Saturday, June 20, 2009

Curly of the Three Stooges

Besides the trip down memory lane for those who are old enough, the last five seconds is what I'm talking about. (h/t to DeRosaWorld)

Houston Teen Shot and Killed - Part II

The Houston Chronicle reports on the tension which has escalated as a result of the fatal shooting of a Hispanic 17-year-old last Wednesday.

Police say 69-year-old Dwayne Austgen shot Vidal Herrera after the 17-year-old confronted Austgen at his house in the 5500 block of Susanna Lane.

The case will likely be presented to a grand jury once authorities are done investigating, but Austgen has not been charged with a crime.

Herrera lived within walking distance on Jimbo Lane — known among some in the area as the “Hispanic street.” Austgen lives on a mostly Anglo street.

The other day when we discussed this, one of our commenters suggested I was playing the "race card." Beyond pointing out the obvious, I don't know what he thinks I was doing. This article in the Houston Chronicle is dedicated to that idea. One doesn't need to live near Mexican immigrants in Houston to know that racial tensions run deeply whether you're in the deep South or in Newark NJ.

The entire article seems like an attempt at justifying the shooting. The neighborhood had gone to hell, the young Hispanics were up to no good, especially Herrera, pet dogs had been killed, Mr. Austgen was about to be robbed.

The attitude of the Houston Chronicle is clear, and perfectly expressed by Mrs. Austgen.

A woman who identified herself as Austgen’s wife at his home said the shooting was a “tragedy and we’re sorry it had to happen.” She said her husband didn’t want to speak to the media.

What's your opinion? Is this another justified shooting, another DGU? Or is this a type of pre-emptive vigilantism? Is "walking towards him" to be considered lethal threat? What do you think about that apology from the wife, "sorry it had to happen?"

Supposedly there were lots of burglaries in and around this neighborhood. Why would that be? I thought when the thieves know the residents are armed they stay away. I thought the high percentage of guns in the home in Houston is supposed to prevent this.

My idea is that guns don't prevent anything. The fact that there are break-ins in neighborhoods like this means that guns are being stolen and transferred into criminal hands. Other than the occasional vigilante killing, "gun flow" is the main result of all those weapons.

What do you think?

Heartattack and Vine

liar liar with your pants on fire,
white spades hangin' on the telephone wire,
gamblers reevaluate along the dotted line,
you'll never recognize yourself on heartattack and vine.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gun Politics in Canada

Wikipedia has a wonderful article, which is fairly brief yet full of interesting data and citations. I've wondered why our pro-gun commenters so often cite the U.K. but never Canada.

Our northern neighbor has experienced increasingly stringent gun control regulations over the last few decades. "In the late 1970s, controls of intermediate strength were introduced. In the mid 1990s significant increases in controls occurred." I wonder how that's been working out for them.

The firearm homicide rate was 1.15 per 100,000 in 1977 and dropped to 0.50 in 2003 while the non-firearm rate went from 1.85 per 100,000 to 1.23 per 100,000 in the same time period.

Spousal homicides committed with firearms dropped by 77% for women between 1974 and 2000 and by 80% for men during the same time period.

The number firearm suicides in Canada dropped from a high of 1287 in 1978 to a low of 568 in 2004 while the number of non-firearm suicides increased from 2,046 in 1977 to 3,116 in 2003.

Shame on you America. With this example of what we could have with a little sacrifice and a little cooperation, I would think gun control laws would be welcomed by all. Instead, the ones who know about these things keep mum. Mum's the word when it comes to whether gun control laws can work or not.

What's your opinion? Do you think it would be worth the inconvenience to gun owners to have to get licensed and register their guns, if we too could experience these types of improvements?

Please leave a comment.

Consumer Product Safety Standards

Last week, The Gun Guys posted a very informative article about the lack of regulations on guns compared to other consumer products.

As surprising as it might be, other than tobacco, firearms are the only consumer product not regulated for health and safety by a federal agency.

