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“It’s Not About The Motive, It’s About The Gun. Again”: Enacting Gun Control Dramatically Reduces The Problem

One of the challenges in writing about gun violence in the United States is the repetitive nature of it. Every time one of these preventable massacres occurs, writers of reasonable political intelligence point out some basic obvious and commonsense truths. Then nothing is done. Then the next entirely predictable massacre takes place, and the Right trots out all the usual inane defenses of American gun culture, and we have the same stupid debates as if it all hadn’t happened the previous time, and the time before that and the time before that.

In that vein, I’ve said this before, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to say it again: we need to stop focusing on the motives of the killers, and start focusing on the gun.

After each of these mass killings–I refuse to call them tragedies because tragedies tend to be inevitable and unstoppable, which these killings are not–Americans always want to know why. What was going through the mind of the killer? Can we learn the signs in advance? Who was to blame? (Besides the gun, since everyone knows we won’t do anything about that.)

So in the wake of the Isla Vista shootings by a sexually frustrated and entitled young man, we had a discussion of misogyny and male entitlement. After the Fort Hood shootings conservatives had a field day attacking Islam. After the Charleston shootings liberals had an effective punching bag to talk about race.

Now we see each side attempting to use the latest shootings for its own political advantage. Those on the left are pointing to the shooter’s self-described conservative Republican views and his misogynist sexual entitlement syndrome. Those on the right are working themselves into a frenzy over his atheism and his alleged targeting of Christians, going so far as to suggest that Christians start arming themselves in response. And so it goes.

But all of this needs to stop, because it’s pointless. Almost by definition, people who intentionally walk into a public space and indiscriminately kill large numbers of people don’t tend to be sane or have clearly thought out motives. More importantly, other industralized democracies also have angry, lonely, crazy people from all over the political spectrum.

Other countries have mental illness, instant celebrity culture, sexually entitled men, radical theocrats, radical atheists and violent movies/video games. But they don’t have this problem.

Further, we know that no matter what cultural elements may be present, enacting gun control dramatically reduces the problem. We already know this to be true from the experience of Australia, which has libertarian frontier culture and demography quite similar to our own.

Trying to focus on the motives of a mass shooter is a fool’s errand that plays into the hands of those who like the status quo. Focus on the gun, because that’s the common denominator and the ultimate cause of the problem.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly , October 4, 2015

October 6, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Lobby, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Guns And Mental Illness”: Maybe We Should Be Making It Harder To Get Guns, Period

It is difficult to read stories about Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old man who went on a murderous spree in Isla Vista, Calif., last month, without feeling some empathy for his parents.

We know that his mother, alarmed by some of his misogynistic YouTube videos, made a call that resulted in the police visiting Rodger. The headline from that meeting was that Rodger, seemingly calm and collected, easily deflected the police’s attention. But there was surely a subtext: How worried — how desperate, really — must a mother be to believe the police should be called on her own son?

We also learned that on the day of his murderous rampage, his mother, having read the first few lines of his “manifesto,” had phoned his father, from whom she was divorced. In separate cars, they raced from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara hoping to stop what they feared was about to happen.

And then, on Monday, in a remarkably detailed article in The New York Times, we learned the rest of it. How Rodger was clearly a troubled soul before he even turned 8 years old. How his parents’ concern about his mental health was like a “shadow that hung over this Los Angeles family nearly every day of Elliot’s life.”

Constantly bullied and unable to fit in, he went through three high schools. In college, he tried to throw a girl off a ledge at a party — and was beaten up. (“I’m going to kill them,” he said to a neighbor afterward.) He finally retreated to some Internet sites that “drew sexually frustrated young men,” according to The Times.

Throughout, said one person who knew Rodger, “his mom did everything she could to help Elliot.” But what his parents never did was the one thing that might have prevented him from buying a gun: have him committed to a psychiatric facility. California’s tough gun laws notwithstanding, a background check would have caught him only if he had had in-patient mental health treatment, made a serious threat to an identifiable victim in the presence of a therapist, or had a criminal record. He had none of the above.

