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Steve Ahlquist is an award-winning journalist, writer, artist and founding member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member.

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"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Weisel

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu

"There comes a time when neutrality and laying low become dishonorable. If you’re not in revolt, you’re in cahoots. When this period and your name are mentioned, decades hence, your grandkids will look away in shame." - David Brooks

4 responses to “Community Forum on Violence Prevention: Guns are the weapons of choice for domestic murders”

  1. cailin rua

    Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety along with Mayors Against Ilegal Guns are all bankrolled by billionaire Michael Bloomberg who put 50 million dollars of his own money to finance these front groups after Sandy Hook. Michael Bloomberg is not a “mom”. In fact, it was Mayor Michael Bloomberg who was responsible for his police department’s racial profiling program known as “Stop and Frisk”. Michael Bloomberg used to be a Republican. He has not changed his spots. He cares little for civil rights.

    I really want to know why Alan Hasenfeld, obviously a Bloomberg wanna be, who bankrolled a group that should bill itself Democrats for Death Tax Reform, and John Rosenthal were not at this forum to speak about domestic violence and guns. Then, there is the executive from Rosenthal’s development corporation, Meridith Management, the company that was first interested in the American Tourister factory renovation project in Warren which has now been taken on by Brady Sullivan which has been cited for OSHA violations as well as lead hazard violations; Brady Sullivan, which just sold its factory loft building on Carpenter St for 5 times what they paid for it at the top of the real estate market just before the crash. But I digress, or do I(the amount of money flowing into the hands of all these players is far more than remarkable)?

    Anyway, I searched and searched again for the name of the person heading up all these gun control efforts in R I. It took me over 15 minutes to recall his name through a Google search. If you go to the R I Coalition Against Gun Violence’s page his name is not to be found. I finally found an article where he is quoted and referred to by name. Why is his involvement with all these front groups obscured so, front groups which are no less front groups than the front groups funded by the Koch Brothers and administered by Dick Armey? Yes, I am talking about Rosenthal lieutenant, Jerry Belair. Why wasn’t he at this forum? The reason is the same you don’t see the Kochs or Dick Armey at Tea Party rallies – to make it seem that these astroturf groups are part of a genuine grass roots movement which they are not. No grassroots groups are formed with 50 million dollar donations from one single billionaire who opportunistically exploited tragedy to garner more political power or by those who have cozied up to U Sian royalty, such as the Kennedys, and whose fortunes are made with developer tax credits on their gentrification projects.

    What really gets me is the affiliation of all these grassroots groups with the Mayors’ group, “Mayors Against Illegal Guns”, which gets me back to strip and search, racial profiling and human rights violations which ensue from such policies short on economic justice but very long on prison industrial complex “justice”. In light of this, focus on such groups as the NRA are a complete distraction away from serious issues like the inordinately high incarceration rate in this country and what that relates to where the cycle of violence is involved.

    AOL has a story I came across in my web search on these groups and the likely consequences of their efforts. It was written 3 weeks ago and is representative of insidious hyperbole the funders of gun control policy are chronically guilty of. The headline reads:

    “Senate votes to let mentally ill people buy guns”

    Really?

    The piece on A G Kilmartin and his spokeswoman, Joee Lindbeck, that appeared here got me interested and took me off on another tangent relating to what is considered mental illness in this and other states and what can evolve from certain biases among very powerful elected and un-elected policy makers. I came across a PDF titled, “Behavioral Health and Firearms Safety Task Force to Review, and Make Recommendations for, Statutes Relating to Firearms and Behavioral Health Issues”.

    In this piece the discussion turns to HIPAA, patient confidentiality and privacy rights. It is depressing how quickly the actors involved are ready to whittle down those rights when the subject of alcohol( which is not considered abuse worthy of the kind of proscriptions that substances which have been made illegal or “controlled” are subject to unless it is determined a person is an alcohol abuser by a vaguely defined habituation) and substances as diverse as canabinoids, stimulants, opiods and other pharmaceuticals, most of which, except for those containing natural non-patentable cannabinoids, are legal or prescribed on a regular basis.

    ____________

    from the Behavioral Health and Firearms Safety Task Force to Review:

    “When a state law requires entities subject to the HIPAA rule to disclose mental health records which disqualify persons from firearms possession or purchases to NICS, HIPAA’s privacy rule does not prohibit that disclosure.”

    ooooooooooooooooooooooo

    “In order to include the reporting of additional mental health records to NICS a law must be written which mandates or requires the reporting of those additional mental health records. The law cannot merely allow or permit the reporting. In order to maintain compliance with the federal HIPAA privacy rule the state law must require entities otherwise covered by HIPAA to disclose any disqualifying mental health issues.

