Category Archives: Nevada legislature

Freedom

No, “it’s” not about religious freedom.  Religious freedom means there will no  established national religion in the United States of America, or in Nevada, or in wherever USA.  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” [Amendment I]  There will be no national church, nor shall anyone be prohibited from his or her own free exercise of his or her religion.  That doesn’t mean that he or she may impose his or her religion upon others in the public sphere.   Some people appear to be operating on the delusion that their private sanctuary extends to the horizons.

If a person’s religion requires keeping one’s head covered before God but mine doesn’t, then who am I to require that they remove the yarmulke in my place of business? Asking a man to remove his keffiyeh or tagiyah makes no more sense.  That these gentlemen are wearing a yarmulke, a keffiyeh, or a tagiyah, or a turban,  in no way impinges on my belief that the head covering is unnecessary.

I should no more require a woman to remove her hijab…her sheila…or her doa guan before being served than I should tell a nun to remove her habit.   If seeing a person in a yarmulke or a hijab makes me uncomfortable, makes me feel like “others” are invading my personal “religious” space, then I should reflect very carefully on where their space ends and mine begins.

What I am not free to do in my place of business in the public sphere is to hang up a sign reading “Keffiyeh, yarmulke, turban, hijab, mitpachat (aka tichels), doa guan? No Service.”   I am free to exercise my religious beliefs — by not wearing a head cover; however, I am not free to require others remove theirs in my presence.   Nor can I “exercise” my religion in the public sphere by discriminating against others of different faiths.

If I were to believe that life begins at conception then I would not approve of an abortion for myself or the members of my family over which I have direct control. However, if my neighbor believes that life doesn’t begin until the infant takes its first independent breath, I have no right to impose my religious tenets upon my neighbor.  That family is just as free to function in terms of its own religious freedom of conscience as I am to function within the framework of mine.

One of the more interesting features of the contemporary “religious freedom” argument is how members of the predominant faith in this nation have somehow come to believe that they are a set-upon minority battling the forces of secularism and plurality.  They are beset by attacks — on Christmas? on Life? on Easter?  At least if they watch enough cable television from a certain unmentionable network clamoring for ratings they might appear to be.  In the pride they take in being the Cincinnatus At The Gates of Modern Morality, they seem to have forgotten (1) they aren’t really under attack, and (2) that the state, the public domain, is not constituted for their comfort. For more thoughts on this subject see the post here.

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SB 192 Nevada Dodged A Bullet

Rainbow Flag 2In the last session of the Assembled Wisdom several members of the Nevada Republican Party introduced SB 192 which “Enacts the Nevada Preservation of Religious Freedom Act to prohibit governmental entities from substantially burdening the exercise of religion. (BDR 3-477).”   Those twho originally sponsored this bill included: Cegavske, Hutchison, Hammond, Hardy, Denis, Ford, Goicoechea, Gustavson, Jones, Kieckhefer, Kihuen, Parks, Roberson, Segerblom, Settelmeyer, Smith, Woodhouse, Fiore, Duncan, Hardy, Grady, Hambrick, Hickey, Kirkpatrick, Kirner, Oscarson, Stewart, and Woodbury.

The bill got a vote in the State Senate and passed 14-7 with Atkinson, Ford, Manendo, Parks, Smith, Woodhouse, and Spearman voting in opposition.  The testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 13, 2013 was instructive — especially so in view of the comments made by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as she vetoed the Arizona version.

Members of the committee asked those testifying in favor of the bill to provide an example of a person in the state of Nevada who had had their religious liberties violated by the current framework of non-discrimination statutes.  As close as the members got to an answer came from a representative from the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“You have asked about specific incidents in Nevada to which this bill is a response. I am not aware of any violations of the kind detailed in Exhibit E that have occurred in Nevada. We may not know when rights violations like this occur because those who consult attorneys might be told they have no legal recourse. ”  [Schultz pdf]

In short, NO. There hadn’t been any actual problems, but ‘gee whiz maybe there might be someone out there who got told by a lawyer that discriminating against people probably wouldn’t fly‘ or sometime in the future somewhere on the horizon, or something….  Not to put too fine a point to it but the EPPC was one of the initial think tanks established for the Culture Warriors, and one especially associated with highlighting what its sponsors saw as a plague of secular humanism (whatever that might be).  They are pleased to continue following this path.

Not surprisingly, between the mid 1980s and 2001 the group was funded by all the usual suspects — the Castle Rock Foundation, the Scaifes, the Koch Brothers, the Olin Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation.  [SW]  [NVProg] The anti-gay refrain commonly associated with conservative think tanks of the sort supported by the bed rock foundations emerged during the hearing when, unable to provide any concrete examples of anti-religious discrimination in the state a spokesperson for the Church State Council described the proposed legislation as “pro-active” — to prevent alleged instances of religious ‘discrimination’ prior to their occurrence.  [Reinach, pdf]

One organization could provide examples of how the proposed statute could be a problem for Nevadans, it just wasn’t on the proponent’s side of the argument.   Elisa Cafferata, speaking on behalf of the Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, observed:

“I am not an attorney, and I have learned not to argue about what the law means, especially with a Committee made almost entirely of attorneys. I would just point out that the proponents of this bill could not point out any specific examples of violations in Nevada law that this bill would correct. Unfortunately, I read every day of situations in which people assert their religious rights to deny women access to health care. There are dozens of cases around the Country. We know of cases in Nevada where pharmacists have refused to provide women with birth control. We can give you hundreds of examples.”

Jane Heenan, of Gender Justice Nevada, was even more specific:

“There was an incident at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in 2010 in which a transgender person went to change the driver’s license gender marker. The person brought a letter from a doctor, which was a requirement at that time. The DMV staff member decided it was not appropriate for the person to change the gender marker and asked questions such as, “What does God think about your behavior?” and ultimately refused to perform the service. That is one example of many I could provide.”  [Heenan pdf]

Any questions?  Those holding anti-contraception and anti-gay beliefs would find some solace under the provisions of SB 192 if they foisted those tenets of faith on others.   A compromise amendment [R pdf] to SB 192 came before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 12, 2013, and assured that “non-discrimination” wouldn’t become “discrimination” the committee added its “do pass” recommendation. [NVLeg pdf]

State Senators Cegavske and Hutchinson testified (pdf) in the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s May 17th (2013) hearing on SB 192, noting: “The key provision of S.B. 192 (R1) is found in section 8 of the bill. Specifically, section 8 prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless the governmental entity demonstrates that burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that governmental interest.”

