Feinstein Introduces Sweeping Gun Ban Bill

At least one gun control proposal is now in the hopper, and if it becomes law, it would be a big change.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca)   announced plans to introduce a sweeping gun control bill that would ban 158 types of rifles, as well as other shotguns, hand guns and semi-automatic rifles.

Feinstein claims that no guns will be confiscated. Her aim is to do away with the weapons by attrition over time. Representative Carolyn McCarthy, (D-NY) will file the same bill in the House of Representatives.

A Salon article describing the press conference with Senator Feinstein and Representative McCarthy reads in part:

In a press conference Thursday, Democrats unveiled a new version of the assault weapons ban that they will introduce into the House and Senate, which includes a ban on 158 specifically named military-style firearms.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sponsored the Senate version of the bill and who worked on the assault weapons ban from the 90s that expired in 2004, said in her remarks that this will be a “tough battle,” but she is “incensed that our weak gun laws allow these mass killings to be carried out again and again and again in this country.”

“The common thread in these shootings in that each gunman used a semi-automatic assault weapon” or a large capacity magazine, Feinstein said.

The legislation specifically prohibits 158 types of military grade firearms, as well as other semi-automatic rifles, handguns and shotguns that can have a detachable magazine and have at least one military characteristic. As Feinstein explained, the 1994 version of the law had a two-characteristic test for a weapon to be banned, but that was “too easy to work around.”

Feinstein also emphasized that the ban will not effect weapons for hunting and sporting, and protects “2200 specifically named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes. They are, by make and model, exempted from the legislation.” She added: “No weapon is taken from anyone. The purpose is to dry up the supply of these weapons over time. Therefore there is no sunset on this bill.” (Read more here.)

Obama’s 23 New Executive Orders on Gun Control

Here are the 23 Executive Orders on gun control that President Obama signed yesterday. You can find a complete list of all of President Obama’s Executive Orders here.

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.

6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.

11. Nominate an ATF director.

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.

22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

In Case You Missed It: Obama’s Speech on Gun Control

President Barack Obama, official portrait

Whenever possible, I try to give you original sources and let you think things through yourself. Here is the full text of the press release with President Obama’s speech on gun control.

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 16, 2013
Remarks by the President and the Vice President on Gun Violence

South Court Auditorium

11:52 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Before I begin today, let me say to the families of the innocents who were murdered 33 days ago, our heart goes out to you. And you show incredible courage — incredible courage — being here. And the President and I are going to do everything in our power to honor the memory of your children and your wives with the work we take up here today.

It’s been 33 days since the nation’s heart was broken by the horrific, senseless violence that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School — 20 — 20 beautiful first-graders gunned down in a place that’s supposed to be their second sanctuary. Six members of the staff killed trying to save those children. It’s literally been hard for the nation to comprehend, hard for the nation to fathom.

And I know for the families who are here that time is not measured in days, but it’s measured in minutes, in seconds, since you received that news. Another minute without your daughter. Another minute without your son. Another minute without your wife. Another minute without your mom.

I want to personally thank Chris and Lynn McDonald, who lost their beautiful daughter, Grace, and the other parents who I had a chance to speak to, for their suggestions and for — again, just for the courage of all of you to be here today. I admire the grace and the resolve that you all are showing. And I must say I’ve been deeply affected by your faith, as well. And the President and I are going to do everything to try to match the resolve you’ve demonstrated.

No one can know for certain if this senseless act could have been prevented, but we all know we have a moral obligation — a moral obligation — to do everything in our power to diminish the prospect that something like this could happen again.

As the President knows, I’ve worked in this field a long time — in the United States Senate, having chaired a committee that had jurisdiction over these issues of guns and crime, and having drafted the first gun violence legislation — the last gun violence legislation, I should say. And I have no illusions about what we’re up against or how hard the task is in front of us. But I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook. The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.

