Bump Stock Paddock

There’s a lot to talk about since the Sunday when a 64 year old man with no prior criminal record or apparent axe to grind killed 58 people and injured over 500 more by shooting at a large crowd attending a country music festival. Let me start by again offering my condolences to all those affected. This incident becomes more visceral for me each time I am acquainted with the victims, their families and friends.

In my first post on this topic I said I was interested in the shooter’s motive. As of today none has been discovered, or if one has been discovered, it has not yet been reported. I will not be surprised if it turns out that this nut, a guy named Stephen Paddock, turns out to be a terrorist of some stripe. In other words, that his motivation to kill was to further some political goal. That’s the difference, at least in Federal law, between an act of terrorism and other violent acts not associated with a political goal.

The reason I think that the shooter was motivated by politics is that there doesn’t seem to be any other motive, and the extreme nature of his actions are inconsistent with his background. For example, he had no criminal record and according to news reports he is somewhat wealthy. Add to that his age at the time of the shooting and the whole thing doesn’t add up. I mean, who, at the age of 64, just up and decides one day to murder and injure a bunch of random people?

I used to assess workplace violence threats as part of my job and the way you do the assessment is to use a matrix of indicia. Does the employee have a grievance against the employer? Does the employee have a history of violent behavior? Are they in the middle of a personal crisis involving, for example, finances or relationships? Have they verbalized threats to co-workers or others? This list of indicia is not comprehensive but you get the idea. The only indicia in this guy’s case is that he had access to weapons. Other than that you get a giant goose egg.

Now let’s talk about gun control. And no, it’s not “too early” to talk about that, because gun control is an overarching issue that doesn’t relate to this mass shooting in particular, but to the arc of increase in mass shootings in the United States generally. One encouraging sign that has emerged in the aftermath of this shooting is that, for once, the National Rifle Association and both major political parties seem to be in agreement that so-called “bump stocks” should be outlawed. For those who haven’t been following the news reports, a “bump stock” is a device that modifies a semi-automatic weapon such that it acts like a fully automatic weapon, or machine gun. The Vegas shooter had modified several semi-automatic weapons using the bump stock device, such that he had several fully automatic weapons at his disposal for use during the massacre.

Beyond agreement on that one measure, the parties have backed into their usual corners, with Democrats in using the opportunity to advocate in favor of stricter gun control and Republicans (and the NRA) trotting out the usual talking points about how this particular shooting would not have been prevented by, for example, universal background checks. It’s true that the Vegas shooter passed all of the required background checks for purchasing the weapons used in the massacre. But the problem with that argument is that it is anecdotal and, moreover, doesn’t hold up from a common sense perspective. I mean, background checks are already required for most gun purchases, so presumably the government thinks they are a good idea. Common sense tells you background checks are a good idea. So then why would it make sense to have loopholes for gun shows?

Another measure that, at least to me, makes sense is to question why a gun purchaser needs to have several of the same type of weapon. The Vegas shooter had several high powered rifles that he had purchased in the months leading up to the massacre. Some might argue that gun enthusiasts (e.g., collectors) should have a right to own as many weapons as they want, but it doesn’t make sense that a collector would, for example, buy several weapons of the same make and model. At the very least authorities should be able to know when such purchases are occurring and have an opportunity to question the purchaser as to the reason why they want multiples of the same type of gun. In the case of the Vegas shooter, he apparently wanted multiple high powered rifles with the bump stock modification because if he only had one of them the gun barrel would melt down at a certain point due to the heat generated. With multiples of the same gun he could simply swap out for a new one and continue the massacre.

Of course, one way to know if someone is purchasing multiples of the same type of weapon is through a national gun registry, which would be a very controversial move, at least from the perspective of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates. Why would that be so controversial? In my opinion, it has to do with the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which conveys the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment reads as follows: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Now read that carefully. The stated reason for the right to bear arms is because it is “necessary to the security of a free State.” This is consistent with something that occurred to me when I was on vacation in New England and took a tour that went from Boston to Concord, or what is referred to as the revolutionary “battle trail.” Many Americans know the famous story of Paul Revere alerting the colonists in the middle of the night that the British army was coming. What many don’t know is why they were coming.

In short, the colonial leaders, including John Hancock and Samuel Adams, and the colonists in general, were angry because the British (i.e., the King) had instituted taxes on various imported goods, including tea, in order to fund England’s war with France. That anger came to a head when the colonists dumped tea into Boston harbor, in what is known as the Boston tea party. The King was worried that the anger would lead to insurrection and ordered that the colonists’ guns be confiscated. Word of the King’s intentions leaked to the colonists, who then gathered up all the guns in Boston and hid them in Concord. Then, word leaked to the British army that the colonists had hid the guns in Concord, and the footrace was on. The colonists (or Minutemen) and the British army regulars confronted each other about half way between Boston and Concord, at the town of Lexington, and a battle ensued in which several combatants were killed, and thus began the Revolutionary War that ultimately led to the creation of the United States.

