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“Who Needs A Gun?”: Most Of Us, Including Many Current Gun Owners, Don’t Have A Good Reason To Keep Guns In Their Homes

In September, Navy Yard; in November, a racially fraught shooting in Michigan and a proposed “stand-your-ground law” in Ohio; now the first anniversary of the Newtown massacre — there’s no avoiding the brutal reality of guns in America. Once again, we feel the need to say something, but we know the old arguments will get us nowhere. What’s the point of another impassioned plea or a new subtlety of constitutional law or further complex analyses of statistical data?

Our discussions typically start from the right to own a gun, go on to ask how, if at all, that right should be limited, and wind up with intractable disputes about the balance between the right and the harm that can come from exercising it. I suggest that we could make more progress if each of us asked a more direct and personal question: Should I own a gun?

A gun is a tool, and we choose tools based on their function. The primary function of a gun is to kill or injure people or animals. In the case of people, the only reason I might have to shoot them — or threaten to do so — is that they are immediately threatening serious harm. So a first question about owning a gun is whether I’m likely to be in a position to need one to protect human life. A closely related question is whether, if I were in such a position, the gun would be available and I would be able to use it effectively.

Unless you live in (or frequent) dangerous neighborhoods or have family or friends likely to threaten you, it’s very unlikely that you’ll need a gun for self-defense. Further, counterbalancing any such need is the fact that guns are dangerous. If I have one loaded and readily accessible in an emergency (and what good is it if I don’t?), then there’s a non-negligible chance that it will lead to great harm. A gun at hand can easily push a family quarrel, a wave of depression or a child’s curiosity in a fatal direction.

Even when a gun makes sense in principle as a means of self-defense, it may do more harm than good if I’m not trained to use it well. I may panic and shoot a family member coming home late, fumble around and allow an unarmed burglar to take my gun, have a cleaning or loading accident. The N.R.A. rightly sets high standards for gun safety. If those unable or unwilling to meet these standards gave up their guns, there might well be a lot fewer gun owners.

Guns do have uses other than defense against attackers. There may, for example, still be a few people who actually need to hunt to feed their families. But most hunting now is recreational and does not require keeping weapons at home. Hunters and their families would be much safer if the guns and ammunition were securely stored away from their homes and available only to those with licenses during the appropriate season. Target shooting, likewise, does not require keeping guns at home.

Finally, there’s the idea that citizens need guns so they can, if need be, oppose the force of a repressive government. Those who think there are current (or likely future) government actions in this country that would require armed resistance are living a paranoid fantasy. The idea that armed American citizens could stand up to our military is beyond fantasy.

Once we balance the potential harms and goods, most of us — including many current gun owners — don’t have a good reason to keep guns in their homes. This conclusion follows quite apart from whether we have a right to own guns or what restrictions should be put on this right. Also, the conclusion derives from what makes sense for each of us as individuals and so doesn’t require support from contested interpretations of statistical data.

I entirely realize that this line of thought will not convince the most impassioned gun supporters, who see owning guns as fundamental to their way of life. But about 70 million Americans own guns and only about four million belong to the N.R.A., which must include a large number of the most impassioned. So there’s reason to think that many gun owners would be open to reconsidering the dangers their weapons pose. Also, almost 30 percent of gun owners don’t think that guns make a household safer, and only 48 percent cite protection (rather than hunting, target shooting, etc.) as their main reason for having a gun.

It’s one thing to be horrified at gun violence. It’s something else to see it as a meaningful threat to your own existence. Our periodic shock at mass shootings and gang wars has little effect on our gun culture because most people don’t see guns as a particular threat to them. This is why opposition to gun violence has lacked the intense personal commitment of those who see guns as essential to their safety — or even their self-identity.

I’m not suggesting that opponents of gun violence abandon political action. We need to make it harder to buy guns (through background checks, waiting periods, etc.) both for those with criminal intentions and for law-abiding citizens who have no real need. But on the most basic level, much of our deadly violence occurs because we so often have guns readily available. Their mere presence makes suicide, domestic violence and accidents more likely. The fewer people with guns at hand, the less gun violence.