Teddy bears, radios, and hairbrushes, which combined kill less than 100 Americans each year, are all regulated for safety. Guns, on the other hand, kill 30,000 and injure another 70,000 Americans annually but are not regulated. Why?

In 1972, pro-gun special interest groups used their powerful lobbying influence to achieve an exemption from government regulation for firearms. This precedent continues despite the fact that guns are among the most deadly consumer products made.

What does this sound like to you? Does it mean that the gun lobby is unconcerned with safety if it would interfere with profits to the manufacturers? Or is the lobby's main concern that the 50 or 80 million gun owners not be inconvenienced?

What's your opinion? Should the gun industry be exempt from standard practices that are binding on others? Why would that be?

Wouldn't this type of regulation be in the best interest of the gun-owning public? If, by means of setting safety standards, a decrease in accidental deaths from firearms could be realized, wouldn't that work against the need for gun banns?

Please leave a comment.

Cat-Killer Today, People-Killer Tomorrow

The Miami Herald reports on the fascinating story of the Miami cat killer.

Tyler Weinman, the teen accused of mutilating and killing 19 cats across South Miami-Dade, was released from jail Wednesday to await a trial as friends and family continued to proclaim his innocence.

Weinman had been jailed pending a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. After reviewing a doctor's findings that Weinman posed no ''risk of harming himself or others,'' Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Thornton allowed him released on $249,500 bond.

Weinman, 18, faces arraignment July 6. He is charged with 19 counts of felony animal cruelty, 19 counts of improperly disposing of an animal body and four counts of burglary.

The evidence against him which led to the arrest has not been released. The police referred to confidential sources. And naturally the defense attorney and the family are proclaiming his innocence. We always take that with a grain salt, but then there's this.

Weinman also acknowledged he was driving with a suspended license, the report said. He was charged with marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license, and signed a notice promising to appear in court.

After that, the cat killings stopped in Cutler Bay, where Weinman's mother lives. But several more cats were killed in Palmetto Bay, where his father lives.

So, he's a rich kid, smokes dope, drives without a license, but does he break into houses and kill cats? Could there be more than one disturbed teenager in Miami doing this? Does this kind of animal cruelty really lead to serial killing of humans? Or is that a myth like marijuana leads to heroin?

What's your opinion?

Supreme Court Denies DNA Test for Alaska Rapist

CNN reports on a disappointing decision handed down by the Supreme Court.

A convicted rapist seeking to prove his innocence with a new DNA test lost his appeal Thursday at the Supreme Court.

The justices ruled 5-4 that inmates cannot use a federal civil rights law to press for advanced DNA testing that was unavailable at the time of the crime.

Forty-four states and the federal government have laws allowing post-conviction access to biological evidence for such testing, but that number does not include Alaska, where William Osborne was sentenced 15 years ago for a vicious attack on an Anchorage woman.

It seems unbelievable that the Justices would vote against something like this. By way of explanation, here's what the opinion offers.

"He has no constitutional right to obtain post-conviction access to the state's evidence for DNA testing," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. He was supported by his conservative colleagues Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said, "There is no reason to deny access to the evidence and there are many reasons to provide it, not the least of which is a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done in this case." Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer backed his conclusions.

Isn't DNA testing the very means by which so many innocent people have been exonerated? Is the question for the conservative Justices simply whether the man has a constitutional right or not? Doesn't the dissenting idea that there "is no reason to deny access to the evidence" sound more reasonable? Do you think this sums up pretty well the difference between the conservative and liberal views?

Jeralyn referred to the opinion as a "setback," providing a link to the Inocence Project where they explain that this ruling will not affect the majority of cases.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Houston Teen Shot and Killed reports on the fatal shooting which took place in northwest Harris County. A homeowner shot and killed a teenager Wednesday after a confrontation on his property.

Deputies said an argument began after the homeowner, described as 70 years old, told the 17-year-old to get off his yard. The homeowner found some items where the teen had been standing and took them inside, according to deputies.

