Monthly Archives: January 2013

Conspiracy Persists Regarding The Guns of Sandy Hook

The Guns of Sandy Hook. Not only were they the weapons used to kill 26 teachers and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, they are also the fodder of conspiracy theorists intent on proving that this was a set up by the Obama Administration [or maybe the UN or possibly the New World Order™] to launch a ban on assault weapons and/or disarm America. And like any good conspiracy theory they latch on to disparate information that, in hindsight represents the “proof” that they need to state their case…never mind the volumes of information that is contraindicated to their theory. That other stuff [or as we like to call them – facts] is just “the government covering its tracks.”

The genesis of the conspiracy comes from the onslaught of media reporting of this horrific “BREAKING NEWS…” As word of converging law enforcement to the massacre went from the Newtown Bee, the local newspaper to the media capital of the world, just 75 miles south, reporters merged upon Newtown from 684/84 and from the air. The formula for misinformation was complete…hundreds of cops from different departments, hundreds of reporters from different media, a public clambering for information, deadlines, competition. This was a story that could “make” a reporter, a story that could give the network broadcasting the “latest” information a leg up in ratings.

In the first 24 hours of any story there is misinformation…whether it was a misinterpretation of an event such as seeing a man handcuffed at the scene and assuming he was part of the massacre rather than a parent who had cut cross country to get to his kids faster or if it was collecting snippets of information from different law enforcement personnel and assimilating them incorrectly, errors occur. But in those errors come the seeds of conspiracy.
There were four handguns OR there were three semiautomatics OR the AR-15 was in the trunk OR a shotgun was found in the trunk.

The shooter’s mother was a teacher at the school, the first person killed, a teacher’s aide, was off that day, was not, in any way connected to the school system

 

In normal news cycles reporters have time to check their sources, to double check the validity of a claim. When breaking news hits, much of that quality control is thrown aside…the 24/7/365 news machine, from broadcast news to web sites to newspapers want it first. When it is right, it is magic, information instantly at your fingertips…when it is wrong, it can be total failure.

In March of 1981 the news media reported the breaking news that a shooting took place where Ronald Reagan was. As networks scrambled to get information they reported, inaccurately that James Brady had died, that Reagan had NOT been shot, that Reagan had died…all within the first 30 minutes of the breaking story. Frank Reynolds, anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight went off at staff on the air with the conflicting reports that were being handed to him and fed into his earpiece ““Let’s get it NAILED DOWN… somebody… let’s find out! Let’s get it straight so we can report this thing accurately!”
With the passage of time the incorrect reports are solved. Layers of information, without the rush to feed breaking news can be assimilated, analyzed, and most importantly verified. But conspiracy theorists rely on too many original reports, too many turns of phrase at news conferences, and too many “questions” that propagate through the blogsphere…”Two unidentified NUNS who were seen leave scene at Sandy Hook”, “SMOKING GUN OF SANDY HOOK HOAX. REHEARSAL OF VICTIM EVACUATION”, “Foreign Swat Team Participated in Sandy Hook”, and then there is THIS.

Now, let’s look at the facts regarding the guns that have emerged in the many days since the massacre. First, what guns were in the school?  This is really simple. We have both the coroner’s news conference the day afterward where he explains that “all the wounds were caused by the long gun [the Bushmaster 223, AR-15 clone] and we have the Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection’s report that the guns seized inside the school were a Bushmaster .223 caliber — model XM15-E2S rifle with high capacity 30 round magazine, Glock 10 mm handgun, Sig-Sauer P226  9mm handgun. Seized from the car in the parking lot, a Izhmash Canta-12 12 gauge Assault Shotgun.

Guns of Sandy Hook

We further have an interview with the Connecticut State Coroner, H. Wayne Carver II  on Sunday, December 16, two days after the event speaking about the lethality of the weapon used.

In the initial reports it was reported that an AR-15 was “in the trunk”. The Ishmash Canta-12, from any distance looks very much like an AR-15 or AK-47 from which it is derived. It is easy to see how this part of the conspiracy began. Much of the rest of it, however seems to be based on the concerns by the gun enthusiast community that the entire event was staged to jump start a UN based New World Order plan to disarm America. And that last part…you can’t debunk it, you can’t argue it, it’s just too far over the fringe – in the land where conspiracies are born.

