Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gun regulation: a logjam breaks

President Obama's decision to act for the moment like a Democratic President who just won re-election with a solid majority has prominently involved his engagement against domestic gun proliferation.

Media Matters' Eric Boehlert tweeted on 1/17/2013, "the damn [sic] has broken. some of those pro-gun control polling numbers are staggering." The use of "damn" instead of "dam" may be some kind of Freudian slip, but it's also correct.

After the Sandy Hook gun masscre of children and once the Democratic President took this on and started pushing back against the pro-prliferation, pro-crime National Rifle Association, the irresponsible gun industry for which they lobby, and the various and sundry other gun lobbies and culture-war hangers on who want to see maximum gun proliferation, the public mood has shifted and I'm seeing a flood of information pushing back at the ludicrous and irresponsible claims of the gun industry and their slavishly faithful Republican Party supporters.

Boehlert was referencing in particular this report by Sarah Muller, Widespread support for more restrictive gun measures, polls say The Last World/MSNBC 01/17/2013.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken before the president’s recommendations, shows 74% of Americans favor a ban on assault weapons while only 26% oppose. The question of ammunition produced similar results: 74% of Americans favor a ban on high capacity ammunition clips and 26% oppose. The same poll found 86% like the idea of expanded background checks for all would-be gun buyers, even at gun shows and through private sales. Only 14% opposed.

The CBS News/New York Times poll emphasizes the bipartisan support behind a requirement for background checks on all gun purchases. Out of Democrats, 93% support background checks. And out of Republicans, 89% support them. In households with members of the National Rifle Association, 85% are for more background checks.
The fact that the most prominent gun lobby group is sleazy and dishonest is not a good thing. But it is a good thing that much more light is being shed on their bad habits at the moment, e.g., Karoli, NRA Ad Dead Wrong, Thanks to Breitbart False Report C&L 01/19/2013.

Wendy Kaminer, A Civil Libertarian's Case for Giving Gun Control a Chancd 12/17/2012 takes a look at the state of Constitutional law on gun rights. This is an important issue. It wasn't until 2008 that the Supreme Court first held that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to gun ownership. It was a bad ruling and needs to be overturned. Unfortunately, our current President endorsed this interpretation shortly before the Supreme Court ruling came down, and he is still articulating it. This is one of several very good reasons that we need honest Democratic federal judges who aren't Federalist Society dogmatic conservative hacks who will clean up some of the egregiously bad ruling of the Thomases and Scalias.

As Kaminer explains of the 2008 decision:

Should facts about gun violence matter to federal courts when they consider the constitutionality of gun control laws? That is not a rhetorical question. The Supreme Court paid scant attention to the facts when it affirmed a constitutional right to bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller, a 5-4, 2008 decision authored by Justice Scalia. Relying almost exclusively on history, Heller struck down the D.C. ban on handguns in the home.
Part of the recklessness of Scalia-style conservative judicial activism has been that on an important issue like this, and also in the infamous, anti-democrascy Citizens United decision, they have been willing to impose drastic new interpretations of Consitutional law with a narrowly split decision. Bush v. Gore in 2000 was also a 5-4 decision. Previously, the Court had tried to build an unanimous or near-unanimous majority on decisive new turns in legal interpretation, like Brown v. Board of Education (1954), decided 9-0.

She is focusing, without saying so in exactly these terms, on the "originalist" dogma that The Scalia-ists use to justify their destructive judicial activism, claiming that they are going back fundamentalist fashion to the original intent of the sacred Founders. The legislative record is important in evaluating a law, and that is a well-established part of judicial review and interpretation. But the Federalist Society zealots use it very instrumentally. The initial context is important but not conclusive in applying the law in new conditions.

Kaminer doesn't discuss how bad the history is that the gun lobby and their supporters bring to bear in their idolizing of the Second Amendment (excluding the words "well regulated" which they don't seem to notice are there).

Robert Perry takes a look at this aspect of The Right's Dangerously Bad History Consortium News 01/18/2013. reminding us among other things that part of the original history of Second Amendment was to protect the right of slave states to require white citizens to participate in (state-regulated) armed slave patrols:

Today’s Right also has misrepresented the original intent of the Second Amendment, which reads: “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.” This concession also was primarily to the states which wanted militias to maintain “security.”

