Thursday Reads: Guns and American Culture (and other news)

Morning Paper at Cap Ferrat, by Rebecca Kao Wang

Morning Paper at Cap Ferrat, by Rebecca Kao Wang

Good Morning!!

I live in a state that has very strict gun control laws. A recent study by Boston Children’s Hospital found that states with the toughest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths. And Boston tends to average between one shooting victim every other day to one victim per day. I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days since I read this article at WBUR: When Mass. Criminals Want A Gun, They Often Head North

Massachusetts gun laws are widely considered some of the toughest in the country. But with a rash of shooting deaths in Boston this year, some law enforcement officials say it’s obvious that there are ways around the rules. And when Massachusetts criminals want to get their hands on a gun, they frequently head north.

In 2012, more than half of the guns that law enforcement seized in Massachusetts and managed to trace to their origins came from other states, according to federal statistics. The biggest suppliers by far were New Hampshire and Maine, as is the case most years.

According to the article, ATF agents discovered that gun traffickers in Massachusetts were legally buying large numbers of guns from New Hampshire and Maine, where they are much easier and cheaper to buy, and reselling them to people in Massachusetts.

The flow of guns from northern New England to Massachusetts is propelled by key differences among state gun laws. It’s all about private handgun sales, in particular. In Massachusetts every private handgun sale must be recorded and reported to the state within seven days. And the buyer must have a license to carry from local police, which in turn requires a background check. The Massachusetts rules are tight.

Up north, not so much. Buyers at federally licensed gun shops in Maine and New Hampshire are subjected to a federal background check for prior felonies, or a history of severe mental illness. But when it comes to private gun sales — at a gun show, or even a commuter parking lot — no documentation is required — no background check, no record of the transaction.

Darcie McElwee, an assistant U.S. attorney in Maine, says that in her state a private seller doesn’t even have to ask the buyer for a driver’s license.

Now it’s still illegal to sell guns to a convicted felon or for a felon to buy a gun, so if someone is caught doing this, they’ll go to jail for two years minimum. And the rates of gun deaths and injuries are still lower in Massachusetts than in states with less strict gun laws.

Clearly strict state laws are not enough to prevent gun violence. We need federal laws to control gun sales and to encourage gun safety–like the Massachusetts law that requires guns to be unloaded and locked up when not in use. But how can we make that happen? According to the WBUR article, Congress has even made it difficult to keep track of guns that are used in crimes and for academic researchers to access federal government data on gun trafficking.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey has introduced a bill to require all guns to be personalized so they can only be fired by the owner or another authorized person. These so-called “smart guns” already exist.

One of California’s largest firearm stores recently added a peculiar new gun to its shelves. It requires an accessory: a black waterproof watch.

The watch’s primary purpose is not to provide accurate time, though it does. The watch makes the gun think. Electronic chips inside the gun and watch communicate with each other. If the watch is within close reach of the gun, a light on the grip turns green. Fire away. No watch means no green light. The gun becomes a paperweight.

A dream of gun control advocates for decades, the Armatix iP1 is the country’s first smart gun. Its introduction is seen as a landmark event in efforts to reduce gun violence, suicides, and accidental shootings….

Of course the NRA will fight this tooth and nail, and it’s not going to get through the Senate, much less the House, in the current environment.

Now check this out. According to a piece at Venture Beat, you can quickly and easily buy guns on Facebook!

Fifteen minutes.

That’s all it takes for children, felons, and people without IDs to buy illegal weapons on Facebook pages dedicated to the sale and celebration of guns.

A VentureBeat investigation has uncovered dozens of pages on Facebook where guns are for sale, including semi-automatic weapons, handguns, and silencers. While the transactions don’t actually happen on Facebook, the social network is a remarkably easy way to find shady people willing to sell you a weapon — no questions asked. The illegal transactions then take place in diners, dark parking lots, and isolated country roads — away from the prying eyes of the feds and local police.

In Kentucky, Greenup County Sheriff Keith Cooper remembers when a call came into dispatch last October saying a 15-year-old student had been arrested on the Greenup County High School campus for carrying an unlicensed and loaded 9mm handgun to school. The boy was arrested and brought to Cooper’s office for an interview.