Investigators said the teenager, identified as Vidal Herrera, then demanded his items back. The homeowner shot Herrera once in the stomach when Herrera began walking toward the homeowner, officials said.

"Our early indications are that he was in fear of the 17-year-old, shot one time. There's been reports that there's been some burglaries and some robberies and some criminal activities in this area by the complainant. That hasn't been substantiated, yet," said Sgt. Larry Davis with the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

My "early indications" are that what we've got here is a failure to communicate. I keep saying the lethal threat requirement must be more strictly enforced, but it seems a lot of people are not hearing me. When Ladon Jones shot and killed one of the thieves who were stealing his SUV, I seriously doubt if his life was in jeapordy. Rather he was outraged at the audacity of someone who would dare tresspass and steal from him.

In a similar way, this man in Houston, wasn't resonding to a lethal threat but rather to the outrage of living among young Hispanics who may have been responsible for "some burglaries and some robberies and some criminal activities in this area."

What's your opinion? I realize I don't know what really happened there, but what's your guess? What do you think happened? Do you find it a bit quick for the police to excuse this man's actions as those of someone frightened, as someone threatened? It sounds to me like he was more angry than scared.

Please leave a comment. By the way, I was expecting this to be a post about a legitimate defensive shooting. I was going to say it's an exception that proves the rule. The rule being tha many of these so-called defensive shootings are nothing of the sort.

Please leave a comment.

The Torture Never Stops

But a dungeon and his kin'
Require naught but lockin' in
Of any anything thats been
Could be a her but it's probly a him
Could be a her but it's probly a him
Its what's the deal were dealin' in
Its what's the deal were dealin' in
An he stinks so bad it's hurt
To the pearl and the piles of blast
Any dungeon have a trailer
Were the torture never stops, torture
Torture never stops
Torture never stops, torture
Torture never stops
Torture never stops, talkin' to you
Torture never stops

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Influence of the NRA

The Buzzflash Blog has a wonderful article about the powerful influence of the NRA.

Now that Democrats have won the White House and solid majorities in Congress, one of the nation's strongest lobbies, the National Rifle Association (NRA), has been on a real upswing. As it turns out, "Fear of Obama's been good for business."

... the NRA has enjoyed tremendous message success along with legislative success. On the message side, the NRA did everything in its power to scare the wits out of conservatives. "They're coming to take your guns away," was the warning, with the result that there was a tremendous run on guns and ammo. Buyers literally emptied gun store shelves, and dealers and manufacturers, who provide deep financial support to the NRA, raked in the dough.

And as Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center observed in February, "Military-style weapons are the guns that are flying off the shelves and into the homes of people frightened about the 'change' that an Obama Administration represents."

Meanwhile, of course, in Washington this year there hasn't been the slightest move to take guns away or curb gun ownership. That's just right-wing mythology.

The article profiles the lobbyists who are employed by the NRA, crediting them for all this good news for the gun crowd. It says the "dealers and manufacturers, who provide deep financial support to the NRA," have raked in the dough. Does that mean there are no lobbyists who work directly for the "dealers and manufacturers?" Is that to say that the all-powerful NRA controls the entire game?

Do you think gun owners are angry about having been frightened into stocking up on guns and ammo? Isn't that the natural reaction when you discover you've been duped? Or is this just another case of how the pro-gun folks support each other, right or wrong? Or is it the natural tendency to not want to admit you were duped? I'll bet most gun owners who were doing all that buying would deny that they were frightened into it, they'd insist that they were just doing what they wanted to do anyway.

What's your opinion?

McKeesport PA City Councilman Paul Shelly

The reports on the arrest of a city councilman for pulling a gun.

City Councilman Paul Shelly was arrested on charges that he pulled a gun on a McKeesport business owner who wouldn't post his campaign sign.

Ed Batista, of Eddie's Dry Cleaners, told WTAE Channel 4's Sheldon Ingram that the alleged incident happened Saturday at his store on Walnut Street.

