Everytown For Gun Safety is Gunning for New Mexico

Currently under consideration this legislative session are House Bill 50 and Senate Bill 48 Background Checks on Gun Transfers. The bill has been advertised as closing the “gun show loophole.” The real goal of the bill is to end private-party gun sales and gun shows in the state regardless of permissions provided for by federal law.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)  rules are thorough and clear. The rules say that private-party sellers in New Mexico cannot sell firearms to someone who is not a resident of New Mexico.

Per the 2010 ATF Gun Show Guidelines  private party sellers are expected to verify the buyer’s state of residence and determine within a reasonable degree of certainty that the buyer is allowed to own a firearm. Further, a person is required to have a dealer license if “you repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit.”

A person, however, is not required to have a license if they “only make occasional sales of firearms from … [their] … personal collection.” These rules have been reiterated in the 2013 ATF publication Best Practices: Transfers of Firearms by Private Sellers and in the 2016 ATF publication Do I Need a License to Buy and Sell Firearms. These rules also state that out-of-state visitors can buy long guns from a federal firearms licensees (FFL), but are not allowed to buy from or sell to a private party.

Finally, at gun shows, FFLs are required to follow all laws and regulations as if they were conducting business in their retail location.

Everytown For Gun Safety—the lobbyist for HB 50 and SB 48—say private party sales allow felons to buy guns online. The ATF rules are clear here too: online sellers must ship their guns to a FFL willing to receive them and run a background check on the buyer. That Everytown For Gun Safety found felons trying to buy a gun from one of their fake online ads only means that criminals are criminals. It so happens that those banned from buying a firearm also come into FFL retail outlets fully knowing they will not pass a background check just to see if that FFL would be willing to sell it to them anyway.

In light of ATF rules, single private-party sales that take place among friends (even if they make the connection via Facebook or other online forum group) are lawful as long as both parties are residents of the same state. Private-party sellers at gun shows who attend one or more shows and always have used firearms on hand for sale may be in violation of the law.

But, how much money constitutes a profit?  And the line between repetitive versus occasional sales is fuzzy, too. Are there private-party sellers at New Mexican gun shows in violation of the law? Possibly. But the real issue is: How would we know? The ATF does not regularly send agents to gun shows to verify compliance. Several ATF agents in New Mexico have told me privately that the ATF does not have the manpower to do so. A high ranking ATF official said to me that he could not expect agents to work 7 days a week (most gun shows are on weekends).

The two bills do include a provision to allow a FFL to facilitate private-party transactions. When the Senate version of the bill was under discussion, lawmakers commented that a dealer could charge a “reasonable fee” for the work.

But here is the kicker: a private-party sale would use the FFL’s time and resources, and the FFL becomes involved in the transaction because it is the FFL that verifies the Form 4473 is completed correctly and that both the buyer and seller are state residents. So, what fee would you charge to open yourself up to the liability of an incorrectly or fraudulently completed form, or to make up for the lost sale from a real customer because you are busy facilitating a transaction between two people who are not customers?

I can think of a fee, but it would never in a million years be described as reasonable. That said, there are over 900 FFLs in New Mexico; those that are individuals but without a retail store might think facilitating private-party transactions would be a nice income stream.

Even if these bills become law in New Mexico, we are left with the same issue. Federal law allows private-party sales and the ATF just is not funded and staffed to monitor sales between individuals. Essentially, this law will stop private-party sales between people trying to do it right. Those that were not following the law anyway will carry on. The ATF will remain understaffed and underfunded to do anything about it.

Or how about this: are you charity-minded? Ask the Lions Club in Las Cruces how much they depend on their biannual gun shows at the city’s convention center to fund their programs. The show is next weekend, February 25 – 26, so why not stop by and find out?






Are We Fools? Have We Been Mislead?

This election year has made fools of us all, not because of whom the candidates are, but because of how the media portrays them and their supporters. While it is impossible to be completely neutral, there is a difference between reporting facts versus opinions masquerading as facts. The “mainstream” media—mainstream because it dominates the information communication structure in our country—created and feeds these ugly, untrue analogies; the return fire from the non-mainstream has not been much better. At the very least, the discerning realize it takes the two working in combination to create a fuller picture of what is true.

Plenty of fodder comes from witnessing how the Republican Party has been hoisted by its own petard. Relying on evangelical Christians to be its in the bag voting bloc has slowly but surely isolated anyone who is not one of the chosen believers. Strangely, a party based upon getting government out of our lives has become obsessed with using government to limit and control our behavior—even as those behaviors cause no harm—in the name of what? An antipathy to government intervention that nobly—albeit still punitively—tries to create protections for the sometimes marginalized by race, gender or class? The Republican Party’s alliance plus the conservative rational antipathy to such policies has been translated in the media as conservative equals racist. So where do all the folks who just want less government intrusion in their lives go? Where do conservatives who understand the negatives of government-provided social protections go? Where do those people who have needs or faith of a different kind or temperament go?

The media agonizes over why? How? Well, the bogeyman must be white men. Because if there is one type of person it is okay to hate and say so out loud at the moment, it is white men. “Hoo boy, what fun it is to see them get their comeuppance,” say media-types overwhelmingly dominated by white men. As if there are not plenty of conservatives saying, “Why? How did we get here?” too; to whom I say, see the first paragraph. Ironically, in this one instance, educated white women get a pass on racism—an odd bit of progress given that they most often are criticized for supporting some form of man-hating feminism.

Our country is headed toward ruin! Remember Nixon? A paranoid president tends to do things that damage the powers of office of the presidency. A reliance on restrictive political litmus tests leaves little room for those not part of that courted voting bloc, even as they too are leery of what has been wrought.

Media apologists abound. Journalists who have never held a security clearance absolve Clinton of her crimes because they do not understand what she did, so she must not have done anything of consequence. Conspiracy theorists equally paranoid in their own way traffic in “when you hear hooves, think zebras not horses” ideas. Republicans with some power and fame vow to vote for Clinton. (Will they really? Or is this a public statement to avoid being tainted by the media as a racist, sexist or bigot, and to preserve their future electability and influence?).