It’s in this context that the President asked me to put together, along with Cabinet members, a set of recommendations about how we should proceed to meet that moral obligation we have. And toward that end, the Cabinet members and I sat down with 229 groups — not just individuals, representing groups — 229 groups from law enforcement agencies to public health officials, to gun officials, to gun advocacy groups, to sportsmen and hunters and religious leaders. And I’ve spoken with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, had extensive conversations with mayors and governors and county officials.

And the recommendations we provided to the President on Monday call for executive actions he could sign, legislation he could call for, and long-term research that should be undertaken. They’re based on the emerging consensus we heard from all the groups with whom we spoke, including some of you who are victims of this god-awful occurrence — ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands, as well as ways to take comprehensive action to prevent violence in the first place.

We should do as much as we can, as quickly as we can. And we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So some of what you will hear from the President will happen immediately; some will take some time. But we have begun. And we are starting here today and we’re going to resolve to continue this fight.

During the meetings that we held, we met with a young man who’s here today — I think Colin Goddard is here. Where are you, Colin? Colin was one of the survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre. He was in the classroom. He calls himself one of the “lucky seven.” And he’ll tell you he was shot four times on that day and he has three bullets that are still inside him.

And when I asked Colin about what he thought we should be doing, he said, “I’m not here because of what happened to me. I’m here because of what happened to me keeps happening to other people and we have to do something about it.”

Colin, we will. Colin, I promise you, we will. This is our intention. We must do what we can now. And there’s no person who is more committed to acting on this moral obligation we have than the President of the United States of America.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Barack Obama. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat. Good afternoon, everybody.

Let me begin by thanking our Vice President, Joe Biden, for your dedication, Joe, to this issue, for bringing so many different voices to the table. Because while reducing gun violence is a complicated challenge, protecting our children from harm shouldn’t be a divisive one.

Over the month since the tragedy in Newtown, we’ve heard from so many, and, obviously, none have affected us more than the families of those gorgeous children and their teachers and guardians who were lost. And so we’re grateful to all of you for taking the time to be here, and recognizing that we honor their memories in part by doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again.

But we also heard from some unexpected people. In particular, I started getting a lot of letters from kids. Four of them are here today — Grant Fritz, Julia Stokes, Hinna Zeejah, and Teja Goode. They’re pretty representative of some of the messages that I got. These are some pretty smart letters from some pretty smart young people.

Hinna, a third-grader — you can go ahead and wave, Hinna. That’s you — (laughter.) Hinna wrote, “I feel terrible for the parents who lost their children…I love my country and [I] want everybody to be happy and safe.”

And then, Grant — go ahead and wave, Grant. (Laughter.) Grant said, “I think there should be some changes. We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook…I feel really bad.”

And then, Julia said — Julia, where are you? There you go — “I’m not scared for my safety, I’m scared for others. I have four brothers and sisters and I know I would not be able to bear the thought of losing any of them.”

These are our kids. This is what they’re thinking about. And so what we should be thinking about is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up and do everything that they’re capable of doing — not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country. This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change.

And that’s why, last month, I asked Joe to lead an effort, along with members of my Cabinet, to come up with some concrete steps we can take right now to keep our children safe, to help prevent mass shootings, to reduce the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country.

And we can’t put this off any longer. Just last Thursday, as TV networks were covering one of Joe’s meetings on this topic, news broke of another school shooting, this one in California. In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun — 900 in the past month. And every day we wait, that number will keep growing.

So I’m putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe’s task force. And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality. Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.

And I’m going to do my part. As soon as I’m finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence.

We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system. We will help schools hire more resource officers if they want them and develop emergency preparedness plans. We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence — even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.

And while year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it — and Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds. We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.

These are a few of the 23 executive actions that I’m announcing today. But as important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress. To make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act — and Congress must act soon. And I’m calling on Congress to pass some very specific proposals right away.

First: It’s time for Congress to require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun. (Applause.) The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check. That’s not safe. That’s not smart. It’s not fair to responsible gun buyers or sellers.

