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July 7, 2008
The Right To Bear Arms In Albany
While concerned citizens confront escalating gun violence,
irresponsible activist judges undermine gun control legislation and
clueless local politicians deny there is any problem at all
Many years ago, a fellow told me a bit of advice he had heard from someone much smarter than he was, second hand advice as it were. “Never carry a weapon unless you intend to use it,” he said. “If you don’t intend to use it, don’t carry it.”
The reason is clear, once you think about it. Whether we are talking about guns, knives, pepper spray or baseball bats, the mere act of bearing a weapon on your person means that you intend to use it to hurt somebody. If you don’t want to hurt somebody, then you have no business carrying a weapon.
What saves this advice from being circular logic is the corollary that goes with it. “If you carry a weapon, sooner or later you WILL use it.” This is a statement about human nature. We tend to use whatever tools that are within easy reach whenever we think that we need them.
Shortly after hearing this, I saw and heard the truth of this for myself. In 1981 I was living in a second story apartment in San Francisco on 9th Street near Folsom, at the time a decidedly untrendy neighborhood. The Longshore and Warehouse Union Hall was located across the street and down a ways from my apartment.
In 1981 I Watched A Man Die By Gunshot On This Spot In San Francisco.
The Storefronts Were Empty At That Time.
I heard the first gunshot and knew immediately what it was. I looked out my second story window and watched a fellow directly across the street pump two more bullets into another guy. The guy fell to his knees and slowly dropped face down onto the sidewalk.
Everything on the street froze and turned silent for a few seconds. Suddenly, the shooter looked around wildly, across the street and up at me! I squeaked like a girl mouse and dropped to the floor.
But curiosity almost immediately overcame my common sense and I peered over the windowsill. I watched the shooter and his four companions shout and flee up the street.
It turned out that the shooter and his victim represented rival factions at the Union Hall. It seems that the shooter wanted to intimidate the victim. With that in mind he showed him his loaded handgun. In reply the victim mouthed off, the shooter became angry, and...
The handgun shooting death of ten year old Kathina Thomas in West Hill has focused community attention on the easy availability and flagrant use of guns on the streets of Albany. This horrible incident is the worst and the latest of many recent shooting incidents. Clearly, something needs to be done. Even more clearly, somebody ought to have done something about this problem a long time ago.
Len Morgenbesser, with invaluable help from first ward Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro, has finally managed to create a community gun violence task force. This board of concerned community citizens and stake holders is gathering information and plans to eventually issue recommendations on how to tackle the problem.
But in addition to its stated goals, the task force has found itself forced to fill an enormous vacuum in government. Until recently, Mayor Jerry Jennings has repeatedly and famously denied that there is a gun problem in Albany, and the Albany police have continuously made the ridiculous claim that they have the problem well in hand.
Dr. Len, as he sometimes refers to himself, has fought tirelessly for years to create this task force, working to overcome intransigence from Albany City Hall. The irony is that Mayor Jennings, true to character, ignored Dr. Len for several years because he did not want to share some of his personal political power with a group of citizens. As a result, both Jennings and police chief James Tuffey have lost most if not all of their public credibility on the gun violence issue.
This bit of calculated irresponsibility laid the burden of leadership squarely upon the gun violence task force members, a load that they did not intend to carry. But a growing segment of the community wants something done now. Thus the community is expecting action and solutions from the gun violence task force.
But as the gun violence task force has become the focal point of community pressure in Albany, far away on another planet called Washington DC, some very small minded persons who occupy big positions of power have decided to do what they can to undermine attempts to end gun violence in places like downtown Albany.
|Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Leading a slim majority of fellow Republican Party hacks on the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia has fulfilled a lifelong dream. He has not merely used his position to strike down a more than three decades long ban on handguns in our nation’s capital. He has gone a long way toward destroying more than two centuries of case law concerning ownership of guns.
I’ve looked over the 137 page majority opinion written by Scalia. He has inserted into the public record a series of lame half-ass arguments created in recent years by right-wing nut jobs, a series of cherry picked “facts” strung together to justify a universal “right to bear arms.”
Now folks, don’t jump to conclusions. I’m not saying for a moment that there isn’t a long standing tradition and a conditional right of citizens to own guns. There most certainly is. But you won’t find a guaranteed individual right to gun ownership in the Second Amendment as it was originally conceived and written:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
What I am saying is that Scalia’s recycled arguments are not only pure horse crap, they are dangerous nonsense. I can only come to the conclusion that his arguments are deliberately designed to impose chaos and increased gun violence upon urban communities such as the South End of Albany.
