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Archive for the ‘USA: guns’ Category

The Las Vegas massacre

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

There is nothing to say about it—after the ritualistic expressions of horror—except that (a) America will witness more such massacres—this is, as James Fallows asserts in The Atlantic, a certainty—and (b) nothing will be done about it, as former congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) writes in the NYT. Which is to say, Congress will do nothing, as it is controlled by the Republican Party, which is, so I wrote the other day, over the extreme right-wing edge on a whole range of issues, including that of guns. And the Republicans in Congress will do nothing despite the fact that, as we learn, the shooter Stephen Paddock had a veritable arsenal in his hotel room, of at least 23 rifles, all legally acquired expect maybe the automatic one. Insofar as the massacre happened because a private citizen was able to legally procure such an arsenal—as a consequence of the Republican Party refusing to make this legally difficult or impossible—then we may say that the Republican Party is ultimately responsible for what happened in Las Vegas on Sunday night. The Republican Party has blood on its hands. There, I said it.

The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik invariably has the most incisive, powerful commentaries after such atrocities à l’américaine and does not disappoint with his one on this, “In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, there can be no truce with the Second Amendment.”

On this American exception, The Nation’s Joan Walsh says that “The American impulse to equate guns with freedom and masculinity with violence is killing us.”

Vox has several pieces on this uniquely American problem among developed countries, with two by Zack Beauchamp, one reminding us that “America doesn’t have more crime than other rich countries, it just has more guns“—and thus homicides, suicides, and massacres—and another on how “Australia confiscated 650,000 guns, [after which] murders and suicides plummeted.” German Lopez explains “Gun violence in America…in 17 maps and charts,” and Jennifer Williams correctly calls “White American men…a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners.”

On the iniquity of the Republicans and the NRA, see the report in Mother Jones on the “gun lobby’s quiet push [in Congress] to deregulate silencers.”

Just crazy.

UPDATE: New York magazine’s Eric Levitz informs us that “If only non–gun owners voted, Clinton would have won 48 states” in the 2016 election—and that if only gun-owners voted, Trump would have won with a 49 state blowout—demonstrating, not for the first time, that the cleavage over guns is the deepest in American politics.

Haaretz has posted the must-watch 5½ minute video of President Obama explaining, at a PBS town hall in June 2016, “why do mass shootings keep happening in the U.S.” Excellent. Boy, how we miss having such a smart, thoughtful, well-spoken president.

2nd UPDATE: Thomas Friedman nails it in his first post-Las Vegas column, “If only Stephen Paddock were a Muslim.”

3rd UPDATE: See Matt Taibbi’s latest, “The gun lobby is down to its last, unconvincing excuse.” Terrific.

4th UPDATE: Scientific American has an article in its October 2017 issue by science writer Melinda Wenner Moyer, “More guns do not stop more crimes, evidence shows.” The lede: “More firearms do not keep people safe, hard numbers show. Why do so many Americans believe the opposite?” This has long been obvious but it’s still good to have the hard data to back it up.

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Le Monde, 15-16 August 2017

It’s been two weeks since the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, which, with its aftermath, continues to occupy a sizable part of my social media news feeds. Last week was, to quote the NYT’s Frank Bruni, the worst in a cursed—or, rather, accursed—presidency and, echoing Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce, the bleakest moment for America in my lifetime. But, as Pierce reminds us, it’s not as if what has happened is a surprise to anyone who’s been following Trump over the past two years. As everyone with any personal connection to America has been riveted to Charlottesville and the fallout, I’m not going not to drone on with an extended commentary. Just a few random thoughts I’ve had since the thing began.

First, on the neo-Nazis. Many on this side of the pond, but also stateside, were stunned by the spectacle of the march, that such could even happen—and with one expat American friend expressing shock that Nazis were actually “a thing” back home. On the march being allowed to take place, this would clearly not happen in France, where Nazism is illegal, the law proscribing hate speech is regularly invoked sans état d’âme, and the state can ban a street demonstration if the Ministry of Interior (the tutelary authority of the national police) determines that it will disturb public order (i.e. cause a riot). Freedom of opinion and expression are inscribed in articles 10 and 11 of the hallowed 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen—which figures in the preamble of the constitution—but there are the bits about disturbing public order and abusing such freedoms—the parameters being set by administrative courts (and eventually the Constitutional Council)—that allow for the enactment of hate speech laws and outlawing extremist groups, which would be impossible in the US on account of the First Amendment. Personally speaking, I can understand and sympathize with the French attitude toward Nazis—the historical context requires no explanation and Nazi bans hardly make France a less free country than America—but remain a First Amendment purist nonetheless—though not an unqualified one. Defending the right of fascists to spew their venom does not obligate a city, university, or other public or private establishment to give them a venue to do so. If there is good cause to believe that a public procession of neo-Nazi goons will result in violence—and overstretch the ability of the police to deal with it—then a city (or university) should have the right to deny the Nazis or other extremist groups a permit to march or hold an event in a given space—and particularly at night and by torchlight, in view of what that symbolizes and obvious dangers involved (fire causing fires).

