Archive for the ‘USA: guns’ Category


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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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 of 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 caliber Bushmaster assault rifle

.223 caliber 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… 😀

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The Second Amendment

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

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

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

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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