Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Guns to Gardens on 11 August

In August, the New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence will hold a fund raiser for the Guns to Gardens program, in which unwanted guns are fabricated into garden tools.  I'll be there.

Gun buybacks make some nervous; seen as an attack on the Second Amendment. But these are not mandatory buybacks, i.e., the "Australian Solution" that raises Constitutional issues. Voluntary buybacks held in some cities do not abrogate the Second Amendment as recently affirmed in District of Columbia v Heller and MacDonald v Chicago. It appears they have a minor impact on reducing crime (discussed here, and here). They still serve an important purpose, operationally and philosophically.

The idea is not to melt down one's prize handgun or rifle but provide a means for people to safely and securely dispose of unwanted, abandoned, or unused firearms. Those which end up in the back of a closet or in a drawer and more likely to be misused, forgotten, accidentally discharged by a child (sometimes at a person), or stolen. Such efforts as these also provide a convenient disposal mechanism for people who have inherited or otherwise own guns but who are not part of a firearms culture, may simply not know what to  do with guns or how to use them effectively, nor are interested in learning. The First Amendment is a right too, but not everyone writes letters to the editor. Its our choice.

Someone who is unsure of the value of a firearm can also take it to a gun shop for a knowledgeable appraisal and then decide what to do with the gun. It would bring tears to my eyes to see someone melt down a pre-64 Model 70 Winchester in good condition. But in such a case of disposing of a gun with a lot of value, please sell it via a background check.

The Guns to Gardens program is a rational political statement about reducing civic violence and putting guns in a proper perspective, i.e., ensure we do not see guns as the only tool in one's mental toolbox.  Guns should not be America's Maslow's Hammer, i.e., if all you have is a gun, everything looks like something to be shot. Solving social ills with firearms is rarely a good idea, whether disgruntled blacks in Dallas or Baton Rouge, westerners or political protestors performing armed occupations of wildlife refuges over federal land policy, disgruntled spouses, gang members in poverty stricken communities, or disgruntled employees. Indeed, the idea of garden tools makes sense to me. My grandfather spent many sweaty decades at a Chevy plant as a blue collar worker in unskilled trades. He let off steam at night gardening. Not a little garden. More than half an acre. Fed the whole neighborhood. He also built his own house. Seems only Chevy did not realize his true talents, but he didn't take it out on anyone. An honorable and quiet man.

A gun buyback program must be part of a greater context. Violence reduction requires focused efforts; a target rifle rather than the scattershot proposals of some gun control advocates. Some efforts can involve carefully vetted laws to keep guns out of the hands of prohibited persons. Mass shootings are low likelihood, high consequence evens; we need to minimize their occurrence by limiting lethality or minimizing the desire to be a mass shooter (or both). A larger effort needs to address why people commit crime. Andrew Papachristos' work, studying cohorts of violent people, is a good place to start. Papachristos has shown that violence is not random but highly correlated and transmits similarly to STDs, thus is predictable, and potentially controllable (and not primarily with gun control). Article about that here.

I reject abridging folks Second Amendment rights, including my own. I favor reducing gun violence, and thus reducing both the cost to society of shootings and the perception that citizens cannot be trusted with their 2A rights. Lets build bridges to reduce violence rather than burn bridges fighting across the ever widening gun control moat.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Heinrich Backs Legislation To Prevent Suspected Terrorists From Purchasing Guns And Explosives, And Which Makes A Mockery of Civil Liberties

6-22-16 Addenum. New, improved, Collins-Heinrich et al bill.

In a political press release, Sen. Heinrich tells us that he backs legislation to put people who are on the terror watch list (TWL) on a Federal no-buy list for explosives and guns. Further, he quotes a GAO statement saying "known or suspected terrorists pass a background check to purchase a firearm or explosives 91 percent of the time."

First of all, that is a significant misreading of the GAO statement. What it actually gives are the number of people who bought firearms/explosives who are on the TWL. That doesn't necessarily mean they are known or suspected terrorists by any legal process that would pass the laugh test in a real court. It merely means they found themselves on Federal intelligence list to which the public has little access as far as obtaining redress, and often, little or no knowledge of why they are on the list to begin with.

