How’s Trump Going To Pay Back All Those Gun Votes? He Won’t.

Every four years the GOP trots out something from their ‘family values’ arsenal – abortion, school prayer, traditional marriage – to help define their electoral message and in 2016 they trotted out guns.  Not that these stalwart defenders of a pretended status quo ever really reward their supporters with anything beyond attempts to cut taxes for themselves and you would think that after thirty-five years of getting nothing that those legions of fervent followers would finally begin to realize that top-down, right-wing populism is nothing but a big, fat con.

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           And in the aftermath of this election the biggest, single con job of all is the one which Trump sold at every, single campaign stop that he made, namely, the idea that he’s going to change the landscape when it comes to how America owns and uses guns.  I watched at least a dozen of his campaign rallies, and whenever the crowd got tired of yelling ‘lock her up,’ he would veer away from mumbling about some trade deal and remind the audience that: a) he would ‘defend’ their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights;’ and, b) he wanted a national, concealed-carry law, and, c) on his very first day in office he would eliminate all ‘gun-free’ zones.

So in the interests of giving my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community some guidance on what to look for in a Trump presidency and what can be dismissed as nothing but a variation on the traditional GOP social-messaging mirage, I thought I would subject each of Trump’s claims to some degree of scrutiny to see what comes out.  And what comes out, as I suspect you may already know, is that none of those statements bear any resemblance to facts or the truth.

At some point during the campaign Trump released a list of judges from whom he would choose a SCOTUS nominee, and he made the point of saying that every, single candidate would ‘defend’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ This was nothing more than political hyperbole nonsense since the NRA decided long ago that every registered Democrat represents a ‘threat’ to those rights, but the fact is that the only post-Heller 2nd-Amendment case decided by the SCOTUS while Scalia was alive was a case in which a majority said that the law which gave the government full and complete regulatory authority over gun sales was as fully constitutional as any law could be.  So much for a ‘conservative’ SCOTUS defending 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

As for a national CCW law, no doubt the NRA and its Congressional allies will once again run this one up the legislative flagpole, but like the veritable monkey who wrapped his tail around that same flagpole, such a law would require reconciling the state-level CCW regulations of all 50 individual states because unlike local driving laws, local gun laws from state to state are not the same.

Finally, when Trump says he’ll ‘immediately’ get rid of gun-free zones, maybe someone might remind him that Executive Orders apply only to the actions of Executive agencies, but cannot be used to change laws.  And there happens to be not one, but two federal laws that establish K-12 schools as gun-free zones, neither of which are going to be eliminated just because Trump wants to get up in front of a crowd or go on Twitter or YouTube and play his version of Macho Man.

I’m not saying that Gun-sense Nation has a friend in Trump.  We don’t.  Make no mistake: as long as he panders to the Right, and I’m not about to bother distinguishing between the Right and the Alt-Right, he’s an opponent of any, even the most benign attempts to reduce gun violence to any degree.  And going forward, Gun-sense Nation needs to respond forcefully to every effort by Trump and Gun-nut Nation to legitimize the violence caused by guns. Trump may have a loud voice, but it’s not the only voice in town.

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The Gun Violence Prevention Community Has Something Much More Important To Worry About Than 2nd-Amendment Rights.

Now that the Gun Violence Prevention movement appears to have a Presidential candidate who is hell-bent on restricting/modifying/revising (take your pick) the so-called 2nd-Amendment ‘right’ of Americans to own guns, the conversation has naturally turned to a discussion within GVP over exactly what those 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ should be. Should law-abiding, responsible gun owners be allowed more or less unfettered access to guns, perhaps with a slight nod in the direction of more regulation via expanded background checks?  Or should we go to the other extreme, simply say ‘to hell with it,’ and get rid of all the guns?

trump2Now of course nobody but the Area-51 crowd actually believes that the government can come along and confiscate 300 million guns.  But with a blue Congress, Hillary could make it substantially more difficult for gun owners by placing a heavy tax on ammunition, or by requiring registration of guns, or by reapplying the assault weapons ban, or a combination of all three.  Incidentally, all those regulations would be affirmed by a 5-4 liberal SCOTUS, because none conflict with Scalia’s approval (in the 2008 Heller decision) of maintaining “longstanding regulations” governing the commerce in guns.

Which brings us back to the issue of the GVP stance as regards 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  Because I happen to think, and I’m a died-in-the-wool gun nut, by the way, that the GVP community shouldn’t be concerned about the 2nd Amendment at all.  And the reason I believe this is because I also happen to believe that what the GVP should be doing is talking and messaging about one thing and one thing only, namely, the intrinsic lethality of guns.

