A New Approach to Assault Weapons Control

It’s literally two sentences:

“Any firearm with a detachable magazine of any capacity, external feed mechanism of any capacity, or internal magazine greater than 10 rounds capacity, shall be considered a Class III weapon under the National Firearms Act (NFA). In addition, any and all external or aftermarket mechanisms designed to increase the rate of fire of an otherwise-legal firearm are comprehensively banned.”

First, this proposal bans no guns, which should mollify those who view firearms bans as unconstitutional, bad policy, incentives for black marketing, or simply unfair to law-abiding gun owners. By banning nothing, this proposal acknowledges and recognizes the need to protect rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Rather, this proposal makes it possible for law-abiding citizens to exercise their rights to the fullest, while blocking those who might constitute a danger. It bans nothing; it does require owners to meet higher standards of accountability, making it at least a proposal not inconsistent with conservative values, and worthy of serious consideration across ideological lines.

Second, this proposal sidesteps technical arguments about what constitutes an “assault weapon”. There is such a definition (see above video), but there are so many variations and gradations that trying to establish a definition that satisfies everyone is often impossible.* Therefore, this proposal identifies the one design feature that allows users to kill large numbers of people very quickly, reload instantly, and continue killing: the large ammunition capacity and rapid reload capability afforded by detachable, high-capacity magazines, which serves no other purpose beyond facilitating the mass killing of human beings. Period. There is one environment, and one only, in which one may require this capability: a battlefield. This also prevents the kind of travesty that occurred with the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, when gun companies simply changed stocks and removed bayonet lugs to turn banned AK-47s into legal, so-called “sporters”, which were still every bit as lethal as the original weapons. While some detachable-magazine weapons carry less than ten rounds, the ability of the aftermarket to create higher-capacity replacement magazines is prodigious, making the classification of all firearms built with detachable magazines as Class III weapons essential.

Third, there is a burgeoning market in aftermarket items designed to increase the rate of fire of traditional semiautos, enabling them to fire at rates comparable to fully-automatic machineguns. These make previous controls on fully-auto weapons obsolete; this obsolescence, along with the fact that almost any semiauto can be made to fire this way, demands the classification of these weapons with other weapons that fire at those rates. Whether that type of sustained rapid-fire capability is the product of internal or external mechanicals is of purely academic interest. If it can fire like a machinegun, it should be regulated like a machinegun. And practically any semi-auto can be made to fire that way-for more examples than you can count, go to YouTube and type in “bump firing.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Did you see that? Who knew?

Fourth, this proposal does not require amending the Constitution, and may not even require the passage of new laws: it is possible that the changes to the NFA necessary to implement this law could be done administratively, bypassing the torturous and unlikely-to-be-successful legislative process. In any case, the NFA has been the law of the land for more than 80 years, and is unlikely to be overturned.

Note: this proposal does not ban ANY guns. Rights are respected. The overwhelming percentage of firearms would remain legal and available; this proposal applies only to weapons which have been specifically engineered to kill people in large numbers, and even then, requires only that prospective owners meet the standards that have applied to owners of fully-automatic weapons since 1934. As most, if not all, legal semi-autos can be made to fire in a manner indistinguishable from full-auto (so-called “bump firing”), they should be regulated in the same common-sense Constitutionally-approved manner that other full-auto weapons are (and have been) in the US for more than 80 years. We know it can work; there is precedent. Before the NFA, the Thompson submachine gun made the Twenties Roar; after the NFA, crimes involving legally-owned full-automatic weapons dropped away to almost nothing, and have remained there ever since.

Pass it. Pass it now.

 

*Generally speaking, an “assault rifle” embodies four design characteristics: a straight-line stock with a pistol grip (for recoil control during rapid fire); a detachable high-capacity magazine; a cartridge that splits the difference in power between a full-powered rifle, and the pistol bullets used in submachine guns; and  selectable semi-auto/ full-automatic capability (Semi-auto fires one bullet with each pull of the trigger; full-auto is the sustained rapid fire associated with machine guns.). While only the first three are included on most “assault rifles” sold to the civilian market, a wide variety of simple, inexpensive add-ons (such as so-called “bump stocks”, triggers that fire multiple rounds, and trigger springs and cranks), or even simply adjusting the way the gun is held, can enable the gun to fire in a manner indistinguishable from full-automatic, making the lack of select-fire less of a difference than it seems at first. Likewise, weapons that embody all these characteristics except the bullet, such as civilian-market Uzis, are included, as they lack only the ability to reliably kill at long battlefield ranges. Hence the use of the term assault “weapon” instead of assault “rifle.”

