Archive for the ‘USA: guns’ Category

Fruitvale Station

fruitvale station

I’ve been following the events in Ferguson MO over the past week like everyone and, like everyone with a conscience and who knows how to think—and which even includes certain conservatives—, have been appalled by its only-in-America character. In following the events—which, being in the US at present, I’ve been able to do on cable TV—I have been reminded of this pertinent film, directed by the 26-year-old Ryan Coogler, that I saw last January, when it opened in Paris. It’s about the shooting and killing by a police officer of a 22-year-old black male named Oscar Grant III—who did absolutely nothing to merit being shot and killed—in Oakland CA on New Year’s Eve 2008-09, at the Fruitvale BART station, and which led to civil disturbances over the subsequent days (for details of what happened, go here). [UPDATE: Here are mobile phone videos taken of the actual incident by passengers on the BART train (h/t Ellis Goldberg)]. The film, taking some dramatic license, reconstructs the day of Oscar’s life that preceded his killing, of his somewhat unstable life relationship and employment-wise, but depicting him as a basically good guy who strove to lead a normal life and absolutely did not deserve to suffer violent death. It all goes to show that merely being a young black male in America and going about your life can get you shot and killed by the police, and even in the deepest of blue states. So if you want to see a movie that is both good—reviews were tops—and topical, see this one (which should have, by all rights, received Oscar nominations but did not). Trailer is here.

BTW, when I wrote above that the Ferguson events presently underway were “only-in-America,” I did not mean to imply that America is exceptional when it comes to racist cops behaving badly toward members of visible minority groups. This happens in many countries, including France, of course (I’ve had so many posts on this that they need not be linked to). What is only-in-America—among advanced Western democracies, at least—is the trigger-happiness of the police, of the sheer number of unarmed visible minority young men they kill. À propos, here’s a commentary in The Economist magazine I just read on the militarized “Trigger happ[iness]” of the American police, which so contrasts from its counterparts in Great Britain. And contrasting with another major Western democracy, here’s an item from two years ago on how “German police fired just 85 bullets total in 2011,” compared with the

84 shots [that] were fired at one murder suspect in Harlem, and another 90 at an unarmed man in Los Angeles.

In France the police are thoroughly racist and odious. And their behavior regularly provokes riots by youthful members of visible minorities. So how many people do the police kill during such occurrences? In the biggest recent riots of all—over three weeks in October-November 2005—the number of persons killed was exactly two (and neither by bullets). Case closed.


In the interests of fairness and balance—and not to make the police look all bad—, I saw a quite good indy pic back in late ’12, ‘End of Watch’, directed by David Ayer, of a couple of buddy cops in East L.A. trying to do their job and who have to deal with, entre autres, Mexican criminal gangs whose proclivity for violence far exceeds anything any US police department would be capable of. Roger Ebert’s four-star review thus began

“End of Watch” is one of the best police movies in recent years, a virtuoso fusion of performances and often startling action. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are Taylor and Zavala, two Los Angeles street cops who bend a few rules but must be acknowledged as heroes. After too many police movies about officers who essentially use their badges as licenses to run wild, it’s inspiring to realize that these men take their mission — to serve and protect — with such seriousness they’re willing to risk their lives.

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, who called the pic “An all-time cop-movie classic,” also got it right. It’s a violent film, that’s for sure, be may absolutely be seen. Trailer is here.

end of watch

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Yet one more massacre

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.  (Credit: abc7.com)

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.
(Credit: abc7.com)

[update below]

Joe Nocera of the NYT has a must read column today on the Second Amendment, “What did the Framers really mean?” For those who are maxed out on their free NYT access or are too lazy to click on the link, here’s the whole thing

Three days after the publication of Michael Waldman’s new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a killing spree, stabbing three people and then shooting another eight, killing four of them, including himself. This was only the latest mass shooting in recent memory, going back to Columbine.

In his rigorous, scholarly, but accessible book, Waldman notes such horrific events but doesn’t dwell on them. He is after something else. He wants to understand how it came to be that the Second Amendment, long assumed to mean one thing, has come to mean something else entirely. To put it another way: Why are we, as a society, willing to put up with mass shootings as the price we must pay for the right to carry a gun?

The Second Amendment begins, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” and that’s where Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, begins, too. He has gone back into the framers’ original arguments and made two essential discoveries, one surprising and the other not surprising at all.

The surprising discovery is that of all the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, the Second was probably the least debated. What we know is that the founders were deeply opposed to a standing army, which they viewed as the first step toward tyranny. Instead, their assumption was that the male citizenry would all belong to local militias. As Waldman writes, “They were not allowed to have a musket; they were required to. More than a right, being armed was a duty.”

Thus the unsurprising discovery: Virtually every reference to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” — the second part of the Second Amendment — was in reference to military defense. Waldman notes the House debate over the Second Amendment in the summer of 1789: “Twelve congressmen joined the debate. None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia.”

In time, of course, the militia idea died out, replaced by a professionalized armed service. Most gun regulation took place at the state and city level. The judiciary mostly stayed out of the way. In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld the nation’s first national gun law, the National Firearms Act, which put onerous limits on sawed-off shotguns and machine guns — precisely because the guns had no “reasonable relation” to “a well-regulated militia.”

But then, in 1977, there was a coup at the National Rifle Association, which was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists. Over the course of the next 30 years, they set out to do nothing less than change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that it’s final phrase — “shall not be infringed” — referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense.

Waldman is scornful of much of this effort. Time and again, he finds the proponents of this new view taking the founders’ words completely out of context, sometimes laughably so. They embrace Thomas Jefferson because he once wrote to George Washington, “One loves to possess arms.” In fact, says Waldman, Jefferson was referring to some old letter he needed “so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state.

Still, as Waldman notes, the effort was wildly successful. In 1972, the Republican platform favored gun control. By 1980, the Republican platform opposed gun registration. That year, the N.R.A. gave its first-ever presidential endorsement to Ronald Reagan.

The critical modern event, however, was the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which tossed aside two centuries of settled law, and ruled that a gun-control law in Washington, D.C., was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, who fancies himself the leading “originalist” on the court — meaning he believes, as Waldman puts it, “that the only legitimate way to interpret the Constitution is to ask what the framers and their generation intended in 1789.”

