What is mental illness? Where is the bright line drawn?

Submitted by Charlton Stanley, guest blogger
(Otteray Scribe)

Image What is mental illness?  It’s a hot topic in the news recently, because of proposed gun control legislation. I saw a photo yesterday of people holding up a huge sign saying, “Keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill.”

There is far more to the demonization of the mentally ill than just the firearms issue. It spills over into the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation. It is not just guns; it is airplanes and trucks as well. This brings us to the core question of, “What is mental illness?”  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) is the current handbook for classifying mental disorders.  DSM-V is in the final stages of development and will be published in May 2013. That is only next month.

Which brings us back to the original question of what exactly is mental illness?  In New York, a man’s home was raided, his Concealed Carry Permit revoked and guns confiscated because someone told the police he was taking an anti-anxiety medication.  I have received emails in the past week from several friends about this issue.  One of them is a vet, M→F transgendered. She is concerned about being able to renew her own Concealed Carry Permit (CCP). As a veteran and avid target-shooting hobbyist, she is well trained in gun safety and use. As a transgender woman, she is a target and prey according to FBI statistics. Hate crimes against LGBT people are at a 14-year high.

According to the DSM-IV-TR, “Gender Identity Disorder” is one of the mental illnesses. In the DSM-V, it is renamed “Gender Dysphoria.”  While claiming it is not a mental illness, the fact that Gender Dysphoria is in the DSM-V in the first place makes it suspect in the eyes of many. Two days ago, she sent this excerpt from a local outlet:

The enforcement action started on March 29th when New York State Police asked the Erie County Clerk’s Office to pursue revoking the man’s pistol permit because he owned guns in violation of the mental health provision of New York’s newly enacted guns law called the SAFE ACT.

The allegation turned out to be untrue and his guns returned to him. As it turned out, the police, sua sponte, initiated the action. The only lawyer involved in the matter was the man’s own attorney.

Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs said, “When the State Police called to tell us they made a mistake and had the wrong person…it became clear that the State did not do their job here, and now we all look foolish.”

Flaws in the mental health reporting provisions of the NY SAFE Act were blamed for the misunderstanding.  The county clerk added, “Until the mental health provisions are fixed, these mistakes will continue to happen” (source: WKBW-TV)

The bigger issue is how come taking an anxiolytic prescribed by one’s family doctor disqualifying?  It would be interesting to know just how many of those raiding officers, and their supervisors, are taking medication for anxiety, depression or sleep.

Is mild anxiety a reason to stigmatize someone, and possibly violate his or her civil rights?  It gets better. The FAA Medical Examiner will not allow psychiatric medications for any class of Medical Certificate. If a psychiatric medication, it is an automatic disqualification. Several non-psychiatric medications are disqualifying as well. When Tagamet (cimetidine) was first released to treat ulcers and hyperacidity, it disqualified one from holding an FAA Medical Certificate in order to fly.  I first heard about that from a friend who was an Aviation Medical Examiner at the time. He told me the FAA put Tagamet on the list because, “It acts on the central nervous system.”

What is mental illness? Some say it is anything that is in the DSM. However, as I have pointed out in court many times, the DSM is a handbook put together by a committee. Everyone has heard the old joke about what a committee produces: “An elephant is a mouse designed by a committee.”

The new DSM-V will be expanding the definition of ADHD.  The definition of PTSD is supposed to be clarified in the final definition.  Homosexuality was removed from the DSM-IV. If it was a mental illness, the why was it removed? The answer to that is simple. It is not a mental illness.

Let’s look at posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a single example of a single disorder.  PTSD is classified as an anxiety spectrum disorder. Symptoms include feeling anxious, vivid dreams or memories of a traumatic event, and avoidance of situations that might remind one of the traumatic event.  Those are called “triggers.”  Some claim that only combat veterans can suffer PTSD. That is nonsense. The original trauma can be anything causing one to fear for their own life or safety, or that of others. No one knows how many Americans suffer from PTSD, but the NIMH estimates 7.7 million adults have diagnosable PTSD. That is about 3.5% of the population.  22% of Vietnam veterans returned with PTSD. My personal impression is that number is too low by a significant margin. Many people with PTSD have never been diagnosed. Why? Because they are afraid to talk to a doctor or clinical social worker.

How many rights should be taken from all those citizens and veterans, simply because they have PTSD?

When some of the most prominent mental health experts in the world cannot agree what mental illness diagnoses are, how are lawmakers, judges and law enforcement officers supposed to know? Is being transgendered a mental illness? How about homosexuality—oops, never mind, they took that out of the DSM-IV.  There are many people with bipolar disorder walking around and you will never know it, especially if they are taking their medication.  Should a person with well-controlled bipolar disorder be allowed to drive an 18 wheel truck, fly a light airplane, or own firearms?

