30 January 2013

Guns, Schools, Assault Weapons: Sen. Feinstein's Hocus-Pocus Constitution - Part 8

The “Assault Weapons Ban of 2013" has been introduced in the United States Senate. The chief sponsor is California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a longtime gun-control advocate.

The ban language itself is not really surprising. (We’ll discuss that in Part 9.)

Feinstein (and her cronies) did not stop with the ban. They’ve added a long section about what weapons are allowed, or what Mommy Government will give us permission to do in exercising certain rights.

That is absolutely unprecedented and dead against 225 years of American Constitutional history.

Any American who reads this part of the Act – even someone who supports the concept of a ban – should be insulted and alarmed by the fact that they supposedly are being given permission by Government to exercise rights. That sort of notion comes from an aristocratic, out-of-touch presumption of marble tower dwellers who see the Constitution as Silly Putty for their personal agendas. This concept of giving us “permission” is the most noxious thing to come out of that Great Marble Whorehouse called the Capitol so far in this young millennium.

Wait a minute – I said unprecedented. 

A somewhat similar situation has occurred before on this continent. Then, representatives of the people signed a document which made a declaration of principle:

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

John Hancock signed that document in really big letters so that King George III could read it without his spectacles.

This nitwit idea of Government telling us what we can do rather than our telling our representatives what they can do is one of the few things I’ve run into lately that actually merits the term “shocking.”

Our concept of American citizenship has been that we are free persons who enter into a voluntary compact with our fellow citizens. Feinstein and her cosponsors are going for the image of citizen as a peasant and ass-kisser to the Masters.

The ban includes lots more weapons than the now-expired 1994 assault weapons ban. It does so by redefining what equals an “assault weapon.”

(By the way, the term “assault weapon” is a modern one – and a political one. It was coined by civilian politicos in one of the gun anti-gun crazes 20 years ago.)

The 2013 Act would ban 157 weapons specified by name. This includes all of the “AR” types (a similar platform is the military’s M-16, although semi-automatic, not automatic) and the “AK” types (ditto reference semi-automatic actions).

(Fully automatic firearms – machine guns – have been banned for eighty years without a peep from the NRA.)

Incidentally, note that this scribe uses “weapon” rather than “gun.”. That is quite intentional. We cannot ignore or minimize the purpose of these tools. They are intended to injure and kill. The present power to injure and kill is often a positive thing. Or, at least, it is a thing much to be desired from time to time on a case-by-case basis. Time and again, we see that the presence of or availability of a weapon discourages those bent on unlawful violence.

It would be nice to have a Utopian society. But bucking Prof. Reality never has been real smart.

The constitutionally alarming part of the 2013 Act starts at Section 3(e), Appendix A, page 22.  See for yourself:

Text of 2013 Assault Weapons Ban

This lists 2258 weapons which are not banned, weapons which are, for the moment, "permitted."

What the hell was on the drafters’ elite little minds?

We doubt that respect for the personal Constitutional right of self-defense was high on that list. Plenty of arms on the “permitted” list have long been in the sights of gun controllers. One such is a weapon I’ve owned examples of over the years, the Ruger Mini 14, a semi automatic, detachable magazine rifle which uses the 5.56 mm cartridge. Does anyone think that Sen. Feinstein really wants me to have one of those?

Two other lines of the drafters’ reasoning are not mutually exclusive.

First is the abracadabra affect: “Guys, we’re only banning a measly 157 weapons by name. Looky, here’s 2258 we’ll let you keep for now.”

Incidentally, the specifics list of specified weapons are not complete. I own five long guns which are specified not on the list of “permitted” weapons, but which do not come close to meeting the new definition of “assault weapon.”

Wait a minute, I forgot one – so make it six.

The other explanation for a “Mommy May I” list is that the drafters are would-be elitist despots who have an Orwellian Animal Farm view of the Constitution.

This idea of a permitted list turns the American concept of “rights” upside down.

Friends, the Bill of Rights does not “give” us ANYTHING.  Not one damn thing.

The Bill of Rights limits Government from taking what people already have – the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Or is the Declaration of Independence out of style, too?

We already have the right to speak our minds, tend to our own affairs, and protect ourselves from attack. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution so that it would be totally clear that the people were not giving up the rights they already had.

When Government says “here is a list of what’s okay for you to do,” that Government is showing the greatest disrespect. They’re taking us back to Kings, Queens, Dukes and Earls on the one hand and peasants in homespun clothing bowing down on the other.

We can understand that some people are going to think that this is just about guns. So let’s test this concept of disrespect by the “Mommy May I” list method. Let’s look at possible statutes which can be proposed about other rights. The drafters of the 2013 ban say that 2258 listed weapons do not meet the “assault weapon” definition. That appears to be accurate.

So let’s propose some things here which will all be completely accurate, literally true statements of law.

How do you react to them?

We all like the First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So let’s fiddle with it by statute:

  • “Any person may pray to a deity in his or her home.”
  • “Any person may pray silently in a public place.”
  • “Groups of 20 persons who remain quietly assembling a public parks if they do not violate criminal laws.”
  • “Citizens may submit neatly written petitions to Congress on which are printed the signers names, addresses and phone numbers and which have affixed thereto their right thumb print.”
  • “The press may accurately report the roll call votes of Congress.”

Feel safer yet?

Let’s not restrict this to the First Amendment. How about the Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures:

  • “A citizen’s personal papers located in a locked safe in his or her home cannot be seized without a search warrant.”

