Archive for the 'Laws' CategoryPage 2 of 37

Jury Holds Gun Store Responsible For Milwaukee Shooting of Police Officers

Gun stores face little liability for the crimes committed with weapons that they sell. This is in part because federal law shields them from most (but not all) liability. However, two police officers have just successfully sued a gun store for negligence, the first-ever successful suit of its kind. If the jury’s verdict is upheld on appeal, this decision will have consequences for gun dealers in Wisconsin as well as in the entire U.S.  Gun Store

The Purchase

In May 2009, Jacob D. Collins entered a gun store called Badger Guns and purchased a Taurus PT140 Pro .40-caliber handgun. Collins was a “straw buyer”- in this a substitute buyer for someone who could not legally purchase a firearm. Collins was paid to acquire the gun for Julius Burton, an 18 year old who could not yet legally make the purchase. When Collins purchased the gun, he was asked whether or not he was the actual buyer of the gun- he said no- and was then instructed by a store employee to change his answer to yes. He did so, and walked away with a gun that the store knew would be given to another person.

The Shooting

One month later, Julius Burton was bicycling down a sidewalk when Officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch approached him and told him to move. Burton did not heed the officers and continued to bicycle. When the officers pursued Burton, he became aggressive. He then shot the officers seven times. Officers Norberg and Kunisch recovered from the shooting, but have long-term injuries. Burton was found guilty of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Collins was sentenced to two years for violating gun laws.

The Verdict Against Badger Guns

This shooting was not the first time a weapon that Badger Guns sold had been involved in a crime. According to the Milwaukee Chief of Police, six Milwaukee police officers had been shot with weapons which originated from Badger Guns between 2006 and 2009. After the Burton shooting, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and found that in 2005 Badger Guns, was the top seller of crime guns in the entire nation, with 537 guns involved in illegal activity.

Officers sued Badger Guns (and its related company, Badger Outdoors), saying that in this case, their actions led directly to the shooting. Employees had looked the other way to sell a handgun to a “straw buyer.” The officers won. A jury found that Badger Guns was negligent in the sale of the weapon that was used in the shooting. After a jury trial, they won a $5 million dollar settlement compensation for significant injuries that were a result of the shooting. One of the officers lost an eye and suffered brain damage. The other officer was shot in a way that damaged his teeth and jaw. Both suffer from anxiety and other psychological injuries due to the shooting.

A New Era of Responsibility for Gun Stores?

This was the first time that a gun store has been found negligent in court. Gun stores have generally been protected from repercussions for crimes committed with their products due to the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). This act limits civil liability for businesses engaged in the sale of firearms. However, this act still allows lawsuits to be brought against gun dealers who are negligent, sell defective weapons, or engage in criminal behavior. However, these suits are generally not pursued.

People on both sides of the gun debate are excited about this decision for different reasons. For those who favor gun control, this is a blow against indiscriminate gun sales and a reason for gun dealers to want to keep some of their inventory off the street. However, many Democrats, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, voted against the PLCAA and would like to further increase liability for gun stores. For gun rights advocates, this case sends a strong signal that the PLCAA is working, and that existing gun control laws don’t need to be changed.

This decision will likely be appealed by Badger Guns, and could eventually land in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. However, it sends a signal that this type of lawsuit is possible, and thus will have a more immediate impact on the way gun stores view their obligation to follow the rules.

Red Team vs. Blue Team: Minimum Wage

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

Should the Federal Minimum Wage Rise?

by Alexis Watts

Recently, presidential candidates have discussed raising the Federal Minimum Wage, which is currently set at $7.25 an hour. Bernie Sanders advocates a minimum wage of $15 an hour, which is more than double the figure. Hillary Clinton argues that wages should gradually be raised to $12 an hour. Conservative candidates do not generally favor such high wage hikes, and this may be an issue for debate in the 2016 election.

