Picture of a gun with a knotted barrel with the words "Stop the Violence" surrounding the gun.

Lighting the Way: National Speakout

Picture of a gun with a knotted barrel with the words "Stop the Violence" surrounding the gun.

Stop Gun Violence

Congressman John Lewis is leading a national speak-out on gun violence. He put together this video to share with everyone why we need to come together and why the “Black Caucus Demands Congress Hold Vote After Shootings”


Organizers hope that folks who live nearby will come to the west side of the US Capitol and fill the mall with our bodies, signs and voices. You can rsvp for the rally here.  If you can’t make this rally, please find your Members of Congress when they come home from the break and ask them to support real gun safety measures before more people die. The killer in Dallas had been “less than honorably” discharged from the military and he should have failed a background check.

Democrats to Hold  ‘ Lighting the Way’

National Speak Out: The Path Forward on Gun Violence

 WHO: Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (D-SC), Representative John Lewis (D-GA), Congressional Black Caucus, and Members of the House Democratic Caucus

WHAT and WHY: The House will be adjourning for a VERY long recess and this rally is to point out that they have failed to act on bills to promote gun safety.  If miracles happen, this will be a celebration.

  • Ensuring Universal Background Checks H.R. 1217, Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act
  •  Enacting No Fly, No Buy H.R. 1076, Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act
  • Closing the Charleston Loophole H.R. 3051, Background Check Completion Act
  • Barring Firearm Sales to Hate Crime Offenders H.R. 4603, Hate Crimes Prevention Act

WHEN: Thursday, July 14th at 7:30 PM

 WHERE:  West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building

Picture of a gun with a knotted barrel with the words "Stop the Violence" surrounding the gun.

We Need to Save Both Blacks, Police

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said it all in her tweet:

“Black Americans shouldn’t be killed in routine traffic stops, and police shouldn’t be killed while protecting and serving their communities.”

Picture of a gun with a knotted barrel with the words "Stop the Violence" surrounding the gun.

Stop Gun Violence

Nel's New Day

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s (D-NY) husband was killed in a mass shooting in 1993, the same horrific event that seriously wounded her son. Elected to Congress four years later, she fought for gun safety legislation. Not until 2007 did she succeed—in a small way. During the last session before winter holiday recess that year, Congress passed a law requiring federal agencies to keep up-to-date records on people who might be disqualified from purchasing guns such as those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, those convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment for more than a year, and those with documented mental health issues.  Other than a vote to renew a ban on plastic firearms in 2013, that’s the last gun safety legislation that got through Congress. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have died because of firearms, and the number of mass shootings are drastically increasing.

After the 50 deaths…

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Throwing Gun Safety Away in PA

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

I received an email late last night from CeaseFirePA  regarding pending legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Here’s the main part of that email regarding two bills designed to reduce gun safety within the state:

There has been a MAJOR development in our state House that is designed to seriously undermine our safety as Pennsylvanians. IT IS UP TO YOU TO ACT TODAY.

Our state House Judiciary Committee just released a surprise agenda for… March 18 and it’s a doozy. The legislators controlled by the gun lobby are trying to railroad five firearms related bills-at least two of which are extremely dangerous for Pennsylvania-through the legislature without giving the public time to weigh in on them. These dangerous Bills are:

-HB 921, which would eliminate Pennsylvania’s background check system (PICS)–a system that our state police swear by and that contains thousands of records, particularly mental health records and records of PFAs [Protection from Abuse orders]/domestic abuse, that are not included in the National Instant Check System (NICS);

-HB 2011, which would-for the first time EVER in Pennsylvania history-allow a special interest group (in this case, the gun lobby and groups like the NRA) and the interest group’s entire membership base special, automatic standing to sue towns and cities because the group does not like the ordinances that these towns have passed to increase the safety of their citizens, even when the ordinance has not been enforced against any member of that group.

—Rob Conroy, CeaseFirePA, Western PA Regional Director

Based on the Gun Safety resolution that both Pennsylvania NOW and National NOW passed, respectively, in January and February 2013, Pennsylvania NOW decided to oppose both of these bills.  [FYI for disclosure purposes, I serve on both of these organizations’ boards — as a member of the Executive Committee for Pennsylvania NOW and as a member representing the Mid-Atlantic Region on the National NOW Board of Directors]. For more information on this NOW policy, go to the end of this blog to see the text of the resolution passed on February 25, 2013 by the National NOW Board of Directors calling for Sensible Gun Safety Legislation; this policy passed following the many concerns raised by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.  My very first blog on this site was written the day of these shootings.)

Why Pennsylvania NOW Opposes these Bills

Pennsylvania NOW opposes HB 921 that eliminates PA’s background check for gun sales and increases the threat of gun violence to victims of domestic violence who have or want to seek out a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order.

