Monday, April 27, 2015
Nation does about face on owning weapons in a span of eight years
Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2015 11:45 pm | Updated: 11:48 pm, Sun Apr 26, 2015.
"The number of gun licenses in area communities has declined significantly since the start of the decade, a product, say law enforcement officials, of changes in gun culture, higher fees and tighter regulations on who can get gun permits."
- From a Sun Chronicle story by Rick Foster on Aug. 20, 2007.
"From 2013 to 2014, all but five Massachusetts' 351 communities saw an increase in the number of active Class A licenses (licenses to carry), and the number of Class A licenses has increased in all but two towns since 2008."
- From a Sun Chronicle story by Paige Allen on April 22, 2015.
The two excerpts above - separated by less than eight years - detail a fairly dramatic shift in attitudes toward some types of gun ownership. More people are buying guns, carrying guns, and probably firing guns. Without making a value judgment as to whether or not that is a good or bad thing, the question it raises is - why?
That depends on who you ask. There is no single reason. Different circumstances and events have contributed to form the public's feelings and actions concerning guns over the last eight years. But there are a few factors that have undeniably and directly influenced this surge and increased support for less-regulated gun ownership. Let's review them here, not necessarily in order of impact.
1. The NRA has perfected the politics of hate and fear.
While they certainly didn't invent it, the NRA and its leadership have transformed fear and hatred into an art form. No one is better at it.
They prey on the insecurities and distrust in people, while claiming to be about freedom, liberty and patriotism. Their blatant intimidation of most members of Congress is a powerful testament to their unflinching dedication of purpose. They have the money and the power, and they control the legislative process when it comes to guns. And most importantly - they are only growing in strength and influence.
2. There is a Democratic president and a Republican House.
This reason is directly connected to the first. Barack Obama has done little to nothing to toughen gun control regulations. Yet the mere fact he is perceived as being liberal is enough ammunition for the Gun Lobby to energize its conservative base. And the majority of House Republicans are anxious to prove to primary voters they are conservative enough. Nothing does that more effectively than coming out for the American weapon of choice - guns.
3. The recent recession made people even more distrustful of government.
Some of our biggest institutions failed us, and government stepped in with involvement at unprecedented levels. Many people began to believe their own lives were truly beyond their control, and they revolted by rejecting further perceived intrusions into their personal liberties.
4. The terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.
There is no argument that this mass shooting of elementary school children and staff had tremendous impact on the issue of gun control nationwide. However, it did not move public opinion or actions in the direction many had anticipated.
The Gun Lobby made a critical and politically wise decision in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. Rather than backing off and riding out what many saw as the inevitable public mood swing toward enacting new restrictive gun laws, they came out on the offensive.
The NRA and others told people that not only were guns not to blame for the killings, but in fact more guns would have prevented them. They suggested arming teachers and other school personnel, not limiting the ability to purchase assault-style weapons.
And it worked. It continues to work.
Americans were told tragic events like this would result in their complete inability to own firearms. They were warned mass shootings were going to be cited as reason for the government to come and take away their guns. They were told to run out and purchase now, protect yourselves and your families, get your permits before it is too late.
Will things swing back the other way? Eight years from now, will there be a story about how gun registration is dropping?
There's no way to tell. But one thing is certain. For the foreseeable future, guns will continue to affect both politics and social attitudes.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at email@example.com on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
Friday, April 17, 2015
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, April 17, 2015.
AN INSIDE LOOKBy Bill Gouveia
Politics in North Attleboro are generally intense and spirited. But over the last several months, they have been downright deceptive. Sorry, but that’s an apt and proper description.
Let’s take a moment and review the situation without getting too bogged down in complicated details.
Following a failed tax increase proposal almost two years ago, town officials conduct a survey to figure out how to get an override passed. In the meantime, selectmen vote against a dual tax rate, thus shifting additional burden to residential taxpayers. The town administrator begins a series of meetings designed to explain the budgetary situation and what is needed to maintain service levels.
At the end of February, selectmen vote to place a $4 million tax increase on the April 7 ballot, allowing less than six weeks for citizens to consider the full impact. They do so after reaching an understanding with the school committee to waive busing and parking fees if the override passes, using that as a “carrot” to obtain votes for the tax increase from affected parents.