I’ve seen American Nazis on occasion over the years (the most memorable in Washington in 1975, when I perceived from a bus window two men in full Nazi uniform—with swastikas and all—tranquilly handing out leaflets on the corner of Connecticut & K, at 5:00 PM on a weekday; it is most unlikely they would dare do so today) and have come across its literature more often. However jarring this may be, the fact is, neo-Nazis in America are, in the larger scheme of things, irrelevant; they’re pathetic losers, angry white men who may be dangerous as individuals—in which case they become an affair for law enforcement—but, on their own, pose no political threat.

If Charlottesville were akin to Skokie 1977, I would say let the wankers have their march and ignore them. What made Charlottesville different from Skokie, however, was the Second Amendment (post-Heller). It was the weapons, of legally parading with (presumably loaded) semi-automatic rifles. This is insane. Paraphrasing the conservative Canadian-American David Frum writing in The Atlantic, in no other advanced democracy could a private militia armed with weapons of war even be legally constituted, let alone allowed to hold a public march and with those weapons, and, moreover, chant slogans that are manifest calls to violence and concretely threaten the physical integrity of persons observing the parade and chanting counter slogans back. As for the constitutionality of this, Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern argued in Slate that there was a clear clash in Charlottesville between the First and (post-Heller) Second Amendments, and with the latter winning out. The First Amendment is necessarily undermined when those exercising it are confronted by a hostile paramilitary force of persons carrying machine guns and backed by open-carry and “stand-your-ground” laws. Those who argue that armed extremists enjoy a First Amendment right to hold a parade even in these circumstances—and wherever and whenever they feel like doing so—are dodging a fundamental issue here.

The counter-demonstrators could, of course, bring weapons themselves. Constitute their own militia. Great. If Americans want Lebanon or Somalia, then Lebanon or Somalia they will get. This, however, poses the question as to the equity, as it were, of the Second Amendment. Quoting David Frum from the aforelinked article

As David Graham has observed here at The Atlantic, the right to carry arms is America’s most unequally upheld right. Ohio is an open-carry state. Yet Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old, was shot dead in Cleveland within seconds of being observed carrying what proved to be a pellet gun. John Crawford was shot dead for moving around an Ohio Walmart with an air rifle he had picked up from a display shelf. Minnesota allows concealed-carry permit-holders to open carry if they wish—yet Minnesotan Philando Castile was killed after merely telling a police officer he had a legal gun in his car.

On the other hand, every white man who played vigilante in Charlottesville this weekend went home unharmed to his family, having successfully overawed the police—and having sent a chilling message of warning to lawful protesters.

One shudders to imagine what would happen if the neo-Nazis were to cross paths with, say, Black Lives Matter organized as a paramilitary force.

I mentioned Lebanon and Somalia. À propos, Robin Wright had a piece in The New Yorker last week that provoked much comment on social media, asking “Is America headed for a new kind of civil war?” Certain preconditions for civil war in the USA do indeed exist: the American political system is deeply polarized in a way it hasn’t been since, well, the Civil War, with one of the two parties of government extreme right-wing, populist, illiberal, and inimical to democracy—and is likely to remain so—and rejecting the legitimacy of the other party and its voters (the “moocher class,” Mitt Romney’s 47%…). If a Democratic Party candidate is elected president in 2020, does anyone honestly believe that the Republican Party base voters and media (Fox, Breitbart, AM talk radio, etc) will accept the election outcome and legitimacy of his or her presidency? Americans of the right and liberal/left do not see the world in the same way and, when it comes to politics—a subject hard to avoid—have nothing to say to one another. And N.B.: there is no symmetry here between the two sides of the political spectrum. The problem is exclusively on one. And that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future.

But there is not going to be a civil war in the US and for at least two reasons. First, only one of the sides is armed (and we know which side that is). If there is an armed conflict between Democratic and Republican Party base voters, it will be over quickly (and with many of my friends, associates, and relatives seeking political asylum in France, Canada and other civilized countries). Second, and more importantly, civil wars are waged over one of two things—control of the state or secession—and with the state and its armed force invariably actors in the conflict (though there are particular cases and exceptions, e.g. Lebanon 1975-90). If the American state is a party to a civil war, it will be to put down an insurrection, in which case the war will be over as soon as it starts. No militia is going to try to seize the American state (quelle idée!) and an eventual secession of some part of the country (Texas? California?) seems far-fetched, to put it mildly.

On Trump—on whom I have not had a post in almost six months—and his reaction to Charlottesville, New York-based writer Eyal Press had a good comment on his Facebook page

On second thought, Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, his refusal to condemn the bigotry and violence of a neo-Nazi mob, much less to utter the phrase “white supremacist terrorism,” is welcome. Just imagine if Trump had listened to some of his advisors and issued an insincere statement denouncing the violence and calling for unity. The pundits would have swooned, telling us, yet again, that he was now “Presidential,” that the dignity of the office he holds had been restored, even as his Justice Department continued to roll back minority rights and the likes of Bannon and Gorka walked the halls of the White House. For once, Trump did not dissemble. He showed the nation his true colors, revealing to his critics and supporters exactly who he is and where his sympathies lie.

