Friday, July 20, 2012

Fire in a Crowded Theater

The First Amendment to the US Constitution gives us the right to free speech. But that right is not absolute. Back in 1919, when we had a sensible Supreme Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled that falsely shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater was not speech protected by the Constitution. Similarly, things like child pornography and false advertising are not considered to be “free speech.” Some amount of nuance is applied to the First Amendment.

Yet the gun killing machine lobby, spearheaded by the National Rifle Association, becomes apoplectic when similar common sense measures are applied to their beloved Second Amendment. But take a close look at the text of that amendment. It starts out with the premise, “A well-regulated militia..”, the key word being “regulated.” The Second Amendment calls for Congress to impose regulations at the Federal level, on killing machines.

Ordinary citizens in the United States are prohibited from having tactical nuclear weapons. Frankly, I’m surprised that the absolutists in the NRA aren’t fighting this. But most people are allowed to own an unlimited number of assault weapons similar to the one that the Aurora killer used. Just like it makes absolutely no sense for me to own a nuke, it makes absolutely no sense for me to own an assault weapon, yet I can if I want to. In many states I could purchase one without a background check, and I could carry it in a concealed manner. Because of the gun show loophole, I could purchase additional killing machines without anyone blinking an eye.

There are those who argue that if we criminalize guns in any way, only criminals will have guns. That’s a cute turn of phrase, and there’s a grain of truth to it. If we had strict laws on killing machines, perhaps the Aurora killer, or the Fort Hood killer, or the Columbine killers, or the Long Island Railroad killer, or the Tuscon killer, or a litany of others could have still performed their dastardly deeds. But if stricter laws on the books prevented even one of these madmen from getting their name in lights, it would be worth it.

Some say that they need a gun in their home for self-protection, despite the fact that statistics show that having a gun increases the danger of being killed or injured. But if that’s what they want, let them. Let them have one or two guns in their home after a background check, training, and licensing. You need a license to drive a car, or cut someones hair. Why not require a license to own a killing machine? And no one needs to own more than one or two. No one needs to own “cop killer” ammunition. No one needs to own an assault weapon. Self-protection is one thing. Making killing machines prolific and easily obtainable defies common sense and decency.

The NRA is a powerful lobby, with members of both parties solidly in their pocket and deathly afraid to buck the lovers of killing machines. This nation has stood up to powerful lobbies before. Who would have thought that the tobacco lobby could be tamed? But it was. It’s time for some courageous lawmakers to start the conversation to incapacitate the killing machine lobby. Like with tobacco, it may take a generation to do so. But one more Aurora is one more too many. It’s time to do what the Second Amendment tells us to do.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Through the Runyan Looking Glass

Freshman New Jersey Congressman Jon Runyan has demonstrated that he is a reliable and consistent acolyte of the Koch Brothers. But you wouldn’t know it by reading a four-page slick taxpayer-funded campaign brochure sent to voters in his district (shown below).

In an assumedly legal but ethically dubious use of his franking privilege, Runyan touts his “bipartisan” record by cherry-picking some bills he signed on to without mentioning his votes on major issues.

Runyan talks about supporting Gold Star mothers with a monument while omitting the fact that he has consistently voted with the GOP on reduction of benefits. He talks about “supporting” education by informing students and parents about terms and conditions on student loans while failing to work to make higher education more affordable. His brochure never mentions his support of off-shore drilling in the Atlantic so as not to alienate his Ocean County constituents involved in tourism.

Republicans excel at Orwellspeak, and Runyan is no exception (remember Dubya’s evisceration of the Constitution? It was called the Patriot Act).

There are major differences between Runyan and his opponent, Shelley Adler. Let’s hope that as the campaign progresses the mainstream media points out these differences with clarity and accuracy. I'm not holding my breath. Runyan Looking Glass