When Cooper, a former Kentucky State Trooper with a heavy Southern drawl, asked the kid where he got the gun, his reply was shocking: Facebook.

Read it and weep. Oh, and Facebook claims they don’t allow people to sell guns or explosives on their pages, but clearly they’re not enforcing these rules very well.

It’s not news to anyone that America has a love affair with guns. Guns and hunting are part of American culture, going hand-in-hand with the cult of rugged individualism. I’ve always thought it came from the frontier tradition. Most of the country was settled by pioneering who set out from the East coast to begin new lives in the Midwest and West before the arrival of the accoutrements of civilization–like law enforcement, banks, and insurance companies. In my generation at least, kids saw endless movies and TV shows about “cowboys and Indians;” and we played with toy guns–even us girls. And of course, since we were born shortly after World War II, many of us watch movies that glorified war.

Still I’ve never wanted a real gun. It seems to me that the gun culture is much stronger in some ways than in those innocent days of the 1950s and ’60s. But why? The obvious answer is the lobbying and propaganda efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA). And what about  the recent work of ALEC and the Koch Brothers to get state “stand your ground” laws passed around the country? Dahlia Lithwick has posted a fine piece about this at Slate.

“Stand Your Ground” Nation: America used to value the concept of retreat. Now we just shoot.

Last week, Kriston Charles Belinte Chee, an unarmed man, got into a fight with Cyle Wayne Quadlin at a Walmart in suburban Arizona. Quadlin opened fire midargument and killed CheeOfficers decided not to charge Quadlin because, they concluded, the killing was in self-defense. According to the police spokesman, “Mr. Quadlin was losing the fight and indicated he ‘was in fear for his life.’” Just a week earlier, a jury in Jacksonville, Fla., found Michael Dunn guilty on four counts of attempted murder but did not convict him on the most serious charge of first-degree murder, in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn shot and killed Davis, also unarmed, because the music coming from his car was too loud. Dunn claimed he saw something like a gun in the vehicle, and that was apparently enough for some members of the jury to conclude that Dunn hadn’t committed first-degree murder.

Given all this, it’s not unreasonable to argue that, in America, you can be shot and killed, without consequences for the shooter, for playing loud musicwearing a hoodie, or shopping at a Walmart. The question is whether the wave of “stand your ground” legislation is to blame.

Is it true? Lithwick quotes doubters who say that neither George Zimmerman invoked “stand your ground,” However juries were told about the “stand your ground” principle, and could have been confused by the growing consensus in Florida that people [at least white males] have the right to shoot an unarmed person if they “feel threatened.” Lithwick writes:

It’s clear that at least some of the jurors in both cases took the principle of “stand your ground” into account to some degree during deliberations. We now know that at leastone juror, and possibly two, in Dunn’s trial took to heart the specific instruction that Dunn “had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” Whether or not jurors in Florida are technically instructed to apply the “stand your ground” component of self-defense law, it’s increasingly clear that they are, at minimum, confused about it (understandably) and may even be starting to apply it reflexively. Yes, Dunn’s attorney argued traditional self-defense. But, as former assistant U.S. attorney David Weinstein told the Associated Press, “I think people will say that because some of the language from the stand your ground statute gets embedded into the jury instructions, that stand your ground has an effect.”

I might go further. I might say that whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big “stand your ground” state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law.

Please go read the whole thing. It’s frightening but important. Lithwick argues that the new laws are changing the culture itself–and not just in the states with “stand your ground” laws.

Now I’ve gone and written another single-subject post. I just have room for a few headlines before I turn the floor over to you.

Washington Post: Hillary Clinton makes case for ‘full participation’ and equality

Talking Points Memo: Hillary Clinton Defends Obamacare While Backing Changes

BBC News: Ukraine warns Russia against ‘aggression’ in Crimea

NPR: Crimea: 3 Things To Know About Ukraine’s Latest Hot Spot

The Daily Beast: The Spoiled Rotten Kids of the DC Elite

NYT: New F.D.A. Nutrition Labels Would Make ‘Serving Sizes’ Reflect Actual Servings

Dana Millbank: Republicans flip-flop on ‘judicial activism’

I hope Dak will weigh in on this one. Matthew O’Brien: How the Fed Let the World Blow Up in 2008

USA Today: NASA – 715 new planets found, 4 might support life

What stories have caught your interest today? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a great day!

