Friday, August 1, 2014

Most unemployed people not happy to 'sit on the couch at home and eat bonbons'

Published on on January 20, 2014 at 10:13 AM, updated January 21, 2014 at 9:13 AM

 Seventeen years ago I was unemployed for several months. After almost two decades of working with few interruptions I had no job, and for a short time, no prospects.

The only thing that saved me from completely depleting my savings was the small amount of unemployment compensation I received from the State of Alabama, an amount that was less than 20 percent of my previous salary.

If you were in that situation today, the maximum you could receive from the state is $265 per week; most people receive less (the minimum is $45 per week) and unemployment compensation in Alabama averages under 30 percent of your previous wages.

While unemployed I spent every day looking for work – it was my job. I’m sure most unemployed now do the same. It is insulting to the dignity, self worth and sense of responsibility of unemployed Americans to suggest that the small amount paid in unemployment compensation incentivizes them to stay at home.

Anyone who thinks that most unemployed people are happy with a 70 percent pay cut, happy to, as one conservative commentator said, “sit on the couch at home and eat bonbons”, is a fool. And yet that concept is being peddled on conservative radio and TV.

At the end of December unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed were cut off as a part of the budget bill. Deletion of extended benefits was part of the price of bipartisan support to avert yet another budget crisis.

Democrats hoped that a separate deal could be negotiated to restore benefits, but so far none has occurred. Republicans have demanded that the benefits be offset by other cuts or revenue, but all Democratic suggestions of offsets so far have been rejected.

One suggestion that would pay for the extension of unemployment benefits and yield additional deficit reduction as well is the elimination of the carried interest rule. This is the tax loophole that allows hedge fund and certain other investment managers to have most of their annual earnings taxed as capital gains rather than at the higher rates wages are subject to.

Think about this: The wages of doctors, lawyers, electricians and plumbers are subject to higher tax rates that this elite group of millionaires and billionaires. No one can argue that a dollar of tax break enjoyed by these super wealthy creates more economic stimulus than a dollar of unemployment compensation, but the loophole stands strong, protected by a bulwark of Republican intransigence.
Having once been unemployed I have empathy for those currently out of work. Who do you empathize with, those who have hit hard times or the wealthy and powerful? Do the powerful need your empathy?

Anyone who thinks that most unemployed people are happy with a 70 percent pay cut ... is a fool.
Empathy has taken a beating lately. The concept has been under assault since the advent of political talk radio through the use of ridicule, false outrage and exaggeration. Empathy itself was the subject of conservative ridicule during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor when President Obama suggested that the quality of empathy was desirable in a justice.
Our own Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., criticized the suggestion that empathy was an important trait in a judge, but wouldn’t you prefer a judge that understands the implications of her decisions when following the law?

Radio pundits in particular seem to disdain empathy. Perhaps when you own the bully pulpit you can’t resist the temptation to become a bully. After all, the people you ridicule as sluts, lazy welfare cheats, communists, socialists, fascists or liars often have little ability to defend themselves, particularly on the shows where they are smeared.

What's more disturbing than this public bullying is the popularity of these tactics with a small but very vocal group of fans of these shows. Why do some people cheer the bully and not the underdog? What has died in your soul if you delight in the belittling of others?

When we disagree, do we need to be so disagreeable? Would empathizing with people we disagree with cost us anything? It doesn’t require you to compromise your values to see things through others eyes, and you just might find something to agree on. Perhaps that is what the bullies fear.
The next time you hear someone ridiculing the poor, or calling the unemployed lazy for not being able to find a job, I invite you to turn off the TV or radio and pull out a Bible and read James 2. Think about who you identify with and why. If that does not change your attitude, then open YouTube and listen to one of my grandfather’s favorite songs, a 1970 Country Rock hit by Joe South:
Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes
Oh, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes...

Huntsville's Interfaith Mission Service celebrating 45 years of making North Alabama a better place

Published on on May 19, 2014 at 7:22 AM, updated May 19, 2014 at 7:24 AM

How do you define success? Is it having a lot of money? You know that it's not; all of us know some miserable people with plenty of money. Is it fame? Once again you know that fame alone is not success. Justin Bieber checks both the fame and money boxes, but most of us see him as a slow train wreck, a hair style attached to a future trivia answer.