It’s easier to get people to see that they don’t want something than that they don’t have a right to it. Focusing on the need rather than the right to own a gun, many may well conclude that for them a gun is more a danger than a protection. Those fewer guns will make for a safer country.


By: Gary Gutting, The New York Times, December 10, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nuttier By The Day”: The Right Wing Is Eating Its Own, Again

The nut jobs on the right are getting nuttier by the day.

A new national survey for the Wall Street Journal and NBC News indicates that only one in four Americans (24 percent) support the tea party. The events of the last week demonstrate why the wingnuts in the Republican Party are so unpopular.

Overnight, tea party poster boy Paul Ryan became a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Ryan negotiated the new budget deal with his Senate budget counterpart, Patty Murray, D-Wash., who has not been accused by liberals of being a DINO (Democrat in Name Only)

I don’t understand why the wing nuts have gored Ryan so hard for being a RINO. Ryan embodies everything the GOP is all about: indifference to the plight of the poor, insensitivity towards the rights of women and toadyism to the super rich. He is getting pilloried for supporting a budget that denies unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, reduces nutrition assistance payments to almost 2 million Americans, preserves tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and restores billions of dollars to the bloated Pentagon budget. How dare he? The tea party should give this guy a medal.

Right-wing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Newt Gingrich, the spiritual grandfather of the wackjobs, are taking flack for praising the recently deceased former South African President Nelson Mandela. These two guys are giants of right-wing extremism, so the wacko birds are eating their own young. But I can understand why right-wing extremists are so upset. Mandela fought for universal human rights and suffrage for blacks, goals which the wacko birds completely disdain.

Will Ryan, Cruz and Gingrich be disinvited to the holiday – excuse me Christmas party – at the Heritage Foundation? Inquiring minds want to know.

Then the wingnuts went nuts when they saw President Obama shake hands with Cuban dictator Raul Castro. The right considers the greeting grounds for removing the president from office. But the wing nuts would demand his removal from office if he issued an executive order for the U.S. to celebrate Mother’s Day twice a year instead of once.

But the right clearly underestimated the power of social media. Immediately after the handshake went viral, the web was full of pictures of Republican leaders shaking hands and chatting with dictators. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was one of the first Republicans to pounce on the president. And sure enough, the next thing you know, reminders of the senator in a tote a tete with Libyan dictator Mohamar Gaddafi popped up on the web. Then the social media produced pictures of the first President Bush chatting with communist dictator Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Donald Rumsfeld glad handing Saddam Hussein.

Compared with Gaddafi and Saddam, Raul Castro is a joke as far as dictators are concerned. Cuba has been toothless since the Soviet Union went under a quarter of a century ago. And Obama’s handshake with Castro doesn’t even begin to compare with Ronald Reagan’s sale of missiles to the Islamic radicals running Iran. I’d take a handshake with a dictator over an arms sale to one any day.


By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, December 12, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Right Wing, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Level Of Immaturity”: Ted Cruz Manages To Get Even More Repulsive

OK, Sen. Ted Cruz showed me: I accused him of hypocrisy for his Nelson Mandela praise last week – praise that horrified his racist wingnut Facebook fans – and he followed up by attending Mandela’s memorial service this week.

That’s nice. But far from getting into the “What Would Mandela Do?” spirit of the day, he made headlines by walking out on the speech by Cuban President Raúl Castro. President Obama, meanwhile, is being torched by the right for shaking Castro’s hand, and even seeming to “bow” to the Communist leader; can’t some tall conservatives, at least, explain that what we saw was a tall man greeting someone shorter? Nah.

Of course, Cruz couldn’t pull off his walkout with quiet dignity. ABC News broke the story, and its headline reads “Cruz says he walked out of Mandela service when Raul Castro spoke.” Get that? It appears Cruz wasn’t spotted walking out, he announced it, with a hectoring statement from his spokeswoman to ABC: “Sen. Cruz very much hopes that Castro learns the lessons of Nelson Mandela. For decades, Castro has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents. Just as Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Castro should finally release his political prisoners. He should hold free elections, and once and for all, set the Cuban people free.”