As anyone who has followed the argument knows, it is easier for an innocent party to get on that list than it is to be removed. Hundreds of thousands find themselves on that list, some for a decade. Since it is primarily an intelligence list, petitioning or suing to be removed is often met with government secrecy rather than due process. Of course as Orlando shows, one can be deemed not a terrorist after an exhaustive investigation and still end up as a mass shooter. But as far as lists are concerned, there is one list, based on public information and due process, that Omar Mateen should have been on: the NICS, or National Instant Criminal Background Check System. As the New York Times and other media have reported, he was apparently a domestic abuser; that could have qualified him to be flagged as a no-buy person. Unfortunately, his first wife, whose family had to help her flee Omar, never pressed charges. Life and law are not so simple as making lists.

The bill that Mr. Heinrich supports, SB 551, removes none of the legal challenges to due process that are present in the workings of the TWL. Therefore, this largely secret, star chamber process should not be used to abridge an enumerated constitutional right, in this case the 2nd Amendment. Indeed, the ACLU has long said it should not be used to prohibit a person from boarding a plane unless the government designs a better way for people to challenge their status on the list.

"...The recently proposed laws seek to preclude anyone from purchasing a firearm who is on the No Fly or Terrorist Watch Lists. These lists have no vetted legal standard defining how one gets on the list, let alone how to get off of it (providing you even know you are on the list). These proposed laws directly violate an individual’s Fifth Amendment right to due process, and quite possibly their Sixth Amendment right to know their accusers, the charges against them, and to be able to provide witnesses and refute the charges. All of this with the purpose of denying someone of another Constitutional right - their Second Amendment right to bear arms..."  Dan Oliver, LA Daily Post

Call Senators Heinrich and Udall and reiterate what the ACLU has long said: if we are to use this list to control people's lives under the rationale of public safety, whether to board a plane or buy a gun, first fix the due process considerations. In a phone call to Mr. Heinrich's staff, I suggested appointing Federal attorneys with security clearances to (aggressively) represent citizens on the TWL in closed Federal court so that these people have representatives who can argue their case from inside the wall of secrecy. I imagine there are other ideas as well. But the bottom line? Let's not throw out the Bill of Rights with the bathwater.

Latest from ACLU:  The Use of Error-Prone and Unfair Watchlists Is Not the Way to Regulate Guns in America

Somewhat unrelated. Point vs. counterpoint Dept.

Australia shows some gun bans work
Australia’s 1996 Gun Confiscation Didn’t Work – And it Wouldn’t Work in America

From Baker and McPhedran 2007, BRIT. J. CRIMINOL. (2007) 47, 455–469
The Aussie gun buyback program started in 1996

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Whither Sheriff's Dept?

The recent deluge of letters to the Daily Post regarding the future of the Sheriff's Dept is conflating two issues: the department's desire to engage in scope creep vs. carrying out its traditional duties in Los Alamos County vs. Council's desire to eliminate the office, and the far right politics being espoused in some letters. Let's separate the two.

The question of eliminating the sheriff, i.e., whether the traditional duties of the Los Alamos Sheriff as described in our county's governance documents can be more cost effectively and safely carried out by other county staff should be analyzed. The councilors who are suggesting this change in governance should post the analysis here in the Daily Post. If the duties can be folded into the LAPD more cost-effectively, this should be made clear. Separately, the idea of scope creep worries me. One, do the deputies have the same level of police training as our PD and two, do we need two police agencies in one jurisdiction? We don't have separate county vs city jurisdictions such as is the case in Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

The "Constitutional Sheriff" and related rhetoric is polarizing the discussion. Certainly the difference in the office of police chief vs. sheriff is clear--one is appointed by the county and one is directly elected by the public. The recent lawsuit fiasco where a police chief was given the bum's rush by the County Administration for still to be fully disclosed reasons still worries me. But separately, if the Sheriff office's current brand of politics is found distasteful by the community, the remedy is to vote out the incumbents, not eliminate the office. If the community agrees with the philosophy put forth in letters such as one written by Mr. Horne, we should re-elect the incumbent. I find it interesting that we are told we should be supporting an ideology that is wary of Big Government when if not for Big Government and the military-industrial complex, there would be little up here on the hill but a few ranchers, a small boy's school, and some cattle.But whatever...that's a decision to be made at the ballot box, not in Tirades to the Editor.

At any rate, it really sounds like we should have a pair of referendums on our hands. One for the office, and one for the office holder. May we live in interesting times.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Charter Amendment To Require That a Councilor Do Your Laundry


 Insofar as we may already have one Charter Amendment on the ballot this year, i.e., to abolish the office of elected sheriff of Los Alamos County,  I will suggest a second one after a chat with a counter staffer at one of our few remaining gas stations in Los Alamos: County Council will henceforth be responsible for ensuring laundry can be done frugally on The Hill.