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Sandy Hook Tipping Point for Action: Reflections of Carrollton Bus Crash

Many supporters of gun rights question why a single incident would cause the fervor and fallout that the Sandy Hook Massacre is causing. They argue, both on the national stage and on internet fora that Sandy Hook, while very tragic was not really that big of a deal, that it represented only a very small percentage of deaths per year by firearms. They look at Sandy Hook as an isolated incident and not as the last domino to fall in a line of murders that caused a tipping point in society’s zeitgeist. People no longer felt safe in public places…their malls, churches, workplaces, theaters and their children’s schools were no longer the safe havens of the past.

As the discussions of gun regulations continue, and as people polarize to opposite sides of the conversation it pays to look back and see what events have happened in the past that similarly triggered national outrage, triggered a series of laws, regulations and continuing efforts to solve a problem on the national stage.

carrollton

Twenty five years ago, May 14, 1988 a former school bus, now owned by the First Assembly of God in Radcliff, Kentucky was heading home, southbound on Interstate 71 from Kings Island Amusement Park.  It had 63 children and four adults aboard. Driving on the wrong side of the interstate, directly toward the bus was a single drunk driver in a Toyota Hi-Lux pickup truck…his blood alcohol level was .24. He hit the bus head-on pushing the front suspension of the bus into the just filled 60 gallon gasoline tank.

A news report of the wreck: Carrollton Bus Crash

The bus, legal and of standard design for the era had two exits…the front and back doors. The accident rendered the front door inoperable leaving everyone to get out by the back door…in a fire. The aftermath, 27 people – three adults and 24 children – were trapped aboard the burning bus and died. Thirty four escaped with burns and smoke inhalation.

What can be learned from this horrific crash and what effects of this crash are applicable to Sandy Hook?

The deaths were determined to be due to all 67 passengers trying to get out of one rear door. They were hampered by a roaring fire triggered by a non-protected gasoline tank, outside of the frame of the bus. The fire was exacerbated by the flammability and toxicity of the seating material, building a 2000 degree, toxic conflagration that killed or injured 61 of 67 passengers. And the trigger, that final domino…a drunk driver.

The Carrollton Bus Crash became a national story that was in the national news for weeks. The outrage that this could happen was a tipping point for the fight against drunk driving. Mother’s Against Drunk Driving says Kentucky has made great strides. “In 1988 44% of crashes were alcohol involved and in 2006 which is the latest 20.4% where alcohol was involved” said Angela Criswell in 2008. Kentucky now has the second lowest rate nationwide for drunk driving fatalities. Kentucky lowered its blood alcohol threshold to .08, now the national standard. MADD, founded in 1980 found its membership growing and its influence increased after Carrollton. MADD and states began to change the way they responded to drunk drivers, adding over 1,400 new laws to impact drunk driving and its effects, and the results are that the number of deaths by drunk driver dropped dramatically from 1988’s 18,611 deaths to 2011’s 9,878. Liability for serving alcohol to people who have had too much is now the responsibility of bar and restaurant owners, bartenders and servers.

MADD Drunk Driving Deaths crop

Further, states began to look at technology such as the ignition interlock system to stop those who had previously been charged with drunk driving by not allowing their cars to start if they didn’t pass the interlock’s breath test. That technology is slowly making its way into manufacturers throughout the world.

Besides the intense focus on drunk drivers, standards for buses were changed. Gas tank protection was improved and most buses now use diesel fuel, which is much less flammable than gasoline. Flammable and toxic materials in seats were changed and the seats themselves redesigned. Exits were increased from the normal TWO in 1988 to up to NINE now with reflective arrows pointing to those exits.

The lesson learned, if society demands public safety, demands that their children be safe they will push for action. And they will push until they have solutions in place to begin to solve the problem. Do these solutions provide 100% success? Of course not. But each year that there are fewer than 10,000 people killed by drunk drivers instead of over 18,000, it is a success.

May 14th of 2013 marks the 25th Anniversary of Carrollton. Media will again look back to see the impacts and changes for the survivors, the families of the dead, the school bus industry and the way society looks at drunk driving. And they will look back at the crash as well through a new documentary, Impact.

