Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Drug War Follies Column

Okay, I'm back from the jungle. I got leg infections, foot infections, am in constant pain since I've returned home. Way too many ibuprofin to be good for me, I cannot concentrate on anything because the damned pain takes over. I'll get past it. And my doc said the infection isn't too severe; he's giving it a few days before I start on a regimen of antibiotics hoping that I I won't need to do that.
      The trip was wonderful: The guests were just great, the jungle was beautiful, the medicine was deep. Couldn't have been better unless I was 30 years younger.
      Even that I'm going to try to take care of: Now that I'm 65 I get the Medicare I've been paying into since its inception and my surgeon said I could use it for the out-patient physical therapy the hospital has. It's supposed to be very good. I'll call early in the week, once the pain subsides a little.
     Today, in the mail, was the newest issue of Skunk magazine, the pot magazine for which I write a regular column called Drug War Follies. It is often about the drug war, but then it often strays as well. I love having the column and the freedom to rant a little. It's like having this blog. Just write what I want to write, what I'm feeling--and that is a kind of freedom we investigative reporters rarely enjoy.
     So here is the newest column, the 91st I've done for Skunk. And in the next few days, I'll start on #92. Damn, that's gonna be cool.

Drug War Follies

A little rant about guns. You know, the guns that don’t kill people. The guns that were involved in as many deaths in the U.S. in 2014 as were motor vehicles. You know, the guns that don’t kill people that were involved in 84,000 non-fatal injuries in 2014. Yeah, those guns.

