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A Second Opinion

A world of Irish traditions

First published: March 16, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: March 14, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Much of the green you see popping up everywhere has nothing to do with the vernal equinox, which will occur in three days.

It is very comforting to realize that spring is just around the corner.

I speak for more than a few people in declaring that winter has enjoyed more than its fair share of the spotlight.

The green I’m thinking of, however, is not the budding plant life that begins blooming in warmer weather.

It’s the emerald green of the Emerald Isle, sported every year around St. Patrick’s Day.

Growing up in a typical Chicago Irish household, St. Patrick’s Day was for me and my family both a religious holiday and an ethnic celebration.

In commemorating the patron saint of our ancestral homeland, we joined countless others in lauding all things Irish.

But it’s interesting to note how many traditions about St. Patrick’s Day in particular and Irish life in general are not really Irish at all or at least Irish in the sense that we traditionally conceive them in our minds and hearts.

In many ways, St. Patrick’s Day is a tribute to cultural diversity.

Take our beloved patron saint, Patrick.

You wouldn’t know it by listening to virtually anyone of Irish ancestry, but Patrick wasn’t at all Irish.

He was born somewhere in Roman-controlled Great Britain, some believe in either Scotland or Wales.

He was captured by Irish bandits and forced into slavery before escaping and returning to Great Britain.

He then became a missionary and went back to Ireland to convert the Celtic pagans. Perhaps the Scots or Welsh should be the ones whooping it up on St. Patrick’s Day!

It’s ironic, then, that the British were the ones who gave us our Roman Catholic identity and then worked so ruthlessly to strip it away.

The suffering visited upon numerous Irish people during centuries of oppression is indeed sobering.

But through that difficult process, the Irish also picked up the language we would come to speak and the system of governance we would employ.

And there’s no doubt that Irish people became masters at both the English language and electoral politics.

No fewer than four Irish citizens won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and some of America’s major cities were built largely as a result of Irish politics.

But even in the area of literature there is some diversity.

Many of Ireland most well-known writers were not Catholics but rather Protestants.

Examples include Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, William Butler Yates and Samuel Beckett.

Of the four Irishmen who won the Nobel Prize for Literature — Beckett, Shaw, Yates and Seamus Heaney — only Heaney was raised as a Catholic.

This is significant because despite their Protestant backgrounds, many Anglo-Irish writers were fiercely nationalistic.

They supported Irish independence from British rule while retaining their Anglo-rooted culture.

Have you ever watched a St. Patrick’s Day parade with all those bagpipers?

Funny, the legendary instrument used in such bands is the Highland bagpipe, which comes from Scotland.

The kilts are a big giveaway.

It’s not that the Irish don’t have their own version of the bagpipe, but users must be sitting to use it.

This really wouldn’t work well in a marching band.

Perhaps the best example of St. Patrick’s Day diversity is that staple of Irish food, corned beef and cabbage.

While you can’t leave an Irish-themed party in the United States without being offered plenty of corned beef, you won’t find such a dish being served on the Emerald Isle.

The tradition began when Irish immigrants in New York City had to find a replacement for their beloved Irish bacon.

This is a thick, dark cut of bacon that is a favorite at breakfast.

While it’s a heart attack waiting to happen, it is delicious.

But Irish immigrants couldn’t find Irish bacon here in the states, so they needed something similar.

And immigrants in New York City found it in Jewish delis: corned beef.

So in wishing each other a happy St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, you might want to slip in a “Mazel tov!” or “God save the queen!” It will make the “Irish” eyes of our patron saint smile.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Police shouldn’t tell lawyers who they may represent

First published: March 09, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: March 07, 2014 at 6:33 pm

This is an open letter to my good friend Sean:

Obtaining justice in a criminal matter, or as close to the idea of justice as we can hope for in a flawed world, requires balance. One side advocates for its position on the evidence; the other side argues against that conclusion by challenging the evidence as presented.

This debate is overseen by an impartial authority, who maintains fairness and order by compelling the two rivals to follow accepted rules. The final judgment is rendered by a panel of citizens, who weigh the evidence and use their discretion to decide the outcome.

Our nation’s criminal justice system is certainly not perfect. The biggest flaw is that so few people involved in a criminal case were present when the incident occurred. So most of them don’t truly know what happened.

They’re relying on circumstantial and physical evidence as well as the memories of bystanders. Then they’re using their best judgment to determine what happened.

But as I said, it all depends on a balance between all the factions. And when that balance is thrown out of whack, negligence is likely to occur.

I received your email about the U.S. Senate’s vote on Debo Adegbile’s bid to head the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. The petition attached to your email sought signatures urging senators to oppose Adegbile based on his past association with Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murdering Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in the early 1980s. Adegbile helped prepare some briefs for the case as a staffer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

As a Chicago police officer, the deep sentiments you have for Faulkner’s family are understandable. Having known police officers all my life, I know what an outrage it is when an act of senseless violence leads to such a death.

