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The US Senate Decides Guns are More Important than People

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Courtesy Marquil at Empirewire.com

Do you think that the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees an unrestricted right to bear arms?

Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee the right of paranoid schizophrenics or clinically diagnosed psychopaths to bear arms?

Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee a toddler’s right to bear arms?

Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee the right of felons to bear arms?

Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee the right to own a tank? A drone? A rocket-propelled grenade launcher?

None of the above are rhetorical questions. I’m absolutely serious. 

Does anything in the Constitution guarantee my right – your right – not to be shot? How about the kids from Sandy Hook or the moviegoers in Aurora?

Do you think that the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution is also absolute and unrestricted in any way? You’d be wrong. There are plenty of government restrictions on speech that have been ruled constitutional. You’re not allowed to incite a riot or libel someone, for instance.

And so it is that, although 90% of Americans support universal background checks for dealer and gun show sales, the United States Senate Wednesday night was unable to defeat a Republican-led filibuster of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment. Drafted by a conservative Republican and a conservative Democrat, the amendment would have implemented background checks to prevent homicidal maniacs and felons from legally obtaining guns.

This new gun control initiative was brought about in response to the Sandy Hook massacre, where 20 little boys and girls were mowed down by a lunatic. One of the biggest efforts was to close the gun show loophole, to make sure that those sales are subject to the same background checks that retail sales undergo. Yesterday on Facebook, people argued to me that implementation of this statute would not have prevented Sandy Hook. But that’s a disingenuous argument – it’s too late for that, and you can’t retroactively prevent anything. I brought up that Australia and the UK implemented stringent gun control in response to their school massacres, and have seen none since. Someone brought up a shooting of 12 in Cumbria that took place in 2010 – the first mass shooting in the UK since the 1996 Dunblane massacre. In the US, we have mass shootings much, much more frequently than that, and we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. After Dunblane, the UK effectively banned handguns.

This is what I have to say about your gun and your gun rights.

England and Wales see .7 gun homicides for every 100,000 people. Scotland has no data. Australia has .14 homicides per 100,000 of population. Canada sees .51 homicides per 100,000 people. By contrast, the United States has 3 gun homicides per 100,000 people. That doesn’t count accidental deaths and suicides. The United States has 5% of the world’s population, and close to 50% of the small arms. Access to guns and ammo are not at risk or adversely affected.

From TPM,

The legislation, written by Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), was the centerpiece of gun control efforts in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shootings. It was supposed to be the breakthrough that led to the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. But it only picked up a few senators and hardened the opposition of many. A last-ditch effort by Democrats to win over skeptical senators by offering new concessions fell apart late Tuesday.

About nine out of 10 Americans support universal background checks, according to polls. The failed vote reflects the enduring power of the National Rifle Association, which opposed the bill and threatened to target lawmakers who voted in its favor.

“Today, the misguided Manchin-Toomey-Schumer proposal failed in the U.S. Senate,” the NRA’s top lobbyist Chris Cox said in a statement issued immediately after the vote. “As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools.”

Centrist senators who were courted eventually revealed their opposition to the proposal this week, making it all but clear by Wednesday that it lacked the votes to pass. Opponents voiced gripes ranging from an alleged infringement on Second Amendment rights to the more far-reaching — and inaccurate — claim that the legislation would set up a national gun registry.

So, the NRA defeated the will of 90% of the people, and prevented a vote from being held on the amendment. The United States congress cannot pass a law without 60% of the Senate, and that’s not how our system is supposed to work. Of course, in 1999 – after Columbine – the NRA supported universal background checks. What’s changed? Why must 90% of America succumb to the will of a small lobby representing a small number of people?

A lunatic shoots up a school, and the Senate filibusters a reasonable and constitutional gun control bill drafted by two conservatives.

I think that former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords said it best,

Moments ago, the U.S. Senate decided to do the unthinkable about gun violence — nothing at all. Over two years ago, when I was shot point-blank in the head, the U.S. Senate chose to do nothing. Four months ago, 20 first-graders lost their lives in a brutal attack on their school, and the U.S. Senate chose to do nothing. It’s clear to me that if members of the U.S. Senate refuse to change the laws to reduce gun violence, then we need to change the members of the U.S. Senate.

