Tag Archives: Nevada legislature

Nevada: Vote Like Your Right To Vote Depends On It

Ballot BoxThere’s one Nevada political race which hasn’t attracted as much limelight as might be justified.  That would be the race for Secretary of State.  The Secretary of State’s office has authority over elections and voting, and the implementation of Nevada election laws and regulations.  The Nevada Republican Party has already put citizens on notice that it intends to flog the Election Integrity Mule all the way to the polls.

Here’s their 2014 election platform statement:

“We advocate proof of U.S. citizenship and residency at the time of voter registration and requiring government issued photo ID at the time of voting.  We oppose same day voter registration to preserve election integrity.  We strongly support all electronic voting systems having a voter verified paper audit trail, used in the event of a recount.”

Look closely at the first sentence.  Yes, everyone supports the idea that a person is a U.S. citizen, and is a resident for the purposes of voting.  And, yes if a person does the registration paperwork to vote in Nevada a government issued ID or driver’s license is required. [NVSoS] If a person doesn’t have a government issued ID or driver’s license then the individual must register in person at the county election office, clerk or registrar. [NVSoS]

Once the paperwork is filed and the voter is included among those eligible to vote in Nevada, when a person goes to the polls the burden of proof to refuse that individual a ballot is on the government — not the individual.  It is up to the government to demonstrate you are not eligible to vote — it is not up to you to prove that you are.

So, here the second part of that sentence comes into play.  Under the Nevada Republican scheme of things, not only does a person have to prove citizenship and residency during the registration process, BUT the person must also prove he or she is eligible to vote at the polling place.  In other, unminced words, the burden of proof is now shifted from “you are eligible to vote unless the government can prove you aren’t” to “you are not eligible to vote until you prove you are.”

Since voting irregularities are illegal, what the Nevada Republican Party is advocating is a system in which you are NOT presumed  innocent until you are proven guilty, you are presumed guilty until you can prove you aren’t.  [Extended discussion here]

The second sentence doesn’t make much sense. If you have proof of citizenship and residency a few days before an election, wouldn’t you have it on election day?  Should there be issues regarding either element there’s always recourse to the provisional ballot.  The only thing that same day registration actually does is make voting easier and more convenient.

And all this in the interest of providing ‘election integrity.’  Nor is this a recent idea.  ALEC and its allies have been shoving the concept of increased corporate influence and decreased citizen participation for some time — and they do have Nevada allies. [DB]

There was an effort during the 2011 legislative season to enact a voter photo ID law. [DB] Legislators Roberson, Hardy, Hansen, Woodbury, Stewart, and Hambrick were the Suppression Six.  Among the bills they sponsored or supported were AB 327, AB 341, AB 425, AB 434, and SB 374.

State Senator Barbara Cegavske added her own bill to the mix, AB 311 jointly sponsored by Hardy, Sherwood, Hansen, Munford, Gustavson, and Halseth.  The bill would have eliminated all early voting in Nevada elections.

Another bit of red, white, and blue fearmongering was addressed in 2011 by SB 178, sponsored by Gustavson, Hardy, McGinness, Roberson, Settelmeyer, Hansen, Ellison, Goedhart, Goicoechea, Hambrick, Kirner, and McArthur.  The bill was a rather blatant bit of immigrant bashing, with whispers of “illegals” voting in the toxic mixture.

During the 2013 session of the state legislature there were another spate of bills regarding photo ID statutes and other means of making voting less convenient and more restrictive.  There was SB 63 (photo ID), SB 367 (repetition of immigrant bashing  SB 178/2011) , AB 216 (Photo ID) sponsored by Sen. Gustavson, Hansen, Wheeler, Ellison, Hambrick, Fiore, P. Anderson, Grady, Livermore, and Stewart.  AB 319 (Photo ID) sponsored by Stewart, Hambrick, Hansen, Duncan, Grady, Hardy, Hickey, Kirner, and Livermore.

And what of making voting more convenient?  During the 2013 legislative session, AB 440 was passed which would have extended the period for voter registration. The bill passed the Assembly on a 25-16 vote. [NVLeg] It passed the Nevada Senate on a 11-10 vote.  The Nay votes came from Brower, Cegavske, Pete Goicoechea, Gustavson, Hammond, Hardy, Hutchison, Ben Kieckhefer, Roberson, and Settelmeyer. [NVLeg]  The bill was vetoed by Governor Sandoval.

There appear to be two outcomes the Nevada Republican Party would very much like to see in the upcoming 2014 elections.  The first would be to control the State Senate, and the second might very well be to elect State Senator Barbara Cegavske as the new Secretary of State.

Democrats in Nevada would be well advised to vote in 2014 as if their right to vote depended on it — given the platform, the previous legislative efforts, and the voting records of Nevada Republicans in the Legislature, Senator Barbara Cegavske in particular — it might.