But I cannot support your action, which contributed to the Senate’s vote Wednesday to decline Adegbile’s nomination. For you and many other officers to approach this issue in such a manner risks disturbing the balance needed to ensure that something approximating justice is achieved in our courtrooms every day.

Adegbile’s involvement in Abu-Jamal’s case was relatively minor. He never appeared in court on Abu-Jamal’s behalf and wasn’t the one at the NAACP who chose to take him on as a client.

Here’s a real kicker. The most direct action taken by the NAACP was on unconstitutional instructions given to the Abu-Jamal’s jury, and this led to his death sentence being commuted to life in prison. So the NAACP wasn’t merely screaming racism; it challenged a legitimate problem.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts previously defended convicted serial killer John Ferguson. Does this make him unqualified for the position he now holds, or does this standard only apply when those killed are police officers?

The message to civil rights leaders from the police community is, “Watch your step! Don’t get involved in any case that upsets us, or we’ll make trouble for you.”

Is this what you want? Do you believe it’s acceptable for police officers to dictate to civil rights groups which defendants they may represent? Has that become your role?

Imagine the chilling effect this will have on defense lawyers who aspire to public service positions. They’ll be much more cautious about representing certain clients in controversial cases because it may come back to haunt them.

This means these defendants won’t have access to the best lawyers. Or in some cases, if the police community had its way, any lawyers.

Now, what if your actions make groups like the NAACP too timid to take on certain criminal cases? If there is some malfeasance involved, who will step up to challenge it?

We may not like everything that defense lawyers do, but they are essential to the criminal justice process. They force the government to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person charged with the crime is indeed guilty.

There are far too many instances where defendants are cornered into making “deals” that send them to prison for crimes they likely didn’t commit. If more lawyers become reluctant to take on certain cases, the number of wrongful convictions will increase.

Of course, the real message sent by police was to senators. Some of them voted against Adegbile’s nomination out of fear of how it may impact their next election. They were more concerned about saving their jobs rather than doing them.

To appreciate the need for balance in the criminal justice system, it’s essential to separate our feelings about a particular defendant from his or her attorney. And here’s a way for police officers to relate to this concept: Representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police defended Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge to the end.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of his complicity in torturing hundreds of suspects, the FOP stood in Burge’s corner. In 2008, FOP President Mark Donahue said that the union “will stand with the police officer every time.”

Would it be fair to call for the careers of FOP officials or lawyers to be derailed because they defended someone like Burge? Not at all. I expect them to engage in such work because police officers need to know someone will always be their advocate no matter what.

The same goes for criminal defendants. They must know they will always have access to the best defense possible, as is their right as U.S. citizens.

And every single citizen is entitled to the best criminal defense possible, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, John Ferguson and Jon Burge. To suggest otherwise is to seek something other than justice, and this is unbecoming a police officer.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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It’s a Casimir kind of world

First published: March 03, 2014 at 2:36 pm
Last modified: March 03, 2014 at 2:36 pm

In the hope that some former Illinois residents may take comfort in these words, happy Casimir Pulaski Day!

Yes, there is a day set aside each year to commemorate the achievements of Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski. In a broader sense, it’s also a time to pay tribute to members of America’s wonderful Polish community and recognize the extraordinary contributions they make to our society.

Unfortunately, Illinois remains the only state in the country to celebrate Pulaski Day. Of course, the Chicago area has the largest concentration of Polish people outside Warsaw, Poland, which would explain the push by elected officials in Chicago in the mid-1970s to make Pulaski Day a holiday in Illinois.

But I’m hopeful that other states will follow suit very soon. Come on! Who wouldn’t enjoy another day off work or school?

Given that Pulaski Day (today) is being followed by Mardi Gras (tomorrow), the paczkis must be flying off the shelves in Chicago-area bakeries. Paczkis are a true favorite on Fat Tuesday, which is also known as Paczki Day.

Now, let’s talk colloquialisms. More than a few of you have most likely pronounced the word “Pulaski” in your head as “Pulask-eye,” with a hard “i” at the end. This is no doubt due to the presence of Pulaski, New York, located in Oswego County.

No one I’ve spoken with about this seems to know why the name of this community is pronounced “Pulask-eye” rather than the more traditional “Pulask-ee,” just like every other Polish name ending in an “ski.” Sure, different regions of the country have unique pronunciations. One of the southern-most communities in Illinois is Cairo. You may work that our in your head as “Ky-row,” like the one in Egypt. But the locals pronounce it “Kay-row,” with a hard “A” in there.

Regardless of how your pronounce the names of your communities, happy Casimir Pulaski Day to everyone!