44 Comments on “Thursday Reads: Guns and American Culture (and other news)”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    The Globe and Mail:

    Russian-backed fighters restrict access to Crimean city, Sevastopol.

    Ukraine’s sovereignty over the southern region of Crimea appeared to be under threat Wednesday, as Russian-backed fighters moved dozens of kilometres outside their base in this Black Sea port, establishing a checkpoint on the main road connecting Sevastopol to the regional capital.

    President Vladimir Putin also ordered the Russian military in its central and western commands – more than 150,000 troops with hundreds of tanks and helicopter gunships – to be put on alert for war games in the areas bordering Ukraine. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu characterized the manoeuvre as a snap military drill, similar to others Mr. Putin has ordered in the past in other parts of the country.

    • RalphB says:

      Was freezing here last night. Supposed to warm up for a few days and another front will come through. Can’t seem to shake off winter yet.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Breaking News:

    Attorney General Eric Holder was hospitalized Thursday after falling ill at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, according to a department spokesman.

    “During his regular morning meeting with senior staff, the attorney general began experiencing symptoms including faintness and shortness of breath,” DOJ spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement. “As a precaution, the attorney general was taken to MedStar Washington Hospital Center to undergo further evaluation. He is currently resting comfortably and in good condition. He is alert and conversing with his doctors. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.”

    For more information…

  3. dakinikat says:

    There are going to be a lot of dead bodies in stand your ground states given how continually threatened right wing white men feel and are made to feel by the likes of Rush and Beck.

  4. RalphB says:

    The Atlantic: Was Bush Really a Champion of Democracy?

    This will surprise no one but the contrast with Obama is a good one.

  5. RalphB says:

    James Moore, author of Bush’s Brain, has a swell blog and this is a pretty nice piece.

    Don’t Grow Texas: On the Shoulders of Dwarfs

    I’ve got this thing about hypocrites and opportunists: I cannot stand them or their unrestrained inclinations.

    Arizona’s latest self-disembowelment over gay people, and the chorus of voices that urged the state to come to its senses, reminded me of four people who used sexual politics to succeed professionally before they changed minds.

    The first is Mark McKinnon, who, in the 70s and 80s was the kind of progressive liberal who would’ve given Karl Rove a wedgie if he’d had the chance. McKinnon became a Republican when he saw his opportunity to jump on the Bush train and take off for the big show at the White House. He has long insisted it was nothing more than the fact that he got older and his politics changed. They didn’t; they were simply overwhelmed by his ambition.

    “I’m not really a Republican,” he once told me. “I’m a Bush guy.” …

  6. dakinikat says:

    I am really glad that I’m not up early enough in the morning to watch this man make a fool of himself

    With Christie On The Outs, Joe Scarborough Finds a New Man-Crush in Bobby Jindal

  7. bostonboomer says:

    Any thoughts on my post? I really thought Lithwick’s notion that “stand your ground” laws have led to a shift in the culture was worrisome.

    • RalphB says:

      I read it yesterday evening and I think she sounds onto something. It’s frankly a scary thought but the people who want to carry guns are almost always the last people who should be allowed to do it. I’m in favor of stricter and stricter gun control as time passes.

      • janicen says:

        but the people who want to carry guns are almost always the last people who should be allowed to do it

        That’s it in a nutshell isn’t it?

    • Fannie says:

      I am glad your post was on gun violence, and the gun culture that been swelling. In support of the students, faculty, and administrators at the colleges, including the law officers who were refused to be listened to by the legislators of SB 1254, that passed, allowing guns on campus. I was told once again, that Idaho has a 2nd amendment right to carry a gun, and their crystal balls shows a bunch of “kooks” just around the corner going on a shooting spree.

