Monday, June 18, 2018

To the Santa Fe New Mexican: My View on Gun Violence Prevention

Note that to get this under 500 words, a lot was left out. A few added comments here.

1. I don't like the idea of piling more laws on people but gun culture has changed. More households owned guns when I was young but we didn't have this "me too" movement of mass shootings. Plus, to borrow an analysis from Wake Forest University's David Yamane, Gun Culture 1.0 was about gunsport and hunting. Gun Culture 2.0 is about self defense, i.e., shooting people. I think that transition has encouraged a violent outlook. So if we can't figure out how to keep people from going off the rails in today's culture, we need to interdict them so they derail without taking out their schools, churches, or government buildings. Hence the need for ERPOs and watching for the Deadly Signs of Becoming Armed and Stupid.

2. The culture driving shootings is controlled by social mores (such as social media), drug violence, poverty driven crime, domestic violence, and suicidal urges in a nation where social darwinism has replaced social cohesion. The transfer of firearms from the legitimate to the illegitimate market is inevitable in a nation with 1.2 guns for every person, but we need to make it harder to transition to that illegitimate market.

3. Today's polarizing politics encourages us to see each other as not belonging to the same culture, to say nothing of the same nation. We stop taking each other's advice and instead, bury ourselves in our political bubbles. That really explains a lot about what currently amounts to the gun non-debate. To say its not about the guns but about the people has a lot of truth to it, but clever sayings don't solve the problem. I think educational and social services, drug law reform, and economic justice are far more important than gun control but the left refuses to relent on gun control and the right has abandoned the social safety net. What can possibly go wrong?

Now, on to what was sent to the New Mexican.

To reduce gun violence, we need to find consensus solutions. Consensus is hard on such a polarized topic. Some suggestions follow.

Stop trying to ban guns. Bans on so-called assault rifles fly in the face of a half century of legal ownership. Millions are out there but they make up a very minor portion of shootings.  The lion's share of shootings, including multiple shootings, are committed with handguns. “ARs” are responsible for some high profile carnage, but we can increase public safety well short of a ban.

We can require higher standards of ownership for modern, military style rifles or concealable handguns that put the public at greater risk. This could be done through progressive licensing and screening, as we presently do for automatic weapons or to screen motorists before letting them hop from a subcompact car to behind the wheel of a Mack Truck. Rules should be clear, fair and not subject to arbitrary and capricious subjective interpretations. A lower bar should be set for owning low capacity firearms or handguns more at home in the woods. Storage requirements should reflect risk, such as if children are in a home.

Once we decide on categories of firearms with respect to risk, we can issue firearm owners ID cards (FOID) with a nationally-agreed on set of criteria for reciprocity.  Each gun owner would have an ID card, similar to a driver's license, that would allow the person to own and carry some or all categories of guns, openly or concealed, depending on the permit. Of course this means red and blue states have to compromise on the reciprocity criteria but in return, we could stop worrying about gun running between states with different levels of restrictions.

In such a system, private sales would be done by entering data into a computerized National Instant Background Check-like system with FOID card numbers, PINs, a gun serial number and gun description. An exchange could be approved remotely between previously cleared people based on their level of screening for the class of weapon exchanged.

Finally, stop moving the goalposts. The biggest, and often enough, legitimate fear that gun owners have is that the rules are too fluid and often the changes can be bewilderingly stupid. Want examples? Start with California or New Jersey, states that change their gun laws faster than most of us change our socks.

The Second Amendment provides an individual right for a public purpose, i.e., that “the people” could be called to arms in order to defend the nation and to prevent the unwarranted amassing of too much coercive power by government. The Supreme Court’s Heller decision explicitly recognized in the 2A an individual right to have a functional weapon for personal self-defense. The historical reasoning behind the 2A implies some standards need to be met among the people and imposes limitations on the power of government to regulate arms. There is a lot of middle ground that can be explored if we stop demanding all or nothing solutions.

Khalil J. Spencer
Santa Fe, NM

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Modest Proposal Sure to Piss Everyone Off

6/4/18 Draft.

