Second Amendment Trumps All Other Constitutional Rights…Again

I want to preface this post by admitting that the attempt to articulate a deep, impotent sadness over the country’s bizarre and dangerous permissiveness of mass casualty gun violence will pale in comparison to the genius of Esquire’s Charles Pierce. Both of these pieces are worth a full read, but the titles alone suggest the feelings of many exhausted warriors in the battle to secure a right to life above the right to unload magazine clips on one’s fellow Americans:

Nothing Really Changed on That Ballfield Yesterday

When White People Realize American Politics Are Violent

In the former post, Pierce writes:

“If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough, Simpson Field is not likely to be, either. Until there’s no profit in hatred, until civility proves to be a ratings juggernaut, nothing will change. Until the instruments of mass killing are regulated as stringently as we regulate automobiles, nothing will change. Until we have as serious a conversation about the actual misuse of the Second Amendment as we are currently having about the alleged misuse of the First, nothing will change.”

In the second musing, Pierce says of Thursday night’s Congressional Baseball Game telecast on C-SPAN:

“The broadcast crew, from a Washington radio station, kept up the patter and there was a lot of talk about unity and civility, because that was the order of the day. And I continued to wonder where it was that all these people grew up.”

I have a close friend, Beth, who introduced me to the concept of losing one’s bones several years ago. You know that condition when a situation is so frustrating and hopeless, there’s just nowhere to put your feelings? So metaphorically, and oftentimes physically, the body cannot remain upright and hold its shape. The skeleton and soul collapse in on themselves, landing a person in a fetal crouch – without the reassuring comfort.

Many of us have lost our bones this week, simultaneously grappling with cognitive-dissonance inducing gratefulness that we still have cartilage left to shed. 51 year-old House Majority Whip Steve Scalise will survive his injuries with luck and quality medical care (a luxury available to members of Congress that Republican policy puts out of most Americans’ reach), but Wayne Chan ‘s life is over.

Who is Wayne Chan, you ask? A 56 year-old man murdered in a mass casualty event on the same day that Scalise was shot on an Alexandria, Virginia ballfield. Chan was an employee of a UPS facility in San Francisco, killed along with 50 year-old Bensen Louie and Michael Lefiti, 46. The names of these men deserve as much press as Scalise, not the least because none of them publicly carried water for the National Rifle Association. Earlier this week, New York Daily News writers Meera Jagannathan and Leonard Greene observed:

“In May 2015, he introduced the Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, legislation that aimed to modify the criminal code to relax restrictions on cross-state gun sales — or, as he put it, eliminate ‘archaic red tape burdening gun owners who legally purchase firearms across the nation…’

‘The NRA thanks Rep. Scalise for his leadership in this important effort,’ the gun group said in a statement.”

Whenever the NRA expresses gratitude to loyal ambassadors of Second Amendment regulatory annihilation, you can be sure dead people will follow. All in the name of freedom (profits). In 2016, gun sales broke an 18-year record, with 28 million firearms purchased. That number does not encompass weapons acquired through theft or other illegal means. Although the list of verboten procurement methods grows ever smaller owning to the NRA’s wildly successful lobbying efforts.

It may be tempting to indulge the fantasy of chastened Republican (and Democrats) lawmakers currently in the pocket of Wayne LaPierre, undergoing a spiritual awakening in light of Scalise’s critical condition. But as another close friend of mine likes to advise with regard to magical thinking, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one gets full first.”

The false narrative doggedly peddled by LaPierre and his ilk remains unchanged in the wake of this week’s events – the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy packing equal or greater heat. Evidence to the contrary be damned. Alabama Congressmen Mo Brooks, just hours removed from nearly meeting his Maker in Alexandria, said this to CNN:

“It’s never easy to take when you see people around you getting shot and you don’t have a weapon yourself so you are not in a position where you can help defend.”

There it is. The usual cynicism, impervious to reality. The answer is ALWAYS more guns.

Trolling with the Homies (February 21, 2015)

This week I read Anne Thériault’s piece for the website Vice, Let’s Call Female Online Harassment What It Really Is: Terrorism. Thériault, a frequent speaker and writer on issues surrounding sexual assault and violence against women, discussed her personal experience with the “pile on” effect ye olde Internet unleashes upon female voices. Those who dare to have an articulate opinion on issues that have plagued our gender since we began walking upright. Maybe before then. Thériault’s story of prolonged psychological torture at the hands of misogynist Internet trolls is very familiar to any woman who earns her bread and her soul’s sustenance by the keystroke. She says of a response to a piece she wrote about rape culture:

“The first comment was a man saying that I deserved to be raped.

I wish I would tell you that this comment was some kind of anomaly, but of course it wasn’t. Rape threats, death threats, and general threats of violence populate my inbox, Twitter mentions, and blog comments. I’ve had people target my family—one popular tactic is to threaten to report me to Children’s Aid as an abusive parent.