Trump and taxes. Trump is either a shirker or a genius. Somehow it is not okay that he did what all very wealthy people do, use the tax laws to their advantage. And yet, why is no one acknowledging that our tax laws encourage anyone without a W2-income to focus on deductions? That the so-called establishment of both sides have supported this tax structure for years? That not having a W2-income does not automatically mean insane wealth because included in this category are the self-employed? Or that income taxes aside, businesses pay employee taxes, corporate taxes, taxes on inventory, supplies, building materials, etc. How is this not contributing something to our nation?

Clinton and cheating. After one debate, the media jumped to prove that Clinton did not use an earpiece. It was a great chance for the big dogs to go after non-mainstream media (who did not buy into the canard) and lump them in with conspiracy theorists. Oddly, only Gizmodo pointed out the bump seen on Clinton’s back was a mic pack. That is, an interesting opportunity to explain how these systems work, for a glimpse into the behind the scenes work to make such events happen that could tamp down on alarmism, was missed.

How about the media helping stoke the outrage instead of explaining the entire picture? What do you do if not wanting to reward people for not following the law somehow makes you a racist? What do you do when it is obvious that our journalists are shirking their duties, and are pushing an agenda of black and white thinking. A law enforcement officer is involved in a shooting? Then to them, it follows that all law enforcement officers are prejudiced and violent.

Our dominant media culture has let us down. Civic engagement has become nasty comments on Facebook and blogs thanks to a parsimonious rationing of truth. Opinion masquerading as fact tricks us into misplacing blame. The crime rate in Albuquerque? New Mexican news outlets blame a police department and a mayor without acknowledging the true catalyst, the pervasiveness of drug trafficking; how Albuquerque is major transportation hub of shuttling drugs throughout the country and cash profits back into Mexico.

Aren’t we all tired of being attacked just for having a political preference? The path to salvation? Recognize when opinions are masquerading as facts. Hypothetically ask yourself, if this story is not true, then what else could it be? Don’t judge a book by its cover; look behind the curtain. Read widely and copiously and apply critical thinking skills. Accept that there are reasonable news outlets that fairly point out fault lines in the received wisdom of the dominant media culture and paying attention to both is worthwhile. Our country may struggle with sticky, unpleasant issues but it does not follow that one side has the moral high ground. We all would be wise to question the dominant media conversation. And if you read this and felt attacked? Then read it again, as there is much nuance here too.

Weiner the Movie – A Review with a Little Commentary

Last Friday, I rented Weiner on iTunes.  Because it is a documentary, I’ll confess, I had been looking forward to seeing it thinking that it would be a fun bit of mockery about a guy who deserves to be mocked.

Instead, it was a window into running a campaign and a sympathetic portrayal of a candidate who hoped to rise out of the ashes like a phoenix to live another day.

In 2013, Weiner threw his hat into the ring for New York City’s mayor.  It was supposed to be his comeback.  I’ll admit, I didn’t know anything about Weiner except that he was married to Huma Abedin, had at one point been considered a rising star in the Democratic Party because of his smarts, and that he had been the source of his own undoing.

Weiner as a mayoral candidate was a man who really wanted to be in public service to help people, to make government accountable, to make government serve the public in New York City—to be the champion of the middle class in a city dominated by obscene wealth.  His passion was evident, even if at the same time it demonstrated the hubris and narcissism that frankly anyone running for office needs to have.  Equally clear, Weiner craved the adulation of people.  The scenes where he led a gay pride parade down a city street, waving a giant rainbow flag, so happy to be there.  Still though, a striking image. Homophobia may be on the wane in the United States, but it is still there, making this image of Weiner arresting, while simultaneously sending an important message; it was akin to when England’s Princess Diana was willing to touch AIDS victims showing the world that it was ok to do so.

The campaign started off with nothing but hope.  The empty rented room with only a fold out table, one chair, and one phone.  The slow build-up of staffers and volunteers.  The endless phone calls the volunteers were making on behalf of a candidate in whom they believed.  Abedin willing to be in TV commercials, speak at events, and make phone calls to her extensive network to solicit donations, to be out in front instead of her usual place behind the scenes.  This is the nitty-gritty of campaigning for public office, and something the media usually glosses over in election years (except to say things like Trump has no campaign infrastructure without really explaining what “infrastructure” is).

There were moments in the film, however, that gave pause.  When filming a TV commercial where Wiener and Abedin sat on a townhouse front stoop, shoulder to shoulder—when it was Abedin’s turn to speak, and she was lauding her husband as the best thing for New York City, the entire time she also was shaking her head back and forth like we do when we shake our heads to say “no.”  The bickering between the couple.  The distress and anger Abedin showed when post-election she and Weiner had to make plans to avoid a run-in with Sydney Leathers, one of Weiner’s newly revealed sexting partners from his first downfall from grace (and showing that he had lied about the event before).

And then there were moments of strength such as debates with the other candidates where Weiner took down the other candidates in a Trump-like way.  Or when he was willing to argue with a bystander to defend himself.  It’s too bad the film skipped over Weiner’s politics because he was a guy of interesting, well-articulated ideas whether or not you agreed, or skew left or right in your own politics.  For example, other articles about Weiner in light of the movie noted his plan “Keys to the City: 64 ideas to keep New York the capital of the middle class.” While you can challenge the policy ideas, the ethos is hard to argue with.

Alas, his campaign was derailed by reports of other sexting partners from the past. Carlos Danger and Sydney Leathers—who thinks up these names?  This was too much for everyone, too unmayoral in behavior, and unsurprisingly Weiner came in dead last on election day.

And then, three days after I watched this film, the news hit.  He was still at it.  The sexting.  How foolish.  How willfully self-destructive.

People show you who they are; watch their actions, not their words.  Past behavior truly is predictive of future behavior. Weiner’s behavior is proof.  Once might be an error in judgement, but two begins a pattern, and three is definitely a pattern.  That is a point worth remembering when evaluating candidates in this election year.