Let me offer a different definition of success. It is measured by the number of people whose lives you help make better. By that definition teachers and doctors stand side by side with the people who provide blankets to the homeless as real successes. With that definition in mind, I'd like to introduce you to a very successful organization that most of you have never heard of. It is time to say to say hello and happy 45th birthday to Huntsville's Interfaith Mission Service, a group that has worked quietly and tirelessly to make North Alabama a better place.

IMS's mission is "to strengthen and enhance our congregations' capabilities to meet human needs, participate in the public forum, and promote religious, racial and cultural harmony". If this sounds like a bunch of folks sitting around a campfire singing Kumbayah, let me set you straight. IMS began in 1969 to help its member congregations (then exclusively Christian and Jewish) multiply their efforts to meet community needs. The organization has added congregations since then, including Hindu and Islamic and can truly say that they represent the spectrum of faiths that make up our community. Although IMS does not represent a particular political point of view, the organization has been active in advocating beliefs common to the represented faiths, including meeting the needs of the poor and elderly in the Huntsville area.

Perhaps one reason that many in Huntsville are not familiar with the IMS is that the group has a history of spinning out missions once they take root.
Perhaps one reason that many in Huntsville are not familiar with the IMS is that the group has a history of spinning out missions once they take root. Meet some of the IMS's children – groups that the IMS founded or co-founded:
  • Huntsville Emergency Line Project (HELPLine) provides telephone counseling and information and referral services.
  • HOPE Place is a confidential shelter and service provider for spouse abuse victims. It has merged with HELPLine to become Crisis Services of North Alabama.
  • Huntsville Interfaith Volunteer Transportation Service (HIVTS) provided transportation to medical appointments to people without transport. It was a forerunner of HandiRide.
  • Care Assurance Support for the Aging (CASA) formed in 1978 under contract with Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments (TARCOG) to provide volunteer services to assist with the unmet needs of aging and homebound individuals.
  • IMS First Stop, formed in 2001, provides services to homeless persons.
  • Living in Family Transition (LIFT) started in 1982 to provide low cost housing for homeless persons until they can transition to more permanent housing.
  • Food Bank: IMS provided initial seed money along with United Way to start the Food Bank of North Alabama in 1984.
  • Agora began as a coffeehouse for young adults in 1970. Later it expanded as Community Umbrella Program (CUP) to address drug abuse and eventually operated a Youth Emergency Services (YES) clinic for drug users
  • FOODLine/Food Pantry System formed in 1970 with nine congregations. Currently, 17 pantries are operating with many more congregations being "feeders" to these pantries. Volunteers operating telephones at the IMS office perform the clearinghouse functions.
  • Alabama IMPACT was a statewide coalition of religious denominations formed to track and advocate for legislation promoting welfare reform and social justice. IMS staff and volunteers did research and mailings. Alabama IMPACT later merged with Alabama Arise.
  • CCC (Community Counseling Center) to Family to provide individual and family counseling services. The agency later merged with the Family Counseling Agency and is now known as the Family Service Center.
  • DIAL Kindergarten Screening - The purpose is to test children entering elementary school to determine school readiness skills
IMS has another mission – to promote religious, racial and cultural harmony. IMS does not gloss over our differences but through its efforts we find out how much we have in common, and learn to respect each other while acknowledging our differences. Learning opportunities include programs such as Hometown Pilgrimage, a program where different faiths open their services to members of other religions and Countering Islamophobia, where participants meet local members of the Islamic community and learn more about their faith.

Service opportunities include the Day of Service and Unity every September. This brings members of participating congregations and community spirited people not affiliated with an IMS member congregation together to perform service projects around the Huntsville area. This project started as a community unifying project after the September 11, 2001 attacks and has continued annually. Projects vary each year and have included such activities as painting at the Harris Home, gardening at area group homes, or packing food packets for the homeless.

Every major world religion has a version of the Golden Rule. Whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Baha'i, the IMS provides a place to put that rule into action, a quiet North Alabama success story for 45 years and counting.

