What is a liberal? Fairness is my core value

Liberals should talk about our values. And we should start with fairness.

Equity is another word for fairness (image credit: King County)

Equity is another word for fairness (image credit: King County)

Over the last few years, I’ve read liberals saying that we need to talk about our values more openly, to own them, to assert that they are just as much American values as conservative values are. But I’ve never been comfortable talking about my values. Partly that’s because I’m an introvert. Partly because sharing such important stuff about myself feels a bit like everyone’s nightmare of showing up to give a presentation and realizing you’re naked before the crowd. And partly it’s because some of my values have shifted over the years as I’ve matured and experienced more of life, and I’m sure that some of them will shift again in the future.

But since Donald’s election I’ve been thinking about my values a lot. I’ve already chosen to fight for my values via my writing, and I’m prepared to fight for my values by putting my personal safety on the line if need be. So I figured that, if I’m going to be willing to risk my career or my physical well-being, I’d better be damned sure I know what my values are.

After a great deal of thought, I’ve finally realized what my core value is. The one value that matters more to me than any other. The one value against which all my other values are weighed, and from which most of my values spring. The one value with which I weigh the character of everyone I encounter.

Fairness. Continue reading

The Second Amendment is not a blank check to own every weapon imaginable

Do you agree with the majority of Americans that gun control is both right and appropriate?

U.S. Marines fire an MK19-3 40 mm grenade machine gun at Range K-211 during weapons training in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., June 6, 2008. The Marines are assigned to Charlie Company, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-East. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Maxton G. Musselman/Released)

U.S. Marines fire an MK19-3 40 mm grenade machine gun at Range K-211 during weapons training in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., June 6, 2008. The Marines are assigned to Charlie Company, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-East. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Maxton G. Musselman/Released)

Consider, if you will, the following list:

  • switchblade
  • tactical knife
  • rapier
  • saber
  • katana
  • M1917 revolver
  • Saturday Night Special
  • M1911 semi-automatic pistol
  • 3D printed plastic pistol
  • M1 Garand 30-06 rifle
  • Remington 870 shotgun
  • AR-15
  • HK CAWS automatic shotgun
  • M16A4 assault rifle
  • C4 explosive
  • hand grenade
  • Continue reading

To reduce gun violence, make gun owners and sellers liable for violence committed with their guns

GunShowLet me start this post with an admission. If I had the power, I’d happily ban assault weapons completely. I’d also round up the majority of assault-style weapons presently in circulation and destroy them, along with any magazine larger than about five rounds (if you need more than that for hunting, you’re doing it wrong). I think they’re disgusting and useful for only one thing – killing other human beings – and that every argument in favor of owning assault-style weapons (they’re safer, they’re lighter, and they’re great for varmint hunting are a few of the ones I’ve seen offered since Orlando) is bullshit. The fact that AR-15 style weapons were renamed “modern sport rifles” specifically to circumvent the original assault weapon ban tells me that even the gun makers know that they’re selling assault weapons, not hunting rifles. I’ll probably vote to support a ban in the future, and this is one of the many issues on which I grade candidates when I vote. I suspect that many folks reading this are probably very happy that I don’t have this power.

However, I recognize that a ban may not be politically feasible at this time, and even a ban won’t fix everything. Gun crimes, even mass shootings, would still occur- the murderers would simply buy their weapons from the black market or steal them. But there is something that would help reduce the number of deaths due to guns overall, not just gun crimes. Suicides, accidental discharges, and crimes all would be reduced by what I’m about to propose:

Make gun sellers and owners criminally liable for gun crimes committed using their weapons. Continue reading

Reducing Newtown to “little convenient massacre” proves inconvenient for conservative NY Post commentator

On Monday, New York Post columnist Fredric Dicker made one of those huge gaffes for which conservatives are famous. Rival New York Daily News reports:

The remark came while Dicker was discussing Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State address [on an Albany talk-radio show]. The subject turned to the governor’s SAFE Act gun-control legislation, passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

“That was his anti-gun legislation, which he had promised not to do, but then he had a little convenient massacre that went on in Newtown, Conn., and all of a sudden there was an opportunity for him,” Dicker said. Continue reading

“Open carry” could be the best friend gun control ever had

Far from reassuring the public, open carry ― the right to carry unconcealed weapons ― just might scare Americans more than crime itself.

Image Wikimedia Commons

Image Wikimedia Commons

As you’ve no doubt heard, the latest preoccupation of gun rights advocates is “open carry.” That’s right: just like the Old West (or current Afghanistan or other dys- and barely functional states). At Salon, Matt Valentine writes:

In Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, gun rights activists have been staging protests, demanding broader liberty to display their guns in public rather than keep them concealed under clothing. Major candidates in statewide elections have voiced support for open carry, asserting that the conspicuous display of firepower will deter crime.

… In an online list of goals, the open carry activists at Come and Take It America say they want “to condition Americans to feel safe around those of us that carry [guns].” Continue reading

I hate handguns, but I have still considered owning one

On my way into work this morning I was listening to an NPR story about how there’s now an ammunition shortage because Americans are stockpiling it. Many are afraid that the government will be taking away the right to own guns, or certain types of guns, or certain types of ammunition, or they’re convinced that an armed rebellion against the government will be necessary soon, and so they’re buying ammunition left and right. The story reminded me of the reason why I might be willing to learn how to use and own a handgun.

I might need one to protect myself from the kind of people who stockpile ammunition and think that they might need to overthrow the government.

I hate handguns. With vanishingly few exceptions they exist for one purpose – killing people. And they’re very good at fulfilling that purpose in the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, and poorly-trained private citizens. I think handguns and ammunition should be regulated and taxed so extensively that they’re too expensive to own and operate even for most criminals. I think that everyone who wants to own one should be licensed, both to ensure that he or she knows how to properly carry, wield, clean, and store their deadly weapon and to ensure that criminals and the mentally ill can’t get their hands on one. And I think that owners should be held criminally liable for the actions of anyone else who uses the handgun except under a very small set of exceptions (shooting ranges and self-protection).

But even with all that said, I no longer think that they should be banned outright like I once did. While I firmly believe that most people are better off learning some basic unarmed self-defense techniques than relying on a weapon, that doesn’t work for everyone or in every situation. So I appreciate that people should be allowed to own and carry handguns, albeit under the restrictions I mentioned above.

I also used to be afraid of handguns, or more specifically what I would do with one. I used to fear that having that kind of easy life-and-death power in my hand would be too likely to turn me into a monster. But that fear was burned out of me when, in November 2010, I briefly considered owning one myself.

There’s nothing like cognitive dissonance to clarify what you really believe, and in this case I came to the realization that as much as I hate handguns, owning one wouldn’t turn me into a monster any more than owning a sword or knowing how to kill someone with my bare hands would.

The NPR story today reminded me of what it was in November 2010 that got me to this point. It was the fact that my fellow Americans voted so many Tea Party politicians into Congress. I’m not afraid that the government is going to come and get me. But I don’t trust the significant percentage of the American population who are apparently terrified of the government. Terrified people tend to make really, really bad choices. And form mobs. And there’s not a self-defense technique that exists that can save me or my family from a terrified mob armed with handguns.

