Gun Control: A Time to Rethink the Realities

I struggle with the idea of gun control.  Over time, my ideas have gone from embracing the idea that anyone should be able to own a firearm, as long as they comply with the law, to questioning the need for anyone to possess a weapon with the exception of the Police and Military.

I argued that there are practical problems with imposing serious gun control in this country.  Best estimates show there are 114 million handguns in private hands.  To create a program to remove them lawfully from private ownership has nightmarish legal and practical implications.

There are issues with overcoming the constitutional arguments.  I have revisited the arguments of the second amendment. I see a clear distinction in the common interpretation between its original intent and today’s modern era.

As with all aspects of the Constitution, adapting to a changing world is both necessary and reasonable

In light of the clear and undeniable problem of gun violence in this country, a new approach to gun control is long overdue.  The numbers for 2010 were 18,000 deaths and 33000 injuries from firearms.  Homicide rates in urban areas are 12.1 per 100000.

Some other interesting information; (various on-line sources)

The U.S.A. is ranked third out of 45 developed nations in regards to the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm. Mexico and Estonia are ranked first and second.

In 2009 United Nations statistics record 3.0 intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants; for comparison, the figure for Mexico, where handguns are prohibited was 10 per 100,000, the figure for the United Kingdom, where handguns are prohibited was 0.07 per 100,000, about 40 times lower, and for Germany 0.2.

Gun homicides in Switzerland however are similarly low, at 0.52 in 2010 even though they rank third in the world for highest number of guns per citizen.

Perhaps we can learn something from the Swiss.

So, what are the arguments for allowing private ownership of guns?  Here are the two most commonly cited, the second amendment and protection against a tyrannical government.

“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.”

Written at a time when the United States did not keep a standing army, citizens were called to duty when needed.  The benefit of having citizens maintaining and possessing firearms was clear.  The use of a firearm in daily survival, hunting for example, was common.  It was a different time.

Hunting is a hobby now, not a necessity. However, keep in mind, I am talking about handguns and, perhaps, high-capacity military type weapons.

Protection from tyranny.

Proponents of gun ownership often cite Hitler’s Germany outlawing private ownership of weapons as an example.  There is no evidence that the lack of private ownership of firearms by the German people contributed to the rise of the National Socialists in Germany.  The reasons behind that rise to power were infinitely more complex; handguns in every German home would not have altered anything.

This tyranny argument fails on two counts, one philosophical and one practical.  On the philosophical side, the idea that any American government could direct the military to attack the general population is ludicrous.

The men and women who serve do so because of the American people, not despite them.  I know no one who ever served in the military that would follow an order to attack American civilians.

Isolated incidents notwithstanding, the idea of a wholesale attack by the US military on Americans is insane. It makes for an entertaining movie theme, not reality.

Now the practical side of this argument.  Assuming for the sake of discussion that the President somehow convinced the military to attack civilians in a coordinated way, using the full power of the military, the “second amendment” advocates would not stand a chance.

A fully orchestrated attack by the 1st Marine Division, supported by aircraft, armored vehicles and artillery would utterly overwhelm a bunch of yahoos clinging to their precious weapons whose idea of training is drinking beer and shooting targets bearing the image of a politician they despise.

The idea that a citizen army could withstand such an attack is nonsense.

There is a long history of well-established civilian control over the military because the military is comprised of citizens. While one always needs to pay attention, I think a bigger threat to our freedom comes from Congress and not the Pentagon.

It really boils down to this, does the tradition of private ownership of firearms outweigh the real risk to our society.  We have a failing war on drugs because we thought we could arrest our way out of a health issue.  One that, while tragic, takes far fewer lives than handguns. Yet we seem to ignore the bigger threat of these weapons.

It is time for serious reconsideration of eliminating handguns, and perhaps non-hunting weapons, from private ownership and imposing strict control over their use by Law Enforcement.

Maybe it requires a discussion on the reasons behind our violent tendencies that are exacerbated by the easy availability of weapons.

I don’t know the answer, but ignoring the problem is not it.

A country that once said they would put a man on the moon, and did it, is most assuredly capable of finding a way to eliminate the very real threat these weapons pose to people.

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Hobbling Justice to Satisfy a Bloodlust

By now the whole world knows something of the situation in Baltimore.  A man in custody of the Baltimore Police department dies and the inevitable peaceful protests turn violent.

The reaction in the country spans the entire spectrum from “send in the National Guard and start shooting people to Baltimore brought this on themselves.”

Depending on where you fall in this spectrum, either the cops are thugs or those throwing rocks, looting, and burning buildings are.

As with most things, it is much more complicated than that, but complex problems and the required complex responses do not make for good TV sound bites. 

Most wouldn’t, or sadly couldn’t  read it anyway which is another part of the problem.

It is impossible to sum up the issue, let alone propose a solution, in a 140 character Tweet or other such social media forum.  That doesn’t stop them from trying.

What I am about to say will likely be viewed by some of my friends and colleagues in Law Enforcement as heresy, but it falls upon them to refute it.

