Archive for November 25, 2017

Brad Westmoreland Running for Congress

Brad Westmoreland

Brad Westmoreland is an attorney from Elk Grove who has decided to enter the race for the Seventh Congressional District seat, currently held by Dr. Ami Bera. Westmoreland visited the American River Democrats at their November meeting, and laid out his ideals and reasons for challenging the incumbent Democrat.

Ami Bera won the 7th District seat in 2012, defeating Republican Dan Lundgren after losing in his first bid in 2010. Representing a narrowly divided district, Bera pledged to work across the aisle to get important things done, and represent his conservative constituents as well as the liberals, progressives, and moderates. (Something Lundgren was famous for not doing.) And while Democrats have been grateful to have Bera in this seat after years of Republicans, he has cast some votes that raised concerns, and even lost endorsements from some groups. He has voted to scale back some of the new banking regulations, restrict refugee resettlement, and most famously, supported the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which drew the ire of labor and environmental groups. (In that vote, he was supporting President Obama, but now that President Trump has bailed on it, and the other countries moved forward without the U.S., it has begun to look a bit better now, though it still likely needed “fixing.”)

And so Westmoreland has entered the race from the progressive side, aligning with those supporting Bernie Sanders. He introduced himself at the meeting as someone who grew up in a very conservative family—he remains the only Democrat, and has experienced the conversations many of us dread at some family gatherings, like Thanksgiving! But he says he always stays positive and listens to all points of view. He and his wife Crystal, who is a mental health professional, live in Elk Grove and are expecting their first child.

Why did he enter the race? Westmoreland say he believes we can do better than winning by razor-thin margins. He wants to reach out to the uninvolved people—the 12,000 fewer Democratic voters in 2014 compared to 2012—getting them interested by speaking to issues that matter to them, such as health care and “Medicare for all,” and education innovation to make it free and responsive to the changing economy. He wants to demonstrate our values to people who feel they are without a voice; to let them know that we are your party.

He spoke of the issue of gun violence, pointing out that the NRA is just a lobbying organization for gun manufacturers, who are maintaining an industry that kills people. He pointed out that gun incidents are actually good news for gun makers and sellers; that mass shootings become a win/win situation, as people buy more guns for protection, and in fear of more gun laws coming. Gun sales always spike after such tragedies. No one needs an assault weapon, he said; we need to ban them and get them off the streets. The question of it being a mental health issue is just a smoke screen; he said his wife has pointed out that mental illness does not mean violence, and it is a dangerous stigma to put on people who are suffering. What we need to do is close the loopholes; online sales, gun shows, private sales; to improve background checks. What often gets lost in the discussion, he said, is that women are often the victims of gun violence, through domestic abuse. In Canada, a man needs permission to buy a gun from his wife and/or ex-wife.

The next issue Westmoreland spoke about was related to his time in college when he began working for a man who had, at age 16, been paralyzed after an accident that broke his neck. The man was in need of 24-hour care, and Brad was an in-home caregiver. This experience changed his perspective, and after completing law school he went to work fighting for disability rights. That is one of the reasons he is now opposing H.R. 620, a U.S. House resolution to amend the Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). He says that the changes will weaken the ADA and disability rights across the nation, absolving businesses of the responsibility to make their premises accessible to all—rights that were hard-fought-for and have worked well for 27 years. (Congressman Bera, a co-sponsor of the bill, has stated that it is an effort to avoid un-needed lawsuits against small businesses, allowing them reasonable time to make repairs without paying large settlements, but that he fully supports the ADA.)

Westmoreland next spoke about public education, which he said should be free to all. One of the barriers to a strong middle class is student loan debt. It impedes the ability to own a home and start a family for many who work hard to get an education. Free public education is an important mechanism to give everyone a shot at achieving the middle class life. He also spoke about immigration and the myths that prevent immigration reform, like that they don’t pay taxes. Immigrants—documented or undocumented—actually pay a higher tax rate than corporations. He said the statute of limitations should apply to the undocumented immigrants, and they should have a path to citizenship.