It is interesting that the FAA has created a new class of aircraft, call Light Sport Aircraft” or LSA, which do not require an FAA medical certificate to fly.  A light sport pilot may fly with a valid and current driver’s license.  Glider pilots can exercise the privilege without a medical certificate.

This brings us to driver’s licenses. If a person, who is taking Xanax or some mild anti-depressant is not allowed to own firearms or fly a Cessna 172, why can they drive? An average automobile or pickup truck weighs almost two tons. They drive on two-lane roads at 55 or 60 mph. That means on a two-lane road, they are passing within two to four feet of each other with a closing speed of about 120 mph.

Just what is mental illness, and where is that bright line drawn for different activities and privileges of ownership? Think about it. Your physician has to give you a formal diagnosis in order to write a prescription for any medication. Almost any Primary Care Physician, especially family doctors, will tell you that a large percentage of their patients are receiving medications for diagnosed psychiatric conditions. The most common are depression and anxiety, either situational or endogenous.

Alcohol, in my opinion, is much more dangerous than any antidepressant or anxiolytic on the market.  Yet, alcohol is legal in most areas. The individual is responsible for keeping their alcohol level under the legal limit, without any government official monitoring them.  The rule for pilots is, “eight hours from bottle to throttle.”  In other words, if you intend to fly, there should be at least eight hours between the last drink and flying. My rule was always 24 hours just to be on the safe side. Alcohol is involved in far more assaults, shootings, auto crashes, and suicides than any psychiatric medication I know of.  That is because alcohol is a disinhibitor.

It is unfortunate that Congress saw fit to suppress data collection on firearms violence back in 1996. I see many pronouncements on violence related to firearms, but without real science, those pronouncements are meaningless.  Last January, President Obama lifted the 17-year drought on data gathering.  Some members of Congress and the NRA are demanding that the data not be used to promote or advocate any position on violence. Fine. That is the way data should be gathered—content neutral. That honors the null hypothesis approach to research.  However the results of the data fall, it should be accessible to other researchers. It must not be buried.

Legislation and administrative rules that limit rights are already having negative effects on people with mental health issues. They do not get treatment, or ask their doctor for advice. Sometimes they lie.  Sometimes a patient will show up, insist on paying cash, register under a John Doe alias, give a vacant lot as an address and use 888-88-8888 for a Social Security number.  Most people who need mental health medications or treatment refuse to seek help. If anyone thinks that is a good thing, they are not paying attention.

As my father used to say, “Anybody with one eye and half-sense could have seen that one coming.”

HIPAA is supposed to keep your records private, but they are accessible with a court order. Alternately, any agency issuing a license or certificate can insist on the applicant signing a HIPAA complaint medical release form. Sign the form or you do not get your license.  One must always beware the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Here are a few tidbits to chew upon. Please discuss. Where is that bright line?

412 thoughts on “What is mental illness? Where is the bright line drawn?”

  1. i am a mentally ill patient, so they say! im going to be straight up and honest. Chee is the only thing that can tell. those of you who do not know what chee is it is a technique used by the monks. mind body control and i feel if your mentally ill but can contract chee wich means you have total mind body control over whats going on around you in all predictaments you should be able to own a fire arm AS long as you can pass certain test like me for example i want to do is go to the gun range with my grandfather. i dont want a license to carry theres no point because i dont feel like my life is in danger when i walk out into the street even in bad nieghborhoods i feel like god will take you when its your time so why try to fight back matter of fact in ohio there is no longer a self defense law no matter how bad your getting beatin if u fight back you get it just as bad as the person who started it chee is all about being honest with you inner self that way u can be totally honest with others and thats all im tryin to do

  2. Elaine, you commented: That is how Mr. Haughton was able to buy a handgun for $500 in the parking lot of a McDonalds that he took with him on Oct. 21 to the spa in a suburb of Milwaukee where his wife worked.

    I’m old-enough to remember another way criminals obtained firearms, by ambushing cops, or raiding police stations and gun shops.
    I doubt Mr. Haughton purchased a loaded firearm at his parking lot transaction, so it would have been a simple matter of killing his seller, and taking any and all guns present.

    Two recent cases of theft from law enforcement in Florida, resulted in both Glock handguns and AR-15 carbines falling into criminal hands.

    I don’t say this to diminish the impact or severity of this sort of domestic violence. I also believe it’s not a matter of weapon restriction, but addressing at-risk behaviors, for men and women.
    Domestic violence needs to be a one-and-done, not years of “honey I’ll change” which only reinforces the bad behavior, and reinforces this “ownership” of another person’s life.

    I’m also a student of the Happy Land Social Club fire, where 87 people died; over what was, at the very core, a domestic violence incident. Gasoline, purchased nearby, without a background check, State or Federal database, license to possess flammable materials, photograph nor fingerprint, resulted in the death of 87 people.

