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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.

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.

Legal Basis for Prosecution of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Much to the chagrin of animal lovers the world over, the 13-year-old Zimbabwean lion named Cecil is now dead. William Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, has admitted to killing Cecil. In June of 2015, Palmer lured Cecil out of his sanctuary and then shot Cecil with an arrow. 40 hours later, the dentist killed Cecil with a rifle. Afterward, Palmer decapitated and skinned Cecil.

Palmer stated through his publicist that he believed the hunt was legal, and that he “deeply regrets” killing Cecil. Although he has not faced charges in Zimbabwe, a government minister described him as a “foreign poacher” and stated that he should be extradited. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that it was contacted by Palmer’s representative, and that it is conducting an investigation.

According to a source connected to the investigation, the agency is seeking potential violations of the Lacey Act, a 115-year-old U.S. law that was enacted to prevent unlawful animal trafficking. The purpose of the law has since been extended, and it currently forbids one to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase animals that are protected by the laws of the U.S. or foreign countries.    Cecil-the-Lion

However, legal experts claim that the case could prove challenging to prosecute. The Lacey Act has seldom, if ever, been used against hunters who do not bring animal parts back into the U.S. There is, thus, a weak link between the hunt in Zimbabwe and the U.S. According to Zimbabwe’s national parks authority, the local police have confiscated Cecil’s remains, including his skin and head. Since Cecil’s parts are still in Zimbabwean, it will be difficult to charge Palmer under the Lacey Act and other anti-poaching laws.

Alternative Charges

The Fish and Wildlife Service is attempting to discover whether Palmer was engaged in a conspiracy to import animal parts into the U.S. In order to charge him with conspiracy, the government will likely be looking at transfers of funds, telephone calls, and other types of communication as evidence of his plan to import animal parts into the U.S. Two officials at the Justice Department stated that the case is unprecedented in that there are no known cases against American hunters who did not import animal parts.

In 2014, conspiracy charges were brought against a safari group called Out of Africa, which was engaged in the sale of illicit hunts of rhinoceros in South Africa, while maintaining an office in Alabama. Currently, the U.S. is in the midst of extraditing two defendants named Dawie and Janneman Groenwald, who are from South Africa. They face 17 counts of charges, one of which is for conspiracy, and six of which are for illicit wildlife trafficking in transgression of the Lacey Act.

In regard to the hunt that killed Cecil, charges have already been filed in Zimbabwe against Theo Bronkhurst, who has been indicted for neglecting to supervise, control, and implement measures to avoid an illicit hunt. He entered a plea of not guilty. The owner of the game park, Honest Ndlovu, who has also been implicated for the role he played in assisting Palmer, has not yet been charged. Park officials stated that he would initially testify for the state, and face charges at a later date.

Regardless of whether or not Palmer violated the Lacey Act, there should be consequences under the law for having killed Cecil the Lion. Otherwise, there may be more needless, illegal killings of rare animals by hunters.

Accidental Drowning or Purposeful Murder: The Hudson River Incident

Angelika Graswald, 35, is charged with the second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of her late fiancé, Vincent Viafore, 46. She faces 25 years to life for the first charge and 15 years for the second. On April 19th, Graswald and Viafore took a kayaking trip on the Hudson River. Graswald is accused of tampering with Viafore’s kayak plug, causing the kayak to fill with water.

Angelika Graswald stands in court with Michael Archer a foresnsic scientist and her attorneys Jeffrey Chartier and Richard Portale ask for bail and to unseal the indictment against her at her bail hearing in Goshen, NY on May 13, 2015.  Ms. Graswald has b

Graswald’s Arrest
Graswald was charged with the death of Viafore 11 days after the incident. Police say that she was arrested based on the inconsistency of her statements that led investigators to be suspicious. Graswald reportedly made statements that implicated herself in the crime, which gave investigators probable cause to make an arrest.

