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Not an oxymoron: bipartisan gun control PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 January 2017 20:27

Ready for some good, positive, optimistic news about state government?

Here it is: Some members of the Wisconsin Legislature are going where no one from that institution has gone for years, into the terra incognita of bipartisan cooperation and gun control.

If that sounds too good to be true, it still might be—if the gun lobby instructs its devoted minions in the Legislature to block this small but promising step toward quelling gun violence. But a bill reacting to the plague of death and injury by gunshot in Milwaukee has a chance to survive, owing to the solid bipartisan sponsorship by Sens. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) and Reps. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) and David Bowen (D-Milwaukee).

The bill would make possessing a gun a felony for people who have three misdemeanor convictions in five years. Buying a gun with the intent of giving it to someone who can’t legally possess a firearm would also be a felony under the bill.

These measures are needed because crime in Milwaukee is caused not only by criminals but also by the boundless abundance and easy availability of guns that so often make bad deeds deadly.

The bill also seeks to limit access to guns by those not legally entitled to have them by making lying about being a straw buyer on forms required to be signed by purchasers a felony.

It’s no surprise that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn is a big supporter of the bill. His officers have to confront the butcher’s bill for this violence on an almost daily basis, not to mention facing the possibility of becoming victims themselves. The bill would make Milwaukee “safer by prohibiting career criminals who currently may legally carry a firearm from carrying on in the future,” the chief said.

Besides furnishing law enforcement with a tool with some potential for effectiveness in combating gun mayhem, passage of the bill could show the way for future efforts aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those likely to use them for crime.

The issue of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens is settled. State laws permitting concealed-carry are virtually universal. Save for a federal statute limiting ownership of fully automatic guns, people who aren’t felons are allowed to own any kind of firearm they want, from sporting arms to the deadliest semiautomatic assault rifles and handguns with high-capacity magazines. In American history, the right to bear arms has never been more secure. Only the likes of the National Rifle Association, whose existence as a well-funded gun lobby depends on convincing gun owners they are in danger of having their firearms confiscated by the government, would say otherwise.

The focus, then, has to be on keeping some of the 300 million-plus guns in America out of the hands of those whose behavior shows they might use them to commit crimes, including convicted criminals and mentally disturbed people such as those responsible for recent mass shootings. 

That is what the public, including the gun-owning public, wants.

Polls of gun-owners have found that majorities want universal background checks for gun purchasers and tighter regulation of gun sellers, including those who sell guns off the books at gun shows. 

Given the public support for gun limits targeted at miscreants, the chances for passage of the bipartisan criminal gun-control bill should be good. That’s assuming the gun-rights zealots of the Legislature, like those who have pushed for legislation to allow guns in schools and airports, aren’t called to resist by the NRA.

DNR caves in to climate-change deniers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 January 2017 18:53

Where giants of environmental conservation and protection once walked, political pipsqueaks now scurry about trying to cover their enormous tracks.

Politicians presiding over the government of Wisconsin, where John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson began their legendary service as valiant defenders of the environment, are leading the state away from its responsibility to serve in the most consequential environmental battle of the age.

In December, members of the administration of Gov. Scott Walker expunged long-standing language from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website that explained the consequences of climate change and acknowledged the role of man-made greenhouse gases in trapping heat in the atmosphere. 

The erasure, along with a similar deletion of information about global warming from the Public Service Commission website, signals obeisance to the orthodoxy of the climate-change deniers who, though shrinking in numbers, remain an impediment to the reduction of the carbon emissions that are causing the warming that imperils the earth.

This bow to anti-science backwardness by a state that was once regarded as enlightened in the protection of the air and water and other natural resources puts Wisconsin on the wrong side of an international campaign to reduce the volume of greenhouse gases discharged into the atmosphere. 

The finding that humans cause global warming by burning fossil fuels that release carbon is firmly in the mainstream of scientific analysis. It is the conviction of an international consensus representing most of the world’s climate scientists. Yet the replacement climate-change statement now on the DNR website implies that global warming is a natural phenomenon that is unexplainable by science.

That puts Wisconsin in step with the president-elect, who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China, but leaves the state awkwardly out of step with people and institutions that have judged the matter based on evidence rather than a compulsion to issue political-rally-rousing sound bites.