Or the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination:

  • “A citizen may decline politely to confess to a crime when questioned by a police officer when not in a police station.”

Every one of those proposals is absolutely accurate. If Congress can give us a list of what weapons they approve, they can give us a list of all of those other actions.

Now, do you feel better that you have their permission?

Why do we even think in terms of "they" as the Government? Listen, the Government is not "them," the Government is US. It's only because we have let pompous and arrogant power-mongers continue in office that we have this "us-them" thing.

It’s not cool to express that there is ever going to be a possibility of Government tyranny or overcontrol. And yet that’s been a mainstay of political thought in the history of this continent. I’m thinking of all of the revolutionary writers – Henry, Paine, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, even uber-Federalist Hamilton; and of the Jacksonians, and Fenimore Cooper, and Emerson and Thoreau, and on and on.

In the 1980s, I argued a constitutional gun rights case on behalf of the NRA in the West Virginia Supreme Court. At the end of the argument, I suggested that having firearms in civilian hands is one counterbalance against excessive Government power. The oldest Justice on the court was quite offended. I think I understand why he took offense.  That Justice was a true public servant, and his idea of Government would not have thought of telling us what was “permitted.” But his kind of Government seems to be going out of style.

I have many friends in Government. Sometimes I praise them and sometimes I argue with them, even in colorful terms. I hope that none of them thinks that I should be asking them for permission to exercise my rights or for a list of how to do it. 

If they do, they are wrong.

And people who do expect that are reckless. 

At this point in the development of this wonderful place called America, switching gears to a “Mommy May I” society would be an unimaginable tragedy.

Note: I don’t think I ever use the term “law-abiding Americans” these days. I consider that whining. I use “American citizens” or “citizens.” We are law-abiding. We are also ethical, moral and honorable. Those few who break the covenant with their fellow citizens have exiled themselves from our ranks. The myth that decent people are not the vast majority of Americans is libelous bullshit.

26 January 2013

A Note to Political Parties: I Will Not Kiss Your F*ing Flags

I am a flag waver.

Last Father’s Day, my family got me a real flag pole for the front yard. Every morning, I enjoy walking out to the American flag waving in the wind from the top of the pole on the top of this ridge.

I love the flag on fire trucks. When I see apparatus on a call, there’s something stately about a national flag flying from the basket of a ladder truck or the grab rails of an engine or squad. In September 2001 in Berkeley California, some few citizens objected to the fire department flying flags from their apparatus, and the firemen told them to go to hell. That is America.

In my desk, I keep a few dozen flag pins. Most lawyers keep around tchotchkes such as advertising pens or refrigerator magnets. Me? Flag pins. I don’t pollute them with any advertising. Maybe people will remember where they got them, maybe not – that’s not the point.

The American flag is a symbol, an idea. When someone burns a flag, they have a right to do that.  They are assholes, but they still have the right to do it. That’s part of what the flag represents, and they can’t burn an idea.

Loyalty to our national banner, loyalty to America, includes a willingness to identify faults, propose better ways and have the patience and persistence and intelligence to engage in an actual discussion about it.

All that breaks down when people are waving other flags.

It’s not a new observation that the United States is less united and more discordant than ever before. There is less compromise, less toleration of ideas even a little bit different from our own favorite notions. One of the many indicators of that is this “red state/blue state” phenomenon.

It started, I think, with the way the television networks coded electoral college maps for presidential elections. Somehow, red got identified with the Republicans and blue with the Democrats. And the parties went along with it and in essence adopted new flags. And so to be qualified in the puny minds of party bosses to salute the red, white and blue, we are first supposed to salute the red… Or the blue. 


I will not kiss their fucking flags.

(Apologies to e. e. cummings)

And when I wear a Gadsden flag – the yellow “don’t tread on me” design – and I do – I’m not honoring a bunch of tea party nitwits trying to hijack that symbol. I’m honoring the idea of the original American patriots who saw the vision of a union and who made real sacrifices and ran real risks. So many of the so-called patriots of today just have real big mouths and real dumb ideas.

This is going to be a ramble tonight. I’ve tried to keep my series of gun posts (not yet completed) fairly tight. This ain’t part of them.

Currently, I am registered as an adherent of the Democratic Party. That represents my best choice for this time and place. That was not always so.

And before you ask, I will repeat what I’ve said before – this last election like every election that has gone before, I split my ticket. I always split my ticket.

Until the late 1980s, I was registered a Republican. In fact, in 1980 I ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate as a Republican.

Not so fast there – not “unsuccessfully” – the other guy did get a lot more votes than I did. But I got a heaping helping of an early education in politics. A good bit of that came from my friend the late Judge J. Harper Meredith, the undisputed political and governmental boss of Marion County.  Judge Meredith told me I was going to get beat but to go ahead and run any way, that I would never regret it.

Another key teacher was a real political science professor, Dr. James B. “Doc” Whisker of West Virginia University.  He ran the Frashure Internships in Charleston when I was in college.  It is a rare privilege to consider oneself a “Whisker grad.”

As I was growing up, there was not a stark difference between the major political parties. Some of the broad brush strokes varied but lots and lots of decent and reasonable people predominated in both parties. They would posture and then find generally accepted solutions. My friend and brother (and one of my political “professors”), Oce Smith, knew both Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen, respectively the great Democratic and Republican Senate leaders of the 1950s and 60s. Oce has told me a lot about their fiery rhetoric and bombast and also of their willingness to compromise or at least live with the result of a vote without bitching and whining about it.