 


This Modern World: The Tree of Liberty

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This Modern World: NRA Debate Tips

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The Second Amendment and Tyranny

Tyranny is defined generally as oppressive, absolute power vested in a single ruler. The United States cannot, by definition, be tyrannical because it is a representative democracy where you have the right to overthrow any person or party every two, four, or six years – depending on the office. Your recourse is political action and being enfranchised to vote, organize, and petition. 

When the 2nd Amendment was drafted, the United States did not have a standing army – because of our experience with our British oppressors, America was decidedly hostile to the idea of a standing army.  As a result, our new nation depended on amateur on-call militias; Switzerland still uses this model wherein only 5% of its military is made up of professionals, while the militia and reserves are made up of able-bodied men aged 19 up to their 30s and 40s.  Because these people are members of a reserve militia, they keep and own their own military equipment. A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. 

But we long ago reconfigured our domestic military structure to switch from state-based reserve militias into a professional national military. To the extent the old state militias exist, they’re made up of the various National Guards. We don’t call upon average citizens to keep arms to fight off the Indians or the British; we have the Pentagon. 

If you look at the two recent Supreme Court cases which held that the “well-regulated militia” language, which was so carefully inserted into the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution, doesn’t really mean anything. Astonishing, that, but little can be done about it. In DC v. Heller , the Court affirmed an individual right to possess a firearm without respect to whether the bearer is a militia member, and that these arms can only be possessed for lawful purposes, such as self-defense. 

Heller also confirmed that your 2nd Amendment rights are not absolute or unlimited. Concealed weapons can be banned by states, you can limit their possession by felons and the mentally ill, and you can ban carrying a weapon in certain areas and regulate the sale of weapons. Particularly dangerous and unusual weapons can also be regulated or banned.  Although Heller applied only to federal districts, a subsequent case – McDonald v. Chicago – held that the 14th Amendment ensures that the 2nd Amendment and its jurisprudence also apply to state action. 

Because handguns aren’t unusual, and the petitioner in Heller intended to keep a handgun in his home for personal protection, his use was lawful and DC was ordered to issue him a permit, and could not require him to keep the gun essentially unusable while being kept. 

Nothing that happened yesterday in Albany is violative of the 2nd Amendment. The 2nd Amendment is silent on the number of rounds a clip can hold, and bans on certain types of weapons have been consistently upheld. If you have to re-register to drive a car every few years, you can re-register to own a gun. How do we monitor felonies or mental illness with lifetime permitting? 

But I want to pivot back to something – tyranny. How many people have you heard in the past month since the Sandy Hook massacre explain that assault weapons and other militaria must be legal because we have some sort of right to fight tyranny. How many people have suggested to you, with an astonishing ignorance of history of propriety, that, e.g., German Jews could have halted the Holocaust if only they had been armed. 

Make no mistake, notwithstanding Jefferson’s tree of liberty, there is no law, statute, or Constitutional provision that exists in this country to allow someone to fight domestic “tyranny”. What these people are saying is that they detest the government – especially Obama’s government, because he is Kenyan or an usurper or a Nazi or a communist or a “king” or maybe just because he’s brown-skinned. At which point do we determine as a society when we have made the flip to “tyranny”? Who is the arbiter of “tyranny”? At which point do we determine that all of our anti-treason statutes and the constitutional provision found in Article III, section 3 of the Constitution can be set aside because of “tyranny”? 

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

You have no right to possess militaria to fend off “tyranny”. If you think you do, show me the statute or law that says so. Show me the statute or law that repeals our anti-treason legislation. It doesn’t exist. 

If New York wants to ban assault weapons or clips holding more than 10 bullets, it can. If you don’t like it, get your tea party buddies together and elect a legislature in Albany that will repeal it.  But there’s not a thing in the world that suggests that you can, if you don’t like it, take up arms against Albany or Washington. That would be a crime. If you try it and you’re armed, law enforcement won’t like that. Not at all. 

 


Fuck Your Gun

Filed under: State Politics
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Let’s limit gun ownership to what Heston is holding here.

Yesterday, in something of a whirlwind session of the oft-feckless New York State legislature, Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed to the key provisions of what is called the “NY SAFE” act, or “Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement” Act. It passed the state senate late Monday, and will be taken up by the Assembly today. 

The law will do the following: 

– limit gun magazines to hold a maximum of 7 bullets; 

– universal background checks for every single gun transfer, including private ones that are person-to-person; and 

– a “Webster provision” mandating life without parole for anyone who murders a first responder. 

