Browsing the blog archives for December, 2012.


Random Thoughts on the 2nd Amendment

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Obama Administration

I have long thought that someday gun violence could create a backlash to 2nd Amendment absolutism and touch off a movement to amend the amendment. I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re going in that direction.

There is an understandable reluctance to mess with the Bill of Rights. Recent polls show somewhat more support for gun control than for gun rights, however. And as I wrote recently, the percentage of U.S. citizens who keep guns in their homes has been drifting downward for decades. If current trends continue, at some point a big enough majority will conclude that gun rights absolutism is a public menace that can no longer be tolerated.

Of course, current trends will not necessarily continue. If the gun rights absolutists had the sense God gave refrigerator mold they would get behind regulations that, say, limit magazine capacity and close the gun show loophole. That might appease enough of the public to at least postpone a day of reckoning, possibly indefinitely.

However, going by Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre performance yesterday, they don’t have that much sense.

What may be needed eventually is a constitutional amendment clarifying the 2nd. The current SCOTUS to the contrary, if one simply looks at the real history of guns in America, one sees that the notion that the 2nd prohibits government regulation of firearms is a relatively recent conceit, even for the NRA. See, for example, “The Secret History of Guns” by Adam Winkler. For more on how far the gun rights crowd has drifted from any original intention of the Constitution, see “So You Think You Know the Second Amendment?” by Jeffrey Toobin.

Sometimes clarification is needed. The 16th Amendment, for example, did not so much amend the Constitution as it did clarify that a tax on income in an indirect, not a direct, tax, and arguably it always was an indirect tax except that in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. (1895) a majority of justices said it wasn’t. And I’m saying the 2nd doesn’t have to be repealed, but it does need to be clarified so that the power of state and federal governments to regulate firearms is restored to what it used to be. A clarifying amendment couldn’t get ratified by enough states now, but I could see it happening in another generation or two.

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Apocalypse Now

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I hate to miss the Mayan Apocalypse, but there’s some nasty weather outside. I’ll catch it on teevee.

Anyhoo — I don’t know what went on in the House last night, but by all accounts it was a total GOP core reactor meltdown. You know it’s bad when even Jennifer Rubin realizes her guys are acting like petulant teenagers.

The consensus is that the failure of John Boehner’s “Plan B” means that Boehner has absolutely no leverage with which to make fiscal cliff deals with the White House.

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The Hick Fascists of the NRA and Obamacare

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I had forgotten that one of the compromises made to get the ACA passed was to stop physicians from keeping tabs on psychologically challenged people with guns. Via Joan McCarter, see “Gun Owner Rights and Obamacare – Yes It Is In The Law.” The author, Carolyn McClanahan, is a physician.

One of the best methods to defuse potential violence is heartfelt conversation. By openly questioning each other in a non-judgmental manner, we can often discover a person’s pain, motives, and ability to act. Unfortunately, the gun rights lobby, mostly funded by the National Rifle Association, has time and time again inserted their hand in attempting to shut down that conversation.

In the Affordable Care Act, the gun lobby’s section is in Title X, starting on page 2,037, line 23. “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights” contains five provisions mostly dedicated to shutting down conversation about guns in medicine. What do these sections contain?

You can read the article for details, but in a nutshell the provisions put restrictions on what a physician may ask a patient about firearm ownership, and it is unlawful for the physician to actually write in a patient’s files if the patient owns firearms.

In other words, the provisions make it all but impossible for the health care system to determine whether a depressed or agitated or even psychotic patient is a potential mass shooter.

And this brings us to “The NRA As Paranoia Vector & Neofeudalist Tool” by Annie Laurie. Annie Laurie links to Mark Ames, who is tracing the hick fascism (his phrase) of the NRA:

… Until now, I have largely avoided getting dragged down into the gun control debate, in part because gun proliferation doesn’t explain why “going postal” first exploded into the culture in the late 1980s, and has worked its way into the American DNA ever since. Gun control or lack thereof doesn’t explain why these kinds of rampage shootings only appeared in the late Reagan era and spread ever since then. And there must have been my own personal prejudices too — I grew up with guns, and despite a couple of bad episodes involving guns and a drunken violent stepfather, I have a reflexive contempt for people who haven’t gone shooting and tell you that gun control laws are the answer.

