Democratic priorities for The Arizona We Deserve

Cross-posted from SkyIslandScriber.com.

Here is a link to the 2018 AZ state Democratic legislators’ priorities (h/t Penny Pestle) – and a couple of examples.

Our vision
Arizona is a fast-growing, culturally and geographically diverse land of opportunity. But families in our communities are still falling behind. Our vast potential as a state will remain unmet until we make the investments in education and infrastructure that a 21st century economy demands. Dishonest state leadership has held back the state we love. Short-sighted, extremist Republican policies favoring corporate interests over ordinary families have forced a race to the bottom for our schools and our kids. By purposefully starving our schools, Republicans have placed an anchor on our economic recovery while giving away tax dollars under the ruse of “trickle-down economics.” The result has seen state revenue fall off a cliff and a glut of low-wage, back-office jobs that degrade workplace rights and provide little promise of advancement and prosperity.

Itʼs time to focus on our kids not corporations, on job holders not shareholders. At the Arizona Legislature, it’s Democrats who always have and always will stand up to those who would attack and dismantle the educational institutions that have made our state great. Itʼs Democrats who will fight for equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunity. And it’s Democrats who will advance the priorities that will move toward a better future for every Arizonan. We must fight to make our state government honest and accountable to you. We must fight for education and to shut off the pipeline of taxpayer dollars to wealthy private schools. And we must attract and develop talent, empower and encourage local entrepreneurs, and lift up and protect the rights of the disadvantaged. Together we are prepared to ignite and expand an economy that provides real opportunities to succeed for all Arizona residents regardless of who they are, where they live or who they love.

Education
Gov. Ducey has paid lip service to supporting education, but the results – a meager one-time bonus for teachers – were an insult to educators and our kids. Small steps in the right direction have not
changed the fact that Arizona has one of the most poorly funded school systems in the nation. On top of that, our schools are facing a fiscal cliff with the looming expiration of Prop. 301. We must do right by our kids and boost our economic strength by securing a long-term, sustainable K–12 invest- ment increase and a curriculum that reflects the diversity of our state. We must stop Arizona’s teacher exodus crisis and find a way to pay our educators a competitive wage. And we will protect taxpayer money by making charter schools transparent and accountable to the public they serve.

Tax fairness
Republicans have given away the funding our state needs to invest in schools, roads, bridges and healthcare. Tax collections from businesses are the lowest since 1993. Decades of tax breaks for rich donors and corporations have not delivered the promised benefits to our economy,which lags competitor states that invest more heavily in education and infrastructure. Instead, we face a $100 million budget shortfall and don’t have the money to invest in schools and other priorities that all Arizonans share. We will focus on our kids not corporations, on job holders not shareholders. Democrats will help rebuild the middle class by closing egregious tax loopholes and by restoring fiscal responsibility to ensure equity in Arizona’s tax system. Our plan stops incen- tives for cheating by putting the referees back on the field to require tax compliance for corpora- tions. And we will protect Arizona’s revenues and strategic investments by capping the pipeline of state taxes that subsidize wealthy private schools.

Read THE ARIZONA WE DESERVE for more priorities and specific solutions.

Advertisements

Size Matters!

The recent Arizona Town Hall on “Funding PreK–12 Education”, reported that, after “three days of serious and intense deliberations, [we] believe there is a state of emergency with respect to Arizona’s underfunding of our preK–12 education system, which requires urgent, decisive action.” This Town Hall effort was non-partisan, including a cross-section of diverse participants traveling from across the state to convene in Mesa. The intent of the effort was to discuss how best to fund preK–12 education now and in the future while improving the quality of education provided.

In their yet draft report, the Town Hall states in that, “Arizona already dedicates approximately 43% of the state’s general fund to K–12 education spending – good enough for a ranking of 11th nationally, as compared to average general fund spending of 35% among other states – the problem has more to do with the ”size of the pie” than a lack of relative support for preK–12 education spending.

