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“What Price Would Be Too High?”: The Question Gun Advocates Should Have To Answer

As we have yet another round of our repeated and possibly fruitless arguments about the role of guns in American society, there’s one thing I desperately want to hear gun advocates say. It’s not complicated, it would have the benefit of honesty, and it might enable us to move this debate to ground where we could actually make choices about what kind of society we want to have.

What I want to hear gun advocates say is, “This is the price America has to pay for the right some of us cherish.”

The reason I want to hear this is that on no other basic debate over constitutional rights that I can think of does one side argue that there are no tradeoffs, that exercising a particular right, even in the most extreme way, doesn’t actually involve any cost whatsoever. Only gun advocates say that.

When somebody shoots 49 people in a club with a military weapon that gun advocates work so desperately to keep as widely available as possible, they don’t say, “That was terrible, but the right to have guns is so important that it’s something we need to live with.” When confronted with the fact that over 30,000 Americans are killed every year with guns, they don’t say that this cost is acceptable, they say that guns had nothing whatsoever to do with all the people killed with guns. Maybe it was because of mental illness, or radical Islam, or video games. But guns? Why should we talk about guns?

There’s no other right we talk about this way. When the exercise of other rights produces things we don’t like, we don’t deny that we’re paying a price for something we value. When Nazis decide to hold a march and it makes us upset, nobody says, “Oh, we didn’t have to endure that hateful sight because of free speech; it was our road-building policy that made it possible. Speech had nothing to do with it!” We say that as unpleasant as it was, we have to tolerate hateful speech because of our commitment to free expression. Nobody denies that it has a cost.

Now to be fair, on some extremely rare occasions a prominent conservative has acknowledged that our national gun fetish has a price. For instance, Ben Carson said last fall that while he treated gunshot victims as a doctor, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” If your mind reels at how morally obtuse that is, then you know why it’s an argument you almost never hear. Instead, gun advocates say that the real answer to the carnage guns inflict is to saturate our society with yet more guns. In other words, there’s no tradeoff at all. It’s as though someone said that if you’re worried about the privacy we give up when we let the government snoop on our communications in order to stop terrorism, the answer is to just give the government all your passwords and set up a webcam in your bathroom, and then you’ll have real privacy.

Nor does anyone talk this way about less fundamental rights, the things we merely want and need. Cars kill the same number of Americans as guns, but even though cars are incredibly useful, nobody denies that they’re dangerous. So we try to make them as safe as possible. We build technologies into them, like seat belts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes. We try to make sure people are capable of handling them safely before we give them permission to drive. We pass new laws on things like texting while driving in order to eliminate the factors that make them less safe. Nobody says, “Well, the fact that your child was mowed down by a teenager texting on his phone doesn’t have anything to do with cars and driving—let’s put the focus where it belongs, on teen attention spans.”

Perhaps it’s because gun advocates look at their opponents and see people who put no value at all on gun rights, who would rather have America be more like, well, like almost every other industrialized country in the world, where guns are heavily restricted and gun ownership isn’t seen as a “right” at all. They may think that arguing against those people requires taking an absolutely categorical position at all times. Or perhaps it’s because that small proportion of gun owners, the ones who fight with fervid intensity against even the most modest restriction and regulation, really have sanctified guns in their own mind. An object so perfect in its wondrous glory can’t possibly be blamed for anything done with it.

But the truth is that gun advocates do actually think that the price we’re paying is a reasonable one for the existing gun regime, in which it’s so spectacularly easy for almost anyone to obtain as many weapons as they like. Nobody thinks that the NRA or your average Republican politician is happy about the 30,000 Americans whose lives are ended by guns every year, but it’s not a high enough number for them to embrace any measure that might inhibit gun ownership. It’s not even high enough for them to tolerate some inconvenience, like making gun owners demonstrate that they know how to handle them safely and are able to store them where children can’t get them.

Presumably, there’s some number that would be too high. Maybe it would be a hundred thousand Americans killed with guns every year, or five hundred thousand, or a million. But 30,000? That’s a price they think we can pay.

I have little doubt that some gun advocates genuinely believe that they’ll probably have their home invaded by murderous gangs, or that they need their concealed carry permit because there’s an ISIS strike team waiting at the supermarket, or that society is eternally on the brink of complete breakdown and their guns are the only way to protect their family against the cannibal hordes. But they also won’t say to the rest of us what they say to each other, which is that guns are fun, guns are cool, guns make you feel like a man and that’s the reason that guy in the shop is buying his fifth or tenth or 12th gun, not because he’s the only thing standing between the rest of us and government’s tyranny.

