Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Devil In Blumenthal’s Details

The expression “the devil is in the details,” first appearing in print in 1975, is a variation of an earlier expression, “The good God is in the detail,” sometimes attributed to Gustave Flaubert. Both expressions point to the importance of detail, what we moderns call verifiable data or facts.

Politicians, to no one’s surprise, sometimes traffic in facts, sometimes not.

In a recent copyrighted story in the Hartford Courant, U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal is shown expressing his disdain for the devilish details surrounding the Sandy Hook massacre: “Blumenthal dismissed the statistics and legal intricacies and focused on Begg and Heslin sitting at the witness table. He said, ‘Some or all of those 20 beautiful children and six great educators would be alive today if assault weapons had been banned along with high capacity magazines.’"

Mr. Blumenthal was speaking to reporters on the record following testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee of one of the parents of the children, 20 in number, who were slain in Sandy Hook Elementary School.

As expected, the testimony was heart rending. Only a heart of stone could fail to be moved by the personal testimony of Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old-son, Jesse Lewis, was murdered in the savage attack.

Also present during the testimony was the sister of Victoria Soto, one of the heroic figures in the Sandy Hook mass murderer.

Ms. Soto was the First Grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School who managed to save children’s lives by hiding several of them in a closet. When Adam Lanza entered her classroom after having killed fifteen students and two teachers, she told him, with great presence of mind, that the children were in the auditorium. Some students ran from their hiding place and Mr. Lanza shot them, also shooting Ms. Soto who, in an attempt to save their lives, threw herself in death’s path.

“We don’t want our sister to die for no reason,” Jillian Soto told the host of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Courage runs deep in the Soto family.

“We lost our sister, tragically,” said Jillian, “and we are now honoring her by fighting for her name and for change–in her name, and all the other victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all the other school shootings. We don’t just want her to be a statistic. We want her to be known for who she is and the amazing teacher that she was -- the amazing sister she was -- and ask for something, demand that something be done so that nobody else has to go through this.”

“So that nobody else has to go through this…” These words should not be taken as a pointless rhetorical incantation. We should not allow the devil to ease a pathway for us around the details; for, if we do, we cannot arrive at a legislative destination that will assure family members of the innocent children slaughtered in Sandy Hook that other parents will not, like them, weep tears of blood when their innocent children are accosted by gunmen in what used to be considered here in Connecticut a sanctuary of peace and joy -- and this means that legislators must master the details, or the faults in their legislation will ride them like devils.    

The architect of the federal bill preferred by Mr. Blumenthal is U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. The Feinstein bill bans future sales of assault weapons, already illegal under Connecticut law, while permitting current owners to retain their weapons and, as such, would not have prevented Adam Lanza from acquiring the weapon he used to slaughter children in Sandy Hook. A confiscation of such weapons legally owned by their purchasers might have prevented Mr. Lanza’s use of the AR15, a semi-automatic long rifle, but then Mr. Lanza arrived at the school armed with two equally lethal handguns, the weapon of choice in urban areas where the preponderance of murders occur. Only a little less than three percent of homicides in 2011 were committed with long rifles. The Feinstein bill also limits easily replaceable magazines to ten bullets. According to a story the details of which have not been verified by the official criminal report, not due until the summer, Mr. Lanza replaced his thirty round magazines after having fired 15 rounds. The shotgun he left in the car and the two hand guns he carried with him into the school would have been as devastating.  

When Mr. Blumenthal said, focusing dramatically on Mr. Heslin and dismissing as “unimportant” statistics and legal intricacies, “Some or all of those 20 beautiful children and six great educators would be alive today if assault weapons had been banned along with high capacity magazines," he was telling what Mark Twain used to call a stretcher, not that he will ever be reproved for it by the right people. Mr. Blumenthal, formerly an attorney general, did, after all, include the slither word “some” in his stretcher.

Back home, Democratic leaders in the General Assembly were spooking their brother legislators. The president pro tem of the Senate Don Williams and Majority Leader Martin Looney wrote a letter to their colleagues demanding that a legislative committee complete its work on time; and the bill presented to the General Assembly, they said, would be “emergency certified.”   

An "emergency certified bill" is one that short circuits the legislative process because an “emergency” requiring short circuiting is at hand. The short circuiting, fortunately for legislators who do not wish to leave unsightly fingerprints on the resulting bill, renders hearings on proposed bills unnecessary. There is no emergency, only a legislative stampede made in Washington. Convenient emergencies of this kind are the enemy of the good and a shameless dereliction of legislative responsibility. If legislators don't want to create effective bills, they should find another means of employment.

The one notable Democratic legislator who appears to be committed to a tried and sure legislative process designed to produce efficacious legislation is Democratic Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey. Mr.Sharkey is reluctant to sign on to emergency legislation the provisions of which have not been approved by the General Assembly appointed bipartisan task force. Apparently, Mr. Sharkey prefers a more comprehensive bill written by Connecticut legislators for citizens of Connecticut. Hearings on proposed legislation allow legislators to shape bills with a view to particular circumstances. The notion that the General Assembly should be stampeded in its deliberations simply to meet a schedule imposed from Washington DC is more than preposterous; it is dangerous because it subverts a republican constitutional order and will likely produce a product useful only to politicians concerned with campaign sound bites.
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