What makes these incidents even worse is just how common they are, not only for me, but for any woman who speaks out or takes up space, especially on the Internet.”

I can certainly relate to Thériault’s familiarity with online harassment, though I am nowhere near as famous, nor do I have an immediate family endangered by it. There are unfortunately a plethora of vignettes I could offer, but I think one will suffice. In January 2013 I wrote a piece for PoliticusUSA entitled, Wayne LaPierre and NRA Directly Responsible for Ricin Letters to Gun Control Leaders. Admittedly the headline is incendiary. It was meant to be. The more nuanced arguments contained in the column are based upon well-informed frustration with radical gun owners and the violence they incite.

 

In response, an NRA fansite called The Truth About Guns plastered a big picture of my face on its blog, “The Daily Digest.” In the body of the post, they asked the philosophical question on everybody’s mind: “If someone is killed in a home invasion or raped because they can’t own the arms they need to protect themselves properly, can we haul the Becky and the other gun control lemmings in and treat them the same way?” There’s nothing like reasoned intellectual debate, is there?

 

And if you can stomach a lower denominator of discourse, please have a gander at the comments section. Allow me to share just a few brief highlights:

“‘That [manjaw] should be powdered with a Ball-Peen Hammer. Stupid, evil libtards.’ I’ll wager dollars against donuts that if someone assaulted her with a ball-peen hammer, she’d like to have a .45 cal ACP at hand.'”

“Her chin looks like a golf tee, for some reason.”

“And that isn’t even why I want to smack it with a five-iron.”

“Mrs. Doubtfire was more attractive, not to mention more intelligent.”

“Becky Sarwate is proof that for every stupid position, there’s a stupid ho to advocate for it.”

“[She should be] feeding raw chicken to starved alligators by hand.”

Have we had enough yet?

Frankly speaking, this bullshit is more upsetting for the people who love me. As for myself, I’ve developed a rather thick skin over the years and am well equipped to hum along as I go. In fact, the venom I encounter as a woman with a voice and unafraid to use it only encourages. It is precisely because of this demented, perverted groupthink and the way it’s driven smart, strong women into the shadows or out of their minds for centuries (or longer) that it’s imperative to take a stand.

I am 36 years-old, twice divorced with an autoimmune disease, alopecia and a sprained left ankle. I have survived cancer, bleeding joints as a toddler, having most of my teeth knocked out, a crushed lower vertebrae, the death of my best friend, jail and two concussions. And most harrowingly of all, I made it through a childhood and two parents with more addictions and mental illnesses that a full cell block of Oz inmates. I have reinvented myself more times than Madonna and have a thick candy shell to show for it – hard but sweet.

Really Internet pigs, you think I went through all of that just to run away from the computer because I’m scared of you? Let me tell you something. You don’t know me. You don’t know my sisters-in-arms, my fellow poetesses, authors, journalists, artists, dancers and thinkers. The mothers, wives and aunts who grow a little taller everytime they create something special out of your opposition.

The cause of turning the shame right back on the dudes (yes, yes #notallmen) who use fear and violence to try to silence us is furthered everytime a professional like Anne Thériault shines a spotlight on its pervasiveness. I’d like to try to make a small contribution with my own work. So I wrote this. And I’ll keep writing. Bring it bullies.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law: Not Guilty? (July 15, 2013)

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave the last 48 hours (and given an increasingly depressing news cycle, who could blame you?), you’ve heard the news. Florida’s George Zimmerman was acquitted of the charge of second degree murder in the February 26, 2012 shooting death of 17 year-old high school student Trayvon Martin. A six-person, all-female jury found the prosecution unable to create reasonable doubt around the self-defense argument, and this was compelling enough to return a “not guilty” verdict.

If you spent any amount of time on Twitter over the last two days (full disclosure: I don’t tweet and never will), you might be tempted to confuse “not guilty” with “innocent,” but such is certainly not the case. No one, not even George Zimmerman, claims that Trayvon’s young life was brought to a premature end by another’s gun. No one disputes that the two men struggled during an altercation precipitated by the armed, hypervigilant chase of Zimmerman, even as 911 dispatchers cautioned him to relinquish pursuit. Not a soul contends that Martin was himself armed with more than a package of Skittles and a beverage on that fateful night.

A nation weary of gun violence, divergent police response in relation to ethnicity, and fearful of the implications of the verdict on the safety of young black men has come largely together to bemoan a miscarriage of justice. The problem, however, is that as current Florida law stands, the verdict was right on the money. And if we wish not to open a Pandora’s Box of similar tragedies, a growing gang of armed vigilantes deciding for themselves that any sort of perceived threat is license to open fire, we must focus our attention on repealing the law that begat this catastrophe.