At the rate the GVP discussion is going, 
we are getting nowhere fast
As we continue to accomplish very little with regards to solving the problem of gun violence, I have a modest proposal. Well, maybe not so modest. But what the hell.

First. Stop trying to ban categories of guns such as ARs that have long been in circulation, since that creates a battle royal and since most of these guns are owned with little real risk to society in proportion to the political battle that would ensure if we try to ban them.  The lion's share of shootings, including multiple shootings, are done with handguns. ARs are a convenient political target for the left as a symbol of what they see as America's Gun Problem.

But as a hedge, and as I suggested in 2015 and as Mike Weisser suggested about a week ago, we can, if necessary to keep Junior from mowing down his school or place of work, modify the 1934 National Firearms Act to regulate ARs and some handguns, i.e., arms more lethal than garden variety hunting rifles, shotguns, and some large unconcealable handguns, in some manner between machine guns and Dad's Remington 1100. That doesn't mean people can't have exotic guns or, "modern sporting rifles", or whatever you want to call stuff. It just means it will be a little harder to own more lethal guns, there will be a little more screening, and not every bozo who walks into a gun shop can come out armed to the teeth with his Man Card intact. How we decide what would fall into this category should be decided carefully so we don't run afoul of Heller or intractable political issues. As a point of discussion, how about if owning "modern sporting rifles" and/or being able to carry concealed require a common, higher level of screening than traditional low capacity firearms and hefty handguns more at home in the woods. A "basic" firearms owners identification card (FOID) could be had by anyone who scores 100% on a Form 4473 and one could upgrade if the spirit moved one.
this was stupid

Secondly, stop trying to keep people from owning guns if they have not proven that they should be disqualified. Once we decide on categories of firearms, how about national reciprocity with ownership? Or at minimum, a state-issued FOID card with national reciprocity? Make it shall-issue after jumping through reasonable hoops.  Each gun owner would have an ID card, similar to a driver's license, that would allow some or all categories of guns to be owned, openly or concealed, analogous to a license that allows individuals to drive just cars vs allowing the person to drive cars, motorcycles, eighteen wheelers, etc. Of course this means red and blue states have to compromise on M.Q.'s but in return, we could stop talking about gun running from so called weak law to strong law states and I could plink at tin cans with my old man's hand cannons in NYS without fear of being chased down by Andrew Cuomo. State level sensitivities such as not carrying in government buildings could be preserved. What a concept.

Background checks? Easy.  Private sales/transfers between owners would be done by entering a computerized NICS-like system with a pair of FOID numbers, PINs, a gun serial number and description and presto, a private exchange is done between previously cleared people based on their level of screening. You want to be screened to own an M-60 for shits and grins or sell one to your buddy who is equally screened? Sure, why not? Right now there are hundreds of thousands of legally owned machine guns. They are never in the news because you have to be pretty squeaky clean to own one.  Just show you are responsible for the damn thing and God bless ya.  Just make sure you can afford the ammo.

Finally, stop moving the goalposts and messing with people who have never crossed paths with the law. The biggest, and often enough legitimate fear that gun owners have is that the rules are too fluid and often the changes are bewilderingly stupid. Want examples? Start with California. These situations make Molon Labe an understandable, if not a legally defensible response. Plus, these situations result in single issue politics at the polls, which doesn't help the bigger issue of running the country.  The recent editorial by Santa Fe Mayor Webber, i.e., that he would attempt to circumvent the state constitution's preemption clause, is yet another example of why gun owners are wary of trusting government. Sure did bug me that this showed up in the Santa Fe New Mexican three months after I moved here. No, I didn't get a call from Mr. Mayor as a "responsible gun owner", either.

I think we need to do more to keep guns under control, i.e, from being diverted from the legal to the illegal side of the house and to ensure the irresponsible dofus and clearly identified legal loose cannon is not sending rounds whizzing past my hair do. That means some controls on ownership (i.e., theft prevention and periodic cross-referencing with court records) and transfer (to ensure you don't sell that semiauto to someone about to blow away his wife after she got a restraining order against her slap-happy hubby). But if the laws are designed to control transfer  and reward lawful ownership rather than prevent ownership by good people (i.e., California et al), maybe we can get past the impasse.