After 1988 parents all across this country thought about Carrollton every time they put their children on a school bus. 25 years later parents all across the country think about Sandy Hook as they put their child on a bus or drop them off at school. Changes will happen. Society will push to better itself, to better the lives of its children.

McAllister is a life long liberal, environmentalist, Eagle Scout, and even gun owner – born in Harlan, Kentucky and has lived in Southern California, New York City and now resided in Lexington, Kentucky as a Systems Analyst. His grandfathers helped organize the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky and his father was a career long butcher and union representative.

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Columbine: 5,000 Days Later

Today is the 5,000th day since Columbine High School erupted in violence and murder and 13 innocent children were killed, another 21 injured. As well, the two shooters, aged 18 and 17. 5,000 days, nearly 14 years have passed. Today is also the day the US Senate is taking up the subject of “What Should America Do About Gun Violence?”

In the nearly 14 years since Columbine we have had 157,500 murders by gun. 32,000 of those were gang related where most were using stolen guns or guns illegally purchased.  125,500 were NOT gang related [numbers from FBI Uniform Crime Reports].

Ushomicidesbyweapon.svg

As you can see from the FBI chart, a definite, well defined drop came after the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994

Since Columbine we have had seven multiple murder school shootings in Red Lake High School, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Bart Township, PA, Chardon High School, Oikos University, and Sandy Hook Elementary School. In every school shooting except Bart Township, Chardon and Sandy Hook there were armed, trained guards on the scene, as there was in Columbine. 103 Killed – 96 Wounded.

In that same 14 years over 84 Million guns have been sold in the US according to the BATFE’s NICS background check system.  We also know that between 3.5Million and 5Million guns have been stolen in that same period. And through SourceWatch we know that the NRA has spend over $50Million in lobbying and election contributions, $24.28Million – $16.83Million through its Political Action Committee, plus $7.45 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action during the 2012 election cycle alone, along with another $2,205,000 in lobby action alone.

Each morning, moms and dads across the country get 64,000,000 children ready for school to learn, be with friends and develop as human beings.  Each morning those parents think about Sandy Hook, about Columbine, about the school shootings that have grown in numbers in the last 14 years. They don’t care about politics, they don’t care about the 2nd Amendment, they don’t care about someone’s right to own what ever gun the market can present for sale. They care about the safety of their children; they care whether they are at school, at the playground, on the bus.

McAllister is a life long liberal, environmentalist, Eagle Scout, and even gun owner – born in Harlan, Kentucky and has lived in Southern California, New York City and now resided in Lexington, Kentucky as a Systems Analyst. His grandfathers helped organize the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky and his father was a career long butcher and union representative.


Fringe Right Family Research Council Condemns Boy Scouts’ Policy Change

Fear, Uncertainty, Confusion and Dread [FUCD]…the hallmark of the right, folks who want to affect policy by fear rather than by facts. A group who would continue the hate and bigotry that so many on the right have shown as they fight equal rights for gays.

Today, after hearing the Boy Scouts of America’s announcement that it will change its policy, no longer directing that policy against gays from the National Council, Tony Perkins, head of the fringe conservative Family Research Council came out with a statement threatening the looming specter of pedophilia.

“The mission of the Boy Scouts is ‘to instill values in young people’ and ‘prepare them to make ethical choices,’ and the Scout’s oath includes a pledge ‘to do my duty to God’ and keep himself ‘morally straight.’ It is entirely reasonable and not at all unusual for those passages to be interpreted as requiring abstinence from homosexual conduct.”

That interpretation is only valid if, and it is a rather large IF one takes the position that gay activity is somehow morally aberrant or unethical. The reality is that it is neither of those things. Contrary to the fringe conservatives’ opinion, being gay is not a choice, it is just part of who they are, much like being straight is not a choice, it too is just a part of who they are. The position of the FRC is based on their personal religious beliefs, nothing more. And while they have every right to have their personal religious beliefs, they do not have the right to foist those bigoted, hateful beliefs on others.

The Family Research Council, which is severely lacking in “research”, has taken a hard-line stance against all things gay. In 2012 they announced that “repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy would encourage molestation of heterosexual service members and would lead to more American servicemen receiving unwelcome same-sex fellatio in their sleep.” This is part of a long line of reasoning from FRC spokesman Peter Sprigg suggesting that gay men are more likely to be sex offenders than anyone else.