    Yes, unsafe conditions contributed – yet in all the previous nights – no one died until a gallon of gasoline ($1 worth @ 1990 prices) was, with malice aforethought, spread upon the stairs and ignited. The core of the Prosecutions rebuttal, that the conditions at the club, and not the actions of the Defendant, were to blame for the deaths.

    A generation later, we still clutch these pearls of object, not action. Device, not causation. Some compound that with an assignment of “victim” status to everyone, including the malefactor.
    Rather than fight that, I’d like to cite it as a reason to get involved in creating better social safety nets. Jobs, schools, and an alternative to street life-as-family life. We need to focus less on Chronic (weed) and more on Crack, Meth, Salts and other chemicals which are cutting down our fellow citizens; many of whom are “self-medicating” with disastrous results.

  3. Elaine:

    the bottom line is that all the races started out in Africa so what does it matter anyway? We really are one big family, too bad we cant see that.

  4. Bron,

    DNA Tests Find Branches but Few Roots
    Published: November 25, 2007

    HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., whose PBS special “African American Lives” explores the ancestry of famous African-Americans using DNA testing, has done more than anyone to help popularize such tests and companies that offer them. But recently this Harvard professor has become one of the industry’s critics.

    Mr. Gates says his concerns date back to 2000, when a company told him his maternal ancestry could most likely be traced back to Egypt, probably to the Nubian ethnic group. Five years later, however, a test by a second company startled him. It concluded that his maternal ancestors were not Nubian or even African, but most likely European.

  5. Elaine:

    No I am not. But I have been discriminated against in my work so I know how it feels. If they dont want me, I dont want them.

    I use a wheelchair and African Americans are always the first to offer to help me. They are very decent, good people and it sickens me when I hear of things like this. I guess it is hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that their are people who treat fellow human beings this way.

    By the way Henry Gates isnt black, he is Egyptian. I dont know if you saw the show where they had various high profile African Americans provide DNA to determine where they were from. If I remember correctly Gates was surprised he was of Egyptian and not of African descent.

    Maybe the deli clerk thought he saw Whitaker take something, has he ever done that before? (the clerk) If Whitaker was the only black he has ever done that to, then it was probably a mistake on the part of the clerk and not racism.

  6. Driving While Black
    A study of Illinois traffic-stop data shows that police are more likely to ask to search cars driven by African-Americans—but whites are more likely to have contraband.
    James Warren
    Jul 30 2009

    When the President, the Professor and the Cop sit down to have a beer at the White House tonight, here’s an idea for drink coasters: copies of the 2008 Annual Report of Illinois Traffic Stops. It may not be the most riveting reading, but it demonstrates just how murky and open to interpretation matters of race and law enforcement can be, even when systematically analyzed by academics seeking to clear things up.

    When he waded into the confrontation between Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley, President Obama cited his work on racial profiling as an Illinois state senator. But lost in the cable-fueled frenzy of subsequent debate has been any concrete discussion of the actual outcome of Obama’s efforts—a 2003 law mandating that the state Department of Transportation catalogue all traffic stops in an attempt to identify and assess racial bias. He was the bill’s chief sponsor, and did impressive work crafting consensus among civil libertarians, police, and groups across the political spectrum.

    After five years of data collection—initially overseen by Northwestern University and now by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Research in Law and Justice – there are plenty of statistics for study. But how to interpret those statistics is less than clear. It’s sort of like trying to discern what exactly happened at the Gates home in Cambridge.

    In 2008, 949 law enforcement agencies reported 2,518,825 traffic stops (63 agencies—mostly smaller—didn’t comply). Stops of minority drivers in each community were compared with the total estimated minority driving population for that community. Also compared by race were the reason for stops; the duration of stops; the outcome of stops; the number of “consent searches” (instances where the police ask permission to search a car); and the number of searches resulting in the discovery of contraband.

    Based on the data that emerges, it’s clear that African-American, Hispanic, and American Indian drivers are in fact being stopped more than one would expect based on their overall representation in the driving population. But the 2008 study also concludes that inferring from this that there is police bias is “problematic because [it] assume[s] that an officer knows the race of the driver before they make the stop. Very often, particularly at night, and when the vehicles are driving quickly, this is not the case.” As for the reasons for stops—whether for moving violations, equipment problems, or to check license or registration—those tend to be roughly similar across racial lines.

    The most significant racial disparity involves consent searches. While the total number of such searches has dropped sharply —by 33 percent—since 2004, they are applied disproportionately: an African-American driver is about three times as likely to be the subject of a search as a Caucasian driver, with a Hispanic driver 2.4 times as likely to be the subject of a search. But when vehicles are searched, whites are more often found to be hiding contraband. Police found contraband 24.37 percent of the time when a white agreed to a search, but just 15.14 percent of the time with a minority driver. This finding is consistent with other studies nationwide.

