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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

By GABRIELLE GIFFORDS
WASHINGTON

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.

Teabonic

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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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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http://ganglandscribe2.blogspot.com/2011/09/corner-where-gun-shop-stood.html

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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