Playing At Gun Reform

Laws banning assault weapons, prohibiting clips capable of carrying dozens of rounds of ammunition, and requiring background checks of all gun purchasers will be about as effective in stopping gun violence as selling chastity belts in red-light districts. Most murders are crimes of passion and impulsive opportunity. Now that the United States is awash in guns – with approximately 80 firearms for every 100 people – lethal violence is everywhere.

Ask young men growing up in the nation’s inner cities. They’re dropping like flies in places like Chicago. We’ve our share of the craziness here in Connecticut, as well.

I’ve handled too many cases involving young men arguing about a woman, a liquor bottle, or nothing at all. The cases go something like this: A night out on the town, with a stop at a night club. Or maybe just some street-corner chatter. Someone says something stupid – the sort of thing we’d give someone a shove for years ago. A threat is made. An angry young man leaves, and then returns with a handgun. Bam, Bam, bam, and a few choice words, and there’s a dead body on the ground. All present run for cover. In the days and weeks that follow, the police cajole a few eyewitnesses into testifying. Plea offers in this case are typically 30 to 35 years in prison. Lose at trial, and your client is lucky to be sentenced to 45 years behind bars.

These cases are heart-rending punches to the gut, costing, as they do, two lives, that of the murdered victim, and, that of the shooter.

Too often both the victim and the shooter in these cases are young black men. They were dying by the dozen each week across the United States long before Newtown. It wasn’t national news when the victims were inner-city kids of color, and these victims aren’t getting slaughtered by gun-toting Rambos carrying assault weapons. Handguns are the death-dealer’s weapon of choice among urban youth.

"What’s your problem with Operation Longetivity?" a voice said as I stood on line in Dunkin Donuts in New Haven the other morning. I didn’t recognize the man who asked the question. He told me he was a probation officer. He was a brute block of a man, about 50, black, and with a world-weariness that told me I could trust him. He was asking me about the new federal initiative to jump on young men with guns.

"The feds don’t have any business enforcing gun laws in the cities," I said. "It’s like the war on drugs – it’s going to devastate communities of color." He knows I am right. He is a plantation master for those released from prison, but living on the state’s leash.

"Did you know that the latest thing is kids renting guns for drugs?" he said.

"How’s that work?"

"You can rent a gun for a day or two in exchange for drugs."

Far too many guns are finding their way onto city streets by suburban kids who steal a gun for the parents and then trade it for guns.

We both shook our heads. It is, indeed, a crazy world. Amid all the talk of gun legislation in the wake of Newtown, no one is talking about what it will take turn the killing fields on our city streets into places of peace.

We need handgun legislation with teeth. I say lawmakers should create a statutory fine scheme. Whenever a handgun in used in a murder, the manufacturer of the gun should be fined $200,000. Every dealer who put the weapon in the stream of commerce should be fine $10,000 in such cases. Every registered owner should be fined $5,000. I’ve a hunch that once these fines started adding up, fewer guns would find their way onto the streets and into the hands of young who use them to settle trifling grudges.

We’re playing at gun reform just now, and ignoring the inner cities. I suspect that’s because a lot of folks just don’t care if one black man kills another. In too many circles, I suspect such crimes are twofers, getting two African-Americans off the street, one by death, the other by prison. Deny it if you like, but only after soul-searching, ye white suburbanites.

We get the law enforcement we deserve. I say hit the gun lobby in the pocketbook, and hard. You want to own a gun. Fine. Pay for the consequences of their misuse.

Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.


Thomas Jefferson Didn't Own An AR-15

Have you bought your AR-15 yet? Do you have enough ammunition? Are you ready to shoot your way to freedom and security? And what about a stockpile of food, and reserves of water? How long can you hold out on your own when the end comes, or when the tyrants in Washington come goose-stepping to your front door?

Press accounts of the long lines at gun dealers’ shops nationwide reflect gun and ammunition prices are soaring. A friend even saw her doctor standing on line to buy a gun on a news clip. It’s like a collective psychosis. Just what are we preparing for?

