Thursday, June 12, 2014

Guns and Georgia

There was a little man and he had a little gun . . . .
— Opening line of a nursery rhyme

The question a number of you have asked is whether the events in Cumming, Georgia that took place on June 6 would have been any different after July 1, 2014. That is the date that the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014” goes into effect. Not all my readers have read of that act and a brief word of explanation is in order.

Georgia legislators believe that the reason we have so many gun inspired deaths in this country is because our citizens are not adequately armed. Legislators can point to random shootings occurring on a daily basis in which innocent people have been killed in recent months, many of them in schools. The shootings range from those in which many are shot before the shooter kills himself or is caught and those in which only one or two people are killed. What is obvious to the legislators is that many of these deaths could have been avoided if more citizens were permitted to carry arms and could respond to the violence by shooting the shooter before the shooter shoots himself. That explains why during 2014, the Georgia legislature passed, and the governor signed, the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014”. The purpose of that act is to make Georgia a safer place. The way that is accomplished is by increasing the places into which people with concealed carry permits can carry guns.

The act permits concealed carry in all sorts of buildings and
institutions. For example, a person who “has been authorized in writing by a duly authorized official” may carry a concealed weapon in the school safety zone of all educational institutions in Georgia. (The “school safety zone” refers to a building owned or leased by the educational organizations described in the act.) Patrons of bars may find themselves seated next to a drunk with a gun at the ready should violence erupt, unless the bar owner specifically bans individuals with concealed weapons. Those in charge of churches may now permit weapons to accompany parishioners to all church functions. People entering government buildings do not have to worry about whether or not they’ve forgotten to leave their concealed weapon at home. The act provides that license holders “shall be authorized to carry a weapon in a government building. . . when [it is] open for business. . .and where ingress is not restricted or screened by security personnel.” If the building “is restricted or screened by security personnel” one of whom is certified as a peace officer, concealed carry is not permitted and a person entering the building with a weapon is guilty of a misdemeanor. All of that brings us to the question posed at the outset. That was whether what happened on June 6 would have happened after July 1.

The event that happened on June 6 was the attempt by Dennis Marx to enter the Courthouse in Cumming, Georgia. Wearing body armor and a gas mask, brandishing an assault rifle, and using his car as a battering ram, he drove up to the courthouse, attempted to run over a deputy who tried to block him and threw out “homemade spike strips” to block other vehicles from following him. In his car he had gas grenades, smoke grenades and pepper spray grenades and assorted other paraphernalia. Mr. Marx was engaged in a lawful pursuit in attempting to enter the courthouse. He was facing 11 felony charges, 10 of which pertained to the manufacture and sale of illegal drugs and was going to court to enter a plea to the charges he was facing. His preferred method of entering was, of course, unlawful. The question of whether his behavior might have had different consequences after July 1 is answered in the negative. The Safe Carry Protection Act does not permit people with assorted hand grenades to enter courthouses using vehicles as battering rams. And even if Mr. Marx had not had in his possession all the weaponry that he hoped would go into the courthouse with him (except for a concealed gun), he would have been unable to enter the courthouse. That is because even under the liberal provisions of the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014”, concealed carry is not permitted in courthouses.

When Governor Eaton signed the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014” at a picnic ground in Ellijay, Georgia, he said: “This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules-and who can protect themselves and others from those who don’t play by the rules.” Perhaps the governor or the legislators can explain why the legislature decided that the Act and what the governor described as its “added protections” would not apply to buildings with security screening. Buildings excluded from the Act include the buildings in which legislators meet. Could it be that all their posturing notwithstanding, the governor and the legislators think they are safer if they are in an environment where no one has guns and, therefore, they have no need for the “added protection” afforded by the Act? We’ll never know.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Art and Sexism

Every man is like the company he is wont to keep.
— Euripides, Phoenix

Because of his appearances with Ted Nugent during the Texas spring primaries in the race for governor, people will, for good reason, assume that this is nothing more than another example of Greg Abbott’s never ending association with people who are red neck sexists and complete and utter boors. Of course it might have been that they thought the Abbott supporter was a connoisseur of great art. They were wrong. She is not.