This statement, along with the juxtaposition of the recent release of over 20,000 documents by the Boy Scouts of America which detail the number of inappropriate sexual contacts by heterosexual leaders against scouts from 1965 to 1985, strongly rebuke the hateful bigotry of the Family Research Council’s assertions.

The Boy Scouts of America are taking their first steps in joining society in the 21st Century. It is too bad that the Family Research Council is stuck in the 13th Century BCE.

McAllister is a life long liberal, environmentalist, Eagle Scout, and even gun owner – born in Harlan, Kentucky and has lived in Southern California, New York City and now resided in Lexington, Kentucky as a Systems Analyst. His grandfathers helped organize the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky and his father was a career long butcher and union representative.

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Boy Scouts Change Policies Against Gays

Early next week, 102 years after the beginning of the Boy Scouts of America, the National Council is expected to announce that it will allow gay Scouts and troop leaders. This is a 180 degree turn from their 30 years of active opposition to gays in scouting. “The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue,” BSA spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement to USA TODAY.

In 2010 the Boy Scouts of America reached its 100th Anniversary. It should have been a time of unified celebration. It should have been a time to look at all the good that the organization had achieved. But it was not. Politics and evangelical religion had come into the scouting movement over the past 30 years and the BSA had not learned that simple law of physics…for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In 2010, at the National Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, scouts openly booed the President as he gave his address to the scouts by video. Neither they nor their leaders were held responsible for this lack of leadership, this lack of common respect. Those on the political right defended the booing by saying that President Obama didn’t come to the Jamboree and speak to the scouts in person. I attended three Jamborees, the 1967 World Jamboree in Idaho, the 1969 National Jamboree in Idaho and the 1973 National Jamboree in Pennsylvania and we never once had a President speak. So I checked…Truman, Johnson, Bush1, Clinton and Bush2 attended Jamborees. Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Carter, or Reagan did not [Bush2 only attended one of the two during his term]. Only one president was booed…politics won.

At the same time, during scouting’s 100th Anniversary, the push from the National Council to prohibit gays from being members or being leaders, whether men in the Boy Scouts or women in the Cub Scouts reached national attention. It began in 1980, about the time the Reagan conservative movement came to national presence. Openly gay men were denied the right to be leaders. In 1991 they issued their first position statement on the subject. Over the years they fine-tuned their bias against gays in each policy statement on the subject. In 2001, Eagle Scout Steven Spielberg resigned as a board member rather than tacitly support their policies. “The last few years in scouting have deeply saddened me to see the Boy Scouts of America actively and publicly participating in discrimination. It’s a real shame,” Spielberg said from a prepared statement.

In 2009 the Boy Scouts of America were introduced to social media and Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mom who was pack leader for her son’s Cub Scout pack. She was also openly gay. While the local council didn’t object, the National Council did. And scouting erupted with its first nation-wide protest against the BSA policy. 336,000 people signed her change.org petition and on social media she was supported by hundreds of thousands.

The Boy Scouts of America stood firm…at least in public. But behind the scenes at the BSA National Executive Board, members James Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young, and Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T who is “on track to become president of the Scout’s national board in 2014”, opposed the policy and stated their intention “to work from within the BSA Board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress” in changing the policy.

During this same period of celebration, the 100th Anniversary of the Eagle Scout in 2012, thousands of Eagle Scouts, the pride of the Boy Scouts of America began to protest, began to get together and stand up to scouting bias and hate. Whether gay or straight, many Eagles returned their badges to the National Council clearing stating that the Boy Scouts were wrong in their policies, were wrong to hate, were wrong to be biased.

 

2010-2012 were supposed to be two of the best years in scouting. They turned out to be the worst. And they were because the Boy Scouts of America had turned its back on its mission. Yes, it is a private organization which is allowed to make any policies it wishes. But it also is a private organization that cannot be tone-deaf to society, it cannot, by its own Scout Laws and Oath be an organization of bigotry and hate. In that, it has had a catastrophic failure in leadership.