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Filed under Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Politics, Vote Suppression, Voting

Nevada Primary Election Results Link Here

Ballot BoxWant all the election results from the 2014 Primary?  The Secretary of State’s Office has them all right here.   Dig away to your heart’s content!

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The Great Food Fight of 2009

Food trayA prison is a building in which people are legally confined as punishment for a crime. A Penitentiary is a place for socially sanctified punishment, reformation, and discipline.  There’s just enough difference between the two definitions to create some controversial space.

If the function is purely disciplinary then the absence of educational, mental health, and reformatory services isn’t all that important.  However, this perspective ignores an obvious reality:  Most of the individuals incarcerated by the State of Nevada are going to eventually be released.

Of the 13,110 inmates reported as of November 28, 2013:  0.63% have an “active death sentence.” 21.42% are serving an “indeterminate,” or life sentence.  [DOC pdf]  Therefore, 77.95% of those currently residing in Nevada’s prisons are going to return to general society.  We know they were car thieves, or drug sellers, or spousal batterers, or whatever sort of felon when they were sentenced.  The question which needs to be asked after sentencing is — What are they going to be when they get out?

The Exemplary 2009 Food Fight

In October 2013 Corrections Director Greg Cox,” noted that per inmate costs are $19,907 a year, which he said was “on the low side.” California inmates costs are $24,000 per inmate, he added. Nevada inmates are allotted just $2.54 per day for food, with the same menu used at all prisons.” [LVRJ]

For those of the “prison perspective the $2.54 is too much.  In 2008 Republican legislator James Settelmeyer took his cue from Arizona, proposing further food service cuts:

“Settelmeyer, like many fans of harsher prison settings, points to the work of Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who likes to brag he feeds inmates for 30 cents a day, even though the truth is something more like $2 and some change. Arpaio has managed to cut back food costs, Settelmeyer said, and “make prison just a little bit less enjoyable.” [LVSun]

Thus Assembly Bill 228 was introduced in the 2009 session of the Nevada Legislature.  The confluence of diet and punishment emerged in the committee hearings.  [NevLeg pdf]  Assemblyman Horne asked about the differentiation between high risk inmates (who spend about 23 hours locked in) and those in lower risk categorizations (who are allowed more time out of their cells.)  Indeed, prison would be a ‘less enjoyable’ experience for those who could assemble with others for meals, as opposed to being in their cells for a distribution of a cold breakfast.  Horne noted that ‘privileges’ such as being allowed yard and meal time was a tool used by prison management to promote cooperation, and that the removal of such ‘tools’ would create both morale and management problems.

Secondly, Horne ask about the procurement process, observing that local businesses were the ones supplying the breakfast items, and suggested that the loss of these contracts would result in a decline in the revenues for local businesses.  Nevada, unlike some neighboring states, purchases food products locally.

A third major cautionary segment concerning the Arpiao Promoters came to the fore when those who were actually involved in prison food service spoke of food handling and transportation issues, and nutritional issues such as finding a protein substitute for eggs — at possibly greater expense.  The hearing closed after Assemblyman Settelmeyer agreed to receive several friendly amendments and others offered to secure more information.  The bill died in committee.

If nothing else, the 2009 Food Fight illustrated the difference between the theoretical and ideological arguments of the Tough Guy approach — punishment first — elements, and the perspectives of those who actually have to deliver food services to the prison population.  First, Settelmeyer and his supporters were careful to couch their proposal in “cost savings” language.  Food, Settelmeyer observed, should not be used as a form of punishment.  However, the actual cost savings became less clear as the practical details involved in the actual delivery of food to such institutions as the High Desert prison were explained.  Nor was the cost savings any more apparent when food service professionals tried to explain the nutritional basics for any institutional meal plan.  The question was not revived in the 2013 session.

The low tier-high tier differentiation between prisoners in a single institution as described in the Food Fight of 2009  may also mirror the larger systemic situation.  The last audit report published for 2010-2011 (pdf) indicates that 17.32% of Nevada’s prisoners were “minimum security,” and another 61.62% were “medium security” inmates.  17.85% of inmates were categorized as “close security,” and only 3.22% were said to require “maximum security.”  Thus, some 78.94% of Nevada inmates required less than close or maximum security — the form of imprisonment most often imagined by proponents of the Tough School.

Alternatives

Taking a step further — there are alternatives under which the state of Nevada would have even fewer inmates to house and to feed.  For example, the maintenance of Mental Health Courts could be utilized to screen those whose psychological/psychiatric issues are better addressed by hospitalization or out-patient treatment than in a prison context.  Likewise the expansion of Veterans Treatment Courts could better serve former members of the armed forces who are suffering from service related trauma, substance abuse issues, and other mental illness concerns.

