Tag Archives: Parkland

We Are Not Being Well Served: A Lethal Pattern of Administration Obstruction

We aren’t well served when the Department of Justice declines to work WITH state officials to implement policy.  When the DoJ dithers about assisting Nevada’s attempt to improve the background check process for firearm purchases — [NV Indy] Gee, it almost seems like someone at the federal level is doing a bureaucratic dance routine to subvert the intent of those who want to expand background checks?  Someone doesn’t want to alienate the powers that be at the NRA?  Meanwhile candidate Adam Laxalt, subservient as ever to the NRA line, must be pleased with Governor Sandoval’s discomfort.

We also aren’t well served by the right wing echo chamber which has now evidently decided that if they can’t find logical arguments to deflect the demands made by the kids in March for Our Lives they will happily start tooting the Swift Boat Parade Brigade horns with personal attacks on the kids themselves.  [TampaBT] [WaPo] [KCStar] However, ad hominem is all too often the preferred argument for many on the right side of the political spectrum.  These people might be dismissed as small people with smaller, narrower, minds except that they have the ear of the current mis-administration, and those ears are receiving messages out of step with American concerns.  Listening to these radical voices obscures national issues we should be focusing upon.

Nor are we well served when the message comes from the podium at the White House briefing room that the Department of Justice will take no role in the investigation of the shooting of Sacramento citizen Stephon Clark.  There’s a pattern here.

The FBI will not facilitate the implementation of Nevada’s Question 1 decision. The Department of Justice will take its sweet time promulgating rules concerning the sale of bump stocks (see Las Vegas concert massacre). The Department of Justice will do an about-face on federal participation in the investigation of law enforcement use of lethal force on members of minority communities.  This pattern may explain why the citizens of Nevada continue to be frustrated by the lack of Question 1 implementation, the citizens of the US continue to see protests related to Black Lives Matter, and young people bemoan (and organize) against the inflexible obstruction to their demands for sensible restrictions on gun ownership and sales.

What the pattern won’t accomplish is the solution to any of the problems addressed by the Black Lives Matter organization or the young people involved in March for Our Lives.  The two issue areas are not unrelated.

Bullets fired from guns kill people.  The bullet may be a .223 round (5.56 mm) coming at a person at 3,330 feet per second (about three times the velocity of a typical Glock pistol.) [BI]  The bullets may also come from a Glock 19 or the Glock 22, or perhaps the Smith & Wesson M or P9, the most popular service handguns for law enforcement personnel. [SRI]  Instances of bullets being fired by one human being at another human being, or beings, should be investigated fully.  We have no problem with this concept when thinking about murder investigations in general.  We do have a problem with the concept when it’s in the context of a mass shooting or in a case of the use of lethal force by a police officer.

In the instances of mass shootings authorities appear to want to investigate everything except the actual cause of death — the AR 15 is often the weapon of choice for mass shooters [BI] who want to use the gun as it was designed — to cause the greatest level of lethality in the briefest possible time.  If we know the level of lethality associated with the use of assault style weapons like the AR 15 why don’t we directly address the issue of whether or not these should be in the hands of civilians?

In the instances of officer involved shootings almost the first thing reported is that the “officers feared for their lives.”

“Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people, according to a Guardian investigation which found 102 of 464 people killed so far this year in incidents with law enforcement officers were not carrying weapons.

An analysis of public records, local news reports and Guardian reporting found that 32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.” [Guardian 2015]

Question: Why do law enforcement personnel “fear for their lives” more often when confronting a person of color than when facing a white person?  I think we know the answer, it is just that this aspect of the problem isn’t something the present Department of Justice is particularly interested in pursuing.

We aren’t well served by an administration which will not admit the vast scope of the problems presented by mass shooters and highly questionable use of force by some members of law enforcement.  These are national problems which beg for national solutions, whether the current Department of Justice wants to step up to the plate or not.


The kids have broken the 10,000 contract plateau in their Parents Promise To Kids project.  Right now it’s at 10,127.  That’s 10,127 parents, grandparents, and other interested people who have pledged to kids they will make gun reform a major feature in their voting decisions.  Step Up. Thank You.

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Isabelle Robinson Takes Us To School

Nag Nag Nag.  The kids at Parents Promise To Kids have picked up 9,725 parents and family members for their contract project as of right now.  We can do a bit better. They should break 10K today.  Take a minute to make a difference.

