Public calls to action for our Congress to ban ‘semiautomatic assault weapons’ (a.k.a. ’semiautomatic military style weapons’) are nothing new.

Way back in 1989, a known criminal bearing a Chinese-made AK-47 rifle shot and killed five schoolchildren and wounded 32 others on the grounds of an elementary school in Stockton, CA.  Following this incident, President George H. W. Bush signed an executive order (the Semi-Automatic Assault Rifle Ban) banning importation of assault weapons.

Several other massacres occurred in following years.  In October 1991, an unemployed drifter who had been discharged for cause from the U.S. Merchant Marine drove his pickup truck through the window at a cafeteria in Killeen, TX.  He jumped out with 2 semi-automatic pistols with high capacity magazines, opened fire, shot and killed 23 people, and wounded 27 others.  After several years of political posturing, the Texas State Rifle Association convinced legislators to follow the ‘good guy with a gun’ model, and in 1995, then Texas Governor George W. Bush signed a concealed carry law, opening Texas up to thousands of armed citizens walking the streets.

An incident on July 1, 1993 in San Francisco is often cited as the tipping point for introduction of legislation by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) intended to respond to public concerns about mass shootings by restricting firearms that met the criteria for what it defined as a “semiautomatic assault weapon”, as well as magazines that met the criteria for what it defined as a “large capacity ammunition feeding device”.

In the San Francisco massacre, the shooter – wielding modified semiautomatic pistols equipped with high-capacity magazines — killed eight people and wounded six.

In November 1993, Feinstein’s proposed legislation passed the U.S. Senate. By the time it worked its way through the legislative process and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the NRA and other gun industry advocates managed to get the law watered down, and to include a sunset provision on the proposed ban on ‘assault weapons’ to expire after 10 years.

Titled the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (a.k.a. Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994)), it did ban semiautomatics that looked like assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. The legislation passed in September 1994 with a sunset provision for the assault weapon ban section. The law expired on September 13, 2004.

That Act prohibited the manufacture, transfer, or possession of “semiautomatic assault weapons” as defined by the Act.  Weapons banned were identified either by specific make or model (including copies or duplicates thereof, in any caliber), or by specific characteristics that slightly varied according to whether the weapon was a pistol, rifle, or shotgun.  The Act also prohibited the transfer and possession of “large capacity ammunition feeding devices”  — defined as “any magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device manufactured after the date [of the act] that has the capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition”.

My theory is that if the 1994 law was not allowed to expire, most – if not all – of the recent mass shootings in the U.S. would never have occurred.  Best I can tell, each and every perpetrator involved in one of these massacres has had a seriously aberrant personality, mental illness or other anti-social or delusional characteristics.

Just imagine if there were no ‘Rambo-style’ weapons available for these folks to acquire – legally or on the black market.  Perhaps they would have taken out their frustrations and aggression through a different channel?

Let’s double down and demand that Congress update, strengthen and reauthorize the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, this time with no sunset provision.

Dianne Feinstein:  We are counting on you!

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Florida, the Gunshine State

February 17, 2018

I’ve been calling Florida my second home for 40 years, and I was finally able to move here permanently in January 2017.  Florida has some fabulous positive attributes.  Firearm regulations are not on that list.

I’m a dues paying member of the NRA and a gun owner.  I think the 2nd Amendment is a good thing, and I’ve read it dozens of times.  I’m not sure exactly what the folks who wrote it were trying to say, and they are all now deceased so we can’t ask them in person.

Florida has been the location of several recent massacres involving young people wielding AR-15 weapons.  On February 14, 2018 a young man named “Cruz” stormed a high school in Parkland, FL with an AR-15 rifle.  He killed 17 and wounded many more.

Florida seems to have some ‘fast and loose’ controls over gun acquisition, gun possession, gun ownership and the sale of ammunition and accessories.

Florida State Senator Dennis Baxley, a Republican who wrote the Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in 2005 and is a major gun-rights backer, doubts any proposals aimed to restrict or control guns will gain traction. “I don’t see any interest here on that,” said Mr. Baxley, who represents parts of Sumter, Marion and Lake Counties. “We’re pretty comfortable that freedom works.”

The FBI confirmed that someone close to Cruz called an FBI tip line on Jan. 5 with information about Cruz’s desire to kill people, erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.

On February 16, 2018, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed that the Broward Sheriff’s Office received “20 calls for service over the last few years” regarding Cruz.

