Below is the raw, uncensored response from one of our editors, Mike Sennello when Elliot sent him HB1509, a terribly flawed anti-gun bill whose arrogant sponsors attempted to disguise as an ‘elder abuse’ bill:
Holy shit this is a mess. This response is a doozy, so strap in, folks.
1. OK, so every good bill has a “definitions” section which acts to “define” terms. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to be defining more than a few terms (3-6) in any bill you propose (as an example, here is the definitions chapter for the entire criminal procedural code for the State of New York and it’s by no means longer: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/CPL/1.20) Even if we disregard this heuristic, none of these are definitions. It’s not that they’re good definitions or bad definitions, it’s not that they’re correct or incorrect, they’re, not even definitions. In fact, the only term that seems to have an actual definition (good or bad) is “school performance”, but only because “unexplained or unusual absences” actually creates an, at least, vague boundary between what is “school performance” and what is not “school performance”, and that the word “academic” very slightly clarifies that “school” doesn’t mean the literal brick-and-mortar: “school performance” doesn’t mean a student-performed version of “Les Miserables”.
2. All of the definitions are terrible just from a definitions standpoint, and that’s not because I necessarily disagree with them (though I do). Here’s just a few examples:
Vagueness of definition: Ever watch a low-budget film and see things that are blurry and out-of-focus? Or that video of “Big Foot” from the 70’s? It kind of vaguely looks like a sasquatch, but the definition is so poor all we can say is that something vaguely looks like something. The word “definition” inherently requires making things less vague; the point of a definition a priori is to add clarity to the thing. So when a word’s definition is left vague, you’ve failed at providing a good definition. For example:
“Physical aggression” meaning an inappropriate use of force.
What is “inappropriate”? (the type and target of force being a different subject altogether) This is one of those words like “problematic” that is used as a place-holder for an incredibly vague, indefinable tangible or intangible thing you have a personal distaste for. Which means the word is both subjective and non-limiting. This is why, in criminal law, you will not find words like “inappropriate” and “problematic”; they are defined by the subject using them, not the context in which they are used. To put my personal political spin on this, these are words used by people who can’t provide an argument as to why they don’t like something; in debate, to me, they are an admission of defeat.
“Quality of thinking or communication” meaning indications of confused or irrational thought processes.
Well what are those indicators? The whole point of this listing of terms is to list things that are “exhibited”. So you’re looking for indicators that “create a pattern of behaviors”. So what are those indicators? You can’t say “confused or irrational thought processes”, because the term you’re defining means indicators of confused or irrational thought processes, not the processes themselves. Also, what do you mean by “confused” and “irrational” when referring to thought processes? (How on earth you determine someone’s thought processes being an entirely separate topic we don’t have time for). What even is a “thought process”? Is it something that must follow a logical train? Is it merely one’s internal dialogue?
“Fame-seeking leakage” means a kind of leakage in which the respondent reveals clues that signal an intent to commit a violent act for the specific purpose of seeking fame.
Holy lord. What is a “leakage”? What do you mean by “a kind of leakage” rather than “a leakage”? And then: “reveals clues” [stop] “signal” [stop] “intent” [stop] “seeking”. So indicators of indicators of indicators to do a thing for the purposes of something else….this author does realize the term they are trying to define has a definition so confusing and broad as to easily be conceived as including everything anyone might do? These terms imply a very loose causal connection, and you’re walking them back through four fucking layers of causality.
Okay, wonderful, you’ve defined “leakage”: “the intentional or unintentional revealing of clues to a third-party about feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that may signal the intent to commit a violent act.”….FUCKING FUCK FUCK. Here is the order of the layers of causality, ignoring the “intentional or unintentional” part, and the fact that the second layer includes FUCKING EVERYTHING that the scientific community would consider “information” (the scientific definition being the most broad): “clues” [stop] “feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions” [stop] “signal” [stop] “intent.”