Waldman is persuasive that a truly originalist decision would have tied the right to keep and bear arms to a well-regulated militia. But the right to own guns had by then become conservative dogma, and it was inevitable that the five conservative members of the Supreme Court would vote that way.

“When the militias evaporated,” concludes Waldman, “so did the original meaning of the Second Amendment.” But, he adds, “What we did not have was a regime of judicially enforced individual rights, able to trump the public good.”

Sadly, that is what we have now, as we saw over the weekend. Elliot Rodger’s individual right to bear arms trumped the public good. Eight people were shot as a result.

Also worth reading is Michael Moore’s reaction to the Isla Vista massacre, posted on his Facebook page (h/t Lisa H.)

With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.

Yes, as this is America, it will indeed happen again. Very soon.

UPDATE: Americans get killed by guns every day, by people who are not criminals or “bad guys.” Every last day of the week. If one does not believe me, read the “Holiday Weekend Gun Report: May 23-26, 2014” on Joe Nocera’s NYT blog.


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12 Years a Slave


[updates below]

I’m presently in the US on holiday. Seeing a movie a day. And since I don’t feel like writing about politics at the present time, I’ll write about movies. This one I saw last week, catching it at the very last theater in the area where it’s still showing. As it’s at the end of its US run—sortie en France le 22 janvier—presumably everyone who has had any interest in seeing it has done so by now. I don’t have anything original to add to what’s already been said about it. It is quite simply the most powerful film ever made on slavery in the American South. It entirely merits its 97 score on Metacritic—and is the best American movie of the year IMO.

Two things that went through my mind during the film and thinking about and discussing it after. One was the terrorist regime in the American South—where I happen to be at the moment (in a civilized part)—and that persisted for a century after the end of the Civil War. The American South was the most politically reactionary, violent, quasi feudal, and least democratic part of the Western world into the mid 20th century. And the entire white population was complicit. There may have been a few relatively kindly or benign slave owners—and one sees two in the film—but they were still slave owners. During the post Civil War century of Jim Crow, no sector of white society, not even a small minority, challenged the existing order. Practically no Southern whites participated in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s or openly supported it. Cf. South Africa, where a minority of whites did oppose apartheid (some even joining the ANC). And also unlike South Africa, there was no Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the post-Jim Crow South. The federal government imposed the change on the South via legislation, court rulings, and even troops, and that was that. The South had no choice but to acquiesce. Of course there’s been accommodation, some at least, and life for black Americans in the South today bears little resemblance to what it was sixty years ago, but there’s still a direct line between the white Weltanschauung depicted in the film and that of the current Tea Party GOP, which dominates (white) Southern politics. How else to comprehend the GOP’s determination to restrict the suffrage via undermining the Voting Rights Act (America being the only country in the Western world—or even among non-Western democracies—where there is a concerted effort by one of the parties of government to effectively deny eligible citizens the right to vote, or to render it as difficult as possible)?

Second thought. In the scene in the film where the slaves are chopping trees with axes, one can almost feel how tempted they are—and particularly Solomon Northup/Platt—to swing around with those axes and use them on the slave owner and his overseers. White Southerners lived in permanent dread fear of slave revolts, which is one reason the violence meted out to the slaves was so extreme. If one was whipped for not meeting the quota for picked cotton, then the penalty for killing a white man could only be a slow, hideous death following torture and mutilation, and which the slaves knew well (and not even the slave owners had law on their side if they tried to shield their slaves from the wrath of whites of lesser standing; e.g. the scene of Solomon Northup/Platt being told by his first owner that he couldn’t protect him after the altercation with the overseer and the latter’s lynching posse). Thus the Second Amendment and the “right to bear arms,” here the white population forming armed militias to control the slaves. The Second Amendment was demanded by the Southern states to this end, so explicates law professor Carl T. Bogus in his 1998 article “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment,” published in the University of California at Davis Law Review. America and guns: it was all about controlling slaves. Yes, it was.

UPDATE: The Guardian has an interesting and informative article on the film’s director, “Steve McQueen: my hidden shame.” The lede: “His new film 12 Years A Slave is an unflinching look at human brutality. But director Steve McQueen’s childhood contains a painful secret he has never confronted.” (January 4, 2014)

2nd UPDATE: Jonathan Chait has a quite good essay, dated December 4th, “12 Years a Slave and the Obama Era,” on the New York magazine website.

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The Business of Guns

(Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America)

(Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America)

[update below]

I received an email the other day from a representative of a website, Minute MBA, “that provides education and industry insights to current and prospective MBA students,” promoting a short video that “offers a politically-neutral snapshot of the financial state of the American gun industry.” It’s pretty good, so here it is. In just over one minute the video gives a good idea as to why serious gun control in the US—now or ever—is rather unlikely (and it’s not about the Second Amendment).

UPDATE: Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) has a post on the HuffPost politics blog, describing how “Hawaii has shown that gun control works.” One thing she neglected to mention—and that would reinforce the argument for national legislation—is that Hawaii is way out in the ocean, so that its gun control regulations cannot be easily undermined by firearms brought in from across state lines. (September 26)

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The Boston bombers – V

bruce beattie

John Cassidy of The New Yorker has a must read counterfactual reflection on what the fallout from the Boston bombing would have been had

the Tsarnaev brothers, instead of packing a couple of pressure cookers loaded with nails and explosives into their backpacks a week ago Monday, had stuffed inside their coats two assault rifles—Bushmaster AR-15s, say, of the type that Adam Lanza used in Newtown. What would have been different?

For starters, a lot more people would have been killed. But would the Tsarnaevs have been labeled “terrorists” (as Adam Lanza and Aurora shooter James Eagan Holmes were not)? Would their AR-15s have been designated as “weapons of mass destruction” (as the Tsarnaevs’ IED has been)? And what would have happened to the gun control bill in Congress? Read Cassidy’s examination here. And marvel once again at what a crazy country America is when it comes to guns.

Nate Silver had a post the other day on his FiveThirtyEight blog with poll data showing that Americans have a growing resolve to live with the threat of terrorism. In other words, Americans are, in fact, less hysterical over incidents of terrorism than the media makes them out to be. And they are certainly less so than politicians.