After the Orlando massacre in June 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott— where the killer also used a military-style semiautomatic rifle — said that “the Second Amendment didn’t kill anybody.”

Following the February 2018 Parkland school massacre, Mr. Scott told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer,  “Everything’s on the table, all right? I’m going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe.”

Concurrently with his ‘everything on the table’ remark, Scott released a detailed statement essentially blaming the FBI for the Parkland school shooting, concluding with, “… the FBI failed to act… The FBI Director needs to resign.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also slammed the FBI, saying the agency “utterly failed the families of 17 innocent souls.  The fact that the FBI is investigating this failure is not enough,” Rubio said in a statement. “Both the House and Senate need to immediately initiate their own investigations into the FBI’s protocols for ensuring tips from the public about potential killers are followed through.”

This Scott/Rubio circus closely follows the Republican playbook which resulted in the firing of former FBI Director Comey in May 2017; and the continuing barrage of criticisms, innuendo and distractions which attempt to cast doubts on the reliability and/or veracity of the FBI and its current director, Christopher Wray.

Some political operatives have focused their diversions on mental health issues, yet Federal law already bars people who have been adjudicated mentally ill or committed to institutions from buying firearms.

In February 2017, at the request of a Republican Congress, President Trump signed an order to repeal restrictions on gun sales to an estimated 75,000 individuals who have been determined to be mentally deficient by certain Federal agencies.

And, despite their rhetoric, Florida state Republican leaders have not proposed expanding mental-health restrictions inside Florida.

Deflection is a powerful political tool because it can mask attention from other issues, such as making sure powerful assault weapons, high capacity magazines, bump stocks and armor piercing bullets can’t be bought by teenagers – or any civilians – who wish to live in a civil 21st Century society.

Walrus is back

February 17, 2018

Wow!  It’s been almost 3 years since I posted on WordPress, and ironically, that post (October 2015) was to encourage our Elected Officials to get tough on gun control and to pass meaningful gun control legislation in the wake of another school shooting.

My comments then got no results, other than to provide me with an opportunity to take out my frustrations in a civilized manner.

More to come on this and some other topics.

Is it time yet?

October 2, 2015

Another massacre on a school campus, this time in Oregon. On average, more than 10,000 Americans are killed every year by gun violence.

The solution to enacting some 21st century rules and regulations around firearms is really very simple; the barriers to attaining rational and appropriate rules and regulations which reflect the realities of life in our current world seem to be insurmountable; but they really are not.

The NRA is the elephant in the room. With a base of about 6 Million members (about 2% of the U.S. population) they are wearing a mighty big hat, but they really don’t have many cattle.

Yet, anytime there has been even a whisper regarding legislative restrictions on ammunition — even bulk sales of armor-piercing ammunition to casual civilian buyers — the NRA has mobilized their base to scream about 2nd Amendment rights!

The same is true about restrictions on the types of arms which are appropriate for people to own and use, for legitimate and reasonable purposes.

The ‘poster child’ for these 2 issues centers on the NYS SAFE Act, which was passed by the NYS Legislature in January 2013 following the unspeakable massacre in Sandy Hook (CT) in December 2012.

Where a majority of New Yorkers — rational and responsible firearm owners and users included — find no problems with the NYS SAFE Act (yes, there were some early glitches which were quickly fixed), there continues to be a vocal contingent of ideological zealots who cling to the thread of some inaccurate information they received about the 2nd Amendment.

The greatest obstacle we face in reforming gun laws in the U.S. is the NRA. They are well-funded by interested parties; they have developed an effective lobbying effort; and they know when and how to ‘juice the system’ to make their position both well-known and well-loved.

Where the NRA {closely aligned with Gun Owners of America} presents a loud and singular voice of renegades and gun rights advocates, the rest of the population has elected to form their own organizations — hundreds of groups with similar, but slightly different mission statements — thus wasting resources and diluting the message.

If only the silent majority could figure out where to invest some money and/or other resources to help enable the gun control movement to score a victory against the ‘2nd Amendment fantasizers’ I think most of us would write the check today.

Unfortunately, until the gun control people sit down and find common ground, and agree to speak with a singular voice, the NRA and their lobbyists will continue to dominate the national stage.

For those who are able to consider new or different perspectives, you may find this analysis helpful: http://www.vox.com/2015/10/1/9437187/obama-guns-terrorism-deaths

I am not a Roman Catholic, although I know many who are.

