Archive for the 'Government' Category

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.

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.

Wells Fargo Bank Commits Fraud Against Its Customers

Wells Fargo Bank is facing a lawsuit from the city of Los Angeles, which alleges that the bank participated in unfair business practices by persuading its employees to engage “in unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent conduct.” According to the lawsuit, Wells Fargo workers were under a great deal of pressure to meet sales goals, and thus, were in the habit of opening accounts for their current customers without first obtaining their permission.

The city of Los Angeles refers to Wells Fargo as a “fee-generating machine” because of its efforts to compel its employees to meet unrealistic sales goals. According to the city, “Wells Fargo places unrelenting pressure on its bankers to open several accounts for each customer. “ “Wells Fargo’s bankers are thus naturally and predictably forced to use alternative means to meet quotas.”

As a result of the workers’ actions, customers were subjected to more fees and a diminished ability to obtain credit anyplace else. For example, their credit reports were affected, thereby having an adverse impact on their capacity to obtain a car loan or mortgage. Customers also felt compelled to get identity theft protection because Wells Fargo accounts were being opened in their names without the customers’ consent. wells-fargo-robbery

The city is therefore attempting to secure a court order from the Los Angeles Superior Court that would mandate that the bank act in compliance with the law. It is also seeking to have Wells Fargo penalized with a fine of $2,500 per violation in accordance with California’s unfair competition statute and restitution.

In addition, the city alleges in its lawsuit that Wells Fargo workers were dishonest with customers when they told them that they had to open more accounts in order to get a checking account. Moreover, workers incorrectly informed customers that there were no fees associated with the accounts, and pressured customers into buying extra products, such as life insurance.

Furthermore, the city claims that Wells Fargo was in violation of state and federal law when it misappropriated customers’ private information, and neglected to inform customers that their private information had been misused. In response, representatives from Wells Fargo said that they have disciplined a few employees who have misappropriated customers’ personal information in order to open accounts without their permission.

Ken Wallman, a business owner, was one customer whose private information was misused by Wells Fargo workers. Wallman told Los Angeles Times in an interview that he opened a checking account with Wells Fargo, but eventually he had a dozen additional accounts because the bank opened additional accounts without first obtaining his approval. When Wallman tried to close the accounts, Wells Fargo refused and, instead, charged him extra fees.

Unfair Competition Law

Under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), there are five definitions of unfair competition outlined in §17200. They are as follows:

  1. An illegal business act or practice;
  2. A business act or practice that is unfair;
  3. A business act or practice that is fraudulent;
  4. Advertising that is unfair, deceptive, untrue, or misleading; or
  5. Any act forbidden by §§17500-17577.5.

Under §17203, the court can order injunctions to prevent the unfair competition as well as order other equitable defenses. Victims of unfair competition can obtain relief through the court, which can order that money or property be returned to them. In the event that an injunction is issued in accordance with §17200, those who intentionally engage in unfair competition could be penalized up to $6,000 per day. And when a lawsuit is filed by a government agency, such as the city of Los Angeles, civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation are permitted.

Failure to Hire Due to Religious Attire

When 17-year-old Samantha Elauf applied for a job at Abercrombie and Fitch in 2008, she was not hired even though she received a high score during the interview process. The assistant manager who conducted the interview thought she was qualified, but the manager was concerned that Elauf’s hijab would be in violation of the company’s “Look Policy.” The policy did not permit caps to be worn. After communicating with her district manager about the issue, the assistant manager agreed to lower Elauf’s score because Elauf wore a hijab.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Elauf as a result of being denied a position at the retail store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A district court ruled in her favor, granting the Muslim teen damages in the amount of twenty thousand dollars. However, the decision was reversed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that an employer is free from liability for neglecting to “accommodate a religious practice” if a potential employee had not requested the accommodation. Samantha Elauf, Majda Elauf, P. David Lopez

However, the Supreme Court sided with Ms. Elauf in an 8-1 decision, with Justice Thomas the lone dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia spoke on behalf of the high Court when he said “an employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.”

