Sunday, January 19, 2020

Prison sentencing: African Americans, other folks and the unfairness of the judicial system

Lady Justice wears a blindfold, the scale of justice in one hand, a sword in the other. The blindfold renders her blind to race and skin color. But the justice system operates on a different plane with all eyes open; with mouths willing and ready to sentence and judge defendants based on the color of their skin. They are denied the right to fair judgement, and fair trials as dictated by a one-sided judicial system, in which the scale of justice is perpetually off balance. The same system uses the sword to slice and dice defendants lives until nothing is left but more societal rejection, more crime, and a lifetime of
 imprisonment. dorothy charles banks, 2020

Race and ethnicity of life sentenced individuals






“It is widely established that racial ethnic minorities are more likely to enter the criminal justice system, and that racial ethnic difference became more pronounced at the deeper stages of the system. In 2009 African Americans and Latino comprised over 60% of people in prison, and Black males were incarcerated in state and federal prison at 6.4 times the rate of White and non-Hispanic males.

“Racial disparities are evident among those serving life as well. Nationally almost half (47%) of life sentenced inmates are African Americans, though the Black population of lifers reach was much higher. In states such as Maryland (77.4%); Georgia (72%), and Mississippi (71.5%). In the federal system 62.3% of the life sentenced population is often African Americans. Nonwhites constitute nearly two-thirds of the total pollution serving life sentences”. (Sentencing Project)

Two days after presidential candidate Joe Biden said he would propose terminating the federal death penalty, Donald Trump, president of the U.S., has a different idea about the federal death penalty. After Biden stated his intention, Trump’s Justice Department announced plans to resurrect the death penalty in federal prisons, where a number of inmates were set to be executed in December 2019 and January 2020.

“At the direction of Attorney General William Barr, the federal Bureau of Prisons has scheduled the executions of inmates being held on death row at USP Terre Haute, a high security penitentiary in Indiana”. (U.S. News, July 25, 2019). The crimes committed by these inmates were brutal and sadistic.

In 2016 President Barack Obama became the first president to tour and talk with six inmates at the El Reno Federal Penitentiary in El Reno, Oklahoma. He held a listen and learn roundtable discussion with the inmates, who confessed that they had committed drug offenses, and were willing to do their time. But they also wondered what their lives might have been had society reached out to help them in their younger years, helping them to stay out of trouble. 

He was the first president to oversee a substantial reduction in prison populations in a half century. He issued clemencies for almost 1,000 inmates since his eight years as president. That number is larger than his three predecessors: Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George Bush.

President Obama noted it is not normal for so many young people to end up in the justice system. “What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people who make mistakes. And we’ve got to be able to distinguish between dangerous individuals, who need to be incapacitated and incarcerated, versus young people who are in an environment in which they are adapting, but if given different opportunities, a different of life, they could thrive”. (ABC News, 2015)

Through the Department of Justice and executive orders, President Obama pushed past a reluctant Congress to reduce the use of solitary confinement, phasing out private prisons, scaling back federal drug sentences. The White House wrote a list of solutions, “including the use of confinement and lowering or eliminating mandatory minimums for softer crimes”. (ABC News) The President was aware that he would have to use executive orders to accomplish his goals. Unfortunately, the next president can erase all of his efforts, which is exactly what Donald Trump and Republicans are doing.

November 14, 2018 Donald Trump, Obama’s successor, signed House Bill 5682, the First Step Act, created to lead to prison reform. The new law retroactively applies changes Congress made to drug sentencing laws in 2010. First Step Act will allow between 4,000 and 6,000 current prisoners to immediately qualify for supervised release programs.

“Qualifying inmates—mostly people who have committed low-level drug offenses—can earn credits to be released from prison early and serve the remainder of their sentences in home confinement or halfway houses if they participate in the plan’s anti-recidivism programs such as job training, education and faith-based classes”. (Impact 2020, McClatchy News)

NAACP facts on racial disparities in incarceration

A) In 2014 African Americans constituted 2.3% million or 34% of the total 6.8 million correctional population;

B) African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of Whites;

C) The imprisonment of African American women is twice that of White women;

D) Nationwide African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested; 42% of children who are detained, 52% whose cases are judicially waived to criminal court;

E) Though Africa Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the U.S. population they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015;

F) If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as Whites prisons and jails populations would decline by almost 40%.

