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Why I’m Not Feeling Your Excuses For Not Feeling The Bern

NOTE: This should not be read as a moral judgment encouraging you to support Bernie Sanders. I feel that Barton gives an unfair critique of a genuinely qualified candidate and therein lies my issue with him.

 

In February, some schmuck named Addison Barton “published” an article on notable unpaid, near-zero editorial oversight content farm The Odyssey Online titled “Why I’m Not Feeling The Bern.

Addison echoed the usual sentiments that Bernie Sanders is an out of touch old man with completely unrealistic policies, and that he’s some sort of evil socialist throwback (to borrow a phrase from my friend’s mom who supports Hillary) who is going to stick every hard-working American into an economic gulag. It appears that Barton subscribes to the typical libertarian point of view of “I got mine, screw you.” Seen on his TSO profile: “I like long walks in the woods and books about freedom.” Hm. Right.

Addison’s 5 big reasons for hating Bernie Sanders’ plans will be detailed below, along quotes from his “article.”

1. College shouldn’t be free.

“College is a privilege, not an entitlement. It should be an investment by the student for his or her future. Making college free for everyone will cheapen its value and make a master’s degree essential to be competitive in the job market. Are we going to make graduate degrees free as well? Stop being ridiculous.”

Really, dude? College is a privilege? That’s easy for you to say when you attend the flagship university of the gay-hating hellhole formerly known as Mississippi, a campus notable for, uh, RIOTING when a black student tried to enroll in the school. Education has historically been the great equalizer of peoples, and I know as a libertarian you might think that the UN is secretly the lizard people or the New World Order, but UNESCO declared that:

Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. It promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important development benefits. Yet millions of children and adults remain deprived of educational opportunities, many as a result of poverty.

However, you’re not entirely wrong. Education has become a privilege in the United States. The government has been completely numb to the growing numbers of students who cannot afford a higher education or if they can, will be crushed under debt for their adult lives. Higher education has only played into increasing inequality in the modern era. Tuition costs have ballooned and private and public universities. Bernie Sanders is simply suggesting bringing us into the 21st century by providing free higher education at public schools. Do you know what the great part of that is? Even if you hate free tuition, you can still attend a private university where you can shell out tens of thousands of dollars for the same degree. The great part of America is our freedom of choice. Even if college is free, you can still choose not to go. People can choose not to attend a public high school, and they somehow get through life. Access to education (through the GI Bill) paved the way for the most equal distribution of wealth and greatest prosperity that America saw in the 1950s. We saw no problem putting a trillion dollar war on our nation’s credit card, why not do the same with education?

2. Please, don’t raise taxes.

“I’m not rich. Never have been, and as a Criminal Justice Major I more than likely never will be. I’m sure that there will be times when I struggle to make ends meet. However, that is not the rich’s fault. We should be congratulating those who have more success than us and be taking notes to better ourselves, not wanting them to pay for our stuff through increased taxes. We should encourage success, not punish it. Again, I’m not heartless. I just believe that it is not the government’s place to steal from one person and give to another.”

Okay, you just automatically lost in my book for referring to taxation as theft. It is at this point that I am convinced that you are completely ignorant of history. The Great Depression AND Great Recession were DIRECTLY the fault of the rich. Back in the early 1900s, people happily trusted those on Wall Street that manipulated money–because they reasoned; if they have the money, surely they must know how to keep the system flowing well. Turns out that wasn’t the case. When the boom-and-bust of the Gilded Age ended in the mega-bust that was the Great Depression, people were angry at the rich and at the government of Hoover, whose laissez-faire economics and tax policy swept the floor out from under Americans. They were angry and lost confidence in the rich, so they elected FDR, who made the rich pay their fair share of taxes. Now, I know you’re a criminal justice major, so let me explain to you a little bit of economics: When rich people pay taxes, the government has money and can function and provide for its citizens. When taxes are cut, where does the government bring in money? It can’t. Austerity does not bring in money, it just puts a band-aid with a blood disease on it over the wound–it looks like it’s fixing it, but actually makes it worse. The rich gambled our futures away then and again in 2008. Taxes help pay for things that make your life better, and it’s patriotic to pay them. Also, you sound confused so here is a calculator where you can see what you’d pay under his plan. Not as bad as it seems.

3. I don’t like Big Government.

“I really want the government to stay out of my business. That includes my wallet. I earned my money, and as a result I believe that I have the right to keep it. Bernie’s reforms would cause a huge growth in the size of government and that scares me. American government is already much bigger than it was intended to be, let’s not make it bigger. Originally, the government was not allowed to tax a person’s income. The Constitution had to be amended to allow this to happen (16th Amendment). Sanders wants to tax some people as much as 52 percent. I unapologetically believe that there is nothing right about the government taking half of your income, not matter how much you make.”

What you say: I don’t like Big Government. What I hear: I hate roads, the public school I attend, I hate when the fire department saves my kitten from a tree, I dislike having an army, and I REALLY hate that I don’t have to pay for police protection. The income tax contributed to the aforementioned great compression of the 1950s because it leveled the playing field and made the rich pay their share. Inequality is bad. I don’t know if you’ve grasped that yet. I will gladly pay for a bus ticket for you if you want to go live out your little Mad Max fantasy in the desert of Nevada, but taxes are important for every facet of life that makes it even semi-comfortable for you to attend your pricey university and write your ill-informed rants.

4. Social Security shouldn’t even exist in the first place, let’s not expand it.

“People should be in charge of their own savings and retirement. If they are not mature enough to save, that’s not anyone else’s fault. I hate that I have to pay into a system that I personally don’t believe will be around to pay me back by the time I’m old enough. If people were allowed to take the money that would usually go toward Social Security and apply it toward a conservative retirement fund, they’d have a sizable sum by the time they retired, and they would be able to pass anything left over to their children. It’s actually more compassionate to let people do their own investing than let the government mandate it.”

