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Sticks & Stones May Break My Bones, But Guns Can Always Kill Me: Rhetoric & Violence in Tucson January 11, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Criminal law, Gun Control, Law, Ethics & Society, U.S. Constitution.
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There is little to be said that has not already been said about the tragic shooting in Tucson that killed 6 and wounded many others including Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  The media and internet is inundated with analysis attempting to explain/blame the impact of the vitriolic, hyperbolic political rhetoric that has become the mainstay of many politicians, bloggers, and media coverage.

However, regardless of the sociological debate about the ability of words to incite violence in an already unbalanced human being, one simple, bare fact remains true.  If it weren’t so easy to purchase a semi-automatic pistol that holds 30 rounds of ammunition then maybe 20 people would not have been shot instantaneously.

As Robert Dallek writes, “Only one thing seems certain in trying to understand the gap between rhetoric and action in our national discussions about violence in America: the ease with which perpetrators can acquire the means to commit mass murder. However often we lament the horrors committed by deranged killers, we seem incapable of reining in the capacity of the murders’ ability to acquire the handguns, automatic weapons, and rifles they use to create such mayhem.”

In fact, the New York Times reports that, “Arizona’s gun laws stand out as among the most permissive in the country. Last year, Arizona became only the third state that does not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The state also enacted another measure that allowed workers to take their guns to work, even if their workplaces banned firearms, as long as they kept them in their locked vehicles. In 2009, a law went into effect allowing people with concealed-weapons permits to take their guns into restaurants and bars…

In the last two weeks, two bills were introduced relating to the right to carry guns on college campuses, one allowing professors to carry concealed weapons and one allowing anybody who can legally carry a gun to do so.”

Query: Even if the Founding Fathers envisioned that the Second Amendment would ultimately permit citizens to own hand guns for use beyond the needs of forming a state militia–which is the subject of vehement debate in our country–does any private citizen really need a concealed weapon that holds a 30 round magazine?



Raising Arizona: Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies Program Under Attack January 9, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Education, Law, Ethics & Society, Racial Discrimination, U.S. Constitution.
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Dueling perceptions of the reality of Tucson’s ethnic studies’ programs have caused the state legislature to pass a bill directed at Tucson’s ethnic studies program.  No, wait a moment…Did I say ethnic studies? Seems that the African-American and Native-American studies program are safe, but the Mexican-American program is so controversial that it resulted in its own “private” legislation.

The bill, known as HB2281, was actually passed last fall, but just became effective.  Tom Horne, Arizona’s Superintendent for Schools who has just become  Arizona’s Attorney General, is a proponent of the law that “authorizes the state superintendent to stop any ethnic studies classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” In fact, Horne has conceded that Tucson’s program is the target of this law. His successor, John Huppenthal, supports Horne’s findings against Tucson’s Mexican-American Program.

Shortly after this law was passed last fall, a group of Tucson’s teachers filed suit to have the law overturned, alleging constitutional violations including First Amendment free speech claims and a lack of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.  While Horne and Huppenthal have alleged that the Mexican-American program teaches anti-American precepts such as Ben Franklin was a racist and promotes undesirable “ethnic chauvinism”, both student and teacher testimonials applaud the inclusion of history from a “Mexican-American” perspective and assert that the program “has been effective in reducing dropout rates among Latino students, as well as discipline problems, poor attendance and failure rates.”

The controversy in general and the lawsuit specifically could serve as another great opportunity for a sociological, legal and cultural debate on both free speech and the educational system in a diverse democratic setting except for one serious constraint.  HB2281 comes equipped with some serious financial teeth; if Tucson does not dismantle its program within 60 days then the state can devastate the entire Tucson educational system by imposing a 15 million dollar penalty upon Tucson. The lawsuit requests an injunction to prevent the law from being imposed prior to the lawsuit being resolve and apparently the Tucson School Board has already submitted a letter to the state detailing the current program’s compliance with the law.

Arizona’s battle is one worth watching as it represents cultural and educational issues that impact our children and the future of our country.  Besides….after seeing the copy cat immigration legislation popping up in campaigns last November, it won’t be surprising if other states’ legislatures start debating and attempting to legislate ethnic studies programs in our own backyards.

Mark Twain Revisited: The Ethics of Revisionist History January 6, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Racial Discrimination, U.S. Constitution.
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Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are about to live in a world in which the words “nigger” and “injun” have been retrospectively deleted from their vocabularies….they will now be speaking in terms of “slaves” and “indians.”  Just as Twain noted that he worked “painstakingly” to reproduce the dialects of the time, apparently Professor Alan Gribben has  worked diligently to remove and replace the authentic language. While presumably Mark Twain endeavored to author entertaining and meaningful fiction, Professor Gribben’s intentions are to render Twain’s works less “painful” and more acceptable to modern audiences who have been hurt, offended or out right banned the works.

(Leaving the First Amendment issue of banning books for another day…..) Professor’s Gribben’s new publication begs the question: Does a sanitized Huck and Tom enlighten today’s readers or deny the history of our society and undermine Mark Twain’s literary contributions? Some say that we must all change to reflect what is acceptable in our time and that includes a deceased and legendary Mark Twain. Others view Huck and Tom not only as endearing characters, but also as invaluable reminders of life as it was in their America—two boys whose adventures are set in a sociological time period that is truthful and poignant even as it may be painful or unpleasant to confront.

Rather than being offended by the language of Twain’s works, perhaps there is a lesson in studying the story not only for the fictional writing style, but also as a slice of history, In fact, my son who is currently reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in his 10th grade english class, responded to the news of the new version by explaining to me that,”the language of the book is a large part of the point of the book.” Simply stated …and clear that he didn’t see much point in reading about Huck and Tom if the context in which their adventure occurs is altered and rendered less authentic.

As always, the test of time will determine whether Huck and Tom will remain more popular in their “native” language or whether society will embrace Professor’s Gribben’s “translation.”  Regardless, our history remains…

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