Public Safety Over Politics: Override NJ S2360

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NJ Assembly Minority Leader Bramnick co-sponsored legislation he now refuses to support.

When it comes to access to firearms, it used to be that mental health was the one area everyone agreed on. And by “agreed on” I mean that everyone believed that those with issues related to mental health should not have access to firearms. Considering that about half of gun deaths in the USA are suicides, it’s policy that makes sense. (NJ, by the way, has a lower than average suicide rate, and the more stringent than average gun laws are credited.)

Therefore, it was not particularly surprising when S2360/A3593, had bi-partisan sponsorship and passed unanimously in both chambers of the New Jersey Legislature. It’s a pretty clearcut piece of legislation that requires that law enforcement be informed when an applicant seeks expungement of mental health records for the purposes of obtaining a firearm. In other words, if someone wants to wipe clean their history of mental health issues in order to buy a gun, local police need to be told. And this bill was especially requested by the NJ Courts. Makes sense, right?

Everyone in NJ politics seemed to think so — except for Governor Chris Christie.

Suddenly, now that the Assembly plans to override the Governor’s Veto, several Republican Assembly members who previously unanimously supported this basic bill refuse to support it. Ahhh Jersey politics!

For your convenience, and so that you can see exactly how our Garden State Governor and Legislators are playing around with our safety, please find some information regarding the nuances. The override vote in Trenton is on Thursday, December 17th — if you wish to contact your State Assembly Members before then, find them at this link. This information specifically addresses “concerns” mentioned by Assemblywoman Schepisi, Assembly Minority Leader Bramnick (who COSPONSORED the bill!), and others.

What is the difference between S2360/A3593 and Governor Christie’s Conditional Veto?

S2360/A3593 and Governor Christie’s conditional veto are two distinctly different policies. They are also NOT mutually exclusive.

S2360/A3593 makes one change to the law: It requires that applicants who are seeking to have their mental health history expunged for the purpose of obtaining a firearm inform law enforcement prior to the expungement hearing.

Governor Christie’s conditional veto removed the court-requested change. It replaces the original language with recommendations for broader reform of the entire mental health system.

Why not accept Governor Christie’s Conditional Veto S2360/A3593 and pass the broader mental health reforms?

The proposals contained in the conditional veto are notably broad and include unspecified changes to the involuntary commitment process for both outpatient and inpatient care.

Mental health professionals have expressed concern with accepting this conditional veto as-is for two primary reasons:

  1. The exact changes are not specified, and therefore the mental health community has not been able to fully evaluate them.
  2. There is concern that some of the changes would perpetuate the stigma of mental illness, which could prevent individuals from seeking treatment. The changes may also affect those with problems that pose no danger of violence, including post-partum depression, eating disorders and military personnel returning home from service with PTSD symptoms.

Reforming the mental health system should happen, but it must include input from the mental health community. In the meantime, there is no reason to postpone the enactment of the court-requested safety provision in S2360/A3593.

Doesn’t S2360/A3593 leave a loophole by which expungement applicants can expunge their mental health records without disclosing that they seek to purchase a firearm, and then still go buy a firearm afterwards?

No. There are two types of expungement. The first type of expungement “erases the stigma associated with a mental health record that may be discovered by a prospective employer or in other situations involving background checks.” The second type is specifically for applicants seeking to expunge their record for the purpose of obtaining a firearm. It is the second type of expungement alone that erases their mental health records from the NICS background check system.

Well, shouldn’t we expand the requirement that an applicant notify law enforcement to include all mental health expungements?

Mental health professionals have expressed concern that expanding the law enforcement notification requirement to include the first type of expungement is unnecessary and would only increase stigma surrounding mental health.

Whether or not the notification requirement should be expanded is certainly open to debate and could certainly be addressed. However, there is no valid reason to wait to pass the unanimously passed legislation that was requested by the courts. Why force the courts to wait any longer for the assistance they have requested for this public safety issue?

Isn’t this just about overriding the Governor’s veto for political purposes?

No. This bill was never expected to make any political waves at all. S2360/A3593 had bi-partisan sponsorship and passed with unanimous support. The legislation was requested by New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts for the benefit of judges seeking law enforcement input for public safety purposes.

In fact, the unanimous passage of this straightforward, commonsense bill exemplified non-partisan policymaking. Continuing support of S2360/A3593 should not be considered a political decision.

UPDATE: This vote went unrecorded as it did not meet the threshold for override. It is expected that the Assembly will make one last attempt to override in January. Read a Politico NJ article on it here. The breakdown of the vote was 49-11 with 18 abstentions, however since the House was Under Call, members knew that abstentions would count as NOs. Therefore, the outcome was 49-29. This bill passed the Assembly UNANIMOUSLY 74-0 in June.

 

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Push Back on Gun Violence: Honor With Action

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Jeff Parker for Florida Today

Three years ago I wrote this post in an attempt to purge my uncomfortable, not quite hopeless, feelings following the Sandy Hook murders.  It helped. A little.

