ALEC drafted Legislation: Castle Laws and Corporations

Trayvon Martin is a young black teen in Florida who was unarmed, walking home from the store with a pocket full of candy for his brother, minding his own business, when he was shot by a vigilante self-appointed neighborhood watch captain with a history of violence.  The case, which arises out of the Florida Castle Doctrine laws, reflects a gun nut who took his gun under the auspices of his concealed carry permit, followed and harrassed Trayvon Martin in his car, and then got out of the car engaging in a physical confrontation with the much smaller teen, ending with shooting him, despite the police having directed him not to do so.

The older, larger, armed man, George Zimmerman, claims self-defense, even though neighbors reported they heard the boy calling for help.  The police department has badly botched any investigation.  Under Castle Doctrine in Florida — as would have been the case here  had the legislation not been vetoed, the right to ‘self defense’ is entirely subjective, extends beyond the home as defined by the Heller decision, and prevents the shooter from being held liable in a court of law for wrongful death as well as providing for minimal investigation, if any, and no prosecution.  In this case, the shooter initiated the conflict with someone minding their own business.  His comments on the 911 calls suggests an element of racism, as does the conduct of the police.

Trayvon Martin appears to have been the victim of lethal violence at the hands of a ‘loose cannon’ about whom there had been prior complaints within the gated community where the killing occurred. 

Trayvon Martin appears to be the victim of too-lax concealed carry permit laws, and of vigilante-ism.

Trayvon Martin appears to have been the victim of racism, and of police incompetence.  Certainly there appears to be some damning evidence of their misconduct.

That is because of the way that Castle Doctrine, ALEC-style, Republican-style, Tea Partier-style, Gun-nut style drafts legislation, so as NOT to hold people accountable for wrongly shooting other people. 

One of the worst aspects of the right-wing ALEC model Castle Doctrine law works, as was the case with our recent vetoed Shoot First legislation, is that it allows people to shoot others for subjective cause, but does not require them to face an assessment of objective cause.  If the shooter claims it was self-defense, and if the victim of the shooting is dead, there is no investigation or subsequent prosecution.  The word of the only person left standing is sufficient.  When someone is killed, when someone is shot to death – that is not enough.

“I felt like I was threatened” is all the assertion necessary.  It doesn’t matter if the victim is smaller than the shooter, or weaker, or younger.  It doesn’t matter if the victim is minding his own business on a public street, and the shooter provokes and pursues a conflict with an innocent victim.

Where the Heller decision limits one’s right to self defense and firearms to the home, the new right-wing extremist legislation, promoted by ALEC, which was co-founded by the NRA, an organization that represents and lobbies for gun manufacturers, acts for gun manufacturers.  ALEC is a special interest group which has one agenda, and one agenda only – to make money for their members, which includes the founding organization of the NRA, and their gun manufacturer clients.  It is clear – if you tune out the rhetoric, the frantic ideology, and just follow the money.

I am not anti-gun, I am not anti-2nd Amendment or freedom.  I AM, adamantly, emphatically, against special interest manipulating our government and exploiting our citizens.  I AM, adamantly and emphatically, against ILLEGAL guns, of which we have far too many, and against gun violence, of which we have far too much.

The Shoot First legislation was badly flawed, but it also had some bad solutions to some very real problems that SHOULD be addressed by a consensus of our legislators, not by partisan party sell-outs to special interests.

First  – the cast of characters, then second, how the Trayvon Martin killing illustrates much of what is wrong with the Castle Doctrine legislation as it has been attempted in Minnesota, and as it has been passed in other – mostly right wing dominated – states, with tragic results.

The change in the purpose of the NRA and it’s membership in ALEC was outlined in this article from the Milwaukee Express, from back in December 2008.

What the Gun Industry and the NRA Don’t Want You To Know

A Shepherd Q&A with Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center

By Lisa Kaiser

The gun industry and the National Rifle Association (NRA) don’t want you to know that gun sales have stagnated for years, and their campaigns to legalize concealed carry and fight restrictions on the sales of highly lethal weapons are part of their strategy to boost stagnant gun sales.

Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center, argues that this business strategy does a disservice to the sport shooters and hunters who make up the bulk of the NRA’s membership, and has resulted in turning the United States into the “last great market” for cheap and highly lethal weapons. Diaz, the author of Making a Killing and the forthcoming No Borders: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement, spoke to the Shepherd about the true motives of the gun industry, how President George Bush allowed assault-style weapons to be imported into the United States, and what President-elect Barack Obama should do about gun violence.

Shepherd:You’re a gun-control advocate, but you are also a gun nut?

Diaz:I’m a former gun nut. Prior to 1994, I was a member of the NRA. I owned multiple firearms-handguns and assault rifles. I shot in pistol competitions. I favored the use of firearms. I even testified against the Washington, D.C., gun ban in a sort of NRA robot manner. I thought, “I’m a good person. Why should anyone take my guns away from me?”