Between 1980 and 2015 the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million. Today the U. S. makes up five percent of the world’s population, but has 21% of the world’s prisons.

Below is an editorial written by Julia Coaxum regarding the U.S. prison and jail systems acting like long-term holding cells for African Americans and Hispanics. The editorial is followed by an analysis written by Lonnie Ray Dawes, who appears to be imprisoned. Although these are voices and observations from 42 years ago, both observations still apply to African Americans and Latino men, women and children in 2020.

From America’s Gulag

By Julia L. Coaxum, managing editor
Black Forum Magazine, © 1978-79

The high percentage of non-white prisoners in this country warrants open communication from those who are incarcerated. Youth crime is increasing and Blacks cannot afford to disassociate themselves from involvement in the in the upgrading of the penal system. We are at a point in time when juvenile crime is not punishable by long term state and federal jail sentences. However, with the upward spiraling of juvenile delinquency, it is a serious mistake to believe that the controlling populace will not change this law. The reality of this serious social problem extends itself to the prison, and its responsibility to those who pass through its doors.

The penal system has failed in its responsibility to rehabilitate, and there is an urgent need to “get in touch” with the operations and maintenance of an institution that so freely opens its door to non-whites. Millions of dollars have been spent on prison research, and it seems impossible that these studies have failed to expose the number of returning ex-convicts. If the spirit for life can decrease in an institution originally conceived to rehabilitate, then isn’t it time to question the efficiency of that institution?

Our prison system has come under attack from all sides of the fence, and the question is still unanswered and unchanged. How can an institution rehabilitate when the controlling forces have allowed the same crimes that take place on the streets to take place, on a lower level, within these institutions.

Nothing has changed. The idea of capturing as many “niggas” as possible is still alive. The only thing that’s changed is the name—to include us all.

There are funds by they are used to study rather to implement any idea or program that will bring about a new attitude of self-determination; and unless we become involved on a functional level, support any program to rehabilitate, insist on regularly inspected prison facilities, separate facilities or juveniles . . . we can expect nothing less than a high rate of suicidal incidents from juvenile offenders.

The Ex-Convicts

By Lonnie Ray Dawes
Black Forum 1978

In America today the concept of prison and prisoners are many and varied. Behind the walls and fences you will find the rich, middle class, the poor, the intelligent, the ignorant, the physically well and the handicapped. Also, there are a few that should be in a mental hospital, as they are not only dangerous to themselves but harmful to the general population as well. You would be unable to distinguish a convicted felon from a guard, banker, or the sentencing judge. But convicts have one thing in common: they have committed or were judged to have committed a crime, and justice though right or wrong, must be served.

Who are the men and women that make up these “unwanted communities”? They could very well be the kids next door. Now locked up and tagged criminals, their needs, attitudes and ideas have been forgotten. What about the fear and adjustment to prison life they ow face? Does the punishment really fit the crime? Was there another alternative? These are questions that the public must address itself to—prison life and numbers are not that easy to erase.

Any man or woman now serving time in any of the many prisons across the land could write book, maybe boos, on prison life, stating nothing but facts on things they’ve seen going on behind locked doors. Of course, these facts will be denied, but nobody from the men on the street, the D.A. to the judges, or the administrating officials can tell me that the rapes, forced paying of protection, or guards doing favors for pay do not exist. This brings us to a point. Maybe, just maybe our prisons reflect the type of community or society from which the convict comes. Is it possible that we are a country of hypocrites

Mr. and Mrs. America are the first to complain about the steadily rising crime rate that is sweeping our nation. But what are they, with the most to lose, doing about it? I can tell you in one word, NOTHING! Because for years they have mistakenly relied on a system that, after hundreds of years, has now been proven a failure. How often have you picked up a newspaper, or heard on the radio, or TV that a person, young or old, was robbed or beaten on the street in broad daylight, while people just stood there watching, and most likely thinking to themselves, “Thank God it wasn’t me this time”. 

The average person just does not have the time to involve himself with his fellow man, let alone get  involved in something that might tie him up in court for a few days. Instead, personal  involvement only comes into play when the crime affects us, or our loved ones. Then Mr. and Mrs. America complains louder and longer, demanding stiffer penalties.

