Friday, September 20, 2013

My Testimony to the Massachussetts Panel on Homeland Security and Public Safety

I come before you today out of great concern over several bills being considered by the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. While there are some welcome ideas and proposals that would seek to end backward practices like mandating permits to carry pepper spray and to limit the discretion police chiefs have over firearms licensure in general, I am disappointed to note that in the wake of immense tragedies, my elected officials have taken it upon themselves to draft bills that they know have very little to do with improving public safety and everything to do with enhancing their own public profiles.

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I consider myself an astute observer of both politics and the media, so I get it – being a politician now, more than ever is a career.  Staying in the spotlight is crucial to maintaining that career and passing bills that get people talking at the dinner table, on social media and on the morning talk shows is just another form of self-promotion, especially for those who have ambitions for higher office.

 Again, I understand, but when such promotion comes at the expense of civil rights, we have a problem.

Chief among the bills that I have concerns with, is the following:

House Bill 3282 seeks to mandate liability insurance for gun owners.  For many reasons, I find this bill troubling and offensive – for one, in a state that already has backlogs of 6 months and longer to process firearms permits and renewals, I can just imagine the additional time, frustration and cost this will add to an already lengthy and arduous process.

Insurance for firearms ownership is also troubling from a civil rights perspective. Whether the opposition likes it or not, whether they believe in it or not, owning a firearm is indeed a civil right not only enumerated by the Constitution of the United States, but upheld several times in the Supreme Court, notably through the Heller and McDonald rulings, respectively. 

With this in mind, I’d like to know what other constitutional rights Representative Toomey wishes to see insured prior to my exercising them? Should those outside the State House, protesting for and against these bills be required to have a policy that insures against injuries that might result from scuffles or hurt feelings?

Should Jim Braude or Rush Limbaugh have proof of insurance in case what they say on air gives a misguided individual the idea to harm others based on the opinions they espouse? Should churches, mosques and temples and those who attend them, be insured against thought crimes or hate crimes because some of their practices and expressed beliefs might offend others?

Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t write these down, they aren’t suggestions!

Another issue I have with this bill is that by all definitions, it is an exercise in class warfare. Some of us will be able to afford to purchase the additional insurance, but many won’t. With the already high costs of homeowner’s insurance, car insurance and the ever increasing costs of healthcare, family budgets are being stretched to their absolute limits. How is this fair to someone who just wants a firearm to protect their family? Or to the generations of hunters, collectors and enthusiasts who we all know are not contributing to the net effects of crime and violence in the Commonwealth?

To answer simply, it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair and again, forgive the cynic in me, all this really appears to be is an attempt to make firearms ownership in the Commonwealth difficult, if not impossible to achieve. 

SB3282, like similar bills mandating expensive security systems, new storage requirements for certain classes of firearms and magazine limits to 7 rounds are just a sad charade by certain legislators to give the appearance of “doing something” while accomplishing nothing. These bills will have no net effect on reducing crime because they target the wrong people.

As a law abiding gun owner living in the Commonwealth, I underwent the process of taking the necessary classes, submitting letters of recommendation, getting fingerprinted, having my background checked by the Massachusetts State Police, interviewing with my local police chief, paying my 100 dollar fee and then waiting several weeks so that I could finally, and in the eyes Commonwealth, lawfully exercise lawfully my right to keep and bear arms.

I think you’re asking enough of us already. You know who we are, you’ve checked us out. We’re your neighbors, friends, family members and your constituents. Instead of making our lives harder, why not pursue actual criminals with the same zeal you do those who actually obey the laws?

What disappoints me most about these bills is that they show an incredible lack of creativity and ignore the complexities surrounding gun violence.

I was just a sixth grader when 12 year old Tiffany Moore was shot to death in Dorchester in 1988. I can recall vividly the nuns at Saint Mary of the Hills School trying to explain to my classmates and I why bad things happen to good people.

What I remember most about that tragedy however was how the community reacted to it versus how things are today. Tiffany’s death served as a rallying cry that woke up entire neighborhoods to the realities of crime and caused a groundswell of everyday people to work with the police, with church groups and civic leaders not only to report crime, but to address the underlying issues that caused crime to begin with.

What resulted in the years after Tiffany’s death was in every sense of the word, a Boston Miracle: those caught with illegal firearms were prosecuted swiftly and severely.

Homicides in the city dropped as the worst figures in the city’s gang culture were given well deserved and lengthy prison sentences.

In effect, deterrence was achieved.

The Boston Miracle wasn’t a success because a politician used kids as cheap props to push gun control.  It succeeded because everyday people knew what the stakes were and committed themselves to working with both law enforcement and with their respective community groups. They knew then that the stakes were high and that they were real and instead of relying on empty slogans or blaming the NRA, these people worked together to fight crime, look after each other and provided real alternatives to kids who would otherwise fall prey to the lure of gang life and violence. 

I urge you to look to the past, take the best elements of the Boston Miracle and build upon it. The worst criminals, the repeat violent offenders, gun traffickers should all face justice that has no compromises. There are already laws on the books that address these crimes, so there’s really no need to create new ones.

So I ask you, where is that kind of leadership today?  Where are the men and women of action? Why are our elected officials not looking to successful models of the past and using them as the basis of a sound strategy today? 

