I spent the first twenty years of my life in Maine. I visit my family in Maine once a year. And though I choose to live in Seattle, I take a lot of pride in being from Maine, born and bred. It’s a culture unlike anywhere else in the United States: indpendent, reliant on common sense, and proudly insular. There’s a term Mainers use for people who were born elsewhere and move to Maine: they’re From Away. I had a friend who spent the first three months of his life in Connecticut before his mom moved home to Maine. He’s From Away, and he’ll always be From Away. Even if he lived in Maine for the rest of his natural life, my friends and I joked, he’d have to put “From Away” on his gravestone.
I share all this because the National Rifle Association just debuted a new advertisement opposing Question 3, a commonsense background check initiative. And here it is:
Okay. So many issues with this ad. First of all, that’s not even the New York City skyline they use in the beginning of the ad; it’s the San Francisco skyline with a Statue of Liberty stapled into it.
Second of all, they got Maine’s shape wrong. This is not what Maine looks like:
They lopped off the whole western side of the state that borders New Hampshire.
Third, and perhaps most importantly: what kind of ridiculous Maine accent is this voiceover supposed to be? None of my aunts and uncles sound like this guy; this is the kind of exaggerated, Hollywoodized Maine accent you see in a bad episode of Murder She Wrote. It’s almost as bad as Freddy Quimby’s intentionally terribad Boston accent.
Mainers are used to hearing people From Away mangle our accents—tourists do it every summer, and we fake a smile and nod and pat them on the heads while we take their money—but the content of this ad makes the accent unforgivable. They’re arguing that people From Away want to take your guns, and they can’t get the accent or even the shape of the state right? It’s just embarrassing. (If you’re curious, this personal testimonial from the Yes on Question 3 campaign, Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, is a good example of a real, unexaggerated Maine accent.)
Look, I admit that this is goofy stuff. There’s much more substantive policy we could all be discussing right now. But I think it’s only fair that someone alert the NRA to the fact that they’re apparently being taken for a ride. They presumably paid a lot of money for this ad and it features the wrong city, gets the state’s borders wrong, and it’s centered around a laughable Maine accent that’s trying to incite nativist feelings. These are all unforced errors, and when they’re combined they result in just about the most embarrassing ad you could fund. How much money does the NRA have in their coffers, that they can waste a huge wad of cash on amateurish ads like this?
SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole speaking at the February launch rally for I-1491.
Yesterday, Raise Up Washington turned in over 360,000 signatures supporting their initiative to raise the minimum wage and introduce paid sick leave statewide. Today, another initiative traveled to Olympia to turn in some 330,000 signatures: the Alliance for Gun Responsibility took a major step toward getting Extreme Risk Protection Orders on the ballot this November.
What are Extreme Risk Protection Orders? As I reported back in February, Alliance Executive Director Renee Hopkins described them as a way to “allow family members and law enforcement officers… to ask a judge to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms if there is documented evidence of dangerous mental illness or a high risk of violent behavior.” Two of the deadliest shootings in Washington state history — the Jewish Federation shooting in 2006 and the Cafe Racer shooting in 2013 — could likely have been avoided had Extreme Risk Protection Orders been in place. This is the second time Washington voters will directly take on the NRA at the ballot box, after 2014’s successful Washington Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases initiative.
The overall “Yes” figure is certainly impressive (73%!), but what really stands out is that an outright majority of voters fall into the Definitely vote yes camp. That 56% number suggests that most Washingtonians are very enthusiastic about I-1491.
It’s obvious that the American people are sick of gun violence. And as the Democrats’ filibuster in the Senate and sit-in in the House have proven, NRA-funded Republican lawmakers are making changes impossible on the federal level. So states and cities are on their own right now when it comes to passing responsible gun laws. And this poll proves that voters are clamoring for the chance to face down the NRA at the ballot box. This is how national movements happen; it’s how same-sex marriage went from a city issue to a state issue to the law of the land. The public leads their elected officials, not the other way around.
