Opinion: Ending the Gun Violence Epidemic
The following op-ed by Adam Schleifer has been published in the Harvard Kennedy School Review on May 19, 2020.
Two deadly epidemics threaten the lives of Americans. Both have cost too many of us our loved ones, imposed relentless burdens on our healthcare professionals, and affected all communities, while disproportionately harming communities of color. The first is a global threat that originated in nature and will take all the scientific prowess and ingenuity we can muster to defeat: It is, of course, COVID-19. The second, uniquely American, is a problem of our own making, and can be dispatched with tools that have long stared us square in the face: gun violence.
The United States is an outlier among similarly wealthy, educated countries when it comes to gun violence. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, the US gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other wealthy countries. Every year, about 38,000 people die from gun violence – or approximately 100 people per day – and nearly 2,900 of these are children and teens.
And from one vantage, COVID-19 has brought no respite; cities like Chicago and Philadelphia have experienced an uptick in shootings, further straining the cities’ resources and healthcare capacity. In the time between March 1 and April 19 of this year, we have actually seen a six percent increase in gun violence deaths relative to the same period last year. Thus, and notwithstanding the many commonsense policy solutions House Democrats have introduced, the Republican Party’s feckless intransigence on issues of gun safety is allowing an already tragic gun epidemic in our country to become even worse.
For me, this issue hits close to home. When I was a first-grade student in a New York City public school, a classmate brought what I assumed was a toy gun to class. First, he pointed it toward me, then he pressed it against me, teasing, “bang, you’re dead.” I soon learned this was no toy—it was a loaded handgun. Although I was lucky to escape my personal encounter with a gun at school, in my career as a federal prosecutor, I saw firsthand how destructive illegal gun possession and gun violence can be to communities. And I am proud to have helped take dozens of illegally possessed and illegal guns off of our streets and out of the hands of dangerous criminals.
Gun reform is part of why I am running for Congress. It has become an inescapable truth that more guns in our communities means more gun-related deaths. I understand the need for the federal government to end the senseless gun tragedies in our schools, movie theatres, and places of worship, and hold all those responsible for these tragedies accountable.
As a Congressman, one of my first acts will be to introduce my gun reform plan: “STOP” (Securing Threats and Ongoing Protection), which contains 5 key policies.
First, we must institute universal background checks for all those seeking to purchase a firearm. Current loopholes in federal law allow former criminals, domestic abusers, and people prohibited for mental health reasons to access guns from unlicensed sellers. With the support of more than 90 percent of Americans, implementing universal background checks is arguably the lowest hanging fruit of gun legislation.
Second, we must implement a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and other weapons of war that have no place in our communities. In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which made it “unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess” a semiautomatic assault weapon. The law expired a decade later, but in that time, research found a significant reduction in gun violence attributable to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Third, we must pass red-flag laws that permit authorities to remove guns from those who are not currently fit, due to mental illness or other instability, to possess those weapons safely. Today, 19 states have their own versions of red flag laws, including New York, which passed its legislation in 2019 under the leadership of Governor Cuomo. However, a state-by-state approach to passing red-flag laws is not sufficient. To be successful, it will require federal legislation that applies to all states equally.
Fourth, we must take steps to regulate so-called “ghost guns,” or guns made by individuals using kits or 3D printers. These guns are particularly dangerous because they are untraceable and anyone, including those prohibited from owning weapons, can make them with ease. Indeed, as a federal prosecutor, at times I was left powerless to prosecute the possession of dangerous assault weapons from those who made them at home. Neither the bullets nor their victims care whether a dangerous weapon was made in a bedroom or a factory located across state lines, so we must close this glaring loophole.
Finally, as Joe Biden has argued, we must hold gun manufacturers accountable for their contribution to the problem, and ensure they no longer are able to assemble life-destroying weapons with impunity. Current law protects manufacturers from being held civilly liable for their products, a protection that is unique to the gun industry. This protection must end.
As we rally to overcome COVID-19, we should feel empowered to flex the same muscles of pragmatic decisiveness to address the other grave threats to our wellbeing. Toward the top of that list is a threat entirely of our own making, one that we need no international partners to address: our own, uniquely-American scourge, the scourge of gun violence.
Opinion: My View -- How We Can Reinvigorate Voting and Spur Democratic Participation
The following op-ed authored by Adam Schleifer was published in The River Journal on May 18, 2020.
A Republic, if you can keep it—Benjamin Franklin
When Alexis de Tocqueville toured our young nation in 1831, American democratic participation was nothing short of revolutionary to his European eyes. He noted, “the people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe.” And while it should be noted that, due to discriminatory restrictions in the franchise we thankfully recognize today as unjust, a far lower percentage of the total population actually voted then than they do today, it is also fair to say that if the people still reign as a god today, we’re an inattentive, absentee god, at best.
