Raise Questions

To raise a question: vb. to put forward for consideration

My Cat’s NRA Membership Card

My Cat's NRA Membership Card

O’Ryan the Cat was officially welcomed today as a member of the NRA by receiving his NRA membership card. He was also invited to apply for the NRA Outstanding Achievement Youth Award and to participate in Basic Firearm Training Courses, Marksmanship Qualification Programs, NRA Shooting Sports Camp, Competitive Shooting Programs, and the NRA’s Youth Hunter Challenge Courses. Unfortunately since he doesn’t have opposable thumbs he will have to pass on those opportunities.

My Cat is a Member of the NRA

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What does America know about the membership base of the National Rifle Association?  As Americans are reminded that the NRA’s membership is growing and are told that this is proof that voters don’t want gun restrictions, do we know if NRA members are of voting age, citizens, reside in the United States, or are even human?

A visit to the membership application on the NRA’s website shows that membership is open to children and foreign applicants.  Their membership application also doesn’t request a social security number of other proof of citizenship.   In fact, membership appears to be open to anyone who has an American Express, Visa, Mastercard, or Discover Card and as little as $15 of available credit.  As proof of this I registered my cat, O’Ryan for membership in the NRA today.  He received the following e-mail from the NRA in response:

Dear O’Ryan,

Thank you for joining the NRA.  We appreciate your interest in protecting and preserving our Second Amendment rights and promoting safe, responsible gun ownership.

Your credit card will be billed for $15.00* for a 1 Year Junior Membership in the National Rifle Association with “Insights Magazine” as your magazine choice.

If you have any questions regarding your order, please email us at membership@nrahq.org.  Or you may call our Toll Free Membership Account Information Hotline at 1-877-NRA-2000.

Thanks again for your interest in the National Rifle Association!

NRA Membership Services

Any attempts by the press to verify the demographics of members of the NRA has been met repeatedly with citations by the NRA that their membership list is sacred and falls within the realm of “trust but don’t expect us to verify.”

Indeed, the NRA expects the American people to trust that they have a membership base of 4.25 million people and that this base has grown by 250,000 in the month since the Sandy Hook shootings.  They also expect the American people to trust that these members represent US Citizens of voting age.  I suppose if you believe that my cat has a strong view on gun rights then you might also believe that the NRA’s membership base is entirely legitimate.  However, I assure you that O’Ryan’s only interest is in when he will be served his next bowl of cat food.

How many other members of the NRA are children, pets, or even foreign nationals?  When will the American people demand to know more about the group that is driving American policy?

Why 1971 Matters to Illegal Immigrants

When President Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 1971 did he also trigger an increase in illegal immigration?  Will solving America’s immigration crisis also require declaring an end to the War on Drugs?

In October 1970, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.  Shortly thereafter, in 1971, President Nixon declared the “War on Drugs”.  Virtually overnight the government was given a legal foundation from which to fight against drug abuse and to categorize substances.  The DEA gained a new realm of investigatory powers and the National Institute on Drug Abuse was formed.

However, the War on Drugs did not eliminate the market for drugs within the United States.  Today 46% of adults say that they have tried drugs and 60 million specifically admit to having used Marijuana.  But, with the DEA hard at work destroying Marijuana crops and other drug manufacturing facilities, a demand was created for imported drugs.  But, how might these drugs be being imported when doing so is illegal?

Between 1969 and 2009 the population of illegal immigrants who traveled from Mexico to the US rose from 540,000 to 11,100,000.  This means that in 1960 only 0.3% of the US population was undocumented, but by 2009 3.6% were.  What also grew during these years were Mexico’s drug cartels, and despite declining economic conditions in Mexico their financial status has continued to flourish.  Reports show that the Mexican drug cartel has created much of that fortune by moving drugs into the US strapped to the backs of illegal immigrants who have agreed to smuggle in exchange for free or reduced cost of passage into the US.  Some illegal immigrants have reported that they didn’t want to smuggle but were told by the cartel that they would be killed if they refused.

