Nel's New Day

January 26, 2015

Universal Background Checks Necessary for Gun Safety

The local Ceasefire Oregon chapter organized a gun buy-back earlier this month. Despite naysayers from the gun non-legislation people, it was deemed a success with 138 weapons unwanted and possibly dangerous weapons turned into the police chief in my small coastal town. Fox network saw the video about the event and asked to do a story with the focus on people who said that they would gather outside the event and buy guns.

Publicity about the event brought the trollers who objected to background checks for private gun sales. The Central Coast Ceasefire Oregon Steering Committee responded to one of these complaints with stated concerns in italics:

Bob, thank you for your thoughtful response to the NOW BLOG.

Comment 1: How about starting to find common ground by not using insulting terms like “the gun lobby” to describe people who don’t support the agenda of even more restrictive laws? We aren’t a monolithic block, we aren’t a paid group of people, and we aren’t one organized group. Yet gun control advocates continue to paint us all with one wide brush.

Ceasefire Oregon uses the term “gun lobby” when we are addressing the organizations that actually lobby legislators about firearms-related issues. There is indeed a vast, well-financed, well-organized, and focused gun lobby. Nationally, the NRA, the NRA-ILA, and the Gun Owners of America lead it. In Oregon, the best known gun lobby is the Oregon Firearms Federation (OFF).

We try to use the term “gun owners” when referring to those who own firearms or enjoy firearms, but are not lobbyists. We don’t always use the term “gun owners” because we know that the vast majority of gun owners actually agree with the goals of Ceasefire Oregon.

Gun violence prevention advocates, such as the members of Ceasefire Oregon, are not a monolithic block, a paid group of people, or one organized group, either. Our unifying issue is “gun violence prevention” not gun control. We prefer the terms “gun safety” or “gun violence prevention” to describe our work.

Bob, have you an alternative to the name “gun lobby”?

Comment 2: How do you address the fact that most firearms used by criminals already evade existing [background check] laws regarding sales and very little prosecution is taking place regarding those laws? The administration’s own National Institute of Justice reports shows [sic] that most firearms are purchased on the “secondary” market; people eligible for legal purchases are illegally selling firearms to criminals.

Tragically, some gun sellers will sell guns without performing a background check first. Criminals use the private sale loophole to bypass a background check. A background check law will hold a gun seller criminally liable if the seller does not perform a background check and the purchaser was actually prohibited from buying a gun. Few people are willing to put their liberty at risk just to sell a gun to a criminal.

The state of Oregon recognized that prosecutions of those who violate Oregon’s limited background check law were inadequate.

“Effective Tuesday, June 17, 2014, at 8:00am, the Oregon State Police (OSP) will be revising the procedures related to violations of state law involving persons attempting to purchase or transfer a firearm that are denied, due to a state or federal disqualifier. This revision will include enforcement action involving persons attempting an unlawful firearms transfer through a licensed firearm dealer, during a voluntary private party check, or at a gun show.”

In addition, national law enforcement agencies and the families of those lost to gun violence are taking on the “Bad Apple Gun Dealers.” (Ninety percent of crime guns can be traced back to just 5% of gun dealers.) Here is further background information.

Please correct us if we are wrong, but by your “secondary market” reference, are you referring to straw purchases whereby one person buys weapons with the intent to sell the weapons to a prohibited person? If so, straw purchases are already illegal. This information is clearly laid out in ATF Form 4473 that is filled out when selling and purchasing a firearm.

The United States could greatly reduce straw purchases and gun trafficking by limiting gun purchases to one gun per month. California, Maryland, New Jersey and the District of Columbia already limit gun purchases to one gun in a 30-day period.

Of greatest significance to us is the fact that universal backgrounds checks have proven to deter felons, mentally ill, those caught in the passion of anger, and those caught in the despair of suicide.

Comment 3: So how will requiring background checks for “all sales” address [straw purchases]? Do you really expect criminals to stop paying friends and family to buy firearms for them? Why should I and others like me who already own firearms have to go through yet another check? Or why should I have to go through a check when I buy a firearm from someone I know from work or the range?

We have no expectations of criminals. We do, however, think that family and friends will not want to face criminal charges for supplying weapons to criminals. In addition, we think very few family and friends want to arm criminals.

