to take guns people who can be a danger to themselves or others, and 28 states enacted laws requiring people convicted of domestic abuse to give up their firearms in the past seven years.

On the downside, several states passed laws for easier carrying of concealed firearms, even without a permit, and others allow firearms on school grounds with the belief that it will stop mass shootings. NRA claims 460 pro-gun measures have passed state legislatures. Yet several Democrats winning the most competitive Virginia legislative races promised to pass stricter gun controls after Republicans abdicated their responsibilities after the Virginia Beach mass shooting.

With gun safety laws more of a partisan issue, big donors are coming out against the NRA stranglehold. They spent more than the NRA for campaigns and elections in recent history. In the third straight annual Gallup poll, over 60 percent want stricter laws for the sale of firearms, 64 percent in October.  A Fox poll shows that 67 percent want a van on assault weapons, up from 54 percent after Sandy Hook and including 61 percent of rural white people in the U.S. The NRA popularity is down to 42 percent, below the unfavorable rating of 47 percent.

Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action the day after the Sandy Hook shooting, said, “Congress is where it ends, not where it begins.” The states have begun.

February 2, 2016

Good News Despite Iowa Caucus

The Iowa caucus yesterday was a disaster for country that claims to be a democracy. Want to vote for a presidential candidate? Go to a corner and get counted. Want to decide on a delegate? Toss a coin. Want to have somebody run a caucus? Pick somebody who just showed up to vote and is clueless about structure and responsibilities?  Then there’s the winner. Marco Rubio came out first to declare himself a victor because he got third place for the Republicans—something accurately predicted by polls.

Then there’s the super PAC called Black Americans for a Better Future. Every donor is white. Of the $417,250 received in donations, $400,000 came from Robert Mercer, hedge-fund sugar daddy for Ted Cruz. The sole beneficiary of the super PAC is Raynard Jackson, a GOP black political consultant based in Washington, D.C. The money is  for events encouraging blacks to join the Republican party.

While the Iowa caucus controlled media content, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) admitted that he and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), current chair of the Benghazi investigation, created the attack on Hillary Clinton to keep a Democrat from being elected president. They hope that the committee’s persecution and pushing Clinton’s emails can cause her to lose to “a devout socialist who wants to nationalize almost everything in America,” according to Issa. That can be the rationale for concentrating on her emails and overlooking other high-profile leaders  who use private servers for their government emails.

While House members constantly attack Clinton and repeal health care, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) protects his party members by doing nothing for the next nine months. No decision about ISIS, no criminal justice reform legislation, and probably no trade deals. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) claim that the Senate doesn’t even need to pass a budget, despite the GOP complaints about the Dems in the same position. McConnell plans to string out the 12 annual appropriation bills to appear that he’s doing something.  Of the 34 seats up for re-election in the Senate, 24 are held by Republicans including Johnson and Portman. Losing five of those seats turns the majority in the Senate back to the Democrats.

People of the United States did experience a victory last Friday. For a few months, the United States won’t be giving out any new permits to frack for oil or gas off the California coast in the Santa Barbara Channel off Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where Exxon Mobil and other oil companies operate platforms. The settlement from the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles also requires the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to analyze the environmental dangers of offshore fracking and acidization under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After the deadline of May 28, 2016, the public has at least 30 days to review and comment on the assessment.

Over 200 cases of fracking in state and federal waters off California have rubber-stamped permits from federal regulators, and the oil industry dumps over 9 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean off the California coast every year. At least ten fracking chemicals routinely used offshore kills marine life, including otters and fish. Some of the many fish species that could be harmed by fracking pollution include white seabass, sand and kelp (calico) bass, lingcod, sheephead, ocean whitefish, yellowtail, bonito, barracuda, yellowfin tuna, sculpin, yellow croaker, barred surfperch and dozens of species of rockfish.

The settlement could affect oversight of all federally permitted offshore fracking, including that in the Gulf of Mexico which has never had any environmental review. The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 could protect these species, but it has never been fully implemented and enforced, with no protection for ocean pollution, fracking, oil drilling, oil spills, military testing, corporate aquaculture, and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

A state panel to determine so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California between 2009 and 2012 was led by a oil industry lobbyist. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force as her industry fracked the waters with little or no government oversight. State officials promised to review the “marine protected areas” every five years but changed to 10-year reviews.

Conservatives angry about protecting the ocean are also going to be furious about Facebook’s announcement that it will ban users from selling guns on both its main site and its photo-sharing site Instagram. Licensed gun dealers can still post with the requirement that they do not conduct purchases on the site, but it applies to the private gun sales not requiring background checks in most states.

Facebook rules cover gun parts and ammunition as well as guns. Federal laws don’t cover guns if they are 80 percent or less complete, like an “unfinished lower receiver.” In this way, people can buy “incomplete” guns without serial numbers or background checks, and people can buy these parts and put them together for an untraceable gun. Some websites even sell the machines to complete receivers with the promise that buyers can build unserialized firearms legally in your own home. The federal government can’t block this, but Facebook can decide what it doesn’t want to sell—such as marijuana, pharmaceuticals, or other potentially illegal objects.

With one debate before next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, media will be consumed by presidential candidates. At least that state uses real ballots. Both parties debate next week—Dems on February 11 and GOP on February 13—before decisions on a Democratic candidate in Nevada and the GOP candidate in South Carolina on February 20. The two parties can’t even vote on the same day in those states: Democrats wait another week to vote in South Carolina and the GOP won’t caucus in Nevada until February 23. Four weeks from today is Super Tuesday with a solid dozen states. Maybe that will produce a decision—or not.

Martin O’Malley on the Democratic side and Mike Huckabee on the GOP side have both dropped out. Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus in 2008, said, “The voters are sick of me.” In the 2012 Iowa caucus, the first winner was Mitt Romney. After Iowa GOP decided they made a mistake, they selected Rick Santorum and then went on to declare Ron Paul the real winner. The next dropout may be John Kasich who said that he’ll be gone if he doesn’t do well in New Hampshire. No one knows what Donald Trump will decide.

Ted Cruz’s campaign has outdone Trump’s outrageousness by spreading the news during the Iowa caucus that Ben Carson was planning to drop out of the race. Later Cruz apologized, calling it a “mistake” but said that it was “fair game” to update his “grassroot leaders” that “Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.” Twenty minutes after the caucuses began in Iowa, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the Cruz campaign’s national co-chair, tweeted, “Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope.”

Cruz had already gained the ire of Iowa’s secretary of state after Cruz sent mailers that misrepresented state election law. A warning of a “voting violation” in capital letters at the top of the page was followed by that statement that people were receiving notice “because of low expected voter turnout in your area.” The flier continued, “Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.” After that were a list of names, letter grades, and percentage scores.

sandersclintondebate

The highlight of my week will be the Democratic debate on MSNBC Thursday, February 4–if it happens. Moderator Rachel Maddow will moderate, and Fox can watch to see how debates should be run. It’s still up in the air because Bernie Sanders first said he wanted the debate, but now he says he won’t debate unless Hillary Clinton agrees to his conditions on future debates.

And the joke that the U.S. calls democracy continues.

 

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