Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Another "Safe Republican" House Seat Is In Play in New Jersey-- Guest Post By Peter Jacobs


Six people were murdered in a 72-hour period in Newark in late August. In the same time frame, in Bridgeport, Conn., 13 people were shot at a house party. And one man shot another man to death in a Minnesota park in some kind of dispute. And on and on and on. No surprises here. We’re all becoming-- or have become-- numb to news of shootings in the United States.

After all, roughly 87 people are killed from gun violence in the U.S. every single day, according to Americans for Responsible Solutions, the organization headed by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and astronaut Mark Kelly.

How many of these shooters have mental-health issues? No one could know the answer to that, but considering that many of these shootings are the result of gang violence, or innocent toddlers getting ahold of guns, or crimes of passion, the percentage of those suffering with mental illness is likely small.

Even if 100 percent of shooters had mental-health problems, it would be impossible to identify a significant percentage of them-- especially among populations with limited or non-existent access to physical-health professionals, let alone mental-health professionals.

Preventing those with mental-health issues from acquiring guns is an important part of solving gun violence. But it’s clear that it’s just that: a part, and a small one at that.

And yet, certain members of our federal legislative branch-- let’s call them Republicans-- want us to think that if we could just keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, everything would be great.

One of these is Leonard Lance, the Congressman for New Jersey’s 7th District. Despite the fact that Lance represents a district in which 92 percent of voters support universal background checks, he follows the deep-pocketed National Rifle Association’s playbook, instead. He has worked hard to earn his 93-percent rating from the NRA.

Lance was questioned in a 2014 town-hall meeting on his vote in favor of the National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act. The act would have authorized concealed-carry permit owners to travel with their guns through all states – even those with laws against concealed-carry, including his own state of New Jersey. In answering, he said that the best way to tackle gun violence nationally is to address mental health issues.

More recently, in January, after President Obama issued executive orders on gun control, Lance said in an official statement that “we must focus on keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill by enforcing the laws currently on the books and better addressing the root cause of many gun-related tragedies: mental health illness.”

Ironically, Lance’s statement lacked a reference to the part of Obama’s announcement proposing $500 million for expanded access to mental health services and the addition of mental health information on background checks for gun purchases.

The omission probably shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s easier to continue blaming shootings on mental illness, rather than facing the reality of a marketplace with more gun shops than Starbucks outlets. It’s easier to preach to the NRA’s national choir than to do the bidding of one’s own constituents.

Of course, as a longtime politician, Lance is smart enough to give his derriere some cover with home-district voters, who prefer to go to parks and restaurants and movie theaters where people aren’t packing. He actually signed on as a co-sponsor to H.R. 4237, the Protect America Act of 2015, AKA the no-fly no-buy bill. The trouble is, he only joined it on June 16, four days after the Orlando nightclub shooting. And he did so likely knowing that Govtrack.us gives the bill a 6% chance of getting out of committee and a 1% chance of being enacted.

Co-sponsoring bills that have little chance of becoming law, but which can be held up as evidence of support for citizens’ safety and common sense and bipartisanship, seems to be a trend with Lance: He also co-sponsored H.R. 1076, the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015. But when it came time to send the bill send the bill out of committee to the House for consideration, Lance passed. And the bill stalled in committee.

This kind of two-faced opportunism, the desire to sustain one’s own political career first and foremost and at all costs, has led to an environment in which the likes of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump can gain wide support among voters.

And it’s what compelled me to take on Lance as the Democratic candidate for New Jersey’s 7th District.

Typical for New Jersey and many other states, the district has a gerrymandered amoeba shape encompassing everything from densely populated urban areas to gated communities of the rich-- with enough Republicans to overcome pockets of Democrats.

I’ve been knocking on doors since I entered the race last November. Many of the homeowners greeted me like this:

“What party you running for? Republican or Democrat? Democrat? No thanks, bud, keep walking.”

In elections past, that might have been enough to send me on my way. But, having seen enough bumper stickers and lawn signs with “NONE OF THE ABOVE 2016” sentiments, I felt emboldened to press my luck.

“But, let me just ask you one thing. Do you feel like our government is corrupt and not working for the vast majority of Americans?”

“Yeah. That’s why we need to vote them all out.”

“How would you feel about a candidate for Congress who has pledged not only to never accept Super PAC money, but to sponsor strict laws to get big money out of our elections and criminalize corruption at all levels of government?”

“Go ahead, I’m listening.”

“My name is Peter Jacob, and I want to work for YOU.”

I have had this same conversation with hundreds of people throughout the district since I began my campaign.

If there is one thing that the insurgent campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have shown us, it’s that the American people are fed up with the status quo in Washington. Whether a Tea Party organizer at a Somerset County Fair or a Sanders Revolutionary at a rally at Rutgers University, one issue has been a uniting force that not a single person I’ve spoken with has been able to deny: The influence of our elected officials is bought and sold long before we step into voting booths on Election Day.

Getting big money out of our politics, criminalizing corruption, and returning the power over government to the people of this nation isn’t just an issue, it’s the issue. It is the issue to literally end all other issues. There is not a single major problem that we face today that can be solved so long as the wealthiest and entrenched industries, corporations, and individuals of our world are able to purchase power over government.

Even though the district is gerrymandered to Lance’s advantage, we have solid reason to be optimistic: More than 45,000 people voted for me in the primary-- nearly 14,000 more votes than Lance received, and about 12,000 more votes than ANY candidate has ever received in a primary in the district. If the threat of a Donald Trump presidency turns out enough Democrats, we have a real shot at a great upset.

Goal ThermometerUnfortunately, it’s going to take fire to fight fire. Our campaign is not accepting money from Super PACs, and we are being badly out-raised by an incumbent, career politician funded almost entirely by the pharmaceutical, telecom, and fossil fuel industries.

We are in this fight to win it, though. Our allegiance is to no one but the American people. Every dollar donated to this campaign is a dollar invested in the war to make sure no private dollars ever again have to be spent on electoral campaigns. Every contribution is a salvo to ensure that representatives in government are actually representing the people rather than the check books of wealthy campaign contributors.

We’re looking for people who will stand with us today. We have shown that we can turn heads and hearts when we connect with just this one, all-encompassing issue. We just need the proper funds to be able to get this message out to enough people in our district, and land a resounding blow in the fight to reclaim our government, our society, and our planet from those who seek to control it for themselves, and themselves alone. Let’s put the “public” back in “public service” so that we can ensure a government that is truly of, by, and for the people.

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At 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being a psychologist and knowing that there are very strict guidelines for sharing any mental health information, I have always wondered how the hell an accurate list could ever be developed that would indicate who was mentally ill and, therefore, could not buy guns. Where would these records be available? And from whom? It is actually a ridiculous concept. If only psychologists were better at predicting behavior with any certainty - we're not very good at it.


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