your senate at work on gun control

In the wake of the horrifying loss of life at the hands of a coward with a rifle in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Congress has once again failed to accomplish any meaningful change.  Mostly this is because our poorly-chosen “leaders” cannot see past their own agendas to find centrist compromises that make sense and help people.

We all know that an outright gun ban is never going to happen.  The government is never going to come and take your guns.  The whole reason we have gun ownership embedded in our Constitution is precisely so the government cannot ban gun ownership or take guns away from the citizens.  If you don’t understand why this was important in the 18th century when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, stop.  Do not pass Go. Immediately take a US History course at your nearest institution of higher education.

Yesterday, four gun purchase restriction bills failed in the Senate.  Here’s some info on them and why they failed.

What they wanted: Improve background check system
Who wanted it: Republicans (Chuck Grasssley, R-Iowa)
Why it failed: Doesn’t expand background checks, which is what Democrats want. It seeks to improve the existing background check system by defining what “mentally incompetent” means and use that as a data point to deny gun sales to individuals. Also requires the attorney general to conduct a study on the causes of mass shootings. Provides no funding for either initiative.

What they wanted: Expand background check system
Who wanted it: Democrats (Chris Murphy, D-Conn.)
Why it failed: Requires federal background check before any gun sale can take place – private or commercial. Republicans don’t support expanding background checks to include private sales. The bill provides no funding for the expansion.

What they wanted: Prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns
Who wanted it: Republicans (John Cornyn, R-Tex.)
Why it failed: Requires 72-hour waiting period for anybody on the “no fly” and other terrorist watch lists trying to buy a gun, the idea being it would give authorities more time to do an in-depth background check on a prospective gun buyer – or even an opportunity to ask a judge to get off whatever list the buyer is on. Opponents (i.e. Democrats) say 72 hours isn’t enough time to do the required in-depth background check, so they say it will only slow down (and not prevent) the gun purchase. Provides no funding for the in-depth background checks.

What they wanted: Prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns
Who wanted it: Democrats (Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.)
Why it failed: Bans anybody on any of the terrorist watch lists from buying a gun. Allows appeals of placement on those lists in court. Provides no funding for the appeals.

All of these measures have been defeated before, and they were defeated again yesterday in what amounted to party line votes (meaning Republicans voted for their measures and against the Democrat measures, and vice-versa).

What they’re all missing is the clear middle path.

1. Anybody placed on any of the terrorist watch lists in the last X amount of time (2 years, 3 years, 5 years, whatever) cannot immediately buy a gun. They must be approved by *local* law enforcement within X amount of time (3 days, 5 days, 10 days). Create a funding channel to support the background check/investigation.  This is similar to the approval process in many states for the issuance of concealed carry permits.  Yes, this creates additional burden on local law enforcement agencies, but the funding channel should/would provide for additional employees to complete the investigations.

2. Anybody who believes they should not be on the terrorist watch lists is allowed to appeal their placement on the list(s). Create a funding channel to support the appeal process.  This might require the establishment of a special federal court, but again, the funding channel would provide that opportunity.

This is an important issue, but until Congress engages their common sense subroutines and embeds funding into these bills, they will never pass.

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on history

If you only know me casually or are one of my Facebook friends, there’s a solid chance that other than myself, Ken Burns is the only historian you’ve ever heard of. He’s way more famous than I am 🙂
 
Read the commencement speech he delivered to the graduating class of 2016 at Stanford University. (opens in new tab) Take away what you take away, but I promise if you read it, you *will* take something away and be a more thoughtful person for it.
 
We’ve all heard that old cliché about those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. While humanity certainly exists in a cyclical fashion, I don’t believe we are doomed to repeat events about which we do not learn.
 
What we are, however, is doomed to never learning the lessons of those who went before us. If we remain ignorant of history, we lose the opportunity to learn what didn’t work before. No matter what transpires next, be it similar to previous events or a completely new event, we have prevented ourselves from advancement, from improvement.
 
French social contract theoretician Jean-Jacques Rousseau warned us that society is the corruptor of man; he said this because he believed that mankind is naturally good – even virtuous.  (I disagree with him, but that’s a topic for another time.)  The problem, Rousseau said, is that a bad upbringing and a poor (or nonexistent) education make people more susceptible to corruption, and when they get into positions of authority, the institutions which they staff then become corrupt, creating a cycle of nightmares that destroys society.

It stands to reason, then, that good people create good institutions, good institutions create good societies, and good societies create good governments – which in turn help create good people.  It’s a utopian cycle, to be sure, and one at which we have singularly failed to achieve.

Listen (or read) to Ken Burns, though, and breathe deep his words of wisdom.  We can learn from history, and in doing so, we can absorb the lessons of our ancestors. We may make some of the same mistakes they made, but they will be mistakes of choice, not ignorance, and we can always improve on our choices.

*Commencement speech transcript: http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/

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