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More equal than others

First published: March 02, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: February 28, 2014 at 4:37 pm

In criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for a New York City-focused prekindergarten program, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo indicated he didn’t like the implied inequality.

Mayor de Blasio wants to tax his wealthier residents to pay for a pre-K program in New York City schools, which would require authorization from the New York State Legislature. Having a dedicated tax to fund the program will ensure the revenue doesn’t dry up, the mayor argued. Pulling the money from a general education fund would risk the program if budget cuts had to be implemented, Mayor de Blasio said.

But Gov. Cuomo was having none of it. New York City has the highest concentration of wealthy people of any region of the state. This means that children in the Big Apple would be treated to a premium pre-K educational experience while kids throughout the rest of the state would get by on whatever finances could be scraped up, opponents of Mayor de Blasio’s plan believe.

“I support a statewide system because the children in New York City are precious and so are the children in Buffalo and so are the children in Albany and so are the children in Suffolk,” Gov. Cuomo said on WNYC. “I’m not going to leave behind the children in any part of this state. That is not going to happen. And no one should want it to happen.”

“I don’t believe that the wealth in New York City should be used just in New York City,” he said in a news conference in Albany. “I don’t believe the wealth in Nassau should be used just in Nassau. That would place poorer communities at a disadvantage.”

Gov. Cuomo is not alone in expressing these sentiments. Here is a joint statement from state Senate Education Chairman John Flanagan, Senate Finance Chairman John DeFrancisco and Sen. Joe Robach from the Rochester area:

“As members of the New York State Senate, we are deeply offended by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent assertion that the children in New York City are more deserving and more in need of early childhood education than the 4- and 5-year-olds in the communities we represent. We know Mayor de Blasio has a lot on his plate, but he may be interested in learning a few facts about the rest of the state. All four of the big city school districts — including Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo — are poorer than New York City, and 70 percent (471) of the school districts across the state — serving more than 1.2 million students — are less wealthy than the one he represents.

“In addition, 20 percent of the school districts in New York state have a greater percentage of students with higher needs than New York City, and many of those districts are worse off than the worst parts of New York City. Meanwhile, the city of Rochester has the fifth-highest poverty rate among all U.S. cities. In fact, during legislative budget hearings, we heard testimony from many upstate mayors about the difficulties their cities are facing. We have a responsibility to provide every student in this state with the same opportunity to learn and to succeed, not just the students in New York City.”

Here are a few points that need clarity.

First of all, state legislators could give Mayor de Blasio the green light to tax his residents to the bejesus and fund his own program. That would leave the remainder of state education funds allocated for pre-K to be used by all other districts. Some of the wealthier people will most likely move out of New York City, which will reduce the available funds for Mayor de Blasio’s program and, thus, provide more equity with the rest of the state.

But a better plan would be to forget about funding pre-K. I have a hard time accepting that kids who start pre-K at the age of 4 are substantially more advanced than children who start kindergarten at age 5.

At the risk of irritating scores of educators, I believe pre-K is a tad overhyped. How far behind can kids that young get in just one year?

Financial resources would be better used bringing kids in kindergarten and first grade up to speed with other students if they appear to lag academically. By focusing on students who need remedial help, schools wouldn’t have to create an entirely new program.

The deeper issue here, though, is applying questions about equitable school funding to the primary and secondary levels. Why should some school districts have substantially more money to spend than others do throughout the state?

According to the Empire Center for Public Policy, Wainscott CSD in Suffolk County (17 students) spent $97,346 on instruction per pupil in the 2007-08 academic year — the highest in the state. The lowest such spending in the same year occurred in Lancaster CSD in Erie County with $5,700 per pupil.

If Gov. Cuomo and state legislators object to the idea that New York City would have a better financed pre-K program, why haven’t they raised this issue when it comes to paying for all other grades? With so many districts calling for additional state assistance while the governor wants to keep property taxes low, it’s time to find a better formula for financing our public schools. Funding equity is a legitimate issue, but the discussion shouldn’t be abandoned before children reach kindergarten.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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ACA not reported job-killer

First published: February 09, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: February 06, 2014 at 3:18 pm
ROBERT WILLETT/RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER/MCT
Keith Ward, left, helps Cindy Murray navigate the Affordable Care Act and choose the right plan at Urban Ministries in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 30, 2013.

Some opponents of the Affordable Care Act put such a misleading spin on a bit of recent news that it makes me wonder how they’re able to function each day.

On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office released a report titled “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024.” Part of this forecast was an assessment of how the ACA would impact jobs over the next decade. This information was easy to find as it was contained in a section of the report titled “Labor Effects of the Affordable Care Act: Updated Estimates.”

