Red Team vs. Blue Team: Gun Control

Today’s article is a special two for one: two of our writers debate the merits of gun control. Who do you think makes the most convincing argument?

Current State of Gun Control Legislation Requires More Gun Control

By Pearl Rimon

Random acts of gun violence have been a prominent leading story in U.S. headlines for decades. Last month, a gunman killed two people and injured nine others in a Louisiana movie theatre and a gunman fatally shot nine people in a church in Charleston, both purchased their guns legally; this occurred the same month James Holmes was convicted on twenty-four counts of first-degree murder for a shooting in Aurora, Colorado. These horrific events trigger debates about the current state of gun control laws in our country.

Mass killings have been on the rise in America even though gun ownership is declining overall. However, the support for gun rights in America remains resolute. The tragic shootings of churches, elementary schools, and movie theatres are not enough to motivate lawmakers to enact stricter gun control laws. In research conducted by Mother Jones tracking mass shootings since 1982, a majority of the shooters had obtained their guns legally.  Cat Stakeup

The region with the highest percentage of guns in a household is unsurprisingly the South. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer gun related deaths, but this statistic nor the recent mass shooting tragedies have motivated legislators to enact new laws. Shockingly, after the Newtown Massacre, the Pew Research Center found that Americans showed more support for gun rights than gun control.

Congress has not passed new gun control laws since the 1993 Brady Bill and the now expired 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, Congress failed to pass background check legislation. There has not been significant gun control reform since then.

Gun Control Laws

There are federal and state gun regulations in place that try and curb gun violence. However the number of gun deaths in the U.S. compared to other countries that do not have the Second Amendment right to bear arms makes it clear that these gun control laws are not as effective as they could be. For instance, according to 2013 statistics, Brazil has almost the same homicide rate as Washington D.C.

Seattle and Cook County, IL have taken the typical federal and state laws a step further and have imposed a $25 tax on guns and a 5-cent tax on bullets sold within the city limits. This new law is referred to as a “gun violence tax” since proceeds will be used for prevention and research programs to reduce violence. Chicago has banned possession of certain semi-automatic firearms defined as assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition. Previously, Chicago prohibited the sale of firearms within city limits but it has since been overturned for being unconstitutional.

Federal law requires background checks for all gun sales by federally licensed gun dealers; this is one of the provisions part of the Brady Bill. However, this does not prevent sales between private individuals and sales at gun shows from being conducted complying with federal law. Since 1998, 202 million background checks have been conducted with only 0.5% of purchases were blocked, the most common reason being prior felony convictions.

Recently, three Senate Democrats (Chuck Schumer-NY, Murphy and Blumenthal-CT) are attempting to impose gun control change by appealing to retailers of guns due to the failure in advancing legislation. A loophole in federal law allows firearm transactions to proceed if a background check is not completed within three days, the Senators are asking retailers to require completion of background checks to close the loophole. This loophole has proven to be deadly, since it is how Dylan Roof, the shooter of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, procured the gun he used.

The “gun culture” in this country obviously stems from the Second Amendment. The U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, as well as the highest rate of homicides among advanced countries. According to studies there are 88 guns for every 100 people. Following the Charleston church shooting, President Obama stated “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” he said. “It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s executive vice president. Apparently, the American public agreed with LaPierre following the tragic events of Newtown. However, the dangers of untrained people shooting guns seems like it would lead to a larger body count. The focus should not be on arming more people with guns, due to the likelihood of accidental shootings and injuries. Instead, the focus should be on enacting stricter gun control laws and closing any existing loopholes in background checks.


Reforming Mental Health, Not Guns, Will Prevent Mass Violence

By Jason Cheung

Gun control proponents often criticize the Second Amendment as the reason for mass shootings in America. However, if we expand “mass shootings” to “mass violence,” America is actually not different from the rest of the world in large scale acts of violence. Therefore, the solution to mass violence lies not in restricting the type of weaponry used by the killers, but in addressing the underlying psychological issues the killers have in common.

On the same day the Sandy Hook Massacre took place, another mass killing occurred across the Pacific Ocean. In Chenpeng Village, China, a 36 year old man stabbed 23 children and 1 elderly woman. Private gun ownership is almost completely illegal in China, so the Chenpeng attacker used a knife instead. The Chenpeng stabbings were not an isolated incident. In China, there have been at least 11 mass stabbings from 2010 – 2014. In contrast, there have been at least 14 mass shootings in the United States during the same years. The numbers are not greatly different. President Obama was wrong in claiming that mass violence is unique to America. These incidents show that mass violence is a problem shared by many nations.  Panda with a gun

Gun control proponents might argue that a stabbing is safer than a shooting. It’s true that a gun can kill people faster than a knife, but knifes can be just as fatal as guns. The fact that dozens of people have died in some of China’s mass stabbings indicate that a man with a knife in the right location can be as dangerous as a gunman. Guns are loud and can alert other potential victims to the attacker’s presence. In contrast, knifes are silent and thus the attacker can stab more people before anyone has time to flee. Although it takes more skill to use a knife, the need for skill is not as great if an attacker can simply board a crowded train or walk into a classroom.