But these poll numbers—as flat-out terrific as they may be—shouldn’t make you complacent. We’ve seen too many good politicians and ideas lose at the ballot box because voters couldn’t be bothered to actually come out and vote. It’s important to talk about I-1491 to friends and family. Share your support on social media. We shouldn’t be satisfied until this bill and others like it pass by landslide margins all across the country. We’ve got a long way to go, but at least we’re starting out on the right foot.
Glenn Kessler wrote a “Fact Checker” column for the Washington Post about “three Democratic claims on assault weapons and guns.” It’s just about the biggest bullshit I’ve read on the internet this week—which is really saying something, considering the fact that Donald Trump continues to exist.
Kessler sifted through the 14-hour Democratic filibuster led by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy on June 15th, applying fact-checks, in the form of a number-system of “Pinocchios,” to every claim. The number of Pinocchios is based on how true Kessler determines the claim to be—the higher the number of Pinocchios, supposedly, the more untrue the statement is.
If the three quotes Kessler highlights are the most questionable statements he can find in all 14 hours of the filibuster, the Democrats did a remarkable job of keeping their facts in line, because the issues that Kessler has found are most definitely in the “pedantic” category. Let’s look at them in order.
First, Kessler gives Murphy three Pinocchios for this statement: “What we know is that in states that have imposed those reasonable limitations, there are less gun crimes. There are less homicides.” What’s the problem? Apparently, “One would need to specifically determine whether certain laws had an effect, over time, on the gun-death rate in a state.” What’s wrong with the study that Murphy (and, earlier, President Obama) cited to make this claim? Turns out, according to Kessler, “most gun deaths — more than 60 percent in 2013 — are actually suicides.” (Emphasis mine.)
This claim has always chafed somewhere deep in my soul. The argument that people who commit suicide due to easy access to guns shouldn’t count in gun death totals is entirely heartless. Here’s the thing: Guns make it easy to kill, which means that guns make it easy to kill yourself. Without easy access to guns, a suicidal person might be delayed just long enough to change their mind, or for a friend to notice and reach out. Gun deaths from suicide are inextricable from gun death totals. They absolutely count. And so do the accidental deaths that are also included in gun death totals.
So if Murphy had specifically invoked suicides and/or accidents in his quote, presumably Kessler would have less of a problem with his statement. Noted. And I agree. In fact, I would love to see more politicians mention suicides by gun, because it would help destigmatize the issue. But for his cold-heartedness on this topic, I award Kessler four stinkers:
Next, Kessler cites Murphy’s claim that “AR-15-style weapons weren’t legal in the United States until 2004 after being banned for 10 years. It is not coincidental that there was a massive increase in mass shootings in this country after 2004.” He calls this statement “problematic,” saying that though assault weapons make up a full quarter of public mass shootings, the automatic weapon gun ban did “Not significantly” affect the number of mass shootings:
From 1976 to 1994, there were about 18 mass shootings per year. During the ban — 1995 to 2004 — there were about 19 incidents per year. After the ban, through 2011, the average went up to nearly 21.
I would argue that two or three less mass shootings a year would be a good thing, but what do I know? I’m not an expert. You know who does know an awful lot about guns and gun statistics, though? The blogger Mike the Gun Guy, who points out an error in Kessler’s methodology:
…the report used by Kessler defines a ‘mass shooting’ as any incident resulting in the death of four or more people, most of which happen to have been family-connected, domestic events. What in God’s name do such events have to do with gunning down 70 people in a movie theater, or 26 people in a public school, or 100 people in a club? Nothing. And guess what weapon accounted for almost 100 deaths at Aurora, Sandy Hook and Orlando? Furthermore, Kessler’s ‘evidence’ aggregates data beginning in 1976. Hey schmuck, did it ever occur to you that AR-15 rifles weren’t even sold on the commercial market until 1980 and didn’t become popular until the 1990s?
