Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lecture: The Truth About Gun Violence and Mental Illness

At the Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, Cinamatheque, Weds, 26 February, 6 p.m.

The Truth About Gun Violence and Mental Illness

A presentation by Dr. Jeffrey Swanson
Can we predict public shootings before they happen? Is there a correlation between gun violence and mental illness? How do we balance individual rights and public safety? The UNM Dept. of Psychiatry IDEAS program presents Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a national expert on mental health law and policy studies from Duke University, to discuss his research on these important questions. Dr. Swanson, is a popular speaker and expert resource for the media and policy makers, is a medical sociologist with additional expertise in psychiatric epidemiology and mental health services effectiveness research.

6:00p Wednesday, February 26 - FREE public presentation, to register or for more information: or call 505.272.3592. Seating is open, first come first served.

More in the Albuquerque Journal

1050 Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe

Friday, February 21, 2014

Catch and Release: The Saga of Judge Raphaelson, Aaron Nguyen, and Public Safety

Consult The Court for Details
Somewhat incomprehensibly, District Court Judge Sheri Raphaelson has once again given  convicted burglar Aaron Nguyen a get out of jail free pass. This is in spite of her telling him at his initial sentencing hearing, on multiple felonies, that if he violated any of the terms of his probation, he would go to jail for the full term of his sentence. Mr. Nguyen promptly violated those terms and it would seem he called Her Honor's bluff. Indeed, Judge Raphaelson is now saying ""A prison sentence for a 100-pound, 19-year-old boy is grossly inappropriate...I do not hesitate to send people to prison who deserve to be in prison ... I am not sending Mr. Nguyen to prison." So much for having a stick to go along with that judicial carrot.

It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to recognize that a "100 pound, 19 year old boy" is quite capable of wielding a gun and using it to destructive effects equal to that of someone larger and older using the same weapon; indeed, that's why the old saying goes that God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal.. For those who need examples, one only has to think of Columbine or Newtown.  Presumably there is some measurable risk to society when a young man who, according to the Daily Post is reportedly bipolar, is a felon convicted on firearms charges, who was caught with a whole bedroom of stolen guns, and who unlawfully entered a public school in violation of his sentencing restrictions is now in residence at one of our state universities.  That he is residing at a college after being banned from a school should give Judge Raphaelson pause.

There has to be a balance between sending someone who can be rehabilitated to jail (or some other form of involuntary confinement) and ensuring the safety of the community.  Judges and parole boards make those calls. Many in the community, perhaps not the direct victims, might have supported the initial judicial decision had the trust not been broken last November.  Perhaps many still do, but it would be interesting to find out. I think we all hope that anyone in such a difficult position is able to reform and rehabilitate without further legal turmoil or community jitters--but few of us want to be buying deadbolts for our doors or guns for our bedstands in peaceful Los Alamos. Therefore, I think its time that the public had a discussion about that balance between lenient treatment vs. public safety in more general terms.

According to a web search, Judge Raphaelson ran unopposed in the last general election to which she stood for her office. Hopefully, next time she will have an opponent and the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on not only how we pass judgement on the defendant in the docket, but on how we ensure the safety of our community.

Finally, this whole episode calls into question the notion of passing more gun control laws. When judges run catch and release programs out of their courtrooms, its not likely that more laws would do much good because the ones we have on the books are not being enforced effectively. The message this story sends is that there is less in the way of accountability for those who are guilty of society's most serious offenses, felonies, than I'd like to see. Let's examine that problem at the next judicial election cycle.

"...The real problem here is the way in which the law looks at the crime of burglary, particularly residential burglary. It is, in most every state, considered a “property crime.” But ask anyone who has been victimized in this manner, and he or she will tell you it is, in reality, a “crime of violence.” Perhaps not a direct assault on the victim’s person but a violent assault on one’s sense of safety, security and comfort. The psychological damage can be enormous. "
--Former Sheriff's Deputy MacKenzie Allen, in a Santa Fe New Mexican Reader's View

Monday, February 17, 2014

Purpose of 2nd Amendment?

Whose Rights?

In what's apparently been an ongoing Second Amendment discussion in the Daily Post, Chick Keller asks "A careful reading shows that the (2nd) amendment uses for its justification of personal possession of guns, the necessity for a "well-armed militia.” Since we no longer have (or need) such a militia, hasn't that reasoning gone away, and haven't we returned to a state where individual possession is no longer necessary?" Mr. Keller further opines "This might not mean that people can't have guns, but it would mean that their right to "bear arms" is no longer supported by the Constitution."

Interesting question. I'm not convinced the "well regulated militia" (actual Constitutional wording) doesn't exist, as it has morphed into a National Guard. The Guard itself draws on the general population, as the Founders desired. The Federal Government established the Civilian Marksmanship Program in 1903 in the hopes that we could ensure new recruits or conscripts could shoot straight and know the muzzle from the breech of a 1903 Springfield rifle. This program has more recently been redefined by Public Law 104-106, (10 February 1996) which created the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and Firearms Safety.