Selectmen and the school committee warn of dire cuts that will be made to schools, public safety departments, and town government in general if the tax increase fails. Selectmen call for cuts “across-the-board”, translating into a huge blow to public safety staffing levels. The school department says it will be forced to close a school and totally disrupt the educational system.
But just more than a week before the election, against the advice of their administrator, selectmen reverse course. They decide they will not cut the school, police or fire budgets if the override loses. The Allen School will stay open. Four police officers and up to six firefighters will keep their jobs. Voters go to the polls thinking this is what they get if they vote No.
Incredibly, a mere 48 hours after the tax increase was defeated, selectmen once again do an about face. They vote to go back to recommending “across-the-board” cuts. They completely change what voters thought they were getting when casting ballots.
Why, you ask? Well, they claimed their previous plan was no longer practical. How can they say that with a straight face? Are the townspeople supposed to believe things changed that completely in 48 hours? Exactly what did change?
Or is it perhaps more logical to believe selectmen were playing politics with the override vote? Could it be this was their way of trying to manipulate the result? Did they sell their constituents a bill of goods, and then pull a switcheroo after the deal was closed?
The school department reacted strongly to the selectmen’s reversal. Chairman Chip Poirier called it “shameful”. Superintendent Suzan Cullen said after the reversal the school department was “left picking up the pieces for our innocent victims, the children of North Attleboro”.
The “innocent victims” remark is more political hype. Would those on fixed incomes have been “innocent victims” had the tax increase passed? Please, don’t go there.
And the school department was doing a pretty good job of politicking themselves during this process. Trading fees for yes votes was a pretty slick move. Is it possible they were simply out-maneuvered by selectmen?
The departments truly betrayed here were the police and fire. The two chiefs and their officers and firefighters have handled the entire budget season with class and dignity while making a strong case for funding. They were deemed critical by selectmen before the vote, but somehow more expendable after. They have a right to ask why.
Many believe North voters defeated the tax increase because they just don’t trust their elected leaders. They might simply not believe what they are being told. And after the past few months – can you blame them?
Some things are certain. North Attleboro needs more funding for schools, police, fire and other services. Tough times are ahead. Severe cuts are indeed necessary, and “across-the-board” may be the best way to achieve them.
But this pathetic political pandering has to stop. The townspeople need real leadership, not officials constantly checking to see which way the political winds are blowing.
Now RTM members will make the final budget decisions. Given recent events, who knows how it will all turn out?
But hey – at least there’s no mayor.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
Friday, April 10, 2015
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, April 10, 2015
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
When it comes to the legislative proposals known as "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts" (RFRA's), I have to confess (no pun intended). I just don't get it.
Many might say that is exactly the problem. But it seems to me these laws aren't restoring anything. Instead, they seek to elevate religion to a status never envisioned by our founding fathers, who helped create something referred to as Separation of Church and State.
Unless someone passed a law while I wasn't looking, America has no official national religion. That was a big no-no back in the 18th century when people like John Adams and George Washington led a revolution inspired in part by the desire to throw off the yoke of religious persecution.
Sure, you hear the term "Christian Nation" tossed around all the time by politicians and leaders of that faith to describe the United States. But it is usually to advance their own agendas and organizations, reflect what they want in the country, and carries no official weight.
So the question is: If we have always had the right to practice the religion of our choosing, why do we need to restore something we never lost?
The legislators who pass these laws usually give answers centering around the alleged over-emphasis of individual rights versus the collective rights of society in general. But that seems to be more of a concession to the increasingly conservative make-up of state legislatures early in this new century (not to mention their success at gerrymandering new conservative congressional districts).
But if you look closely at this "religious freedom" movement, the real purpose of it becomes abundantly clear. These laws aren't about giving people the right to practice their own beliefs as they choose. Rather, they are about justifying attempts to force others to conform to their moral and religious standards. They achieve this by disguising laws as attempts to defend themselves against attacks that simply do not exist.
An example of this is the attitude of some organizations that supported the original version of the Indiana RFRA. They were pleased because that now-changed statute had laid the groundwork for them to be able to discriminate against gay people. While that was not the intent of all supporters, it was certainly the objective of many. Just looking at the people present for the original signing makes that clear.
Just what does it mean to be allowed to freely practice your religion? Certainly it involves the right to believe in what you please. Be it God, Allah, or some other supreme being - religious freedom means just that, right?
But if that is true, why is it some religions seem more intent on creating laws allowing them to feel superior?