Speaking of Specialty Courts, “Nevada has 46 Specialty Court programs: 29 urban and 17 rural programs. These 46 programs include 17 adult drug courts including, diversion and child support, 3 family drug courts, 3 mental health courts, 6 juvenile drug courts, 2 prison re-entry courts, 6 DUI courts, 5 hybrid DUI/drug courts, 1 prostitution prevention court, 1 veterans treatment court, and 2 habitual offender courts.” [NVJS] What might we achieve if we allocated more resources to these Specialty Courts?

We might also take a look at the way we prosecute individuals in Category B felonies, for which there is a one year minimum to twenty year maximum sentence in Nevada.  One element is that a person has been convicted of “multiple felony convictions.”  Granted that gang recruitment is nothing we want to encourage, but a person could be incarcerated under Category B for a combination of gang recruitment by an adult plus setting fires to some unoccupied structures or landscaping (third degree arson).  Under the expansive definition of Category B’s “multiple” concept a string of drug possession convictions could result in “multiple felony convictions.”  If we’d step back from the Throw the Book at them mentality, and seek alternatives such as Drug Courts, and more emphasis on rehabilitation services, there might be fewer Category B felons in need of housing by the state of Nevada.

In short, Nevada’s prison population trends are generally downward, thereby keeping the budget pressures from building as they did in 2010.  Some thought expended on how to resolve issues leading to criminal behavior AND reducing the costs of incarceration would be a good exercise in the 2015 legislative season.

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Because we don’t count it doesn’t mean it doesn’t count

Question MarksWe know that as of November 28, 2013 there were 13,110 individuals incarcerated by the Nevada Department of Corrections.  We know that the average age at intake (median) is 32 for men and 33 for women.   We know that 12,856 are categorized as “in house” population.  [NVDC pdf] Further, we know that 91.63% of our prison population is male, 8.37% female; and, 45.56% of the population is white, 27.85% are African American, 21.69% are Hispanic, with 1.76% Native American.

What we don’t know may be more revealing.  How many of these inmates suffer from mental illnesses?  How many of them have physical disabilities?  From the 2011 Annual Audit (pdf) of the Nevada Department of Corrections we can learn that there are two institutions designated “Medical Centers” for the NVDC,  and one designated Mental Health Center.  There are three Substance Abuse Treatment centers, and one designated Geriatric Unit.

The Nevada Department of Corrections describes its medical services as follows:

“Each major institution has a medical and dental clinic and some infirmary capacity.  There are two institutions with on-site acute care infirmaries with approximately 91 infirmary beds.  The medical staff engages in over 600 patient care contacts each day statewide.  The Medical Division provides primary care at each institution and on-site clinics are held periodically with outside specialists such as cardiologists, surgeons, and gastroenterologists.  The Medical Division also provides hospitalization in community hospitals when necessary.”

Again, this information tells us the outline of services available for treating inmates in Nevada prisons, but it doesn’t give us the numbers of individuals treated.   What we don’t know renders the related issues cloudy.  For example, there’s the uncomfortable estimate floating around that of 2010 there were 9.8 seriously mentally ill persons incarcerated for every one who was being treated in a mental health facility.  [NPW]  If this is accurate then it does tend to encourage the conclusion that we are more likely to lock up our mentally ill than to hospitalize them.

The Department of Corrections reports that there is a $9.29 average cost for medical services provided per inmate.  [NVDC pdf]  Administration costs $4.77 per inmate, and “programs” cost $1.46.

The NIMH reports, now somewhat dated, offer a dismal glance at that happens to — or for — mentally ill inmates:

“The Department of Justice’s Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities (2004) and Survey of Inmates in Local Jails (2002) also indicate that fewer than half of inmates who have a mental health problem have ever received treatment for their problem. A third or fewer received mental health treatment after admission. These rates differ depending upon the type of correctional facility.”

If we are having some difficulty interpreting the numbers associated with the treatment of mentally ill prisoners in the Nevada system, the screen goes blank when seeking information about the physically handicapped, the visually impaired or blind, and the deaf.

Some of the inmates who fall into these categories may qualify for Nevada’s initiative to deal with an aging prison population.  [CGAct] Again, what we don’t know is how many, and under what circumstances, those less than 50 or 60 years of age fare with services for disabled individuals in Nevada prisons.

Given the highly generalized,  outdated, or incomplete information publicly available it may be timely to call for some more specific, recent, and complete information about Nevada’s incarcerated population before the next session of the Legislature.

  • How many individuals housed in Nevada prison facilities are mentally ill?  How many of these are severe cases? Moderate cases?  Mild? Are there transitional programs in place for those returning to public life? Are these adequately staffed and funded?
  • How many non-elderly inmates are physically disabled?  Do Nevada prisons conform to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act in this regard?
  • How many non-elderly inmates are visually impaired or blind? Are the Braille programs in southern Nevada be replicated in the northern facilities?  Are these services adequate to maintain or enhance prisoner safety?
  • How many inmates are hearing impaired? Deaf? How many are prelingually deaf?  Are adequate measures and facilities in place to insure their safety and lines of communication?