Here are a few more Biblical references Alabama lawmakers should learn

 Posted on on February 25, 2014 at 7:24 PM, updated February 25, 2014 at 7:38 PM

Three cheers for Kyle Whitmire’s coverage of the debate in the Alabama House on the bill to enable Alabamians to hang the Ten Commandments in public buildings.
If the posted comments were representative of the discussion, the level of debate was fully up to what you expect from the Alabama House; sadly uninformed, pandering and without relevance to the daily lives of Alabamians.

Bob Nicholson is a volunteer community columnist for (Contributed by Bob Nicholson)
Rep. DuWayne Bridges in particular seemed unfamiliar with the Ten Commandments even though he sponsored the bill, so I thought I’d give him the reference to the Ten Commandments, and to make some suggestions of some other passages to read.

Perhaps our legislators can stop standing on their Bibles long enough to open them and read the referenced texts.

The Ten Commandments are in Exodus 20: 2-17 (Rep. Bridges - crossing the Red Sea is in Exodus 14). Our House members should pay particular attention to the 9th Commandment. A modern interpretation would be “don’t lie”. I’m sure there are some others they may need an introduction to as well.

The Ten Commandments are only a small portion of the rules that God gave the Israelites. Rep. Bridges should consider amending his bill to include posting passages of Leviticus 13-15 in Alabama health education classrooms. It covers the laws concerning skin diseases and bodily discharges.
The Bible goes into some details about what types of discharges are unclean. Since Exodus and Leviticus were written almost 3500 years ago, nothing was included about unclean discharges from the Alabama legislature. We now call that legislation.

OK, enough snarking. Here are a few passages that I do wish our legislators were familiar with:
Exodus 22:25-27 prohibits the charging of interest on loans. They should keep this in mind when they debate the payday loan bill. I’m not suggesting that the House outlaw interest, but a little perspective as to what’s fair would be helpful. 

Exodus 22:25-27 prohibits the charging of interest on loans. They should keep this in mind when they debate the payday loan bill. 
Malachi 3:5 has several lessons for the legislature. Among those, God promises harsh judgment on those who oppress workers with unfair wages. I hope our legislators understand that paying the minimum required by law and what’s fair are not necessarily the same thing.

I haven’t heard that our Republican-dominated legislature is in any hurry to talk about the minimum wage, but when they are, guidance is available.

Malachi also calls us to treat the immigrant fairly. HB 56 is Alabama’s version of fair. Is it yours? Jesus himself in Matthew 25 tells us to welcome the stranger. What could be stranger than our legislature being welcoming?

While the legislature considers solutions to the mismanagement of Tutwiler prison, they should consider the Bible's consideration for the prisoner. Passages in Hebrews 13, Matthew 25 have something to say about that, but Psalm 69:33 gives them some of the best support in finding a humane solution: “For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners”.

Would Matthew 25:31-46 lead our leaders into reconsidering their refusal to expand Medicaid? Probably not, and I know that their answer is that Jesus did not specify that government be involved when he told us to take care of the sick. That’s true, he just told us to do it. How well are we succeeding? Are emergency rooms as primary care and medical bankruptcies part of God’s plan? If so, God is not very cost efficient or effective.

The Bible also has warnings for our good very publicly church attending public leaders. In Amos 5:21-24 God is telling the Israelites that he does not accept their worship because they do not practice justice to all the people. Isaiah 1 repeats this message (as do most of the other books of the prophets). In other words, you can be a good church going person, but if you don’t do the right thing it doesn’t matter. Jesus seconds that motion in Matthew 6:21-23.

This column is not a support for an Alabama theocracy. I beleive strongly in the separation of church and state. Whenever in history the two have become entwined, both have, in some way been corrupted. Rather it is a call for our legislators to follow one other passage of scripture, Matthew 6: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven”.

Paraphrased in modern Alabama terms, this chapter says don’t make public displays of your religion by praying in public, by proposing bills supporting public religious displays, or by putting carving the Commandments into a large rock that you piously display. Just do the right thing.
Christianity survived assault by the Roman Empire. It survived the dark ages and the excesses of the Crusades. Communism could not trample it. It will also survive the buffoonery of the Alabama legislature. It’s just too bad that it has to.