There were a lot of people I admired in the Republican Party. I always liked George Romney although he’s mostly forgotten today. And I always liked Arch Moore. I consider it a tragedy of the first order that he carried on so corruptly at the end. He was an effective governor. At the time of the November 1985 floods, the statewide emergency services system dropped the ball in the first 12 hours. Arch took personal charge and created a replacement system on-the-fly which handled the crisis.

At the same time. I also developed the greatest admiration for Democrats like Sen. Byrd. He and Sen. Randolph were two of the least financially successful senators of the 20th century. They were too busy serving others to serve themselves. I liked Congressman Robert Mollohan, who was to play a key role in developing the national emergency medical services system. And then, I became friends with his son, Congressman Alan Mollohan, who served with honor and distinction for 28 years.

The change which appeared to me to start with the Republican Party was both ideological and personal. It started with the misnamed “Reagan Revolution.” I think that’s misnamed because Ronald Reagan was a genuinely decent human being. He embraced a lot of domestic policy schemes with which I still disagree and which didn’t work out very well. But he carried on as a gentleman, and that was worth a lot.

And yet in his name, the Republican Party steadily became more exclusionary and more shrill.

And so, I had been walking with a group I thought were reasonable and reasoning people. Then, the national leadership called a halt, ordered right face and forward march into some strange political wilderness.

I couldn’t abide the title anymore, so I switched parties.

I stayed as active in politics as I had before, because I always had been much more active in local and regional affairs. And as always, I continued my political “studies.”

By far, the most influential professor of politics I’ve had has been my friend, brother and second father, Jim Moon. He’s been a political fixture in West Virginia for 40 years.   I’ve learned more from him than from anyone else.

The Democratic Party in West Virginia has been  more conservative than the national party at least since the 1960s. It is still a “working persons' party,” and I found a reasonably comfortable fit there for a while.

It also helped that as I grew older, I steadily cared less and less about mindlessly following any particular platform and even less about what people thought of my opinions.

As the national Republican Party became more radicalized, that “trickled down.” Both ideologically and practically, decent people in the West Virginia Republican Party started doing politically stupid shit. They would make a gain, get cocky, and then commit seppuku with just a little nudge. As the radicals took over, a Gresham’s Law of Politics emerged, driving out people who talked policy rather than shouting slogans. One of the Republicans smartest and most effective leaders, Betty Ireland, was positively mugged by the radicals of her own party in the governor’s primary of 2010.

I can’t say when the Democratic Party became as radicalized nationally. It’s possible it happened contemporaneously and I just didn’t notice it from here in West Virginia. Insofar as governing a Republic was concerned, the Democratic Party got to a pretty effective level with Bill Clinton. In fact, it’s still fine with me to be considered a “Clinton Democrat.” 

Yeah, I know, intern, blue dress, stain. 

But how about the balanced budget, the end of welfare as we knew it, and no widespread foreign wars?

The Clinton years ended badly. The bad decisions were political ones, aided generously by the shrieks of salivating radicals on both sides. 

But even if the national Democratic leadership started becoming radicalized later, they worked awfully hard to catch up. And now, we have matching Democratic and Republican national leadership teams that are shrill, paranoid, closed-minded, emotionally retarded and elitist.

One sad thing is that the Democratic and Republican leaders think that they are really different from one another.

It’s also sad to me that some Democrats West Virginia are pulling toward the national radical model. The absolutely politically most inept decisions in the last general election came from that crowd. Still, the fact that there remained a solid state office Democratic majority even though Mitt Romney absolutely plowed Obama is a lesson that the Mountaineers like our populist Democratic principles unleavened by wacky socialist bullshit.

And so I continue to fly the American flag. I wonder if the time is coming for some kind of "radical centrism." I know that’s a bit of an oxymoron, but if reasonable people keep putting up with intolerant, gun grabbing, 50 round magazine hugging, lazy, undisciplined, economically elite, vote buying, lying weasels, there won’t be enough reasonable people left to keep that flag flying.

16 January 2013

Guns, Schools & Violence, Part 7; Miss America Weighs In

Miss America pageant contestants are asked their views on the issues of the day.  Why?  Beats me.

At the pageant last weekend, the ultimate winner was asked her considered opinion about placing armed guards in schools. 

She replied, “I don’t think the way to fight violence is with violence.”

That’s the starting point for this discussion. This is not going to be a polemic or even criticism of Miss America. That particular winner is skilled and successful in a highly competitive environment which I barely understand and do not appreciate in the slightest. Fortunately, she does not require either my understanding or appreciation. She has taken innate gifts and worked very hard to develop them to meet the requirements of that competition.  Political/social thought isn’t on that list.

Beauty contestants have the right to have opinions just like all the other citizens. They have no necessary relevant skill. Indeed, I cannot help but wonder if there is a shred of fairness in throwing out political pitches in a beauty pageant. I don’t know if some sponsor has some predetermined opinion or if it’s just the trendy thing to do. If the former, expecting some public opinion bump based on the opinion of a beauty contestant  is a bit silly.

This idea is out there, however, and has some legs: “Violence is not the way to fight violence.” 

So let’s go there. There are several important points to look at.

First and foremost, there is only one short and sweet truism in guiding public policy. Here it is: There are no generally applicable and dependable truisms. Everything, everything requires context, everything has conditions, limitations and exceptions.  Fact patterns are too complicated to develop hard rules.  Cute, pithy sayings have long been the least reliable basis of public policy yet the most common refuge of the intellectually lazy.