The US currently has one of the lowest minimum wages of any high-income country. It has had a higher minimum wage in the past. In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60, the equivalent of $10.34 an hour in current dollars. The US has also had lower minimum wages; in 1938, for example, the minimum wage was 25 cents, the equivalent of only $3.98 today.

So, should the national minimum wage be raised?

What is the Federal Minimum Wage, and who benefits from it?

The Federal Minimum Wage was originally part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), passed in 1937. This act also regulated how many hours employees could work without receiving overtime pay. The federal government is authorized to set a minimum wage and make hours regulations because the Constitution gives it broad power to regulate many aspects of commerce in the United States. FLSA benefits many low-wage workers who are paid by the hour. While some characterize these workers as teenagers with no real responsibilities, statistics show that 89% of those who would benefit from a national raise are workers over the age of 20.  Minimum Wage

There are some exceptions to FLSA. Employees who receive tips or work on commission (such as waiters) receive a lower base wage, but employers must make up the difference if their total pay falls below a certain hourly minimum. Domestic and agricultural workers do not benefit from these minimum wage protections. One notable criticism of FLSA is that it leaves out these important workers, who are often from minority groups.

What about State and Local Minimum Wages?

29 states have raised their minimum wage to above $7.25 an hour. Some cities have raised their wages even higher. Berkeley, CA is now contemplating a minimum of $19 an hour. Seattle has already raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. These high local wages may reflect unique economic conditions. In both the Bay Area and Seattle, the price of rent has been driven higher by an influx of highly paid technology industry employees. However, these cities still need hourly workers like clerks an baristas; they are often the backbone of a rich local cultural scene.

The Minimum Wage Must Properly Reflect Current Economic Needs

In the United States, the minimum wage makes it difficult to afford shelter and other essentials. Purchasing power varies widely from place to place; a dollar buys more housing, food, and other essentials in many rural areas than it would in a major city. However, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition recently issued a study showing that these regional differences still do not allow any minimum wage workers much breathing room. Most financial planners suggest that no more than 30% of a worker’s income go to housing. However, there is no state in which average minimum-wage workers can secure housing using only that portion of their income. An average two-bedroom apartment for a small family would now require a full-time wage of $12.65 an hour in Arkansas and a whopping $28.04 in Washington, D.C. Many low-wage workers have little ability to save or to buy non-essential goods.

While some argue that the minimum wage causes inflation, the reality is that inflation also devalues the minimum wage. The minimum wage does not automatically increase as the price of basic food or housing rises, leaving many individuals who provide important services without the means to earn a living.

If the Minimum Wage is Raised Gradually, it Will Not Increase Unemployment

When the minimum wage is raised, it redistributes some of the country’s entire income from the top (where it is often saved or invested) to the bottom (where it is often spent). Households in the bottom 20% make their income mostly through wages and employment-based tax incentives, and they experience an increase in discretionary income when wages rise. The money these households spend flows into the economy and may allow employers to create new jobs, rather than decrease their staff.

A Department of Labor survey recently showed that 3 out of 5 small business owners support a gradual increase in the minimum wage. This type of an increase would make it possible for business to operate without laying off employees. Department of Labor data also shows that there is no negative effect on unemployment when the minimum wage is raised.

Experiments like the minimum wage hike in Seattle may help to clarify what happens to a local economy when much higher wages are introduced. If the wage increase creates jobs and helps to eliminate poverty, it may prove detractors wrong.


Arguments Against Raising the Federal Minimum Wage

by Sarah K. Lee

Is raising the federal minimum wage all it’s cracked up to be? Although recent presidential candidates have taken a stance for raising the minimum wage in support of more sustainable wages for low-income earners, there are a number of economists who widely disagree. Many economists claim that raising the minimum wage would in fact be detrimental to the economy and the low-income earners such advocates seek to protect. Economists predict raising the minimum wage would result in a steep decline in minimum wage jobs, higher consumer prices for goods, and less entry-level positions for less experienced workers—all of which would negatively impact low-income communities the most.

