Thursday, July 20, 2017

The California Schism Widens

When the Bill of Rights was passed and implemented in 1789/91, the population of the United States was overwhelmingly rural and only slightly more than 2 million people. Its army – citizen soldiers constituting a “well-regulated militia” – demanded and got the right to keep their own weapons in their homes as a constitutional right. The Second Amendment (part of that Bill of Rights) was never intended to be a generic right to bear arms, but over the years, courts (many claiming to be “strict constructionist”) stretched that basic law to a logical breaking point. That “right to bear arms” indeed became generic and no one paid much attention to the opening phrase of the Amendment. Guns in 1789 were pretty much relegated to flintlocks and muskets.

Today, the United States is just shy of 330 million people and is overwhelmingly urban. Especially California, even with its vast tracts of farmland. The United States has more guns among our general population today than we have people, ranging from simple revolvers and hunting rifles all the way up to military grade semi-automatic rifles and pistols with one clear purpose: to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time. Our headlines have become a jaded history of gun homicides and mass shootings. We are the most violent developed nation on earth, with murder rates far exceeding other modern democracies. And there most definitely is a profound difference between living on a farm and having a gun and living in a crowded apartment block in a dense city with a firearm. Most of Iowa vs Los Angeles, San Francisco or Oakland.
The loudest voice in support of this stretched interpretation of the Second Amendment is the massively well-funded National Rifle Association, a long-standing gun advocacy group that was founded in 1781. Initially focused on gun owners’ common interests and promulgating gun safety, marksmanship and instruction, about 83 years ago, the NRA responded to the heavy donations of gun manufacturers and began push its membership into the mainstream “gun rights” political discussions. By 1975, the NRA was a full-blown lobbying organization, one that few politicians dared oppose… notwithstanding the outrage that followed one serial mass shooting after another. Gun manufacturers relied on the NRA to make sure no one would interfere with their very profitable industry.
Built on the back of such inane slogans as “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the NRA made and broke political careers of elected officials across the land. They never explained that an angry person with a knife didn’t have the ability to kill as many people as a shooter with a modern semi-automatic rifle. They failed to articulate the “test” for a “good guy” or a “bad guy” with a gun until the homicides occurred.
But what scares the NRA the most are national gun statistics that would clearly negate their message, numbers that officially identified wrongful gun shootings kept by government agencies. Numbers from agencies like the Centers of Disease Control, the FBI or the ATF that would keep the public informed as to the real risks and realities of too many guns in society. Very threatening to the NRA falsehoods. More than a couple studies have gathered statistics from local reports and records (there are no central federal statistics, as we shall see). The Washington Post (6/19/15), for example, looked at 2012 as a pretty typical year. For every one justifiable gun homicide, there were 35 murders-by-gun, 2 accidental-killings by gun, and 78 gun suicides. I might add that no one disputed these numbers at the time, and these statistics continue today in roughly the same ratios. But we need official statistics!
Red states have all-too-frequently loosened gun laws into “stand your ground,” “open carry” and easy permitting permissiveness… where a using a gun to kill another human being now has lots of “justifications” and carrying guns is increasingly permitted into almost any building. On the other side of this philosophical curve, California is one of the blue state leaders deeply concerned with the spread of guns within its borders. Crime in big cities in California is all-too-frequently peppered with guns, victims and collateral damage.
Since the federal government is subject to an NRA lobbied statute that precludes the feds from keeping official gun homicide statistics (more below), California has decided that it still needs those numbers to understand the problem better. The NRA opposes such information-gathering as one of its top priorities. But California is determined to get answers, recently mandating the creation of the Firearm Violence Research Center, which launched in the first week of July at UC Davis under the aegis of Professor Garen J. Wintemute, 65. He is a nationally recognized expert on emergency medicine with a strong reputation in the field of gun violence.
“‘I am not an anti-gun person… I enjoy using the tool. But I’m not a fan of violence.’… Growing up in Long Beach, Wintemute was surrounded by weapons, including his father’s Winchester carbine and .22 rifle. Young Garen became a good shot — he once was offered a job teaching riflery — but he had no taste for training his sights on wildlife.
“The center’s interest, he says, ‘is not in satisfying some predetermined political agenda, but in understanding the problem so that what’s done about it is based on solid evidence and can make a difference.’