Interesting.  Note that there would have been two tests here. First, the government can’t “substantially burden” a person from (not filling a contraceptive prescription or not letting a person change the gender marker on a driver’s license) and further the burden must be commensurate with a “compelling” governmental interest — whatever that might be — and further the “burden” must be the “least restrictive means.”

No one contended at any point that religious freedom wasn’t a wonderful thing, however the implications, and actual target of the legislation was summarized quickly by the representative for the Nevada ACLU (pdf): “We are talking about language that says a religious motivation gets the greatest deference that the courts and the government could give, even though it may affect someone else whose rights do not get that same kind of deference.”

The bill went no further.  Nevada avoided the sort of publicity recently accorded the Arizona legislature over S1062.   However, before we sit back and relax enjoying the pleasant delusion that the Culture Warriors have been shamed into silence — this legislation will not be the end of the matter.

Women’s Health

There are those who devoutly hold that women are vessels, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:7″ — A bit of proof-texting is all that is necessary to bundle up a bit of Scripture to prove a woman’s subjugation to male authority, none of which goes very far towards explaining Paul’s admonition in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Texts notwithstanding, the underlying attitudes towards women’s health and the use of prescription contraceptives, aren’t so much scriptural as cultural.  As long as masculinity as defined in some unfortunate quarters by fertility women are at risk of being forced to carry to term pregnancies which can be both physically and emotionally damaging.

Gender Discrimination

I am truly sorry for those whose personal bubble is a protective device shielding them from that which they find uncomfortable in others.   Only about 3.8% of the U.S. population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. [Abt]  If two men holding hands in the park make a person “uncomfortable,” the real problem is in the eyes of the beholder, not the two fellows having a nice afternoon with a picnic lunch.    If a person is confusing a wedding ceremony with a marriage contract, that’s a matter of personal conflict; one that should not be transformed into the denial of inheritance,  access to social services, or any other legally available rights awarded to married couples.

What the law cannot protect us from is seeing what we don’t want to acknowledge.   The law can no more prevent us from seeing the men at the picnic table any more than it can prevent us from witnessing children being handed school lunches only to have the meal tossed away for non-payment.  The law can’t prevent us from seeing the deterioration of school playground equipment, nor can it prevent us from observing a transgender person in a shopping mall.   Our level of comfort is subject to our own very individual tastes and concerns.   And, our level of comfort is in no small measure a function of the level of our fears.

If a person is made more uncomfortable by the sight of a gay or lesbian couple than by the sight of humiliated children, deteriorating playgrounds, struggling retailers, an alcoholic left ignored and untreated in a doorway, or children left to play indoors on a sunny day because there is the prospect of gun fire in the neighborhood — then perhaps there is room for the reconsideration of our priorities? Not to mention the kind of life our faith is supposed to nurture.

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Nickels and Dimes and PPEs

Nickels DimesThere are numbers, and then there are numbers, some of which are of marginal utility.  For example, there’s the much used and abused “per pupil expenditure.”  Nevada’s isn’t a particularly appealing number:

“Nationally, average per-pupil spending was $10,658 during fiscal year 2011. Expenditures ranged from $6,326 in Utah to $20,793 in Washington, D.C.  Nevada spent an average of $8,411 per student in that time frame, $2,247 less than the national average.”  [LVSun]

Generally speaking, the PPE number gets bandied about as though it’s “too high” when it’s above the national median, or “too low” when it’s below.  The point should be that the local situation will determine the financial needs of school districts, and the local financial needs will drive the allocation of the funding available.

About the worst application of the PPE number is to plant it next to a table of numbers showing testing results for K-12 youngsters and then grandly announcing we’re “spending too much,” or “too little” or often from conservative quarters — “we’re not getting enough from our money.”  Here’s why this argument is counter-productive:

1. PPE numbers may incorporate funding which does not directly affect instruction.  Granting that better instruction, and better learning take place in well lit, comfortable, well furnished surroundings,  a district which has major maintenance and construction needs may have “instructional costs” elevated by the expenses associated with upgrading ventilation, heating, cooling, and furnishing projects.   We could further confuse the issues by incorporating extended ARRA funding included in 2010-11 school district budgets and thereby increase the numerator in our fractional result.  About the best we can estimate is reported in the Nevada Education Data Book (pdf 2013)  that on a statewide basis of the $8321 per pupil expended, $4,944 is categorized as instructional expense, $400 is for “support,” $886 is spent for operations, and $734 is spent for administration.

2. The PPE numbers do not illustrate the demographic elements which inform school district spending.   The Data Book (pdf) shows 437,149 children enrolled in Nevada schools.   327,770 are enrolled in Clark County Schools, another 66,137 in Washoe County Schools, and the remainder 51,830 in the rural counties.   We need to scroll further into the report to discover that Clark County’s enrollment includes about 44% Hispanic students, and 13% African American.  By contrast, Storey County records 10% Hispanic and 1% African American students.

No leap is required to conclude Nevada, and Clark County specifically, has a higher number of “limited English proficient enrollment.” (19%)  And, 50% of Nevada enrollees are eligible for free or reduced price school lunches.  Clearly, not all Hispanic youngsters are burdened with limited proficiency in English, and not all African American or Hispanic youngsters come from families functioning at or near the poverty line.  However, it would be the height of naivety to deny that higher percentages of ethnic minority students means that the allocation of resources necessary for a district with an 85% white population will be the same as one which has a 44% Hispanic population.

In short, the PPE only tells us what has been spent in general terms, and doesn’t tell us a thing about what needs to be spent.