Here’s what at least one 2nd Amendment purist had to say about it on Twitter: 

 

The second amendment. The one that helps enshrine perpetual violence and revolution. Its purpose – clearly stated – was to make sure that our new country, which at the time had no standing army, could protect itself from attacks by Britons, Frenchmen, Spaniards, and whatever Indian tribe or nation from which we were trying wrest control of land.  

You want a gun for hunting? Target practice? Skeet? To ward off robbers or burglars? That’s fine. You don’t, however, get to keep a military arsenal. 

Those on the deepest fringes of the right wing – the people who think lunatic Alex Jones is an influential and sane voice about guns – love to bring up the notion that the 2nd Amendment exists to protect you from “tyranny”. No one gets too worked up trying to define what “tyranny” is, or who gets to decide when “tyranny” becomes a clear and present danger. This crowd loves to cite the Declaration of Independence – a document that was a declaration of war against a monarch who brutally exploited his American colonies. The Declaration, however, ceased to have any legal effect the moment that Britain lost the war and recognized American Independence. 

So, no, proud patriot, you don’t have a right to take up arms against the government. Indeed, Article III, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution makes that sort of thing a very serious crime.  

One more gun control effort, one more gun fetishist makes some broken, semi-informed analogy about how if the Jews were armed in the 30s, they could have somehow halted their own genocide in the face of a German war machine. One more gun debate, one more person suggesting that our representative democracy – flawed though it might be – is or could oh-so-easily-be the equivalent of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. One more effort to limit the firepower we so casually make available to lunatics, one more person expressing their idiot fever-dream of single-handedly taking on the FBI or One World Government or ZOG, notwithstanding the fact that the government could – if it wanted to – easily take out your entire neighborhood with an unmanned drone operated by a teenager nursing a Monster Energy Drink in a dank, smelly basement in Northern Virginia. 

One more gun fetishist, one more clumsy analogy made to some other object with a large capacity or capability of doing harm that we are allowed to own, but the primary purpose for which is not “putting holes in things at breakneck speed”. Gas tanks, fast cars, pencils.  

And what of tyranny? We’ve had plenty of tyranny in this country, but when the Black Panthers agitated for blacks to arm themselves during the civil rights struggles of the 60s, the NRA was happy to support the Mulford Act, which limited the Panthers’ ability to carry arms and inform black citizens of their Constitutional rights. The NRA supports your right to bear arms, so long as you’re of European descent and not too uppity. 

Some have taken to social media to criticize the limit on magazines. I don’t understand why it’s ok for someone to have a semiautomatic pistol that can fire 7 bullets in 7 seconds and extinguish 7 lives in that period of time, but I suppose it’s exponentially better than the 33-round clip that Gabby Giffords’ would-be assassin had in his possession. He was subdued only as he tried to reload; by that time, six people had been killed

I get that violence is an integral part of American society and history. But I also recognize that you don’t get to own an F-15 or a nuclear missile just because it makes you feel safe or helps you ward off “tyranny”. 

I know that the rhetoric on this issue is going to get much worse before it gets any better. After all, we have a Kenyan communist President, against whom any facile lie is routinely thrown. I also think that insane lunatics shouldn’t have access to military weapons and equipment; shouldn’t be able to waltz around your town with enough firepower to put 11 holes in a first grader. Shouldn’t be able to get so many rounds off in so little time that the first grader’s jaw and hand are disappeared. 

If you like guns, good for you. If you’re a Glenn Beck / Alex Jones type, I sincerely hope that you get Galt’s Gulch going – that you divest yourself completely from American society and go off and start your post-hippie, penis envy-laden republic of gunnutistan – a place that is not on American soil and is free from American law and jurisdiction, so you can carry out your secessionist fever dreams away from us normal people. 

Because our easy access to guns and our gun culture make our society a particularly violent one; not video games or TV shows – those are safe avenues of expressing the reality of warfare. We love war and conflict. We can’t get enough of it. Somehow, other societies are able to function without it. 

New York is going to limit your ability to transfer your guns to the angry and insane, and it’s going to make you have to reload more frequently while you’re shooting up your neighborhood or a schoolroom. This isn’t the end of the 2nd Amendment – it’s a first step to protecting those of us who don’t run around living in perpetual fear, armed to the teeth. 


