Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the category “Gun Control”

Secrets of Gun Control 2 of 3

This is a continuance of Monday’s post based upon a great article from The Atlantic by Adam Winkler entitled The Secret History of Guns.

Hard-line gun-rights advocates portray even modest gun laws as infringements on that right and oppose widely popular proposals—such as background checks for all gun purchasers—on the ground that any gun-control measure, no matter how seemingly reasonable, puts us on the slippery slope toward total civilian disarmament.

From the other side of the street, those who advocate for gun control, claim that the Second Amendment was intended to insure a militia that could protect the people from interior or exterior threats.

We  will never know the intentions of those who wrote the constitution, but what is historically proven is that the Founding Fathers put into place gun laws and limitations that would probably see their NRA membership revoked today.

True, preventing slaves and free blacks access to arms was clearly to uphold a racist regime, or law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution, is hardly the kind of gun control that many of us seek. (I couldn’t find if women were allowed to carry arms, and if not then, when. Anyone know?).

What I also found interesting is that the Founders had their own version of “individual mandate” (and I thought you were being original, President Obama with your health-care-reform law). The Founding Fathers “actually  required the purchase of guns. A 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. Such men had to report for frequent musters—where their guns would be inspected and, yes, registered on public rolls.”

After a famous public altercation in February 1967 (in Oakland, Left Coasters) between a lawyer for the Black Panthers and a police officer, “Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.”

While the NRA is the clear leader against gun control it was not always so intransigent. In fact, throughout the 1920’s and 30’s the organization often led gun control legislative initiatives.

“The organization’s president at the time was Karl T. Frederick, a Princeton and Harvard-educated lawyer known as “the best shot in America”—a title he earned by winning three gold medals in pistol-shooting at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games. As a special consultant to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Frederick helped draft the Uniform Firearms Act, a model of state-level gun-control legislation.”

This included:

1. No individual could carry concealed in public without a permit from the local police. Such a permit could only be received by a “suitable” person with a “proper reason for carrying” a firearm.

2. Gun dealers were required to report to law enforcement every sale of a handgun.

3. A two-day waiting period on handgun sales was to be strictly adhered to.

In 1934 Frederick stated that he did “not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” Milton A. Reckord, the organization’s executive vice president told a congressional committee that the NRA was “absolutely favorable to reasonable legislation.”

On Monday, we shall see how the NRA continued to be an active partner in the passage of gun control.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Gun Control Part One

In my numerous discussions about gun control over the past month, I have felt that the arguments have been emotional (though there is nothing wrong with this) and somewhat lacking in any historical perspective. I am frustrated by the extremism displayed on both sides. This series of posts on gun control is a reflection of my own lack of knowledge. I found a great article from The Atlantic by Adam Winkler. The Secret History of Guns is possibly the most comprehensive and lucid article I have read on the topic. I certainly learned a lot. All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, are his.

Adam Winkler is professor of constitutional law at UCLA law school. Much of this research can be found in his book:  Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.

Winkler eloquently describes how the real struggle for modern gun control began:

“The eighth-grade students gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols.

The 24 men and six women climbed the capitol steps, and one man, Bobby Seale, began to read from a prepared statement. “The American people in general and the black people in particular,” he announced, must take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.

Seale then turned to the others. “All right, brothers, come on. We’re going inside.” He opened the door, and the radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way.

It was May 2, 1967, and the Black Panthers’ invasion of the California statehouse launched the modern gun-rights movement.”

While this story is historically fascinating, it is the next part that really caught my attention. The Second Amendment, contrary to everything I have understood up until now, does not clearly state that the individual has a right to bear arms. It doesn’t discuss the right to walk around in public with a gun, or whether that gun can be loaded. In fact, to again quote Mr. Winkler: “The Second Amendment is maddeningly ambiguous.”

The actual wording is: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

 A well-regulated militia is a far cry from an individual concealing a weapon. Yet to many, and possibly through a well-orchestrated campaign by the NRA, this assures an individual the right to bear arms and outlaws most gun control.

What is particularly dangerous with this approach is the perception that any law, for example one that might prevent guns reaching the hands of terrorists, criminals, people with mental instability, is the beginning of a slippery path to disarming people.

I have already suggested that such extreme posturing (and on the other side, those who want a total ban on guns) has led to a chasm that we are going to have difficulty bridging. On Wednesday, we will see how often the gun lobby has been a partner in creating legislation.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

NRA: An Advocate for Gun Control

You write about the National Rifle Association and you will hit a nerve as I did last week. But I remain fascinated with the organization and found this article.

Mike Dendinger claims that the NRA has been a consistent supporter of methods to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. It has also supported responsible supervision whenever children or the untrained are allowed access to guns. In fact, the NRA adversarial stance is more a response to, or at least parallels, the rise of the liberal anti-gun platform.

“The NRA’s opposition to other forms of gun control appears to have coalesced in the 1970’s, when the idea of gun confiscation first started to appear in the philosophy of the American left. At that point, the NRA seems to have evolved to oppose any form of gun control that would allow the government to maintain databases of gun owners and their guns. Because such databases would facilitate government confiscation of firearms (as subsequently happened in Canada), they were anathema to NRA members.

