Olympians Medal in London, While the NRA Meddles in Harrisburg

 

 by WALTER BRASCH

 

Shortly before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on an amendment last December that would ban pigeon shoots, the Pennsylvania Flyers Association sent out a bulletin it marked as “urgent.”

“We must act now to preserve our sport,” the Flyers screeched. In a separate letter, the Flyers told its members they “should be very proud that your association has been able to keep the sport alive in PA [sic] for the last 27 years.” For added support, the notice referred to an NRA release, which called pigeon shooting a “Pennsylvania Sporting Tradition.”

Shooting live pigeons in a confined area isn’t a sport. Most hunters, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say that pigeon shoots aren’t “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shoots after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals, and continues to refuse to classify it as a “sport.” At that Olympics, the only time someone could earn a medal for cruelty, 300 birds were killed.

While 11,000 athletes from 205 countries continue to excel at the Olympics in London, 75 pretend hunters and faux sportsmen are at the Wing Pointe club near Hamburg, Pa., this weekend where they are shooting more than 10 times the number of pigeons killed at the 1900 Olympics.

Scared and undernourished, the birds are placed into small traps and then released 30 yards in front of people with shotguns. Most birds are hit as they are launched. Even standing only feet from their kill, the shooters aren’t as good as they think they are. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States.

If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, snip their heads off with shears, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. At Wing Pointe, birds are just thrown into a heap, with wounded birds left to die from suffocation. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The lure of pigeon shoots in addition to what the participants must think is a wanton sense of fulfillment is gambling, illegal under Pennsylvania law but not enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police. At Wing Pointe, each shooter pays a $290 entry fee. According to the rules, each shooter “must play $200.00 anywhere.” Pigeon shooters and the public can gamble more than that, with the club taking a percentage of the “official” bets. A high stakes, invitation-only poker game adds to the opportunity to lose more than a month’s house mortgage.

Wing Pointe earns even more from its pro shop and from shooters and their guests who stay at its luxury suites it claims is “the perfect retreat after you have spent the day enjoying our Sports Shooting playground.”

The failure to ban pigeon shoots leaves Pennsylvania as the only state where pretend hunters, most of them from New Jersey and surrounding states where pigeon shoots are illegal, can openly shoot pigeons which have just been released from the traps. The NRA claims pigeon shoots are legal in 35 states; however, because those states enforce animal cruelty laws, Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has openly held pigeon shoots. Pigeon shoots are held in southeastern Pennsylvania in Berks County at Wing Pointe, after the Strausstown Gun Club and the Pikeville Gun Club discontinued them; in Bucks County at the Philadelphia Gun Club, Bensalem; in Dauphin County at the Erdman Shoot; and in Northumberland County at a relatively unorganized Berm Gun Club, near Dalmatia. The notorious Hegins Pigeon Shoot, in which more than 5,000 birds were killed or injured every Labor Day weekend, was finally cancelled in 1999 after the state Supreme Court ruled that humane society police officers could arrest participants for committing acts of animal cruelty.

District Attorneys John Adams (Berks) and David Heckler (Bucks) have both refused to prosecute persons accused of cruelty by a Humane Society police officer. Johnna Seeton has filed charges of cruelty to animals in both counties and in all cases the DAs withdrew her charges. A mandamus case is pending against Adams to require him to comply with the law; in 2010, Adams took $500 in campaign donations from the NRA Political Victory Fund. An ethics complaint has been filed against Heckler.

Almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, oppose this form of animal cruelty. But Pennsylvania legislators refuse to ban pigeon shoots, fearful of losing NRA campaign funds, the coveted A+ rating, and what could be a vicious attack upon their re-election bids. Even a grade of “B” by the NRA causes some legislators to cower in fear.

The unrelenting NRA message irrationally claims that banning pigeon shoots is the first step to banning guns and, thus, destroying the 2nd Amendment. To those scared by fear-mongers in the NRA and the Pennsylvania Flyers, that was bred solely to support pigeon shoots, the Humane Society—which the NRA calls “radical” and “extremist,” and the Flyers calls “animalist zealots”—carefully explains that absolutely nothing in proposed bills or amendments restricts firearms ownership or usage. However, a paranoid NRA leadership claims banning pigeon shoots would be the “slippery slope” to gun restrictions.

