GA Gun Bill Good For Turkeys

Wild Turkey

Georgia, the home state of Ray Charles, President Jimmy Carter, Jasper Johns, Deforest Kelly, Martin Luther King Jr, Alice Walker, Burt Reynolds, Otis Redding, and Hulk Hogan, became the first in the country to allow residents with gun permits to pack heat just about anywhere – in bars, houses of worship, schools, and even airports.  Dubbed the “guns everywhere” bill, it passed the Georgia state legislature by 112-58 in the House and 37-18 in the Senate, despite majority opposition from Georgians.

As outrageous as the law sounds, it does have some restrictions.  A house of worship would have to authorize “armed” services.  I’m not sure how many priests, pastors, imams and rabbis would invite worshipers to bear arms inside their institutions, but no doubt a few would – “praise the lord and pass the ammunition”.  Maybe they would have a shotluck dinner at the conclusion of services.  Do rest assured that pub owners would also have to approve of guns and “shots” before an armed patron could enter the establishment and proceed to get “loaded”.  I am not sure that guns and drinks mix, but if the saloon owner doesn’t mind the place being shot up every Saturday night, I suppose that is his or her own business.  As for armed schools, it would be up to the local school or school board to decide who, if anyone, would be allowed to carry a gun on the premises.  Frankly, I think a “militarized” public school zone with metal detectors, armed security guards, loudspeakers, cameras and microphones would confuse kids into thinking they are in a prison rather than an educational institution.  And the thought of an armed teacher is too much to bear.  I can imagine the principal having to come around on occasion and take away some teachers’ bullets for accidentally discharging the weapons in class, kind of like Sheriff Taylor had to do with Barney from time to time – take away his one bullet.  While it may seem extreme that a licensed gun owner can carry a weapon to a Georgia airport, including Atlanta Hartsfield, the world’s busiest, know that guns would only be permitted in areas outside security checks.  But why would anyone bring a gun to an airport unless they had bad intentions?  From a practical standpoint, I guess it would give him a built in advantage in a long line say at the coffee shop, but it could cause a confrontation and blood to spill rather than coffee.  The law should be amended so that there would be an express line for gun holders.  One piece of advice to cashiers:  if the gun holder says he gave you a $50 dollar bill, HE GAVE YOU A $50 DOLLAR BILL.  According to the new law, airports would need to have signs indicating where guns are and are not permitted.  I can see the sign now – one with a pistol and another with a pistol and a line through it.

I don’t know who wrote the bill, probably some attorney for the NRA, but it is poorly written with gaping holes and inconsistencies.  First, the fine for shooting big game out of season or turkeys with the wrong caliber weapon is now $250, and the gun owner’s license would be revoked for 3 years.  By comparison, the fine for being caught with a weapon at a security checkpoint at an airport would be a misdemeanor with a fine of $100.  Actually, a gun wielding traveler with a permit could say that he “forgot” that he had “packed” a weapon and could simply leave the area to be screened elsewhere and not be charged with a misdemeanor or a fine.  Interestingly, law enforcement personnel cannot ask to see someone’s permit to carry.  One would think to keep everybody honest, police would be allowed to do periodic spot checks.  Lastly, the law appears to make it easier to obtain a permit to carry.  It provides a long section of relief from licensing exceptions including giving the superintendent of a mental institution the power to approve a request for a license made by former patients.  Also, residents who have had their licenses revoked can reapply after 4 years.  And 18 year olds who are in the military can apply for a license.

Any law that promotes gun ownership benefits the NRA and gun manufacturers.  And any candidate running for public office who supports gun “rights” will have the full support of the NRA to help them get elected and stay in power.  And while the NRA and Georgia Republicans argue that the new gun law is a victory for the 2nd amendment (which doesn’t say anything at all about the right of an individual to brandish a loaded gun in the public town square), it appears that the real victors here are big game, including bears, alligators and deer, oh, and the spirited wild turkey.