The 2A was written so that a citizen militia (of whoever passed for a citizen back then) could be called on to defend the state and/or nation and to try to prevent the unwarranted amassing of power by a government that no longer represents its people. UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler covered that pretty well in Gunfight and there have been numerous papers written about the evolution of arms and self defense in England and America. Heller's contribution was explicitly including in the 2A the right to have a usable weapon for self defense in the home. The historical reasoning behind the 2A implies some standards need to be met among the people. For one, it would be wise if we don't elect assholes who we might genuinely worry about as far as usurping excessive power (hence the ballot box and high school diploma with an A in rhetoric and civics are far more powerful tools than the sword) and two, that we know the limits of being armed and therefore, know muzzle from breech as well as the law of self defense. No American who has thought carefully about the often-used Jefferson quote about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants wants to live in an Anbar Province, no matter how pissed off he gets at Big Gubbmint. Any doubts? Read the history of the Civil War.

Fix the country with a saw and hammer, not with a match and gasoline.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

On Guns, Santa Fe Gun Owners Need to Be Heard


Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber put a column into the Sunday New Mexican in light of the Santa Fe TX school shooting lamenting the lack of state gun control efforts. Mr Mayor stated that if the city can't regulate guns due to the NM Constitution's preemption clause, it will try to regulate magazines, ammo, and potentially take other actions if the city's lawyers think they can get away with regulating firearm use short of regulating guns. I think any attempt to circumvent the state constitution will further polarize the gun violence debate, and should be avoided.

Note this tactic was explored by the city once before, in 2013, and fortunately died a quick death as it most likely violates the state constitution's preemption clause. We are once again caught between the liberal version of regulating guns in general, especially trying to eliminate those guns that liberals find offensive, and trying to keep guns out of the wrong hands, whichever hands happen to be turning rogue.

I find it interesting that Mayor Webber put the usual Progressive language about ridding the community of assault weapons and big magazines into the context of the Santa Fe, TX shooting. That shooting was done with a garden variety shotgun and revolver, i.e., that shooting, unlike some others, had nothing to do with high capacity magazines or "black rifles". Black rifles are not necessarily the problem. Any gun in the wrong hands is the problem. But that's somewhat beside the point of the city ignoring the state constitution.

Article II, § 6 of the Constitution of New Mexico provides:
No law shall abridge the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes, but nothing herein shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. No municipality or county shall regulate, in any way, an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.
 Italics mine. Now one can suggest that ammo, or a magazine, is not a gun, but a gun without ammo or a magazine is not much more than a blued steel paperweight. Ammo, magazines, etc, are "incident" of the right to keep and bear arms since they are part of the overall package. But of course I am no lawyer.

 Having recently moved to the City Different, I would resent becoming a criminal merely by having signed a change of address form. I would likewise hate to have to sign on to an injunction to prevent an ordinance from taking effect and see my own tax dollars drained down a black hole fighting a constitutionally problematic ordinance in court rather than seeing our tax dollars directed at preventing a shooting. Hopefully, the city attorneys will not go down this rabbit hole. If the gun violence prevention folks want to get rid of preemption, it is by amending the state constitution, which from my read, is absurdly easy. One might think of that if the other side of the political fence tries the same game some day on some other hot button issue such as abortion.

The Mayor blamed the NRA for that preemption clause. While the NRA may have "swept into the state" in 1986 in support of said clause, it was added to the constitution not by the NRA, which is not a registered voter, but by the voters of New Mexico. The whole state of New Mexico is not a Progressive paradise: it is a mix of urban, rural, conservative, moderate, and liberal people. Animal rights activists and pig hunters. Vegans and venison connoisseurs. Gun haters and black rifle tinkerers. Plus, its not just the NRA that sweeps in to mess with our gun laws.  When Everytown for Gun Safety "swept into the state" in 2016 carrying a pre-written background check bill and a large wad of cash to pass around to key legislators and liberal black money organizations, their bill failed because it was ridiculously overbroad and was rejected by the Legislature. I worked on it, trying to help Stephanie Garcia-Richards cobble together a bill that had more support, but since I was not a lobbyist with a checkbook, my opinion did not much matter, although a moderated bill emerged a little too late to move forward. In fact, the NRA was out-spent and outnumbered by Mr. Bloomberg's lobbyists on that one. The one NRA lobbyist who was in the state thought my efforts were, to put it charitably, lost in the maelstrom.