Again, merely because there are some items we don’t count doesn’t mean the issues don’t exist, or that they don’t matter.

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Locked and Unloaded: Part Two – Drilling Down To Details

Nevada LegislatureWhen last we left this topic, the Nevada gun access statute was included with samples of gun storage laws from Massachusetts and California.

Let’s take a closer look at the Nevada statutes and examine some of the weaker points.

 NRS41.472 Imposition of liability for minor’s negligence or willful misconduct regarding firearm.
1. If a parent, guardian or other person legally responsible for a minor under the age of 18 years:
(a) Knows that the minor has previously been adjudicated delinquent or has been convicted of a criminal offense;
(b) Knows that the minor has a propensity to commit violent acts; or
(c) Knows or has reason to know that the minor intends to use the firearm for unlawful purposes,

and permits the minor to use or possess a firearm, any negligence or willful misconduct of the minor in connection with such use or possession is imputed to the person who permits such use or possession for all purposes of civil damages, and, notwithstanding the provisions of subsection 2 of NRS 41.470, that person is jointly and severally liable with the minor for any and all damages caused by such negligence or willful misconduct.

Notice in this statute there are  elements which must be established BEFORE a parent or guardian can be liable for any and all damage caused by a child who gets access to a firearm from the house.  The parent or guardian must know that the child has been held as delinquent by a court or has been convicted of a criminal offense AND knows that the youngster has a propensity for violence AND has prior knowledge that the youngster intends unlawful harm.

In summary — it’s all just a tragic accident for which the victims have no recourse in  court unless the parents of a juvenile delinquent, who are fully aware the scion has a propensity for violence, knows in advance that said offspring had grabbed the family firearm for the purpose of committing an unlawful act — assault, battery, homicide… If this sounds irrationally narrow, it’s because it is.

The first problem with this narrow statute is that it appears to absolve the parents of a youngster under the age of seven from all liability, since Nevada defines an “infant” as a person less than seven and therefore has no criminal liability for anything.   Thus, if a child under the age of seven is playing with a neighbor’s child and the “infant” gets hold of a gun and shoots the playmate — the parents or guardians of the “infant shooter” are not liable for the damage because the child cannot be a delinquent (being too young) and therefore cannot have been convicted of any criminal offense.

For a  child between the ages of 7 and 14 there is a “rebuttable presumption of no criminal intent.”  In other words, the burden is on the prosecution.

There is more comfort to the grieving in NRS 202.300 which specifically addresses children and guns, the first segment of which says:

“Except as otherwise provided in this section, a child under the age of 18 years shall not handle or have in his or her possession or under his or her control, except while accompanied by or under the immediate charge of his or her parent or guardian or an adult person authorized by his or her parent or guardian to have control or custody of the child, any firearm of any kind for hunting or target practice or for other purposes. A child who violates this subsection commits a delinquent act and the court may order the detention of the child in the same manner as if the child had committed an act that would have been a felony if committed by an adult.”

The liability now attaches to the child.  What of the parents? The statute continues:

“3. A person does not aid or knowingly permit a child to violate subsection 1 if:
(a)The firearm was stored in a securely locked container or at a location which a reasonable person would have believed to be secure;
(b) The child obtained the firearm as a result of an unlawful entry by any person in or upon the premises where the firearm was stored;
(c) The injury or death resulted from an accident which was incident to target shooting, sport shooting or hunting; or
(d) The child gained possession of the firearm from a member of the military or a law enforcement officer, while the member or officer was performing his or her official duties.
4. The provisions of subsection 1 do not apply to a child who is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States.
5. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 8, a child who is 14 years of age or older, who has in his or her possession a valid license to hunt, may handle or have in his or her possession or under his or her control, without being accompanied by his or her parent or guardian or an adult person authorized by his or her parent or guardian to have control or custody of the child:…”

Take a second look at this part: “The firearm was stored in a securely locked container or at a location which a reasonable person would have believed to be secure…” What would a “reasonable person” think was secure?  In the back of a dark closet? In a cabinet above the refrigerator? Where?  The last time the Nevada Legislature took a look at this problem came with the introduction of AB 192 on February 10, 1999.

AB 192 (1999) proposed the following change: “(3a)The firearm was stored in a securely locked container or at a location which the person believed or had reason to believe was secure;…”   There’s a nuanced difference between “securely locked container or at a location which a reasonable person would have believed to be secure,” and requiring a rational belief that the storage was indeed secure.  At any rate the change was too much for the 1999 Legislature and AB 192 went to the Committee on the Judiciary and was seen no more.  Subsequent sessions of the Nevada Legislature haven’t seen the introduction of any bill to modify NRS 202.300.

Another alternative to the blanket “infancy defense for parents” comes in the form of the willful and wanton disregard of the safety 0f others” statute.