In 2011, US Border Patrol seized 158 tons of illegal drugs moving into the US.  They also stopped 100,000 individuals trying to cross the border.  However, the demand for drugs continues to rise within the United States and few will argue that the War on Drugs has not been lost.  But, can the government now cut their losses and mitigate the immigration crisis by formally ending the drug war?

Timing Gun Control

Is now the wrong time to address gun control?  Does history tell us that laws formed in response to a particular incident of mass violence tend to be incomplete and address violence through the limited scope of the single incident?

In 1929 Al Capone and his fellow mobsters executed seven of their rival Chicago mobsters utilizing Thompson submachine guns in what came to be known as the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.  Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt soon took action by passing the National Firearms Act in an attempt to limit “gangster weapons” such as machine guns and short barrel shot guns by adding a $200 tax to their transfer.  Thus the first of many legislative actions to limit gun ownership following a mass shooting was initiated.  However, by 1968 the United States Supreme court had all but gutted the National Firearms Act in a case known as Haynes v. United States. 

Still, as back to back assassinations filled the nightly news in the 1960’s with the deaths of President Kennedy then Martin Luther King Jr. and finally Robert Kennedy, Congress and then President Lyndon B. Johnson took action.  This time the Gun Control Act of 1968 was signed into law.  Today it still requires that gun manufactures and sellers be federally licensed and that prohibits interstate sales of guns.

Despite the Gun Control Act of 1968, just 69 days into President Reagan’s term of office, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate him and paralyzed his press secretary, James Brady.  In 1993 the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was signed by President Bill Clinton requiring that background checks be conducted before a firearm can be purchased from a federally licensed dealer or manufacturer.

In 1993, the same year that the Brady Act was passed, a 55 year old man walked into a law firm in California carrying three semi-automatic weapons and opened fire.  He killed eight individuals and wounded six others before killing himself.  Thirteen months later Congress passed an assault weapons ban outlawing the particular weapon he had been carrying along with 17 other assault weapons.  The 1994 assault weapons ban expired in 2005 and five attempts to renew it have failed.

In 1999, while the 1994 assault weapon’s ban was still active, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, a sawed down  12-guage double-barrel shotgun, a 10-shot Hi-Point model 955 carbine rifle, and a sawed off 67H 12-guage pump shotgun into Columbine High School and killed 12 classmates and one teacher before committing suicide.  A month later the Senate attempted to pass a bill requiring background checks for firearm sales at gun shows and the sale of child safety locks with guns.  However the bill never passed the House.

In 2007, with the Brady Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968 still in place, Seung Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech University shot and killed 32 of his classmates with a gun that he had purchased within a month after being deemed “mentally ill” and “an imminent danger to self and others”.  In response Congress passed a law in 2007 creating the National Instant Background Check System.

Thus, it is clear from history that Congress has precedent of acting rapidly after incidents of violence to creating firearms legislation.  But, is this an effective way to prevent future violence?  Or, would it be more effective to allow time to pass and find a solution that is based in a systematic analysis and not in grief?

Stimulating the Economy with Gay Marriage

In 2011, a year of slow national economic growth and high unemployment, how did New York City manage to inject $259 million into their economy without a bailout or stimulus bill?  How is Maine predicted to add $15.5 million, Maryland $62.6 million, and Washington $88.5 million into their economies within the next three years, all without the government having to raise taxes or pass a stimulus bill?  If the United States could take the same single action nationally as these four states, and generate an estimated $1 billion per year for the federal budget and push $16 billion annually into local economies would Americans take the opportunity?  What if that single action was legalizing gay marriage?

Within the year after legalizing gay marriage, New York City issued 8,200 marriage licenses to same sex couples.  The fee for that marriage license within the city is $35.  Thus, in a single year, New York City managed to raise an additional $287,000 in taxes without voting to raise taxes.  Additionally, same sex couples spent an average of $9,039 on their weddings and had more than 200,000 guests who visited New York City for their weddings.  The money that they and their guests spent on their weddings went directly into the local economy.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that, “Marriage equality… helped to create jobs and support our local economy.”