That led me to notice an Arizona Daily Star story today titled, “Here’s how to use your tax credits to help public schools.” Although there isn’t a public school out there that doesn’t appreciate the tax credit dollars that come in, in the bigger picture they are as much as part of the problem, as they help. Firstly, they exacerbate inequities between private schools and public schools and between public schools themselves. Taxpayers can claim a five-fold greater tax credit for private schools (up to $1,089 per person versus only $200 for public schools.) Secondly, the tax credit monies given to private schools can be used for any purpose versus the limitation to extracurricular activities or character education programs that public schools must live with.

There is also the reality that wealthier communities are always capable of providing more funding support to their public schools than more disadvantaged communities. Yes, tax credit donations to schools are a one-for-one deduction of the state taxes you owe, but first you must earn enough to owe the taxes you’re looking to offset. And, oh by the way, “when the impact of state tax credits is combined with federal [and sometimes state] tax deductions, some [wealthier] taxpayers in nine states (Arizona included) can actually turn a profit by making these so-called ”donations“ to School Tuition Organizations (STOs) which funnel money to private schools. The non-profit, non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) writes, ”The potential for wealthy individuals to turn a profit by claiming these credits is accelerating the diversion of critical resources away from public schools.”

The problem is compounded when we look at it from the state-level, especially when one considers all the tax credits available. In 2014, about $287 million was redirected by individual taxpayers from the state treasury including these widely available ones:
* Qualifying Charitable Organizations = 105,500 redirected $28.2 million
* Private-school tuition organizations = 109,300 redirected $84 million
* Public-school extracurricular = 266,000 redirected $51 million

To exacerbate the problem, Governor Ducey signed SB 1216 into law in 2016, doubling the Qualifying Charitable Organization tax credit donation limits and separating out the Foster Care Credit so as to allow taxpayers to claim both. The public school tax credit limit was not increased.

Arizona also allows corporations to claim tax credits through School Tuition Organizations (STOs) and is in fact, only one of four states that allow businesses to claim a larger credit than individual taxpayers. These corporate tax credits are for low-income students (from families not exceeding an annual income of $82,996 for a family of four) and, for displaced/disadvantaged students. In 2008, three-fourths of Arizona companies paid only the minimum $50 in corporate taxes and with a 20% increase in cap allowed every year, the program is causing significant impact to the state’s general fund. In fact, the “low-income corporate tax credit alone is expected to grow to more than $250 million a year” by 2025. It should be no surprise that in 2016, the $67 million annual limit on corporate tax credit donations in Arizona for low-income students was met in a matter of hours. For FY2017/18, that limit was over $74.3 million and the one for disabled/displaced students was $5 million.

What makes matters worse, is the plethora of evidence from around the nation that these tax credit programs do not improve student outcomes. In Arizona, it is hard to tell since there is no requirement for the private and parochial schools receiving the dollars to be accountable or transparent.

What these programs do very successfully though, is drain our state coffers of critical funding, shrinking the size of the pie that funds our public schools. This, while lining the pockets of wealthier taxpayers and helping fund private and parochial schools and the STOs that funnel taxpayer dollars to them (like the one owned by AZ Senate President Steve Yarborough.)

This is NOT what fiscal responsibility looks like, people. Fiscal responsibility means that we get what we pay for. Fiscal responsibility means that when we say we want our public schools adequately funded, we actually invest sufficiently in them, then hold them accountable for delivering a good return on our investment.

Workarounds to adequate funding like tax credits, may make taxpayers feel like they are doing their part, but they are just that…workarounds. If we really want our children to have every opportunity to succeed and our teachers to make a living wage, we must do our part to provide (as per the Town Hall report), “dedicated, sustainable funding sources for Arizona’s pre-K–12 education system that meet the needs of schools, teachers, and students in an equitable manner. The state’s funding system should also be transparent and promote accountability.”

My mantra over the coming year will be “if we want different, we must vote different.” I know I’m preaching overwhelmingly to the choir, but for those already on-board with supporting our public, district schools, you have more work to do. Until you’ve done everything possible to fight back against the assault on our public, district schools, you haven’t done enough. Get to know which of our Legislators are pro-public education by checking out the Friends of ASBA Voting Record and research the legislative candidates running throughout our state (I previously wrote about my favorite three.)