We believe the truth is that criminals buy guns and a responsible gun owner does not want a criminal to have a gun. Performing a background check as a seller also protects the seller from providing a criminal with a gun.

A universal background check is a minor inconvenience of being a good citizen and caring for the overall safety of the country. Requiring only one background check per lifetime (or for a limited period of time) ignores the fact that people change over time. Maybe you did not know that your friend from work or the range was a felon or had been adjudicated mentally ill at the time of sale or vice versa? Having consistent regulations is a safeguard. We all know there some gun owners who should not have possession of guns.

Two million prohibited people have been blocked from purchasing a gun since the Brady Law was enacted in 1993.

Bob, how would you propose to stop prohibited persons from buying guns?

Comment Four: Do you mean safe storage laws like Washington D.C. had? Do you mean if a firearm is stolen, the owner will be penalized and criminalized unless that owner can prove the firearm was stored in an ‘approved’ vault?

We are sure you agree that responsible gun owners have control over their weapons. Weapons should always be stored safely or kept under control on the gun owner’s person.

Smart gun technology can greatly reduce the risk of stolen guns being used in crimes as well as reduce the risk of suicide by gunshot.

With great rights come great responsibilities. If you choose to bring a gun into your home and community, you must be responsible for it.

Comment 5: The area of mental health is an area where we can make great strides, but we should proceed cautiously. So far most of the proposals call for anyone seeking help for just about any condition or situation to loose [sic] their right to keep and bear arms. That is unacceptable and will probably keep people from seeking help.

The United States needs to do a much better job of taking care of our mentally ill citizens and those who seek mental health help. Part of that help is to prevent those who would injure themselves or others from accessing firearms. However, we are unaware of any proposal of the breadth you describe.

Again, how would you propose to stop prohibited persons from buying guns?

A speaker from Ceasefire Oregon at tomorrow night’s local NOW meeting will most likely bring out more trolls, especially after recent articles about proposed state legislation for more complete background checks. Last year, neighboring Washington state became the 17th state to extend background checks past the federal standard for only licensed gun dealers. Oregon now has a chance for the same opportunity after last fall’s election increased the number of Democrats in the state government. Senate Judiciary Chairman Floyd Prozanski plans to introduce a bill that requires background checks for criminal history and mental history before private gun sales. Excluded would be sales among family members, inheritances and antique guns.

Private gun sales accounted for about 40 percent of all purchases 20 years ago; this percentage has probably increased since then because of sales on the Internet. Law enforcement officials have said that a record of ownership for sales would help them solve crimes. States with universal background checks have lower rates of police killed with handguns, fewer women shot by their intimate partners, and lower rates of suicides with firearms.

January 13, 2014

Lack of Gun Control: Arguments Don’t Hold Water

The proliferation of hate speech on the Internet may not touch most of us, but sometimes an article comes into my email that strikes a strong chord in my sense of outrage and fear. Such was the case regarding Ross Douthat’s opinion piece last week about journalist Amanda Hess and the horrifying Internet abuse that she faces because she is a woman who speaks out on the web.

As Douthat wrote, “The anecdotes, her own and others, range from the offensive to the terrifying, but there’s also a thudding, soul-crushing sameness to them: graphic threats of sexual violence, rape and murder, intertwining and repeating.” He was referring to Hess’ article in the Pacific Standard about technological stalkers and the law enforcement response that she should just stay off Twitter, a form of communication that she uses for her job.

Equally disturbing was Hess’ description about the people who regularly and anonymously violate others through the Internet. One of these, calling himself “Violentacrez,” was “infamous for posting creepy photographs of underage women and creating or moderating subcommunities on [Reddit] with names like ‘chokeabitch’ and ‘rapebait.’”  In 2012 Gawker revealed that the man is Michael Brusch, a Texas computer programmer, who said, “I do my job, go home, watch TV, and go on the Internet. I just like riling people up in my spare time. People take things way too seriously around here.”

