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The Supreme Court implicitly reaffirmed the right of government to regulate firearms. Thank goodness!

The Supreme Court implicitly reaffirmed the right of government to regulate firearms. Thank goodness!

The latest term of the United States Supreme Court delivered a mixed bag of decisions that, on the whole, should please conservatives even if appearances may be to the contrary. For example, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) won a temporary reprieve but only because of the typically sloppy way the Trump administration went about trying to end it. They will undoubtedly try again.

And whilst a Louisiana law that imposed a needless requirement for doctors at abortion clinics in the state to have admitting privileges at hospitals was set aside, this was primarily on the grounds that it was virtually identical to a Texas law that had been struck down just four years ago. Chief Justice Roberts only joined the more liberal justices because he felt bound by precedent but not before opening the door to future abortion restrictions, challenges to, which suggested, may be viewed more skeptically.

Finally, the very welcome news that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does prohibit LGBTQ employment discrimination may be undermined by the court’s fulsome embrace of religious rights that may override those of the LGBTQ community in where the two clash in the future.

However, somewhat overlooked this term was the court’s decision not to hear challenges by the gun rights crowd to a plethora of state and local firearms restrictions much to the chagrin it has to be said of its most conservative members. This is very good news indeed since it appears to reaffirm the majority’s view in a SCOTUS dominated by conservatives that the misguided decision in District of Columbia v Heller upholding the individual right to own a firearm nevertheless does not preclude reasonable regulation of that right by the government. The key here is clearly the Chief Justice and I can think of three reasons why he has sided with the liberals/moderates on this issue.

First, Roberts is no doubt mindful of Heller’s assertion that the decision did not mean that the regulation of gun rights was foreclosed. Casting doubt on that element of Heller would serve to undermine the entire decision and make it appear as a meaningless, not to mention dishonest, gesture to those concerned about gun violence. Second, to go further than Heller itself and eviscerate the ability of federal, state and local governments to regulate firearms would simply invite a future more moderate court (and, yes, that day will come) to revisit Heller as a whole, thus undoing one of the Roberts’ court’s landmark decisions. By refusing to go to the extreme, Roberts may protect Heller and his legacy.

Finally, whilst his most conservative brethren are likely driven by ideology to the exclusion of common sense, I doubt that Roberts wishes his legacy to add substantially to the carnage of gun violence in a nation already plagued with far more than any other advanced society.

Whatever his reasons Roberts in this case has done an enormous service to the country by ameliorating the otherwise pernicious effects of Heller.

Republicans and (TV) media doing what they do best – fear mongering.

Republicans and (TV) media doing what they do best – fear mongering.

Looking back at the last few months in this country I don’t know which is more depressing: the willingness of Republicans and the media to try to scare the bejeebers out of everyone over the supposed threats to the United States of ISIS and Ebola; or the combination of ignorance and feeble mindedness of so many Americans in succumbing to this fear mongering in the face of a ton of information and facts that show it up for the nonsense it is.

Despite the efforts of some Republican lawmakers to convince us that ISIS is about to murder us in our beds, or to combine the threat of ISIS with Ebola to picture a scenario of Ebola-infected ISIS terrorists crossing our border to blow themselves up in our shopping malls (you have to read this piece over at Vox.com), the Department of Homeland Security has conceded that no credible direct threat to the US from ISIS has been detected.

That may be because ISIS currently has its hands full trying to establish its caliphate in Iraq and Syria in the face of opposition from Kurdish fighters, Syrian non-nutcase rebels (and at some point, we hope, the Syrian army of Bashar al-Assad) and a slowly rejuvenating Iraqi army – oh yes and US/allied airstrikes.

The Ebola scare mongering in the media has been, if anything, even more reprehensible and has resulted in some truly mind-boggling overreactions.

Sure there have been some stumbles by a private hospital in Dallas and subsequently by the Centers for Disease Control in dealing with the first cases of Ebola in the US. But the fact is that a disease that can only be spread with direct contact (i.e. it is not airborne) was never going to become a genuine health crisis in a developed country such as the US. In fact, one can make a strong argument that our health system has learned much from the mistakes made in confronting this relatively low-grade threat – lessons that will serve us well when we are faced with a genuine health crisis such as a flu epidemic.

But these twin non-crises have served the Republicans well, as they (with the enthusiastic assistance of an overwrought media, particularly the Sunday talk show crowd) exploit them to buttress the picture they present of a detached and incompetent administration simply not up to the job. And the American electorate is buying it, as the mid-term election polls clearly show.