I’m not sure that owning and wielding a handgun myself would protect me and my family from a mob either, for that matter, which is one small part of why I still don’t own a handgun.

Every time I hear about how my fellow Americans are stockpiling ammo because they’re terrified the government will come and take their guns away, I think about owning a handgun again. Every time I read about how 29% of my fellow Americans think an armed rebellion may be necessary in the next four years, I think about owning a handgun again. Every time I read about how Republican Congresscritters killed sensible federal gun safety bills in Congress that the vast majority of my fellow Americans supported, I think about owning a handgun again.

I truly hope to never own a handgun. But if I do, it won’t be because I’m afraid of my government. It’ll be because I no longer trust too many of my fellow Americans.

The Senate gun control vote reveals our lizard overlords

sandyhookA few nights ago there was a segment on NPR about the demise of the most recent, tepid gun control legislation. The host had the standard breadth of guests to discuss this issue, and the portion i heard focused on how a relatively innocuous measure like universal background checks could fail. The host pointed out that recent polling showed support for universal background checks at more than 90%, with even something like 88% of gun owners in favor. She asked her guests how the Senate could ignore what clearly seems to be the will of the people. Right. That’s a stupid question, but the answers were still interesting.

Both guests explained that even though politicians look at the polls, on issues like gun control they factor in the ability of interest groups – especially single issue interest groups – to wield a congressional vote against them through fear-based advertising and voter mobilization. In this case it was suggested that the NRA and like-minded groups would take a vote for universal background checks and use it to stoke fear among a subsection of voters. “Universal background checks are the first step in a string of government actions to register and confiscate all the guns.” That sort of thing. There was general agreement among the guests that politicians look at issues like this and make the decision based on their personal, political future. Vote for universal background checks on gun sales and you probably lose your next election, even in a gerrymandered and protected seat.

It’s no surprise, but it’s still disheartening. All these people who’ve been told by God to run for office for the greater good of America, and it turns out that the Lord is only concerned with their career and the greater good of America is the same as their professional advancement. A career in politics is creepy. Imagine the type of person who pursues a career in politics. Or just turn on CSPAN. Any questions about why we live in a politically dysfunctional country?

These men and women aren’t concerned with doing what’s best for the you, me, or the nation as a whole. They’re not looking at the medium or long-term future of the country. They’re concerned about their career and their next promotion. They need the corporate donations and the good favor of the special interests groups. Our votes are an unfortunate requirement on the path to their greater good.

No, it doesn’t matter which party the politicians you like more belong to. There may be a few exceptions to this that prove the rule, but you didn’t see Obama go out on any limbs during his first term to do what’s right even if it cost him reelection. And you won’t see him do it now, even with no possibility for reelection because the political career is wedded to the flow of money into politics. Clinton became a rich man after his presidency, mostly from the special interests he helped to the detriment of the nation he supposedly represented. That’s Obama’s next step. I’ve heard long-serving Representatives after retirement talk about their move to lobbying and plainly say that it’s now time to make some real money.

We’re cooked, America. We’ve put people with the temperament of used care salesmen into power and allowed them to believe that what’s best for them personally is best for the nation. So while it sounds funny that something like 4% of Americans believe the country is run by lizard people, the fact of the matter is that the country is run by people who only use their lizard brain.

Inconceivable: civil gun control debate – does gibberish trump reality?

Andre the Giant Posse decal

“I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Fezzik, in The Princess Bride

In response to my recent post, President Obama expresses optimism: now in super-sized gibberish, my friend, mentor, fellow Scrogue (and Executive Editor), and all around swell guy, Sam Smith, had this to say:

Come on, Frank. Sometimes we simply misspeak. You’re going to let that, in a case where you know the man knows what he’s talking about (you think he came from Chicago’s south side without knowing a little about guns?) trump the reality of what we know about our society’s gun situation? I like my leaders to be articulate, too. I think I proved that from 2000-2008. And I don’t want government acting out of ignorance. But, not to put too fine a point on it, there’s a difference between making a typo and not knowing how to spell potato.

I tried like hell to reply in brief, but I just could not do it. When someone of Sam’s intellect and formidable wordsmithery weaves such a wonderfully complex statement, one steps into that minefield either with great caution or a short lifespan. As I have yet to develop the talent of pithy caution, I find myself yielding to the temptation of yet another epic post (by modern blogging standards).

Sam, you are the master of brevity. So many points demanding a response in so few words! I do hope you’ll accept this rebuttal in the respectful spirit in which I offer it.

Did the president misspeak?
Do I know the man knows what he’s talking about?
Did President Obama learn about guns by osmosis?
Do we agree on what the reality of America’s gun situation is?
Am I going to let a misspeak trump said reality?

Sometimes we misspeak. Yes, we do. Maybe he did. The best evidence I can find is that in the past he has referenced “high capacity clips,” which may or may not indicate a solid understanding of their function since, after all, in the CBS interview he goes on to suggest, in the same breath, that magazines fire off rounds. If we had magazines like that, we wouldn’t need guns 😉

Obama to NBC’s David Gregory: I Support High Capacity Clip Bans

In any event, misspoken or otherwise, his emphasis is on the volume of ammunition discharged from some device or other. As I note at the end of my “gibberish” post, the difference between volume discharged using either 30-round or 10-round magazines is effectively negligible*. At best, a ban on 30-round magazines is just an arbitrary and capricious regulation that would, in part, satisfy left wing fear mongers, rile right wing fear mongers, and ultimately make no difference in public safety. At worst, such a ban is just an arbitrary and capricious political stunt that not only resolves nothing about public safety but also dangerously furthers the pretense that rights, misunderstood or otherwise, can be justly restricted or infringed on the basis of little more than vehement sentiment, all with the intent to shore up fellow Democrat reelection potential (yes, I’m a mind-reader…it’s a trick possessed by all the best cynics). If such restrictions could be accomplished in the public interest without qualifying as infringement, I have grave reservations that the president that presides over a pile of issues like signature drone strikes, secret kills lists, assassination of US citizens, abridgment of due process, indefinite detention, and a system of justice that recognizes two different standards of law depending on one’s wealth is the one to achieve that balance.

* I’m still waiting for a couple grand in funding for my proposed live-fire test.  The rifle I can borrow, but none of my “gun nut” friends actually happen to have a sufficient number of magazines or the needed web gear or other accessories necessary to safely replicate the act of a psycho shooting hundreds of rounds in a few minutes.  Go figure.  They also won’t just give me nearly $1,000 worth of ammo.  Cheap bastards.

One thing both parties have in common: wimping out on tough votes

I have my doubts that any real and meaningful gun control legislation will actually make it to his desk, but this kind of sloppy fear-mongering speech is perfectly suited to a Dem GOTV effort when the time comes. As such, I honestly doubt that he cares whether or not he meant “high clip clip,” “high magazine magazine,” or “high-capacity clip/magazine.” The effect is the same. As a friend rephrased his “misspeak,”

I think it’s an issue of bamboozlery by jargon-fu: “More goodness! Less badness! Ban the Wand of Random Slayings, for it is witchery!”