And the AR-15s that are getting so much attention? They aren’t as popular as they are because it’s impossible to defend your home without one. They’re popular because they’re relatively affordable, because they can be easily modified (so you can trick yours out with lots of cool accessories), and because having a gun designed for the military makes you feel like a real warrior.

That’s a truth that can’t withstand the light of day. If it’s really not about needing guns but about people wanting them and loving them, then we’d have to ask exactly what price we’re willing to pay for some people’s love of guns. So maybe that’s the question gun advocates should answer: If 30,000 dead Americans is an acceptable price to pay for your version of freedom, what price would be too high?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, June 29, 2016

June 26, 2016 Posted by | Gun Advocates, Gun Control, Gun Deaths, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Guns Are Out Of Control”: Some Extremists Fire Guns And Other Extremists Promote Guns

Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20.

Canada has a much smaller population, of course, and the criteria researchers used for each country are slightly different, but that still says something important about public safety.

Could it be, as Donald Trump suggests, that the peril comes from admitting Muslims? On the contrary, Canadians are safe despite having been far more hospitable to Muslim refugees: Canada has admitted more than 27,000 Syrian refugees since November, some 10 times the number the United States has.

More broadly, Canada’s population is 3.2 percent Muslim, while the United States is about 1 percent Muslim — yet Canada doesn’t have massacres like the one we just experienced at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., or the one in December in San Bernardino, Calif. So perhaps the problem isn’t so much Muslims out of control but guns out of control.

Look, I grew up on a farm with guns. One morning when I was 10, we awoke at dawn to hear our chickens squawking frantically and saw a fox trotting away with one of our hens in its mouth. My dad grabbed his .308 rifle, opened the window and fired twice. The fox was unhurt but dropped its breakfast and fled. The hen picked herself up, shook her feathers indignantly and walked back to the barn. So in the right context, guns have their uses.

The problem is that we make no serious effort to keep firearms out of the hands of violent people. A few data points:

■ More Americans have died from guns, including suicides, since just 1970 than died in all the wars in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution.

■ The Civil War marks by far the most savage period of warfare in American history. But more Americans are now killed from guns annually, again including suicides, than were killed by guns on average each year during the Civil War (when many of the deaths were from disease, not guns).

■ In the United States, more preschoolers up through age 4 are shot dead each year than police officers are.

Canada has put in place measures that make it more difficult for a dangerous person to acquire a gun, with a focus not so much on banning weapons entirely (the AR-15 is available after undergoing safety training and a screening) as on limiting who can obtain one. In the United States, we lack even universal background checks, and new Harvard research to be published soon found that 40 percent of gun transfers didn’t even involve a background check.

We can’t prevent every gun death any more than we can prevent every car accident, and the challenge is particularly acute with homegrown terrorists like the one in Orlando. But experts estimate that a serious effort to reduce gun violence might reduce the toll by one-third, which would be more than 10,000 lives saved a year.

The Orlando killer would have been legally barred from buying lawn darts, because they were banned as unsafe. He would have been unable to drive a car that didn’t pass a safety inspection or that lacked insurance. He couldn’t have purchased a black water gun without an orange tip — because that would have been too dangerous.

But it’s not too dangerous to allow the sale of an assault rifle without even a background check?

If we’re trying to prevent carnage like that of Orlando, we need to be vigilant not only about infiltration by the Islamic State, and not only about American citizens poisoned into committing acts of terrorism. We also need to be vigilant about National Rifle Association-type extremism that allows guns to be sold without background checks.

It’s staggering that Congress doesn’t see a problem with allowing people on terror watch lists to buy guns: In each of the last three years, more than 200 people on the terror watch list have been allowed to purchase guns. We empower ISIS when we permit acolytes like the Orlando killer, investigated repeatedly as a terrorist threat, to buy a Sig Sauer MCX and a Glock 17 handgun on consecutive days.

A great majority of Muslims are peaceful, and it’s unfair to blame Islam for terrorist attacks like the one in Orlando. But it is important to hold accountable Gulf states like Saudi Arabia that are wellsprings of religious zealotry, intolerance and fanaticism. We should also hold accountable our own political figures who exploit tragic events to sow bigotry. And, yes, that means Donald Trump.