3. Money will not solve educational issues — but it will purchase the resources necessary to meet them.   What we need to decide is what we want the educational system to do.   The answer thereof is “Curriculum, Curriculum, Curriculum.  There appear to be more “stressors” than solutions.

(a) College Prep v. Vocational:  It doesn’t require too many joint meetings between collegiate and secondary instructors to figure out that what the collegiate ranks would dearly love is to have every youngster they enroll competent to pass Calculus 101, U.S. History 101, and English 101-102.  It requires about the same amount of meetings to discover that the secondary instructors are talking about the youngsters who are not among the 120,000 students enrolled in any of the 21 degree granting institutions in the state. [Census pdf]  Let’s use math as a quick example of the stressor: A standard diploma from a Nevada high school requires 3 units of mathematics. What math?  Algebra I, II, and Geometry?  Pre-Algebra, Algebra, General Business Math?   Someone is going to be dissatisfied with any decision.

(b) What constitutes “success?”  Is it getting a “300″ on the Reading, Science, and Mathematics exit examination, or a “7″ on the writing exam? Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for youngsters being able to identify “tone” in a written piece, and I’m certainly emphatic about young people being taught to recognize propaganda when they read it.  Recognizing dramatic irony is fine, too.  However, what happens if, as an employer, I am primarily interested in hiring a young person who can follow written directions?  Who understand what is required and can fill out an accident report?  Or, who can comprehend what I mean when I say on an application form that the job I am offering requires “particular attention to personal hygiene?”   On the other hand, reading and comprehending a piece of 500 to 1200 words shouldn’t be too much to ask.   The question now evolves into Who is getting What for their tax dollars?

4. The next question is related to both the “success” questions and the demographic issues.  What does the PPE tell us about the connection between the student and the instruction?  Very Little.   A school system with a high number of limited English proficiency students which allocates its best resources toward the development of college prep coursework is probably going to have all manner of graduation rate problems or testing ‘failures.’  If the course-work itself doesn’t meet the needs of the student population it’s hard to imagine any other result.   A school system which allocates scarce resources into remedial coursework will undoubtedly leave some otherwise talented students behind their cohorts in a collegiate setting.

There are some tough questions to be asked and answered, philosophically and practically, and using simplistic references to an equation in which money = quality isn’t helpful.   There are two questions which should be asked: If we say that education is the best gift we can bestow on our children, then how much are we willing to pay for it? Secondly, how do we properly allocate and evaluate the expenditures?

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Nevada Governor’s Veto Message on Expanded Background Checks for Gun Purchases

SandovalNevada’s Republican Governor, Brian Sandoval, has vetoed SB 221 with the following rationale. (pdf)

(Oh, by the way — please be assured that the Governor really really does support expanded background checks — just not this form of expanded background checks…but notice that for all his generalized agreement in principle, his rationale for the veto is also quite generalized.)  Here goes:

(1) The bill is an “erosion” of 2nd Amendment rights, and “may subject otherwise law-abiding citizens to criminal prosecution.”  Sound familiar?  Of course, the problem with the “law-abiding citizen” argument is that everyone without an existing criminal background becomes a criminal when he or she first violates the law.  The first time a person robs a bank, the first time a person assaults another person, the first time a person embezzles, and so forth.  Or, the first time a person sells a firearm to a felon, a fugitive, a dangerously mentally unstable person, a child without parental supervision, or an undocumented person, or a person against whom there are outstanding restrictive orders pertaining to domestic abuse.

(2) The example cited by the Governor asserts that a “law-abiding” family member must request a background check for a gun sale to another family member, and a sale to a person who has a concealed carry permit must also be supervised by a licensed gun dealer.  The response to this so-called erosion is  a resounding So What?  There is NO prohibition of the sale, and there is NO prohibition of ownership — there is only the insertion of a federally licensed gun dealer who can provide a background check into the process.

(3)  The Governor finds it burdensome that the test for the prosecution for an unlawful transfer of a gun moves from “actual knowledge” that the buyer falls into a prohibited category to a “reasonable cause to believe” a person is included in the restrictions.  In short, what the Governor is saying is that it is perfectly OK by him if the seller only “suspects” the purchaser of being a felon, a fugitive, an undocumented person, a serious unstable individual, or a person on whom there are restrictions because of domestic abuse.  Go ahead, make the transaction even if the individual buyer is in the gun show parking lot wanting to purchase a crate of inexpensive hand guns — unless the seller has “actual knowledge” these are intended to arm local or regional drug gangs what the heck?

(4) The Governor calls the penalties for violations of the background check law “severe.”  A first offense would be a gross misdemeanor, and brings with it a restriction on firearms ownership for 2 years.  That’s it. No felony record, and 24 months later the miscreant seller can happily re-arm.  A second offense would be a Class E Felony and the “gun rights” will be lost.  Note that the bill in question, SB 221, does not prohibit firearms restrictions until after conviction for the second offense.  Another thing we might note before calling this penalty severe is that Class E is as low as you can go in this state and still be in the felony category. NRS 193.130 defines a Class E felony as follows:

A category E felony is a felony for which a court shall sentence a convicted person to imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 4 years. Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b) of subsection 1 of NRS 176A.100, upon sentencing a person who is found guilty of a category E felony, the court shall suspend the execution of the sentence and grant probation to the person upon such conditions as the court deems appropriate. Such conditions of probation may include, but are not limited to, requiring the person to serve a term of confinement of not more than 1 year in the county jail. In addition to any other penalty, the court may impose a fine of not more than $5,000, unless a greater penalty is authorized or required by statute.

A Class E felony maximum is four years, which can be suspended and the person granted probation “as the court deems appropriate,” and the maximum fine is $5,000.   This is hardly anywhere near the “severe” punishment level in terms of Nevada’s classifications of felonies.

(5) The Governor is hinting in his last verbiage at what might be called the Efficacy Argument. The bill is unenforceable and won’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals, at the expense of potentially making those law-abiding citizens criminals themselves.  Again, every law has the potential to make a citizen a criminal if the individual engages in proscribed acts.  Secondly, no one said the intent of the law was to prevent all criminals from getting firearms — the law already prohibits criminals from obtaining weapons — all the bill said was that we should CHECK TO MAKE SURE we aren’t selling guns to those to whom firearm ownership is already restricted.

