Monday, April 23, 2018

Gun Violence, a Placard, a Letter and Amendments on the November Ballot

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Jack Lippman 

The following piece was prepared before Sunday's shooting at a Waffle House in Nashville.  The deranged gunman, who killed  four with an AR-15, was the same individual who was apprehended and disarmed by the Secret Service last year attemping to see the President.  He also had claimed singer Taylor Swift was "stalking him."  His guns were returned to his family by the Secret Service and he was convicted of a misdemeanor, for which he performed community service.  Certainly this is the type of person who should have been under continual surveillance and referred for mental health counselling, and probably was. Yet, it turned out to be ineffectual.  It is ironclad proof that the "other measures" mentioned in the first paragraph which follows are inadequate because ...

It’s All About Guns, Not Shooters
(Some of this material originally appeared on the website of
To me, and to the survivors of the Parkland MSD High School shooting, the most important step to be made in order to prevent gun violence is the banning of assault rifles in the hands of civilians.  Other measures (raising age limit for gun purchases, increased background checks, better school security, increased mental health resources) are fine but they do not address the core of the problem. 

We all know some weapons are too dangerous for civilian use. That’s why, for nearly 80 years, federal law has banned machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, silencers, very high-caliber firearms, grenades and bombs. Military-style assault rifles are versions of weapons made for our armed forces that are designed for rapid fire. They are weapons of war, and like machineguns, too dangerous for civilian use and should be included in such bans. 

So recognizing this is nothing new!  We have been banning these kinds of particularly dangerous weapons for years!   Don’t be ashamed of getting emotional about assault rifles. Just consider this: 
   Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut—20 children and 6 faculty murdered with a semiautomatic copy of the U.S. military’s M-16 rifle.
          Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado—13 killed and 23 wounded with four guns, including 55 rounds fired from a TEC-9 semiautomatic assault pistol.
·          Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California—5 small children killed and 30 wounded with a semiautomatic copy of the Soviet military’s AK-47 rifle. 
·         And most recently, of course, the killer at Parkland used the same kind of weapon used at Newtown, an AR-15 knock off the Army’s M-16 to murder 17 victims.  

                        Students exiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. in Parkland, FL at time of shooting.

   That nothing has been done, after all of this and more, about these weapons is enough to make one cry.

What makes these guns "different" is they were originally designed as machineguns, so they have features like large-capacity magazines, pistol grips and barrel shrouds that enable the shooter to shoot a lot of bullets very rapidly and still keep control of the gun. In the hands of someone with practice, an assault rifle can fire almost as fast as a banned machinegun. (You can see this on videos readily accessible over YouTube.)  A "bump stock," eliminating the necessity of repeated trigger squeezing, turns "semi-automatic" (which is bad enough) into "automatic" weaponry.  But even without much practice, and without a bump stock, anyone can fire two rounds per second from an AR-15, emptying a 30 round magazine in 15 seconds or less.

In all likelihood, if and when this issue reaches the Supreme Court, the Justices will probably look to the majority opinion in D.C. vs Heller, the 2008 Supreme Court case which negated the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns.   In that opinion, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, highly respected on the right, wrote:  

Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment,  nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.  We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller (another case cited by Justice Scalia) said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179.  We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

Justice Scalia said it all.  Assault rifles are indeed "dangerous and unusual weapons."  If you don't think so, re-read the article above. Eventually, the Supreme Court will ban them in the hands of civilians.  That day will come, but we must work to accomplish it much sooner.  Demonstrate, show your support and make it very clear to legislators on all levels that in the face of preventable tragedies, "thoughts and prayers" are not enough.
Jack Lippman

Florida's Constitutional Amendments (with some tongue in cheek)

Those Florida residents who have spent time in other parts of the country know that despite its fine climate, cultural attractions and recreational opportunities, the Sunshine State is a very backward place.  This is because in its northern regions, generally describable as the areas to the northwest of the I-4 corridor running from Daytona to Tampa, the possibility exists that there has been much inbreeding among the residents, resulting in many having mentalities little removed from Neanderthal man.  Many fine examples of this are found in Florida’s State legislature.

Every twenty years a commission of these dimwits is assembled to come up with proposed Constitutional Amendments to place before Florida’s voters.  This is such a year.  Amendments are supposed to be very basic things but often they deal with subjects most other States handle by simply passing laws.  Florida’s legislature is very weak on passing laws, other than the boilerplate right wing stuff the American Legislative Exchange Council provides for them to act upon.  That’s why there are thirteen proposed Amendments scheduled to be on the ballot in November.  (None are as bad, however, as the Amendment to protect pregnant pigs, passed in 2002 to regulate the hog industry.  That should have been handled legislatively, but to avoid offending some voters, the buck was passed on to the electorate which  made it part of the State’s Constitution.  That’s good for pigs.)

