December 25, 2012

America's 'Gun Culture' and Piers Morgan's Selective Outrage

By David Paulin

It's a strange omission: liberal pundits like CNN's Piers Morgan are fulminating over America's "gun culture" following Newtown's school massacre -- yet they seem blissfully ignorant about what happened after Britain's draconian handgun ban following a school massacre in Scotland, in 1996, eerily similar to Newtown's.

After the ban, more than 160,000 law-abiding citizens gave up their handguns. The idea was to stop gun violence. But ironically, crime-related gun violence jumped a whopping 40 percent in the two years after the ban. And since then, gun crime has continued to soar at an alarming rate. Anti-gun liberals may be aghast, but as that old NRA bumper sticker stated: "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." One wonders how long before guns are used in another massacre in the United Kingdom; or perhaps next time it will be done by a madman carrying a can of gasoline.

Piers Morgan, an urbane native of England, surely knows what happened after Britain's gun ban. But like others anti-gun media elitists and politicians (whose children are defended by armed guards at upscale private schools) Morgan avoids discussions of the complexities and nuances of gun control and their impact on ordinary people -- that is, law-abiding gun owners. "You're an unbelievably stupid man, aren't you?" Morgan told Larry Pratt, director of Gun Owners of America, during a discussion about gun regulations that included proposed bans on large clips and military-style weapons like the AR-15 used by Newtown, Connecticut's shooter Adam Lanza. Now, an online petition demanding that the smug Brit be deported is drawing tens of thousands of signatures.

Morgan surely knows about Britain's failed effort to reduce gun violence - and how those efforts backfired. Even the lefty BBC took notice -- explaining that the 40 percent surge in gun violence suggested the handgun ban was "targeting legitimate users of firearms rather than criminals." Specifically, the BBC explained that, "The Center for Defense Studies at Kings College in London, which carried out the research, said the number of crimes in which a handgun was reported increased from 2,648 in 1997/98 to 3,685 in 1999/2000." Moreover, it noted there was "no link between high levels of gun crime and areas where there were still high levels of lawful gun possession; that "of the 20 police areas with the lowest number of legally held firearms, 10 had an above average level of gun crime. And of the 20 police areas with the highest levels of legally held guns only two had armed crime levels above the average."

Interestingly, the massacre in Dunblane was hardly the case of an upstanding citizen inexplicably exploding into a murderous rage. Thomas Hamilton, the 43-year-old shooter, had been on the radar of law-enforcement authorities and townspeople for some time, just as Newtown shooter Adam Lanza was on the radar (both to school officials and townspeople) for having significant mental health issues.

Yet in each case, nothing was done.

Hamilton was a closet homosexual and serial child abuser. Interestingly, police were aware of his proclivities for young boys. Parents had lodged a number of complaints about Hamilton's sordid behavior as a Scout leader and in other youth groups. Yet Hamilton, a shopkeeper and registered gun owner, was never brought to justice by legal authorities. It's an issue that came up repeatedly after his rampage, provoking charges that police engaged in a cover-up regarding Hamilton's sexual crimes. Suspicions of police negligence were further aroused when records pertaining to the sexual abuse allegations were sealed for 100 years (ostensibly to protect Hamilton's abuse victims), Although Hamilton escaped legal prosecution for molesting children, he was nevertheless shunned by townspeople. His shop went out of business. And community leaders prohibited him from leading or organizing anymore groups for boys.

On March 13, 1996, Hamilton took his revenge, entering the Dunblane Primary School with four handguns - two 9 mm Browning HP pistols, and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers. All of them were legally held. He carried 743 bullets.

He fired 109 times and killed 16 children, ages 5 and 6, shooting them at close range in a gymnasium. He murdered their teacher as she tried to protect them. He shot up other parts of the school, then returned to the gym where he committed suicide by putting the barrel of a handgun against the roof of his mouth and pulling the trigger. Fifteen others were wounded in his rampage.

Britain, to be sure, has not experienced another massacre. But given the number of handguns still in Britain - now mostly in the hands of bad guys and not good ones - it's only a matter of time before another massacre happens. After all, when guns are outlawed, only outlaws (and madmen) will have them. And if they can't get their hands on a gun, they'll find another means to kill.