Since then, I’ve met several of the families who lost children in Newtown that day. I’ve met far too many families who have lost loved ones and co-workers and neighbors and icons to gun violence since then. Sometimes it’s suicide. Sometimes it’s negligence. Sometimes it’s homicide. Sometimes it’s an imagined sense of vigilante power. But the results are always terrible, painful, and long-lasting. Longer lasting than the spree of attention and sympathy and spotlights ever are.

There is no correct way to respond to tragedy; we do what we must to survive. Some of those touched by horrific acts involving firearms choose to get on with their lives, as best they can. Others choose to immerse themselves in faith, support systems, and family. Still others feel a need to act and advocate with the goal of keeping others from suffering as they have.

As I put forth three years ago, and as many people have said every time a new incident of gun violence pulls them into action, Honor Those Lost With Action. Don’t let your good intentions of preventing further tragedies fade away with the time-dulled feelings of frustration and fury.

Don’t know how to get started? Choose a few actions from this list. Do a quick search for GUN on this blog for ideas. Write a letter to the editor, to your Congressional Representative, to your Senators. Pay attention to the news and discussions instead of tuning out issues that you think don’t directly affect you. It’s hard. And it’s painful. So make sure to take a break once in a while too.

Mostly, as you continue on, know that you are not helpless to accept the “New Normal” promoted by those hawking a firearm in every hand. We can push back with reason and common sense. We can. We must.

link to “Push Back” image by Jeff Parker
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Glad I Saw It: Decorated Fairy House

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This is outside the DollyMoo shop on Greenwood Avenue in Montclair, NJ. It’s cute. And my kid knelt down and drank in the details for several minutes, oohing and ahhing over the mailbox and lantern and the (not shown) knitted tree trunk warmer.

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Lazy Mom’s Guide to Fancy Cooking

Sometimes my dinners get Fancy. And when I say “fancy” I mean like Iggy Azalea or maybe Fancy Nancy, not like Jonathan Coulton’s *Mr. Fancy Pants* classic. So basically, a dinner that pretends to be fancy, perhaps with a tongue in cheek attitude, perhaps not. You’re not really sure. (With Coulton, you’re sure.)

Take tonight’s masterpiece. Let’s call it Hot Dog with Pasta Two-Ways.IMG_4448

Here is the recipe: Barilla Veggie Penne (boiled), a store-bought* pesto (I love the Rana brand), and your favorite hot dog (pan fried, not boiled). Make sure you have some left-over pesto pasta from two days ago to ensure the Pasta Two-Ways gets a fair shake. Plate as you wish, but I like the half & half technique. Fancy.

* While store-bought pesto is preferable, you are welcome to make your own. However, then please don’t pretend your dinner is a “Lazy Mom” meal.

It’s easy, and with a salad or some fresh veggies on the side, it makes a dandy and fancy dinner. Lazy Mom Tip: your leftover pasta should not be rice or corn based pasta (like mine was). It just doesn’t keep well.

Caveat: I stay away from marinara or other sauces because my kids aren’t huge fans and it’s messy. Yes, messy. Ick.

Not into the Lazy Mom version of Fancy? Want to actually do more than stir and assemble? This looks delicious: Roasted carrots, dates, walnuts, feta. Or maybe this one: Spicy Italian Sausage and Rice Casserole.

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I saw people cheer on 9/11, too.

Dear people creating fictions about thousands cheering on 9/11 and those who believe them:

I don’t like to talk about 9/11. I don’t post about it, and I don’t offer up an annual “here’s what I learned” Facebook update. I don’t like to attend the annual memorials, and I don’t even mind so very much that tourists take selfies at various sites around Ground Zero.

After 14 and some years I can finally admit that it’s because I don’t believe you. I don’t believe your outrage and grief and loss because as I stood on the roof of a building on the border of Little Italy, watching a much taller pair of buildings fall, there were people next to me who cheered.

They weren’t thousands, and they weren’t Muslim. They were white New Yorkers, maybe artists or wannabe-something-or-others or someones squatting in a cousin’s apartment for a while. And they cheered because they viewed those who died at work that day as rich and privileged and unworthy of sympathy and grief. They were youngish, somewhere in between post-college and pre-kids. They were self-involved, they wanted to show how edgy they were, how disaffected.

And they cheered and yelled “Fuck you, bankers!” as the towers came down. I had worked as a secretary in a corporate bank, so I knew who also showed up at 7 AM. But it doesn’t matter anyway; people are people. And ignorance is ugly whether it’s from a Too Cool 20-something or a multi-billionaire.

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And there was more. But I don’t like to talk about that either; it’s so fucking disappointing and sad.

In my more generous moments, I can buy into those cheering rooftop egos reacting to horrors differently than I do. Perhaps their shock came out as repulsion. But more often, less generously, I believe it’s just one more example of humans being terrible to each other in so many ways.

I don’t like to talk about 9/11. I don’t believe your outrage or your affected mourning. And I don’t give credence to your posturing and backtracked “reframing” of words.

Oh, by the way, you know where my Manhattan Muslim friends were on 9/11 and the days following? In their apartments. Afraid to leave. Because of things like this.

