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July 7
, 2008


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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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.In 1981 I Watched A Man Die By Gunshot On This Spot In San Francisco.  The Storefronts Were Empty At That Time.
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...

Kathina Thomas
Kathina Thomas

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
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 
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
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
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
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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