In another hit to the Boy Scouts, they were compelled, in 2012 to release over 20,000 files on leaders and incidents of sexual or inappropriate conduct with boys.

The fallout against the Boy Scouts of America has been long in coming but building yearly.  Membership is down 47% in the Cub Scouts and 20% in the Boy Scouts. Volunteers have raised questions that there are allegations that the National Council and some local councils have been fudging the numbers to trick donors. “Volunteers say paid Scout leaders have created fictitious “ghost units” for years to pump up membership numbers to trick donor groups and charities, including the United Way, into giving them more money.”

UPS has joined Intel in dropping funding to the Boy Scouts as their policies conflict with the norms and mores of the corporate world and society. They join the thousands of former Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts and volunteers who have walked away from supporting the organization as long as they maintained their policies of bias and hate. And it is these volunteers that are the backbone of the Boy Scouts. Without them and their support the Boy Scouts will continue to lose funding, lose volunteers, and most important lose membership.

I attained Eagle Scout in 1970; I attended National Jamborees in Idaho and Pennsylvania, a World Jamboree in Idaho and was prepared to be staff at the 1979 World Jamboree in Iran which was cancelled. I hiked thousands of miles with the Boy Scouts in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Idaho, California, Washington, Colorado and New Mexico at the Philmont Scout Reservation – where I was introduced to a rattlesnake and got my first helicopter ride to the emergency room. I sat beside my uncle who was Camp Director at a camp in Tennessee before I was old enough to join the scouts and I was taught by scout leaders in Southeast Kentucky who had fought in Anzio, Normandy and Korea. They taught me to be strong and to be a leader. They also taught me to do what was right and stand up against what was wrong.

 

Teaching what is right and what is honorable are what has been missing for the past couple of decades in scouting. It will be good to get them back. The kids of this country can use the help.

McAllister is a life long liberal, environmentalist, Eagle Scout, and even gun owner – born in Harlan, Kentucky and has lived in Southern California, New York City and now resided in Lexington, Kentucky as a Systems Analyst. His grandfathers helped organize the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky and his father was a career long butcher and union representative.
You can read more of McAllister’s observations and opinions at Shoot From the Left Hip.

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NICS Firearms Background Check System: Filling the Gaps

One of the compromises of the 1993 Brady Bill was that, rather than a five day waiting period for criminal checks and a “cooling off period” the development of the NICS instant background check would be used for the purchase of firearms. Nearly six years later, in late 1998 the National Instant Criminal Background Check System came on-line. Its design intent was to provide a comprehensive, national system from which a quick decision could be made as to whether a gun buyer was legally allowed to own on.

The process to the end users, the gun shops and buyers is very simple. The buyer fills out an ATF Form 4473 [May5, 2013 EDIT, the ATF has taken this link down] which provides information such as name, Social Security number, place of birth, and a series of questions that would, if filled out correctly filter out those who can’t purchase. And if purchasers lie, it stands as evidence of lying on a federal document. The gun dealer then calls NICS and within minutes [usually less than 10] the purchaser is taken to the cash register to pay for their new weapon.

With any system there are flaws…with NICS there are many. Currently the database, maintained by the FBI, holds more than 7.3 million records of people who are barred from buying guns: felons, drug users, domestic violence offenders, fugitives and people who have been committed to mental institutions. But that database is only as good as the data that is fed into it.

And more importantly that NICS database is only used in an estimated 40% of all gun purchases.  60% of purchases are either done friend to friend; through on-line contact which results in either person to person [PTP] sales or firearms illegally shipped from seller to buyer; at gun shows that often have over 1,000 tables of used guns for sale on any given weekend.

The basic design of the database is that date is delivered to the NICS system by at least 60 disparate sources, each with their own data design, their own policies, and their own budget limitations. Each state and the District of Columbia must submit crime data, mental health data, and records of domestic abuse restraining orders. Further that data is derived from thousands of police and sheriff’s departments and courts. Each faces dwindling resources to maintain the completeness and integrity of their data. And further, the timely delivery of that data to the federal system. The Department of Defense, TSA, Homeland Security, Customs and other government agencies also are required to channel data to the NICS system. And with those multiple sets of data, in various states of completion and accuracy come the problems. Integration and data integrity.

