Law

Hey Bert, Is This Thing Loaded?

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Since the Newtown shootings, liberal commentators have been paying greater attention to all kinds of firearm-related issues, including accidental shootings. Josh Marshall in particular often tweets the accidental shooting of the day—" Georgia Man Accidentally Shot Cousin to Death When Gun Fell From Lap " was today's, following on " Ohio Boy Fatally Shoots Brother With Handgun He Thought Was a BB Gun ." Which got me wondering, how many of these incidents are there? What interests me for the moment aren't homicides, but accidental shootings. How do they compare to other causes of accidental death and injury? We all know that vivid individual cases, no matter how vivid, don't necessarily give an accurate impression what's happening overall. So let's delve into the statistics, shall we? The first thing to understand is that accidental shootings make up a relatively small proportion of all the different ways Americans find to stumble, metaphorically speaking (though sometimes not) to their...

The Citizens United of the Culture Wars

Flickr/Mark FIscher
Flickr/Mark FIscher E ven a broken clock is right twice a day. Heeding calls from gay-rights supporters, business groups, and Republicans like John McCain and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on Wednesday Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed a "religious liberty" bill that would have allowed for-profit businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians so long as they were motivated by "sincerely held religious belief.” A nearly identical law failed to advance in Kansas last week. Now, in light of the blowback, anti-gay discrimination bills in conservative legislatures—including Mississippi, Georgia, and Oklahoma— have stalled , and even lawmakers who voted for such measures are stepping back their support. The failure of these anti-gay discrimination bills amounts to a stern rebuke to the religious right, which sees defeat on the horizon in the gay-marriage fight. Just in the past two months, judges have overturned bans on same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, and...

Who Cares About Clarence Thomas's Silence?

AP Images/Michael Dwyer
8 years ago this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case called Holmes v. South Carolina . Justice Clarence Thomas began to question one of the litigators—"Counsel, before you change subjects..."—and pursued his line of inquiry with a lengthy follow-up. This otherwise ordinary event is now famous, because it represents the last time Justice Thomas has asked a question at oral argument. To many liberals already disinclined to take a charitable view towards a reactionary jurist, this is a major dereliction of duty at best. The latest to make this argument is Jeffrey Toobin, the invaluable legal analyst at the New Yorker . Thomas's behavior, claims Toobin, "has gone from curious to bizarre to downright embarrassing," and "[b]y refusing to acknowledge the advocates or his fellow-Justices, Thomas treats them all with disrespect." Toobin's argument is more narrowly focused and plausible than many similar critique's of Thomas's ongoing silence. But I remain unconvinced that...

Daily Meme: El Chapo and Our War on Drugs

Splashed all over this weekend's news was the capture of Joaquín Guzmán Loera aka, El Chapo , the Mexican drug kingpin ranked #67 on Forbes' s "Powerful People" list who got his billions from the being the man in at the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, responsible for an estimated 25 percent of the illegal drugs that make their way across the U.S.-Mexico border. The capture was surprisingly undramatic—he was found in bed—especially for a man who created a network of tunnels connecting six safe houses (one which emptied into a bathroom of his ex-wife's house ... cheeky of him). Now is as good a time as any to review the facts of the U.S. War on Drugs. Spoiler alert: It ain't pretty, and the capture of one guy probably won't change much about the current state of affairs. Last February, The Chicago Crime Commission named El Chapo Public Enemy No. 1 (a title once held by the irrepressible Al Capone). "While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in...

The Fatal Flaw in the Right's Latest Case Against Marriage Equality

Parents at a gay pride parade imparting dangerous values to their children. (Flickr/Caitlin Childs)
A trial starts tomorrow in federal court about whether Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional, and as the New York Times explained over the weekend, it will offer an interesting test of the best research conservatives could come up with to support their contention that gay parents are bad for children. When we take a close look at what they'll put on the stand, it shows something that I think applies to a lot of areas of the conservative movement these days: when they try to play seriously on the field of ideas, what they come up with is, frankly, pathetic. After years of watching researchers fail to find any ill effects of children being brought up by gay people, conservatives felt like they had to do something, and here's what they did: In meetings hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington in late 2010, opponents of same-sex marriage discussed the urgent need to generate new studies on family structures and children, according to recent pretrial depositions of...

