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HOT BUTTONS — >> Guns >> Drugs >> Hate
by David Gurevich

Guns R Us
Whenever a school massacre or other violent drama(1) excites simple emotions, GUN CONTROL provokes useless debate. For argument's sake, anti-gunners like to forget that once you sift through the evidence at Columbine High, Keanu Reeves and Prada appeared as responsible as Smith & Wesson, while pro-gunners prefer to shrug off the number of children slain annually by the bang-bang toy in the night table.

Since the Second Amendment isn't designed to arm felons, lunatics and babies, one would think that a simple formula like, "no criminal record + proper training + licensing = one firearm" should settle the matter, but no. After nights of selfless Net surfing, I have located no one willing to settle at all.

I haven't found even one statistic that both sides have processed in unison. Example: In 1993, anti-gunners report, 1,134,102 gun-related incidents took place — a breathtaking item. Yet when pro-gunners divide it by the number of guns in circulation that year, they find that less than 0.5 percent of those guns were used in a crime. Feeling better now? Foreign stats are no help: for every gun-free state like Britain or Canada whose murder stats make permissive U.S. gun laws look culpable, there's Switzerland and Israel, where firepower is available on demand and people are comparably safe.

At its most rudimentary, the debate can be boiled down to Statists v. Libertarians. The former want the police to take care of you, the latter want you to take care of yourself. Choose your poison.

If you want to know what the well-meaning, socially concerned citizen with a glass of Chardonnay believes, ABC-TV's Gun Control series delivers. If you're yearning for Seriousness, however, you go to expert sources, even lawyers. The two sites with the most comprehensively objective approach are both affiliated with law. One comes via Lexis. The other is at the U. of Chicago's Law school.

By contrast, the anti-gun lobby is in a shoot-first mood. Center to Prevent Handgun Violence which is chaired by Sarah Brady — shows its colors right on the home page: "Today, the Illinois State Senate...handed a gift to every criminal, gang member and drug runner and their lobbyist the NRA." Got a problem with that, buddy? Slightly more sophisticated is the Violence Policy Center. Their apparent aim is to get as many laws passed as possible (there are 20,000 now on the books) and sue on every one of them. You know which heartstrings they're jerking with titles like "Women & Firearms Violence." (Men's Firearms are from Mars, and...?)

In the opposing camp, Jews for Guns frames its point about Holocaust prevention succinctly: "Gun Control — The KEY to GENOCIDE!" J4G has many gun-adoring allies, starting with the NRA whose site design is sort of like "The Ten Commandments" repackaged as a CNN Special. Their homelier cousin site, Gun Owners of America proudly bills itself as "The only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington." Believe it, or they'll be prying your Intellimouse from your cold, dead fingers. Equally adamant is THE SECOND AMENDMENT FOUNDATION!. Okay, so I added caps and an exclamation mark, but that's because every line on their home page ends with one. The National Center for Policy Analysis offers a slightly more contemplative analysis — with snappy titles.

The odds for a lucid voice on this issue are, as you can see, anything but rosy. And they will get worse, now that the unholy duo of city mayors and personal-injury lawyers have learned what sweet megabucks a lawsuit vs.a handgun manufacturer can yield.(2)

For now, a sample "middle ground" can be found in The Christian Science Monitor, where "Philadelphia Mayor Rendell's proposal to create a metrowide zero-tolerance zone for illegal firearms has won praise from both the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Handgun Control Inc." Alas, one lone zone in Philly does not a trend make.

As for you, dear reader, better arm yourself with the facts. if you arrive at a reasonable position on this one, you'll have to fight like hell to get it past the fearmongers on both sides. And that's shooting from the hip.

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For a quick survey of the gun industry's worst PR moments, see Hot Gun Timeline by the Center for Investigative reporting.