I wasn’t prepared for what Pope Francis had to say, nor how he chose to convey his message.

I am quite pleased to have observed and listened to most of the things Pope Francis subscribes to. No doubt that the Roman Catholic Church in America has lost a great deal of its luster over the past couple of decades for a variety of reasons.

I think if the American R.C. church (and many other religious institutions) can find a way to embrace some of the values this Pope advocates for; our country could come closer to healing.

Related to this observation, the John Boehner thing came as a bit of a surprise, and for a few moments, I was pleased.

Now that some of the background has been exposed, it seems that Boehner has tried very hard to create an environment where civil discussion and debate was at least possible.

It also seems clear that there is a vociferous contingent of ultra-conservative elected officials in D.C. who share a common thread: ‘Take no prisoners: it’s our way or the highway. We don’t negotiate or compromise, ever.’

I guess I knew before the Boehner announcement on 9/25 that there were at least a few elected characters in our Congress who are mean, rigid, callous and intractable.

I just never would have guessed that there were enough of these bigots and curmudgeons to create an environment toxic enough to drive John Boehner back to Ohio, for good.

I guess the Koch Brothers (and some others) are gaining some real traction from their ‘investments’.

Goes to show: You don’t personally need to wear the white hood if you can write enough checks to mobilize an army of fringe fundamentalists who are willing to align with your doctrine.

There are dozens – hundreds – of examples throughout history which support this theory, perhaps the most frightening of which is the rise of Nazism under the leadership of Adolph Hitler.

Perhaps the spirit of Pope Francis will engage and mobilize enough folks who seem to perpetually sit on the sidelines hoping that – magically or mysteriously – the right things will happen.

History tells us that the right things will only happen when people of good will mobilize in a positive way to stop the fringe fundamentalists from taking control of our economy, government and society.

Jessica Bakeman reports on politics and education policy in Capital New York’s Albany bureau. In a recent article focused on MaryEllen Elia, our recently appointed New York State Education Commissioner, Ms. Bakeman reflects on what may be a new strategy to fix the persistent problem of failing schools in pockets around the State.

In essence, Ms. Elia’s plan seems to rely on a “tough love” approach with district leaders and parents from the lowest performing NYS schools: ‘You have 2 years to fix these failing schools, or the state will do it for you’.  http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/07/8572658/elia-delivers-tough-message-leaders-struggling-schools

Unlike some observers, I strongly believe that the root cause of failing schools is not directly linked to teachers, administrators or common core.

The primary failure begins when we as a society allow virtually all of our lower-income children to be concentrated into just a few school districts — while continuing to operate dozens of boutique public school districts which serve children from predominantly upper income households.

Extensive research tells us that if we continue to follow this model, it will ensure that the achievement gap will continue to grow.

Whether accomplished through housing choice or school choice: economic, social and cultural integration at the K-12 level has been proven to be the best solution to close the achievement gap.

New York State allows and encourages public school districts to form around — and to exclusively serve — residents of villages, towns, neighborhoods and cities. The impact of this ‘home rule’ approach to public education has created de facto segregation which has produced more egregious and dangerous consequences than the issues debated in the Brown vs. Board of Education case which was decided in 1954 – 60+ years ago!

We can witness how “Separate and Unequal” has become the standard across New York State, very clearly corroborated by NYS Education Department statistics which prove that economic and racial segregation in housing translates directly to school inequality, which results in disparate student outcomes.

There really is no place for personal or private agendas on the part of our appointed and elected officials. Public officials are expected to set a positive example for all people, affirming that our elected leadership is fair, honest and forward thinking.

It may very well be that Commissioner Elia — appointed by the NYS Board of Regents — has been tasked with sweeping the truth under the rug, because she is not talking about the only viable solution, which is to reform NYS Education regulations, many of which date to the late 19th Century.

I can grasp the enlightened self-interest of homeowners in Pittsford, Scarsdale, Briarcliff Manor, Bronxville (or in dozens of other public school districts in NYS which serve students from upper income households) who want to fight for their autonomy to keep ‘those other children’ out of their schools.

These are the very same wealthy and politically active adults who wield undue influence over our elected officials in Albany.

With that said, I’m dubious that any meaningful reform can take place until the specter of political influence is removed from our public education system.

Wow! This headline caught my attention!

After some basic research, The Walrus is really disappointed – yet again – with some of the folks from the NRA.