Remember, it doesn’t so much matter what district they are in as it does that we get more pro-public education legislators in our Legislature. That’s because no matter what district they are in, even if you can’t vote for them, they can vote for you and the high-quality public education you want to see. Help these candidates by donating, volunteering, and promoting them on social media. Yes, the education privatizers may have the money, but we have the many. Let’s show them our power!

Budget Shows What We Value

In reading a story today on Tucson.com, I learned about how the Vail Unified School District is thinking about building tiny homes for “cash-strapped teachers.” Although I laud their innovative approach, I can’t help thinking that to some degree, the culpability we all have in creating the need.

The reality is that the starting base salary for a teacher in Vail is about $36,000 in an area where the “household income is $83,000 and the median home sale price is about $260,000.” It also is reality that there is “not a single apartment complex anywhere in the district’s 425-square-mile boundary.”

This situation is not isolated. Vail might be the first district in the country to bring the tiny house concept to fruition, but they aren’t the only ones considering such an option. A charter school in Sedona and school district in Colorado are also looking at it, for example. And, offering housing as part of teacher’s contracts has long been a strategy employed by rural school districts. The Baboquivari Unified School District on the Tohono O’odham Nation has dozens of rental units for teachers and Patagonia Public schools turned an old school building into apartments for teachers.

What I find truly ironic, is that our lawmakers, Governor Ducey included, continually push for a greater percentage of education dollars to be spent in the classrooms, when the inadequate funding they provide for education actually forces energy and funding to be spent outside the classroom — as in creating cheaper housing for teachers ? Truth is, Arizona district schools already have the lowest administrative costs in the U.S. and those costs, are half those of charter schools in our state. That narrative though, doesn’t serve lawmakers’ purposes, so they continue to rail about the inefficiencies of our public district schools, all while doing what they can to try to make it true.

The recently concluded 110th Arizona Town Hall, on “Funding and preK–12 Education”, reported that, “the state needs to fulfill its constitutional mandate by providing adequate funding for state schools.” As the AZ Daily Sun pointed out though, state legislators and the governor “weren’t [even] invited [to the Arizona Town Hall on Education] because they have demonstrated time and again that they are part of the problem, not the solution. They continue to intone their mantra of private school ‘parental choice’ even as teachers are leaving in droves, thousands of classrooms are staffed on a near permanent basis by noncertified substitutes and Arizona remains mired near the bottom of the 50 states in per-pupil spending.”

The old adage “If you don’t have time to do something right the first time, when will you have time to do it over” comes to mind. In fact, the AZ Town Hall reported that, “Arizona’s current education funding system has regressed over the past 40 years into a complicated patchwork of temporary solutions.” That’s certainly how it has appeared to me and I continue to see new workarounds under consideration, such as a “soda tax” to help fund our schools.

How about this? How about we just decide we want our students in fully funded classrooms, housed in safe, adequate, properly maintained facilities? How about we decide we want high-quality, certified teachers and then pay them a living wage? How about we decide the children of Arizona deserve as much opportunity to succeed as any child living anywhere else in our country? And then, how about we put our money where our collective mouths are? Or as former Vice-President Joe Biden put it, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Arizonans have time and again said we want our public schools adequately funded and there are plenty of solutions to do so, many without raising taxes. Yet, those that vote (less than half of those eligible) , continue to vote for lawmakers who are doing everything they can to destroy our system of public education and turn it over to market forces. Until we vote different, we won’t get different. It’s that simple.

If we want better, we must do better

You might have noticed I’ve not posted anything in quite some time. For those of you who don’t already know, I am managing my wife’s, Hollace Lyon, campaign for the Arizona House of Representatives in LD 11. That, obviously, is taking up much of my bandwidth.

This morning though, while riding my spin cycle, I read an article on TucsonsSentinel.com from October 2016 titled “A decade after the recession, Arizona schools still suffer from budget cuts” that got me too spun up to keep spinning.

What really set me off was Senator John Kavanagh’s answer to why the AZ Legislature has cut $4.69 billion from our public schools since 2009. He claimed lawmakers didn’t neglect schools but actively worked to “give individual schools the most flexibility, because…I believe the districts themselves know the best choices for their students.”