Shepherd:So what happened?

Diaz:I was an attorney on the House of Representatives’ crime subcommittee. I was hired to work on terrorism, but I ended up working on gun stuff. I put together some hearings for pending legislation. Now, remember, I’m from a military family. I learned how to shoot in the Boy Scouts in Mississippi. But these larger gun issues were sort of abstract to me. So I put together a hearing on kids and guns and began investigating it. I heard the kids’ stories firsthand, from all over the United States, and from all socioeconomic groups.

What I realized was that the gun industry and manufacturers had changed the profile of who their target market was. It was not about self-defense or the right to bear arms. They were hyper-marketing very lethal guns and they flooded the U.S. with them. The NRA doesn’t represent sport shooters and hunters. They were selling these killing machines. I was shocked and tormented by these kids’ stories. One girl told a story of a friend literally dying in her arms from a stray bullet.

Shepherd:The average person, even the average gun owner, may not know how the gun industry is marketing to new groups of people. What exactly are they doing?

Diaz:This is something that a lot of sport shooters and hunters don’t realize. Firearms are very durable products. They are not going to wear out if you take care of them. So how do I, as a gun manufacturer, get you to buy more guns? They recognize this problem. They discuss it. This is their innovation: In the past 25-30 years they have come up with new designs that are more lethal. They push them through magazine articles and gun shows.

Then there is the NRA campaign to allow concealed weapons to be carried everywhere. So the manufacturers started marketing small handguns, so you could walk around with a gun in your pocket. And they are marketing to women and children to broaden their market.

This is not on the radar of most hunters. But then they get hunters and recreational shooters all worked up about people trying to take their guns away. But I don’t know any rational person in the gun-control movement who wants to take away someone’s hunting rifle. But I am sickened by this proliferation of firearms. And they are inappropriately used when people are angry or depressed. And we are arming up criminals who shouldn’t be able to get their hands on guns.

Shepherd:While the NRA is focused on the right to bear arms, you view gun ownership and gun violence as a public health issue. How does this change the discussion of gun ownership?

Diaz:First, adopting a public health perspective would allow us to know more about firearms and death caused by them. The industry has been instrumental in suppressing data on gun violence. Think about it: If you run a tire company that is making defective tires, and the tires cause cars to flip over, there are tracking systems that will alert people if there is a problem. There is data on the safety of every product except guns. That data is suppressed. But if we had it, we could end the debate on guns and crime because we would know the facts.

But the second thing a public health perspective would do is to consider where someone’s right should be hemmed in because of the damage it could do to someone. There was a time when cars didn’t have seat belts. But people realized that accidents are life-threatening, so now all cars are manufactured with seat belts. So if gun violence was addressed from a public health perspective, guns would not be eliminated. But we could control the types of firearms that are most lethal, like the military-style automatic weapons.

Shepherd:So if the information is being suppressed, who is gathering the data on gun violence?

Diaz:The gun lobby-by that I mean the NRA and the manufacturers-have deliberately shut down the sources of information. There is very little data collected by the federal government. Some data have been patched together from various sources, and much of the research is privately funded. From my point of view, that’s insane. And think about it: If the gun manufacturers were so confident about the utilitarian nature of their product, then they wouldn’t worry about the data collected on how they’re used. The ATF [The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] used to release their list of the top guns used in crimes each year. But legislation was passed and now the ATF can’t release this data. We want that changed-we want full data and an open discussion. Even law enforcement has trouble getting this information. And there is no data on the guns being trafficked to Mexico. The ATF information is ridiculous. The Mexican government gave them the information, but the ATF won’t break it out according to the types of guns being trafficked.

It doesn’t make any sense. Would we try to create an energy policy without reliable information about how much is used, what the sources are, and what demand will be? That is just crazy.

Shepherd:How would you assess the Bush administration’s stand on gun issues?

Diaz:This is not my opinion, but it’s a factual judgment: This administration has been a disaster for the country. If there were a ratings system, and 1 was excellent and 10 was very bad, I would give them a 15 on gun issues.

The Bush administration has been prime co-conspirators with the gun industry. Secretly, the administration has opened the valve for the import of assault riles into the country. This is something that [current President Bush's] dad was against. His father’s policy was that only firearms for sporting purposes could be imported into the country. But the current Bush administration-with no publicity-has opened that valve and the U.S. is now flooded with cheap and lethal assault weapons. The most problematic ones are coming in from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But they’re coming from countries that wouldn’t allow them to be sold locally-Brazil, some European countries; there’s even a Canadian manufacturer of these weapons. The last great market for cheap guns is the United States, and Bush is complicit in this.

