Category Archives: Public safety & health

Best Gun Violence Idea Not Proposed in VA?

Grandstanding with guns on the House of Delegates floor. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

by Steve Haner

The most effective gun violence prevention idea presented to the Virginia State Crime Commission Monday was one seldom discussed in the state:  Add violent misdemeanors to the list of convictions that prevent gun purchases from a licensed dealer.

Four states, including Maryland, have that provision and a Boston University study found it has lowered the firearms homicide rate better than 25 percent in those states. Right now, extending the ban from felons to violent misdemeanants is not among the scores of bills pending at Virginia’s special session on gun violence.

One of the least effective proposals, but one always at the top of many lists?  Prohibiting the sale of so-called assault or assault-style rifles.  The research on that is clear, Boston University research fellow Claire Boine said in one of the most useful evidence-based presentations from the long day. You can see her slides here and the full study hereContinue reading

Gun Issues Return to Capitol Monday, Tuesday

by Steve Haner

Proposed firearms regulations will pack a General Assembly meeting room Monday and Tuesday, and for that portion of the population not already locked into an ideological position either way, it could be useful to pay attention.

The Republican majorities have taken some political bashing for failing to act on the flood of proposals, many previously seen and rejected, that showed up when Governor Ralph Northam sought to railroad them through a hasty special session after the Virginia Beach shooting.  But the ideas are going to get a better hearing at the Crime Commission next week than they would have when introduced.  Continue reading

Exercising Your Second Amendment Right

Interesting scenario:  You are doing some shopping in Walmart. Alarmed by the recent nationwide shootings, you are carrying your recently legally authorized concealed handgun. A man walks in, carrying an assault-style rifle and a handgun strapped to his side, along with several magazines of ammunition. This also is legal in Virginia. What do you do?

  1. Say hello to your fellow gun-carrying customer
  2. Ignore him
  3. Pull out your handgun and confront him
  4. Shoot him because he is obviously a threat

Here are the laws governing this situation, which you may or may not know as you are trying to decide what to do: Continue reading

Recidivism Revisited

Sussex I State Prison

As has been noted in previous posts on this blog (here and here), the latest three-year recidivism rate of offenders released from the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) was the lowest in the nation. In fact, DOC had the lowest rate in the nation for the last three reporting periods.  DOC can justly be proud of this record.

Nevertheless, a closer look at the data reveals some troubling trends.  Before delving into this data, in order to understand the data and ensuing discussion, there are some terms that need defining and clarifying: Continue reading

Police Antisocial Behavior, Not Addictions

It’s one thing to be intoxicated — another to pass out on a public park bench.

In an 8-7 vote, a federal appeals court has struck down a Virginia law punishing “habitual” drunks. The law targeted homeless people struggling with alcoholism, thus “criminalizing an illness,” reports the Washington Post. Further, the court found the law to be unconstitutionally vague.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue. Alcohol addiction is an illness, and money might well be better spent providing treatment to homeless drunks rather than incarcerating them. On the other hand, the law provided local police a tool for maintaining public order. Eliminating the law invites drunks and derelicts to occupy public spaces where they might infringe upon the rights of others.

To my mind, it is crucial to distinguish between the illness and the behavior — and this applies to intoxication with marijuana and other drugs as well as alcohol. While addiction should not be a crime, police should address public intoxication when a person’s behavior becomes threatening or disruptive.

In perusing the Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia 2018” report, I note the following numbers (combining figures for adults and juvenile): Continue reading

Yes, Mental Illness is Key, Says U.S. Secret Service

The United States Secret Service, probably not a tool of the gun-loving American right, has just issued a report on 2018 mass shootings with a strong focus on the mental health problems displayed by the shooters. Clearly it didn’t get the same memo received by our friends at Blue Virginia, who think any such discussion unfairly stigmatizes the mentally ill and distracts from the real villains: guns themselves.

Let me get this right: Democrats don’t want to stigmatize the mentally ill, but are all too happy to blame the millions of law-abiding gun owners and subject them all to new regulations or restrictions, up to and including search, seizure and confiscation?  Continue reading

Firearms Theater: Boring, Tiresome, Repetitive

It is easy to dismiss next week’s special session of the General Assembly on proposed gun control as meaningless political theater, because that it what it will likely amount to.  It is also boring, tiresome and repetitive.