It is also incorrect to assume that “gun culture in this country obviously stems from the Second Amendment.” The U.S. began in a rural environment with plenty of game and numerous Native America efforts to recover their land. Until the 20th century, Americans constantly expanded westward, and often relied on guns for hunting and protection. The rural environment made guns a necessity. The urban environment of America in the modern and contemporary era makes guns less attractive.

Our history and geography explains why gun ownership is declining – most of the population now resides in urban cities on the coasts. People who live in urban environments have less incentive to own a gun and urban governments are more likely to pass gun control laws. However, many parts of the South are still a rural environment, where hunting is prevalent and spread out residential areas require more self-defense. The Second Amendment is not the cause, but an effect of gun culture.

Mental Health Reform

It is important to recognize the role the Second Amendment plays in our culture. If the Second Amendment is a byproduct and not a cause, then reinterpreting the Second Amendment to allow for greater restriction of guns would not stop the violence. China has outlawed private gun ownership, but mass violence still exists in that country.

However, there is a factor that mass shootings in America and mass stabbings in China have in common. The attackers are typically men in their twenties or thirties from low economic backgrounds and/or have mental issues. Many of the recent cases of violence involve ethnic tensions. Charleston was an attack against a black church and China’s most deadly mass stabbing in 2014 involved Muslim extremists from its western provinces.

Ms. Rimon points to Brazil as an example of a less violent nation, with 2013 statistics on Brazil showing a homicidal rate equivalent to that of America’s capital. Brazil has some forms of gun control, including gun registration, a minimum gun ownership age of 25, and a ban on gun carrying outside the residence. On the other hand, Brazil has the second largest arms industry in the Western Hemisphere, guns are often smuggled back into Brazil, and its voters’ rejected a 2005 proposal to ban civilian gun ownership. Brazil is not as extreme as either the U.S. or China in its gun control or gun rights, so Brazil’s statistics can hardly be attributed to its gun policies.

What Brazil does have that China and the United States does not, is that Brazil reformed and expanded its mental health services in the 1990s. In contrast, the United States and China have allowed their mental health services to wither. The United States has cut mental health budgets, most of the remaining budget is spent on ineffective medication, and any available treatment is usually too expensive for the men most likely to go on a rampage. Obamacare’s mental health mandate may do more to prevent mass shootings than any gun control measure passed. Instead of gun control, the focus should be on reforming our mental health services and providing greater care to those who most need it.

Kansas Woman Alleges She Was Fired For Not Attending Church

Courtney Canfield was hired part-time to the elections division of Kansas’s Secretary of State Office in January 2013. During that time, she received numerous invitations and guides to religious services held in the Secretary of State’s Office. Canfield is a Methodist, but she doesn’t go to church regularly. Canfield was promoted to full-time in June of 2013. Five months later in November, a co-worker complained Canfield was using the phone for personal reasons.  Cornfield

Assistant Secretary Rucker visited Canfield’s grandmother soon after the complaint was made. Canfield alleges that Rucker demanded Canfield’s grandmother terminate her own granddaughter because Canfield “just doesn’t go to church.” When Canfield’s grandmother refused, Rucker terminated Canfield himself. Canfield filed a lawsuit alleging religious discrimination and demanded $75,000 as compensation. The Secretary’s Office has denied the allegations and claims that Canfield was terminated for “poor performance.”

Protecting Christians From Each Other

Interestingly, both parties have a history of legal disputes. Canfield was the plaintiff in a 2012 lawsuit against another former employer, a car dealership. Canfield alleged that an employee with a prior rape conviction had groped her. Canfield alleged in 2012 that when she complained to her supervisor, she was terminated while the accused was promoted. On the other hand, Rucker was an attorney in Kansas’s attorney general office. In 2010, Rucker was censured by Kansas’s disciplinary board for failing to disclose evidence regarding an alleged abortion doctor Rucker had been prosecuting.

Kansas’s position appears to be extremely weak. If Canfield and other state employees kept the guides for the prayer services in the Secretary’s Office, that is direct evidence of a breach of the Constitution. Rucker alleges that Canfield was fired for poor performance, but that explanation is likely pretext. Employees who are performing poorly generally do not get promoted. Based solely on these facts, Canfield’s version of the story is more believable.