Over at Vox.com they provide a dose of much needed perspective with this list (admittedly un-scientific and incomplete) of actual as opposed to overblown threats to Americans. Case in point: Guns, ranked at #3 (for comparison, ISIS is #7 and Ebola #9). A grand total of one person has so far died of Ebola in America and two have been killed so far by ISIS. In contrast, 30,000 or more Americans are killed every year by people with firearms, half of them in homicides.

So let’s ignore the scare mongers, the exploitive Republican politicians and hysterical media, put away the fear and get a grip people – things are a lot better than you think.

The real reason why the Gun Bill was voted down in the Senate

The real reason why the Gun Bill was voted down in the Senate

“In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), co-sponsor of the Toomey-Manchin background check bill.

Shameful.
Pigheaded.
Intransigent.
Disgraceful.
Dishonorable.
Contemptuous.
Disdainful.

GOP Filibuster Kills Bill to Expand Background Checks on Gun Sales

GOP Filibuster Kills Bill to Expand Background Checks on Gun Sales

We at harikari have written much about guns, gun control, and the need to enact laws that make it more difficult for criminals and mentally unsound people to purchase guns. After the Newtown tragedy, Americans seemed to have had enough of the bullying by the NRA and they called for the expansion of mandatory background checks for nearly all gun-sale transactions. The Manchin-Toomey background-check bill was supported by nearly 90% of Americans. Polls show that a majority of Americans also supported a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

On Wednesday a bill to expand background checks was filibustered by Republicans, so it needed 60 votes to move forward. The senate voted for the bill 54-46. Yes, a clear majority of senators voted to move forward with the background-check bill but because of the Republican filibuster, the bill was killed. The senate also voted “down” the amendment to limit the capacity of ammunition clips 54-46.

90% of Democrats voted in favor of the bill, and 90% of Republicans voted against the bill that 90% of Americans supported.

For some smart commentary about how undemocratic the senate is and how the arguments of gun-control opponents are intellectually unsound, watch these two excellent segments from Thursday’s edition of The Daily Show.

First Jon,

and now John…

NRA: Evolution from Avid Sportsmen to Paranoid Xenophobic Racists

NRA: Evolution from Avid Sportsmen to Paranoid Xenophobic Racists

As illustrated with magazine covers.

Here’s the NRA of 1969:

NRA 1969 Mags

Hunters and a marksman. Just men with their guns.

Here’s some covers from 1992 featuring a military leader and a caricature of Bill Clinton.

NRA 1992 Mags

Clearly starting to get a little political.

And here we have the issue that came out right before the 2012 presidential election.

NRA Paranoid Xenophobe cover sm

No gun at all on the cover, and it’s purely a political appeal to the small group of gun nuts who think the government is just one step away from confiscating their precious firearms.

And now the April 2013 cover.

NRA Obama HatersI think this one was aimed at the most ignorant fools in their target market that didn’t quite git that President Barack HUSSEIN Obama is a Muslim Kenyan Socialist and a LIAR! And he’s comin’ to git yer GUNS! So hop in yer truck right NOW and go buy yerself some more military assault rifles (you know how to turn ’em into full auto don’t ya?) and high-capacity magazines so ya can pretect yerself from his secret army of Kevlar-wearin’ Brady Bunch guvmint gun grabbers . And by golly, make sure them bullits ya load in yer mags are of the armor-piercin’ type.

HE’S COMIN’ TO GIT YER GUNS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bitter irony in Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre

Bitter irony in Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre

The indescribable agony of the people Newtown, Connecticut, in the wake of the horrible events of Friday are compounded by the knowledge that theirs is a community characterized by most as at once bucolic and safe. A place where violent crime is non-existent and criminal wrongdoing of any sort is rare.

Why then did the mother of Adam Lanza, the alleged perpetrator, have an arsenal of firearms? According to the latest reports, in addition to two semi-automatic handguns and a semi-automatic rifle recovered at the scene of the slaughter of young innocents, the police found other weapons in the Lanza home.

Which begs the question: if Newtown is as safe and secure as seems to be the case, a wonderful place to raise children in fact, why then did Lanza’s mother purchase an arsenal of firearms? Was she an avid fan of recreational shooting who visited gun ranges? Or did she simply feel safer with a bunch of handguns and rifles about the place? And how well were these weapons secured in the home – if at all?

This blog has advocated stronger gun controls in the past and believes we could benefit greatly from adopting more stringent Canadian-style regulations governing the ownership and storage of firearms.