This issue of lethality, i.e., the medical risk posed by a gun, has been validated again, again and again by peer-reviewed medical and public health research which has been appearing for at least the last twenty years.  There’s a reason why Gun Nation has been trying to push physicians out of the gun debate and silence gun research funded by the CDC.  It has to do with the fact (note the word ‘fact’) that possession of a firearm correlates with a substantially increased risk of physical harm either to the gun owner or to someone else.  And in case you want to challenge me on this point, by way of reply let me quote the Marxist economist Paul Baran who once said, “I do not debate human affairs with people who behave like beasts.”

To me, the issue is very simple.  Guns are pathogens and like any pathogen, we need to prevent its spread.  We did this with cigarettes, which happen to be legal commerce and therefore is protected by the Constitution as well.  And if you want to smoke and get cancer or heart disease you can still do it, but only in the privacy of your own home.  Which, by the way, is what the SCOTUS said about guns: you can keep them in your home.  Period.  End of story. End of 2nd Amendment debate.

If my friends in the GVP community want to be concerned about something, I’ve got something for them to be concerned about that’s much more important than 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  And that happens to be the fact that there’s a Big Apple street thug who is hell-bent on hijacking the government on November 8th.  And if you don’t believe me, pay particular attention to what he says about violence and about guns.  He likes violence.  He likes guns.  He exhorts people at his rallies to engage in both.

The courts have held again and again that government has a ‘compelling interest’ in public safety. Which means that we expect government to keep our communities safe.  You don’t promote public safety by claiming that the 2nd Amendment gives you the ‘right’ to walk around with a gun.  What you are doing is undermining the rule of law.  There are now 152 days until November 8. Get it?

Comment On A Proposal To Regulate Guns.

Although there are some fringe elements in Gun Nation who claim that their ‘right’ to own a gun is unlimited, usually based on some kind of eternal recognition that self-defense is ordained by God, even the most strident pro-gun voices will admit to some degree of regulation when it comes to owning guns.  And the regulation that is usually proffered as being acceptable to the gun crew is the basic regulation which is in force right now, namely, a NICS-FBI background check that only takes place at the initial point of sale.

2A             The argument that is usually advanced to restrict background checks to initial gun transfers is that imposing secondary background checks on law-abiding gun owners is a slippery-slope that will eventually lead to gun registration, and we all know that registration leads to confiscation, which leads to the Holocaust, which leads to God knows what else.  And it’s pretty difficult to find anyone on the pro-gun side of the argument who won’t tell you that all those people who claim to support the 2nd Amendment but want to expand gun regulations aren’t anything other than wolves in sheep’s clothing looking for some way or another to get rid of all the guns.

If Gun Nation is looking for some kind of ‘proof’ that gun-control advocates are a threat to their beloved 2nd-Amendment rights, they need not look any further than an op-ed which appeared today in The New York Times.  Authored by Professor Lawrence Rosenthal and Abner Mikva, the latter a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, the commentary argues that while the 2nd Amendment precludes the government from preventing private ownership of guns, it does prevent government from enacting more expansive gun-control laws.  Citing the 2008 Heller decision, the writers believe that if citizens can keep guns in their homes, then the phrase ‘well-regulated’ refers to this form of ownership, hence, additional gun-control measures can and should be invoked.

It would be difficult to find fault with this argument if Rosenthal and Mikva made their case based only upon an extension of NICS checks to secondary sales. Their comment in this regard, that the “entire secondary gun market is a vast regulatory void,” is not only true but has become more true as the internet has stretched private gun transactions far beyond the local gun show.  But the argument doesn’t rest there, because Rosenthal-Mikva then swing effortlessly into a discussion linking expanded background checks to universal gun registration, as if coupling the latter to the former  represents no great difference at all. Here’s the way they put it: “A comprehensive system of background checks and registration would not prevent law-abiding people from obtaining guns for purposes of lawful self-defense.”

When all is said and done, one could posit a similar thought for just about any kind of gun regulation which didn’t keep law-abiding individuals from owning guns.  But in gun circles, the word ‘registration’ is so toxic that once you introduce it into any discussion about regulating guns, you are guaranteeing that the discussion will quickly come to an end. And in addition to the political implications of registration, studies on the effectiveness of gun registration as a means to reduce gun violence have basically found the results of registration strategies to be inconclusive because there aren’t enough case studies to prove either the pro or the con.

I’m not opposed to registration because I believe the ‘slippery-slope’ argument has no basis in history or fact, and I’m somewhat old-fashioned because I side with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said that public policy should be based not on opinions but on facts.  But in that context I wish that Rosenthal and Mikva could have been a little more sensitive to the manner in which the gun violence debate plays itself out. Advocating gun registration as just another, sensible regulation is a little bit like walking into the lion’s den and sticking your head into the lion’s mouth.