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Don't shoot — sue! at: The Educational Fund to End Handgun Violence's "Firearms litigation Clearinghouse"

The War Game
"Drugs are no good. Don't do drugs; okay?"
    — School Counselor, South Park

Teacher, is drug use a personal choice, or a political problem, and how can we tell the dif? Hint: If millions of people are using drugs moderately, it's a personal choice. If millions are ruining the lives of those around them because they're too high to hug the kids or keep the Jeep on their own side of the road, it's some of both — whereas when a government spends billions of dollars to wage a "war" on a problem, it is definitely political. When billions grow into trillions, you don't have to be Oliver Stone to realize that somebody up there must seriously like this War on Drugs. In fact — why mince words? — they must be addicted to it.

There may be as many Americans hooked on the Drug War as on drugs:

Domestic law enforcement? Its powers grow daily; the jails are full. Thanks to the DARE project, even the least trigger-happy cops are busy teaching kids to say things like "No drugs for me!" and, "If you make me do my homework tonight, Mom, I'll tell Teacher you smoke goof-butts."

DEA, the CIA, the whole cloak-and-dagger alphabet of intelligence services and government agencies feeds heavily on the illegality of drugs. Those employed to interdict drugs have been suspected of dabbling in them, whether as arms traders, immunity brokers or bag men. The horrendous forfeiture law pours millions of dollars into state and federal coffers. Then there are the criminal attorneys, polygraph experts, surveillance and police equipment suppliers, HMOs, mobsters, politicians and military men — operators big and small who deal in the Drug War.

The most significant casualty of the War on Drugs remains: For all the blood and money poured into it, we still lack resources for people trying to kick drugs, for people trying to help someone they care about deal with a drug problem or for people trying to provide at-risk kids with more attractive alternatives. The War on Drugs has obscured the smaller, more human-scaled fight against substance abuse and addiction.

Where does the Net stand? Government sites, like the DEA's, are, well, government sites: pull down charts about seizures of smuggled heroin doubling between 1992 and 1996. (Oddly, the White House drug policy site was not working!)

The Godzilla of all government anti-drug sites, the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, is actually leaning heavier on booze and tobacco, confirming our worst nightmares about where the next D-Day landing might be staged. The friendliest of the anti sites, Drug-Free America, is quite entertaining, offering background info on rohypnol ("roofies"), GHB, and herbal ecstasy, and how they are used for date rape. It also tells us what "raves" are.

There are no serious ideological divisions among drug policy reform sites; some are more left-wing, others less so. Among the numerous sites that favor legalizing marijuana, the wonkish Media Awareness Project is the most generally comprehensive. It's rich both in content — indefatigably logging in with "23,885 drug-related news clippings" — and in links. MAP introduces you to its allies and enemies with a confident optimism not normally associated with its drug celebre. November Coalition presents vivid, moving, infuriating personal stories of "prisoners of war" — people whose lives were shattered by "friendly fire." Do not miss this site. Beautiful but insular Saxakali Magazine describes the drug war as a racist enterprise designed to keep black women down.

Accurate or not, sites like the above have as much chance of influencing national policy as... well, you or I. What's new, different and, like, Wow! here, is that well-financed conservative think tanks like Cato Institute and Hoover Institute, drug warriors in years past, have turned their turrets. At the Hoover, big gun Milton Friedman flatly proclaims the Drug War "a failure." At Cato, well-armed battleships like conservative William F. Buckley have sailed into port to facilitate the honorable repatriation of our fleeing troops.

Although Hoover and Cato's luminaries pack a lot of political firepower, the drug-war juggernaut will be as hard to convert to peace uses as the Russian economy. Stifling the human appetite for self-damage takes as much manpower as gratifying it, so any degree of legalization means downsizing many precious jobs. Unless, of course, we find something instead of drugs to ban — Twinkies, maybe, real butter or — why not? — rock 'n' roll?

All of which leaves addicts and their families as they began: disorganized, in need and voiceless. Anyone want to start a website?

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Hate Crime All the Time

Y2K scenario: First, the guys from the Genome Project announce that they have isolated the Hate Gene. Then they add: The Hate Gene is inextricably linked to the Love Gene. What do we do now?

Technically, it is someone's hate for your particular group, rather than for you individually, that turns an ordinary, everyday crime of assault, arson or vandalism into an act of terror against your whole group. Hate crime equals a crime plus hate speech.