I’m remembering a history professor at Fairmont State College in the early 1970s. This guy was strongly opposed to the American presence in Vietnam and for that matter the American military generally. And so, he pronounced that “History proves that aggressors always lose.” The assumption, of course, was at the United States was the “aggressor.”. In doing so, this guy mistook an old tactical doctrine which technology had rendered partly obsolete and spun out absolute strategic blather. The reason? We all want the quick and easy way to prove that we’re right about what we already believe.

And I won’t leave the detour without a nod to the late Pete Zivkovic - not the stunt driver, the poet - He was my professor and was the first one to goad me into disagreeing loudly with HIM.  Accepting dishwater as champagne is stupid.  I can hear him now:  "Freshmen.  Hmph.  No guts."  Boy, I miss Pete.

The inboxes and the blogosphere are full of cute, quick & pointed posts going out to “the faithful” to prove what “the faithful” already believe. That’s the point of sending out trivial, thoughtless bullshit.

And yet no public policy discussion worthy of the name is short or easy. Nor is a responsible policy discussion a race to seize emotional ownership of everyone’s pain to support The One True Answer.

Emotional content of the guns in school shooting rage is overpowering. On Wednesday, the president announced his congressional aims and executive actions (mostly letterwriting) against firearms. He did so with a background audience of schoolchildren who had written him letters. How insufferably cutesy and intolerably irrelevant. Everyone wants a piece of the grief so that so that they can shortcut reason or discussion.  Emotion proves, doesn’t it, that  we must act and that mere reason or mere discussion is intolerable?

Let’s test “Violence is not the way to fight violence.” In short, it’s sweet, and sometimes it’s true. Indeed, there are instances where that particular approach has worked.

A couple of nights ago, I did something rare for me, watched a movie – the 1982 flick, Gandhi. We credit, accurately I think, a strong policy of nonviolent noncooperation with breaking the British colonial hold on India.

Therefore, nonviolence works. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Well, actually, no.

Specifically, nonviolence as actually applied under all the conditions which existed as to British colonial rule over the Indian subcontinent led to the result of the British leaving. We do not have data reference what any alternate method would have accomplished and when it would have done so. In that instance, under those circumstances, nonviolence worked well. That’s what we can say.

In that instance, the nonviolent noncooperation was sufficiently accepted by enough of the population (and sufficiently ignored by most of the rest) to work against a Western-style government. 

It seems important to note that governments almost always want to do the effective, expedient thing and almost always want to believe that they’re doing the moral and ethical thing. Of course, opinions differ on whether they are actually moral and ethical. Moreover, governments act collectively, if slowly. The “slowly” part was significant in the Indian situation. It took several decades of the nonviolent approach to terminate the Raj.

So, does this lead to a conclusion that “Violence is not the way to fight violence” is a truism which will be effectively applied to the orgy of interpersonal violence? As an absolute predictor, hell no.

Beyond that, we have to apply reason and reasonable people differ. I’m thinking that adopting nonviolence as a response to greater personal violence has some problems.

There is evil in the world in the person of those who do violence. They do so sometimes for logical (if selfish) reasons – for example, a robbery. They may do so for irrational or just poison-mean reasons  – such as school/theater/drive-by/whatever events.

I think it is evident that the persons who use unprovoked violence against others have little compunction in doing so. Moreover, they tend to use weapons and other methods of overwhelming violence rather than risk “a fair fight.”  That is logical in its own way because that reduces risks to themselves.

Broadly, what can our responses to violence be?

We can decline to resist and hope for the best. I’m not familiar with a lot of historical examples where genuinely evil people have suddenly experienced remorse or some collective attack of conscience and thereby turned away from violence.  Jesus may have said to turn the other cheek, but people who do get their asses beat a lot.

We can adopt a defensive posture, locks, avoidance, fortifications and so forth. Inasmuch as avoiding violence wherever possible is wise (and indeed is strongly taught in concealed weapon permit courses) maintaining a defensive posture is a good idea. There are those, however, who are not deterred by barriers and who “keep coming.”. 

Finally, on this very broad scale, we can respond to violence with violence. We know that can be immediately effective. Evil people have selected force because they believe in it. They believe that force will be effective to gain whatever rational or irrational ends they may have. They believe that others will give in or simply be defeated, and then the evil people attain whatever and start looking for.

Using force (violence) against wrongdoers first and foremost is believable. They have already decided that it works. So in some instances, the expressed willingness coupled with a demonstrated ability to respond with force deters the violence. This is not well documented at least in part because fights avoided don’t make the news and largely don’t get reported. If the threat of force doesn’t work, sufficient violence directly to those who start violence can end the threat and safeguard those who have been acting lawfully.

And so, in some circumstances, violence is the most effective cure for violence and all in all a great idea.

However, if we try to disguise “good” violence as being something friendly and benign, we are not only shallow and confused, we are lying. 

Violence is not friendly, no matter who does it. Violence causes harm. We make a value judgment as to whether the harm or the risk of harm is doing some good which justifies it.

A couple of weeks ago, a couple of nitwits in Portland, Oregon, took their AR-15 pattern rifles and took a walk around town. Those are black “military style” rifles and they were carrying them quite legally. The point they were saying they were trying to make was that nice guys do carry guns and that doing so is legal, safe and “normal.”

Here, too, we have people doing something quick and dirty which I think makes a point. Okay, they think it makes a good point, rather than accurately making the point that they are shallow and arrogant.