Trump was Trump. I am not going to go on about him here or say anything I haven’t already said countless times, as his utter abjectness—politically and as a human being—and unfitness to be president of the United States is known—his lizard-brained fans excepted—to all. The American Prospect’s Adele M. Stan, in her latest column, thus expressed the sentiment of countless millions

There comes a point during the unfolding of a relentless, long-form catastrophe that one fears running out of adjectives to describe it. Watching President Donald J. Trump’s disgusting Tuesday night rally [in Phoenix], this writer finds the majesty of the English language failing her with means adequate to convey the depths of her disgust and dismay.

Haaretz’s US editor and correspondent Chemi Shalev, in writing about the sentiments of American Jews, also expressed those of tens of millions of non-Jewish Americans

Trump is different. His tenure could be a quantum leap, from strife to schism. Jewish liberals and doves may have detested George Bush and conservatives and right-wingers may have despised Barack Obama, but no U.S. president in the modern era has sparked such widespread fear and loathing in the American Jewish community as Trump. For many Jews, Trump is the worst thing that has happened to America in their lifetimes. Their fear, hostility and revulsion are so strong that they encompass not only Trump but anyone who seems to comfort and support him, to give him aid and succor, to be blind to his awfulness, which seems so obvious to his detractors. That includes Trump’s Jewish friends and supporters in the U.S. as well as the State of Israel, which has embraced him.

That’s right: “anyone who seems to comfort and support him, to give him aid and succor, to be blind to his awfulness”…

Just one thought. Since Charlottesville we have witnessed the already minimal acquiescence the Trump regime enjoyed among sectors of the American elite—notably corporate CEOs and the military—evaporate. A few hedge fund managers and media barons aside, Trump has been abandoned, if not outright repudiated, by the forces vives of American society. And this now includes the GOP congressional leadership. Even pro-Trump intellos—minuscule in number to begin with—and commentators on high-profile rightist websites are jumping ship. It is, needless to say, unprecedented for a president to be so thoroughly isolated—and only seven months into his term—for the elites of every sector of the economy, state, and society to consider unfit to hold office. It’s a dangerous situation, évidemment. Quoting Matt Taibbi’s latest in Rolling Stone

Because of [Trump’s] total inability to concentrate or lead, he will likely never do anything meaningful with the real governmental power he possesses – if he had a tenth of the managerial skills of Hitler, we’d be in impossibly deep shit right now. But as an enabler of behavior, as a stoker of arguments and hardener of resentments, he has no equal. Under Trump, racists become more racist, the woke necessarily become more woke, and areas of compromise among all quickly dwindle and disappear. He has us arguing about things that weren’t even questions a few minutes ago, like, are Nazis bad?

Trump has shown, once again, that his power to bring out the worst in people is limitless. And we should know by now that he’s never finished, never beaten. Historically, he’s most dangerous when he’s at his lowest. And he’s never been lower than now.

Which raises the question that we’ve been rhetorically posing almost since January 20th, which is “how long can this go on?” That it could until January 20th 2021 is quite simply inconceivable.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction, which is that, sooner rather later, maybe before the end of the year, something will happen, Trump will say or do something, that will prompt the GOP congressional leadership—McConnell, Ryan et al—to decide to quickly impeach and convict him. Swiftly, inside a week. Get rid of the SOB and swear Pence into office. Boom, comme ça. The Republicans will bite the bullet and just do it. Their base will go ballistic but the leadership will deal with it and hope the storm passes—and in time for the 2018 midterms. Voilà.

Over the past two weeks people have been hearing and reading about the “antifa” movement—and which has become the right’s latest leftist bogeyman. The term “antifa” seemed to come out of nowhere. I first saw Americans (on the left) use it on Facebook threads last winter, when the Milo Yiannopoulos event at Berkeley was cancelled following the Black Bloc riot, though when I asked people where it came from, no one had a response. In fact, the first time I heard the word “antifa” was here in France some two years ago, on the hard right radio station Radio Courtoisie (which I occasionally listen to in my car; it’s not an uninteresting station and, in tone, bears no resemblance to AM talk radio in the US), and then from a couple of my right-wing French students, who uttered it in class. I have never seen or heard it used on the French left (or the mainstream media). So as far as I’m concerned—and until proof to the contrary—the term “antifa” is a French right-wing invention—so rightists don’t have to pronounce the full word “fascist” in a context in which the finger is pointed at them—and that has made its way outre-Atlantique (and been unwittingly adopted by the left).

David Remnick has a good commentary in the current issue of The New Yorker on “Donald Trump’s true allegiances,” in which he writes

“We’ve seen this coming,” [Barack Obama] said [last November]. “Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.”