I know the man knows what he’s talking about. I know no such thing. He’s never served in the military or on a police force, and is alleged to “do skeet shooting all the time.” Never mind that skeet shooting is a shotgun sport and has zero relevance to an understanding of semi-automatic rifles and/or the magazines used with them.

The White House’s curious silence about Obama’s claim of skeet shooting

Did President Obama learn about guns by osmosis? With no evidence of which I am aware that he has a history of owning or using firearms in any capacity, how would he know a little about guns by virtue of coming from Chicago’s South Side? Since I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have exactly zero racist bones in your body, I know you’re not suggesting that our black president picked it up by virtue of his presence in an area with a 93% African American population.  Maybe he learned it from the criminal element in Roseland during his community organizer days?  Or maybe he favored more well-to-do haunts in South Side and learned about guns, especially semi-automatic rifles, from those who would advocate for their use in self-defense, given the lay of the land? I think we can agree all of those propositions are preposterous. I know that in my case, it took training to effectively take down, clean, maintain, and operate an M-16, an M-60, an M-203, and 81mm and 60mm mortars, as well as countless hours memorizing details from my Blue Book. The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters, Drill Sergeant! Nothing about being in their proximity conveyed diddly squat to my knowledge. Maybe he’s different.

Do we agree on what the reality of America’s gun situation is? You ask if I’m going to let “that” (your antecedent: “misspeak,” my antecedent: “his exact gibberish, as spoken”) trump some form of reality, particularly the “reality of what we know about our society’s gun situation.”

First, you’re good. Very, very good. Bring ‘em on board with “we” speech 🙂 It would be very easy to step on that mine. Unfortunately, I don’t know that I am part of that collective pronoun in this case (an unusual occurrence between us). Never mind the epistemological skepticism I bring to the table about knowledge and the known. Like Socrates, I know that I know nothing.  Like Rachel Maddow, I am fascinated when different parties look at the same body of information and derive entirely different conclusions.

Here’s some snapshots of the reality I see:

~45 million US households with guns (taking the low estimate)
~260 million guns

How many gun owners are there in the United States of America?

We don’t actually know how many gun owners there are.

Gun rhetoric vs. gun facts

For ease and convenience, let’s just say that’s 45 million owners, averaging 6 firearms per person (even though, in all reality, the number of owners is going to be higher, yielding a lower average number of guns owned per owner).

~1.5 million “assault weapons”

How many assault weapons are there in America?

For the sake of argument, let’s maximize the number of “assault weapons” (and skip what the hell that phrase even means, since I think it signifies nothing more than “looks scary”) owners by assuming each owner only owns one (that’s one ugly alliteration). That would be one “assault weapon” for every 30 owners of firearms (even though the reality is that some folks own more than one, the ratio stays the same). That would be 3.33% of firearm owners owning “assault weapons,” although that percentage would actually be lower if we accounted for owners owning more than one.

Number of firearm homicides in 2010: 11,078

CDC FastStats: Assault or homicide?

For the sake of laziness and lack of data, let’s just assume that to be typical of any given year, even though Gun rhetoric vs. gun facts  indicates otherwise. After all, 2010 firearm homicides were at the lowest rate they have been since at least 1981. Let’s maximize murderers by assuming one murder per murderer. Let’s even assume that every single one used an “assault weapon,” even though there’s nothing to suggest that is the case. We’ll completely ignore minor quibbles like type of homicide (first degree, 2nd, etc.), convictions, and the assumption that over time, some percentage, however small, would be overturned on appeal, or, counter to the gun control cause, were actually part of legitimate self-defense.

Murderers as a percentage of firearm owners: 0.02% (or 2 out of every 10,000)
Murderers as a percentage of “assault weapon” owners: 0.74% (about 7.5 per 1,000)

Now, since mass shootings are the particular type of murder that triggered this latest round of gun control frenzy, let’s take a look at some relevant numbers (read: not from the dishonest Brady Campaign, which inflates the number of school shootings, rather casting their track record for fact-based advocacy into doubt).

Number of mass murders since 1982: at least 61

A guide to mass shootings in America

If the percentages were paltry in the first examples, prepare your mind for some extra zeroes.

For the sake of maximizing the fear factor here, let’s assume each of 61 mass murders had two shooters. That would give us 122 mass murderers. Never mind that MoJo indicates that only 2 mass shootings involved 2 shooters. We’re going for fear here. Correct down if you like extra zeros.

Percentage of gun owners that mass murder: 0.0003% (rounded up!), or, in other words, 3 per million.

No, let’s have those extra zeroes, after all.  63 shooters in mass shootings is 0.00014% (1.4 per million) of the low-end estimate of 45 million gun owners.  Okay, no extra zeroes, but there’s an extra significant digit to make the point.  If we go with the high estimate of 80 million gun owners, we get that extra zero: 0.00007875% (7.8 per 10 million).

If we go even further into scary territory and assume that in every one of these cases a scary looking an “assault weapon” was used by the mass murderers (actually, only 35 according to MoJo), we’re talking about a much *ahem* bigger percentage…0.008% (or 8 per 100,000).

That’s as bad as I can make the numbers look. My apologies to those with parenting, or at very least, more sympathetic sensitivities that I lack, but when it comes to governance, I’m more concerned with populations over time (however sloppily) than I am with specific children of specific individuals. The degree of tragedy involved is not diminished one iota, but I feel that the policy ramifications are entirely different once we get away from the emotional appeal baggage implicit in the catch phrase, “what about the children?”  Seriously, doctors are more dangerous by the numbers (logical fallacy and apples to oranges, free of charge).  Actually seriously, if the goal is to protect the lives of children and the quality of those lives, there are probably more efficient and effective means of effecting that change than by way of gun control legislation founded in specious reasoning, just as pro-lifers would actually prevent more abortions by supporting reproductive rights.  Pity we won’t get the right wing on board with either of those proposals.  Why does the GOP hate children? I digress.  Or do I?

Another part of the reality I see is that, compared to a great many things that get compared to guns when it comes to control, gun rights have this perverse uniqueness: the inclusion of the word infringed (as in, “shall not be”) in an amendment to our constitution.  It is unlike driving a car.  Freedom of movement is guaranteed, but not the means of conveyance.  It is unlike voting, which, while it should not be infringed, started out that way and only progressively became less so.  It is unlike assembly, which doesn’t have that stipulation and gets infringed far too commonly.  It’s not like speech, for if it were, it would be regulated similarly, meaning that there would be no presumption of motive or guilt beforehand and damages would only be assessed when damage occurs.  If it’s like any other right, it’s like that of freedom of/from religion insofar as our federal government can’t seem to help overstepping its bounds, else we wouldn’t have tax laws respecting religious establishments.  If anything, by this stretch of my reasoning, the government would only be able to legislate to expand gun rights insofar as there’s no restriction on making laws respecting them, only on infringement.

Sadly, when I see the Second Amendment being discussed, I see all manner of gross oversimplification, misunderstanding, and assumption of understanding across the spectrum. I make no claims to fully understanding it, which, humility be damned, is perhaps the most honest thing I’ve seen in print about it.

There’s an historical context for the inclusion of this amendment that gets ignored.