Perhaps I was feeling more vulnerable and sensitive to the issue because of meeting I attended last Saturday. The purpose of the meeting was to support common-sense gun legislation in Oregon, in this case a law requiring universal background checks for all people purchasing guns. Seven people who attended the meeting were highly vocal about blocking any legislation. They used the following talking points against having these background checks:

  • Gun violence isn’t all that bad in Oregon, only 416 people killed last year. [To me, 416 dead people is 416 too many, and we don’t know if that’s the correct number because the NRA control of Congress prevents any statistics about gun deaths.]
  • “I know all my neighbors, and I know that they are all good people.” [We all want to think that we are good judges of character although I know I’m not. A person who I thought I would trust with my life turned out to be a sociopath who was just using me.]
  • Gun violence is really worse in other countries because they lie about their statistics. [There’s absolutely no way to convince anyone believing this that he is wrong.]
  • Universal background checks don’t do any good because criminals won’t follow the law. [I said that under this reasoning he would not want any laws because criminals wouldn’t obey them; he responded that this was a ridiculous statement.]
  • The only solution is to put more guns in the hands of more good people. [More and more guns are being sold in the United States, and that doesn’t seem to be working out.]
  • Background checks won’t do any good in one state because surrounding states won’t have them. [That’s the best argument for federal universal background checks!]

The strongest arguments came from people who indicated that they had been in the military. The last 12 years have deified the military system in a manner that increases sexism and racism by stressing the superiority of some people over others, both within the military and in the wars that George W. Bush sent people off to fight. The result of this value system is increasing dehumanizing of individuals. The result is only those within an intimate circle—which can mean fellow soldiers—have any importance. Everyone else is to be vanquished at any cost.

Because of the strict hierarchical relationships within the military, all cooperation, equality, and nonviolence are devalued. There must be a winner, and all others—women, ethnic minorities, LGBT, and those of non-Christian religions—are losers.

That’s where the guns come into the picture. There is no military without weapons. Many young people, even those who are not actively part of the military, come to believe that they have the entitlement to own as many guns as they want with no restriction on size or ammunition. They seem to be part of a private club in which people feel they are being attacked for loving their guns.

Restaurateur Bryan Crosswhite (Cajun Experience, Leesburg, VA) is setting up a registry of restaurants where guns are welcomed, complete with a 2AO sticker on the door and a website listing “gun-friendly” eateries.  He personally gives a ten-percent discount on “open carry Wednesdays” for those who have a concealed or open-carry permit.

The Outdoor Channel plans an “expansion of its strategic partnership with the National Rifle Association” and a new “multi-year talent and endorsement agreement” with inflammatory NRA board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent. That means that the Outdoor Channel will become the Gun Channel. President/CEO Jim Libratore said, “Ted Nugent symbolizes everything that is right in our industry and represents our viewers as an outspoken patriot, a skilled outdoorsman, and a devoted family man.” Libratore is elevating Nugent’s racism, sexism, homophobia, immigrant bashing, and Islamophobia as well as his threatening to kill President Obama if he were re-elected to a high moral level.

Florida legislators, not satisfied with waiting until feeling threatened, is pushing a bill allowing people to show a gun and fire a warning shot without a prison sentence.

Part of the growing militarism of the United States gun owners is their desire to take over the country.

Early this month Jim Garrow called for “Operation American Spring” on May 16, an uprising against the president patterned after the Arab Spring uprising. He thinks that the population can take control of the country with just three percent of the people involved. Last fall, Larry Klayman got only 100 people at a rally to overthrow the president.

Everest Wilhelmsen called for assassinating President Obama on a Facebook post. Like the others, he’s obsessed with guns and the Second Amendment. The head of the Christian American Patriots Militia, he claims that the U.S. Constitution gives him the authority to murder President Obama. Last August, a Maine Republican called for deadly violence against the president, and two years ago another conservative did the same thing—both of these also on Facebook.

A current study shows that the number of mass shootings increased from five a year between 2000 and 2008 to 16 a year for the four following years. Although the shooters range in age, 94 percent of them are men and claim an average of two lives. “Mass shooting” is defined in the report as events in which a gunman opens fire in a public place motivated by killing many including at least one who is not “related” to the gunman. Gang violence and crimes in which shooting is a byproduct were not included in the study. A 2010 study predicted an increase in the number of mass shootings; it was right.