Shepherd:If you were one of Obama’s advisers, what would you tell him?

Diaz:First, I would tell him to open up the information valve. The Freedom of Information Act means what it means. Information on gun violence should be collected and we should have a full debate. Second, I would tell him to shut down this valve that allows military-style assault weapons to be imported into the country. He can change that easily with an executive decision. Third, I would tell him to renew the debate about assault weapons. The 1994 law was a joke. The gun industry easily got around it because there were so many loopholes.

The way that information is controlled is just ONE of the many problems that originate with the NRA, and additionally with ALEC.

So what is the relationship between the NRA, the gun manufacturers, and ALEC?  Per usual, in the following the emphasis added is mine – DG.

From SourceWatch

National Rifle Association

The National Rifle Association (NRA) was founded in 1871 to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis,” and is “widely recognized today as a major political force and as America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights,” according to the NRA website. [1] Affiliated organizations include the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA’s lobbying arm, and the NRA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, which provides “a means to raise millions of dollars to fund gun safety and educational projects of benefit to the general public.” [1]

It is reported that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre made over $900,000 a year, circa 2007. [2]

All that sounds very nice; gun safety is important, and education – real education that is factual, not silly Tea Party revisionist education – is a laudable goal to have.  The problem comes where the NRA diverges from that goal, and becomes the front, the actors, the minions of the gun industry rather than the gun enthusiasts, whom they use and manipulate to be the ‘Indians’ to their ‘Chiefs’.  It is when organizations of ordinary individuals are manipulated and used to shape and influence policies that serve those special interests INSTEAD of citizens and our society, that there is a problem.  When we have far, far higher numbers of gun deaths, gun accidents, murder/suicides and mass shootings every year, when guns are a significant part of the problem of domestic violence, stalking, and the culture of exploitation by older men of young underage girls, we have a problem — a problem that other comparable countries, similar countries, do NOT have.  What is different? Guns and the gun industry, and the toxic nature of our exploitive special interest politics that do not serve us, but instead serve narrow profits for a few.

So…….how does that tie the NRA to ALEC?  Where IS that money trail?

continuing from Source Watch:

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

The NRA is a long-time member and longtime funder of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and an NRA representative has served on the Public Safety and Elections Task Force for many years. .”[3]

Tara Mica, NRA-Institute for Legislative Action State Liaison, was the co-chair of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force for a number of years, until the Spring of 2011. [4] [5] [6] (formerly known as the Criminal Justice and Homeland Security). [7]

The NRA was a “Vice-Chairman” level sponsor of 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council Annual Conference, which in 2010, equated to $25,000.[8]

See this video from 2008 where ALEC’s Michael Huff discusses “ALEC’s strong relationship with the NRA and explains the support of gun rights and ownership.” [9]

ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate governing board which meets jointly with the legislative board. (ALEC says that corporations do not vote on the board.) They fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization. It might be right. It is as if a state legislature had been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed the people out the door.

There is a lot of money being spent here, and it is not being spent for fun, it is not being spent on behalf of ideology.  It is BUYING people with a certain ideology who have consented to sell their services in government to these special interests.  It is money that is being spent to increase profits, to increase the wealth inequality in this country by making the playing field less level for ordinary people.

In business or in politics, ALWAYS follow the money.  Be concerned, be very distrustful, if you see that money lying through propaganda or buying people’s services who are supposed to be serving others.  THAT is corruption, and THAT is dangerous.

 Continuing from SourceWatch, continuing with my emphasis added:

Lobbying, Political Contributions and Independent Expenditures

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website, “between 2001 and 2010, the NRA spent between $1.5 million and $2.7 million on federal-level lobbying efforts. During the 2010 election cycle, the NRA spent more than $7.2 million on independent expenditures at the federal level — messages that advocate for or against political candidates. These messages primarily supported Republican candidates or opposed Democratic candidates.” [10]

In the 2010 federal congressional elections, the NRA contributed $902,700 to Republican candidates and gave $373,350 to Democratic candidates.[11]

Starting with the 1994 elections, writes Richard Dreyfus in the American Prospect, “the NRA closely coordinated its election strategy with Republican Party officials. According to Tom King, a Democratic political strategist who calls the NRA a “wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party,” the 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.” [12]

According to a 1999 CBS News report, “Campaign contributions from the NRA are proving to be an accurate barometer of how individual senators would vote on gun control.” The report notes that “Thirty-two of the 34 senators who supported the NRA on each of four key gun control votes received money for their last election from the gun industry lobbying group.” [13]

So how does this benefit the gun industry?  How does this influence politics, other than paying off, directly and indirectly, right wing politicians?  How does this manipulate and control our politics?  It does so in a couple of ways.  One of those ways is to get much more into politics, instead of gun safety and firearm education.  It gets involved in politics by becoming a media source, a wholly-owned and operated for special interest profit media source, that can control – or attempt to control, skew, and direct – information and misinformation and disinformation.  The right wing control of mass media goes waaaay beyond just Rupert Murdoch.  We have witnessed that just recently in the Rush Limbaugh/Clear Channel/Premier Radio/Bain Capital and Mitt Romney connection.