Give me a freakin’ break! Why is it that Conservatives seem to love them some “choice” as long as that choice is not a woman’s. Let’s face it. The only “choice” the AZ Legislators give district schools, is a sort of “Sophie’s Choice”. For those who never saw this Meryl Streep movie set during Hitler’s Germany, Meryl played a mother to whom the Nazi’s gave a “choice” as to which of her children they would allow to live. Don’t get me wrong, it is certainly not my intention to minimize the horrors perpetrated on the Jewish people during the Holocaust, nor to equate the taking of a life with the underfunding of schools. But, when a school board is forced to make choices between the lesser of evils due to inadequate funding, this is not a real choice.

Okay, so this article was from a year ago…surely things have improved right? After all…we passed Prop. 123 and, the Governor “lavished” a 1.06% pay raise on teachers. Well…even after Prop. 123, (a 70% settlement of a debt already owed), state and local funding remained $1,300 less per pupil in FY 2016 than in 2008 when adjusted for inflation. As for teacher salaries, we still need an influx of $1 billion to get Arizona’s up to the U.S. median. And now, the Arizona School Boards Association, and others have sued the State of Arizona and the School Facilities Board for inadequate capital funding (cut by 85% since 2008).

None of this should surprise us. After all, the Arizona electorate continues to elect legislators that vote against our district schools and their students. The bottom line is that until we realize that doing what we’ve always done and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. We MUST accept that the ONLY way we are going to see things really change for the better with Arizona public education is if we elect more pro-public education candidates. As it turns out, I have three great ones for you to take a look at.

Hollace Lyon is a retired Air Force Colonel who served 26 years in the Communications career field, commanded twice, served in NATO, taught senior military leaders at Armed Forces Staff College, and retired out of the Pentagon where she helped set priorities for the Air Force budget. Since retirement, she has pursued several charitable endeavors and been involved in state-level politics at all levels, to include serving as campaign manager for a state Senate race and running for the House in 2014.

Hollace is obviously pro-public education (how could she not be living with me), but she is also focused on the need for voters to demand fiscal responsibility from our lawmakers. “Our lawmakers talk a lot about fiscal responsibility,” she says, “but they aren’t delivering it. Instead, they are busy diverting education tax dollars to private schools with no accountability or transparency, sweeping our highway maintenance funds away for corporate tax breaks and offering us the “opportunity” to double or even triple tax ourselves with measures like Propositions 416/417, and pulling monies out of the state employee pension trust fund requiring them to pay increased premiums to replenish the fund.” Hollace likes to point out that fiscal responsibility means more than cutting taxes or reducing programs and services. What it really means is that we…the taxpayers…get what we pay for. Learn more about Hollace at http://www.LyonforAZ.com where you can donate to her campaign, join her email list, or sign up to volunteer.

As the current Past-President of the Arizona School Boards Association, a member of the Peoria USD Governing Board and a former teacher, Kathy Knecht is another huge public education advocate. Aside from the fact that she will be a wonderful state Senator, her race is all the more important because she is running in LD 21 against Arizona’s Chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and sponsor of SB 1431 (the full expansion of vouchers), Senator Debbie Lesko (cue the hissing.) Learn more about Kathy and donate to her campaign at www.ElectKnecht.org. Let’s all help her give Debbie Lesko the boot!

Another fabulous candidate is Christine Marsh. Christine was Arizona’s 2016 Teacher of the Year and an outspoken advocate for Arizona’s students. She is running in LD 26 for the Arizona Senate. Like many of our education professionals, Christine doesn’t do it for the money, (I teased her once that if she gets elected, she’ll actually make less than she does as a teacher), but rather, for the love of her students and the opportunity to make a real difference in their lives. Go to www.ChristinePorterMarsh.com to learn more about Christine and contribute to her campaign while you are there!

These races are critical because we actually have a chance in 2018 for real change. We only need to flip two Senate seats for parity in that chamber and only five in the House. The tea leaves say it’s possible, but it will take all of us to make it happen. You see, that’s the thing about a Democracy, it requires participation by the voters. Not everyone can actually run for office, but EVERYONE can do something. All three of these candidates need money and almost everyone can donate something. Campaigns also need lots of volunteers to canvass, drive, make phone calls, have house parties, write letters to the editor, install signs and much more. No matter what your limitations or your skills, I guarantee campaigns have something you can do to help.