If you want to buy a gun — whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller — you should at least have to show you are not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from buying one. This is common sense. And an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with us on the need for universal background checks — including more than 70 percent of the National Rifle Association’s members, according to one survey. So there’s no reason we can’t do this.

Second: Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines. (Applause.) The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with high-capacity magazines, has one purpose — to pump out as many bullets as possible, as quickly as possible; to do as much damage, using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.

And that’s what allowed the gunman in Aurora to shoot 70 people — 70 people — killing 12 in a matter of minutes. Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater. A majority of Americans agree with us on this.

And, by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994, urging them — this is Ronald Reagan speaking — urging them to “listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of [military-style assault] weapons.” (Applause.)

And finally, Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this. Since Congress hasn’t confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm Todd Jones, who will be — who has been Acting, and I will be nominating for the post. (Applause.)

And at a time when budget cuts are forcing many communities to reduce their police force, we should put more cops back on the job and back on our streets.

Let me be absolutely clear. Like most Americans, I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. I respect our strong tradition of gun ownership and the rights of hunters and sportsmen. There are millions of responsible, law-abiding gun owners in America who cherish their right to bear arms for hunting, or sport, or protection, or collection.

I also believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale. I believe most of them agree that if America worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one that occurred in Newtown. That’s what these reforms are designed to do. They’re common-sense measures. They have the support of the majority of the American people.

And yet, that doesn’t mean any of this is going to be easy to enact or implement. If it were, we’d already have universal background checks. The ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines never would have been allowed to expire. More of our fellow Americans might still be alive, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and graduations.

This will be difficult. There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty — not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever.

The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different — that this time, we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.

I will put everything I’ve got into this, and so will Joe. But I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it. And by the way, that doesn’t just mean from certain parts of the country. We’re going to need voices in those areas, in those congressional districts, where the tradition of gun ownership is strong to speak up and to say this is important. It can’t just be the usual suspects. We have to examine ourselves and our hearts, and ask ourselves what is important.

This will not happen unless the American people demand it. If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, if hunters and sportsmen, if responsible gun owners, if Americans of every background stand up and say, enough; we’ve suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue — then change will come. That’s what it’s going to take.

In the letter that Julia wrote me, she said, “I know that laws have to be passed by Congress, but I beg you to try very hard.” (Laughter.) Julia, I will try very hard. But she’s right. The most important changes we can make depend on congressional action. They need to bring these proposals up for a vote, and the American people need to make sure that they do.

Get them on record. Ask your member of Congress if they support universal background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Ask them if they support renewing a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And if they say no, ask them why not. Ask them what’s more important — doing whatever it takes to get a A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade? (Applause.)

This is the land of the free, and it always will be. As Americans, we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights that no man or government can take away from us. But we’ve also long recognized, as our Founders recognized, that with rights come responsibilities. Along with our freedom to live our lives as we will comes an obligation to allow others to do the same. We don’t live in isolation. We live in a society, a government of, and by, and for the people. We are responsible for each other.

The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The right to assemble peaceably, that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness — fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech, and high school students at Columbine, and elementary school students in Newtown, and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate, and all the families who’ve never imagined that they’d lose a loved one to a bullet — those rights are at stake. We’re responsible.

When I visited Newtown last month, I spent some private time with many of the families who lost their children that day. And one was the family of Grace McDonald. Grace’s parents are here. Grace was seven years old when she was struck down — just a gorgeous, caring, joyful little girl. I’m told she loved pink. She loved the beach. She dreamed of becoming a painter.

And so just before I left, Chris, her father, gave me one of her paintings, and I hung it in my private study just off the Oval Office. And every time I look at that painting, I think about Grace. And I think about the life that she lived and the life that lay ahead of her, and most of all, I think about how, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now — for Grace. For the 25 other innocent children and devoted educators who had so much left to give. For the men and women in big cities and small towns who fall victim to senseless violence each and every day. For all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s do the right thing for them, and for this country that we love so much. (Applause.)