Claims that there’s no reason to be afraid of civilians with guns are being disproved. A recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that people holding guns are less capable of evaluating threats than if they didn’t have a weapon in their hands. Just seeing a gun affects people adversely; studies since 1967 describe the “weapons effect” in which just the presence of a gun can stimulate aggressive behavior. If people are already aggravated, seeing a gun will ramp up their aggressiveness. Another study watched drivers stuck at an intersection behind a truck that didn’t move after the light turned green. People honked more often if they saw a gun displayed in the truck’s rear window.

A gun is automatically seen as a threat, as shown in the “threat superiority effect.” People have a tendency to see dangerous objects more quickly than other ones. Danger is reflected first by dilating pupils and followed by increase in heart and respiration rates. One woman felt that way when 40 gun activists gathered outside an Arlington (TX) restaurant because Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense were meeting inside. She said, “The only reaction I had was ‘I’m not going out there at all.’ They were all carrying rifles. There was a lot of firepower and a lot of potential for carnage out in that parking lot. Absolutely I was scared.”

Gun activists claim that they want to desensitize people about this fear. They fail to recognize that fear is a useful survival instinct.  Last year Robert Pratt was carrying a shotgun in Plainwell (MI) while walking his dog. Officers tried to persuade him to take his gun back to his house, but Pratt said he was “just exercising rights as a U.S. citizen.” Cassandra Pell, the daughter of one of the officers was Pratt’s girlfriend. Pratt continued to carry his gun, and last June he used the shotgun to kill Cassandra before he committed suicide.

In an attempt to communicate with the gun activists at the meeting, my partner said that she had the right to feel safe and that the lack of universal background checks kept her from feeling safe. One of them told her she had no constitutional right to feel safe. In other words, he’s in control and can tell her what rights she should have. Maybe he just wants to rile people. Or maybe ….

April 11, 2013

Gun Vote, Not a Victory

People cheered at today’s vote in the Senate: in a 68-31 vote, the Senate passed a motion to allow debate on the proposed gun legislation. The cheers show how dysfunctional Congress has become when a victory is allowing a bill to move forward to a vote to proceed. Two Democrats (Mark Begich from Alaska and Mark Pryor from Arkansas) opposed the vote to just debate the bill, and 16 Republicans voted in favor. In the week that marks four months after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown (CT), 31 GOP senators tried to block even debating a bill to make life safer for people in this country.

This vote, however, doesn’t mean that the bill is now up for debate. It was only on “cloture,” meaning that there now has to be a vote on a motion to proceed, which could be put off for as much as 30 hours. If Senate has a majority vote to proceed, then the chamber begins debate, starting with an amendment changing the provisions regarding background checks.

The amendment comes from the NRA’s success in watering down the universal background check requirement for buying guns. Under the pretense of supporting a bill, the NRA persuaded two senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), to omit background check for private sales. Once they agreed on this change, NRA came out in strong opposition to the bill (roughly translated as “hell no!”). Commercial sales require background checks, but others do not.

Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, said that the proposal “doesn’t ‘close’ the private sale loophole” but merely “reshape[s] it.” He added:

“Private sales still won’t require a background check, so long as they occur outside a gun show or without a publicized advertisement. There’s nothing in the law that prevents someone from going to a gun show, finding the gun he likes, then meeting the seller off-site to complete the sale without a background check.”

There actually is no victory because the GOP plans a plethora of amendments to bog down the bill. Even if anything survives the Senate, there’s a 99.5 percent guarantee that the House will quash any gun legislation.

Legislators who opposes tighter gun legislation should be forced to watch a video from  Adam Gadahn, an American-born spokesperson for al Qaeda, who endorses our current lax gun control in the United States:

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

Gadahn is slightly wrong. People can buy only a semi-automatic rifle at a gun show. Even if the proposed bill is passed, however, anyone can just wander over to a neighbor and buy these weapons. Sure it might be illegal, but terrorists tend not to follow all the nation’s laws.

Republicans are considering their own gun legislation. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) wants to tighten background checks on people with mental illness and reform health care privacy laws “so we can get better access to troubled folks–the Virginia Tech situation.” He hasn’t said how his bill would differ from the one that will now move into debate because of today’s vote.