…What? Really? That’s some serious Ayn Rand shit. It’s cool that you’re totally misinformed about it, but why don’t you go talk to a senior citizen or a disabled person where Social Security is their only source of income? Or better yet, go talk to Paul Ryan about Social Security. It helped him go to college. I don’t buy your line about compassion. I don’t buy it one bit. Nothing you proposed your entire article is the least bit compassionate. Social Security was one of the great achievements of the New Deal because it helped those who were too old to work. It’s not an entitlement, you pay into it your whole life.

5. I don’t believe in wage regulation.

“I personally believe that if wages weren’t regulated by a minimum wage law, they would be higher.”

Uh…did you forget about the whole child labor or any labor before minimum wage problem? Minimum wage is essentially saying that “If I could pay you less, I would.” Worker productivity and CEO pay has skyrocketed since the 1970s, but wages have stagnated and it’s a leading cause of the inequality we currently see.

Raising the minimum wage will only cause inflation across the whole economy, eventually placing those who have minimum wage jobs in the same bracket of purchasing power that they were in before.”

Uh, nope. This argument has floated around every single time that the minimum wage has proposed to have been increased and it’s never held up. But don’t take it from me. Take it from 600 economists who wrote President Obama in support of a minimum wage over $10.

“There are other ways to make an economy healthier and to raise wages. They’re called free markets. Also, this could actually eliminate jobs. Some businesses, particularly the small, local businesses that we all want to succeed, simply could not afford an increase to $15 an hour. They would have to lay people off or shut down entirely.”

Again, a talking point that shreds under the slightest examination. Perhaps you should check out this page from the Department of Labor because you seem to be perennially confused about this stuff. Take it from San Francisco, who experienced a positive growth in jobs, despite paying their workers $12.25 before tips. Doesn’t cognitive dissonance suck?

I’m sure many will think I am heartless for my laissez-faire approach to economics. I don’t believe these things because I think they will give any one person an advantage. I believe these things because I think they will lead to prosperity for all people. Bernie doesn’t agree and that is why I cannot “feel the Bern.” Socialism is a flawed idea. Remember the awesome movie “The Incredibles”? In the film, a character says, “When everyone’s super, no one will be.” The same can be said for socialism and its fight for income equality. Socialism stifles creative innovation and makes everyone bland instead of the unique, free individual they were born as.”

Yeah, I do think you’re kind of heartless based off of what you’ve said. If what you’ve said about “prosperity for all” is true, why am I not a millionaire? I’m at class, work, or rehearsal for at least 7 hours a day, sometimes up to 12, 5 days a week, and I’m still struggling to make ends meet. I support Bernie Sanders because he will give opportunity to all. That’s the real American way, not your little Mad Max fantasy (the offer is still totally up, by the way). By the way, you have no idea what socialism means. Bernie Sanders is not advocating for the mass public ownership of any industries, with the possible exception of healthcare. Ergo, not a socialist. Income inequality is the biggest issue that has faced our country since its inception, and I would encourage you to not stick your head in the ground about it. Go to a Bernie rally. read Piketty. We’re all really nice people, and we’ll welcome anyone. Even a misguided quasi-libertarian from Ole Miss. We’d love to have you.

Thanks,
Evan

 

@evanthevoice

 

 

 

This Week in Audio Dissent: Changes by 2Pac

Yes, I must confess. Despite being a nerdy middle-class white guy from the suburbs, one of my greatest pleasures in life is listening to gangsta rap. I’ll say it now, I will always prefer West Coast to East Coast. Hip-hop may have originated in the East, but the West Coast changed the game.

As Ice-T, arguably the founder of the West Coast scene said in an interview for Ice Cube’s documentary on the L.A. Raiders and their impact on West Coast hip-hop (which I HIGHLY recommend, it’s on Netflix), they pioneered “reality rap.” Nowhere to be found were the grandiose stories and atmospheres from artists such as Slick Rick or Afrika Bambataa; instead the artists “went up in the studio and laid it rough.” They wanted to bring the stories of life in the ghetto to the masses, and the harsh messages that rappers and rap groups such as NWA, Snoop Dogg, Ice-T, Tupac, and others brought on countless albums reflect the harsh reality that black men faced then and continue to face today.

For this article specifically, I’ll be talking about one track in particular: Tupac Shakur’s Changes. I was inspired to write about it after being asked in my South African history class to bring in a song that had an important political message. Now, being me, my knee-jerk reaction was to bring in Tom Morello’s Union Town since I’m a sucker for Tom Morello’s guitar solos and for hating Scott Walker. However, my professor elected to watch a classmate’s selection, Glory from the movie Selma, which was quite powerful in its own right. Glory was sort of a hybrid pop-rap piece which worked quite well but mostly wound up reminding me of Changes.

Recorded in 1992, Changes never made its way to an album until Greatest Hits, released in 1998 after Shakur’s tragic death (Yes, he’s dead. Conspiracy theories are stupid). To me, the song is almost prophetic. Even though the song is over 20 years old, many of the ideas that Shakur worked into the song are painfully relevant today as we attempt to confront the United States’ shameful legacy of subjugating African-Americans.

I won’t bore you by breaking down every detail and connotation that the song makes, but I will break down what I consider to be especially poignant lines.