Thank you. Let’s sign these orders. (Applause.)

(The executive orders are signed.) (Applause.)

All right, there we go. (Applause.)

END
12:17 P.M. EST

Forgiveness, Murder and the Law

This particular post will probably earn me a few brickbats. But I think it needs to be said.

Deacon Greg Kandra, who blogs at The Deacon’s Bench and Leah Libresco, who blogs at Unequally Yoked, each wrote posts about a New York Times Magazine article concerning forgiveness in the case of murder.

The article in question is a fascinating read about two Florida parents who were able to forgive their daughter’s murderer and then seek a reduced sentence for him. They used a process that is normally reserved for lesser crimes called restorative justice. Both Deacon Kendra and Leah Libresco seem to have positive feelings about this situation. In fact, the consensus opinion seems to be a sort of be-still-my-heart flutteriness. It. Is. So. Sweet.

My reaction, as someone who writes laws on one day and then deals with their consequences in her constituents’ lives on another day, is totally different. I know better than many people who will read this post why we need prisons. I also know better than many people who will read this post that criminals, even murderers, are people.

I grew up in a rough neighborhood that was full of violent people. I played with children when I was little who grew up to murder people later on. I knew them both before and after they committed these crimes. I also know people who have lost their mothers, fathers, sons and daughters to murder, including but not limited to, the mass murder of the Oklahoma City bombing.

I represent a district with the highest number of ex-offenders of any district in Oklahoma. I have constituents who commit violent crimes and I also have constituents who are the victims of violent crimes. Sometimes, these are the same people, or are from the same family. I know a dear couple who lost their mother to murder and whose son later was executed for the unrelated crime of committing a murder during a robbery.

I’ve seen forgiveness that passes understanding. I’ve seen vengeance that also passes understanding. I’ve seen, close up and personal, the hollowing out grief of losing a child to murder.

I have also seen our criminal justice system at work.

All of this has led me to two conclusions.

(1) I oppose the death penalty in this country. Long before I was a Christian, I did not believe that we should execute people in this country. People are too weak, too prone to take shortcuts, manipulate and lie to ever entrust our judicial system with the ability to put human beings to death.

(2) I also oppose a victim-driven criminal justice system. 

Based on what was said in the article I read, and assuming that the facts in it were accurate and that there aren’t other, ameliorating circumstances, I have no doubt that the young man in question should have received a sentence of life in prison without the option of parole. Let me be clear about what I’m saying here: He committed a deliberate act of cold-blooded murder against an unarmed young woman who was on her knees in front of him at the time. He shot her in the face with a shot gun.

He should live out the rest of his life and die in prison for that crime.

The article tells the story of two parents who were able to forgive their daughter’s murderer. It sounds as if they did this almost at her death bed. They then sent messages to her murderer while he was in jail awaiting trial that they “still loved him.” They followed through on this by working with the young man’s parents to help him avoid, not just the death penalty, but any serious prison time for what he had done.

They convinced the prosecutor to enter into a process which is normally reserved for non-violent crimes known as “restorative justice” to deal with this young man. They did this, and the prosecutor agreed to it, despite the fact that no one debated that the young man was a cold-blooded murderer.

The girl’s parents entered this process with the idea that the young man should receive 5 years in prison for his crime. After hearing the details of how he killed their daughter, they were moved by emotion to ask for sentences ranging from 5-15 years. The prosecutor, after what he says was much “thought,” decided to give the killer a sentence of 20 years with 10 years probation.

Evidently, most people who read this story go all touchy-feely and misty-eyed.

I don’t.

In fact, the story gives me the creeps.

I view this sentence as a violation of the public trust on the part of the prosecutor. I also view it as a fine example of the nonsensical things that happen when we move to a victim-driven justice system.