Prior to the ’70’s, the NRA was not perceived as opposing gun control simply because there wasn’t much to oppose. In the twenties, civilians could buy Thompson submachine guns and Browning Automatic Rifles via mail order. The National Firearms Act of 1934, contrary to popular belief, did not prohibit civilians from owning fully automatic weapons, but instead imposed formidable licensing requirements. The camel’s nose poked a little farther into the tent with the Gun Control Act of 1968, passed in response to the terrible string of political assassinations in the ’60’s. The GCA imposed severe restrictions on the sale and/or transfer of firearms, especially in interstate commerce. It was in the decade following the GCA of 1968 that the NRA became more active in opposing gun control.”

This historical perspective suggests that there might be more common ground between two seemingly polemic stances, one that might facilitate a safer society. Perhaps we don’t need to agree on everything to facilitate a safer environment.

Once we stop posturing and begin to establish common ground, who knows where it might take us?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

It is Time – Relief for Victims of Lone-Wolf Killers such as James Holmes – Guest Blogger Lloyd Lofthouse

Alon: Last week’s post garnered a lot of attention – Who’s Afraid of the NRA – Guest Blogger Lloyd Lofthouse redirects our attention from the political outcomes to focusing on the victims.

It is Time – Relief for Victims of Lone-Wolf Killers such as James Holmes – LLoyd Lofthouse

What happened in that theater outside Denver, Colorado on July 25, 2012 or, for example, the terrorist bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building in Downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, were acts of terrorism and/or combat no different from what happened on 9/11 or in America’s foreign wars such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In fact, twelve days after 9/11, the US Congress enacted the September 11th Victim Compensation fund of 2001. This $6 billion program was intended to compensate any individual (or the personal representative of a deceased individual) who was physically injured or killed as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011. Source: Homeland Security: 9/11 Victim Relief Funds

We already know what happens to America’s combat veterans in similar situations—and US troops are trained, armed and ready.

In July 2010, PBS News Hour reported, “Of the more than two million men and women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s estimated one in five will come home with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD,” said health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser.

Bowser quoted U. S. President Barack Obama, who said, “I don’t think our troops on the battlefield should have to keep notes just in case they need to apply for a claim. And I have met enough veterans to know that you don’t have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war.”

Before President Obama, the rules required veterans to document events like firefights or bomb explosions that could have caused PTSD. Such documentation was often time-consuming and difficult, and sometimes was impossible. … Under the new rules a veteran need show only that he or she served in a war and performed a job during which events could have happened that could cause the disorder.

But what about the innocent victims of combat in the United States?

I’m not talking about the homicide rate (which is in decline) or riots (which most people may avoid by staying away from the location of the riot). I’m talking about the victims of lone-wolf mass killings such as what happened recently near Denver, Colorado.


What Motivates “Lone-Wolf” Shooters – there are thousands hiding in public!

According to The Arizona Republic, “There has been no corresponding decline in mass murder—these sudden, stunning eruptions of violence with multiple victims, often perpetrated by gunmen who researchers refer to as ‘pseudo-commandos.’ Such a killer, clad in body armor and with a small arsenal of firearms, struck Friday in Aurora, Colo., leaving a dozen dead, 58 wounded and a nation horrified. …

“The United States experienced 645 mass-murder events—killings with at least four victims—from 1976 to 2010, according to Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. When graphed, these incidents show no obvious trend. The numbers go up and down and up again. The total body count: 2,949.”

The total number killed in the terrorist attack in New York City on September 11, 2001 was 2,819.

If what happened in that Colorado Theater does not qualify as a homegrown terrorist attack by a ‘pseudo-commando’, what does?

Lone-wolf acts of violence in the United States must be considered the same as any disaster and be included under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988. Under this act, the Federal share of the costs of such efforts is to be no less than 75 percent of the eligible costs. Total assistance under this Act for one emergency is to be limited to no more than $5,000,000, except when the President determines additional funds are needed. If additional funds are needed, the President must report to Congress on the extent of the additional need.

If what happened in Colorado is not covered under the Stafford Act, we need a new law that will. After all, it is the government’s responsibility to safeguard innocent, law abiding US citizens and in acts of lone-wolf violence, the government has failed 645 times since 1976.

It’s time to take care of our own in situations such as a lone-wolf mass-murder events. If the US Federal government can spend $49 billion for foreign aid in 2012, it must help the victims of acts of violence similar to what happened in Colorado in that Century Theater—the victims in such acts of violence should be treated the same as if they were 9/11 victims, wounded in combat or came home with PTSD from Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

This post is reprinted with permission from The Soulful Veteran

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Who’s Afraid of the NRA?

I’m stuck on the topic of arms control. In the massive news coverage that surrounded the tragic shooting rampage in Colorado, I heard one comment repeated at least three times by different reporters and commentators. It went something along the lines of: “No presidential candidate would dare take on the National Rifle Association (NRA) during an election year” with one pundit suggesting that no elected president would either.