The Governor’s veto is, indeed, a craven sop to the NRA and the gun enthusiasts who blindly believe that Everyone Everywhere should be armed, and that even requiring a quick background check to insure that guns aren’t sold to those who are already felons, fugitives, undocumented persons, juveniles, spousal abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill is unendurable.

What is unendurable is the list of shootings which since the beginning of 2012 includes Norcross GA, Jackson TN, Chardon HS OH, Pittsburgh PA, North Miami FL, Okios U Oakland CA, Tulsa OK, Seattle WA, Minneapolis MN, Oak Creek WI, Aurora CO,  Newtown CT, and most recently Santa Monica CA.

If we remember back to September 6, 2011 there were four people, law abiding citizens, killed in the Carson City IHOP by a person with a history of serious mental health issues who had modified an assault style rifle to make it fully automatic.  [MAIG]

What is unendurable is a veto message which regurgitates NRA talking points without taking even a small step toward ameliorating this situation.

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SB 221: Governor Ready To Fire Away?

GunsSB 221 (pdf) passed as amended in the Nevada Assembly on a 23-19 vote, June 3, 2013.  The bill to expand background checks for private sales of firearms now faces a veto threat from Governor Sandoval.  [LVRJ]  On what grounds?

Perhaps we might speculate about the check list of NRA friendly mantras the Governor might incorporate into such a message?

___ 1. The bill will be an onerous burden on law abiding citizens who might otherwise be likely to purchase a firearm.   There are two problems with this argument. First, there’s the “onerous” standard, and secondly who’s a law abiding citizen?

Most background checks are quick and easy.  To say that the standard background check done by a licensed firearms dealer is “onerous” is tantamount to asserting that anything less than instant gratification is “onerous.”  Remember, we’re checking to see if a person is a felon, a fugitive, a minor, a dangerously mentally ill individual, or a person who has restrictions on purchases because of a history of spousal abuse.

The sorting out of who is eligible to purchase a firearm in Nevada takes us to the second problem with the contention: Who is a law abiding citizen?  If a law abiding citizen is one without any history of being a felon, is not now a fugitive, and is not adjudged a spousal abuser under current statutory terms, then he or she must be “law abiding.”  This definition pretty much includes anyone walking freely amongst us.  If so few are actually “restricted” by the legislation then how does the burden become “onerous?”

___ 2. The enaction of expanded background checks will not solve the epidemic of gun violence in this country.  The one size fits all test is impossible.

In fact, the one size fits all test is a semantic trap.  If the legislation is drafted broadly, so as to incorporate gun trafficking, high capacity ammunition devices of various kinds, assault style rifles, expanded background checks, and other language to reduce gun violence, then the opponents immediately declare a nefarious all out assault on 2nd Amendment FREEDOM.  If the legislation is drafted narrowly, to address single issues among the many facets of the gun violence problem, then by definition “it won’t work” because it is too circumscribed to “solve” the entire issue.

___ 3.  SB 221 is a stepping off point on the slippery slope to gun registration, which is a departure point for gun confiscation.  No.  There are no other rights specified in the U.S. Constitution’s first ten amendments which are unrestricted in any form.  The slippery slope argument is grounded in fear and cultivated by propaganda.  No rational advocate of curtailing gun violence is speaking of any route to confiscation, notwithstanding the hysterical hyperbole of the NRA.

___ 4. Prohibited buyers won’t submit to background checks.  That’s the point, as succinctly made by the author of this LTE in the Reno Gazette Journal.  If prohibited buyers can’t purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer because of background check requirements AND they can’t purchase one in a private sale covered by universal background checks then the likelihood that the individual who shouldn’t have a gun is restrained from getting hold of one is increased — and that’s the function of background checks.

Here’s what the bill actually does:

“AN ACT relating to public safety; requiring a court to transmit within 5 business days certain records of adjudication concerning a person’s mental health to the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History for certain purposes relating to the purchase or possession of a firearm; authorizing the inclusion, correction and removal of the information in such records in each appropriate database of the National Crime Information Center; requiring each agency of criminal justice to submit information relating to records of criminal history within 60 days after the date of the conviction; requiring certain persons to request a background check before transferring a firearm to another person under certain circumstances; prohibiting certain persons from having possession, custody or control of a firearm; prohibiting certain persons from selling a firearm under certain circumstances; revising the functions of the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services of the Department of Health and Human Services; requiring a mental health professional to notify certain persons when a patient makes certain explicit threats of imminent serious physical harm or death; providing penalties; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.”

The bill addresses the reporting and updating of information from the judicial system and the mental health system such that dealers will have access to the best information about a buyer in as timely a manner as humanly possible.  The entire point of the measure is to assist legitimate law abiding gun dealers run background checks to sort out the felons, the fugitives, the seriously and dangerously mentally ill, and minors from procuring firearms.

Personally, I can’t think of a single firearms dealer who would even remotely want to sell a gun to a felon, a fugitive, a dangerously mentally ill individual, or a kid who’s shopping without parental permission.  I can’t imagine a licensed firearms dealer promoting his inventory to those who have histories of violent domestic abuse, or to a person intending suicide.

At this juncture in the argument we need to differentiate between “law abiding” and “responsible.”  To be law abiding one need only to have not broken any laws.  To be responsible requires more effort.

Who is responsible for Manuel Mata’s acquisition of a gun, a gun used to kill his girlfriend, her daughter, injure a 4 year old child, and then used to attempt suicide? [LVRJ]  Mr. Mata had a previous arrest.  Was it for a felony? Might his purchase have been more unlikely with expanded background checks in place?  Or, was the arrest for a misdemeanor charge, meaning that according to Nevada statutes he was still technically within the “law abiding” category?