John Avlon of TDB has a column that is not really related to Boston—but is to the subject of my previous post, of politicians being idiots—, in which he expresses concern over adherence to conspiracy theories by growing numbers of GOP elected officials. “GOP lawmakers embrace the crazy.” I think we’ve known that for a while now.

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From The New York Times op-ed page


SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.

Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.

I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.

They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.

This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic representative from Arizona from 2007 to 2012, is a founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, which focuses on gun violence.

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Armed correlations

Tom Tomorrow 12192012

Great tribune by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, on the NYT’s revelations of Newtown killer Adam Lanza’s home environment and the predictable response of the gun nuts. Gopnik is so good on this issue and says it better than I. Money quote (one of them, as there are several)

If America had gun laws like those in Canada, England, or Australia, it would have a level of gun violence more like that of Canada, England, or Australia. That’s as certain a prediction as any that the social sciences can provide. To believe that gun control can’t work here is to believe that the psyches of Americans are different from those of everyone else on earth. That’s a form of American exceptionalism—the belief that Americans are uniquely evil and incorrigibly violent, and that there’s nothing to be done about it—that doesn’t seem to be the one that is usually endorsed.

At this point in history anyone who supports the NRA’s position is a sick and deranged person. Pro-NRAers are loathsome and despicable people. End of argument. Case closed.

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The faces of evil

Larry Pratt

This man, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA)—a group that considers the NRA to be too moderate on the issue of guns, too willing to compromise and “sell out” the apparent rights of gun owners—, believes strongly that the response to the Newtown massacre should be more guns in America and in more hands, including those of primary school teachers and in the classroom.

This man below, John Lott, thinks likewise.

John Lott

Imagine that, arming primary school teachers in the classroom. Or any kind of teacher, including me. Me, packing heat in front of my students (or in front of anyone). I’m trying to imagine my 4th grade teacher, Miss Blakely (below, top row left), with a loaded gun in the classroom (and that she would presumably keep in a drawer in her desk, easily accessible to any of us 9 and 10-year olds; and that she would, with her hair trigger reflexes and presence of mind, immediately whip out of the desk the second a mass murderer burst into the classroom, neutralizing him before he could do harm; or, better yet, perhaps she would have the gun on her person at all times, along with all the other teachers: Mrs. Burgdorf, Miss Harney, our art teacher Miss Chris, music teacher Mrs. Heinemann, even gym teacher Mr. Grenke…; what a sight, all of them carrying loaded guns!).

Campus Elementary School Milwaukee 4th grade 1965-66

Anyone who thinks it not only appropriate for teachers like Miss Blakely to be armed in the classroom but that they should be, is not only a despicable SOB and with a sick, deranged mind but is also evil. If Larry Pratt’s and John Lott’s wishes were to become reality—of a society where just about everyone is armed, at pretty much all times, and with the arm of his or her choice, including semi-automatic rifles—there would simply be that many more people killed. This certain outcome of Larry Pratt’s and John Lott’s vision makes these men evil. Period.

Lott does have academic credentials and has authored a few books on the issue, and based on data, so it seems, though his arguments—and his use of data—have been rubbished, notably in this article by Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III in the Stanford Law Review (which was linked to in Nicholas Kristof’s NYT column yesterday, “Looking for Lessons in Newtown“).

Pratt and Lott have been making the rounds of the TV studios the past few days, including Piers Morgan’s show on CNN. Morgan, who is no gauchiste—having spent the early part of his career with Rupert Murdoch’s London tabloids—, nonetheless found these wankers beyond the pale (watch here and here). One notes with pleasure that Morgan told Pratt that “you’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?” In addition to being stupid, Pratt is also a raving idiot and a brazen liar—and that Morgan took pains to point out—, in asserting that the parts of America “where guns are allowed freely” have lower murder rates than in Europe or the UK.

Where do they find these people? Under what rocks do they slither out from? Seriously, these men are the dregs of American society. Fifteen of the twenty US states with the highest gun homicide rates are in the South and mountain West, where, until proof to the contrary, guns have long been allowed rather freely. As for the gun homicide rate by country, the table in Charles Blow’s NYT column yesterday of OECD member states—i.e. the world’s rich countries—speaks for itself.

One thing Pratt said on Morgan’s show was that “Americans with firearms at home typically have them locked in a safe, as I do and as most gun owners certainly do.” Really? I wouldn’t know myself, except that I thought one reason people keep a gun at home is for protection against burglars or robbers who break into the house. But if the gun is in a safe, it will take a minute or so to get it out, and assuming the homeowner is in the same room as the safe. Normally time and presence of mind are of the essence in such situations, no? So if the gun is not literally on the person at the time of the break-in or within reach, what use is it protection-wise? Just asking.

But in the view of Larry Pratt, the Second Amendment is, in fact, not primarily about giving Americans the ability to protect themselves in their homes but, rather, as he explained to Chris Matthews here, “to control the government,” to potentially use against the US government if it goes “overboard”… All one can to say to this is to invite the members of GOA to do just that, and right now, against the government of that socialist Nazi Muslim Kenyan who sits in the White House: to collectively use their guns against the authority of the US government. And so the US government can then arrest all of them. And if they resist arrest, kill them. With guns and legitimately.


A couple of good articles read over the past couple of days:

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, always excellent on this issue, on “The Simple Truth About Gun Control.” Note, in particular, the report he links to from the Harvard School of Public Health, on more guns = more homicides.

On the NYT Opinion page, Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Cutting on “The N.R.A.’s Blockade on Science,” on the successful efforts of the NRA to block federal funding of research on the link between guns and violent death. One is left incredulous at this. These people—the NRA, GOA, the whole wretched lot of the pro-gun lobby—really are evil people.

Christopher Weyant 121912

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Michael de Adder 12-18-2012

Jeffrey Toobin has a great comment in The New Yorker on the Second Amendment and how it was interpreted until the 1980s, when the NRA—which was taken over by activist right-wingers in the late ’70s—successfully pushed for a novel reinterpretation—and that was at variance with two centuries of constitutional understanding. Toobin—who links to important articles by Jill Lepore and Reva Siegal—concludes his short piece with this

In other words, the law of the Second Amendment is not settled; no law, not even the Constitution, ever is.

Read Toobin’s piece here. Right now.