According to Webster (dictionary), I am a criminal. I don’t blame society for my being here. I accept the responsibility for my wrong doing. What I do blame society for is what happens to a person after incarceration, and the attitude of the public toward an “ex-con” after his release. You hear about prison reform, but due to the high rate of crime, the public is against reform. There must be something drastically wrong with our penal system if you stop to look at the number of parolees returning to prison.

I am the first to agree that you can’t reach all the inmates, but what about the many who can be helped to lead more productive lives? As the system now stands, there are far too many being left standing by the wayside, and for these men and women the eventual return to a cell is all the future holds in store for them. Today’s laws hold stiffer penalties than ever before, and in some states such as Louisiana, they are served without the benefit of pardon or parole.

What does such a sentence, say of 99 years, hold in the way of hope or incentive for a man? All he can look forward to is the next 50 years behind bars. I don’t say a convicted
felon should be slapped on hand or given a fine. What I do say is let’s take a closer look at the individual before handing out such a sentence. The U.S. government has just spent over a million-and-a-half dollars on a study of our prisons and found that after a man served five years, the imprisonment has taken whatever effect, negative or positive, it is going to take. If prison is the answer, then let’s do something with the man while he is incarcerated.

A good example of what I mean: John Doe is a 17 year old male who comes from a poor family, can’t read or write, and was sentenced to two years for burglary. While in prison he is assigned to a job as yard orderly. So for the months following he does his job, and is a model prisoner. After release, he spends months on the streets, still without any skills, and his education is no better than before. He finds himself back in court, this time to be sentenced to four-and-a-half years for a similar offense.  Once again it’s the same routine. This goes on until he has been in and out of prison three or four times. He’s now 30 years old, yet he is still where he was at the age of 17. 

Agreed, rehabilitation starts with the individual, but some people have to be led in order to take advantage of the limited courses offered within the prison institutions. It is as good as any place to start his education. But today’s prisons are ready to let an inmate slip quietly through his time without doing a thing to help himself as long as he doesn’t cause any problems.

It costs much more in taxes alone to house such a man. This isn’t counting the cost or hardship placed on the victim. Then again, there is always the chance that on the next attempt to rob or steal, someone may be killed. So if the man had been given, or taken the opportunity of learning a skill, he would have been better able to face the free world. It’s looking better, but still the average citizen looks at an ex-convict as a “rock busting, hardcore criminal” who is planning another crime instead of a man who has made a mistake. Most would like nothing better to drop the hard, cold shell they’ve been living in, in order to survive.

Survival can be a big problem to many of the youngsters who enter a prison for the first time. This is slowly being recognized in some states. It is possible that this is the reason why many states are now adopting the new “male-rape” law. In Florida, such a crime carries up to 30 years. Some prisons offer much more protection for first offenders, and the weaker inmates than others. Some concern should be shown for a man who was thrown to the mercy of men who have morals, pity or regard for human life. 

This man’s attitude becomes one of ate and revenge. Should some of this responsibility fall back on the state? After all, he was sent to prison for “rehabilitation” as well as punishment. In any prison “fear” is a mighty weapon. Violence is a part of prison life, and the fights, stabbings, and sometimes, even the murders are over such things as a candy bar or changing the TV station. You will always have conflicts when men are confined in close quarters, but the knifings could be held to a minimum with more and better trained security guards.

Filth is also a demoralizing factor in prisons. It’s bad enough to have to live next to a man who refuses to bathe without mentioning the unusual fact of watching mice run across the floor or roaches crawl around on your bunk. The “bug” problem is getting better with the newer and more modern buildings; however, there are many cases where it still exists.

Prison life would not be complete without the mention of food. It’s not what you would place on your own table. In all honesty, I would have to say that the preparation, and amount you are served is the biggest complaint. Then again, what can you do with “beans and rice”? Some of the fault must be placed on the inmate cooks, but they can’t be blamed when there is only enough food to feed 500 instead of the 700 plus as was intended. They can’t be blamed either for watering down the milk in order to make it go around. Of course the food will vary from state to state. 