Recruitment is an essential part of any organization, religious or otherwise. If you have no members, you cannot serve your cause. So getting people to join and share your beliefs is critical to any religion.
But we cannot conform to all standards. You cannot have both freedom of religion and conformity. When my beliefs directly conflict with yours, there are going to be issues. Some of those issues are going to involve the rules and laws of our society.
We have the right to believe in religions that declare some lawful activities to be morally unacceptable. Emotional topics such as gay marriage, contraception, and abortion have clearly highlighted that thorny problem. Fighting for those beliefs in the legislative arena is both fair and necessary for all sides.
But we don't get to use our beliefs as a reason to violate or subvert laws. Religion should be about ending discrimination, not creating it. There is an old saying often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, claiming "My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins". It seems to apply these laws.
Everyone has the right to try and change the world in ways they believe are for the better, both individually and collectively. And religion often plays a major role in that.
But there is a difference between being free to believe in something, and legislating the right to do so at the expense of those who disagree.
We need changes, not laws that simply restate the obvious.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
Monday, April 6, 2015
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
When you are a municipal official or employee in Massachusetts, you are expected to adhere to strict ethical standards. You are required to complete an online Conflict of Interest training program once every two years and submit proof of same to the City or Town Clerk.
That training teaches you it is your responsibility to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. In other words, you do not have to actually violate the law to fall out of compliance.
All of which makes recent events in Foxboro that much more troubling.
Just last week Selectman Lorraine Brue, a candidate for re-election next month, was asked by the weekly Foxboro Reporter about a possible conflict. Brue’s campaign website had listed Foxboro Advisory Committee Chairman Tracey Vasile as the person to whom political contributions for Brue’s campaign could be sent.
The Advisory Committee is similar to the Finance Committee in other towns. It reviews all town budgets and warrant articles, then makes recommendations to Town Meeting. Those recommendations carry great weight in helping voters decide what passes, and what doesn’t.
Brue has a good understanding of the role of that committee. She served as its chairman prior to being elected selectman. She should know better than most the importance of maintaining objectivity as well as the appearance of objectivity. That goes for her current post as selectman as well.
So it is hard to understand her failure to recognize that the naming of Vasile to a campaign financial post would be seen by some as a problem. Selectmen regularly appear before the Advisory Committee to argue various budgets or articles. To have the chairman of that board collecting political donations for a sitting selectman’s campaign is – at the very least – a strong appearance of conflict of interest on both their parts.
Brue did the right thing and decided not to have Vasile be her campaign treasurer after the newspaper inquiry. But she was in no way regretful, insisting it would have been legal and proper for her to continue that official relationship.
In fact, Brue said it was “disappointing” that the person who tipped off the newspaper did not personally call her instead. She tried to spin the situation to her political advantage, saying she hoped this was not a sign of a “contentious election season”.
“We have only just begun to heal from the divisions caused by the casino issue during my last election in 2012,” Brue wrote in an email. Nice political touch – appealing to a large proven voter base of folks with anti-casino sentiments while at the same time appearing to ask for unity.
But Brue’s rhetoric does not match her past actions. A little over a year ago she was at the center of controversy for doing something similar to what she is now complaining about.
When the debate over locating a bar/bowling alley in Patriot Place was all the rage, Brue joined the other four selectmen in unanimously voting to send two selectmen to talk with the applicants and the Kraft Organization. But after the meeting, Brue had second thoughts and concerns that it might constitute an Open Meeting Law (OML) violation.
But rather than directly contact her other selectmen or wait for the next meeting, she called the town manager with her concerns. The decision to send two selectmen was essentially voided without another vote, leaving at least one board member to publicly question why the problem wasn’t brought directly to the board for action.
That sounds very similar to an individual going to a newspaper rather than calling the possible violator about a potential conflict of interest. You can’t have it both ways.
All this comes on the heels of recent OML violations by selectmen, preceded a few years ago by the school committee being cited for blatant violations of the same statute. Just weeks ago the Fire Chief appeared to violate campaign laws by soliciting signatures while on duty and in uniform on behalf of the Town Clerk, who coordinates the ethics training.
There needs to be some attitude adjustments in Foxboro. This can’t all just be coincidence. It almost appears there is a culture of indifference that exists within town government, and most townspeople appear indifferent to that.
They shouldn’t be.