Finally, you need to be registered to vote and then actually vote. I can’t tell you how disheartening it was in 2014 to find out that not even half of the people in LD 11 with mail-in ballots, bothered to mail them in. RIDICULOUS! Joseph de Maistre, a visionary French counterrevolutionary, is credited with originally saying, “we get the government we deserve”. If we want better, we must do better. It is beyond time to step up. DO. IT. NOW!

Why we kill so many of our fellow Americans. Here are false arguments and real facts about gun control.

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

The reason why the NRA, the gun lobby, and their shills in congress oppose funding research on gun violence is that they collectively fear the answer the to the questions bound to be raised by such research. Here’s the problem framed by Wired.com in their email Tuesday.

A man with an AR–15 rifle killed 26 people in a small Texas church last weekend. Another man with an AR–15 fired back at the shooter, disabling him. Which means that both sides of the gun control debate can, and have, turned the massacre into a political talking point. But any discussion about whether the AR–15 is an overpowered gun that kills a lot of people or a crucial component of civilian defense is bound to falter. Nobody really knows whether AR–15s do more harm than good in the United States. No one has collected the data.

That’s not completely true. Read on.

Or really, as science writer Adam Rogers explains, no one has been allowed to collect it, or even access the information that does exist. The US political system and the corporate interests that influence it has been hostile to science for decades (consider the now-proven links between fossil fuels and climate change, or between tobacco and cancer). The Trump administration has only escalated that conflict, hiding and obfuscating information about weather, crime, and even how many people live in the United States. And that makes sound public policies nearly impossible to implement. As Adam puts it: “If nobody can know anything, why bother to try to regulate anything? It’s government-by-ignorance—a shrugocracy.”

All that is certainly true. However, enough research has been done to draw some conclusions about what is and is not related to the incidence of mass shootings in America. I’ll start with what is not predictive of the incidence of mass shootings in America.

Adam Gopnik (New Yorker) considers A Mass Shooting in Texas and False Arguments Against Gun Control (Monday, Nov. 6). The recent mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, raises familiar questions—and myths—about guns in America.

Feelings of powerlessness and depression are bound to infect those—by all surveys, the majority of Americans—who would like to see something done to prevent these increasingly common occurrences of mass slaughter. It’s hard to be hopeful. If nothing was done after the killing of twenty school children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, and if nothing was done—not even the “bump stock” limitation—after the murder of fifty-eight concertgoers from a sniper’s perch in Las Vegas, a month ago, then twenty-six more dead won’t alter things. But there is never a time to give way to hopelessness: the politics are hard but far from insurmountable, and, meanwhile, as with every public crisis, the truth matters and clarifies and brings light, even when the light can’t immediately show a better path forward. If we can’t defeat the gun lobby now, we can out-argue it, and expose it. Here are some myths that are trotted out regularly by that lobby, and that will likely be trotted out again today.

Indeed they were. The Huffington Post describes the explosion of fake news across the internet in The Texas Shooter Was Called A Liberal, Antifa Communist Working With ISIS — Before Anyone Knew Anything. The Post added a “Welcome to the world of right-wing propaganda.” “By late Monday night, hundreds of thousands of users across multiple platforms had shared fake news about the shooter.”

Back on track, I’ll list the myths about gun deaths with Gopnik’s (truncated) rebuttals but my focus is on the very last of Gopnik’s list.

  1. The kinds of rules and limitations most often proposed—i.e., a ban on military-style weapons of the kind used in the two most recent high-profile gun massacres and in so many others before—wouldn’t have an effect on gun violence in America, which tends to be concentrated on handguns, and more typically involves suicides and domestic disputes. Gun massacres are not the only or even the most lethal form of gun violence.

… Making one kind of gun illegal or restricted makes the broader work of restricting violence more plausible. (Which is, of course, exactly why the National Rifle Association, et al., oppose it.) …

  1. Why, if there are too many guns in America, is there less crime than there used to be? People keep buying guns and the crime rate keeps going down. Doesn’t that prove that the more guns there are, the less crime there will be?