Westmoreland covered a lot of issues in a spirited discussion with the American River Democrats

Westmoreland also took questions from the club members. He said he stood for campaign finance reform, because lobbyists are crowding out the people from speaking their voice and getting to their representatives. The constitution guarantees the right to petition your representatives, which is impeded by the big influence the moneyed interests have above the ordinary citizen. He also supports net neutrality, an issue the Trump administration is attacking today. Mental illness should be given a priority to help those suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD, rather than stigmatizing them as potentially violent, dangerous people. He agreed with the importance of not only passing background check laws for guns, but for building the infrastructure to monitor and enforce to rules, especially in states that may not be eager themselves.

But one of the biggest questions he took was why he is running against Ami Bera. He pointed out the big differences in their positions—he supports Medicare for all (single-payer health care), free public education, an assault weapons ban, a ban on fracking, and strengthening unions. He said we need to expand the electorate, and that we are in a “blue” district that voted “purple”—we need to take the issues to the people who never vote, both here and across the country, to build a majority. The results in the recent Virginia elections have got more people interested and excited, and that needs to be built on.

He said that our district has many Republicans who may not fully understand GOP policies. As a congressman he would represent them, but vote his conscious about what is best for everyone. But it is still important to listen to them, especially those, like his own family, who spend a lot of time watching Fox News, but who will respond to a conversation about the direction our country is moving in.

There are currently five candidates for the 7th District Congressional seat. Besides Ami Bera and Brad Westmoreland, there are three Republicans—Andrew Grant, Yona Barash, and Omba Kipuke. The primary election in June will narrow the final ballot to any two of those candidates.

For more information about Brad Westmoreland and his positions on issues, or how to support his campaign, visit www.bradwestmoreland.org.

Recent mass shootings coincide with Americans Against Gun Violence annual banquet

Bill Durston kicks off the Americans Against Gun Violence annual dinner

Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Texas. Those names all now evoke the horror of mass shootings that are all too common in the United States. They also invoke memories of the usual political response: Democrats call for action, Republicans say it is not appropriate to “politicize” the tragedy, and weeks and months pass with nothing accomplished, until the process repeats itself in the next horrifying incident.

Americans Against Gun Violence, an organization formed to put political pressure and increase public awareness of the issues around the needless death and injury caused by the presence of so many, and so much more lethal guns in our country, held its first annual banquet on October 22, just after the Las Vegas massacre, and just before the Sutherland massacre. President of the organization, Dr. Bill Durston, kicked off the event, which was shared with Physicians for Social Responsibility, and introduced the keynote speaker, Josh Sugarman, author of Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.

Josh Sugarman addresses the membership at the AAGV dinner

Sugarman noted that lots of attention is drawn to mass shootings, like the recent Las Vegas incident, but daily deaths from guns is even worse. One hundred people on average die each day from guns in America. What is behind this? The gun industry. They are at heart a consumer product business, with marketing plans to increase their profits, just like the automobile industry, consumer electronics, restaurants and food production—the difference is they are the only product not regulated by the government!

When a shooting occurs, one of the first questions the media and law enforcement asks is what was the motive. Why would someone get a hotel room to be a sniper at a concert, why would someone walk into a church intent on murdering everyone, why would someone ambush a cop, kill their spouse and family, shoot up a schoolyard, or assassinate a public figure? But what does that really matter in the end? The fact is these people, whatever their reasons, have the ability to build an arsenal. And they have access to military and law enforcement-grade weapons to accomplish it. Yes, there are some restrictions on the level of weapons—for example, a military automatic weapon can fire multiple rounds by just holding down the trigger. For the consumer-available weapons, the shooter must pull the trigger for each round. But they can still shoot in very rapid succession, making such guns effectively the same as a military machine gun.

The industry sells its product primarily to white males, of whom only 33% are currently gun owners. And that market is aging and dying off, with fewer new customers entering the market. That puts pressure on them to continue to resell their products to their primary market, by introducing ever more powerful and “efficient” guns, while stoking fears that a mass confiscation is just around the corner, and they need to stock up now. A phenomenon seen when either a liberal politician is elected, (President Obama’s election, or just the likelihood of Hillary Clinton’s election, for example) or when another mass shooting occurs, is a marked increase in gun sales, out of fear that new laws are on the way. The industry is also trying to expand their market beyond the white male demographic, finding ways to appeal to women, children, African Americans, and Latinos as a new customer base. They want diversity, not just “stale, male and pale.” (Quote from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade organization, about the demographic they want to change.)