  7. Bron,

    Are you a man of color?


    That white actress actually shoplifted something from the store!

    Winona Ryder Convicted of 2 Counts in Shoplifting
    Published: November 07, 2002

    Winona Ryder, the actress whose six-day shoplifting trial drew national attention and stirred tabloid frenzy, was found guilty today of grand theft and vandalism for walking off with more than $5,500 worth of designer goods from a Beverly Hills department store.


    Even Now, There’s Risk in ‘Driving While Black’
    Published: June 14, 2009

    The experience of being mistaken for a criminal is almost a rite of passage for African-American men. Security guards shadow us in stores. Troopers pull us over for the crime of “driving while black.” Nighttime pedestrians cower by us on the streets.

    And black men who work as undercover cops are occasionally shot to death by white colleagues, as happened to a young officer named Omar Edwards when he was off duty and in plain clothes last month in New York City.

    We have often been seen as paranoid for attributing these things to bias. But the racial stereotypes that link blackness and crime have recently become a hot topic in social science.

    These pervasive and often unconscious biases affect social transactions of all kinds. They drive voting behavior. They make it likely that black defendants will receive longer sentences than whites for comparable crimes. They wreak havoc with the job possibilities of young black men. And they give the lie to the idea that the Unites States is becoming a “postracial” country…

    People who believed that racism was on the wane were mightily shocked by the research into the effect of race on hiring policies that appeared in the 2007 book “Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration,” by the Princeton sociologist Devah Pager. After sending carefully selected test applicants to apply for low-level jobs with hundreds of employers, Ms. Pager found that criminal convictions for black men seeking employment were, in many contexts, “virtually impossible to overcome,” partly because those convictions reinforced powerful, longstanding stereotypes.

    The stigma of conviction turned out to be less damaging for whites. Indeed, white men who claimed to be fresh out of prison were just as likely to be called back for second interviews as black men with no history of criminal involvement. The young black men were best-case applicants — bright, well-spoken college students posing as high school graduates. But racial stereotypes prevented employers from seeing their virtues.

  8. Elaine:

    I’d say I dont see much racism where I sit. The person who wrote that article is a racist. The deli guy made a mistake, do you know for a fact he targeted Whitaker because he was black? Who was that white actress who got arrested for shoplifting? Girl Interrupted, I think and Mr. Deeds. Was the employee who did so a racist/misogynist?

    The left wants to keep thinking the right are asking for Obama’s birth certificate because he is black yet they [right] support Herman Cain and love Ben Carson. Who I might point out the left despises and even stopped Carson from giving a commencement speech at Johns Hopkins, are they all racists too? No, they dont agree with his ideology.

    I dont agree with President Obama’s ideology, I dont agree with Hillary Clinton’s ideology, I dont agree with Elizabeth Warren’s ideology, I dont agree with Jesse Jackson’s ideology, I dont agree with Rachel Maddow’s ideology. (I cant say it is total disagreement, for example I do like some aspects of Obama care and I respect his effort to do something, at least he did something to try and fix the beast)

    Am I a racist and a misogynist?

    If I told you, you dont like my ideas because I am black what would you say to me? Probably that I am wrong and that you dont like my ideas because you think I have bad ideas.

  9. Elaine,
    How many of those firearms obtained in the manner you describe were used in crimes?

    I actually have the answer to that. Since 1934, there have been two (2) homicides committed known to be committed with legally owned automatic weapons. One was a murder committed by a law enforcement officer. On September 15th, 1988, a 13-year veteran of the Dayton, Ohio police department, Patrolman Roger Waller used fully automatic MAC-11 .380 caliber submachine gun to kill a police informant, Lawrence Hileman. The weapon was owned legally by the police department, not by Waller. Patrolman Waller pleaded guilty in 1990. Waller and an accomplice were sentenced to 18 years in prison.

    The other homicide, possibly involving a legally owned machine gun, occurred on September 14, 1992, also in Ohio.

    There were ten other crimes involving legally owned full auto weapons, but those were paperwork crimes, such as failing to notify ATF about a change of address or moving a registered firearm across a state line.

    Illegal guns are another matter. Four officers were killed in the line of duty between 1983-92 by full auto weapons. During that same time period, 713 law enforcement officers were killed, 651 with guns. The substantial majority of those deaths were related to narcotics trafficking.

    Again I ask, how are new laws going to force drug traffickers and gunrunners who supply them to obey new laws when they don’t obey the ones already on the books?

  10. Watch the video:

    Giant gun law loopholes stymie prosecutors

    Because Congress has prohibited a national computerized database of gun sales, tracking the sale of firearms is a cumbersome process forcing investigators to rely on research methods from decades past. And if the sale occurred through a private seller – which is how 80 percent of those convicted of gun crimes get their weapons — no documentation is required.
    NBC’s Michael Isikoff reports.

