Progressive Gun Policy

Much energy has been expended debating whether individual citizens in America have a right to own and carry firearms.  For some Americans the issue is a priority, while others have not thought much about it.

In the typical urban or suburban existence, firearms play only a small role.  While the presence of firearms for many folks may be nearly non-existent in their daily activity, they do see consistent reference to “gun violence” in the media.  Many choose to have no contact with firearms because they feel guns are dangerous and menacing and not deserving of their time and attention.  The feeling may be that the potential for all deadly force should reside in representatives of the government or licensed personal security.

Typically the more rural perspective views firearms as valuable tools.  They are instruments of personal protection when necessary and may be used to gather food for the meal pot.  This view is prevalent in American places without round-the-clock or sparse law enforcement resources and families who have the tradition of hunting or the necessity of protecting themselves, their families, domestic animals and fowl from predators.

There appears to be so little common ground to base any limitations on individual gun ownership and use throughout America.  A 2004 law journal article by Edwin Chemerinsky “Putting the Gun Control Debate in Social Perspective” clearly explains how this differentiation occurs and how the individual and collective rights views interrelate.

Fordham Law Review Article Social Perspective of Gun Control Debate

The Chemerinsky article was written before the findings in District of Columbia v. Heller.  The 2008 Supreme Court Decision established a federal right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within a home.  A law journal article by Benjamin H. Weissman provides additional background about the history of firearms limitations and outlines how both Heller defined a basic right and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) incorporated and applied this right to the States.  The general media debate on guns is often about context, political and personal factors.  In contrast, the law journal article does a good job providing historical and legal context which is prerequisite for a mature consideration of beneficial progressive gun policies.

Fordham Law Review Article Heller & McDonald

While the Courts have considered various cases and controversies, the political battle has waged. A stark party divide appears to have increasingly developed between Republicans who embrace broad individual rights under the Second Amendment and Democrats who are increasingly focused about “gun violence” which they maintain can be reduced through legislative and regulatory prohibitions.  Their argument is by eliminating the gun, the violence will also be abated.  Because this has not necessarily worked with local legislative efforts in some large cities, Democrats increasingly look to broad-based national prohibitions to address interstate commerce (both legal and illegal) in weapons.

Republic Party Platforms typically include language about protecting Second Amendment Rights.  Democratic Party Platforms in 2004, 2008, and 2012 specifically contained language about protecting Second Amendment Rights.  In 2016, there was no specific mention of the Second Amendment and instead the focus was on “preventing gun violence.”

With 33,000 Americans dying every year, Democrats believe that we must finally take sensible action to address gun violence. While responsible gun ownership is part of the fabric of many communities, too many families in America have suffered from gun violence. We can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe. To build on the success of the lifesaving Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, we will expand and strengthen background checks and close dangerous loopholes in our current laws; repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) to revoke the dangerous legal immunity protections gun makers and sellers now enjoy; and keep weapons of war — such as assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (LCAM’s) — off our streets. We will fight back against attempts to make it harder for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to revoke federal licenses from law breaking gun dealers, and ensure guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists, intimate partner abusers, other violent criminals, and those with severe mental health issues. There is insufficient research on effective gun prevention policies, which is why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must have the resources it needs to study gun violence as a public health issue. Democratic Platform, Page 34.

 The political action behind this platform language made it difficult for some “blue steel” Democrats to enthusiastically support the Democrat’s 2016 campaign.  While they may agree with many Democratic initiatives, the antipathy of the Democratic leadership to the importance of firearms in many American cultural settings has generated for some a personal political crisis.  They do not embrace typically Republican approaches that largely rely on unaccountable market mechanisms.  They see a need to universal health care and they are supportive of civil rights that does not focus on a personal denouncement of racism levied against some person or group.  While there is great apprehension about the incursions and possibly tyranny of the administrate state, they do see the value of “good” though limited government.  For them “small is beautiful”, both in terms of business and government.