The heritage of our right to bear arms

Let the ad hominem commence! Not from you, naturally, but surely someone who bothers to read this far will shout, “Stearns!? You’ve gotta be shittin’ me!” I’ve not yet read the sources cited in this document, much less checked my understanding of them against that of modern historians of differing persuasions, so I cannot vouch for the soundness of the reasoning. On the other hand, a) I don’t know anyone else who has, and b) I haven’t seen this historical account debunked.  To my perhaps ill-informed eyes, Stearns’ article makes a compelling case. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  If anyone can point me to a well-established source to the contrary, I would greatly appreciate it.

There’s that wee matter of awkward syntax in the amendment, of which it’s possible the Justices that decided District of Columbia v. Heller made a complete hash. For better and worse, that hash is now precedent.

There’s the militia clause hole in the amendment, big enough to drive an APC through, that, were the apparently typical (squeaky wheels, and all that) arms-bearing advocate to pay attention, would probably spook them if they looked too closely…that even if we buy their reasoning in bulk, there’s the little matter of them being held accountable to the states, meaning no right to act on their own as a “militia” without orders to do so by a chain of command established by the state. So much for justified insurrection without an order from the governor. Sorry, Ted.

There’s the recent bit of history making the rounds that the second amendment was only included in order to appease those worried that the feds were going to make keeping slaves really damned difficult by screwing with their slave patrols.

The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery

Without having yet read Madison’s proceedings of the US Constitutional Convention, much less the ratification convention proceedings for all thirteen colonies, I am not yet well-informed enough to know whether or not the reasoning presented by Thom Hartmann is actually sound.

All of which is to say, complexity, complexity, complexity! And the reality I’m to see is that mass murders are sufficient reason to skip all the complexity and move to gun control because reality.

I don’t see that. I see that something awful happens, 61 times since ‘82 or 11,000 times per year, but that its done by percentages of the population that, in other contexts, I believe many would agree are negligible. 3 people out of every million did a thing! One “blanker” out of 12,500 “blankers” did a thing! Now let’s rush to monkey with the codification of our rights, however poorly understood it is by the masses, which necessitates that opposite ends of the punditry spectrum will engage in the rashest, ugliest emotional appeals to win the day via “politics by high school popularity contest” reasoning.

Something tells me that’s a somewhat different view of the same set of facts, and maybe even a different subset of the facts, than the one you are using. For the moment we appear to not share in a consensus reality.  To be fair, I’m sure I haven’t done justice to your position, but I look forward to you setting that record straight.

This many words in, the long and short of it is this, as far as I’m concerned. Either President Obama does not know what he’s saying, which would explain his lack of fluency in the terminology, in which case he’s a sorry advocate for any position on it, except for that bit about him occupying the biggest bully pulpit in the nation, or he does know and, even without misspeaking, is making the case for infringing on a right using tragedy as a platform in aid of advancing what, exactly? Oh, in part, a pointless limitation on magazine capacity that does nothing, ultimately, to address the number of rounds sent downrange unless, and that’s the key, unless the argument is then necessarily driven to include consideration of not only so-called “assault weapons” but any and all semi-automatic firearms. Otherwise capacity is really just a moot point.  Far more likely, in my estimation, is that he’s just wasting his political capital on go-nowhere legislation in order to score political points for his party and/or distract us from other issues, like maybe failure to see to the prosecution of bank fraud, or maybe CIA drone ops, or maybe something leading up to Syria or Iran, or maybe some presidential intuition that Dow at 14,000 is a bubble ripe for bursting hot on the heels of a retracting economy and lousy job numbers.

I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable enough with our constitution for, among other reasons, the ones I’ve seen summarized from Founding Finance by William Hogeland  (dammit fellow nameless Scrogue, write that shit up! 😉 ) that I don’t want to exacerbate the problem by tinkering with it on anything but the soundest of bases. Infringing on the “rights,” so-called or otherwise, of tens of millions of people because a relative handful of people are sick and/or evil will do nothing to resolve much bigger, more pervasive social issues than x number of dead children, however awful the immediate circumstances.

Am I going to let a misspeak trump reality? No, but that depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.

Afterword: One point I failed to address in our apparently different views of reality was my usual “because tyranny” position, as I thought it lacked relevance in the flow of my argument. Even so, I still think this bears pointing out. Time and again I see the response to “gun nuts,” when the “because tyranny” case is raised by the “usual” arms-bearing advocate, take the form of, “lol, you idiot, like you could stop the US military.” I find such a view tremendously short-sighted. When I speak of resisting tyranny, I don’t mean as presented by any form of our government as it’s currently recognized by anyone, least of all a tyranny at the hands of King Seekrit Mooslim Kenyan Hussain Obama (as our more benighted citizens would have it). However, if history is any guide (see: Why Nations Fail, below), nations do occasionally fail for a host of complex reasons, thus the probability that our own may fail one day is greater than 0%. Should that happen, and likely enough *knock on wood* not in our lifetimes, something will fill the void. That something may well be tyrannical in form. If so, what passes for the left at that time will probably wish it had retained the most generous interpretation of the right to keep and bear arms, especially if that new, non-US tyranny should take shape from religious extremists or corporatists champing at the bit to turn their most Dickensian fantasies into reality.

Note: Thanks to wufnik for the recommended reading, Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson. By all means, read wufnik’s review  and follow-up, then read the book, consider criticisms of the work, and proceed cautiously.  I’ve read it and cannot recommend it highly enough, errors and all, although I could never do it the justice wufnik rendered.


Image credit: Photo of Andre the Giant Posse decal by John W. Schulze, licensed under Creative Commons.

President Obama expresses optimism: now in super-sized gibberish

‎”…when it’s that easy to get these high clip magazines that can fire off hundreds of shots in a few minutes…”


In a nutshell, this is why I remain opposed to gun control at this time. When the political leaders that advocate for it cannot even address the subject intelligibly, this is not the time to have that debate. I don’t care that one can read between the lines to see what he’s trying to get at. The fact is, that string of words is gibberish.

“High clip magazine” WTF?

“[T]hat can fire off”… What? No, sorry. The magazine doesn’t fire.

And no, I don’t think I’m splitting hairs. If there is a legitimate argument to be made for a restriction on high-capacity magazines, then it needs to be made intelligently. Full stop. Less than that, and what we are witnessing is more loaded speech and rank emotional appeal. FEAR THE HIGH CLIP MAGAZINE THAT FIRES HUNDREDS OF ROUNDS IN A FEW MINUTES.

FWIW, if I’m not trying to hit a particular target (read: just spraying ammo downrange willy-nilly), about the fastest I could go would be 100 rounds in 1 minute if I were using 30-round magazines, allowing for very fast changes of magazines and chambering the first rounds of the new ones.

How many rounds could I fire using 10-round magazines (again, assuming *very* fast magazine changes)? 80. This I have tested by simply going through the motions, which assumes zero fumbling with ejecting a spent mag, zero fumbling getting a fresh mag out of a pouch, zero fumbling with inserting the fresh mag, and zero issues with jams, i.e., an absolutely ideal use of a semi-auto rifle.