The pundits are probably correct, the effects of Scalia’s irresponsible legal games will not be felt locally for years. But the phony idea that the “right to bear arms” is as fundamental as freedom of speech or the right to a fair trial has been inserted into the legal record. Sooner or later these evil arguments, quoted as precedents, will find their way all the way down to Albany City Court.
Slowpoke by Jen Sorensen:
An Accurate Account Of How Scalia Made His Gun Decision
And of course, let’s not forget about the upcoming presidential election. Scalia is first and foremost a party hack, this decision is meant to create as much bickering and distraction as possible. But enough... I could write reams about how Scalia has squatted and crapped on the US Constitution. (Actually, I already have. Perhaps I will try to organize it all someday soon.)
Dr. Len, having realized long ago that the reigning authorities in the City of Albany will not work with him him willingly, has sought publicity so that he can continuously take his case to the public. He has managed to get the local corporate media to take notice in a big way. And he has been emailing me every few days for weeks to do a blog article like this one.
Of course, that’s a double edged knife. The Hearst-owned Times Union has treated the gun violence issue as an opportunity to repeatedly beat on our City. Stay away from Albany! The City is full of BLACK PEOPLE! And all of the TEENAGERS belong to GANGS and they carry GUNS! Don’t go to Albany, stay away, stay away!
Dr. Len Morgenbesser
Well, it’s been said that any publicity is good publicity if you are trying to get attention. If the only way to force action on this issue and save lives is for concerned citizens to exploit the Times Union editors’ tendency to urinate on the City of Albany, then you do what you gotta do.
Based on his past utterances, we can safely say that Jennings objects to this sort of publicity because it gives Albany a bad image. He’s right about that, but he has only himself to blame for the Hearst Corporation’s negative publicity blitz. If The Mayor had shown some positive leadership on the gun violence issue several years ago, then perhaps the community would be able to act constructively on this issue today, and to hell with the Hearst Rag.
So Len Morgenbesser takes what he can get, particularly since the City authorities still don’t seem to understand the problem. For example, in one of his emails Dr. Len described police chief Tuffey’s visit to a recent gun violence task force meeting (slightly edited:)
In public session this week of the the Task Force, I challenged the group saying it is not just youth gun violence/gun crime but a problem of both youth and adults. Chief Tuffey challenged me, saying to the group, with the public attending present, that he as Police Chief is saying the entire problem we have is with gunfire and juveniles.
I think that by challenging my characterization of Albany gun crime as a both an adult and juvenile problem (adult perpetrators, youth perpetrators, adult as well as youth victims of gun violence/gun crimes) Chief Tuffey is seriously underestimating the extent of the problem.
James Tuffey is a cop. A cop’s solution to any problem is to beat heads and make arrests. Now, a police officer with powers of arrest and a mandate to apply violence is the person most able to stop a mugger who is pointing a gun at your face. But a cop is no more able to solve the problems that caused or encouraged that mugger to get a gun and mug you, any more than a transplant surgeon can fix your automobile.
Chief Tuffey With Jennings and DA Soares
We cannot expect the Albany police to solve the gun problem in Albany any more than we can expect solutions from a politician. Indeed, a necessary first step is to get the police and the elected officials to admit that they don’t have a handle on the problem, and they don’t have a clue what to do about it. After that we can all work together to find solutions to what is really an insanely complex set of problems.
From what I understand, the members of the gun violence task force see gun violence as a symptom of wider social problems in our community. This would necessitate bringing a level of attention and respect to the economically disadvantaged communities of color, which is where we have the bulk of our problems.
This means that City officials will have to learn to give attention and respect to economically disadvantaged communities in Albany. It goes almost without saying that the citizens who live in these communities that they have never experienced from the City authorities within living memory.
It appears that what City Hall and the police would rather do is conduct illegal searches on the street and kick down doors without a warrant, that sort of thing. Maybe they'd like to do like their counterparts in Washington DC did recently, cordon off whole neighborhoods and ID anyone who wants to pass their checkpoints. Judging by the past, such oppressive measures will fail wherever they are applied.
But the task force cannot expect to bring attention to the right places and to the best solutions unless they are backed by the City authorities. Neither the police or the task force can do the job alone, they must work together. Both need a workable plan that they can agree upon, and they need to implement it cooperatively and consistently.
We have yet to see if the gun violence task force is up to the job they have taken on. Public expectation of the task force volunteers is running high, as it would for professional politicians on public salary. The members of the panel will need to work hard. And they will need to be flexible, ready to what is necessary to solve the gun violence problem with an aim toward rebuilding shattered communities.