To that end, to resolve the limitations of the NICS system President Obama, with five Executive Orders is putting pressure on the federal government to clean up the system, make it was it was originally envisioned. For that purpose he has committed $70Million.

One of the main stumbling blocks is the development of date from mental health sources…data show twenty-five states have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records; six have reported zero.  This means that the cause that most attribute to gun violence, the one set of data that can reduce the number of guns sold to those who should not have them is incomplete or missing. And the problem is not just poor record transfer. Between HIPAA’s privacy restrictions and reluctance by many health care professionals to commit to paper their concerns and the politics of many states which are less inclined to submit reports, the problem is far from easy to solve. It is not simply passing data through from state to federal systems.

After Virginia Tech the Bush Administration signed, in January 2008 new legislation to improve the record keeping between states and federal systems. To date, five years after it was signed there has been little improvement. Officials blame privacy laws, antiquated record-keeping and a severe lack of funding for the failure to comply.

Where do we go from here?

In order to bring the NICS system up to expectations, systems designers will need to redesign and fund federal AND state data collection systems to allow a quicker, easier, less expensive transfer of data between sources. The NICS system should be used as the framework for improvement, not a complete redesign of the system. The key will be in funding the design for disparate systems to bring them into a singular compliance. Further, the political policies that have kept agencies and states from quickly and completely sharing their date will have to be resolved.

And Congress will have to step up to address the 60% of all gun purchases that do not, at this time run through gun shops and the NICS system. A system where all private sales pass through federally licensed gun dealers [FFLs] to insure a paper trail of the transaction, and thorough background check is implemented.

This element of the solution to end gun violence will not be quick, it will not be inexpensive and it will not be without stepping on toes. But, when complete it will provide a more comprehensive system to address the purchase of firearms, purchase by those who are, by Constitution and law legally able to buy and own weapons.

McAllister is a 30 year Systems Analyst and Architect who designs and implements large capacity data systems for both private sector and government.

Read more observations by McAllister at Shoot From the Left Hip.

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Over 1,000 Killed Since Sandy Hook

The odometer turned today…over 1,000 murders by gun violence since Sandy Hook Elementary School 33 days ago. In the time it took for those 1,000 adults and children to die the country has begun a process of solving some of the causes of the deaths. It will be a long process.

We have, as a country done two very predictable things. First we separated into political corners…many proponents of both sides of the very hard discussion intractable in their views, unable to move forward, toward common ground in order to prevent at least some of the deaths. But this seems different. The energy and anger are coming from the very large middle of this country, those neither pro-gun nor pro-regulation, having little or no opinion on the 2nd Amendment or gun control. This shift in public opinion is fueled by the anger that in the past year our restaurants, workplaces, malls, churches, theaters, and schools are not as safe as they were…as they can be.

Second to that, we have seen a media frenzy take over much of the flow of information on gun violence, gun control and the 2nd Amendment. The good of it is that we have at our fingertips hundreds if not thousands of facts to present our case…the bad is that the frenzy has contributed to the division that will impede success in slowing down deaths.  Politicians have, for the most part had to stand up and defend their long held position…many funded with tens of millions of dollars spent by the lobbyists at the NRA or Gun Owners of America.

And yesterday, the last day of sub-1,000 murders President Obama released the results of VP Biden’s month long research group to look at options. And so, we look to the next step…Presidential Executive Actions designed to spur research, to define privacy within the Affordable Care Act to allow mental health considerations to be shared with those who now approve purchases of guns for buyers at gun shops across America, to streamline and strengthen the on-line NICS system that verifies buyers, to provide a mechanism to pay for security in schools that request them, to refocus law enforcement to enforce the myriad of laws that are currently on the books.

And further, submitting proposals for legislation to Congress so that they may consider new laws for returning the Assault Weapons Ban, regulating the capacity of magazines, and closing of loopholes in the current way firearms buying and selling is administered.

One month, 1,000 murders, a plan…the journey down the long road to finding and executing a successful set of solutions to the national problem of gun violence has begun. In the next year America will either reach out a hand to help save some of those who will die from gun violence or they will simply turn away because it is against their beliefs. The 12,000 who will die and 250,000 injured in this next year are watching.

Everyone is watching.