By international standards, our roughly 50 percent voter participation rate is weak. Perhaps that weakness is a historical legacy of voter suppression; perhaps it’s a sign that our government offers too few solutions to the problems that vex us; perhaps it’s both. Indeed, in the fifty-seven years since Martin Luther King Jr. uttered these worlds, we might ask whether much at all has changed:
We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
I believe, however, that the best way for us to ensure a person has something “for which to vote” is, first, to ensure that more people are incentivized and able to cast a vote that counts. Below, I offer a few observations and proposals to increase the scope of our democracy, which, I hope will also increase its depth and vigor. And, if elected to Congress in New York’s 17th District, I will work tirelessly to see these provisions written into law, so that nothing, not even a pandemic, can frustrate our democracy. The below ideas are not the only necessary or good ideas for improving the vigor of the democratic process, but they are a few that appear most achievable and least affected by the spate of recent Supreme Court precedents that have harmed our democratic process.
First, to get more people voting, we should offer a $50 refundable tax credit to everyone who votes in a federal election. That tax credit would be progressive, because the $50 would represent a greater proportional boost to working and middle class voters than to the wealthiest, while also addressing the economic burden that taking the time to vote imposes on hourly workers and those forced to extend childcare to get to the polls. I will proudly co-sponsor legislation for such a credit, which would force my Republican colleagues publicly to choose between their stated love of reducing our tax burden and their unstated but apparent love of suppressing voter turnout.
To further boost voter participation and turnout, we must also make Election Day a federal holiday, and join the more than 80 percent of other OECD countries that hold elections on weekends or national holidays. Additionally, we should provide more funding to states like New York to make voting registration automatic, giving voters the opportunity to “opt out” if they wish to unregister rather than the more cumbersome “opt-in” process we currently have. Republicans and other critics will argue that such laws will lead to voter fraud, but extensive research debunks that claim.
We should also institute early voting in as many jurisdictions as possible. By spreading out elections over periods of a week or more rather than just a single day, we permit people the flexibility they need to participate more fully, while reducing the risk of overcrowding that is not only inconvenient, but even dangerous in these times of public-health crisis. Such a process would also give more time for those with questions or difficulties affecting their registration and ballot-validity to pursue legal redress with judges and other legal officials.
We should also take bold steps to enhance the integrity of our elections. One way is by setting up independent redistricting commissions in each state to minimize the impact of partisan politics on how we draw state and congressional boundaries. Currently, eight states have commissions with primary authority over the redistricting lines. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that federal judges cannot oversee state gerrymandering will lead to election bias unless we take the map out of the hands of partisan state legislatures.
Lastly, we must abolish the Electoral College, either through a constitutional amendment or through the National Popular Vote Plan, which I’ve previously published an academic paper on. Such a plan would allow states to agree with one another to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote, so that the Electoral College would become functionally irrelevant. Such a change would do a lot to engage citizens in the vast majority of states (including California, Texas, and New York) that presidential candidates now safely ignore, while returning us to the basic principle that every person’s vote should count.
If we can begin to unclog the arteries of democracy in these and other ways, perhaps we can come nearer to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s other vision: a society that offers good people something “for which to vote.”
Supporting Our Educators on National Teachers’ Day
On this National Teachers’ Day, I am grateful for all the educators who go above and beyond to educate and inspire our children, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the school year for students and teachers alike, and requires teachers to educate our children while at the same time caring for their own.
The selflessness and passion our educators show day in and day out make them a strategic national resource. I will work every day in Congress to ensure that they are supported. To all the teachers out there, especially the ones serving in Rockland and Westchester Counties, know this: we see you, we hear you, and we appreciate all that you are doing during this unprecedented time.
News 12 Interview: Adam Schleifer Rejects Trump's "Mail Tax"
In an interview with News 12, Adam Schleifer unveiled his plan to introduce legislation in the next Congress to embolden the USPS with the power to conduct basic financial services.
Adam, a Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress in New York’s 17th District, urged President Trump to reverse his pledge that any COVID-related relief funding for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) would be contingent on higher fees for residents and businesses in Rockland and Westchester Counties who send mail through the USPS. President Donald Trump declared Friday (4/24) that he would not approve any bailout for the USPS unless it significantly increases its prices. Schleifer argued that Trump was wrong to call USPS “a joke” on Friday.
The USPS has warned of its serious financial distress, but with the U.S. economy stalled during the COVID crisis, USPS reported a 30 percent decrease in volume. The service has requested $75 billion in cash, loans and grants to remain solvent.