And after every new incident, not only do we hear the chorus of “it’s not the time to politicize this tragedy,” but we are also told gun control doesn’t work, if you restrict guns only criminals will have them, the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, the real problem isn’t guns but mental illness, etc. Sugarman stated that it is time we recognize that (to paraphrase the Bill Clinton presidential campaign) It’s the gun, stupid!

Members of the American River Democrats were well represented at the event

While other nations react to gun violence by finding solutions—Australia and the United Kingdom are notable success stories—the National Rifle Association (NRA) insists that we need more guns. And the politicians who follow their lead (mostly Republicans, but Democrats are not always innocent) go along, failing to pass meaningful laws, and even opening the current restrictions even further.

Sugarman said that states with high gun ownership have higher gun deaths, including accidental shootings and suicides, while states with stronger gun control laws have lower overall rates of homicide (and not just from guns!) California is a good success story, but national laws are far more important. The NRA likes to tell everyone to look at Chicago. “They have strong gun laws, yet the gun violence rate is one of the worst.” While that is untrue on the face of it (many other states and cities have much stronger gun laws), even if Chicago had California-like restrictions, guns can be easily brought in from many neighboring states, like Indiana, that have very loose gun laws.

The bottom line is that lots of guns means lots of gun injuries and deaths. Dividing people into “good” ones who can get a gun and “bad” ones who shouldn’t, just doesn’t work. Many of the guns out there—handguns, assault rifles, automatic weapons—are designed specifically for killing people, and that is what they do, whether by intention, accident, or suicide.

But the public is way ahead of lawmakers in supporting change, and have found some success in a few places, like California. But the industry is not sitting still. The bill to legalize silencers and allow open-carry laws to be valid across state lines is still out there waiting to be passed by Congress. And the much ballyhooed idea of banning bump stocks has gone nowhere, despite the seeming universal openness to the idea, by even the NRA. California’s Dianne Feinstein is reintroducing an assault weapon restriction bill, but it is generally considered dead on arrival. But hey, it’s worth a try, right?

Meanwhile, America is held hostage by a fading industry, said Sugarman. While two-thirds of Americans live in gun-free homes, and only 1.5% of the population belongs to the NRA, they somehow exert more control over Congress than the will of the people. Sugarman said we need to focus on solutions, not slogans that will sell. Gun violence is a preventable epidemic, he said, with 33,000 annual deaths of Americans. We need to ask ourselves, are we doing everything in our power to prevent gun violence?

Learn more about Americans Against Gun Violence at aagunv.org.

Listen to Josh Sugarman on CapRadio.org on Insight from November 1.

Read a piece on recent gun violence written by Bill Durston, reprinted on this website: The Air Force is Not the Problem, A Good Guy With a Gun is Not the Solution

The Air Force Is Not the Problem… And A Good Guy with a Gun Is Not the Solution

By Bill Durston, President, Americans Against Gun Violence

Dr. Bill Durston, Americans Against Gun Violence

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, in which 25 people were killed, including numerous children and a pregnant woman, and 20 others wounded, it has come to light that the gunman, Devin Kelley, had been hospitalized involuntarily for mental illness and imprisoned for domestic violence while serving in the Air Force. Much of the media attention surrounding the shooting focused on the fact that the Air Force didn’t report Kelley’s mental illness and domestic violence conviction to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). A secondary focus of media attention has been the fact that Kelley was shot and wounded by a good Samaritan who lived nearby as Kelley was leaving the church.

Devin Kelley booking photo

Devin Kelley booking photo

As a result of not being listed in the NICS, Kelley had no trouble purchasing four guns from gun stores in Colorado and Texas, including the assault rifle that he used in the church shootings and the handgun that he later used to kill himself. The Sutherland Springs resident who shot Kelley twice with his own assault rifle, 55 year old Stephen Willeford, clearly risked his life in rushing to the church when he heard gunshots, but Kelley had already exited the church by the time that Willeford arrived and shot him. Despite being shot by Willeford in the leg and torso, Kelley was able to drive off in his SUV at high speed. Willeford hailed a passing driver, 26 year old Johnnie Langendorff, and they gave chase in Langendorff’s truck. Kelley crashed his car about 10 minutes later and was found dead in his vehicle by law enforcement officers, apparently as a result of having shot himself in the head.