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One more massacre (cont.) – IV

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Voilà more good articles and commentary on the fallout of the Newtown massacre.

Joshua Hollande, writing in Alternet and Salon, had a very good piece the other day, asserting that “Yes, we can have sane gun control.”

Sane gun control: banning assault weapons and 100-round ammunition clips, closing the gun show loophole, background checks, no mail order gun sales, registration, etc, etc. No one here is talking about banning all guns outright or Federal agents invading homes and confiscating pistols and hunting rifles (though in some cases at least, that might not be a bad idea).

Sane gun control, it needs to be insisted upon, in no way conflicts with recent Supreme Court rulings, as one may read in today’s NYT. There is no “settled law”—as some gun nuts put it—on the matter.

À propos, Jack Schwartz, writing in TDB, convincingly argues that “Gun-Control Foes Misunderstand the Intent of the Second Amendment.” The lede: “The NRA and paramilitary militia groups have got the Second Amendment all wrong—it’s more about suppressing rebellion than individual gun ownership.”

It looks like President Obama may be getting out front on this issue after all. Quoting David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy

[Barack] Obama is also a father of young girls. The degree to which the horror and the heartbreak of Newtown touched him was palpable, whether it was in his first remarks on Friday or during his extraordinary Sunday night address to the people most affected by the school murders. It was not just the flicking away of tears that illustrated how deeply he was moved. It was the degree to which he set aside — finally — that characteristic Obama caution.

American leaders rarely do what Obama did Sunday night. I don’t recall the last time I heard an American president so bluntly state that we were failing our children and our obligations to one another as a nation. “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” he asked. “If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.”

He did not mention guns. He didn’t have to. It was clear that he was saying 300 million guns in circulation is too many. It was clear he was saying that 30,000 gun deaths a year is an abomination. The United States has spent some $3 trillion combating terror since 9/11, and guns at home have killed twice as many Americans as terrorists have killed people worldwide since then. It is not just a national scandal. It is a disease, a fundamental and profound flaw in our national character.

The President has the public behind him on this, so he just needs to go for it.

UPDATE: Here’s Chris Rock on “bullet control.” Watch and enjoy. (h/t Dwayne W.)

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American gun shop

Looks like the national debate over guns—if one can call it a debate—is beginning to shift a little in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Normally pro-gun Dem Senators are calling for new limits on guns while the gun lobby has gone radio silent

Leaders of the [NRA] have declined interview requests since the shootings, the group’s Twitter account has gone silent, and it has deactivated its Facebook page.

And pro-gun GOP Senators have been avoiding the media, notably last Sunday’s talk shows. But a few normally NRA-supporting right-wingers are revising their positions on guns, e.g. Rupert Murdoch—though he’s from Australia, which voted tough gun control laws after the ’96 Port Arthur massacre, so what do you expect?—and Joe Scarborough, former NRA A+ GOP congressman, who says that Newtown had rendered his previous positions on guns “irrelevant” (watch here). Money quote

The Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military style high calibre semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.

Not bad, Joe. GOPers will likely attribute his change of heart to contamination from having worked so long at MSNBC. The pro-gun people are trotting out their usual bullshit arguments but the only ones they’re likely to convince are themselves. The easy availability of guns is of course a cause but so is the gun culture. À propos, WaPo has a useful piece that shows “What makes America’s gun culture totally unique in the world, in four charts.” International comparisons are essential in arguments and they must not be selective. E.g. Jeffrey Goldberg, in his lengthy, somewhat misleadingly entitled article in The Atlantic (published before Newtown), “The Case for More Guns (And More Gun Control),” writes that

Many gun-rights advocates see a link between an increasingly armed public and a decreasing crime rate. “I think effective law enforcement has had the biggest impact on crime rates, but I think concealed carry has something to do with it. We’ve seen an explosion in the number of people licensed to carry,” [John] Lott, [an economist and a gun-rights advocate who maintains that gun ownership by law-abiding citizens helps curtail crime,] told me. “You can deter criminality through longer sentencing, and you deter criminality by making it riskier for people to commit crimes. And one way to make it riskier is to create the impression among the criminal population that the law-abiding citizen they want to target may have a gun.”

Crime statistics in Britain, where guns are much scarcer, bear this out. Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University, wrote in his 1991 book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, that only 13 percent of burglaries in America occur when the occupant is home. In Britain, so-called hot burglaries account for about 45 percent of all break-ins. Kleck and others attribute America’s low rate of occupied-home burglaries to fear among criminals that homeowners might be armed. (A survey of almost 2,000 convicted U.S. felons, conducted by the criminologists Peter Rossi and James D. Wright in the late ’80s, concluded that burglars are more afraid of armed homeowners than they are of arrest by the police.)

Well, that’s Britain, and there may be other reasons for the high percentage of “hot burglaries” (e.g. maybe someone happens to be home there more often). I’d like to see the statistics for France on this but, based strictly on anecdotes and what one reads here and there, it would seem that the great majority of burglaries happen when no one is home. And then there’s South Africa, a crime-ridden and heavily armed society. In the NYT, columnist Joe Nocera thus writes

For many years, South Africa was a country every bit as gun-soaked as America. I have a friend, Greg Frank, a hedge fund manager in Charlottesville, Va., who lived in Johannesburg during a time when it had become so crime-ridden that people felt the need to own guns to protect themselves. He, too, owned a gun as a young man: “I made the excuse that I needed it for self-protection.”

The guns didn’t make anybody safer. People who were held up while waiting at a red light rarely had time to pull out their guns. And the fact that so many homes had guns became an incentive for criminals, who would break in, hold the family hostage, and then order that the safe with the guns be opened. “Everyone knew someone who had family or friends who had experienced gun violence,” he said.

Finally, he says, people got fed up. In 2004, the laws changed, requiring annual relicensing, character witnesses and other measure to keep guns out of the wrong hands. There was also an appeal to voluntarily surrender guns.

“I took my gun to the police station,” recalls Frank. “The cop receiving it wrote down the serial number, took my ID, and I was gone. It felt transformational, like a huge weight off my shoulders.”

It will for us, too, when we finally get serious about stopping gun violence.

Anyone who has lived or spent time in South Africa will tell hair-raising stories about the crime there—armed robberies, carjackings, you name it—and despite the mass ownership of firearms by the law-abiding citizenry. When criminals know that the chances are high that their victims may be armed, they will just be that much quicker on the trigger. Duh.

