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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Jane Castor and the Third Amendment

I think of myself as knowledgeable about the US Constitution, but former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor reminded me in a recent speech of an important point that somehow had slipped down in my mental list. As she said, we all hear a lot from late loser Adam Putnam and other self-proclaimed sellouts to the NRA about the Constitution’s Second Amendment. That, of course, comes in the Bill of Rights just after the vital First Amendment, which assures the fundamental freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. As a refresher, here’s the Second Amendment in full: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Jane said that when gun nuts quote that to her, she asks them about the next Amendment, the Third. No one has a clue. It says: “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” She reminds them that Americans did not intend to have a standing army, in part because professional British soldiers had been quartered in their homes. Especially in Boston, women were expected to house and feed soldiers, even doing their laundry, while also enduring sexual harassment and constant fear for themselves and their daughters. The new Bill of Rights intended to end that practice by replacing a professional army with a “well-regulated militia” of local volunteers who provided their own weapons for any necessary defense. Armories followed later, and volunteer fighters kept their weapons there.

And there was gun control, even in the earliest days. I’ve read the court record of “Widow Horton,” who lived in the frontier of Springfield, Massachusetts, and in 1651, was charged with selling a rifle to a Native American. She argued that she had merely lent it so that he could hunt game for her, but the Court told her to “speedily get it home againe or else it would cost her dere for no commonwealth would allow of such a misdemeanor.” Although not necessarily enacted into law, that no-sale practice lasted until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Remember the movie, “Places in the Heart?” Set in the 1930s, it begins with Sally Field’s husband, a sheriff, being killed by the usually loveable town drunk, an African-American who somehow had acquired a pistol. Everyone was shocked.

This made me think about the influence of Westerns. The majority of movies and TV shows that my brother and I watched in childhood were cowboys/cavalry versus Indians, with the white men shooting rifles at Indians armed with bows and arrows. Not exactly a fair fight – and again, white traders who sold modern weapons to natives were considered traitors and hid their activity from the law. Moreover, our childish minds were taught that settling issues – and stealing land – by using violence was just fine. More than fine; it made America great. We never questioned that. And when, during the Vietnam War, we began to ask questions, we were condemned for that. Still are.

So I expect that again I will get some pushback for again stating the obvious: 88% of homicides are committed by men. Until we have some psychological and biological research into why that is, we have not asked the basic question that should be asked. But that may be changing too, as more and more young women seem to think it’s cool to carry a pistol in their purses. So far, they aren’t using them nearly as much as men, and many of the murders that women do commit are in response to longtime abuse, but it’s another point to ponder. We really need to fund and empower criminologists.

This May Seem Like a Switch of Topics,
But It Isn’t

The League of Women Voters is celebrating its centennial this year, having formalized in 1919. Women in every western state except New Mexico had won the vote by the end of 1916, and New York followed in 1917. Just as last year’s midterm elections were a strategic victory for women, quietly planned by Nancy Pelosi, so was 1918 a nationally targeted win. Carrie Chapman Catt led the main feminist organization – with two million members in a population much smaller than today’s – and she aimed at four US Senate races. She won the necessary two, with opposition senators in Delaware and Massachusetts losing their re-elections to proponents.

That was enough to pass the 19th Amendment out of the Senate with the constitutionally required 2/3 majority, something that the House already had done. Women formed the League to organize for the ratification campaign, which is very difficult. The Constitution requires not only 2/3 passage of both houses of Congress, it also mandates ratification by ¾ of state legislatures, with two chambers in each. Like Pelosi, Catt was smart and determined. This extremely tough task was achieved in just a little over a year, from June 1919 to August 1920.

Thus in November 1920, women in every state were eligible to vote, and the League followed up with a 21-point agenda for the congressional session that began in 1921. More than national activity, however, its members have concentrated on state and local governments – partly because, until very recently, those governments called the shots. Eventually, women’s participation in politics would change everything, as more than any other organization, the League is especially to be credited for cleaning up politics. Here in Tampa, for instance, as late as the 1930s, ballot box theft was common, and gunfights broke out over elections. If you think we have problems now, please read some history.

The Florida League now is targeting reform of our state laws on guns. The reason for focusing on Tallahassee instead of county commissions or city councils is that local ordinances on guns tend to set higher standards -- but state politicians won’t allow local elected officials to implement their constituents’ intentions. So, I hope you will join this effort on Thursday, February 7, from 5:30 to 7:30, when the League will sponsor a panel discussion of experts at the Children’s Board offices at 1002 E. Palm Avenue. The moderator will be the Times’ popular columnist, Ernest Hooper. He will be joined by State Attorney Andrew Warren; Ben Friedman, who chairs the state League’s gun safety project; Clara Reynolds of the Crisis Center; and Amanda Thalji-Raitano of BeSMARTforKids. The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office also will be participating.

You can RSVP to HotTopics@HCLWV.Org. It is past time to pressure our legislators to enact the reasonable laws that will make it less easy for us to kill each other.

This is Going to be Fun to Watch

Maxine Waters, the outspoken African American congresswoman from Los Angeles, will be the new chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, and Wall Street is shaking in its well-shined shoes. She has been in Congress since 1990, is strongly supported by her constituents, and knows where the bodies are buried. On Friday, January 18, she introduced a bill to curb illegal insider trading – and also announced a Republican co-sponsor to make its passage bipartisan. Also that day, she called out HUD Secretary Ben Carson (another African American) for failing to protect public housing from the effects of Trump’s shutdown.

She seems to have taken Saturday off, but on Sunday the 20th, Waters sent a letter to the top dogs in the nation’s financial services industry inquiring what they were doing to help customers affected by the closure of government. She’s joined on the committee by three women of color who are newcomers to the House, one of whom candidly charged Carson with intent to sell off public housing, probably to his personal profit. These women may be new to Congress, but they not new to the world of consumers’ financial worries -- and brokers and bankers are going bonkers.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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