One interesting aspect of discrimination law is that the law focuses on the effect of alleged discrimination on the victim, not the identity of the perpetrator. In other words, it is fully possible for a person to discriminate against members of the same group that person belongs to. Black people can discriminate against black people, men can discriminate against men, and Christians can discriminate against Christians. This doesn’t mean that only Christians can discriminate against Christians. Certainty non-Christians can discriminate against Christians. However, the worst fights often occurs in-house.

That’s what Canfield is claiming. Christians can discriminate against other Christians for not going to church enough. This is why separation of church and state is essential. The founding fathers were well aware of the interfaith conflicts that Christianity had in Europe shortly before they cut ties with Britain. Separation of church and state does not mean discrimination against Christians. Separation means that all groups, including Christians, will not be forced to pray simply because the government demands it.

The Right to Lease or Rent Foreclosed Property

The Right to Lease or Rent Foreclosed Property

Who has the right to lease a foreclosed property? One guess might be the owner, depending on the stage of the foreclosure process. Another answer may be the bank or financial institution that owns the property after the foreclosure is complete. According to Earl Johnson, a Goose Creek, South Carolina resident, he had the right to lease foreclosed property. However, police claim the Johnson never owned the house, and that Johnson had conned tenants into renting foreclosed property.

What Was Johnson’s Defense?

Earl Johnson claims he has a legal right to lease foreclosed property that he didn’t own under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People signed by President Barack Obama.

Before focusing on who is right or wrong, let’s define foreclosure. Foreclosure is a process where a county or financial institute takes a property from a property owner and sales it. Foreclosures typically occur after a property owner defaults on a mortgage loan or property taxes. Mortgage holders, usually a bank, sell the property to pay off the remaining debt on the loan or taxes.

The right to lease or sell a foreclosed property depends on the stage of the foreclosure. A property owner can avoid foreclosure via a short sale, short refinance, loan modification, repayment plan, or by challenging the foreclosure. A mortgage holder can sell the property through an auction. In many situations, the former homeowner moves out and the property is left vacant until the bank or county sells it. Earl Johnson

Earl Johnson wasn’t in either category. He never owned the property or was a lender holding a mortgage on it. Yet, he leased the property in question to two sisters, Tina Capreole and Nancy Bowman. They paid Johnson $1200 and moved in on August 1, 2015. A couple days later, a realtor dropped by the property to show it to prospective buyers. That is when the new tenants discovered the man they’d leased the home from didn’t own the property. In fact, the property was in bankruptcy.

Typically, a tenant has some rights in a foreclosure when a landlord defaults on his mortgage or taxes. For example, the Mortgage Reform Act passed by Congress in 2009 gives tenants living in foreclosed property 90 days to find a new place to live. This Act and many other tenant rights weren’t available to the tenants living in the “leased” foreclosed property in South Carolina. The bankruptcy trustee, a court appointee who oversees bankruptcies, told the tenants they had to move because the tenants were living there illegally.

It’s a Crime to Lease Property a Person Doesn’t Legally Own

It’s a crime to lease property without the permission of the property owner. Illegally leasing property that one doesn’t own is a repeatedly occurring scam which occurs across the country. For instance, in 2013 a Florida woman was accused of leasing her neighbor’s foreclosed home to tenants for more than one year. Tenants allegedly paid her about $13,000.

In Goose Creek, Johnson was arrested and charged with:

  • Burglary in the third degree
  • Obtaining signatures under false pretenses
  • Operating a business without a license

Burglary is the criminal act of breaking and entering into a structure for the purpose of committing a crime thereafter. The entry doesn’t require the use of force. Johnson is accused of breaking and entering into the property prior to leasing it. According to the tenants, he even gave them keys to the home and made some home improvements to the property.

Obtaining property by false pretenses is a crime when someone makes misrepresentations or lies to get property. In this case, Johnson is accused of misrepresenting himself as the property owner to illegally obtain the tenants’ rent.

A business license is required to operate a business in a particular area. Failure to have a proper or valid license is a crime.

Is the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People signed by President Obama a Valid Defense?

The Declaration is a statement addressing the human rights indigenous people have. It was formally adopted by the United Nations in 2007 and formally endorsed by President Obama in 2010. The purpose of the Declaration was to emphasis the fact that indigenous people have the right to enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized in the United Nation’s Charter.

Notably, the United States originally voted against the Declaration when the U.N. initially voted on it. Since the Senate has yet to ratify it, the Declaration isn’t legally binding and not a part of U.S. criminal laws. The Declaration doesn’t create new rights for indigenous people. It is unlikely that Johnson will succeed with this defense.