“It’s time to fight back,” that’s what Huey said
Two shots in the dark, now Huey’s dead

In this couplet, Shakur refers to the great black revolutionary Huey P. Newton, the founder of the Black Panther Party. In my opinion, the Black Panther Party and their contributions the fight are woefully under-represented in American history. Founded in 1966 in Richmond, CA as a bulwark against police brutality, the BPP gained notoriety and recognition for their armed patrols of black neighborhoods to “police the police,” if you will. They were able to take advantage of a California law that allowed open carry as long as the guns were not aimed at anything. Incidentally, in 1967, the California State Assembly sponsored a bill later to be signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan named the Mulford Act, which banned open carrying of weapons. Some conservative hero, eh? On the home front, the BPP sponsored the “Free Breakfast for Children” program, which eventually would go on to feed breakfasts to more than 10,000 children across the country, bringing to light the Great Society’s failure to address child poverty. The success of these free breakfasts caused the FBI to label the BPP “the most ‘active and dangerous’ black nationalist threat to internal security”. J. Edgar Hoover and his COINTELPRO mafia would, in the following years, infiltrate and undermine the BPP, causing its eventual collapse. Newton would be killed by a drug dealer in 1989.

Take the evil out the people, they’ll be acting right
Cause both Black and White are smoking crack tonight

The crack cocaine epidemic of the late 1980s that undoubtedly gave birth to many problems in the black community and indeed gangsta rap itself is referenced often in Shakur’s music. He’s right on the money here, as whites and blacks have nearly the same amount of crack usage (3.4% to 5% according to a 2011 survey), but the black community faces the stigma. To compare, 17% of white respondents admitted to using cocaine, while only 9.9% of blacks did. We don’t even need to discuss drug sentencing disparities, but the Washington Post does it nicely.

And although it seems heaven-sent
We ain’t ready to see a black president

I had to.

It ain’t a secret, don’t conceal the fact:
The penitentiary’s packed, and it’s filled with blacks

  • From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people
  • Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.
  • Combining the number of people in prison and jail with those under parole or probation supervision, 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent of the population is under some form of correctional control

Racial Disparities in Incarceration

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
  • According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
  • One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime
  • 1 in 100 African American women are in prison
  • Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).

(via NAACP)

It’s war on the streets and a war in the Middle East
Instead of war on poverty
They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me

Just as true now as it was then. The government spends its resources on overseas conflict when matters are even worse at home. The drug war is an overblown, misguided campaign that has not only failed to stem the flow of drugs, but systematically worsened the conditions that African-Americans live in by offering more funds and resources to an increasingly paramilitary-like and oppressive police force.

Well, thanks for sticking through that. I hope to bring you more important music in the weeks to come!

Et tu, Gary? Losing the Wisconsin Idea at Green Bay

At the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, there is a small plaque nestled into an infrequently-traveled area of campus between the Cofrin Library and the Cofrin Arboretum. A gift given in memorial of the UW-Madison graduating class of 1910, the plaque reads “Whatever may be the limitations that trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.” It appears to me that this idea is so important that copies of this plaque can be found on many, if not every campus in the great University of Wisconsin system.

If so, why does Gary Miller insist on turning UWGB into UWGB, Inc.? Semantics aside, my message is simple. Chancellor Miller is throwing the humanities under the bus in order to make room to make declarations of UWGB’s ties to the business community. In addition, he has utterly failed to create any sort of university identity. After taking office, he underwent an almost Orwellian wipe of any facets of Thomas Harden’s administration and has come up with absolutely nothing to replace it.

Let’s take a look at the front page of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s website.

ROYAL PARTNERSHIP

King promotes joint venture with Phoenix

Wow, cool. An alumni who is the CEO of a major golf equipment company as well as the chair of Adidas North America has worked out a $16 million deal where all of UWGB’s athletes will wear Adidas for the next 7 years or so. Great! How does this benefit me, a Theatre/Democracy and Justice major with absolutely no inkling of athletic talent? I’ll save you the time: It doesn’t. And we won’t even talk about the millions of dollars that the University pulls in on the backs of completely unpaid students, nor the fact that the University was forced to make drastic budget cuts that affected both professors and other staff–but left Athletics largely untouched. How much does Mary Gillespie make? Linc Darner? Kevin Borseth? Are they in danger of seeing their positions cut? No, because they are an integral part of UWGB, Inc., and if Chancellor Miller pulls anything from athletics, he might lose his spot on an “influential” NCAA committee.

Chancellor Miller has also partnered with the city of Green Bay to rename a small strip of concrete down on Broadway to Phoenix Way. It was a lot of nice smiling for the camera, the mayor wore a UWGB tie to seal the deal. But how does this benefit the students back on campus at UW-Green Bay? It benefits them equally as much as us being the “Higher Education Partner” of the Green Bay Packers. As much as I love the Pack, it’s all about name recognition–which does nothing for us back on campus.

Why doesn’t the university offer up its heavily lauded faculty such as back-to-back UW Regents Excellence in Teaching Recipients Clif Ganyard and Greg Aldrete? Why are the many years of nationally-recognized excellence, including the 2014 Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre award of the Theatre program absent from even the University honors page? Because everyone knows that if you’re a history major or a theatre major you won’t get a job, and at the core of the issue, Gary Miller is no better than Scott Walker, who believes that the state’s universities should serve to meet the needs of the workforce, as evidenced by our front page advertisement of a new Masters In Data Science, which is meant to fill “a deep need for analytical talent” in the United States.