For half a century, in fact, the leaders of the G.O.P. have fanned the lingering embers of racial resentment in the United States. Through shrewd political calculation and rhetoric, from Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to the latest charges of voter fraud in majority-African-American districts, doing so has paid off at the ballot box. “There were no governing principles,” Obama said. “There was no one to say, ‘No, this is going too far, this isn’t what we stand for.’ ”

On the GOP and race, the NYT’s Charles M. Blow had a must-read column last week, “The other inconvenient truth: The Republican Party should acknowledge how it has fueled white supremacy.” Money quote

It is possible to trace this devil’s dance back to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the emergence of Richard Nixon. After the passage of the act, the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln to which black people felt considerable fealty, turned on those people and stabbed them in the back.

In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Charles Blow’s latest column, “Donald Trump, ‘King of Alabama’?,” is an absolute must-read, if one hasn’t already.

Novelist and radio host Kurt Andersen has a most interesting article in the September issue of The Atlantic, “How America lost its mind.” Entre autres, he offers an analysis of the evolution the Republican Party over the past five decades—leading in an almost straight line to Trump—that is similar to my own.

ICYMI, my dear friend Adam Shatz had an à chaud commentary on Charlottesville, “Trump set them free,” on the LRB blog.

On the Confederate statues issue, Columbia University history professor Eric Foner’s NYT op-ed, “Confederate statues and ‘our’ memory,” is excellent.

Likewise University of Chicago history professor Jane Dailey’s piece in Huffpost, “The Confederate general who was erased.”

Swarthmore College political science professor Richard Valelly, writing in The American Prospect, asks the excellent question, “How about erecting monuments to the heroes of Reconstruction?”

Roger Berkowitz—who is Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities and Associate Professor of Politics, Human Rights, and Philosophy at Bard College—was interviewed last week by Deutsche Welle on “What philosopher Hannah Arendt would say about Donald Trump.”

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

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Dallas, July 7th (photo: Laura Buckman/AFP/Getty Images)

Dallas, July 7th (photo: Laura Buckman/AFP/Getty Images)

No commentary on the latest killings—in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights MN, and Dallas. I’ve already said everything I have to say on the issue of guns in America (see the sidebar category ‘USA: guns’). One commentator who always has something to say on the subject—and who says it better than just about anyone—is The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, whose latest is entitled “The horrific, predictable result of a widely armed citizenry.” It begins

The killings in Dallas are one more reminder that guns are central, not accessory, to the American plague of violence. They were central fifty-plus years ago, when a troubled ex-Marine had only to send a coupon to a mail-order gun house in Chicago to get a military rifle with which to kill John F. Kennedy—that assassin-sniper also fired from a Dallas building onto a Dallas street. They are central now, when the increased fetishism of guns and carrying guns has made such horrors as last night’s not merely predictable but unsurprising. The one thing we can be sure of, after we have mourned the last massacre, is that there will be another. You wake up at three in the morning, check the news, and there it is.

We don’t yet know exactly by whom and for what deranged “reason” or mutant “cause” five police officers were murdered last night, but, as the President rightly suggested, we do know how—and the how is a huge part of what happened. By having a widely armed citizenry, we create a situation in which gun violence becomes a common occurrence, not the rarity it ought to be and is everywhere else in the civilized world. That this happened amid a general decline in violence throughout the Western world only serves to make the crisis more acute; America’s gun-violence problem remains the great and terrible outlier.

Continue reading it here.

Also in The New Yorker is a commentary by staff writer Evan Osnos, “The silence and the violence of the N.R.A.”

The NYT reports that the Dallas sniper, Micah Johnson, “kept an arsenal in his home that included bomb-making materials.” Totally insane that it should be legal to do this, don’t you think?

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark P. McKenna—writer on the law and law professor, respectively—have a piece in Slate, “More guns, more fear, more killings:
It’s a vicious cycle, and there’s no end in sight.” Obviously. Why would it be otherwise?

Also in Slate is a piece by staff writer Leon Neyfakh, in which he asks “Are conservatives coming to terms with racism in American policing?” If so, that would be nice.

Alexandra Filindra, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had a post last month in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on “How racial prejudice helps drive opposition to gun control.”

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The SIG MCX, a.k.a. the “Black Mamba.” That’s the assault weapon Omar Mateen used to commit his massacre. And which he, of course, purchased legally. Over the counter. As just about any person may in the state of Florida, as in much of the United States, even if he is a hate-spewing psychopath—as Mateen manifestly was—and/or has expressed an affinity with radical Islamist groups. To see what this rifle is about, watch the videos here. Anyone who can defend the freedom to acquire such weapons over the counter is not one with whom I can have any sort of dialogue. Repeating for the umpteenth time, what happened in Orlando is a uniquely American tragedy. Israeli journalist Anshei Pfeffer argued as much in the JDF, observing that though there are similarities between Islamic State-inspired or organized terrorist attacks in the US and those in Europe, these similarities end when it comes to the availability of weapons of war to civilians, which, he asserted

is inconceivable to outsiders. Not just the ease with which a “civilian version” of a military assault rifle can be bought over the counter, but the possibility of loading it with customized magazines holding 100 bullets, more than three times the number even armies use. The potential for bloodshed by one isolated and individual attacker is so much greater.