Before convicting four Alabama counties of voter fraud, let's see the evidence

Published on on April 24, 2014 at 3:24 PM 

If you needed to rotate the tires on your car would you accomplish that task by changing the oil? Silly idea isn’t it?
Yet that analogy is on target when you look at the Alabama Legislature’s actions in establishing strong voter ID laws. They claim that they are reacting to fraud allegations and a crowd of onlookers, columnists and pundits, are cheering them onward.

Unfortunately, only a brief examination of the “evidence” shows no fraud. I am a Certified Fraud Examiner. The definition of fraud is specific (wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain) and to casually alleging such is irresponsible. In order to prove fraud, not only do you have to show what happened, you have to show intent as well. Lacking a confession admitting intent, fraud is proven in court by ruling out all other possibilities. 
Let’s look at the latest “evidence” and see if it meets the definition of proving fraud. Four counties in Alabama, Macon, Wilcox, Lowndes and Greene, have more voters on the roll than the US Census Department estimated their adult populations to be in 2012 by a cumulative 2934 people. And, these counties vote with a strong Democratic majority. Not only that, but in 2012 former Alabama Congressman Artur Davis alleged that wholesale voter fraud goes on in parts of the Black Belt. Convinced that there is fraud going on? Don’t convict just yet.

Is there a possible explanation other than fraud for the difference? Yes, in fact there are several possible explanations. The Census Bureau’s estimates could undercount the populations of these counties. Only a small underestimation in these counties could account for the entire difference.
But if the estimates are correct it still does not indicate fraud, only that an explanation is needed. Could the rolls simply be out of date? Both of these are possible and are not fraudulent. Secretary of State Jim Bennett is right when he says that the discrepancies create opportunity for voter fraud, but opportunity is not fraud.

The question as to why there is a discrepancy should be investigated thoroughly before corrective actions taken. How can you fix a problem before you know what the problem is? If the voter rolls are out of date, they should be updated. If they are intentionally overstated, then someone should go to jail.

In order to prove fraud, not only do you have to show what happened, you have to show intent as well. 
Artur Davis’ allegations should also be fully investigated. Since his allegations two years ago Luther Strange has had plenty of time to look into this, yet we are still waiting for arrests. There have been other allegations of voter fraud in the last few years in Alabama, most often concerning absentee ballot abuse.

These are serious and troubling. For supporters of the new voter ID laws, these allegations are reason enough to warrant strong ID laws. They argue that we don’t need to wait for an election to be stolen to put in controls to stop fraud. I agree with them completely – except that voter ID laws do nothing to address the allegations of fraud that have been made to date.

In order to steal an election, you need a lot of votes. That’s why allegations to date allege vote buying and fraudulent absentee voting. Vote buying was alleged recently in a Tuscaloosa election. White fraternities and sororities were accused of buying votes with promises of limo rides and free alcohol. These were valid voters with ID’s. The new law does nothing to prevent this.

It is the duty of county voting officials to investigate suspicious requests for absentee ballots. Therefore wholesale absentee ballot fraud would almost certainly require the participation of county voting officials, who can circumvent the absentee ballot rules. Once again, voter ID rules would not prevent corrupt officials from manufacturing requests for absentee ballots.

Even if ID laws do nothing to prevent the type of fraud that is most likely to occur, what is wrong with showing a specific type of state issued ID at the polls? Many studies throughout the country conclude that strict voter ID laws have a disproportionate effect on the black elderly and poor. They are more likely to not have proof of birth or residency and more likely not to have transportation to county courthouses to obtain ID’s. This is a burden that will prevent some from exercising their rights as citizens.

If ID laws don’t prevent fraud why did our legislature really pass voter ID laws? Various Alabama Democrats have alleged racism. Intent is hard to prove and I object just as strongly to allegations of racism as I do fraud without proof. The record is clear. Not every Alabama Republican legislator called black voters “aborigines” or admitted under oath that he was worried that high black turnout would benefit Democrats.