When Trump scapegoats Muslims, that also damages our own security by bolstering the us-versus-them narrative of ISIS. The lesson of history is that extremists on one side invariably empower extremists on the other.

So by all means, Muslims around the world should stand up to their fanatics sowing hatred and intolerance — and we Americans should stand up to our own extremist doing just the same.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 16, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association, Public Safety | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Running Out Of Excuses”: The NRA And Prominent Republicans Are… Considering Gun Control?

Faced with the tragic killing of 49 people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, notable conservatives seem to be running out of excuses for why we need less gun control.

Bill O’Reilly surprised many on Tuesday when he said that new laws were “definitely needed” as a response to the Orlando shooting. After going after Democrats for not being tough enough of terrorism, O’Reilly conceded that gun crime is a problem in the U.S., and that guns are too easy to get.

“That’s the fact. So let’s deal with it. We all have the right to bear arms, but we don’t have the right to buy and maintain mortars. Even if you feel threatened by gangsters or a New World Order. No bazookas, no Sherman tanks, no hand grenades.”

“The FBI and other federal agencies need the power to stop suspected terrorists or other evildoers from buying weapons,” he said. “That law needs to be very precise.”

O’Reilly had a much different opinion last January, when President Obama announced a gun control executive action after the San Bernardino attack. “The truth is, terrorists are not going to submit themselves to background checks — neither are dangerous felons or insane people,” he said in his January 6 program. “They are not going to sign any paper when they buy a gun. Do we all get that? They will buy their guns on the black market. And no registration law will prevent that.”

Also on Tuesday, O’Reilly’s fellow Fox News host Gretchen Carlson had a change of heart about gun control in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy.

“Do we need AR-15s to hunt and kill deer?” Carlson asked. “Do we need them to protect our families? Yes, I’m in favor of people being able to carry. I think some of these mass shootings would have been less deadly if that were the case. But I’m also with the majority today taking a stand. Can’t we hold true the sanctity of the Second Amendment while still having common sense?”

Perhaps most shocking, the National Rifle Association put out a statement on Wednesday saying the organization agrees that terrorists should not be allowed to buy firearms, and that they are “happy” to meet with the Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump to discuss the issue.

Oh yeah: Donald Trump announced he was meeting with the NRA, the strongest gun lobby in the world, to discuss keeping suspected militants away from guns.

I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2016

“Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing. If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist,” the NRA’s statement read.

The NRA tweeted that this statement did not represent a change in their position, and that “due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed.”

 

By: Germania Rodriguez, The National Memo, June 15, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Gun Control, National Rifle Association, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Quiet Times Seem No More”: Orlando Is Why We Need Surveillance

The FBI had the Orlando gunman under watch — twice — and, after much consideration, decided to stop following him. Was this a mistake? Obviously, tragically so.

But in this massive lost opportunity to prevent a slaughter dwells a positive sign for our ability to stop future attacks. Law enforcement at least had its eye on him. Scarier would have been that it had never heard of Omar Mateen.

Protests against government surveillance programs tend to grow in the quiet stretches between terrorist outrages. Absence of immediate fear is when the critics can best downplay the stakes — that even one miscreant can kill large numbers, and with weapons far deadlier than assault rifles.

It’s when privacy advocates have the most success portraying surveillance programs as highly personal invasions of ordinary folks’ privacy. Actually, there’s nothing very personal in the National Security Agency’s collection of our communications metadata. Basically, computers rummage through zillions of emails and such in search of patterns to flag. The humans following leads have zero interest in your complaints about Obamacare, as some foes of the surveillance programs have ludicrously claimed.

In the Orlando case, co-workers had alerted the authorities to Mateen’s radical rantings. The FBI put him on a terrorist watchlist, monitoring him for months. He was taken off when investigators concluded he was just mouthing off. The FBI had reason to probe him again, but again he was turned loose.

That was a failure, but a failure highlighting a weakness in the surveillance laws. The FBI dropped the case because the standard for showing probable cause — evidence of a crime or intent to commit one — is too high for needle-in-haystack terrorism investigations.

(Note that a local sheriff was able to use Mateen’s ravings as reason to have him removed from security guard duty at the St. Lucie County Courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida.)

The bureau clearly erred in expecting a real terrorist to be informed. That Mateen had expressed sympathy for both al-Qaida and the Islamic State — groups in conflict with each other — was apparently seen as a sign that the man wasn’t seriously engaged in their politics.