      Yeah, that’s the term Rep. Ken Andrus called them. I suggested he look into providing better mental health services for the mentally ills (and that maybe he could cut through the label on calling them kooks), and get to the real problem at hand. He thinks that by requiring 8 hours training that these people carrying guns will become experts and crowned as law enforcers.
      Sounds like George Z. Not to mention that corporations that go to campuses and hire students, have “no guns allowed” policies in the work place. Wonder why that is?

      I also read an article on smart guns that can track the owners, and stop kids from using the guns. Didn’t really follow up, as I had a dental appointment.

      The NRA is out promoting guns for everyone, even 3 year olds.

    • NW Luna says:

      “Stand your ground” is a catchy phrase, a simplistic slogan.

      It assumes ownership — “your” ground, so it also insinuates that property is threatened. That’s a dog whistle to the property rights wingnuts who think that individualistic wants should override community good, for example, demanding exorbitant compensation when zoning for wetlands or endangered species means they can’t build a hundred McMansions on their property.

      And it’s just a jingoistic, macho-idiot phrase which implies that if you don’t stand your ground you’re a weakling. So it both pushes and pulls insecure men into acting out their bully fantasies.

      Yes, I do think that promotion of the Stand Your Ground concept and laws have encouraged a culture of bullying in a deadly way.

  8. bostonboomer says:

    Russian plans to install military bases in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. That seems like kind of big news.

    • RalphB says:

      What, Putin is going to follow the old Kremlin model and spend themselves broke again trying to ignite another Cold War or something?

    • RalphB says:

      Nice comments

      Primero MUERTOS!!! Nosotros no aceptamos tal cosa, Putin es un dictador, que las ponga en Cuba con los dictadores Castro!!! Aqui en Venezuela, Maduro no estara por mucho mas tiempo!

    • Jeez, WTH? I haven’t been able to look online at any writing, I could not read anything at all today, all day. Bebe has been in a terrible state. Her anxiety is over the top, I could not get her to go to school today. It was miserable.

  9. bostonboomer says:

    Supposedly Matthew McConaughhey’s first on-screen appearance in “Unsolved Mysteries.”

  10. RalphB says:

    Every opportunity for derisive laughter must be taken, and none may be left on the table.

    The fine citizens of Allen, TX, who paid $60 million to build an 18,000-seat high school football stadium, have had to mothball the thing indefinitely in order to fix widespread cracking of concrete all around the facility.

    • NW Luna says:

      Heh, heh. They should make the stadium boosters patch up all the cracks. $60 million could have done a lot for education.

  11. RalphB says:

    HuffPo: Documents Show the Navy Knew Fukushima Dangerously Contaminated the USS Reagan

    A stunning new report alleges the U.S. Navy knew that sailors from the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan took major radiation hits from the Fukushima atomic power plant after its meltdowns and explosions nearly three years ago.

    If true, the revelations cast new light on the $1 billion lawsuit filed by the sailors against Tokyo Electric Power. Many of the sailors are already suffering devastating health impacts, but are being stonewalled by Tepco and the Navy. The Reagan had joined several other U.S. ships in Operation Tomodachi (“Friendship”) to aid victims of the March 11, 2011 quake and tsunami.

    Tepco and the Navy contend the Reagan did not receive a high enough dose to warrant serious concern. But Japan, South Korea and Guam deemed the carrier too radioactive to enter their ports. Stock photographs show sailors working en masse to scrub the ship down.

    The $4.3 billion boat is now docked in San Diego. Critics question whether it belongs there at all. Attempts to decontaminate U.S. ships irradiated during the Pacific nuclear bombs tests from 1946-1963 proved fruitless. …

    Holy shit, this is horrendous! I seriously wonder if the ship is dangerous to San Diego?

    • NW Luna says:

      You can’t decontaminate a radioactive aircraft carrier in under a few (tens of?) thousands of years. And if the sailors have “devastating health impacts” now, just wait 10 or 15 years and see what develops.

      I’m sure we’ll be reassured that San Diego is just fine; the levels are too low.

      There is no proven safe level of radiation.

    • bostonboomer says:

      OMG! That’s horrible. We’re probably going to learn a lot more ghastly results of Fukushima over the next many years. If all the “investigative reporters” weren’t writing about NSA spying, maybe we”d learn sooner.