Follow more observations by McAllister on his blog Shoot from the Left Hip

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Trickle Down Economics…The Trickle Hits Home

We have, as a nation the discussion that surrounds economic principles.  The perception is that there are two sides…those who want to starve the nation with low taxes and small government at the expense of services and infrastructure AND, on the other side a group that wants to tax at will, providing services to everyone, no questions asked.

I have found, while digging through this conversation for a couple of decades that neither side really exists, except on the fringes of our political landscape.  It is easy to talk in hyperbola about those you oppose, the examples are usually just too good to resist.  But it doesn’t solve the problems.

When talking to those who want low taxes, small government I always ask one question…“What services and infrastructure are YOU willing to give up?”  The response is usually stone silence.  They are more than willing to make a detailed list of services that OTHERS should give up…but never any that they use.

So the conversation moved to “Trickle Down”.  It started as an economic philosophy in the early 1980s…cut taxes for those at the top and they will invest in the businesses of America which will create jobs, create wealth and create opportunities that would “trickle down” to everyone else.  History shows that, while looking good on paper the reality doesn’t reflect success of those goals.

But “trickle down” has another meaning that has manifested itself from years of low federal taxes…the trickle down to states and local governments…That for which they maintained responsibility is now being slowly [and sometimes not so slowly] choked to death because funds from the federal government are no longer easily available to those states and local governments.

The examples are nearly endless but let’s look at some close to home.  In my home county of Harlan, Kentucky the cuts in services are down to the very basics…they can’t buy police cruisers, they can’t bug spray their buildings, they can’t repair roads where slides have occurred, they can’t support their parks with the most basic of essentials…sanitary facilities and in at least one case they can’t even keep the phone for the Mayor’s office connected.

In districts throughout the country small volunteer fire departments are closing, cutting hours and working with broken equipment as they address one of the most fundamental obligations of a civilized government…fire protection.

But it is not just the small towns, the out of the way communities void of lush tax bases to help fund their infrastructure.  The problem is everywhere and it is growing.  Towns like Pontiac, Michigan have closed their police departments, relying on surrounding towns and the State Police to pick up the slack for basic police protection in that 60,000 population city. When you need 911…the waits can be nearly an hour.  Thank goodness 911 isn’t for emergencies.

In my own town of 300,000 and a very good economy [and a good stream of tax revenue] we are seeing the beginnings of reductions in service.  Fire coverage is affected by “brownouts”, the closing of some stations intermittently to save money.  Police do more with less…with police districts of 135,000 population patrolled by under 15 patrolmen.  It means fewer eyes to protect and serve.  They are further hampered by state laws which are intended to cutting prison and jail costs…the unintended consequence – if someone is caught stealing from cars, and the amount is under $500 value…they don’t get arrested, just a ticket.  The cities have little choice but to hope the thief learns his lesson with a fine – or as big businesses call fines…a cost of doing business.

Back to that question “what services and infrastructure are YOU willing to give up?”…the answer appears to be that we don’t have a choice, they are going to be cut, and we will have to give them up as if there was not an alternative.

But there is an alternative…but it will never be achieved as long as dogma replaces understanding of economic principles. It will never be achieved as long as folks don’t learn from history.

Let’s all just hope that when seconds count that volunteer fire department, or the large city fire department or ambulance is not minutes away.

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Gun Violence: Enter the Kneejerk

As the gun violence debate continues, and legislative sessions in both Washington and state legislatures come back from the holidays we are beginning to see proposed laws that amount to kneejerks. On both sides of the discussion they make for poor starting points.

It took Sandy Hook and little kids getting blown away for that very large middle of America to turn away from Honey Boo Boo, American Idol and the latest antics of Kim Kardashian and look at our gun laws and how they relate to the gun violence that permeates our culture. This left the fringe left and fringe right to go to their previously established trenches and begin to lob volleys. That big middle just doesn’t care what either fringe has to say. They know that we need 21st Century solutions to gun violence that was not ever conceived in the 18th Century when the 2nd Amendment was written by Madison.

The first volley came from Diane Feinstein and a kneejerk declaration to reintroduce the Assault Weapons Ban. The second, a week later came from the NRA in the form of a tone-deft pronouncement from the NRA. BOTH tailored a response that focused on the Sandy Hook type of gun violence…and both ignored the fact that Sandy Hook type mass shootings only account for less than ONE PERCENT of shooting deaths each year.