Reading material:

This isn’t recommended reading — it should be required reading.  Isabelle Robinson, a senior at Stoneman Douglas HS speaks to the ill informed suggestion that students are responsible for “making peers feel better,” and thus less likely to commit atrocities.  She’s right.  The “WalkUpNotOut” proposal is a distraction, and for my money a very dangerous distraction.   Let’s agree, if only for the sake of the argument, that discussions about mental health and adolescent issues are a diversion from the very real problem of access to guns.

In the aftermath of the Columbine massacre, (April 20, 1999) in which two very disturbed youngsters hauled firearms, and propane tanks, into their high school with every intention of either shooting or blowing their cohorts to bits, we discussed “bullying” ad nauseam — to the detriment of closing the gun show loophole.  No, the kids at Columbine almost twenty years ago were no more responsible for the actions of the criminals than the young people in Parkland, FL are responsible for the damage done to their lives.  Robinson puts it succinctly:

“This deeply dangerous sentiment, expressed under the #WalkUpNotOut hashtag, implies that acts of school violence can be prevented if students befriend disturbed and potentially dangerous classmates. The idea that we are to blame, even implicitly, for the murders of our friends and teachers is a slap in the face to all Stoneman Douglas victims and survivors.”

Please don’t misunderstand me, anti-bullying programs and rules are positive and useful.  However, never mistake an exercise in victim-blaming for a substantive suggestion toward solving our gun violence problems. Never mistake assigning “mental illness” as the culprit when it’s access to guns that increases the lethality of the incidents. Surely no one is suggesting that teens acquire the nuanced information in the current literature on the subject of violence and mental illness.

“Taken together with the MacArthur study, these papers have painted a more complex picture about mental illness and violence. They suggest that violence by people with mental illness — like aggression in the general population — stems from multiple overlapping factors interacting in complex ways. These include family history, personal stressors (such as divorce or bereavement), and socioeconomic factors (such as poverty and homelessness). Substance abuse is often tightly woven into this fabric, making it hard to tease apart the influence of other less obvious factors.”  [Harvard Health]

If the experts admit it is difficult to analyze and evaluate the factors — obvious and obscure — involved in mass killings, then certainly it doesn’t do to prescribe such a bromide as ‘if you’d only been nicer to  him…’ in the present instances of gun violence.

Of all the assaults on the Parkland, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles (etc) students who spoke so eloquently on the subject of gun violence during the March for Our Lives rallies, none seems more insidious than to suggest that they could have ‘prevented’ the heinous crimes IF they had been proactive little saints.  They are the victims.

Has anyone suggested that the concert attendees in Las Vegas might have been more involved in the mental illness factors contributing to the slaughter on October 1, 2017?  Were the movie theater goers in any way responsible for the shooting in Aurora in July 2012?  Were the church members responsible in any way for the outrageous shooting in Sunderland Springs, TX November 5, 2017? The answer if obviously a resounding “no.”  However, too many people have expended too much wind re-litigating the diversionary arguments of Columbine.  I’d urge a careful reading of Isabelle Robinson’s essay, it’s definitely an “A” grade example of student writing. And, an “A” grade rebuttal to the distraction tactics of the radical gun lobby.

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Single Issue Voters on the Horizon

I’m old enough to have been around when Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded on September 5, 1980.  (Actually, I’m old enough to have been around for lots of things except The F/lood)  I’m also aware of an historical point which might be of interest to current gun reform advocates.   One of the issues faced by the organization as it sought to reduce the number of vehicular accidents caused by impaired drivers was how to differentiate between (1) legislation to control drinking and driving; and (2) measures to control alcohol consumption. [PSU.edu pdf]  To exactly no one’s surprise, attempts to address the second issue faced opposition from the alcohol and “hospitality” sectors. When MADD sought to promote legislation to reduce the BAC to .08 the industries fought back saying these measures would unfairly punish “social drinkers.”  Fast forward to the gun law reform issues.

Insert “law abiding gun owners” for “social drinkers” and we can see the problems faced by reformers taking on the NRA/gun manufacturers.  In actuality there are multiple facets of the gun issue which present hurdles for reformers. However, there is much room for hope.  For starters, the youngsters participating in Walk Outs, and who will presumably be the leaders in March For Our Lives, have already put a face on the problems.