And although Alabama’s Republicans have tried to redraw district lines in a manner that limits black voting power this does not prove racism in itself. But Alabama has a troubling history on race and any disproportionate effect warrants a questioning of motives.

I’d support calls for better voter ID laws if the program were designed so that EVERY legal voter received an ID for free and without undue burden. But if we really want to prevent fraud, let’s improve controls over how the ballots are distributed and counted and quit throwing up barriers to valid voters. Finally, let’s stop the name-calling. Not everyone who supports voter ID laws is racist and being against ID laws does not mean you support fraud.

Ronald Reagan, deficits, big government: It's time to let go of some myths

Published on on October 31, 2013 at 8:20 PM

In column after column, writers have enjoyed bashing the Obama administration with a variety of facts and statistics. It's past time to examine some of these facts to separate fact from accepted myth. This is not meant so much as a defense of the president as it is a fact check of what is being peddled. If a columnist has to use incorrect or misleading statistics, you can guarantee that his or her arguments are weak.

One recent columnist wrote about Obama's continuing trillion-dollar deficits. I don't know whether he was intentionally misleading the readers, or did not bother to get up-to-date data, but recent estimates place the 2013 fiscal deficit at $680.3 billion. While that's too high, it represents a more than $300 billion deficit reduction in one year. That massive reduction can be attributed to three factors; an improving economy, the Obama tax increases, and the effects of the much-disliked sequestration.

On the subject of our national debt, one Alabama congressman cannot string two sentences together without talking about the United States' impending insolvency. While the U.S. debt now stands at just over $17 trillion dollars, or just over 100 percent of current GDP, our historic high, just after World War II, was 121.7% of GDP. We recovered from that level of debt, and we can do it again if we have the national will.

To put things into perspective, the World Bank publishes debt statistics of countries around the world. As of 2011, Greece's debt totaled a disastrous 106.5 percent of GDP, while Singapore had debt at a manageable 110.2 percent (Japan was at a whopping 189.9 percent). Why is Greece's dangerous, while Singapore's is manageable? The world's financial managers answer in the returns they demand to invest in this debt – They believe that one country can repay the debt while another risks default. U.S. debt rates remain at near historic lows; the world still judges us sound. It won't remain that way in the long term if, for no other reason than political brinksmanship, some irresponsible politicians threaten default. Eventually they will be taken seriously by the world's bond buyers and the damage they cause will be expensive. 

Budget cuts that add to the deficit later, and tax cuts that do not pay for themselves are not the way to fix the problem. 
The world's patience with our growing debt is not limitless, but we do not need to act stupidly or cruelly to address the problem. Budget cuts that add to the deficit later, and tax cuts that do not pay for themselves are not the way to fix the problem. Although Alabama's Republican Congress members call themselves fiscally responsible, none of the budget alternatives they have supported are realistic approaches to balancing the budget. They support additional tax cuts and unspecified cuts that promise great return and little pain. Don't let anyone fool you. Our economy is addicted to deficit spending. Any plan to swiftly balance the budget would likely plunge us into a deep recession. The budget cuts and tax increases needed to achieve this will be painful to everyone. There is not enough waste, fraud and abuse and there are not enough giveaway programs to cut to make this easy. Labeling yourself fiscally responsible means nothing unless you follow it up with budget proposals that are more than magical thinking.

One of the biggest myths Republican writers support these days is the growing legend of Ronald Reagan. He is praised for his unyielding conservatism and for the positive effect he had on the American national mood. But his record tells us a different story. When Medicare was proposed, he campaigned nationally against the Socialism he thought it represented. Yet as president, he vowed to protect it. He cut taxes when he took office. Yet when he realized he had cut too deeply, he raised them. As a CPA then in public practice, I remember his tax changes well. His actions to raise taxes alone would cause the very people who idolize him today to label him a RINO.
He stood up to our enemies. Yet he illegally sold weapons to the Iranian government and negotiated with terrorists to release American hostages. Can you imagine what today's Republicans would say about President Obama if he sold weapons to the Iranians? The call to impeach would be shouted from the rooftops. Yet the Regan myth grows.