    2. Although the courts are not subject to the HIPAA privacy rule, where the state health privacy rule restricts the courts from reporting disqualifying data, changes should be written to amend the law so that reporting additional mental health disqualifiers to NICS by the courts is not prohibited. Amending the law will allow the District Court’s Civil Certification Calendar, the Mental Health Court, to comply with the recommendation that Rhode Island send a disqualifier based on mental health information to the NICS database.

    Item #3 Recommendation:
    An additional exception should be added to R.I.G.L. 40.1-5-26(b), Disclosure of confidential information and records, with language such as:

    40.1-5-26(b)(13) To the NICS database for firearms disqualifying information provided that only individual identifying information required by NICS is submitted.”

    ooooooooooooooooooooooo

    “Attorney Breslin explained that the list of disqualifiers per RIGL 11-47-6 included terms such as “mental incompetent”, “drug addict” and “habitual drunkard. She stated that although these terms are used in RIGL 11-47-6, they are not defined by the statute and are different than those found within the application to purchase firearms statutes under RIGL 11-47-35 and 11-47-35.2.”

    ooooooooooooooooooooooo

    “Attorney Solomon proceeded to identify how terms such as “drug addicted person”, “mental disability”, “incompetent”, and “mental illness” are defined throughout the rest of the RI General Laws.

    ooooooooooooooooooooooo

    “Also, that dangerousness should be defined so it does not include someone who is a danger to themselves because they refuse to take their medication, or are bulimic, etc.”

    ooooooooooooooooooooooo

    Mr. Solomon identified the disqualifiers in the federal law and focused on terms such as “controlled substance”, “mental defective” and “adjudicated”. ”

    ooooooooooooooooooooooo

    “- Discussion centered around the fact that alcoholism (more specifically: habitual drunkardness) is a RI disqualifier although it is not defined and involves issues with the ADA and people seeking treatment.”

    ooooooooooooooooooooooo

    “Co-Chair Ruggiero stated that many of the terms used in the current law such as mentally defective and habitual drunkard are antiquated and not used much anymore.”

    “Mr. Solomon explained that going forward the task force should consider reconciling existing terms within Rhode Island law and defining them. They may be reconciled by using existing RI definitions, using federal definitions and/or terms, or by creating new language. Further, the task force could specify that the definitions apply only to the chapter.”

    ooooooooooooooooooooooo

    “Frank Saccoccio asked how other states are handling medical marijuana licenses and reporting to NICS.”

    “The Task Force reviewed information from several witnesses that other states do not include substance abuse in their disqualifiers and the reasons why. The extent to which states share unlawful drug use records that are noncriminal is unknown although DOJ officials agree that most states generally are not making these records available. (US Government Accountability Office 12-684, “Sharing Promising Practices and Assessing Incentives Could Better Position Justice to Assist States in Providing Records for Background Checks”)”

    ooooooooooooooooooooooo

    __________

    So, second to the last comment above, the question by Frank Sacoccio, who, though I am not sure about it, would probably be more than willing to throw away someone’s 4th Amendment rights in order to secure his 2nd Amendment rights and slander medical cannabis patients and other cannabis users as “mentally defective”( or maybe through the use of some other neoliberal clinical neologism to hide behind, as implicitly suggested by other more “empathetic” members of the panel) effectively throwing them under the bus.

    Where does this issue of gun rights begin and the issues of privacy rights, the right to self determination, all coupled with judgements of vague notions of competency end? Does it stop with denying a persons right to possess a firearm? Or, does it lead to having a license to drive an automobile revoked or access to employment because one has been judged incompetent by anti gun, and anti cannabis policy makers, by extending the same sort of logic to other competency issues?

    The post Sandy Hook energy put into this neoliberal juggernaut fueled with high octane billionaire cash is frightening from my perspective.

    If you happen to take the time to access the Behavioral Health and Firearms Safety Task Force PDF I mention above and penetrate to the implications involved you will realize suggestions have been made to alter HIPAA. There have been suggestions made that some privacy protections be overridden. It seems so in the case of the GAO paper on reporting “substance abuse” to the NCIS data base, even though the panel seems to be “leaning against” people reporting people who are found to have “non-criminal” “substance abuse” issues, seemingly, to me, at least, to protect the socio-psych community who profits from state imposed mandatory “rehabilitation”, even in the case of cannabis, which has to be paid out of pocket by the person who has to involuntarily carry out the mandate.