  11. Loopholes in Gun Laws Allow Buyers to Skirt Checks
    Published: April 10, 2013

    When Zina Haughton, 42, got a restraining order against her husband, Radcliffe, last October — she told a court that his threats “terrorize my every waking moment” — he became ineligible to buy a gun under federal law. But he found a way around that: he bought a gun from a private seller he found on the Internet who, unlike federally licensed dealers, was not legally required to check his background.

    That is how Mr. Haughton was able to buy a handgun for $500 in the parking lot of a McDonalds that he took with him on Oct. 21 to the spa in a suburb of Milwaukee where his wife worked. There, Mr. Haughton opened fire at the spa’s pedicure station, law enforcement officials said, and kept shooting until he had killed his wife and two women she worked with and injured four other women. He then killed himself.

    Cases like the Wisconsin spa shooting are at the heart of the debate raging in Washington over whether to expand background checks for all gun purchases — a proposal the Senate plans to take up on Thursday. Ms. Haughton’s brother, Elvin Daniel, a hunter who belongs to the National Rifle Association, has traveled to Washington to call for expanded background checks. “I feel that had there been a background check, had that been in place, my sister would still be with us today,” he said Wednesday.

    Opponents of expanded background checks, including the National Rifle Association, argue that they would not prevent criminals from acquiring guns, since many get them through back-market sales or theft, or by getting “straw purchasers” — people who can pass background checks — to buy guns on their behalf.

    But the checks have blocked purchases. Since 1998 the F.B.I. has rejected more than a million would-be sales, and when state-level rejections are factored in the number of denials is closer to two million — usually because the would-be buyers are convicted felons, or fugitives from justice, or mentally ill, among other reasons. How many of those rejected buyers were able buy guns without background checks, from private sellers or over the Internet, is difficult to say, in part because restrictions imposed by Congress make it difficult for law enforcement officials to track firearms sales.

    While private sales at gun shows account for a small proportion of private gun sales, researchers say, they have been found vulnerable to abuses. When New York City sent undercover private investigators to try to buy guns from private sellers at gun shows in 2009, it reported that 19 of the 30 sellers they approached agreed to sell them guns even after they were told that the buyers “probably couldn’t pass” a background check.

  12. Ineffective rules let gun stores endure

    Another excerpt from this article:
    Repeated violations

    Gary Bertrand, owner of Bertrand’s Sport Shop in Green Bay, said he lost his license in 2005 for “a clerical error.”

    Federal court documents, however, reveal that Bertrand repeatedly had guns missing from his inventory records. The usually secret violations were revealed because Bertrand appealed in court.

    ATF repeatedly warned Bertrand until it finally denied renewal of his license – considered the same as a revocation. But that was not the end of Bertrand’s store.

    “We had to apply for a new license under a different person,” Bertrand said. In this case, that person was Bertrand’s daughter. Gary Bertrand still owns the store.

    ATF is aware of revoked gun dealers who make simple changes to the business structure and stay in operation. Ficaretta said the agency trains its investigators to watch for hidden ownership, but the law makes it difficult to stop because it requires the agency to treat the business as a new applicant.

    “We believe that applicants and attorneys are getting a lot more savvy in how they structure the new businesses to avoid denial,” Ficaretta said.

    A new company was formed after Wiley Outdoor Sports, in Decatur, Ala., was denied renewal in 2007. ATF repeatedly found guns missing from the inventory records, according to court records.

    Jerry Peevy – who worked for Wiley – created The Wing Shooter, which would operate inside Wiley’s and sell guns. Peevy said customers probably didn’t notice a change, but they are separate entities.

    “It didn’t defeat the revocation process. Wiley’s no longer can purchase or receive or sell guns,” he said. “It was disclosed in the (firearms) license process. ATF signed off on it.”

    If ATF can prove the corporation was created just to circumvent the law, ATF can deny the license. To get that information, however, the ATF has to get business records. But the agency has no right to compel applicants to produce many business documents, in contrast with other licenses such as alcohol wholesalers.

    “It is very difficult for us to get the evidence we need to deny an application,” Ficaretta said. “We ask for documentation, particularly in these hidden ownership cases, but more and more frequently we are finding that applicants are telling us to go pound sand.”

    Gardiner, the Virginia attorney, said he has never heard of cases where revoked dealers remained in the gun-selling business. Gardiner also said the agency has enough authority to dig into applicants’ background.

    “They have the power to find out a lot of this information from public sources,” he said. “That is public information that any idiot can get. A lot of times they don’t need subpoena to find out those things.”