Interestingly, some anti-gun elitists who would deprive ordinary law-abiding citizens from owning firearms seem unconcerned about madmen obtaining nukes in Iran and North Korea. They entertain the naive delusion that the United Nation's Security Council and Human Rights Commission will keep these madmen at bay, just as they naively believe the United Kingdom's mostly unarmed police officers can keep growing gun crime at bay.

One thing can be safely inferred about Thomas Hamilton's mental state: He had no reason to fear that an armed policeman might quickly show up: Scotland's police, like England's famous bobbies, are mostly unarmed.

Piers Morgan, for his part, says that in the unlikely event he's deported, he may broadcast from the Caribbean island-nation of Jamaica, part of the British commonwealth. Does Morgan know that Jamaica has one of the world's highest murder rates? And that obtaining a handgun permit there, especially for non-Jamaicans, often drags on for months and months?

Good luck, Piers.

Originally published at The American Thinker

December 24, 2012

In Key West, the 'Hemingway Home' Battles the Feds over Cats

By David Paulin   

Michael A. Morawski, chief executive of the iconic Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida, has spent nearly 10 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees fighting the feds - all to stop them from regulating the 43 resident cats that roam the museum's grounds to the amusement of visitors. His dealings with the United States Department of Agriculture - in meetings, administrative hearings, and the courts - ended earlier this month at the Atlanta-based United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh District.

He lost his appeal.
Yet he had reason for hope, because this was a rare case in which federal judges suggested the laws they were obligated to follow had produced an unjust outcome. In its unanimous decision, the three-judge panel ruled that federal authorities may regulate the 43 cats roaming the grounds of the Hemingway Home - the residence of novelist Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s, and now Key West's most popular tourist attraction. The decision reaffirmed an earlier district court ruling.

From the start, the issues for Morawski were not only about his cats but the proper role of the federal government; specifically, this was about the USDA's contention that it had the authority to regulate the Hemingway Home's felines that are thought to be decedents of Snowball -- a polydactyl cat (meaning it had extra toes) that Hemingway owned. The six-toed feline was said to be a gift from sea captain Stanley Dexter, a Hemingway friend.

Cat Fight
The USDA contended Congress gave it - not Florida or Key West -- the ultimate say regarding the cats under the Commerce Clause and Animal Welfare Act of 1966. Although the appeals court agreed, its sympathies were with Morawski and his cats. "Notwithstanding our holding, we appreciate the museum's somewhat unique situation, and we sympathize with its frustration," Chief Judge Joel Fredrick Dubina wrote earlier this month for the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit in his 13-page ruling. "Nevertheless, it is not the court's role to evaluate the wisdom of federal regulations implemented according to the powers constitutionally vested in Congress."

"I'm still dumbfound. This is overreach by the federal government," said Morawski, during an interview this week with American Thinker. Morawski said he ran up $500,000 to $600,000 in legal fees over most of the decade in his futile efforts to get the feds off his back and force it out of the cat-regulating business.

Not long after Hemingway died in 1961, his sons sold the Key West property for $80,000 to Bernice Dixon, a local jewelry store owner and Morawski's great aunt. The cats were already there, and like Snowball many of them were polydactyls. "The cats provide a link to the past," said Morawski. Some of Hemingway's sons have recalled as boys that their father had cats at his home in Cuba, not Key West; but the appeals court accepted as fact that the cats were descendants of Snowball.

Dixon turned the home into a museum in 1964, and upon her death in the late 1980s left the property to her family. The Southern colonial house - where Hemingway wrote masterpieces such as " For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" - now attracts some 250,000 people annually. Beautifully maintained, the family-run museum provides a fascinating glimpse into the writer's life in Key West. This includes the fact that Hemingway - a man's man according to the norms of his day - was a cat lover.

As for museum's cats, Morawski said neither Key West authorities nor the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have ever complained about how they were being treated; some were given away over the years, he said, but none were ever sold. The appeals court panel acknowledged as much, also noting the museum had cared for them, fed them, and provided weekly visits from a veterinarian. But nearly 10 years ago, one Key West resident contacted the USDA and raised concerns about the cats, thus setting off Morawski's battle with the feds. A USDA official investigated. Hemingway Home was subsequently classified as an "animal exhibitor" under the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 - all for exhibiting its cats as part of the museum's admission fees ($13 for adults, $6 for children) and for featuring them in advertising. Under this classification, Hemingway Home's cats fell under federal control because they were regarded as being the equivalent of animal performers in circuses, zoos, and carnivals.