Even in a prison with more than one mess hall, the food will change, but men eating good in another part of the prison doesn’t keep me from going to bed hungry! If you feel I’ve leaned toward the side of all inmates, it’s not so! I have only written the facts as they exist from day to day. Once again, this will vary. Some places being better, others worse. The idea is not excuse a man tried and convicted by our judicial system, but to get someone to open his eyes to what and possibly why he crime rate is such as it is.

My father-in-law, who has had a little, it any dealings with criminals or laws--outside of myself—has a tendency to doubt some of the experiences I have related to him. I exchange letters with a young lady in another part of the country. No one seemed to mind that I was in prison or somewhat older. The only objective that came up was the point of a convict having her address. This should prove that the public has the wrong idea about a convict, and that they aren’t informed as to what is happening in our jails and prisons. I don’t have the answers and don’t think anyone else does. The men and women running the Department of Corrections in each state are getting better, and showing much more concern, but due to the lack of money, and bad public opinion, their hands are tied.

Without trial and error and some sacrifice, we may never find the answer or best possible solution. How long must this cry for help go unnoticed? The American people can help bring about the needed changes. How? By getting involved in the groups that visit our jails and prisons (both federal and state), by attending civic meetings on crime; and last, but not least, by any means, getting to know or help a person who has been released.

President Obama observed that mass incarceration makes “our country worse off and we need to do something about it”.



Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Condolences, prayers and promises are not the solutuons to gun violence and mass shootings


President Obama makes emotional eulogy at Senator Pinckney's funeral. It was the day he sang "Amazing Grace", surprising every one at the funeral.
“For too long, we've been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation. (Applause.) Sporadically, our eyes are open: When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed -- the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife's warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.

“The vast majority of Americans -- the majority of gun owners -- want to do something about this. We see that now. (Applause) And I'm convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country -- by making the moral choice to change, we express God's grace”. (Applause.) President Barack Obama speaking at Senator Clementa Pinckney’s funeral.

Startling gun stats for 2019

During George Bush’s presidency there were 16 mass shootings from 2000 to 2008. Such shootings happened under former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. President Barack Obama was greeted four months into his presidency with four mass shootings. Before he left office the President had spoken out about 15 different mass shootings. Clinton, Reagan and Bush were somewhat subdued about shootings on their watch. 

Mother Jones magazine (Guide to Mass Shootings in America) has a listing of mass shootings in America from 1982 to 2019 and counting. Gun Violence Archive 2019 has collected stats relating to gun incidents, deaths and violence. To keep an eye on these stats in the future go to www.gunviolencearchive.org or www.facebook.com/gunviolencearchive

“In 1994, the Republicans reclaimed the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. The key factor in the major Democratic loss pointed to the federal assault weapons ban that was passed by Congress on September 13, 1994. A part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the assault weapons ban banned semiautomatic weapons from having two or more military features, and placed a ten-year ban on the sale of assault weapons and large ammunition magazines. The ’94 election was significant because gun control became a deciding factor in the election and wedged two ideologically distant parties further apart”. (NBC News) Congress did not renew the ban upon its expiration September 2004.

When President Barack Obama talked about sensible gun reform or stricter regulations—not to be confused with taking a citizen’s gun or arsenal of guns—he was rebuffed by gun loving Americans, Democrats, gun dealers and sellers, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and all Republicans. Republicans, in spreading a pack of lies, postured that President Obama was going to send government agents to citizen’s homes to snatch their guns and ammunition. Some disillusioned Americans with stockpiles of guns and ammunition said they were ready to engage in a gun battle with the government if it attempted to physically confiscate their guns.

President Obama was the best salesman the gun business ever had

Turns out President Barack Obama was the best salesman that the NRA, gun and ammunition sellers ever had. He did not apply for the job. It was automatically bestowed on him. From 2008 to 2016 gun and ammunition sales shot through the roof (excuse the pun) in Virginia. Around 3,153,000 guns were sold. During Republican George Bush’s presidency the state sold a mere 1,713,000 guns. There was no apparent fear among Republicans and gun lovers that Bush would confiscate their guns.

Newsweek Magazine, 2016, wrote, “President Obama became known as America’s gun salesman-in-chief during his final years in office”. An estimated $29.1 billion in firearms and $16.6 in ammunition were sold during his eight years in office. The purchases were panic buying as encouraged by the NRA and Republicans. Around $21.1 billion in gun sales and $22.1 billion in ammunition sales were realized under both Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush.