Sometimes, although not necessarily in a deep red or deep blue location, consensus matters. So rather than treating gun owners like the enemy and playing fast and loose with the constitution, perhaps the City Different should find points of agreement with the firearms community. I don't think anyone here, and that includes gun owners, wants to see our schools shot up . Laws directed at actual problems, such as CAP laws to keep Junior out of the family arsenal unless supervised, tax breaks on gun safes, background checks for private sales to anyone you don't know well, well written ERPO laws, violence intervention, holding parents accountable for their kids (such as knowing if your kids are planning a mass shooting or piling up arms and explosives), engaged parenting so that kids don't go down the rabbit hole of toxic social media while having access to firearms, free gun safety training, and other efforts that don't violate the Constitution, many of which require state bills, aren't even being discussed by the City.

Yes, Mr. Mayor, if this proceeds as you have written, some of us will most likely not get out of the way. For better or worse, gun ownership (as in that "guns and bibles" quote) is part of the American fabric. I still hope there is a way to deal with gun misuse without resort to more political gasoline and matches from either side.  I would prefer both sides find common ground, which seems to be the opposite of what the nation is experiencing. Maybe we can be the "city different" with regards to gun violence prevention and find some of that elusive common ground. Maybe.

New York Magazine: No "epidemic" of school shootings.
Northeastern Univ.: School shootings, 1990's-present.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Maybe its not a drought

Editor, New Mexican

Stolen from the Albuquerque Journal article
 linked in the text
 Both the Santa Fe and Albuquerque newspapers have recently run stories about how New Mexico is in severe, persistent drought. To be sure, "severe drought" has plagued the state in 2011-12, 2013, and presently. Maybe there is a pattern here we want to avoid discussing.

Many if not most of the climate models for the 21st century suggest that climate change, in part driven by human industrial emissions, will result in progressive drying in the American Southwest. The reasons for drying include an expansion of the subtropical high, warming that increases evaporation and transpiration, and reduced snowpack. All of these will impact ground and surface water in New Mexico and put increasing stresses on natural systems and human agricultural and urban resources.

Drying in the Southwest is nothing new. Decade to century long drying has occurred several times in the last couple millennia, most pronounced during the Roman and Medieval periods. During the twentieth century, Elephant Butte Lake levels have oscillated between poverty and plenty in concert with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Anthropogenic climate forcing due to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is an overprint onto natural variability; it intensifies the chances of increased warming and drying on a century to millennial time frame.

The bottom line is that individuals, governments, and newspapers have to stop behaving as though we are in a transient drought with a return to "normal" and realize that more likely, we are going into another prolonged drying. How well we manage drying will depend on policy decisions we make if we wish to be proactive rather than suffer the consequences of whistling past the graveyard.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Closed Course, Don't Try This At Home?

NPR ran a story a few minutes ago titled "Sandy Hook Families Push To Hold Gun Maker Accountable In Connecticut Court". The question to a state judge will be whether parents of the Newtown school kids shot up and killed by Adam Lanza can sue Remington, which made and marketed the Bushmaster rifle that Lanza used to assault the school, in spite of Remington not having any control over Mr. Lanza acquiring the rifle and in spite of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protects gun manufacturers from being sued due to the intentional misuse of an otherwise properly functioning product.

 The story on NPR indicated that the lawyers will go after Remington not because the gun is dangerous.  After all, all guns are dangerous. But instead, the lawsuit will suggest Remington marketed its product in a manner that raised the chances that these rifles would be used inappropriately, i.e., "negligent entrustment" with ads like the one on the left and some shown in this NY Magazine article. Never mind that millions are out there among innocuous collectors and gun nuts and only a very few are used inappropriately, even when marketing guns with stupid ads such as the Man Card ad shown here.