Political Passion Shouldn’t Be Hatred and Vitriol

Whelp, here we are.  It reminds me of that joke: an entitled criminal and an inflammatory bully slam the door in the face of an amiable grandfatherly socialist as they walk into a bar … Oh wait?  That’s not how it goes?  Is it because I forgot to add that there’s a New Mexican sitting in the bar claiming he’s all about fiscal rectitude and legalized marijuana?

What an awful state of affairs, right?  You’re absolved for thinking that, but before you panic, let’s consider a few things.

Does it matter who the U.S. President is in your daily life?

How many of you have ever met a U.S. President?  I have, and I’m sure some of you have, but I’m equally sure that most of you haven’t.  How is my life different from having met a few?  Well, I have some posed, signed pictures to hang on the wall, but other than that, it’d be hard for me to come up with much to say about it in terms of life-changing effects.

That you likely haven’t says a lot about how important a U.S. President is in your daily life—as in not very.  Further, unless you work for the federal government (thank you Mr. President for announcing on December 5 that we are getting December 26th off too!) or you’re in the military subject to participating in military actions, it’s even less than that.

It’s now President Obama’s last year in office; regardless of your opinion about him or his performance, what are the things that he has done that have directly affected you?  Not tangentially, but directly—where your life changed in some tangible way?

I’ve only got two things: getting that day after Christmas in 2014 as a bonus holiday and Obamacare.  The first is positive and the second is incredibly negative.  True story: if you don’t qualify for a subsidized policy on the exchange, it’s akin to paying something for nothing, and don’t we all love doing that!

Now I’m not saying that who will be the next leader of the free world is unimportant—nor am I saying that you shouldn’t care—but I am saying that to you, whoever is president likely matters a whole lot less than whomever your community leaders, your state representatives, your governor, and your congressional representatives all are.  These are the office holders who have more influence to help or hurt you directly.

And yet, the way our electoral cycle works, presidential election years are motivating.  Voters who ordinarily express no political preferences come out of the woodwork with very definitive and inflexible points of view.  Federal office holders fret over coattails since these are the years more vote.  The media scrutinize or talk amongst themselves as if their opinions were news—yes, I’m looking at you Fox & Friends.

And we all fall into line thinking that if our candidate doesn’t win, then the world will end and we’ll have to move to Canada.

Other reasons we get whipped into a frenzy over presidential elections is our desire to be able to identify with the candidate, as if we are saying something intrinsic about our own character by whom we support.  Isn’t the President the face of the nation? How can we be a likeable person if our candidate isn’t?

Or if you won’t have a beer with that candidate, what happens to that after work drink with your co-worker who supports her?

Political scientists acknowledge that there is this thing of “hate Congress, but like your Congressman” or at least hate him less because if you needed something, they are actually accessible

While it does feel like a strange presidential election year, I’m not terribly verklempt because I’m not confident that who wins will affect me enough that it matters.  And here’s why: in my humble, or perhaps not so, opinion, if you’re a Republican, it’d behoove you to be grateful for the Democrats—and vice-versa.

You perhaps already know I’m touchy about those who can’t explain why they are a “D” or an “R;” or choose “I” to avoid being tainted by whiffs of socialism or ridiculous bathroom laws instead of taking a principled stand in a way that might cause a party platform to change.  This is because I’m a creature of ideology and decision rules.  I believe things for a reason, and I understand events in terms of rational choices and re-running my decision calculus when I happen across new data.

Sparing you didactic political theory lectures and multiple citations, roughly, conservatism is things like: Plato had a point that is still relevant today; government really is a Leviathan who does not generally have our best interests at heart and thus needs checks on its power; limited government does not mean no government, it means a government who provides public goods, deals with other countries, stays out of personal matters, and resolves market failures; and, if the Leviathan ventures into the land of regulation, the goal is to create equality of opportunity and allow citizens to rise and fall as the result of their own efforts.

In contrast, liberalism (aka progressivism, not classical liberalism because that’s actually conservatism, confused yet?) assumes that prior cultural and philosophical thinking cannot be trusted given that every day we are shown the fruits of our folly (e.g. slavery, prejudice, sexism); government is a force for good that resolves conflicts and raises all boats regardless of the tide; and government having a say-so (i.e. regulation) about every activity is to protect us, not to control or to harm us; and, where all legislative efforts hew to a desire to protect citizens from themselves and each other in a bid for equality of outcome.

Or maybe you don’t quite agree with my nutshell descriptions.  After all, Republicans were recently embroiled in bathroom law tomfoolery.  Seriously Republican Partiers, don’t we think that our government should NOT be legislating personal behavior?

Evidently to my chagrin, it appears that we Republicans will go for invasive social laws whenever we can cast women or kids as victims.  That seems to be the decision rule—and while I may be a victim on occasion, I’m confident it’s not purely because of my gender.

And it’s why I’m grateful for Democrats.  Truly, I see our political system as a tug of war game.  Republicans lined up along the rope across the mud pit from a line of Democrats holding the other side.  Each side is straining back and forth to keep the other side honest.  Democrats are preventing Republicans from being too hard on folks in their desire to focus on opportunity, and Republicans are preventing Democrats from saying equality only exists if everyone has exactly the same (or enough as deemed by … the Leviathan?)  Regardless of how you characterize it, what happens if one side abandons its cause?  EVERYONE falls down and into the mud.  In other words, each side needs the other to keep both from going off the deep end.

That’s all well and good, but who really votes ideologically anyway?  Isn’t it really all about cake?

When I was in 6th grade, my class held a mock election for that year’s gubernatorial race.  The candidates were a Republican (who won, then became the state university president, and is now a U.S. Senator who won’t respond to my emails) and a Democrat (who lost and was subsequently convicted for bank fraud foreshadowing the Lincoln savings and loan scandal) (i.e. clues to figure out what state and when). But we were just 12; we didn’t know any of that, and we were just supporting who our parents were.  In fact, I recall our debate issue was about that very important government service of filling roadway potholes in a timely manner.  Given an even number of students, none of whom were shy about declaring their support publicly, it meant the election should have ended in a tie.

Until the day itself, where one party’s candidate squeaked by with just one vote.  But how?  It didn’t take long to find the turncoat.  And when I asked why she had changed her vote, she—looking at me as if I were an idiot—said, “Because they had cake.”  Evidently, the victor’s side had indeed handed out slices of chocolate cake in return for a verified vote for their candidate.