By Protecting The 2nd Amendment, Scalia Also Protected Gun Violence.

The body’s still cold, Scalia’s body that is, but Gun Nation and its sycophantic noisemakers aren’t wasting any time getting the word out that the 2nd Amendment will be the first thing harmed if Obama actually gets the chance to put a new face on the Supreme Court.  Now much of this is just stupid posturing because if anyone actually believes that a sitting President can be denied his lawful opportunity (indeed his responsibility) to nominate a justice to SCOTUS, well, there are crazier things being said in this year’s political campaign, but not that many when all is said and done.

The crazy sweepstakes already have a possible winner in Ted Cruz, who immediately shot off a tweet that Scalia’s death means that “we are one Justice away from a Supreme Court that would harm our Second Amendment rights.”  And while the NRA hasn’t yet figured out how to use Scalia’s death to promote their fundraising agenda, you can get a preview of where they will be going with the tweet they posted thanking Scalia for his “unwavering” defense of the Constitution, which means protecting 2nd-Amendment rights.

scalia               All of which made me start thinking about how and why the NRA really promotes the utility of the 2nd Amendment, i.e., why is it so important that Americans have access to guns? Because in case you haven’t noticed, a majority of Americans don’t own guns, and the number of gun-owning folks, relatively speaking, keeps going down.  Which means that maybe, just maybe, the Supreme Court really is just one vote away from rolling back all those pro-gun decisions.  Which made me start thinking: What would be the result if, in fact, free access to guns currently guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment came to an end?

What I think it comes down to is the unwavering belief on the part of Gun Nation that owning a gun is a basic protection against danger and crime.  The idea that owning guns makes us ‘free’ is all well and good, but it’s really too abstract a concept to be applied in everyday affairs, and nobody really believes that all those half-baked militia idiots arrested at Malheur Refuge could protect themselves or anyone else from the slightest degree of armed threat. So it gets down to the notion that having a gun is a simple and tangible way to express the natural desire to be safe.  And as John Lott is quick to remind us, there must be some truth to this idea because otherwise how do you explain the fact that more than 12 million Americans have now taken the trouble to secure the legal right to walk around with a gun?

Which brings me to a bit of research that I did earlier today on the CDC website which gives very detailed data on the five categories that comprise every different way in which a gun can cause an injury – unintentional death, unintentional injury, homicide, suicide and aggravated assault.  And it turns out that in the period since 2001, during which time the size of the civilian arsenal and the number of people with concealed-carry licenses probably doubled, the number of people killed or injured by guns has also increased by 27 percent!  In 2001 the total number of gun injury victims was 109,223.  Of this number, homicides were 26%, suicides were 15% and assaults were 42%.  In 2013, the total for gun violence was 138,787, of which homicides were 24%, suicides were 15% and assaults were 48%.  This remarkable increase in gun violence was not because a particular category went up; it was because every significant category of gun violence increased.

The next time you find yourself in a discussion with someone who tells you that Scalia’s death could jeopardize the 2nd-Amendment, you might refer to the numbers above and point out how they have changed in the recent years. Which as far as I am concerned is the real legacy of Scalia’s stalwart defense of Constitutional rights.

Does the 2nd Amendment Guarantee A Right To Self Defense? The Courts Disagree.

The NRA keeps referring to the 2nd Amendment as a “sacred” right, but I always thought that anything sacred was usually somehow given to us by God.  But in fact, the right of Americans to own guns without any connection to some kind of military unit didn’t come from God at all. It came down from a 2008 Supreme Court decision that was decided by one vote.  And in fact, the NRA was reluctant to push the Heller case to the Supreme Court because it looked probable, if not likely, that Justice Kennedy would swing over to the liberal side of the nation’s highest tribunal and that would be the end of that.

scalia                Immediately after Heller, various pro-gun groups began challenging state and local laws which allowed for private ownership of guns, but made the licensing process so onerous or arbitrary that owning a gun was difficult enough, using it for self-defense, particularly self-defense outside the home, was basically a non-existent right.  In Washington, D.C., the U.S. District Court ultimately found the city’s license requirements unduly restrictive, but in California, a fairly restrictive process in San Diego County for the issuance of concealed-carry licenses was upheld.

This past week another California gun case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, but by a 7-2 margin, Kennedy, Alito and Roberts all moving to the other side, the Court refused to hear a case from San Francisco whose law states that “no person shall keep a handgun within a residence owned or controlled by that person unless the handgun is stored in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock.” The law was challenged by, among others, an “elderly lady” who believes that she could never defend herself against an intruder if she had to “find her glasses, turn on the light, find the key to the lock box, open the lockbox….”  If this isn’t a civilian version of the Keystone Cops, I don’t know what is.