Victims of violent crimes, and in the case of murder, their surviving families, react with raw emotion to the terrible things that have been done to them. This can make them demand guilty verdicts, even if that means doing away with a fair trial. It can lead them to push with everything they’ve got for harsh sentences, even when the sentence is out of proportion to the crime. On the other hand, in other cases like the one in this story, their hunger to express the forgiveness they have been able to reach can lead them into working for sentences that are also out of proportion, but this time on the side of leniency.

I have respect for anyone who can forgive from the heart when something as terrible as having your daughter shot in cold blood happens to them. That is what the parents in this story went through. Their daughter was shot in the face with a shot gun by an abusive boyfriend who had slapped her in previous arguments.

Let me repeat that: Their daughter was shot in the face with a shot gun by an abusive boyfriend who had slapped her in previous arguments.

Due to their intervention, their daughter’s murderer received a sentence of 20 years with 10 years probation for murdering a young woman who was on the cusp of a productive adult life.

The reason that story gives me the creeps is the bland assumption on the part of everyone that this crime was somehow or other a private thing between the murderer and the murdered girl’s family. The assumption seems to be that murder is a private injury, and that if the family of the murdered person can be satisfied by whatever sentence is arrived at, then justice has been done.

I absolutely do not believe this. Murder is not a private offense between family members. Murder is a crime against all of society. When a murderer is brought to trial, the case reads The people of the state of Oklahoma, or Florida or wherever vs The Murderer. It does not say the family of the murder victim vs the murderer.

By allowing this process to occur and then honoring it, the prosecutor set the people and their just demands for a working criminal justice system that is driven by law and not emotion aside. He focused his concerns on the victim’s family and the murderer himself. His question was not is he guilty? but Will he do it again? In short, he tried to use some sort of crystal ball to foresee the future and based his sentence on whatever he saw in his forecast. All in response to a victim-driven process.

There are reasons why the law takes the murder of an innocent person so seriously. There are reasons for harsh penalties for this crime. There are also reasons why the various laws allow for ameliorating circumstance. Not every murder is deliberate and cold-blooded. This one was.

I have sympathy and respect for the parents of this murdered girl. I am somewhat in awe of their Christian faith which allowed them to forgive this young man. However, when I read things about them visiting him in jail and working to lower his sentence; about them sending him messages saying that they “still love him,” I hear echoes of the many bereaved people I know.

I can’t talk about the things my constituents tell me. But I will say that there are people who form relationships with their children’s murderers and visit them in prison and actually claim they’ve come to love them. It’s not so unusual as you might think. It also isn’t so appealing in real life.

There is no one more lost and hollowed out than someone whose child has been murdered.  They want something, some contact with their lost child, and they are searching for it in the person who murdered them.

Some victims’ families want to “confront” their loved one’s murderer and ask the question that everyone who encounters the senseless violence of these devil-driven people asks. They want to know “Why?” Why did you do this to me? How could you do this to my child? Don’t you know, can’t you see how precious, how beautiful, how irreplaceable, she was?

They want something they can never have, which is satisfaction, and closure. The closure myth, the healing nonsense we spout after public tragedies feeds this mythology of “going on” as if nothing had happened. In truth, while they may appear to go on, and in fact may do that, they will never completely heal and they will never, this side of the grave, find closure. Some wounds bleed forever.

The pain is too much, and often families try to bury the pain by either working obsessively for the punishment of the murderer, or, conversely, working to help them. I don’t fully understand this. But I have seen a lot of it. It’s as if victims’ families and their murderers are hanging onto opposite ends of the same rope. And they never stop yanking on one another.

This is tragic. The ever-widening circles of grief and woundedness that these crimes of violence create damage everyone who comes near them. While forgiveness helps and may even allow a grieving family member to lay down their end of that rope, it does not and can not ever completely assuage the loss. Murder has no end in this life. Based on our mortal understanding of things, it is a forever crime.

The grief-driven relationships that form between families of murder victims and their loved one’s murderer, whether they be burning hate or saintly forgiveness, are always at least partly a response to pain that cannot be borne. I do not take this pain lightly. I certainly do not approach miracles of forgiveness disrespectfully.