Use of the term in the definition: An aardvark is an aardvark. Yes. So what is an aardvark? An aardvark. Okay….that doesn’t help. This is related to “vagueness of definition” because it requires a circular logic which only ends when the term is removed from the definition, and, until then, brings no clarity to the word. This happens four times at least (by my count), and three times without at least some other reference within the definition of terms.
Overly broad definition: It doesn’t bring clarity to a word to have it mean everything. What a definition should do is tell you not only what something is, but, more importantly, what it is not. This is a huge part of why good legislation tends to have only a handful of terms to define and otherwise uses what is called the “common definition” or “common usage” of a word. It is also why good legislation doesn’t include vague or hard-to-define terms, and avoids using multi-word terms when a singular word in common parlance already exists to replace the phrase. In fact, this is why we use a word and not its definition: “If you see an adult human male…” No one says this. “If you see a man…” See what we did there?
Here are some overly broad definitions other than the ones we’ve already mentioned:
XIV. “Potential stressors” means physical, psychological, or social forces within the last year that place real or perceived demands or pressures on an individual and which are causing psychological and/or physical distress.
God, it’s like I can just pick these out at random. “Physical, psychological, or social” are conditions for “forces”. So what “force” would not qualify for these conditions? Atomic strong/weak forces? Nope. They’re a “physical force”. “real or perceived” are conditions for “demands” and are also separately conditions for “pressures”, and those two words are separately included as part of this definition and are conditions on “forces”. So what “demands” would be disqualified from this definition? What “pressures” would be disqualified from this definition? What in the world is then disqualified from “forces”? “psychological” and “physical” are both conditions dependent and independent of each other on “distress”. So what type of “distress” is disqualified by this definition? Here is how this definition should be read given that the “conditions” aren’t conditions and include FUCKING EVERYTHING: “Potential stressors” means forces which are causing distress within the last year. Which begs the question: what are “forces”, and what is “distress”? Let’s not even factor in that, yet again, you’ve used the root in its own definition. Add one to my tally.
XI. “Other weapons” means any item capable of causing mass casualties such as, but not limited to, an explosive device, a motor vehicle, or bio-hazardous materials.
So, then, what on earth is not capable of “causing mass casualties”? Buildings? Planes? Pallets of anything heavy? Large enough pallets of anything not heavy? My bare hands? All building materials?
VI. “Firearm” means any weapon, including a starter gun, which will, is designed to, or may be readily converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.
What on earth, then, disqualifies a thing being considered a “weapon”? Have you been to jail? Yeah, the disturbing ingenuity of prisoners has shown us that fucking anything can be “readily converted” to merely “expel a projectile by the action of an explosive”. Dig a hole in the ground 2″ in diameter. Insert mortar (fireworks). The hole in the ground is now a firearm. And that’s forgetting that “designed to” is not conditional on the thing actually being successful in its design.
Failure to use common terms/parlance: When defining a term, not only should the term itself contain words which have a – and are used in the – common definition, its definition should both reflect that usage and contain that usage. For example: Woman: adult human female. “Adult” and “human” are conditions of “female” which obviously exclude “child” and “lizard”, and which all have a very common usage/parlance. You wouldn’t ever say “Woman” to mean “inanimate cylindrical container 20 oz in volume typically used for beer”, and we already have a term for that definition: a pint glass.
V. “Family member” means a spouse or person cohabiting with another person.
“Family member” has never meant “person cohabiting with another person”, is never used in that context, and we already have a term for that definition which is in wildly common usage/parlance: “roommate”.
“Imminent” means likely to take place within the very near future.
“Imminent” has always meant “certain to take place within the immediate near future”. In fact, harping on that whole “common usage”, the Webster I just pulled off my bookshelf defines it as “About to occur at any moment”. “About to occur” is a phrase which carries an air of “certainty” that something is going “to take place”, and “at any moment” means “immediate near future”, not just “very near future”. “I’m going to stab you tomorrow” as a threat is very different from a guy kicking open your door, unloading half a clip on your wife and two of your three kids and then turning to point the gun at your last surviving daughter in the very next instant. The latter is a guy you get to frying pan until his brains become a slurry on your kitchen floor, the other you don’t. This is because one danger is imminent, and the other is probable, which is how you define “likely to occur in the very near future”. Seriously, who the fuck wrote this?
