Permitting…

I could go ahead and rant about everything what’s wrong with needing to get a permit to exercise a right specifically called out in the Bill of Rights, but the fact is it’s a restriction that exists and is unlikely to go away any time soon. Instead of focusing on that as the overarching issue, I’d like to comment on the absurdity of the permitting process itself. 

Let us assume for purposes of discussion that you are a holder of a permit to carry a concealed handgun in the state of Maryland. West Virginia does not require a permit, so there are no issues there. Your Maryland permit will cover you to walk into Virginia. The moment you walk into the other neighboring states of Delaware or Pennsylvania, though, you become an outlaw. Your Maryland permit does you no good there.

In order to get legal in Pennsylvania, you need to apply for a Pennsylvania non-resident permit, showing proof that your home state of Maryland has given you a permit, and then, of course, pay a fee. A few weeks later, if you’ve applied through a county that issues non-resident permits (not all of them do even though state law allows for it), they’ll call you to come pick up your card. It’s basically a cash grab by another name, but there’s no other way to get there from here. 

Delaware is a bit of a different animal. While they don’t recognize Maryland’s permit, they do recognize Utah’s permit. This means as a Maryland resident, what you’ll need to do to get legal in Delaware, is take a 4-hour class, send a picture, fingerprints, and (of course) another fee over to the great state of Utah and request that they issue a non-resident permit. As a Maryland resident who has never set foot in Utah, you’ll then be ok to carry your handgun into the great state of Delaware and a few other places not covered by Maryland’s permit.

If it seems like a logic defying patchwork arrangement, I suppose it is. And that’s likely by design. With three permits in your pocket – Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Utah – you can move about most of the country without running afoul of the law. I’ll just have to remember to stay out of New York, New Jersey, DC, Florida, parts of New England, and most of the west coast. That really shouldn’t be a problem. In the absence of adopting nationwide Constitutional carry, it really does feel like well past time there was some kind of national reciprocity to bring a degree of order to a decidedly disordered arrangement. As usual, I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen, so I’ll busy myself with satisfying the bureaucracy of at least three different states for the foreseeable future.

Congressional ineptitude…

It’s that magical time of year when thoughts turn inevitably to the non-zero percent likelihood of a government shutdown. This stems from the inability of the United States Congress to pass a basic federal budget any time in the last 15 years. Yes, for 75% of my career, your federal government has been funded through makeshift resolutions rather than via the actual federal budgeting process. It’s an arrangement that has led to a number of furloughs and government shutdowns while our beloved representatives in Congress attempt to find their asses with both hands and a flashlight.

Now personally, with all of the elected branches of government controlled by members of the Democratic Party, I find it hard to believe they’d shoot themselves in the foot by failing to even pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations for FY23. Although I find it hard, I don’t discount the possibility completely. Having “full control” of the Congress over the last two years has certainly highlighted the Democrat’s inability to get along among themselves. Having one or two of their members bolt during negotiation is certainly well within the realm of the possible. 

In the past, a government shutdown meant most of us went home and sat around wondering if there was going to be a provision for back pay when the doors eventually opened again. In my experience, the answer was always yes, but it was never a certainty until a special provision was passed allowing for it. Thanks to a new provision in law, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, the question has been permanently resolved. Uncle Sam is now required to pay his employees in full at the end of a shutdown, regardless of whether they were sent home or not.

With that delightful piece of legislation now enshrined in law, my level of concern at the potential for the U.S. Congress to become the world’s largest circular firing squad has been almost completely eliminated. Sure, it’s bad from a PR perspective, it holds up our representative democracy to all sorts of mockery, and it makes our most senior elective leaders look ragingly incompetent… but that’s pretty much the opinion I have of them already. At least this way I know I’ll be getting paid. Eventually. So, bring on the Congressional ineptitude. 