The NRA, says Prescott, misrepresents its members, “most of whom do not support or condone pigeon shoots.”

Pennsylvania allows lobbyists to call legislators off the floor to discuss legislation. NRA lobbyists and their PACs have been vigorous in “explaining” the consequences of a legislator who opposes the NRA philosophy—and in backing it up with campaign contributions. During the 2010 election year, the NRA Political Victory Fund donated $4,500 in direct contributions and $389,696.85 in in-kind contributions to Republican Tom Corbett, who would be elected governor.

But the NRA and its allies are now on the defensive, after taking hits by the public for their unyielding stand in support of the right of owning assault weapons with 100-round magazines, for which no hunter or target shooter has any need. Somehow, in a collective mind with scrambled brain cells, the NRA leadership is unable to distinguish between legitimate hunting and animal cruelty.

In Pennsylvania, the NRA is making a stand. Associating with just about the friendliest state for what it claims is “gun rights,” the NRA has dug in; it knows that if the state bans pigeon shoots, NRA influence will diminish. And so, it continues to pump out fear-mongering press releases, lobbies hard, and freely spreads what is known as the “mother’s milk of politics,” all to a group of legislators too afraid to oppose what they think is NRA strength.

This week, we see two conflicting scenes.

There are no cowards in the Olympics.

But there sure are enough in Wing Pointe and the Pennsylvania legislature.

 [For the past 25 years, Walter Brasch has been covering pigeon shoots and the campaign to ban them as an inhumane practice. Dr. Brasch was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed social issues novel, Before the First Snow, that discusses animal rights and issues.]

 

No Time for Gun Reform

From The Progressive Populist]

Is it ever OK to talk about the politics of gun control? It seems like after every mass murder we are told that it’s not right to take advantage of the tragedy to bring up the need for some controls on America’s most popular killing devices, but with the constant incidents of multiple-casualty shootings, there are few openings to take up the matter. 

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence at bradycampaign.org has a list of more than 400 mass shootings in the United States since 2005. By the Brady Campaign’s count, the July 20 massacre at the Batman movie premiere in Aurora, Colo., was the 61st mass shooting that has occurred in the US since a gunman opened fire Jan. 8, 2011, at a town meeting called by US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. In that incident, a mentally disturbed young man wielding a pistol with an extra-large-capacity magazine is alleged to have fired 32 rounds in 16 seconds before being subdued while trying to reload. Six people, including a federal judge, were killed and 13 were wounded, including Giffords. 

President Obama came in for criticism after that tragedy because he did not take the lead in calling for stricter gun laws, but the National Rifle Association already was speading paranoia on the right and promoting gun sales with irresponsible claims that Obama was coming after your guns.

The NRA is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, which is tax-exempt, but it is opposed to letting the public — or its membership — know who bankrolls its lobbying operation. It also operates a foundation as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization to fund gun safety and educational projects for the general public. But the NRA opposed the DISCLOSE Act of 2012, which would let citizens know what corporations and individuals contribute more than $10,000 to political action committees that engage in the sort of independent political expenditures that the NRA makes. The disclosure law was written to allow such groups to keep their ordinary members secret. But NRA lobbyist Chris W. Cox in a letter warned senators that their vote will count on the NRA’s legislative scorecard for this Congress, and Republicans obliged by blocking the bill with a filibuster. 

We agree with the US Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), which held that the Second Amendment gives American citizens an individual right to own guns, and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), which clarified that the right to own handguns for personal protection extends to the states. However, the court allowed the states to regulate the sale and carrying of firearms outside the home and it left open the possibility of prohibiting assault rifles and other weapons that are “not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” 

The ban on assault rifles and magazines carrying more than 10 rounds, which was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, seemed to be a reasonable move. A semiautomatic assault rifle is not much use for a deer hunter and it isn’t the best weapon for home defense — a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is a better choice when you hear a disturbance after dark, and there is no mistaking the “ka-chunk” when you rack up a round to persuade a home invader to retreat.