Newtown Tragedy Is Just So Sad

My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families and to the entire community of Newtown, CT.  20 children and 7 adults are dead, victims of senseless violence, murdered by a mentally unstable gunman.  Although the facts are not yet clear, the gunman, described as a man in his twenties, allegedly killed his mother, then went to Sandy Hook Elementary school and open fired on a class of kindergartners, killing 20 of the children and 6 school personnel, including the principal and a school psychologist before taking his own life.

This unspeakable crime is almost too gruesome to process, and as horrifically shocking as it is, mass murders are not all that uncommon in the U.S.  Mother Jones recently released a report finding that 61 mass murders have been committed in the U.S. in the last 30 years, and 7 such murders have occurred in 2012 alone.  In most of the cases, the atrocities were committed by mentally unstable gunmen with semi-automatic handguns and assault weapons they legally obtained.

Given the frequency of these tragedies, it’s time for lawmakers to get serious about enacting gun control legislation and providing more funding to support mental health services to people in need.  We seem to care more about the right to own a gun, than we do about the idea of a social contract, one based on love and support for all and a commitment to those in need – the poor, the hungry, the neglected and those suffering from abuse and mental illness.  We should look after each other and this also may mean institutionalizing those who are a threat to themselves and the community.  But I’m tired of the slogan that “people kill, not guns”.  I’m sorry conservative NRA members, but you are wrong.  Guns obtained legally do kill when in the wrong hands.  In the 61 cases of mass murder in the U.S. in the last 30 years, victims were slaughtered not by baseball bats or fists, but by guns purchased legally by people with serious mental health issues.  Honestly, what is the purpose of a semi-automatic handgun or an assault weapon anyway, if not to kill?  And consider this:  the 2nd amendment does not state that people have the right to own an AK-47.  In fact, the 2nd amendment refers only to the rights of gun ownership within the context of a well-regulated militia for the purpose of national defense.

Society did not kill 27 people today.  But aren’t we in some way responsible as a nation for trying to prevent mass killings?  And what have we done lately? At the federal level, Congress let the Federal Assault Weapons ban of 1994 expire in 2004.  At the state level, Florida passed an open carry law, as did Oklahoma. Florida leads the nation in mass murders.  Texas passed a law in 2011 that permits workers to keep guns in their parked vehicles at their workplaces.  And in Kansas, permit holders can carry concealed weapons inside K-12 schools.  According to research by Mother Jones, 37 states have passed 99 laws in the last 4 years with strong backing from the NRA that make it easier to own and carry a gun.  Finally, as the GOP refuses to allow tax increases on billionaires and pledges to keep state and corporate tax rates low and wages low too for that matter, 31 states in 2012 reported cutting mental health services by $840 million to deal with revenue shortfalls.

What will our nation’s policy response be to the Newtown massacre?

Stand Your Ground Lawlessness

Stand Your Ground laws are on the books in many Red States and in some Blue states too, where guns and the NRA are popular. These so-called “self-defense” laws permit armed and presumably unarmed citizens the right to use deadly force in the event they feel in danger and in the case of Florida, also if they feel the lives of others are in danger.  But what does Stand Your Ground really mean?

Stand Your Ground as I understand the phrase means Don’t Back Down. It doesn’t mean take out a semi-automatic and fire away.  Nor does it mean go patrol the neighborhood looking for trouble, which is apparently what George Zimmerman was doing as a self-appointed neighborhood watch “captain” the night he pursued, after being told by police not to, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black youth walking home from a convenience store with a pack of Skittles. The police determined that they could not arrest Zimmerman based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

The murder of Trayvon Martin has raised many questions about Stand Your Ground Laws, including evidence that they have produced an increase in violence and fatalities, and have promoted a dangerous vigilante mentality. As people become increasingly empowered to “protect” themselves and others, conditions are ripe for the type of racial profiling and racist attitudes that appear to have been motivational factors in Zimmerman’s actions.