Roberts Was Wrong on Voter Rights

AP Images/Rex Features
Writing about the Supreme Court's outrageous decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder at Talking Points Memo , Amel Amhed of University of Massachusetts Amherst writes that "the court’s decision was correct about one thing: Section 4 — and frankly, Section 5 as well — was obsolete, and it had been rendered inadequate by changing facts on the ground." To be clear, Amhed's intention in making the claim that "Roberts was right" is not that Congress shouldn't protect voting rights—indeed, she advocates going further than the 1965 Act, and I agree with many of her proposals. The problem is that under Shelby County it's not clear what Congress can do to protect voting rights, and liberals shouldn't let the Roberts Court off the hook. And while like most pieces of legislation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was "obsolete," saying so plays into the hands of conservatives who would prefer that Congress do nothing to protect voting rights. I've outlined the problems with...

Platinum-Level Citizenship

AP Images/Robert F. Bukaty
A sk a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you're likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a "war on religion" since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there's little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind. In the process, they have made a rather spectacular claim, though not explicitly. What they seek is nothing short of a different definition of American citizenship granted only to highly religious people, and highly religious Christians in particular. They...

Arkansas's Medicaid Folly

AP Images/Brian Chilson
On Tuesday, the Arkansas state legislature failed to renew a bill authorizing its expanded-Medicaid plan, an innovative approach to Obamacare that allowed the state to use federal funds to purchase private insurance for the state's low-income residents. Arkansas's unique plan was a compromise between the state's Democratic governor, Mike Beebe, and the Republican-led legislature, and made the state one of the few ultra-conservative ones to bother expanding Medicaid. In the 25 states that didn't expand, many of the poor are still doing without insurance, because the federal subsidies weren't designed to kick in until people made above a certain threshold. If Arkansas doesn't renew its Medicaid program, more than 87,000 people who've gotten insurance this year will suddenly lose it again. Opponents are complaining that the plan is expensive. To begin with, the entire cost is paid for by the federal government until 2016, and after that the state will never chip in more than 10 percent...

It's Not Illiberal To Defend Fundamental Rights

AP Images/Idaho Statesman/Joe Jaszewski
"In addition to whatever else the prosecution can prove," a judge told a defense lawyer on an early episode of Law & Order , "your client is guilty of bad timing." The same is true of The Week 's Damon Linker, who wrote two posts urging liberals to temper their pursuit of justice for gays and lesbians in order to to respect the religious freedom of opponents of equal rights. Unfortunately for Linker, this was the same month the Kansas state House of Representatives passed abominable legislation that would have allowed not only private employers but state employees to discriminate against gays and lesbians. It demonstrated exactly where this kind of logic can lead. I will assume that Linker, like even a number of Republicans in the Kansas Senate, would not advocate going as far as the Kansas House did. But given the extent to which support for discriminating against gays and lesbians is being advanced under the banner of "religious liberty," it worth noting that Linker's more...

We Have Known Black Boys (But None Have Been Bullet-Proof)

After today's verdict in Jordan Davis's murder trial, a writer reacts in verse.

Jordan Davis (1995-2012)
*/ AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Mack A makeshift memorial to Jordan Davis, who was shot to death after an argument over loud music. I have known black boys, known them in airless classrooms where the scent of their too-strong cologne worked overtime masking the cling of their sweat to skin and hormones. And I have known their scratching, grabbing, tugging at the belt loops of too-big pants, have involuntarily memorized the plaids and imprints on their boxers. I have known boys like underripe fruit, a pit of eventual sweetness at the core of them, encased in a bitter pulp, toughening from too little tending or underexposure to light. I have watched them become principles in death when they were not finished learning what it would mean to be principled in life. I have known them nursing dreams with slimming odds of realization, heard them reasoning with the wardens behind their private walls, scraping at the doors some white man’s stubborn shoulder intended to force closed...

