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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

“Pressure Pushes Christie Into Self-Deportation Camp”: In A Constant State Of Fear About Bothering Right-Wing Activists

In New Jersey, gun ownership is already illegal if you’ve been convicted of any number of serious crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, and sexual assault. State lawmakers passed legislation to expand the list to include other serious crimes, including carjacking, gang criminality, and making terroristic threats.

The bill passed the state House and state Senate unanimously. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Gov. Chris Christie (R) rejected it anyway, apparently because he’s running for president – and he’s living in a constant state of fear about bothering right-wing activists.

And that’s not all. The Republican governor also shared some new thoughts yesterday about his approach to federal immigration policy. NBC News reported:

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie is the latest Republican candidate to support “self-deportation” for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner published Monday, Christie was asked if he supported “attrition through enforcement.”

“I think that would be the practical effect of it, yes,” Christie said in response to a question about his support for E-verify, a workplace enforcement program.

The full transcript of Christie’s conversation with the Washington Examiner’s Byron York is online here.

Note, the governor didn’t literally use the phrase “self-deportation,” but he did endorse a description of what such an approach would entail. Christie specifically expressed support for a system that would “encourage” undocumented immigrants “to leave on their own.”

When York asked, “So you would envision something like what Ted Cruz has called ‘attrition through enforcement’?” Christie responded, “I think that would be the practical effect of it, yes.”

Nearly four years after President Obama defeated Mitt Romney among Latino voters, 71% to 27%, Republicans still haven’t changed their posture.

Keep in mind, in 2010, Christie said he supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States. As recently as April 2015, Christie told an audience at the Conference of the Americas, “I’m not someone who believes that folks who have come here in that status [illegally] are going to engage in self-deportation.”

It’s a genuine shame to see what a Republican primary can do to some people.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 20, 2016

January 21, 2016 Posted by | Chris Christie, Immigration, Self Deportation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time To Ban Guns. Yes, All of Them”: Urgently Needs To Become A Rhetorical And Conceptual Possibility

Ban guns. All guns. Get rid of guns in homes, and on the streets, and, as much as possible, on police. Not just because of San Bernardino, or whichever mass shooting may pop up next, but also not not because of those. Don’t sort the population into those who might do something evil or foolish or self-destructive with a gun and those who surely will not. As if this could be known—as if it could be assessed without massively violating civil liberties and stigmatizing the mentally ill. Ban guns! Not just gun violence. Not just certain guns. Not just already-technically-illegal guns. All of them.

I used to refer to my position on this issue as being in favor of gun control. Which is true, except that “gun control” at its most radical still tends to refer to bans on certain weapons and closing loopholes. The recent New York Times front-page editorial, as much as it infuriated some, was still too tentative. “Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership,” the paper argued, making the case for “reasonable regulation,” nothing more. Even the rare ban-guns arguments involve prefacing and hedging and disclaimers. “We shouldn’t ‘take them away’ from people who currently own them, necessarily,” writes Hollis Phelps in Salon. Oh, but we should.

I say this not to win some sort of ideological purity contest, but because banning guns urgently needs to become a rhetorical and conceptual possibility. The national conversation needs to shift from one extreme—an acceptance, ranging from complacent to enthusiastic, of an individual right to own guns—to another, which requires people who are not politicians to speak their minds. And this will only happen if the Americans who are quietly convinced that guns are terrible speak out.

Their wariness, as far as I can tell, comes from two issues: a readiness to accept the Second Amendment as a refutation, and a reluctance to impose “elite” culture on parts of the country where guns are popular. (There are other reasons as well, not least a fear of getting shot.) And there’s the extent to which it’s just so ingrained that banning guns is impossible, legislatively and pragmatically, which dramatically weakens the anti-gun position.

The first issue shouldn’t be so complicated. It doesn’t take specialized expertise in constitutional law to understand that current U.S. gun law gets its parameters from Supreme Court interpretations of the Second Amendment. But it’s right there in the First Amendment that we don’t have to simply nod along with what follows. That the Second Amendment has been liberally interpreted doesn’t prevent any of us from saying it’s been misinterpreted, or that it should be repealed.