Given this history, you can imagine why the drafters of the Constitution wanted an amendment that guaranteed the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.” But the right to keep and bear arms wasn’t so that people would have those weapons for personal protection. As stated in the Second Amendment, it was “necessary to the security of a free State.” In other words, having lived through the experience of having a government (the King of England) try to confiscate their weapons, they saw it necessary to prevent a government (of the United States) from doing so at some later time. To summarize, the right to bear arms is not so that you can use those arms for your personal protection; it is so that you aren’t living in a tyranny. So, you might forgive those who are suspicious of a national gun registry, it being the Federal government and all. Confiscation could be possible (however unlikely) if the Feds knew who had what.

Personally, I think that’s a paranoid reaction that should not inform public policy. But that’s just me, and I respect those who hold a different view. I think it’s important for all of us to be respectful of each other’s views in order for this discussion to bear fruit.


The Frog Sings (Not)

MJF Not Singing

Just when I thought that some level of consensus had formed around the death of Eric Garner in New York, I got into quite a discussion while posting comments regarding an article someone forwarded to me.

If you don’t want to read the whole article, the author concludes that he “cannot in good conscience say there was insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Pantaleo for involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.” His conclusion is based on a standard of reasonableness as regards the use of force by the police.

So, I posted the following comment in response to the article:

“Thank you. I agree with your analysis. There was a point made on TV the other night, which is that he died as a result of the chokehold, but also chest compression from the weight of the other officers. But Pantaleo was the only one the grand jury looked at. That may be why they didn’t indict him, but it’s still a travesty. Forget, for a minute, about the reasonableness test for cops. I don’t see how anyone can watch that video, hear Garner saying repeatedly that he can’t breathe, and think that continuing the chokehold was OK. Did they think he was lying? If so, on what basis?”

Oh boy. Here’s the string of comments that ensued, along with my replies. The handles of the other posters have been changed.

Other Poster #1: “Did it occur to you that if he could talk he could breath?”

Me: “Yes, that does occur to me. I suppose he could have said “I’m having difficulty breathing.” But it wouldn’t have made any difference so far as the actions of the officer.”

Other Poster #1: “Their actions were the correct actions. He did not die as a result of any type of hold.”

Me: “Then why did the coroner’s report conclude that his death was a homicide? I don’t think the New York coroner’s office is engaging in some sort of subjective, conspiratorial scheme.”

Other Poster #1: “The coroner did not say it was due to a chokehold … And the Grand Jury found no wrongdoing on the part of police … So what would be your point?”

Me: “Homicide means he did not die of natural causes. So I guess my point is that he died as a result of the actions of the police. You can debate whether those actions were criminal, but can you at least acknowledge that their actions caused his death ( which would contradict your earlier post)?”

Other Poster #1: “I am not debating anything…if he complies he lives…he chose not to and was taken down in a very efficient manner…his bad health killed him…but it would have been so easy for him to live…the police are not the bad guys…”

Me: “Well, to me, the notion that it’s OK for the police to cause someone’s death trying to arrest them for selling loose cigarettes is debatable. I respectfully disagree with you, sir.”

Other Poster #2: “Are the police supposed to be psychic now? Were they supposed to just know that Mr. Garner was unarmed and going to have a heart-attack?”

Me: “They knew he was unarmed at the point when he was on the ground. The coroner ruled his death a homicide, which means he wouldn’t have had a heart attack at that particular moment but for the actions of the police.”

That’s the whole string. Is it just me or do these other posters seem completely out to lunch?

The Frog Sings

Michigan J Frog

When I was a kid, I saw a cartoon premised on a frog who lived in a cigar box. The frog would only sing and dance for the person who found the cigar box and opened it. The person unfortunate enough to find the frog would, inevitably, try to make money presenting the frog in theaters, but the frog would never perform in those conditions. The person who found the frog would thus be humiliated and take the frog home, at which point the frog would continue it’s act.

I imagine that people who claim they’ve been abused by the police might feel a bit like the person who found the frog, trying in vain to convince others of their experience. I remembered the cartoon when I saw the video of the police in New York trying to arrest the guy accused of selling loose cigarettes, who died of a heart attack due to his mistreatment.

For once, it seems, most everyone saw the same thing, regardless of race. There are protests going on and the protesters are a diverse group. Also, the protests have been peaceful, which lends added legitimacy.

This is progress. Let’s be happy that the frog is finally singing for a wider audience.