A New Progressive Platform

This is a cycle we seem to be caught in. The Republicans get elected, and govern like a cross between a barbarian horde and a drunken fraternity. Then, the Democrats come in, and have to do the expensive and unpopular work of fixing the problems…which makes them unpopular, allowing a new Republican horde to ride into town like a panzer division on acid, and start the looting and pillaging anew.
As long as we are caught in this pattern, progressives /cannot/ win any lasting victories. There will only be occasional pauses in the downward spiral. Yes, we need to win 2018, more than anything in the immediate future, but how do we break out of this cycle? The answer, it seems to me, is big ideas. We have been so focused on repairing the damage that we haven’t done anything honestly worthwhile in a very long time. ObamaCare came close, but not really: like HillaryCare 20 years earlier, it was hobbled by its attempt to work within the existing paradigm instead of embracing the kind of genuine restructuring that might have genuinely changed things. So, we’re talking about New Deal, Great Society big. BIG.

So, here’s my Big Idea Platform. I’d like to know what the people think of it.

1) The Election Reform Act
This act will include public financing of elections, based on the understanding that any transfer of a thing of value to a public official or political campaign should be considered an attempt to bribe that official, and an end to partisan redistricting. There are robust, mature systems of public financing around the world available for study and adaptation. It is long past time to end the system of legalized bribery that has captured the US government and rendered it unresponsive to the needs of the general population. Likewise, all redistricting shall be done by non-partisan commissions.

2) An “Apollo Program” for clean energy.
It will be based on solar, wind, and wave power. Such a platform shall include a new energy grid that harnesses distributed micropower generation and AI management, and a new generation of nuclear reactors capable of using existing stocks of nuclear waste as fuel. This will simultaneously reduce carbon and heavy metals pollution in the environment, mitigate climate change, and eventually rid the country of nuclear waste.

3) Universal healthcare.
This can include a true single-payer system allowing access to everyone while allowing private providers for those who wish to avail themselves of additional services. Again, robust, mature systems are available for study and adaptation. Possible models include France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, and Canada.

4) A program of free post-secondary education or business investment.                                        Under this program, citizens will be able to either A), attend four years of a public university at public expense, B) access the amount of money four years of schooling would cost and use it as seed money to start a business, or C), any combination thereof: for instance, a student would be able to attend two years of technical school and then access two years worth of seed money funding for a start-up. Such a program will also include the forgiveness of all existing student loan debt, which is currently consigning two generations of Americans to debt peonage and acting as a huge brake on the US economy.

5) Raising the minimum wage.
This will include indexing the minimum wage to the inflation rate, putting an end to the degrading spectacle of continually having to beg for a continually-shrinking slice of the pie. Likewise, and for the same reason, Social Security benefits shall be indexed to the inflation rate.

6) Ending the war on drugs.
This will include the outright legalization of cannabis, the pardon of all federal prisoners held on simple possession charges, and the institution of a robust national drug treatment program for addicts. Under this program, regulatory authority will be transferred to the Food and Drug Administration, the DEA will be abolished outright, and asset forfeiture will not occur in the absence of a criminal conviction. This program will include a ban on the transfer of military equipment from the Department of Defense to civilian police departments, and a requirement that any civil judgement against a police officer must be paid by the officer personally. This program will hold that possession/intoxication itself is not a crime, but that criminal behavior, such as DUI, is.

7) Immigration reform.
Under this program, all immigrants, documented or otherwise, will be granted amnesty and allowed to stay if they register. This will allow immigrants to be protected under labor and civil law, ending the problem of legitimate business being undercut by underpaid, illegal labor. Any illegal employment of an undocumented worker shall be considered a felony. Likewise, immigrants convicted of crimes of violence, theft, fraud, espionage, or a pattern of criminal behavior, are subject to permanent deportation.