Not only would the actual numbers be lower once ideal/imaginary circumstances are replaced with reality, note the degree of rank emotional appeal.  In a “few minutes,” one could still fire off hundreds of rounds with 10-round magazines, ergo, the argument is *not* about magazine capacity. It’s rank politics, pure and simple.

If anyone cares to fund the expense of hundreds of rounds of ammo, a dozen 30-round mags, 36 10-round mags, and suitable web gear/pouches, I’d be more than happy to test this count in real life, using a real weapon, and post the results as a video.

Note: It should be abundantly clear to the astute (and regular) reader that my opinion on the subject of gun control diverges rather significantly from that of many, if not all, of my fellow Scrogues.

Defending slavery with the Second Amendment

The pivotal question of why the Bill of Rights includes the Second Amendment is one of those fun, Constitutional arguments that anyone can interpret. We most often get treated to an armed population being the last defense against tyranny as the sound, and forward looking theory behind the amendment. This argument presupposes certain aspects of the Framers’ philosophy which we are generally quite certain was centered on freedom and democracy. Except that it probably wasn’t and there’s very little in the Constitution to suggest that it was. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson didn’t want you to be able to defend yourself against the US Government. After all, nobody raised much of a stink when Washington sent the army to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion, a popular rebellion trying to stop Big Government from taxing small businessmen into oblivion. So if the favored reasoning for the Second Amendment wasn’t even operative within the first eight years of the Constitution’s reign, what other reasons might have prompted its inclusion?

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Is Israel proof that an armed society can work?

The burden is on those of us who advocate gun control to prove that deterrence doesn’t work with firearms.

At the Tablet on December 17, Lial Lebovitz attempts to explain (in a piece titled) Why Israel Has No Newtowns. First, he notes that, in the United States

… astute thinkers tried to look past their indignation and heartbreak in search of sensible policy alternatives. Not surprisingly, they often ended up looking to Israel. … A popular statistic spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter: Only 58 Israelis were killed by guns last year, compared with 10,728 Americans. … Assault rifles are banned, registration is necessary, and a whole system of checks and requirements is in place to keep weapons out of the wrong hands.

But, Lebovitz points out that, while assault rifles are banned in Israel, it’s surprisingly easy to obtain a handgun. (In particular, note what I’ve italicized.)

Security guards, obviously, are permitted their guns, but so are men and women who work in the diamond industry, or who handle valuable goods or large sums of cash. Anyone who lives or works in an “entitled residency”—code for a high-risk area, meaning the settlements—is permitted a weapon, no questions asked. Retired army officers can easily obtain a license, as can anyone who has inherited a gun from a friend or a relative. [Bad pun alert. — RW]  The upshot: Anyone can come up with an excuse to legally own a gun.

“How, then,” Lebovitz asks, “to explain Israel’s relatively low rate of gun-related deaths?” His argument now becomes familiar. He quotes Lior Nedivi, who he describes as an “an independent firearms examiner in Jerusalem and the co-author of a comprehensive report comparing Israel’s gun laws and culture to that of the United States.”

“An armed society,” Nedivi wrote, quoting the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, “is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

Lebovitz adds:

When everyone has a gun, guns are no longer seen as talismans by weak, frightened, and unstable men seeking a sense of self-validation, but as killing machines that are to be handled with the utmost caution and care.

He fails to explain, though, exactly why said “weak, frightened, and unstable men” no longer turn to guns for “a sense of self-validation.” What follows is equally familiar.

… ever more stringent gun control is bad policy: As is the case with drugs, as was the case with liquor during Prohibition, the strict banning of anything does little but push the market underground into the hands of criminals and thugs. Rather than spend fortunes and ruin lives in a futile attempt to eradicate every last trigger in America, we would do well to follow Israel’s example and educate gun owners about their rights and responsibilities, so as to foster a culture of sensible and mindful gun ownership.

It’s the old deterrence argument. When applied to nuclear weapons, those of us in the disarmament community know that deterrence is, at best, a short-term solution. In fact, it’s the epitome of a fragile peace. But, I’m forced to admit that the implications for an armed civil society are not nearly as dire, since one mistake won’t result in the destruction of large portions of the world, as with nuclear weapons. Neither is civil war in the United States, Israel, or Switzerland (another heavily armed society) likely. Thus, it’s left to those of us in favor of steeper gun regulation to present arguments and data refuting the belief that gun possession is an effective form of deterrence.

In the interim, though, it’s difficult to disagree with what Jill Lepore wrote in her outstanding April 2012 New Yorker article on the history of gun control in the United States.

When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

After protest, NRA advocates for speech control

by Christopher Griesedieck

(WASHINGTON, DC) “In the wake of this great national tragedy, the National Rifle Association mourns with the victims,” announced NRA President Buck Donalds at a press conference today following yet another massive protest in favor of tougher legislation on firearms.

“We certainly want the community to have space and time to mourn, and are sympathetic to calls to avoid ‘politicizing the issue’ too soon. However, the NRA feels that now is the time for action. Now is the time for conversation about serious speech control legislation to curtail irresponsible use of these oral weapons that can only serve to harm the gun-owners of America.”

Donalds noted that the Supreme Court, while it has long recognized Congress’ ability to restrict 1st Amendment speech rights with regards to time, place, and manner, has generally banned speech controls based on subject matter or content.

“It is time for the President of the United States to stand up, and close the gaping ‘subject matter’ loophole that subjects millions of gun-owners to violence every day in this country. Well, metaphorical violence.”

Donalds expressed frustration that neither candidate in the recent presidential election indicated any will to stop the rampant speech culture that threatens America’s firearms enthusiasts. He went on to address Constitutional concerns of speech advocates.

“We are fully cognizant of the Constitution’s general protection of the right to arm oneself with words in order to protect against tyranny, but our country’s founders could never have foreseen the prevalence of vitriolic anti-gun speech that we have today.

“When protesters this week pronounced that, both in the United States and across high-income nations, gun availability increases the risk of homicide, or that guns are used far more often to intimidate than in self-defense…I mean, what more evidence do you need that things have gotten out of hand?”

Donalds concluded his remarks by announcing that a free handgun was underneath the seats of everyone present at the meeting.

Please note: the foregoing passage was satirical, and not in any sense a real news report. If you did not catch that, please pause and reflect on the many ways in which you have let yourself down.


Chris Griesedieck is currently in his first year at the Georgetown University Law Center. He graduated from Boston College in 2011.

Deconstructing the NRA response to Sandy Hook

Every good recipe for deception begins with an ounce of truth.

Whoever is managing the current public relations crisis facing the National Rifle Association clearly understands this fundamental principle. In the days since the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, the NRA has offered a textbook execution of the crisis communication playbook, employing everything from ducking out of sight for a few days to clever messaging strategy to an attempt to throttle the public profile of media coverage through timing tactics that are as cynical as they are traditional. My former colleague Patrick Veccio, who spent a lot of years in the newsroom watching how PR firms attempted to play the press, explains that last part:

Public relations professionals, press agents and political spokespersons try to avoid announcing bad news until late afternoon Fridays. They hope the bad news will be less apt to get attention or generate discussion over the weekend. They hope by Monday, the story will be running out of legs because the weekend has defused it.