In 2016 the gun industry published a report stating that it grew158 percent when Barack Obama was elected. The job market in the gun and ammunition industry also changed. Employment rose from 166,000 to 288,000 to handle the volume of business. Still the lies remained the same: President Obama was a serious threat the Second Amendment, and he was going to take their guns.

In 2016 the gun industry published a report stating that it grew158 percent when Barack Obama was elected. The job market in the gun and ammunition industry also changed. Employment rose from 166,000 to 288,000 to handle the volume of business. Still the lies remained the same: President Obama was a serious threat the Second Amendment, and he was going to take their guns.

With the election of Donald Trump as president, however, gun and ammunition sales dropped by 17 percent. His election made Republicans and the NRA less fearful of stronger regulations, and tougher gun reform laws. Trump was the first president to address the NRA, an organization he fears. In a boastful speech at a NRA conference, Trump told members: “You have a friend and champion in the White House”. Trump’s campaign received more money from the National Rifle Association than any presidential candidate in history. NRA’s Chris Cox, executive director, proclaimed in 2016 that the organization would target any member or members perceived as interfering with their right to own guns.

The media, concerned Americans and Democrats thought after the August 3, 2019 El Paso, Texas mass shooting (22 dead, 26 injured); and the August 4, 2019 Dayton, Ohio mass shooting (nine dead, 27 injured), Trump would hurriedly present Congress with a proposal to lessen gun violence via gun reform and stricter background checks

Newspaper headlines suggested that Trump is still too scared to buck the NRA. “Donald Trump falls back into line with NRA, blaming mass shootings on mental problems rather than access to assault rifles” (The Australian); “Donald Trump shifts on gun background checks after mass shootings” (Politifact); “Trump blames mass shootings on mentally ill” (Reuters); “Trump blames mass shootings on mentally ill, call for more mental institutions” (Yahoo).

President Donald Trump met with Marjory Stoneman students and families at the White House. He promised to make changes in school shootings and gun violence.
Noticeably, Trump does not respond to mass shootings the way Americans expect him to. Observing his actions, Comforter-in-Chief does not come to mind. Trump preferred not to hold a press conference after the June 12, 2016 Orlando, Florida night club shooting that left 49 dead, 53 with various injuries. Instead, he tweeted: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism. I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart”! He made himself the focus in the tragedy, and being right about “Islamic terrorism.”

The October 1, 2017 Las Vegas, Nevada massacre left 58 dead and an estimated 546 injured. Trump wrote another generic, impersonal tweet. “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shootings. God bless you”. He attended no vigils. Attended no memorials. Made no public speeches. Made no hospital visits.

After the February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Trump said school personnel should be armed. He said had he been a security guard at the school he would have stormed the building to take out the shooter. There were 17 fatalities at Marjory Stoneman. The usual grief messages were sent to the victims and families. Students sent word to politicians in Washington that they did not want any more condolences and prayers. They wanted action on gun control.

President Obama as preacher and comforter

According to the FBI a mass shooting occurs when four or more people are killed by one person. On June 17, 2015 a 21 years-old white supremacist wannabe shot and killed eight church members in Charleston, South Carolina. In his “manifesto” rant he said he was angry at Black people; Black men were raping White women; Blacks were trying to take over America. During the Bible study class a church member opened the door for the young killer, not knowing their time on earth was about to end. He chose Emanuel AME because it is the oldest Black church in South Carolina and the most recognized.

The shooter was welcomed to study with them. He sat with them for an hour before repaying their kindness by shooting them to death. He left one church member alive, instructing her to record what she had witnessed. The shooter was captured hours later. He did not attempt to commit suicide. A cop bought the shooter a hamburger and fries because he was hungry. Despite having a drug charge on his record he was able to purchase a weapon.

The most memorable speeches made by President Obama were delivered after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre; and the eulogy he delivered at the funeral of Clementa Pinckney. That day he was the Comforter-in-Chief, President of the United States and guest pastor at Emanuel AME. He was comfortable in the pulpit as he delivered the eulogy with the cadence and passion of a seasoned preacher. That was the day he sang “Amazing Grace”, surprising pastors and thousands attending the funeral.