The main use for an assault weapon, on the other hand, is to overpower someone or a group. That is unlikely to be a legitimate use. And no honest civilian needs more than 10 shots to get out of trouble. If they are carrying more rounds than that, they likely are looking for trouble.

After the Democratic Congress, at the prompting of President Bill Clinton, included a ban on the sale of military-style semi-automatic assault rifle and magazines holding more than 10 bullets as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, the NRA lowered the boom, closely coordinating its election strategy with Republican officials, Robert Dreyfus wrote in The American Prospect in December 2001. “Republicans provided the NRA with polling data and lists of vulnerable Democrats in order to coordinate campaigns ... In addition to strategizing with the Republicans, the NRA — ostensibly a single-issue organization — was throwing its lot in with other conservative groups, many of whom had little interest in guns but shared the NRA’s desire to unseat Democrats. Together, these groups pursued lower taxes, free market economics, a smaller federal government, and a cutback in safety and health regulations.” 

The NRA claims 4.3 million members, but it no longer represents the interests of ordinary hunters and gun enthusiasts. It mainly represents the interests of gun manufacturers, it enables mass murderers, and it has increasingly cast its weight behind the Republican Party and corporate interests. The Center for Responsive Politics at OpenSecrets.org reported that between 2001 and 2010, the NRA spent between $1.5 million and $2.7 million on federal lobbying efforts. But during the 2010 election cycle, after the Citizens United decision, the NRA spent more than $7.2 million on independent expenditures at the federal level — messages that primarily supported Republican candidates or opposed Democratic candidates.

There is mixed evidence that the assault weapons ban was effective. National Institute of Justice researchers in 2004 found that assault weapons were used in only a small fraction of crimes before the ban. Large-capacity magazines were used more often than assault weapons, but the researchers noted that assault weapons with large-capacity magazines tend to be used in murders of police and mass public shootings. Following implementation of the ban, a drop in the share of gun crimes involving assault weapons was offset by a rise in use of guns equipped with large-capacity magazines, due to the large stock of pre-ban magazines that were still available in stores.

Since the ban expired in September 2004, gun enthusiasts, at the urging of the NRA, have been stocking up on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. There are now more than 300 million guns in private hands in the US as sales have surged since 2008, when gun owners were told that President Obama meant to confiscate their firearms, though neither he nor other Democratic leaders have suggested any such thing. But that hasn’t stopped NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, who in February told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that the president’s strategy was “crystal clear: Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the US Constitution.”

With many moderate Democrats in the House and Senate intimidated by the threat from the NRA’s millions, and no real monied interests promoting gun control, it would take a dozen Republican senators and 40 representatives to reverse their positions to put a new assault weapons and large-capacity magazine ban in play — and even then the gun-control Republicans would have to put pressure on House Republican leadership to allow a vote on the bill — and neither Speaker John Boehner nor Majority Leader Eric Cantor are inclined to let that happen. 

With so many guns and large-capacity magazines already out there, it might seem like the damage is done. But we might prevent another deranged young man from assembling an armory.

So if you want Congress to pass a sensible gun bill, you are going to have to elect a Democratic House, keep the Senate in Democratic hands and pad that Senate majority by a few seats, as well as re-elect President Obama. Sure, Mitt Romney signed a state assault weapons ban when he was governor of Massachusetts in 2004, but he has repented every moderate view he held in those days, and there is no telling what he might do if he actually made it to the White House. But if Romney is in the Oval Office, chances are that Eric Cantor will be the new Speaker and Mitch McConnell will be the new Senate Majority Leader, and that won’t do the rest of us any good.

Editorial from The Progressive Populist. Reprinted with permission. Cross posted at DailyKos.com.

Warning: Mitt Romney is coming for your guns.