Rifles are not normal. Rifles are not safe. Neither are handguns. Neither are knives, clubs, or any other weapons. Weapons were intended to cause harm to people. They are not friendly and fuzzy things. I approve of weapons because there are lots and lots of people out there who are willing to break their covenant with their fellow citizens and harm them. But if we start looking at weapons is something other than dangerous and deadly things, we are every bit as unrealistic as a citizen who expects the police to appear out of midair when something bad happens.

Violence is unpleasant. Violent injury is a terrible thing to see. It is not to be sought and it is not to be glorified. 

Sometimes, however, violence works when other things don’t.

09 January 2013

Guns & School Shootings, Part 6: Considering Bans, Registration & Limitations of Certain Rights

 “I have a right to [fill in the blank]” can be the most effective argument an American citizen has to settle a controversy. “Rights,” when they actually exist, hold the power of a sacred covenant among citizens who have formed a government.

Rights came about that because the Framers of government – more especially this of ours – believed that unless personal rights were clearly guaranteed, they would be eventually eroded or quickly denied.

Fundamental personal rights of Americans are found in the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution:

  • Amendment I - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • Amendment II - 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.

  • Amendment IV - The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  • Amendment V - No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, ... ; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
  • Amendment VI - In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State ... , and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

  • Amendment VIII - Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted

The Second Amendment is implicated in our current discussion. 

In the Revolutionary and immediate Post-revolutionary periods, the Framers feared that somehow some right to bear arms for defense would be limited.

Similarly, they feared that absent a free press, censorship would keep the public from having a full view of the events of society. Stifling speech would quiet innovation. Lest the government was forbidden to fiddle with religion, the Framers feared that we would have some mandatory state church. This last right, by the way, has been expanded considerably from the literal words of the First Amendment into a “wall of separation” between church and state.

The Framers feared that absent a warrant requirement, public law enforcement officers would stroll through private homes on the off chance that there was untaxed liquor and so forth.

And so it went.

I have noted over the years that the Bill of Rights generally constrains the powers of government and generally permits some damned indecent behavior. As such, I’ve noted on occasion that it is quite a barrier to efficient government. 

Apparently, the Framers knew that and were willing to accept that cost.

But if you just know that someone is up to no good – maybe they have been profiled but maybe they fit a criminal profile -- we all know those people do that – why not go ahead and take a peek in their car?  That Fourth Amendment can’t be that important. 

If the press is going to publish something harmful or embarrassing, why protect the big publishers rather than those who otherwise will be kneecapped by words that cannot be withdrawn?

We seem to take our rights pretty seriously and seem be willing to put up with a lot of negativity to protect them.

There are number of proposals being bandied about concerning the obvious great crisis with firearms given the Connecticut school shooting of December 2012.  Something on the order of 13,000 Americans die by guns every year. Of those, 1500 are accidental and 2000 or so are justified, i.e., in personal defense.  (Different sources give different numbers, but they aren’t far off.)  Those who seek to control guns say that these proposals are consistent with the Second Amendment even after the United States Supreme Court rulings in the Heller and McDonald cases declared that the Second Amendment establishes a personal right.

Here are a few the proposals:

  • Ban detachable magazines which can contain more than 10 rounds.

  • Ban “assault weapons,” which are apparently weapons that look mean.

  • Ban firearms with semi-automatic actions.

  • Ban weapons with calibers over something modest, say .38 inches.

  • Make the bans retroactive, that is, make possessing those objects already in circulation illegal. After all, this is been done before. The private ownership of gold in the 1930s comes to mind.

  • Require that anyone owning a firearm be registered.

  • Require that every firearm be registered.

  • Make every public sale of firearms (the “gun show exception”) subject to a background check.

  • Require that all firearms transactions, public and private, be through a federal firearms licensee and therefore subject to a background check.

  • Take some unspecified action to keep firearms away from the mentally ill. Some sort of testing comes to mind.

Of course, opponents of gun control say that any of the foregoing violates the personal constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

But some of the arguments of gun proponents are ridiculous:

Adam shoots Barbara with a gun. Therefore, ban guns.

So when Charles beat Darlene to death with a baseball bat, you have to ban baseball bats.

This reductio ad absurdum is not at all helpful. In fact, it is quite silly. While it may amuse and energize the “faithful,” it’s not going to convince any other person of anything relevant to the question of gun control.

So we will begin to examine the ban, registration and limitations of products and activities for which there is a fair comparison. The parameters for what we will examine are that they must be things which create some demonstrable widespread harm even if they have some benefit, and where that harm can be limited by some government/collective action.

Are you ready? Here we go.


Tobacco was a vital part of the colonial economy. The jurisdiction of various levels of courts in colonial Virginia depended upon the value of disputes expressed either as an amount of money or a particular weight of tobacco. The use of tobacco was purely recreational. Europeans loved smoking. By experience, they found that tobacco had some addictive qualities.

Mind you, some “health nazi’s” (to use a right wing slur I’ve heard) today say that tobacco is extremely addictive.

Other than the reported pleasure which comes from the act of smoking itself and its calming effect, it’s hard to think of a single beneficial use of tobacco.  Oh, yeah, it does clean oily film off windshields, I forgot about that.

The harm scarcely needs addressed. It has been proved beyond any doubt that tobacco causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, low birth weight and a host of other ills. It further has been well documented that exposure to “secondhand smoke” causes health effects to those who have not chosen to use tobacco. Any so-called scientists who deny the extreme adverse health effects of tobacco are simply shoddy, back alley educated whores.

Smoking kills 400,000 Americans a year. How can anyone make an argument for anything but a ban?

Well, that one’s a no-brainer. But where have [fill in the blank] been who now want to protect Americans from one certain danger when this beast is out there which has killed so many more for so long? There are no reasons for any exceptions, just ban it.