Correlation is not causation. Except when it is.

Back to Jeffrey Goldberg’s article, he thinks that gun control—such as articulated by those who hate the gun lobby—is mostly a pipe dream  at this stage, as, apart from the constitutional issues, America is so awash in guns that it will hardly matter. Any restrictionist law that gets through Congress—and which is not likely in this decade—will necessarily contain a grandfather clause that won’t affect the hundreds of millions of arms already in private possession. Perhaps. Though according to the statistics, the percentage of Americans who actually own guns has been declining over the past four decades. Nate Silver has some good charts and graphs on the subject—and that show, among other things, that the partisan divide on this is widening. It stands to reason that if the number of guns has been increasing but the percentage of people who own guns is declining, then America is witnessing a concentration of gun ownership in fewer hands, i.e. that there are individuals out there who own many guns, and particularly the assault rifles. The government could, of course, buy back the guns (assault rifles)—which admittedly not likely to happen—or just tax the hell out of them—or of the bullets—, or render them useless by banning or severely restricting the sale of ammunition magazines. Such legislation is not in the cards for the moment, but given America’s political-demographic trajectory, it may be envisaged in the not-too-distant future.

Goldberg had an exchange on his piece—in which he defends concealed carry, among other things—with Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon, which may be read here. James Fallows also weighed in on Goldberg’s piece here.

Chris Hayes of MSNBC had an interesting and informative debate the other night, with, among others, the brilliant constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar of the Yale Law School (in three parts, beginning here; I had a post on Amar a few months ago here). More articles:

Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker writes on “Guns and the Limits of Shame.”

Todd Gitlin in The Nation weighs in on “The Unbearable Elasticity of Gun Logic.”

Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, has a piece in TAP on “A National Gun Policy: Here Is Where We Start.”

And I should add this piece in HuffPo, “‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’: A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America.”

Also this from the NYT Opinion page, on “What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers,” by Adam Lankford, professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, who equates the psychological makeup of mass killers in America with suicide bombers in Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

To be continued…

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One more massacre (cont.) – II


Some excellent commentary in The New Yorker on the Newtown massacre, in particular, Adam Gopnik’s indictment of the gun lobby and its supporters, “Newtown and the Madness of Guns,” which expresses exactly what I’ve been thinking the past two days. Money quote

After the Aurora killings, I did a few debates with advocates for the child-killing lobby—sorry, the gun lobby—and, without exception and with a mad vehemence, they told the same old lies: it doesn’t happen here more often than elsewhere (yes, it does); more people are protected by guns than killed by them (no, they aren’t—that’s a flat-out fabrication); guns don’t kill people, people do; and all the other perverted lies that people who can only be called knowing accessories to murder continue to repeat, people who are in their own way every bit as twisted and crazy as the killers whom they defend. (That they are often the same people who pretend outrage at the loss of a single embryo only makes the craziness still crazier.) …

The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children. They have made a clear moral choice: that the comfort and emotional reassurance they take from the possession of guns, placed in the balance even against the routine murder of innocent children, is of supreme value. Whatever satisfaction gun owners take from their guns—we know for certain that there is no prudential value in them—is more important than children’s lives. Give them credit: life is making moral choices, and that’s a moral choice, clearly made.

Yes, it is not just the gun lobby that, morally speaking, has the blood the murdered Newtown children on its hands but also those who support that lobby, who own the kinds of guns used in the massacre (above), and who believe that it is their right to do so. These people are moral perverts and with twisted minds. Period. End of argument.

I’ve had numerous exchanges with gun perverts over the years and decades, including on this blog. All of them are on the GOP hard right, which is hardly a surprise, and, as in exchanges on just about every topic, they trot out the same zombie arguments and formulations, and expressed in precisely the same words, mindlessly mouthing something they likely heard on Fox News or right-wing talk radio, or read in the WSJ editorial page or some nutbag right-wing website. E.g. one line mouthed by a few right-wingers with whom I exchanged views after the Aurora massacre, who argued that the solution was not gun control but more guns and in more hands, was that “an armed society is a polite society.” To which I asked: among the most armed societies in the world are Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia; so does that mean they’re polite? I naturally did not get a response to that one.

Also in The New Yorker, Patrick Radden Keefe, writing on “Making Gun Control Happen,” quotes Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners for America, who

suggested that these massacres might be avoided in the future, if only more teachers were armed.

As Pratt’s sentiment should make clear, the United States has slipped its moorings and drifted into a realm of profound national lunacy.

I am utterly certain that many gun perverts out there are echoing Pratt’s words, that if only the teachers had been armed the massacre would likely not have happened. Those who think this way, needless to say, not only have twisted minds but are profoundly sick. Keefe continues

Ponder, for a second, the fact that I cannot walk into a C.V.S. today and purchase half-a-dozen packages of Sudafed, but I can walk into a gun dealership and purchase a .50 caliber rifle of the sort that U.S. snipers use in Afghanistan. In fact, I can buy six or ten—there is no limit imposed by law. Should the gun dealer think it fishy that I might want to acquire a weapon capable of downing a small aircraft (much less six of those weapons) he may report the purchase to the A.T.F. But in most states, he’s not required to.

To some readers, that may seem eminently reasonable. But what about this? The state of Indiana recently enacted a law that enshrines an enhanced version of the “Castle Doctrine,” that quintessentially American notion that you are within your rights to shoot and kill someone as long as they are trespassing on your property. The Indiana statute, which was backed by the N.R.A. over strenuous objections from law enforcement, explicitly extends this precept to intruders who are “public servants,” but who you believe have no appropriate basis for entering the premises. In other words: under certain circumstances, it is now hypothetically legal under Indiana state law for you to shoot a cop.

Yes, an American society that “has slipped its moorings and drifted into a realm of profound national lunacy.”

Another New Yorker piece is by Evan Osnos, “China Watches Newtown: Guns and American Credibility.” His conclusion

It takes a lot to make China’s government—beset, as it is, by corruption and opacity and the paralyzing effects of special interests—look good, by comparison, in the eyes of its people these days. But we’ve done it. When Chinese viewers looked at the two attacks side by side, more than a few of them concluded, as this one did that, “from the look of it, there’s no difference between a ‘developed’ country and a ‘developing’ country. And there’s no such thing as human rights. People are the most violent creatures on earth, and China, with its ban on guns, is doing pretty well!”

