Tag Archives: guns

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things….

Like reasonable laws.

Recently, Indianapolis City-County Councilor Kip Tew sponsored an ordinance that would  require people to file a report if a gun they owned was lost or stolen.

Laws requiring gun owners to report loss or theft of a weapon help police in several ways:  they deter gun trafficking and discourage straw purchasing; they  facilitate the return of the guns, if found, to their lawful owners; and they help police disarm people who aren’t legally eligible to possess firearms.

As an officer friend pointed out recently, timely reporting of gun thefts and losses allows police to trace guns more effectively, and makes the successful prosecution of users of stolen guns more likely.

A very small step, granted, but a step in the right direction.

Currently, however, there aren’t enough votes to pass the measure. Not because council members are opposed to it, but because several of them worry that it might violate a relatively recent provision of the Indiana Code–a provision so ridiculous I couldn’t believe it was real.

Here are the relevant parts of Indiana Code 35-47-11.1 – 7.

Except as provided in section 4 of this chapter, a political subdivision may not regulate:
(1) firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories;
(2) the ownership, possession, carrying, transportation, registration, transfer, and storage of firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories; and
(3) commerce in and taxation of firearms, firearm ammunition, and firearm accessories.

Anyone “adversely affected” by such an action is authorized to sue for damages.

This is yet another example of the legislature telling local governments what they can and cannot do (my Home Rule complaint). And in this case, what our local folks can’t do is anything that even smells of gun regulation.

But the rest of this abomination is even worse:

A person is “adversely affected” for purposes of section 5 of this chapter if either of the following applies:
…..
(2) The person is a membership organization that:
(A) includes two (2) or more individuals described in subdivision (1); and
(B) is dedicated in whole or in part to protecting the rights of persons who possess, own, or use firearms for competitive, sporting, defensive, or other lawful purposes.

Sec. 7. A prevailing plaintiff in an action under section 5 of this chapter is entitled to recover from the political subdivision the following:
(1) The greater of the following:
(A) Actual damages, including consequential damages.
(B) Liquidated damages of three (3) times the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.
(2) Court costs (including fees). (3) Reasonable attorney’s fees.

Short version: if Indianapolis tries to protect its citizens by controlling guns or ammunition in any way whatever, the “membership organization” (i.e. the NRA) can sue the city and recover attorney’s fees and punitive (“liquidated”) damages from our tax dollars.

Think about that.

I can’t imagine what “damages” the NRA would suffer from the passage of an innocuous and helpful measure like reporting stolen guns. (For that matter, putting on my lawyer hat,  I don’t think that “theft” comes within the definition of “ownership, possession, carrying, transportation, registration, transfer, and storage,” but I do understand council members’ concern that it might.)

If you ever want an example of the way a well-heeled lobby overrides the will–and the welfare–of mere citizens, this one’s a doozy.

Charleston

I haven’t written about the massacre in Charleston. I haven’t processed it, either, but just ignoring it seems somehow shameful.

Regular readers of this blog know that there are numerous elements of the world we occupy that concern and (too frequently) enrage me. Willful ignorance leading to bad public policies, rampant anti-intellectualism, the loss of a responsible media…it’s a long list.

America’s inability to overcome our deeply entrenched racism, however, is at the top of that list.

I’m seventy-three years old. I’ve seen overt racism decline substantially over my lifetime. We passed civil rights laws. Nice people stopped telling racist jokes at cocktail parties. Intermarriages increased and disapproval of those unions decreased. We prepared to elect a biracial President. It seemed that the arc of history was–in Martin Luther King’s words–bending toward justice.

Then Barack Obama was elected, and overt racism came roaring back.

All the old white guys (and let’s be honest, plenty of old white gals) who’d been trying to cope with the fact that their lives hadn’t turned out the way they’d hoped, who’d been getting up each morning to a world in which they were no longer automatically superior simply by virtue of their skin color, suddenly had a black President. And they just couldn’t handle it.

The rocks lifted. The nastiness, the resentment, the smallness oozed out.

The internet “jokes,” the Fox News dog-whistles, the political pandering that barely tries to camouflage its racial animus–they’ve all contributed to a new-old social norm in which racism is winked at, and if noticed at all, justified with urban legends about African-Americans and outright lies about the President.

Every inadequate excuse for a human being who has forwarded a vile email about the President and his family, every gun nut claiming that people wouldn’t have been killed if only the pastor had been armed (in church!), every snide “commentator” who has spent the last six years making a nice living by playing to racist stereotypes–every one of them created the culture within which this terrorist acted. Every one of them is a co-conspirator in this mass murder.

And don’t get me started on a culture that lets any man insecure in his masculinity–no matter how mentally ill, no matter how demonstrably violent– substitute a deadly weapon for that missing piece of his anatomy.

 

Armed and Very Dangerous

The recent shoot-out in Waco, Texas, prompts me to share some observations about the ubiquity of guns in America, and the near-religious fervor with which an unrestricted right to bear arms is defended. (I’m well aware that I may regret writing this; my only previous foray into the issue, on this blog, prompted responses that were by far the most uncivil and threatening I have ever received. And I used to run Indiana’s ACLU.)

A couple of caveats: Perfectly reasonable people may have different opinions about the purpose and reach of the Second Amendment, and what restrictions on gun ownership are both socially prudent and constitutional. Many responsible people own firearms, for a variety of eminently defensible reasons.