I am a great believer in pressure groups to protect our rights and advocate in an orderly and effective fashion. Being relatively new to the US (and I feel it politically when gun control is being discussed more than most other topics), I am not aware of the power of the NRA.

Their website is very impressive. They have launched a campaign to “Go All In’ as they actively push to get their members voting for their people at the polls. Now my stereotype of an NRA member has them firmly committed to heading to the polls in November, but it does look to be a slick campaign.

There is nothing wrong with that, by the way. This is a democracy and there are more than a few nonprofits that I support who could learn a lot from the NRA. Their page on the ‘Right To Carry’ laws looks very professional.

But it seems to be more than that. The NRA succeed by embracing two marketing principles: Their message is simple and it is repeated, repeated, repeated. Craig Montuori, apparently a left coaster himself sums up the messaging:

“The NRA boils issues down to one point–pro- or anti-gun–and takes a stand for the pro-gun side. Sometimes these issues are extremely complex. For example, gun trace data takes ballistic data from criminal cases, matches them to a gun, and matches that gun to a dealer. Then, the dealer can be checked out for whether or not they’re following proper sales procedure–background checks, hold periods, and the like, and oftentimes, the dealers do not. The NRA opposes this to the hilt, and annually, the Tiarht Amendment is proposed and adopted with their heavy lobbying support to restrict gun trace data from being used by police and the ATF to dry up criminals’ gun supply. The issue is boiled down to “restricting gun sales = bad, NRA oppose bad restrictions.”

Mr. Montuori then goes on to explain how the NRA has an effective direct mail campaign (and probably online as well) to swamp legislators with letters from the NRA’s huge membership list, giving the politician the clear message that s/he is going against a large number of his/her constituents. Now what politician doesn’t listen to this sophisticated message?

Members sign and mail prepaid issue cards telling their representatives that they oppose H.R. ____ that will restrict their 2nd Amendment Rights. They invariably warn the representative that they will oppose him/her if s/he doesn’t oppose the bill too.

Again Mr. Montuori: “Because the issue is so ‘hot,’ the NRA has an oversized effect on Congressional races, and many Members toe the NRA line to keep their support and avoid their opposition, further enhancing their lobbying chops.”

Mr. Montuori’s final point is that the NRA have such a huge membership and are very efficient at mobilizing and fundraising quickly. Given the emotional sensitivity surrounding the issue … “among certain American sub-cultures, especially in the South, and supposed threats to those rights can whip up a huge frenzy of feeling that is effectively exploited to raise large amounts of cash.”

In truth, I preferred him as Moses

While I have no doubt that this is so true, I am still left with the feeling that Presidential candidates also have a professional network, huge supporters and plenty of money. I am left with the nagging question: Why are even those at the very top scared of taking on the NRA?

Your opinion?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Back to Gun Control … Inevitably

I waited to post this one out of respect for the victims though I wrote it over that terrible weekend. My thoughts go out to those who lost loved ones in the theatre shooting in Colorado. I cannot imagine what you are experiencing and I won’t pretend to.

I also feel kind of foolish and guilty, and I am sure that I am not the only one. When do we take on the issue of gun control? After a tragedy. After innocent people doing something that we all do regularly and are horrifically struck down. But once the victims are buried and their survivors have vented, we move on.

Until the next time…

Last time I broached the topic of gun control, I was told by several people that it is fundamentally an American issue and that, try as I do to be as American, it is impossible for an ‘outsider’ to understand how deeply this cuts into Uncle Sam’s psyche.

America is the land of the free. We all agree on this, right? We all want a government that takes care of big issues such as law and order, and defense of the realm. We simply don’t agree where to draw the line and who foots the bill.

Having the right to bear arms is for many the symbol of freedom. For me, the issue is not so clear-cut. I have sympathy with the woman who shot a man who was breaking down her front door and clearly threatening to rape her and kill her baby. So did the 911-dispatcher when she realized no one was going to get to the woman’s aid in time. I imagine that anyone who heard the tapes of the phone call understand this scenario.

To have the ability to defend herself, this woman needed to be able to legally able to buy a gun and ammunition. If this is the mission of the NRA and its supporters, it sounds reasonable.

But this is a long way away from the ability to purchase, in full view of traceable data, stacks of guns, ammunition, and explosives. There is a line that must be drawn not just between who has the right to purchase a gun and who doesn’t, but what they are allowed to possess. It should only be enough to defend yourself and your family against an assailant.

There is a colleague in my writers group who has written a post-apocalyptical novel based in the Bay Area. I am not familiar with the genre, but the story has stuck with me. This is in part because the story is taking place in my backyard, but it is also that my friend has researched his weapons and doesn’t spare us the graphics.

As he lists the various stockpiles that the good and bad guys amass, I realize that this is based upon the premise that there are enough people out there (in our backyards) who are amassing arsenals of weapons.

Would putting limits on how many weapons a person can have really impinge upon our freedom? Would America no longer be free if the bad guys packed less weaponry than our own police?

And what kind of freedom do we really have when we are too scared to go to the movies…and watch a superhero battle crime?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

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