However, whichever side you’re on—whether it’s ideology or cake you care about—I beg you to consider three things.

Firstly, question what you hear—especially when it’s saying one side is the devil.  Everyone in Hollywood is a liberal?  Maybe not.

President Obama gets accolades for saying, “That’s how democracy works.  So you’ve got to be committed to participating not just if you get immediate gratification, but you got to be a citizen full-time, all the time” at a university commencement speech. But Justice Clarence Thomas at a different commencement speech given the same week said, “At the risk of understating what is necessary to preserve liberty in our form of government, I think more and more that it depends on good citizens, discharging their daily duties in their daily obligations.”

Switch the quotes, and I don’t think anyone would notice.

Secondly, cake. We all like it. We all want and get some. There is no moral high ground here.

And last but not least, and in fact this may be the most important.  A presidential win is not a mandate to run roughshod over the other side.  That’s really what democracy means; the losers still exist, still have rights, still have representation, and you cannot grind them into the dust to cease to exist forevermore.  Hate guns and your gun-hating candidate wins?  The Second Amendment still stands.  Think welfare programs encourage people to give up looking for work and stay “on the dole”?  If so, the solution still isn’t to be inhumane and offer no safety net to the poor.

As for cake?  Whoever wins, you’ll get about the same amount regardless of who is in the White House and who the majority parties in Congress are.

Go ahead and passionately support a candidate for president.  I would never gainsay political passion.  But being passionate for a candidate doesn’t need to mean vitriol and a desire to wipe the floor with the other side.


Your Behavior Tells People Who You Are

This presidential election year is comparable to 1828 – the “dirtiest ever” – and for much the same reasons: internal party conflict and a bombastic fisticuffs-inclined candidate (the incumbent Andrew Jackson); one candidate appealing to the “common folk” and another to the elitist, white New England establishment; and, the hurling of accusations of adultery, use of prostitutes, and improper use of government funds. Sound familiar? I’ve almost abandoned looking at Facebook; it’s full of purple-prose political memes (e.g. Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Cruz) and ad hominem attacks betraying the sad fact that apparently many people take the easy rhetorical route rather than thinking about the issues at hand and just why they consider themselves a Democrat, Republican or Libertarian, or a liberal, progressive or conservative; truly, if you cannot articulate what the label you give yourself means, then why are you so meme-proud of it?

Political cartoons, on the other hand, mock in a funny or Schadenfreude way that draws attention to an hypocrisy or some detail left unsaid.  This too is a rich American tradition. In some ways, political cartoons work like ugly memes.  If you agree, they make you laugh.  If you don’t, you just think its unfunny and perhaps partisan.  But in other ways, political cartoons are an important way to keep things honest.  They serve a critical function in reminding us all of those things that are ignored in service of framing an issue positively for political gain.

Today, I saw this political cartoon that sent me back to 2012:


It’s true, Hillary Clinton said that statement verbatim. And she said it when referring to the 2011 U.S.-backed overthrow of the Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.  In other words, it is a true statement.  But simultaneously disingenuous, because, on September 11, 2012, four Americans – three US Foreign Service Officers from our Department of State and the Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens – were killed in Benghazi by terrorists (rebel forces perhaps if you’re Libyan) in a country destabilized by our military intervention in 2011.

I, too, was a Foreign Service Officer at that time and had the privilege of attending 7th floor events at Main State (aka HST) in Washington, DC where then-Secretary Clinton often spoke. One event that resonated with me was in support of Amelia Earhart.  There Clinton repeated an oft-told story about receiving a letter from NASA written in response to her adolescent desire to become an astronaut. The response she received? A polite letter telling her that women just could not do that. Whether true or merely allegorical, if you want to consider what may have influenced Clinton’s brand of feminism, it may just be that. We forget today what it was like then; even the State Department as late as 1970 expected their own female Foreign Service Officers to resign if they married (and men’s annual reviews still rated them on how well their wives planned a party). And I have to say, whenever I witnessed Clinton speaking with/to State employees, she was unfailingly warm, open, smiling, and encouraging.  I suspect that’s the Clinton who inspires such dogged loyalty among her close circle of friends and advisors. Like pundits say, it “humanized” her to me.  At the time, I – a conservative – actually mused, “hmm, maybe I could vote for Clinton one day.”

And then Benghazi happened. I never had the privilege to meet Ambassador Stevens, although I knew who he was because much was made of re-opening the US Embassy in Tripoli and his return at the helm.  I was also aware about the security aspect of the return because at the time, I was friendly with many of the State Department Diplomatic Security Special Agents sent to assist with the reestablishment of the Embassy and to provide on-going protection for staff and the Ambassador. They all enjoyed working with Ambassador Stevens and told me stories about what a stand-up guy he was.

It’s a big stretch to blame Clinton for the Benghazi attack.  While yes, she was leading the State Department, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is a big bureau and when it is in-country, it generally has to work with the Department of Defense or the CIA if they are too.  And in the tussle of who is top dog, Diplomatic Security usually loses out to the other two.  But then, out of the congressional inquiry we learn about Clinton’s use of both personal email and personal server.  Without a doubt, she wilfully ignored State Department policy, and she endangered staff in the field by sharing both classified and “sensitive but unclassified” (SBU) information. It seems that Clinton, her State circle, and those outside of State were freely discussing classified and SBU information routed through an off-site server without any security controls as set by State, making it even more vulnerable to hacking.

Here’s the deal: when using the State Department’s email system, it is possible to mark the classification of all emails personal, unclassified or SBU. The latter is still considered close-hold because while each fact may not be classified, if combined they can ladder up to a classified fact. This system is known as Open Net and works like your own Gmail account (including keyword scanning by State to maintain SBU compliance). Classified emails are sent on a self-contained system. Thus, if someone was emailing actual classified information on the Open Net, it was deliberate. If an email was marked classified retroactively, it’s because it was SBU information that now that other facts are known, becomes part of a classified whole – and State employees are supposed to be aware of this possibility and take it into account with their emails.