I can very much promise you that Ted Cruz has not learned the lessons of Nelson Mandela.

Communist Cuba did indeed help the African National Congress and Mandela always expressed his gratitude. Castro had as much right as Obama to speak at the service. In fact, one lesson of Mandela applies to Cuba today: We should stop seeing the world in Cold War terms – which is what led the U.S., particularly Ronald Reagan and the American right, to support Mandela’s jailers and their apartheid rule — and realize that we can do more to support democracy in Cuba by engaging with Castro than by walking out on him.

Also: Are we supposed to think it’s a big deal that Cruz won’t endorse Steve Stockman against “liberal” Texas Sen. John Cornyn (he of the second most conservative voting record in the U.S. Senate, which is saying something). Because it’s not. “As the senator has said many times, he will likely not get involved in any incumbent primaries,” Cruz’s communications director told Jonathan Martin. (That’s a promise he made to mend fences with his GOP colleagues after his government shutdown fiasco.)

Of course, anyone who cared about either the state of Texas or the state of the Republican Party would “get involved” in that race. They’d stand up and say Steve Stockman isn’t fit to be a rodeo clown, let alone a U.S. senator, and endorse Cornyn. If Cruz’s staying neutral is supposed to represent a new maturity, I’d hate to see what’s considered his juvenile behavior.

Well, we’ve already seen it. But still, what a low bar for Ted Cruz’s “maturity.” Even Rand Paul is backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell over his 2014 Tea Party challenger – and Matt Bevin, said challenger, isn’t a racist nutjob. If Cruz won’t support Cornyn, that’s because he’s hoping he can get an edge on Paul with the racist nutjob vote in 2016. Good luck with that, Sen. Cruz.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 11, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Phony Civil War”: Nobody Here But Us Conservatives

Speaker John Boehner’s serial criticisms (yesterday in an NBC interview, today in a press conference) of conservative “outside groups” and their harassment of his own self and of House Republicans who do his bidding is getting massive media attention at the moment. Any minute now someone in the MSM is going to go over the brink and toast the Ohioan as the bravest man in American politics, a veritable colossus of strength and wisdom.

That’s all well and good; best I can tell Boehner got through both outbursts without weeping, and it is nice to see him not crawling on his belly like a reptile when it comes to Heritage Action and other right-wing bully boys. You kinda get the feeling, moreover, that Boehner was behind the firing of Republican Study Committee staff director Paul Teller, which has people in the “outside” groups and the allied blogospheric precincts freaking out.

But the Teller brouhaha is a reminder that this whole “war” between Boehner and “the groups” is pretty much inside baseball, and about Boehner’s role as Republican tactician rather than any deep matter of ideology or principle. And anyone who wants to lionize Boehner as some sort of “moderate” or even “pragmatist” free of ideological fervor should heed his own words in today’s press conference:

Asked if he was officially saying “no” to the tea party, Boehner emphasized the deficit reduction achieved under the budget deal and said there was no reason to oppose it.

“I came here to cut the size of government,” he said. “That’s exactly what this bill does, and why conservatives wouldn’t vote for this or criticize the bill is beyond any recognition I could come up with.”

Boehner also defended his own commitment to conservative principles, which has repeatedly come under fire. This criticism has at times threatened his speakership when he has attempted to negotiate with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

“I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” he said. “I’m as conservative as anybody around this place.”

Can you imagine Harry Reid, who occasionally gets criticized by the left, saying “I’m as liberal as anybody around this place”? No, you can’t.

So even this “act of war” between Boehner and “the groups” needs to be understood for what it is: an argument over strategy and tactics and operational control rather than goals and ideology. So progressives shouldn’t go too far in celebrating another battle in what I think is a phony “civil war,” or in exaggerating its effects.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 12, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, John Boehner, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Told You So, Obamacare’s Back”: By Next Fall, Is Going To Be A Net Plus For President Obama And Democrats

If one looks just at the raw, bottom-line number the Department of Health and Human Services released Wednesday—365,000 citizens enrolled since October 1—one might be inclined to think it’s not so hot. And it isn’t. That’s 180,000 or so a month, and if you post that number against the stated goal of 7 million by next spring, the stated goal looks awfully chimerical, and the thing seems a disaster (180,000 times six months, the enrollment period, is just 1.08 million).