8) The Federal government as the employer of last resort.
This can be thought of as a new WPA: anyone unable to find productive work can go to work for the government, building/repairing infrastructure, parks, public buildings, etc. This should make the institution of a Universal Basic Income unnecessary, although a cost-benefit analysis and comparison between this program and a UBI should be conducted.

9) The Fourth Amendment Restoration Act.
This will outlaw any and all warrantless electronic or physical surveillance of a citizen, and will include a Citizen’s information Bill of Rights, which will state that any business that compiles information on a citizen for sale or other distribution is required to notify that citizen and give the citizen the opportunity to dispute information included therein. Further, any business that profits from the sale of individuals’ information will be required to share those proceeds with the individual.

10) The Private Security Services Reform Act.
Private prisons, police forces, military contractors, and intelligence agencies, or any other businesses serving largely identical functions, are henceforth banned.

11) The Assault Weapons Control Act.
Any firearm design that includes a detachable magazine and a semi-automatic or autoloading action shall be considered a Class III weapon under the National Firearms Act. Further, the manufacture, sale, or distribution of any device designed to increase the rate of fire of an otherwise legal weapon, such as, but not limited to, trigger cranks, multiple-fire triggers, or so-called “bump-stocks”, shall be banned.

12) The Honesty in Commerce Act.
Any business that engages in systemic theft or fraud, as has been widely documented in, among others, the banking and auto-repair industries, shall be subject to seizure and liquidation without recompense to shareholders, and shareholders shall be held liable for crimes committed to their benefit. Likewise, the importation, manufacture, sale, or distribution of any device designed to access or steal from individuals, such as credit-card skimmers and car lock defeat mechanisms, shall be banned.

13) Adoption in total of S.1006, the “Equality Act”, to, finally, “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”

Feedback, suggestions, and comments are encouraged.

Mommy, he’s a bad man

If I were a Donald Trump supporter, hearing “Mommy, he’s a bad man” would be enough for me to withdraw my support immediately.

I was recently told the following story by someone close to me. The television was on in her home during the presidential primary season and Donald Trump was speaking. No one was really paying attention to it except for her 8 year old child. With no prompting from anyone, a few minutes later, the youngster turned to the woman and said, “Mommy, he’s a bad man.” The woman, who is no Trump supporter, said this was a revealing moment for her. The child did not know who the man was or his relevance to the news cycle, only that this was a person who was saying hateful and mean things in an ugly tone of voice. Upon hearing this, she engaged her child in an age-appropriate conversation about the election.

This story exemplifies why Mr. Trump is not only a terrible role model for our children but also someone from whom they should be protected. No matter how much one may despise Hillary Clinton, she refrains from spewing hateful rhetoric and using a disparaging, vitriolic tone of voice.

Some readers may come back with: What about her “basket of deplorables” remark? While admittedly that was an unfortunate comment, she didn’t say all Trump supporters were deplorable, just some and she did preface it with being “grossly generalistic.” Nor did she use a snarling tone of voice to deliver it. Furthermore, there is evidence to support her assertion.* Secretary Clinton pales in comparison to Donald’s ugliness, even having made that impolitic remark.

Below is a campaign ad put out by the Clinton campaign that addresses this very issue.

Ask yourself this: Is Donald Trump really the person you want your children listening to and seeing on television for the next four, possibly eight years?

 

* Clinton, it appears, has her own “basket of deplorables” too. It’s a good deal smaller than Mr. Trump’s, but she has one. You can read more in the Forbes article below.

Clinton’s Got Data Supporting That Basket of Deplorables

Cross-posted at Writing Life

The Flint disaster can happen in your city too

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released their last infrastructure report card in 2013 and gave the United States an overall D+. This country’s infrastructure is in dismal shape, which means many people have been, are being, and will be harmed in some way, be it via a bridge collapse, poisoned water, crumbling schools, sewage or oil leaking into the ground or homes (yes, sewage leaking into the home has happened to me (in New Jersey) and to my parents (in Indiana)), and sadly, the list goes on.

Investment in infrastructure is imperative to prevent it from collapsing all around us. Failure to do this not only poses great safety risks to the public but is also a drain on our economy. Investment doesn’t mean using taxpayer dollars only—private-public partnerships should be sought. Infrastructure must be better regulated too. Some may scream there is too much regulation and perhaps on paper that is true, but time and time again it is revealed post-disaster that systems and equipment were not being adequately maintained or regulated. Prioritizing penny-pinching and profit-seeking over people’s safety should never be an acceptable way to operate.