    But Zammillo said ATF’s hands are tied when digging into a gun dealer’s application. The law does not allow the agency the tools or the authority to look behind the license. That is different from other federal licenses.

    “The Congress chose, in the instance of alcohol, to write the law going behind the company and see who the people were to say whether they should be in business,” he said. “That is what they chose not to do with regards to firearms.”

    In Milwaukee, ATF investigators recommended revoking Badger Outdoors’ license but there was no revocation. The license was relinquished voluntarily, the players inside the operation took on new roles and a new license was issued to a previous owner’s son. The operation, located on S. 43rd St. in West Milwaukee, remains largely unchanged.

    The former owner of Badger Outdoors said he knew nothing about the recommended revocation, and he had decided to turn in the license and retire. The current owner of Badger Guns declined to comment.

    Four of the six wounded police officers have sued Badger Guns and Badger Outdoors, contending they are the same operation and were negligent in the gun sales…

    Sales without background checks

    When ATF succeeds in shutting down a gun store, the agency can run into more trouble.

    Federal court rulings allow revoked dealers to move their inventory into their private collection and sell the firearms without federal scrutiny – what critics call the “fire sale provision.”

    Indeed, that twist is one of the reasons why the agency allowed Shawano Gun & Loan near Green Bay to continue selling guns while it appealed its revocation in federal court.

    Shawano Guns’ license was revoked by ATF more than three years ago for repeatedly failing to keep accurate records and for making suspected straw gun sales – that is, selling to people who were buying guns for felons and others who can’t buy them. The store appealed.

    Shawano’s owner told investigators he might turn over the store to his nephew, who would pull a fresh license, possibly erasing the violations.

    The ATF tried to finally cut off firearm sales at Shawano Gun, but U.S. District Judge William Griesbach overruled the ATF while the case goes to federal appeals court.

    In Michigan, the agency succeeded last year in revoking the license of Wah Wong, owner of the Firearm Exchange gun shop outside of Detroit. ATF revoked the license when 300 guns came up missing from his books, according to federal court documents.

    Wong said he tried to have his wife and an employee take out a new license, but ATF denied it.

    Ficaretta, a top official at ATF, said Wong may have admitted too much.

    “He may not have been saying the right things; he may not have formed his business organization well enough to make it look like other than what it sounds like it is: a sham,” she said. “It depends on the sophistication of applicants and maybe their ability to obtain good counsel, too.”

    After he was revoked, Wong said he moved about 1,800 guns into his “personal collection” and he has been selling at gun shows and online, where he is not required to do background checks. The law does not consider him a “dealer” because he isn’t actively acquiring guns, only selling them.

    Wong still runs a gun range where he rents guns and sells ammunition – neither of which requires having a gun dealer license. Wong said he has sold about 1,200 guns without background checks in the past year and plans to sell the restuntil they are gone.

    “I am selling them off. They are my personal guns now,” Wong said. “What are you going to do with six, seven hundred guns?”

  13. Bron,

    “Maybe so but all men are created equal now, arent they. And men means human beings and women have the same rights as men and it goes for all races in this country. And it is because they wrote those words and gave us something to aspire to which is human liberty.”

    I don’t think we have quite reached the point where women and people of color can say they are truly equal.

    Women still earn less money than men–even when employed in similar positions. We have legislators all over the country working to pass laws/passing laws that would have/have a negative impact on women’s reproductive freedom and their health. In some hospitals, the lives of pregnant women whose lives are in danger are considered to be less important than the lives of the fetuses they are carrying.

    Minorities still face discrimination in this country today.


    The Reasons Why So Many Black People Are in Prison Go Well Beyond Profiling
    by Keith Rushing.
    Communications Manager, Rights Working Group
    Posted: 06/23/11

    When we think of racial profiling, we generally think of a person of color, perhaps a Black or Latino man or woman, in a car who gets stopped by police based on skin color. Often, a minor traffic infraction, like failing to signal when changing lanes, provides the legal rationale for such stops, when in reality the stops are motivated by race.

    Most Americans get why this is wrong. But the role that race plays in the criminal justice system goes far beyond this type of profiling.

    On Sunday, the Washington Post featured an essay by two experts, Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, and David Cole, a Georgetown law professor, who in “Five Myths about Americans in Prison” examined the role of race in incarceration.

    These men show that not only are people of color stopped more frequently by police, their communities, particularly with anti-drug efforts, receive far more attention from police. And black men are often charged and prosecuted differently than their White counterparts.

    Mauer and Cole attempt to dispel the myth that there is a disproportionate number of Black people in prison because Black people commit more crimes.

    They point out that although Whites and African Americans use and sell drugs at about the same rates, Black men in 2003 were almost 12 times as likely to go to prison as White men. Although Black people are 12 percent of the population and 14 percent of drug users, according to Mauer and Cole, they comprise 34 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 45 percent of those incarcerated in state prisons for such offenses.