As part of this declaration, Schleifer unveiled his plan to not only oppose Trump’s attempts to privatize USPS, but to strengthen a public Postal Service with basic banking powers. Schleifer noted that USPS used to take deposits from clients until 1966 and, in 1947, had nearly $3.4 billion in deposits. USPS became a popular deposit home for people who didn’t have confidence in banks in the early 20th century. Schleifer notes that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated for the USPS to have banking powers when she won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. His plan would allow USPS to offer basic financial services, including cashing checks and giving USPS more flexibility in choosing what services it provides in order to grow as a stronger public entity, rather than wither and die under Trump’s call for a mail tax.
Read Adam Schleifer’s full plan to embolden the US Postal Service through basic financial service offering capabilities:
Opinion: US Should Decriminalize, Regulate and Tax Marijuana
Published as Expert Analysis on Law360.com.
By Adam Schleifer (April 27, 2020, 12:06 PM EDT)
Before COVID-19 turned our world upside down, legalization of marijuana was expected to be a centerpiece of New York’s 2020 budget legislation. Now, legalization — and the $300 million in estimated annual tax revenues that it will eventually bring — will have to wait.
This raises an important question: Why are we not talking more about federal legalization of marijuana, which could generate some $132 billion in tax revenue and 1 million new jobs?
If undertaken with appropriate health and safety oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, federal legalization would help address our vaping health crisis, which evidence suggests may be caused by grey-market THC pens adulterated with harmful additives.
Federally legalized, regulated, quality-controlled marijuana would also deprive pernicious international drug cartels of a major revenue source and help support the integrity of our borders.
The perniciousness of those cartels’ illegal operations cannot be understated. On Feb. 7, 1985, for example, drug-cartel thugs abducted U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in broad daylight just outside of the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico. As they also did with a pilot, Alfredo Zavala, who had helped Camarena investigate large Mexican marijuana plantations, these thugs dragged Camarena to a safe house, where they interrogated and tortured him to death.
These murderers were motivated by a pair of recent busts in which the DEA had helped seize many billions of dollars’ worth of marijuana from the cartel’s thriving Mexican military-industrial-cartel complex. Marijuana was big business in 1985; it remains so today.
I learned of those tragic crimes and their marijuana connection by investigating them as a federal prosecutor.
As I reconstructed the dark, cocaine-fueled life and times of the Guadalajara cartel and its corrupt allies and partners, I was surprised at the centrality of the American marijuana market to those dangerous cartels’ profits and power, cartels which remain a blight on and threat to civil society throughout the Americas.
More broadly, I was also struck by the flow of (1) Mexican panga boats that smuggle tons and tons of marijuana onto our shores; and (2) the slow burn of fraud, corruption and tax evasion endemic to the state-legal but federally illegal marijuana industry in its current form.
So, although states such as Colorado and California have served as helpful laboratories of democracy in our country’s experimentation with marijuana legalization, the results are in. We can do better; we must do more.
First, we must federally decriminalize the possession and licensed distribution of marijuana.
Although many may assume state decriminalization makes it legal to possess marijuana, the only thing standing between all marijuana businesses and end-users and federal criminal prosecution is a discretionary set of U.S. Department of Justice guidelines set forth in the Cole memorandum, and a current congressional budget rider denying funds to prosecution of state-legal marijuana activity — both of which are subject to change anytime. This uncertainty is anathema to the planning and certainty that rule of law and legitimate business activity both require.
And unlike physically addictive, dangerous and deadly drugs like methamphetamine, opioids and heroin, it is hard to see how continued devotion of federal criminal resources to the interdiction of marijuana accomplishes much beyond supporting a life-limiting one-way ratchet of criminal institutionalization of young people — particularly young people of color, upon whom the incidence of marijuana arrests and prosecutions has fallen unequally.
The criminal justice system has a salutary role in protecting society from the scourge of violence, property crimes and death posed by drug addiction and abuse, but it’s clear by now that marijuana use has little to do with that important mission.
Second, we should reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. While the 2018 Farm Bill circumvented certain limitations when it comes to hemp agriculture — a very important first step — marijuana’s listing within Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act belies pharmacological reality, stymies further scientific study, and makes use and development of marijuana-related therapeutics unnecessarily difficult.
Marijuana should either be removed from the schedules entirely or reclassified within a schedule that reflects its low or lower potential for abuse and physical addiction. And while rescheduling could be accomplished without legislation through administrative rulemaking, Congress should act directly and pass federal rescheduling (or unscheduling) legislation for the dual purposes of greater permanency and increased legitimacy.