When you find yourself assuming that everyone who has a more nuanced (or just pro-gun) argument is simply better read on the topic, remember that opponents of abortion aren’t wondering whether they should have a more nuanced view of  abortion because of Roe v. Wade. They’re not keeping their opinions to themselves until they’ve got a term paper’s worth of material proving that they’ve studied the relevant case law.

Then there is the privilege argument. If you grew up somewhere in America where gun culture wasn’t a thing (as is my situation; I’m an American living in Canada), or even just in a family that would have never considered gun ownership, you’ll probably be accused of looking down your nose at gun culture. As if gun ownership were simply a cultural tradition to be respected, and not, you know, about owning guns. Guns… I mean, must it really be spelled out what’s different? It’s absurd to reduce an anti-gun position to a snooty aesthetic preference.

There’s also a more progressive version of this argument, and a more contrarian one, which involves suggesting that an anti-gun position is racist, because crackdowns on guns are criminal-justice interventions. Progressives who might have been able to brush off accusations of anti-rural-white classism may have a tougher time confronting arguments about the disparate impact gun control policies can have on marginalized communities.

These, however, are criticisms of certain tentative, insufficient gun control measures—the ones that would leave small-town white families with legally-acquired guns well enough alone, allowing them to shoot themselves or one another and to let their guns enter the general population.

Ban Guns, meanwhile, is not discriminatory in this way. It’s not about dividing society into “good” and “bad” gun owners. It’s about placing gun ownership itself in the “bad” category. It’s worth adding that the anti-gun position is ultimately about police not carrying guns, either. That could never happen, right? Well, certainly not if we keep on insisting on its impossibility.

Ask yourself this: Is the pro-gun side concerned with how it comes across? More to the point: Does the fact that someone opposes gun control demonstrate that they’re culturally sensitive to the concerns of small-town whites, as well as deeply committed to fighting police brutality against blacks nationwide? I’m going to go with no and no on these. (The NRA exists!)

On the pro-gun-control side of things, there’s far too much timidity. What’s needed to stop all gun violence is a vocal ban guns contingent. Getting bogged down in discussions of what’s feasible is keeps what needs to happen—no more guns—from entering the realm of possibility. Public opinion needs to shift. The no-guns stance needs to be an identifiable place on the spectrum, embraced unapologetically, if it’s to be reckoned with.

 

By: Phoebe Maltz Bovy, The New Republic, December 10, 2015

December 11, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Diaper Dandy is Done”: I’m Just Glad To See David Vitter Go; I Never Liked That Man

Louisiana state Rep. John Bel Edwards soundly defeated David Vitter in yesterday’s gubernatorial election. Not only that, but in his concession speech, Vitter announced that he won’t seek reelection to the U.S. Senate next year. In other words, David Vitter is finished as a consequential politician, done in mainly by an eight year old prostitution scandal, but also by the immense unpopularity of the sitting Republican governor Bobby Jindal.

The Democratic Party is encouraged to see a flicker of life in the Deep South, although progressives need to keep things in perspective.

From the start of his run, Edwards knew any chance of victory hinged on distinguishing himself from the prevailing image of Democrats among voters. In meetings with small groups in rural parishes, he touted his opposition to abortion and strong support for gun ownership.

The devil is in the details when it comes to opposing abortion and supporting gun ownership. What kinds of bills would be radical enough that Edwards would veto them? Is there a different line than there would be for a Republican governor?

In some ways, it’s already a defeat if Democratic candidates feel that they need to concede the Republican position on these two very important issues in order to get a hearing on other policies. And there’s a price they have to pay when their party is more divided on issues than the Republicans. It waters down the message.

On the other hand, more than anything else, it was the Democrats’ ability to unite around one candidate while the Republicans were slugging it out in a nasty primary that brought them success. “Edwards” is a big name in Louisiana politics, but John Bel Edwards’s clan is not related to former Governor Edwin Edwards. In a pre-election analysis, The Daily Beast‘s Jason Berry did a comprehensive examination of the new Edwards family power in the Bayou State. Here’s part of that:

It also helps Edwards, 49, that his brother, Daniel, 47, is Tangipahoa Parish sheriff—a fourth-generation sheriff in a sprawling family of lawyers, politicians, and law enforcement officials with deep Louisiana roots.

