Monday, June 11, 2018

What's Left Special Report: Guns

What's Left Special Report: Guns

February 14, 2018: Seventeen are killed, 17 more wounded, in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida

May 18, 2018: Ten killed, 13 wounded, in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

May 25, 2018: Two injured, happily none killed, in a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Noblesville, Indiana. According to CNN, this was the 23rd school shooting of 2018 - just 22 weeks into the year.

And of course we heard from the right wing and from the gun nuts all their sorrowful expressions and their thoughts and prayers and of course their excuses and diversions and distractions, blaming the massacres on mental illness, bullying, Hollywood, violent video games, socialism, single parents, Godlessness, abortion, and now Ritalin. Everything but the guns.

Well, you know what? I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear anything they have to say, now or ever again. I don't want to hear the gobbledygook, the nonsense, the lies, the garbage. I don't want hear any of the noxious venom spewing from the fangs of the snakes at the NRA. I don't want to hear the slimy excuses, the shopworn slogans, the stale talking points.

There have been well over 60 mass killings in US over last 30 years. One every couple of months for 30 years. In the vast majority of those cases, the guns involved were obtained legally. Of the weapons used nearly three-fourths were either assault weapons or semiautomatic handguns.

So I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear anything from the gun nuts or their bought off lackeys in Congress. I don't want to hear their lies, I won't tolerate their distractions, I won't abide their trickery, I won't fall for their attempts to talk about anything other than the damn guns.

What's more, I also don't want to hear it from the Democrats, I don't want to hear any of the mealy-mouthed blather from political cowards who will whine that they're doing the best that they can even as the body count rises and members of their own party continue to either worship at the altar of the NRA or run and hide at its approach.

And that's nothing new. Even Mr. Nobel Peace Prize himself, President Hopey-Changey, talked big about "meaningful action" on guns while the only thing he did was to expand the areas where people can legally carry them. Thanks to legislation approved and actively defended in court by the glorious Mr. O's administration, you can transport a gun via Amtrak train, which you couldn't before. Even better, you can now carry a loaded, concealed gun around in a national park, which you couldn't before.

And I don't want to hear, as we have always, invariably, inevitably heard after every tragedy and as sure as the sun rising in the morning will hear after the next one that "now is not the time" to talk about doing something about the carnage. Because if that's true, then what the hell time is "the time?"

Know this: The mass murders, especially the ones at schools, grab our attention, take our breath away, break our hearts and break through our indifference  but they are in fact only a small part of the reality, a small part of the daily, grinding, carnage that guns bring to our nation.

Over the past five years, on average, 13,000 people in US are killed, murdered, every year by gun. Over the past five years, on average, nearly 22,000 commit suicide by gun every year. Over 35,000 gun deaths a year - 96 a day - including seven children and teenagers. Ninety-six a day: that's three Parklands plus four Santa Fes a day, every day, day after day.

The suicides are especially tragic because while gun suicides account for 60% of gun deaths and 50% of all suicide deaths, they only account for about 10% of all suicide attempts - because 90% of those who attempt suicide by gun succeed, while 90% of those who try by other means fail and rarely try again.

So I have to ask: When is it "the time" to talk about the guns? How many more have to die before it's "the time?" How many more have to be shot down before it's "the time?" How many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, have to lie in spreading pools of their own blood before it's "the time?"

How many children have to cry out for mommy after a fall or a bee sting until someone has to gently as they can explain again that mommy is no longer there before it's "the time?" How many wives have to wake in the night and reach across the bed and have that moment of confusion before the pain of remembering - yet again - why there's no one there? How many parents have to suffer the repeated gaping empty ache of being in the grocery store and reaching for something before realizing - again - that they no longer have to buy that sort of cereal or that particular brand of peanut butter?

The days of those children, those spouses, those parents, are not measured in minutes but in pains; they are not marked by hours but by aches. So what time is the time? And why is this time, whatever time it is, not the time?

So I don't want to hear it; I don't want to hear any of it. Not the time? Of course it's the time, it's way past the time, way past time to face the truth that there is only one issue here: there are too damn many guns that are too damn easy to get.