“The center continues a California tradition of stepping into policy vacuums resulting from federal actions or inaction. The state created its $6-billion stem cell program in 2004 after President George W. Bush effectively ended federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. California’s vehicular fuel efficiency and emissions standards have become a model for other states and the federal government itself. And the state is poised to go it alone on climate change policy as the Trump administration becomes a haven for climate change deniers.
“The vacuum in federally funded gun violence research dates to 1996 , when Congress passed a measure by then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), a cat’s-paw of the National Rifle Assn., forbidding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to spend any funds ‘to advocate or promote gun control.’
“A succession of pusillanimous CDC directors decided that the safest course bureaucratically was simply to spend nothing at all on gun violence research — even when they were specifically ordered to reenter the field by President Obama, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.
“One project that faced termination with extreme prejudice post-Dickey was a Wintemute study of whether handgun buyers with prior misdemeanor records are more likely to be charged with new gun- or violence-related crimes than those without such a history.
“Wintemute’s $292,000 grant was axed, though he was able to complete the work with funding from the California Wellness Foundation. (He also has contributed some $1 million in personal funds to gun violence research over the years.)
“Among his findings : Handgun buyers with more than one conviction for a violent offense were more than 15 times as likely to be charged with murder, rape, robbery or aggravated assault than those with no prior criminal record.” Los Angeles Times, July 16th. Will the NRA be able to stop the center? Time will tell, but California seems to be rife with irreconcilable differences with that GOP vision of “Middle America.”
California is on the direct opposite side of many of the issues that got Donald Trump and a Republican Congress elected, from immigration (California is mostly a “sanctuary state” where the backbone of its massive agricultural industry is built on undocumented labor), women’s/minorities’ rights and healthcare, to climate change and gun control. But even with that huge agricultural presence, like New York State, California is defined by its large cities, its diversity. It is exceptionally uncomfortable with policies and laws from Southern and Southwestern gerrymandered state districts pushing rural values with Evangelical self-righteousness, a direct conflict with California’s wildly-successful, science-based tech centers heavily focused in her urban centers. Even with a respite acknowledging the need for a “few” undocumented farmworkers (acknowledged by the Departments of Labor and Agriculture), Washington just does not get who or what we are.
You can see California’s pride in her litany of excellent colleges and universities, from private universities like Stanford, USC and Cal Tech to its public universities like Berkeley, UCLA, UC-Irvine and UC-Davis, where higher education is both cherished and a hot ticket to a solid career. And while California may tolerate moderate (liberal) Republicans now and again, she is deeply a Democratic state. Her stature as America’s leading tech-driven state has moved the vast majority of its residents to value learning and research. Yet how Americans feel about higher education is increasingly a product of their religious and political leanings. As we know so-painfully, California values are not that common in the conservative heartland, where the GOP rules with an iron if not often ironic hand.
A July 10 Pew Research Center Report explains: “While a majority of the public (55%) continues to say that colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days, Republicans express increasingly negative views.
“A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.”
This is who we Californians are. Jerry Brown vs. Donald Trump. Many of our values are shared among our West Coast neighbors and the Eastern Seaboard.  But as this country splits and fractures along these ideological fissures, as heels dig in, I am increasingly pessimistic that this nation can hold together. Millennials and Zs, are you listening? Are you getting political active or just letting the old folks wreck your future… even though you may share some of those polarizing thoughts? It’s your country! Do something about it! You tend not to vote. That has to change! Here’s your power, according to the July 17th
“In eight years' time, America's white population is expected to start falling, as the number of people dying exceeds the number of births… Already, the number of white under-18s is falling - a pattern which will continue because of a decline in the population of white women of childbearing age.
“Most striking of all, perhaps, is the speed at which the white population is ageing… By 2030, the number of white over-65s will have grown by 42%... In the near future, the majority of children born in the US will be from ethnic minorities.
“Already, minorities make up nearly half of American youth; and, as white baby boomers retire, minorities - particularly Hispanics - will account for all the growth in the US workforce.” Just do it! Now! Before it is too late! Get politically active!
I’m Peter Dekom, and if we are angry at facts and rail against change, exactly what will we do when those same facts and the obvious massive changes all around us decimate every wall and slogan we have erected to deny and oppose them?

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