Despite Graswald admitting to investigators “it felt good knowing he was going to die,” she is pleading not guilty. Part of her defense will center around an allegation that Viafore was intoxicated at the time of his death. Autopsy results are still pending.

Admissibility of Graswald’s statements
Graswald’s lawyer, Richard Portale, is skeptical about Graswald’s statements to investigators and will look into whether they were voluntary. If Graswald’s statements to police investigators were not made voluntarily, her Miranda rights may have been violated. Statements made orally or in writing in violation of a person’s Miranda rights must be suppressed and are inadmissible as evidence for trial. Graswald claims that after being read her Miranda rights, she made the mistake of continuing to speak to law enforcement officials and feels she was tricked into divulging information. Portale further claims Graswald, a Latvian native, still struggles with English and may not have understood her rights.

The right to remain silent during criminal interrogation is derived from the Fifth Amendment. A waiver of Miranda rights requires the act to be done knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily. Portale is likely to argue that his client’s limited English prevented her from properly waiving her rights because she was unable to understand her rights and consequences of waiving them.

The prosecution is likely to call attention to Graswald’s possible motives and to her erratic use of social media following the death of her fiancé. Prosecutors allege Graswald’s motive for killing Viafore was “…her only way out,” and to collect from his $250,000 life insurance policy. Graswald’s social media use consisted of posting selfies, playing with her cat and visiting an animal shelter in the days after Viafore’s death.

Decriminalization of Marijuana in Delaware

The governor of Delaware, Jake Markell, recently signed a bill that decriminalizes possession and private use of miniature quantities of marijuana. The maximum amount of marijuana you can legally possess and use is one ounce. However, police can still seize the drugs.

According to the statute, the penalty for using marijuana publicly will be reduced to a fine of $100. Previously, possession of marijuana was a misdemeanor for which you could face up to six months in jail, and be fined up to $1,150. However, simple possession of marijuana is still a criminal offense for anyone who is under age 18. In addition, if you are caught using marijuana in a moving vehicle, in a public place, or within 10 feet of property that is open to the public, you will be charged with a misdemeanor.

Governor Markell signed the bill into law on Thursday, June 19th, and the law becomes effective six months from then. The bill passed the Senate and the House of Representatives, both of which are controlled by Democrats, and was opposed by Republicans, who claim that the bill sends the wrong message to youth.   Marijuana

A lobbying group called the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has said that 18 states, including Delaware, have enacted laws decriminalizing personal use and possession of marijuana in small quantities. There are 23 states, including Delaware and the District of Columbia, that permit the use of marijuana for medical reasons. Ballot measures legalizing marijuana for recreational adult use were approved by voters in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Alaska. Nevertheless, marijuana is still an illegal narcotic under federal law.

The Dark Side of Marijuana Legalization

Despite the growing popularity of marijuana, I am inclined to agree that legalizing the drug sends the wrong message to young people, who are very impressionable, and will be more likely use, and even abuse, the drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can have adverse effects on the brain, such as impaired memory, altered senses,  altered sense of time, mood changes, and impaired body movement. Marijuana can also make it harder to think clearly and solve problems.

Marijuana also has long-term adverse effects on the development of the brain, especially when people start using the drug during their teenage years. Use of the drug can diminish thinking, memory, and learning functions, as well as impact the ways in which the brain forms connections between the areas needed for these functions. The effects of marijuana on these abilities may be lengthy or could even be permanent.

Other health effects of marijuana include lung irritation, which can lead to breathing problems; increased heart rate, which can give rise to heart attacks; and child developmental problems during and after pregnancy. Use of marijuana on a long-term basis can cause mental illness, including temporary hallucinations, temporary paranoia, and aggravated symptoms in patients who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Thus, with the exception of medical marijuana, I think that legalization of the drug can only lead to an increasing lack of awareness concerning its ill effects, and a rise in the use among young people. There may also be an increase in the number of people who suffer from the above-mentioned health problems.



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