Making things into Amendments, rather than just passing laws, is undemocratic because the Legislature at some later date can find it difficult to pass needed laws in the face of existing Constitutional Amendments.  This might subvert the will of the people.  Amendments should be reserved for very basic things, expected to be of a permanent nature.

Florida State House Pictured Above

To become part of the State Constitution, at least 60% of the voters must approve an Amendment.  Other than being put on the ballot by this screwball commission, Amendments can be proposed if at least 750,000 voters petition to do so.  The most important Amendment being proposed this year (Amendment Number Four), and it got on the ballot by petition, would restore voting rights to felons who have fully paid their debt to society (other than murderers and sexual offenders).  Florida’s present method of handling this problem has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

But some of the Amendments proposed by the “commission” are ludicrous.  So that they wouldn’t have too many to propose, these geniuses combined more than one issue into single proposed Amendments. 

For example, banning the use of electronic smoking devices, sometimes called “vaping,” is paired with the banning of offshore oil and gas drilling.

This poses a problem for someone who abhors the smoking of electronic cigarettes in otherwise “non-smoking” areas but who owns a lot of stock in companies aiming to cash in on petroleum deposits off of Florida’s coasts.   One can’t ban one without voting to ban the other.  Of course, neither warrants being an Amendment; they should be individual laws debated and voted upon by legislators. 

Another beauty from the Neanderthal commission calls for three things: (1) Requiring civic literacy in public education, (2) Establishing school board term limits and (3) Allowing the State to operate non-board established schools.  
While most voters probably won’t object to teaching “civic literacy,” some might object to the State being able to bypass local Boards of Education by opening its own schools (“charter schools”?) and setting term limits for members of those Boards.  Some may support one of these things but not the other.  They will have a problem.  Perhaps they should take up “vaping.” 
Of course, in normal states, teaching “civic literacy” is usually an educational “given,” not requiring a Constitutional Amendment, but someone who opposes the State opening its own schools and/or limiting school board term limits, is forced to vote against “civic literacy,” something few would normally oppose.  In this case, the commission apparently wants to use the desirability of “civic literacy” to get people to vote to take power away from local school boards.  This is a political move, and again, something that should not be made part of the State Constitution.

Constitutional provisions, including Amendments, are different from laws passed by a legislature.  They are intended to be permanent bedrock upon with legislation is based, but not deal with specific issues.  Florida politicians are unable to grasp this very basic concept.  This shortcoming goes back a long time.
Stuff like this in backward States like Florida stems from the victorious Union after the Civil War in 1865 not doing away with the treasonous Confederate States and turning them into colonies until they learned to properly govern themselves, which to this day, they have not.  

Blame it on Andrew Johnson and the Republicans who succeeded Abraham Lincoln and permitted the corrupted Reconstruction of the South to take place.
At this point, my recommendation to Florida voters is not to vote on any proposed Amendment dealing with more than one thing, unless you happen to agree or disagree with all of the items covered in that proposed Amendment.   I believe there will be five such Amendments on the ballot.  As for the ones dealing with only one subject, most voters should already have sufficient ‘civic literacy’ to make a choice on them.  The one Amendment I feel must be passed, and which I urge all to support, is Amendment Four, restoring the vote to felons who have fully paid their debt to society, bringing Florida in line with the 39 more progressive States which in varying degrees allow them to vote.

On this subject, here is the text of a letter I sent to the Palm Beach Post last week.
So far, they have not published it.  But I thought it might be of interest to you.

Last Sunday’s Post editorial and other articles on the subject made it clear that Floridians will be asked to vote on a daunting number of proposed constitutional amendments in the November election.  This might cause harried voters not to give these amendments the attention they deserve.  This would be a mistake because the amendment restoring the right to vote to felons (other than killers and sex offenders) who have served their sentences in full is by far the most important constitutional amendment proposed in years.  Attaining the 60 percent needed to pass it will be difficult.  In fact, it only got on the ballot the “hard” way, by the submission of petitions signed by at least 750,000 voters.   Its passage should be of great importance to those minority groups among which many felons who have paid their debt to society can be found.   Hopefully, this will bring out an increased number of voters in such communities.  Both major parties will take note of this.

Democrats, recognizing that minority voters generally support their candidates, can look forward to these new voters voting for Democratic candidates as well as voting for the proposed amendment, their motivation for their going to the polls in the first place.  Therefore, beside proposing the restoration of voting rights to felons, this amendment has potent political implications as well.   And they are not bright for Republicans.

Window Sign

Suggestion:  Copy and paste this, enlarged if you are able to, and place it behind the back seats of your car so it can be seen out of the rear window.   You might want to remove it, as I do, when leaving the car parked on the street or in a public lot.  You never know.

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