The NRA is lying low at the moment as they always do in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. They will bide their time until emotions have cooled and then will launch their counterattack to the calls for stronger gun controls. The organization’s trained political lapdogs, mostly but not necessarily all Republicans, will be sent forth to mournfully express their sorrow at the events in Newtown but will opine that what we don’t need is more gun laws. They’ll be joined at the right moment by the NRA’s leading mouthpiece, Wayne LaPierre, who will yap on endlessly about how more gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy and what we really need is more armed citizens (maybe we should now lower the minimum age to five for owning a handgun?) to stop these events in their tracks. After all, if only the janitor had been packing a .357 magnum…

In this particular case, a Canadian-style requirement for firearms to be stored securely might have prevented this awful massacre. If Lanza’s mother had owned a secure safe for the storage of her weapons and if she knew that her son was struggling with anger or similar issues, she could have saved all those lives by simply locking her weapons away and hiding the key or combination from him. Best of all, of course, was if she had never purchased the guns in the first place.

And herein lays the great irony of this tragic event. The shooter’s mother had an arsenal of weapons that she clearly did not need for her safety, because Newtown is a safe community where people know one another, look out for each other. And now thanks to her son’s access to deadly weaponry, the name will be forever linked with one of the greatest, most heinous crimes in American history.

On the issue of guns, America has lost its perspective, its senses and its sanity – and now, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a precious group of its children and their courageous principal and teachers. May God give us the wisdom, the strength and the courage so that something good can still come from so much pain and anguish.

America may be Exceptional but not always in a Good Way

America may be Exceptional but not always in a Good Way

Being a naturalized United States citizen, I don’t pretend to understand everything about the Americans. That said, I’ve never really thought of Americans as being particularly inscrutable except when it came to two issues: universal healthcare coverage and the unfettered availability to any Tom, Dick or Harry of guns, about which I confess I have been completely stumped for some 33 years.

When I left the United Kingdom I left behind what many ignorant Americans on the right refer to pejoratively as socialized medicine. In fact, that system provides universal health coverage to all residents; primary and emergency care is first-rate, and while there may be waiting times for non-emergency surgeries these have decreased in the last several years with extra funding. No Brit pays out-of-pocket expenses for medical care (dentistry is a different matter) and statistically health outcomes compare favourably with this country. And all of this is achieved with an expenditure of a bit less than 9% of GDP compared to more than 16% in the US. And among industrialized countries, the UK represents the rule not the exception.

By way of contrast, at any given moment between 40 and 50 million residents of the US are without health care insurance. Thousands die every year of treatable conditions for which they did not seek timely treatment because they lacked insurance. Out-of-pocket medical expenses are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in America. Under the current system insurance companies can refuse to cover people with pre-existing conditions; many are so underinsured that limits on coverage can be reached quickly in the event of expensive and long-term treatments for conditions such as cancer.

A delightful illustration of why Americans should be ashamed of this state of affairs comes with the news that some of the wounded victims of the Aurora movie theatre shooting lack insurance and will have to depend on the charity of friends and relatives, and perhaps a national whip-round to pay their hospital and rehabilitation bills.

Yet, inexplicably, a plurality of Americans appears to prefer this awful status quo to the first meaningful reform effort to be signed into law: the Patient Care and Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” as the preferred pejorative label this time from the ignoramuses on the right. While far from perfect (a public option would have been nice) the ACA promises to bring real and substantive benefits to both the insured and uninsured to address the flaws in the current system; but to most Americans it’s the policy equivalent of being forced to take castor oil.

And on the subject of guns, America again has taken a different path from other advanced nations. Unless one is to believe (which I do not) that Americans are inherently more violent than Europeans or Canadians, it is virtually impossible to escape the conclusion that America’s weak gun laws account for its murderously high homicide rate. And I’ve never understood why Americans on the one hand express shock and outrage at events such as the Aurora movie theater shooting-spree when, on the other, they have made such incidents inevitable by their refusal to vote for stronger controls and restrictions on the sale and possession of firearms.

The result, as with the lack of universal healthcare reform, is that thousands more Americans die or suffer grievously every year than would otherwise be the case if ordinary Americans and their political leaders made a different choice.

So is it Americans’ ignorance of the rest of the world which feeds their delusions that no matter their own travails they are better off than everyone else? Or are Americans simply a nation of masochists who suffer to be free or simply want to be free to suffer?

For me it continues to be a mystery and more than a little sad.