Things for Thursday

A few things I found online in the last few days: 

1. Remember a few weeks ago, when NRA CEO and infamous goon Wayne LaPierre blamed everything but guns on the massacre of teachers and first graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT? LaPierre didn’t just stumble on being a hateful lunatic – this is something that is apparently part of his job qualifications. Back in 1995, after the Oklahoma City bombing perpetrated by WNY native Timothy McVeigh, LaPierre said things so horrible and conscious-shocking that former President George H.W. Bush publicly rebuked him and resigned his NRA membership. Bush wrote, 

I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as “jack-booted thugs.” To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as “wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms” wanting to “attack law abiding citizens” is a vicious slander on good people.

Al Whicher, who served on my [ United States Secret Service ] detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City. He was no Nazi. He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country — and serve it well he did.

In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty. I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi.

We can have a debate and discussion about guns, gun rights, and limitations on both – but calling people Nazis isn’t part of it. 

2. When it came to slavery, Thomas Jefferson was kind of a jerk. He was kind to some (especially if there were rapes to be had), and particularly cruel to others. He was happy to take out mortgages against his slaves, to have them flogged, and even refused to carry out a request contained in Polish General Kosciusco’s will, wherein money was set aside for Jefferson to buy out and free his slaves.  

The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.

In another communication from the early 1790s, Jefferson takes the 4 percent formula further and quite bluntly advances the notion that slavery presented an investment strategy for the future. He writes that an acquaintance who had suffered financial reverses “should have been invested in negroes.” He advises that if the friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in

this country by the increase in their value.”

The irony is that Jefferson sent his 4 percent formula to George Washington, who freed his slaves, precisely because slavery had made human beings into money, like “Cattle in the market,” and this disgusted him. Yet Jefferson was right, prescient, about the investment value of slaves. A startling statistic emerged in the 1970s, when economists taking a hardheaded look at slavery found that on the eve of the Civil War, enslaved black people, in the aggregate, formed the second most valuable capital asset in the United States. David Brion Davis sums up their findings: “In 1860, the value of Southern slaves was about three times the amount invested in manufacturing or railroads nationwide.” The only asset more valuable than the black people was the land itself. The formula Jefferson had stumbled upon became the engine not only of Monticello but of the entire slaveholding South and the Northern industries, shippers, banks, insurers and investors who weighed risk against returns and bet on slavery. The words Jefferson used—“their increase”—became magic words.

Jefferson’s 4 percent theorem threatens the comforting notion that he had no real awareness of what he was doing, that he was “stuck” with or “trapped” in slavery, an obsolete, unprofitable, burdensome legacy. The date of Jefferson’s calculation aligns with the waning of his emancipationist fervor. Jefferson began to back away from antislavery just around the time he computed the silent profit of the “peculiar institution.”

And this world was crueler than we have been led to believe. A letter has recently come to light describing how Monticello’s young black boys, “the small ones,” age 10, 11 or 12, were whipped to get them to work in Jefferson’s nail factory, whose profits paid the mansion’s grocery bills.

Much of the information in this Smithsonian story has been carefully excised from our Jefferson hagiography because 150 years later, we still can’t come to terms as a country with our history of slavery and racial animus and discrimination. 

3. Just because you employ someone doesn’t mean you have the right to inject your own opinions on their healthcare decisions. Hobby Lobby, which has two outlets in western New York, has gone to the Supreme Court to seek injunctive relief so that it would not have to provide health insurance coverage for contraception for its employees under Obamacare. Why their employees’ sex lives are any of Hobby Lobby’s business is a mystery for sure, but Obamacare doesn’t force Hobby Lobby to hand out the morning after pill with every paycheck – it merely requires the health insurers to offer contraceptive coverage. Aside from the fact that the employees affected work for Hobby Lobby, the company has no further mandate set upon it. If it doesn’t agree with contraception, it is free to hold that belief, but should not be free to impose it on its employees, or to have its employees’ rights become less than those of workers elsewhere. Justice Sotomayor rejected Hobby Lobby’s request for injunctive relief. As a shopper for crafty things and toys for grownups, you may choose to use this information to direct your hobby dollars accordingly. 

 


Duck Season

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Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com


The #NRAPresser

Filed under: News
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Here’s what NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said today, in the most whiny, self-indulgent, passive-aggressive non-press conference I’ve ever seen. The ways in which it was disrespectful to the victims of the Newtown massacre are many. 

Transcript PDF

Buzzfeed has provided a handy list of everything LaPierre blamed the Newtown shootings on. Hint: None of them are “Adam” “Lanza” or “gun”.  At the conclusion of this “press conference”, LaPierre took no questions. 

America’s response: 




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