The character and nature of law enforcement has changed over the last several decades, mostly for the better but in several significant ways for the worse.

There was a time when the majority of law enforcement had daily, personal contact with the public not because of calls for service or responses to 911 calls, but from being out on the street walking the neighborhoods.  That all began to change with the movement to motorized patrol in a quest for efficiency and speed of response.

But the laws of unintended consequences kicked in.  We became faster in responding to problems at the cost of our separation from the public on a day to day basis, making us blind to the little problems as they developed. Those little problems eventually become big ones.  

We didn’t see the gangs taking over corners until it had already occured.  

We didn’t see graffiti growing until it was everywhere.

We focused on Patrol officers writing summonses for traffic violations and other such minor offenses as a way to measure efficiency.  When crime statistics went down we claimed it was embracing the “broken window” theory, if they went up, we attibuted it to factors outside our control.

The second error we made, or at least went along willingly, was the war on drugs.   The single biggest waste of resources ever.  Police departments that had one or two officers assigned to drug units suddenly assigned two and three times that amount.

Federal task forces were formed. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officers brought in.  The resources of the FBI, normally not tasked with drug cases, were added to the mix.  We seized larger and larger amounts of narcotics.  Put more and more people in prison.

We also created opportunity and incentive.  An incentive to sell drugs and the opportunity to generate an income with little or no education or skills.  All one had to do was accept the possibility of  the occasional arrest and stint in prison.

We also created a need for those in the business to protect themselves and their territory, thus the proliferation of weapons.

And, we let natue take it’s natural course.  If one is born into an environment where your family business is narcotics distribution, it is likely you’ll follow in those footsteps.

And you know what happened as a consequence of this policy?

The price of drugs dropped, the availability increased.  Yet we all went happily along.

And do you know why we did these two things?

Money.  

State and Federal Civil Seizure laws proliferated.   Police departments siezed the cash, vehicles, and property of those we investigated.  Sometimes, we moved to seize the property without even pursuing criminal cases because the legal requirements in court were easier than proving a criminal case.

Cities, towns, and states brought in revenue from motor vehicle violations and whole departments were created to deal with the influx of cash.

We did it with the best of intentions. No one embraced the philosophy of strong drug enforcement more than me when I was on the job.  Being away from it and having the benefit of hindsight and mountains of evidence to validate this opinion has changed my perspective.

You cannot arrest your way out of a health problem. Just look at the number of overdose deaths from opiates, the numbers are rising despite our enforcement efforts.

What does this have to do with Baltimore? The riots and rage arising from these incidents involving the police are symptoms of the problem.

Whenever there is a violent encounter with the police, those that live in an environment of hopelessness see it as another example of how things never change.  The system is stacked against them.

Those that are fortunate enough to live outside that environment only see the violence, they do not see the cause.

In the case of the Baltimore cops, there is another troubling aspect. The rush to judgement.   These six officers are innocent of these charges and will remain so until such time as a jury finds them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. 

It is the foundation of our criminal justice system, the presumption of innocence.   No one should forget that.

Opinions of their guilt are not only meaningless, they are dangerous.  It is dangerous for anyone to assume the guilt of anyone absent a conviction in a court of law.   It would serve us well for everyone to remember that.

Police officers assuming that those they have arrested are guilty and entitlted to less than humanitarian treatment by virtue of that arrest are as wrong as someone standing on the street hurling bricks at the police because they assume all cops are racist and prone to brutality.

Cops are human beings subjected to the same flaws as everyone else, although most learn to rise above that and perform admirably.

I hope that those in the position of authority in Baltimore, the prosecutor and those responsible for investigating what happened in the back of that police van, remember that truth is the goal not a politically expedient path of least resistance.

If the evidence supports the charges, and these officers are one day convicted then that will be justice.  If, on the other hand, the evidence contradicts these charges then these officers are pawns in a game of politics that perpetuates the very problem of those in power deciding what is the truth.

If power determines truth, then this country is in deep trouble.

The (Almost) Foolproof Way to Survive a Police Encounter

In light of the recent controversy over the use of deadly force by the police, I decided to do some research.

Accurate and verifiable statistics are hard to come by, but for the year 2013 according to the FBI, there were 461 people killed by the police.  There is a website, killedbythepolice.net, which reported 748 people killed by the police for the same year.

Now, it seems obvious that a website called killedbythepolice.net, has a specific agenda (I am certain they would claim the FBI does as well) but assuming for arguments sake that these numbers are valid, let’s split the difference and say the police killed around 600 people.

First, that is 600 too many. However, with that said, we now turn to how and why.

There are certain conditions under which officers may use deadly force.

The officer must believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

The use of force must be “Objectively Reasonable.”

This standard arises from a Supreme Court ruling in 1985, Tennessee v. Garner.

In almost every case, a Grand Jury reviews the use of deadly force by an officer to determine the justification.  That most Grand Juries do not indict, while frustrating to some, is a reflection that fits with the statistics.

Most Police shootings are justified.