We’d be far better off promoting the notion that being a responsible gun owner is preferred over merely being a law abiding one, and that those who are responsible citizens should be protected from the law abiding albeit irresponsible ones.   Governor Sandoval could promote this by signing SB 221 into law — time will tell if he has the political courage and moral fortitude to do so.

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Questions and Answers

>Overnight Express News Round UpAggregation: Where’s the Gun Safety/Background Check bill in the Nevada Assembly? Answer here.  Who’s the big winner in the Nevada Legislative biennial lottery?  Answer here.  From which states is an undocumented worker most likely to be deported? Answer here.  Is a grazing permit a “revocable privilege” or a “property interest?” The answer so far, but there’s probably more litigation to come.

Dept. of No Surprises:  Now, who would have guessed that the beneficiaries of various and sundry tax breaks (hereinafter called Tax Expenditures) are those in the top brackets of U.S. income earners?  Answer: Everyone, including the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.    What are the most “Cringeworthy” Quotes from Wall Street?  Let’s start with “That’s why I’m richer than you…

Contrary to the steady drum beat of radical assertions that the Social Security Administration won’t be around to help young workers when it’s time for them to retire, there’s “Social Security’s challenges continue to be modest and manageable.”  There’s more here from the CBPP.

Women Where Daily?  Members of the Armed Services Committee are seeking answers from top military brass on issues related to acts of sexual assault (predominantly against women) in the U.S. military. More here.   The ladies of the Senate confronted military leadership concerning the problem, more here.  An ex-Army prosecutor reached out to Senator Gillibrand, more from the Buffalo News.  And, Senator Boxer has teamed up with a former Marine to push the issue to the foreground.

Women can say silly things — there’s this nugget:

“I think that more important than that is making certain that women are recognized by those companies. You know, I’ve always said that I didn’t want to be given a job because I was a female, I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job. And making certain that companies are going to move forward in that vein, that is what women want. They don’t want the decisions made in Washington. They want to be able to have the power and the control and the ability to make those decisions for themselves.” Rep. Marsha Blackburn [ HuffPo]

What’s “THAT?” The reference goes back to equal pay for equal work legislation.   And, what sort of “recognition” would the ladies like from corporate America?  Money would be nice?  No one is talking about women being employed — the pay question refers to those who are already in the workplace and already getting paid an overall average of 75 cents on every dollar a man can earn.   “They” don’t want the decisions made in Washington?  Let’s go to the next line “They want to be able to have power and control and the ability to make those decisions for themselves.”   The question was about what women will be paid for their work.  Exactly what “power, control, and ability” do they have when facing an employer who discriminates based on gender?  Dear me, is Rep. Blackburn suggesting the ladies unionize?   The entire point is that in discriminatory situations the women do NOT have the power, or the control, or the ability to obtain equal remuneration for equal work.  However, we have to remember that Rep. Blackburn voted against the Lily Ledbetter Act… and the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2009.

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AB 287: One Facet of Nevada’s Mental Health Services Problems

Nevada’s unfortunate tendency to ship psychiatric patients from the Rawson-Neal facility to parts unknown has drawn appropriate scrutiny from all manner of powers that be.  [full story Las Vegas Sun] By political lights it appears we can move toward solving the problem by adding 19 beds? No word yet on the 20 consultants recommended to resolve staffing problems.

It will probably take more than that. The 2009 grading of Nevada’s overall level of psychiatric services by the NAMI earned us a “D.” (pdf)  And, that “D” was a a ‘grading on the curve’ gift.  Nevada earned an “F” in category I which includes Health Promotion and Measurement.  We got a “D” in category II, financing and core treatment or recovery services.  The state received another “D” in consumer and family empowerment, category III.   Nevada flunked category IV, community integration and social inclusion.  As well we might have given the transportation policy?

One thing failing states are not doing in terms of category IV criteria is allocating resources for long term care and housing of mentally ill individuals.  Failing states also have difficulty extracting the mentally ill from the criminal justice system.  Nevada has mental health courts — which were in serious jeopardy under funding proposals in 2011. [LVSun]  By April 2013 not much had changed. The mental health courts are still not “up to speed,” still in makeshift accommodations, still overloaded. [LVRJ]

The Nevada Legislature has taken up one significant piece of legislation concerning the treatment of those individuals, often well known to local law enforcement, who are dangerous to themselves or to others when not taking their prescribed medication.

AB 287, a bill that “Authorizes the involuntary court-ordered admission of certain persons with mental illness to programs of community-based or outpatient services under certain circumstances,” passed the Nevada Assembly on May 24, 2013.  It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.  Testimony in favor of AB 287 held in April noted:

“Currently in the state of Nevada, a person with severe mental illness is ten times more likely to be in one of your jails or prisons versus one of your psychiatric hospitals. This is a less restrictive alternative to hospitalization. While it will not solve all the issues with the mental health system in Nevada, it is a critical tool that the state is missing.” [Ragosta, TAC pdf]

One of the more insightful statements in opposition to AB 287 came from an individual who questioned the cost effectiveness of emergency treatment while the remainder of the mental health system in Nevada struggles with serious underfunding and consequent understaffing.

AB 287 will be heard in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee today. (May 28th)

Meanwhile, the funding issue continues for a state which has cut some $80 million for mental health services since 2007, and which has cut 19 staff positions by attrition.  There was some savings from pharmaceutical policy changes, but perhaps not quite enough to account for the total decrease in federal funding which dropped from $721.2 million for nationwide services in 2007-2009 to $631.2 million in 2011-2013.  [LVRJ]

Nevada’s own version of self-delusion includes visions of making a broken system work — without adequate personnel and staffing — in the interest of “saving money.”  This seems a classic case of penny wisdom and pound foolishness.

The well intentioned objections of the ACLU notwithstanding, there is a need for AB 287 to protect both the individuals who refuse treatment and  the communities in which they reside.  While we debate the finer points of civil liberties and the stigma attached to mental illness, there are still individuals who are experiencing auditory hallucinations, or who display other serious  symptoms, who “loop” through the mental health system, and who are in urgent need of assistance in some other location than a holding cell.

Nevada ranks 39th among the nation’s states in its funding for mental health care services. We can, and should do better.