Well, guess what? Their knee-jerk solution is more right than mine.

Passing gun restrictions today probably wouldn’t do much to slow down rampage massacres, at least not for awhile — but the politics of sweeping gun control laws could have a huge transformative effect over time. It’s no longer possible for me to ignore that fact.

Which means it’s also no longer possible for me to ignore the National Rifle Association, and its hick fascism politics that’ve been poisoning our culture ever since the NRA’s infamous “coup” in 1977, when the NRA was taken over by far-right fanatics led by a convicted murderer and onetime US Border Guards chief named Harlon Carter — whose previous claim to fame was when he led a massive crackdown on Mexican immigrant laborers called “Operation Wetback.” …

What the establishment didn’t get about Harlon’s new souped-up NRA gun-cult until too late — in fact what most still don’t get — is that the more batshit disconnected from demonstrable reality your message is, the more fanatical and organized-for-war your organization will be. If you can get people to make that leap of faith —well, then you’ve got real power. Reagan understood that sort of power well: Pandering to the far-right John Birch Society cult won him California’s governor’s seat in 1966, and in 1980, he promised to implement Harlon Carter’s radical pro-gun agenda as soon as he took office. Unfortunately that pro-gun push got delayed by an assassination attempt on Reagan’s life, but nearly bleeding to death didn’t change Reagan’s mind (or what passed for Reagan’s mind)…
Back then, Merwin K Hart’s gun fanaticism was an ugly freakshow popping out of the political margins, but today it part of the landscape, and the only question is how can we get rid of it, rather than what’s it doing there in the first place.

Because it’s now so deeply ingrained that owning guns is a form of radical subversive politics, the people who still engage in real politics have the pick of the litter. That first became really clear in the depths of the 2008-9 collapse, when a lot of people who thought of themselves as radicals and anarchists made a lot of feckless noise about how they were arming and preparing for the collapse and revolution. They could’ve gone out and organized something and maybe built a politics of people power or even a politics of what they call revolution, a politics that actually changed things. But instead, they locked themselves in their homes and apartments with their guns and fancied themselves political revolutionaries just waiting to be swept up. But no one came. No one bothered or cared. And really, why would any plutocrat or evil government agency bother with the suckers, all harmlessly atomized and isolated and thoroughly neutralized by the false sense of political empowerment that their guns gave them, while you do the real work of plundering budgets, bribing politicians and writing laws even more in your favor?…

Regarding Reagan, Lawrence O’Donnell reminds us that Reagan supported the assault weapons ban passed in the early 1990s. See “Why I’m For the Brady Bill” by Ronald Reagan.

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Robert Bork, 1927-2012

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American History

Borked for the ages.

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Meanwhile, Back at the Fiscal Cliff Talks …

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This editorial in the New York Times explains the current state of the fiscal cliff talks pretty well, IMO. In a nutshell, the President offered to split the difference over tax rate increases, and called for raising tax rates on people making $400,000 instead of $250,000. He also proposed a lot of spending cuts, including a plan to change the way Social Security cost-of-living increases are calculated so that benefits won’t increase as much as in the past.

As I understand it, Social Security increases currently are increased according to the cost of goods and services paid by urban wage earners. If the price of steak goes up, the CPI goes up and Social Security goes up. But the proposed change assumes that people will stop buying as much steak and will opt for chicken instead, so that version of the CPI wouldn’t go up. I’m seeing a race to the bottom, from porterhouse to Purina.

But never fear: it looks like Boehner is rejecting this proposal, never mind a lot of congressional Democrats.

BTW, the story that the President was going to agree to an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility turned out to be wrong, as I suspected. I think it’s unlikely there’s going to be a deal at all.

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Freedom From Fear

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From the President’s remarks at the Newtown memorial:

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. …

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

I was thinking about FDR’s “four freedoms” recently. You really don’t hear much about them any more, other than in the context of Norman Rockwell’s iconic paintings of them. The painting for “freedom from fear” shows parents tucking a couple of children into bed.