Leaders who do not avert their eyes from the reality of man-made climate change include some of Donald Trump’s own cabinet nominees, including his choice for secretary of state, who spoke of his concerns about global warming in Senate hearings. The words came with extra heft because the nominee, Rex Tillerson, is the biggest of big oil men, the chief executive of the world’s largest fossil fuel company, ExxonMobil.

Some of the military leaders who have garnered Trump appointments have also shown they understand the role of carbon in climate change. The American military, in fact, has long recognized the threat of worldwide destabilization caused by global warming and has developed strategies to counter it. As a massive consumer of fossil fuel, the military is starting to do its part in reducing carbon emissions with the development of aircraft and naval vessels powered by renewable energy and biofuel.

Meanwhile, American businesses are not wasting time denying the carbon threat; they’re acting on it. Two hundred multinational companies, including the likes of Walmart and Procter & Gamble, have committed to science-based targets for reduction of carbon emissions. This is not necessarily out of concern for the planet—these companies see human-caused climate change as a risk to their operations.

In Wisconsin, utilities have pledged to cut carbon emissions 40% by 2030, even if Trump follows through on his threat to revoke Environmental Protection Agency regulations that require power plant emission reductions.

A number of other businesses in the state have programs in place to create so-called net-zero buildings that offset carbon emissions with energy-efficient lights and equipment and renewable energy sources.

The growing embrace by business of carbon-cutting programs along with the rapid rise of the renewable energy industry serves to neutralize the claim by climate-change deniers that measures to reduce fossil-fuel emissions cannot be tolerated because they damage the economy.

Global-warming remains an existential threat to the world, but forces are marshaling to combat it. The Walker DNR, however, is not reporting for duty.

Prison for a teen locker room video? Really? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 January 2017 19:58

It would defy common sense to think that the Wisconsin legislators who voted to enact the state’s revenge porn law in 2014 intended to give law enforcement a tool to crack down on locker room horseplay by teenage boys. 

Yet the law is being used to charge a 17-year-old Port Washington High School student with a felony punishable by 1-1/2 years in state prison for posting a video of another boy’s buttocks taken in the school locker room.

The colloquial name of the law describes the behavior the law aims to punish: Maliciously posting sexually explicit photos of former lovers or spouses as acts of revenge.

Nothing like that was involved in the behavior of the Port High senior. According to the complaint, the boy, who is charged as an adult, made a cell phone video showing a student’s bare backside as he tried to retrieve underpants someone had thrown on top of a speaker box. The alleged crime consists of posting the video on Snapchat, the mobile app that displays submitted images for 10 seconds and then deletes them.

Locker room horseplay is nothing new. Often it’s just boisterous fun, though it can be mean bullying. In any case, it’s behavior that is best avoided, but it’s not usually behavior that results in intervention by police and courts. Social media seems to have changed that. Opting not to handle the video incident as a matter to be dealt with by the school, high school administrators called the police.

The Snapchat post that drew attention to the locker room activities could have deprived the subject of the video of privacy and exposed him to ridicule. Discipline for the student who sent the video for its 10-second run on Snapchat is warranted. But a felony charge?

The charge is so out of proportion with the offense that it mocks the generally accepted definition of a felony as a crime serious enough to justify a prison term along with the loss of various rights, including the right to vote. Can anyone imagine a 17-year-old boy being sent to prison for posting a locker room video?

Over charging is a standard prosecutor’s gambit frequently used as leverage to speed the wheels of justice by motivating defendants to accept plea bargains. But in this instance it’s an unnecessarily hard-nosed tactic that inflicts punishment even before the case is decided. 

Regardless of the outcome of the case, the stigma of being charged with a felony could follow the boy for years, affecting his ability to enroll in college and start on a successful working career. The seriousness of the charge also means that the accused boy’s family is facing the significant cost of a lawyer to safeguard his rights in the plea bargaining and court process.

District Attorney Adam Gerol is a respected litigator with a solid record prosecuting offenders and managing of the Ozaukee DA’s office. His decision to bend a law designed to punish the malicious use of pornographic images to fit locker room behavior that appears to be more prank than crime is surprising and disappointing. If prosecution is truly justified, Wisconsin statutes offer ample means to apply a misdemeanor charge to an offense of this nature. 

Many successful prosecutors are known for their unrelenting focus on doing whatever it takes to win a guilty plea or verdict. That’s not needed in this case. The accused teenager has admitted posting the video, according to the complaint. What is needed is a touch of the spirit of a hallowed tenet of justice: The punishment should fit the crime.

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