Here are some knee-jerk headlines about this section of the CBO report:

“BamCare Death Blow: Goodbye to 2 million jobs,” John Podhoretz in Wednesday’s New York Post.

“ACA will cut jobs,” an editorial in Wednesday’s Boston Herald.

“Obamacare will push 2 million workers out of labor market: CBO,” from a Tuesday article on WashingtonTimes.com.

“The Jobless Care Act: Congress’s budget office says ObamaCare will increase unemployment,” an editorial from Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

“ObamaCare could lead to loss of nearly 2.3 million US jobs, report says,” a Tuesday article on FoxNews.com.

In fact, that’s not what the report says. It projects “a decline in the number of full-time equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.” While a portion of these will be from employers reducing hours and cutting workers, the vast majority of this decline will be as a result of people voluntarily cutting their own hours or leaving the job market altogether.

Here are the relevant portions of this report (it’s dry reading but worth the effort):

“The ACA’s largest impact on labor markets will probably occur after 2016, once its major provisions have taken full effect and overall economic output nears its maximum sustainable level. CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor — given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive. Because the largest declines in labor supply will probably occur among lower-wage workers, the reduction in aggregate compensation (wages, salaries and fringe benefits) and the impact on the overall economy will be proportionally smaller than the reduction in hours worked. …

“The reduction in CBO’s projections of hours worked represents a decline in the number of full-time equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024. Although CBO projects that total employment (and compensation) will increase over the coming decade, that increase will be smaller than it would have been in the absence of the ACA. The decline in full-time equivalent employment stemming from the ACA will consist of some people not being employed at all and other people working fewer hours; however, CBO has not tried to quantify those two components of the overall effect. The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor, so it will appear almost entirely as a reduction in labor force participation and in hours worked relative to what would have occurred otherwise rather than as an increase in unemployment (that is, more workers seeking but not finding jobs) or underemployment (such as part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours per week).”

Given that most of the people reducing their hours or leaving the workforce will do so voluntarily, the jobs they have will still exist. And, thus, other people who are unemployed or underemployed will have the option of applying for those jobs.

The report said that employment will continue to rise over the next decade but at a slower rate. It also said that the projected reduction of this number of people will slow the rate of compensation growth in the next 10 years, which is good news for companies.

I’ve never been a huge fan of this law. Congress passed far too many measures in one giant omnibus bill, which makes it horribly complicated. I’ve long advocated that lawmakers should have chopped the health care problem into separate sections and take several years to develop more mutually acceptable solutions to each one.

But it’s now the law, and some people are manipulating facts to conjure false images. For one thing, the CBO states that its projections may not come to pass because many parts of the law have never before been implemented.

Therefore, we may be over-reacting for nothing. The report isn’t all doom and gloom, so let’s remain level-headed.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Rep. Owens knows when it’s time to make an exit

First published: February 05, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: February 04, 2014 at 4:50 pm
NORM JOHNSTON N WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-21st District, of Plattsburgh talks issues while in Watertown last month.

When members of Congress decide to move back to the private sector, it’s big news.

U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-21st District, of Plattsburgh recently announced he won’t seek re-election this year. This set the gears of both the Democratic and Republican parties in the north country working in overdrive to come up with the ideal candidate to succeed him.

The big question for Mr. Owens, particularly from members of the media, was, “Why leave now?” The Watertown Daily Times and other news outlets interviewed him on this topic.

I suspect that, deep down, each reporter thought he or she could draw out the real reason for Mr. Owens ending his public career, other than the one he declared when he announced his retirement. There has to be more to the story than what’s contained in a news release, right? I mean, who in their right mind would voluntarily leave a job with all the perks granted to an incumbent member of Congress?

Here is the statement Mr. Owens issued on Jan. 14:

“After careful thought and consideration, I have decided not to seek re-election for the 21st Congressional District this November. I have enjoyed the opportunity to travel the district, meeting and serving the families and business owners of this vast community. It has truly been a privilege to serve, and I plan on continuing to work for a brighter future for the region.

“My appreciation for the support of my wife, children, grandchildren and close friends cannot be sufficiently expressed in words. There are others — too numerous to list — to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude. The remainder of my term will be spent in much the same way as the previous four years: assisting constituents with their individual concerns, continuing to focus on passing a farm bill, helping to create jobs in our communities, working for our troops and veterans, keeping the northern border secure and fluid, and being a voice in Congress for bipartisanship as well as fact-based decision-making. You can count on me to work with and for you over the remainder of my term.

“It is time for me to undertake new endeavors and spend more time with my family. Even though I will not seek re-election, it is my goal that the next phase of my life will continue to focus on helping to improve the lives of all New Yorkers, primarily through job creation and economic development.

“Thank you for letting me serve you since November 2009.”

Are there other reasons Mr. Owens is deciding to leave at this time? Perhaps there are, but I can’t be sure.

