Before The Next Mass Shooting, Missouri Voters Ought To Know Where Their Politicans Stand

As a reminder, and because it continues to bother the hell out of me, and because Missouri voters ought to know where their elected representatives have been morally and legislatively standing—the next time a mentally ill person gets a gun and kills kids or anyone else—here is a story from GovTrack Insider from last week:

The Obama Administration in its closing days instituted a new regulation instituting a novel form of gun control. The rule included those who received Social Security checks for mental illness or for being “unable to handle their own financial affairs” into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchases.

The rule was finalized by the Social Security Administration (SSA) on December 19, 2016. Approximately 75,000 people would be affected and potentially barred from purchasing a weapon as a result.

Public Law 115–8 was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Trump to overturn this rule.

Although the law passed and signed by Tr-mp did have a few Democrats on board, mostly it was done by Republicans. Here in Missouri, my congressman, Ozark Billy Long, was co-sponsor in the House. In the Senate, Roy Blunt was a co-sponsor. That’s the same Roy Blunt who wouldn’t do a damn thing after the murder of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012 because, as he wrote in a piece for USA Today, the real issue was “fixing our broken mental health system.” He wrote:

People with mental health problems are almost never dangerous. In fact, they are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators. At the same time, mental illness has been the common denominator in one act of mass violence after another.

It’s hard to square what Blunt said (all true) with what he did by sponsoring a bill designed, albeit somewhat feebly, to help prevent “one act of mass violence after another.” But a lot of things Republicans do these days are hard to square.

It doesn’t take a Tr-mpian jeenyus to figure out that, even though the determination of who is “unable to handle their own financial affairs” is, like all human decisions, “subjective,” (a complaint often made by Republicans) there has to be some limits on the purchase of firearms by people who competent professionals have deemed a risk. Otherwise, there can be no such thing as a restriction, ever, on anyone owning a firearm. Even the Supreme Court’s disastrous Heller decision okayed restrictions on gun ownership “by felons and the mentally ill.” In both cases, the people who fall into one of those two categories do so by way of subjective determinations.

A person becomes a “felon” either through the decision of a jury, a judge, or by lawyers making plea bargains, all of them subjective players and quite fallible. A “mentally ill” person likewise is so labeled, or should be so labeled, by professionals who are trained to recognize specific behaviors and connect those to a diagnosis. Again, there is the possibility of misdiagnosis and mislabeling. But wouldn’t it be better to slightly err on the side of caution, when it comes to questions of mental illness and gun ownership?

Related imageI recognize the Obama administration’s rule, which wouldn’t have taken effect until December of this year, wouldn’t have come close to solving the problems our society has with gun violence. And I realize that stigmatizing people with mental illness as “dangerous” is a real concern that has to be taken very seriously. But damn, people. If we can’t even agree that folks who receive “Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs” ought to be put in the national background check database, then our biggest problem with gun violence is that there is nothing—nothing—Republicans want to do about it.


Postponed Hearing Says It All About Gun Violence And The GOP’s Everlasting Tolerance Of It

Yes, we live in strange times.

I just heard a gun-control advocate say on MSNBC that there was supposed to be a hearing today—today!—before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. The hearing was titled:

“‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force”

This hearing, which was to include as a witness Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, obviously was inspired by the “deadly force” used against her barely 17-year-old son in Sanford, Florida. But, alas, the hearing has been postponed because of, well, because of deadly force used against 12 people at D.C.’s Navy Yard on Monday, just a mile and a half from where the Senate hearing was to convene. If that doesn’t perfectly sum up the problem we have with doing something about “the expanded use of deadly force,” nothing does.

I say we live in strange times. But more important, in some ways we live in increasingly dangerous times, too, And we owe a significant part of that increasing danger to the NRA and the Republican Party, a party whose members will gladly cite public opinion polls and constituency feedback on Syria policy—because it allows them to safely stick a political knife in the back of the President of the United States—but will ignore that same public opinion and constituency feedback when it comes to standing up to the NRA and at least supporting the expansion of background checks.

For the record, and not that it means a damn thing as long as Tea Party Republicans control the House of Representatives, here are the results of polling done after the Senate failed this year to pass a bill on expanding background checks on gun purchases:

expanded background checks polling 2013

senate judiciary hearing postponed

“We Don’t Benefit From Ignorance”

President Obama’s remarks today on the “common sense” things that need to be done “to help prevent mass shootings” and “reduce the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country” included simple quotations from selected kids, followed by these declarative statements:

This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change.

This generation, of course, will be judged for what it does or, more likely, for what it doesn’t do, in response to what we have seen so many times, most recently in Newtown, Connecticut.

Only the most unrepentant reactionary would reject the idea that we need to change, to change our approach, to change our thinking, to ultimately change our laws to confront the violent reality we see.

Not only did President Obama propose legislation — “a universal background check”; “a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines” — he also signed directives that will help professionals make us a little safer.

All good, all necessary. But what may have the most long-term effect, in terms of reducing the violence we have seen, and what I have yet to hear anyone discuss, is found in these remarks by the President:

And while year after year those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to de-fund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it.

And Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds. We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.

We don’t benefit from ignorance.” No, as a society, we don’t benefit from ignorance. But some among us do benefit from it, like, say, manufacturers of assault weapons sold to the public or purveyors of ridiculously violent video games. And that’s why some oppose using science — the only reliable guide we have to problem solving — to try to find out what causes so much of the violence we see in our culture.

As a civilization, science is our friend, ignorance our enemy. But as we shall soon see when Congress takes up legislation to make us a more sane, more civil society, ignorance has many friends.

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