Part of the problem is, we don't actually know how many people own guns or how many they own. Keeping official records on that sort of thing, thanks to the NRA and political cowardice, is illegal. So the information we have is all by survey.

But based on that, there are by various estimates anywhere from 270 million to 310 million guns in private hands in the United States - close to one firearm for every man, woman, and child in the US and about one-half of all weapons owned by civilians in the entire world.

But while those numbers about ownership may be close to the actual totals, they remain indefinite, imprecise. Still, one thing is for sure: more guns equals more gun crime, more gun deaths, more murders, more suicides. That's what the research shows, over and over again.

In 2013, researchers from Boston University looked at the relationship between gun ownership and gun homicides over the  30-year period from 1981 to 2010 in all 50 states. They found a "robust correlation" between the two factors.

Also in 2013, a team lead by Dr. Eric Fleegler, a physician in pediatric emergency medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, used information on state laws from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence to create a list of 28 possible laws states could enact to in some way control guns or access to them. They also used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding gun violence. Putting those data sets together, they found that the more such laws a state had, the lower the level of gun violence there. The states in the top 25% of gun legislation strength had a 42% reduction in gun deaths compared with the states in the bottom 25%, including a 40% drop in homicides and a 37% drop in suicides. Notably, when gun violence was lower, other types of violence did not go up, suggesting people without guns do not kill themselves or others by other means.

In 2014, a team lead by David Hemenway, director of the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University, assembled a list of nearly 300 experts on guns, which they established by going through about 1,200 articles on firearms that had been recently published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Hemenway began sending monthly surveys to the authors of these articles. The results showed that a heavy majority the experts responding agreed that having a gun in the house makes it a more dangerous place to be, makes it more likely that a woman living in the house will be killed, and increases the risk of suicide. Heavy majorities also agreed that having more guns around does not reduce crime and that strong gun laws do reduce homicide.

In 2016, a report by researchers from the University of Nevada-Reno and the Harvard School of Public Health used World Health Organization data to compare gun violence and murder rates across 23 developed (or "high-income," as they are also called) nations, including the US. Among the findings were that Americans are 25 times more likely to be violently killed with a gun - murdered - than in those 22 other nations; we are six times more likely to be accidentally killed with a gun; eight times times more likely to commit suicide using a gun; and overall 10 times more likely to die by gun than residents of other developed nations. It found that homicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans 15 to 24 and the third leading cause of death among those 25 to 34. Americans 15 to 24 are 49 times more likely to die from gun murder than similarly aged young people in other high-income nations; for those aged 25 to 34, the risk is 32 times greater.

Despite having only one-half the total population of the other nations studied, the US accounted for 82 percent of all firearm incidents. What's more, the US accounted for 90 percent of all women, 91 percent of children aged up to 14 years, and 92 percent of youth aged 15 to 24 years who were killed by guns.

In 2017, a working paper by John Donohue, an economist and law professor at Stanford University, addressed the question of relating gun ownership to gun crime at a time during which violent crime in the US has been and continues to decline. He found that the introduction of so-called right-to-carry laws makes violent crime rates 13-15% worse and the gun homicide rate 9% worse over 10 years. That is, even as violent crime is dropping, it would have dropped significantly more in the absence of those laws. More guns around, more guns carried, more crime, more death. The result was based on an analysis of 37 years worth of data comparing gun crime rates in states with and without right-to-carry laws, including how the rates changed in states that adopted right-to-carry during those 37 years.

And just last fall, evidence from a massive database maintained by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracks lives lost in every country, in every year, by every possible cause of death, showed the US as a shocking outlier on gun deaths.

Measured by socioeconomic success, such as income per person and average education level, the US ranked 9th highest among the nations of the world - but on death by gun violence, it ranked 31st highest. That is, of the 195 recognized nations of the world, only eight nations had higher socioeconomic success than the US, but 164 nations had lower levels of death by gun.

The rate of gun death in the US in 2016, the most recent figures available, was eight times higher than the rate in Canada, 27 times higher than in Denmark, 33 times higher than Germany.

But oh, we're told, even if all that is true, well, it's unfortunate, it's terrible, but it's the price we pay for freedom! The freedom we are guaranteed by the Second Amendment, the Amendment that itself guarantees our freedom!