"I said, 'Shelly, you need help, you's a sick puppy,' and he said, 'Im'a show you what a sick man I am,' and he went around his waist and took out either a 9 mm or a 380 -- they both look alike -- and he pointed it at me,"

Shelly was arrested a short time later in the 1200 block of Patterson Avenue, police said.Shelly was charged with aggravated assault, terroristic threats and recklessly endangering another person.

I can only imagine the pro gun response to this, it's anecdotal, they'd say. "This incident is just 1 out of 800 gazillion. It proves nothing."

Well, I have a slightly different take on it. I say it's typical behaviour of that segment of the gun-owning population that shouldn't be armed in the first place. The problem with quantifying it is that many of these incidents go unreported, especially if no shots are fired. Then, you've got the ones which do result in the discharge of a firearm by a lawful gun owner, but which are really criminal acts that get described as justified DGUs (defensive gun uses).

Last week I made a wildly exaggerated remark which received a number of attacks, and rightly so. After reading those comments and giving some reflection to the question, I have to stick with the lower figure of 10%. Here's what I said before:

The question is how big is this problem group. Some people say it's tiny, practically insignificant. I say it's 10 or 20 or 30%. This is what we're haggling about, among other things.

The problem group is 10%, that's my bottom line. My question is, if someone is sure they are not a member of that group, why would they get so upset over my talking about it? Wouldn't they, as responsible gun owners, have more of a stake in identifying and weeding out these bad characters than anyone else?

What's your opinion? Do you think the lawful gun owners, all 50 million of them, are responsible people to the 99th percentile, as has been suggested around here?

Please leave a comment.

Somerville NJ Time Capsule Opened reports on the opening of a time capsule after fifty years.

Fifty years to the date after it was buried in 1959, a time capsule was opened on the grounds of Borough Hall in Somerville on Friday evening.

The items found inside the roughly 25-inch diameter 3-foot-long metal cylinder offer a glimpse at life in Somerville during the middle of the 20th Century, said Mayor Brian Gallagher.

One of the items is a letter from then Somerville Mayor Walter Scott to the current mayor.

Among the other items contained within the capsule are newspaper issues and business cards from the period, photographs, blank public school report cards, a check from a local bank for the sum of zero dollars and zero cents, a letter from PSE&G listing electricity and natural gas rates in 1959, and a model toy car.

"There are a number of wonderful documents in there," Gallagher said. "It ranges from the government to the personal and everything in between. Just a lot a neat old stuff."

"It's giving us a glimpse at what transpired 50 years ago," he said. "It's a slice of what Somerville life was like."

David Hollod, a former Somerville mayor said, "I look upon it really as keeping a promise that was made. The people in 1959 were obviously very excited about celebrating the borough's 50th anniversary."

"The nice thing about the 50-year time frame is that there are a lot of people who are still around who were there when the time capsule was put in the ground 50 years ago," he said. "There are still a lot of community connections."

I was thinking that 50 years is too long now. The way technology is improving, maybe 20 years or even 10 would be enough. Ten years ago we could have buried a time capsule with one of those flat, black "floppy" computer discs. Remember them? My kids, who use 2GB pen drives for sharing music and videos and homework, would laugh out loud at those things.

What do you think? Do you find time capsules fascinating?

Obama Speaks with Berlusconi

Real Clear Politics has the entire conversation between Obama and Berlusconi the other day. What made the most news in Italy was Premier Berlusconi's calling President Obama, "my friend." Some people felt it was yet another of the frequent gaffes he's often accused of. They couldn't resist revisiting the big faux pas of a few months ago in which Berlusconi said that Obama's got a good tan.

Part of the president's comments about the recent unrest in Iran caught my attention.

Having said all that, I am deeply troubled by the violence that I've been seeing on television. I think that the democratic process -- free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent -- all those are universal values and need to be respected. And whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they're, rightfully, troubled.

I wondered if he'd left something out. Why did Obama fail to mention the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms? After reading the comments and blogs of several pro-gun enthusiasts, I understood the 2nd Amendment rights to be on par with the rest, or according to some, even superior. How often have we heard it's the 2nd amendment that guards the 1st.