After a week of silence, LaPierre and the NRA knew they had to say something before gun control advocates took ownership of the discussion about preventing another Sandy Hook slaughter. No matter when the NRA brass crawled out of their spider hole, they were going to have to face the blinding media light.

Obviously, the “quiet until late Friday” trick was doomed. The delay in answering questions until Monday, though, is a deliberate move. Monday is Christmas Eve. Tuesday is Christmas. LaPierre and Keene hope the weekend and the holidays will give them time to regroup and mitigate the damage from LaPierre’s ranting.

The NRA obviously hoped that by the time America surfaced from its extended holiday food- and gift-fest the edge would be off its outrage over Sandy Hook. They also probably hoped you didn’t notice the Christmas Eve ambush of a suburban NY firefighting crew at all.

A gunman ambushed firefighters responding to a house fire in the Rochester suburb of Webster, N.Y., early Monday, killing two firemen and injuring two others.

The shooter was later found dead of gunshot wounds near the scene, according to Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering.

Pickering, choking up frequently as he spoke to reporters, said all four firefighters who responded to the call at 5:35 a.m. ET came under fire when they drove up.

The dead are Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, a volunteer firefighter and the Webster Police Department’s public information officer, and Tomasz Kaczowka.

“It is a very difficult situation,” Pickering said, his voice quavering.

“People get up in the middle of the night to fight fires,” he said. “They don’t expect to be shot and killed.”

It isn’t yet clear how successful the NRA strategy has been or will be. For sure, they find themselves in the crosshairs of mainstream media coverage of the Sandy Hook aftermath and they’ve taken a serious whipping in the online/social media world.

Twitter’s reaction to Friday’s press conference was swift and almost universally negative. A search for the #NRA hashtag yielded thousands of tweets criticizing LaPierre for his proposals for a database of people with mental illness and to put armed guards in schools.

Though a handful of NRA supporters and conservatives using the #tcot hashtag offered completely positive comments, others criticized the organization.

“This press conference [is the] best Christmas present the White House and the Democrats could get!” wrote Twitterer R. Saddler.

Many who tweeted about the conference remarked about the surreal atmosphere of the press conference itself, in which two protesters shouted at LaPierre and were quickly escorted out. Syndicated columnist Tina Dupay called it a perfect example of a “tone deaf” press conference, and Matt Seaton of The Guardian said it should make year-end lists as the worst speech of 2012.

Twitterer Tom Sauer perhaps put it most succinctly:

“Well that was a train wreck.”

It probably seems obvious to say that whatever the nation and its elected leaders decide to do or not do about firearms, that decision should be a result of thoughtful, informed consideration of the issue, not the efficacy of the NRA’s spin job. Still, we live in a media-driven culture with a frightfully brief attention span. Our ability to lose focus, especially in the presence of artful misdirection, isn’t to be underestimated. It’s therefore important for us to cast as much light as possible on said misdirection.

On December 20, Michael Sebastien at PR Daily published their Top 10 PR disasters of 2012. He probably wishes he’d held fire for a few days. While the Komen affair, Romney’s 47% gaffe, Todd Akin, Lance Armstrong and Chik-Fil-A kept industry observers marveling at just how much foot one mouth will hold, the NRA’s performance since Sandy Hook would certainly rank them in the top three if we were compiling the list today.

That said, this rumble has barely begun and in the final analysis, Wayne LaPierre’s abject cluelessness may wind up not mattering in the least.

Rohit Bhargava does a wonderful job of explaining how the NRA made use of the three biggest PR crisis response tricks in the book.

Strategy: Elevate the issue. If the issue being debated is easy access to deadly weapons, then the NRA will lose. If the issue, instead, becomes that our schools are not safe enough … then the NRA has a chance. So we saw over and over again throughout the press conference that NRA CEO Wayne Lapierre talked about the ways that our schools aren’t safe enough, and called on the government to spend whatever would be necessary to better protect schools.

Strategy: Play offense instead of defense. When it comes to defending anyone’s right to have guns, the NRA would have a difficult argument because anyone can point to mentally unstable people like the shooter* as reasons for why gun access should not be so free. Instead, the NRA laid out plans to introduce a comprehensive “school shield program” led by independent experts. Introducing such a program lets the NRA flip the issue to go on the offense to solve what they have already positioned as the biggest issue – school safety.

Strategy: Change the bad guy. A topic that has not been getting nearly enough attention is how violent video games and “blood soaked films” are creating a desensitized culture of violence. The last mass shooting was at the opening of a very violent Batman film. In his short talk, Lapierre called this a “race to the bottom” and likened it to pornography. Add to that the media’s coverage of the shooter and how they have turned him into something of a celebrity, and the argument that the real bad guy is media and entertainment (and not guns) is complete.

As I said above, textbook. But closer analysis reveals that these techniques were merely the tip of the iceberg. Behind the scenes there’s somebody who’s as deft with messaging as LaPierre is ham-fisted and alienating at the podium. Deft and borderline sociopathic.

Let me repeat what I said at the outset: Every good recipe for deception begins with an ounce of truth. When we speak truthfully, when we connect the words coming out of our mouths with the reality of the world as the audience perceives it, we establish common ground. We sow credibility. We demonstrate that we’re acquainted with the facts. Saying something overtly true greases the skids for whatever we say next.

LaPierre’s speech, for all its flaws, is a master class in using truth or shared values as a jumping off point for statements that range from deflective to outright dishonesty. I want to walk through some of the key passages, highlighting misdirections and deceptions as I go, and paying special attention to the places where fact goes in service of a lie.

The tone is established in the third paragraph:

How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works?

All we care about is children, he asserts, and he sets up what is to come as being solely concerned with efficacy and efficacy.

How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order? Think about it. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses — even sports stadiums — are all protected by armed security.

We care about the President, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by armed Capitol Police officers.

Yet when it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it. That must change now!

This is clever. A lot of us think our priorities are out of order (although we might disagree vehemently about the specifics). We do care about money. We do protect these other venues with armed security. We do keep the president under heavy guard. And we do love children. So what’s to argue with?

In what is perhaps this performance’s finest moment, a subtle linkage is established between caring and guns. If you care about something, you protect it. And best way of protecting is to surround it with guns. We have a blatantly emotional appeal masquerading as pure reason, and if you weren’t paying attention LaPierre might, at this juncture, be sounding pretty reasonable.

The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame — from a national media machine that rewards them with the wall-to-wall attention and sense of identity that they crave — while provoking others to try to make their mark?

A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?

It’s true – we don’t know how many. And there is every reason, given our history, to assume that there are madmen out there doing precisely what he says. But we would know if we’d … wait, if we’d do what?! There’s so much wrong with the national database idea it’s hard to know where to start, but here are three things to think about:

  • Any number of past perpetrators have been in the system and it hasn’t stopped them in the end. Heck, the guy who killed those firefighters in Rochester had been in prison.
  • Right now, people with mental issues are encouraged to seek help and they know they can do so with the assurance of confidentiality, which is certainly important if you ever hope to have another job. So once you realize that something as simple as seeking relief from depression might ruin your life for good, what are the chances that you take that risk?
  • Finally, LaPierre’s suggestion works fine unless you recall that the 2nd Amendment isn’t the only thing in the Bill of Rights. His idea represents such a radical breach of individual liberty it’s hard to imagine what Constitution he thinks might be left to defend.