In the interest of unedited disclosure, I am reprinting the terms of the Florida statute (“Stand Your Ground”) in full:

Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—
(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:
(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.
(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:
(a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or
(b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or
(c) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
(d) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.
(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
(5) As used in this section, the term:
(a) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night.
(b) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.
(c) “Vehicle” means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property.

If we cut through the legislative and legal jargon, what Florida’s law means in absolute practice is that an armed individual need only suspect possible illegal activity in relation to another’s personal property before drawing their weapon. And upon engaging the suspected perpetrator, if the investigating party feels at any time that their person or life is in jeopardy, they may proceed to open fire without the risk of prosecution.

In other words, any lay person with a gun in the Sunshine State is deputized and fully invested with the authority to check into malfeasance, and put an end to it with no training other than the guide of gut and emotions. The surprise then, is not that Zimmerman was found “not guilty” of second degree murder, but that he was even charged in the first place.

And indeed, local authorities initially declined to press charges before public furor erupted, rendering the possibility of doing nothing so much PR hari kari.

And exactly who do we have to thank for the increasing prevalence of “Stand Your Ground” type laws, which now exist in some form in 24 U.S. States? The gun lobby of course, more specifically the NRA, which occupies its usual place at the intersection of Second Amendment overreach and the compromise of public safety. Permit me to quote from a March 31, 2012 ABC News story: “Do a quick search for ‘Stand Your Ground’ on the National Rifle Association’s website and the first video result features the story of a Florida man exonerated of murder charges in January 2012 under the State’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.”

Writer Michael Ono goes on to observe: “The pro-gun group championed the passage of the original law in Florida back in 2004 and lobbied to pass similar legislation in other states, according to the Center for Public Integrity. In light of the recent controversy, the NRA has stalled its lobbying efforts in to pass the law in Alaska, according to Bloomberg News.”

The NRA has long been aware of the emotion of fear as a great motivator, and in most cases, the motivation is increased gun sales. When will we as a nation get wise to the truth? Though the NRA membership includes thousands of sane, law-abiding citizens who are safely in observance of their Constitutional rights, the Association’s bureaucratic and lobbying arms are not reflective of these ideals. Were I a gun owner myself, I might consider it high time to withhold my annual dues until Wayne LaPierre and his ilk get out of the business of state sanctioned death as a method of increasing sales.

George Zimmerman: “not guilty,” according to strict tenets of the law maybe, but by no means innocent. The NRA and “Stand Your Ground” laws: Zimmerman’s accomplices with Trayvon Martin’s blood all over their hands.

Stand Your Ground Is Unsound: The Data Speaks (May 14, 2015)

Stand Your Ground

Earlier this month, Robert J. Spitzer, a political scientist at SUNY Cortland, and author of the new book Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights, wrote a guest Op-Ed for The New York Times. Entitled “Stand Your Ground Makes No Sense,” Spitzer leverages a variety of hard data to put forth what is to most sensible people, a fairly logical conclusion: “Not only have these laws failed to increase public safety, they have also turned the clock back to the mythologized mayhem of the Wild West.”

National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre famously said at aDecember 2012 press conference, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” No matter how many times I hearken back to the statement’s context – the aftermath of the tragic Newtown, Connecticut school shooting – it remains as cynical and jarring as ever. Using the death of small children as an opportunity to advance the NRA’s mission to militarize every corner of the country, LaPierre called for an initiative to “put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.”

But what happens when overly permissive gun laws benefit the bad guys? What do we do when presented with solid proof that our regulations codify murder, racial profiling and render all of us less safe? What if instead of “thwart[ing] these monsters,” as LaPierre insists is the result of laxer laws, we are instead empowering them?

Well that’s precisely the argument Spitzer offers, using metrics and research put forth by such disparate entities as The Tampa Bay Times, The Wall Street Journal, Texas A&M University, the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Urban Institute. In specifically evaluating the various state Stand Your Ground laws that achieved cultural ubiquity with the February 2012 killing of the young, black and unarmed Trayvon Martin by self-styled vigilante George Zimmerman, the conclusion is clear as daylight. Per Spitzer, “Nearly 60 percent of those making self-defense claims when a person was killed had been arrested at least once before; a third of those had been accused of violent crimes in the past; over a third had illegally carried guns in the past or had threatened others with them.”

In short, the guys and girls amped up on NRA propaganda, armed to the teeth and ready to shoot, are themselves most often the danger. Spitzer writes, “In 79 percent of the [Stand Your Ground] cases, the assailant could have retreated to avoid the confrontation. In 68 percent, the person killed was unarmed.”

And what’s more, though we need to do little more than turn on the cable news to confirm the trend, “In Stand Your Ground states, justifiable shooting results ranged from 3 to 15 percent…When the shooter was white and the victim black, 36 percent were ruled justified.” Legal rulings notwithstanding, the numbers are clear. In Stand Your Ground territory, the victim is more likely to be a person of color when the shooter is white.