That’s Crazy

Choke Hold

So, this isn’t Ferguson. There are two major differences. First, I doubt that anyone will claim that the outcome of the grand jury investigation is racist. If they do make that claim, they really shouldn’t. We’re not talking about Missouri here (not to say that Missouri is racist). We’re talking about New York City, which is probably the most diverse city in the world. And in New York, when there is racism, it is overt and celebrated, as in the classic scene from Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”

Second, we don’t need to guess about what happened, or rely on witness statements, or forensic evidence, or the judgement of the jurors. Why? Because there is video. Everyone can look at it and reach their own conclusion. I’ve looked at the video and it is difficult for me to believe that the officer will not be charged with a crime.

So if it isn’t a race issue, what is it? To me, it’s a broader indictment of a criminal justice system that is biased when it comes to the very people who are sworn to uphold the law.

Peter Kassig

I’ve had to think awhile to be able to write about the latest victim, Peter Kassig, shown in the beheadings that have been videotaped and posted on the internet. I’ve questioned whether to write about it at all, but this is on my mind, and it’s an important topic.

My understanding of Peter Kassig is based solely on media reports. I didn’t know him.

He was honorably discharged from the Army Rangers and then created a non-profit to provide assistance to victims of the civil war in Syria. He was abducted by terrorists while providing aid in Syria, held for over a year, then murdered. The evidence of the murder is a video recording, showing his severed head on the ground.

I haven’t viewed any of the beheading videos, and I encourage others to avoid them. Why? Because the terrorists are putting them on the internet, so, obviously, they think they gain an advantage by doing so. I make an exception for government officials and reporters. Someone has to watch it. I imagine it’s a terrible burden.

The stuff that should be on the internet is the work that Peter Kassig did before he was murdered. There are many more acts of courage and generosity that occur on a daily basis than there are acts of brutality and cruelty. I encourage the media to consider this going forward.

What if the media used the same approach as the terrorists; understanding that content has an impact? Tell Peter’s story, and people like him. By that I mean celebrate and magnify good people. It’s crazy that there are so many people who do good works, struggling in obscurity. Meanwhile, murderers have a large audience, presenting material that would, just a year ago, be unthinkable. And it should be free on youtube, as was the video created by the terrorists.

The terrorist video of Peter Kassing should not be the last comment on his life. Someone needs to produce a film about his life that lionizes him as a hero.

I’ll speculate here about the fact that the video, which I have not seen, varied from the previous videos. There is no video of him submitting to his captors and making anti-American statements prior to his execution.

One of the things that has forced me to think about Peter is the possibility that he resisted his captors, perhaps to spare his parents from the real-time act of his submission and the horror of his murder being posted on the internet.

Think, for a moment, the role his memory might play in the battle between dark and light. He is a hero.

The Drought

Drought Boat

Well, just when I was feeling upbeat, along comes the barbarian horde with a new beheading video. I’m not going to write about that today, though, except to send my thoughts and prayers to the family of the latest victim, Peter Kassig.

Instead, I’m going to talk about a relatively happy topic. See? Anything can be happy, relatively speaking.

Hopefully this winter will be a wet one, but it’s become increasingly clear that a long term solution to California’s water supply is needed. Water is the biggest issue facing the Golden State. A lot of people don’t think about it unless there’s a drought, but the issue is always there in some form. Whether it’s the push and pull between agricultural, industrial, and residential use, or the environmental degradation in the Delta, the issue never really goes away; it just goes off the radar.

My suggestion is to recycle waste water and put it back into the fresh water system. I know, I know, but believe it or not there is technology to recycle water that makes it cleaner than the water that comes out of your tap. It’s called reverse osmosis and it’s already being used in the Bay Area to provide super-clean water for the Chevron oil refinery. Chevron partnered with a water district to build the facility because the recycled water is so clean that it reduces the calcification in the pipes that cool the refining process, thus resulting in reduced maintenance costs.

Of course, the problem is that people can’t get their heads wrapped around the idea, in part because of the unfortunate phrase “toilet to tap.” Well, get over it. The water’s not going from your toilet to your tap. And if you think about it, what’s so attractive about the notion of water being stored in an unlined reservoir, with fish using it for their toilet? It reminds me of that old Saturday Night Live skit. “The fish are swimming in their own toilet! It’s disgusting!”

Yes, it would be expensive to build the facilities to recycle enough water to satisfy all the needs, but it couldn’t be any more expensive than building more dams, or that water tunnel that Jerry Brown wants to build. Plus, the voters just passed a huge bond measure to deal with water supply.

It seems like Australia is taking the lead on recycled water, due to their own periodic drought problems. So let’s take a clue from our friends down under, grow up and get over the ick factor, and deal with our water issues once and for all.