The sticking point is, speech is legally vague. Words switch meaning with context. What about the B-word? If used on a person who actually was born out of wedlock, couldn't it wound? And if you're called "an ugly old coot" as you're struck on the head, and you're ugly, and old and a coot — haven't you suffered a blatant example of lookism, ageism and bird-hating? Using the N-word in a bar fight in Wisconsin can double your sentence, while in South Central L.A. it can get you a record contract. The word "faggot" can be a word of endearment, a sex toy or a death threat, depending. Since the words themselves don't guarantee hatred, are people supposed to prove in a court of law that a perp committed a crime while feeling a certain emotion?

It sounds like I'm trivializing the horror of being openly hated by a menacing, hostile, low-spirted and seriously misguided person, but no: It's just that, legally, defining hate crime(1) is the legal equivalent of "I know what pornography is when I see it" — i.e., a First Amendment sump pit. Don't hate me: It's a real problem.

Nevertheless, it is a rare state that does not have at least a blue-ribbon panel on hate crime. In America's academe, where the level of free expression is beginning to rival North Korea's, every school has a Hate/Bias Crime Reporting Act e.g., Cornell. Many of them have been successfully challenged by the ACLU(2), but their numbers keep growing.

The battle in cyberspace is drawn along perfectly predictable lines. For the official stats, go to the FBI. The advocates of hate crime laws are grouped at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. A passionate con view can be found in Washington Times; a moderate one, blessedly free of legalese, put out by the Ford Marrin et al., a NY law firm, discusses the danger presented by hate groups, noting that one man's terrorist is another's liberation fighter. Beyond that, the Wiesenthal Center posts online a CyberWatch Survey designated to elicit your true feelings about hate. Only in L.A. can they believe that Goebbels was not beyond therapy.

Oddly, from the ACLU to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the free speech crowd won't connect you to hate-filled sites, whereas several Neo-Nazi sites — to their credit — post links to their opposition, trusting their zealous followers not to feel either degraded or seduced by hostile rhetoric.

According to a book called Hate Crimes: Criminal Law & Identity Politics,(3) the main justification for increasing sentences for hate crimes is expressive: It declares a community's united hatred of haters. But there are extralegal ways to discourage bias vendors, as many have shown. Using an outrage to deepen a neighborhood's sense of humanity, as the rabbi of Temple Shalom did so movingly in Greenfield, MA, not only keeps hate groups marginal, but also disarms them of their greatest weapon — the ability to inspire fear.

It may take a village-wide rally to set straight a few messed-up high-school kids, but dealing with hardened Stormtrooper types might require more drastic and imaginative remedies. Like this special offer: "Ideal Space: No Gays — No Jews — No Blacks. Generous packages for True Aryans willing to launch the Fourth Reich on a preselected moon of Saturn." Everybody wins. Now, that's the American Way.

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(1) The Hate/Bias Crime Reporting Act did not make hate crimes a new category of crime... For example, any type of physical assault (a crime under New York State law) that is motivated by bias on the part of the perpetrator toward the victim is still an assault, but because its sole motivation arises out of a bias or prejudice, the assault also must be reported to the federal government as a hate crime. The concept of the Hate/Bias Crime Reporting Act is that the reporting of such crimes and the subsequent investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators will act as a deterrent and also help keep the public informed of the scope of this problem.

(2) ACLU

(3) Hate Crimes: Criminal Law & Identity Politics
by James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter
AMAZON.COM REVIEW: "Essentially, according to their line of reasoning, claims of the existence of a hate-crime epidemic and laws punishing hate crimes serve two purposes. One, they allow minorities to express outrage at the way they are being treated by society. Two, they allow non-minorities to act as if they understand minorities' pain and reaffirm the uncontroversial belief that prejudice and bigotry are wrong. But (the authors warn) hate-crime laws may even... exacerbate perceived differences rather than create harmony."

"Hate — or, more accurate, bigotry — is wrong. Crime is also wrong. But Jacobs and Potter make a convincing argument against considering crime tinged with bigotry worse than unadulterated crime."

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