Funeral for Kathina Thomas
Unfortunately, it has become evident that the current City administration is proving incapable of working constructively with the gun violence task force. Perhaps a brand new City administration will prove more capable of cooperating with the citizens on this and other pressing issues. Certainly we can look forward to that bright and happy day, if it comes.
But that day is a year and a half from now. That’s a long time. Between now and then, how many shootings, how many maimed and dead will fall face down on Albany’s sidewalks?
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Posted by: Leo
Posted on: 07/07/2008
Thanks for this overview of gun issues in Albany and of the work of the Gun Violence Task Force -- a group that likely would have been brought together several years ago if the majority of the Common Council hadn't repeatedly yielded to Mayor Jennings efforts to prevent the group's formation.
Which reminds me, I wonder how much longer the Common Council will let the Mayor control the discussion and the identification of viable options with respect to waste management and landfill issues. Indeed, this gun article is the second in a row dealing with an issue on which the Common Council should have been more assertive -- the other being the landfill article. Hey, where did that article go to?
Back to this article. I think you failed to mention an issue that is of great importance to Leonard Morgenbesser -- and that may now be getting short shrift from the Gun Violence Task Force -- and that is the development of a system that would allow informed statements to be made about the sources of Albany's illicit guns in general and about specific guns when they are recovered. I know this is a sensitive area for those who worry about infringements on gun ownership protected by the Second Amendment, but even Justice Scalia notes that government is permited to impose some structure on gun ownership.
Posted by: Common Sense
Posted on: 07/08/2008
Phony? You previous writings make it difficult for me to believe that you are actually this ignorant.
If the right to bear arms is a "recent invention" and a "phony idea", why is it that the Federal government never saw the need to enact any sort of comprehensive gun control law until 143 years after the ratification of the bill of rights?
My wife's father bought his shotgun on Pearl street in 1949 when he was 12. If a 12 year old could purchase a gun at a hardware store, how can you claim that the notion of a fundamental right to bear arms is some recent invention of gun maniacs?
What baffles me is that you do get it, when you say "From what I understand, the members of the gun violence task force see gun violence as a symptom of wider social problems in our community", you're hitting the nail on the head.
The gun violence that we see on Albany's streets is symptom of deep problems in society -- particularly black society. As distasteful as you may find it, the fact is that poor, desperate black males are far more likely to pick up a gun and attack someone than a similarly poor and desperate white, asian or latino.
Posted by: Uncle Sam
Posted on: 07/11/2008
How many gun crimes have been committed with legal hand guns?
How will passing more laws help?
If you want more gun control, will you support longer prison sentences for those who break the law?
More youths in jail? Is that what you want?
You don't have to look too far to find one of the drivers of inner city crime...read the apology note the shooter wrote after the Thomas killing!
We need a task force that looks into why kids are graduating Albany High not knowing how to read or do basic math! No education, no opportunity. No opportunities and what's left to do?
And what's going on with Dr. Len's fingernails in that picture above? Can you tell me what definition of normal this guy falls under? He's not a leader.
Other than throw stones at city leadership, you have not presented a single effective position this guy has that will make the city a better place.
Posted by: Leo
Posted on: 07/11/2008
Single effective position: Track illegally possessed and used handguns to their source. Next step: If there is a pattern that indicates that illicit behavior by sellers/dealers is involved, take legal steps to eliminate that source. Yes, I recognize that such a system would require some form of gun purchase and transfer registration -- a small sacrifice for the common good, I would think, on the part of those wishing to assert and exercise their gun ownership rights. Yes, I know, such a registration system will make it so much easier for THE GOVERNMENT to swoop down and confiscate all the guns as a prelude to... (not something to be totally dismissed given the current direction in Washington, but I think worth the risk). (Photo of my fingernails is available on request. What nonsense!)
Posted by: Common Sense
Posted on: 07/12/2008
Leo - The Federal government is already able to do this, and isn't taking action. Every gun sold can be tracked back to the dealers whom it passed through.
The ATF is working with the Mexican government to prosecute dealers who are working with or have been taken over by narcotics traffickers to arm narco-militias that are in open rebellion against the Mexican government right now.
This is all about political will. Gun control advocates have a long-term agenda to eliminate private gun ownership, and take advantage of tragic events like the Thomas shooting to push that agenda.
Posted by: alfred newman
Posted on: 07/15/2008
Dan: If you read a lot of colonial era history and political thought (a hobby of mine) it becomes very clear that the "militia" was, and still is, you and I and that the "free State" was not the or a government entity or lines on a map but liberty.