To me it’s irrelevant what former Secretaries did since State’s email system didn’t exist in the same format during their tenure. Clinton was the first who had this full option and she ignored it.  Instead, with intent, she shielded herself from regular oversight and record-keeping. Had I done either of those things, my clearance would’ve been yanked, I would have been terminated, and I would’ve been prosecuted and served at a minimum probation.

My personal opinion is that she did so in service of her political ambitions, thinking that if she could keep her emails away from FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, NARA (National Archives Records Administration) compliance, and internal controls scanning, she could tamp down on leaks and manage her image better for her presidential campaign.  It is my understanding that per NARA, the expectation is if personal email is used, then it should be forwarded to an official government account. Clinton waited until she departed the State Department to do this, but then did not turn over what we’re all looking at now until the Congress forced her hand and demanded it.

It’s a bit of irony that what she did instead meant that more of her emails have been publicly shared than would have been done otherwise. And I think that Clinton should be dealt with in the same manner as Former Gen. Petraeus. Though I doubt that will happen prior to the election.  I suspect that if there is any indictment before November, the immunity granted to Bryan Pagliano will result in a charge against either Huma Abedin (Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff and senior advisor) or Cheryl Mills (Clinton’s Chief of Staff) because most had to email either of them to get to Clinton (another key learning from the public email release).

Your behavior, not your words, tell people who you are; and past history is future character. The media to date have done a poor job explaining the serious nature of what Clinton did. It’s disheartening to me that there are voters who support a potential Commander-in-Chief who with intent broke the law, selfishly ignored the policies of her own agency that others would have been fired for doing, and displayed a habit of being careless with critical information.  Democrat or Republican, we Americans all deserve better.


In New Mexico, We Don’t Bowl Alone

The night of the November 2015 ISIS attacks in Paris, I was suddenly grateful for the miracles of Facebook as my friends all checked in safely. The few days earlier ISIS attacks in Lebanon had me worrying about an aid-worker friend who I last knew to be living there; luckily, I found a few days later that she’s now living “safely” in Libya. Here in America, the overwhelming reaction? Just say no to Syrian refugees. This, after months of tittering at how quickly European nations went from “welcome all” to “uh oh.” This, given that most Americans were ignorant that we, via the Department of State, have a Refugee Admissions Program that works in concert with the United Nations to resettle refugees here. Which is how we wound up with the latest election-year political football narrative of states refusing to take Syrian refugees.

That violent extremists seek to enter the United States and harm us is a credible fear. That there might be violent extremists amongst a pool of vetted refugees just waiting for their chance (like the Russia-loyal Communist sleeper cells of the Cold War era) is a credible fear. That young men, whose desire to belong make them susceptible to messages of righteousness, salvation, violence and hatred by groups like ISIS, want to harm us is – given how we symbolizes all that they hate – a credible fear. If you think that U.S. state governors who’ve made no-Syrian-refugees-welcome-here statements are hard-hearted or misguided, that’s certainly a viewpoint to take. Accepting refugees is a benevolent thing to do, and that compassion for suffering is an American value we should cherish. But at least take a moment to recognize that your elected officials represent everyone in your state, and many people are afraid and do look to those whose job it is to protect them to do so. Political football or not.

And now yet another reminder that we have own homegrown actors. For me, the most frustrating thing about a Facebook feed of dueling liberal- and conservative-bashing memes, is that while concern over how our country conducts itself in the world, or passionately promoting one candidate over another for no good reason whatsoever is the flavor of the day (although c’mon, I’m a political scientist, so yes, in reality I’m secretly enthralled by any display of political passion), what about here? New Mexico. Where you actually live.

French economist Thomas Piketty believes that economic inequality caused by the West drives these “radical losers,” while American scholars point instead to a host of social factors. U.S. scholars rarely like to confront their “orientalist” tendencies when talking about the Middle East. God help me, but Piketty has a point (see here or here). When you can’t join in. If one missteps results in a detour or setback so severe that you can’t recoup your losses. If you are raised amidst disaster and mayhem. Then you will find yourself making some very interesting life choices that while perfectly rational given your milieu, others will judge you harshly for.

New Mexico’s own statistics tell a tale that should make us realize that we run the risk of failing ourselves long before ISIS gets to us. The NM 2015 State of the Workforce Report shows incomes lower than U.S. average and high poverty levels; one out of every five N.M. residents lives below the poverty level; almost two-thirds of those below the poverty level have a high school education or less; our labor force participation rate is declining more than neighboring states. And over one-third are saddled with unskilled jobs – those jobs with no career development or advancement.

Why does this bother me and why does arguing about Syrian refugees make me think about it? Just over 50 miles away, my prior home Ciudad Juarez has a booming local market for cheap heroin. Like the United States and unlike the rest of Mexico, heroin is becoming the thing. And it’s that way in part because of the “lost boys,” the large underclass of users and addicts who were raised by and within the violence of the city over the last decade. You may have heard them called “ni-ni’s” (for no education, no job), but it’s worse than that. It’s no education, no job, and they see violence as the norm. So when the cartels come a callin’, they are the warm bodies that fill the low-level slots because, for the short time they have the job, selling drugs is quite lucrative. Rehab won’t necessarily offer an escape given cartels often use those facilities as both places of recruitment and places of retribution. There’s even drug tourism in Juarez; hotels set up so visiting users from El Paso can walk across the bridge, buy a hit for about the same cost as a cup or two of Starbuck’s coffee, and then hang out at the hotel until the high wears off enough so that they can return home.

We’ve got the recipe for a perfect storm here. Poverty. Unskilled labor. Per a recent DEA report, we’ve got the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juarez Cartel right here, plying their trade. Heroin is popular here too. Our New Mexico Department of Health tells us that between 2010 and 2014, 36% of drug overdoses in New Mexico were due to heroin. And our perfect storm gets worse when you include what happens when those that did start out advantaged find themselves behind the eight ball. Two young men, with college degrees, both of whom were injured serving in the military. They had every advantage, but became disillusioned when their passion betrayed them. And now? They are under indictment for drug trafficking in Miami, the ringleaders of one of the largest synthetic drug rings in Miami history. Crockett and Tubbs would be amazed at how things have changed.