Next we get this:

Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% — to the lowest levels in a decade.

Assuming this is accurate, what am I being asked to conclude? That the Feds don’t want to stamp out gun violence? Or are there other reasons? Like enforcement has had an effect and there are fewer guns out there? That what has been rounded up represents the low-hanging fruit? That more resources are now required? That the NRA has done all it can to hamstring the authorities at every turn? Good questions. I’d like to know more, but LaPierre wants me to draw a misdirected conclusion and move on. In cases like this, it’s usually safe to assume that what you aren’t being told works against whomever is talking, because if they could tell you more, they would.

So now, due to a declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years! Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization.

Violent crime is increasing? I know you want me to buy that this is about a “refusal to prosecute,” but by “violent crime” are you referring to crime committed with guns?

Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here’s one: it’s called Kindergarten Killers. It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it? Then there’s the blood-soaked slasher films like “American Psycho” and “Natural Born Killers” that are aired like propaganda loops on “Splatterdays” and every day, and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it “entertainment.”


In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes — every minute of every day of every month of every year.

A child growing up in America witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18. And throughout it all, too many in our national media … their corporate owners … and their stockholders … act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators. Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.

Very true. No doubt. Anybody with a critical bone in his or her body is sympathetic to the idea that we’re overrun with violence in this society. I’m even willing to accept, for a moment, the idea that this is all desensitizing. So, the problem is games and media, right? Well, they have the same games and media in other countries, countries with gun violence rates that are a fraction of ours. What’s the key variable, then?

The goal in this whole sequence is simple and it leverages one of the most powerful instincts in the American mind: either/or. It’s black or white. You can’t have it both ways. You’re with us or against us. The problem is that it simply isn’t true. Sometimes – most times, really – effects do not stem from a single cause, they result from a complex melange of factors. Is it possible that our rash of high-profile gun violence is due, in some measure, to other mediated factors like violent movies and games? Certainly. Would cleaning up those industries help reduce violence? Maybe. But let’s be clear: none of that diminishes the roll played by the wide availability of firearms. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

The media call semi-automatic firearms “machine guns” — they claim these civilian semi-automatic firearms are used by the military, and they tell us that the .223 round is one of the most powerful rifle calibers … when all of these claims are factually untrue. They don’t know what they’re talking about!

Which can only mean that a .223 caliber round isn’t sufficient to kill an unarmored child or teacher, right?

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away … or a minute away?

Beautiful false dichotomy here. It asks me to assume that the bad guy has a gun (which is certainly a safe assumption in a world where the NRA is allowed to buy and bully its way to such overwhelming legislative influence, I guess). Now, would you rather be able to defend yourself or not? Well, sure, if I buy your assumption. The problem is that I don’t. The real dichotomy is this: which would you rather face: a bad guy with a gun or a bad guy without a gun?

As for the second part of the equation, are you suggesting that the alternative to addressing our gun problem is a police station within a minute of every home? You understand what is meant by the term “police state,” right?

You know, five years ago, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when I said we should put armed security in every school, the media called me crazy. But what if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he had been confronted by qualified, armed security?

You mean like the armed security guard at Columbine? Also, Virginia Tech had a well-armed police force – are you saying we need armed police in every classroom now?

Is the press and political class here in Washington so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and America’s gun owners that you’re willing to accept a world where real resistance to evil monsters is a lone, unarmed school principal left to surrender her life to shield the children in her care? No one — regardless of personal political prejudice — has the right to impose that sacrifice.

There’s so much manipulative misdirection in this little paragraph that’s it’s almost hard to untangle. First, misdirection: those kids were killed by the press and political class in Washington, certainly easy enough targets. Battle between good guns and evil monsters. And if you don’t agree with me, you’re imposing sacrifice on the innocent. My professional compliments to the sociopath who wrote this.

But do know this President zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year’s budget, and scrapped “Secure Our Schools” policing grants in next year’s budget.

Of course, legislators vote on budgets. I wonder what would happen if I tabbed how Congressional reps voted on these items and then cross-referenced those results with their NRA ratings? Hmmm.

Now, the National Rifle Association knows that there are millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every school. We can deploy them to protect our kids now. We can immediately make America’s schools safer — relying on the brave men and women of America’s police force.

Part true, part problematic. Not only an unsubstantiated emotional appeal to our reverence for police, military, firefighters and other “patriotic” and brave citizens (because if you disagree, you aren’t a patriot), but also the invocation of one of the NRA’s favorite words: “trained.” They can’t say hello without helping you understand that a gun is perfectly safe in the hands of a trained citizen (they use some form of the word ten times in this speech alone). There’s no arguing that training is good, of course. Then again, a few months back some highly trained police officers opened fire on a suspect outside the Empire State Building. When the smoke cleared, nine civilians had been hit – all by police fire. LaPierre wants you to believe that a police officer at Sandy Hook would have meant no dead children. Possibly. Or possibly many more.

Our training programs are the most advanced in the world. That expertise must be brought to bear to protect our schools and our children now. We did it for the nation’s defense industries and military installations during World War II, and we’ll do it for our schools today.

LaPierre is now so far over the top that it’s almost impossible not to snark. That armed guard in Mrs. Snodgrass’s class is going to save the day when the Japanese bomb Pleasant Grove Junior High.

If we truly cherish our kids more than our money or our celebrities, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible and the security that is only available with a properly trained — armed — good guy.

“Cherish our children more than our celebrities”? Wait – did I miss where there’s an armed guard on every movie set? Also, again – guns = good guys.

There’ll be time for talk and debate later. This is the time, this is the day for decisive action.

We can’t wait for the next unspeakable crime to happen before we act. We can’t lose precious time debating legislation that won’t work. We mustn’t allow politics or personal prejudice to divide us. We must act now.

First, we establish that debate is bad. So when Congress takes up gun reform, you’ll know. There is an element of truth to the idea that one doesn’t stand around hemming and hawing in the face of a clear and present danger, and he hopes to insinuate that assumption into your thinking. Second, we must act now! He’s trying to turn the urgency around and, as Bhargava explains above, go on the attack. Bad guys are coming right now and every second we refuse to put more guns out there we risk our children, whom we love almost as much as we do Cameron Diaz. I do wonder, though. Several days elapsed between the sandy Hook killings and this press conference. If every second is that critical, why did they wait, in the process risking the lives of countless innocent citizens?

So, how effective was the NRA’s response? Too soon to tell. On the one hand, we just witnessed an absolute case study in how to manage crisis. Whoever crafted the strategy knows his/her stuff, and as my analysis of the LaPierre speech suggests, is willing to pull every switch on the control panel in pursuit of a goal. Whoever is behind this is either a true believer or as malignant a prostitute as the PR industry has ever spawned.