There are those among us who appear to define “freedom” as “the ability to own and carry whatever firearm I please whenever I choose to do so.” Firmin Debrabander argues that guns makes us less free:

A favorite gun rights saying is “an armed society is a polite society.” If we allow ever more people to be armed, at any time, in any place, this will provide a powerful deterrent to potential criminals. Or if more citizens were armed — like principals and teachers in the classroom, for example — they could halt senseless shootings ahead of time, or at least early on, and save society a lot of heartache and bloodshed.

As ever more people are armed in public, however — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point.

Debrabander argues that the threat of violence, including the presence of guns, and genuine freedom cannot co-exist:

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

And the terrible irony is that possessing a lot of guns doesn’t seem to make anyone less fearful, any more than possessing a lot of money makes people less greedy. The gun hoarder may feel better prepared for whatever phantom menace he thinks threatens him, but the fear is still there.

Awhile back I wrote about the Six Realms, which is a six-part cosmology that can be interpreted as “realities” we create by our own psychological projections. The hallmark of the Animal Realm is to live in fear of being preyed upon. Animal Realm beings are repelled by anything new or unfamiliar. They are incurious and intolerant, and they are acutely uncomfortable in the company of anyone who doesn’t fit into “their” narrow little world. If you can put yourself into their place and imagine viewing the world and most “other” people as menacing and dangerous, you can sorta kinda understand how they think packing heat might make them more “free.” But most of the time what they really want is not to be left alone but to coerce the rest of the world to be like them — not “different” and scary.

And all the guns in the world won’t give them what they really want.

I believe it’s the case that perpetrators of mass atrocities are acting under the influence of some really twisted psychological pathologies and are not just your run-of-the-mill Animal Realm-dwelling Gun Nut. But the Animal Realm-dwelling Gun Nuts are enabling the mass murders.

One of the arguments about guns keeping us “free” is that we’re supposed to be prepared by overthrow government tyranny. Mistermix speaks to the absurdity of this idea:

The other piece of gun nut arrogance or craziness is the notion that guns are some sort of defense from the government. When I lived in a small college town, one of my friends was an Army ROTC instructor, who was an active duty Major in the Army. After the Oklahoma City bombings, we had a conversation about survivalist gun nuts. Before his ROTC posting, my friend had commanded a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. I remember him wondering what the fuck these nuts thought they were going to accomplish if they had a real skirmish with the Army. He knew what his unit could do, and he knew any band of civilian insurrectionists would be utterly destroyed by them. That’s such a completely obvious point, but apparently these idiots think there’s some kind of Red Dawn scenario where the largest military on earth wouldn’t roll over them if they have a couple of assault rifles in their flabby inexperienced hands.

Civil society cannot exist without a certain amount of trust. That doesn’t mean you don’t pass laws, hire police, and get receipts, but at some point you have to have some trust in the essential decency of most people, or civilization itself breaks down. Certainly democracy cannot function where people have no faith in it, which is to say faith in your fellow country-person, even if he/she is “different.”

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Not Going to End Well

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Yesterday I linked to an Ezra Klein post that included data showing the rate of firearm ownership in the U.S. has been declining over the past several years. Specifically, the data showed the percentage of Americans who kept guns in their homes, which is 20 to 30 percent lower than it was in 1960, depending on which poll you go by.

But Mark Follman writes that the number of guns in the U.S.has increased much more than population growth.

America has long been heavily armed relative to other societies, and our arsenal keeps growing. A precise count isn’t possible because most guns in the United States aren’t registered and the government has scant ability to track them, thanks to a legislative landscape shaped by powerful pro-gun groups such as the National Rifle Association. But through a combination of national surveys and manufacturing and sales data, we know that the increase in firearms has far outpaced population growth. In 1995 there were an estimated 200 million guns in private hands. Today, there are around 300 million—about a 50 percent jump. The US population, now over 314 million, grew by about 20 percent in that period. At this rate, there will be a gun for every man, woman, and child before the decade ends.

This suggests to me that all these guns are being hoarded by a shrinking percentage of U.S. citizens. And what sorts of people are these?

John Cole writes about being stationed in Kuwait after Desert Storm:

So why am I telling you this? Because in the middle of one of the most dangerous regions in the world, even with clear Rules of Engagement, every time I went on gate duty, there was a piece of tape over my ammo clip on my M-16 and M1911 .45. Why? Because the most heavily armed military in the world did not want accidental shootings. If a situation arose, I would have to eject my ammo clip, remove the tape, and reinsert and work the action before I could fire.