I won’t chastise you for not wanting refugees because you think there is a risk. Nor will I chastise you for snap judgments made in the wake of the horrific attack in San Bernardino, CA. Human evolution spent hundreds and thousands of years teaching us all to in-group and out-group our way to safety. And being aware of world events is a good thing.  But there are things right here that need your attention too.  Because if crime were to target you, the probability that it’s someone from far away is unlikely. As to the how? Robert Putnam is right, we cannot bowl alone.  One of the very best things about living in an open society under the rule of law with a tradition of individual civic involvement is that we have a veritable smorgasbord of choices to suit every budget, every willingness to act, every political persuasion. But of course, I still must say: why not try donating your own money or even better volunteering your time before just saying “we need more laws to solve this.”  For ideas, page A24 of the latest Las Cruces Bulletin or its November 2014 & 2015 Community Wish List are great places to start – it’s what I did.

Be Careful What You Wish For, Because You Just Might Get It.

I prefer policymaking based on principals and ideals rather than expediency. The reason is that any public policy creates ripple effects. Sure, you solve the problem the policy was designed to solve, but like a rock thrown into a pond, the effects ripple outwards. New laws redefine who the winners and losers are, throwing the losers into turmoil that begets new policy problems. New laws redefine incentives and alter behaviors in unpredictable and often unwanted ways, that you got it, begets new policy problems. It’s one of the many reasons I’m a fan of limited government. Government policymaking is always a huge hammer where everything looks like a nail. And all of that smashing around often does more harm than good.

U.S. immigration policy falls victim to these ripple effects. The INA (Immigration and Nationality Act – the governing law of immigration) prioritizes reuniting families over enhancing the workforce. Did you know that it was written that way to keep non-whites out of the country? It was assumed that if you limited immigration to the families of the people already here, the ethnic makeup of the country would remain static. Well now, just how did that misguided hammer-like policy work out? And the dichotomy continues because what do most without lawful status come to the United States for? To find work.

You may have heard that your New Mexico driver’s license is not in compliance with the federal government’s 2005 REAL ID Act. As of now, we’re one of 9 states that aren’t. And time is running out to comply to ensure we can use our licenses to do things like enter federal facilities or board commercial planes (scroll down on that above link for an explanation).  In November, the Dona Ana County Commission passed a resolution that calls on the Governor and the state legislature to create a two-tier driver’s license identification program. It’s a common idea, used by other states like Maryland. As well as an idea that’s been brought up in the state legislature for the past few years.

The concept is that citizens and lawful residents get licenses to drive that indicate they are lawfully present as well as residents of a particular state, and everyone else gets I.D. cards that marked in some way as not valid for federal purposes; some versions offer driving privileges too.

It’s been a political issue for quite some time. Since 2003, New Mexico doesn’t require that one verify their status to obtain a driver’s license. The justification has been that those without lawful status will drive anyway. Or it’s a way to keep track of non-residents (except how exactly does that work if you don’t know who they are?). Or it enhances safety because more drivers are trained and insured (if that’s what you think driver’s licenses are for – to ensure competency as a driver – you are sadly deluded).

You may know, my family sells guns for a living. We do it via an ATF license that requires us to verify residency. We rely on state driver’s licenses to be proof of identity, proof of state residency, and proof of lawful status in the U.S. Think about it; we sell firearms within 55 miles of the border. Proving lawful status is exceptionally important in the firearms business and it frightens me to think that our efforts could be superfluous because if a customer has a New Mexico license, lies about their status on their Form 4473, and passes the background check … well then, they get to buy. Background checks won’t always catch it; that system will call out if someone has been arrested/convicted, has an outstanding warrant, or has a documented interaction with la migra. But if someone enters sans inspection and doesn’t run afoul of the police here, then they’ll pass a background check too. True, lying on a Form 4473 is a felony. But if criminal punishment deterred crime, this country would be a very different place.

Even worse, we all know when there is unevenness in state laws, where one state creates a low barrier to entry for some privilege, it creates things like “driver’s license tourism” where those without lawful status living in other states will come to New Mexico to get a driver’s license. Which can then – due to reciprocity between states – be used to obtain one in another state. Awesome. Even more awesome if they purchased their own personal arsenal before they go back to New York or wherever.

What percentage of folks who use our state’s driver’s licenses to be faux-Americans are actually criminals, engaged in human trafficking or hanging about in terrorist sleeper cells versus the percentage who are just trying to Horatio Alger themselves into a better place? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. (Please note: I’m deliberately using the term “without lawful status” and not Mexican or any other identifier. I’m a big fan of lawful Mexican immigration to the U.S. I’m a big fan of all work visa programs to allow Mexicans to work in the U.S. It hurts my heart to see Mexicans who are here without lawful status, struggling. My views aren’t borne out of ethnic or cultural prejudice, they are borne out of a respect for the law).

I understand the political expediency of wanting a two-tier system. It solves the REAL ID problem ASAP. It would also actually create an easily track-able database of who is here lawfully and who isn’t; a database that would be very handy indeed for enforcing deportations and other law enforcement agendas by the by. (Something to think about if you are pro-help those without lawful status stay. Remember, all policy solutions create new problems!).

I don’t want to offer identification to people here without lawful status. It offends my sensibilities to support people breaking the law. I say it all of the time; we, as Americans, all we are and have is the rule of law. Our Constitution. No king. No feudal lord. Just laws. That’s it. And if we don’t uphold them. Honor them, abide by them, then what do we have? Nothing. We would have nothing. Except a country ripe for takeover by a potentate.

But I’m a realist too. Now that time has run out, go ahead I guess and back the two-tier system. Because if I’m forced to support people breaking the law by giving them state identification, and thereby encourage more comers enticed by the privilege, then simultaneously I’m pleased to both have a list of people for our law enforcement agencies to monitor (and yes, deport) if necessary and possible, and a way to trust that if a customer shows me a New Mexico license, they are here lawfully.