Well, no—the crime rate, contrary to the picture of carnage that Donald Trump likes to frighten his voters with, has been going down over the past decades in every Western country … The only question worth asking is why, given that crime has declined so universally, does America still have such a uniquely highly level of gun violence? Crime rates descend, gun massacres increase. That’s the “Why” to ask and answer.

  1. Given the number of weapons of mass murder already in place in the country, any change we can make, any law we might pass—even if we could pass such laws—will be inadequate to the problem. And, anyway, any particular proposal being debated wouldn’t have stopped this or that massacre, whose perpetrator would have escaped its rules.

… Gun control in any form will limit gun violence. Child labor was a terrible thing, and small boys forced to become chimney sweeps was among the worst of it. But if we want to abolish child labor, we don’t put lids on chimneys. We abolish it more broadly, and know that the specific abuse will likely end, too.

  1. The Second Amendment.

… The argument that the Second Amendment remains a formidable obstacle in the way of gun control, even if there were a political will to pass such legislation, is perhaps the most frustrating of the objections. Only a recent, radical, and bizarre rereading found in it an individual right to gun ownership. The decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, in 2008, which featured Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s invention of a previously undiscovered right to private gun ownership, was 5–4. …

I will have more to say about this “right” to own large-capacity assault rifles when I turn to the data.

  1. The social science on gun violence is inconclusive.

It will always be a given that it’s impossible to have real controlled experiments. The closest thing in this case would be to have two contiguous countries—both with similar “root” populations, and both subject to massive immigration from abroad. Both would have a frightening number of mentally ill people capable of mass killing. One, however, would have reasonable gun-control laws regularly reinforced, in the light of new kinds of violence—with guns broadly available for recreation and pest control, but the kinds capable of killing many people quickly prohibited or highly restricted. The country on the other side of the border would impose few gun-control measures. Then we would compare the results. One country—let’s call it Kanada—would have a per-capita rate of gun homicide seven times smaller than the other country. That experiment’s been run. The results are in. We really do know. Now we only have to do.

And here are the results In a broader international context reported by Max Fisher and Josh Keller (NY Times/The Interpreter) in What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer.

When the world looks at the United States, it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader in foreign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.

But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?

Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.

These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

Here’s the (graphically displayed) evidence that “The United States has 270 million guns and had 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012. No other country has more than 46 million guns or 18 mass shooters.” There is a correlation between guns and mass shooters but the USA is way, way off scale.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.

… the United States is not actually more prone to crime than other developed countries, according to a landmark 1999 study by Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of the University of California, Berkeley.

It’s not that we have more crime. Instead, it is the case “that American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.”

Similarly, mental health and race do not explain the USA’s unique number of mass shootings because “the mental health care spending rate in the United States, the number of mental health professionals per capita and the rate of severe mental disorders are all in line with those of other wealthy countries.”

Racial diversity or other factors associated with social cohesion also show little correlation with gun deaths. Among European countries, there is little association between immigration or other diversity metrics and the rates of gun murders or mass shootings.

What does matter is gun ownership.

More gun ownership corresponds with more gun murders across virtually every axis: among developed countries, among American states, among American towns and cities and when controlling for crime rates. And gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.

This suggests that the guns themselves cause the violence.

But there is one other factor that conspires to influence America’s “leadership” with respect to mass shootings: how Americans think about guns.

In 2013, American gun-related deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 deaths caused by an accidental discharge. That same year in Japan, a country with one-third America’s population, guns were involved in only 13 deaths.

This means an American is about 300 times more likely to die by gun homicide or accident than a Japanese person. America’s gun ownership rate is 150 times as high as Japan’s. That gap between 150 and 300 shows that gun ownership statistics alone do not explain what makes America different.

The United States also has some of the world’s weakest controls over who may buy a gun and what sorts of guns may be owned.

Switzerland has the second-highest gun ownership rate of any developed country, about half that of the United States. Its gun homicide rate in 2004 was 7.7 per million people — unusually high, in keeping with the relationship between gun ownership and murders, but still a fraction of the rate in the United States.