Should his parents have taken more steps to have him treated? Could they have? It is awfully hard to say, even in retrospect. On the one hand, there were plainly people who knew him who feared that he might someday harm others. On the other hand, those people weren’t psychiatrists. He was a loner, a misfit, whose parents were more fearful of how the world would treat their son than how their son would treat the world. And his mother, after all, did reach out for help, and the police responded and decided they had no cause to arrest him or even search his room, where his guns were hidden.

Once again, a mass killing has triggered calls for doing something to keep guns away from the mentally ill. And, once again, the realities of the situation convey how difficult a task that is. There are, after all, plenty of young, male, alienated loners — the now-standard description of mass shooters — but very few of them become killers.

And you can’t go around committing them all because a tiny handful might turn out to be killers. Indeed, the law is very clear on this point. In 1975, the Supreme Court ruled that nondangerous mentally ill people can’t be confined against their will if they can function without confinement. “In California, the bar is very high for people like Elliot,” said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, who founded the Treatment Advocacy Center. In a sense, California’s commitment to freedom for the mentally ill conflicts with its background-check law.

Torrey believes that the country should involuntarily commit more mentally ill people, not only because they can sometimes commit acts of violence but because there are far more people who can’t function in the world than the mental health community likes to acknowledge.

In this, however, he is an outlier. The mainstream sentiment among mental health professionals is that there is no going back to the bad-old days when people who were capable of living on their own were locked up for years in mental hospitals. The truth is, the kind of symptoms Elliot Rodger showed were unlikely to get him confined in any case. And without a history of confinement, he had every legal right to buy a gun.

You read the stories about Elliot Rodger and it is easy to think: If this guy, with all his obvious problems, can slip through the cracks, then what hope is there of ever stopping mass shootings?

But, of course, there is another way of thinking about this. Instead of focusing on making it harder for the mentally ill to get guns, maybe we should be making it harder to get guns, period. Something to consider before the next mass shooting.

 

By: Joe Nocera, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 2, 2014

June 5, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Turn The NRA’s Weapon Against It”: Gun Lobbyist, “I Have Never Believed In The General Practice Of Carrying Weapons”

In 1934, the National Rifle Association’s lobbyist testified in front of the House Ways and Means Committee about President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Firearms Act. “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons,” the lobbyist said. “I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

The NRA testified, under oath, in favor of the nation’s first federal gun control bill.

Eighty years later, the organization believes not only in “the general practice of carrying weapons” but also, as Ronald Reagan once wrote, that the Second Amendment “appears to leave little if any leeway for the gun control advocate.”

The NRA’s dramatic turnabout, and its decades-long campaign to change American hearts, minds and gun laws, is the subject of Michael Waldman’s compelling new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography”. Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Law and Justice at the New York University School of Law, explains that the authors of the Second Amendment never intended to create an “unregulated individual right to a gun” and explores why, today, we think they did. Published three days before the rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., that killed six and wounded 13, the book shows how we got to this moment of routine gun violence — and offers a way out.

The Founders, it turns out, didn’t spend a lot of time discussing the Second Amendment. Skeptical of standing armies, their interest was in protecting “well-regulated” state militias; the phrase “keep and bear arms” was, at the time, a military reference. Scour James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention, the states’ ratification debates and the markup of the Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives, as Waldman did, and, “with a few scattered exceptions,” you won’t find “a single word about an individual’s right to a gun for self-defense or recreation.”

Thus, for two centuries, the mainstream understanding of the Second Amendment was that it had to do not with an individual’s unregulated right to a gun but rather with the citizen-soldiers who would comprise a militia. There were plenty of guns in the United States, but those were subjected to restrictions that were widely accepted as both reasonable and essential.

Then, at the NRA’s 1977 national convention, gun advocates staged what came to be known as the “Revolt at Cincinnati,” replacing the group’s leadership with ideological extremists intent on building a political movement to fight even modest gun regulations and promote their revisionist view of the Second Amendment.

NRA-backed lawyers quietly and consistently churned out law review articles and pseudo-scholarship questioning 200 years of legal understanding. They shamelessly built up a self-referential body of work riddled with historical errors. Over time, these “scholars” toiling at the fringe were joined by a few leading academics, who lent some measure of respectability to this interpretation.