Following the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech, a group of well-intended and well-informed experts formed a non-partisan task force looking for insight, information and common ground.  There were state-level (here) and national (here) reports produced.  Continue reading

Virginia’s Ten-Year Pedestrian Death Toll: 865

Unsafe roads are ubiquitous in sprawling, low-density settlement patterns

Smart Growth America’s 2019 “Dangerous By Design” report compiles a Pedestrian Danger Index based on annual pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people between 2008 and 2017. Among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, the safest metro in the country for pedestrians is Provo, Utah. The most dangerous is Orlando, Fla.

Washington-Arlington ranked 24th safest in the country. The region’s 764 pedestrian fatalities over the decade amounted to a rate of 1.25 death per 100,000 residents.

Virginia Beach-Norfolk was close behind, ranking 26th safest. The region’s 213 pedestrian fatalities amount to a rate of 1.24 deaths per 100,000. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Hydroponics, Seawalls, and Emotional Support Critters

The future of Virginia agriculture? Shenandoah Growers, an indoor agriculture company, is undertaking a $100 million expansion of its three locations in Virginia over the next year. The facilities not only grow vegetables and spices in greenhouses, they package and ship the produce, reports the Daily News-RecordLocating the greenhouses next door to the packaging facilities speeds the movement of produce from farm to market, preserving freshness. The website of the Rockingham County-based company describes its grand ambitious: “We are leveraging our indoor bioponic growing technology, national customer network, and distribution channels to be the world’s leading consumer brand of affordable, organic fresh produce.” 

Thirty-one billion bucks for seawalls? Protecting Virginia coastal communities from sea-level rise by building sea walls would cost $31.2 billion to build 4,063 miles of hardened infrastructure, according to a study by the Center for Climate Integrity. That price tag is exceeded only by the cost for Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina. Don’t take it too seriously. This is more environmental doom mongering, which the Virginian-Pilot of course accepts uncritically. The calculations are based on the unrealistic assumption that adaptation to rising sea levels takes the form of building sea walls. For example, the study tabulates the cost of building 645 miles of seawall in Accomack County, 299 miles in Gloucester, 231 miles in Mathews, and 218 miles in Northumberland — an economically idiotic approach to dealing with rising tides and flooding in sparsely populated areas. For the seven densely populated cities of Hampton Roads the cost would run $4.6 billion — a large number but doable, if spread over many years.

Tide turning against “emotional support animal” scam. Virginia landlords have long been frustrated by tenants who skirt lease restrictions by faking disability certifications to qualify their pets as emotional support animals. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Two Reasons to Be Worried, and One Reason Not

Be afraid, very afraid. How frequent is cell phone use? According to a team of Old Dominion University researchers tallying seat belt use, some 4% of drivers they spot are on the phone or texting. So reports the Daily Press. Clearly, cell phone use is a problem. But I would argue that texting (which I never do) is far worse than yakking on the phone (which I do do… occasionally). Both may be a distraction, but the one requires drivers to take their eyes off the road, while the other doesn’t. If distractions are the issue, then the General Assembly should ban husbands and wives driving in the same car together. There’s nothing like a side-seat driver to grab one’s attention and increase the risk of accidents!

Virginia lost a big one. I have long hoped that the Wallops Space Flight facility might engender the rise of a space industry in Virginia. But the odds of the Old Dominion developing a critical mass in this industry of the future suffered a significant setback yesterday when Boeing announced that it would relocate the headquarters of its Space and Launch division from Arlington to Titusville, on Florida’s Space Coast. States the aerospace giant: “Looking to the future, this storied Florida space community will be the center of gravity for Boeing’s space programs as we continue to build our company’s leadership beyond gravity.”

Scary ignorance about coal ash. Coal ash is a potential hazard to human health, but the risks it poses are extremely low level. Unfortunately, an article in the Prince William Times, describing how Governor Ralph Northam signed a coal ash regulation bill into law, incorporates some of the hysterical rhetoric that has infiltrated our discourse. The article refers to the coal combustion residue as “toxic coal ash” and describes it as “composed of lead, mercury, cobalt, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and other heavy metals, many of which are carcinogens.” In truth, coal ash is comprised mainly of rock mixed with coal that is not removed in the coal cleaning process and does not combust in boilers used for electric generation. The ash does contain trace amounts of all the aforesaid metals, which can leach in minute quantities into ground water, but is toxic only when it rises above certain levels. If the ash itself were toxic, then the new law requiring utilities to recycle at least 25 percent of it into cinderblocks and pavers would the greatest folly indeed.