Swiss gun laws are more stringent, setting a higher bar for securing and keeping a license, for selling guns and for the types of guns that can be owned. Such laws reflect more than just tighter restrictions. They imply a different way of thinking about guns, as something that citizens must affirmatively earn the right to own.

The Difference Is Culture

The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the opposite assumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.

The main reason American regulation of gun ownership is so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a different weight in the United States than they are anywhere else.

After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 incident. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.

That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart.

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

As I have said before (here, here, and here), every American is complicit in the epidemic of mass shootings – the killing of Americans by other Americans using large capacity [semi]automatic rifles of the sort never envisioned by those who wrote the 2nd amendment. And I mean every American from the president down to the guy that owns a bolt-action hunting rifle (as did my dad). But we can change that at the ballot box. Make gun safety a litmus test for your vote. Does Martha McSally think that killing children is “bearable”? How about Kyrsten Sinema? Ann Kirkpatrick? Demand an answer and vote accordingly. Make the upcoming elections a single issue. Our politicians are willing to live with more mass shootings or they are not. And if they duck the issue, vote them out.

As Gopnik put it in his New Yorker essay: “The results are in. We really do know. Now we only have to do.”

Thoughts and prayers are part of America’s gun violence problem

Cross posted from skyislandscriber.com.

450
That’s my significant digit for this morning. That, according to the front page headline in the Daily Star, is the number of rounds the Texas gunman fired in the southern Texas church killing 26 and wounding many more. Reactions from around the nation are, once again, that it is too soon to talk about gun violence in America. That from from our President Donald Trump who is woefully unprepared on every subject other than himself. Other reactions are that the shooting was due to mental health problems. That also is from Trump. Both these are standard dodges to duck the central issue here and that is that we have too many freaking guns in America. A third dodge is to exhort us to offer our thoughts and prayers. For more on the moral bankruptcy of that dodge continue reading.

If you offered your thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Texas church shooting, you are part of the problem — the problem, here, being America’s epidemic of gun violence. You need to read this editorial in this morning’s Daily Star by Shira Goodman: Enough with the useless thoughts and prayers. I’ll save you a couple of mouse clicks by reprinting it below.

Thoughts and prayers — that’s what’s being offered in the wake of the mass shooting in Texas. But here’s the truth: Thoughts and prayers are offered in lieu of real effort and meaningful change. To cover up the fact that we can save lives and prevent the daily horror of gun violence and the uniquely American phenomenon of repeated mass shootings.

Thoughts and prayers are meant to comfort, and they can and do. Especially when offered sincerely, and by those close to those who are suffering most.

But I’ve worked with enough survivors and victims — of mass shootings, random homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings — to confidently say this: enough with the thoughts and prayers.

Those thoughts and prayers seem never to include thoughts about how to prevent the next shooting, how to make sure the next person intent on doing harm doesn’t get that gun or those bullets.

Gun violence is a complicated problem, but it’s not rocket science. It’s a combination of criminal behavior, law enforcement, regulatory structures, economic challenges, mental-health issues, social and cultural factors. It demands a multifaceted approach.

Here’s the simple truth: We have too many guns, and it’s too easy for people who shouldn’t have them to get them. We can address that right now. We can expand the background-check system, which blocks sales to people who shouldn’t have guns. We can close loopholes that allow people to get guns without background checks. We can have a whole new conversation about what kinds of guns should be available to civilians and whether different regulatory schemes should be in place for obtaining different kinds of guns.

We can start carefully regulating the sale of ammunition. We can ban things like “bump stocks” that make already deadly weapons even more efficient killing machines. And we can erect a system that notifies law enforcement when people are amassing arsenals of weapons and ammunition in a short time frame.

There is virtually no other problem that we allow to fester and grow as we do gun violence in America. We now lose close to 100 people a day to guns. When did we decide that was acceptable? The history of America is to solve problems, do things better, build a better mouse trap. Because of the innovations in automobile and highway safety, we now have fewer auto deaths in Pennsylvania and several other states every year than gun deaths. We have turned a blind eye to those gun deaths, somehow convinced that we can’t do anything about it.

That is shameful, unacceptable and wrong.