There is no doubt that the biennial grind of raising untold amounts of money to ward off any challengers just to hang on to an elective office is incredibly wearing. I can’t understand how so many incumbents put up with the same routine for so many years.

But rather than be surprised at Mr. Owens’s decision to leave office now, I commend him for his prudent choice. It’s not that I have anything against him personally.

In the seven months that I’ve lived in the north country, I’ve only met him twice. I don’t know him well enough to say if I would support or oppose any effort on his part to seek re-election.

My reaction is based on the notion that it’s good for public servants to know when it’s time to quit. Mr. Owens came to office in late 2009, was re-elected in both 2010 and 2012 and now believes it’s time for him to move on. He will finish his term in Congress with a little more than five years in office, and that strikes me as a reasonable length of time for someone to remain in this position.

When I first met Mr. Owens a few months ago, I had asked him about the idea of term limits for members of Congress. He said he didn’t believe they would improve the legislative process.

While we didn’t discuss the issue further, I disagree with his position. The quest to retain an elective office will often compromise the decisions made by legislators.

Most people who understand politics realize there are fewer things more dangerous than a lame-duck public official. Without the need to appease various constituencies, incumbents are free to vote on issues based on the principles they hold.

Term limits could accomplish the same objective. With no need to pander to anyone, lawmakers can put the interests of the country above their own.

So while I differed with Mr. Owens over mandatory term limits, he appears to support voluntary term limits. Someone serves in Congress a few years and then leaves. It’s not supposed to be a lifelong career.

The dynamic on Capitol Hill would change much more rapidly if more legislators followed Mr. Owens’s example. This may improve relationships between people of different parties and get things moving forward again. Many more members of Congress need to give this a try.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Let’s move forward on gun safety issue

First published: January 16, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: January 15, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Why would anyone oppose measures to keep weapons out of the wrong hands?

Gun rights activists claim it’s because new regulations won’t work. They say these rules will only impede law-abiding, responsible citizens.

The first problem with this argument is that it ignores evidence that such regulations are effective. The second is that we’ve never enacted laws like this on the widest scale possible, so how do we know they wouldn’t do the job?

A third glitch is that many alleged law-abiding, responsible citizens willingly or carelessly put firearms in the wrong hands. And finally, many gun enthusiasts aren’t pushing to keep their guns to preserve freedom — they just want to hang on to the guns themselves. One study, published in 2012 in Preventive Medicine, shows that in states where background checks have been expanded beyond federal requirements, gun deaths have decreased.

“The results show that states with specific checks for restraining orders, fugitive status, mental illness and misdemeanors, which are considered more comprehensive checks, are associated with a 7 percent reduction in homicides and a 2 percent reduction in suicide deaths,” according to a July 25, 2012, article on ScienceDaily.com. “Also, firearm homicide deaths are 13 percent lower when states have checks for restraining orders and 21 percent lower when fugitive status is checked.”

Gun enthusiasts complain that criminals don’t submit to background checks and still get guns. Ergo, background checks don’t work.

Yes, criminals won’t halt their illegal activity just because some new law goes into effect. But these regulations may motivate gun owners to stop putting their weapons into the criminal market.

The best estimates show that between 10 percent and 15 percent of guns used in crimes where stolen from their owners. This means that between 85 percent and 90 percent of the guns used in crimes were put into the criminal market by their owners.

If universal and comprehensive background checks were required for every single gun transfer, backed up with registering every firearm, law enforcement agents could track down how guns used in crimes ended up in the wrong hands. And if gun owners were held accountable for their firearms used in crimes, fewer guns would get into illegal hands.

It’s clear that intense resistance to reasonable gun regulations rests less on the fear of losing liberties as much as it does on the fear of losing guns. In his book “America and its Guns: A Theological Exposé,” James E. Atwood examines the troubling phenomenon of how many gun owners engage in idolatry with their weapons. He writes:

“Their lifestyle choices indicate idolatry as they nurture deep emotional attachments to instruments that are made to kill; grow threatened and angry when gun values are questioned and refuse honest dialogue about the place of guns in society; support no preventive measures to stop gun violence, only punishment; show little or no grief for society’s gun victims; vigorously oppose any law to restrict sales of guns to the most dangerous members of society; claim an absolute, unrestricted, unregulated constitutional right to use their guns against our government if they consider it tyrannical; claim the blessing of a loving God on weapons that kill; [and] believe the solution to gun violence is to have more guns.”

Atwood in his book used the following statement made by Warren Cassidy, a former executive with the National Rifle Association: “You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world.”

This is absolutely frightening. Because just as anyone else completely immersed in an ideological cause, some gun owners will embrace nonsensical notions as long as they further their goal.