This blog isn’t about those people.

In fact, even though this post was triggered by the motorcycle gang violence in Waco, it isn’t intended to be directly responsive to that event, either; rather, you might think of it as a meditation on America’s inability to approach even the most reasonable discussions of gun rights and public safety with anything other than hysteria and hyperbole.

This hasn’t always been the case. In 1968, for example, President Johnson signed a sweeping national gun control law; in 1993, Congress passed the Brady Act. There have been others.

But during the past few decades, these federal laws have been substantially weakened and the gun lobby has advanced multiple state-level initiatives expanding gun “rights” well beyond what my generation considered reasonable– measures to permit concealed weapons, to allow people to take weapons into businesses (including bars and despite the objections of the property owners), and to invalidate campus rules against weapons. Iowa even passed a measure allowing people who are blind to obtain gun permits.

Perhaps the most troubling element of this landscape has been the growth of so-called “open carry” laws. Want to sling your AK47 over your shoulder when you go to the grocery? Sure thing!  In the wake of passage of these laws, groups of heavily armed men have “exercised their constitutional rights” by showing up in the aisles of establishments like Target and Walmart.

These displays of machismo are not unconnected to the (increasingly bizarre) conspiracy theories that have mushroomed in the wake of President Obama’s election. “Obama is going to confiscate our guns!”  “Jade Helm is a plot—Obama is planning to bring in the U.N. and take over Texas!”

Racism is clearly a factor in these and similar conspiracies being promoted in the more fetid precincts of the Internet, but racism doesn’t explain all of the paranoia.

Fear does.

We live in a time of dramatic and unprecedented social change, with a corresponding loss of what scholars call agency. Agency is personal efficacy, confidence that we are in charge of our own lives, the masters of our own fates, in possession of a measure of control over what happens to us.

Americans wake up every morning to a world that is less familiar and more disorienting; a world resistant to attempts at control. Meanwhile, the Internet inundates us with evidence that our social institutions—especially but not exclusively government—cannot be trusted. People who’ve been told their whole lives that they’ll do well if they work hard and play by the rules—most of  whom have dutifully proceeded to work hard and play by the rules—have seen their wages stagnate and their life prospects dim.

Some Americans respond to this social landscape by “opting out,” by retreating from civic life. Others– frightened people trying to make sense of an unfamiliar world– take refuge in “explanations” for their distress: a War on Christians, welfare mothers, Sharia law…  At the extreme, folks with paranoid tendencies believe their lives depend upon their ability to arm themselves against the “enemy,” the United Nations, immigrants, terrorists, the federal government….and especially, the terrifying unknown.

So they swagger down the aisles of the local Target with guns over their shoulders and strapped to their hips, and tee-shirts that say “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Sad. And very dangerous.

 

 

Guns and Cars and FREEDOM

Over at Juanita Jean’s, the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, I read:

Motor vehicle accidents used to be the leading cause of death in this country. But not in Missouri —

Firearms proved more deadly, and by a wide margin — 880 to 781 — according to the most recent federal data available. And Missouri appears to be a harbinger of things to come.

Some experts predict that for the first time in decades, firearms will kill more people nationwide this year than motor vehicles.

And the reason why traffic deaths have decreased dramatically?

Advocates credit seat belts, padded dashboards, airbags, highway median guard cables and road-edge rumble strips, among other things.

But God forbid that we talk about putting better safety mechanisms on guns! Because FREEDOM!

Reading this, I couldn’t help recalling a memorable interview with the late, irrepressible  Molly Ivins, during which she noted that the Texas legislature had successfully addressed a similar problem. Gun deaths in Texas had exceeded fatalities from automobile accidents. “But our lawmakers took care of that problem.” Molly reported.

“They raised the speed limit.”

We’re doomed.

Can We Define “Liberty”–Before Someone Gets Shot?

For a bunch of lawmakers who just love to talk about liberty, the cowboys at the Indiana General Assembly seem to have embraced a very odd definition of that term. In their view, “liberty” means their right to make decisions for everyone else.

Funny, I thought that was a description of autocracy.

Case in point: A bill is proceeding through the General Assembly that will allow guns to be brought to schools and school events. The measure also says that no school board (public or private) can enact a policy forbidding legally authorized persons to have guns in their cars on school property.

The NRA must be so proud.

Ignore, for a moment, the lunacy of encouraging people to bring weapons to schools. Pretend that 26 children weren’t gunned down last year in Connecticut. Ignore the fact that gun violence is an epidemic in this city, state and country. Those arguments–while important– really are beside the point. (Although for a pointed and effective, albeit snarky, takedown of the “let’s arm the world” lunatics, you really should read this Op Ed about an Idaho bill permitting guns on campus..)

The real question is: Why in the world does the Indiana General Assembly get to tell public and private schools what safety precautions they may not choose to employ?

Municipalities have long complained about the lack of home rule in Indiana, but as the years have gone on, it has only gotten worse. The micromanaging and increasing high-handedness of the General Assembly is hard enough to stomach; the undeniable fact that campaign donors and special interests are all too often served at the expense of both sound policy and Indiana’s citizens is getting intolerable.

At what point do we ordinary Hoosiers demand some “liberty” of our own?