Does such a philosophy have any standing in the American political scene?  In the past, it may have been seen as a progressive expression of “good government”.  Government should advance individual safety and support personal protection.  It should facilitate equal protection of the laws, economic stability, be transparent and seek engagement with its constituencies and always progress towards solutions.  It should be resilient and sustainable.  The view that firearms ownership and use has its place in the modern America is embraced by the Liberal Gun Club.  The March 30, 2016 Mic article “2nd Amendment Snowflakes:  In Trump’s America, liberals are finally reaching for their guns”: outlines why many liberal gun owners feel a better course is to look for underlying causes for the violence in our culture rather than focusing on proscribing specific firearms or their more visually menacing accoutrements.

 Liberal Gun Club Different Point of Views

A Liberal Gun Club blog article written on March 21st defined exactly its prescription for success.  “We favor root cause mitigation for violence prevention, stronger mental health care, addressing poverty, homelessness and unemployment rather than focusing on prohibiting or restricting one tool.”

Liberal Gun Club Root Causes

Addressing these various social factors is the essence of a progressive approach.  There has, however, been liberal efforts to solve these endemic issues for a long time.  Much money has been spent, but the problems are not solved and instead, today, we have drugs, despair, gangs and death from many weapons.  In my opinion, the inability to effectively address the persistent violence has required scapegoats.  While in many of these neighborhoods personal firearm ownership for self-protection is largely proscribed, the gun continues to be presented as the underlying culprit because it can be purchased illegally, is a tangible instrument of empowerment for individuals and gangs and is a common instrument of indiscriminate and violent death.  The general impression is not nuanced, it is easy to present it in the constantly-on and graphic media.

Most recently, The Guardian has done a nuanced analysis and has found that this violence occurs in relatively few neighborhoods.  By viewing the issue from a local perspective and addressing the underlying causes with appropriate organization and resources, we may make significant progress on addressing the violence without ineffectively making the focus of banning scapegoated pieces of steel.

Guardian local focus to address gun violence in America

While the Guardian article address the need to address root causes in specific neighborhoods, there is value in addressing from a progressive perspective, the actual language of the Second Amendment.  This should focus on the “well regulated” language in the amendment.  A progressive approach must embrace the right articulated by Heller in the Second Amendment while achieving significant safety through public and private firearm safety education programs and research into firearm related subjects that will enhance the safe use of firearms.   Examples of areas where progress may be achieved include:

  • Consistent firearms training must be available throughout the United States. The successor to the many governmental militias are local sheriff departments.  Federal funding should be available to support efforts where local sheriff departments make training and qualification available to support safe firearm use.  This would improve firearm safety and would enhance sheriff-community relations.
  • The NRA has an extensive firearms safety training program. Every effort should be made to advance firearms safety training through private youth organizations such as scouting and 4-H. The often-articulated aversion to firearms by some media outlets encourages a lack of firearm safety knowledge.  In terms of safety there is no advantage minimizing this knowledge.  The active effort should be to enhance it as a progressive policy.
  • Additional study of firearm subjects is important. The key is that it must not be agenda-driven, either pro or con.  Balanced and active review processes must be utilized to assure the conclusions reached are balanced based upon the research conducted.

A progressive approach to firearms policy offers the greatest advantage to preserve the right and apply it in a safe manner.  Over-time a transparent and interactive effort may develop common ground between constituencies that will lead to a safe application of a fully embraced American Constitutional right.

God Bless Those Hinterlanders

NY Times Digital Graphic Nov 10, 2012, Hinterlanders
NY Times Digital Graphic Nov 10, 2012, Hinterlanders

The votes have largely been counted for the 2016 Presidential Election.  Mr. Donald Trump is the apparent winner with more than 270 electoral votes. 

Today, on November 12th, there are protests in the street and a petition is circulating to the Electors to not vote for Mr. Trump but instead to seat Mrs. Clinton.  An on-line petition in fewer than two days has gathered over 3.5 million signatures asking the Electoral College to seat Mrs. Clinton.  The rationale is that Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote and “Mr. Trump is unfit to serve.”  “His scapegoating of so many Americans, and his impulsivity, bullying, lying, admitting history of sexual assault, and utter lack of experience makes him a danger to the Republic.” (, November 12, 2016)  We will see how the petition affects the counting of the Electors to occur in mid-December.