Tangipahoa is a heavily rural civil parish whose seat, the town of Amite (population 4,141) is 82 miles north of New Orleans. Edwards’s law firm is in Amite; he lives in nearby Roseland (population 1,165). For much of the last century, the parish, which is 30 percent African-American, was known as “Bloody Tangipahoa,” with a history of lawlessness that included a gruesome chapter involving the Ku Klux Klan. That stigma changed under Sheriff Frank Edwards, John Bel’s father.

“Frank Edwards was one of the first sheriffs that hired blacks,” says Donald Bell, the African-American pastor of New Life Outreach Ministries in the town of Hammond.

“Frank was balanced. Everybody loved him. John Bel had good training from his daddy. I was close to Frank. He lived and died politics. If Frank told you, ‘Jerry can’t beat John,’ you could bet that Jerry wasn’t gonna beat John. And Frank would give you two, three reasons why. He was a good Catholic guy. They were committed, just like John Bel—he doesn’t miss Mass. John Bel is a people person, down to earth, what you see is what you get.”

According to Pastor Bell, Edwards has always gotten along well with the local NAACP, and he actually won a state House seat that had been drawn up to be held by a black politician. This ability to bridge the racial divide helps explain how he managed to avoid any Democratic challengers in the primary. And, of course, it was his father who paved the way.

With the endorsement of state law enforcement organizations, his strong record at West Point and as an Airborne Ranger, his family’s good reputation for piety and positive race relations, and an opponent who was best known for paying prostitutes to dress him in a diaper, it would probably be a mistake to see this election result as some kind of bellwether for anything.

The Democrats simply had a much better candidate.

They also didn’t have Bobby Jindal hanging around their neck like an anvil. Like all Louisiana Republicans these days, Vitter tried to destroy his opponent by tying him to President Obama, but this tactic was neutralized by Edwards’ efforts to tie Vitter to Jindal. This left Vitter dependent on social issues, like guns and abortion, but there weren’t any meaningful distinctions between the two candidates on those issues, and there wasn’t much question which candidate had the better record for being a good family man.

And, so, we got a result that is surprising but really was foreseeable if you drilled down into the specifics of the race.

As for what happens now, the The Times-Picayune believes that Gov.-Elect Edwards will bring Medicaid expansion to the state and that teachers unions will have more influence. Edwards will try to deliver on a campaign promise to double funding for higher education, but Jindal has left the state’s finances a mess, and he’ll need to work with a legislature dominated by Republicans.

The Democrat has promised to govern from the middle and is expected to appoint Democrats and Republicans alike to cabinet positions. For example, [Republican Lt. Governor Jay] Dardenne is likely on a short list to fill a high-profile position in the Edwards administration.

Edwards may have to govern in a bipartisan manner, not just by choice. The governor-elect has a serious budget crisis on his hands, and will need a two-thirds vote of the GOP-controlled Legislature for many of his proposals to fix Louisiana’s finances.

“I think that the Legislature and executive branch should cooperate fully,” said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, who is likely to remain atop the state senate in 2016.

But not everyone is excited to see Edwards head up the executive office. The Democrat makes many of the state’s leading business groups nervous. Edwards has not been supportive of the school choice movement, including charter schools and the state voucher program. Business leaders also believe he is more inclined to roll back their tax credits and incentive programs to fix the state’s budget problems than a Republican would be.

Edwards will have to find an enormous amount of money somewhere to shore up the state’s finances. Louisiana is wrestling with a $500 million shortfall in its current budget cycle and a projected $1 billion budget gap in the next fiscal year.

I’m no expert on Louisiana’s legislature, so I don’t know whether Medicaid expansion will get done or not. I do know that Edwards will have four years to rebuild the Democratic Party and that a lot of people will get experience working in his administration.

Above all, I’m just glad to see David Vitter go. I never liked that man.

 

By: Martin Longman, Web Editor for the Washington Monthly; Ten Miles Square, November 22, 2015

November 29, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, David Vitter, John Bel Edwards, Louisiana | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“America Moving Farther Apart”: Hillary Clinton Probably Can’t Get Gun Control Passed. But She Should Talk About It, Anyway

Hillary Clinton is talking about guns, and everyone seems surprised. After all, doesn’t she know the issue is a sure loser for Democrats?