But, from those two volleys the conversation was framed.

Now, we are beginning to see a flood of responses from legislators, left and right that “solve the problem”…they don’t. In just the past three days we have seen:

In Illinois a Senate committee introduced legislation that would “ban the possession, delivery, sale and transfer of semiautomatic handguns and rifles.” That would, unless modified include everything from Ruger 22 rifles [used by the Boy Scouts to teach marksmanship] to nearly every handgun currently on the market. It has already been removed from consideration.

In Connecticut a measure has been forwarded to publicly name all gun owners. This follows the Westchester County Journal News that published an interactive map of all gun permit holders in the county…including retired cops and judges.  This action, to me has two fatal flaws. First, it treats all gun owners like criminals, like publishing a sex offenders list. The second reason becomes evident the first time an ex cop is killed because bad guys now know where he lives…

Also in Connecticut a bill is moving forward to limit access to ammunition. “A gun without ammunition is only a club. We really need to restrict access to ammunition,” Looney said.

From the other side, newly minted Kentucky Congressman Tom Massie has proposed to Congress a bill that would erase a 23-year-old federal ban that makes it a crime to carry guns near schools. It is interesting in that he proposes ending the Gun Free Zones Act that that was supported as late as 1999 by the NRA.

We think it is reasonable to support the Federal Gun Free School Zones Act.” Wayne LaPierre, May 27, 1999

In South Carolina the State Legislature is considering a bill that would nullify Federal gun laws. Senate Bill 85 (SB85) states that, “A personal firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is manufactured commercially or privately in South Carolina and that remains within the borders of South Carolina is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration, under the authority of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.”

I believe South Carolina proposed similar anti Federal legislation that started the Civil War 152 years ago.

In Maryland their legislature is considering a bill that would put armed guards in schools while other legislation in the same house looks to ban assault rifles. The plan for armed guards is to be paid to local school districts from the fund that is supposed to go to education.

These TEN examples are just a few of the bills that are being pushed through legislatures. In nearly every case they are a kneejerk “solution” to a Sandy Hook style shooting. They, in no circumstance provide a framework for a solution to the 15,000 average murders that occur each year…68% of which are committed with firearms. Nor do they address the 200,000 plus injuries by firearm. They only address, at best ONE PERCENT of deaths.

What this means…the focus is flawed, in some cases intentionally away from the conversation of GUN VIOLENCE to one that is based on the threat and PERCEIVED threat to our public places, our restaurants, bars, churches, theaters, malls, workplaces and schools. While 2012 gave us headlines that reflected all of those, they made up less than 100 of the 12,000 homicides from this year. It is time to focus on the comprehensive problem…and do something about stopping kneejerk reactions to real problems.

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Gun Violence in 2013: The First Six Hours.

The first day of 2013 was just a touch over six hours old but the stories of gun violence through the night let us know loud and clear that the discussion of gun violence won’t go away and that the conversation, and its solutions have to address all of the violence, not just the headline grabbing stories of mass attacks.

In Sacramento TWO were killed and more wounded as gunfire erupted at a New Year’s Eve celebration. A fight broke out in a bar in the Historic District, killing two and injuring three including the shooter and the armed guard who tried to stop him.

In New York City, while a million people were streaming back to their hotels and homes nine people were shot throughout the city by 7:00 AM. The city had just completed a record low number of shootings in 2012…1,372 shootings citywide and a record low number of murders. ONLY 414.

In Chicago which recorded it’s 500th Murder just before Christmas, began the year with ONE dead and 13 wounded in shootings throughout the city.

In Houston a man was gunned down by a crowd who waited outside a bar it which there had been a previous argument. He was killed in the parking lot as he left the bar.

And in Lexington two teens were shot and wounded outside of a club and a bullet narrowly missed an infant as it tore through a family’s mobile home.
A snapshot of gun violence in just five towns, from three of our nation’s largest to two under 500,000 population cities and just seven hours into 2013.

In the past we accepted a certain number of homicides without question…the nature of man. But now, after a record number of high profile mass murders we are watching…and we are asking questions.

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