"Michelle and I know several members of Emanuel AME Church. We knew their pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who, along with eight others, gathered in prayer and fellowship and was murdered last night. And to say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families and their community doesn't say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel.

“Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship. We don't have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun".

By 2013 President Obama had signed 23 executive orders and proposed 12 Congressional actions to regulate gun control. During his Sandy Hook speech President Obama said at the White House, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. The tragedies must end. And to end them we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. 

No single law—no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this”.

Determination to cripple gun violence

President Obama was up for re-election in 2012. His goal was to plow ahead with his determination to cripple gun violence in America. His plan included focusing on mental health treatment for those perceived as a threat, limit magazine sizes, tighten background checks, initiate or restart gun research. A couple of years later--2014—the President proposed that medical histories be included in background checks.

But no matter what President Obama proposed Republicans said no, citing an overused, hackneyed excuse that common sense reforms such as background checks wouldn’t have stopped the Sandy Hook, or any other mass shootings. The best solution was to leave things alone, and put a gun in every hand in America. The NRA asserted, religiously, that the only way to beat a bad guy with a gun is to arm a good guy with a gun.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell let President Obama know early on that he would stop, stall or thwart whatever he attempted to negotiate. “We are just gonna oppose whatever the President offer even in the midst of crisis, because if he obtained any bipartisan support that would strengthen him politically”. Retaining power was/is more important than addressing the seriousness of gun violence and reform.

April 17, 2013 a bipartisan proposal requiring background checks for would be gun owners, and banning sales of some military style semi-automatic weapons was cut off at the knees by Democrats who controlled the Senate. The vote was 54 to 46. Sixty votes were needed. The Joe Manchin (D) and Republican Pat Toomey proposal created after the Newton school massacre failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass. Lawmakers introduced more than 100 gun reform proposals in Congress in 2016. Only a few made it to the Senate floor.

“New executive actions to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer”

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are committed to using every tool at the Administration’s disposal to reduce gun violence. Some of the gaps in our country’s gun laws can only be fixed through legislation, which is why President Obama continues to call on Congress to pass the kind of commonsense gun safety reforms supported by a majority of the American people. And while Congress has repeatedly failed to take action and pass laws that would expand background checks and reduce gun violence, today, building on the significant steps that have already been taken over the past several years, the Administration is announcing a series of commonsense executive actions designed to:

1. Keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is making clear that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.

ATF is finalizing a rule to require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust, corporation, or other legal entity.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has sent a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records and criminal dispositions, information on persons disqualified because of a mental illness, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient. The envisioned improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun. The FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners and other staff to help process these background checks.

2. Make our communities safer from gun violence.

The Attorney General convened a call with U.S. Attorneys around the country to direct federal prosecutors to continue to focus on smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws. The President’s FY2017 budget will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws.

ATF has established an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking and is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network. ATF is finalizing a rule to ensure that dealers who ship firearms notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen in transit. The Attorney General issued a memo encouraging every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.

3. Increase mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system.

The Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care. The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons. The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.

4. Shape the future of gun safety technology.    

The President has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology. The President has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.


Congress should support the President’s request for resources for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws, as well as a new $500 million investment to address mental health issues. Because we all must do our part to keep our communities safe, the Administration is also calling on States and local governments to do all they can to keep guns out of the wrong hands and reduce gun violence. 

It is also calling on private-sector leaders to follow the lead of other businesses that have taken voluntary steps to make it harder for dangerous individuals to get their hands on a gun. In the coming weeks, the Administration will engage with manufacturers, retailers, and other private-sector leaders to explore what more they can do. (President Barack Obama’s White House website, 2016)

Mass shootings varied in death and injuries

President Obama was sure Americans and politicians would jump into action, propose sensible gun reform, quickly sending it to his desk to sign after Sandy Hook. He thought their hearts would be touched like his. Surely the House and Senate, all parents, grandparents and great-
President Barack Obama met with Sandy Hook families and children. He took the time to hear their memories and look at photos in an attempt to ease their pain.
grand parents, would not play politics with this tragedy.  