Moreover, during oral arguments, Justice Samuel Alito stated that the managers at Abercrombie could have questioned her as to whether she would wear the head scarf while at work for religious reasons. But they did not ask her this question. Instead, they made the assumption that she wore the scarf as part of her religious practice, and refused to hire her for that reason.

Dress Codes Cannot Violate Civil Rights

While it is acceptable for an employer to have a dress code, it is unconstitutional for an employer to discriminate against someone because of religious practice. For instance, if an employer terminates, or refuses to hire, someone because of their religious practice, and does not even attempt to accommodate them, then that counts as discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Given Abercrombie’s reputation for exclusivity in its hiring and marketing practices, it is unsurprising that the store refused to hire someone because of her religious practice of wearing a hijab. Nevertheless, the managers should have realized that such a denial was a form of discrimination, and in violation of the law.

However, the company seems to be leaning towards becoming more inclusive, especially in light of a prior class-action discrimination lawsuit, which alleged that Abercrombie discriminated against minorities, including African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans, in its hiring practices and its marketing. In fact, just this past April, the company stated that it would be more “inclusive and diverse” in its hiring methods, and adopt a “more individualistic” dress code.

Deaf Teen Sues Girl Scouts Regarding No Sign Language Interpreter

A federal appeals court recently ruled that a deaf teenager has the right to file suit against the Girl Scouts for neglecting to offer a sign language interpreter. This right exists under the federal Rehabilitation Act. A federal district judge initially ruled that the statute has no application to an organization that is based on private membership. However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the statute does not exempt such organizations.

Megan Runnion is 15-years-old, and was an active member of the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana for several years. She became a member of the Girl Scouts while she was in kindergarten, at which time her mother asked that an interct-met-aj-girl-scout-runnion.jpg-20120801preter be made available at Scouting events, and the Girl Scouts complied with her request. Her participation was possible because a sign language interpreter was provided by the organization.

However, Megan and her mother were later informed that the “council does not pay for these services.” And then the Girl Scouts ceased providing interpreters, at which point the teen’s mother complained. The organization then dissolved the entire troop. The mother was later told by the leaders that the reason the troop was disbanded was that the cost of an interpreter placed an excessive amount of limitations on the activities of the Girl Scouts.

Megan’s mother then filed suit against the Girl Scouts, alleging that the organization violated the Rehabilitation Act, which states that a program that is the recipient of federal funding shall not exclude a disabled individual because of his or her disability.

Getting Her Day In Court

The proposed amended complaint claims that the Girl Scouts are a private organization that is mainly concerned with the provision of services outlined in §794(b)(3)(A)(ii), which includes “education, health care, housing, social services, or parks and recreation.” The judge ruled that although private membership organizations are exempt from similar statutes, the Rehabilitation Act holds no such exemption for private entities.

According to the complaint, there were many examples in which the Girl Scouts described its organization and its programs as educational. It is important to note that the appeal does not comment on whether the Girl Scouts is required to provide sign language interpreters, under the Rehabilitation Act. The appeal deals with the issue of whether the teen’s allegations are sufficient in that the Girls Scouts activities, from which she was barred, are included in the Rehabilitation Act because the organization receives federal funding. Since the appeals court determined that the Girl Scouts falls within the realm of the Rehabilitation Act, the teen’s case can go forward.

As stated by one of the attorneys representing the girl and her family, “people aren’t supposed to pay for their accommodations.” Under federal law, nonprofits and businesses that serve the general public are required to provide accommodations for people with disabilities, including those who are hearing-impaired. However, organizations may not have to adhere to this requirement if they can show that the accommodation would cause the organization to be “unduly burdened.” According to the Chicago Hearing Society, the average cost of hiring an interpreter in the Chicago area is within the range of $55 and $60 per hour, and during evenings and weekends, the cost may be even be greater.

It seems only just that since the girl’s mother requested an interpreter, and the Girl Scouts agreed to provide one, the organization should uphold its promise, and continue to supply this much-needed service. A hearing-impaired teen should not be deprived of the opportunity to be with her friends in Girl Scouts, and the educational benefits that are often associated with that organization.



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