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.

Editor

 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?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

More Gun Laws Don't Make You Safer

That is, when you ignore everything else...

Yet another article in the New Mexican about Albuquerque residents shooting each other. Albuquerque has about twice the violent crime rate as the U.S. while New Mexico the 2nd most violent by state. Like Avis, we try harder...to...ugh..be #1, but unlike Avis, to be at the top of every wrong list. Note: The Journal based its rankings on FBI data.

Just for laughs I thought I would look up the five states that the Albuquerque Journal article says are the five least violent states based on FBI data and compare these to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence rankings as states with tough gun laws. Here it is, in order of the safest state, Vermont, followed by the four runners up, and their Law Center gun law rankings in parentheses. Note--a failing grade means the Law Center thinks there are not enough gun laws. Vermont (F), Maine (F), Virginia (D), Wyoming (F) and Kentucky (F). New Mexico and Alaska, the most violent states, likewise have grades of F.  Note that the FBI rankings only include violent crime. In the Politifact link below, the metric includes accidents and suicides as well as crime. The politifact article is a good read, as it discusses the issue in depth and interviews some scholars on the subject.


Safety and harm reduction is not all about passing strict gun laws. While the Law Center highlights violent states that have "weak" gun laws, it is mute about safe states with few gun laws.  Lax laws regulating gun sales may grease the wheels of gun trafficking into violent places like Chicago and D.C.. We need to bite the bullet and solve that problem with policies aimed at deterring trafficking and promoting crime control (and state level gun controls focused on crime) rather than pushing laws aimed at gun ownership in general. The lack of strict gun laws doesn't seem to pose a danger in itself, at least for the residents of those safe states. Unless you are suicidal or gun-accident prone.

"...Earlier this year, Santa Fe residents gathered to discuss ways to reduce gun violence in our community. The town hall meeting is another sign that activists are going to seek to reduce the harm caused by guns, no matter the political pushback. Even more encouraging, they are seeking to change the conversation so that fewer people die...."

In a departure from its usual "round up the usual suspects" editorial view, Saturday's New Mexican tells us we need to concentrate on suicide and harm reduction rather than gun control, in part, because two-thirds of American gunshot deaths are suicides. But that statistic ignores the elephant in the room. Talk with Charles Blow of the NY Times or Father Michael Pfleger at St. Sabina's Parish in south Chicago, aka Chi-Raq. Blow has told us that about three quarters of white Americans gun deaths are suicide while about four fifths of black gun deaths are homicides. I suspect that editorial would likewise leave Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden rolling his eyes, given the gun violence in his city. Black lives do matter, and non-Hispanic black deaths due to homicide are close to an order of magnitude higher than non-Hispanic whites.

Gun violence needs to be looked at in microcosm and solved in macrocosm, as both guns and policy flow seamlessly across borders.  National and state policies that influence income inequality, job exportation, chronic unemployment, drug addition treatment, taxation policy, and social services spending, to name a few, influence communities (and their crime and suicide rates) in different ways. Probably more profoundly than gun laws. But the quote above goes to the core of the problem: rather than demonizing each other across the Gun Control Divide, we need to ask each other's help and build alliances instead of grooming adversaries in order to reduce violence.

I agree with the New Mexican's Editorial Board that we ought to tackle the problems rather than concentrate entirely on the implements. Why are white (and other) folks putting a gun to their own heads? Why are urban blacks shooting each other in Chicago? Maybe its time to give people options other than bullets. As I've said before, our nation's "Maslow's Gun" approach to problem-solving is killing us.

As far as suicides? Unlike the New Mexican's editorial board, I am not sure what gun shop employees and shooting range officers can do to prevent suicides, but its worth a try. Guns are incredibly effective suicide mechanisms not because people go to a gun shop to buy a suicide gun, but because the gun is already readily available in the home, thus can be loaded and used immediately upon impulse. Drugs, gas, or driving to a bridge take time, and thus may result in reflection and "oh, never mind" or calling out for help. Once used on impulse, guns rarely fail at delivering. That is a good reason to lock them up and keep them away from suicide-prone teens or relatives. It may also be a good reason to NOT have guns around if you're not planning on being part of an active firearms culture (if you don't practice regularly, chances are, you will fail at using a gun in self-defense). Certainly our local gun shop owners can give us advice but so can priests, ministers, friends, and medical practitioners. On that last note, idiotic and misguided pro-gun based legal prohibitions on medical personnel discussing gun issues don't help and are an example of a "gun law" that doesn't make us safer. In terms of the bigger picture, we need to solve social problems in order to get people out of their suicidal or homicidal ruts, rather than focus on passing more gun control laws.