“We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts; I support them. I won’t chip away at them; I believe they protect us and provide for our safety." Mitt Romney, 2002

Oh, sure, he got the endorsement of the NRA. Sure, he bought a life membership. Sure, he got the endorsement of Big Bad Gun Boy Ted Nugent. But, let's look at his record and past statements.  

 

 

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Pennsylvania Legislators Shoot Down Pigeons—Again

 

by WALTER BRASCH 

 

If the first year gross anatomy class at the Penn State Hershey medical school needs spare body parts to study, they can visit the cloak room of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. That’s where most of the legislators left their spines.

The House voted 124–69, Dec. 13, to send an animal welfare bill back to committee, in this case the Gaming Oversight Committee. The bill, SB 71, would have banned simulcasting of greyhound races from other states. Pennsylvania had banned greyhound racing in 2004. Among several of the current bill’s amendments were ones that would also have banned the sale of cat and dog meat, increased penalties for releasing exotic animals, and stopped the cruelty of live pigeon shoots.

It’s the pigeon shoot amendment, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny), that caused legislators to hide beneath their desks, apparently in fear of the poop from the NRA, which lobbied extensively against ending pigeon shoots. The unrelenting NRA message irrationally claimed that banning pigeon shoots is the first step to banning guns. The NRA even called the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) a radical animal rights group. The House action leaves Pennsylvania as the only state where pretend hunters, most of them from New Jersey and surrounding states where pigeon shoots are illegal, to come to Pennsylvania and kill caged birds launched in front of spectators and the shooters.

Most pigeon shoots are held in Berks County in southeastern Pennsylvania, with one in the nearby suburban Philadelphia area. Scared and undernourished birds are placed into small cages, and then released about 20 yards in front of people with 12-gauge shotguns. Most birds, as many as 5,000 at an all-day shoot, are hit standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from the people who pretend to be sportsmen. Even standing only feet from their kill, the shooters aren’t as good as they think they are. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, HSUS senior vice-president, who for about 25 years has been documenting and leading the effort to pass legislation to finally end pigeon shoots in the state.

 Birds that fall outside the shooting club’s property are left to die long and horrible deaths. If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The lure of pigeon shoots, in addition to what the participants must think is a wanton sense of fulfillment, is gambling, illegal under Pennsylvania law but not enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police.

The International Olympic Committee banned the so-called sport after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals. Most hunters, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say that pigeon shoots aren’t “fair chase hunting.” Almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, oppose this form of animal cruelty.

On the floor of the House, Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood (D-Philadelphia), usually a supporter of animal rights issues, spoke out against voting on the bill, and asked other Democrats to go along with her. Youngblood is minority chair of the Gaming Oversight committee.

Youngblood’s chief of staff, Bill Thomas, emphasizes that Youngblood’s only concern was to protect the integrity of the legislative process. Although some members truly believed they voted to recommit the bill for procedural reasons, most members were just simply afraid to vote on the bill. Voting to recommit the bill were 52 Democrats, many of them opposed to pigeon shoots; 35 voted to keep it on the floor for debate. Among Republicans, the vote was 72–34 to send the bill to committee.

 

The Arguments

Germaneness: The Republican leadership had determined that all amendments to bills  in the current legislative session must be germane to the bill. “You can’t hijack a bill,” many in the House, including key Democrats, claimed as the major reason they voted against SB71.

However, the Republicans, with a majority in the House and able to block any bill in committee that didn’t meet their strict political agenda, raised “germaneness” to a level never before seen in the House. For decades, Democrats and Republicans attached completely unrelated amendments to bills. Even during this session, the Republicans, in violation of their own “rules,” attached amendments to allow school vouchers onto several bills, many that had nothing to do with education. But, the Greyhound racing bill was considered under both gambling and animal cruelty concerns. Thus, the amendment to ban pigeon shoots could also be considered to be an animal cruelty amendment and not subject to the Judiciary Committee, where it was likely to die.

 

Separate bill. Several legislators believed the attempt to stop pigeon shoots should have been its own bill, not tacked onto another bill.