The image of idolatry fits perfectly. The gun shows become their churches, and the NRA serves as their Holy See. They will hold tight to these weapons believing they alone can provide security.

If people want to possess lethal weapons, they should jump through some big hoops. We must have universal and comprehensive background checks every time a gun changes hands. We also need licensing of every gun owner and registration of every firearm, with the ability to trace each gun through its history of ownership.

People also should have to go through rigorous training and testing before they are given a gun. And this process should be repeated to renew gun licenses and registrations every few years.

We do this for cars to ensure that people operate them safely. Why should it be any different for the most dangerous device that exists on the street, the gun?

In this series of columns, I have reviewed the provisions of the New York SAFE Act, why many gun enthusiasts don’t comprehend how the founders viewed the Second Amendment, the unnerving attraction that some gun owners have to racial ideology and the tendency to look upon guns as idols.

Atwood writes that most NRA members actually want something done about gun violence. So it’s up to them, the rational yet silent majority, to confront their fellow gun owners about focusing on what’s truly good for this nation: Reducing the number of guns in circulation and keeping them away from dangerous people.

Guns are hazardous instruments that should be used sparingly. The cult of adoration built around them must be dismantled if we are to establish a foundation of peace in this country and move beyond a culture of violence.

Certainly, people should be allowed to own guns. But some zealots scream about oppression as soon as gun control is discussed. By confusing inconvenience for tyranny, they do us all a great disservice.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Nazi merchandise causes no Führer at gun shows

First published: January 14, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: January 14, 2014 at 8:43 am
JERRY MOORE N WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
A framed photograph of Adolph Hitler was on display for sale along with other Nazi paraphernalia at a gun show in Clayton last summer.

Participants in America’s gun culture have a contradictory nature.

Publicly, they express loathing for Nazism as it symbolizes everything America opposes. But once the gun crowd is behind semi-closed doors, the swastikas are put on full display. They can’t decide whether they are repulsed by the Third Reich’s fascist tendencies or drawn to its quest for ideological purity and its military character.

You’d be hard pressed to attend a gun show in this country without seeing someone hawking Third Reich tchotchke. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed this disturbing trend.

“[W]henever I have been to a gun show, there are always displays of Nazi paraphernalia,” Bernard E. Harcourt wrote for the Fordham Law Review in 2004. “The fringe pro-Nazi element in this country has far more ties to the pro-gun community than it does to the anti-gun community, and you are far more likely to see a swastika at a gun show or a pro-gun rally than you are at the anti-gun Million Mom March on the Washington Mall.”

I encountered this when I attended a gun show in Clayton last summer. Among the rows of rifles, handguns, shotguns and knives was a booth set up to sell Nazi items.

But the crown jewel was a framed photograph of Adolph Hitler. The worst part was that this individual knew there was a market at the gun show for selling crap like this.

My question was, what do you do with your framed photograph of Hitler once you become its proud owner? Do you display it on the piano, above the fireplace on the mantle or on the bookshelf next to family portraits?

This does not suggest that all gun enthusiasts are Nazi sympathizers. But there is a sub-culture among the firearm faithful that is eerily attracted to the mystique of the Third Reich.

This dual affiliation with Nazi Germany — repelled by the Nazis’ disdain for democracy yet lured by their devotion to military order — is perplexing.

Gun rights advocates frequently claim the Holocaust may not have occurred if the Nazis hadn’t confiscated guns from the Jews, which is laughable. A small minority wherever they lived in Europe, Jewish people weren’t slaughtered by the Nazis because they didn’t have guns to fight them. They died in such tragic numbers because Germany had a well-trained, well-equipped military.

Think of it this way: 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust, while 13 million armed Russian troops were killed by the Germans. The Nazi war machine was formidable and deadly.

The small pockets of Jewish people had no chance. While the armed resistance mounted during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was admirable, the statistics tell the story of what odds the Jewish rebels faced.

“In reality, only about 20 Germans were killed, while some 13,000 Jews were massacred,” wrote Alex Seitz-Wald for Salon.com a year ago. “The remaining 50,000 who survived were promptly sent off to concentration camps.”

It’s nice that gun owners are concerned about Jewish people. Not so concerned, mind you, that they’d stop selling Nazi paraphernalia at their gun shows just in case some Jews stopped by and were appalled at such a scene. But concerned enough to use the Holocaust to advance their own agenda.

The appeal that this segment of gun culture warriors has toward Nazism can be better understood by examining the attitudes expressed by the broader population of firearm enthusiasts toward racial minorities. A study released a few months ago found a connection between racist attitudes among white Americans and a greater desire to possess guns.

“Symbolic racism was related to having a gun in the home and opposition to gun control policies in U.S. whites,” according to the study published in the research journal PLOS ONE. “The findings help explain U.S. whites’ paradoxical attitudes towards gun ownership and gun control. Such attitudes may adversely influence U.S. gun control policy debates and decisions.”