Working through Rush Limbaugh – a true master of incendiary drama — Chris Cox from the NRA has just issued a ‘marginally correct’ announcement which seems to imply that our federal government is on track to deprive any and all older Americans from their ‘2nd amendment rights’ to keep and bear Arms.

The announcement states, “STOP OBAMA NOW! The Biggest Gun Grab in American History!

“… the Obama administration is moving to strip away the Second Amendment rights of over four million Americans who receive Social Security benefits through a ‘representative payee.’ Not only would this backdoor gun prohibition amount to the BIGGEST GUN GRAB in American history, but it’s happening without ANY vote in Congress or ANY due process for millions of law-abiding Americans.” http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2015/07/20/government_you_want_your_social_security_fine_then_give_us_your_guns

Yes, this is the very same Chris Cox who was paid – out of generous NRA member contributions from you and me – some $828,000+ in compensation and benefits in FYE 12/31/2013.

By way of background: at the close of 2014, there were 58 million people receiving traditional Social Security benefits, and an additional eight million US residents receiving SSI (SSDI) benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). It was created to help provide a safety net to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and it provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

So, the over four million Americans who would be impacted by this action are people who have been identified through a court action during which it was determined that the person is incapable of managing their own affairs, and thus has somebody else receiving the monthly transfer benefit for them to manage on their behalf.

Some activists for cart-blanche gun rights; mental-health advocates; and supporters for the disabled have stepped forward to state that expanding the list of people prohibited from owning guns based on mental and/or financial competence is wrong.

A Yale psychiatrist, Dr. Marc Rosen, said “Someone can be incapable of managing their funds but not be dangerous, violent or unsafe.”

Yet, over half of the individuals identified by the VA who fall into the category where a third party has been appointed as a fiduciary are people 80 or older, often with dementia, seemingly reasonable criterion for discouraging gun ownership.

The Walrus is a citizen who hopes to die of natural causes, and he wants to believe that one role of government is to protect us from random violence.

It seems to be widely accepted that people who: (a) suffer from extreme depression; (b) lack mental capacity; (c) are no longer able to function independently; or (d) have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairment(s) which is severe, i.e. it significantly limits the physical or mental ability to do basic work activities — are those people who might be unstable some or all of the time, and thus ought to discouraged from ‘uninfringed’ gun possession and usage.

While The Walrus completely understands and appreciates the need for Chris Cox and his colleagues to raise huge sums of money to help fund their very generous salaries and benefits, The Walrus also values the real truth, the whole truth and the complete truth.

Somehow, The Walrus is feeling as though Chris Cox and Rush Limbaugh haven’t told us very much of the real truth, and that is why The Walrus is feeling both very sad and quite disappointed.

Not a surprise that Speaker John Boehner has taken a very aggressive and harsh stand against the recent Iran Accord.

http://www.nbcnews.com/video/boehner-responds-to-obamas-remarks-on-iran-deal-485446211824

Boehner could be correct, although it would be a first for him.

Boehner has led the charge to spend untold fortunes — and has further wasted even more precious intellectual resources — fighting to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), all to no avail.

Each and every one of Boehner’s arguments on why the ACA would destroy the US economy has been refuted by facts — clear economic proof — which validate that we – as a nation – are on the right path. As recently as June, 19, 2015, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that repealing the ACA law would COST some $353 Billion over the next decade.

Now, he wants to waste more of our precious resources on another foolish boondoggle?

It seems that Speaker Boehner has modeled himself after the storied “Chicken Little” — focused entirely on those possible events which might cause the sky to fall, rather than on the inevitability of change, and how to best embrace the future.

It is no wonder the Republican Party is in such a state of confusion and disarray.

As far as we know, The Donald is a U.S. citizen, and thus protected by our Constitution, Bill of Rights and subsequent constitutional amendments.

So, The Walrus has no contest to his freedom to say what is on his mind, however…

As a public figure, The Donald ought to realize that what he says may be interpreted literally or figuratively.

Some of his recent comments directed toward Mexicans seem to have energized a group of fellows who are no longer able to fly their Confederate Flags as openly as before, and had been seeking some new causes to help rally the troops.

Mr. Trump has recently been quoted making alleged negative comments directed toward migrants from Mexico (and Central / South America) as a primary contributing cause and source for America’s multiple issues with drugs.

I’m not quite sure what The Donald was trying to tell us, but it is pretty clear that the propensity for U.S. citizens to use “recreational substances” – alcohol, marijuana, peyote and others – predates Mr. Trump.