If we held car companies to such standards, would cars be sold at all or would many of the car ads fail the lawsuit test? Not only are cars used inappropriately, but some car advertisements go at least as far as Remington in marketing them as something we should be using to get our aggression or sex appeal sated. See, for example these two below. I got into a shitfest with Bicycling Magazine a few years ago when BikeMag published ads advertising cars as ways to exercise one's aggression on the road. All the while, bicyclists were being subject to road rage. Bicycling told me its ad department and editorial department were on separate pages.Yeah, right.



Or this one.



 I'm not sure guns are sold any more stupidly than cars and if we expect car buyers to be able to separate dumb ads from real life, I wonder whether we are holding Remington and Benz buyers to the same standard since gun buyers should be able to do the same.

Closed course. Don't try this at home as you will be held to real life standards. You think?


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Gun Owners Need a Credible NRA


 Sent to the Santa Fe New Mexican but not published.


Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ memorable novella A Christmas Carol, uttered the equally memorable phrase "I'll retire to Bedlam" when he thought everyone he was talking to had gone nuts. In the heated and often unfocussed rhetorical aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting I wonder if its time to do the same.

The National Rifle Association has gone off the rails. It promotes a toxic view of citizenship as well as gun ownership. With hunting on a downward spiral, perhaps its goal is to gin up a gun market designed around self-defense, even if we aren’t sure from whom we are defending. Furthermore, prominent NRA organizational spokespeople Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch compete with people like Alex Jones for who can be the most outrageous.  

Meanwhile, Democrats in Ohio wrote a bill equating innocuous, 22 rimfire hunting and target rifles from the ninteen-sixties to so-called "assault rifles” used to mow down people at the Parkland Fl school. “Kill the NRA” is a popular hashtag. On the local front, a thoughtful leader of a local gun violence prevention organization demands that school, law enforcement, and government organizations purge themselves of anyone with NRA affiliations, which amounts to McCarthyism. This in spite of people like NRA Life Member Mike Weisser being an outspoken critic of NRA leadership and an outspoken supporter of gun violence prevention on his blog and in the pages of the Huffington Post. My stepdad, also an NRA Life Member, dutifully follows the most recent NYS Safe act, putting ten round plugs in his magazines. Breaking with his single-issue tradition, he refused to vote for the Orange Loose Cannon.

As far as the NRA, gun owners need a voice in government. It’s a fact of life that any party subject to government rulemaking needs a competent, full time representative in the halls of the various legislatures to make sure its voice is heard and story understood; gun owners will be heavily impacted by any state or Federal gun control legislation. Indeed, the gun violence prevention community has multiple full time advocates, such as those funded by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. Mr. Bloomberg’s people don’t always get it right on the details. Neither does the NRA. Most thoughtful gun owners work full time and cannot descend on their elected representatives. We depend on competent spokespeople lurking in the halls of government. I wish we had more.

An example of a glaring misunderstanding that could affect legislation was recently provided by Lois Beckett, a thoughtful analyst who extensively covers US gun issues for the UK based Guardian. She noted that in a recent CNN poll indicating 57% of Americans would ban “rifles capable of semi-automatic fire such as the AR-15” the pollsters never defined semi-automatic firearms nor the difference between traditional autoloading hunting rifles and assault-style semiautomatic rifles based on military models.

The problem with the NRA isn’t that its claims that someone needs to represent the interests of gun owners is invalid. The problem is that the NRA leadership no longer represents gun owners; it has become a voice of the far right in the culture wars rather than a voice representing the bulk of the estimated 30-40% of Americans who own firearms. Likewise, many on the left see “guns and bibles” through the eyes of left of center culture warriors.  Thus, we don’t discuss the actual problem of gun violence so much as the overprint of our cultural values. That’s what we need to fix.