It is a strange fact that in refusing to allow rational gun policies in America, the N.R.A. and its acolytes have damaged precisely the treasure they purport to hold so dear: the moral charisma of American liberty.

Right-wingers, as one knows, couldn’t care less how the rest of the world views America. As nationalists—and nationalism being a form of narcissism—they believe America to be the greatest country in the world and are no doubt reveling in the criticism and incomprehension of America at the latest massacre committed by assault weapons legally purchased, and which will no doubt comfort them in their disdain of the rest of the world. How nice it would be if they were obliged to explain and justify America’s gun laws and culture to a group of uncomprehending non-Americans (something I am quite certain almost none have ever had to do). I would love to be a fly on the wall at that one. For the anecdote, last night we had several friends over for dinner, all French (a few of Maghrebi origin), well-educated, on both the political left and right. At the end of the end of the evening the Newtown massacre came up and led to a discussion of American gun laws, and specifically the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which I dutifully called up on my laptop—”Une milice bien organisée étant nécessaire à la sécurité d’un État libre, le droit qu’a le peuple de détenir et de porter des armes ne sera pas transgressé”—, and that gave rise to an animated debate as to its meaning, i.e. does it or does it not guarantee an individual right to bear arms, or can this only be understood in the context of a militia. I argued the latter, though the others weren’t sure. The final consensus was that (a) the amendment contains two contradictory clauses and (b) that however it is interpreted, American gun laws and culture are insane. And that if firearms were as easily accessible in France as in the US—and if this country were awash in them—that the murder and massacre rate would naturally shoot way up. Obviously.

On the NYRB blog, Garry Wills has an essay on “Our Moloch.” He begins

Few crimes are more harshly forbidden in the Old Testament than sacrifice to the god Moloch (for which see Leviticus 18.21, 20.1-5). The sacrifice referred to was of living children consumed in the fires of offering to Moloch. Ever since then, worship of Moloch has been the sign of a deeply degraded culture. Ancient Romans justified the destruction of Carthage by noting that children were sacrificed to Moloch there. Milton represented Moloch as the first pagan god who joined Satan’s war on humankind:

First Moloch, horrid king, besmear’d with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears,
Though for the noise of Drums and Timbrels loud
Their children’s cries unheard, that pass’d through fire
To his grim idol. (Paradise Lost 1.392-96)

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains—“besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometime this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

Read the rest of Wills’s essay and be angry. At the worshipers of “our Moloch.”

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One more massacre (cont.)

.223 calibre Bushmaster assault rifle

.223 calibre Bushmaster assault rifle

I have nothing original or profound to say about yesterday’s massacre in Newtown CT, nothing that I did not say in my posts on the Aurora massacre in July (here and here) or the one in Norway last year (here) in any case. Except to shout—and for the umpteenth time—that it is psychotic and insane that a society should allow individuals to easily and legally acquire—over the counter or by mail—weapons such as the one above, which is what was apparently used by the 20-year old perpetrator of the massacre. There is something collectively unhinged in a polity that willingly allows this. This is, alas, one of the perverse effects—one among several—of the American electoral system, the serious distortions of representation in Congress, and other flaws in the American polity’s institutional architecture, and that thereby accords such outsized power to lobbies like the NRA (that Robert Shrum has aptly renamed the National Rampage Association; see also the commentary by David Frum linked to in his, and the links in that one).

One learns, in this article in TNR, that just three miles from the school where the massacre was committed is the HQ of The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is the second most important pro-gun lobby after the NRA.

Hours after the elementary school shooting Friday morning, the NSSF posted a statement on its website: “Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community. Out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment or participate in media requests at this time.”

To this, one wishes to tell the NSSF to go fuck themselves. Likewise for anyone who shares its and the NRA’s world-view. Just go to hell. Now that President Obama has shed tears it’s time for concrete action. After the fiscal cliff stuff is out of the way, he and the Congressional Democrats need to take up the gun issue and push for sensible, but significant, legislation, to ban the sale of assault weapons, buying guns over the Internet, and so on. Change won’t happen right away but, with time and political effort, it can happen, as the politics of gun control may be changing, as this piece, also in TNR, explains. The parts of country where the NRA holds sway—rural America, the South, and mountain West—are pretty much lost to the Democrats at this point, so on the national level at least, the Dems have little to fear by taking on the NRA. Urban, blue state America will support gun control legislation. So Obama, now that he’s been comfortably reelected, should just go for it.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein has an informative Wonkblog post in WaPo on “Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States.”

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Guns n’ cheese

In America one of these is considered dangerous to one’s bodily integrity, the other is not. Haven’t heard anything from the Tea Party GOP on this governmental intrusion into personal freedom, of the nanny state telling us what we can and cannot eat. Maybe Mitt Romney, who knows France better than any presidential candidate in memory—even more so than John Kerry—, will speak out on the matter… :-D

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The Second Amendment

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This is one of the guns James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, used in the movie theater the other night. It is quite simply insane that such weapons should be available for sale over the counter. No civilized country allows this. None, except, of course, the United States. But even in the US it wasn’t always so, not until the political system went off the rails, with the Republican party’s lurch to the extreme right and the quashing by the Blood Lobby, a.k.a. the NRA, of any debate on gun control. I note that the unhinged right, in responding to the Aurora massacre, is hiding behind the sacrosanct Second Amendment and arguing that if the theater-goers had been armed, Holmes would have been neutralized and the massacre prevented. Right. Only in America would mainstream voters of a major party of government offer up such crackpot nonsense and with straight faces to boot.

As for the Second Amendment, it is quite certain that the Founding Fathers, were they around today, would be appalled at the interpretation presently lent to it by the right-wing (and by the Roberts Court’s politically motivated ruling in DC v. Heller). When the Second Amendment was drafted and debated back in 1789, it was quite clear that it referred to organized militias, as Garry Wills definitively explicated and laid to rest seventeen years ago in The New York Review of Books (see article here and follow-up exchange here). The Founding Fathers may have been a bunch of slave-owning white men but, for their time, they were wise men—well, a few of them were at least—and never intended that the Constitution give the right to some wanker to purchase an assault rifle or pack heat in a public place. The American Constitution does have its flaws—some major—but it’s not that wacky of a document.

