Will Trump Lead The Way on Gun Control?

I think the only political event in my lifetime which made a greater impression on me that the assassination of JFK was the announcement in February, 1972 that Nixon was going to China for a meeting with Mao-Tse Tung. After all, I had come of age during the Cold War, and nothing was colder than our relationship or non-relationship with the People’s Republic, a diplomatic freeze which had existed since 1949. And in the intervening 23 years, whenever any public figure even hinted that perhaps it was time for us to rethink a policy that left us unable to communicate with a government that represented one-quarter of the entire population of the globe, it was Nixon who always jumped up screaming ‘Commie, Commie,’ and the idea was quickly shelved.

prayer            Nixon’s entire political career was steeped in anti-Communism.  He was elected to the House in 1946 and quickly established himself as a passionate hunter of Communists hiding under every bed in the government, culminating with his campaign against Alger Hiss. Using the Hiss case to elevate himself to national prominence, he won a Senate seat in 1950 by running a smear campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas whom he called ‘the pink lady.’ When Eisenhower decided to burnish his Presidential campaign with appeals to the anti-Communist right, Nixon was the perfect choice for the ticket in 1952.

When Nixon opened the door to China, it was his unquestioned anti-Communist credentials which allowed him to get away with a political gambit that would have ruined the career of any politician sporting even the mildest of liberal stripes. And if That Schmuck in the White House (TSWH) is actually serious about responding to Parkland with some kind of restrictions on guns, he’ll get away with it because his political base will have no choice but to agree.

Tell you the truth, I always thought that Trump’s fervent embrace of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ was really nothing more than just saying whatever he needed to say to position himself as the opposite of HRC. And I knew this not just because he had been on record as being in favor of the assault weapons ban, but more so because he’s a New York guy and New Yorkers just don’t share the alt-white’s passion for guns. Gun ‘rights’ just aren’t in the political DNA of anyone in New York, in the same way that you would have to dig pretty deep to find anyone in a gun-rich state like South Carolina who would favor any kind of ban on guns.

When the idea of a bump-stock ban was first floated around after Las Vegas, the NRA issued this statement: “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.” So, like it or not, TSWH has Gun-nut Nation in his pocket if he wants to move forward with any plan to regulate guns. And his announcement that the Justice Department will figure out a way to ban bump-stocks would reverse a 2014 ATF ruling which declared such accessory items to be legal for sale.

In order to reverse or change the ATF finding, the government would have to redefine the definition of what constitutes a legal firearm; i.e., any firearm which can be owned without going through the tiresome and costly NFA procedure now required for ownership of a full-auto gun. Such a rewrite of the definition of a legal gun would require changes to the federal gun laws passed in 1934 and 1968. But don’t forget that before Nixon met with Mao, it was illegal for American citizens to enter mainland China, a law which was then quickly changed.

From 2009 until 2016 the gun industry called Obama the best salesman they ever had. Is there any chance that the NRA’s best White House buddy could end up as the guy who rolled back gun ‘rights?’ The gun-control movement better not indulge themselves into thinking that it would never take place.

 

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Want To Know What Happened In Vegas? We Still Don’t Know.

After the Sandy Hook massacre, initial media statements were confused and often contradictory to the point that online conspiracy hawkers like Alex Jones had a field day ‘proving’ that the assault never took place. Now that more than three months have passed since the Las Vegas shooting and the unanswered questions continue to pile up, I’m surprised that we haven’t yet seen a new wave of conspiracy explanations to explain how and why the ‘real’ events on October 1st actually occurred.

LV2             Last week the FBI unsealed 448 pages of documents covering more than 20 searches conducted to figure out a possible motive for what Steve Paddock did. Given the fact that the hotel space he occupied was a crime scene and that he lived in one residence located in the town of Mesquite, why were so many warrants drawn up by the FBI? Because nowadays if you want to figure out anything about anyone, start by looking through the computer and/or the droid, then check out every online shopping and messaging account. And if you want to see if someone posted on Facebook, or Instagram, or bought something from Amazon, each of these venues requires a separate search.