If I were still an NRA member, I would demand that the entire NRA Board of Directors be recalled and that the organization find spokespeople who understand the role of guns in society rather than competing for the Atilla the Hun Award. How about we start there?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I'll Retire to Bedlam

Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens memorable novella, uttered the equally memorable phrase "I'll retire to Bedlam" when he thought everyone he was talking to had gone nuts. In the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting, I wonder if its time to do the same.

While NRA Exec. Director Wayne LaPierre gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference that would have left Bedlam inmates feeling quite sane by comparison, Democrats in Ohio wrote a bill that would, if passed, define innocuous, 22 rimfire rifles from the ninteen-sixties such as the Marlin Model 60 or Remington Nylon as terrifying "assault rifles". Indeed, if that is the case, we all need to retire to Bedlam.

On a more sane front, Garry Wills once penned that he thought we worshipped guns too much, comparing them to the Old Testament god Moloch. Here is his piece, written shortly after the Newtown Massacre.

Here in Bombtown, at least Stephanie Nakleh tried to be reasonable in suggesting that New Mexico should not relax its standards on concealed carry. Unfortunately, she was unaware that its not a problem. So here goes.

Editor

Stephanie Nakleh has long been concerned with lowering the level of gun violence in New Mexico and for that we should thank her. However, when she acknowledges our Senators for rejecting national concealed carry reciprocity, she has missed some important information. Ms. Nakleh states reciprocity would force "...New Mexico to accept the concealed-carry standards of every other state—making it easy for residents in neighboring states like Arizona, with very weak laws, to carry hidden, loaded weapons in New Mexico...".  As it happens, we already accept Arizona's concealed carry license.

According to the New Mexico Dept. of Public Safety, New Mexico accepts concealed carry licenses from the following states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota,  Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Basically, from half the states in the union. So concealed carry reciprocity would not affect us much. Further, existing reciprocity agreements have never been documented to be a problem. So-called "concealed carry killers" are rare, other than on anti-gun web sites, while most of our gun violence perpetrators in New Mexico are home grown bad guys, sometimes felons in possession, revolving door criminals, domestic abusers, or disaffected youth.

Part of the reason the gun debate never gets anywhere is that both "gun violence prevention" and "gun (owner's) rights" advocates are often not fully engaged in learning the devils in the details, but rather, repeat uncritically each side's political talking points. That was one reason last year's background check bill never made it to the Governor's desk as the bill's friends and lobbyists failed to convince key Democrats, in a timely manner, that they should support a compromise bill. So a useful bill died in committee. I still think progress can be made if we could ever agree on two things. One, to stop moving the goalposts (a key concern of gun owners) and two, to compromise with the other side. Both sides have to recall the Rolling Stones song: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find, you get what you need".

I'll throw one thing out. Gun rights come with gun responsibilities. It has always worried me that military derived assault-style rifles designed to control a battlefield, and which can easily be modified to hold more rounds than I typically shoot in a month, are so easy to buy, even for an 18 year old with emotional issues.

We know that in general, a person's brain development goes on into the mid-twenties; most school shooters are not yet in their mid-twenties and no two individuals are alike. Perhaps we need to look at some statistics on who is misusing these guns and re-evaluate who can purchase or possess these rifles and certain other arms, TBD, in an unsupervised situation. I have a hard time thinking anyone will get their wish and have these rifles nationally banned, even if New Mexico tries to ban them (state bans have so far been upheld in Federal appellate courts). More than ten million of these rifles are in private hands; virtually all are held safely. So instead of a ban, should we consider some permitting system that could screen out higher risk or immature individuals while not penalizing the vast majority of owners who are not dangerous? Those who own such weapons can be required to ensure children and teens cannot easily access them unsupervised.

The interest balance of risk vs rights is the point of discussion and as far as I am concerned, each side's moral absolutism is not helping us get anywhere. "Guns and Bibles" indeed seem to be a cultural divide as much as tangible objects. As David Brooks recently opined in the New York Times, its long overdue for both gun rights and gun violence prevention folks to sit down and respect each other. Only then can we listen rather than just talk.