Should the Air Force have reported Kelley’s hospitalization for mental illness and imprisonment for domestic abuse to the NICS?

Definitely. Preliminary reports indicate that it was not an individual clerical error but rather a system wide problem that resulted in the failure to report not only Kelley to the NICS but also multiple other Air Force personnel who should be prohibited from owning guns.

Would reporting Kelley to the NICS have prevented the Sutherland Springs mass shooting? Possibly. But under Texas’s lax gun control laws, even if he was prohibited from buying a gun from a federally licensed firearm dealer at a gun store as a result of being on the NICS database, Kelley still could have purchased a gun without a background check from a private “kitchen table” gun dealer or at a gun show.

Since the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed prohibiting “mental defectives” and individuals convicted of domestic violence from owning guns, how many mass shootings have been committed by other individuals who, like Kelley, fell into prohibited categories while in the military but were not reported to the appropriate civilian authorities?

None that I’m aware of. Of the more than 1.5 million U.S. civilians killed by guns since 1968 in single shooting incidents, there must have been some who fell into the same prohibited but unreported category as Kelley, but the point is, closing the “Air Force loophole,” which definitely should be done, is in and of itself not going to have a measurable effect in preventing mass shootings in the United States or in reducing the daily toll of gun violence.

And what about the “good guy with a gun” argument?

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (Facebook)

Obviously, you’d have to be out of touch with reality (as many gun zealots are) to claim that the Sutherland Springs mass shooting is an example of a “good guy with a gun” successfully stopping a “bad guy with a gun.” The action of Stephen Willeford was definitely heroic, but by the time that he shot and wounded Devin Kelley outside of the First Baptist Church, Kelly had already killed 25 people and wounded 20 others inside the church. An FBI study of 160 mass shootings between 2000 and 2013 found only one case in which an armed bystander other than a security guard or off duty police officer stopped a mass shooter. In 21 cases, unarmed bystanders disarmed and restrained the shooter. Whether the Sutherland Springs mass shooting would be considered by the FBI to be a case in which a mass shooting was interrupted by an armed bystander is unclear. While it’s possible that Kelley might have gone on to shoot other people after leaving the church, the evidence available at this time indicates that he had a vendetta against church members, and he’d already discarded his assault rifle by the time that Willeford shot him.

So, where do we go from here?

Following the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas on October 1, attention was focused on “bump stocks,” devices used by Stephen Paddock to make his semi-automatic rifles fire almost as rapidly as fully automatic ones. Brief consideration was given to banning “bump stocks,” but as usual, Congress took no action to prevent future mass shootings. Now, as the Sutherland Springs mass shooting fades from the spotlight, the Air Force has announced that it’s going to review its protocols for reporting Air Force personnel who should be prohibited from owning guns to the NICS, but no other action is being seriously considered by Congress to prevent future mass shootings.

A recent New York Times article about mass shootings in the United States concluded with a quotation from a British journalist, Dan Hodges, who wrote:

In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

In essence, Mr. Hodges is stating that the United States of America is a country that loves its guns more than its children. While I have come to the cynical conclusion that this statement may be true for some people in our country, I hope it’s not true for the majority, and I know it’s not true for you or for anyone else on our Americans Against Gun Violence listserv. I also strongly disagree with Mr. Hodges’s statement that the US gun control debate is over. On the contrary, I believe that the founding of Americans Against Gun Violence last year marks a new beginning.

Below is a list of what I see as some of the take home lessons from the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs mass shootings.

Please contact your state and federal elected officials to demand that they take the actions in bold print. (You can click on this link and enter your zip code to get the names and contact info for your elected officials. If you’re calling from a smart phone, you might want to enter the numbers of your US senators, your US representative, and your state legislators into your contact list for ease of calling in the future.) You can contact your elected officials about any one of the “bullet points” below that you feel most strongly about, or better yet, you can contact the same officials on a new bullet point every day until you’ve gone through the whole list.