    I only see vague assurances regarding privacy rights and the lack of for burden of proof reasoning for how judgements on “mental incompetence” are applied.

    I don’t find any comfort in vague assurances where the law and the courts are concerned.

    ___________

    This from the WaPo:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/09/07/why-medical-marijuana-patients-cant-buy-guns/?utm_term=.8d2ad902e2ef

    “An appeals court ruled last week that a federal law prohibiting medical marijuana cardholders from purchasing guns does not violate their Second Amendment rights, because marijuana has been linked to “irrational or unpredictable behavior.”. . .

    ” . . . The ruling came in the case of a Nevada woman who attempted to purchase a handgun in 2011, but was denied when the gun store owner recognized her as a medical marijuana cardholder, according to court documents. . . .

    “The 4th Circuit argued that, on the link between drug use and violence, the question of correlation vs. causation doesn’t matter: “Government need not prove a causal link between drug use and violence” to block firearms purchases by drug users. . . .”

    _________

    In other words the government doesn’t have to provide any REAL evidence when emotions like hatred and disgust cloud reason. Reason doesn’t matter in such cases.

    __________

    WaPo, again:

    “For instance, drug policy researchers Mark Kleiman, Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken have pointed out that tobacco users also are more likely to engage in crime relative to the general population. . . . .

    “”Compared with nonsmokers, cigarette smokers have a higher rate of criminality,” they wrote in their 2011 book Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know. “Smoking in and of itself does not lead to crime, but within the population of smokers we are more likely to find individuals engaged in illicit behavior.”. . . ”

    And, finally, from the WaPo piece from last September, which was after the task force meetings:

    “The authors also point out that there’s a much stronger link between violent behavior and alcohol than there is for many illegal drugs: “There is a good deal of evidence showing an association between alcohol intoxication and pharmacologically induced violent crime,” they write.”

    __________

    Seems to me that the policy makers funded by those with deep pockets are way out of touch and might create consequences they don’t intend. One wonders about the intentions of their funders, however.

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  2. cailin rua

    I feel the need to add to my heresies here. I don’t believe my long post,
    is off topic. I believe that these well funded organizations are a problem because of who provides the funding. I don’t think I can be convinced that these organizations are not beholden to their funders.

    I realize the rally was mostly about guns in relation to the issue of what the organizers term misdemeanor domestic violence. There are a few facts that I believe relevant that are never brought up for discussion.

    There are two facts that I think should be examined to start off with in the discussion of what I would call problems relating to “intimate partner violence”(we live in age of married and unmarried same sex couples as well as heterosexual couples).

    Disorderly conduct is listed as one of the offenses that can fall under the category of domestic violence. As many people know, a disorderly conduct charge can result from very vague and subjective assessments of a person’s behavior, often unjustifiably.

    I have been told by a lawyer from a very prominent Providence law firm that specializes in police brutality cases, once a charge like disorderly conduct is brought before the courts it is highly unlikely the charges will be dropped, even if a person is able to scrape up the money for legal counsel. How much more likely is such an outcome when an indigent person is charged, even if not guilty, will it be that they will be convicted or forced to plead no contest to the charges?

    According to this study done at Northwestern Law School:

    http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7284&context=jclc

    “the vast majority of calls to the police for domestic assault
    in the State of Rhode Island did not come from the victim.”

    So, a loud argument might be occurring. The neighbors might become upset. The police are called. What happens next?

    Rhode Island has a mandatory arrest law in instances of alleged D V. Not only does R I have a “mandatory arrest” law, R I has a “primary aggressor” law. I have to acknowledge I don’t know what happens when the police are called but it seems the police are required to make an arrest. If not, the law strongly encourages the police to make an arrest. In many such cases it is wise to err on the side of caution. I don’t think I want to get into all the implications involved here but I don’t think I am completely alone in realizing how how a situation could unfold where a party in a domestic violence incident would be discouraged from bringing the police into a situation that might be blown out of proportion once the so called justice system becomes involved, where their voices will be silenced, and a situation is created where the cure is worse than the disease, itself.

    I say “a party in a domestic violence incident” rather than “victim” because regardless of what the law says about primary aggressors and, actually, because the law makes the assertion that there is a “primary aggressor” even the law implies there can be two aggressors in a situation. Connecticut has no primary aggressor law and as a result has a rate of dual arrest which is one of the highest in the country, indicating that it is often not clear who the primary aggressor is in many of these incidents.