“Threats/confrontations” which are direct communications to a target of intent to harm and which may be delivered in person or by other means (e.g., text, email, telephone)
Holy fuck. We have this already. It’s called “simple assault”, and it’s something you learn in high school-level intro to law of any kind. This is a totally worthless definition, because if you simply use “simple assault” and don’t define it, you will find that there already exists a clear definition of the word already both in common usage and, probably, in your own criminal code.
XVIII. “Respondent” means the individual against whom the petition in RSA 135-G:4 is filed.
FOR FUCK’S SAKE READ YOUR OWN CRIMINAL/CIVIL CODE FUCK FUCK FUCK.
3. I could go on forever about the definitions, but it’s been a full hour already, so fuck it I’m done with them. In addition to being bad definitions, almost all of them are flat-out wrong, and that’s all I’ll say about that, so let’s move on: The bill itself is insane, and I’ll try to be brief:
The Bridgeport Archdiocese has a rule book for its cemeteries (~30 in SW CT) that is hundreds of pages long and 2-3″ thick. At New Milford Center Cemetery (where I was once in charge), the rules list is 3 pages long. This is because the archdiocese tried to conceive of every possible ridiculous scenario they’d need to cover their asses on with their rules. At NMCC, we covered that with “at the discretion of the superintendent”, and gave someone we trust broad latitude to just do what we thought was necessary because we trusted their judgment. We were also fully private-sector, so we can get away with that. Which means that the archdiocese put out a rule book that was, effectively, the equivalent to just saying “Hey, whatever the Superintendent says, goes. Deal with it.” And, again, private sector, so no big deal, and that’s probably the more efficient way for businesses to run.
The point is, when you build a rule that is, by its nature, incredibly hard to define (like laws forbidding porn), and incredibly hard to pinpoint, leading to a confusing-as-hell, self-referencing, giant mess of a rule that takes up 8 pages of text for one rule, it’s probably a bad rule if you can’t just say “fuck it, whatever this guy says goes, deal with it”, which is the case with government. I realize the criminal code might be pretty long, but it includes several “rules” which are a hell-of-a-lot shorter than the code itself (which is kind of the definition of a “code”, and what separates it from a “rule”). Here is a rule that fits that condition quite well: “The sale of any alcoholic product for the purposes of consumption to anyone under the age of 21 is strictly prohibited.” Done. You may not like the rule yourself, but it is 100%, crystal clear what violates and what does not violate the rule.
This bill is a ridiculous mess. It’s impossible to tell what would and what would not qualify for “flagging”, and it appears that it’s going to come down purely to the subjective whim of the person making the decision, which was the complaint about these laws in the first place, and now we’re seeing that exact complaint materialize right in front of us. Even if the courts get this right 100% of the time (an impossibility), the cost to implement – not just in terms of tangible resources – is going to be astronomical, and prohibitive to the point where there is no way this will actually serve its intended purpose, and I’m 100% sure the time wasted on this crap is time that could be spent on other things which may actually prevent the loss of life, which is, in the end, all we’re talking about trying to do.
We all hate New York, right? Well, for contrast, here is how commie hellhole NY has handled the insanely complicated “unlawful discrimination of the sale of beer or wine products” (I pulled it from the criminal code at random): https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/ABC/101-B
Yeah, it’s long, but nowhere near as long as the mess we’re talking about today, it surrounds an equally complicated matter, and the article makes far more clear both its logical order and how it defines what is violative of the rule and what is not.
For something only barely less complicated (also taken at random), here’s the entire criminal code on the transportation of alcoholic beverages: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/ABC/117
One paragraph. One goddamned paragraph.
I’ve spent too much time on this. Lazer is right: set this goddamned thing ablaze. Have fun with this mess, New Hampshire.