Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tired of Gunning It? America's Gun Culture and Its Communites are at War - Guess Who Is Winning?

This op-ed was published on November 25, 2008 on HipHopRepublican.com

Tired of Gunning It -

Tired of Gunning It ?

America’s gun culture and its communities are at war - guess who is winning?

By John S. Wilson

No community is as affected by guns and gun violence than the African-American community. Consider this: Although African-Americans only make up 13% of the US population, in 2005, they accounted for a mind bending 53.4% of the 12,352 gun-related homicides, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The rate at which African-Americans are perishing is so disproportionate that if it was equal amongst all ethnic groups — gun deaths would skyrocket to over 200,000 a year. Does that qualify as an epidemic?

I grew up with a gun in my home. My father chose to buy one when he opened his own business and didn’t feel comfortable having large sums of money at his establishment or on his person. I’ve seen that gun once. I never shot it, touched it, and rarely thought about it. My father used to say, “Guns are like cars, and
people don’t respect [their] power until it’s too late”. Unfortunately, that statement is being born out. And while he purchased his gun for self-defense, he has never had to use it, and statistics compiled by the FBI show there’s actually a 20% chance that during an altercation it would be used against him! The FBI also concludes that only 2.3% of gun deaths can be attributed to justifiable self-defense.

The gun laws we have aren’t the gun laws we need. The African-American community has implored their legislators to enact common sense gun control legislation to no avail. There is still no national gun registry
that can track guns across state lines ensuring a chain of travel and registration from manufacturer to dealer to consumer. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has consistently and successfully fought this on constitutional grounds. Less than 10 states require a permit to purchase a gun, for it to be registered or for
the owner to be licensed. And the last major gun legislation that passed was the Brady Act of 1994, which primarily consisted of the Assault Weapons Ban, the five day waiting period and federal background check for unlicensed gun owners purchasing a gun from a dealer (although the gun show loophole still exists,
where sale of guns are exempt from background checks). Assault weapons only accounted for 4.82% of the guns that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) could trace back to crime. But after Brady’s passage, that number plummeted to 1.61% — a 66% decrease. While it was successful in
taking these weapons off of the streets, it had a negligible impact on actual gun crime.

What are the deterrents to more impactful legislation? None will be passed until hunters, sport shooters, libertarians, and the self-defense crowd understand two things: 1) No one is out to confiscate their guns and, 2) Guns are wreaking havoc on entire urban communities. The NRA routinely stands aghast
at mention of more gun control and looks askance at legislators who dare to question the efficacy of the current regulation we have.

Are we even talking about the same kinds of guns? Well, no, not really. Murderers prefer handguns, hunters and sport shooters prefer rifles and shotguns. In an exhaustive study done by the Department of Justice, handguns accounted for 90% of gun-related homicides and 86% of all weapon-related crime in the
US. Criminals overwhelmingly preferred guns that were easily concealable and of a high caliber. 3 handgun models –.38 caliber, .357 caliber, and .22 caliber — accounted for 65% of the guns that felons had most recently acquired, and they were used in over 40% of police officer killings from 1982-1993. By comparison,
rifles and shotguns accounted for less than 9% of gun-related homicides. And although criminals owned them, they were not carried often or frequently traced to crime by the ATF for homicides, assaults or drug offenses. Legislation should be articulated that focuses on handguns because they are the tool of choice used to terrorize our communities. Sometimes there seems to be more debate in this country about hip hop music’s effect on gun crime than the laws we’ve implemented (loopholes and all) or the laws we have been too afraid to write for fear of the gun lobby. Next time I hear of a child who was murdered by a man wielding an iPod and freestyling or a home invasion where a family of four is slain with 50 Cent and Kanye West CDs, I’ll let you know. The rate at which African Americans are being killed is immoral, ghastly, and leaves our future in an untenable position. If the NRA was suffering from it instead of running away from it and they would lobby around it, it’s future would be just as untenable. I’m tired of gunning it. Are you?

John Wilson is currently a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he majors in sociology and women's studies. He is a contributor to this blog, and his writing has appeared in the Orlando Sentinel. Although he is an Independent, in early 2007, he canvassed for the Barack Obama campaign. He recently interned in the office of the Honorable David Englin (D) in the Virginia General Assembly.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Madison Was Right -- No Need to Fear a Diverse Electorate

This op-ed was published in the Orlando Sentinel on November 22, 2008.
Orlando Sentinel

Madison Had It Right - No need to Fear a Diverse Electorate -

Madison Was Right -- No Need to Fear a Diverse Electorate

By John S. Wilson

"It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the
injustice of the other part . . . The society itself will be broken into so many
parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority."