This makes sense since many gun owners have armed themselves to the teeth while harboring delusions of a pending race war. It’s ironic that gun rights activists strongly advocated strict regulations on firearms when black people began arming themselves in the 1960s for protection against police brutality. I don’t believe Black Panther paraphernalia would be as warmly received at gun shows as Nazi knickknacks are among attendees — just imagine putting framed photographs of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale on sale at one of these events!

So the gun control debate is strongly influenced by people more likely to hold hostile views toward racial minorities, a condition that distorts their notions of what dangers lurk outside. And legislators kowtow to this warped mentality to perpetuate a public safety catastrophe.

No wonder Hitler is so popular in this circle. Who else but a maniacal genius could orchestrate the ultimate theater of the absurd?

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Reality is in short supply these days in Gunland

First published: January 12, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: January 10, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Gun rights advocates are correct about at least one major point in the debate over regulating firearms.

No measure of gun control in itself will reduce gun deaths and injuries. The core problem is that we are a society steeped in violence.

Virtually every aspect of our culture glorifies brutality, and many of us accept that aggression is a valid technique for resolving conflicts. Until we acknowledge the perverse way we promote violence, it will always haunt us.

But gun enthusiasts must accept that they are both a symptom of and contributor to this phenomenon. The sad irony is that the rate of gun ownership among U.S. homes has been decreasing over the past several decades, all the while the number of guns in circulation has been increasing.

This means that fewer gun owners actually possess more guns. And the sadder point is that they equate hoarding more firearms with being free.

But the reality is that they are isolating themselves behind a false narrative that feeds on fear. How can they believe this in any way represents liberty?

Perhaps the most extreme gun enthusiasts are those who run around with their tri-cornered hats waving their Gadsden flags (along with their guns) and organizing groups of “patriots” sporting logos with bald eagles on them. They fashion themselves as modern-day minutemen ready to battle the forces of tyranny.

The problem is there’s nothing modern about this mentality. We are not living in colonial times, and none of these people is Paul Revere or Patrick Henry. Rather than honestly discuss how our 21st century society can restructure itself to balance freedom and security, they often reject any talk of change as unpatriotic by parroting misguided platitudes or rattling off quotes from the Revolutionary period.

They are trapped because they don’t understand life in the 18th century of which they are so fond and can’t deal with the reality of the world in which they live. Proof of this is found in their gross misunderstanding of their professed favorite written work, the Second Amendment.

Gun enthusiasts delight in citing the Second Amendment’s guarantee that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” But here is their first mistake. They conveniently ignore the preceding part of the Second Amendment, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, …”

The Second Amendment makes a clear connection between gun ownership, military service and protecting the homeland. So if you’re not a member of the U.S. armed services keeping the nation safe from its enemies, how does the Second Amendment apply to you?

Examining how the government enacted its gun laws following the ratification of the Bill of Rights reinforces this argument. Legal scholar Adam Winkler offers some surprising insights into what the notion of gun rights meant to the founders.

“[W]e’ve … always had gun control. The founding fathers instituted gun laws so intrusive that, were they running for office today, the NRA would not endorse them,” Winkler wrote in an article titled “The Secret History of Guns,” published in the September 2011 issue of The Atlantic. “While they did not care to completely disarm the citizenry, the founding generation denied gun ownership to many people: not only slaves and free blacks, but law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution.

“For those men who were allowed to own guns, the founders had their own version of the ‘individual mandate’ that has proved so controversial in President Obama’s health care reform law: they required the purchase of guns. A 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. Such men had to report for frequent musters — where their guns would be inspected and, yes, registered on public rolls.”

The founders put the Second Amendment into effect by passing this gun law several months after the Bill of Rights was enacted. They saw gun ownership not as a right of all people, as Winkler wrote, but only those they deemed worthy of upholding the ideals of the Revolution. So those who were ineligible of serving in the militia were often denied the right to own a gun.

The primary purpose of allowing private gun ownership was so that these select men would use their personal weapons to carry out their obligation to serve in militias and keep America free. And these weapons had to be registered by the government upon reporting for duty.

Time and again, the founders connected private ownership of firearms to having citizens “fighting for their common liberties” (as James Madison put it in Federalist Paper No. 46) as members of a militia. And now we have a full-time military to preserve the rights our founders enshrined.

That’s a far cry from what many Second Amendment proponents claim. This is unfortunate because their twisted allegiance to a make-believe notion of unfettered gun rights has contributed to centuries of bloodshed.

We all share responsibility in creating a broken society that idolizes violence, and it’s not solely a problem with guns. We display aggression through our entertainment, in our dialogue and with our politics.