NRS 202.595 Performance of act or neglect of duty in willful or wanton disregard of safety of persons or property; penalty. Unless a greater penalty is otherwise provided by statute and except under the circumstances described in NRS 484B.653, a person who performs any act or neglects any duty imposed by law in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property shall be punished:  1. If the act or neglect does not result in the substantial bodily harm or death of a person, for a gross misdemeanor.   2. If the act or neglect results in the substantial bodily harm or death of a person, for a category C felony as provided in NRS 193.130.

However, there isn’t much help here for victims of gun violence committed by children.  The neglect of duty must be “willful or wanton.”

And here we come to the second problem:  In order for the parents to be liable for the endangerment of others it must be demonstrated that their neglect must be beyond accidental. “It must be knowing and intentionally committed, or committed under circumstances evincing reckless disregard of the safety of the injured persons.” {Blacks Dict}

What does  reckless mean? Usually it means a person consciously disregards “a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct and the circumstances known to him, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a law abiding person would observe…”  {Blacks Dict}

Now we have to ponder: What happens when our little playmates, both less than seven years of age, find a firearm in the house — “hidden” in the back of a closet —  if the neighbor’s child is injured (or Heaven forefend, killed) in the act of “playing with the gun,” is it “willful, wanton, and reckless” for the parents to have assumed the firearm was safely secured?

There’s plenty of time between now and the opening of the 2015 session of the Nevada Legislature to consider some of the following questions:

#1.  Is it fair to the victims of gun violence perpetrated by minors that practically no liability attaches to their parents or legal guardians for the actions of their children?

#2. If the answer to the first question is “no,” then what are the appropriate modifications to NRS 41.472 to remediate that? What modifications should be made to NRS 200.300.

#3. Would we be less likely to read or watch reports of accidental shootings of children, or shootings by children if NRS 200.300 were amended to require parents or guardians to store firearms in locked containers, with ammunition kept in a separate location? Even if such a requirement did not immediately lead to fewer tragedies, would the modification of NRS 200.300 offer the victims better recourse to the law in the instance of a shooting tragedy?

Such modifications will surely be met with the usual intransigence of the NRA and its allies, however, this is really not a 2nd Amendment issue.  No one would be prohibited from gun ownership by adopting any modifications or improvements on our current “access and storage” statutes — gun owners would simply be required to store weaponry more safely and securely.

Another common complaint from gun enthusiasts is that these laws are unenforceable.  That would depend upon the perception of enforcement — if in the wake of a tragedy such as took place recently at Sparks Middle School, and in 2006 at Pine Middle School, parents were held liable for the actions of their children might not more parents and guardians be inclined to more securely store firearms to avoid enhanced liability?

Those who purport to advocate on behalf of the victims of crime, and especially those victimized by gun violence, should be moved to consider how we might offer those victims more legal options for holding accountable those who make firearms all too accessible to youngsters who have not the maturity and judgment necessary to comprehend the nature of their actions.

Indeed, if we are going to attach the words “accountability” and “responsibility” to various and sundry issues associated with individual behavior, then it behooves us to start holding those individuals who allow juveniles access to firearms responsible and accountable.

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Locked and Unloaded: Nevada Could Do Better

Child gun deathsWe still don’t know why a 12 year old boy shot a teacher and classmates at Sparks (NV) Middle School.  [RGJ] It’s natural to look for a “motive,” some resolution, or explanation, for the inexplicable.  Given what we do know about the brain, we might never know.  We know, for example, that there is a second period of development in the pre-frontal cortex during  pre-puberty, [PBS] but while we know volumes about the structure of the brain we’re not so informed about the operations of the mind.   What was in the boy’s mind may be unknown; what was in his hand is obvious — a Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic.

Each time these tragedies hit the headlines there is the all too predictable response from gun enthusiasts — We can’t enhance regulations because… Freedom…Liberty…2nd Amendment …Patriotism. What of the “responsible gun owners?”  Perhaps, we could consider a change of perspective.

According to the gun enthusiasts NO impediment is tolerable which might even remotely constrict their “rights” to arm themselves to the eaves — if we accept this then why not consider the possibility that while a person may own all manner of firearms we might give some thought to how those are stored.  The firearm used in Sparks came from home, and there is another home in this country which may have contributed to the stock of stolen weapons that all too often show up in crime statistics.

“Rep. Renee Ellmers’ (R-NC) husband reported an AR-15 rifle stolen from the family’s home in Dunn last week, according to a police report.

The weapon had been left leaning against a gun locker in an unlocked garage on Kingsway Drive, the report said.

The rifle, a gun case and a GPS, with a cumulative value of $1,100, were reported stolen, according to Chief J.D. Pope.  Police think the theft happened on the night of Oct. 15.