Finally, let's look at Alabama. Many conservatives chafe at the burden the federal government places on us. They rant against anything the Obama administration supports, even if the idea did not originate with the president, and even if the idea was originally proposed and embraced by conservatives (such as Obamacare). Yet few other states get a better return on their investment in the federal government than Alabama. According to 2010 Census data, Alabama, in that year, received $2.03 for every dollar we sent to Washington. We will bite the hand that feeds us, but we will continue to expect to be fed. Our rugged independence, our standing up against the overbearing federal government is one of our most cherished myths. Like the great Walt Kelly said in Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

This is a milestone the US shouldn't be proud of

Published on on June 28, 2014 at 6:00 AM 

There was an important number in the news last month – 400.

You probably didn't hear about it. It's one of those things that is important but not exciting. No cat videos about the number 400 were made. It's not an update to the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans nor a reference to Jason Isbell's band.

But it is something that has not happened for at least 800,000 years, yet something that is likely to be surpassed within a year. For the first time since humans walked the planet, the average carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere in the Northern Hemisphere averaged more than 400 parts per million for a full month, according to the World Meteorological Organization. We first hit this milestone on one day in May 2013, but April's average establishes a new monthly record.

Carbon dioxide levels are seasonal. The rate is expected to drop later this summer, but next spring we could see yet another record level. Pre-industrial readings of CO2 were around 280 PPM and levels were approximately 290 PPM at the end of the 19th century. There are still many people in the USA who doubt that we are experiencing man made climate change. As data accumulates their doubts are harder to understand.

This is not a political issue, despite the naysayers who try to make it into one. 400PPM does not respect doubts - it just exists. 400PPM is not a theory. 400PPM is a fact. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. That's also fact, not a theory.

The ten globally hottest years on record (since 1880) have occurred since 1998, another fact. And although the 36 billion tons of CO2 being released into the atmosphere each year by man made activities is an estimate, no one can argue that the actual number is not at least close to that estimate.
The America that won WWII and won the race to the moon can't afford to clean up our power plants.
These are real numbers, not theories. That the level of CO2 in the atmosphere affects the climate is not even in doubt. Man is contributing to the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. The only questions are how quickly are we making the climate change and what are the effects.
Yet there are still valid questions  - important questions that the skeptics are raising. The global climate is an extremely complicated system with more variables than we can encompass in any model.  Thus the models are not a perfect predictive tool of the future effects of the change we are causing.

Fortunately the models are constantly being improved as more data is collected. There is still much to understand, but waiting for a perfect understanding of the effects of rising CO2 levels is a fool's answer to a documented problem.

Do you remember the Tobacco Institute – a tobacco industry funded group that existed to delay actions to encourage people to stop smoking? It's scientists prostituted themselves for a paycheck and the result was more people were lost to lung cancer. They are a deservedly forgotten lot.

History is repeating itself as the industries fighting climate change action fund their own studies to delay action. Ultimately they will fail and action will be taken, but at what cost to the world?
Many governments are not waiting. They are taking action now. They have seen the dangers to the well being of their citizens and the probable damage to their economies by taking no action. Beyond that though, they see opportunity. They see promise in carbon capture technology (Alabama is one center for this research). They also know that the cost of alternative energy is plummeting. Solar power in Italy and Germany is now being generated as cheaply as power from fossil fuel.

Unfortunately many of our Washington leaders don't see this opportunity. When responding to the President's plan to limit CO2 emissions from power plants they cited heavily inflated cost estimates and stated that our economy could not afford to meet the standards.

The America that won WWII and won the race to the moon can't afford to clean up our power plants.
They think that suddenly there is no such thing as American ingenuity. They bet against us when they said the auto industry could not afford to install seat belts or to design safer or more efficient cars. They have repeatedly bet against us when they said we could not clean up our most polluted rivers, clean up our air, and reduce chlorofluorocarbons in consumer products (using a free market approach). They have been wrong every time.

Meeting problems head on is the American way. Why do we give any credence to politicians with a can't do attitude? Why do the people who claim to believe in American exceptionalism not actually show it in practice? Real conservatives would figure out the best market based approach to meeting this problem.