Statistics are useful, but too often insufficient to move public sentiment — we know that on an average day in the United States of America 96 people will be killed by guns; that about 13,000 people per year will die by firearm; and, sadly each day an average of 7 children and teens will be killed by a gun. [ETres] Broadcasters have contributed by keeping the photographs of the deceased on air after mass shootings, but other victims of gunfire are relegated to the obituary pages, to be forgotten almost before the funeral services are completed.  More silence comes as part of the reaction to the fact that 62% of gun deaths in this country are suicides. [ETres]

Further progress may hinge upon how reformers cope with the “social drinker” analogy.  A social drinker is a social drinker until he gets behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound sedan and hits another human being causing injury or death.  A law abiding gun owner is a person who owns firearms, until he pulls out the gun and shoots another human being — or beings.

For all the possible factors leading to an increase in public awareness of impaired driving, and a reduction of impaired driving from a 1973 rate of 36.1% to a 25.9% rate in 1986, [PSU.edu pdf] it isn’t too difficult to infer a correlation to MADD publicity and awareness campaigns, leading in turn to the enaction of stronger statutes to curb drunk driving in the 1980s.  Similarly, continued publicity of gun violence should lead to consideration and eventual enaction of laws to reduce the lethality of gun incidents.  What is needed is organizational structure to capture and extend the energy demonstrated by young people who are quite evidently fed up with being educated behind “secure” walls and being shot at — either in their schools or on their streets. There are several organizations already in place to accomplish this.  [Everytown, the Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action, Giffords.Org, Giffords Law Center, and an umbrella group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.] Unlike the original MADD efforts, the organizational structures are already in place.  This situation should present an advantage for gun law reform advocates.

One of the most impressive portions of the young people’s efforts is their focus on political action, specifically getting young people registered to vote.  For those not yet eligible to vote, students are encouraging other students to write and call their governmental representatives.  This activity is a proven way to get people involved and to keep them activated.  Student action in concert with the existing organizations’ efforts presents a strong start for reform efforts.

The strong start doesn’t mean there aren’t significant obstacles to effective reforms.  The first tactic of the NRA is nearly always a stall game.  While the clichéd line “It’s too early to talk about this…” has been swatted down by the Parkland, FL students, that doesn’t mean there won’t be suggestions to “study the problem via the good offices of a commission.”  Paralysis by analysis is a standard NRA tactic to avoid action.

The second tactic is diversion.  It really isn’t Guns, it’s mental illness, it’s violent video games, it’s some elusive factor which is the “root cause.”  The argument goes that if we don’t address the “root cause” then we will not really “solve the problem.”  The problem is simply that too many people have access to entirely too much firepower, and some of these people kill other people.

The third prominent tactic is the snail paced regulatory and subsequent litigation route. For example, instead of outlawing the sale of bump stocks the White House has opted to advise departmental creation of rules under the rubric current Federal legislation.  The development of rules is time consuming, and is often followed by even more time consuming litigation.  This shirt-tail cousin of paralysis by analysis is an effective way for politicians to posture in support of gun regulation without actually doing anything.

The kids have it right:  The only way to avoid paralysis by analysis, “root cause” distractions, and regulation/litigation is at the ballot box.  Candidates for public offices can ignore, dismiss, or diminish their appeals, but will do so at their electoral peril.

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The Sound of Silence: Heller and Mass Shootings — Sandy Hook to Parkland

October 2, 2017:  A statement from Senator Dean Heller’s office:

“Nevada families are waking up to the shocking news of the tragic events that occurred last night in Las Vegas. Our communities are all in mourning as we try to understand this senseless massacre on the Strip,” said Heller. “I want to thank our first responders for their swift actions and efforts that without a doubt saved numerous lives. I’ve been in contact with the White House and Governor Sandoval, and I will continue to monitor the situation as this horrific event unfolds. Lynne and I are praying for all of the victims and their families who are experiencing immense pain and grave, shocking loss that cannot be measured.”

Let us parse.