(Mike the Gun Guy, sweetly, apologizes to his readers for not being “civil and respectful” in this paragraph, but he says “shabby journalism” like Kesssler’s pushes him past his breaking point.) For his obfuscation of useful information, I’m giving Kessler three stinkers:
Kessler’s final argument is perhaps the most frustrating, because it’s so unbearably petty. He quotes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who quotes an “al-Qaeda spokesman” as saying “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”
“Actually,” Kessler responds, “you can’t buy a ‘fully automatic assault rifle’ at a gun show. The al-Qaeda spokesman — and by extension Reid — are mixing up semiautomatic weapons and automatic weapons.” Kessler awards Reid two Pinocchios for this mix-up.
The point is not the technical term for the gun. That’s a rhetorical trick used by gun supporters to derail conversations about gun violence. The point is that some guns — like, for instance, AR-15s — make it easier to kill more people with very little effort.
If Reid or Murphy get the terminology inexact in a speech, it’s still very clear what they mean (and you can be sure that their legislation will be accurate.) They are talking about the kind of guns that get used in the record-breaking mass murders that we’ve seen so much of in the last decade or so.
For Kessler to round out a fact-check column on this minor point is asinine. But, you know, that’s the rule of threes: lists always seem fuller when you include three items as opposed to two.
For “actually”-ing a relevant point in a major American newspaper, I give Kessler a whopping five stinkers:
Congratulations to Kessler for winning the most stinkers ever awarded in the illustrious six-hour history of this proud tradition. Maybe he’ll take this achievement to heart the next time he decides to rank the truth of filibustering politicians on a puppet-head system.
I can’t stop thinking about this morning’s tweet from Donald Trump:
Note that Trump is not going to his party’s leadership to argue this, or to Congressional Republicans. Nope! He’s going, instead, to the NRA. Presumably because the NRA are the real bosses, the real leaders, the people who can create real change within the party. Trump understands that if the NRA were to tell Republicans to stop fighting the terrorist watchlist law, they’d stop fighting immediately. So, in true Art of the Deal fashion, Trump’s going to the place where his words will have the most impact.
But let’s take a moment to reflect on how truly horrific this whole scenario truly is. Donald Trump is the voice of reason here. He is fighting for a law that will allow the government to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists. And his own party is not supporting him on this. So he’s going to the gun lobby—an organization that is funded in large part by gun manufacturers, and which dumps millions of dollars in the pockets of elected officials—to beg them to allow this to happen. Trump often says democracy is broken, and he’s absolutely right in this case. But the problem is that he’s part of the broken system.
Of course, it should be noted that Trump posted his little tweet before Senate Democrats began their filibuster for gun responsibility, which is making every Republican, Trump included, look like weak-kneed gun-worshippers. Democrats aren’t taking their argument to the NRA, an organization which has no power to make laws. They’re taking their argument to the American people because they’ve had enough. This is how democracy is supposed to work.
No matter how the Democratic filibuster ends, this is a watershed moment in the fight against gun violence in America. Trump has, possibly accidentally, proven how ghastly the Republican defense of the NRA agenda truly is. He’s pointed out the lobbying organization behind the curtain and identified them as the people in charge.
And Trump’s broken ranks on the conservative lockstep that for so many years made it impossible to pass anything resembling a sane gun responsibility law. Now that Trump’s admitted it’s nuts for us to allow people suspected of terrorism to buy guns, he’s opened up the door for Democrats to point out all the other insanity on the conservative NRA agenda—the fact that assault weapons can be purchased in less than ten minutes, the fact that it’s illegal for government agencies to even collect data on gun violence.
Once you acknowledge one fatal error in your ideology, it becomes much easier for your opponents to make a rhetorical argument against everything else. This is why Republicans have gone over the edge of reason for guns in the last few decades—because the NRA understands that one single crack in their facade could create a tsunami of public opinion against them.