Electoral College:  Interestingly, the Electoral College has been reconsidered without change many times since the Twelfth Amendment.  Previously, Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 68 discussed “(t)he mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States . . .”

Hamilton explained, “Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire of foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.  How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?  But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention.”

Hamilton further explained, “All these advantages will happily combine in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such State in the national government, who shall assemble within the State, and vote for some fit person as President.  Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the President.   . . . .”

The Electoral College then is an instrument whereby the states specify to the national government who will be the Chief Magistrate.  The basic interaction is between the    states and the national government.

This has evolved as Daniel J. Boorstin explains in The Americans The National Experience “Although , contrary to the expectations of the framers, the Electoral College did not actually deliberate to choose a president, it made the winning of the separate clusters of the electoral votes of individual states the only way to the presidency.” (Boorstin, The Americans The National Experience, p.  430)

This evening I heard Eric Holder, the Former Attorney General, on the Bill Maher show talk about changing the formula.  He apparently wants a pure popular vote, pulling away from the States.  Just a few facts in this regard relative to the most recent presidential election:

  • Nationwide, on this date according to the New York Times, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 638,750
  • In LA County, California on this date according to the New York Times, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 1,112,035
  • In Cook County, Illinois, according to the New York Times, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 1,088,369
  • In Manhattan, New York, on this date according to the New York Times, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 465,546 votes

In my opinion, the Electoral College is an agreement reached between the States that formed the Constitution.  As The Federalist No. 68 advises, it was not controversial at the time – it was widely accepted.   It reflects a balance and wisdom essential to preserve the entire Nation.  We would not be well served by a formula that permits the People of LA County, Cook County, and Manhattan to set the course for the entire Nation.  America is and should be a pure partnership among the States and not a system where we have a few general partners and a whole batch of dependent, limited partners.  I simply will not settle for a limited partnership status in my national government.  I will be a determined opponent to manipulating this time-proven formula.

Metrolanders and Hinterlanders:  These are certainly interesting times and the issues we are experiencing relate to a profound disconnect between the peoples of America.  In the broadest of brushes, America has both Metrolanders and Hinterlanders and, of course, folks in between.  In June we posted an essay describing the profound disrespect displayed by Metrolanders for their Hinterlander countryman.  We suggested that Mr. Trump might be a catalyst to a “rising of the tribes”.

Rubes, Barbarians and the TVA

I felt it was a reach at the time, but something of the type appears to have occurred and the lower population densities of the hinterland, because of the Electoral College, may well have their day.  Our theme is that resilient actions such as winning an election do affirm durable truths. 

Practically, truths are subject to constant re-demonstration, so Hinterlanders will be best served if the programs they espouse minimize tempting reaction but instead ameliorative and constructive advancing future common American benefits.  Out of this they may well make short term gain into long term change for the better.

The story now is that urban and rural populations are separated in space and also in terms of values.  The question of the time is whether our elected leader, President-Elect Trump is capable of pulling off a Lincoln or even a Truman and historically advance his apparent Electoral College victory.

In my experience, the culture of the hinterland is based upon traditional values.  Its moral tradition is definitely Christian, based on the Bible though rural areas have proven over the life of the Republic accepting of many agriculturally based immigrant populations of various faiths.  Self-reliance including self-defense are basic values.  Guns are common in the culture and the opening of hunting season is equivalent to a holiday in many locales.  Humans are close to the environment and use its resources to heat their homes and place food on their tables.  For them it is a home and not a museum nor a monument.  From my experience in California’s Central Valley, I have found this is shared not only by ancient and recent natives, but also by immigrants, recently arrived.

News Cycle:  Though nationwide much information passes through the 24 hour news cycle, Hinterlanders see the mediums (except maybe Fox) as biased.  They see few or none generally admired anchors like Walter Cronkite from times past.  The presenters on CNN for example represent many aspects of America and many groups, but a plain spoken Hinterlander does not appear to be present for a daily news cast.  The chair for the hinterland is always vacant on CNN and many other primary news sources.  I will probably continue to watch CNN because it challenges many of my preconceptions and I grow to know Metrolander culture better.