To me the reason for this omission is obvious. Only in the United States do these misconceptions about guns exist. When addressing the head of state of an ally country, when making comments that are directed at an international audience, it would be laughable to include the right to bear arms in a list of rights that constitute the democratic process. Laughable, I say.

What's your opinion? Do you think it could have been omitted for some other reason? If the Bill of Rights were written today, would the 2nd Amendment be included?

Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What to do about the Shootings

Ken Watts wrote a piece for the Atlanta Civil Rights Examiner which contained an interesting idea. The article entitled, "Shootings, a warning of things to come?" after highlighting a couple of the big shootings that have taken place lately, concludes with this.

The SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center] says law enforcement and the intelligence community have been focused since the September 11th attacks on international terrorism. The recent violence is a stark reminder of homegrown threats. In the 1990s, agents brought right wing militias under control by strong enforcement of weapons laws, getting members on low level offenses before they could commit major acts. The latest incident may signal the need for a new crackdown. Predicting and tracking the moves of the lonewolf shooter, however, might prove to be more of a challenge.

What do you think about that? Do you think these incidents should be considered "home grown terrorism?" Do these so-called "lone wolf" shooters count as terrorists? How about guys like McVeigh?

Is it true that in the 1990s "agents brought right wing militias under control?" Wasn't it in the 90s that we had those big cases like Waco and Ruby Ridge? I thought they were considered failures for the feds? What's your opinion?

Do you think there's anything to the idea that as a country we've been concentrating on the external threat and not paying enough attention to the domestic scene?

Please leave a comment.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Minutemen Turn to Murder

The Huffington Post reported on the sordid story of the home invasion in Phoenix which left two dead including a 9-year-old girl.

Two of three people arrested in a southern Arizona home invasion that left a little girl and her father dead had connections to a Washington state anti-illegal immigration group that conducts border watch activities in Arizona.

Jason Eugene Bush, 34, Shawna Forde, 41, and Albert Robert Gaxiola, 42, have been charged with two counts each of first-degree murder and other charges, said Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, Ariz.

The trio are alleged to have dressed as law enforcement officers and forced their way into a home about 10 miles north of the Mexican border in rural Arivaca on May 30, wounding a woman and fatally shooting her husband and their 9-year-old daughter. Their motive was financial, Dupnik said.

"Border watch activities in Arizona" are what exactly? Are they support to the already beefed-up border patrols the Obama administration has implemented recently? Do these "immigration watch" groups assist the regular INS officers or local law enforcement?

Forde is the leader of Minutemen American Defense, a small border watch group, and Bush goes by the nickname "Gunny" and is its operations director, according to the group's Web site. She is from Everett, Wash., has recently been living in Arizona and was once associated with the better known and larger Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

Of course the group denied all knowledge and complicity on their web site. What else could they do? But, I wonder if these three, Bush, Forde, and Gaxiola are just the fringe element of an already extreme right-wing group, or if they're fairly representative of the membership at large. What do you think?

What I think is what one of the commenters said on the HuffPo post. These are, "Criminals, wrapping themselves in the flag while killing a child."

Isn't it ironic that Phoenix is supposed to have increased crime in general and home invasions in particular, all blamed on the Mexican drug cartels, yet this one was conducted by red-blooded Americans who fancy themselves patriots?

What's your opinion? Do the Minutemen organizations sound like hate groups to you? Aren't immigrants one of the main recipient groups of hate crimes?

Please leave a comment.

Guns Flow from the Police to the Criminals out of the great state of New Mexico reports on an interesting theft that took place the other day in Albuquerque.

Thieves broke into five U.S. Forest Service Police vehicles as the officers slept at an Albuquerque hotel, taking off with several high-powered rifles, laptops and radios.

The officers discovered the thefts at the Sheraton Uptown early Thursday morning and called Albuquerque police.