“Nevada families are waking up to the shocking news of the tragic events that occurred last night in Las Vegas. Our communities are all in mourning as we try to understand this senseless massacre on the Strip,”

tragic events?”  It was a Shooting.  A man armed with a small arsenal rented a room with a view to kill concert-goers.  He used a bump stock to increase the lethality of his weaponry.  59 dead and 851 injured.  It was an event — singular, and singularly lethal.

as we try to understand…”  What is it we don’t understand?  When the shooting stopped there were 58 dead people, one more if we count the shooter.  Perhaps we don’t know the killer’s motive, but when the body count is 58 there’s not much more we need to comprehend other than the murderous SOB assembled his arsenal, loaded his weapons, and voluntarily fired into a crowd of concert attendees.  Jury duty training tells us there was a crime; the individual in question perpetrated the criminal act; and he did it with good old fashioned malice aforethought.  There doesn’t seem to be much more we need to understand.

praying for the victims and their families…” Yes that’s appropriate.  What we’d like to find out is what our Senator thinks should be done after we finish with the thoughts and prayers portion of the formulaic Republican/NRA response to this horror.

October 5, 2017: Senator Heller answers questions about what might be done to mitigate the lethality of the next mass shooting event, and his response

“Let me be clear, I’m not interested in watering down the Second Amendment,” Mr Heller, Nevada Republican, said on Fox News.  Mr. Heller was asked if he would support a ban on a device called a “bump stock,” which authorities now say the gunman used.  “You show me the law that would stop that, not only will I support it, I will be an advocate for that law,” he said.”

There’s a lack of clarity in this statement, i.e. what is “that?”  Was the Senator saying if we want to stop the sale of bump stocks he will be an advocate? Or, was he saying if a single law could have prevented the mass killing he would support it?  We do know that he’s previously not wanted to “water down” 2nd Amendment absolutism.  We know what he did in April 2013.

“On the weekend after Nevada Sen. Dean Heller joined 15 fellow Republicans to kill a GOP-led filibuster of gun-control legislation, he returned to his hometown of Carson City and ate with his family at an IHOP restaurant—the same one where a gunman went on a rampage in 2011, killing four people and injuring more than a dozen others before killing himself. In the process, the gunman unloaded a 30-round magazine clip and rocked the sense of safety in the small Nevada community.”

Did the Senator join with others to alleviate the carnage in the wake of the Sandy Hook Mssacre?

“But when the Senate began to take up individual pieces of gun-control legislation earlier this week, Heller joined with nearly all Republicans and several Democrats to vote no—no on an amendment to ban assault weapons, no on a measure to limit magazine capacity, and no on the Manchin-Toomey amendment to expand background checks for gun sales.” [TDB]

The original Machin-Toomey bill went down to a GOP filibuster 54-46.  If we drill down a little further the form of Senator Heller’s objections — his defense of the absolutism of the 2nd Amendment — become clearer.  The following votes were taken on April 17, 2013.

Vote 97 (113th Congress) Senator Heller votes “nay” on the Manchin Amendment to “protect Second Amendment rights, ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and provide a responsible and consistent background check process.”

Vote 98 (113th Congress) Senator Heller votes “yea” on the Grassley Amendment, which purported to improve the background check system and prevent straw purchases and gun trafficking.  However, the poison pill in the Grassley-Cruz amendment was that while it did address trafficking, it also made it easier to purchase and carry guns across state lines. [WaPo]

Vote 99 (113th Congress) Senator Heller also voted “nay” on the Leahy Amendment “To increase public safety by punishing and deterring firearms trafficking.”  Not only did our Senator not seem to want to “water down” the 2nd Amendment, he even voted against an amendment which the NRA supported after the language was changed to allow for easy transfer of guns as gifts and prizes.  [WaPo]

Vote 100 (113th Congress) Senator Heller was among those voting “yea” on the Cornyn Amendment to facilitate reciprocity for concealed carry across state lines.  In other words, to create a situation in which the least restrictive states would inform how all other states regulate concealed carry issues.

Vote 101 (113th Congress) Senator Heller was one of the forty US Senators to vote against the Feinstein Amendment to “regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.”  There wasn’t much hope that the assault weapon  would be passed, but Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) had promised Senator Feinstein he would bring the amendment to the floor.