This availability of weapons enables isolated American Muslims with anger management problems—the Muslim population in America otherwise being well-to-do and thoroughly integrated—to express their rage in freelance bloodbaths such as the one yesterday in Orlando, whereas such is much more difficult in Europe, where Muslim populations contain larger numbers of extremists but who necessitate mobilization into cells of transnational terrorist organizations in order to commit mayhem, as in Paris and Brussels. If the US had stricter gun legislation, it would face no domestic jihadist terrorist threat.

On “lone wolf” terrorists, see Isaac Chotiner’s must-read interview in Slate with political scientist Jeffrey D. Simon, author of the 2013 book Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat.

Academic blogger Juan Cole has an instant analysis, “Omar Mateen and rightwing homophobia: Hate crime or domestic terrorism?” See also sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer’s blog post, “Orlando massacre: ISIS inspired or homophobic attack?”

France 24 reporter-blogger and friend Leela Jacinto, who has reported extensively from Afghanistan over the years, has been looking into the curious case of the Orlando shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, “Sins of the father do not apply to the Orlando nightclub attacker.” Money quote

By all accounts Mateen Senior is bombastic, delusional, prolix and probably dyslexic. In some crazy phase of his prolific, self-made media career, he proclaimed himself president of Afghanistan. That’s how batty he is.

But like many parents of kids who have jumped on the Daesh/Islamic State (IS) group killing train, he has never advocated killing people who disagree with him.

This is consistent with the generational break we are witnessing between immigrant parents who have left their native lands and their children who have a limited, at best, grasp of their parents’ countries of birth.

Leela quotes Barnett Rubin of Columbia University, the world’s leading political science authority on Afghanistan, who has also been on the Omar Mateen père story

As Barnett Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan, tweeted, “Orlando shooter’s dad Seddique Mateen doesn’t support Taliban or anything but himself. No wonder his son was unstable. Look at his FB page.”

After examining what he deliciously called Mateen’s “logorrhean FB page,” Rubin not surprisingly concludes, “He is a nut”.

Not nearly as much as his son, alas.

As for the fallout on the US presidential campaign, there will be none, except perhaps to reinforce Hillary and make the specter of Trump in the White House that much more alarming. If terrorism becomes an issue in the fall campaign, Hillary can only benefit. More on this another time.

UPDATE: See the powerful “Reflections on Orlando” by New York LGBT blogger Michael Bouldin.

2nd UPDATE: On the matter of guns, Huff Post foreign affairs reporter Jessica Schulberg has a piece explaining “what happened when a terrorist attacked LGBT people in a country with strict gun laws.” The country in question is Israel. The lede: “There’s no right to bear arms in Israel, and the death count in recent terror attacks is much lower than in terror-inspired U.S. mass murders.” Right-wing Americans who adhere to the NRA (and AIPAC) viewpoint are invited to read this and, if they care to do so, respond to it.

3rd UPDATE: Watch Vox’s extraordinary seven-minute video, “America’s gun problem, explained.”

4th UPDATE: WaPo reporters Kevin Sullivan and William Wan have a must-read portrait (June 17th) of Omar Mateen, “Troubled. Quiet. Macho. Angry. The volatile life of the Orlando shooter.” It wasn’t sympathy for the Islamic State which drove him to commit mass murder, that’s for sure.

Also see the report (June 18th) by TDB’s Shane Harris, Brandy Zadrozny, and Katie Zavadski, “The unhinged home that raised Orlando killer Omar Mateen.” Talk about a dysfunctional family, and for whom religion was clearly not central.

5th UPDATE: Slate’s Isaac Chotiner, in an Orlando-related piece (June 22nd), “The Islamization of radicalism,” interviews Olivier Roy “on the misunderstood connection between terror and religion.”

New York Daily News_June 13 2016

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Since launching this blog 4½ years ago I’ve had posts on every major massacre in the US—Charleston, Isla Vista, Sandy Hook, Aurora—plus Utøya in Norway but didn’t have the reflex to comment on this latest one. Like, what’s the point? What more is there to be said about the insane American exception regarding the over-the-counter sale of semi-automatic weapons, which is the cause of the massacres? Moreover, there is clearly no chance whatever that the minds of the gun nuts will be changed by rational argumentation on the subject (à propos, I have been bombarded with the most hostile comments by far on my posts on guns; these people are completely unhinged). But there is always something new and/or interesting to be said. In lieu of saying it myself, I will link here to pertinent commentaries with original angles or analyses on the question that I’ve come across over the past couple of days.

Before I get to those, I would like to tell any anti-gun control/pro-NRA person—e.g. almost all Republican party politicians and right-wing commentators—who, after a gun massacre in the homeland, says that his or her “prayers and thoughts” are with the families of the victims to take those “prayers and thoughts” and stick them up his or her a—. And then to go f— him or herself.