Race:  In the hinterland there remains ethnic and racial disconnects, but by and large I have seen an integration and joint effort and in my experience there is a relatively small group espousing openly antagonistic racial and ethnic rhetoric.  In general, many folk have concerns and question these matters.

These areas are slower to embrace same sex marriage and their resistance is often framed in Biblical phrases and the tradition of marriage being between one man and one woman.  In my experience, these barriers are also being eroded and same sex couples are not uncommon where I have lived.

Listening to the 24 hour new cycle and reading the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, much of the dialogue has been racialized and sexualized.  My family watches CNN mostly and it was common for presenters, especially surrogates to accuse one individual or another of racism and sexism.

This was battering for many of us who though we tried to be good neighbors to all, who had worked successfully in very diverse situations and who always, worked to remove arbitrary biases in family settings.  We could easily see that if we presented a perspective slightly off the correct speech of certain groups we would be denounced as a racist or a sexist.  We should not denounce, but should instead discuss behavior.  What you see as racist or sexist may well not represent my understanding.  In fact, understanding should always be the goal and we should focus on behavior and not personalities if we are going to advance.

Colonization:  Hinterlanders are generally concerned about the mandating of “coastal” values.  In addition, in the Western hinterland the United States government owns vast tracts of land left over from the conquest of North America.  The land does provide some employment through Forest Service, Park Service and BLM employees, but it is subject to significant bureaucracy and constraint especially if it is converted to a park or monument.  Western Hinterlanders often react to these proposals as if they are being colonized by the Coastal Metrolanders.

Though there may be some local supervision, the policy aspects of public lands in hinterlander communities are dictated by folks far away.  When complaints are raised with local members of Congress (the only “power” to which many of us have any access) there is little they can achieve.  The encroachment of Federal authority is seen as growing.  From what use to be more flexible BLM and Forest lands more U.S. Monuments are being developed.  Because of the increased regulatory state, these are seen as taking the land away from local populations by outside Federal forces colonizing public lands surrounding well established, though often economically depressed, communities.

Endangered Species Act:  Federal regulation has had a tremendous impact.  In various local government jobs, I have had to deal with Endangered Species Act (ESA) issues.  This act is framed as preserving plant and animal populations that may be classified as endangered or threatened.  The impact is that Federal administrators have significant authority over development that could occur.  The act creates a debilitating constraint to enterprise in many Western areas and is a briar patch for rural interests.  Just by adding new species while leaving others on the books, rural governments, agricultural and development efforts are resisted.  An objective analysis regarding the impact of the act upon rural development would be of great interest because I believe it would show that billions – maybe a trillion dollars of local economy have been deprived communities affected by the ESA.  I clearly label this as a belief, and would be very interested in some detailed analysis.

Deplorables:  The cry of the Metrolanders may best expressed by Mrs. Clinton’s statement at the LGBT for Hillary Gala:   “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?  The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.”

What many Hinterlanders hear when she was preaching to her crowd in Manhattan is that the folk are neither respected nor accepted.  Attempting to use moral language and a politics of righteousness, the Metrolander spokesperson placed many of their number in a “basket of deplorables.”  Frankly, when presented with this type of incitement, it is a choice of fight or flight for those of us living at the end of a dirt road east of the Cascades in Oregon.  Mrs. Clinton’s words were an abusive attack on a broad swath of America.  We cannot just be mad about it – we need to find out how we can resolve this.  Why would such a powerful person speak such words?

Bifurcated – Americans -We want to look at America and Americans.  Instead, Bifurcated – Americans were featured, whether they be African American, Hispanic, LBGT, or Islamic.  Add to this list of  bifurcated-Americans White Working Class, Rural, and others and before long we lose any sense of American and appear to be caught up in many dual competing identities. Elections should not just be about assembling a set of groups with exclusive agendas where they win and others automatically lose – instead it should be about the common ground of America.  I should know more about Manhattan and quite a few folks out there should know more about Oregon east of the Cascades.