The mass slaughter of private citizens, including children. The legitimacy of race-based hunting. The genocide of unarmed men and women. Say ye what you like Second Amendment zealots, but this IS NOT what the Bill of Rights intended. Once more with pure academic spirit, let’s revisit the literal wording of the Constitutional revision:
“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.”

There’s nothing “well regulated” about an angry white mob of uncoordinated, often untrained, sometimes criminally convicted civilians off firing away at the “other.” What Second Amendment fanatics often forget (by choice) is that Stand Your Ground laws deprive others of the unalienable rights asserted in theDeclaration of Independence. Remember “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?” And before you even start right wing trolls, I am not advocating for a complete suppression of gun culture. Whether or not I’m a fan (not), I respect our differences. But Stand Your Ground Laws are a proven cover for unjustified murder. The data is there. These laws need to go. Now.

Wayne LaPierre and NRA Directly Responsible for Ricin Letters to Gun Control Leaders (June 3, 2013)

ricin

I am old enough to recall a number of frightening sensations swirling through the nation’s collective psyche immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Those who lived in major urban centers were prone to Pavlovian responses of dread at the mere sight of a low flying aircraft. The delivery of an unexpected package elicited fleeting concerns of surprise explosives, and those receiving mail in corporate settings and government offices had to wonder if anthrax could be part of an envelope’s special delivery. It was a rightfully paranoid time.

One source of comfort to be found in terrifying circumstances is knowledge. Knowing your attacker, your would-be assailant, permits power in the form of an action plan. When the culprits of the World Trade Center and Pentagon atrocities proved to be Al Qaeda-directed terrorists, the nation came together behind an all-out assault upon the foreign groups responsible for our united fear and suffering.

In 2013, the threat of chemical attack by mail has returned, this time in the form of ricin. According to a report from Good Morning America, “The toxin, which comes from castor beans, stops cells from synthesizing proteins so victims can suffer organ failure.” Ricin has experienced pop cultural ascendancy in recent years as a recurring plot point on popular AMC drama Breaking Bad. Anti-hero Walter White, a former mild-mannered chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine kingpin, uses ricin to intimidate and control potential drug cartel enemies.

However, to ascertain the root cause of the recent spate of ricin-laced letter attacks, directed at everyone from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to President Barack Obama, we need not look to the inspiration of fictional characters. Real-life villains exist within the ranks of overreaching lobby groups, inciting chaos under the guise of Second Amendment defense.

Consider the paraphrased text of one such letter delivered to gun-control advocate Bloomberg’s New York office last week. Per a report from Fox News, New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond “Kelly said the unsigned letter says, in so many words: ‘Anyone who comes for my guns will be shot in the face.’”

Now where would this deranged domestic terrorist get the idea that President Obama and Michael Bloomberg, advocates for a safer, more rational exercise of the right to bear arms, might instead demand complete surrender of personal weapons? Let us hearken back to a February 2013 Op-Ed piece in the Daily Caller from National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. Amongst a number of verbal gems, LaPierre included this thinly veiled reference to the Newtown school shootings: “A heinous act of mass murder—either by terrorists or by some psychotic who should have been locked up long ago—will be the pretext to unleash a tsunami of gun control.”

Ok but that’s just one quote taken out of context right? LaPierre didn’t really mean to suggest that failed Congressional efforts to institute common-sense universal background checks were a threat to law-abiding gun owners. No one is that crazy.

February 10, 2012, The Washington Times: “All that first term, lip service to gun owners is just part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.”

May 4, 2013, Huffington Post: “‘political and media elites’ have tried to use Sandy Hook and other recent shootings ‘to blame us, to shame us, to compromise our freedom for their agenda….We will never surrender our guns, never,’ LaPierre told several thousand people during the organization’s annual member meeting.”

We are a people that loves justice. The reason that so many incarnations of Law & Order and CSI have experienced television ratings success is because of the appeal of the suspense boilerplate: a crime is committed, guys in uniform discover weapon and motive, emotional trial ensues, outlaw goes to the clink. It’s simple. It’s just. It’s satisfying.

I’m no prosecuting attorney but it seems to me that there’s a direct correlation between the prolific, fear-inciting rhetoric of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, and the homicidal threats against the lives of pro-gun control elected leaders. Is a bystander who knowingly allows harm to occur guilty of something? If the answer is yes (and it is), then Wayne LaPierre is an accessory to each and every one of these ricin crimes. He may not have supplied the chemicals, but he and his group continue to dish out motive in dangerous, irresponsible bucketfuls.

Haul him to the precinct, turn on the hot lights and file some charges. I’m serious. If it’s illegal to yell “Fire!” in a public place and incite a riot, there should be no distinction between trumping up an imagined threat to the Second Amendment and standing smugly aside as violence ensues.