It would be interesting to know how American right-wingers explain the numbers in the image below. Even when taking population into account, the second most homicidal country on the list, Canada, has a gun murder rate one-seventh that of the US. If any right-wingers out there want to try to explain this one, to give it a stab, as it were, I’m all ears.

UPDATE: The Atlantic has a piece on “A land without guns: how Japan has virtually eliminated shooting deaths.” In the conclusion it mentions “Tunisia, which had the lowest firearm ownership rate in the world…when its people toppled a brutal, 24-year dictatorship” last year. BTW, firearm ownership was also very low in Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia in 1989. Do the gun nuts out there have any thoughts on this?

2nd UPDATE: Ezra Klein has a post in WaPo on “Six facts about guns, violence, and gun control.” Note in particular numbers 2, 4, and 5. As for n°3, the reason for it is kind of obvious I think. (July 24)

3rd UPDATE: In a NYT op-ed, Michael A. Black, a 30-year Chicago police veteran, says that an armed America is not necessarily a safe America. (July 26)

4th UPDATE: Likewise on the NYT op-ed page, Iraq war veteran Andrew Jensen says that the domestic American arms race is a race we can’t win. He points out, among other things, “that there isn’t a single example of a concerned bystander with a concealed-carry permit who stopped a mass shooting” since concealed carry laws have been enacted in the US. He also observes that

There will always be violent loners. If they don’t kill with guns, they’ll find some other way to do it. Semiautomatic weapons, however, are what enable them to shoot dozens of people in a movie theater.


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One more massacre

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I posted a commentary by Adam Gopnik several hours ago, on Obama, Romney, and Adam Smith. Here’s another, this one on the Aurora massacre. Gopnik is angry at America’s insane gun culture and rightly so. Money quote

The truth is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly “made him” do what he did; but we know how he did it. Those who fight for the right of every madman and every criminal to have as many people-killing weapons as they want share moral responsibility for what happened last night—as they will when it happens again. And it will happen again.

The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia. Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue. Does anyone even remember any longer last July’s gun massacre, those birthday-party killings in Texas, when an estranged husband murdered his wife and most of her family, leaving six dead?

But nothing changes: the blood lobby still blares out its certainties, including the pretense that the Second Amendment—despite the clear grammar of its first sentence—is designed not to protect citizen militias but to make sure that no lunatic goes unarmed. (Jill Lepore wrote about the history of the Second Amendment in The New Yorker recently.) Make sure that guns designed for no reason save to kill people are freely available to anyone who wants one—and that is, and remains, the essential American condition—and then be shocked when children are killed.

Only in America, Gopnik says, in the Western world at least. American exceptionalism at its least admirable.

UPDATE: James Fallows in The Atlantic writes about “the certainty of more shootings.”

2nd UPDATE: Rick Schmitt in Mother Jones describes how the Blood Lobby, a.k.a. the NRA, “pushed the right to pack heat anywhere.”

3rd UPDATE: David Weigel in Slate asks if “a brave citizen with a concealed weapon [could] have prevented the Aurora shootings.” Answer: no.

4th UPDATE: Bill Moyers and Michael Winship have an excellent piece in Salon, where they observe that “the NRA has America living under the gun” and that “the arsenal of democracy has been transformed into the arsenal of death.”

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The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher—the American right-wing icon of 2008 McCain-Palin fame and current GOP candidate in the Ohio 9th CD—says that gun control in Nazi Germany was responsible for the Holocaust, as it prevented the Jews from arming themselves and fighting back. No joke. Assertions like this express to a tee the intellectual level of the present-day American right. Seriously, Marine Le Pen & Co are philosopher kings compared to these people. C’est affligeant

UPDATE: One reads that fanatical settlers in the West Bank burned and vandalized a mosque in the peaceful, law-abiding Palestinian village of Jabaa. I suppose Joe the Plumber and his fans on the American right would agree that if the Jabaa villagers had been armed, those brave settlers would not have dared enter the village to attack their house of worship…

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John F. Timoney, a former Miami police chief, Philadelphia police commissioner, and deputy police commissioner in New York, has an op-ed in the NYT on “Florida’s disastrous self-defense law,” which allowed for the apparently legal murder of an unarmed teenager last month. The law is more than disastrous, it is sick, pure and simple. The fact that it was enacted—along with all the other NRA-inspired pro-gun legislation across the American heartland—is indicative of a sickness that afflicts a part of American society. Triste exception américaine, parmi les pays civilisés au moins…

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British rioters

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As I’m on holiday—and therefore at a computer only infrequently—I haven’t been able to post much of late. I followed the British riots like everyone and tried to make sense of them. The parallels with the French riots of 2005 are obvious, though there are some notable differences. I’ll write my thoughts at some point, probably when I get back to France. In the meantime, here’s a relevant article I just came across, on how “much of the commentary on the unrest in Britain misses a key point: rioting is fun.” Money quote

There is one important discussion point that did not appear on either list [of the left and the right, as to what prompted the rioters], however: “fun.” Kicking a window in with your boot, flinging rocks at the police, and escaping with a PlayStation 3 is a blast if you’re 18 and hanging about with other bored mates over the hot summer holiday. Violence is intoxicating, especially if you feel yourself a loser in the game of life and it is directed against those you believe have rigged the rules against you. More and more stories are emerging of bragging rights, of boastful escapades, of the revelry that was had by those involved. One smart rioter posted a picture on Facebook of himself grinning, in front of his looted treasure. “It was good fun … showing the police we can do what we want,” said another, drinking wine at 9:30 in the morning.

This type of recreational violence has been noticed elsewhere, especially in the recent Belfast riots, where violence has flared up between rival groups whose members are too young to have experienced the original “Troubles” between Catholics and Protestants. A report by the Institute for Conflict Research found much of the recurrent interface violence in Northern Ireland is a means of entertainment, or more simply of “something to do” — an antidote to the boredom of the summer holidays. Just as in the London student protests earlier this year — and indeed the Arab uprisings — social media allowed people to spread ideas and organize faster than law enforcement could contain them.

