Monday, April 08, 2013

In the Mail

Dear Senator Landrieu:

I am writing to ask you to support The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 and to support whatever Senate legislation emerges that includes the strongest possible language requiring background checks on all firearms purchases.

While Louisiana has some of the most open firearms rules in the country, this state is one that leads the nation in violence committed by firearms. As a resident of New Orleans, violent crime is often on my mind and the minds of those closest to me. I find it shocking that up to 40% of the gun crimes in this area are committed by individuals who have been arrested previously for gun crimes. Additionally, when it comes to domestic violence in this state, it is difficult to keep guns out of the hands of repeat offenders, even in cases where authorities are aware that previous offenses or criminal records exist. Whatever is being done to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and domestic abusers is not working in Louisiana.

While there are several enthusiastic lobbying groups who insist that “criminals will always find a way to get guns,” this does not mean we need to roll out the red carpet for them as we do in Louisiana. Right now, private sellers and vendors at gun shows are not required to run background checks on gun purchasers. And while it is nominally illegal for a seller to knowingly complete a transaction with a purchaser who is ineligible for firearms ownership, without the requirement of background checks, there is simply no way the seller has to know. This means that, right now in Louisiana, it is harder to register to vote or apply for a driver’s license than it is to purchase a firearm.

This has to change. Even if violent crime has diminished nationwide, we are facing an epidemic of firearms violence in Louisiana, and especially in New Orleans. On this issue, I stand with individuals like Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas, and your own brother, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, in taking this issue seriously and personally. Additionally, I stand with President Barack Obama on the majority of his proposals, and I hope you will join him with your support and your vote in the United States Senate.

I also know that it will be difficult for you, politically, to oppose those enthusiastic and well funded “gun-rights” lobbying groups in Louisiana. As a born and bred Southerner, I know the political power being wielded by those lobbying groups who would take advantage of our shared cultural heritage of hunting, sportsmanship, and family traditions of handing down firearms as heirlooms. Those lobbying groups – the NRA chief among them - do not speak for me and do not have my support. I find their arguments against the proposed firearms legislation hyperbolic, overwrought, and based more on fabrication and mischaracterization than any realistic estimation. During the latest national conversation, I have found the behavior of such groups to be disgusting and repugnant, worthy of little more than disdain.

My beliefs on that are formed because I have actually read the 2nd Amendment, current federal firearms laws, and related Supreme Court decisions. Chief among these is Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in the District of Columbia vs. Heller decision (emphasis added):

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Furthermore, any substantive reading of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 satisfies any concerns I have that universal background check requirements might be used to create a national firearms registry (although I would personally support a national registry for owners of assault weapons, as an outright ban appears politically impossible).

As a law abiding citizen who has passed several background checks for both employment and volunteering efforts, I fully support universal background checks for all firearms purchases because I know the only individuals that will be inconvenienced are citizens who are ineligible for firearms ownership or unscrupulous firearms sellers who would easily provide them with a way around the law.

Again, I ask you to use your voice and your vote to stand with the President and with the City of New Orleans on firearms legislation, so our nation, state, and city can do more to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do the most damage with them.

Thank you for your support.

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Similar letters sent to: President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, Congressman Cedric Richmond

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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The "G" Word

Alongside “hipster,” “carpetbagger,” and “urban planner,” it is a dirty word in New Orleans right now: gentrification. It is a complex term and it brings up myriad issues that relate to changes in local land use policy. But unfortunately, endless inarticulate complaints about the concept have rendered the word almost without meaning within our local vernacular. Nowadays, when I hear or read the g-word, it takes a moment not to dismiss the author wholesale the way I did when loud but inarticulate Tea Partiers spent years falling all over themselves in confusing the terms “fascist,” “communist,” and “socialist” to describe the President; or when loud but inarticulate gun nuts brandish the term “unconstitutional” in relation to firearms regulations because they refuse to read the Supreme Court’s Heller decision.

Words have actual meaning, and the g-word has one too. That is true no matter how many of our local self-styled progressive activists would like to define the term as “stuff we don’t like.” But if you’re one of those who use that definition of the word, all you’re doing is confusing the issue and promoting the false choices that are sure to undermine your own position. Because once you’ve successfully confused the g-word with the concept of “neighborhood revitalization,” you’re going to lose hearts, minds, and any chance you had to stop the things you don’t like from happening. If you aren’t careful, you end up talking yourself into a rhetorical corner in support of blighted properties and crack houses.

If you aren’t careful, you become one of these incoherent professional liberals who complain about how “white flight” eroded the property tax base in your city, contributed to economic decline, deteriorated your housing stock, and wrecked the schools; who then turns around to gripe about how bad it is for the children of suburbia to move back into the city, participate in the economy, renovate houses, and raise property values.

Moving away from such incoherence, gentrification is an actual thing that has actually been studied by actual people who have proposed actual solutions to the actual problems gentrification creates. What the term actually describes are the market dynamics that affect real estate and land use in an area where the value of property is increasing due to a localized demographic change caused by the ingress of a more affluent population (usually) coupled with the egress of the less affluent population that already lived in the area. The negative connotation of the term comes from the very real problems usually experienced by that less affluent population as the demographic change occurs.

Therein lies the rhetorical catch where complaining about “gentrification” is about as effective as complaining about “rain.” There are a variety of specific problems varying in scope and degree that may or may not come along with either when they happen in your neighborhood. Do you get too much “rain,” and the streets end up flooding? Or do you get too little “rain” and the plants are all dying? That distinction matters. If you aren’t specific about what type of “rain” you’re complaining about, or the specific problems and solutions associated with that rain, you may find yourself paying for improved drainage infrastructure you don’t need because you live in the middle of a desert.

People can’t read your mind. That’s why when you hear anyone ask “what about gentrification?” the most appropriate response is, in fact, “what ABOUT gentrification?” The time for generalizations has passed. We know we’re looking at gentrification in New Orleans, but we can’t win a “war on gentrification” any more than we can win a “war on drugs” or a “war on terror.” Things don’t work that way, no matter how many high-fives you get at the community meeting for “sticking it to the man.”

If you really want to address the actual problems caused by actual gentrification in your city, the first thing you do is identify the specific problems you’re looking to address. Then, you have to articulate those actual problems in a more accessible way than sweeping general statements. After that, you have to explore actual solutions to those problems based on conditions on the ground and the realities present where you live. Finally, you can begin to advocate for specific solutions to alleviate demonstrated and well-articulated problems facing your city. Because gentrification is real, it is taking place in New Orleans, and it is time the local conversation moved past simply complaining about it.

Some places to start:

Dealing with Neighborhood Change: A Primer on Gentrification and Policy Choices

Health Effects of Gentrification

In the Face of Gentrification: Case Studies of Local Efforts to Mitigate Displacement

Tired of looking at gentrification studies from San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C.?

Perhaps there is another Southern port city with historic housing stock, traditional neighborhoods, and recent economic developments that might be a driving force behind gentrification at the local level? Maybe such a city has already started looking at just the issues facing New Orleans today? Maybe they've been doing it for some timeDo you think any place like that exists, or do you want to keep comparing New Orleans to Houston and Atlanta?

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