Civic Ventures President Zach Silk wrote a terrific essay earlier today about how you can and should get involved in the fight against gun violence. Now that Trump has opened the door for argument—even just a hair—it’s important that average Americans, the millions of us who are outraged at all the avoidable mass shootings and killings and suicides and accidental deaths, take advantage of this opportunity. It’s time for everyone to get involved in this fight.
Something about the conservative argument sure does stink.
Sometimes two very different hot-topic news stories combine into one ugly Frankenstein’s monster of a newspocalypse. Those kind of car-crash current event moments are most likely to happen in Florida. The Orlando Weekly reports that gun-lovers and the anti-trans bathroom bills have finally reached a boiling point:
After Target announced its transgender customers and employees can use store bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, Orlando-based Liberty Counsel president Anita Staver said she would be taking her Glock .45 into Target’s restrooms, saying the gun “identifies as my bodyguard.”
I mean, the cravenness of the move is almost admirable: Staver is combining the current conservative anti-trans panic and the perennial conservative pro-gun fever into a perfect storm of idiocy and opportunism. Staver says by bringing her gun into restrooms in Target, she is seeking “protection from the perverts who will use the law to gain access to women.” (Somewhat related: I wrote about the NRA’s very bad advice about bathroom gun etiquette last month.)
This is fear mongering of the highest order. I mean, Staver is practically reaching Glenn-Beck-in-2009 levels of apocalyptic panic, here. Her portrayal of bathrooms as lawless zones where anyone can and will be attacked with full approval from the government is beyond over-the-top. But more importantly, her combining of trans bathroom issues with rampant gun culture reveals a serious logical fallacy in the conservative position.
Let’s for a minute consider the conservative opposition to trans bathroom access: without strict laws to enforce the division of genders, they argue, bathrooms will be overrun by sex offenders attacking women. Presumably, those laws will empower business owners to verify the genders of people who use restrooms in their establishments. It’s unclear how that will happen, especially since in many states it’s possible to change your gender on your drivers license with the help of a physician.(Here are the laws in Washington state; you can look up laws in the rest of the country here.) Maybe business owners will be deputized to do genital checks? Did anyone think these laws through?
So the line between government-endorsed bathroom assaults and sane civilization, conservatives argue, is…a law. And yet gun-lovers like Staver absolutely adore the fallacy that argues if you pass gun responsibility laws, only criminals will have guns. Armed with Reason in 2013 published a fantastic post refuting right-wing ideologues like Sarah Palin, who argues that “The bad guys, the criminals, don’t follow laws and restricting more of America’s freedoms when it comes to self-defense isn’t the answer.” Staver’s combination of anti-trans laws and the glorification of guns highlights a real intellectual inconsistency in her rhetoric.
I’m confused here: which is it? You simply can’t have it both ways: if scofflaws can ignore gun laws, what’s keeping scofflaws from ignoring bathroom laws? Or is it possible that the pro-gun lobby is simply using their argument to keep sane gun responsibility laws from being passed, while the anti-trans protesters are using laws to normalize their bigotry? It’s almost as though these conservative arguments are reductive and opportunistic. Or something.
Worse, Staver’s public buffoonery suggests and glorifies violence against trans Americans, which is a growing problem. The fact that it’s okay in America in 2016 for someone to discuss her intention to murder someone in a public bathroom is not just a political talking point—it’s an indictment of the state of our discourse.
“I’m starting with the man in the mirror/I’m asking him to change his ways…”
Everybody knows Republicans are suffering from demographic troubles in presidential elections. Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 highlighted the fact that you can’t win the Oval Office with just the straight white vote. Even Republicans know that they mathematically need the LGBT and minority vote to win the White House. But rather than going about the difficult work of reforming the party, Republicans instead doubled down on restrictive voter ID laws to keep those people away from the ballot box. We’ll find out this fall whether these laws are successful or not.