There's No Place Like Homophobic Kansas

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner Representative Ray Merrick, speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, which passed a broad bill allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians last week. C ount it as yet another thing wrong with Kansas, where schools teach kids Adam and Eve rode the dinosaurs and it's safer to be a gang member than an abortion provider . Last week, lawmakers in the state's Republican-controlled House of Representatives set off outrage across the country by passing a law that would not only make it legal for private businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgender people; it would also permit state employees—long obliged by our legal tradition to serve all customers on equal terms—to deny LGBT people basic services as long as they are motivated by "sincerely held religious beliefs." Narrow exemptions for religious and religiously-affiliated institutions have increasingly become a standard part of gay-marriage bills as more and more states begin to enact...

Guns and the Thug Life

AP Images/The Florida Times-Union/Bob Mack
On Saturday night, the jury in the case of Michael Dunn rendered a strange verdict, convicting Dunn of attempting to murder the three teens who survived the hail of fire he sent at their car, but deadlocking on the charge of murdering the one he succeeded in killing. We may never know what went on in the jury room, but if nothing else, Dunn will not be driving into any more parking lots and getting into any more arguments that end in death, at least not for some time. This case is, of course about race, which we'll get to in a moment. But it's also about—to use a word that crops up repeatedly in Michael Dunn's written comments—a culture. It's a culture where manhood must continually be proven, where every disagreement is a test of strength, and where in the end, your fellow human beings are only waiting to kill you, so you'd better draw first. This was the culture of violence that Michael Dunn carried with him to the convenience store, the one that ended the life of 17-year-old Jordan...

Marriage Equality Opponents Left With Nothing But Tradition

Now there's a traditional marriage. I believe that's Tasha Yar presiding. (Flickr/TrekRadio)
2013 was not a good year for opponents of marriage equality. Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Minnesota were added to the list of states allowing same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court. And if anything, 2014 is shaping up to move even faster. Earlier this week, a judge in Kentucky ruled that the state must honor same-sex marriages performed in other states. And last night, a federal judge in Virginia struck down the ban on same-sex marriage the state passed in 2006. The judge stayed her decision until a higher court can rule on the inevitable appeal. But with these cases piling up, it seems obvious that the Supreme Court is going to rule sooner rather than later on the legality of same-sex marriage bans, something they've been trying to avoid until now. And with the continued evolution of American culture and public opinion in favor of equality, the chance that those bans will be...

Kansas's Radical Attack on Gays and Lesbians

Flickr/John Lemieux
The bill passed by the Kansas House of Representatives today has a bland title—"An act concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage." But the language cannot conceal the vicious discrimination it's intended to protect. The bill would allow not only private businesses but, quite remarkably, state officials to withhold services from gays and lesbians as long as it is motivated by a "sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender." This reprehensible proposed law would render gays and lesbians second-class citizens in Kansas and deprives them of rights most people have long taken for granted. The law allows private business to deny gays and lesbians "services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges" based on their sexual orientation. By granting immunity to anyone who denies services to gays and lesbians based on an asserted religious belief, it would prevent gays and lesbians from suing even based on common-...

Racial Fears, Gun Fantasies, and Another Dead Teenager

Dirty Harry confronts a punk.
Among the arguments I've made about the troubling aspects of American gun culture is the way so many gun owners have in their heads a dangerous fantasy about what the world is like and what role they play in that world. The people I'm talking about, the ones who think it's terribly important that they be able to bring their firearms into any store or coffee shop or church they might visit, believe that every moment of every day in every place they go is nothing more than a violent situation just waiting to happen. Will they be there to stop a mass shooting at the Safeway? Will they be walking down the street and come upon a group of heavily armed thieves taking down an armored truck? Will they encounter an al-Qaeda strike team at the Starbucks, and this 50-year-old insurance salesman with a concealed carry license will be the only thing that stands between America and disaster? They sure seem to think so. Is that all gun owners? Of course not. It's not even most gun owners. But it's...

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