New Mexico Truth: Stunning Vistas and Child Poverty.



For starters, this Huffington story and the figure from it, below, are worth a look. I imagine this is not the only correlation between violent death and social ills that one can quickly find.





Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why Sell a Gun To A Stranger Without a Background Check?

I went to the NMPGV town hall meeting tonight down in Santa Fe. Overall, a very civilized affair that lacked some of the stridency of the usual gun debate. That said, the question of "common sense gun laws" came up. That discussion needs a new introduction line. Perhaps "consensus driven, effective gun violence prevention laws". Or something. As long as it doesn't stop there.

I did make the point to the audience that some of these so called common sense suggestions are offered harshly and at times, the notion that they are common sense suggestions is in the eye of the beholder.  I suggested that perhaps if instead of demands, we ask for cooperation, we could get somewhere.

Meanwhile, there has been yet another mass shooting. Bleeding Kansas, eh? As Mark Follman of MJ keeps tweeting relentlessly, we are in a national epidemic of the firearms version of Maslow's Hammer. Some people really ought to melt down their guns and make them into metal statues.

Drawing on the idea of the poster in The Outdoorsman provided by the NSSF, "Don't lie for the other guy", meant to dissuade straw purchases, we need a public information campaign to promote background checks such as "Why Would You Sell A Gun To A Perfect Stranger Without A Background Check?" I suggested, since Mayor Gonzales and Sen. Rodriguez were in the room, legislation that would provide a background check, free, at any FFL for a private sale. Make it part of a gun ethics commitment for people to follow. Perhaps the state or city could reimburse FFLs for the chore.

You could even have a nice poster. For example, this fellow, who was an eight time felon who bought several ARs from unquestioning sellers. Stories here and here.

Why Sell A Gun To A Stranger Without A Background Check?
(A couple sold their Bushmaster to this 8 time convicted felon.)

Obtain a background check. We will make it easy. 
Far easier than being interviewed by police when something goes dreadfully wrong. 
We fellow gun owners will thank you for being careful and respecting our gun owner's ethics--and helping preserve our rights.
photo credit: Federal DOJ via www.seattlepi.com



Friday, January 22, 2016

Hands Up, Don't Poison The Water

massively revised and sent to the New Mexican, 2/7/16

 

"...The newly released emails show that members of Mr. Snyder’s administration consistently mocked and belittled the complaints of Flint residents and the evidence gathered by independent researchers..."--NY Times Editorial

Usually, we hear about acute lead poisoning in the form of bullets when it comes to blacks, minorities, and poor whites and especially with those in our failing cities. Trymaine Lee reminded us of that once again in the weekend New Mexican. As Charles Blow recently told us in the New York Times, over eighty percent of black gun deaths are homicides while almost eighty percent of white gun deaths are suicides. Small wonder we keep dropping the ball on the gun violence problem, since so many in the gun debate are talking past each other, unwilling to help others, or too busy guarding their own turf.

In the case of Flint, Michigan, lead poisoning has been the slow, chronic kind. The City of Flint, MI, under state receivership due to bankruptcy, had been fumbling and bumbling its way towards an ill-advised short term goal: finding nominally cheaper municipal water.  It created a toxic brew of lead-tainted water along the way, which was fed to the public.

Abandoning more expensive Detroit municipal water in favor of a cheaper system of its own led to a project to use Flint River water.  But Flint River water chemistry is corrosive to pipes and other metal surfaces; no one tested or treated the new source of water for its corrosive behavior. That would have cost money. What followed, inevitably, was the water attacking the ancient municipal distribution pipes and leaching out lead. There is a jarring video on the Times site of brown water coming out of a tap. Children now have high blood lead. Such high levels lead to brain damage. Apologies by the Governor and EPA and after the fact fixes will not help those kids.