    Both men attribute disparities in incarceration rates in part to the way urban Black communities are policed.

    “Police find drugs where they look for them,” they wrote. “Inner-city, open-air drug markets are easier to bust than those that operate out of suburban basements. And numerous studies show that minorities are stopped by police more often than Whites.”

    To understand the over-incarceration of black people, one must take a good hard look at all the ways black communities are policed. When I worked as a crime reporter for a daily newspaper in Newport News, Va., it was immediately obvious to me that the city’s East End — a low-income Black urban community — was over-policed. Whenever I drove into the East End, it seemed that I couldn’t drive more than a couple of blocks without encountering a police car. I could drive miles in another part of the city without running into an officer.

    Once on a police ride-a-long, the officer I rode with pulled over a Black woman who had stopped along the double-yellow line to let her grandson out to attend an afterschool program.

    The officer, a White male, slammed on the brakes, hopped out and asked for her drivers’ license. When she complied, he ran the license through a crime database to see if she had any outstanding warrants.

    When I asked the officer why he stopped the woman, he said that it was illegal to stop in the middle of the street to let someone out. I can’t imagine that in one of the wealthier and Whiter areas of the city that an older White woman would be stopped and detained under similar circumstances.

    The Good, Racist People
    Published: March 6, 2013

    Last month the actor Forest Whitaker was stopped in a Manhattan delicatessen by an employee. Whitaker is one of the pre-eminent actors of his generation, with a diverse and celebrated catalog ranging from “The Great Debaters” to “The Crying Game” to “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.” By now it is likely that he has adjusted to random strangers who can’t get his turn as Idi Amin out of their heads. But the man who approached the Oscar winner at the deli last month was in no mood for autographs. The employee stopped Whitaker, accused him of shoplifting and then promptly frisked him. The act of self-deputization was futile. Whitaker had stolen nothing. On the contrary, he’d been robbed.

    The deli where Whitaker was harassed happens to be in my neighborhood. Columbia University is up the street. Broadway, the main drag, is dotted with nice restaurants and classy bars that cater to beautiful people. I like my neighborhood. And I’ve patronized the deli with some regularity, often several times in a single day. I’ve sent my son in my stead. My wife would often trade small talk with whoever was working checkout. Last year when my beautiful niece visited, she loved the deli so much that I felt myself a sideshow. But it’s understandable. It’s a good deli.

    Since the Whitaker affair, I’ve read and listened to interviews with the owner of the establishment. He is apologetic to a fault and is sincerely mortified. He says that it was a “sincere mistake” made by a “decent man” who was “just doing his job.” I believe him. And yet for weeks now I have walked up Broadway, glancing through its windows with a mood somewhere between Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover” and Al Green’s “For the Good Times.”

    In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”

    A half-century later little had changed. The comedian Michael Richards (Kramer on “Seinfeld”) once yelled at a black heckler from the stage: “He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger!” Confronted about this, Richards apologized and then said, “I’m not a racist,” and called the claim “insane.”

    The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion. We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years.

    But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the “middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story. Forest Whitaker fits that bill, and he was addressed as such.

    I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.

  14. Elaine:

    “They were flawed people like the rest of us. To them–not all men were created equal…and they certainly didn’t consider women to be equal to men.”

    Maybe so but all men are created equal now, arent they. And men means human beings and women have the same rights as men and it goes for all races in this country. And it is because they wrote those words and gave us something to aspire to which is human liberty.

    So you go on believing those men were only human and flawed, which of course they were human. Flawed probably but the end result? Nah, not so much and the flaws today are from people who want to take our liberty away.

  15. Everyone is pointing at how illegal firearms transactions are taking place. No one denies that. It happens. There are crooked dealers and crooks who traffic with them. Somebody please explain to me how more laws against that kind of thing will help stop a problem that is ALREADY against the law? How will more laws suddenly make the criminal class obey them? I have repeatedly said, as have many others, enforce the laws we have rather than pass increasingly draconian laws that inconvenience law abiding citizens further.

    I just did a search of scholarly, peer reviewed articles on illegal gun trafficking. Precious few firearms used in crimes can be traced to gun shows, but many can be traced to straw purchases. One of the things that has been known to law enforcement for some time is the fact there are a relatively small number of rogue dealers who sell a disproportionate number of weapons which end up being used by criminals. That is an already illegal activity under Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations, §178.100.

    The whole thesis of my original piece, which by now seems to have been forgotten, is that stupid irrational laws do not make us safer, they just make the government and lawmakers seem stupider. The more laws on the books, with fewer law enforcement officials, just further guarantees the difficulty in enforcing the law. Also, more laws sometimes have the opposite effect. Instead of making a problem go away or diminishing it, it makes it worse (see: 18th Amendment & drug laws).