The context for those concerns related to the recent experience of Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts (in 1786-87) as well as the fear of slave revolts in the South and raids by Native Americans on the frontier. The states wanted their own militias to put down such uprisings.

In the early days of the Republic, the Second Amendment also was not seen as a universal right for individuals. For instance, some states passed “Black Codes” that barred all African-Americans from owning guns. When the Second Congress passed the Militia Act of 1792, the law specified arming “white” men of military age.
Digby has been sharing some gems on the gun proliferation issue. She links to this piece by Thom Hartmann emphasizing the slave patrol part of the Second Amendment history, The Second Amendment was Ratified to Preserve Slavery The Smirking Chimp 01/16/2013. Digby's comment on it in What were the founders really afraid of? Hullabaloo 01/17/2013:

The original sin of slavery just filters through our entire cultural and civic foundation, doesn't it?

I can't say that I'm completely surprised that the 2nd Amendment had a strong pro-slavery component considering the cultural fault lines. The idea that everyone was running in fear of the future government they were creating never rang true, despite Jefferson's musings about the need for revolution every once in a while. The need to raise a militia to repel foreign invaders? Of course. Especially since they expressly provided for no standing army. But there was always something else in there. And this makes sense.
Making sense, of course, is the last thing that the gun lobbies like the NRA want anyone to be doing when it comes to gun proliferation and gun regulation.

She also links to this useful study by Amanda Ripley, Your Brain in a Shootout: Guns, Fear and Flawed Instincts Time Swampland 01/16/2013, which discusses some of the real-world considerations of using guns for self-defense. People should be realistic about self-defense; being a fool about it can get you dead. And being fools about it is exactly what the NRA's propaganda encourages people to do. "Winning a gunfight without shooting innocent people typically requires realistic, expensive training and a special kind of person, a fact that has been strangely absent in all the back-and-forth about assault-weapon bans and the Second Amendment," Ripley writes.

She cites the experience of former police officer Jim Glennon in an actual shootout while on duty. And she quotes him on the topic of gun preparedness:

Today, Glennon runs Calibre Press, a law-enforcement training company based outside Chicago, and has trained tens of thousands of police officers nationwide. His primary message to his trainees is that they need better training than they typically get; real gunfights are nothing like the ones on TV. “Over half the police officers in the country are only required to go down once or twice a year and shoot holes in a paper target,” he says. Experts who study human performance in gunfights generally agree that people can train to perform better through highly realistic, dynamic simulation training. But that is expensive, especially compared with traditional target practice, and it doesn't happen often enough.

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, as local governments contemplate allowing more firearms in schools, Glennon worries that communities might inadvertently undertrain civilians just as they have done with police officers. "Cops aren’t trained well enough, so what do you think they’re going to do with teachers?" he says. "It's not enough just to carry a gun."
Bob Cesca warns that the cops-in-schools idea could be a trap for opponents of gun proliferation during the sausage-making of legislation, The NRA is Ready for the Gun Control Fight. Are You? The Daily Banter 01/17/2013:

As for the assault weapons ban, the president will definitely have his work cut out for him here, especially in the NRA-owned House of Representatives. In addition, don’t be surprised if the Republicans try to strong-arm the administration on the NRA’s latest gun-sales gimmick: turning public schools into a U.S./Soviet style arms races, with escalating caches of firearms entering buildings in which nothing more dangerous than spitballs and cafeteria tater-tots should be present. (I was about to write a line joking that the NRA is attempting to transform schools into post-apocalyptic Thunderdomes, but then I recalled from the Mad Max trivia cortex of my brain that guns weren’t even allowed inside the walls of Bartertown.) Regardless, the NRA sees the school arsenal argument as a two-pronged win for them: it distracts from real gun control laws and, if actually enacted, it would create a new market for firearms and a cash cow for the private security industry.
I also can imagine a lot of smoke being blown over this one. It's important to remember that the idea of providing funding for police in schools where the local communities clearly need the protection has been a Democratic priority for a while, and this is very different from the NRA's proposal.