The Second Amendment has far less to do with defending one's self against crooks, blue helmets, or black helicopters, as some would assert, and more to do with the separation of powers. Some have suggested that self defense and putting food on the table are such basic human rights that the Founders would not have considered these as needing protection. The 2nd's basis was in a broadly disseminated militia to be called on in defense of the nation or state in support of a limited standing army. Its never been considered an unlimited right to own any gun for any reason, even by the current conservative Supreme Court.

So, if some folks don't think that the Constitutional context for private gun ownership is relevant due to our large standing army, military industrial complex, and drone warfare, does that mean the public's right to keep and bear arms under the 2nd Amendment is no longer supported by the Constitution?

I'm not sure I buy into the idea that we can casually dispense with portions of the Bill of Rights merely because they don't seem relevant to some of us. If the public no longer values the 2nd Amendment, it can do what is right and proper: repeal or modify it. That has been done with the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), which was repealed with the 21st. Such a mechanism is far less ambiguous to the public, the courts, Congress, or the Executive Branch.

That said, the 2nd Amendment is not only clear in its statement that the people own the right to keep and bear arms as the underpinnings of a well regulated militia, but it is symbolic of a distribution of power away from a central Federal authority. Many Conservatives value it for not only its literal empowerment of the citizen owning a gun, but in its distrust of a Federal authority owning all the guns. I don't think that notion is going to go away any time soon, and indeed, may be inflamed by thoughts of removing 2nd Amendment protections. Perhaps we need to find a less polarizing way to solve our gun violence problem than by scrubbing the Bill of Rights of one of its ten guarantees of freedom.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Shooting Triangle

Shooting Triangle

If you get the Albuquerque Journal, you might have read Leslie Linthicum's Sunday piece, Gunfire Resonates in Roswell in Uncommon Way, about the recent Roswell school shooting.  Rare in the aftermath of these events, Ms. Linthicum tells us we have the chance to respond with "intelligence, nuance, and grace". Usually, we respond with finger pointing, accusations, and calls from the NRA to arm ourselves to the teeth or calls from their opponents to disarm ourselves and restrict gun ownership. Most of the time, the rest of us watch and listen as these opponents shout past each other.
The Fire Triangle

I had a simple thought on this topic, and it mirrors that old idea of a fire triangle. To start a fire, you need fuel, oxygen, and heat. To get a shooting, you need a gun, a gunman, and "heat", i.e., an unrestrained action that most of us would not commit. To avoid a shooting, one needs to only cut out one leg of the triangle just as you would cut out one leg of the fire triangle. One doesn't need to ban fuel just as one doesn't need to ban guns. One does need to eliminate that lethal combination of all three legs of the triad.

One can start at any apex. Start with the gun. If you don't need a gun or are not trained or qualified to use one in self defense, don't own one or keep it securely locked up for those hunting or target shooting trips. I'm not in the camp of those who say we have an unqualified need for more good guys with guns, just as we don't need more untrained firefighters at the fire station or untrained cops on the beat. Its a hard job that requires a lot of training and mental preparation. If you are not ready, don't go there.

Its a little more difficult to eliminate the more fallible human. But that goes to things like more careful evaluation of parole or its conditions and how we treat mental illness and family dysfunction. It also includes more comprehensive but reasonably administered background checks to screen prohibited purchasers from the market. It means tougher penalties and vigorous prosecution of straw purchasers, as recently discussed in the National Catholic Reporter.  It preferrably means family and individual control on access, and personal responsibility. If we had more self control, Big Government would have less to do. Unfortunately, the days of easy access to firearms, especially by schoolkids, needs to be examined critically. My brother keeps his guns locked in a safe so unqualified hands cannot reach them. That's a far cry from his and my own youth, where the school bus would drop us off and we would grab the guns and go hunting. If you are having a party where the liquor flows, its time to lock things up. If you are having a tough time of it due to job, family, or personal issues to the point of worrying about yourself, turn over your weapons to a trusted friend or family member or give them the safe key. Eliminate the human compulsion by eliminating yourself from being armed, even if only temporarily.  I don't like to suggest waiting for a restraining order to be filed, because that means the match is already lit.

Finally, the heat. Seems to me that in this day and age, the first thing a lot of people resort to when emotions heat up to a festering boil is a weapon, whether it be angry words, fists, or more lethal quantities such as a shotgun or AR-15. When the heat is on, its time instead to make sure one of the other two elements of the triangle are missing until the heat passes. One's first action should be to walk away and begin a count to ten, or make a call to a trusted friend or the family priest. Not a run to that bedroom drawer or gun case.

I'm not sure how we accomplish this gun analogy to avoiding fire, but instead of always concentrating on adding or subtracting guns, maybe we ought to look to all three corners of that shooting triangle instead of only one of the corners. Few of us have no fuels in our homes. We read newspapers, live in wood structures, and have wood burning stoves. Most of us own matches. What we eliminate is the catastrophic combination

 Eliminating guns is a hot button issue that raises rather than lowers tempers. All we really need to do is control that lethal combination. Maybe we will have more luck.