Even with a watered down bill, any Senate decision puts House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in an awkward position. Trying to look more professional, the harried leader turned all decisions over to the Senate, assuming that the gridlocked chamber could send the House no bills. If the Senate passes gun legislation, then the ball is tossed over to the highly split Republicans in the House. If he doesn’t move on legislation sent by the Senate, he looks as if he’s obstructing the will of the people. If he does—and fails—then he looks worse than he does now. Boehner, like all the other House members, is up for re-election in a year.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who supported a Pennsylvania background checks law in the state Legislature almost 20 years ago, expressed support for the Senate background checks measure. On the other hand Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Phil Gingrey (R-GA) didn’t want anything to do with the Senate bill and wanted a plan.

Sources indicated four House options if the Senate sends them anything: pass it along to the House Judiciary Committee for a markup (to procrastinate and then gut the bill); ask that committee for its own bill (to match whatever the NRA wants); ignore the bill (unlikely because they’ll get in trouble); or move it directly to the floor (if the GOP gets in trouble without doing that).

In the meantime, anti-gun legislation people are moving along in their own way that displays their mental illness. Last week, after the U.N. passed its first international Arms Trade Treaty by 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions, saber-rattling GOP senators started their opposition. The Senate must ratify the treaty by a two-thirds vote—67 senators voting in favor—before the United States can be a party to the treaty. Last month, the Senate added an amendment to the budget plan to stop this from happening.  The treaty cannot take effect until at least 50 countries ratify it.

As usual, conservative senators use misinformation to oppose what they don’t want. The treaty would not control the domestic use of weapons anywhere, but it would require countries that ratify it to have federal regulations to control gun transfers and regulate arms brokers. The purpose of the treaty is to regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade by keeping illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters, and organized crime. The United States is responsible for 30 percent of international gun transfers.

The three countries who voted against the treaty? Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Because of the U.S. conservatives, the United States is adopting the policies of countries that Bush labeled the “axis of evil.” Last summer, conservatives said they needed more time to consider the treat. Their position was immediately echoed by Russia and China.

One bright spot comes from Maine. Following the lead of four other states, its state legislature took up two dozen gun bills. One bill would ban carrying weapons “in a public place in a manner that causes a reasonable person to suffer intimidation or alarm.” Another would limit the size of magazines to 10 rounds. (There is a backlash, one bill preventing governments from destroying firearms and ammunition received from gun buybacks and another exempting firearms and ammunition from federal laws.) Since Democrats regained control of Maine’s legislature, GOP Gov. Paul LePage has generally refused to meet with it or sign any bills that it passes.

Mayors against Illegal Guns plans to take a page out of NRA’s book and grade lawmakers on their support for gun safety regulations. For decades, the NRA has operated a reign of terror to bully legislators who oppose their draconian positions on lax gun regulation. Now Mayors will have a scorecard to show voters and donors.

How afraid are the GOP senators who promised to filibuster any gun legislation? CBS News contacted all 14 of them, and all 14 refused to be interviewed about the filibuster. That includes Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who desperately wants publicity. Last December NBC’s Meet the Press  and CBS’s Face the Nation both commented on gun-rights backers’ refusing to appear on their programs. It looks like fear to me.

NRA’s fear was palpable when the association presented its grand new plan to stopping gun violence by making schools safer through more guns and fixing mental illness in the nation. The rollout of “National School Shield” was accompanied by security guards at the National Press Club. About 20 of them, approximately one for every three reporters attending the event, presented an unusual spectacle with uniforms, exposed gun holsters, earpieces, and bulges under their suit jackets, according to Dana Milbank.

The plan, replete with guns at school and supposedly in “full independence” from the NRA, was pretty much like the plan that the NRA proposed three days after the Sandy Hook massacre. Background checks weren’t part of it.

Milbank wrote:

“A reporter asked Hutchinson what he was afraid of.

“’There’s nothing I’m afraid of. I’m very wide open,’ Hutchinson replied, separated from his unarmed questioners by an eight-foot buffer zone, a lectern, a raised podium, a red-velvet rope and a score of gun-toting men. ‘There’s nothing I’m nervous about.’”

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