As Judge Dubina recounted in his ruling, the USDA then issued a number of edicts to the museum: "obtain an exhibitor's license; contain and cage the cats in individual shelters at night, or alternatively, construct a higher fence or an electric wire atop the existing brick wall, or alternatively, hire a night watchman to monitor the cats; tag each cat for identification purposes; construct additional elevated resting surfaces for the cats within their existing enclosures; and pay fines for the museum's non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act."

To Morawski, it all ignored the nature of cats - especially the option about caging them up. "Obviously, cats are roamers. I don't know of any community that has a leash law for cats." Interestingly, the Illinois legislature did in fact adopt a state-wide leash law for cats in 1949, but Gov. Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat, vetoed the "Cat Bill" with a famous rebuke, including that lawmakers "have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency."

Morawski, for his part, initially protested the federal edicts. USDA officials then refused to issue an exhibitor's license and threatened to confiscate the museum's cats. The impasse ended when Dr. Chester A. Gipson, a USDA deputy administrator for animal care, granted an exhibitors license to the museum in 2008, without prejudicing its right to contest in court the USDA's authority to regulate its cats, which Morawski was anxious to do. "I kept wanting to get this in front of the federal court, and I had to get a license before we did that," he said.

One of the USDA's concerns was that the museum's cats might jump the 6-foot-high brick wall enclosing the property - an issue that come up during a visit by a USDA official. "She saw a cat sitting on a fence and said, 'Oh, that's a problem,'" Morawski related. So an 8-foot-tall black mesh fence was put up next to the brick wall. Morawski also registered each of his 43 cats with the USDA and made minor modifications to their abode, a "cat hotel" that resembles the Hemingway Home. 

Despite making changes, he said he'd rather not be dealing with federal officials regarding his cats.
During his dealings with the USDA, Morawski solicited help from Florida's U.S Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican. "She helped us and assisted us the best she could."

One issue still puzzles Morawski: How come his cats can be regulated under the Commerce Clause which, after all, is only supposed to regulate interstate commerce? "We're a local business," he pointed out. "Our goods don't go outside of Key West. So how can we be involved in interstate commerce?"
But Judge Dubina, after some erudite legal reasoning, explained that Congress can indeed regulate the museum's cats under the Commerce Clause. He wrote, "The Museum invites and receives thousands of admission-paying visitors from beyond Florida, many of whom are drawn by the Museum's reputation for and purposeful marketing of the Hemingway cats. The exhibition of the Hemingway cats is integral to the Museum's commercial purpose, and thus, their exhibition affects interstate commerce. For these reasons, Congress has the power to regulate the Museum and the exhibition of the Hemingway cats via the Animal Welfare Act."

What's next for Morawski? Getting justice in the courts has become too expensive, he said. "We're better off investing our money back into the business and employees. So I think we're probably dealing with a legislative issue now." Accordingly, he plans to enlist the help of like-minded members of Congress, starting with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, to introduce legislation that would "rein in the scope of the federal government."

So how many cat lovers are members of Congress? That may be the best indicator of whether Morawski has a fighting chance in shooing the feds away from his cats.

Originally published at The American Thinker

December 6, 2012

New York Post's subway death photo stirs debate over journalistic ethics

By David Paulin

Some journalistic values are not necessarily the same as human values -- a fact that explains much about the uproar over Tuesday's front-page photo in the New York Post. "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die," screamed the headline under the word: "DOOMED."

The man's name was Ki Suk Han, a 58-year-old Korean immigrant from Queens. The photo capturing the last seconds of his life has provoked soul-searching and outrage over journalistic ethics -- or lack of them.

Practically nobody is defending the Post for publishing it -- or its photographer for taking it. Aside from journalistic misconduct, there were disquieting reports that none of the 18 bystanders bothered to help Han. Yet various witnesses said he was on the tracks for a minute or more, scrambling to pull himself onto the platform.

Overwhelmingly, outrage over the photo is being directed at photographer R. Umar Abbasi, a freelancer for the iconic tabloid that regularly trades in sensational stories.