You saw that one coming.

It has been known by mankind for millennia that  organic matter can go through a change, one we now understand chemically. It changes sugars to alcohol.

The alcohol (ethanol) has an effect on the human nervous system. Relaxation. Diminished inhibitions which make for enjoyable social and perhaps dating situations. Increased quantities can lead to stupor which some few prefer to real life.

Ethanol has an effect on perception and motor control roughly correlated to the amount ingested. If an act requires a level of judgment or motor control be safe, alcohol can reduce a person to a level where the action becomes unsafe.

Alcohol is also considered addictive. It is generally considered to cause directly 75,000 American deaths every year.

Ethanol is reputed to have some health benefits. Some say it thins the blood. Others claim niche qualities such as certain chemical components of wine which may protect against cardiac disease.

Also saw, some organic products can be converted to ethanol to be used as a motor fuel.

Ethanol has minor positives, but on the whole it has been the bane of civilization.

As we know, a ban of alcohol was attempted previously in the United States. 

As an aside, I have to wonder: The right to produce and imbibe alcohol was not clearly delineated in the Constitution. However, everyone seemed to agree in the 1910s that we needed a constitutional amendment to ban it. Since other rights are delineated, one must wonder how mere statutes can do very much to any of the rights which are plainly written into the Bill of Rights - speech, the press, guns, juries, the whole Megillah.

How do we as address the ethanol problem?

Again, an outright ban is the easiest. But if we do a balancing of the interests, it may be that there are minor medicinal purposes important enough to register sellers and register sales. Of course, we would need to do background checks through the government computers to make sure that a potential purchaser has no prior drug or alcohol crime, domestic violence crime or drug/alcohol/mental health medical history. 

Such controls can be defended quite well. When some shabby redneck driving a big pickup truck wanders into the liquor store to buy a couple of bottles of Jack Daniels, the clerk knows damn sure that there is a possibility this yokel is going to go driving with a snootful, cross the centerline, and crash into a school bus full of children.

So what have [fill in the blanks with the usual congressional suspects] been thinking and where have they been?

Videos/interactive games depicting interpersonal violence:

Initially, I thought  video games were pretty cool. I remember finding time on monster college mainframes, ones big enough to run “Asteroids.” The thought that there was a mere machine that could do the mass of mathematics necessary to back that game up was amazing.

Well, you know the story. Games now can place a gamer as a participant in all kinds of activities.

Some game roles are benign, educational and no doubt fun. Microsoft produced a piloting game where you could pilot various aircraft. I doubt that Microsoft Flying (or whatever it was called) ever whetted anyone’s appetite for flying drugs in from Columbia.

But the others! The war games! Good Lord, they don’t deal with just guns, not even with just assault weapons, they give these participants magic assault weapons. They give these poor, deluded children illegal, fully automatic weapons with endless magazines so that they never run out of bullets. The gamers watch as other human beings are torn to bloody, steaming pieces of meat by the streams of large caliber bullets from assault weapons with endlessly large magazines.  The gore of their bloodletting rage is graphic beyond words. And we sanction this! And we protect this “educational/entertainment software” under the First Amendment.

Moreover, when these profligate gun-gamers are themselves shot by their evil foes, there is a little blood graphic on the screen, but they just need to punch the reset button and they are back at work, good as new, it must just have been a bit of a flesh wound.

And those aren’t even the worst games. There are actually games where participants can mimic committing specific crimes of violence using firearms and other weapons. These, too, are supposedly protected under the First Amendment.

How is it possible to justify banning certain implements occasionally used in crimes over possible objections of one constitutional amendment and yet letting another constitutional amendment protect instructional videos teaching youth how to kill and maim in the first place? The mind boggles.


Oddly enough, I have to be a little bit passionate here, too. Like anybody in the Emergency Services Fellowship, I have taken some bodies out of cars. Goes with the territory, but just doesn’t make for a good day. Almost invariability, there’s something which could be done collectively – that is, by the government – to eliminate most of these deaths.

The first and simplest is to lower the speed limit. The amount of energy of a moving object depends on its mass times the square of its velocity. Therefore, the automobile moving at 40 miles per hour has four times the energy of one moving at the speed of 20 miles per hour.   If a 40 mile per hour automobile hits something, there’s four times the energy which has to go somewhere. It will go into the object it hits  and if that’s another car, its occupants; and it will be absorbed by the automobile itself and its own occupants. The more energy, the more deformation. The more deformation of a person, the more likely they are dead. This is really simple stuff.

Reducing the speed of accidents drastically cuts down on deaths and injuries. So the first thing that government can do RIGHT NOW is cut the speed limits to something safe – say 50 miles an hour on interstate highways and 30 miles an hour on two-lane secondary roads. Sure, everyone would complain, everyone would be talking about their right to go here and there, but they don’t have a right to kill people. Inconvenient? Sure. But motor vehicle accidents kill 33,000 people per year.  One simple statute will save more than twice the number of lives as we have been babbling about for the last month.

Consequences? Of course. What else is new?

Also, there are simply some vehicles that should not be out there, the “assault weapons” of transportation. Here I’m referring to motorcycles. Someone is 17 times more likely to be killed riding a motorcycle over a given route than he or she is to be killed traveling the same route in an automobile. What is utility of a motorcycle? It’s fun. It’s probably fun that can be seen as constitutionally protected one way or another. Hell, I used to love to get on the bike and take a ride. But it’s still dangerous. And don’t we have an obligation to protect the children?