Bull.

I'm going to have to get a little legalistic on you, but it's necessary because you can be damn sure that the gun nuts are going to trot out the Second Amendment argument over and over, the argument that goes "I can have my guns - the Constitution says so!"

So first, let's be clear on what the Amendment says:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The first important Supreme Court decision about the Second Amendment was Presser v. Illinois, which was decided in 1886. In it, the Supreme Court found that the Second Amendment limited only the power of Congress and the national government to control firearms, not that of individual states. States could essentially put on whatever restrictions they wanted. That decision was affirmed in Miller v. Texas, decided in 1894. Now, this was before the idea of incorporation, the idea that the protections of the Constitution extend to the states as well as the federal government, became commonplace, so these decisions are not truly relevant the legal situation we face to today. But they do mean that right away this idea that from the very beginning the Founding Fathers wanted everyone to be able to own whatever and however many guns they wanted is totally bogus.

The next big case, the important one, was United States v. Miller. This was in 1939 and it concerned the National Firearms Act of 1934. That Act required that certain types of weapons be registered and taxed. A unanimous Court upheld the law, saying there was no conflict with the Second Amendment. The Court found that:
In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a [weapon of the sort involved in the case] has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. ... With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.
The syntax is rather stilted, but the meaning is clear enough.

For 69 years, that was precedent, relied on by all lower Courts and occasionally referred to by the Supreme Court itself. For 69 years, the legal standard was that states and the federal government were within their legitimate powers to regulate sale and possession of weapons which were not related to maintaining "a well-regulated militia" - which, in the absence of state militias (except to the degree that the National Guard could be considered such), pretty much meant any weapon at all.

Put another way, the guarantee under the Second Amendment was understood to describe not an individual right but a collective one: It applied to the people as a whole, not to discrete individuals.

After 69 years, the narrowest majority of the Supreme Court, 5-4, decided to ignore those decades of precedent, or more to the point, to regard them as irrelevant. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment does provide an individual right to own a gun.

To do that, they had to go through some real mental contortions. They treated the reference to a militia as merely "prefatory," as having no legal effect, no legal meaning, even though there doesn't seem to be another example of such a "prefatory" anywhere in the constitution. What's more, the phrase "keep and bear arms" has traditionally referred to serving in a military force (including a militia). To get around that, the Court majority broke the phrase into two separate pieces - so it's not a right to "keep and bear arms" but a right to "keep" arms and an entirely separate right to "bear" arms.

This decision only applied to federal enclaves such as the District of Columbia. However, two years later, in McDonald v. Chicago, the Court ruled in another 5-4 decision that the finding in Heller applied to the states as well.

That is what the gun nuts now rely on, that is what they now argue: "Can't have gun control. Second Amendment. Supreme Court has ruled. Debate is over." Now, if you're ever faced with that argument, the first thing you should do is to ask those wackos if at any time during those 69 years that the Court said otherwise, in all that time did any of them just say "the Court has ruled, the debate is over, we lost." Of course they didn't. So don't expect us to do it now.

Especially because I'm going to advance an argument that the interpretation of the Second Amendment relied on by the gun nuts and the NRA and the right-wingers on the court is wholly bogus even beyond the majority's mental contortions.

First, again, here is the text:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Here is James Madison's original proposed text:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
Note that expressed this way, the tying of the article to a militia is specific and undeniable; it makes no sense to regard the reference to a militia as some sort of passing observation with no relevance to the rest of the text.

What's more, the "Powers of Congress" as listed in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution include these (among others):
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States;
Note well: Congress can maintain a navy but only raise an army and that for only two years at a time - and meanwhile, can call out the militia to "suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions."

The expectation was that the US would not have a standing army, that one would be raised in the event of need but that the militias would be the first line of defense against attack. Despite that - and this is something that then-Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his dissent in Heller - there still was a concern at the time that Congress would disarm the state militias and create a national standing army and the Second Amendment was intended as a guarantee to the states that their militias could be maintained. Which means that yes, it was about a militia from the very start. Which means the Miller decision got it right and the Heller decision should go to hell.