Prior to 1913, about 40% of federal revenue was generated by taxes and fees on alcohol.

Passage of the 16th amendment in 1913 (which created the federal income tax) addressed the ‘tax issue’ dependency relative to alcohol, and thus paved the way toward Prohibition.

Subsequent to the 16th amendment, income taxes far surpassed liquor taxes, providing solid support for passage of the 18th Amendment – a.k.a. “Prohibition” – in 1919. It banned the ‘manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors’.

The 18th Amendment didn’t stop the manufacture, transportation or sale of booze — it just shifted the activities out of the mainstream economy to the underground economy, where there were plenty of domestic cartels (families, gangs, mobsters, etc.) ready, willing and able to step in and ensure that the supply chain wasn’t interrupted due to some foolish Constitutional Amendment.

At the time, most of these cartels were populated by first or second generation immigrants from Ireland and/or Italy.

As Al Capone is quoted from back in the day, “All I do is to supply a public demand … somebody had to throw some liquor on that thirst. Why not me?”

Since those peaceful days, direct descendants of the Hatfield and McCoy families have joined forces to make and distribute what some consider to be one of the finest of American products, “The Drink of The Devil” — carefully made in small batches in West Virginia, and fully taxed.

For decades, our elected officials have pushed marijuana (and some other goods and substances) out of the mainstream economy and into an off-the-grid cash economy where no taxes or fees are collected, and thus any and all costs associated with oversight, enforcement, etc. are fully borne by those of us who obey the law and do pay taxes. All of this, Despite the lessons we learned from prohibition!

I never thought I would find near 100% agreement with the Cato Institute on any subject, yet this paper pretty much says it all: http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-157.html

Today, many corporations have taken their manufacturing, packaging and more menial tasks “off shore”. Why wouldn’t the domestic marijuana and narcotic distribution cartels follow suit?

Somewhere at the top of any of these current distribution networks is a domestic descendent of one of the original “Capos” – carefully managing his supply chain, and working very hard to ensure that his lifestyle is such that he is above suspicion.

Dig a little deeper, my friends.

This story really has nothing to do with people from Latin America who grow, manufacture, package and/or ship ‘illegal substances’ to the U.S.

The real story is right here, and hiding in plain sight: Which of our neighbors has been blocking legalization and domestic control over the distribution and sale of marijuana?

These are the people who have the most to lose once marijuana becomes part of the regulated, taxed and mainstream economy.

Back in the day, our Founding Fathers envisioned citizens who were leaders stepping forward to run for public office. These would be people who had made their mark, people who had accomplishments under their belt.

And, these citizens from our past were offering their wisdom and experience to help our nation and its people navigate through new issues, unforeseen problems and/or changes in the physical and/or philosophical landscape.

That concept – drawing on the experience and wisdom of our fellow citizens who had already made their mark – was nothing new. History reveals many societies around the globe – as well as the majority of Native American societies – which recognized the value of wisdom and patience gained through experience.

History also reveals what can occur when the focus shifts away from experience, wisdom and proven leadership to a model which values charisma, eloquence and oratory over substance.

It seems clear as I read and listen to commentary and responses from various elected officials on the attributes of the recent Iran Nuclear Accord, leadership is a missing ingredient.

While the main negotiations were between the United States and Iran, the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France and Russia), are also parties to the deal, as is Germany.

This Accord is not a perfect solution. Very much like the U.S. Constitution, it was developed over a rather long period of time, and it represents a series of compromises which neither side of the discussion is fully pleased with.

Today (7/14/2015), a rather large number of US elected officials emerged from the shadows once an agreement had been reached. These elusive folks (Boehner, McConnell, Graham, Rubio and others) seemed to be conspicuously absent during the negotiations – where they may have contributed some positive ideas and energy to the discussions.

They waited in the bushes until the Accord was announced, and they then pounced on any and every facet of the agreement.

Leadership? Wisdom? Patience? Each attribute seems to be sadly missing from this attack group – individually and collectively.

These are folks who have made their entire careers in the political arena.

Other than Mitch McConnell who spent 5 weeks in the U.S. Army Reserve in the late 1960’s, and John Boehner who served 8 weeks in the U.S. Navy, I have been unable to find any examples of experience, wisdom or leadership among this group outside of appointed or elected political positions.

Yet, no one should or could question these fellows on their charisma, eloquence or oratory skills.