Guns and Deaths in The United States

Guns and Deaths in The United States

The Orlando massacre. the worst mass shooting  in our history, brought the all too familiar responses .  Horror, at the event that unfolded over hours on television at the Pulse nightclub.   Anguish for the victims, many from the LGBT community, and their families. Dismay from President Obama who called the Orlando shooting “a terrorist and hate” crime.

In the days that followed, emotional vigils were held in the United States and all over the world mourning the 49 dead and 43 injured women and men.   The killer was identified as Omar Mateen, an American who had been able to buy his guns with ease even though he had been investigated by the F.B.I. at one time.  He carried a semi-automatic rifle with a stock that could be folded to shorten and conceal under  a jacket.  The magazine could shoot multiple rounds in seconds. He also had other weapons.

After each mass shooting occurs in the United States, there have been renewed attempts to tighten gun control laws in the individual states and the federal government.  The most effective federal law ever passed was the Ban on Assault Weapons passed in l994 during the  Clinton administration.  It had a ten year duration, but failed renewal  after 2004.  During the ten years it had been in effect, the rate of deaths by those weapons fell across the country.  That was also the time that The National Rifle Association, N.R.A. built its power over the members of Congress, setting up their report card for each member.

After the Newtown massacre of twenty first-grade children and their teachers  on December 12, 2012 , Connecticut was able to pass a ban on assault weapons.  New York, a neighboring state, also passed an assault ban.  Both laws include the magazines that shoot multiple rounds in seconds.  Parents and legislators  organized and fought  long and hard battles against the N.R.A. to achieve these victories.  In Congress, Senators Manchin and Toomey , led the attempt to pass a law for background checks , closing loop  holes at gun shows and on the internet.   This law had the support of 85 percent of the American public, including gun owners.  The N.R.A. won the votes and the law failed to pass.  On June 20, 2016, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the Connecticut and New York laws banning military-style assault weapons.  It was a welcome victory for gun control advocates.

In response to Orlando,  U.S. Representative Christopher Murphy of Connecticut began a filibuster in the Senate to force a hearing on gun control bills that were being proposed.  It lasted fifteen hours with many Democratic senators and several Republican senators raising additional points of order to give him a break in his talking.  When Murphy finally yielded the floor after a passionate closing argument at one a.m. , Majority leader McConnell  agreed to allow the bills to be voted on the following Monday, June 20.   When the four bills were introduced for the procedural vote that required sixty to pass,  all four bills failed.

On Wednesday, June 22,  Democrats in the House of Representatives led by John Lewis the Civil Rights icon, began an unprecedented  sit- in on the House floor at 11: 30 a.m. They demanded a vote on their three bills on gun violence before the House recessed for the July break.   They chanted “No bill, no break”  and held pictures of dead victims from the Orlando massacre. Speaker Paul Ryan called their action “a publicity stunt” before he gaveled an adjournment.  Republicans left and Democrats remained, joined in the hours that followed by Democratic senators and support from hundreds of people who filled the galleries.  Official cameras were turned off, but TV coverage continued on a member’s Facebook. Paul Ryan and Republicans finally returned at ten p.m. He gaveled for order while “No bill; No Break” chants continued amid chaos in the chamber.  A vote was taken on one regular order of business. Ryan then adjourned the session and walked out to cries of  “Shame!”  The Democrats then sang “We Shall Overcome.”

Throughout the night, social media watchers sent  supportive Tweets.  President Obama congratulated John Lewis for leading the sit-in.  The spirit of the protest was summed up by Maxine Waters, a veteran California delegate who said, “I’ll be here until Hell freezes over!”   By eight a.m. hundreds of people had gathered outside the House to support the sit-in.  John Lewis and Nancy Pelosi came out to thank them.  They vowed to continue their demand for a vote on the gun laws every day until the House reconvened in July.

After a mass shooting, gun sales often increase, especially for semi-automatic rifles.  Those people most concerned that the government will pass restrictive laws appear to be anxious to stock up before a ban occurs.  The Second Amendment credo of the N.R.A. increases in volume and intensity among militia members in the NorthWest.  They are ever anxious that the helicopters will be landing to take away all their guns.  Conspiracy theories rise and fall over the years, documented by the Southern  Poverty Law Center, the best source for information on Hate Groups in the United States.

The United States leads all advanced countries with our rate of gun deaths.  Every day,  dozens of Americans are killed by guns.  Over 32,000 deaths occur every year; 40 percent homicides and 60 percent suicides.  Guns are the main weapon.  The six p.m. news usually reports the local people who died as a part of their daily coverage.  The United States is considered far removed from other advanced countries in the world with  our proliferation of guns in proportion to our population.

The carnage in Orlando has once more raised this terrible fact in our consciousness .  For millions of Americans who have lost loved ones, it is personal. The focus once more is on attempts to change our gun control laws, to make it more difficult or impossible for a killer to procure the weapon of choice – a semi or full assault rifle. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party are  firmly committed to these  increased gun control laws.  Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee  has said he will “talk with the N.R.A” Until this vague “talk” occurs, most Republican members of Congress will adhere to  the N.R.A. credo:  “It takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun.”














Alert: New Voter ID Laws Will Suppress T urnout in November

The general election in  November, 2016 will be the first time that Texas and 14 other states will have their new strict voter ID laws in place for a presidential election.   33 states now have ID laws  and l7 require or request not just written proof but photo ID as well.  In addition to voter ID,  certain states have cut early voting days and limited voting hours, all leading to suppressing voting by minorities ,the poor,  elderly and first time young voters.