The NRA's priorities are first, last and always: sell more guns and ammunition by promoting more fear. Always. The NRA's version is more-or-less to put a bunch of vigilantes as guards in the schools; the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who literally "pals around" with neo-Nazis, already wants to implement a version of the NRA's approach. In the real world of allocating police resources - something that is not part of the NRA's priority at all - it's probably a poor use of police resource to assign a full-time officer to a school unless it's a large one with a significant risk of violence among the students.

See Evan McMorris-Santoro's report, Teachers Union Explains Why It Supports Obama’s Guns In Schools Plan But Not NRA’s TPM 01/16/2013 for more on this.

Oh, and then there's this: Blake Thorne, Security guard leaves gun unattended in restroom at Lapeer charter school 01/16/2012. Awesome!

Some conservatives are struggling to articulate a less insane opposition to gun regulations, trying to serve the domestic arms lobby with more coherent and less hysterical propaganda than the culture warriors at the NRA can seem to manage. James Zogby offers a version of the "gee, I'd like to do something about guns but nothing will really help much, because, uh, human nature or whatever" argument in Gun Crazy Huffington Post 01/19/2013:

The president has now signed Executive Orders offering small but eminently supportable reforms. And Congress can and should pass an assault weapon ban and universal background checks for prospective gun purchasers. But these will not solve the problem. Nor will the rather bizarre proposals from gun advocates that we turn our schools into maximum security facilities with armed guards and kindergarten teachers carrying concealed weapons, or that we take a page from our "cold war" with the USSR allowing airline passengers to carry weapons thereby creating a "mutually assured destruction" stand-off on planes.

No, our problem is neither that our guns are too sophisticated for our own good or that we don't have enough of them. Our problem is simpler and deeper. It is our "gun culture" and guns, period. [my emphasis]
This is a more highbrow version of the NRA's diversionary approach. Look, over there! Video games!!

Not surprisingly, David "Bobo" Brooks also gets into the act. Bobo's having a big sad right now, because after four years of eagerly looking for Obama's Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to be enacted, he now concluding that it's "the end of the era of the Grand Bargain" (The Next Four Years 01/17/2013) He had been so looking forward to seeing starving grannies tossed out on the street!

Now, he's all worried that Obama and the Democrats might actually start seriously trying to enact a Democratic domestic agency. So he's reverting to good old conservative, "oh this big gubment stuff never works, you know." He applied that approach to gun regulation on his Political Wrap segment with Sleepy Mark Shields on the PBS Newshour 01/18/2013:

Neither Bobo nor half-asleep Mark mentioned the dramatically shifting polls on gun proliferation. But Bobo took a similar position to Zogby's:

I was surprised by the assault weapons part. I knew there would be the waiting list and some of the other things, the magazine stuff, but it was pretty comprehensive.

And it's worth pointing out that this was an issue that Democrats spent 10 years ignoring, and for good reasons -- or good political reasons, anyway, not good substantive reasons -- which was that it was seen as a cultural issue which alienated you from rural voters and it hurts Democrats -- or hurts Democrats who are in red states. ...

but, listen, I support the things, all the laws. If I were a member of the Congress, I would vote for it all. But the data is very problematic for the proponents.

We have had terrible research, in part because the NRA prevents good research. But the research we have doesn't suggest these things make a huge difference. We have had a big bill in '68. We had the Brady bill. We have had other bills. In general, when you look at the broad survey of the research, it is very hard to see big differences.

There are some areas where you do see differences. Some of the magazines do reduce en masse killing. But the level of murders, it doesn't really change much. Where I think it is most fertile to make progress, most gun violence is suicides. And if you could -- and a lot of those suicides are impulsive.

And if you can delay people's access to guns by a week, you really can do potentially some good in preventing some suicides, especially senior citizens. So I think there are some possibilities. The danger there, again -- and this is all problematic -- most people who kill themselves with guns do it with handguns, which are not really under discussion here.

And so the social science data, I think, is reasonably sound not that -- not that it doesn't work, but it doesn't work a lot.
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