However, only twice have bills about pigeon shoots come to the floor of the House. Most proposed legislation had been buried in committees or blocked by House leadership, both Democrat and Republican, most of whom received support and funding from the NRA, gun owner groups, and their political action committees (PACs). In 1989, the Pennsylvania House had defeated a bill to ban pigeon shoots, 66–126. By 1994, three years after the first large scale protest, the House voted 99–93 in favor of an amendment to ban pigeon shoots, but fell short of the 102 votes needed for passage.

 

The bill would duplicate or repeal a recently-signed law:

 Rep. Curt Schroeder (R-Chester Co.), chair of the Gaming Oversight committee, sponsored the House version of the Senate’s bill. If it was truly an unnecessary bill, he or the leadership could have previously sent it to committee for reworking or killed it. According to sources close to the leadership, despite his concern for animal welfare, Schroeder was not pleased about the amendments tacked onto his bill.

 

Short time to accomplish much: Several Democrats believed that by spending extraordinary time on the bill, necessary legislation would not be brought to the floor and the Republicans could then blame the Democrats for blocking key legislation.

However, both parties already knew how they would vote for redistricting (the Republicans had gerrymandered the state to protect certain districts), school vouchers, and other proposed legislation.  Further, the Republican leadership could have blocked putting the Greyhound bill into the agenda or placed it at the end of other bills. Even on the floor of the House, the leadership could have shut down debate at any time. Thus, the Democrats’ argument about “only four days left” is blunted by the Republicans’ own actions. During 2011, the House met only 54 days when the vote on SB 71 was taken. If the House was so concerned about having only four days left in the year to discuss and vote upon critical issues, it could have added days to the work week or increased hours while in session. Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), to his credit, wanted a vote, although he personally opposed the pigeon shoot amendment. “Let’s put this issue to rest,” he told the members. Taking the time to debate the bill, says Bill Thomas, “wasted taxpayer money and time.” However, “the amount of time spent avoiding the bill,” counters Prescott, “wastes far more time and resources than voting on it.”

 

Nevertheless, no matter what the arguments, sending the bill to committee was a good way to avoid having to deal with a highly controversial issue. It allowed many legislators to pretend to their constituents that they still believe in animal welfare, while avoiding getting blow-back from the NRA or its supporters. Conversely, it allowed many of those who wanted to keep pigeon shoots to avoid a debate and subsequent vote, allowing continued support from pro-gun constituents who accept the NRA non-logic, while not offending constituents who believe in animal welfare.

Whatever their reasons, the failure of the many of the state’s representatives to stand up for their convictions probably caused legislation to ban this form of animal cruelty to be as dead during this session as the pigeons whose necks are wrung by teenagers who finish the kill by people who think they’re sportsmen but are little more than juveniles disguised in the bodies of adults.

            [Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated social issues columnist, former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, whose specialties included public affairs/investigative reporting. He is professor emeritus of journalism. Dr. Brasch’s latest novel is Before the First Snow, a story of the counterculture and set in rural Pennsylvania.]

 

 

 

NRA For States Rights, Except When They're Not

One thing you can say about our friends at the National Rifle Association is that they're intellectually consistent. Ok, so they're not.

Here's the latest crazy-making example:

If the Washington gun lobby and their allies in Congress get their way, your state will no longer be able to make its own decisions about who can legally carry a hidden, loaded gun.

Domestic abusers, drug addicts, stalkers, people with violent arrest records and even people with absolutely no training who have never held a gun before could be granted a concealed gun permit in another state, and your state would have to honor it -- no matter what.

Join Mayors Against Illegal Guns in telling Congress: When it comes to carrying guns in our communities it’s OUR LIVES, so our states should decide OUR LAWS – not Washington politicians.

The U.S. House is planning to hold a hearing to discuss the proposed concealed carry law on September 13th -- and before that happens, they need to hear from you on this crucial issue.

File this under WTF? In the full entry there's a bonus video of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre being a frothing at the mouth wack job.

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