But in the meantime, Republican strategists are struggling to find ways for the party to achieve a demographic win without actually welcoming any non-white, non-straight voters to their side. The preeminent Republican mathemagician, Grover Norquist, has devised six subgroups that he believes are going to be the “soccer moms” of the 2016 election, swinging the demographics back to the Republican side. Nancy LeTourneau at Political Animal sums up his categories like this:
1. Home schoolers
2. Charter school supporters
3. Concealed-carry permit holders
4. Fracking workers
5. Users of e-cigarettes and vapor products
6. Uber drivers
Uh, okay. The immediate problem with Norquist’s Six Great Republican Demographic Saviors is that I see a whole lot of overlap with the sole remaining Republican demographic of straight white people. Homeschoolers? Yeah, the vast majority of homeschoolers are white. Whites make up 90 percent of all active concealed carry permit holders in Illinois. Whites only make up 37% of Uber drivers, but almost 90 percent of all Uber drivers are male. Norquist is not calling out many diverse groups, here. In fact, what he’s doing is taking the one piece of the pie that the Republican Party can lay claim to, dividing it into many smaller slices, and arguing that because there are more slices, Republicans somehow have a larger share of the pie.
Of course, I don’t really expect political genius from Grover Norquist; he’s the schmuck who had the big idea to shame Republicans into signing his anti-tax pledge. The pledge scored Norquist visibility as a kingmaker, and it resonated with Tea Party voters, but it effectively foiled Republican lawmakers from getting anything done in terms of raising revenue. Norquist’s pledge was something akin to requiring that chefs promise to keep their right hands tied behind their backs when they go in the kitchen. It’s one of the most marvelously short-sighted political maneuvers of the 21st century.
And as the Republican presidential campaign continues to drag on, it turns out that Republicans have even more demographic problems than the one they faced with Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket. Only 44 percent of Republican women want Donald Trump to win his party’s nomination, and, according to the Washington Post, that percentage is “higher than the percentage of women who prefer [Ted] Cruz or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.” When candidates say things like this…
…you can understand women for not being very enthusiastic about voting for them.
And so this is what strategists like Norquist are left with: trying to discover some never-before-seen demographic—homeschooling Uber moms who vape—who can swoop in like a fairy godmother and save the 2016 election for them. You know what would work better? Dropping the gimmicky pledges and the attempt to dissect the already-narrowing demographics of Republican voters into smaller categories and working to open the party up to more voters. This would not just benefit the Republican Party; if the GOP became more inclusive, Democrats would have to adopt even more inclusive strategies in order to stay relevant, and American politics would improve on a fundamental level—politicians would be more accountable, more people would get involved with the democratic process, and the dialogue would be a two-way street. That should be the goal for everyone.
The backlash to the latest spate of anti-transgender “bathroom laws” has begun, and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is right at the forefront:
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order Monday banning travel to North Carolina for official business by City of Seattle employees. It is a response to that state’s passage of a bill that revoked civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community.
Mayor Murray is absolutely doing the right thing here. (So is the governor of Georgia, who announced he would veto a similar law in his state.) These bathroom laws are not only hateful and anti-civil-liberty—they’re also likely unenforceable. What they do is they target and single out trangender individuals, who are already at grave risk for violence, and they give business owners the right to confirm anyone’s gender at any time. (How? Unclear. Very unclear.) And by forcing trans people to use the opposite gender bathrooms, the law is creating some very uncomfortable situations:
These are the kind of exclusionary tactics that bring damage upon economies like North Carolina. (Nick Hanauer wrote about this last year.) Boycotts like Mayor Murray’s are a great way to get the attention of a governor who puts hate before inclusion, and I expect North Carolina will find itself to be the recipient of a whole lot of boycotts by the time this story ends.
And besides, there are plenty other pressing issues of bathroom safety to address than the fallacious concern of LGBT-on-straight-person violence that anti-trans groups have been peddling to the media. I’m talking, of course, about guns.