But they are not a reason to give light sentences to cold-blooded murderers. The emotions of those family members who are moved to vengeance are also not reasons to give life sentences to people who killed someone by accident, even if the accident included serious negligence or even violence. Murder is an intentional act committed by someone who intends to kill.

A victim-driven justice system is a capricious and unworkable thing. People who lose family members to murder will never be the same again. They will not ever be able to respond to what has happened to their loved one with impartiality. No one, including themselves, should expect this of them. That is not to say that their feelings should be ignored in criminal proceedings. But their feelings should not be the only or even the most important factor in determining sentencing. The reason I say this is because murder is not a private event. It is always a crime against the whole of society.

Murder is not a private affair. It is a crime against both humanity and society. Families who are suffering the grief of losing someone to murder can not be the ones who determine the punishment. In the confusion and irrationality of their grief, some of them would have people burned alive for what were accidents, while others of them would, as in this case, ask to have cold-blooded murderers with a history of violent abusiveness turned loose after serving less time than a bank robber.

Some crimes, especially crimes of deliberate and un-doable violence, are too serious to ever be forgiven under the law. I am not talking about God’s ability to forgive someone and clean their souls. I’m also not talking about a victim or their family members hanging up their hate and forgiving what has been done to them. I’m talking about the law. The law is a wall around human life and safety. Every time that wall is breached, we are all a little bit less safe.

The law is not about forgiveness. Contrary to what they say on the crime shows on tv, it’s not about justice, either. The law is about public safety and social stability. Criminal law is there so that we can lie down in our beds without fear that we will be murdered in our sleep.

Some crimes should require that people go to prison, and that they stay there. It is not a question of rehabilitation. It is a question of setting the bar on these crimes high enough so that everyone knows that the crime itself is absolutely forbidden. There is no statute of limitation for murder. Time never runs out on the investigation. That is because murder is set apart from other crimes, even in its investigatory stages.

These laws, which treat murder differently from other crimes from the moment it is committed, reflect our commonly held belief that human life should be above all other considerations. I would say that this includes the wishes of the victim’s families.

People who deliberately and cold-bloodedly kill other people without ameliorating circumstances such as insanity or fear for their own safety or the safety of others, should go to prison and stay there for the rest of their lives. Forgiveness is not part of the equation.

Is This a Surprise? White House Considering Broad Gun Control Measures, Including Executive Orders

White House weighs broad gun-control

agenda

The Washington Post

By Philip Rucker

The White House is weighing a far broader and more comprehensive approach to curbing the nation’s gun violence than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, according to multiple people involved in the administration’s discussions.

A working group led by Vice President Biden is seriously considering measures backed by key law enforcement leaders that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors, the sources said.

To sell such changes, the White House is developing strategies to work around the National Rifle Association that one source said could include rallying support from Wal-Mart and other gun retailers for measures that would benefit their businesses. White House aides have also been in regular contact with advisers to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), an outspoken gun-control advocate who could emerge as a powerful surrogate for the Obama administration’s agenda.

The Biden group, formed last month after the massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults, plans to submit a package of recommendations to President Obama this month. Once Obama’s proposals are set, he plans to lead a public-relations offensive to generate popular support.

“They are very clearly committed to looking at this issue comprehensively,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who has been involved in the discussions. The proposals under consideration, he added, are “a deeper exploration than just the assault-weapons ban.”

The gun-control push is just one part of an ambitious political agenda that Obama has pledged to pursue after his decisive reelection victory in November, including comprehensiveimmigration reform, climate-change legislation and long-term deficit reduction. Obama also faces a reshuffling of his Cabinet, and a looming debate over the nation’s debt ceiling that will compete for his time and attention in the coming months.

Seeking expansive mandate

In addition to potential legislative proposals, Biden’s group has expanded its focus to include measures that would not need congressional approval and could be quickly implemented by executive action, according to interest-group leaders who have discussed options with Biden and key Cabinet secretaries. Possibilities include changes to federal mental-health programs and modernization of gun-tracking efforts by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Read more here.)