Gun Laws Work if they’re Tough Enough

Gun Laws Work if they’re Tough Enough

In the wake of the latest shooting outrage in Colorado, we’ve been treated to the usual nonsense from the gun nuts and right-wing punditry. Washington Post columnist E J Dionne wrote two excellent columns (here and here) on the subject in which he eviscerated the arguments of the NRA and its allies on why sensible restrictions on guns are both necessary and potentially effective and on their efforts to stifle even the semblance of a debate. He also bemoaned the cowardice of those who support such laws but meekly accept their powerlessness in the face of the gun lobby’s political and financial muscle.

A particularly absurd assertion by opponents of gun control is that gun laws don’t work. If that were the case, the murder rate from shootings in the United Kingdom, which essentially bans the sale and possession of hand guns, would be no different from ours (there is little difference in rates for other types of crime between the two countries). Instead, the United States has the highest murder rate of any advanced nation and the gap is much greater when shooting deaths alone are counted.

Obviously, a total ban never was on the cards for the United States and is now impossible thanks to the interpretation of the Second Amendment by the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court. But there is another more realistic model we could follow: Canada.

Canada is an example of a country with a thriving but stringently regulated gun culture. The result is a country where there are plenty of gun owners but the homicide rate is a fraction of our own.

Requirements imposed on Canadians include mandatory firearms training and an approved method of safe storage. Even the conveyance of firearms is strictly regulated. The key, however, to Canada’s lower rate of gun violence is the focus on ensuring as far as humanly possible that the wrong person is not issued with a license to possess a firearm. For example, in addition to the usual background checks, an applicant must provide references from individuals who know the applicant and can attest to the fact that they know of no reason why he or she should not be issued with a license to own a firearm. That requirement alone would prevent many dangerous individuals from legally obtaining a gun; the alleged shooter in Colorado, for example, would have had a tough time coming up with such references judging by his isolated life style (one mirrored in the Virginia Tech shooter and many other perpetrators of mass shootings).

The folks at the NRA love to point to the myriad gun laws on the books in America. The problem, as they well know, is that most of these are local and state laws which vary greatly in reach and effectiveness. What we need are more effective and stringent national laws such as closing the gun show loophole and banning assault rifles. States also need to pull back on the whole idea of concealed weapon permits. Add to that wish list some ideas from Canada such as imposing safe weapons storage requirements and, most important of all, establishing a more rigorous screening system for all potential gun buyers.

We don’t have to nor should we live in fear of our movie theatres, shopping malls, work places or schools becoming war zones. Common sense laws can be highly effective but we need to start standing up to the gun zealots in this country and rewarding politicians who do likewise. Is that really asking too much?

Aurora Colorado Mass Murder at Batman Movie will have No Effect on Gun Control because of People like George Will

Aurora Colorado Mass Murder at Batman Movie will have No Effect on Gun Control because of People like George Will

I don’t usually watch the Sunday morning political talk shows because I can’t stand all the cross-talk when there isn’t somebody funny like Bill Maher to interrupt them with a good joke. (Needless to say, I am a huge fan of Real Time.) But, this morning I watched the whole hour of This Week with George Stephanopoulos about “The Tragedy in Colorado” that unfortunately includes George Will as a regluar roundtable guest.

George Will, like every “good” conservative following the script, argues throughout the show that there’s no reason to push for stricter gun control laws because James Holmes, although very smart, was crazy, so there are no laws that could have prevented him from doing what he did.

Jennifer Rubin, when she could get some words in between others and “he who must be treated with great deference” a.k.a. George Will, was attempting to make a connection between gun laws and mental health, but could never quite tie it all together by suggesting that some sort of psychological screenings for buyers of guns might be a good step in keeping guns out of the hands of psychopaths. (If you’ve read The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, you know there are some tests that are pretty accurate in identifying them).

There are millions and millioins of conservatives that adore George Will and think like George Will, and it’s because of them that absolutely nothing about gun laws in this country will change because of the mass murder committed in Colorado by a psychopath that was able to legally purchase several handguns and an assault rifle that he easily equipped with a hundred-round ammo clip.

To them, it’s the same as it ever was: “He was crazy! There’s nothing we can do to stop it, so why try?” Yes, why try to stop people from legally purchasing guns designed for the sole purpose of killing othe people in the most efficient ways? Having millions of assault rifles scattered throughout America so that we can all kill each other isn’t a big deal is it? No… Let’s make more of them! Let’s arm all Americans with assault rifles and hundred-round clips so that at the next major movie premiere we can have a good old-fashioned American shootout. Just think how of many more people could be killed if everyone in attendance had assault rifles strapped over their shoulders and semi-automatic pistols holstered at their sides. The more Jokers that can get guns, the better.

Chaos! It’s our destiny, so why try to stop it?

Ask George Will.