From SourceWatch :“NRA News”

In December 2003, Associated Press reported that the NRA was investigating buying a radio or television channel to allow it to bypass electioneering restrictions on advocacy groups. “We’re looking at bringing a court case that we’re as legitimate a media outlet as Disney or Viacom or Time-Warner,” the NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, told AP. “Why should they have an exclusive right to relay information to the public, and why should not NRA be considered as legitimate a news source as they are? That’s never been explored legally,” he said. [14]

Under the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, advocacy groups with corporate or union funding can’t run television or radio ads identifying candidates in the month before a primary or two months before a general election. However, news organizations are exempt from these restrictions. The NRA is already a major publisher, producing seven monthly publications for subscribers and newsstand sales; it sought to classify itself as a “media outlet,” which would allow it to run commercials near elections. [14] (In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in the Citizens United decision.)

In June 2004, the NRA revealed that it would commence broadcasting NRANews, a three hour daily program.

What is their strategy? HOW does the NRA, independently and through ALEC, benefit their manufacturing clients, the ones who appear to control and direct the MAJOR expenditure of the NRA funds?  Make no mistake, this kind of operation takes A LOT OF MONEY.  It isn’t all coming from hunters and sports shooters, or the lunatic survivalist and militia members on the fringes who are accumulating their private arsenals, to the profit of the gun industry.

Continuing from SourceWatch, which references multiple sources to describe the calculated manipulation and marketing of a product against which there is a lot of ‘push-back’ where the product kills people in significant numbers, so as to keep the product profitable, in spite of the number of deaths, or illness or injury.

NRA and tobacco

The NRA was admired by Philip Morris management and cited as a template for carrying out effective pro-industry activities in which a corporation itself could not legitimately engage. The NRA is mentioned numerous times in the tobacco industry’s documents as a successful lobbying group worthy of emulation. Operation Downunder Conference Notes (Philip Morris 1987) mention the NRA’s “Make it Hurt” strategy (creating political risk for legislators where none otherwise exists). In a 1985 speech, Bill Murray of Philip Morris admires how the NRA has been able to motivate its members to action, something the tobacco industry had been unable to do. The NRA served as a template for the National Smokers Association (an early Philip Morris’s smokers’ rights group which preceded the National Smokers Alliance). A January 1988 PM Five Year Plan states,

In 1988, we intend to create local smokers’ rights associations throughout the U.S. The basis for these associations will be a network of 50,000 “block captains” who will monitor local smoking issues, write or visit political decision-makers, write letters to local newspapers and generally serve as a grass roots voice for smokers’ rights. We intend to link these “captains” to local, state and ultimately a national rights organization. Once the national organization is established and funded, we will spin the Smokers Newsletters into it and create a self-sustaining membership organization similar to the National Rifle Association.at Page 123

The tobacco industry also found common ground with the NRA as an organization that supported a controversial, yet legal product. A Tobacco Institute strategy document states industry strategy to

Identify large, influential groups concerned with freedom of expression and other Constitutional “rights” (e. g. the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment, groups opposed to polygraph tests and the Fifth Amendment,minority groups and the 14th Amendment, etc.) and encourage their support for consistent and fair application of Constitutional protection for legal products and practices.[1]

The legislation sponsored and written by ALEC, sponsored and promoted by right wing politicians, does several things.  It allows more people, people who should NOT be carrying guns to carry.  It allows more people to do so in more places, under more circumstances – including alcohol consumption – to create greater use, and as a result greater dangers and more shootings.  It creates FAR LESS accountability, in the form of what investigation is allowed, when and how prosecution is allowed, and exemption from wrongful death liability.  It makes shootings legal in this country that previously would have been criminal, and that would be criminal in any other developed and civilized country in the world.  It negates centuries of common law and settled law and accepted legal thinking.  It kills people, injures and maims people, it endangers people, for one purpose and one purpose only – special interest profits.  It serves the profits of those special interests by using the camoflage of being about education and sportsmen; the NRA, and it’s money masters at ALEC serve ONLY the profit margin of speical interests, notably the gun industry.

Follow the money; watch where and how it is spent; observe whether the expenditures are direct or indirect; observe the financial strategy.  Most of all – watch who gains profit, or control that subsequently enhances profit.  Follow the money, not the Magic-act style misdirection.  See who it serves, ultimately; watch who ends up paying, and watch who ends up harmed.

End Part 1; Part 2 – How does the Trayvon Martin killing illustrate the problems?