Okay, that off my chest, The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, who is brilliant on this issue, has a commentary dated yesterday explaining that “The Second Amendment is a gun-control amendment,” that sane gun control legislation may be entirely based on a correct reading of that unfortunate constitutional amendment. Money quote

In point of historical and constitutional fact…the only amendment necessary for gun legislation, on the local or national level, is the Second Amendment itself, properly understood, as it was for two hundred years in its plain original sense. This sense can be summed up in a sentence: if the Founders hadn’t wanted guns to be regulated, and thoroughly, they would not have put the phrase “well regulated” in the amendment. (A quick thought experiment: What if those words were not in the preamble to the amendment and a gun-sanity group wanted to insert them? Would the National Rifle Association be for or against this change? It’s obvious, isn’t it?)

Indeed. A question to the gun whack jobs: What is that bit in the Second Amendment about “a well-regulated militia” supposed to mean anyway?

In his comment, Gopnik refers to the dissent of SCOTUS Justice Jean Paul Stevens in the D.C. v. Heller ruling. More than one person on my social media news feeds has posted former Justice Stevens’s WaPo op-ed dated April 11th 2014, “The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment.” It won’t happen but is an excellent proposition nonetheless.

Vox has one its ‘Explainers’ columns explain “America’s gun problem,” in which several points are made and elaborated upon

1) America’s gun problem is completely unique. 2) More guns mean more gun deaths. Period. 3) Americans tend to support measures to restrict guns, but that doesn’t translate into laws. 4) The gun lobby as we know it is relatively recent but enormously powerful. 5) Other developed countries have had huge successes with gun control. 6) Although they get a lot of focus, mass shootings are a small portion of all gun violence.

Also on Vox is “One map that puts America’s gun violence epidemic in perspective,” which has a fact-filled 2½-minute video explaining that “America’s biggest gun problem is the one we never talk about.”

In the LAT last April 22nd, David Hemenway, who is professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. had an op-ed informing the readers that “There’s scientific consensus on guns — and the NRA won’t like it.”

For a historical perspective, Fordham University historian Saul Cornell and lawyer and Second Amendment specialist Eric M. Ruben have an article in The Atlantic dated September 30th on “The slave-state origins of modern gun rights.”

Voilà, until the next massacre…

UPDATE: Vox’s German Lopez interviews Vanderbilt University psychiatry, sociology, and medicine, health, and society professor Jonathan Metzl, in a post that says “Everyone blames mental illness for mass shootings [b]ut what if that’s wrong?”

2nd UPDATE: NYT columnist Frank Bruni’s Sunday column (October 4th), “Guns, campuses, and madness,” takes up insane new state laws that allow for concealed carry on university campuses, including in classrooms and dormitories. The lede: “The University of Texas, with its memory of mass death, is a study in our national perversity about firearms.”

3rd UPDATE: Also worth reading in the Sunday NYT is Nicholas Kristof’s column “A new way to tackle gun deaths.”

4th UPDATE: The Sunday NYT reports that the father of gunman Christopher Harper-Mercer, who killed himself after committing his massacre, is “dismayed by [the] lack of gun legislation.” The report begins

The father of the gunman who killed nine people at a community college here called on the nation to change its gun laws on Saturday, saying the massacre “would not have happened” if his son had not been able to buy so many handguns and rifles.

“How was he able to compile that kind of arsenal?” the father, Ian Mercer, said in an interview with CNN at his home in Tarzana, Calif. He said he had no idea that his son owned more than a dozen firearms.

Of course.

5th UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post, as is his wont, asking “When will [Republicans] demand that the US break off diplomatic relations with any country that doesn’t allow visiting Americans to bring and carry their guns?” This actually poses an interesting question as to whether or not Republicans and others who share the NRA’s world-view consider the “right to keep and bear arms,” as their interpretation of the Second Amendment has it, to be an inalienable human right on a par with the rights in the First Amendment and, if so, if they think that US foreign policy, in its promotion of democracy and human rights, should also press countries to align their gun legislation along US norms. Just wondering.

6th UPDATE: Blogger/writer Amanda Marcotte has a spot on piece in Salon (October 5th) on “why the gun nuts win.” The lede: “The fantasy lives of gun lovers, such as Oregon sheriff John Hanlin, are why we can’t address gun violence.” This passage merits quoting

John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County who has been in charge of the police response and investigation of Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, has fallen under media scrutiny because he’s left an eyebrow-raising trail of gun nuttery that shades into conspiracy theorist territory. His past behavior calls into question not just his own office’s ability to handle this case responsibly, but tells us a lot about why it’s so hard to even begin to have a reasonable conversation about guns in this country, much less move towards sensible policies to reduce gun violence.