This does not negate the left’s preoccupation with social justice or the right’s with individual responsibility. But these are misty, distant causes, clinging to the coattails of adrenaline. Neither left nor right will get anywhere unless they seriously ponder what to do with our army of bored, restless young men — for whom the toxic mix of glamorous violence and disdain for authority is an intransigent part of the subculture. It’s an army for whom meaningless, low-paying jobs contrast unfavorably on a daily basis with just-out-of-reach hyperconsumerism, fed by music, movies, and popular culture. A modern, meaningful equivalent of bread and circuses needs to be found. Both left and right can surely agree on that.

This is certainly an element of riots in France, where the initial spark may be the execrable relations between immigrant-origin youths and the police, resentment over discrimination, exclusion, and all the rest, but where a snowball effect is induced by banlieue gangs outbidding one another and profiting by the momentary absence of state authority to loot, pillage, and just have fun.

On the question of state authority, here’s a piece arguing against the crazy notion on the American right that if British police and looted shopkeepers had been armed à l’américaine, the rioters would have been stopped dead in their tracks, both figuratively and literally. But if the British police and citizenry had been armed, the rioters would have of course been too, with the sole result that a lot more people would have been killed. Duh. But on that, the American right doesn’t give a Scheiße.

UPDATE: Matthias Matthijs, who teaches at American University and SAIS, has an analysis of the British riots on Foreignaffairs.com, the principal responsibility for which he attributes to “UK PM David Cameron’s failed politics of austerity.”

2nd UPDATE: Joel Kotkin, executive editor of NewGeography.com—and who, politically speaking, may be situated somewhere on the right—, has a most interesting analysis of “The U.K. riots and the coming global class war.”

3rd UPDATE: French social scientist Sophie Body-Gendrot, who knows her subject, weighs in on the “Disorder in world cities” on the OurKingdom website, in which she compares Britain and France.

4th UPDATE: The Economist has a worthwhile article dated September 3rd entitled “A reckoning: The black community wrestles with the causes of the riots.”

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In regard to the Oslo massacre and the psychopath who committed it, a friend wrote the following on Facebook this morning

This description of the worldview of the Norwegian terrorist aligns perfectly with the worldview of the tea party and other extremist militant Republicans: “The police identified him as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian, while acquaintances described him as a gun-loving Norwegian obsessed with what he saw as the threats of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration.”

A quick, though hardly exhaustive, search of the web sites of major US hard rightwing blowhards (Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter) shows nothing so far on the massacre. Radio silence. But what happened in Oslo will in no way undermine the Tea Party world-view. Au contraire, it will no doubt reinforce it. This is likely to be their response: (1) Norway has strict gun control laws but Anders Behring Breivik still obtained his guns. Ergo, liberty-killing gun control laws do not work. When guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have guns. (2) Following from this, if those summer campers had all been armed, then the massacre would have never happened. Ergo, laws should be enacted obliging citizens not only to own a firearm but to carry it on them at all times. As for teenagers, if they can obtain drivers licenses and legally have sex at 16, why shouldn’t they be allowed to carry guns too? (3) Mr. Breivik was exasperated by Muslim immigration in Europe. The poor man was pushed over the edge by all those Muzlims and mosques in his midst. Ergo, if Muslim immigration had been stopped before it started and mosque construction banned—and why not Islam too while we’re at it?—, then the massacre would have never happened. Logical, no? (4) Following in this vein, Norway is a socialist country and with an elaborate liberty-killing welfare state. This also quite certainly caused Mr. Breivik to snap. Okay, we don’t approve of what he did but still. Ram socialism down people’s throats and bad stuff can happen. Socialism can cause massacres. Obviously. And you remember how Sweden has the highest suicide rate in the world? You see, socialism not only causes people to kill others but to kill themselves as well! Ergo, keep socialists out of power, get rid of welfare states, and normally upstanding, right-thinking conservatives like Mr. Breivik will not go crazy. And we will have fewer suicides to boot. (5) We note that Mr. Breivik, in massacring those young socialist campers, decapitated Norway’s future socialist elite. His act was of course regrettable. We do not condone it. Then again, what an interesting idea! Hmmm…

This will be the Tea Party GOP narrative, I guarantee it. As Tea Partiers live in an alternate reality, nothing, absolutely nothing, will shake their world-view one iota. While I’m thinking of it, one Tea Partier I know has reminded me (via email), when railing on against Obama and the Democrats, that “we are armed” (the “we” being Americans of his persuasion, who are the majority so he is convinced). He delights in recounting stories of his Glock pistol, no doubt thinking that I’ll be shocked, horrified, and indignant. Nah, it just confirms to me that he’s a nut. Now I think he may be dangerous too. Well, maybe not him personally—he is a good family man and has his law practice to think about—but his political-ideological milieu. It just takes one, après tout.

UPDATE: Roger Cohen, whom I’ve skewered on more than one occasion, has a good commentary on Anders Breivik and “his enablers,” on how his world-view overrlaps with the European-North American populist hard right. Maybe Cohen was inspired by my post :-)

2nd UPDATE: And then there’s this by Patrick Buchanan, who says that Anders Breivik may be evil but “may be right,” in his world-view if not in his acts.

3rd UPDATE: Glenn Beck, for his part, compares the massacred Labor Party campers to Hitler Youth.

4th UPDATE: Anne Applebaum, who is hardly a leftist, links the world-view of Anders Breivik with that of rightwing “illegitimists.”

5th UPDATE: From Al Jazeera English: Islamophobes distance themselves from Breivik.

6th UPDATE: NYT reporter/blogger Timothy Egan has a post on “A Madman and His Manifesto,” where he mentions, among other things, Glenn Beck’s web site The Blaze. As it happens, this post was linked to on The Blaze—which I hadn’t heard of and didn’t know was linked to Beck—on Tuesday. So that explains the exceptionally high number of hits on this post, not to mention some of the crazy Tea Partyish comments I got (a few of which were so crazy I had to trash them).

7th UPDATE: And there’s this op-ed by two Norwegian contributors on “A Blogosphere of Bigots.”

8th UPDATE: Now we learn that Anders Breivik purchased high-capacity gun clips from the US. But as the NRA will no doubt remind us, guns don’t kill people, people kill people…

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