Further, we can keep certain identifiable criminal elements from obtaining these dangerous vehicles. A certain identifiable criminal element centers upon the motorcycle as its mode of transportation and intimidation. Who would Hell’s Angels Classic Car Club scare?

[Note to the gentlemen of the road:  Kindly look up “irony” in the dictionary if you haven’t already tweaked to the fact that this is what’s going on here.]

[Oddly enough, though, the case for banning motorcycles is as good as the one for banning guns.]

Moreover, the technology exists to make accidents much more survivable when they occur.   Those who like to watch automobile racing see some collisions at very high speeds from which drivers emerge unscathed. These cars are built to very high standards to be very safe. They have extremely strong steel cages that surround the driver. The driver seats are very safe and the drivers wear protective equipment including helmets. The stationary objects around racetracks are prepared are protected by collapsible barriers which change a fatal deceleration event into a survivable deceleration event.

Materials are available for the automobiles themselves, honeycomb layered metals for example, would form very effective crash protection.

Put all of this into effect on the public roads and in autos sold to real people.  All of this would come at a cost.  What are we afraid of?  Money?  To protect the public?  To protect the children?

To the usual suspects in Congress  – who are you afraid of? Could it be that the car manufacturing lobby or the oil company lobbies beat the NRA ragged?

I suppose I could also say some things about the Murderous Meat Markets, and Satanic Sellers of Sugar, although Mayor Bloomberg is working on the latter.

There are lots and lots of things we can be doing to protect the public - the children - if we’re just willing to push on that ol’ Bill of Rights.

What’ll we do?

06 January 2013

Guns & Schools, Part 5: When Guns Even in Schools Are a Good Idea

No post or series of  posts will cover adequately the topic of firearms violence. Even if some pundit makes the fundamental error of separating firearms violence from violence generally, still no series of writings or articles can do more than walk through the neighborhood of violence.

Nor can any book.

Nor can any one person, no matter how hard he or she works nor how long he or she works at it.

Not Wayne LaPierre..

Not Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Not R. Lee “The Gunny” Ermey.

Not the President, the Atty. Gen., the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Speaker, the Justices or even victims of violence.

And sure as hell not me.

Nevertheless, there are times when guns are a good idea.

God made humans.

It is not necessary to this discussion that the reader believe that. The premises here are equally valid if the reader accepts pure, unguided evolution.

Col. Colt made all humans (potentially) equal.

Humans seek to exercise power and control over other humans. It would be nice to say that we can educate that out of ourselves, but several millennia of trying has done nothing. 

Those who exercise power may have bad motives: “Your money or your life.” They may have good motives and pure motives: “This is for your own good.” When power is applied, when force is applied, it feels the same no matter what the motives are behind it.

Anciently, power depended on size, strength and numbers. The bigger and stronger the opponent – usually, young-to-middle- age, larger males – and the more of them there were, the more likely they would dominate everyone else. Even weapons were muscle powered. 

The sword took a strong arm. Some very few years ago, an old cargo ship wreck of English longbows was raised. The salvagers found that the strongest of them could barely draw one of those longbows.

The great Hittite warrior Goliath carried a huge sword and hundreds of pounds of bronze armor. Little David did not win the encounter because he was a good and gentle soul supported by the Lord God Jehovah. If you strip away the poetry and puffery,  David won because he was pretty strong himself. He was strong enough to use a centrifugal sling to accelerate a large rock to a speed which caused a fatal injury to an unarmored forehead. 

Of course, he also had the phenomenal skill or fantastic luck to hit the target.

Please note that the writer of the biblical account did not make it a sword fight. Nobody would have believed that.

Until the 16th and 17th Centuries, the combination of size, strength and numbers was totally dependable in comparing relative power and in handicapping confrontations. As firearms caught on, smaller and weaker people could use the power of chemicals (gunpowder) as a substitute for muscle power and leverage. There was still a good bit of strength involved – matchlocks, wheellocks and flintlock long guns were very heavy.

In the 18th Century, single shot pistols were becoming more commonly available. That put chemical power potential into more hands. A single shot muzzleloading pistol took about 30 seconds to reload. That made such a pistol at best a poor defensive implement. For multiple shots, one would need to carry multiple weapons and they too were not light.

[Light historical note: Noted pirate Edward “Blackbeard” Teach carried six flintlock pistols in his sash into battle. Likely, that was more advertising gimmick than anything, because he also stuck several burning “matches” (slow burning cords used to ignite cannons) into his beard.]

Then in the 19th Century, three technological changes made effective personal defense a reality.

The first was the percussion cap.  This was a small copper cap containing a very small quantity of explosive which was fit over a metal nipple at the base of the propellant. It closed the ignition system to the weather, was much more dependable than the flintlock ignition which preceded it and  enabled the weapon to be held at any attitude without degrading the integrity of the charge.

The second was the revolving pistol. A cylinder with multiple (usually six) chambers contained igniter, propellant and projectile so that all charges could be fired from the same weapon without reloading. In many of these, a pre-loaded cylinder could be swapped out for a fast reload.

The third was the metallic cartridge. No longer did  each chamber of the cylinder had to be prepared with igniter, propellant and projectile in advance. In the  metallic cartridge, the igniter, propellant and projectile were contained in one unit.

Further technological advances such as smokeless powder and the semi-automatic action made pistols more effective – that means more lethal – but they weren’t the seachange of the revolver with a metallic cartridge.

