Sunday, August 28, 2016

Breaking Bad, Breaking Worse...

Its interesting that New Mexico was so proud of the TV series "Breaking Bad" which of course extolled the horrific violence that plagues this state in large part due to the drug trade and drug addiction (compounded with poor education, lousy jobs, and poverty, all of which, across the USA, breeds drug abuse). Crystal meth is one of the more violence-inducing of the various drugs that plagues us. But New Mexico's pride in that TV series was basically all about the money that the series brought to the state; the estimate in the link above was about 700k per episode. At 62 episodes, that was about 42 million bucks. Plus or minus the usual smoke and mirrors when the government auctions off tax dollars to bring in business.

Of course the cost of the real meth epidemic is far higher. One RAND study put the U.S. social cost of crystal meth addiction at 23 billion dollars. Scaled just on the basis of population, that would mean that meth costs New Mexico somewhat more than an order of magnitude more than the movie brought in. Some deal.

Aside from the financial cost there is the social one. Fabian Gonzales, Michelle Martens, and Jessica Kelly epitomize the worst of the worst of the meth epidemic. I won't repeat what they did here. Go read about it if you want to lose lunch.  Their crime, as well as other recent henious acts, have resulted in calls to reintroduce the death penalty. These folks sure are the poster children for such a fate.  But all the death penalties in the world will not deter people who have sunk so low; killing them will not bring little Victoria Martens back from the grave. What we really need is to spend more on social services to save kids like Victoria from our worst elements and to try to interdict the drug scourge to keep potentially good people from circling the bowl--and taking others with them. The staggering cost of a capital punishment trial is throwing good money after bad and we don't have money to waste in New Mexico.

"A society where citizens maintain the right to bear arms must maintain a gun culture that instills the corresponding obligation to preserve life"  -Ben Peterson

A society where citizens maintain the right to bear arms must maintain a gun culture that instills the corresponding obligation to preserve life. - See more at:
A society where citizens maintain the right to bear arms must maintain a gun culture that instills the corresponding obligation to preserve life. - See more at:
Most of the people in New Mexico are good folks. But it only takes a few of the rotten ones to ruin it for us. Going back to that gun raffle in Otero County, it would not bother me in the least if 100 people who were peaceful, law abiding members of a gun culture won some guns. Hurray for them! Even a high capacity AR or God forbid, that "sniper rifle" Barrett 50BMG (basically, it is a large caliber, long range and very accurate rifle--the military use is sniping and light anti-vehicle; I would have to take it to the Whittington Center to really exercise the thing). What makes me pause is that we are all held hostage to the lowest of the low.  I once blogged that we in the firearms community should never sell a gun to someone we do not know well without going through a background check. I'll say it again here: if one of those guns ends up being flipped to a third party and used in a nasty crime, the United Way will be wearing the hair shirt. Its up to the gun community to push for high standards; blunderbuss gun laws don't do that. If we don't lead the way, as Ben Peterson says so well, we will be punished by laws and political attacks that assume low standards.

But Gonzales, Martens, and Kelly did not use a firearm to commit one of the most heinous crimes that New Mexico can remember (and that is a stiff competition). Their prey was so helpless they did not need to resort to engineered violence. For others in our underworld, whether gangs, drug dealers, or disaffected spouses, guns are a tool of trade and violence. But the usual suggestions for gun laws primarily affect law abiding gun owners. The solutions to gun violence, as well as violence in general, is not to further saddle good citizens with poorly thought through laws and regulations. We need to solve the social ills that damn us and in addition, recruit the gun owning community to help draft policies that keep guns out of the wrong hands because as long as we have the war on drugs, poverty, and income inequality, to name just three things, we will have the wrong hands with us.

You are blocked from following @CeasefireOregon and viewing @CeasefireOregon's tweets

Five rounds is high capacity??? Whose def? A lot of your proposals are harassment if not unproven or both.

Yep. This post got me blocked.  Support common sense query control.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Exasperation has its limits--I'm taking out futures in clothespins

To the Daily Post

The unsigned letter from the Los Alamos GOP and Dr. Reilly's letter about Hillary Clinton are not up to the standards I expect in this community. Just a few comments.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court case Communications Workers of America v. Beck (1988) non-union members in a union shop do not have to pay for union political activity but only that part of the dues that go to representation with the employer. Union members vote on what political activity their union will become involved with through their own representatives such as union board members. I was once a union board member.

The Second Amendment will not fall if open carry is not allowed. In the landmark Heller vs. D.C. et al decision, the Court stated "...Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose..."; the court let stand many state laws regulating the personal possession of arms.

So we don't need the disastrous candidate Donald Trump to protect us from encroachments on the Second Amendment or to keep union workers from being fleeced by union leadership.

As far as Hillary Clinton and Servergate, FBI Director Comey's crystal clear statements indicated Clinton's mishandling of classified material. Comey's statement was reviewed in these words by the New York Times:  "...Of 30,000 emails Mrs. Clinton handed over to the State Department, 110 contained information that was classified at the time she sent or received them. Of those, Mr. Comey said, “a very small number” bore markings that identified them as classified. This finding is at odds with Mrs. Clinton’s repeated assertions that none of the emails were classified at the time she sent or received them. The F.B.I. did not disclose the topics of the classified emails..."

