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A Red Flag for “Red Flag” Laws

Some version of this, as Paul Edward Parker reports it for the Providence Journal, is worth considering:

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association on Tuesday voted unanimously to ask the General Assembly to pass a law to help keep guns out of the hands of people who demonstrate they are a risk to public safety. …

Under a so-called “red flag” law, the police could obtain a court order preventing people from having guns if they are a danger to themselves or others.

However, caution is critical, because this is dangerous territory for our civil rights.  Any such policy needs explicit guidelines for what counts as evidence and how the threshold is to be determined, preferably with some sort of validation outside of government (say a psychiatrist).  Otherwise, the government could confiscate weapons from people who simply dissent from the ruling worldview.

Indeed, one could imagine guns’ being confiscated because people in government know a person will be in a position that might make weaponry more problematic… like politically motivated pre-dawn raids, as in Michigan, or some sort of activists’ action against the person.  Imagine if police know somebody will be soon targeted like FCC commissioner Ajit Pai when the net neutrality issue was boiling; law enforcement might take away any weapons he might have to make sure nothing gets out of hand.  Or on the other side, if somebody is known to be an activist, the government  might take his or her weapons away.

It is insufficient for anybody currently in office to profess that such a thing will never happen; Rhode Islanders should demand clear standards and laws for any such legislation.  Look even to the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association’s statement.  An association for law-enforcement leaders should not contain language following the pattern of “we respect the Second Amendment, but…”

The Second Amendment isn’t in place as a sort of vague principle to be “respected.”  It’s a fundamental law of the land.  Government agents shouldn’t profess “respect” for it so much as pledge to “adhere” to it.

In this case, that means taking every conceivable step to ensure that a “red flag” policy cannot possibly infringe on our right to bear arms.

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A Chronic Illness of the RI Right

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Rhode Island Shouldn’t Let the Manufacturing Surge Pass Us By

To some extent, a commentary essay by  David Farr and Jay Timmons is a bit of a promotional spot for their organizations and the manufacturing industry generally, but this is broadly encouraging:

At the end of 2017, the National Association of Manufacturers surveyed its membership and the results were recording-breaking. Almost 95 percent of respondents felt positive about the outlook of their businesses — an all-time high in the survey’s 20-year history.

From our perch in Rhode Island, however, it’s difficult not to gulp a little at this:

Manufacturers’ newfound confidence didn’t happen by accident. Major developments in Washington, D.C., dramatically improved the business climate in the United States, most notably regulatory relief and, at the end of the year, historic tax reform.

It all freed up time, energy and resources that would otherwise have gone toward complying with complicated federal rules and the highest tax rates in the developed world. As a result, manufacturers are investing in their people and communities. We’re seeing story after story of businesses expanding their operations, offering raises or bonuses, buying new equipment and hiring new workers.

It’s early, yet, for state-level analysis, but early indications from economic data suggest that the national surge has been weaker in Rhode Island, if it hasn’t been passing us by entirely.  We need to impress upon our elected officials that they must change the approach of state government.

(via Stephen Green)

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At Least There’s an (Improbable) Correction for Senate Process Abuse

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The Inherent Racism of Gun Control

Writing for the Independent Institute’s Beacon, Anthony Gregory argues that the mechanics of gun control are implicitly racist:

Perhaps the most telling data concerns the racial makeup of who goes to prison for gun violations. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, for Fiscal Year 2011, 49.6% of those sentenced to federal incarceration with a primary offense of firearms violations were black, 20.6% were Hispanic, and only 27.5% were white.

This is how gun laws actually work—those caught violating them go to prison. For the mere act of owning an illegal weapon—not necessarily for using it, not for threatening anyone with it, not for being irresponsible with it—people who have harmed no one are locked up in prison for years at a time. As with the rest of the criminal justice system, particularly the war on drugs, these laws disproportionately harm the poor and minorities. That is the inescapable reality of gun control.

Gregory further argues that we’re not just talking gang members’ getting caught with weapons that they may have used or may intend to use for illegal purposes.  In poorer, more-dangerous environments good people have incentive to make provisions to protect themselves, and as with every other area of society in which the government erects barriers and imposes costs, people with lower income are less able to make sure they’ve got all of their Ts crossed.  That’s especially true when minorities are more likely to have some sort of criminal record.