Things must change, and they must change now. If you’re not part of the solution, if this isn’t an issue on your radar, if you’ve been offering thoughts and prayers and nothing else, you’re part of the problem. Gun violence must be a voting issue for you, and you must vote on it every time. Ask every elected official who represents you — and every candidate who wants to represent you — where they stand on the policies outlined above and what their plan is for making your community safer. Don’t give a pass to someone who’s good on some other issue you care about but who doesn’t sponsor background-check bills in Washington.

We don’t need thoughts and prayers. We need action, money and votes. Our elected officials have been getting away with thoughts and prayers — and silence and inaction — for far too long. So, elected officials, consider yourself on notice: If you’re not thinking of action, praying for change and taking steps to make it a reality, you’re not doing anything. And we’re going to hold you accountable.

Some will undoubtedly say it’s too soon to talk about this, and we don’t have all the facts. I disagree — we have no time to waste. We can’t afford it. As we’ve waited, and sent thoughts and prayers, more have died, and the NRA has continued to advance its agenda of guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime. That agenda is failing us.

We all have blood on our hands, and thoughts and prayers won’t wash it away.

Let’s honor those already lost and suffering with action that will save lives.

MAGA: Murder by American Guns Again shows our society’s criminal culpability

Once again, J’accuse. America writ large – its institutions, organizations, and individuals – has once again failed its citizens.

Laurie Roberts (The Republic/azcentral.com) tweeted:

After Texas church massacre, God help us. #sutherlandspringsshooting azc.cc/2AafOqw via @azcentral

Here’s the Roberts column in full.

A week ago, Devin Patrick Kelly posted a picture of a semiautomatic rifle on his Facebook page.

“She’s a bad bitch,” he wrote.

Certainly a deadly one.

At 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Kelly, dressed in all black and wearing a ballistic vest, walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, with his “bad bitch” and opened fire.

Twenty six dead, ranging in age from 5 to 72. Another 20 wounded.

It was the fourth deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, tied with Sandy Hook. It comes just a month and four days after the deadliest shooting, at the Route 91 Harvest Festival Las Vegas.

Four of the top five gun massacres have occurred in the last 18 months.

There will be calls for a tightening of gun laws.

There will be calls for a greater commitment to mental health treatment.

There will be grieving and there will be the usual “thoughts and prayers” and there will be a brief national fistfight.

And there will [be] … no change.

Last Sunday, one of the pastors at First Baptist, Pastor Frank Pomeroy, delivered the sermon at First Baptist of Sutherland Springs. He told the church faithful to trust in God’s plan, no matter how hard it might be.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely, or lean, on your own understanding,” he said.

On Sunday morning, Pastor Pomeroy’s daughter, Annabelle, was among the 26 killed. She was 14 years old.

Tonight, I’m praying, God help us.

For surely, we cannot, will not help ourselves.

There are two things wrong with those concluding lines. One is the “god thing.”

In a reply to Roberts’ tweet. Frannyjean weighed in on the god thing:

Leave god out of it. This was in a church AGAIN; obviously god was there and allowed it to happen. Enough with the god thing. It’s guns.

The second thing is “cannot” vs. “will not”. Roberts cannot have it both ways. “Cannot” implies helplessness. America the great, the “sleeping tiger” feared around the world, is helpless to protect its own citizens here at home? That is the great lie promoted by NRA, the gun lobby, the firearms industry, and their shills in congress.

That leaves “will not” which implies moral and criminal culpability.

In another reply to Roberts’ tweet, Toby @PhxGingi concluded that

It’s time to admit that as a society we’re ok with mass killings as we lack the moral, ethical & political will to stop them #GunContolNow

As I wrote after the Las Vegas shooting, just over a month ago, in J’accuse: Our national failure and disgrace:

I accuse, then, most of all, the United States of America for its failure as a nation. I accuse the USA of failing “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” I accuse the USA of inflicting unjust injury on its citizens. I accuse the USA of fostering domestic discord. I accuse the USA of harming the general welfare. I accuse the USA of the dishonest equation of guns and liberty. I accuse the United States of America of accepting and condoning the deaths of its citizens.

Sure, have a heart. Cry for the departed. And then cry again for our country.