Perhaps not, but he seriously approved of their bloody activities. That should have spelled danger, especially when added to his history of mental instability and spousal abuse and possible sexual confusion (an apparently new consideration).

But the FBI has been dealing with thousands of cases of potential homegrown terrorists not unlike Mateen. It must also consider that expressing support for a terrorist organization is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.

We need a new standard for potential terrorists inspired by online jihadist propaganda. Meanwhile, the public should back law enforcement’s stance on encryption. Recall the FBI’s battle to force Apple to unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the San Bernardino gunman.

Privacy advocates have harshly rapped President Obama for defending the government surveillance programs he himself once criticized. There’s a simple difference between them and him (and then and now): Obama receives the daily threat reports, and they don’t.

Government surveillance programs do need rules. Court review is important. But it simply isn’t true that public safety can be maintained in the age of lone-wolf terrorism without considerable surveillance. And the risks advocates ask us to take on in the name of privacy should be addressed honestly.

The parade of major terrorist attacks — Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels and now Orlando — has sped up. The more horror the less the public cares about reining in surveillance activities. Defenders of privacy should recognize this reality and more carefully choose their battles. The quiet times seem no more.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, June 16, 2016

June 17, 2016 Posted by | Mass Shootings, National Security, Terrorism | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“No Guns Allowed, Punk”: New York Values; What Tiny Ted Cruz Will Never Understand About The Big City

Exactly what does Ted Cruz mean when he sneers about “New York values” as a reason to reject Donald Trump? Disparaging New York has long been a favorite trope for reactionary loudmouths, always with an ugly undertone of bigotry against racial, ethnic, religious and, more recently, sexual minorities.

Demagogues denigrating New York come and go with boring predictability — and the nation’s greatest city will continue to thrive long after the Texas senator is merely an unpleasant memory. But in the meantime, his cheap insult tells us much more about him than about his target.

For someone who went to the very best schools – and flaunted his academic elitism until that no longer served his ambition – Cruz is remarkably narrow in his outlook, or at least he pretends to be. While he reeks of phoniness, perhaps he truly is so small-minded that he cannot comprehend just how large New York really is, in every way.

Despite the city’s well-deserved liberal reputation, its tolerance for the broadest possible variety of opinions, faiths, and lifestyles is its deepest strength. Conservatives are welcome in New York, birthplace of the Conservative Party and home of the National Review, its late founder William F. Buckley, Jr., and so many who followed in his wake. They could have gone anywhere, but they took Manhattan – just as David Koch and scores of other influential right-wingers do today.

Those rightward-leaning New Yorkers include significant supporters and donors to the Cruz campaign, although one can hope they will reconsider that choice now. Either way, his remark suggests that Cruz is one of those oh-so-clever people who assume that everyone else is stupid. He seems to believe that nobody will notice how eagerly he sucks up to New Yorkers who can benefit him, even as he seeks to inflame prejudice against their hometown.

Of course slurring New York has always served as a thin scrim for traditional anti-Semitism, which is what Cruz evoked with his remark about “money and media” at the Republican debate on Thursday evening. He must think nobody noticed that his wife works for Goldman Sachs – or that he took a big fat loan from that very Jewish-sounding Wall Street outfit when he first ran for the Senate.

In Trump’s response, he spoke angrily and eloquently of 9/11 — a moment when most of the nation rallied around the city, with admiration for the resilience and solidarity displayed by its people. Later, New Yorkers learned how shallow that support could be, notably among Republicans in Congress who resisted approving the aid they always expect when their own districts confront disaster, and even sought to deny assistance to suffering first responders. At worst, support for New York turned into an excuse for hatred of Muslims and immigrants.

But the aftermath of 9/11 represented a perfect expression of real New York values: tolerance and charity across all boundaries of ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, class, and occupation; decency and justice toward those who have the least, suffered the most, and sacrificed for all; cooperation and collaboration in the face of tragedy; and the kind of knowing toughness that is sometimes mistaken for cynicism. Only a rube thinks that New York is about money and media alone; it is much, much bigger than that. New York values have always been the most enduring American values.

Now along comes Ted Cruz, who wants to grub New York money and then insult New Yorkers by suggesting they are somehow less upstanding than he claims to be. Since he’s such a tough guy — blustering on about assault weapons and carpet-bombing innocent people far away – he should try running his mouth about New York on the streets of Queens or Brooklyn, and see how that works out. (But no guns allowed, punk.)

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, New York, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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