Gun enthusiasts, however, have a role to play in helping this nation move beyond its perpetually combative mindset. We are addicted to violence, and many gun owners are among the first ones who need an intervention.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Owning guns is SAFE(r)

First published: January 08, 2014 at 4:15 am
Last modified: January 07, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Nearly a year later, the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act is as controversial as it was the day it was passed.

And how it was passed on Jan. 15, 2013, immediately drew major complaints. But that was nothing compared to the fury gun rights advocates unleashed at what was contained in the measure.

With the first anniversary of the mass shooting in Newton, Conn., occurring last month and that of the passage of the NY SAFE Act approaching, this is a good time to examine the gun control issue. I’ll explore the SAFE Act in this column and review broader questions in the next few days.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo invoked the “message of necessity” tactic last year to pass the NY SAFE Act. It allows the Legislature to bypass the state constitution’s requirement that lawmakers wait at least three days before voting on a measure that has been introduced. This loophole essentially renders the three-day provision meaningless.

Legislators worked on passing the NY SAFE Act late into the night Jan. 14 of last year, an effort that carried over until the next day. This once again gave the appearance that they rushed the measure through in the dead of night before anyone could mount opposition.

The NY SAFE Act broadened what qualifies as an assault weapon and made it illegal to own such a firearm under this new definition, unless someone already owned one before the law was passed. A Jan. 17, 2013, article in the Times-Union reported that Gov. Cuomo said the message of necessity was needed to prevent a rush on purchases of assault weapons as the bill was being considered.

He made a valid point here. If the goal was to halt further proliferation of assault weapons, gun enthusiasts would make a beeline to their nearest dealer to buy as many of these firearms as possible.

Gov. Cuomo, however, put the entire bill under the message of necessity allowance. And since some portions of the law weren’t scheduled to go into effect for months, he used poor judgment.

He should have used a message of necessity to prohibit the sale or transfer of any assault weapon, with the new definition of this firearm included. But a sunset clause should have been attached to the bill, say for three months.

This way, no one could legally acquire assault weapons for three months while legislators mulled over the remainder of the bill. Members of the Assembly and Senate would have had time to examine the NY SAFE Act’s merits while opponents expressed their concerns.

If the bill passed in parts or its entirety before the sunset clause expired, those measures would be put into effect all the while providing ample time for a vigorous debate. Otherwise, the assault weapons ban passed via the message of necessity procedure would disappear.

Aside from redefining and banning the sale or transfer of assault weapons, the NY SAFE Act limited high-capacity magazines to seven rounds, expands the use of background checks to buy firearms and ammunition, creates an assault weapons registry, compels mental health patients believed to have made a credible threat to be reported to state authorities and increases penalties for specific gun crimes, among other provisions.

The item banning high-capacity magazines has proven to be the most problematic. Since many firearm magazines come standard with a capacity of 10 rounds, Gov. Cuomo declared that owners could only put seven rounds in them.

But a federal judge declared this part of the law unconstitutional last month. And it’s a good thing because it’s unenforceable. Are police expected to stop people randomly to inspect their firearms to ensure there are no more than seven rounds in the magazine?

The other hiccup with the law is the provision requiring mental health patients to be reported if they are believed to have made a credible threat against someone. Mental health professionals have said this could adversely affect their ability to counsel patients. Some have said they won’t comply with this portion of the law, declaring that the confidentiality of patient information trumps any safety measures in the law.

As wildly unpopular as the NY SAFE Act is, I fail to see where opponents have much room for criticism. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that reasonable regulations on gun purchases and ownership are constitutional. Except for those two questionable areas, I don’t see what’s unreasonable about the rest of the law.

Why, for example, do gun enthusiasts raise so many objections to increasing the use of background checks? They have proven to be effective in areas where they are enforced.

Where they haven’t been effective is in situations where they are not required. So gun rights advocates cannot claim that background checks don’t work. What doesn’t work is allowing people to buy guns under specific circumstances without background checks.

If every single gun purchase and transfer was subject to a background check — no exceptions — more firearms would be kept out of the wrong hands. And the NY SAFE Act is a good step in the right direction on this front.

But opponents of the law are set to speak out. At noon this Saturday, the Northern New York Freedom Fighters will re-create the “shot heard ‘round the world” in Concord, Mass., in 1775, beginning the American Revolution.

Members of the group will fire a symbolic shot at the Black Lake Fish and Game Club, Route 58 and Potato Street in Morristown, to protest the passage of the NY SAFE Act. Trap shooting will follow for anyone interested.

People are invited to join members of the Northern New York Freedom Fighters in opposing perhaps the most stringent gun control measure in the nation to be passed following the tragedy at Newton. But like much of the misguided vitriol over gun control, I believe these shots will ring hollow.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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