Dig a little deeper and things look considerably better. If we could graph it, the bar line of enrollment would make for a pretty impressive ski slope: After just 27,000 people signed up in the whole of October, The New York Times reported over the weekend, about 100,000 people signed up in November, and then, in the first week of December alone, 112,000 chose plans. The Los Angeles Times put out slightly different numbers Wednesday but agreed on the trend. From an obviously atrocious starting place, enrollment is essentially quadrupling. If that pace were to continue, the 7 million figure would be cleared in March.

I still wouldn’t quite bet on that. But I would definitely and unflinchingly bet on the central proposition I argued last week:  By next fall, is going to be a net plus for Obama and the Democrats.

Wishful thinking? You can call it that if you want to. But I warn you I’m not usually a wishful thinker. Like most partisans on either side, I tend to expect the worst. It’s usually a wise insurance policy; you’re rarely disappointed. I write such things only when I really think them, like the time in August 2012 when I wrote a column suggesting that Obama could very well win about 330 electoral votes. He won 332, which most anyone else would have said when I wrote that piece was crazy.

I had a hunch then, and I have one now. And my bet is based on a lot more than enrollment numbers. It’s based on the numbers of people who are benefiting and will benefit from aspects of the law. These aren’t in the thousands. They’re in the millions. About 70 million citizens will enjoy free—free—preventive care for a range of services that typically weren’t covered at all before or at best were covered and required a co-pay. About half of them are Medicare recipients (= old people = voters). Preventive care, as you may know, is something our system hasn’t been doing very well. Now it will.

More than 100 million Americans live with what the insurance companies would define as pre-existing conditions. Over these next few months, as their symptoms flare up or especially if they worsen, requiring lengthy hospital stays and intense treatment, they’re going to be seeing that they don’t have to fret about money or whether they’re going to continue to be covered anymore. Mental-health coverage is going to be improved dramatically for up to 60 million Americans. Nearly 7 million senior citizens are going to find in the coming months that they’re no longer screwed by the doughnut-hole prescription-drug problem that was created by the Bush Medicare Part D law of 2003 and corrected by Obamacare. It is saving these 7 million seniors an average of $1,000 a year, which for many of these folks is probably a reasonable chunk of their income.

I could go on. The thing is that all this isn’t going to make the papers and the cable channels much. There isn’t a lot of inherent news value in a free cervical-cancer screening or a prescription-drug refill. But these millions of people live real lives, not on TV, and they and their families and friends will know what has happened.

You see that I’m not making a Beltway/political argument. Washington, D.C., will, I can promise you, be the last city in the United States to change its mind about Obamacare. Once a notion becomes conventional wisdom in this town and rocks a president’s poll numbers the way the disastrous rollout so clearly has, it takes a typhoon to dislodge it. Or a hurricane—remember how Karl Rove was making the United States a conservative country until Katrina came along and sent Bush’s approval numbers down there in the range of curdled milk?

The rollout won’t be a hurricane. It will be a calm rain, a steady shower of reality across the country that may never achieve quite enough force to trump inside-the-Beltway perception but will be strong enough to change many people’s minds around the country.

Fixes still need to be made. But now, as opposed to a month ago, one can feel as if they will be made. And without excusing the bollixing up of the rollout, of which I’ve written very critically, one can also say now that in historical context, this is all happening pretty fast. Remember, the original Social Security legislation was passed in 1935. And when did the first check go out? Not until 1940. Can you imagine a five-year lag in today’s media world? Roosevelt, and more important the program itself, would have been torn to pieces. I think in two more years’ time, and indeed less than that, many millions of Americans will see that what they thought was decent health insurance before the Affordable Care Act was like gaslight before electricity. If that’s wishful thinking, it’s for their sake, not the president’s.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 12, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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