Increased Unemployment

A number of studies have shown raising the minimum wage results in a loss of jobs due to employers being unable to hire as many minimum wage employees as they would have been able to at lower wages. The Congressional Budget Office predicts a rise in minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would result in a loss of 500,000 jobs across the nation. Supporting that prediction, a study showed the incremental minimum wage increases between 2006 and 2012 resulted in an overall decrease in the national employment-population ratio by 0.7 percent, equating to a loss of

conceptual sign with words minimum wage increase  ahead over blue sky

approximately 1.4 million jobs. Economists argue inflating the minimum wage would actually do more harm than help to low-income communities, those who are purportedly meant to benefit from such a raise.

Higher Consumer Prices

Economists argue hiking the minimum wage could drive businesses to charge more for goods in order to make up for the additional labor costs. This would be particularly detrimental in low-cost, low-wage states where such an increase in prices would affect poor consumers the most. Again, economists argue such an outcome would negatively impact the very target group a raise in the minimum wage seeks to help.

Fewer Positions for Entry-Level Workers

A higher minimum wage could also result in more experienced workers feeling less compelled to move on to higher level positions because the pay at a minimum wage job is adequate. Such a scenario would be bad for less experienced workers, shutting them out from potential entry-level positions. These less experienced workers are primarily made up of teenagers, immigrants, and low-income populations—many who lack the skills to obtain any other type of employment and rely on minimum wage positions to help escalate them to higher paying positions. Economists argue a higher minimum wage could throw off the balance of employment dynamics.

Alternative to Raising the Minimum Wage? Raising the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Many who oppose raising the minimum wage are not against it for malicious reasons, but rather believe low-income populations can be aided through alternative means without disrupting employment rates. One of the most popular proposals has been to raise the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a refundable tax credit calculated based on a recipient’s income and number of children. By increasing the EITC, more money would be afforded to those who are not making enough on wages alone. Advocates of this proposal maintain this change would provide real assistance to those who truly need it, the low-income population, and would not adversely affect employment rates or consumer prices.

Hawaii’s Marijuana Dispensary Law Faces Legal Ethics Challenge

Last week, the Disciplinary Board of Hawaii’s Supreme Court issued an opinion that limits the role that lawyers can play in the bourgeoning medical marijuana dispensary industry. The opinion states that a lawyer can advise a client on the legality of marijuana production and distribution under state and federal law. A lawyer may also choose to advocate for changes in state and federal law on this subject. However, a lawyer may not provide legal services to help create or operate a medical marijuana business, as it is illegal under federal law. In other words, Hawaiians who wish to open a marijuana-related business cannot consult with a lawyer as part of the process.  Marijuana Scales

As states experiment with the legalization of marijuana, each will have to make a decision about how the legal profession will play a role, and how to navigate the conflict between state and federal law. Hawaii’s decision is the latest in a long line of marijuana-friendly states’ interpretations of professional ethics rules.

Marijuana in Hawaii

Hawaii legalized medical marijuana some 15 years ago, but only recently enacted a law that would license marijuana dispensaries for patients. The new law is fairly limited. It will set up a state-wide dispensary system with a total of up to 16 dispensaries. These dispensaries are not inexpensive ventures; the new law will require potential licensing candidates to have at least $1.2 million in the bank. The dispensaries will be resupplied with support from production centers around the state.

Under the latest Disciplinary Board opinion, individuals who wish to set up dispensaries or production centers are not entitled to legal advice or assistance beyond counseling on the validity, scope, and meaning of the new law.

Reasons for the Hawaii Disciplinary Board Decision

Hawaii’s Disciplinary Board cites two main reasons for its decision:

First, the Board is concerned by the fact that Congress has not amended federal law; nationally, marijuana is still illegal. The Ethics Board recognizes that the Department of Justice and Congress have both allowed the enforcement of marijuana-related laws to decline. However, the opinion also notes that this is not a permanent federal stance.