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Saturday Blog and News Roundup

Cattle RoundupIt’s been a while since the last Round Up of good reading from the blogs, Nevada’s and from other parts of the country.  From the Nevada Progressive we learn that the radical fundies have put the kibosh on realistic sex education programs in the state of Nevada.  Heaven forefend we’d adopt curricula in this state which would alleviate the issue of unwanted pregnancies, provide accurate and adequate information about contraception, and prevent abortions….  There’s more on the topic from The Sin City Siren.

Looking for a concise summary of the tax issues before the Nevada legislature? Your first stop should be Sebelius’s “A Few Truths..” posting.   Hugh Jackson takes a gander at the Chamber of Commerce and its abiding love for education, just so long as it doesn’t cost them any coin of the realm — a taste of the full column.

“The chamber is “for” education. So a billionaire can sashay into a chamber gathering and win applause by saying that education needs more money — just so long as she qualifies her declaration as a “conceptual” need that merely requires the nodding of heads, as opposed to an actual need that demands businesses start paying some taxes.”

Add a bit of video to your news perusal by clicking over to Jon Ralston’s “Legislature poised to hide money and gifts.”   If all this is making you thirsty, click over to the Blue Nevadan for a list of Drinking Liberally sessions.   Another event worth noting is a rally for immigration justice in Reno on May 29th , details are available from the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus.

Best of the Week

Speaking of Immigration — Crooks and Liars posts a good read on a federal judge’s ruling that “Sheriff Joe” has been engaging in good old fashioned racial profiling.  Surprised?

How many bridges have to collapse in this country before we get SERIOUS about funding infrastructure projects?  Add the I-5 bridge over Skagit River in Washington to the list of failed structures. There’s more on the story from Think Progress.  Click over to Demos for “The High Cost of Bad Infrastructure.”

I’d be much more in tune with the current Republican poutrage over the investigation of a Fox “news” reporter IF the network hadn’t called for a DoJ investigation of the New York Times beginning  in December 2005.  Perrspectives has a post devoted to this topic. “The next month, Deputy U.S. Attorney Matthew W. Friedrich told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Bush DOJ thought that journalists or “anyone” could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for publishing classified information.”   And, then:

“As it turned out, those words came as music to the ears of Fox News and the conservative commentariat. After all, they had been cheerleading for the Bush administration to prosecute the New York Times for months.”

The National Journal has an insightful piece about “How the GOP Will Keep Stirring the Scandal Stew Over Recess.”  Nomadic Politics asks “Why should Tea Party Groups have any tax exemptions?”  Good question!

Then we have the specter of the House Republicans imperiling the U.S. economy and governance in general by refusing to appoint their own conferees, as explained in Politicususa.   While you’re on the site, see how the GOP may not be a viable national party much longer if they keep putting the interests (read: profits) of the Big Banks over the needs of students.   Oh, for the Good Old Days of the Whigs?  The Booman Tribune takes a look at our dysfunctional Congress in “Talking to a Living Room Table.”  Well worth the click and read.

Have a Great Weekend!

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A Little Insanity: Troll Time With Gun Enthusiasts!

Tin Foil Hat CautionThere’s an comment on yesterday’s post about the efficacy of gun safety legislation in the Nevada Legislature, but since the comment is so wonderfully exemplary of Gun Nuttery let’s give it the full treatment — what the heck, it’s Friday, let’s have some fun:

(1)Doesn’t matter lawsuits against the state are in progress right now against stupid liberals who think his sort of dumb legislation does anything to stop gun violence , (2) hello ” bozo who knows nothing about guns and is afraid of them”  (3) you idiots who live in Murder ,rape ,gang,carjacking ,central ,who have the strictest laws THAT DON’T WORK think restricting law abiding citizens and penalizing them does one thing to stop gun violence are deluted.  (4) Crooks don’t turn in their guns in your stupid buy backs,you only unarmed the public and crooks laugh at you better than thou’s. (5) They don’t BUY guns,they steal or buy stolen guns. (6) You stupid idios letthem out of jail on parole so the unarmed citizen gets killed in city’s like Chicago.,Wash DC,LA etc,and you want to pass that assinnty on to Nevada.”

Where to begin? (1) Actually, no it doesn’t matter if there is litigation in the offing testing the definitions and constitutionality of any legislation enacted by any legislative body.  Since the ruling in Marbury v. Madison in 1803, the judicial branch has retained the authority to determine the constitutionality of legislation; and, the notion that a court might declare a statute unconstitutional doesn’t arbitrarily mean the statute should not have been enacted.  The courts could just as easily decide the statute IS constitutional — witness the Affordable Care Act decision by the current Supreme Court.

Further, if the intent of legislation is to reduce the level of gun violence in this country, especially violence associated with felons, fugitives, juveniles, undocumented aliens, and the dangerously mentally ill, then it would stand to reason that making firearm purchases by individuals falling into these categories more restricted would alleviate the problem.  The trap in this argument is the requirement that a single piece of legislation must solve the entire problem or be declared “ineffective” and less than useless.  Statutes against bank robbery aren’t 100% effective, but we still frown on felonious behavior in these instances.

(2) No, as a gun owner, I am not afraid of firearms.  However, I do respect them.  I know that the gun is statistically 22 times more likely to be the agent of a homicide or suicide than it is to be used in self defense.  That’s why it’s locked up.  Additionally, there are these cold statistics:

“Firearms were used to kill more than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicide victims between 1990 and 2005. Domestic violence assaults involving a firearm are 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm.” [LCPGV]

Even in the absence of any domestic violence in this homestead, I’ve no desire to compound someone else’s drama by leaving a loaded firearm in an insecure place so a theft could end up being the opening act in a full blown tragedy.  That’s why the ammunition is secured separately from the firearm.