As the subway bore down on Han, Abbasi snapped photos of him clinging to the platform - instead of helping him up from the tracks. Or at least, that's how it seemed.

No doubt sensing a controversy over Abbasi's actions, the Post's original story lamely explained that he'd used his flash to alert the subway's motorman to Han's presence. Accordingly, photographing Han about to be "crushed like a rag doll" was merely incidental to his efforts to save him. It was hardly credible.

Abbasi also initially claimed that he wasn't strong enough to lift Han up from the tracks (although Abbasi's photo suggests that Han, who was trying to pull himself up, only needed a helping hand to climb onto the platform). Nobody offered him one. Han had reportedly exchanged words with his dread-locked attacker, a loud-mouthed panhandler. Police subsequently arrested 30-year-old Naeem Davis.

In a first-person account in Wendesday's New York Post, Abbasi defended himself with a slightly different version of his role in the tragedy than what was originally published in the Post. He insisted he was never close enough to help Han and has been anguished over what happened.

One can debate the ethics of publishing the photo, presenting arguments for and against. On the negative side, of course, the photo sells newspapers by appealing to an ugly voyeuristic and prurient streak in readers. On the other hand, it provides a searing and unforgettable drama of a horrific crime, showing the dark side of New York's subway system where predators are all too common. Even so, didn't the Post have any more appropriate photos to publish for the sake of good taste, decency, and the feelings of Han's family? It seems that the paper did have other photos based on what Abbasi related.

Abbasi's conduct would be indefensible if he could have helped Han but instead chose to take pictures. True, journalists and photojournalists ought to be impartial professional witnesses; but that detachment doesn't mean they stop being citizens, first and foremost.

Criticism over Abbasi is that if he had the presence of mind to snap photos of Han, then he surely had the presence of mind to make a credible rescue effort; and after that effort he could have taken all the photos he wanted - either of Han having survived a terrible scare or alternatively (if his rescue effort had failed) of Han's being tended by a doctor who was among the bystanders. Either way, Abbasi would have been a hero -- not a villain (although Abbasi now says in his first-person account, to be sure, that there was too little time for a rescue; that he only could fire off his flash to catch the motorman's attention).

Outrage over Abbasi's actions are similar to the public revulsion over the paparazzi in France who eagerly snapped close-up photos of a dying Princess Diana. None of those photographs were ever published in mainstream publications; editors felt that doing so would push the limits of decency and good taste. Couldn't the Post have made a similar decision?

Journalistic misconduct aside, there also were all those distributing reports of able-bodied witnesses doing nothing to help Han, who was heading to renew his passport. Some bystanders were stunned or afraid, clueless as to what to do. "People who were on the platform could have pulled him up but they didn't have the courage. They just didn't react like that," said Patrick Gomez, 37, who admitted to being guilty of the same inaction.

Aside from fear, there were examples of callousness. The subway's traumatized motorman expressed disgust that as a young doctor and others tended to Han, some bystanders "were taking pictures of the poor gentleman. They didn't want to leave." How to explain this? It could well be the result of a society saturated for years with violent and vulgar images on television, video games, and the Internet. For them, Han's death represented an opportunity to take some photos with their cell phones in order to post them on YouTube or show to friends.

To be sure, there are reports every day of ordinary citizens -- good Samaritans -- who risk physical danger to come to the aid of others. And, yes, this happens in New York City. But unfortunately, none of these sorts of people were around to help Han.

Other able-bodied witness may have figured that somebody else would come to the rescue -- a reflection of a certain mind set that can occur among numerous bystanders: what's now called the "Genovese Syndrome" -- a phenomena of "diffused responsibility" leading to inaction. It was coined after the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old New Yorker who was stabbed to death near her home. Her cries for help were ignored by numerous apartment dwellers according to initial media reports. Although the "Genovese Syndrome" is now taught in psychology and sociology classes, later investigations raised doubts about what neighbors in fact heard or failed to do.

As more information comes to light about Ki Suk Han's gruesome death, a more sympathetic picture may well emerge to explain the behavior of some bystanders -- those who should have done more.

As for Abbasi and his editors, their careers will forever be defined by a low point in American journalism.

Originally published in the American Thinker blog on  Dec. 5, 2010