The Ninth Circuit admitted in its ruling upholding the law that it was creating a “burden” on the core right of the 2nd Amendment, but it found this burden to be outweighed by the evidence presented by the City of San Francisco that “guns kept in the home are most often used in suicides and against family and friends rather than in self-defense and that children are particularly at risk of injury and death.”  Uh-oh, here comes all that public health research by Kellerman, Hemenway and others about the risks of unlocked guns rearing its ugly head in a federal court.  The pro-gun folks have lavished no end of expense and energy trying to discredit such research, and what they got for their efforts was the research was used to justify a limitation on their most sacred right.

The plaintiffs in this case, of course, produced some research of their own, which consisted of data from the Department of Justice showing that 60% of all home robberies take place between 6 P.M. and 6 A.M., precisely the period when people might be sleeping and their need for self-defense is “most acute.” But there’s only one little problem with this data because it also shows that only 1-2% of all forcible home robberies resulted in serious injury to someone present in the home, which means in terms of real numbers that only 10,000 individuals nationwide might have needed to defend themselves against a criminal assault.

The next case which might be reviewed by the SCOTUS involves a challenge to the San Diego law which makes it difficult for anyone to carry a concealed gun for self-defense.  Let me give the plaintiffs in that case a little free advice:  I wouldn’t push the self-defense argument too far even if Scalia used it as the basis for Heller in 2008. What the SCOTUS recognized in that decision was the fact that 300 million guns are floating around in civilian hands.  But that’s not the same thing as saying that every pair of those hands can walk around with a gun.

 

 

Let’s Hear It For Antonin Scalia: The Best Gun Salesman Of All Time.

As the wheels start turning towards the 2016 election, I can’t figure out why the gun lobby continues to prattle on about the ‘threats’ posed by liberal candidates like Hilary, when everyone knows that the industry’s best friend is that arch-liberal Barack Obama, whose presence in the White House for nearly another two years means that guns will continue to sell like crazy until he departs from the scene.  And even though gun sales have slackened off since the halcyon days right after Sandy Hook and ammunition is once again appearing on at least some retail shelves, there’s no question that the only thing that really drives the gun business is the fear that gun owners won’t be able to buy or own any more guns.

Gun makers have never been able to convince a majority of Americans to go out and buy guns.  With all the recent efforts to attract new gun consumers like women, college students and Blacks, the profile of the average gun remains a blue-collar White male with a family and a truck who lives in one of the 13 Confederate states, the 3 border states and the rural parts of 5 Midwestern states. Most gun owners are politically conservative and, generally speaking, vote bright red. Looking for liberal gun owners is like trying to run a fundraiser for a politically conservative candidate in Silicon Valley or the Hollywood Hills. The fact that certain demographics sway one way and others sway in the opposite direction shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  We are a pretty diverse country, and diversity tends to create different points of view.

scalia                Yet despite these differences, the one thing that just about everyone believes is that the Constitution is truly the law of the land.  And while Republicans paint Obama as some kind of anti-Constitutional despot, anyone who would take such partisan nonsense seriously well…you can fill in the rest.  Which is why I find myself coming back to examine the 2008 Heller decision, because when all is said and done, this decision is more important for the future health and welfare of the gun industry than anything liberal gun-grabbers like Barack or Hilary could say or do.

Not only did the Court decide 5-4 that owning guns was a Constitutional right, the majority justified the decision by claiming that the right of personal gun ownership actually pre-dated the Constitution, the 2nd Amendment simply codifying a long-established practice that existed even before the Framers met in Philadelphia in 1787 or, for that matter, before British troops fired on colonials at Concord Bridge in 1776. It turns out that George Washington owned more than 50 firearms, both long guns and handguns, which qualified him as a true gun nut for his day.  Thomas Jefferson, not only was an accomplished gunsmith, but invented some of the assembly-line techniques that later were used in the manufacturing of small arms.

The number one Constitutional gun nut, however, is none other than the author of Heller, Antonin Scalia, whose justification for claiming that we have a Constitutional right to own a gun is based on nothing more than his own needs.  Try as he might, Scalia was utterly unable to find any significant legal precedent which justified using a gun for self-defense against personal threats or crime.  Aside from a few vague statements from the anti-Federalist side, the overwhelming definition of self-defense in pre-Constitutional jurisprudence and commentaries involved defense against political threats from a national state.

Scalia is considered to be the foremost champion of centralized government authority sitting on the High Court.  But I’ll bet that when he sat down to write Heller he was thinking first and foremost about how to protect his own guns. The fact that he crafted a decision effectively limiting the authority of the federal government while giving him and the rest of us the right to always own guns makes him a much better salesperson for the gun industry than Barack or Hilary could ever hope to be.