There is nothing magical about the 400PPM milestone recently passed. It is merely a speed limit sign that we have ignored as we continue to press the accelerator. But in April a UN climate panel set 450 PPM as the level required to keep global temperature change under 2C. Real damage to our world, to our economy is occurring now and it will get worse.

400PPM is a marker on the road to bigger problems but we still have time to react before the worst predictions come true.

The question is, will we?

I completed a background check to buy a gun in Huntsville; contrary to NRA claims, the hardest part was the waiting

Published on on January 02, 2014 at 12:28 PM, updated January 02, 2014 at 12:29PM

Tom Petty was right. Waiting was the hardest part. The line at Larry’s Pistol and Pawn Shop was long. A sign posted in the store stated that it could take up to two hours to be waited on. So I got back in my car and crossed the Parkway in Huntsville and walked into Gander Mountain. After less than five minutes, I had been waited on and now had to make a choice. I was looking for a target pistol, something accurate but cheap to shoot. The accountant in me came out and, having purchased other caliber ammo at a much higher price, so I settled on a .22-caliber Beretta. After choosing the gun, I had to fill out the background check paperwork, and then I waited.
Oh, what an intolerable wait, almost 15 minutes during which I browsed the aisles. Then I paid for my gun and walked out, gun in hand, lunch hour coming to a close.

Tom Petty was right. Waiting was the hardest part. I went online to get the paperwork, filled it out and drove down to the Madison County Courthouse. There, I went to the sherriff’s office and delivered the paperwork. Then the waiting began. This wait time was almost six weeks. I hope the background check to get a gun carry permit is a little more thorough than what it takes to buy a gun because the permit allows me to carry a concealed pistol in public. The Second Amendment grants the right to own a gun, but the right is not absolute. You cannot carry any gun you want to any place. You can’t own a machine gun without a special license. And of course, you can’t own rocket launchers or missiles.

Six weeks later, I revisited the sheriff’s office, decided on the laminated, picture card version of the permit, paid my money and left, permit in hand. I had my pistol. I had my permit. Were my rights violated by this process? Hardly. Yet the NRA argues that requiring background checks for all gun purchases is a violation of our rights, government tyranny. Can anyone explain how the process victimized me? Can anyone explain why they think my rights were violated? Can anyone explain why a background check should not be completed for every gun purchase? Background checks are required for purchases from licensed gun dealers, but not for private sales and transfers. I like to call it the meth dealer exception.

Requiring background checks for all gun transfers is now the law in Colorado. Critics there point out three potential problems with the requirement. First, some see this as a violation of their Second Amendment rights. This is nonsense. I went through a background check and I had my gun by the end of my lunch hour. Subjecting private sales does not stop anyone who can pass a background check from buying a gun.

The second objection is that some criminals will not follow the new law. This is true of all laws. Are there speeders in Alabama? Are murders committed? By extension, this argument can be used to eliminate speed limits and to make murder legal. The majority of citizens follow laws. Why do critics think that Americans will suddenly become scofflaws when it comes to background checks?
The third objection is that it will criminalize gifts of guns. Once again, this presumes that law-abiding citizens will suddenly refuse to follow the law. The gift of a car requires the transfer of a title. A background check is a smaller hurdle. Are gun rights advocates too lazy to comply with the law?
Expanded background checks will not stop all criminals from getting guns, but it is a start, an easy baby step.
After four months, Colorado’s experience is that 72 private sales were blocked because the applicant was under a restraining order or had been convicted of or charged with a serious crime. The vast majority of private sales went through despite the check. The impact of 72 sales that did not occur is hard to know (you can’t measure the number of crimes that were not committed), but no one can argue that Colorado would be better off if these sales had been completed.

Expanded background checks will not stop all criminals from getting guns, but it is a start, an easy baby step. Rights are accompanied by obligations, even in Alabama. Is the obligation to prove you have the right to own a gun too much to ask? Our Legislature has elected not to act, to continue to make it easy for criminals to skirt the law as they arm themselves. Not acting, allowing this loophole to continue, now that is criminal.