Four Pinocchios

   Indeed Los Alamos is the last place on earth where one would want to misstate the definition of, or responsibilities of handling, classified matter. Regardless of her early life as a middle class tomboy, etc., etc., Clinton as Secretary of State was careless, pure and simple. And I won't even get into the Clinton Foundation or what she said to Wall Street execs for a quarter million dollars a pop, as that has not been revealed.

In an election where most of us will be holding our nose as we vote for president, the least we can do is clearly understand the issues. Both parties need to do better.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Be The First One On Your Block To Have Your Kid Come Home With a Glock

With apologies to Country Joe and the Fish. And, thanks to my wife Meena for making the connection. And, not to single out Glock. Its just that it rhymes.

A bit of a dustup over the United Way of Otero County raffling off guns to raise money. New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence protested, saying this violated the United Way rules that exclude fundraising involving alcohol, firearms, tobacco, adult entertainment and gaming products. But then UW backed off and the raffle is on. The NRA rejoiced. More guns, better world. America's Maslow's Gun wins again.

As usual, I come down somewhere in between everyone else and suggest a graded approach. Looking at the list of guns to raffle off by the UW affiliate, here was my comment, slightly edited for clarity, lack of profanity, and because I keep editing everything, to United Way and NMPGV.

To: Miranda Viscoli, Co-president, NM To Prevent Gun Violence
Brian Gallagher, President, United Way
MacKenzie Allen, NMPGV
From: Khal Spencer, Firearms owner and NMPGV

 I looked at the  list of firearms being raffled by the Otero County UW.

Most of the guns are everyday guns. But of course an everyday gun is only as safe as whoever owns it. I would hope that if someone wins an everyday gun, there is an attempt to make sure the person has basic knowledge of safe firearms handling. Of course, the gun shop is responsible for NICS background checks.

The Bushmasters (and civilian versions of military assault rifles in general) are always a point of contention. I think they are interesting guns but refuse to buy one on general principles.  Personally, I wish they were never marketed to the civilian market or if they were, under restrictions analogous to those that cover machine guns, i.e., a National Firearms Act item. With millions out there, we need to make sure law abiding owners respect them and prohibited persons don't get them. I would actually prefer that if someone is going to get an AR, they pay full freight.

The Barrett (it is an M-95) is the one that would worry me. That fires a 50 cal round that is lethal at extreme ranges of several miles and if used carelessly (I know of a couple people who own similar arms and are quite respectful and careful of them), can be a problem. If I were United Way, I would not want to raffle off a military grade gun that could kill at several miles and then read about it in the paper when someone has no idea what is downrange, like another town. Or, if someone flips it to a unknown third party to turn a fifty dollar raffle ticket into 10k in the bank. Plus, I strongly suspect a 50 BMG firearm is not protected under Heller's “in common use at the time” clause in section (2).

I have a particular bone to pick with raffling off a Barrett and not knowing if the winner would know the muzzle from the breech. When we lived in Hawaii, we were about a mile and a half from a civilian rifle range at Koko Head. One day we came home from the University, where Meena and I both were faculty members, and there was drywall dust on the floor and a hole in the roof. I put a stick through the hole and it pointed to the range.  Range officer said there was no way a civilian from his range could do that, so we called the police and the cops called a forensic firearms investigator, who used a fiber optics probe to get the bullet out of an interior wall where it had come to rest. Turns out the bullet was the tungsten core of a military, armor piercing 50 cal BMG round. The range officer confessed and said he let some Air Force guys practice with a Barrett on the civilian range (which was illegal) and obviously someone missed the backstop. The bullet flew all the way across a densely populated residential valley to our house and penetrated the roof and an interior wall. Air Force eventually paid for the damages but that damn bullet lodged in a wall two feet from where Meena used to sit and grade papers.

So. As a gun guy myself, my admonition to United Way is this: Is UW confident that selling military grade hardware to raffle winners is safe, even if it is legal?

Added much later. Rather than getting into a dustup over gun rights vs. gun control, two things are relevant here. One, this appears to have violated United Way's own rules and an officer at another UW affiliate (Santa Fe) working on gun violence prevention is justified in calling them on it. Two, if you are going to raffle off guns up to and including semiautomatic assault style rifles and a Barrett 50BMG rifle, someone worried about those guns in civilian hands is going to challenge it. If I were the President of UW, I would, at minimum, ditch the Barrett. Maybe even the ARs. If someone wants a 50 BMG, let them pay full freight. Generally, that means that the only folks who own them really do appreciate their capabilities.  As well as the cost of ammo.

And of course, since I love the song.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Guns to Gardens on 11 August

A sub-600 word version of this was printed in the Santa Fe New Mexican on 7 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 raise 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. Not alone in thinking so, either.

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, political protestors performing armed occupations of wildlife refuges over federal land policy, disgruntled spouses, road ragers, gang members in poverty stricken communities, or disgruntled employees.

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 controlling lethality or minimizing the desire to be a mass shooter or some combination. 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 much urban violence is not random but highly concentrated in networks, transmitting similarly to STDs. It is 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.

Note added later. I've added a few links from Mike the Gun Guy.

Actual Event Brite Link to info below here.

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.