As police investigated, Bernalillo County firefighters responded to a fire on Albuquerque's West Mesa, where they discovered some of the stolen laptops, radios and documents burning.

Officials are focusing their efforts on the weapons, which are still missing. The fire destroyed much of the evidence, making the investigation that much harder.

It's interesting because it illustrates the concept of "gun flow." It also offers a chance to explore the concept of shared responsibility.

In a case like this, obviously the thieves are the guilty ones. But, doesn't their guilt presuppose the cops had secured the weapons properly? In other words, what if the officers had forgot to lock their vehicles? What if they had left the guns unsecured on the back seat? Would they then share in the responsibility?

One example of shared responsibility that no one seems to have a problem with is the case of the Oklahoma pharmacist. Some of the folks who have criticized me about my ideas on shared responsibility, whether it be brutal killers who have suffered from addictions or child abuse, or the idea that legal gun owners share in the responsibility for gun crime in general, have no problem with the fact that the pharmacist, who is charged with 1st Degree Murder, wouldn't have had to do it if the kid hadn't have tried to rob the store. In their view, it was the dead teenager's fault, not the pharmacist's.

In the case of the stolen Forest Service guns the police officers have become unwitting players in the unstoppable flow of guns that continually feeds the criminal world in America.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Glenn Beck on the Holocaust Shooting and More

Some of the salient points were these - do you think they missed a few things?

Lone gunman.

9/11 truthers.

Pressure under which the nutjobs crack.

von Brunn is a leftist.

Rev. Wright said, "Them Jews," but that is in no way to implicate Obama in this.

America today is like Germany in the 1930s, the people are in denial.

Here's a link to the very recent interview conducted by John Stossel. Glenn speaks about his popularity, his work ethic, the suicide of his mother and his alcoholism. He even did his trademark tearing up for Stossel, who pulled no punches in asking about its sincerity. Beck said he should be paid a lot more than he is if he could cry on cue.

What's your opinion? Do you think Glenn Beck is one of these controversial figures who would do or say anything for the ratings? Do you believe his emotional episodes are real?

Please leave a comment.

Bill Moyers Says it Best.

Yesterday I read Cliff's post about well-respected journalist Bill Moyers' piece on guns. My first reaction was that even the pro-gun crowd would listen up when someone like Moyers says it. Here's the link to the video on Bill Moyers Journal.

We're arming ourselves to death. Even as gunshots ricocheted around the country, an amendment allowing concealed weapons in national parks snuck into the popular credit card reform bill. Another victory for the gun lobby, to sounds of silence from the White House.

The fact is, neither party will stand up to the National Rifle Association, the best known front group for the arms merchants. In Virginia, just across the Potomac River from the Holocaust Museum, this week's Democratic primary for governor was won by state legislator R. Creigh Deeds, a man who supports allowing concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol and opposes limiting handgun purchases to one a month.

One thing occurred to me while reading this comment. Bill said the NRA is the "best known front group for the arms merchants." I'm wondering if perhaps our focus has been wrong all along. Usually we're talking about the 80 million gun owners as if it were their fault. Perhaps the real fault lies with the gun manufacturers. Perhaps that's where effective controls can best be implemented.

These are just ideas that came to mind. What's your opinion? Bill Moyers sums it up like this.

So let the faithful of every persuasion keep their guns for hunting and skeet, for trap and target practice, for collecting. They can even have a permit for a gun to protect their business or home, even though it's 22 times more likely to shoot a member of the family (including suicides) than an intruder.

But please, there are already some 200 million, privately owned firearms in America. Every year there are 30,000 gun deaths and in some years more than 400,000 non-fatal, gun-related assaults. The next time someone wades through a pool of blood to sidle up and champion the preservation of firearms, can't we just say, no thanks?

Enough's enough.

What do you think about that "22 times more likely to shoot a member of the family" idea? Even if it's wildly exaggerated, let's say by a factor of five, wouldn't it still mean that to have a gun in the house is a bad idea?

Please feel free to leave a comment.