Pennsylvania NOW also opposes HB 2011 since it allows special interest groups without legal standing to sue to overturn any local ordinance they don’t like.  This second bill could overturn not only local gun-related ordinances, but also other ordinances such as local anti-discrimination ordinances that have added marital status, familial status, family responsibilities, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in preventing discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Status of these Bills

The members of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee met at 10 am this morning.  I talked to Rep. Thomas Caltagirone’s (D-PA 127) office (he’s the Minority Chair of the House Judiciary Committee).  The woman I talked to said that his entire staff (except herself) was in the Committee meeting and she had no idea as to whether or not these bills had been voted on.  At 2 pm today, I checked the General Assembly’s website.  As of that time, nothing had been posted regarding a committee vote on these bills.

Based on the make-up of the Judiciary Committee, we suspect that both bills will be voted out if they haven’t already been.  So all members of the legislature need to be contacted to tell them to vote no on both bills when they come to the floor.

Be/Become an Activist for Gun Safety

We don’t need to throw away our gun safety laws.  We need, instead, to make sure gun safety rules are in place to protect our loved ones.

So, please take time to contact your legislator.  Here’s where to find your legislator’s contact info. Tell him/her to vote NO on HB 921 and HB 2011 to protect the lives of our loved ones from unsafe gun sales and preemption of local ordinances that improve our local communities.

Addendum

CALL FOR SENSIBLE GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION

WHEREAS, the National Organization for Women (NOW) “[E]nvision[s] a world where non‑violence is the established order”; and

WHEREAS, we, along with the rest of the nation, have witnessed in horror and, with deep sadness, the most recent massacre on December 14, 2012, by an individual with assault weapons, of his mother first, then innocent children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; and

WHEREAS, this horrific incident is the latest in a string of recent, shocking gun attacks, all of which have been perpetrated by individuals with assault weapons and which have mostly targeted women and children around the country, including at:

  • a shopping mall in Portland, Oregon in December 2012;
  • the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012;
  • a shopping mall in Tucson, Arizona in January 2011, where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was grievously injured, and where other casualties included the death of 9-year old Christina Taylor-Green; and
  • an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania in October 2006 where 5 young girls were slaughtered and 5 more girls were seriously injured after the shooter released the boys and the adults; and

WHEREAS, according to the Congressional Research Services, there were more than 310 million firearms in private ownership in the United States in 2009, and another 5.2 million are manufactured annually and another 3.2 million imported annually, and according to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 30,000 people in the US are killed each year by firearms, and the vast majority of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed with handguns by intimate partners rather than by strangers; and

WHEREAS, we respect the rights conferred under the Second Amendment but believe that the right to bear arms does not mean that assault weapons—which are designed solely to kill people—should be sold to members of the public; and

WHEREAS, as President Obama said in Newtown, “These tragedies must end;”

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that NOW calls upon our federal- and state-level elected representatives to protect and defend our children, our communities and our nation from further gun violence by immediately implementing sensible gun safety  legislation, including:

  • Reinstituting the ban on assault weapons that was in effect prior to 2004; and
  • Banning the sale, transfer, transportation and possession of large clips of ammunition containing more than 10 bullets; and
  • Closing the “Gun Show Loophole” which allows individuals to purchase guns without a background check; and
  • Appointing a permanent position as Director of Tobacco & Fire Arms Department; and
  • Retaining the results of all Federal background checks for five years; and
  • Requiring universal background checks, including checks  for domestic violence for the purchase of any legal weapon; and
  • Creating a national gun registry that will allow law enforcement to track weapons; and
  • Requiring devices be added to weapons which would limit the use of any privately-owned gun to the registered owner; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NOW encourages our chapters and members to:

  • Lobby their elected officials for effective legislation to end gun violence, with the NOW Action Center providing educational information to assist in such efforts; and
  • Contact entertainment providers and their sponsors to ask that they do not manufacture or sponsor video games, movies, television shows or music that glorify gratuitous violence; and
  • Lobby and/or protest professional organizations in the entertainment industry that honor exceptionally violent content; and
  • Advocate for programs and their funding in schools to teach tolerance and conflict resolution; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that NOW endorses actions advocating for solutions to end gun violence when it can be done in accordance with NOW’s Coalition Guidelines.

—Passed by the National NOW Board of Directors, February 25, 2013

Institutional Corruption and the Influence of Money and Politics on People’s Lives

Fountain Pen and SignThis morning, I was scanning Tweets that came into my Twitter account. One of the Tweets said,

“Why the phrase ‘Supreme Court to hear campaign-finance case’ should scare you.”

It contained a link to an article in the Daily Beast. This article said that the US Supreme Court has decided to take another look at campaign financing in a case from the United States District Court in DC called McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. I read the article.

And yes this case scares me. McCutcheon argues that there should be no limits at all on campaign financing.  It scares me because I believe that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of McCutchen, there will be more influence and therefore more institutional corruption on our public policy.  This will then allow the creation of more holes in the safety net for people’s lives due to the corrupting influence of big money. For clarification, institutional corruption is defined as:

[T]he consequence of an influence within an economy of influence that illegitimately weakens the effectiveness of an institution especially by weakening the public trust of the institution.