Pertaining to my other point, Chancellor Miller has completely effaced any reference to the term of Chancellor Tom Harden, including the firing of one long term Provost and the “resignation” of another. Now, that wouldn’t ordinarily be a point of contention for myself, but he has done nothing, or close to nothing to give Green Bay a new slogan or theme. From the cordial and friendly “You look good in green,” to the introspective and deep (and my personal favorite) “Change your life, change your world,” to the “Well it’s something” of the “360 [degrees] of Learning” approach. Now we have nothing. Well, I shouldn’t say we have nothing. We have hashtags. Ah, the mighty hashtag! One application of this social media bonanza and you’re guaranteed to be cool and hip to the jive with the milennials, right? Wrong! The closest thing we’ve come to as far as a slogan is #uwgb____ or #gb____. Every day I walk past the boards where incoming freshmen have signed their names, and I recoil in disgust at how utterly lame it looks. The abundance of #uwgb____ hashtags is equitable to Hillary Clinton doing the Whip and Nae Nae on national television or asking young people to express how they feel about their student loan debt in three or less emojis. It’s like your out of touch dad trying to be cool.

Solving America’s Gun Crisis

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” America’s founding fathers put that sentence into the Constitution as they laid the framework for what became the ideals and values that allowed our great nation to blossom. Still stinging from the Revolution’s effects, the founding fathers recognized the importance of having organized militias, as defeating the British would have been near impossible without the scattered militias of the 1770s. However, 225 years later, those 27 words have been responsible for the largest domestic threat to Americans’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: The influx and acceptance of gun culture in the United States. In this segment, I will analyze how the NRA has subverted the Second Amendment into a personal right to bear arms, attack the “good guy with gun stops bad guy with gun” myth along with the notion that more firearms equal a safer society. I will also provide a detailed layout of gun laws, comparing and contrasting death rates and firearm ownership in the US and other countries, and provide detail on the hectic and inconsistent state of gun laws in the United States.

According to Slate and estimates from the Centers for Disease Control, 55,000 Americans have died from gun violence since December 14, 2012. Due to the polarizing nature of the gun debate, America’s politicians are hopelessly deadlocked in squabbles over gun control since both parties adhere rank-and-file to a party line. Gun rights activists would have gun owners believe that Obama is sending his jack-booted thugs to possess their guns. In a 1990 interview with PBS, rock-solid conservative and Reagan appointee Chief Justice Warren Burger described the notion that the Second Amendment allows a complete, unobstructed right to carry a firearm as “A fraud on the American people.” That notion came into the mainstream in 2008 after the landmark decision handed down by the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller. The decision was the first time in 200 years of Supreme Court history that a Supreme Court ruling dictated a guarantee of an individual right to own a firearm, overlooking years of precedents that came to the opposite conclusion. Indeed, in the 1876 ruling from United States v. Cruikshank, Chief Justice Morrison Waite wrote in the majority opinion that “The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.” Along the same lines, the Court ruled in the 1939 United States v. Miller case that the government could limit weapons not having a “reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia.”

Since the NRA’s founding in 1871, their message has decidedly changed from advancing marksmanship and emphasizing weapons training. In the NRA’s Fairfax, VA, headquarters, the words “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” are emblazoned on the lobby wall, but interestingly missing is the first part of the Amendment, containing the phrase “well-regulated.” Politico writer Michael Waldman tracks the shift in law opinion to an article written by a William and Mary law student in 1960. For what it’s worth, law review articles were indexed beginning in 1888 and Waldman notes, “every single [article written] on the Second Amendment concluded it did not guarantee an individual right to own a gun.” The student, Stuart Hays, cited an NRA article saying that the amendment enforced a “right of revolution,” which seems to be a common theme among those still bitter that the South lost the Civil War. The NRA began offering funds to academics in the 1970s to produce works that supported their narratives, promoting a sort of pseudo-scholarship on the issue, essentially contending that 200 years of views on the Second Amendment were wrong. NRA scholars enjoyed plucking Patrick Henry’s “That every man be armed phrase” out of context. Henry’s full sentence was “The great object is, that every man be armed,” he said. “At a very great cost, we shall be doubly armed.” As Waldman notes, he is “…essentially was an early American example of a local politician complaining about government waste.” Move forward to 1981, when Republicans gained the Senate majority for the first time in 24 years. Sen. Orrin Hatch chaired a Judiciary Committee panel, where one of his first actions was to commission a study on “The Right to Keep and Bear Arms.” It read,

“What the Subcommittee on the Constitution uncovered was clear—and long lost—proof that the second amendment to our Constitution was intended as an individual right of the American citizen to keep and carry arms in a peaceful manner, for protection of himself, his family, and his freedoms.”

In 2000, gun activists began to back then-governor George W. Bush, and his appointee John Ashcroft reversed the Justice Department’s official stance on the Second Amendment. The new policy read, “The text and original intent of the Second Amendment clearly protect the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms.” Public opinion changed as well, reversing the numbers of the population in favor of handgun bans and those that favored an “individual right” philosophy. Noted conservative voice Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher even said after the 2014 Santa Monica shooting that, “I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But: As harsh as this sounds — your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”  As Abraham Lincoln said, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”

Another part of the public sentiment that the NRA has control over is the oft-repeated statement that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is a cultural attitude, a loosely held belief and essentially propaganda rather than a point of political weight. This claim has power because it is rooted in the public sentiment and we are used to associating guns with the “good guys,” such as soldiers and police officers, seen as responsible keepers of the peace in our towns and cities. LaPierre has repeatedly called for armed officers to be present in every school  and has many other paranoid statements, which stand for themselves in a speech he gave to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2014:

“We don’t trust government, because government itself has proven unworthy of our trust. We trust ourselves and we trust what we know in our hearts to be right. We trust our freedom. In this uncertain world, surrounded by lies and corruption everywhere you look, there is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want. We know in the world that surrounds us there are terrorists and there are home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, knockout gamers, and rapers, and haters, and campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse our society that sustains us all.