“According to the report, they had been out target shooting and brought the gun back and leaned it against the gun safe,” Pope said. “ … The garage door was left unsecured, according to the report.” [Charlotte Observer]

An open garage door, an AR-15… what could possibly go wrong?

One very common bit of advice on gun storage is provided by the state of California:

“Store your gun safely and securely to prevent unauthorized use. Guns and ammunition should be stored separately. When the gun is not in your hands, you must still think of safety. Use a California-approved firearms safety device on the gun, such as a trigger lock or cable lock, so it cannot be fired. Store it unloaded in a locked container, such as a California-approved lock box or a gun safe. Store your gun in a different location than the ammunition. For maximum safety you should use both a locking device and a storage container.”

Following this advice might also reduce the number of successful suicides by children  in this country.

“In the first nationally representative study to examine the relationship between survey measures of household firearm ownership and state level rates of suicide in the U.S., researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found that suicide rates among children, women and men of all ages are higher in states where more households have guns.  [...] The researchers found that states with higher rates of household firearm ownership had significantly higher rates of suicide by children, women and men. In the 15 states with the highest levels of household gun ownership, twice as many people committed suicide compared with the six states with the lowest levels, even though the population in both groups was about the same. [...]
“Removing firearms may be especially effective in reducing the risk of suicide among adolescents and other potentially impulsive members of their home. Short of removing all firearms, the next best thing is to make sure that all guns in homes are very securely locked up and stored separately from secured ammunition. In a nation where more than half of all suicides are gun suicides and where more than one in three homes have firearms, one cannot talk about suicide without talking about guns,” he adds.” [Harvard 2007]

Lock’em up unloaded might also alleviate other tragic numbers. Discussing the number of children who are killed or seriously injured by firearms is made more difficult because decisions made at the local level about causation leading to serious under-counting.

“A New York Times review of hundreds of child firearm deaths found that accidental shootings occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate, because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by the authorities. The killings of Lucas, Cassie and Alex, for instance, were not recorded as accidents. Nor were more than half of the 259 accidental firearm deaths of children under age 15 identified by The Times in eight states where records were available.”

Predictably, the NRA pounced on the results, saying more children were killed in falls, accidental poisonings, and because of environmental issues.  The argument is extraneous.  First, merely because more children might be killed by other means doesn’t address the argument that fewer children would be killed if guns weren’t accessible.  Second, if we are seriously under-counting the firearm deaths, then the argument is evidentially  false.  Third, there’s demonstrable obfuscation:

“The rifle association’s lobbying arm recently posted on its Web site a claim that adult criminals who mishandle firearms — as opposed to law-abiding gun owners — are responsible for most fatal accidents involving children. But The Times’s review found that a vast majority of cases revolved around children’s access to firearms, with the shooting either self-inflicted or done by another child.” [NYT 9/13]

Recent headlines offer support for the Time’s conclusion: “Father faces charges in Fayetteville toddler’s death,” [WRAL] when he left a .22 semi-automatic under the family’s couch.   “Michigan toddler finds loaded gun in closet, dies from bullet to the face” [NYDN] “Toddler shot to death in Yellowstone was killed by father’s pistol,” [ChicagoTrib] “Three Year Old Killed … with gun from grandmother’s backpack,” [Yuma Sun] “Kentucky Shooting: Boy, 5, Shoots And Kills 2-Year-Old Sister, Police Say,” [AP] and “Kansas boy, 7, shoots self in head during family gun outing,” [NYDN]

Indeed, there are children killed by being mauled by animals, by being dropped or assaulted, or by being poisoned by household chemicals.  However, the instances of other causes of death doesn’t offer any substantiation to the contention that we ought not consider legislation on gun storage, trigger locks, and smart gun technology.

The state of Nevada doesn’t directly address the safe storage of firearms, and the possible consequences of guns + children.

Nevada’s gun “storage” law is particularly unhelpful:

 “NRS41.472  Imposition of liability for minor’s negligence or willful misconduct regarding firearm. 1. If a parent, guardian or other person legally responsible for a minor under the age of 18 years:  (a)Knows that the minor has previously been adjudicated delinquent or has been convicted of a criminal offense; (b) Knows that the minor has a propensity to commit violent acts; or (c) Knows or has reason to know that the minor intends to use the firearm for unlawful purposes, and permits the minor to use or possess a firearm, any negligence or willful misconduct of the minor in connection with such use or possession is imputed to the person who permits such use or possession for all purposes of civil damages, and, notwithstanding the provisions of subsection 2 of NRS 41.470, that person is jointly and severally liable with the minor for any and all damages caused by such negligence or willful misconduct.  2. As used in this section, “firearm” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 202.253.  (Added to NRS by 1995, 1149)”

In short, a parent would have to “know” that the child intended to unlawfully use a firearm before any liability attaches.  How do we “know” if a 12 year old has a “propensity to commit violent acts?”  A three year old?