Conservatives aren’t lying when they say they need guns to feel protected. But it’s increasingly clear that they aren’t seeking protection from crime or even from the mythical jackbooted government goons come to kick in your door. No, the real threat is existential. Guns are a totemic shield against the fear that they are losing dominance as the country becomes more liberal and diverse and, well, modern. For liberals, the discussion about guns is about public health and crime prevention. For conservatives, hanging onto guns is a way to symbolically hang onto the cultural dominance they feel slipping from their hands. (…)

It’s not just Hanlin. Guns are generally talked about in right-wing circles in…mythical terms. And because a gun isn’t just a gun to conservatives, but a symbol of all they hold dear, having a reasonable conversation about gun control has become impossible. To liberals, it’s about keeping guns out of the hands of people who misuse them. But to conservatives, it’s clearly about stripping away their very sense of identity, which is naturally going to be a touchier subject.

In this vein, MoJo has reposted a 2014 comment by Ben Dreyfuss on “what it’s like arguing with gun nuts on the Internet.”

Also in MoJO is a link to John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ commentary after the Oregon massacre, in which, using humor and irony, he makes a serious argument and “slams Republicans who only discuss mental health to actively avoid gun control.”

7th UPDATE: Following the Oregon massacre Politico reposted on social media an article dated July 18th, by historian Josh Zeitz, that poses the excellent question: “If guns make us safer, why not let them into the U.S. Capitol?”

Also in Politico is an article (October 5th) by UT-Austin prof Matt Valentine on “The myth of the good guy with a gun.”

8th UPDATE: WaPo’s The Fix page has a must-read piece, dated August 14th, by reporter Amber Phillips on “The NRA-ification of the Republican Party.”

9th UPDATE: TAP’s Paul Waldman has an excellent, totally spot-on commentary (October 11th) on “Ben Carson, American gun advocates, and the fantasy of individual heroism.” The lede: “The delusion that one person with a rifle can fend off doomsday explains how many on the right see their relationship with the government.” This delusion is so obvious that, BTW, I will refuse, out of principle, to address—let alone respond to—the apparently widespread conviction in the crackpot sectors of the American right—which are substantial these days—that European Jews, had they been armed, could have resisted the Nazis and maybe staved off the Holocaust. Anyone who can believe such a thing lives in an alternate reality and is quite simply beyond the pale. And is also entirely ignorant of history.

10th UPDATE: Political scientist Ellis Goldberg has a pertinent observation on the Second Amendment on his Facebook page

Having looked at some of the legal history literature on the second amendment I confess to being puzzled. First because in the 18th century (and particularly in England but also in the American colonies) “militia” referred generally to military organization and “the militia” was a locally paid force commanded nominally by the sovereign and directly selected and disciplined by the county’s Lord Lieutenant. Second, the right to bear arms generally marked a distinction between either free and slave or between loyal subjects and untrustworthy subalterns (Scots in the early 18th century or Irish peasants). If anyone can throw light on this I’d appreciate it. I’m not interested in discussion of what the second amendment ought to be mean, can mean, or used to be held to mean. I’m interested, at a minimum, in the mid to late 18th c. contextual (aka “originalist”) meaning. I don’t seem to be picking this up even in articles by major scholars about the original meaning.

Goldberg continues

Akhil Amar in his book on the Bill of Rights notes the distinction between the rights of “first-class” citizens including juries and arms and those of ordinary subjects or inhabitants whose property rights would be respected but who lacked political rights and he argues that the militia was viewed as “the people” but he seems to ignore that “bearing arms” was a way of distinguishing between full citizens and those without full political membership (ie those who had and those who lacked political rights) and he also seems unwilling to link up American practice with contemporary English practice as well as with those sections of the Federalist Papers which make it quite clear that militias are commanded by officers chosen by the state governments from among rights-bearing citizens.

Comments are welcome from those who adhere to a strict “originalist” interpretation of the constitution.

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The Charleston massacre

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,  Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders  (Image credit: BBC News)

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,
Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders
(Image credit: BBC News)

[update below] [2nd update below]

As usual in the aftermath of such horrific events, I have nothing in particular to add to what has already been said by others, except to observe that while there are psychos and homicidally-inclined racists everywhere, such a massacre is, in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings. The issue in this one is not the persistence of racism in America—racism and hatred of the Other are present everywhere—but that the 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who’s the same age as my daughter and a sizable number of my students over the years, was in legal possession of a .45 caliber handgun, and which was apparently given to him as a birthday present by his father no less. Needless to say, such a gift from father to son in France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan etc—and who are not in a mafia family—would be totally inconceivable. And illegal. In France—or in Britain, Germany, etc—there is no way a young man his age not associated with a criminal gang could come into possession of such a weapon. If Dylann Storm Roof had not had that gun—if America’s gun laws were akin to those where I live—the nine parishioners of Charleston SC’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church would be alive today.

Can Dylann Storm Roof’s father be made liable for the massacre, as an accessory to the crime? He should be, morally if not legally.

On the centrality of the gun question here, Vox staff writer German Lopez has a piece on that fine website—with statistics and videos—saying that “Obama is right: gun violence is much worse in the US than other advanced countries.”