 

 

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May Your Thanksgiving Have a Little of Everything

Stefon Thanksgiving

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Same as it ever was

1_bd6489f7-9ba9-4190-9f54-3531a6198996Endings and beginnings are good places to make change. But I, like many others I know, don’t seem to be able to make it stick. It may be a rut. It may be laziness. It may be fear. There are many things that keep change from taking hold and transforming a mundane, hurried life into bliss. Because that is what would happen, right?

Lately I’ve been telling people that “I’ll have time to breathe in the new year.” (By “new year” I finally mean January 1st instead of whatever day the new school year begins.) Two major uses of my time this fall will be wrapping up during December, and I naively imagine that I’ll have space in my schedule to relax, stretch, sip instead of gulp my coffee, and maybe even make it to the gym.

My husband knows better. When I expressed my anticipation of a more relaxed 2016 to him, he (rightly) answered, “You’ll find other projects to fill up your time.” I denied it in a knee-jerk defense, but later I had to admit that my future will probably reflect my history.

I have to wonder what I like, however reluctantly, about being pulled every which way with work and family and obligations and volunteering and life. I have the nagging suspicion that it has more to do with a fear of sloth than a desire to be accomplished.

And sure enough, with just a month to go in two different projects, I’ve already found another to fill the space left behind.

Onward.

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The Best We Can Do

This woman, alone, weeping in front of a Cambodian restaurant in Paris. What grief and fear and loneliness she must have felt - for so many reasons.

This woman, alone, weeping in front of a Cambodian restaurant in Paris. What grief and fear and loneliness she must have felt – for so many reasons.

I have many thoughts about the terrible man-made events in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad. There will be more terrible man-made events; there have been others. And comparing tragedies in numbers or methods does any of us any favors. Bottom line: Individuals are suffering.

The completely understandable, even rational response of fear, and the less productive, even harmful, response of rage and vengeance will not lessen the reasons or chances of more horrors to come. Both fear and rage-fueled vengeance feed the twisted motivation of those who are willing to take lives for an ideology or because they feel justified by history, whether recent or far-flung. Which breeds more rage and fear. And the cycle continues.

I’ve also had and have too many jumbled, bubbling ideas about seeing “This was Paris after 9/11” posts versus “Don’t forget Beirut was bombed as well” posts versus “If only more people had mourned dead children on beaches” posts. It can feel like too much for a sane mind to bear. Sadly, the scale of horror and grief is large enough for us all. Comparing numbers and methods when it comes to tragedy doesn’t make sense in a world that supports, even encourages, a constant flow of terror.

Comparison is the end of healthy forward movement. Instead of offering empathy to individuals, we obsess with how much a group or country had suffered and which group or country or leader is most to blame. There will always be someone feeling neglected, left out, forgotten. It’s difficult. It’s sad. It’s depressing. Each of those someone’s deserves all of our attention. But if each of us tries to pour emotion and sympathy and attention to every tragedy, we will be unable to do anything else.

Better: when someone cries out in pain to you, acknowledge, respond, and stop yourself from being defensive about what you have lost and why. The best we can do is respect each other wholly, and request that we receive the same.

And please, look away from the politicians and pundits who feed the blame-game and barely stifle a guilty sense of delight in their roller coaster of relevance. It merely distracts us from looking for The Helpers and becoming The Helpers. Because there will be more horrors and Bad Things in the world. Soon. There always have been, and there always will be. The control we have is whether we encourage more Bad Things or work to make some Good.

Edit 11/16/15: Monday afternoon, this post from the Maya Angelou Facebook page showed up. YES. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

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Glad I Saw It: A Finer World

MLK, jr Memorial Quotation

From the MLK, Jr Memorial in Washington DC.

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Reject the Naysayers! You Can Be An Artist Too.

art is funThe best, most talented, most passionate Artists I know welcome those with less time, talent, ability, commitment, even desire into the act. They hope it will one day become a way of life, a sanctuary from the humdrum and the hardship, an outlet that enhances joy and makes bearable despair. They know the value of Art for all who dare to take on its pursuit.

Lately (let’s call it 15 years), especially in writing, I’ve been saddened by those who approach the Art of writing with contempt for those who wish to dabble and attempt and stumble and learn and develop and fail and try again. Saddened is too kind. Truth be told, I’ve been disgusted by the insecurity of those who would maim another’s desire to make Art to protect the back-slapping shell of an Artistic Ego echo chamber.

Artists to be! Artists who are! Reject the naysayers and the stifling harumph of those who wish to quiet your budding passion. They have merely forgotten that they were once condescended to and quieted and encouraged and taught and edited as well. Or perhaps, just perhaps, they are close to acknowledging that they too are not yet where they want to be. Perhaps their fear is misguiding their passion and poisoning their Art. Perhaps they are just frustrated sad sacks. Either way, listen no more.

And don’t worry about them either; their eventual realization will only make them stronger Artists. Know that self-doubt faced honestly is the greatest tool for growth in whichever passion you choose to pursue.

Onward!

Writing encouragement from Richard Rhodes

Writing encouragement from Richard Rhodes

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