Buying some groceries on the station located on what used to be "Conoco Hill", I mentioned to the service staff member that it was nice to have at least one of the previous long time gas station in town left standing. The person grumbled that it was unfortunate that gas stations were falling like dominoes to the Krogerville onslaught, and to boot, there is no longer a self-service laundromat in town. As a renter, that staffer now has fewer options.

To a Council that is advocating that we broaden our economic base and encourage tourism, I will reiterate that tourist industry jobs don't pay the lavish wages that our major employer pays. Tourist industry workers may be renting and may not have the laundry facilities many of us take for granted. For a tourist industry worker to add the price of having a laundry service clean their clothes would be more expensive. Driving to Pojoaque or Espanola to do laundry means a round trip of almost forty miles. At General Service Administration reimbursement rates of 54 cents a mile, that means adding 20 bucks to the cost of doing laundry.

Rather than cause such a hardship, I suggest a charter amendment: during such times that Los Alamos does not have a full self-service laundromat, the seven County Councillors will take in all laundry for those residents who do not have access to a washer/dryer. Council members will turn it around in a maximum of 48 hours. Simple enough. Perhaps instead of a Sheriff's Dept., we can delegate and have a County Laundry Department.

 A community government that wishes to expand our economy to include more lower wage jobs has a responsibility to know what social issues such decisions will entail. I am sure there are others (health insurance, living wage, transportation, housing costs, etc) far more serious than washing hotel industry uniforms, but this example provides a good opportunity for Council to step up to the plate and proudly hit one over the fence.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Letter To The Editor: Lacking An Outside Audit ... Doubt About County Personnel Management Remains

I am disappointed that Council voted 4-2 against commissioning an independent audit of the County's personnel policies. This follows some high profile, successful lawsuits against the county and the loss of former acting Police Chief Randy Foster, who was fired, as I understand, due to his handling of a potentially catastrophic personnel situation. I counted Randy as a friend as well as a Chief, so like Councilor James Chrobocinski, I am somewhat conflicted. That said, I think this was the wrong decision.

County spokespeople can attempt to assuage our concerns about county management with lawyer-vetted argle bargle, to wit, a lawsuit payout does not equal admitted culpability. The public is not so naive; the numbers in these payouts speak for themselves. So too, does public confidence in County governance wane when high profile people in sensitive positions, such as the police chief, leave under a cloud of the county's own making, leading us to wonder whether the county is in good hands.

Admittedly, not all personnel actions can be made public and there is much we don't know. As a former member of a union board of directors (University of Hawaii Professional Assembly), I realize that you cannot sky-write all personnel actions. Thus, an  independent audit that preserved confidentiality when appropriate would have been a suitable substitute to both evaluate our personnel policies and let the public know that we are striving to make county governance as good as it could be. That 4-2 vote ensures neither will be obvious.

The votes of Councilors Girrens, Reiss, Izraelevitz and Henderson disappoint. I hope they write letters to this paper explaining their vote. Or, perhaps, raise this issue again with a less opaque outcome.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Father Daniel J. Berrigan, RIP

 Father Dan Berrigan one of the two Berrigan brothers (Phillip was the other) who stridently opposed the Vietnam War, died a few days ago. Writeups in the NY Times and on NPR.

Somewhat in honoring their efforts at stopping what was an extremely misguided war.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

It May Be a Spiffy Bomber to Us, But It Was Hell on the Marshallese

Sent to the Albuquerque Journal.


 In the Sunday Journal, Charles Brundt tells us about the need to raise funds to repaint a B-52B bomber that will be exhibited at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. Brundt elaborates on the history of this aircraft, including that it was heavily involved in "...Operation Redwing Cherokee, a series of 17 nuclear test detonations from May 4 through July 21, 1956, at the Bikini and Enewetak atolls in the Pacific." Indeed, the U.S. conducted some 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands.

For whatever security this testing may or may not have provided Americans, its legacy continues to haunt the Marshall Islanders, where many areas have been too contaminated for habitation and where many people were directly subject to high levels of fallout and long term radioactive contamination. Imagine if New Mexico, rather than having experienced one small test of a nuclear device at Trinity Site, was used as a target for dozens of very large thermonuclear weapons.

Perhaps in addition to raising funds for re-painting that B-52, we should not be whitewashing the effects our testing program had on its unwilling participants living on those Pacific Islands. How much paint does it take to undo the equivalent of a nuclear war on someone's island home?