Voter ID laws grew out of the chaos of the 2000 Presidential election – hanging chads, weeks of delay in Florida – and the Supreme Court deciding George W. Bush was the winner and President of The United States.   In the years that followed,  19 states passed laws that required ID for all voters with photo ID accepted in most states.   Indiana passed the country’s strictest law, requiring the ID meet four criteria – a driver’s license, a passport , a state issued ID or some other Government issued photo ID.  The law was challenged in the courts by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Democratic Party. The ACLU brought evidence that showed there had never been a case of fraud – the supposed purpose of the law– proven in Indiana.  They said the real purpose was to depress voting by minority groups, the poor, the elderly, the young  and disabled citizens who usually voted Democratic.  On April 28, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Indiana law was constitutional.

By 2011, 14   Republican state legislatures  had passed laws requiring a citizen to show a government ID card in order to vote. In addition, five states cut back early voting, including Florida that cut from 14 days to 8 and eliminated the Sunday before election day, known as “souls to the polls” by African-American churches.  Georgia cut early voting from 45 days to 21. And Maine stopped voters from  registering on election day. An estimated 620,000 Kansans who do not have Government ID stand to lose their right to vote.  There has been only one prosecution for fraud in Kansas.   Wisconsin refuses to recognize college ID from University of Wisconsin and other campuses. A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University in 2011 found that eleven percent of citizens nationwide, 21 million people did not have a current photo ID. That number increased to 15 percent of lower-income voting age citizens, 18 percent of the young eligible voters, and 25 percent of African-American voters.

Let’s fast forward to 2016.  Texas is an important state to watch.  On April 29, 2016, The Supreme Court left in place a strict voter ID law enacted in 2011.  It required voters to present photo ID like a driver’s or gun license, military ID or passport. (College ID was not acceptable.)  The law had been challenged in 2014 at the Federal District Court level where Judge Nelva Ramos struck it down in a 147 page opinion. She said it created “an unconstitutional  discriminatory burden on the right to vote” and amounted to a poll tax.  At the next higher level, a three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit put a stay on her ruling, saying it was too close to the mid-year national elections and would cause confusion among voters and poll workers.

The Supreme Court had considered the stay in October 2014, leaving  the law in place in an unsigned opinion.  However,   Justice  Ruth Bader Ginsburg  worked most of the night to write  a signed blistering dissent, joined by Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.   She wrote that the law “may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters from voting in person for lack of compliant identification.”   “A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic” she added; “racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact.”    She also wrote, “More than 400,000 eligible voters face round trip travel times of three hours or more to the nearest” government office issuing ID’s and must present a certified birth certificate,usually costing $22.  She noted that the state offered them at $3 for elections but had not publicized that information.

Most Americans are focused on the general presidential race looming between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  On the final Super Tuesday, June 7, Hillary Clinton won huge victories over Bernie Sanders in  New Jersey  and the biggest prize of all, California –plus New Mexico and South Dakota.   Despite polls showing a neck and neck race in California with Bernie Sanders, she drew 56.3 % to his 42.7% of the votes.  Clinton went over the top nationwide   in pledged delegates and super delegates to reach 2755 vs. Sanders 1852.  She celebrated at a Victory Rally in New York with tumultuous crowds, cheering the first woman nominated by a major party for President of The United States.  It was an historic moment in the long trajectory of   the  women’s rights movement  since  Elizabeth Cady Stanton convened Seneca Falls in l837 .  Watching Clinton  that night, one  recalled  Susan B. Anthony proclaiming, “Nothing is impossible!”

Trump had already been chosen by the Republicans   as their “presumptive nominee” although there remain deep concerns and rejections among  party leaders.  His comments attacking Judge Curiel who is hearing the case against Trump University  have been characterized as “the textbook definition of  racism” by Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives.   Trump called him a Mexican and said he was not fair in hearing the case.  Curiel was born in Indiana of Mexican heritage. Trump also questioned Muslims serving on the bench.  The furor has not abated on this issue even though he gave a toned down speech saying his words were “misconstrued.”

Both political conventions will take place during the last two weeks in July.  Republicans  meet first in Cleveland; Democrats meet next in Philadelphia.   Trump has already started his campaign against Clinton calling her “Crooked Hillary”  because of her e-mail server and  old unproven charges against her and Bill Clinton from the l990’s.  She gave a major foreign policy  speech on June 2, declaring him to be “tempermentally unfit to be commander in chief” with the nuclear codes at his fingertips.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has already launched a fierce twitter barrage against Donald Trump.  He usually tweets early each day to control the news cycle, and has dubbed her “Pocahontas”, since she has Cherokee ancestry.   Several weeks ago, she attacked him for taking advantage of millions of people who lost their homes in the housing bubble collapse. He had bragged at a rally, and laughed.   “I’m a business man. That’s what I do.”   She asked  “What kind of a man does that?  I’ll tell you what kind of man.  A little… insecure… money-grubbing man who profits from other people’s misery.”   Trump may learn not to match language and wits with a Harvard professor.  Or, in the months ahead, with a former First Lady of The United States,  two-term Senator from New York and Secretary of State.  It will be a new experience for him.  Millions of Americans will be paying rapt attention.