By Peter Gorman

Open carry. Forty-five states in the U.S. now permit people to openly carry guns in public. I don’t mean in a gun rack in the back of a pick up truck, like a lot of people see in areas where hunting is permitted, I mean pistols in holsters and rifles and semi-automatics slung over your shoulder. You have all probably seen some news footage of nutty men strolling into fast food joints carrying enough fire-power to wipe out a small town. They’re supposed to be “the good guys with guns”, as the National Rifle Association puts it, who will stop the bad guys with guns.
    Texas, which has allowed open carry of rifles and semi-automatics for a long time, just implemented a new law that will allow anyone with a concealed handgun permit to now wear that gun in a holster on their hips. You know, football moms and dads staring each other down over whose kid is better after they’ve each had had six beers and while carrying a .45 semi-auto on their hips. What could go wrong with that? Or what about guys fighting over a parking space, or what if someone gets the wrong order at Arby’s?
   “I said no goddamned ketchup, motherfucker!”
   Nah. Nothing could go wrong there.
   And what’s the chance of a bar fight escalating when everyone is drunk and strapped?
   And let’s suppose a bad guy with a gun starts shooting people and a couple of good guys with guns start to fire at him, just as the police arrive. Are the cops gonna ask who the good guys are? And if they ask the bad guy, is he gonna say, “I’m the freaking bad guy, copper! Come and get me!” Or is he going to say: “Stop those guys! They’re crazy!”
   Okay, that was an easy test.
   And how will anyone know who has the concealed carry permit and who is the dangerous felon with bad intentions?
   Only one time in my life did I see the good guys with guns stop a bad guy. I was cooking brunch at a New York City joint call the Mad Hatter. At any given time more than half the people in the restaurant were police officers—it was a cop joint.
   One Sunday a guy came in, walked to the bar, pulled a pistol and asked the bartender for his money. The restaurant was instantly silent for a moment, then suddenly there was a bit of movement in the crowd, and probably 50 guns came out all at once. The bartended told the guy to turn around. He did, saw the guns, dropped his, and fled.
   The thing about that was that it involved 50 trained policemen, not Uncle Joe who goes to the gun range three times a year and has probably never shot at a live moving target.
   Why are we so afraid, and what are we so afraid of? Will people carry guns to ward off being the target of a street robbery? Would you really shoot someone who asked for your wallet? Is it that important?
   Or are people afraid of losing their rights in the U.S.? Do they really imagine someone is coming for their guns? And if all hell broke loose and the military decided to take over the U.S. and that necessitated disarming the population, does anyone really believe their semi-automatic rifle will be a match against trained military with military grade weaponry? Oy, vey! I get upset just thinking about all those people who are so very afraid. What a rotten way to go through life, eh?
   Upset jumps to a kind of rage when I think of the power of the NRA. The organization has nearly all of our politicians cowering. No one dares suggest real gun control laws for fear of the NRA pouring money into the next campaign to get them defeated. And I’m not talking about super stringent gun control laws; hell, no one is even willing to take on the gun show loophole.
   The gun show loophole is this: If you go to a gun show and buy a gun or 40 from a licensed dealer, he’s got to put your name into the FBI file, via telephone, for a moment. If you don’t have a felony or outstanding warrants, you’ll be green lighted to buy your guns. If there is something on your record that prohibits you from having a guy, the background check will red light you to the dealer and you won’t get your gun. In all cases, all information obtained by the FBI about people trying to purchase guns is destroyed at midnight of the same day, so there is no record of who tried to buy what.
   But there is a loophole big enough to drive a tractor-trailer through in the process: The Gun Show Loophole. Private citizens who want to sell their guns are not licensed dealers, and therefore don’t even have to do the ridiculously simple FBI background check. The seller just shows up at the gun show with his stash of personal guns and sells them, legally, to anyone who wants them. In Texas, thousands of those guns wind up in Mexico to help fuel the drug wars there. But a lot of those guns wind up in New York or Los Angeles or Toronto on the black market. And there is no way to trace them, no way to know if the gun show loophole purchaser really wanted a gun for him/herself or wanted 500 guns to later sell on the black market. Money talks, people die. The NRA hides behind the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
    Make no mistake: The NRA is the elephant in the room on this issue. If they’ve got politicians so cowed that they won’t even attempt to close the Gun Show Loophole, you can forget about any real gun control. When the subject of 30,000 gun deaths per year in the U.S. comes up, the NRA is quick to point out that half of those are suicides—as if easy access to guns didn’t help a lot of those suicides along. When it’s pointed out that Canada only has 2.2 gun deaths annually per 100,000 people while the U.S. has 10.64 per the same 100,000, the NRA is quick to point out that the problem is that too many bad guys have guns, so more good guys have to arm themselves.
    We have an estimated 300,000,000—yes, that is 300 million—guns in private hands in the U.S. That’s a lot of guns. And a lot of ammunition. But hell, when someone wants to buy 10,000 rounds, what’s to stop them? No law against it. Maybe they do a lot of target shooting. And when we have another crazy person walk into a school or movie theater or candy store and start blowing people away, well, the NRA says that’s not good, but part of the price of freedom. And it’s part of the price of freedom when a three-year-old finds daddy’s loaded gun and shoots his brother in the face. The problem wasn’t the gun, it was that daddy didn’t lock it in a safe. Bad daddy.
   I’m probably one of the few people in Texas who doesn’t own a gun. When I’m out in the jungle in Peru I have a shotgun at all times, just in case I need to scare away a predator, but not here in Texas. I don’t have a gun because I have nightmares about sleepwalking and killing one of my family, or them killing someone when they get really angry. What if I got drunk and stupid? What if I shot a stranger who came to the door at 3 AM because their car broke down and they didn’t have a cell phone and I took them for a burglar? I get chills when I have those dreams. So no guns for me.
   Obviously, I’m in the minority here in Texas and probably throughout the U.S. At the other end of the rainbow are the open carry people. They not only have guns, they walk around letting you know it.
   In Colorado recently, a man was walking around with a rifle. Someone called 911 to report him. The dispatcher reminded the caller that there was nothing illegal in that because Colorado, in addition to having legal pot, is an open carry state.
   The police were finally dispatched to look into the guy with the rifle. By the time they got there he’d killed four people he’d never met. Just killed them at random. No big deal, said the NRA. Just the price of freedom.
It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.

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