Despite this justification, all cases involving the use of deadly force by the police are controversial.  However, the controversies and the emotions of those that disagree with the use of deadly force does not make it unjustified.

I did come across some truly stunning information, something that should give pause to everyone concerned with police use of deadly force.

Going back over the past thirty years, analyzing thousands of arrest records, there is a group of people who enjoyed a 100% survival rate in an encounter with the police.

Many of these people possessed firearms or other deadly weapons.

Many of these people had killed or gravely injured someone.

Many of these people had a history violence.

Sadly, some of these people were innocent of any crime.

There is one common thread within each of these cases.

They complied with the instructions of the officers.

They put down their weapons, they did not resort to violent confrontation, and they did not try to run.  They followed the officer’s instructions and survived the day.

For those that were innocent, most were released immediately. If not, they found an attorney, or an attorney found them, and they sued everyone.

For those that were involved in a crime, they went to court.

Nevertheless, they ALL survived.

Instead of spending millions on new, idiotic, and politically expedient federal training programs for police, just have a short lesson in all our existing schools and teach civility and respect for the law.  Oh wait, don’t we do that already?

Do you want to survive a police encounter?  The lesson here is clear, do what the officer says. Adopt a DO NOT philosophy.

Do not commit a crime, do not point weapons, do not decide to reach for your cellphone to video this perceived injustice, do not fight with the officers, just do what they say and you will survive.

Here is a good idea, let’s recycle all those idiotic T-shirts bearing the slogan, “Don’t Snitch.”  We can take out the words “Don’t Snitch,” and change it to DO NOT.

Here is an easy way to remember this advice.

Cops like DONUTS

Cops like DO NOTs.

Maybe I should print T-shirts. Order yours today at www.dowhattheniceofficersaysandliveanotherday.com

Our Nation’s Priorities are a Mystery to Me

A Pennsylvania Trooper was shot and killed the other day, and another Trooper wounded. Ho Hum says the national media and most Americans.

The troopers signed up for the job.

It goes with the territory.

Really?

Where’s the nationwide outrage, the 24/7 media coverage, the moment by moment analysis of the investigation, the demand for justice and an end to such tragedies?

Ho Hum, it’s just a couple of cops that got shot.

There are no juicy racial overtones to capture the short attention span of Americans.

There’s no Rev. Sharptons or Jacksons or whoever screaming that this must change.

I don’t know the whole story yet from Ferguson; no one does because the media coverage is a sham, but I do know one thing.

If the young man in Ferguson didn’t deserve to die for making a bad choice, then those two Troopers certainly don’t deserve what has happened to them for making the courageous choice to be cops.

And it would be nice if this country showed that to the men and women that wear the badge.

There was more media coverage of the iPhone 6 than the shooting and killing of a police officer.

Ho Hum.

Where have our priorities gone?
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Miranda Warnings: Why do we name monumental USSC decisions after the perpetrators, rather than the victims?

On March 13, 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested. The arrest was primarily based on circumstantial evidence linking him to the kidnapping and rape of a 17-year-old woman 10 days earlier.

After a prolonged interrogation he confessed. The conviction was reversed by the United States Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona. The “confession” was ruled inadmissible. A little known fact is he was retried and convicted again.

Every Lawyer, Police Officer, Law & Order fan, convict, and criminal alive knows the “Miranda warning”, no one knows the victim’s name.

Many probably think it was Congressional Legislation that created the “Miranda” Warning. It even became a verb in the form of “Mirandized”

“Did you Mirandize him?”

The name of a (twice) convicted rapist of a 17 year old girl became a cloak of protection, or a manner of invoking the protection.

“Hey man, I know my Miranda rights”

Ernesto Miranda himself died of stab wounds after an alcohol fueled bar fight a few years after his release from prison. On his body the police found “Miranda Warning” cards that Miranda would autograph for money.

Perhaps naming it for the perpetrators is the right thing to do, it reminds the government of their failure to exercise due care in the protection of their citizens rights.

Perhaps, by perpetuating the names of criminals, we as a people will demand better from our Police Officers, Prosecutors, and Judges.

It serves as a reminder of our failures, not a tribute to the defendant.

My original thought was to complain about the naming of decisions for perpetrators rather than the victims.

Then I realized that naming it for the perpetrators was correct, we need to be reminded of the names of evil and the benefit of living in a country that values justice for all.

And why would we want criminals to invoke the name of a Victim to insulate themselves.

My daughter aspires to a job wherein the fundamental tenet is everyone, regardless of the depravity of their act, is entitled to all the protections of justice.

Proud doesn’t even come close.

It is truly a wonderful commentary on a society that can raise individuals who can devote their lives to protecting all.

Those that can separate the person from the principle.

Justice from Justifiability

The ends from justifying the means.

So that is why I know decisions like Miranda v. Arizona and Escobedo v. Illinois are not an indication of a weakness in our system of justice.

It is not a fault that perpetrators names live on while the victims are long forgotten, but rather a reminder of the greatness of our system.

Leave the victims in peace and let the bad guys invoke other bad guys for protection.

If it ever stops, well, then we are truly in decline.