Sirius XM Radio Settles Unpaid Internship Lawsuit

Sirius XM Radio has entered into a settlement agreement to pay up to $1.3 million to its interns who claim that the company was in violation of U.S. labor laws by not compensating its interns. The plaintiffs had performed work on a number of Sirius projects, including the Howard Stern Show, and stated that they had worked up to 40 hours a week without pay. They allege that this violates the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as the minimum wage law in New York State.

The principal test that courts apply in this type of case is whether internships were created mainly to provide an education to young people in a certain field. This is in contrast to the use of unpaid workers for the same duties carried out by employees. According to federal court papers filed on Monday, August 3rd, Sirius still thinks that it was not in violation of any laws by having an unpaid intern program. However, in an effort to avoid expensive litigation, the company has agreed to make payments to over 1,800 previous interns.

The settlement, which was presented by Sirius, and is pending approval by a judge, was announced one month following rulings made by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Previous cases with similar decisions include those against Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. and The Hearst Corp., in which the appeals court also determined that the legality of unpaid internships is dependent on whether they are relevant to the education of interns.  Paid internsihps

After the Fox case was filed in 2013, many other comparable lawsuits followed, including claims against Warner Music Group Corp., which entered into an agreement in June to pay hundreds of interns over $4.2 million. Prior to that, there were even more substantial settlements by Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal, Condé Nast, and Viacom Inc.

In the complaint against Sirius, an intern for the Howard Stern Show named Melissa Tierney claimed that for a period of four months, she ran errands, placed orders, collected breakfast orders and carried out other menial tasks for Stern’s crew without pay. Her complaint cited the FLSA, which is explained by the Labor Department using a six-point test to decide whether an internship can be legally unpaid. According to the Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division, if the following six factors are present, then there is no employment relationship under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions are inapplicable to interns. The six factors are:

  1. The internship resembles training that would be provided in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is intended to be for the intern’s advantage;
  3. The intern does not take the place of the usual employees, but is closely managed by current staff;
  4. The employer that gives the training does not benefit from the work performed by the intern; in fact, its operations may be hindered;
  5. The intern is not guaranteed a job at the end of the internship; and
  6. There is an understanding that the intern is not to receive compensation for any work performed during the internship.

Given the fact that many of these factors were not present during the plaintiffs’ internship, the court ruled in favor of the interns. It appears that several large media companies are exploiting interns’ desire to work for them by requiring them to work really hard and to work long hours without pay. Some interns have said that they were even promised a job at the conclusion of the internship, but were never offered a position. In light of the recent settlements, hopefully, large media companies will think twice before taking advantage of interns.

Sperm Donor Parental Rights

In most states, a true sperm donor gives up his parental rights. However, some sperm donors are fighting for parental rights to the children they have fathered – and legislators are listening.

In the past, most state laws were clear that if the sperm donor is not the husband of the mother, the donor had no rights, obligations, or interest in the child resulting from the insemination. On the other hand, the child born as a result of the insemination had no rights, obligations, or interests with the donor. That means the donor didn’t have to pay child support, or have any visitation rights, and the child couldn’t expect support or inheritance from the donor. However, times appear to be changing.  my_daddys_name_is_donor

In early 2015, a lesbian couple in New Jersey sought a sperm donor for their two children. At the time of donation, both donors agreed to leave the parenting to the women. However, after the children were born, they sought visitation rights. Contrary to existing state laws at the time, the donor seeking visitation rights with the child prevailed. Prior rules regarding donors no longer appear to hold weight, as biological fathers are prevailing in these custody cases.

The state of Kansas made headlines when the state itself sought to have a donor declared the father of a child born through insemination. In this instance, the man in question responded to a Craigslist ad posted by a couple seeking sperm to parent a child. This situation was atypical than most parentage cases, as it did not deal with the parent of the child or the donor seeking parental rights, but the state in which the insemination occurred. Kansas sought to hold the donor-father responsible for public assistance paid by the state and future child support until the child reaches the age of 18.

The Modern Trend

In 2013, Hollywood actor Jason Patric sought to change the existing laws in California regarding sperm donor and parental rights. Prior to this case, California courts never recognized the rights of a sperm donor who aren’t married to the mother. As a result of Patric’s case though, a California appeals court held that a sperm donor can establish a familial relationship with the child if the donor-father has demonstrated a commitment to the child and the child’s welfare would be best served by having the sperm donor be a presumed father.

Prompted in part by this high-profile case, California passed the Modern Family Act into law last year. The new law provides that sperm donors may fill out a form indicating what their duties and responsibilities will be in the child’s life. By making the expectations explicitly understood between the parties, the hope is that families will avoid legal disputes later on about custody, support, and other parentage issues. However, many legal analysts argue that a written agreement may not be as secure an agreement as hoped. Constitutional law may grant biological fathers a right to their children if they have acted like fathers, regardless of how the child was created.



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