The main danger proposed by the Metrolanders is to diminish the rural parts of America.  They are not only park and open-space destinations for urban populations.  As the graphic above demonstrates these lands compose most of America.  As an observer of the 24 hour news cycle, the constant denouncements by Metrolander surrogates of “other” Americans as racists, misogynists, xenophobes and homophobes only exacerbates alienation and distrust.  It is apparently used as an attempt to achieve  moral high ground (“they go low, we go high”), but the net effect is to abolish dialogue.  We cannot talk about the full range of issues. The feeling is Hinterlanders must confess they are “sinners” before they can talk with the Metrolander “elite” and the frustration is that the discussion may only occur in a politically correct idiom.

God Bless those Hinterlanders.  The perception of the Nation before November 8, 2016 was of a very narrow swath of American territory and culture.  The pictures presented by the 24 hour news cycle and our entertainment industry consists of a limited urban experience.  The Hinterlanders have not had a voice.  Often they have been denigrated as rubes, hillbillys or in Bill Maher’s phrase “knuckle draggers”.  They had one symbolic shot and they voted:  God Bless them.

All of this is now in the lap of President-Elect Donald Trump.  To reiterate:  We pray he has the wisdom to find from short term gain, long term benefit for all of America.  His challenge is to establish and implement the resilient actions which will affirm durable truths for all Americans. 

We need to come to understand each other better and to truly care about other Americans.  It is a tall order and the direction of gravity is probably against Mr. Trump in this regard.  I have seen him as very smart, but not very wise, but I am often wrong.  He will need the reflection and resilience of a Lincoln to be successful in bringing America back together.  In this regard, let me present a few suggestion based on my own experiences over many decades in rural America:

National Service – In my opinion, the main affirmative result from the Vietnam War and the loss of tens of thousands of Americans was the improvement in racial relations within the United States.  It was a stormy period with huge amounts of conflict, but because of broad service from many walks of life, the draft brought many of us together in an uncomfortable circumstance.  Though there was internal racial conflict, generally in the field we opposed and fought a common enemy together.  Though successive wars our fighting force of all ethnic and racial groups has coalesced further.  We need real national service to improve our Country.  All young Americans must participate in military, environmental and health work and to the extent possible, those in retirement should have specific opportunities through Federal auxiliary organizations.  The U.S. government needs to lead the way.

Cultural Respect – Too often now, we fight each other on basic issues.  Guns is not mentioned often in the news cycle recently, but I saw a very predetermined efforts of Hillary Clinton to disarm America.  Many I talked with saw her advocacy as a cultural attack.  The Press always seemed to cover for her in many fact checks when they should have dug deeper so great distrust existed.

Culturally also, there is concern among the LGBT community regarding respect for their cultural.  We have to work for common ground between the community and America’s conservative religious traditions.  Most of all, members of the LGBT community must feel safe.  Our Country’s role is to guarantee the safety of all Americans, including giving them the tools to protect their own safety.

Much of my work was in diverse and minority-majority communities.  I saw very conservative folks at the American Legion, VFW or other venues embrace others of diverse cultural and racial backgrounds.  When it occurred at the Legion, it was because of a common experience, military service.  We must work to enhance common experience.  There is no automatic embrace, but we must strive for dialogue and for exchange.

Endangered Species Act – The U.S. government has asserted its power excessively on rural communities.  My particular concern is the Endangered Species Act that is often used as leverage to discourage enterprise and communities developing.  This act must be reformed.  No species should have a long-term status and any that are carried on any list beyond 5 years must be requalified.  The Endangered Species Act is now a flagrant political-power tool.  Reform is critical to assure the Act does not continue to serve as a deterrent to enterprise and communities.

Common Themes – These are just a few ideas about reforms and perspectives that would prove beneficial to all of America.  We must work to find common American themes and then to advance them throughout our many communities.  If we were not pulled apart so much by the appeals to Bifurcated-Americans, we would be more unequivocal in our directions.  We must find common themes for dialogue and exchange and a willingness to search for common ground without pursuing orthodoxy (“right opinion”).  This requires interaction and a willingness to recognize other Americans and to listen long before talking short.