LaPierre caters to the notion that the United States is a hotbed of criminal activity, pandering to gun owners who believe that they need to protect themselves from moral panics and various boogeymen, despite the fact that violent and property crimes have been on downslide since the 1990s. I concede LaPierre’s point that guns are the most effective way to deter a potential criminal threat, especially when the average police response time in America is 11 minutes. However, I feel that some legislative actions, such as expansion of castle doctrine/stand-your-ground laws, and concealed/open carry legislation encourage more violence. Data reflects my hypothesis that calling for an increased number of firearms lead to an increased number of deaths, as well as showing an increase in gun homicides in states with “justifiable homicide laws.”

In addition to causing a higher homicide rate, more guns in a domestic environment increase the potential for accidental firearm deaths and make suicides more likely. In a 2002 study published by the American Journal of Public Health named Rates of Household Firearm Ownership and Homicide Across US Regions and States, researchers tracked data from 1988 to 1997 and came to the conclusion that in “…areas where household firearm ownership rates were higher, a disproportionately large number of people died from homicide.” The report also made special note that the US has a higher percentage of firearms ownership than other developed countries and thus more firearm deaths. In the 2007 Small Arms Survey, America ranks at the top of the list of 30 largest firearm-holding nations with having on average, an estimated 270 million firearms. With an estimated population of 318 million, it seems a bit out of proportion. In the 2007 study, estimates ranged from 83 to 97 firearms per 100 people. To put those numbers in a global context, India, with a population of 1.2 billion had an average estimate of 46 million firearms, with estimates ranging from three to 5.6 guns per 100 people. From a period spanning 2010-2014, 37 state legislatures passed 99 NRA-backed laws making guns easier to own, carry, and hide from authorities. Faculty from Texas A&M’s economics department published a study documenting the use of castle doctrine (a law providing legal immunities for using deadly force in a car, home or vehicle), finding that “Results indicate the laws do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters (Cheng and Hoekstra, p.1, pg. 2, 2010).” From Cheng and Hoekstra’s study, we can infer that easier access to guns does not decrease or deter crime.

According to data taken from Mother Jones’ investigative series on gun violence, ordinary armed civilians have yet to prevent a mass shooting. (For sake of clarification, I define a “civilian” as any “average Joe” gun owner who hasn’t received formal weapons or tactical response training.) According to Mother Jones, “not one of the 62 mass shootings in the United States since 1980 has been stopped this way.” In fact, two cases the magazine examined where armed civilians were present ended poorly. In one case, a citizen with a concealed-carry permit confronted a shooter and received wounds so severe he was comatose for several weeks. The other was less lucky. Firearms instructor Mark Wilson attempted to stop a Texas courthouse rampage with a handgun and faced down a killer with body armor and an AK-47. Wilson did not survive. Cases cited in which citizens acted in self-defense mostly turn out to be current or former law-enforcement officers or trained military personnel often intervening after the shooting subsided. In Virginia, “students” who were actually current/former law enforcement officers stopped a shooting rampage at the Appalachian School of Law. In Colorado, a “church member” took out a shooter, but she was a former law enforcement officer and church security officer. In Nevada, a US Marine who was conceal carrying killed a gunman in a bar. In Mississippi, an Army reservist principal subdued a shooter after his rampage concluded. These cases refute the NRA narrative that ordinary civilians can stop massacres. However, there was a case in 1982 where a civilian killed a man on a shooting rampage, but even if we factor that into the case, it only represents 1.6 percent of mass shootings in the last 30 years. My critics may argue that civilians receiving tactical training would lead to more shooters incapacitated, but I will refer back to my earlier sources on the effect of having increased numbers of firearms in the population.

To solve this crisis, we must look to our politicians. For the 2012 election cycle, the NRA spent $1.2 million on campaign contributions and nearly three million in lobbying. After the Newtown massacre, a catalyst for gun legislation in both parties, population support for universal background checks on gun sales was between 83 and 91 percent, a number never seen in many other issues that affect our polarized country. However, Congress failed to act on that support, going against the interests of the American people and taking no federal gun action by killing universal background checks in the House.

As I mentioned earlier, 37 states passed 99 gun laws from 2010-2014.  Thirty states passed laws that made guns easier to carry, through shall-issue permit laws, open-carry laws, and allowing citizens to carry weapons openly or concealed in places like bars, churches, hotels, and government buildings. In 2012, Nebraska stopped denying concealed carry permits to those who had pled guilty or no contest to felony or misdemeanor crimes. That year, Utah also passed a law stating that concealed carry permits are no longer suspended if the holder is charged with a violent crime. In 2014, Georgia governor Nathan Deal signed into law the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” known to critics as the “Guns Everywhere” bill, allowing licensed guns in bars, nightclubs, school classrooms, and certain government buildings that lack security personnel or devices, as well as in religious locations if approved by the institution, and TSA checkpoints. Twenty-four states passed measures that made guns easier to own, such as South Dakota repealing a law mandating a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purposes, South Carolina repealing multiple requirements including a dealer licensing requirement, and Nevada eliminating the requirement that separate permits be issued for every gun an owner plans on carrying. As part of the law in Utah I mentioned above, a person under indictment for a felony was no longer prohibited from buying a gun. Of the five states that made guns harder to track, Virginia repealed a law requiring handgun vendors to submit sales records and ordered the destruction of all such previous records in 2010. In Arkansas, the state legislature eliminated the requirement that a permit holder must report to state police the loss or other misplacing of a handgun in 2011. In 2012, New York removed its ballistic handgun identification databank, which required any organization that handled guns, whether manufacturer or dealer to forward sample shell casings to state police for entry into a database. The US lags dreadfully behind the rest of the world in sensible gun laws. As of December 2012, the federal government had no laws banning semi-automatic assault weapons, military-grade .50 caliber rifles, handguns, or large-capacity magazines. The federal government banned those items in 1994, but Congress allowed the ban to expire in 2004. To contrast how painfully archaic our gun laws are, the next section will consist of comparisons to other countries. Worth noting is the fact that many of the countries I list enacted strict gun laws after a shooting rampage that affected the nation. After Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, America still has produced no legislation at the federal level.