 

Lest we forget …

These irreplaceable people lost their lives in Newton Connecticut one week ago today.

Don’t let political squabbling make us forget them.

Dozens of Michigan Schools Close Due to Rumors of Violence

Dozens of Michigan schools cancelled classes today because of fall-out from the Sandy Hook tragedy, combined with the Mayan calendar nonsense.

This is just a symptom of how raw the people of this nation are this week.

It raises the question that I asked here. Why did our leader rush this country into a divisive debate on gun control before the victims of this latest atrocity were even buried?

Grieving our losses and trying to bring ourselves and our families together for a holy and healing Christmas are about all the people of this country can handle right now.

Aside from executive orders, which I think would be terribly unwise, there is nothing that can be done until after the New Year. Congress and the president are engaged in an insult-slinging fight over the “fiscal cliff.” Isn’t playing chicken with our economic security enough trauma from Washington for now?

A wise leader understands that there is a time for everything. I believe that opening a debate about solutions — especially when the proposed solutions are things that divide us — is poor leadership in this sensitive time. I think it is uncaring leadership. By that I mean that I think the president has focused on taking advantage of what he sees as a political opportunity and ignored  the well-being of the American people. There was no practical reason why he had to open this debate this week. None.

The Associated Press article about school closings in Michigan reads in part:

DETROIT (AP) — Dozens of Michigan schools canceled classes for thousands of students to cool off rumored threats of violence and problems related to doomsday scenarios based on the Mayan calendar, officials said Thursday.

Public schools in Genesee and Lapeer counties, neighboring counties north of the Detroit area, started the Christmas break Wednesday night rather than hold classes the rest of the week. Meanwhile, police investigated whether students made false claims about guns at the high school in Grand Blanc, saidJohn Potbury, a spokesman for the Genesee County prosecutor.

Last week’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school “changed all of us. … Canceling school is the right thing to do,” Genesee County schools said in a statement. (Read more here.)

 

Unseemly haste …

The funerals are not finished.

Why did the President rush this country into a divisive debate about gun control before the victims of this tragedy were buried?

Why the unseemly haste?

Couldn’t he have given this country time to grieve before pushing us into another political fight? Would it be so hard to wait a few days?

Christmas is in four days.

Why didn’t he at least give us time to bury our dead and be together with our families at Christmas before forcing another battle on us?

Internet Trolls Torment Newton Priest

Elizabeth Scalia, who blogs at The Anchoress and is one of the most generous people it has been my privilege to know, wrote today about another egregious example of internet cruelty.

The internet gives the mentally unbalanced and the just plain mean people among us a way to hit out at others. Troubling events agitate these folks and get them moving.

The Sandy Hook tragedy has been a magnet for both the good and the bad among us. Almost everyone has responded to it with compassion, grief and love. But the nasty unhinged are still out there, doing their worthless thing. Elizabeth wrote about one of the sorrier aspects of this sorry behavior: The attacks on a newly-ordained priest who has faced his personal baptism by fire in ministering to the shattered people of his parish in Newton Connecticut.

We need our pastors most in times like this. It is to Fr Suarez’ everlasting credit that he is there for these people. It is to the everlasting discredit of those who are attacking him that they are behaving this way.

I’m going to lift a hefty chunk from Elizabeth’s post. I want you to be able to read it and get the gist of what’s happening and the opportunity she offers us to help. Be sure to read the rest of the post here.

Do you remember this picture, of these priests, Monsignor Robert Weiss and Father Luke Suarez, at the scene of carnage in Newtown?