(3) Actually, I don’t live in Car-Jack Heights, nor do I reside in Murder Alley.  I conform to the general profile of gun owners — white, educated, rural, small town, American. [NJIS]  However, if I were a resident of one of the urban areas in this state, I’d still not be arming myself to the rafters.  While I do dearly love the scripted TV melodramas, I am also aware that the “murder rate” in Reno, Nevada is 0.06 per 1,000 residents; the “rape rate” in Reno, Nevada is 0.13 per 1,000 residents, [TNS]  and those statistics aren’t sufficiently elevated to make me do much more than be aware of my surroundings, and lock my vehicle.

The statistics for Las Vegas, Nevada (CSI not considered) are the same in the murder department, i.e. 6 per 1,000 residents, and the rape stats are 0.44 per 1,000.  [TNS] Again, these aren’t high enough to make me believe there is a rapist and murderer in all the shadows … much less that there’s someone out to make Las Vegas, Nevada a replication of Cabot Cove, Maine in the murder numbers.  The numbers are high enough to make me lock doors, but certainly not enough to make me want to bother with carrying a firearm.

By the way, I don’t think this is a “deluted” state of mind.  I trust you meant “deluded” but I’d also hasten to assure you that my sanity isn’t diluted by watching all those scripted TV shows.   There’s one more point in part 3 of the rant that deserves scrutiny — the “strict laws don’t work,” assertion.  Contra:

“We covered the fact that the likelihood of homicide increases with a gun in the home. It is true however that the majority of gun crime occurs with illegal guns, but that number, as established, speaks loudly to our weak national gun laws due to interstate gun trafficking. Guns become illegal when they are bought in an area with lax laws and sold in an area with tight laws on the black market. Even then, as the number of legal guns increases, so too does the likelihood of a gun falling into the wrong hands, as shown by the Sandy Hook shooting.” [HuffPo]

The New York Post, not exactly a bastion of liberal media and thinking, reports rather directly on the relationship between illegal gun trafficking and the law enforcement issues in states with restrictive measures in place on firearms:

“New York’s tough-as-nails gun laws aren’t doing much to stop illegal weapons purchased in other states from getting into criminal hands here, according to a federal analysis released yesterday. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced 8,793 guns seized in New York in 2011 and found that just 1,595 were bought in the state. The rest came from places with less restrictive gun laws — primarily Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.” [NYP]

Thus, the assertion that strict gun laws in some areas are undermined by lax sales in others cuts both ways, as it could also be used to argue for more stringent restrictions nationwide to prevent the importation of illegal firearms into regions in which they are misused.

(4) True, most gun buy back programs end up with firearms people don’t want, not necessarily firearms criminals are willing to surrender.  However, that narrow point misses a larger one.  Buy back programs with their attendant publicity are an effective way to elevate  public awareness, and some neighborhoods have used the programs to attract more attention and resources for efforts that do work, like more overtime for police departments, or  protocols like  “focused intervention” policing. [USAT]  If the program makes a community more aware of gun violence problems, or a neighborhood more prone to support police operations — what’s the harm?

(5)Criminals don’t buy guns…” I think we addressed that above, i.e. what they also do is buy guns from gun traffickers.  We do have a “stolen gun” problem:  “More than half a million firearms are stolen each year in the United States and more than half of stolen firearms are handguns, many of which are subsequently sold illegally.” [ATF] However, the notion that only stolen guns are involved in street crime misses another set of numbers:

“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) issued a comprehensive report in 2000 detailing firearms trafficking investigations involving more than 84,000 diverted firearms, finding that federally licensed firearms dealers were associated with the largest number of trafficked guns – over 40,000 – and concluded that the dealers’ “access to large numbers of firearms makes them a particular threat to public safety when they fail to comply with the law.”3

According to ATF, one percent of federally licensed firearms dealers are responsible for selling almost 60 percent of the guns that are found at crime scenes and traced to dealers.”  [LCPGV] (emphasis added)

Take the stolen firearm problem and add 1% of the federally licensed firearms dealers who are raking in revenue from selling 60% of the guns found at crime scenes and traced back to dealers, and we have a better picture of the overall problem.  This situation could substantiate a call for better statutes at the state and federal level than a concept supportive  of less restriction.

(6) Recidivism is a problem for our corrections institutions.  However, once more the statistics are insufficient incentive for me to demand full term incarceration, or to open my check book at the local gun dealer’s establishment.

“During 2007, a total of 1,180,469 persons on parole were at-risk of reincarceration.  This includes persons under parole supervision on January 1 or those entering parole during the year. Of these parolees, about 16% were returned to incarceration in 2007.” [BJS]

So, are these  felons out committing murders?  Rapes? That would be a general “no.”

“Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%).”  [BJS]

What about the rapists and murderers?  Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide. [BJS]  That’s correct — 2.5% of the released rapists, and 1.2% of those who committed homicide.   Yet again, these statistics aren’t going to induce me to spend any more money on arms and ammunition.   It might be “assinnty” to believe given the relatively low crime rates in Nevada, and the tendency of gun traffickers to be recidivists, that we don’t need better controls over who purchases firearms in the Silver State.

When all is said and done, the assumption that “law-abiding citizens” should be so fearful of their environment that unlimited access to all manner of firearms by all manner of people is disturbing in itself.  In recent years I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of cities like Washington, D.C. and ridden the Metro all over town — without feeling as though I should have added a firearm to my accessories.  I’ve spent weeks in San Antonio, Atlanta, and New Orleans — all the heat I felt I needed was from the climate.  I’ve spent time in Denver, St. Louis,  and Cleveland, and no, there was no reason in any of those cities to feel insecure without a lethal weapon.   In short, the author of the comment has my sympathy for his evident paranoia about residing in this country, but I can’t empathize with the debilitating fear which underpins the assumptions.

I’d like my fellow citizens to enjoy our hospitality in Reno, and in Las Vegas, feeling secure that we run background checks on everyone for every sale of a firearm, that we don’t countenance carrying assault style rifles with large capacity clips into our movie theaters or public spaces, and that we believe in keeping firearms out of the hands of those who are dangerously mentally ill, or who might be felons and fugitives.