Canada: Federal regulations require prospective gun owners to be at least 18, and must obtain a license for ownership that includes a background check as well as a public safety course. Canada enacted their gun laws after a student killed 14 others at a Montreal engineering school, and the laws once required the registration of all rifles and shotguns (long guns). The government abandoned the long-gun registration program in 2012, citing cost concerns.

Australia: After the Port Arthur massacre of 1996, where a young man killed 35 and wounded 23, the conservative government enacted new firearm laws. These laws, named the National Agreement on Firearms, outlawed all automatic and nearly all semi-automatic rifles, reinforced licensing and ownership rules, and instituted a voluntary gun buyback program that took 1/6 (about 650,000) of the nation’s assault weapons out of the public arena. The striking feature of the legislation was the requirement that aspiring gun owners must demonstrate a “genuine need” for their weapon before the issuance of their license.

Israel: With its compulsory military service, guns are pervasive in Israeli life. Youth in Israel begin military service at 18 and their training includes psychological screening and weapons training. Active solders may carry almost anywhere but must abide by civilian gun laws once discharged. Israel has a civilian assault weapons ban and a registration system for guns owned by non-military personnel. Potential licensees must be at least 20 or 21 for those who completed military service, 27 for those who did not, and 45 if they reside in East Jerusalem. Like Australia, Israel requires a genuine need to own the weapon and are very strict towards how many guns an individual may keep, such as a one-shotgun limit for hunters. Licensees also must go through a renewal process every three years.

United Kingdom: After two massacres in 1987 and 1997 that left 35 dead, the British government introduced the Firearms Act, effectively banning all handguns. Britain has two types of registry: SGCs (shotgun certificates), which prospective owners receive after proving that they can securely store the firearm and pass a background check that looks for criminal convictions, no medical conditions or alcohol and drug addictions, and no history of treatment for depression or any other type of mental disorder. Once the local police grant the permit, there is little regulation on the number of shotguns or ammunition that an owner may purchase. The second type of license, a FAC (firearm certificate) is much harder to acquire. The FAC contains the same safe storage and background checks as the SGC, but prospective gun owners must demonstrate “Good reason” for each firearm they plan to own, which may include hunting, pest control, collecting or target shooting. Since 1968, Britain has not accepted “self-defense” as a valid “Good reason,” but use of a licensed firearm in self-defense is valid in court if police find an owner used necessary and reasonable force. Police may also revoke a certificate at any time. Worth noting is the fact that Britain also had a gun death (homicide, accidental, suicide) count of 42 for the year 2008.

Japan: With a firearm death rate of one in ten million, Japan’s gun laws seem to be working. Their law, named the Firearm and Sword Law, (you guessed it) states that no one may own a firearm or firearms, or a sword or swords. After acquiring certification in formal instruction and passing a battery of tests in written, mental, and drug formats as well as demonstrating a safe place to store weapons and ammunition, prospective gun owners can purchase shotguns, air rifles, or competitive shooting weapons or guns for research. Due to the low number of guns, owners must also submit their weapon to the National Police Agency for a yearly inspection.

With these countries in mind, we shift our gaze back to America. The message from the rest of the world is simple: Strict gun laws work. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, seven out of the 10 states with the strictest gun laws in the US also have the lowest firearm death rate, while states that “failed” their scorecard due to lax gun laws all ranked in the top 10 for most firearm deaths. Even with the change in Constitutional precedent set by District of Columbia v. Heller, only a ban and requirement that handguns remain disassembled was illegal. It has never been about taking away guns. As I said earlier, no court in the 200 years before DC v. Heller had said that the 2nd Amendment guaranteed an individual right to own a gun. The conservative court, which in the 5-4 decision (by no means a clear decision) ruled on the opposite side of history, but we must remember the Founders’ intentions.

We want to strive to become a safer society. The rest of the world passed laws that make it harder, but not impossible to own a weapon. Since 2012, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, and New York added laws requiring background checks for all gun sales. Illinois enacted a law requiring unlicensed firearms sellers to verify that the potential purchaser is the holder of a valid permit before making a transfer. Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, and New York enacted laws requiring gun owners to report the loss or theft of their firearms to law enforcement. California, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York strengthened existing bans on military-style assault weapons. California and New York strengthened existing laws banning large capacity ammunition magazines and Connecticut, Colorado, and Maryland enacted new bans.