Second, the Board observes that the Hawaii Supreme Court has not amended the rule of professional conduct that applies to client conduct that is illegal under federal law. The rule currently states that “a lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent, but a lawyer may discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client and may counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, and meaning of the law.” This type of rule exists in all states. However, the rule has been modified in some states to account for conflicts between state and federal law over marijuana.

Legal Ethics in Other Marijuana-Friendly States

Hawaii is not the only state in which medical marijuana laws have caused ethical conflicts. The Maine Professional Ethics Commission has also restricted the role of attorneys in marijuana law. In Maine, the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys distinguish between “presenting an analysis of the legal aspects of questionable conduct and recommending the means by which a crime or fraud might be committed with impunity.” Maine lawyers are thus prohibited from assisting clients in forming medical marijuana enterprises.

Other states have also wrestled with the conflict between the public need for good, reliable legal advice and the furtherance of illegal activities. The Colorado and Nevada Bars have amended their ethics rules with a comment that allows lawyers to provide advice and services so long as they also advise about federal laws (making it clear that marijuana is not completely legal). The Washington Bar has allowed lawyers to provide services “at least until” the federal enforcement policies change.

What Will Happen in Hawaii?

Unfortunately, the public suffers when legal assistance is not available on topics of state law. A lack of legal counseling will not prevent individuals from setting up marijuana dispensaries or grow houses. The absence of legal counsel, however, prevents marijuana dispensaries from making some educated legal decisions that conform to the letter of Hawaiian law. It may also make the process of applying for a state license more difficult and time-consuming than it would otherwise be.

It is also possible that the Hawaiian Supreme Court will take a hint from this opinion and change their legal ethics rule to allow more attorney participation in marijuana law. This would be following in the footsteps of most other states that have partially legalized marijuana.

Update on Proposed Fines for California Drought Water Usage

California Lawmakers Crack Down in the Face of a Monstrous Drought

For the past four years, the state of California has suffered through one of the worst droughts in history. A historic and unprecedented lack of rain has created the need for some very immediate and systemic changes regarding water usage.

As Governor Brown and state officials urge California residents to cut back, local county and city governments have begun passing ordinances that restrict water usage. These restrictions often ban residents from washing their cars and doing other activities involving water. Some neighborhoods are prohibited from watering their lawns while other neighborhoods have placed residents on a schedule, permitting sprinkler usage on only one day a week.  Droughtful

Thankfully, these restrictions, as well as awareness of the issue, have led to an impressive 35% cut in California’s water usage.

Celebrities Among the Most Egregious Offenders

Many California residents have allowed their lawns to go brown in order to conserve water while others have transformed their yards using zeroscaping. Unfortunately, many of Hollywood’s elite have eschewed the water restrictions and have continued to operate their sprinklers, enjoying lush, rolling lawns while their surrounding neighbors have dead grass.

Each individual water district is responsible for policing its residents. As such, uniform policies have failed to develop. For instance, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District is patrolling wealthy Calabasas neighborhoods for violators and has issued many violation letters to famous residents. Some of these individuals were fined.

However, it appears many water districts are not being vigilant about the issue. In Los Angeles, only 9 people were fined despite thousands of warning letters for violations. In Beverly Hills, where some of the more outrageous violations have occurred (and where the largest yards exist), no fines have been levied yet.

California Spring Usage Limited During Drought

California is home to many natural springs. Water bottle companies like Nestle and Sugar Pine contract with the California government to pump water from the springs for bottling and resale. In January of 2014, the governor announced a state of emergency. In response, the California Water Resources Control Board ordered Sugar Pine Spring Water Company to stop diverting water from the Sierra Nevada spring to its bottling facility. Despite this order and numerous warnings, Sugar Pine continued to divert water and was recently slapped with a whopping $225,000 fine.

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.