When I was in grade school in Chicago we were required to participate in safety drills. An alarm would go off, and we’d all be required to huddle under our desks. You see, the Russians might launch a nuclear weapon. The blast would be ferocious, we were told: it would destroy everything. We needed to look away from the windows to avoid being blinded by the flash or having our eyes filled with shards of glass.

I learned fear and paranoia with my ABCs.

In hindsight, the safety drills seem almost silly. Come the holocaust, what were the odds that we’d survive if our city were blown to smithereens? Indeed, who’d want to survive a nuclear winter, in a world in which civilization was destroyed and only zombies stalked the earth?

I imagined living through the blasts, and being one of the few folks left alive. I’d find a car, learn to drive it, and head to Washington, D.C., where a stash of secret papers would undoubtedly explain just how and why the human race had decided to destroy itself. I guess I assumed that someone was in control, that there was an inchoate sense to the world, and to events, and that I could learn what it was. I’m older now, and realize just how silly the fantasy of order really was.

What fantasies of survival elementary do kids tell themselves today as we arm ourselves in preparation for, well, what exactly?

Listening to gun advocates, we need to arm ourselves as an act of patriotic necessity. Evil tyrants lurk, or so we are told. Joshua Barton, a former Marine, found his fifteen minutes of fame writing an angry letter to House Majority Leader Diane Feinstein. “I will not register my weapons,” he tells her. He won’t tell the government how many weapons he owns. “I am a patriot,” not a servant, subject or a peasant, he says.

And what of Alex Jones? He started a petition to deport television personality Piers Morgan because Morgan, a British national, is calling for gun control. “We [started the petition] to point out that this is globalism and the mega banks that control the planet and brag that they’ve taken over in Bloomberg, AP, Reuters, you name it, brag that they are going to get our guns as well,” Jones barked on national television. Uh, Alex. Did you forget the Trilateral Commission and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?

A good friend of mine, a criminal defense lawyer, told me the other day that his guns would have to be pried from his cold, dead fingers. Another gun advocate recently threatened to shoot to kill anyone who touched his guns. Continued...

All this looks more like collective madness: Just how many times must I be able to imagine killing my neighbor before I can put my head down on the pillow for a good night’s sleep?

Barton’s letter is a twisted farce, not a patriot’s prayer. Students of classics will recognize him as a stereotype drawn from Plato’s Republic: he’s got plenty of spirit, but little sense, a perfect guardian in arms, but lacking the sense to govern. He looks like a corporate stooge.

Gun manufacturers are having a field day. Shares in publicly traded gun companies have doubled and tripled in value in recent weeks. Gun store owners are selling their stock as quickly as it arrives. There is profit to be made in arming us to the teeth and telling us that guns are good for us, as American as Jefferson, Hamilton and even George Washington themselves.

All this patriotic double talk about guns obscures a larger truth: The sometime patriots who arm themselves against a tyrant are often the same people who complain bitterly about big government. Yet, I cannot recall the last time a gun was used in an act of political violence or resistance. In other words, when you call the armed patriot’s bluff, you learn quickly enough that all this talk about guns and liberty is simply white noise.

When Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona in 2011, my first reaction was: “It’s about time.” I wasn’t rooting for her death or for mayhem, but it struck me that the rage and frustration of the millions of forgotten Americans locked out of their homes, health care and the American dream might have erupted to the point of forcing violent change. History is made of such stuff, after all. Real patriots sometimes bleed. But it turned out that Giffords’ shooter was mentally ill.

An observation of Ted Rall’s strikes me as apt. European social legislation is generally more progressive because European history is far longer and more violent than ours: The bloodlines of the ruling elite in Europe have from time to time bled in response to social revolution. We simply don’t revolt in the United States.

Of course, there was the American Revolution, but a revolution of slave owners and propertied colonists against a distant overload is hardly a social revolution.

Today’s gun patriots are corporate dupes. They are arming themselves out of fear of one another. They say they’re worried about tyranny, but not a one of them is serious about social change. Big government and big corporations pull the strings of the death economy. Somehow, they’ve managed to sell us destruction draped in a flag.

I’m not buying. I just don’t see Thomas Jefferson hawking AK-47s, and, if he were to do so, I’d say so much the worse for him.

Reprinted courtesy of the Journal Register Company.


About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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