These only fill in the gaping holes left by the lack of federal laws, and it is difficult to measure efficacy when the laws vary so greatly from state to state. We must call upon Congress to act.  In 2012, 151 citizens died in mass shooting incidents. As I said earlier in the article, an estimated 55,000 have perished in some form of gun violence (which includes accidents, homicide, and suicide) since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. Compare that to 42 dead in Britain in 2008 and a rate of one in ten million dead from gun violence in Japan. This is due in part to the gun lobby, chiefly the NRA’s bastardization of the 2nd Amendment, bringing the right to own a gun to an almost religious obsession. One may also include their financial support of candidates who support lax gun laws and propagation of the myth that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” to that equation as well. Their campaigns, along with other groups like tell the families of victims from places like Santa Monica, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and Columbine, as Joe the Plumber so eloquently put it, “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.” This is what is wrong with America. Nobody is coming for America’s guns. Citizens who want to obtain guns in foreign countries can still do so. The goal is not to make guns illegal, but streamline and tighten the process by which they are acquired and retained. Forty-nine of the 62 perpetrators of mass shootings from 1982 to 2012 acquired their guns legally. We are not looking for a magic, one-time solution to America’s gun problem. However, with small steps in the right direction, we can prevent the wrong people from getting their hands on weapons, we can limit their destructive potential, and we can begin the path to a more civilized society. I look back to Abraham Lincoln for my solutions. Congressional action is one thing, but the public sentiment must be in place first. For example, the issue of marriage equality. 10 years ago, no politician would dare speak on the issue after President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Since then, America has changed the tone of the argument. In a Gallup poll conducted in 2013, fifty-two percent of Americans supported marriage equality, marking a decided shift in tone. If we, as a nation can act together on our 91% support for background checks, it will mark a decisive first step towards a safer society and a reconciliation between the gun control and gun rights activists. I hate to think that another tragic shooting must occur for the country to talk as a whole about gun laws again. Yes, I will always continue to blame the gun. I blame the person behind the gun as well, but no matter what demons afflict a person’s head, it is difficult to carry out a shooting with no gun.

References

Altheimer, I., & Boswell, M. (2012). Reassessing the Association between Gun Availability and Homicide at the Cross-National Level. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 37(4), 682-704.

Bialik, C. (2013, August 2). Giving No Time To Misleading Police Stats.

Cheng, C., & Hoekstra, M. (2010). Does Strengthening Self-Defense Law Deter Crime or Escalate Violence? Evidence from Expansions to Castle Doctrine. The Journal of Human Resources, 1-44.

Follman, M. (2012, 12 15). More Guns, More Mass Shootings—Coincidence?

Follman, M. (2012, 12 28). The NRA Myth of Arming the Good Guys.

Follman, M., Aronsen, G., Caldwell, M., & Pan, D. (2013, February 13). US Mass Shootings, 1982-2012: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation [Fact sheet].

Follman, M., Aronsen, G., & Pan, D. (2014, May 24). A Guide to Mass Shootings in America.

International & Comparative Statistics. (2012, January 1). Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence.

Karp, A. (2007). Completing the Count: Civilian Firearms. Small Arms Survey, 39-70.

Masters, J. (2012, 12 21). US Gun Policy: Global Comparisons. PBS Newshour http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/gun-policy/.

Miller, M., Azrael, D., & Hemenway, D. (2002). Rates of Household Firearm Ownership and Homicide Across US Regions and States, 1988–1997. American Journal of Public Health, 92(12), 1988-1993.

Miller, M., Lippman, S., Azrael, D., & Hemenway, D. (2007). Household firearm ownership and rates of suicide across the 50 United States. The Journal of Trauma, 62(4), 1029-1034.

Ray, J. (2003). The Department of Justice’s Position On The Second Amendment: Advancing The Nation’s Interests Or Putting The Nation At Risk? University of Pittsburgh Law Review, 65(1), 103-127.

Stewart, J. (2013, January 8). Scapegoat Hunter: Gun Control [Video file].

Stewart, J., Bee, S., & Jones, J. (2014, June 2). Murder, So Rote [Video file].

Waldman, M. (2014, May 19). How The NRA Rewrote The 2nd Amendment.

Shooters NOT Dems

In 2014, I came across a Pinned opinion letter from a small newspaper entitled Shooters Were Dems. This article attempted to reiterate the bogus claim that the perpetrators of 6 of the worst mass shootings in recent American history were perpetrated by “progressive liberals,” or “Democrats.” Not only are these claims for the most part completely false and have absolutely no factual basis, but they promote rhetoric that turns attention away from the real problems behind gun violence, as well as a gross misrepresentation of who actually commits mass shootings. Note that there is little way to tell which parties ANY of these individuals voted for, I’m going to take on the claim that many are “registered Democrats.” Let’s begin, shall we?

#1. Nidal Malik Hassan, perpetrator of the Fort Hood Massacre. 13 dead, 30+ injured
Article claims:
Muslim
Registered Democrat

Claim #1: Irrelevant, but they got this one right. Hassan was Muslim. He became more devout after his parents’ deaths and began to turn against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after seeing soldiers coming back for treatment after overseas deployment. He coordinated with Anwar al-Awlaki, a former imam (Islamic worship leader) who became known for becoming potentially the first American to be designated to be killed for terrorist activities without a trial. Hassan was accused of jihadist plotting with al-Awlaki, but an FBI investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. Mention of him being a Muslim propagates the negative stereotype that the Muslim faith is violently anti-American.

Claim #2: Completely bogus, since neither Virginia nor Texas offer partisan voter registration.

#2. Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold, perpetrators of the Columbine Massacre, 12 dead, 24 injured
Article claims:
Too young to vote, but parents were “progressive liberals”

Claim #1: This is a completely unsubstantiated claim. While Colorado does have partisan voter registration, no record exists of either the Harris or Klebold families being registered members — of any party.

#3. Cho Seung-Hui, perpetrator of the Virginia Tech Massacre, 32 dead, 17 injured
Article claims:
Wrote hate mail to President Bush and staff
Registered Democrat

Claim #1: Unsubstantiated claim. Seung-Hui sent a package containing pictures, letters, and video to NBC News, who subsequently aired a bit of it, but there is no record of him sending anything close to “hate mail to President Bush and staff.”

Claim #2: This is completely bogus for two reasons, which after about 2 minutes of research become painfully obvious. One is that Virginia, as I mentioned before, does not have partisan voter registration. The end-all is that Cho was a resident alien in the US (he hailed from Korea), and therefore would have been unable to vote in any case.