A Horrible Abuse Case. The Daily Reality Behind It.

Click for larger view. Source: Families Forward

The news today is horrifying – the death, possibly from sexual abuse, of a 17-month-old. Our distracted minds are focused, for a while, and we all go into a collective shudder and wonder what monster could do such a thing.

The daily reality is worse and doesn’t get enough attention. In the fiscal year ending last June, Virginia child abuse and neglect investigations resulted in 6,485 “founded” reports. The standard for a founded report, out of the 37,000 complaints involving more than 55,000 children, is that a preponderance of the evidence supported the claim.  Continue reading

Courts Authorizing “Reverse Location” Warrants in Virginia

FBI “reverse location” warrant in Henrico County…. Photo credit: Forbes

Big brother Google is watching you. Back in October, 2018,  Forbes reported that a Virginia court had authorized the FBI to use a “reverse location” warrant to try to solve a series of crimes in Henrico County, Va. This warrant, also known as a geofence warrant, allows police to compel Google to provide all cellphone activity for all people in a general area over a specified period of time. The resulting handover of data includes locations and other information on potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of people. While Google has complied with the warrants in the past, it is unclear whether the company complied in the Henrico case. Continue reading

Get the Shots

As if the anti-vaccination lunancy were not bad enough, now we have the Governor of Kentucky declaring that, not only is he opposed to his state’s mandatory chicken pox vaccination requirement, he sent his nine children to a “pox party”, so they could contract the disease while they were children.  They were “miserable for a few days” he reported, but they “all turned out fine.”

Although chicken pox is considered by many to be a relatively benign disease, the Centers for Disease Control reports that in the early 1990’s, before the vaccination was developed, 10,500 to 13,000 people were hospitalized and 100-150 died each year from the disease. I wonder what the Governor’s kids think of their father playing the odds with their health and lives?

There have been reports in the press about an outbreak of measles in the state of Washington in an area in which a relatively large number of children are not vaccinated. According to the CDC, the country seems to be on the way to a banner year in measles outbreaks.  Although the outbreak in the Northwest got  most of the attention earlier in the year, the biggest number of cases have been in New York City, particularly in Queens and Brooklyn. Now, a suburban New York county has banned unvaccinated minors from from public spaces.  It is well known that measles can lead to serious health conditions and can be fatal.

I can personally attest to the effects of measles. I had the disease as a child, but suffered no after effects. My brother and sister were not so lucky. Both developed serious hearing loss as a result of their bouts with measles.  lso, for many years, I worked in an office with a man who had almost total hearing loss due to having measles as a child.    Continue reading

Scary Figure of the Day: 500,000 Alcoholics in Virginia

An article today about Virginia’s habitual drunkard law — the Legal Aid Justice Center wants federal courts to declare it unconstitutional — noted the extraordinary fact that there are 500,000 alcoholics in the state. The Richmond Times-Dispatch article did not cite a source, but the number is consistent with America’s Health Rankings data showing that 17.4% of Virginia adults report having had five or more drinks on one occasion within the last 30 days.

The good news, relatively speaking, is that the excessive drinking rate in Virginia is lower than the 19% rate nationally. The percentage of excessive drinkers ranges from a low of 12.2% in Utah to 29% … somehow I’m not surprised… in the District of Columbia. Continue reading

When Businesses Welcome Regulations

by Richard W. Hall-Sizemore

The recent news that the General Assembly may not confirm Governor Ralph Northam’s appointment for director of the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) triggered one of my longstanding complaints. It is not about Jay DeBoer, the beleaguered appointee; I know nothing about his record as director of this agency. My beef is with the agency itself and its role.

The legislative battles over occupational licensing are carried out largely out of view of the public; they do not generate headlines. Furthermore, after the legislative battles are over, the battles over the details, i.e. the regulations, are carried out even further removed from public scrutiny, although they are open to anyone in the public who is willing to put in the time to participate. As arcane as these activities are, they can affect the public greatly. Continue reading