James Madison espoused this view in Federalist Paper No. 51, as he argued for the health and well-being of a "compound republic" where the federal government and its equal but separate branches (executive, legislative, and judiciary) along with the representative state governments "will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself." Such mitigated strength would allow for the jockeying of political power among varied groups of individuals. And if Democrats at times can be accused (rightfully, other times pejoratively) of practicing identity politics by urging for more inclusiveness in the electoral process by way of diverse representation, historical redress, or pandering to African-Americans to ensure continued "monolithic" support, is it possible they are not alone? Could Republicans also be accused of practicing "identity politics" by urging not inclusiveness but exclusivity, by fostering a coalition of voters who shun diversity and are prepared to do battle over cultural differences? And if they are, are they doing so in the spirit of James Madison? At various times throughout the presidential campaign, CNN reported polls showing that 11 percent to 12 percent of the American electorate believed Barack Obama to be a Muslim; in Texas, that figure was as high as 20 percent. John McCain himself admonished a supporter during a rally for saying she could not support Obama due to his Muslim faith. (Obama has been a practicing Christian for more than 20 years.) Worse yet, I'm still waiting to hear the legislative disadvantages of being a Muslim in higher office in the first place. And if that were not enough, various news organizations noted that Sarah Palin commented that Obama "is not a man who sees America as you and I do."
She went on to say , "We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation." To be sure, some of this is rhetoric in the heat of a presidential campaign and is as quickly forgotten as it is conjured. But that does not disqualify it from being defined as what it is -- identity politics based on us versus them. While the Democratic coalition of unions, African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities, and progressives have tried to inch closer to seats of power, Republicans have long felt America has been too progressive, become too liberal, and moved away from its "center-right" foundation.They never feared being left out of the process -- this much can be ascertained from their rhetoric. Instead they have feared being edged out of the process, and of having to share their power with those who traditionally didn't have any themselves. Only after this most recent election are Republicans starting to question the strength of their coalition, but ironically not their methods of building one. And while McCain won 55 percent of the white vote, this consisted of 90 percent of his vote total. But small-town America was not enough to crown him a winner. And it won't be enough in the future, with the Census Bureau estimating that by 2042,
minorities will make up a majority comprising 54 percent of the U.S. population Identity politics ensures we each have a voice, that individuals may align with factions that seek not only to be heard but also seek "justice and the greater good." Republicans would do best to stop maligning the identity politics of James Madison, end the exclusivity of their politics, and realize that maybe our culture has changed, and for the better.

The following rejoinder was sent to me by an editor at the Orlando Sentinel by request of the writer, Mr. Kilfeather, whose permission has been obtained for this reprint.

Dear Editor:

Congratulations to the Sentinel for finding an excellent "New Voice" in
Mr. John S. Wilson. It is refreshing to read a coherent article written
by a University student.

I would appreciate you forwarding my comments to him for his perusal.

Dear Mr. Wilson:

I enjoyed your article "Madison had it right---no need to fear diverse
electorate". I too am a fan of James Madison, in fact all those men who
created the United States Constitution. Their efforts in promoting
individual rights and preserving them in a constitution which guarantees
those natural rights was the greatest political achievement the world
ever witnessed. It still is the only such guarantee in this world.
Consider that not a single other government on this planet has ever
achieved such a standard.

It is for students such as yourself to insure our individual rights are
preserved, as they would have said in 1789, "for posterity".

Diverse representation is a tenet of our fundamental law, the "supreme
will" of the land, our Constitution. You clearly recognized that and
expressed the current state of affairs of our political discourse very
well. It's conduct was truly at our lowest level, ever.

If I may, I'd like to suggest an underlying principle to your article
that seems to have escaped notice of our politicians (and media) while
they played loose with their campaign slogans and verbal assaults.

The U.S. Constitution created a federal concept of severly limited
government overseeing State governments. The federal concept had one,
among several others, an absolute guarantee of individual rights. The
documents main fault was the compromise regarding slavery; that was left
for future political correction: we failed. Devastating war was required
to correct the fault. The election of Mr. Obama may have been the marker
that permanently ended that era of tradgedy.

The underlying principle missing in all our modern elections is the
continuing battle of "individual rights" versus "collective rights".
Your focus on diversity and current "identity politics" does not get us
to the main battleground; "...identity politics based on us versus
them", is a misdirection or feint, if you will, that politicians use to
hide that main issue; the individual versus the collective.

The leaders of the political parties in the last election can be
identified as follows: McCain was just a confused, but honorable,
pragmatist; Palin an ineffective advocate of individual rights; Obama
the articulate promoter of rhetoric that clouded a collective rights
agenda, and Biden, well he's just Joe Biden.

Senator Obama, if he remains true to his "fundamental transformation" of
government theme, his national health care plan, and other Democratic
Party platform proposals will directly challenge the foundations of the
United States Constitution; bring it down and leave the planet without a
single government that espouses, enforces and preserves individual
Think about that for minute; there is no middle ground about this issue.
I'll quote Chief Justice John Marshall who wrotewhile declaring the
"Case of the Midnight Justices" unconstitutional, (Marbury v. Madison; 5
137 (1803); "The constitution is either a superior, paramount law,
unchangeable by ordinary means, or It is on a level with ordinary acts,
and like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to
alter it."

Mr. Wilson, this last election seems to have torn up the "Spirit of
James Madison" and his notion of individual rights. Further, it requires
thinking of the logical result of applying, to each theory, individual
or collective, the meanings of the terms "Justice" and the "greater
good". If applied supporting individual rights, it works. If collective
rights prevail in our thinking, courts, and Congress, the application
results in a tyranny of the mob. This is our most important, and
critical challenge.

I wish you well in your continuing education. In the United States our
political discourse and inter-play is as diverse as it gets, anywhere.

The sun truly shines on this great country.

R Kilfeather

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mortgages Only a Criminal Could Love

This op-ed appeared in the Commonwealth Times.

Mortgages Only a Criminal Could Love -  

Mortgages Only a Criminal Could Love

By John S. Wilson

As the economy worsens, politicians will continue to debate prescriptions for the ailments on one hand, while casting blame on those who supported policies that now seem to have become injurious on the other.

What all can agree on is that mortgages are at the epicenter of the financial crisis that we are now dealing with. Homeowners are struggling to make their payments, lenders can't sort the bad mortgages from the good, and investors wouldn't trust lenders even if they could do so. 


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Darden Prospective Students' Day

My first trip to Darden a couple of weeks ago was exhilirating. Although many of my friends had attended UVA for undergrad, I had yet to visit UVA or any of their professional schools. After having visited I can honestly say -- the wait was much too long. Both Darden and the law school were spectacular. Everything from the landscape, students, administration to the atmosphere were top-notch and very inviting. I look forward to going to next year's Prospective Students' Day event, and taking some more fabulous pictures.