Today, NRA Family published a blog post by Brad Fitzpatrick titled “Concealed-Carry Safety…In the Bathroom.” It’s all about what to do when you’re out on the town with your gun and nature calls. Fitzpatrick’s first suggestion? Put the gun on the bathroom floor in front of you while you’re doing your business. He acknowledges there are some problems with this scenario:
As simple as it is to place the gun on the floor of the stall, there are also several compelling reasons not to do so. If the bathroom is clean, the gun is pointed in what you know to be a safe direction, and no one else is going to come in and see a gun on the floor of the stall, then this is a fine option. But if you’re like most, the thought of putting the gun on the floor of a public restroom and then handling it and putting back into your holster is enough to make you cringe.
So instead of getting icky germs all over your instrument of death, Fitzpatrick offers a “better” solution:
There is a better option for securing the firearm in the bathroom, and that is to place the gun in your dropped pants. That’s a secure position and you’re almost certain not to forget it is there after you have completed your duty. In addition, the pants work well to hide the firearm from others who happen to glance under the stall to see if it is occupied. Again, be sure to place the firearm so that the barrel is pointed in a safe position.
This is advice from the National Rifle Association: put your gun on the trousers around your ankles while you poop. Never mind that if someone in the next stall over wanted to grab your gun, they’d probably get to it before you. Never mind that if you forget the gun’s there and pull your pants up, you’ve just dropped a gun on the ground, possibly pointed at your crotch.
I don’t know what the Venn Diagram of NRA supporters who also support anti-LGBT bathroom laws looks like, but I suspect the overlap is significant. How many of those gun-loving Americans are fine with the pants-on-the-ground method of bathroom gun safety but against the idea of trans people using the proper bathroom? Because I know which side I’d rather share a bathroom with, and it’s sure not the guy in the NRA t-shirt who’s feverishly rubbing hand sanitizer all over his Smith & Wesson.
As you’ve likely seen, tens of thousands of people have signed a petition demanding that the Republican Party allow the open carry of firearms at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this year. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense, right? Republican politicians love guns so much; they block any laws that might save lives from gun violence, and they even block the study of gun violence, presumably because it might reveal some unflattering facts about guns (such as the fact that they kill people.) As the petition notes, every one of the three Republican candidates left in the race have argued that gun-free zones are targets for shooters. And Ohio is an open-carry state, so guns at the RNC seem like a no-brainer, on several different levels.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was asked about the petition, and he said he’d have to “study the fine print” of the petition before he commented on it. (I looked at the petition, and there is no fine print anywhere on it. That was easy!) But the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention is happening, has a no-weapons policy. And the Secret Service has announced through spokesman Robert Hoback that “Individuals determined to be carrying firearms will not be allowed past a predetermined outer perimeter checkpoint, regardless of whether they possess a ticket to the event.” Another Secret Service spokesman told the National Reviewthat “Title 18 United States Code Sections 3056 and 1752, provides the Secret Service authority to preclude firearms from entering sites visited by our protectees, including those located in open-carry states.”
Are you noticing a pattern, here? You should be: Republican leaders basically want guns to be legal everywhere and for everyone, except in those places where Republican leaders mingle with the general public. When they’re expected to share a public space with ordinary Americans, Republican leaders suddenly become very anti-gun. Doesn’t indicate much faith in their own policies, does it? What does it say that they’re not willing to live under the same rules they advocate for the American public?
As I was writing this post, there was a shooting at the US Capitol which forced a very large (and, from the accounts of people on the ground, a very scary) lockdown to go into effect. Turns out, one security guard was injured and the shooter was taken into custody. It wasn’t a mass shooting. This time. And the Capitol’s police force managed to get the situation under control almost immediately. Too bad average Americans don’t benefit from the same strict security that Republican congressional leaders enjoy while they vote against gun responsibility.