Also on Vox is a post by Max Fisher in which he has a quote by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik—a passage I’ve no doubt quoted myself—saying that “This is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings.”

The most intelligent reflection I’ve read on the massacre so far is David Remnick’s in The New Yorker, “Charleston and the age of Obama.”

For the moment at least, that’s as much as I have to say.

UPDATE: I wrote above that the Charleston massacre is “in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings.” I should modify the bit about “the Western world” to read “in any society not in the throes of a civil war or riven by communal conflict.”

2nd UPDATE: Vox has a short video (3:45) on how “The Charleston shooting is part of a long history of anti-black terrorism.” Watch it.

The second most popular article on The New Yorker website at the present moment (June 20th) is a commentary by Adam Gopnik dated December 19th 2012—which I linked to back then—on “The simple truth about gun control.”

Making the rounds on social media this weekend is the video of a 16-minute stand-up act by Australian comedian Jim Jefferies, who “perfectly sums up why other countries think US gun laws are crazy,” and which I linked to three months ago.

TNR senior editor Jeet Heer, weighing in on right-wing media coverage of the Charleston massacre, has a commentary on “National Review magazine’s racism denial, then and now.” I have also mentioned NR’s treatment of race, in a post four years ago.

And here’s a hard-hitting SFGate.com blog post (June 19th) by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, on “The myth of America’s awesomeness.” Morford’s comment, which is driven by the Charleston massacre, veers somewhat off the topic but not entirely.

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Killed by police

150408_POL_WalterScottShot.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

Killed by Police.net: This website, established in May 2013, documents, via news reports—as there are no official statistics on the question—all persons killed in the United States by the police, whatever the reason. In 2014, an average of 92 persons per month were killed by the police somewhere in the US. From May through December 2013, the average monthly number was 96. Some of those killed were allegedly armed—and “allegedly” must be underscored here—a few of whom allegedly shot at the police first. But reading the news dispatches at random, it is clear that most of those who were allegedly armed did not initiate fire. The cops shot first. And then there were all those shot and killed who were not armed—and who were, of course, disproportionately black.

Contrast this with France, where some 10 to 15 persons a year are killed by the police. That’s a year, not per month. From 2000 to 2014—over a 15-year period—a total of 127 persons were killed by the police in France. N.B. These figures are not official—as with the US, there are no official statistics in France on the question—but were collected by left-wing associations—which have no wish to minimize police brutality, it may be mentioned.

On this score, France is actually a violent country compared to Great Britain, where, in 2013, zero persons were killed by police gunfire. In 2012, one person was killed by a bobby in all of GB.

Statistically speaking, one is 25 times more likely to be killed by a cop in America than in France. And 100 times more likely than in Britain.

There’s something very wrong with America: With the American police and in American society (all those guns).

On the April 4th murder of citizen Walter Scott by police officer Michael Slager in North Charleston SC, I will recommend just two articles of the many I’ve read. One is “Seeing Walter Scott,” by Cardozo School of Law professor Ekow N. Yankah, in The New Yorker (April 12th). This one is particularly good.

The other is “When cops cry wolf,” by Frank Serpico, a man who knows of what he speaks, in Politico Magazine (April 10th). The lede: “Police have been setting up suspects with false testimony for decades. Is anyone going to believe them now when they tell the truth?”

While I’m at it, here is something I just came across in WaPo: “Cop accused of brutally torturing black suspects costs Chicago $5.5 million.” Wow, I had no idea. A Paul Aussaresses wannabe with the gégène and in my home town, and while I lived there…

And here’s a Special Investigation in the upcoming May-June issue of Mother Jones, “What does gun violence really cost?” Cost America, that is.

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times informs its readers (April 9th) that “Nearly 9% of Americans are angry, impulsive – and have a gun…” The article reports on a study—carried out by a team of researchers from Columbia, Duke, and Harvard—just published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law. It begins

Tread lightly, Americans: Nearly 9% of people in the United States have outbursts of anger, break or smash things, or get into physical fights — and have access to a firearm, a new study says. What’s more, 1.5% of people who have these anger issues carry their guns outside the home.

This means that some 430,000 potentially dangerous Americans are legally armed and may be roaming about at any given moment.

BTW, did anyone see the video clips of Wayne LaPierre’s keynote speech the other day at the NRA’s annual meeting? These people make the French Front National look like centrists.

2nd UPDATE: Vox has a spot on post (April 9th) by its race, law, and politics reporter Jenée Desmond-Harris on “Why it’s finally catching on that ‘What about black-on-black crime?’ doesn’t make sense.”

3rd UPDATE: Vanity Fair editor Kia Makarechi has an article (July 14, 2016) on “What the data really says about police and racial bias.” The lede: “Eighteen academic studies, legal rulings, and media investigations shed light on the issue roiling America.”

4th UPDATE: See the essay (September 16, 2016) by political scientist Adolph Reed Jr., who thinks outside the box and is never not interesting, on “How racial disparity does not help make sense of patterns of police violence.”

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