But there's another thing that is equally if not more important: The gun nuts - and, in fact, a lot of gun control advocates - don't know what the Heller and McDonald decisions actually said.

In Heller and reasserted in McDonald, the majority of the Supreme Court actually embraced the concept of the 1939 Miller decision that the federal government and the states have the authority to regulate firearms. What's more, that majority argued that the protections of the Second Amendment only apply to weapons "in common use for lawful purposes." In fact, in Heller, the Court said the ruling, quoting here,
should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
The majority also said that other existing or potential prohibitions, such as banning concealed weapons or the carrying of "dangerous and unusual weapons" were unaffected by the decision.

So the gun nuts who claim that the Second Amendment gives them the right to have pretty much any kind of gun they want and as many of them as they want and carry them wherever they want are, happily, completely wrong. Heller and McDonald are far more limited than gun nuts hoped and than control advocates feared.

Carrying concealed guns can be banned. Carrying guns into schools or government buildings - or, for that matter, on Amtrak trains or in national parks - can be banned. Assault weapons can be banned. Semiautomatic handguns can be banned. High-capacity magazines can be banned. Safety locks can be required. "Dangerous and unusual" ammunition such as hollow-point bullets and armor-piercing rounds can be banned.

Michael Waldman, who is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, has noted that even since Heller, courts have upheld nearly all gun rules, finding that yes, individuals have a right to a gun, but society has the right to protect itself, too.

And in fact that society agrees. A survey by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and published in the May issue of the "American Journal of Public Health" covered 24 proposals of varying severity restricting access to guns. A majority supported 23 of them; significantly, a majority of self-described gun owners supported 17 of them and in most cases the approval gap between gun owners and non-gun owners was in the single digits.

And in terms of societal right to self-protection, it's wise to recall here that gun ownership is a distinctly minority position in the US: Based on surveys, no more than about 30% of Americans own one or more guns and the figure may be as low as 22% and only 42% live is a household where anyone owns a gun.

An important sidebar here is that I would not approve of all the proposals in the Johns Hopkins survey, as some made a history of mental illness a bar to gun ownership - and the fact is that the best and recent research shows no reliable predictive value in associating mental health and gun violence. Put another way, the research says that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent toward others, especially to commit mass violence, than anyone else is. We can't simply dismiss the harsh truth of mass violence with the slogan "better mental health programs." They are justified on their own account - but not because they will address the issue of mass shootings, because they will not. They are a gun lobby-pushed distraction. The issue is the damn guns. Stay focused.

So staying focused, here's the last thing, a bottom line: Based on current jurisprudence, the truth is that pretty much any kind of gun other than basic hunting rifles, shotguns, and ordinary handguns could be banned outright.

And dammit, they should be - ban them all. You want to hunt? Go with a basic rifle. Don't even try to tell me that you need an AR-15 to go after deer. In fact, why don't you use a bow? Or is the extra effort involved in having to track the deer to get close enough to take it down with a bow instead of dropping it from a couple of hundred yards away with your manhood too much for you?

You want to target shoot? Use a pellet gun. Yeah, yeah, I know, they can be dangerous blah blah blah - but don't even try to tell me you need a Glock to shoot out a paper bulls-eye.

Ban them all. I know that's not going to happen. I know there is no chance of that in my lifetime and probably much longer, if ever. But it's not going to stop me from saying it and from wanting it - and as long as I am 100 times more likely to be killed by a gun here than in the UK, I'm going to keep on saying it and keep on wanting it.

I am not usually a one-issue voter. but this year, on this issue, on there being too damn many guns that are too damn easy to get, I am. So this year, this time, this election, if you are not with me on this, I am against you.

Because all I can think is that until we Americans as a people, as a culture, grow the hell up and throw away our childish fantasies that somehow we are all living on the frontier in the 1880s with nothing between us and who knows what danger except our trusty guns, until we grow the hell up and ditch the infantile vision of ourselves as action movie heroes ready to leap into action to defend the defenseless and save the day, until we grow the hell up and realize the our guns have brought us death and not deliverance, until that time the tens of thousands of people who die by gun every year in this country will continue to die by the tens of thousands - because there are too damn many guns that are too damn easy to get.

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