What the newly-released documents in this case don’t tell us is anything beyond what we already knew. Paddock didn’t have a Facebook page; his emails were often sent to himself; he purchased a few items from Amazon, and that’s about it.  Between his house and the hotel room at Mandalay Bay he evidently owned more than 30 weapons, along with a large stash of ammunition, various tools, body armor and other crap. He also banked online like everyone else.

What law enforcement now knows about Paddock’s behavior and motives is more or less what they knew before they went through all this legal rigmarole to gain access to the shooter’s private life.  Or to put it differently, I read through the entire 488 pages released by the District Court, and I didn’t learn anything beyond what I knew within one day after the Las Vegas shooting took place – the guy took a bunch of legally-owned guns into a hotel room and began blasting away.

But leave it to our friends in law enforcement to use this documentary pile to develop some totally-unverified theories about what Paddock did and why, and then leave it to the media to take those theories and embellish them further. Then leave it to journalists who concentrate on gun news to embellish this ‘fake news’ a little more.

Today’s daily newsletter from our friends at The Trace contains this interesting comment about the Las Vegas document release:

According to investigators, the perpetrator intentionally sought to thwart their efforts, in part by buying many of his dozens of firearms online.  Private dealers who peddle guns over the internet are not required to run background checks on buyers, nor maintain the paper trail that ATF agents follow when linking crime weapons to licensed sellers.

 

This comment links to a story in a Las Vegas paper which claims the guns came from “internet retailers,” a statement linked back to an FBI ‘spokesman’ who said that Paddock’s ‘methodical planning’ was making it more difficult for law enforcement to figure everything out.

So The Trace refers to ‘private dealers’ but the media story says that Paddock purchased his weapons from ‘online retailers,’ which if that’s the case, none of those gun purchases would have been hidden from view. It may still come as a shock to some of my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community, but buying guns on the internet and keeping such transfers immune from a background check may or may not have any connection at all.

Back on October 5th and again on October 12th and a third time on October 26th I wrote columns arguing that we didn’t know much, if anything, about what happened on October 1st. Don’t hold your breath.

What Happened In Las Vegas? Nobody Knows And Nobody Cares.

Our man Shaun Dakin sent me a note the other day expressing profound grief at the degree to which the Las Vegas shooting has slipped from public view. And there’s no question that he’s correct. The issue of bump-stocks is now morphing into a regulatory problem for the ATF and I notice that bump-stock manufacturers are no longer pretending that they’ve shut down and left town. As for any new gun laws, those are just as dead post-Las Vegas as they were dead prior to the rampage event. Shaun also asked me to come up with a theory as to why this event has had such a brief media shelf-life, so here goes.

LV2    You would think that the worst mass shooting not just in U.S. history but in the entire history of small-arms would still be making some media noise. But the only media mention in the last few days has been a story about how off-duty cops from California who were in the concert crowd and performed heroic, life-saving efforts have been temporarily denied workmen’s comp so that they can spend some time off the job nursing both physical and mental wounds. The problem may eventually be sorted out but the story has already disappeared.

Talk about disappearing, it now turns out that the shooter, Stephen Paddock, is presumed to have removed a hard drive from his laptop computer before ending his own life. But the hard drive evidently can’t be found. Which raises two interesting questions: How do investigators know that it was Paddock who removed the drive; and where the hell is the drive? Computer memories tend to be a basic piece in evidence when law enforcement attempts to figure out motives, or movements of someone being investigated, particularly if the suspect happens to be dead. I’m still waiting for the Las Vegas Police to announce the results of the ‘internal’ investigation which was going to tell us which cop walked into Paddock’s hotel room and took pictures of him lying there dead. Now we can add another reason for this investigation never to be done.