I hate to say it, but I think it’s because it involves too much hard work.  Apparently, it’s a lot easier to just draft a new law as opposed to rolling up your sleeves and doing the work your constituents elected you to do.  So with all due respect to Representatives Toomey, Linsky and Senator Creem, I’ve about given up on trying to convince you to do the right thing – your ambition makes it impossible to have a rational conversation on the matter.

To the other elected officials, I urge you to look to the spirit of the Boston Miracle and act. If you’re truly concerned about violence, as I am, you know that it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than empty gestures, speeches and feel good laws that affect only those who had no intention of breaking them in the first place.

I ask you, as my elected officials and representatives in government to act – not as politicians seeking to retain your jobs, but as my neighbors and friends.

I ask that you encourage your constituencies instead of relying on government to take care of them, to work towards building secure and sustainable communities. To look after one another and to take an active interest in the well-being of everyone in the community.

Community, like charity however, begins in the home and begins with the family. We need over and above community activism, for parents to be parents and positive role models for their children. Stay active and aware of your kids and their lives. Encourage them to be good citizens and to care for younger children. You, as elected officials, can be instrumental in supporting parents in that mission.

In closing, I wish to thank you for your consideration and attention. Know this however – we have no intention of backing down or surrendering our ideals for a false agenda. Last April, nearly 2,000 of us stood outside the State House to protest these laws. We are committed to protecting our rights from knee jerk legislation such as has been proposed today. We’re going to stay out there, we’re going to get louder, I hope that this committee has the courage to listen.  

13 Shot in Chicago and Its All My Fault

13 people were shot last night in a Chicago area park.

Yet as a law abiding gun owner, living thousands of miles away, this is my fault.

13 shot in a Chicago park, and somehow I'm to believe that more laws will have prevented this carnage.

13 shot in a Chicago park and we're still hearing the cacophony of media whores desperately attempting to leave the bloodstains at the door step of the National Rifle Association.

The incongruous nature of these responses has me wondering if there's any sense left in the United States, if there are any people worthy of being considered intellectual, much less thinking beings to begin with. I own firearms, yes. I use them for self protection and for the sheer joy of owning pieces of history, but somehow that makes me a bad person, someone who doesn't care about the lives of other people.

 The cold hard facts are this, I do care about the lives of others, even those in Chicago, who have to put up with this endless cycle of violence on a regular basis. It has to be tough to be a Chicagoan, I know not all of them are bad, to have to hear about your city being touted as one of the most violent in the United States.

If I were from Chicago, I'd be pretty tired of hearing about the failings in my city's leadership, that have not only lacked the imagination to address violence, but have allowed the social fabric of the city to decay to the point where violence isn't just something that happens in certain areas, but is a way of life for most of the city.

So 13 die in Chicago and here I am in Worcester and somehow its all my fault because I own firearms legally, responsibly and for protection against my own slice of Chicago, should it come to my door. I'm to blame, even though I carry because our leadership has gone so out of whack as to limit CORI checks for employers, allowing known felons to walk among us unchecked. I'm to blame even though our schools are churning out the lowest quality product while proclaiming themselves the "smartest" state in the nation. I'm to blame because I know some of these low quality products will eventually decide that scraping by on minimum wage the rest of their lives is foolish when they live in a culture that glamourizes gang violence and street warfare on any number of cable stations or video games that are available to them.

Yes, its my fault. I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that after a marked decline in gun deaths since the 1990s, that our leadership is not taking advantage of the situation and punishing those who commit crimes. I'm sorry that instead, our leadership has decided to focus on the object, the tool used in crime, instead of failing to actually address the root causes of violence in the United States. I'm sorry that there is more will to appear to do something by passing laws that affect only the law abiding while completely ignoring the cultural erosion that fosters and encourages young men to kill each other.

I have no way to atone for my sins other than with complete and utter defiance. I have no way to seek salvation except to stand true to the principals of my founding fathers, who died to ensure that I'd have a chance at pursuing happiness just as the ghetto-poor kid in Chicago does. I have no way to make peace with this until I make certain that those in fear of violence have some measure of keeping themselves safe.

 I am sorry. I am sorry that I have not fought hard enough to protect our Second Amendment rights, not just for myself, but for that same ghetto-poor kid on the South Side, for his parents for his family. Perhaps if they were aware that freedom means so much more than being free of government oppression, but from the societal failings of those around them. They too, have a right to be free from the tyranny of gang violence, police apathy and social decline.

So I am sorry for what happened in Chicago and what happens in the Chicagos across the United States on a daily basis. I am sorry and will seek forgiveness not from our government or the courts but from Jefferson, Washington, Adams and Franklin. I've failed to live to your vision and sacrifice and in so doing, let down those I should have looked out for. The true ethos of the American ideology is that we look out for one another as if they were our own and I'm committed living that vision again.

Until all of us are free to live our lives apart from tyranny, be it the tyranny of power hungry governments or from the ever looming specter of a failed culture of violence, we will never achieve what our fathers bled for. No longer can we sit back and do nothing. No longer can we look at places like Chicago and say "well, its their problem," because it IS our problem.

In the name of the Revolution and all who gave everything to secure my future, I re-commit myself to them and what they fought for.

I urge everyone to do the same.