#4. James Holmes, perpetrator of the Aurora Theatre Massacre, 12 killed, 70 injured
Article claims:
Registered Democrat
Worked on Obama Campaign
Participated in Occupy Movement

Claim #1: False. This claim was propagated at Breitbart and InfoWars and similar conspiracy websites. This was a case of mistaken identity due to a voter with the same name and similar age to James Holmes. ABC and Breitbart did not retract their stories well, as noted here.

Claim #2: Another conspiracy theory. (This was a popular shooting for tinfoil hats!) Attempts to link Holmes to dead Obama staffer Alex Okrent. Conspiracy websites say that Holmes and Okrent left no digital footprint and that Okrent’s Twitter was mysteriously still producing tweets after his death. These smaller claims are both false because Holmes has a well-documented digital footprint and Okrent’s last Twitter activity was from the day of or the day before his death.
Claim #3: Also a conspiracy theory/smear at OWS. Conspiracy websites posted a picture of a man alleged to be James Holmes being arrested at Occupy San Diego. A cursory examination shows that they look nothing alike.

#5. Adam Lanza, perpetrator of the Sandy Hook massacre, 28 dead, 2 injured
Article claims:
Registered Democrat
Hated Christians

Claim #1: Unsubstantiated. Likely became circulated because Connecticut has almost a 2:1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans, so the line of reasoning went to “He was PROBABLY a Democrat.” In the world of journalism, however, “probablys” don’t cut it. Bloomberg BusinessWeek suggests that the family was actually Republican, or at least Lanza’s mother was.

Claim #2: Totally unsubstantiated and irrelevant. There is no way to know if Lanza “hated Christians,” but this gives in to the conservative stigma that liberals/Democrats are entirely comprised of bible-burning atheists, and you don’t have to be a liberal/Democrat to dislike Christians.

#6. Jared Lee Loughner, perpetrator of Tucson Walmart Shooting, 6 dead, 13 injured

Article claims:
Leftist, registered Democrat

Claim #1: Unsubstantiated at time of shooting, but possibly true in the past. Loughner did not trust government, so it’s unlikely he would have registered as a Democrat. High school friend Zach Osler described Loughner’s political views: “He did not watch TV; he disliked the news; he didn’t listen to political radio; he didn’t take sides; he wasn’t on the Left; he wasn’t on the Right.” Another classmate, Caitie Parker, described his views prior to a personality change in 2007 as “left wing, quite liberal, radical.” The Anti-Defamation League, who examined his writings after the attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords as potentially anti-Semitic (Giffords is Jewish), found a “…disjointed theme that runs through Loughner’s writings,” and “distrust for and dislike of the government, [which] manifested itself in various ways.” Loughner’s anti-government views reinforce the point that most mass shootings/acts of domestic terrorism are carried out by anti-government libertarian/conservative white men. The Southern Poverty Law Center has an extensive list of these shootings and other incidents, tracked since the Oklahoma City bombing, which can be found here.

The Legacy of Ferguson

This is part of text I submitted to the New York Times regarding the upcoming 1-year anniversary of the events in Ferguson.

Looking back, what do you see as the legacy of the events in Ferguson?

I see the events in Ferguson as a catalyst towards a new civil rights movement in American culture. The deaths of Michael Brown, taken alongside Walter Scott, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Samuel DuBose have led the public to develop a new set of values and ideas. Before Ferguson, rampant police militarization went unquestioned, but after seeing the shock troop-like images of police staring down protestors, America called for police to relinquish their heavy weapons and armor. Before Ferguson, the specter of revenue-based policing was not in the public eye, yet had taken a disproportionate toll on minorities and the poor. After the Department of Justice released its report detailing widespread racism and racially-based policing, America began to see a different, darker side of those sworn to protect and serve us. America confronted a new legacy of the police–and subsequently did not want to admit that some police in America were out of control. Ferguson’s legacy, to me, represents a turning point in the relationships between the police and all citizens of the United States, especially African-Americans. Surely, we are past the days of Klan hoods and lynch ropes, but the spree of deaths of black men, teenagers, and even children at the hands of police show that the battle for equality is far from over as long as such power is concentrated in the hands of large, low-accountability, potentially overzealous group of people. I think of Bill de Blasio having to explain to his children the dangers of growing up black in an over-policed world, and that no parent should ever have to have that conversation with their child. Ferguson shows us that police in America have taken a long fall from the friendly status they enjoyed as heroes and keepers of the peace, and by their actions have split the uniquely violent nature of American policing off from the rest of the world, whose attitudes towards police and policing greatly differ from our own. We see a re-emergence of victim blaming and police apologists, looking for any number of reasons why an innocent person needed to die, rather than suggest that the police in America are out of control. Ferguson leaves a complicated shadow of race, mistrust, and power in its wake, but it is through these events that real action has been undertaken to help solve America’s obsession with police, violence, and the prison pipeline.

What, if anything, has changed for you, or changed in your community since Mr. Brown’s death?

I’ll be frank–I don’t trust police very much anymore. From my own observances, they are heavy-handed bullies who use the power of their position to intimidate and coerce. Ferguson confirmed what I long thought about municipal violation-based policing, as more departments turn to restrictive policing to turn a profit. I do not feel protected when I see a police officer, rather I feel threatened. I am also wary of the lack of accountability placed on a police applicant. In most cases, nothing outside of a high school diploma or associates degree is required to join the force, allowing persons with prejudices and biases to be elevated into a position where they have leverage over everyone else because of a piece of metal on their chests. Here in Green Bay, police are trying to improve their strained relationship with the black community through weekly basketball tournaments. The chief was quoted as saying “We don’t want another Ferguson here.” To me, that’s tone deaf and indicative of the rampant lack of cultural competency that a truly good force of protectors needs to have.