Ted Nugent is a faded Rock Star of the more unsavory variety. He is an unabashed fan of any device that can dispense bullets and, as Mr. Abbott has repeatedly pointed out when on the campaign trail with Mr. Nugent, a devoted fan of the Second Amendment. There was also a time many years ago when Mr. Nugent was a devoted fan of under-age girls. As he explained in an interview: “I was addicted to girls. It was hopeless. It was beautiful.” That was, of course, 30 years ago, and he has outgrown that particular addiction and was never prosecuted for it. His views on contemporary matters, however, remain on the lunatic fringe which keeps him in the limelight when he accepts the embraces of candidates seeking public office in place of embraces from under age-girls.

During the 2012 presidential election Mr. Nugent was an enthusiastic supporter of Mitt Romney. While supporting Mr. Romney, Mr. Nugent said: “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year . . . .” He went on to refer to the Obama administration as “this vile, evil America hated administration.” His views have not changed.

In a January 2014interview with Guns.com he reflected on the fact that Mr. Romney was not elected president: “I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist nurtured subhuman mongrel like the Acorn community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America.” Some candidates might try to put distance between themselves and the mouths from which that sort of language comes. Mr. Abbott is not one of them. When Mr. Abbott was confronted by reporters about his association with Mr. Nugent, Mr. Abbott said: “I don’t know what he may have said or done in his background. What I do know is Ted Nugent stands for the Constitution. He stands against the federal government over-reaching.” That is a terrific explanation for why it was helpful to have Mr. Nugent by his side at campaign rallies during the primary season.

Mr. Nugent’s talk may cause some people to attribute the latest Abbott flap to a kind of sexism and extremism to which associating with Ted Nugent gives rise. Others might conclude that it was nothing more than an artistic endeavor. What I refer to is what happened in California when Wendy Davis, Greg Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the race for governor of Texas, went on a fund raising trip to Los Angeles.

Upon her arrival Ms. Davis was confronted with posters that “superimpose her face on a Barbie Doll’s body that has a plastic baby coming out of its stomach. The San Antonio Express-News said that Texas resident, Kathryn Stuard, is the Abbott supporter who commissioned the poster. Ms. Stuard was quoted as saying of the poster that “It hits people with the truth. The artist is very edgy.” That language suggests that Ms. Stuard is a great supporter of the arts who knows “edgy” when she sees it. That is not the only thing that would lead an observer to that conclusion.

A few days after news of the California poster came out, it was reported in the New York Times that Aby Rosen, a New York real estate mogul and art collector has placed a 33-foot painted bronze sculpture on his lawn in Old Westbury, New York. It is a statue called “The Naked Virgin Mary.” It was created by the well-known sculptor, Damien Hirst. It portrays a very pregnant walking woman whose skin has been stripped way from the right side of her body exposing her unborn fetus.

Those are the amazing similarities between the poster funded by Ms. Stuard and the “Naked Virgin Mary” statue that might cause some to conclude that Ms. Stuard is a devoted and knowledgeable supporter of the arts who was simply trying to carry Mr. Hirst’s creation one step further by creating a poster. There are differences, however. One of them involves putting Ms. Davis’s face on the poster instead of the anonymous face that appears on the statue. The other is adding the words “Abortion Barby Wendy Davis” across the bottom of the poster. Those touches put an end to any notion that Ms. Stuard knows anything about art. Her poster makes no artistic statement. Its only statement is that nothing is beneath the dignity of the Abbott campaign as it seeks to help Greg Abbott become the next governor of Texas.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Life and Death in a Civilized Place

Executions, far from being useful examples to the survivors, have, I am persuaded, a quite contrary effect. . . .
—Mary Wollstonecraft, Letter 19 (1796)

It makes you proud to be an American. I mean a lesser country wouldn’t give any of these things a second thought. During the week of May 18, 2014 we learned of two different decisions, each of which proves that we keep on trying to be the world leader in showing respect for human life, in both the preserving and the taking. The first decision pertained to Guantanamo.