Murdering people is already illegal, and doing it on a large scale is among the most stunningly illegal things one can do.  Broadening the list of activities that are illegal (like owning a particular type of gun or carrying a gun on one’s person) may or may not make such killers unable to do what they want to do, but on a much larger scale, the laws will snag people who are innocent of any other crime.  Putting them on the list of society’s criminals will only harm their future prospects at the same time that it puts them in the company of actual criminals.

Even if one believes that the number of lives ruined through this unintended effect is worth the number of lives saved by a ban, one must take it into account.

(via Stephen Green)

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Rhode Island Senate Leaders Declare Representative Democracy Dead in Rhode Island

To the Rhode Island Senate’s shame, it has filed legislation for what is likely the first-ever expulsion of a state senator, and it was done, as the bill states, based on some now-resolved campaign finance problems, “unwanted media coverage,” and some allegations and criminal charges for which Coventry Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle has not yet gone to trial.

As argued in this space, yesterday, whatever one thinks of Kettle’s moral standing to claim continuing political support, this extreme measure by the Senate goes beyond attacking his rights to attacking the rights of Rhode Island voters.  It isn’t up to voters to find a candidate whom the insiders in the State House can accept; it’s up to the legislators to accept whomever the voters send.

The fact that the lead sponsor of the bill is Democrat Senate President Dominick Ruggerio — who was himself arrested in 2012 and brought “unwanted media coverage” to the chamber — puts an exclamation point on the political nature of this move.  The involvement of Senate Majority Leader Dennis Algiere does not alleviate this problem, especially after recent revelations that he played a role attempting to broker peace at an initially secret meeting between Ruggerio and Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello.

Moreover, the fact that the legislation includes detailed documentation of the allegations, as attachments or evidence, suggests that there’s more going on here than a desire to resolve a legislative problem.  I’ve never seen external documents appended as part of a bill before, and I’ve read thousands of bills in the past few years.

One needn’t come to the defense of Senator Kettle or his alleged actions to suggest that this is a step too far and moves Rhode Island governance to another level of intrinsic corruption.  If Kettle is no longer acceptable to his constituents, then they should remove him.  The other politicians in the state Senate shouldn’t take it upon themselves to ensure that a district goes without representation for an entire legislative session.  Discomfort with the subject matter of the allegations shouldn’t lead Rhode Islanders to give over their basic rights as voters to a small group of political elites.

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Weight-Lifting Disabled Firefighter Loses Pension

Well, it looks like John Sauro won’t get to keep his disability pension, after all.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling finding against him summarizes the story succinctly:

In July 1998, plaintiff suffered a right shoulder injury while performing his firefighter duties.  Mr. Sauro had been a firefighter since August 5, 1991.  In October 2000, the board granted plaintiff an accidental disability pension for his on-the-job shoulder injury.  In April 2011, footage of plaintiff lifting substantial weights at the gym aired on a local television channel.  The board subsequently ordered plaintiff to submit to an independent medical examination (IME).  At the 2011 IME, it was determined that the plaintiff remained disabled from his 1998 injury.  Again in 2013, the board directed plaintiff to undergo an IME, to be conducted by Brian McKeon, M.D., in Boston, Massachusetts; plaintiff refused to do so because, he asserted, he was bedridden due to both physical and psychological illnesses.  The city then hired a private investigator to undertake surveillance of plaintiff.  In September 2013, plaintiff was observed leaving his home, driving his vehicle, and shopping at various retail stores.  On December 18, 2013, the board voted to suspend plaintiff’s accidental disability pension based on his failure to attend the IME that had been scheduled for October 16, 2013.

To lay out the calendar, then, Sauro worked for seven years.  He then lived off of this benefit for 13 years, until WPRI’s Tim White caught him doing a strenuous workout.  The payments have continued over the course of the past seven years while the matter was tied up in court.

As the decision suggests, the purpose of disability pensions is “to compensate work-injury-related disabilities and encourage qualified persons who are relieved of those disabilities to return to work.”  We shouldn’t have a system in which an injury on the job that doesn’t leave one unable to do any job becomes the equivalent of one of those old lottery tickets that paid out a decent annual income as a prize.

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