The truth is quite a bit more complicated than that — in fact, pushing for measures like expanded background checks is likely to help Clinton in the 2016 election. But if she’s going to promise to make headway on this issue, she needs to offer some plausible account of how as president she could make real progress where Barack Obama couldn’t.

Let’s address the matter of the gun issue’s political potency first. As is the case on so many issues, the Republican position is more popular when the questions are vague, while the Democratic position is more popular when the questions are specific. If you look at polling on guns, what you see is that the country is split pretty evenly on the broad question of whether gun laws should be more strict or less strict. But particular measures to regulate guns get much more support, especially universal background checks, which as many as nine out of ten Americans endorse.

At some point in this discussion, someone will always say: “But what about the NRA? They’re so powerful!” The NRA’s power is real in some ways and illusory in others, and it’s important to understand which is which. When it comes to lobbying, the NRA is indeed hugely powerful. It has the ability to stop any legislation on guns, often before it even gets written. But elections are an entirely different story. Almost all the congressional candidates who win the NRA’s supposedly coveted endorsement are Republican incumbents from conservative districts who win their elections by huge margins. When Republicans have a good election, as they did in 2014 and 2010, the NRA rushes to reporters to claim credit, saying the election proves that voters will punish any candidate who isn’t pro-gun. But when Democrats have a good election, as they did in 2012 and 2008, the NRA is strangely silent.

Gun ownership has been steadily declining since the 1970’s, and guns are more concentrated among voters that Democrats already won’t win and don’t need. For instance, according to the Pew Research Center, whites are twice as likely as Hispanics to own guns. If winning over Hispanic voters is the sine qua non of a Republican victory, advocacy for loosening gun laws isn’t exactly going to be part of a winning formula for the GOP. The person most likely to be a gun owner is a married white man from the South — in other words, probably a Republican.

When people argue that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t touch the gun issue, watch out for comparisons to how Bill Clinton did in the Electoral College, because America’s political geography is very different than it was two decades ago. For instance, I guarantee you that Senator Joe Manchin will at some point loudly advise that Clinton needs to tread carefully on guns if she’s to win his home state of West Virginia like her husband did twice. But the truth is that Clinton is probably not going to win West Virginia no matter what she does, and she doesn’t need to. Barack Obama’s two comfortable Electoral College victories were built on combining Democratic strongholds in the Northeast and West with the more liberal states in the Midwest and the fast-changing Southwest, where Hispanic votes are key. Clinton will almost certainly seek to assemble the same map — and it’s one where advocacy for the more popular gun restrictions will help her, not hurt her.

Still: if Clinton says it’s vital to enact universal background checks and other “common-sense” gun laws, she has to explain how she’s going to do it. Let’s not forget that in the wake of the horrific Newtown massacre, a bipartisan measure to expand background checks failed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate, falling six votes short of the 60 it needed. If a bill that had the support of 90 percent of the public couldn’t make it past congressional Republicans just after 20 elementary school students had been murdered, how is Clinton going to convince them to vote for whatever she proposes?

But talking about gun measures in the presidential campaign could still have a practical impact, by elevating the issue and thereby making it more likely that more gun laws might be passed on the state level. And that’s where all the action has been of late: since the Newtown shooting, there have been dozens of laws passed at the state level on the subject of guns, and they tell a story of red and blue America moving farther apart.

In Red America, one state after another has passed laws to expand who can get a gun and where you can take it. Last year Georgia passed a law allowing people to take guns into churches, government buildings, and bars. “Stand your ground” laws have proliferated in Republican-run states (despite the fact that research indicates that they increase the number of homicides).

Meanwhile in Blue America, dozens of laws have been passed to rein in guns. Legislatures in states like California, Maryland, and Connecticut expanded background checks, restricted access for those with mental illness or domestic abuse convictions, and made it harder to get assault weapons. In 2014, voters in Washington state passed a ballot initiative mandating universal background checks by a wide margin.

So when we talk about the gun issue, we have to keep three things in mind. First, the kind of restrictions Clinton is proposing are hugely popular. Second, there really are two Americas when it comes to guns. And third, one of those Americas has the ability and the desire to stop any gun legislation in Congress. If Hillary Clinton has a plan to deal with that last reality, it would be interesting to hear.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 10, 2015

July 11, 2015 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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