  16. Scientists urge end to limits on gun safety research
    By Peter Henderson
    Jan 10, 201

    (Reuters) – Research restrictions pushed by the National Rifle Association have stopped the United States from finding solutions to firearms violence, more than a hundred scientists from virtually every major U.S. university told Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on gun violence in a letter on Thursday.

    In the wake of the December school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, and other mass homicides, the group of economists, health researchers, educators, doctors and criminologists said funding should be restored to a range of study areas, from gun safety to tracking illegal guns.

    President Barack Obama has asked Biden to head a task force to come up with gun policy proposals, and Biden was to meet with NRA representatives on Thursday. He said the task force will have recommendations ready for the president by Tuesday.

    “While mortality rates from almost every major cause of death declined dramatically over the past half century, the homicide rate in America today is almost exactly the same as it was in 1950,” the academics wrote in a letter organized by scholars at the University of Chicago Crime Lab research center.

    “Politically-motivated constraints” left the nation “muddling through” a problem that costs American society on the order of $100 billion per year, it said.

    The federal Centers for Disease Control has cut firearms safety research by 96 percent since the mid-1990s, according to one estimate. Congress, pushed by the gun lobby, in 1996 put restrictions on CDC funding of gun research into the budget. Restrictions on other agencies were added in later years.

    The NRA, the main lobbyist for gun rights, has taken credit for the research halt. “These junk science studies and others like them are designed to provide ammunition for the gun control lobby by advancing the false notion that legal gun ownership is a danger to the public health instead of an inalienable right,” it said in 2011.

    Research into links between teenagers’ use of guns and alcohol, and firearm storage practices, were examples the gun rights group cited, arguing that the studies were meant to show gun ownership was a “disease.”

    The NRA did not respond to a request for comment ahead of the letter’s release.

  17. Ineffective rules let gun stores endure
    In some cases, new federal license erases revocation
    By John Diedrich and Ben Poston of the Journal Sentinel
    Dec. 15, 2010

    Hobbled by Congress, federal watchdogs rarely revoke the licenses of lawbreaking gun dealers. And when they do, stores can easily beat the system by having a relative, friend or employee pull a fresh license – something that routinely happens across the country, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found.

    The newspaper identified more than 50 stores in 20 states over the past six years where such a move was made, wiping the operation’s slate clean. The newspaper’s review, which involved contacting more than 150 gun dealers, uncovered 34 additional stores with indications a revoked license holder remains connected to a gun-dealing operation.

    Earlier this year, the newspaper reported that licenses changed at a Milwaukee area gun store in 2007. A recommended revocation of the Badger Outdoors license by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives disappeared when the license was surrendered, a co-owner retired and a different owner’s son pulled a new license, changing the name to Badger Guns.

    Those operations have been the top sellers of crime guns recovered by Milwaukee police for at least the past decade, according to Milwaukee police data obtained by the newspaper. In the past three years, six Milwaukee police officers were wounded with guns sold by Badger Guns or Badger Outdoors – accounting for all but one of the officers shot during that period.

    In Indianapolis, Popguns – another top dealer of crime guns according to ATF data – had its license revoked by the agency in 2006. The business remains in operation after owner Mike Hilton’s wife received a fresh license and the violations disappeared. Mike Hilton remains closely involved in the operation.

    “The fact that I can be in here and work in the store other than in a clerk capacity, it is kind of asinine, I agree,” Hilton told the Journal Sentinel one day recently while working at the store. “You revoke a license but then the person whose license is revoked, they can come right back in and can be an integral part of it.”

    The license loophole is the latest example of how Congress protects even the biggest sellers of crime guns by crippling the enforcement agency responsible for regulating them – the focus of the newspaper’s yearlong “Wiped Clean” investigation, launched after a pair of Milwaukee police officers were severely wounded with a gun purchased from Badger Guns.

    Gun-rights advocates say enforcement of existing laws is enough to curb bad actors. But Congress has gutted those laws regarding the sellers of crime guns and has made it extremely difficult for the public to find out which dealers are arming criminals.

    The latest Journal Sentinel investigation also found:

    • The ATF inspects less than 20% of the nation’s roughly 62,000 federally licensed firearms dealers each year and tries to shut down just a fraction of them, with the number dramatically dropping in the past six years. And when the agency tries to take away a license, it succeeds just half the time.

    • An analysis of ATF data shows it took an average of 15 months for the agency to process a recommendation to revoke or deny license renewal. The data, however, doesn’t measure the entire process. The agency estimates the time is probably 18 to 24 months. And it can drag on for years if the stores take it to court.

    • In its nationwide review of ATF data, the newspaper determined at least 52 current dealers have connections to a revoked dealer. In Wisconsin alone, there are five such dealers.

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