Well, while I’m sure both priests are seeing some hate it seems the young Father Suarez, who is not two years a priest, is being targeted by creatures who enthralled to the ugly and the dark. Writes his sister, in an outreach. All emphasis mine:
My friends,
All of you, I am sure, have heard so much about the tragedy in Newtown, CT. Many of you have received emails from me about my younger brother, Father Luke Suarez, who is a priest at St. Rose of Lima parish, a Catholic church just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary. He, and his pastor, Monsignor Weiss, arrived at the school within moments of the shooting, and have been caring for the community ever since. The picture I have included was taken at the school.
Father Luke has an impossible task before him. His diocese is without a bishop right now. . .Monsignor…is personally devastated by the losses. The parish is very large…The rectory has received serious threats, and as my brother gave the homily Sunday at the noon mass, the church had to be evacuated by SWAT teams. After experiencing identity theft and online hacking incidents, he had to erase all of his internet accounts. After a weekend of endless media requests, notifications and vigils with heartbroken families, and little sleep, he now has two wakes and two funerals every day, until the fourth Sunday of Advent. Father Luke has not even been ordained two years.
My large family has been trying to send Father Luke our love and support from afar, and one of my brothers was able to visit with him briefly a couple times. All he asks for is prayer.
I have been wracking my brain, trying to think of a way that our beautiful, loving community could tangibly reach out to Father Luke, Monsignor Weiss, and the St. Rose parish, to support them in this most awful of times. I have sent many prayer requests, and I am asking for more prayers again. But I also want to ask everyone to search their hearts, and if the Holy Spirit moves you, please consider sending one of your family’s Christmas cards to the rectory, with a few words of love and encouragement. Here is his address:
Father Luke Suarez
46 Church Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470
My brother has said over and over again that without the prayer support he is receiving, he could not keep going. And this week is only the beginning. Everyone there is still in shock. Their peaceful home has been desecrated by violence. They will need to live with this sorrow forever.
But in our weakness is His strength. Grace abounds. Can you help me carry him through this time of trial?
On a hopeful note, Father Luke did say that no media coverage has even touched the deep, beautiful awakening of faith that has occurred there. Their tiny church, where my children have received sacraments and where Luke was ordained, has been full of people in prayer without ceasing since this tragedy happened. Love is stronger than death.

Please feel free to share the address with your family, friends, and community. An outpouring of love will sustain these good priests through their impossible ministry–impossible on their own, but possible with God.
I read stuff like this and I think of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction telling Tim Roth, “I am the tyranny of evil men, but I’m trying, Ringo, I’m trying real hard to be a shepherd.”
I’m putting cards in the mail to both priests — what a good idea — and also remembering them in my prayers. Will you, too?

Biden Holds First Gun Control Meeting

Vice President Joe Biden began meetings on possible gun control legislation today.

The most interesting point, at least for me, is that the vice president indicated that he expects votes on whatever he proposes after the first of the year.

I interpret that to mean that the President has probably decided not to issue executive orders about this, at least for now.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Caucus of the House of Representatives has announced a push to ban the sale of high capacity magazines. This is not a new idea. Senate Democrats tried to attach such a ban to an unrelated piece of legislation last summer.

What all this means to us is that we have a window of time to think about this and decide what we want our Congress and president to do. From all indications, the Democrats are focusing their efforts on gun-control and ammunition control legislation. Although they mention a more comprehensive approach in their comments, the focus and the first thing they mention is always guns.

I’m going to try to write several posts that I hope will lead Public Catholic readers into a serious conversation of all these issues. It’s our country and we need to be part of the discussion about its future.

The article concerning Vice President Biden’s meeting today says in part:

Wasting no time, Vice President Joe Biden meets on Thursday with “law enforcement leaders” from across the country to launch work on a series of recommendations to battle gun violence in the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
The 1 p.m. meeting is to include White House officials, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the White House said.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday tasked Biden with leading an administrationwide effort to craft concrete proposals for tackling what Obama called an “epidemic” of gun violence. The vice president will report back no later than January.
Obama pushed Congress to pass a series of traditional gun control measures quickly. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons,” he said on Wednesday. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all.”
He added, “I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these measures next year in a timely manner.”
But he also embraced a broader approach, stressing that “there’s no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.”(Read more here.)


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