Getting back to Shaun’s question about how come nobody’s interested in what happened at the Mandalay Bay, I think the quick way in which the whole thing has simmered down is basically a reflection of how the issue was handled by the man at the top. I’m referring here to Trump who made his first statement on Monday which sounded like either someone had put part of Obama’s brain into his head or at least doped him up to the point that he sounded restrained and dignified for the first time in his entire public life. Then he went out to Vegas and not only was quiet and respectful again, but even said words like ‘gun laws,’ a nomenclature which has never previously slipped out of his mouth.

This is the same Trump who bowed and scraped every time Gun-nut Nation accused Hillary of ‘politicizing’ the gun issue whenever she talked about gun violence during the campaign. This is the same Trump who continues to wax eloquent about how mass shooters are just really ‘sick’ guys even though most mass shooters do not present any symptoms of mental illness prior to engaging in a rampage-shooting event.

The afternoon that 28 people were killed at Sandy Hook, Obama went on television and mentioned other mass shootings, said that such events had occurred too many times, and promised to work for a political solution to keep such events from happening again. Two days later he appeared at a prayer vigil at Sandy and promised to “use whatever power this office holds” to stop mass violence caused by guns.

Know what? It’s not mass shootings that have stopped – it’s the attempt to regulate the use of guns which produce mass violence that has come to an end. Which is why Las Vegas is no longer an issue of  media concern. Which is why Shaun Dakin’s grief will continue to be profound.

 

 

All Of A Sudden Everyone’s In Favor Of A New Gun Law – Kind Of.

What a surprise. A guy mows down more than 500 people with an assault rifle of some sort and all of a sudden Congressional Republicans, the NRA and their spokesperson, Donald Trump, are willing to have a ‘discussion’ about gun laws. Charles Grassley, who never met a law protecting 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ he didn’t like, wants to hold hearings; Marco Rubio, who used a visit to Sturm, Ruger for a photo-op during his brief Presidential campaign wants to insure that there are no ‘vulnerabilities’ in federal gun laws (whatever that means); and even Rep. Mark Meadows, head of the Congressional Freedom Caucus (a.k.a what’s left of the Tea Party) is open to considering a gun bill.

LV             Most everyone in Gun-nut Nation fell into line once Trump mumbled something about a discussion on gun laws as he was getting ready to fly to Puerto Rico before going on to Vegas the following day. There were some holdouts, of course, such as the nuts from Gun Owners of America who consider themselves to be the true holder of the flame for gun rights, but they can be ignored. As for Rush, he had to come up with some pathetic defense of Trump’s new ‘soft’ position on guns, so he’s spinning the bizarrely-stupid idea that the President is ‘pretending’ to be for a gun bill in order to get the left-wing media off his back.

And then we have the response of our friends in Fairfax, who rather than waiting a week and then blasting away which is what they did after Sandy Hook, have released a written statement supporting the idea that the ATF should review the accessory known as a bump-stock which can be used to make an AR or AK-style rifle fire full-auto even though the trigger is still re-set to its firing position after every shot.

So both sides are getting a little bit of what they want: the pro-gun gang aren’t discussing the banning of an actual gun and the gun-control crowd can finally say that the industry’s attempt to pass off assault weapons as something they call ‘modern sporting rifles’ has just taken a big dent. But before the political posturing on both sides goes any further, there’s something you have to understand. Here we are a week beyond when the shots rang out, and we still don’t know out whether, in fact, a gun with a bump-stock was used at all.

The cops who busted into the shooter’s room didn’t need five minutes to figure out which gun or guns he used in the assault. The floor was evidently littered with spent shell casings; look down at one and you instantly know the caliber of the gun. Then walk around the room, grab every gun in that caliber, put your hand around the barrel and the amount of heat coming off the carbon steel identifies the requisite gun. The cops were actually too busy taking pictures which were sold or given to various news websites to worry about the guns, which means this all-important crime scene was contaminated beyond belief.