Third, we should reform the tax code and related federal statutes affecting the financial treatment of marijuana, its proceeds and the access to credit it needs to function legitimately.
The tax code establishes unfair limitations on the ability of marijuana-related businesses to deduct routine expenses, which encourages accounting and tax fraud and makes it difficult for legitimate marijuana businesses to operate profitably and make accurate financial disclosures to potential investors and shareholders.
These limitations and others, which essentially deprive marijuana businesses of access to the interstate banking and credit system, create dangerous Wild West conditions in the marijuana industry.
Finally, we must amend the relevant international treaties and our obligations under them. It is an inconvenient truth that major reform of our federal marijuana framework would put us out of compliance with various treaty obligations. Rather than ignore this and further undermine our country’s once-proud status as a multilateralist force for public international law, we must work to amend these treaties and our obligations thereunder.
It’s high time our federal laws recognize the scientific, financial and policy realities of marijuana.
Adam P. Schleifer is a candidate for Congress in New York’s 17th congressional district. He previously worked as an an assistant U.S. attorney and as special associate counsel for the New York State Department of Financial Services.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/2018/01/10/study-legal-marijuana-could-generate- more-than-132-billion-in-federal-tax-revenue-and-1-million-jobs/.
 https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/health/vaping-illness-tracker- evali.html?searchResultPosition=10.
 https://www.aclu.org/report/report-war-marijuana-black-and-white?redirect=criminal-law- reform/war-marijuana-black-and-white.
 https://www.fda.gov/news-events/congressional-testimony/hemp-production-and-2018-farm-bill- 07252019.
 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2014/10/16/marijuana-legalization-poses-a-dilemma-for- international-drug-treaties/.
Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and in the spirit of writer Robert Macfarlane’s urging to be “good ancestors,” I’m proud to announce the exciting personal endorsement of nationally renowned climate-change and environmental-policy expert, Professor Michael B. Gerrard.
Gerrard, founder of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law through Columbia Law, is a prolific writer in environmental law and climate change, as well as a respected professor of environmental law, climate-change law, and energy regulation.
I am proud and humbled to have his support.
As I think about what it means to be a responsible steward of our planet, Earth Day provides an opportunity to recommit to the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge that my campaign proudly took in February.
This means that our campaign does not take contributions from oil, gas, or coal industry executives, lobbyists, and PACs. While this pledge continues to be a point of pride for my campaign, it is, of course, not nearly enough. Those ruining our planet and standing in the way of sustainable innovation will try to buy off every politician they can.
Throughout my career as a prosecutor, I’ve been proud to fight against anyone who puts profits ahead of the health of our children and our planet. The people of this district deserve a member of Congress they can be sure will prioritize protecting our environment and tackling our climate crisis.
As your member of Congress, I will fight for a progressive carbon tax that will permit clean, green technology to compete fairly and bring the innovations needed to save our planet and create great 21st-century jobs. Staying independent of the fossil fuel industry is the only way we’ll have a chance to restore respect for science and our EPA, and protect our environment for future generations.
For Earth Day, I’m asking you to stand up and show you’ll fight with me. If you believe that our clean air and water are something worth fighting for, then please join us today!
We need leaders in Washington who are committed to doing the hard work necessary to fix this crisis. I’m ready to be one of those leaders with you by my side.
Thank you for your support and happy #EarthDay,
Today, people around the world commemorate Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, to honor the memories of the six million Jewish men, women, and children who were murdered during the Holocaust. It’s an important and solemn day — a time for the Jewish community and allies to pledge that these heinous acts will never happen again.
This commemoration is also very personal for me. My grandfather was the only member of his family who survived the Holocaust. The Nazis enslaved him, but he risked his life and saved others by sabotaging Nazi weapons.
His bravery inspires everything I do, which is why we chose to highlight his story in our latest campaign ad.
Watch and share our powerful new campaign ad. I hope my grandfather’s story can inspire you the way it has inspired me for so many years.
Since 2016, hate has been on the rise in our country. We saw it in Monsey back in December when a domestic terrorist attacked an intimate Chanukah gathering. We see it today when the fear of COVID-19 turns into hateful and shameful attacks against our Asian American communities. When I’m in Congress, I pledge to always stand up to racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and all other forms of bigotry and hatred that threaten our communities.
On this solemn day, I hope we can all take a moment to honor the courage and fortitude of the millions of people persecuted and killed during the Holocaust. May their memory be a blessing that reminds us to come together to repair this world.