Shooting Fish In A Barrel


I am always, how do you say, exercised about media bias. And the presidential campaign season and the issue of immigration make it like shooting fish in a barrel to spot it. Let’s take last summer’s kerfuffle over “anchor babies” for example. The media tells us that all children born here with non-citizen parents are anchor babies, and further that it’s a pejorative expression used solely by conservative Americans (because don’t you know all conservatives are prejudiced and ignorant). Sigh. It’s a term used by American consular officers—the people who issue visas to immigrants and visitors—from the U.S. Department of State. And it’s used whenever an officer suspects that a mother entered the United States with the express intent of giving birth, does so, and then immediately returns home with the child and his U.S. birth certificate all for the express purpose of immigrating the whole family two decades later. Still not unlawful (really), but it’s a term describing a subset of children born to foreign nationals in the United States, not a blanket term for any child born to someone visiting or residing without lawful status within the country.

It is true though, that consular officers are frustrated by citizenship earned in this manner. It does seem wrong doesn’t it? Maybe ethically it’s a shady practice, but it’s perfectly lawful per the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA – the law that governs immigration). There is no law barring a woman from obtaining a tourist visa or asking for permission to enter the U.S. (two different things involving two different agencies—who says we don’t suffer from too much government?) with the intent of giving birth since giving birth in the U.S. isn’t unlawful. Birth tourism?  The INA says nothing about it.  Using Medicaid or other forms of prenatal care at the state’s cost equally does not trigger the public charge section of the INA.

When this hit the news, was your Facebook feed full of people calling for the 14th Amendment to be revoked to end the practice of jus soli (right of soil – citizenship obtained via birth within the United States)? Please tell understand that if they persist in that nonsense, they are actually also advocating damaging the citizenship rights of blacks and women. Or that there is case law that uses the 14th Amendment to support the privacy interpretations of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 9th Amendments. So really? You just want to toss that out the window? See the above paragraph. If you have issues with immigration, it’s the INA you want to attack, not our Constitution—the very thing that doesn’t just govern us through our consent, but also is what defines America and makes us the envy of the world.

As for transmitting citizenship, take a look at Germany or most Persian Gulf countries before attacking jus soli. The jus sanguinis (right of blood – citizenship is obtained via the parents’ citizenship status) model that sounds so reasonable leads to the very problem the 14th Amendment is meant to address. The Gulf countries are full of “guest workers” who’ve lived their entire life in, say Dubai, and had children there, but none are citizens and if the parents lose their job, they must return to their own country complete with their children who don’t speak the language of a country they’ve never seen. Sound familiar?

Jus sanguinis in Germany created an entire population of Turks who are German in name and language, but not in terms of belonging, and until recently, not in terms of citizenship either. What happens when you make an entire group second class members of society? Please tell me you know the answer to that.

Interestingly, jus sanguinis in Germany has also fostered birth tourism via a falsified birth certificate. Turkish-German women will return to Turkey to bring young children with fake birth certificates saying it’s their child and thus obtaining German citizenship for that child. But isn’t revoking the practice of jus soli supposed to solve America’s immigration problem? You mean all forms of citizenship transmission create issues for the host country? Who would have thought?!

It turns out we have a falsified birth certificate problem too. Along the United States – Mexican border, there are birthing clinics and obstetricians who will provide real state birth certificates with fake information to parents who can pay. I suspect that’s what’s behind reports of the Texas Vital Statistics Unit refusing to issue birth certificates to children whose parents do not have the required forms of identification. Texas knows it has a high fraud rate problem . The news reports imply racism, prejudice, and so on (hey thanks media bias!) since this is affecting mostly those in the U.S. without lawful status who are from Mexico. While I don’t mean to imply that making a child stateless is a good thing, the falsified Texas birth certificate is a real problem. And it’s an extremely sad problem when a child who believed his entire life that he was born in El Paso, but instead finds at age 25 that his parents lied to him, as his petition to bring in his wife into the U.S. is denied, and the State Department revokes his U.S. passport.

Whatever your view of immigration, those present without lawful status and citizenship transmission, when it comes to those issues being debated vociferously and righteously, it bears considering all that you aren’t being told if the basis of your opinion is drawn solely from the media. Otherwise, we risk being incentivized to damage our Constitution and make ridiculous laws that could have consequences as punitive as the problems we’re trying to avoid now.

Media Alarmists Make My Head Hurt

The gun press—my term for media that is relentless in proffering the belief that foaming at the mouth “gun haters” are minutes away from excising the Second Amendment from the U.S. Constitution—gives me a headache. Of course, if you are a consumer of the liberal media—the news outlets who favor extensive interventionist government protections and pretend only those who support that idea are good moral people condeming everyone else to be racist gun nuts—the scare tactics skew 180 degrees opposite. I’d rant about the conservative media too, but why bother, because when it comes to the subject of firearms, I’m not so sure I can tell the difference between them and the gun press. If you’re not aware of these differences, or savvy enough to recognize that media outlets have worldviews they are trying to sell you, then it’s possible that you do what most do, only get your news from sources that support how you see the world.

As we kick off the 2016 presidential election year, the gun press is campaigning hard against universal background checks (UBCs) where all firearm sales (including gun shows and individual private party) are subject to a buyer background check via the FBI database NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System). Scare tactic arguments (e.g. you’ll need to pay someone to run a check to give your son your childhood .22 LR single-shot hunting rifle) and slippery slope arguments (e.g. UBCs will create a national gun registry, compliance inspections, and gun seizures) abound.

As a general rule, UBCs are seen as liberal, Democratic Party policy preference. And in some ways that makes sense. After all, it is usually the American left that argues for top-down policies that can imply a lack of trust in individuals’ abilities to make good choices for themselves. The idea that only liberals approve of UBCs is further enhanced by Republican presidential candidates’ and others’ remarks about the failure of background checks to stop criminals from getting guns while simultaneously making it difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights and buy them.

People, for the record, NICS checks take minutes and if you aren’t a felon or otherwise entangled in breaking the law, it doesn’t stop you from making a purchase. Even if you have to wait a day or two, it doesn’t stop you from making a purchase. And if your local retailer charges you for a background check? Then you’re being had. Retailers pay no fee for access to NICS, so nor should you.