The road not taken…

Early this morning I watched the House of Lords and the House of Commons presenting their condolences to King Charles III. Later I watched the solemn pomp and ceremony that carried the mortal remains of Queen Elizabeth II from Holyroodhouse to St. Giles.

I’m struck, more than anything else, with a sense of regret – of the road not taken. When the American colonies careened towards independence in the 1760s and ’70s, there was something greater in our grasp. With negotiation, we could have had American Members of Parliament, American Peers, and unity of the English speaking peoples throughout an Imperial Commonwealth. In the fullness of time, I like to speculate that America could have emerged as a center of gravity to rival the mother country within the Empire. 

But we didn’t. A few men in Boston didn’t want to pay three pence a pound on their tea. The rabble roused, a minority of the population set us off inexorably on the road to independence.  More fool us.

We say Americans have no interest in royalty. Our rapt attention during their great occasions – their births, weddings, and now their funerals – says differently. We’re still very much invested in ebbs and flows of the family of King George III. 

We could have been part of that great stream of history stretching back beyond the Conqueror, beyond Alfred, but here we are, simple spectators despite our ongoing and profound interest. I’m not advocating we turn back the clock. That particular ship has, sadly, sailed. But, God did we miss an opportunity.

It’s not about your rights, it’s about their power…

Every time someone mentions requiring a formal system of voter identification, a hue and cry arises that it’s just people placing a structural and financial impediment in the way of someone exercising their rights under the Constitution. It’s all I can do not to laugh them out of the room when they roll out that old chestnut.

Let’s assume I’m a responsible adult with no criminal record who has never owned a firearm, but wants to purchase a handgun to protect my home and property. In order to exercise my rights under the Second Amendment, here’s a taste of the structural and financial hurdles the State of Maryland throws up between me and my rights.

To begin the process, I need to apply for the Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL). All told, the basic requirements involve paying a $50 application fee after completing a 4 hours course ($95) and submitting fingerprints ($65). Then I’ll wait for between 2-4 weeks while the state adjudicates my application. After that, I can go to a gun shop, purchase the handgun I want and wait an additional week or longer for that application to be reviewed by the state. This first hurdle involved a minimum of $210, 4 hours of class time, and 3-5 weeks of various waiting periods. Assuming everything is approved, I’ll then pay $20 every 10 years to renew my HQL. 

In order to take the next step and be approved to carry my handgun outside the home, I’d need to check off all the boxes to secure the Maryland Wear and Carry Permit. Submitting this application involves a $75 application fee, another set of fingerprints ($65), and a 16 hour class ($350). The state then has 90 days to review the application. The cost of meeting all the requirements for the wear and carry permit is $490, 16 hours of classroom time, and up to a 90 day wait. If successfully approved, the wear and carry permit in Maryland requires renewal after two years for the initial permit and three years for each subsequent renewal. There is a $50 renewal fee and 8 hour class ($125) for each renewal application. 

Without factoring in the additional costs of renewal or the cost of the actual gun, the all in cost to fully exercise your Second Amendment rights in Maryland involves $700 cash out of pocket, 20 hours in the classroom, and about 120 days of wait time. Talk about setting up financial and structural roadblocks.

So, you see, when they screech that the $24 fee for state issued photo identification that can be issued on the day it’s applied for is a roadblock to someone’s right to vote, I find that argument wildly unmoving… unless, of course, their argument really isn’t about helping people exercise their rights and more about maintaining institutionalized power among the political class. In that case, it makes perfect sense.

Seven months…

About a week ago, I surpassed the point where the total amount I’ve socked away towards my defined contribution retirement plan (think 401k) this year finally outstripped the amount of federal taxes I’ve paid over the same period of time. For seven full months of every year, there’s more deducted towards the maintenance and upkeep of the federal government than there is for my own maintenance and upkeep in old age. By the end of the year, I’ll have stashed away about $600 more in my 401k equivalent than will be deducted in federal income tax.

If you extend this mental exercise to include Social Security and Medicare, the numbers get even more egregious since the reasonable assumption is to expect the big-ticket entitlement programs to either see payouts reduced, be means tested, or go extinct between now and the time I’ll be eligible to tap them as a source of income / benefits. It takes an awfully big leap of faith for someone in my age bracket to think of either Social Security or Medicare as anything other than an additional tax drag for which we’ll never get back out what we put in.

Uncle Sugar knows his flagship entitlement program is running out of cash. Social Security was “saved” in the 80s using a combination of accounting gimmicks and changing the “terms of service.” It’ll have to be “saved” again sometime between now and 2035, when the most recent projections say it will no longer be able to pay out its full promised benefit. Coincidently that’s right about the time I’ll otherwise be eligible to walk out the door after a 33-year career, so I have more than a passing interest in what fuckery our alleged leaders will get up to in order to avoid grabbing the political third rail with both hands.

It seems to me that we have a system intentionally designed to encourage reliance on big government generosity rather than personal responsibility and savings. God knows I’d be in a far better position now if every nickel taxed away under the FICA withholding had been invested conservatively in a broad market index fund rather than converted into a Ponzi-esque promissory note. Encouraging people to invest their own money responsibly, though, doesn’t keep them beholden to Uncle for doling out a meager old age pension. It’s easier to tax their income at the state and federal level, tack on a bunch of various “withholdings,” and make it incredibly challenging to carve out enough income over and above day-to-day bills to generate a credible, independent nest egg. It’s a sure way to guarantee people will scream bloody murder if they’re told their entitlements are in danger.

However it’s “fixed” in the future, I operate from the assumption that none of the changes will be to my benefit no matter how much cash I’ve poured into the machine over my working life. Like most games, this one is rigged in favor of the house and at this point, I just take it as a given that the money taxed away is lost and gone forever. The only advice I’ve found that feels applicable is to shelter what you can, stash as much as you can of what you can’t shelter, and accept that in all likelihood you’re going to need to self-finance your last act. It’s annoying as all hell, but once I accepted it as reality, it got a whole lot easier to plan for that particular future instead of just being pissed off… but rest assured it’s going to chap my ass every single time I see a pay stub and the reminder what’s going where and how deeply the political class have their hands in our collective pocket.

Don’t simp for sleazy, scumbag politicians… 

I spent a good amount of time raging about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified email back in 2016. I believed then and I believe now that if I stored classified email on my home computer, I’d be at best fired and at worst prosecuted and imprisoned. She shouldn’t receive special consideration due to her august and lofty position. 

In 2017 I called out Jared Kushner for use of private email to conduct official business on behalf of the U.S. Government. I recommended that his files and records be subpoenaed and if there was evidence of guilt he should be charged and tried.

In 2018 I called out Ivanka Trump for using her personal email address to conduct official business on behalf of the U.S. Government. 

Here, now, in 2022, I’ll state publicly and for the record that if Donald Trump is suspected of having unlawfully retained, stored, folded, spindled, mutilated, sold, or otherwise misused classified materials, his residence and/or place of business absolutely should be subject to a lawful search. If evidence is found based on that search, he should be tried. That would be my position regardless of whether we happened to be discussing a sitting president, a former president, or a private citizen.

Maybe it’s easier for me to say because I’m beholden to neither of our major political parties, though I like to think it’s simply because I have the intellectual integrity not to have different rules of behavior depending on what party I happen to support. I have many bad qualities, but being a hypocritical asshat isn’t one of them.

I know it’s far too much to expect people to dispense with their partisan blinders at this point. They’re too entrenched – too invested in the position that they’ve staked out. No one wants to admit they bought a pig in a poke. There’s too much face to lose. Nothing I say is going to change minds, so I’ll just be over here eternally grateful that I never wrapped so much of my own identity up in a sleazy, scumbag politician to have hurt feelings when they go out and do sleazy, scumbag politician stuff.

Moron…

Lauren Bobert, the Republican representing Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, has gone on record as being in favor of giving up America’s centuries old experiment as a continent-wide constitutional republic in favor of adopting Christian theocracy as our fundamental basis of government.

Notwithstanding the Constitution’s First Amendment, which says, in part “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” Lauren argues that “The church is supposed to direct the government.” Apparently after careful study of the constitutional issues involved, she’s just “tired of this separation of church and state junk.”

I could go into the historical antecedents of why there is a separation between church and state in this country. I’ll spare you the details, but I’d start with the Pilgrims, then maybe move on to Maryland’s founding as a safe haven for English Catholics before discussing revolutionary era resistance to the established Church of England. Then I’d finish up with Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. Those are just sort of the off the top of my head indicators of why Lauren is wrong. 

What the distinguished representative from Colorado is advocating is nothing short of an American Christian version of the Taliban, where we all live under whatever grotesquely perverted tenants of the faith a Pastor-in-Chief decides are going to be enforced on any given day. The very idea of it would be laughable if she wasn’t being applauded by so many kooks and weirdos who have slithered their way into positions of greater or lesser power – and the followers who lap up whatever goofy bullshit is laid out in front of them.

Lauren, based on her words and deeds, is obviously a moron who has absolutely no failsafe between whatever dumbass idea is rattling around between her ears and what comes out her mouth. As a sitting member of Congress, she took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. You’d think maybe she’d have taken the time to glance through the paperwork before signing off on it. Then again, maybe civics is just one of those things they don’t teach in Colorado until after the point she decided she had enough book learning.

Staring at the tree…

The U.S. Supreme Court generally clears the deck of all pending opinions before going away for the July 4thholiday. Typically, the higher profile the case, the latter the opinion is handed down. That means in the next ten days, we can expect to see new rulings on abortion, religious liberty, the environment, and the Second Amendment.  It’s enough to make a court watcher absolutely salivate with anticipation.

On the other hand, it’s enough to make me seriously consider proclaiming the month of July a social media-free zone. Regardless of how these pending rulings come down, public outcry will be equal parts intense, uninformed, and obnoxious. Responsible analysis will be tough to come by and will immediately be downvoted by partisans. I honestly don’t know if I’ve got it in me to sit around listening to so many people suddenly being engaged and interested. 

Being engaged is good and all… but not just on the big days. That’s just a recipe for people losing their minds as some kind of performative display of giving a shit. It means a whole lot less than paying attention when the sausage is being made. The Supreme Court rightly gets a lot of press, but 99% of law, policy, and regulation never touch their front door. If you’re focused only on those nine judges you’re staring at the tree and missing a whole universe worth of forest to your left and right and in front of and behind you. 

Sigh. Maybe if I just mute all notifications and just spend a month watching cat videos on TikTok the summer won’t be as bad as I’m anticipating. It really does feel like the ideal time to drawing up the digital drawbridge until people settle the fuck down.

Some thoughts concerning the bipartisan framework on gun control…

It appears that the United States Senate, in a rare bit of bipartisan effort, has cobbled together a framework for new gun control laws. As one of those people who will be stuck complying with whatever goofy laws the state and federal government come up, I have some thoughts on the issue. I’ll try to get through them in some kind of logical order.

I think most people who know me will be a bit surprised as they get through (most of) the rundown:

  • Clarify who must register as a licensed firearms dealer. This feels like a bit of a no-brainer. Clarifying current regulations defining who’s “engaged in the business of selling firearms” should make it easier to understand exactly what that phrase means and who needs to be in compliance in order to conduct that business appropriately.
  • Enhanced penalties for straw purchases. If you knowingly and intentionally purchase a firearm with the intention of reselling or otherwise giving it to someone who is legally prohibited from owning one, you ought to have the book thrown at you. I have no idea what percentage of total sales are straw purchases, but each one of them is an insult to every one of us who jumps through all the hoops in order to stay in compliance.
  • Closing the “boyfriend loophole.” Makes sense. If you’ve been convicted of abuse against your domestic partner – whether married, living together, or in a “serious dating relationship” – your propensity to violence or poor decision making is documented and the state therefore has a vested interest in limiting your ability to escalate that violence.
  • Increased mental health funding. Sure. Is anyone out there really saying that we don’t need to improve access to mental health in this country? I’m not going to turn this post into a brief history of mental health failures over the last century, but getting past the idea that “they’re nuts and there’s nothing we can do about it” is probably a good idea.
  • Enhanced school security. This one feels like something of a red herring. School shootings and “mass shootings” as a whole grab the headlines, but they make up a vanishingly small portion of overall violence in which a perpetrator uses a firearm. I mean sure, more security for soft targets is fine, but you’ll get more bang for your buck in getting people who commit crimes using a firearm off the streets and keeping them there.
  • Enhanced background checks for buyers between 18 and 21. Personally, if we’re going to make gun owners a suspect class, I’d say go all the way back and make sure the review includes juvenile records as well. Walking in with a clean record on your 18th birthday shouldn’t count for more than being a little felon as a minor.

Of course, there’s one bit of this proposed framework, that I’ll be watching with intense interest: Expanding red flag laws.

In Maryland, our red flag law takes the form of the Extreme Risk Protection Order and allows a spouse, domestic partner, dating/romantic partner, relative, law enforcement officer, or medical professional to potation the court to require an individual to surrender firearms and ammunition to the state and to refrain from purchasing new ones. It further provides the court with the ability to refer the individual for emergency mental health evaluation. Some states are more or less restrictive on who can waive the red flag to trigger this process.

It sounds eminently reasonable on its face, but feels replete with opportunities to be abused – by those who might file for an ERPO illegitimately, by an overzealous judiciary, and by the government agency that can continue to hold an individual’s firearms days and weeks after the ERPO has expired or been rescinded.

Unlike some, I don’t think these red flag laws necessarily violate any kind of due process expectation on their face. I do expect, however, that they need to be very strictly constructed and closely overseen in order to prevent them from slipping towards a scenario where those subject to an ERPO find themselves like those Americans who were incorrectly placed on government “no fly” lists with no recourse besides a faceless, shrugging, government bureaucracy.

Personally, if I were king for the day and I wanted to get after gun violence, I’d spend my time chasing better legislation to put violent offenders in the deepest, darkest hole that local and state government and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons could find. Commit a crime with a firearm and the whole world ought to fall down on your head. Instead, we continue to usher these individuals into the revolving door of arrest, incarceration, release, wash, rinse, and repeat… but that’s not the story that’s going to ever lead the headlines and captivate public attention, so we are where we are.

How they do it in San Francisco…

In San Francisco yesterday, voters recalled their elected district attorney. Chesa Boudin was elected to office in 2019. For many of us outside San Francisco his tenure as prosecutor was marked distinctly by dramatic property crimes and a sense that he was presiding over the legal machinery in a city where crime might just pay after all. 

It’s not hard, after watching video after video of smash-and-grab robberies and organized groups of shoplifters walking away with thousands of dollars’ worth of products, to understand why city residents might have lost confidence. 

Boudin is one of a number of prosecutors who came into office over the last few years by tickling every sweet spot for leftist criminal justice reformers. He promised to reduce crime by cutting the jail population, doing away with cash bail, reforming police procedures, and opting not to prosecute various “low level” violations. I guess that’s the sort of campaign promise that is well received in some circles.

What this successful recall tells me, is that people say they want to promote feel-good, soft shoe criminal justice policies. They might even be convinced that’s what they want. It seems, though, what voters really want is to feel secure in their homes, have their property protected from the criminal element, and be able to walk the streets without being accosted or wading through rivers of human excrement.

It doesn’t honestly feel like too much to ask from our elected leaders, but then again, I don’t really know how they do things in San Francisco.