Wishing you and yours health and safety,
For Jews around the world, tonight is the first night of Passover, a holiday of transcendent deliverance and gratitude, which tells a story of ten plagues and celebrates a liberation from oppression and slavery. A central element of the Passover holiday is the traditional “Four Questions,” which, from the perspective of a child, ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In this year of plague, in this season of social isolation, and in this, New York’s 17th Congressional District, we have already asked that same simple question many times as we navigate difficult departures from comfortable routines.
As with all difficult seasons, this too shall pass. And when it does, I am hopeful we will keep close the spirit of inclusion and the lessons of leadership and empowerment that we are learning each day.
Until then, I wish all those celebrating a happy holiday, and offer the words of my favorite writer, Primo Levi, a chemist and brilliant man of letters who survived Auschwitz and left a literary legacy that included the following Passover Poem:
Tell me: how is this night different
From all other nights?
How, tell me, is this Passover
Different from other Passovers?
Light the lamp, open the door wide
So the pilgrim can come in,
Gentile or Jew;
Under the rags perhaps the prophet is concealed.
Let him enter and sit down with us;
Let him listen, drink, sing and celebrate Passover;
Let him consume the bread of affliction,
The Paschal Lamb, sweet mortar and bitter herbs.
This is the night of differences
In which you lean your elbow on the table,
Since the forbidden becomes prescribed,
Evil is translated into good.
We will spend the night recounting
Far-off events full of wonder,
And because of all the wine
The mountains will skip like rams.
Tonight they exchange questions:
The wise, the godless, the simple-minded and the child.
And time reverses its course,
Today flowing back into yesterday,
Like a river enclosed at its mouth.
Each of us has been a slave in Egypt,
Soaked straw and clay with sweat,
And crossed the sea dry-footed.
You too, stranger.
This year in fear and shame,
Next year in virtue and in justice.
With you in spirit,
Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has endorsed Adam Schleifer for Congress.
Christine Quinn has spent decades fighting for the progressive causes we all care about and has been a tireless leader on marriage equality, LGBTQ rights, women’s reproductive health, homelessness, and standing up to hate crimes. We’re so grateful to have her on our growing list of amazing supporters!
“Adam Schleifer’s successful career in state and federal service and his passion for justice proves that he will be a powerful advocate for communities who need a stronger voice in government,” said Quinn. “There are a great number of well-qualified and capable candidates in this race, many who have unique qualities they could bring to Congress, but in Adam, we have someone who I know will be an aggressive advocate for the marginalized communities I care about the most. I have known him since he and his wife, Nicole, marched alongside me in the Brooklyn Gay Pride Parade almost a decade ago and I know Adam will be a tenacious and effective advocate for his district.”
Christine Quinn is the Vice Chair of the New York State Democratic Committee and the former Speaker of the New York City Council. As City Council speaker, she was New York City’s second most powerful public servant and the first female and first openly gay person to hold the role. She is a leading progressive voice on issues of homelessness, LGBTQ equality, women’s reproductive health, and affordable housing.
“Christine Quinn has spent decades fighting for the progressive causes we all care about and has been a tireless leader on marriage equality, LGBTQ rights, women’s reproductive health, homelessness, and standing up to hate crimes. I am humbled by her endorsement, and I am committed to emulating her example in fighting for everyone’s right to pursue their own version of the American Dream.”
Quinn’s announcement today is the latest in a series of high-profile endorsements for Schleifer, who just last week received the support of U.S Senator Chris Dodd and U.S. Representative Steve Israel. He was also endorsed by three prominent Democrats in northern Westchester: Vivian McKenzie, Peekskill Councilwoman and Deputy Mayor, Drew Claxton, former Deputy Mayor of Peekskill, and Ossining Deputy Mayor Rika Levin.
A former-Assistant United States Attorney, Schleifer prosecuted major federal crimes including major financial frauds, illegal gun possession, environmental crimes, sexual violence and intimidation, and child pornography.
Prior to serving in the Justice Department, Adam served as a Special Associate Counsel for the New York State Department of Financial Services, where he helped lead consumer-protection enforcement efforts against predatory payday and subprime auto lenders who were targeting minorities, veterans, and low-income New Yorkers, and took on fraud and abuse in the health insurance and financial markets. Schleifer’s successful efforts to root out unfair practices in New York and nationwide contributed to fairness, transparency, and efficiency in New York’s banking and insurance markets.
Schleifer, 38, graduated from Chappaqua’s public schools in 1999 and went on to attend Cornell University and Columbia University Law School, where he served as a Senior & Staff Development Editor on the Columbia Law Review. After graduating from law school, Schleifer served two years as a federal law clerk, first in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and then in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He and his wife, Nicole, are residents of New Castle.