  • All background check loopholes should be closed. A thorough background check should be required for any gun sale or transfer.
    Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward requiring thorough background checks for all gun sales and transfers.
  • All semi-automatic rifles should be banned, with no grandfather clause, as was done in Australia within just 13 days of the infamous Port Arthur massacre there in 1996. Such weapons are specifically designed for the purpose for which Devin Kelley and Stephen Paddock employed them – to kill and maim large numbers of people in a short period of time. There is no legitimate civilian use for such weapons.
  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward a complete ban on all semi-automatic rifles comparable to the ban enacted in Australia in 1996.
  • The paradigm for determining who can and cannot own a gun in the United States is backward. As the article in the New York Times referenced above pointed out, the United States is one of only three countries in the world, the other two being Mexico and Guatemala, in which the default position for someone seeking to acquire a gun is that the person can have the gun unless society can prove that he or she falls into a category of persons prohibited from owning one. In every other country of the world, the default position is that the person cannot have a gun unless he or she can prove why he or she needs one. And in most other high income democratic countries, “self defense” is not accepted as a reason for owning a gun given the well established fact that guns in the possession of honest, law-abiding people are much more likely to be used to kill or injure them than to protect them.
  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward requiring persons seeking to acquire a gun to submit convincing evidence that they have a good reason for having a gun and that they can handle one safely.
  • It’s the guns, stupid! As documented in the New York Times article on mass shootings, the reason why the United States is the only high income democratic country in the world in which mass shootings occur on a regular basis, and why the overall rate of gun related deaths in the USA is 10 times higher than the average in these other countries, is that the rate of gun ownership in our country is much higher than in every other high income democratic country of the world. The high rate of gun ownership in the United States is due, in turn, to our exceedingly lax gun control laws as compared with every other high income democratic country.
  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward the adoption of the same kind of stringent gun control laws in the United States that have long been in place in every other high income democratic country of the world, including a complete ban on civilian ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and stringent restrictions, if not a complete ban, on civilian ownership of handguns.
  • Good guys with guns don’t prevent mass shootings or reduce the daily toll of gun violence in our country. On the contrary, people with concealed weapons permits have committed mass shootings and many other criminal homicides. (See the Violence Policy Center report on “Concealed Carry Killers” for more information on this topic.)
  • Contact your US Senators and your US Representative and demand that they oppose H.R.38 and S.B.446, bills to make a concealed weapons permit issued in one state good in any other state.

Until the rogue Heller decision in 2008, there was no “Second Amendment right” for anyone to own any kind of a gun in the United States outside of service in a “well regulated militia.” Even after Heller, there’s no constitutional right to own an assault rifle. (See the post on the Facts and FAQ’s page of the Americans Against Gun Violence website concerning the Second Amendment for more details.)

  • Contact your elected officials to demand that they openly advocate and actively work toward overturning the rogue Heller decision and restore the Second Amendment to its original meaning.
  • Contact PBS and demand that it retract the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment by CBS commentator William Brangham on the PBS News Hour during coverage of the Sutherland Springs mass shooting on November 7.
    • Brangham stated, “In the United States, the Second Amendment gives citizens broad rights to keep and bear arms. The Supreme Court has several times affirmed this fact.”
    • This statement is grossly inaccurate. See the post concerning the Second Amendment on the Facts and FAQ’s page of the Americans Against Gun Violence website for details.
    • In addition to demanding that PBS retract Brangham’s misrepresentation of the Second Amendment, demand that PBS rebroadcast the PBS News Hour segment from December 16, 1991, in which the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger stated in regard to the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment by the NRA that was endorsed by Brangham, “This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
    • If you’re a PBS contributor, mention this in your message.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, please become an official paid member of Americans Against Gun Violence, and please make an additional donation if you’re able.

The above “to do” may seem like a tall order. At our first annual dinner on October 22, though, our keynote speaker, Joshua Sugarmann, stated:

Gun violence is at epidemic levels in the United States, and this epidemic is preventable. You and I know that, and this knowledge is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that we know how to stop the epidemic of gun violence that afflicts our nation. The curse is that when the next “worst mass shooting” occurs, we can’t just shake our heads like so many others and wonder why these horrific tragedies keep occurring.  Instead, we have to ask ourselves, are we doing everything within our own power to prevent them?

Thanks for supporting Americans Against Gun Violence and for doing everything reasonably within your power to help stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence in the United States of America.

Bill Durston, MD
President, Americans Against Gun Violence
Reprinted courtesy Bill Durston