    In doing my research on this subject the R I Coalition Against Domestic Violence pages is one place I ended up. The organization seems to view the issue of partner violence and other kinds of D V in a very outdated manner which makes a lot of a priori sexist assumptions about domestic violence, which is not only about much more than legally married heterosexual partners but also about violence occurring between other members of a household including household members who exist in parent/child relationships. I realize there are linguists and evolutionary psychologists who promote notions, which I consider sexist, that a history of male violence is less cultural than it is genetic. I strongly oppose Pinker’s thinking in which he uses data that is cherry picked, much in the same way Charles Murray’s is, to back up his assertions.

    The R I CADV links to a chart on their “Understanding Domestic Violence” page called the Power and Control Wheel:

    http://www.theduluthmodel.org/pdf/PowerandControl.pdf

    I think this is a poor way to understand power differentials. The problems resulting from male privilege should never be dismissed but power differentials encompass a lot more than limited sets of one sided privileges. I think this is implied by the concept of intersectionality.

    What do the statistics say? According to the Northwestern study I linked to, in Connecticut the dual arrest rate hovers around 23%. In R I it is 4.9%(I don’t know how that is possible w/ a primary aggressor law but that is what the study states.) The percentage of “offenders” who arrested for D V in Connecticut is 30% female, which may be attributable to the fact that Connecticut does not have a primary aggressor law. But in R I, which does have a primary aggressor law, the percentage of female “offenders” is still almost one in five, at 17.4%. With the rhetoric employed, almost everywhere, including the R I CADV, bills passed in Congress, etc., etc., etc., one would have to conclude that most are probably unaware that so many D V laws and justifications for taking a person’s civil rights away from them would affect so many women.

    I spent a little time over the past few days reviewing the Voisine v U S decision which involves the very issue of depriving a person of their 2nd amendment rights. I find it telling that the only dissent comes from the two minority members of the court but mostly for different reasons.

    When the issue of domestic violence comes up, the term “batterer” is often used without reflection. Disorderly conduct doesn’t have to involve physical contact. I really don’t think Justice Kagan should have been so dismissive, either, of a scenario involving a person trying to get away from someone who slams a door behind them, not realizing the person they’re running away from has their fingers between the door and the jamb which will result in injury that is unintended by the person attempting to flee. I remember a case from the early Seventies where a Black Panther was charged with assaulting a police officer he was running away from who tripped and injured himself. But, charges such as disorderly conduct do not have to involve physical injury. The Power and Control Wheel states that “looks”, alone, can be enough to count as violence.

    When we come to a case like Voisine, however, we are dealing with a man who was arrested for physically assaulting his wife. This was not a first time, only, incident, either. I don’t think Justice Sotomeyer was sympathetic to him, at all but she did have reservations about the implications involved in the reasoning of the Court would entail:

    “In Monday’s ruling, how actions are defined was also at the crux of the case. And it was on this point that Sotomayor, who did not agree with Thomas’ opinion that the Second Amendment is being treated “cavalierly,” landed on the same decision he did.

    Both justices agreed that because Maine’s definition of a misdemeanor includes “reckless” behavior, which could include unintentional wrongdoing, it should not warrant removal of firearms.

    Thomas likened this to a man who hurts his wife because he dropped a plate and his hands were soapy. This “soapy-handed husband” did not have the intention of hurting his wife.

    In his written opinion, he said “because mere recklessness is sufficient to sustain a conviction” that conviction “does not necessarily involve the ‘use’ of physical force,” and so should not mean that a firearm right should be taken away.

    This was the rhetoric that Sotomayor agreed with.”

    taken from the Christian Science Monitor article titled: ”
    Why Justice Sotomayor sided with Justice Thomas on a gun-control dissent”

    I agree with Sotomayor.

    There is no question domestic violence is a serious issue and victims need as much support and protection(when it is truly needed) as is truly beneficial but I believe single individuals with deep pockets should not use their way out of balance money, power and influence to drive public policy to their liking. It seems they have created mini economies that those in public relations and advertising profit handsomely from. The law should not be written based on slick talking points, slick hand out literature, subjective and superficial analyses of objective data and sloganeering.