And if you think I’m coming down too hard on the Las Vegs cops who reacted to the rampage in about as quick and effective a way as they could, think again. Not only do we have pictures of the guns floating around, but there’s also a picture of Paddock lying on the floor obviously very bloody and very dead. Who first posted this gem? Alex Jones – who else!

So now the entire political ruling class begins a debate about gun violence without having the faintest idea what they are talking about. What if the shooter was using a legally-purchased full-auto gun? What if it turns out that he bought what the gun industry would like you to believe is a ‘modern sporting rifle’ and converted it into an automatic rifle without using a bump-stock? Engaging in a discussion about gun violence without any evidence-based information has become as normal as gun violence itself.

 

Is The Response To Bump-Stocks A Ban? Nope.

So the bill to ‘ban’ bump-stocks isn’t a ban at all.  It forbids anyone from manufacturing, importing or selling these things and, oh yes, you also can’t smuggle one in. Which isn’t a ban.  A ban means that nobody can own the product – period.  Which means that current bump-stock owners would have to get rid of them, trash them, disassemble them, ship them to Honduras, whatever. That’s a ban. The Curbelo-Moulton bill isn’t a ban.

bump             When Australia decided to ban assault rifles after a mass shooting in 1996 that left 35 people dead and 23 wounded, the government not only prohibited the import, manufacture and sale of assault weapons, it also made the ownership of such guns previously purchased to be against the law. Which meant that Australians were going to lose property that had been purchased in a legal way.  That’s expropriation without compensation. And that’s what a ‘ban’ really means. Gone.

To get around this problem, the Australian government added a 2% tax to the national health insurance and used the revenue to compensate assault-rifle owners at a fair market price when they turned in their guns. Now let’s say, for sake of argument, that there are 100,000 bump-stocks floating around, and let’s say every bump-stock owner got $100 bucks for turning it in. That’s 10 million bucks. Hell, we spend more money buying bottled water every week. That’s nothing.

But the reason we won’t ban bump-stocks isn’t because of the chump-change for getting them all turned in; it would set an interesting, and for Gun-nut Nation a very ugly precedent for other gun bans.  And if there’s one thing which unites every member of Gun-nut Nation together in defense of their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ it’s not that Mike Bloomberg is behind every, nefarious gun-control strategy that has ever been announced, it’s the idea that any restrictions on guns represents a ‘slippery-slope’ which will eventually lead to confiscation of all guns, or worse.

I’m not sure when the NRA began selling the idea that gun ownership was synonymous with ‘freedom,’ but every time any kind of gun-control idea rears its ugly head, the response invariably begins with some muddled nonsense about how guns make us ‘free.’ And if the cost of that ‘freedom’ is eighty or ninety people whose lives end each day because they got shot with a gun, how do you dare place a price-tag on the freedoms that Americans enjoy? After all, if it weren’t for that creep Bloomberg, the good folks in New York City would still enjoy the freedom to buy large-size, full-calorie drinks at sporting events and other public venues, and everyone knows that holding your assault rifle in one hand and a 24-ounce Coke in the other is as American as apple pie, obesity and 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

You think the same government which forks out a measly 10 mil for bump-stocks would even hiccup if it had to lay out $12 billion which is what it would cost to compensate owners for all the assault rifles laying around at $800 apiece?  We’re going to fork over $400 billion to give the three military services a new plane, the F35, which they really don’t need. Spend 3% of that dough to disarm America, then impose martial law, resettle the entire population of Syria and a few other Muslim countries within our borders and ship Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh off to the other side of the moon. I guarantee you this plan exists. You can also meet real, live Martians at Area 51.

The big problem for the NRA is how to figure out how an ‘armed citizen’ could have prevented what happened in Vegas last Sunday night. I’ve got it! Remember how Wayne-o said that every school should have an armed guard after Sandy Hook? Why not insist that every hotel busboy in Vegas be trained to carry and use a gun? I’m sure the NRA Training Division is already working on a new course entitled ‘Basic Gun Handling While Carrying A Tray.’