Massachusetts law takes the storage issue head on:

Section 131L. (a) It shall be unlawful to store or keep any firearm, rifle or shotgun including, but not limited to, large capacity weapons, or machine gun in any place unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user. For purposes of this section, such weapon shall not be deemed stored or kept if carried by or under the control of the owner or other lawfully authorized user.

California takes on the issue of children’s access to firearms:

“AB 231 establishes the Firearm Safe and Responsible Access Act, creating a third degree misdemeanor if a person negligently stores or leaves a loaded firearm in a location where they know, or reasonably should know, that a child can access the firearm without permission and the person fails to take proper safety measures.  A third degree misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.  The bill also requires licensed gun dealers to post this warning in their place of business with other already required postings of child safe storage laws.” [ASMDC]

The California Penal Code specifies storage requirements in homes with children present:

(b)(1)Except as provided in subdivision (c), a person commits the crime of “criminal storage of a firearm of the first degree” if he or she keeps any loaded firearm within any premises that are under his or her custody or control and he or she knows or reasonably should know that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian and the child obtains access to the firearm and thereby causes death or great bodily injury to himself, herself, or any other person.

(2)Except as provided in subdivision (c), a person commits the crime of “criminal storage of a firearm of the second degree” if he or she keeps any loaded firearm within any premises that are under his or her custody or control and he or she knows or reasonably should know that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent or legal guardian and the child obtains access to the firearm and thereby causes injury, other than great bodily injury, to himself, herself, or any other person, or carries the firearm either to a public place or in violation of Section 417. [more]

There are no silver bullets in firearm related death issues.   No single piece of legislation can “solve” problems associated with children’s access to guns, or prevent every school or home tragedy created when children get access to firearms.  However, if this state is truly interested in protecting children there are steps we can take which could ameliorate the situation, or at the very least offer more legal recourse to the victims.

The next session of the Nevada legislature should give some serious consideration to amending our statutes in regard to children’s access to firearms, and to the appropriate storage of firearms in Nevada homes.

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Backtracking From Pat Hickey: NV GOP leaders march away

Pat HickeyWell, that didn’t take long.  The Reno Gazette Journal headline reads: “Sandoval, Heller distance selves from Reno Assemblyman Hickey.”

“Top Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from Nevada’s Assembly minority leader over comments he made on a conservative radio talk show that Democrats say show the GOP wants to suppress the minority vote.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, touched off a political firestorm when he said the 2014 election could be a boon for Republicans because many minorities and younger people won’t vote.

“It’s a great year for Republicans,” he told Dan Mason on KOH-AM radio in Reno, noting “a lot of minorities, a lot of younger people will not turn out in a nonpresidential year.” [RGJ]

After creating a lovely firestorm of national notoriety, Assemblyman Hickey apologized, and said it was never his intention to be insensitive, etc.   The apology would be ever so much more effective had not Assemblyman Hickey (R-Reno25) been closely associated with the ALEC inspired agenda in recent sessions of the Nevada Legislature.    It might also have been more effective had not Assemblyman Hickey been one of the sponsors of a voting ID bill (AB 310) in the 2011 session of the Legislature.  And, it might have sounded less  hollow had Assemblyman Hickey not been a co-sponsor of AB 319 in the 2013 session which required photo identification for voting — a surefire vote suppression technique.

Meanwhile the GOP “rebranding” efforts, and “outreach” activities aimed at minority ethnic groups, women, and young people is quite likely “Dead on Arrival,” [TP 8/16/13] Salon has declared it “Officially Dead.”   Assemblyman Hickey may have helped pound another nail into the coffin.

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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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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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SEX and the Single Issue: AB 230 in the Nevada Legislature

Nevada LegislatureNevada’s legislature has taken up the Big Topic — sex education, and of course all the denizens of the belfry have taken flight.  Surely, if we give our progeny information about how they came into this world we’ll have kindergarteners watching sex tapes, fifth graders talking about abortions, and parents excluded from the moral education of their offspring and relegated to the sidelines while Planned Parenthood (the successor to ACORN as the prime target for the tin foil hatted) propagandizes their little angels.  Not. So. Fast.

The Las Vegas Sun sets the record straight on the actual contents of the bill under consideration — for those who are actually interested in what the bill would really do, and not primarily fascinated by projecting their fears on the canvas of someone else’s proposal for addressing the fact that Nevada has the 4th largest teen pregnancy rate in the country.

There is just about as much misinformation as any sentient human being could every aspire to amassing in the comments on AB 230 at the Legislature’s input site.

Those against the bill seem to track along various lines: Sex is icky and should not be discussed; Sex is sacred and should be theologically framed and not discussed as a biological feature associated with human behavior; and it’s OK to talk about sex and we’re doing enough already.  The last argument is at least a point we could discuss in rational terms.  The first two are essentially religious in nature, and emotional in character.