    Later, when I have more time I want to touch on how some of these astro turf groups are modeled in the likeness and image of “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”, whose board of directors is lead by a man and has a 61% male composition. It has been alleged “that MADD spends less than 20% of the money it raises on direct charitable work, with the rest going to administration, salary, and more fundraising. Read the article and say whether it merits mention. —” according to the discussion on the Wikipedia article on MADD in Wikipedia.

    According to this article:

    http://wric.com/2016/04/19/new-mexico-to-broadcast-lenient-dui-sentences-on-social-media/

    “The state will pay staffers from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to monitor court hearings by judges who are routinely lenient in drunken driving cases, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez announced Tuesday. . . . Mothers Against Drunk Driving got a two-year, $800,000 contract to attend hearings in at least five New Mexico counties . . .”

    MADD performs quasi government functions or actually runs programs that should be run by people appointed by elected officials in Rhode Island. The R I law enforcement apparatus assists MADD in coercively requiring payment into their programs. To have the state come and pay MADD to put pressure on the judiciary to arrive at the conclusions this organization demands is an outrage. How is this any different than Trump trying to strong arm the judiciary? How many people even know that Candy Lightner left in 1985 and that a guy is running the operation she started, billing itself as a women’s group? I think many of these kinds of groups are fronts for people who see feminism, with a huge demographic behind it, as a convenient vehicle used for their own cynical purposes. It was for similar reasons that Margaret Holland McDuff headed up “engageri”, the astroturf R I “pension reform” group, instead of her male boss at Family Services to make the false case that siding with the teachers on the issue of their pensions would be abusive toward the children in the care of executives who pull down somewhere in the range of $200,000/yr for their “altruistic self deprivation”. How could breaking a contract be made to appear to be a feminist issue if a male Republican led the group? The disingenuousness of this sort of activism is rampant.

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  3. Johnnie

    @ cailin rua: You have made your point that Bloomberg and others from the ruling elite fund and popularize groups such as “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense” or “Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.” We can safely assume they would never fund or popularize a group called: “Working Moms for Federally-funded Childcare.”

    “I think many of these kinds of groups are fronts for people who see feminism, with a huge demographic behind it, as a convenient vehicle used for their own cynical purposes.”

    I completely agree. But what is left out of your analysis is what those ‘cynical purposes’ might be. These groups are useful to them because they divide us and make us easier to control. As it is with the “war on terrorism” and the “war on drugs,” these ‘wars’ have nothing to do with terrorism or drugs. They are wars against the people.

    These groups do little more than criminalize, and hold suspect, the overwhelming majority for the actions of an extremely small minority.

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  4. cailin rua

    Do you know how this got started? Do you remember the heroin epidemic in the early Seventies, Panic In Needle Park, etc.? Do you remember anything about the rash of break ins in the Mt Pleasant neighborhood back then? That was where the family I grew up with was from but that is the genesis of the victims rights movement took place, or one of them, Ray Morrissette and all. It wasn’t drunk drivers or feminists. It was white European ethnic middle class people who captured the Trump style zeitgeist that got the LEAA to jump on the band wagon. I know Angel Taveras lives or lived on Freese St. My father was born on Freese St and many of my relatives lived there so I am pretty sure I know what I’m talking about. Many of them were immigrants, too.

    Law enforcement during the Nixon era couldn’t wait to jump on the victims rights band wagon and hijack a few other movements in the process, feminism being just one. I’ve been watching this depressing chain of events for almost 50 yrs. It’s hard to find references to what was going on back then, the Rockefeller drug laws and so much else that has never been resolved by draconian measure after draconian measure.

    Many people are aware of what John Ehrlichman had to say about why all this was done. It was done against the very same people who many “progressives” now claim to be. Yeah, law enforcement came in and co-opted movements and cast a shadow on enlightenment and the Mafia came in and hijacked the prison reform movement, too. This doesn’t really capture what was going on but without finding a way to search through Journal-Bulletin archives this snippet will have to do as evidence how all this victims rights thing germinated:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=Ro4tCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA112&lpg=PA112&dq=ray+morrissette+victims+rights&source=bl&ots=lVPmslF4jh&sig=VOheJ-NG_5EETY7lr__czSCqXP8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi1tb6Q98rSAhVE4WMKHcTXA-4Q6AEIGjAA#v=onepage&q=ray%20morrissette%20victims%20rights&f=false

    I think it’s Yasmin Nair and Ryan Conrad who write profusely about the neoliberal hypocrisy of a lot of the carceral focus of so called activists in bed with people like Bloomberg, et al.

    The progressive movement offers approximately as much hope as the Brotherhood in 1984.

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