A 2004 report by the Congressional Budget Office showed that legalizing gay marriage on a national level was predicted to generate $1 billion per year for the federal budget over the next 10 years.  The study “took into account lower income and estate tax revenues and well as increased spending for social security and health-care benefits”.  Perhaps more significant, is that legalizing gay marriage on a national level is also predicted to add $16 billion annually to the wedding industry, money that largely goes to local economies and small businesses.

If legalizing gay marriage on a national level would raise $1 billion annually for the federal government, without raising taxes, and boost the economy by $16 billion annually, without a stimulus bill, why wouldn’t we embrace gay marriage as an economic windfall?

Opportunity in a Pill Pack

What if history had demonstrated repeatedly, across the world, that there was a way to improve economic conditions for families, raise wages for women, reduce crime and cut the abortion rate?  Would Americans race to embrace this opportunity for improved social and economic conditions or would they turn away?  What if the opportunity came packaged in the form of free birth control for all women? 

Today, from Bangladesh to Singapore, societies are learning that providing birth control to women benefits everyone.  In Matlab, Bangladash women who were given access to contraceptives over two decades obtained higher-valued homesteads, more agriculture, nonagriculture, and financial assets than did women who did not get access to contraceptives.  Their children had a lower rate of childhood mortality and received a higher rate of prenatal care and childhood vaccinations.  In Singapore, one of the safest cities in the world, a coordinated government effort to lower the birth rate has been recognized as a strong contributing factor to their low crime rate. 

Studies out of United States history also provide strong evidence to support the societal benefit of providing free birth control to women.  The University of Michigan has shown that “about one third of women’s wage gains throughout the 1990’s can be attributed to changing laws in the 1960’s and 70’s that lowered the age at which women could access the pill.”  In fact, they found that women who “had early access to the pill in the 1960’s and 70’s earned 8% more on average by the 1980’s and 1990’s than women without early access.”  The cause in a few words?  More women finished college without being interrupted by an unplanned pregnancy and that degree caused them to earn more money over the course of their lifetime. 

A study from Obstetrics & Gynecology also recently showed that free birth control even reduces the abortion rate.   In a study of 9,256 women ages 14-45 residing in St. Louis who were at risk for unintended pregnancy, providing the women with free contraceptives caused a drop in their teen pregnancy rate and cut the rate of abortions for participants in half. 

So, if free birth control for women has been demonstrated to improve economic conditions for families, raise wages for women, reduce crime, and cut the abortion rate why wouldn’t we embrace this opportunity? 

Leasing Music from iTunes

As rumors recently circulated that Bruce Willis was planning to sue Apple for the rights to pass his vast iTunes collection down to his children, Apple held fast to their assertion that consumers are merely purchasing licenses that allow them to listen to their music on a limited basis. As it turns out Bruce Willis isn’t planning a Willis vs. Apple moment in court any time soon but his 5 minutes in the Apple limelight raises an interesting question about just what it means to “buy” an iTunes song and whether the term “buy” is actually the correct term for the transaction that is taking place. The fact is that the average consumer is accustomed to engaging in many types of transactions that don’t allow them full rights of ownership. Many consumers lease cars with the understanding that they only utilize the car with limited rights and must eventually return it to the corporate owner. In fact, the definition of lease states, “to grant the temporary possession or use of (lands, tenements, etc) to another, usually for compensation at a fixed rate. Others rent homes while knowing that they have not assumed full ownership of the property. Rent is defined as, “a payment made periodically by a tenant to a landlord in return for the use of land, a building, an apartment, an office, or other property.” However, the term “buy” implies full rights of ownership. In fact, the definition of buy states, “to acquire the possession of, or the right to, by paying or promising to pay an equivalent, especially in money; purchase.” Thus it would seem that Apple is, in fact, leasing music to their customers rather than allowing them to buy it. However, it would likely be a grim day for Apple if a judge ever ordered them to replace the word buy with lease. After all, how many of us want to lease our music collection, even though we already do?

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