The unavoidable and uncomfortable fact that we have the fourth highest rate of teen pregnancy in the United States of America ought to be enough to convince the public we’re not doing something  effectively.

Those who advocate for total parental control over the content of sex education may want to remember that not all parents (or other family members) have accurate information.

For example, during a quiet conversation with an adolescent female a few years back, the youngster about floored me with the fervent assertion that “You can’t get pregnant if he’s drunk.”  That would be only if “he” were intoxicated to the point of dead to the world unconsciousness….

Or, there was the young lady who assured me her grandmother was correct when she said, “You can’t get pregnant if you do it standing up.”   Uh, that would be a “no.”  It doesn’t matter if the position you’ve assumed is the most uncomfortable imaginable — all the two little bits have to do is to get together and then the impossible becomes possible.   The NCBI did a study published in 2009 regarding the sources teens use to find information about sex. The results really shouldn’t be surprising:

“Consistent with previous research, adolescents in this sample rely heavily on friends, parents, teachers, and the media for sexual information. There were several differences in source use by race/ethnicity and gender, but the only difference by age group was with regards to media. The older the adolescents, the more they relied on media as a source of information. Among those who cited the media as an information source, television was the medium from which adolescents reported learning the most about sex, which is not surprising in light of research showing that 70% of television programs in 2005 contained some form of sexual content.” [NCBI]

There’s a reason for the order given in that summary paragraph.  Teens reported their sources of information as 74.9% from friends, 62.2% from teachers, 60.9% from mothers, 57% from the media, 41.4% from doctors, 32.8% from fathers, 29.3% from cousins, 18.1% from brothers, 17.7% from sisters, 13.5% from grandparents, and 12% from religious leaders.

If we adopt the policy that parents should be the only ones doing the sex education spiels with their youngsters then we’re accepting that the mothers are generally the ones doing the talking (at 60.9%) and only 32.8% of the fathers are involved in the “teachable moments.”  However, we still have to deal with the fact that nearly 75% of the information the kids are getting comes from outside the home — from friends who may be as informed or misinformed as the sources of their information.

One of the controversial provisions of AB 230 is the matter of passive or active parental consent — does the parent have to actively permit the child’s instruction, or does non-action constitute tacit approval?  Given the data indicating that 75% of the sexual information is passed along by friends — of possibly dubious veracity — if we truly want to educate children and empower them with the most accurate information possible then the tacit approval route would include more young people in the process.

If parents want control over the content of their child’s collection of information about human sexuality then the bill allows for that, parents can always opt out — and hope that the 75% outsourcing of education to “friends” works for them.  Fathers may wish to note that they are responsible for an average of only 32.8% of the information the child receives?

Religious leaders, no matter how well intended, aren’t getting their message across if only 12% of our teens are reporting that those leaders are the source of their sex education.

If parents are fearful about the intrusion of the right wing bogey of the day — Planned Parenthood — inserting its messages about contraception (and horror of horrors “abortion”) into public school instruction, then they ought to be assuaged by the bill’s language giving local districts control over curriculum content.  However much some parents may believe that Planned Parenthood and other health care providers are salivating at the prospect of propagandizing the progeny the statistics still indicate that information about the subject of contraception among teens who participated in sex education classes  tends to be “superficial and often limited to condoms.” [Guttmacher pdf]  This doesn’t speak well for the current curriculum or the level of instruction, whether parents opt in or out.  Or, as one 17 year old participant in the study told researchers, “My Dad said turn the lights out and use a condom.” In short, what teenagers may know about contraception, either to avoid impregnation or to minimize the prospects of a sexually transmitted disease, is limited to “safe sex sound bites.”  We could be doing better than this.

Further, if we truly want to prevent the possibility of abortions then the rate of teen abortions in Nevada could be reduced with more and better information about contraception.  Recent statistics show Teenage abortion rates were highest in New York (41 per 1,000), New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware and Connecticut. [Guttmacher 2010 pdf]  Someone isn’t “Just Saying No.”

Contraception, one the best ways to avoid unintended pregnancies, may not be on the educational agenda at all — only 14% of U.S. schools as late as 2002 had truly comprehensive sex education, 86% had policies on sex education curricula calling for the promotion of abstinence as a primary focus, 51% allowed the discussion of contraception as a way to avoid STDs, 35% required that abstinence be the only option.  [UC SF pdf]  The abstinence-only approach was effective in limited environments (religious schools, small groups) but there is little evidence that success rates can be replicated in larger, more diverse, groups such as public schools.  The 2002 report concluded that most of the abstinence-only research was not peer reviewed, and tended to be isolated.

What parents could hope for from the Nevada Legislature is a bill that expands the scope of comprehensive sex education for all Nevada youngsters, with instruction appropriate to the age level of the students, and with a curriculum which emphasizes information over exhortation.

If we truly don’t wish to have students dropping out then we need to have the parents opt in.

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Filed under abortion, education, health, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics