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.

Crime control…

You can’t spend an hour in America without hearing one side or the other make their pitch about gun control. I know the arguments on both sides well enough to quote them in my sleep. By contrast what I don’t hear almost any discussion about is crime control. Don’t let it be said I’ve ever shied away from stepping into whatever void I felt needed stepping into.

My simple proposal is that rather than controlling the inanimate object (i.e. the gun), perhaps we should refocus on controlling the people who use the object in a manner inconsistent with the manner allowed by law (i.e. to rape, rob, and murder). That leaves the vast majority of gun owners out of the equation because they tend largely towards using their weapons appropriately and in a reasonably safe manner.

Now here’s where things get heavy in the event I am empowered to pass legislation for a day. I propose the following tiered approach to addressing criminals who opt to use a firearm as they ply their trade:

1. If you possess or claim to possess a gun during commission of a crime, you receive the maximum penalty for the original crime plus an additional twenty years at hard labor (and I mean real Cool Hand Luke, chain-gang style labor). No option for parole.

2. If you display a gun (including realistic toys and BB or pellet guns) during commission of a crime, you receive the maximum penalty for the original crime plus an additional thirty years at hard labor. No option for parole.

3. If you fire a gun during commission of a crime, you receive the maximum penalty for the original crime plus an additional forty years at hard labor. No option for parole.

4. If you fire a gun during commission of a crime and the resulting projectile causes injury, whether intentional or unintentional, you receive the maximum penalty for the original crime plus an additional fifty years at hard labor. No option for parole.

5. If you fire a gun during commission of a crime resulting in the death of any individual, you have forfeit your right to enjoy the benefits of civil society and will be taken forthwith to the designated place of public execution where you will be hanged by the neck until you are dead.

Now I know that doesn’t solve all the issues. Our best efforts are never going legislate away people who behave irresponsibly or the fact that sometimes legitimate accidents do happen. Still, it feels like a step towards making the penalty for committing crime with a firearm terrible enough to be a legitimate deterrent to many if not most who aren’t deranged or otherwise determined to do harm.

Maybe it’s my wide libertarian streak showing, but if we’re going to get into the business of banning things (which we are), let’s be about the business of banning specific actions (and then enforcing those ruthlessly) instead of outlawing broad categories of things. Our long history as a country has proved that unilateral bans don’t work as intended and generally only lead to “bigger and badder” levels of crime (I’m looking at you here alcohol and drugs). So since we know up front that’s not going to work out like we might plan, let’s go ahead and at least start by pummeling the current crop criminals into submission before we set out to create a whole new class of criminals by even more blanket bans.

Joe… just joe…

Dear Starbucks,

No one loves your cup of joe more than me, but really I wish you’d just stick with providing coffee and a scone without offering up a side order of social commentary. I’ve come to your establishments across the country secure in the knowledge that I could order a venti vanilla latte extra hot with a shot and have it delivered up consistently from coast to coast.

What I’m generally not looking for with my jolt of hot caffeine is a debate or discussion with the staff on same-sex marriage, or gun control, or race relations. God knows there are enough venues available where those topics can’t be escaped. I hate to think your shops are just another place to avoid now.

Look, I know coffee shops have a long history of being a hotbed of radical thought and gathering points for critical discussion of the issues of the day… but for the love of God that’s what the internet is for now. I’m begging you to just be a place I can go to get a reliable cup of coffee. If I want politics with my caffeine I can always swing by McDonald’s every morning and listen to the old men bitching and complaining.

Regards,

Jeff

Read the inspiration for this post here.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. When the Secretary of State of the United States of America resorts to calling out a 30 year old techno-geek to “man up,” I have fear for the future of American “diplomacy.” Setting aside my personal position on what Snowden did or didn’t do, it strikes me as something that’s simply beneath the dignity of the Secretary’s office. Maybe I just have a hard time thinking of Henry Kissinger or Madeleine Albright going on national television just to talk smack. Call me old fashioned, but I want my Secretary of State to be the clear, articulate, authoritative voice of America’s foreign policy. “Man up.” If that’s the best we can manage, the republic really might be lost.

2. Triage. It’s been a week of doing my best to prioritize a metric shitload of competing “very important” things to do. Now keep in mind, I have no actual idea if any of the decisions I’m making on the fly are right or not, but I’m making them. I’m just going to go with the policy of any decision is better than no decision and keep moving out until someone starts screaming at me. That should probably start any time now.

3. Gun Control. I’ve articulated this before, but it seems to bear repeating: A gun is just one another tool among the many others that man has devised. It doesn’t have a conscience. It doesn’t have intent, It’s a simple inanimate object. In the hands of someone who is trained and competent in it’s use, a firearm is the last, best line of defense for an individual. In the hands of a lunatic or criminal it magnifies their harmful intent. How an individual uses the tools at their disposal makes all the differences in the world. My real problem with most “control” advocates is they simply want to paint lawful owners and lunatics with the same broad “guns are bad” brush. Intelligent people on both sides can certainly have a difference of opinion, but until that dialog gets a hell of a lot more objective I will never give up my Constitutionally derived rights and I will never be silent on the subject.

Be counted… Be a patriot…

I’m the son of a cop. That means I was raised in a house where a gun was a daily fact of life. It was as much a part of my old man’s job description as his badge and did far more than that metal shield ever did to make sure he got to come home at the end of his shift. Growing up, I’d have thought something was wrong if they had been locked in fancy safes, or hidden on high shelves, if the triggers were locked, or the ammunition was stored on the other side of the house. I was taught proper safety, use, and maintenance of a firearm long before one was ever put into my hand. At my father’s knee I learned that a gun was a tool, nothing more, nothing less.

In my 34 years, I’ve shot paper targets and bottles, clay pigeons and real ones, groundhogs, squirrels, and an assortment of other (tasty) animals. In that time, I’ve never, not once, nra_logodrawn another human being into my sights. Every responsible gun owner knows that you never point a weapon at anything you’re not fully prepared to annihilate. People who do are criminals, but it’s going to be the responsible firearms owners who are called to account for the deranged actions of a handfull in this nation of 300+ million.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution tells me that I have the right (read that again… the Right) to keep and bear arms. It doesn’t say I have the right to keep a single barrel shotgun for duck season and a bolt action rifle for deer season. It doesn’t say I have only the right to hang a relic over the mantle for some ambiance. I have the right to keep and bear arms. I’ve read the Constitution and Bill of Rights just to make sure and still my president and my vice president and the governors of my beloved home state of Maryland and his counterpart in New York tell me that it’s a right that can be taken away by an act of Congress or the signing of a single name on an Executive Order. I dare say it’s not going to be that simple. A free people aren’t likely to be so easily disarmed.

For the first time in a decade, a few minutes ago I renewed by membership in the National Rifle Association. I know they’re not everyone’s favorite organization, even among gun owners. But friends, I urge you, if you value your Second Amendment freedoms, join the NRA, join Ducks Unlimited, join your local sportsmen’s club, visit your local shooting range to meet like minded individuals, and for God’s sake get involved and let your elected leaders (such as they are) know that you know your rights and demand that they be preserved. Whatever you do, don’t simply lay down. Don’t roll over. Don’t let your guard falter for even one moment, because that’s all it’s going to take before honest, responsible, law abiding gun owners will wake up wondering what happened and where their country has gone… and on that day all is lost.

Stand up. Be counted. Be a patriot.

2+2 = Ardvark…

I want to make one thing clear up front. What I’m about to say isn’t political. There are plainly idiots on both sides of the issue and I have no wish to associate with either flavor of crackpot. With that said, here’s the deal as simply and plainly as I can lay it out for you.

I am an armed American citizen. I’ve lived in a home where firearms were present since the 20th of June 1978 and I’ve personally owned, maintained, and used a variety handguns, rifles, and shotguns. In 34 years I’ve never used any of those firearms to kill anything more threatening than a paper target or the occasional marauding watermelon. You see, I was taught to respect firearms long before I was old enough to really understand the incredible power they have to destroy. I was taught how and when to use them, on the range, in the woods, and in my own defense. I was never taught to fear a firearm any more than I was taught to fear a hammer, saw, or other tool.

Sitting on its own in a dresser drawer or propped in a corner behind the door, I’ve never known a firearm to discharge itself. The only time I’ve ever seen a round leave the barrel is when a living, breathing person pulled the trigger. The weapon itself didn’t have any intent, evil or otherwise. The bullet simply went where the barrel was pointed when the gun was fired. That’s all a long way of saying that if you’re looking for someone to blame when it comes to violent acts that involve a firearm, start with the person who pointed it at another human being and pulled the trigger.

Blaming the gun is pretty much like saying it’s the bat rather than the player who hits the home run. Just how far out of the park would the ball go if there wasn’t a player swinging that bat? Take away the visceral, emotional reaction that so many have when it comes to having a reasoned, logical discussion about firearms and I find we’re really talking about bad people performing heinous acts. The fact that a gun, or a knife, or a rock, or a thermonuclear bomb was involved becomes secondary at best. To mix my metaphors even further, it’s the criminal who commits the crime, not the car that he drove to reach the crime scene. Sure, you could make that argument, but it makes about as much sense as 2+2 = Ardvark.

You’re doing it wrong…

I’ve been reading a lot of articles over the last few months about people protesting the high price of this product or that product, general “corporate greed,” and any number of other economic issues. I’m a little surprised that no one has come forward to propose the simple solution yet. If you’re somebody who thinks the oil companies make too much money go ahead and scrape up the coin to buy a few shares of Exxon or BP. Convince 5 or 10 million of your closes friends to buy ten shares each and suddenly you’re a loud voice in the next shareholder meeting instead of just being a bunch of rabble standing on the sidewalk.

You know in your heart we’re not “getting off oil” until we absolutely have to, so why not take advantage of the increasing prices to put some coin in your pocket along with those nasty corporate big wigs. The minute you take on an ownership stake in one of these companies, I suspect your attitude towards profits and “social justice” will change… Unless you think capitalism itself is the problem and the oil companies are just your whipping boy of choice this year. Just remember that the free market has been at work in every culture since two cave men agreed to trade six deer hides for one shiny flat rock. It flourished in the black markets of the Soviet Union and moved China from agrarian backwater to workshop of the world in two or three generations. It was here before us and it will be here long after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

Look, it’s a simple concept. There are only about 4 million dues paying members of the National Rifle Association. If the anti-gun people signed up 4,000,001 people and had them vote at the next annual meeting to change the corporate charter. Poof. Just like that the NRA becomes the nation’s leading advocate for gun control. People go about this protesting business all wrong. Tag board signs and marching in the street looks like amateur hour and the mob makes Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public vaguely nervous. If you want to see real changes, put on a suit and tie and find a way into the boardroom. That’s where change happens in the grown up world.