There are roots to the gun violence in our cities that go beyond guns. The cynical poisoning of Flint residents by an indifferent and incompetent bureaucracy, focused only on the tax burden's short term bottom line, is only one of many examples. Getting guns out of the hands of gang youth and others intent on malevolence may keep people from shooting each other. It will not keep people from being slowly and systematically poisoned by government and societal indifference, incompetence, greed, and racism. Plus, short term savings on the Flint water system will now result in staggering long term costs to fix the infrastructure and cope with human damage. Indeed, the failed or failing cities within the US pose the same risks to our nation as failed states elsewhere.

Until we stop pitting people against each other on hot button issues (including gun control), and ask that we work together to solve each other's problems rather than circle the wagons, we will neither solve the problems nor end the violence. Thinking that gun control will make the US a vastly better place is a tad optimistic--ask the folks in Flint. As far as gun violence, we should make our existing laws more effective; two examples are obtaining state compliance with the Lautenberg Amendment (that disarms those with permanent domestic violence restraining orders) and making background checks universally available when making private sales; there are other examples. But we have to fix what is broken: those problems that drive people to pull the trigger in the first place. That means offering a helping hand rather than a pointed finger.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Its Not About Gun Violence, But Drug, Cultural, and Poverty Caused Violence


 Of Course, Adding Guns To These Other Things Guarantees Carnage...

We are entering another legislative session and at least one gun control bill will be introduced. Such bills will treat the symptoms, gun violence, rather than the diseases. Gun violence is driven by deeper issues, namely our failed wars on drugs and poverty and our addiction to a culture of violence.

As many analysts have told us (e.g., a recent NPR piece) gun control laws are oversold. For example, a tiny fraction of guns traced to crime are purchased at gun shows. Most are trafficked through straw purchases, obtained from acquaintances, or stolen. Often, (e.g., Chicago), penalties for illegal gun possession, itself a precursor to more serious crimes, are minor, hence sending the message that illegal possession is not taken seriously.

Some suggestions are nonetheless worth trying.  The “gun show loophole” bill (by Rep. Miguel Garcia) has a reasonable cost-benefit since gun shows are populated with licensed gun vendors; asking a private seller to work with a licensed one is probably worth the price, considering it may stop some prohibited purchases. I think we should concentrate on making background checks universally available rather than arguing over making them a requirement.



We must ask why there is so much gun crime irrespective of gun laws. Places with high levels of gun crime are highly correlated with poverty and drugs.  A recent study showed that the best predictor of becoming a homicide victim is the actions of one's social network. Meanwhile, areas with lax gun laws often have low gun homicide and  low overall homicide rates because they (Vermont, Wyoming, or closer to home, Los Alamos, NM) are relatively free of serious drug or poverty problems, many of which are connected to mental health problems.  If one has few options other than crime or the drug trade (which we have willfully handed over to organized crime), gun crime is a foreseeable option because there are so few others.

The War on Guns, therefore, is misdirected.  One of its casualties is getting the political left and right to reformulate the way we treat drug offenses (as public health issues), and to directly address the economic and social conditions that have left many cities as poverty and drug infested war zones. Instead of treating both our drug and poverty problems as principally law enforcement issues, we need to treat these as public health and economic growth issues.

Finally, we see an increasing acculturation to violence. Someone created a video showing movie stars demanding an end to gun violence. Interspersed with their pleas were clips of these same people starring in gun violence drenched roles.Many people practice being mass shooters on their computer screens. Given that we have 300 million guns, it is not surprising that some act out in real life. As gun regulators remind the gun industry, one cannot both profit from violence and condemn it.

Rather than fight a war on guns that promises stalemate (2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme), we should be solving the drug, poverty, and systemic violence problems that sustain gun violence.  We should vigorously prosecute and penalize the misuse of guns, including theft, straw purchase, and crimes committed with guns. We should promote gun safety in the home and make purposeful efforts to keep guns out of the wrong hands. But let's stop being shocked when there is gun violence in predictable locations, as we have failed to solve the problems that drive the violence in the first place.

Published in the LA Daily Post and the New Mexican 

5 Problems With The Connecticut Study (Reason.com)

Mention "gun politics", and this happens.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2016 Biker Day at the Roundhouse: Saturday, 13 Feb. Save the Date

I'm trying to see if one of the local bike shops will agree to be a staging area for bicyclists. Stay tuned.