On the other hand, the speech overreached significantly in places, and in doing so threatened to descend into self-parody. Put another way, our evil genius needs to lay off the mustard. Also working against them was LaPierre himself, a walking, talking caricature of a bright-eyed fanatic. It’s bad enough that he simply doesn’t seem to be able to comprehend why people would see guns as part of the problem. What’s worse are his performative skills – anytime you’re in an organizational crisis and you have to put a buffoon up in front of the cameras, you’re in deep trouble no matter how brilliant the script.

In the end, the NRA has been hit, but the extent of the wound remains to be seen. Recent events have been, in some respects, a dog and pony show. Ultimately, my opinion doesn’t matter, nor does yours. The ones that matter are those of our legislators, and they get a good bit of money from pro-gun interests. There are a thousand ways for Congress to put on a concerned face and look very intent about getting something done, only to emerge later, fingers pointing in all directions, bemoaning that as hard as they tried, this was the best they could do. The best, of course, then becomes one more ineffectual, “compromised” gun law that the NRA can one day point to, saying “see, gun laws don’t work.” It’s quite the entertaining bit of kabuki when you think about it.

If you’re hoping to see meaningful action taken, you do have one important thing on your side: As much as they hate it, the National Rifle Association has now become the spokesman of record for mass murder in America. If you need proof, this very press conference was it. Madman kills a bunch of children and teachers. NRA forced to call a press conference defending itself.

Sandy Hook may or may not prove to be the tipping point (my money says not), but when you work in PR you accept that sometimes there’s not much you can do. The architect of last week’s response did about all that could have been hoped for, but when push came to shove, was simply outgunned.

Gun control advocacy: let’s talk about blood on hands, shall we?

Salem witch trial engraving

Salem witch trial engraving

Just three days before Christmas, The Journal News, a Gannett company, decided that there might not be enough red in our holidays.

Map: Where are the gun permits in your neighborhood?

The map indicates the addresses of all pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. Each dot represents an individual permit holder licensed to own a handgun — a pistol or revolver. The data does not include owners of long guns — rifles or shotguns — which can be purchased without a permit. Being included in this map does not mean the individual at a specific location owns a weapon, just that they are licensed to do so.

Data for all permit categories, unrestricted carry, premises, business, employment, target and hunting, is included, but permit information is not available on an individual basis.

To create the map, The Journal News submitted Freedom of Information requests for the names and addresses of all pistol permit holders in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam. By state law, the information is public record.

The level level of journalist malfeasance in this action just staggers the mind.  Regardless of one’s sentiments pertaining to gun control and Second Amendment rights, it should be clear to anyone that this is worse than a mere witchhunt, intended to stigmatize individuals, even entire locales.

“Being included in this map does not mean the individual at a specific location owns a weapon, just that they are licensed to do so.”

Tongue-in-cheek caveat be damned.  The Journal News has created a treasure map for evil-doers.  The lion’s share of an arms-minded burglar’s casing has been done for them.  They know where the goods are likely to be.  It would be no difficult challenge to scope out an address until assured that nobody is home.  After all, home defense only works when the domicile is occupied, right?

If so much as one person, one child, should die from a gunshot wound sustained from a round discharged from a weapon permitted to an owner identified by name and address on these maps that, subsequent to December 22, 2012, goes missing, the blood is on the hands of whatever brain trust at The Journal News decided that this was a good idea.

For those that think this kind of authorized invasion of privacy in the so-called public interest is a fine idea, I might suggest a word:  complicity.

A brief word on “politicizing the tragedy” at Sandy Hook Elementary

sandyhookWe have heard, over the last 24 hours, all kinds of comment on the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Predictably, much of the public response has taken the form of outrage over the broad availability of the weaponry used in these murders, to say nothing of other high-profile mass killings in places like Aurora, Colorado. And Chardon, Ohio. And Seattle. And Oak Creek, Wisconsin. And Minneapolis. And Fresno. And New York City, near the Empire State Building. And how many more?

We’ve also heard, every bit as predictably, that we shouldn’t “politicize” these tragedies. Somehow, arguing that gun policy needs to change is disrespectful to those killed as a result of our current gun policies. If those children had been killed by terrorists, though, we’d need to make martyrs of them before their bodies were cold – so that “we’ll never forget” or so at least we could “give their sacrifice meaning.”

Listen. I’m a gun owner. I have explained why, and nothing in that explanation suggests that I’m eager to hand over my weapons. I understand that this is a complex issue.

But this trope, this “politicize” meme, is utter silliness. Those who say we shouldn’t politicize the Sandy Hook tragedy are missing the point. It was, by definition, a political tragedy. The availability of guns is a political decision. It derives from laws that legislatures have passed. Lax regulations surrounding gun show purchases are a function of laws that elected politicians passed. The 2nd Amendment, whatever you may believe about its intent, was explicitly embedded, by the politicians we call “Founding Fathers,” in our nation’s most foundational political document. You might just as sensibly argue that we shouldn’t be politicizing elections.

I know we’re all tired of the corrosive effect that our politics have exerted on the society in recent years, and the deluge of campaign ads we had to endure throughout the course of this year was enough to test the patience of a saint. I know we’d all like our leaders to act in our best interests and to stop being so, well, political.

But pretending that something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. When you get right down to it, there is very little about our lives that isn’t, in some respect, political. How we engage the politics of our world, our nation, our communities, is up to us. But let’s stop with the counterproductive, self-delusional denial. Let’s especially stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by those who have a vested interest in us not “politicizing” these tragedies, because if we don’t, it buys them more time to work with their hired legislators to make sure that no more laws are passed. And that’s political, isn’t it?

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary yesterday was the direct result of political decisions our society has made. You’re not politicizing anything when you recognize and acknowledge something that was already politicized.

Sandy Hook vs. Chengping: two school attacks in stark contrast

At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 27 people – 20 of them kindergarteners – are dead at the hands of a gunman armed with a Glock and a Sig Sauer.

Meanwhile, a madman ran amok in a school in Henan province, China today, as well.

A knife-wielding man injured 22 children and one adult outside a primary school in central China as students were arriving for classes Friday, police said, the latest in a series of periodic rampage attacks at Chinese schools and kindergartens.

The attack in the Henan province village of Chengping happened shortly before 8 a.m., said a police officer from Guangshan county, where the village is located.

A doctor at Guangshan’s hospital of traditional Chinese medicine said that seven students had been admitted, but that none were seriously injured.

In one you find words like “guns” and “killed.” In the other, these words are replaced with “knife” and “injured.”


The right isn't wrong, just stupid

Let’s try a little thought experiment here. What if the problem with conservatives isn’t that they are wrong, but rather than even when they are right their logic is so bad we can’t fairly judge the merit of their positions?

What if their logic is so twisted that it simply short circuits our brains? Their arguments send our thoughts careening like pinballs, bouncing from untruth to non sequitur to logic loop to inconsistency to false conclusion. Perhaps we completely forget to ask ourselves whether their positions might be right, because we are entangled like a kitten in their ball of yarn.

It’s certainly possible. Just because you can’t argue doesn’t make you wrong. I remember listening to our local hippie in 1978. Ed took on Henry Kissinger during open mike at a post-speech Q&A. Kissinger mauled Ed. Ed was right, but he couldn’t out-argue Kissinger. Continue reading