This was in a combat zone. Yet I have spent the last two fucking days dealing with armchair commandos telling me they need unlimited firepower to be safe in… Connecticut.

If there are bigger pussies in the world than gun nuts, I don’t know who the fuck they are.

So we have a minority of citizens who are paranoid and armed. And as the number of mass shootings escalates, they constitute a bigger threat to most of us than the threats the minority arm themselves against. Threats that mostly exist in their own heads, I might add.

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We’ve All Been Bullied Into Silence

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A few days ago, sportscaster Bob Costas touched off a firestorm by saying that maybe Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins would still be alive if handguns weren’t so easily available. Belcher was a starting linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs who had shot and killed Ms. Belcher, the mother of his child, and himself.

The Belcher-Perkins tragedy raised a lot of issues worthy of debate, including the possibility that Belcher’s behavior might have been caused by football-related brain injury. But there was no debate, because as soon as Costas spoke he was subjected to howling outrage from the Right for even suggesting that guns might be a problem.

According to the code of Conservative Political Correctness, gun control is not a fit subject for discussion, never mind action. Any public figure who dares bring up the subject is slammed with relentless vilification. And as many have noted, whenever anyone links gun control to a mass shooting incident, the entire Right-Wing Noise Machine goes into overdrive about “politicizing” a tragedy. Like what they’re doing isn’t politicizing a tragedy.

I don’t blame Democratic politicians for going silent on gun control, because right-wing craziness has brought about several threats to the future of the United States and its citizens. We have been forced to pick fights to win enough elections to gain, or maintain, seats in the Senate and House. We have, in effect, decided that issues like saving Medicare and getting out of Iraq take precedence over gun control. Being silent on gun control was the price of a Senate majority, allowing red-state Democrats like Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill to win elections.

The Right has done such an effective job of drowning out any attempt to discuss gun control publicly it’s probable most of the public doesn’t understand gun laws and the absurd degree to which Republican lawmakers have worked to make guns easily available to people who shouldn’t have them, including people on terrorist watch lists. For example, just yesterday Michigan passed a law that will allow concealed carry in places like schools, churches, day-care centers, sports arenas and stadiums, hospitals, bars, and college campuses. Great timing there, sports.

Ezra Klein published a post yesterday that exploded many beloved myths about guns, including the myth that widespread gun ownership somehow decreases gun violence. But this is not new; in the past I’ve linked to data showing a strong correlation between high rates of gun ownership and high rates of gun fatalities in the U.S. And “stand your ground” laws have led to an increase in homicides.

But even today, all over the Web you can find wingnuts opining that being slaughtered in schools, malls, movie theaters, or wherever is the price we pay for “freedom.” These people have a weird definition of “freedom.”

One encouraging bit of data in Ezra’s post is that the percentage of Americans who own guns actually is declining. And recent polls say that about 75 percent of Americans think there should be some restrictions on gun ownership, in spite of the fact that we’re not allowed to discuss gun control.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the last election was the uncompromising support for women’s reproductive rights voiced by Democrats. It hasn’t been that long since Dems were telling each other to not bring up abortion unless asked, and if asked just say it should be safe, legal and rare. We’ve also seen a swift shift in public opinion in favor of marriage equality.

This tells us that sometimes, things do change.

Even as we’re hearing the usual nonsense about how the teachers had been disarmed by “gun free zone” laws, and God has been taken out of classrooms (and I say Mike Huckabee’s god is a pathetic weenie who doesn’t deserve worship, anyway), maybe we’ve finally reached a tipping point at which the public has had it up to here with the bullies screaming at them to shut up about gun control.

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Because Freedom

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I was late learning about the shooting today. Right now all I want is for Wayne LaPierre to go to Newtown, Connecticut, and explain that 20 little children had to be sacrificed so that unglued whackjobs can have unfettered access to guns. Because freedom.

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Stuff to Read

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George Lakoff writes about Michigan’s new corporate servitude law.

Jonathan Chait writes that Republicans are like petulant math-impaired teenagers.

Greg Sargent asks how much longer Republicans can ignore public opinion.

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