The Flint, Michigan, water situation could have been avoided. It is an example of the devastating consequences when poor governance, lax oversight, minimal to no accountability to the public, poverty, austerity, and aging, unsafe, or contaminated infrastructure collide. The Republican Governor with his mania for austerity and appointing emergency managers (in Flint, Pontiac, Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, to name a few) has contributed a good deal to this crisis—and yes, he did, no matter how much some people want to spin it. Governor Rick Snyder asserts that Flint’s water crisis was only brought to his attention in October 2015. Even if that proves to be true, why did he wait three months before taking any action to right this wrong? Continue reading

Benghazi hearing more about campaigning than Clinton or the truth

Clinton's face said it all.

Clinton’s face said it all.

After eleven grueling, often mind-numbing hours of testimony by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it seemed as if the GOP member of the Benghazi committee had met their match. Clinton remained calm, cool, and collected for most of the hearing, with Democratic members throwing barbs, while Republicans found new ways to ask the same question several dozen times. As the hearings wound to an end, I had a thought: what if this has nothing to do with Benghazi or stopping Clinton’s march to the White House? It sounds ludicrous. After all, Republicans have orchestrated Benghazi hearings for years with the goal of putting an end to Clinton’s dreams of winning the presidency, but with just a year until the general election, and a clown car of a GOP primary field, Republican members of Congress may consider Clinton all-but-invetiable. So why grill Clinton for 11 hours?

Congressional Republicans have elections to win in 2016 too. Their own.

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Can we do anything about gun violence in the U.S.?

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that's not normal or OK.

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that’s not normal or OK.

Once again, Americans are reeling at the sight of another mass shooting. In what’s become all-too-commonplace, we react with horror, sorrow, anger, and discussion, but at the end of the day, we all know this will happen again. President Obama said as much during his remarks addressing the shooting in Oregon, and regardless of your politics, every American probably agrees with Obama when he said it’s likely he’ll have to address another mass shooting before his term is over. However, in our efforts to end the horrific violence caused by guns, we address a few key issues: the ease in which potential shooters access guns, how we handle mental illness in the United States, and whether any reasonable limitations on gun ownership are appropriate if it means preventing another mass shooting like we’ve seen across the country, year after year.

The following piece attempts to address a few key issues. First, we must try to find a way to prevent mass shootings from ripping apart communities across the country and if reasonable gun legislation is off the table (despite overwhelming support in most parts of the country), we need another solution. We simply cannot accept mass shootings as normal, or something that cannot be prevented because the Second Amendment prohibits the adoption of any legislation preventing some individuals from accessing firearms. The piece takes a look at perhaps a key psychological reason why it’s so challenging to pass reasonable legislation aimed at ending the scourge of gun violence affecting Americans every single day. Additionally, we must consider our rhetoric towards guns–especially the paranoid notion that someone is coming for them–which may–or may not–be contributing to gun-related violence in the United States.

What’s laid out here isn’t a series of concrete solutions to gun violence, but perhaps it will provide us with an outlet for deeper discussion–on both sides of the aisle–on what can be done to make sure we can end the evils of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States.

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Dear GOP: Boehner quit you, not the other way around

"Goodbye, nut jobs!" -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

“Goodbye, nut jobs!” -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Alright, the headline is slightly misleading, since outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, didn’t actually quit the Republican Party, but his surprising resignation, nonchalant attitude at his press conference, and subsequent trashing of fellow Republicans and conservative groups, like Texas Senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, seemed to indicate a man who could no longer stand what’s become of his beloved party. The Republicans are in disarray, helped by a huge swing to the far right, allowing fringe elements to infect the party at almost every level, leaving establishment members like Boehner little choice by to take a lifeboat to safety.

Boehner isn’t the first high-profile Republican to essentially jump ship in recent years. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell–a lifelong Republican–famously endorsed President Obama not once, but twice, and chastises his party (he still considers himself a Republican) often on television. Longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties not long after Obama’s election, and others are sure to follow. Not all will take the same or similar routes pursued by moderates like Powell or Specter, but Boehner is not the first and nor will he be the last big Republican name to call it a day.

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