With respect to homeowners, SYG laws encourage gun use in situations where the gun owner may not have the proper training to appropriately handle a dangerous situation, such that his actions could put him or her as the case may be, more at risk of injury or death, or cause a needless and preventable fatality.

I’m not against gun ownership, or the right to use force in self-defense. I am against citizens taking the law into their own hands.  Without the powerful gun lobby with the full backing of the NRA, these laws may never have come to pass.  Which raises the issue of why now?  Has there been a rash of crime the likes the U.S. has never seen?  Are there criminals lurking around every corner and burglars burgling in every suburban basement.  Might the passage of SYG laws have to do with a calculated GOP Tea Party strategy to instill fear in the citizenry, a fear that the President is secretly plotting to disarm Americans with some executive order? This is the sort of paranoid conspiracy theory that you might see at a Tea Party rally. It makes for good campaign rhetoric for the GOP who could argue (incorrectly I would add) that  Democrats who favor gun control are against the right to bear arms.  Even though I believe the second amendment only guarantees a well-regulated militia (like today’s police force, or the armed forces) the right to bear arms, I don’t have a problem with gun ownership for sport or a pistol for protection to be kept in the home, but DON’T think it’s a good idea for people to be walking around armed to the teeth as if living in the Wild West. Rather than Stand Your Ground laws, these are more like Take The Law Into Your Own Hands laws.

One way to peacefully stand your ground is to lock your doors, secure your valuables and install a security system. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. If you feel your life is in danger, call 911, find a safe area or escape.  Standing your ground with gun in hand invites confrontation that can have no good ending.  And for the deeply religious folk who insist there is some biblical right to own a automatic assault rifle, I could only find in the bible “do not commit murder” and “judge not, lest ye be judged”.  Let the criminal justice system do the judging, not the semi-automatic pistol.

Another 5-4 Ruling in Favor of Handguns

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a law banning handguns in Chicago is unconstitutional.  Homeowners in McDonald v. Chicago want to be able to keep a handgun in their homes as a means of self-defense and assert this as a right guaranteed under the second amendment and protected or incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment.   The ban originally enacted 28 years ago has done little to control gun violence in the windy city.  People do not feel safe and want to pack some compact household heat.

The second amendment says nothing about the right of an individual to use a handgun for self-defense.  Nor does it imply that an individual has the right to pack any heat at all.  Rather, it gives the states the right to form a well-regulated militia to protect its citizens.  We can see this in state defense forces and in modern times our local and state police forces.  Here is the actual text:

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.

Lifting the ban means more handguns will be in circulation in ChiTown which in my view makes the city even more dangerous.  If I were a Chicagoan, I would challenge the ruling on the basis that allowing and thus encouraging people to possess concealed weapons is a threat to life, liberty and property.

It is important to note that the ban was never a ban on arms.  Folks in Chicago have always been able to keep a registered shotgun or rifle in the house, as long as it is out of the reach of a minor.

A firearm is not the only means of self-protection.  A good alarm system can bring piece of mind and security.  911 works too, and with a cellphone, you can remain in contact with the authorities.  A text message can quietly provide details.  Record it.  Put up a sign saying house under constant video surveillance.  A fearful granny could sleep alongside an ax.  An aluminum baseball bat packs a punch.  And one of the best deterrents I know is a barking dog.

I do not adhere to a strict interpretation of the constitution based on what the founders were thinking.  I believe the constitution should evolve and be applied reasonably to address modern societal issues.   I think law abiding adults should have a right to own a registered gun for lawful purposes.  But I also believe the states and municipalities have a fundamental obligation to try local solutions to keep their citizens safe.  I don’t believe a federal ruling should trump a local approach to a unique urban problem.  It is true that gun violence is on the rise in Chicago, but with this SCOTUS ruling which surely delights members of the NRA, the powerful gun lobby, I expect gun violence to skyrocket.