Why? Because I do not trust the members of the current Supreme Court to openly and fairly take into account that elected officials need to answer to their constituents and not to the people and companies and lobbyists that influence them by throwing lots of money and offering consulting jobs to these elected officials (a form of “money”) once they leave office.

My mistrust results from their decision in the 2009 Citizens’ United case.  They held that the First Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent political campaign expenditures from corporations and unions.  The aftermath of this decision has been devastating. Immediately after this decision, the DC Circuit Court (which handles cases involving federal regulations) ruled that

“individuals could make unlimited contributions to so-called Super PACs, which supported individual candidates.”

And what did we see?  In the 2010 elections, Super PACs—mostly funded by the mega-rich—assisted conservative Tea Party candidates at all levels of government to win seats that they would not have otherwise been able to win.  This resulted in a lot of gerrymandering around the country for the incumbents’ self-interest.  And in 2012, $6.2 billion was spent on elections; over $10 million of these funds were given to a small number of Super Pacs by a very small number of mega-wealthy individuals—including the Koch brothers—to influence the outcome of the elections.

If this case overturns what few limits on campaign financing are left, the doors for institutional corruption will be thrown wide open.  Candidates will spend even more time chasing money, mostly soliciting funds from large, non-constituent individuals and corporations.  Most of these individuals are heads of corporations whose special interest is their bottom-line profits and not the interests of the “47%.”

Fred Wertheimer is President of Democracy 21. It is a non-partisan group that works to eliminate the undue influence of big money in the public arena.  He agrees with me that big money corrupts our public institutions. In a press statement on February 19, he said that the

“[A]ggregate limit on contributions by individuals is necessary to prevent circumvention of the limits on contributions to candidates and political parties and the prohibition on federal officeholders soliciting huge corrupting contributions.”

And further, if the Supreme Court either completely guts or weakens campaign financing, this decision

“…would open the door to $1 million and $2 million dollar contributions from an individual buying corrupting influence with a powerful officeholder soliciting these contributions, and with the political party and federal candidates benefiting from these seven figure contributions.”

I believe that it is the local constituent who should be influencing their representatives.  Not corporations. Not big money. And not the 1% at the top of the income ladder who do not live or experience the lives of the people who live in each of our communities.

I am one of the 85% of Americans who view Congress unfavorably because of what they have NOT been doing for people’s lives. Like allowing funds for critical domestic programs to be cut due to the budgetary stalling and delays of the Fiscal Cliff and Hurricane Sandy debates and resulting Sequestration that now looks like it will become reality this coming Friday. Like delaying passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) from being reauthorized for over two years (which, may change tomorrow when and if the House FINALLY votes on the Senate-passed VAWA Act of 2013).  Like talking about but not taking any comprehensive action, so far, to deal with violence and gun safety (for more information on this gun safety issue, read my blogs here and here).

No, I don’t trust the US Supreme Court.  And no, I do not trust Congress. All because of the influence of money on the decisions the do and do not make.

Institutional Corruption is a problem.  We need to reduce that corruption.  We need to empower the small donors.  New York City, as well as Los Angeles and San Francisco have done this.  And in a plan put together by Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and Democracy 21, we could do the same thing as well across the country. Look at the plan and then lobby your legislator, even if you don’t trust him or her. Vote for candidates in the future who pledge to listen to their constituents and not to big money.

This will take a long time.  But it is necessary. Then and only then do I believe that we can and will be able to trust our elected officials to truly represent us and our concerns.

For More Information on Institutional Corruption

For more information, watch the video below. In this 2009 presentation, Lawrence Lessig defines institutional corruption.  He then discusses the probable effects of this undue influence of money (broadly defined) not only on elected officials but its effect on other institutions, such as the EPA and medical research.

“Gabby Giffords Deserves a Vote:” So Says President Obama

I’m a graduate of Virginia Tech and know the buildings where the VT shootings occurred. In 1996, my husband unknowingly walked right by shooter Jillian Rogers on the HUB lawn at Penn State University; fortunately he wasn’t one of her victims. When I was a social worker, I was threatened by a man with a gun; again, fortunately the gun wasn’t loaded when he grabbed the gun and his father was able to wrestle the gun away from him. As a child, my father dismantled his pistol when my mother became depressed; he was sensible and did the right thing. Gun safety and responsible solutions are necessary. As Mr. Obama said, we need to support commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence. I agree with Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

President Obama calling for a vote on sensible solutions to gun violence.

“It was powerful to be in the chamber tonight as we stood in support of commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence. We were joined by victims from Aurora, Newtown, Tucson, Chicago, Wisconsin and other American communities. The President cut through the acrimony and partisanship and showed that measures to reduce gun violence like universal background checks aren’t Democratic or Republican – they’re important for and supported by almost all Americans.

Hard to say it better than the President did tonight during his State of the Union Address: “Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote.” We leave tonight, Gabby’s 6th State of the Union, more optimistic and determined than ever.