AZ lobbying shows NRA concern trolling on mental health

February 13, 2013

[This will be my first experiment in cross-posting my Daily Kos work here, I think…this is turning out to be not that hard, after all.]

It’s not often that I get to connect a story about the NRA directly to my home state of Arizona. But in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Tucson that claimed six lives and damaged over a dozen others, the NRA was busy. Lobbying the state government in January 2011, just after Gabrielle Giffords was nearly killed, the NRA sought to water down the standard for people committed by a judge as mentally ill to have their gun rights restored.

At least the local GOP waited a few months to show off their own indifference to the shooting. I guess that was the Tucson version of the Connecticut effect.


So, here’s some of the explanation from Tim Steller at the AZ Daily Star.

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, populated by police chiefs and prosecutors, wanted a high standard for the person to show he deserved to have his gun rights restored: clear and convincing evidence.The NRA wanted a lower standard: preponderance of the evidence. In fact, the NRA had demanded this in a variety of states where the issue arose, and at least one, Idaho, adopted it as law.

Being no legal beagle myself, I was curious about these different standards of evidence. Thankfully, these wonderful internet machines make looking up odd bits of info so easy, I don’t even know what I would have done 20 years ago. Talk to a lawyer, I guess. Anyway, snipping a bit from the wiki article for the sake of brevity.

Preponderance of the evidence

Preponderance of the evidence, also known as balance of probabilities is the standard required in most civil cases.

The standard is met if the proposition is more likely to be true than not true. Effectively, the standard is satisfied if there is greater than 50 percent chance that the proposition is true. Lord Denning, in Miller v. Minister of Pensions,[5] described it simply as “more probable than not.” Until 1970, this was also the standard used in juvenile court in the United States.

Clear and convincing evidence

Clear and convincing proof means that the evidence presented by a party during the trial must be highly and substantially more probable to be true than not and the trier of fact must have a firm belief or conviction in its factuality. In this standard, a greater degree of believability must be met than the common standard of proof in civil actions, “Preponderance of the Evidence”, which requires that the facts as a threshold be more likely than not to prove the issue for which they are asserted.

Ok, so that’s a pretty clear explanation of how “clear and convincing” is much more demanding than the “preponderance.” Steller writes further that the legislation was initially scuttled thanks to the NRA’s interference, but thankfully it was later passed using the better “clear and convincing” standard.

In spite of this apparent contradiction in the NRA’s position concerning mental health, the organization didn’t return the reporter’s calls, while a local member claimed it was strong, consistent, and yet somehow irrelevant. Even through it was the NRA’s insistence that initially killed the bill. However

It turns out, the reason for the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission to pursue the law in the first place, back in 2011, was to qualify for grants from the Justice Department to increase Arizona’s submissions to the NICS database.

So, the law was really about getting federal funding to help the state put more records on the NICS database. Better record keeping of folks judged as “mentally defective” (the federal law standard) would help us keep guns out of their hands. This is what the NRA claims to want now, eh? Yes, in fact they do claim to support this kind of legislation:

To support state cooperation in providing records, the NRA has worked with lawmakers in many states to pass legislation to implement the federal law. Passage of such legislation, along with other administrative and policy changes at the state level, has allowed states to provide hundreds of thousands of mental health records to NICS since 2008.

And yet, in 2011, the NRA’s contribution to the cause was to attempt to water down the law in Arizona. And when that didn’t work, they killed the law, which would have kept the state from getting that federal money, to do the record-keeping. Once in a while, I guess even our Republican-dominated state legislature here in Arizona is smarter than the NRA. They brought it back as an amendment to another bill. Hey, I’m impressed.

But while the gun enthusiasts fixate on mental health as the legislative panacea for gun violence, I see good reason to take their sudden concern with a grain of salt. What they really want, as demonstrated here in Arizona, is minimal change or nothing at all. Whatever concern-trolling they have to do along the way is justified in their minds, I suppose. Then and now, I suspect.

Moving forward, there is no reason to take the NRA as an honest broker in the gun control debate, and no need to take their suggestions seriously, as if they were actually interested in safety. It’s up to us to keep the pressure on Democrats to vote for legislation that will reduce gun violence, and they in turn can put pressure on Republicans to bow to the people’s will. As this story in Arizona shows, on rare occasions, they do.


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