Fairly quickly, pistols became available in various weights and calibers. Many were small enough to conceal easily. The smaller calibers were best used at short range. These gave the physically smallest and weakest persons a defensive sting.

Every weapon can be used for offensive or defensive purposes.

For a moment, let us leave the notion of rights aside, excepting only the natural imperative to defend oneself and family from lethal attack.

As with lots of public questions, the last month of debate about gun violence really comes down to a balancing of interests.

On the one side, access by the general public to effective lethal weapons means that those who would use violence for evil purposes will more likely be able to obtain firearms. Firearms accidents will more likely occur. Firearms will be more available for crimes of passion by those not previously bent on crime and for suicide. These are facts which the gun lobby sometimes ignores. And yet the question is not whether they are true. They are. The question is how much influence they will have compared to competing influences.

Restricting public access to effective lethal weapons means that those presented with immediate threats will have less or no effective means to counter the threats of those persons who would injure or kill them or their families. Gun opponents ignore those facts. Yet those facts are true. Again, the question is how much influence they will have compared to competing influences.

The notion of self-help for personal defense and personal care is not ignoble or “dirty words.” Calling 911 is de rigeur when violence happens.  But that isn't enough.

As an aside, our relationship with the police is strange. We resent them for pulling us over when we’re driving badly. We resent paying them a living wage. Seldom is any one willing to assist them when they’re in trouble. Yet when trouble happens, we expect them to get in their Starship Enterprise transporter and appear instantly.

The police do not have transporters. They have cars. They do not appear instantly. They are not a preventive force. They are a reactive force.

We have heard tapes of 911 calls where people are home and call for police when someone is breaking in. On the open line, we can hear the homeowner warning the person breaking through a door, “The police are coming.  I have a gun.  Go away.” Then there is a sound of glass breaking, or a door breaking down, and the sound of the gunshot.

Evolution wins again.

Some would not shoot under those circumstances. We should respect that choice. This is America. But we should not be imposing that choice to forgo defending oneself on others. 

It is not a matter of “stand your ground.” In every firearms class I’ve ever attended and from ever every firearms instructor I’ve ever talked to, the notion of “standing your ground” is ridiculed. Students are taught to avoid the fight. And yet, if your foe is intent upon a confrontation, such as beating down your front door, the confrontation is going to happen.

There should be some concern over the attitude of “No guns, let the police do it.” Some of my friends call this a part of the “Wussification of America.”  I’m inclined to agree.  The thesis is that we are becoming progressively less willing to do things for ourselves and less willing to do difficult things. Our children do not join groups which go camping, they sit on their asses playing video games. (That will be a part of another installment.) In the name of “safety,” we cannot take pocket knives into public buildings.

We express fear of objects and avoid discussing violent people or real violence. After all, it’s easier to ban an object that it is to confront a violent person.

That’s was part of our scene in part  four last week about David Gregory being “investigated” when he used an empty 30 round magazine on television as a prop in a DC TV studio.

If you go online to find the DC weapons code you will find that it’s worse – okay, more restrictive – than most people can imagine. I did so a few days ago.  When I did, I started laughing.

Thank God I’m not in DC. (I’m thanking God for that for a number of reasons.)

On the base of my desk lamp is a single round of regular jacketed .223 ammunition. Were I in DC, my possessing that one single round would cost me a fine and a year in jail. The reason? I do not now own a “registered” weapon of that caliber. I haven’t owned a .223 in years. The round was going to be an exhibit in a case which unexpectedly pleaded out.

Now – why is possessing such a thing a crime? What can I possibly do with that ammunition if I don't have the weapon there? Poke someone’s eye out? A pencil would work better. Shouldn't DC be banning pens and pencils?  

That silly provision of DC law has not protected one single soul.

What should we be doing? We should be looking first to what action is being taken by those who have really studied the situation, those on the firing line. 

The National Rifle Association says that we should be putting police officers in the schools. That suggestion has been ridiculed by firearms opponents.

The most sensitive to the issue have to be the police agencies in and around Newtown, Connecticut. What are they doing? Well, there is a very heavy police presence in the schools, particularly the transplanted elementary school.

CNN just reported that two school districts in New Jersey are now placing police officers full-time in schools there.

The press has been giving the issue a lot of attention. Various outlets have published all sorts of related pieces.  The Journal News in Westchester, New York, published an interactive map showing the names and addresses of thousands of holders of concealed weapons permits. They receive a lot of negative feedback in including one e-mail which was vaguely threatening – not enough to warrant any action by the police, but apparently enough to worry the publisher. 

Here we have educated and dedicated people who take a strong stand against firearms being in the hands of others than the police or military. Now they are personally feeling threatened. What to do?

Simple – they’ve hired armed guards.

Were I a cynic, I would say they’re doing a little bit of “poor me,” or using this as a way to express the opinion that permit holders are a bunch of nuts. But the people in the Fourth Estate are citizens and they have a right to defend themselves and they are choosing to use  armed citizens to do it.

I say, good for them.

Oh, by the way, the names and addresses  that The Journal News published included those of retired police officers who now  are on guard more concerning retribution from thugs they’ve put in prison.  Also published were the names, addresses and phone numbers of domestic violence victims in hiding from their abusers.  Those victims, mostly women, are now scared shitless that their tormentors will come after them.

Every action has consequences.

An incidental:   I just saw a news report that a teacher-tinkerer in Pittsburgh has invented a very simple and cheap locking device for emergency use on classroom doors which open outward. For maybe 80 bucks per room, a classroom can be made very secure against intrusion.

Note:  Norton, I hope I've pissed you off somewhere here!