If I was unable to think for myself and took what the gun press said at face value, I’d be in complete agreement. After all, NICS is problematic because FIFTEEN YEARS AFTER 9/11 WE STILL HAVE TO ASK LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES TO SHARE DATA WITH ONE ANOTHER AND STATES TO REPORT DATA TO NICS (yes, I’m shouting from frustration). It’s also problematic because it brings up privacy concerns regarding mental health (cue rant over the deplorable state of mental health care in the U.S. and the fear that accessing it can get one fired from their job). Anyone who has been the victim of identity theft can certainly understand not wanting yet another red-tape barrier due to faulty databases.

But left out of the gun press’ alarmism is my family’s business, the federally licensed firearm retailer (FFL). Not the manufacturer, nor the wholesaler. Nope, just the licensed store that sells guns to consumers like you. Private party sellers have ways to vouch for the buyer (if they are so inclined, I’m certainly not purporting to believe that this isn’t a route for criminals to obtain firearms, along with theft and straw purchases). But we don’t. Every single day, strangers—people we’ve never seen before in our lives and possibly never will again—walk in the door with the intent of purchasing a firearm. My husband and his staff are pretty good profilers, but they’re not infallible. A NICS check gives us all peace of mind that we’re not arming drug traffickers and other baddies.

In the gun press’ eyes, it’s important to protect the U.S. Constitution (I agree) and individual rights (yes, I agree with that too); but somehow the only defense they’ve come up with is to throw retailers under the bus. To the gun press, it’s more important that you can sell a rifle to your neighbor than it is to protect licensed retailers (where most buy their new firearms). To the gun press, it’s more important that you can set up a table at a gun show and sell your dirty, overpriced used firearms to whomever, than it is to protect licensed retailers (where most buy their new firearms). To the gun press, it’s more important that you believe UBCs will only impede you from buying a gun, than it is to protect licensed retailers (where most buy their new firearms).

Maybe there are FFLs out there that would like to be free of the background check obligation. If they only read the gun press, perhaps they are caught up in the scare tactic and slippery slope arguments. But I have a hard time believing that retailers don’t see the protections for themselves, their businesses, and their families offered by background checks. I certainly do. How I wish the gun press and those that use it to scare gun owners into thinking all gun laws will hurt them did.


Don’t Be A Jerk

I don’t like jerks, sociopathic con-artists, criminals (whether convicted or not), sexist men, racist people, and homophobes. I’m sure there are more given how opinionated I am, but that list is good enough for a start. Over the past few years, it seems there’s been a spate of bakers and pizza joints refusing to serve gays. It has something to do with religious beliefs, but I tend to think that if your religion tells you that being gay is a sin and you accept that at face value, and worse act on it, that makes you a homophobe. And someone I’m inclined to avoid. (So if that’s you, better stop reading now and commence writing your hateful message to me).

Some states have laws that specifically ban discrimination of this type on the basis of sexual orientation. That’s the law Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Portland tripped over when three years ago they refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. And it’s the same law that Masterpiece Cakes in Lakewood Colorado broke in 2012 when the baker refused to bake a cake for a gay patron.

There’s the perception that once someone decides to do business with the public, they have to “serve all comers,” regardless of their own personal beliefs. Yet another bakery, this one in Fredericksburg Virginia, recently made a cake with a Confederate flag on it and announced they did so “without question” on Twitter to illustrate the point that what they do is bake cakes, not question who their customers are.

But whatever happened to “no shirt, no shoes, no service”? That thing of a business owner being able to set the terms of who is welcome and who isn’t? I don’t mean to be obtuse. Discrimination is wrong. Any business who willfully refuses to serve customers because they can’t abide the existence of someone not just like them are prejudiced fools who apparently care more about being jerks to people than their bottom line. Hasn’t it even at least occurred to them that just because someone is gay, it doesn’t mean they don’t have straight friends and family who’ll equally avoid a business for dissing their loved ones? As for cakes, I don’t understand why a baker would care what or who the cake is for, nor do I think a cake is a First Amendment protected demonstration of artistic expression because they aren’t baking the cake for themselves or for display, but for the person who is paying for it. There’s a part of me that would rather they be left to their own devices to turn away customers for whatever reason because eventually, they’ll go out of business and not have a GoFundMe campaign to put in the till. But we all know that that is unrealistic and without such anti-discrimination laws, it might just be you turned away because of that sweet tattoo on your forearm, the color of your skin, or your sexual orientation.

Last summer, Florida Gun Supply in Inverness Florida declared via a video on Facebook that his business was a “Muslim-free zone.” He’s reacting to the July 16 attack against two military installations in Chattanooga Tennessee. Seriously? This guy, and the bakers … to me they are no different than pre-civil rights era “whites only” signs. It’s ugly. It’s wrong. And it flies in the face of everything American democracy and our rule of law stands for.  Which is why it astounds me that New Mexico is falling victim to this; we’ve two state legislators who have pre-filed HB 55, a bill that would remove the words “sexual orientation and gender identity” from New Mexico’s current Human Rights Act, our state’s law that protects against denial of service due to characteristics like sexual orientation and gender identity.

Why else am I so exercised about this topic? Because my husband’s store will happily refuse to sell a gun to someone that he has reasonable cause to believe is a criminal, a drug addict, not mentally copacetic, or who might be purchasing a weapon on behalf of someone who can’t. And the ATF – the federal agency that supervises licensed firearm retailers – supports him in that. Yet, I’m watching the media spin up in favor of the idea that if you own a business, you have to serve everyone. Not once has it occurred to any of them that there are occasions when no, the owner’s judgment is best. That won’t stop those to whom my husband refuses service from obtaining a gun elsewhere, but at least our consciouses are clear. But simultaneously, I fret over the day when someone attacks us with a specious charge of discrimination because when, for example, our staff spied that Houstone or Tango Blast gang tattoo on their knuckles, they refused to sell them a firearm.

It’s worth remembering this outlier example when reading media coverage that speaks in absolutes about how a business has to sell to all or your buddy tells you that the owner of that store was mean to him and asked him to leave. Discrimination is heinous. But refusing service isn’t always that.