On May 23, 2014 a federal court entered an order permitting the folks at Guantanamo to continue force-feeding Abu Wa’el Dhiab so that he won’t die. Mr. Dhiab, a Syrian national, was captured in Pakistan 12 years ago and has been at Guantanamo ever since. He has not been charged with any crime and was cleared for transfer five years ago. At first he was not released because the government worried about how he’d be treated in Syria and later because of the civil war taking place there. Mr. Dhiab does not want to be at Guantanamo. He would rather be dead. Accordingly he has engaged in a hunger strike. The United States does not want Mr. Dhiab to die. The procedure used by the government to keep Mr. Dhiab alive is not done in a hospital and is very painful. Mr. Dhiab has gone to court to ask the court to permit him to die or, alternatively, require the government to force-feed him humanely at the hospital at Guantanamo Bay. The judge who considered Mr. Dhiab’s request for a restraining order observed that Mr. Dhiab was willing to be force-fed if it were done in the hospital and “he could be spared the agony of having the feeding tubes inserted and removed for each feeding, and if he could be spared the pain and discomfort of the restraint chair.” Were that done, the judge observed, the litigation over whether he could be force fed or permitted to die could be litigated in a “civilized and legally appropriate manner. The Department of Defense refuses to make these compromises.” She went on to state that: “Thanks to the intransigence of the Department of Defense, Mr. Dhiab may well suffer unnecessary pain from certain enteral feeding practice and forcible cell extractions. However, the Court simply cannot let Mr. Dhiab die.” And thus we have an example of the compassion that is ingrained in our culture.

From Guantanamo where we show our compassion by keeping people who want to die alive, we go to Tennessee where the state government is looking for compassionate ways to help people who want to live, die. In a number of recent executions in the United States, the person being executed has been manifestly uncomfortable during the procedure and his discomfort has then caused discomfort for the society that imposes the punishment. For some time Tennessee executioners used a combination of drugs to execute the condemned that could not be used when euthanizing animals because of the Tennessee “Nonlivestock Animal Humane Death Act.” That Act banned the drug being used to assist in human executions from being used on nonlivestock animals because of the pain suffered by the animal during the procedure.

Tennessee has now concluded that it does not want to get caught up in the dilemma facing many state executioners when the drugs that humanely dispatch the unwanted are unavailable. Accordingly, on May 22, 2014, the governor signed a bill bringing back the electric chair or “old sparkey” as it was fondly called. Under the new law, if the desired drugs for a lethal injection are unavailable, the convict is to be seated in an electric chair from which he is dispatched to the hereafter.

There is a reason the electric chair has not been a prominent part of the execution scene for many years. It is because of botched executions. During two Florida executions in the 1990s, flames shot out of the masks of the persons being executed greatly upsetting onlookers. As a result, the electric chair has not been used in Florida since 1999. Its bad reputation notwithstanding, it will enjoy an encore appearance in Tennessee.

During the debate in the Tennessee legislature prior that body’s approval of the chair’s return, one legislator said he not only supported use of the electric chair but would support hanging and the firing squad as alternate methods of execution. Dennis Powers, the sponsor of the bill reintroducing the electric chair explained why its reintroduction into the Tennessee death chamber, notwithstanding its checkered background, did not give him legal or ethical concerns. He explained that: “It’s not our job to judge. That’s God’s job to judge. Our job is to arrange the meeting.”

And there you have it. In Guantanamo, authorities try to postpone the meeting of Mr. Dhiab and whatever deity may be awaiting his arrival. In Tennessee authorities take steps to hasten the meeting. Go figure.