A White House Press Release from President Obama: “This afternoon, I spoke with Governor Malloy and FBI Director Mueller. I offered Governor Malloy my condolences on behalf of the nation, and made it clear he will have every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families.

“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.  And each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would -- as a parent.  And that was especially true today.  I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.

“The majority of those who died today were children -- beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.  They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.  Among the fallen were also teachers -- men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams”. 

Addressing the shortsightedness of the shooter, President Obama said at Pinckney’s funeral, “He didn’t know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney, and that Bible study group -- the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court -- in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that”, President Obama said the shooter, who wanted to jumpstart a race war.

"None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race. We talk a lot about race. There's no shortcut. And we don't need more talk. (Applause.) None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy. It will not. People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies, as our democracy requires -- this is a big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates. Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete”.

Five days after the Sandy Hook shooting, Eric Holder, attorney general, announced, “We plotted our strategy and made the determination that the vice president and I would lead the effort, along with Janet Napolitano to try to really come up with common sense gun safety proposals”.

President Obama said of the project, “This not some Washington commission. It’s not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publish a report that get read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task to pull together real reformers right now”.

Backing off of his promise to talk gun control and background checks, Trump is now saying that gun violence is due to mental illness. He said that mentally ill folks who kill with guns should be locked away in institutions, which would be costly and laden with bureaucratic paperwork. As usual, Trump jumps before he evaluates the distance of the fall. Details and planning are not his first priorities. 

After the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Donald Trump pinpointed mental illness as the culprit for the shootings. He said at a recent campaign rally in New Hampshire that America does not have any more mental institutions, many of which were closed decades ago. Thousands of patients ended up homeless or placed in facilities approved by the state. A federal law prohibits Medicaid making payments for mentally ill individuals living with more than 16 patients in a single facility. Trump said his plan will allow states to seek waivers from restrictions, providing they meet certain requirements. He has not shown or explained his plan.

On August 31, 2019 in Odessa and Midland, Texas a 36-years old, recently unemployed White male, armed an AR-style rifle, randomly killed 7, wounded or injured 21. He had a misdemeanor on his record; that should have stopped his purchasing a weapon. Authorities are saying they are not sure where he purchased the weapon. Reportedly, a routine traffic stop led to the mass shooting. There was no warrant for his arrest when he was stopped.

Texas governor Greg Abbott implied that rather than concentrate on stricter gun restrictions he wants to concentrate on fighting hate, racism and terrorism. He says he wants to keep Texas safe, but the laws he signed into law, that went into effect September 1, 2019, screams a different message. Texas legislators passed gun laws making it easier for shooters to fulfill their angry fantasies of mass killings. The 2019 laws:

1. House Bill 1143--Prevents school districts from prohibiting the possession of firearms in private motor vehicles by limiting their authority to regulate the manner in which they are stored in locked vehicles. This includes school employees. School employees with a license to carry can keep their guns locked in their vehicle on the school parking lot.

2. House Bill 1177--Allows people in an area that has been declared a State or local disaster to carry a handgun without a license to carry for 7 days from the date an evacuation notice is given as long as the person can legally possess a firearm under federal and State law.


3.  House Bill 2363--Allows foster parents to store firearms in a safe and secure manner while making them more readily accessible for personal protection purposes. No longer have to be “stored” in separate locations.

4.  House Bill 3231--Improves the state’s firearms preemption law, curbs the ability of municipalities to abuse their zoning authority to circumvent state law to restrict the sale or transfer of firearms and ammunition at the local level. The law allows the State Attorney General to sue local municipalities that are in violation.

5. SB 741—Prohibits a property owners association from prohibiting or restricting the possession, transportation, or storage of a firearm r ammunition. Also prohibits restrictions on the lawful discharge of a firearm.

The first mass shootings in Texas happened in 1966. The shooter, a White male, stood in the University of Texas Tower and plucked off individuals like they were sitting ducks. Twelves more mass shootings occurred from 1999 to 2019. With Texas’s new gun laws mass shooters are more protected than soft target citizens.

Donald Trump has refused to tell the Senate to cut short all vacations and come back to Washington work on, or pass some the gun control reforms Democrats have already sent to the Senate. Mitch McConnell is in control. He won’t let the proposals see the light of day.