I’d be pleased to see the day when it dawns on most sentient human beings that the  proliferation of firearms only serves to make us less safe, and less able to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, … insure domestic tranquility.”   We might be getting there:

“Both the Pew survey and a new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that support for the defeated Manchin-Toomey measure, which would have expanded background checks to all gun show and online purchases, is also widespread. In the Pew survey, 73 percent said the Manchin-Toomey proposal should be passed if reintroduced, while 67 percent of respondents to the Post/ABC poll said the Senate did the wrong thing in rejecting the legislation.” [HuffPo]

*Now that we’ve dispensed with the trolling, there is a troll notification test which should  have been inserted before all the text in this post. Enjoy.

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A Little Gun Sanity in Nevada: SB 221 Passes Senate

Guns The Nevada Progressive has been following SB 221 (pdf) in the Nevada Legislature.  The bill to require background checks for gun purchases passed the State Senate on a party line 11-10 vote May 22, 2013.  The Legislative Counsel summarizes the core of the bill as follows:

 “Existing law authorizes a private person who wishes to transfer a firearm to another person to request the Central Repository to perform a background check on the person who wishes to acquire the firearm. (NRS 202.254) Section 8 of this bill requires, with certain exceptions which are set forth in section 7.8 of this bill, that a private person who wishes to transfer a firearm to another person request that a federally licensed firearms dealer submit a request for a background check to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.”  (Abstract here)

This shouldn’t be too difficult a bill to comprehend. There are just a few categories of individuals who cannot legally obtain firearms in this state: Felons, Fugitives, Dangerously Mentally Ill, Undocumented Persons, and Minors.  Someone should probably add “individuals on the Terrorist Watch List?”  Be that as it may — these categories preclude gun ownership in the interest of public safety, except of course if these self-same individuals avail themselves of gun show parking lots, Internet sales, and other gun sellers and traffickers who don’t want to be bothered or inconvenienced with background checks.

Objections range from the bizarre to the banal.  Ammoland calls for opposition based on fearmongering:

“SB 221 will in effect create a registration system of all firearms transferred privately. This bill also makes revisions to Nevada law regarding mental health.  An individual who fails to comply with the new background check transfer requirements would be prohibited from possessing a firearm for a period of two years after being found guilty of a gross misdemeanor.”

Actually, that would be “no” — there is no registration system established in the bill.   Weasel words, like “in effect,” simply allow the writer latitude to assert — without substantiation — that any background check will start the rock rolling down the declivitous slope to Registration.

The Daily Caller is a bit more rabid on the subject:

“SB 221 carries severe penalties for violations that could result in a loss of Second Amendment rights. An individual who fails to comply with the new background check transfer requirements would be guilty of a gross misdemeanor and prohibited from possessing a firearm for a period of two years. The second offense would be a felony, resulting in loss of Second Amendment rights.”

Yes, people who violate the law, whether the statute refers to a misdemeanor or a felony, usually lose rights.  Commit a felony in Nevada and a person loses all manner of rights. For example, felons must follow the provisions of NRS 213.155 in order to vote.   There is a large difference between “losing a right” and common sense restrictions on “rights” such that liberty doesn’t devolve into license.   This concept is often missed on the radical right during discussions of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Flashback

There are no other rights specified in the U.S. Constitution which are not subject to common sense restrictions.   Free speech does not support slander. Free press does not allow libel.  Freedom of religion doesn’t allow a person to practice human sacrifice. Freedom of assembly doesn’t mean mobs can riot at will.  My home may be my castle — but if my neighbor sees stolen goods in my garage and calls the police none of my 4th Amendment rights are violated.  I can’t be tried twice for the same crime, but if I rob three different house the District Attorney may be pleased to try me for three separate crimes, and nothing in the 5th Amendment would prevent that.

The 8th Amendment says I can’t be subjected to “excessive bail,” but if I commit a truly heinous — Headline News worthy — crime of the century, nothing prevents the judge from assigning a bail for which I don’t have the funds in my checking account.

Even the 13th Amendment, the one prohibiting involuntary servitude, has limits.  Should I be convicted by a jury of my peers of my Headline News worthy crime of the month, then I can expect to be “serving” the state, if not breaking up rocks or making license plates, then in some other tasks assigned to me.

In short, as discussed previously,  there are no Constitutional rights which don’t require some level of personal responsibility.   Extrapolated to its conclusion the “Second Amendment” exceptionalism would reduce us to medieval entities, each armed to the maximum, each assured of perhaps not so much the righteousness of its cause but its efficacy in arms.  Even a rather conservative U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t taken the Second Amendment interpretation to these absurd extremes.

The Right Question

The essential question before the Nevada Legislature is whether or not we want  felons, fugitives, the dangerously mentally ill, undocumented persons, and juveniles to have convenient access to deadly weapons?

The sane answer would be NO.  The sane vote in the Nevada Assembly on SB 221 would be YES.

More News From Gun Land

Meanwhile the tragedies compound –

“The Lyon County sheriff’s office is investigating the shooting death of a juvenile in Dayton over the weekend.  Deputies say a preliminary investigation suggests it was an accidental shooting.  Officers say they were called to the scene on Riverpark Parkway about 11 a.m. Sunday. No other details have been released. The names of those involved are being withheld because of their ages.” [RGJ]

“Authorities were searching for at least two gunmen who walked up to the door of a Northern California home and opened fire, killing a 10-year-old girl and injuring her parents.

“Whoever these gunmen were, they were directly outside the front door,” Sacramento County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Jason Ramos said Sunday. “This was not a drive-by. These gunmen approached the house and shot inside.” [Las Vegas Sun]

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera has taken it upon himself to catalog incidents of gun violence in the U.S.  The entries are depressing, but informative.  If even a few of the tragic incidents logged in Nocera’s Gun Reports could have been prevented by expanding background checks then we would be able to reduce the level of the misery meter for families across this country.

Better still, if we could bring ourselves to (1) ban military style assault weapons, (2) limit ammunition capacity, (3) enact provisions in statute concerning the safe storage of firearms, and (4) prevent more gun trafficking from states with lenient to non-existent gun regulations to urban and suburban neighborhoods, then Nocera’s reports could be diminished significantly.  IF.

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