If you also look at the context in which the Constitution was written it is clear that the "free State" also needed to be protected against the potential excesses of our own government. Tyranical rule cannot get a foothold where everyone is armed.
Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on: 07/15/2008
Alfred- How exactly do you expect to fight the federal military with your handgun? The idea of fat lazy Americans effectively fighting a well-armed division would be funny if not for the one sided result.
So... are you saying that if everybody carries a handgun then we will all be safe? Try to imagine life in such a society. Do you really want to take the problems we have in the economically repressed parts of downtown Albany and spread them everywhere?
Look, the issue is not some hazy idea of defeating Blackwater mercenaries when they kick down your door and rape your son. The problem is that in the here and now young kids are shooting each other as if it were some kind of game. How do we stop this?
The big question, as Leo points out, is who is supplying guns to these kids? And why are the police reluctant to track these guns?
Am I the only one who has noticed the similarity between handguns and crack, how the authorities refuse to prosecute the sources, but take endless joy in hunting down the end users in the repressed zones?
Posted by: Common Sense
Posted on: 07/16/2008
The issue has nothing to do with people shooting each other. It's about protecting a fundamental right, a right that was important enough to the founders that it came before the protection from unreasonable search and seizure, and even the right to due process.
In context of the 2008 US War machine, the prospect of a civil revolt without military support is far fetched. But in 1938, it wasn't far fetched -- Roosevelt feared insurrection on several occasions during the depressions. In 2078, it may become one again -- our current level of military might isn't sustainable.
Fundamental rights are eternal, and we have a duty -- a duty more important than the life of Katrina Thomas -- to maintain that right for future generations. After eight years of the Bush administrations' abuse of power and assault on the Bill of Rights, we should be aggressively oppose any erosion of our rights.
Albany is facing a pretty serious gun crime problem -- despite the fact that guns are harder to get and more expensive than they were even 20 years ago. New York City faced a similar crisis during the crack epidemic in the 1980's, and it dramatically improved the situation by embracing community policing and cracking down on minor street crime. At this point, you're safer on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx (a shooting gallery in 1988) than you are on Central & Quail.
Effective policing and addressing the severe and untenable social problems of the inner city is the key to reducing crime. Future tragedies like the Thomas shooting can be stopped now, with local action.
Posted by: Dan Van Riper
Posted on: 07/18/2008
"Common Sense" - Since you think I'm ignorant, it's probably a waste of time to reply to you. But I couldn't help but notice that you stumbled around to the same general conclusions that I came to.
Actually, the real threat of insurrection during the Roosevelt administration came from above, early in his first term. The likes of Hearst, Ford and Morgan among other monopolists of the era plotted to overthrow the US Constitution with a military coup, and recruited a retired general with two medals of honor named Smedley Butler to be their front man.
If you want to argue that we the citizens need weapons to protect ourselves from threats, then perhaps you can argue that today's Hearsts and Fords and Morgans need to to be on the receiving end of citizen's firearms. Our government sure as hell is not protecting us from those people.
And as for the year 2078... I'd love to hear your mystical interpretation of the significance of that year. After you explain your no doubt profound beliefs then perhaps I won't be so ignorant.
Posted by: Alfred Newman
Posted on: 07/18/2008
Good Morning Dan:
Firearms have been an a part of Albany's culture for close to 400 years. Its only been fairly recently that they have become the popular tool to settle interpersonal disputes. Instead of wasting time trying to figure out where guns come from we should be exploring why certain kids now believe that it is acceptable to use deadly force as the first option for ending relatively minor disputes.
We all know where many of the guns come from. The streets of New York City. So now how do we stop them from coming up here? The short answer is that we cant because the only effective way would be to stop and search every bus, car, bike or person coming into the city.
Getting back to your example of going up against a federal military with a handgun.... You are right, probably would not be all that effective. But here is question for you... how effective do you think Hitler would have been had the German population been as armed as we are? Do you really think that the Krustallnacht would have been so extensive if the people were able to defend themselves against what turned out to be government sponsored terror?
Reminder: Hitler was elected in a democracy that in many respects was more liberal that our own.
Posted by: Common Sense
Posted on: 07/18/2008
There's no mystical significance to 2078... it's just 70 years in the future. I used 1938, 70 years in the past as an example of a time in our relatively recent history where we went from an backwards army of 50,000 to a massive military machine.
I agree with most of what you say, with the exception of your interpretation of the second amendment. If you care about the 1st amendment or the 4th amendment as much as you seem to, you should care about the 2nd amendment as well.
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