Vote 102 (113th Congress) Senator Heller voted “yea” on the Burr Amendment to “protect” the gun rights of veterans and military families.  This is an interesting vote because it contains issues pertinent to today’s debate.  Original language in the proposed legislation said that veterans receiving disability benefits who are deemed unable to manage their own financial affairs would be precluded from owning firearms.  Opponents of this amendment argued that the proposed language would make it easier for mentally ill individuals to obtain firearms.

Vote 103 (113th Congress) Senator Heller voted “nay” on the Lautenberg Amendment to regulate large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

Vote 104 (113th Congress) Senator Heller voted in favor of the Barrasso Amendment to  withhold 5 percent of Community Oriented Policing Services program Federal funding from States and local governments that release sensitive and confidential information on law-abiding gun owners and victims of domestic violence.  Senator Barrasso was disturbed that a New York newspaper had compiled a list of gun owners from county information sources.

What did the 113th Congress do? It did agree to provide more funding for mental health services.   There was a pattern evident in the 2013 votes in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.  Republicans were focused on ‘gun rights’ without restriction and in favor of passing legislation (without mentioning the word ‘gun’) concerning mental health.  Not to put too fine a point to it but when the shooters are white there is a voluminous amount of palaver concerning mental health; when the shooter is Muslim there is a chorus of indignation about terrorism; and, when the shooter is Black the GOP conversations shifts to “broken homes,” “lifestyles,” and “gangs.” Whether it’s mental health, terrorism, or broken homes — the GOP result is the same and the debate is diverted away from guns and toward some security or societal issue.   This pattern would test the Republicans in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting in December 2015.

On December 2, 2015 14 people were killed and another 22 seriously injured in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. On June 12, 2016 49 people were killed and another 58 wounded at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  During June 2016 a bipartisan group of Senators proposed a “No Fly, No Buy” bill prohibiting those on the TSA No Fly List for terrorism suspects from purchasing firearms. [NYT]  Subsequent attempts to apply “No Fly No Buy” became entangled in the appropriations bill for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies during the 114th Congress.  The following votes are of particular interest:

Vote 103 (114th Congress) Senator Heller votes “nay” on a cloture vote to bring up S Amendment 4751 to address gun violence and improve the availability of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.  This element of the No Fly No Buy fails on a 53-47 vote.

Vote 106 (114th Congress) Senator Heller again votes “nay” on a cloture vote to bring up S Amendment 4720 to authorize the Attorney General to deny requests to transfer a firearm to known or suspected terrorists.

And thus ended the attempt to prevent those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms in the United States of America. It was over on June 20, 2016.

March 3, 2018:  The White House hosted a “listening” session on gun violence in the wake of the Parkland, Florida killing of 17 people at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School.  Senator Heller did not attend.

“The office of Nevada’s senior senator, Republican Dean Heller, would not say why did he did not attend the White House meeting. Heller, who is facing a tough re-election fight, has avoided the spotlight in the subsequent days as well, declining to address specifics about his positions on gun legislation.”

Heller spokeswoman Megan Taylor declined to say whether the senator supported universal background checks, raising the age for gun purchases to 21, or provisions to ban high-capacity magazines and assault rifles, all ideas tossed out by lawmakers or President Trump in recent days.

“He looks forward to continuing discussions with his colleagues as Congress explores ways to enhance compliance with existing law and keep our communities safe,” Taylor said.

Heller has signed on to legislation known as “Fix NICS,” a modest measure supported by the NRA and intended to encourage better participation in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It was one of the few gun bills to find bipartisan support and appeared poised to move ahead, only to be sidelined.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who has said little about the gun debate in recent days, said Thursday that no gun-related legislation would be heard in the coming week. [TDB] [RGJ]

No more formulaic GOP press responses from Senator Heller. This massacre warranted  a tweet. “Lynne and I are heartbroken for those impacted by the senseless act of violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We are praying for the victims and their families, the school’s students and faculty, as well the entire Parkland, FL community,” Heller wrote.” [NVIndy]  The only response less informative came from Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2): “The first thing that needs to be done is find out what the story is with this guy…so we have a 360-degree picture and then we’ll go from there,” Amodei said.” [NVIndy]

Perhaps in light of the Academy acknowledgment of an award winning rendition of Winston Churchill last evening, a quote from the Prime Minister is appropriate:

“It’s no use saying, ”We are doing our best.” You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

 

 

 

 

 

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