The gun lobby also engaged in a concerted public campaign, not to mention political manipulation. It was so successful that by the time the issue reached the Supreme Court in 2008, “the desired new doctrine fell like a ripe apple from the tree.” In its rotten 5 to 4 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, the majority ruled for the first time ever that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep a gun.

The crucial lesson is that the gun lobby’s triumph was not judge-driven; it was judge-ratified. For all of the legitimate frustration with the court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, the real obstacle to sensible gun control is not judicial inflexibility but a lack of political courage. What we need is a sustained, multi-pronged effort to reframe the public debate and pressure our elected leaders into action.

The right’s long, assiduous and destructive march through the courts and the court of public opinion has, perversely, illuminated a path forward for their opponents. Constitutional change happens not by judicial fiat but through a broader dialogue with the other branches of government and, most important, with the people they represent.

That’s why we don’t necessarily need to revise the syntactic mess that is the Second Amendment, as former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens proposed. Cass Sunstein and others have pointed out that “the Court’s rulings continue to leave flexibility to state and federal governments.” Indeed, since the Heller decision, the courts have upheld many gun regulations.

Americans clearly support common-sense regulations; 90 percent support background checks for gun ownership. But because that support hasn’t translated into political action, 90 percent of Senate Republicans opposed a bill to expand background checks. The pleas of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, shot by a madman at a congressional event in 2011, and the grieving parents of 20 schoolchildren slaughtered in Newtown, Conn., could not pry their votes, or their consciences, from the NRA’s cold hands. What we need is a movement of everyday Americans who believe in sane gun laws to stand up with the most vocal advocates at the forefront and replicate the passion and intensity of NRA activists.

The NRA demonstrated the power of a long, full jurisprudential campaign. It’s time to use their own weapon against them.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Lobby, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“NRA’s Constitutional Fraud”: The Truth Behind The “Right To Bear Arms”

In the wake of the horrific Isla Vista, California, mass killing, Americans have once again engaged the debate over gun proliferation. Victims’ families issue primal cries for regulation of these deadly weapons and gun activists respond by waving the Constitution and declaring their “fundamental right” to bear arms is sacrosanct. Indeed, such right-wing luminaries as Joe the plumber, who not long ago shared the stage with the Republican nominees for president and vice president, said explicitly:

“Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.”

Iowa Republican Senate candidate Jodi Ernst, known for her violent campaign ads in which she is seen shooting guns and promising to “unload” on Obamacare, had this to say when asked about Isla Vista:

“This unfortunate accident happened after the ad, but it does highlight that I want to get rid of, repeal, and replace [opponent] Bruce Braley’s Obamacare. And it also shows that I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. That is a fundamental right.”

This argument is set forth by gun proliferation advocates as if it has been understood this way from the beginning of the republic. Indeed, “fundamental right to bear arms” is often spat at gun regulation advocates as if they have heard it from the mouths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson themselves. But what none of them seem to acknowledge (or, more likely, know) is that this particular legal interpretation of the Second Amendment was validated by the Supreme Court all the way back in … 2008. That’s right. It was only six years ago that the Supreme Court ruled (in a 5-4 decision with the conservatives in the majority, naturally) that there was a “right to bear arms” as these people insist has been true for over two centuries. And even then it isn’t nearly as expansive as these folks like to pretend.

For instance, that gun-grabbing hippie Justice Antonin Scalia went out of his way in that decision to say that beyond the holding of handguns in the home for self-defense, regulations of firearms remained the purview of the state and so too was conduct. He wrote that regulating the use of concealed weapons or barring the use of weapons in certain places or restricting commercial use are permitted. That’s Antonin Scalia, well known to be at the far-right end of the legal spectrum on this issue. Most judges had always had a much more limited interpretation of the amendment.

Justice John Paul Stephens discussed his long experience with Second Amendment jurisprudence in his book “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution,” and notes that when he came on the Supreme Court there was literally no debate among the justices, conservative or liberal, over the idea that the Second Amendment constituted a “fundamental right” to bear arms. Precedents going all the way back to the beginning of the republic had held that the state had an interest in regulating weapons and never once in all its years had declared a “fundamental right” in this regard.

So, what happened? Well, the NRA happened. Or more specifically, a change in leadership in the NRA happened. After all, the NRA had long been a benign sportsman’s organization devoted to hunting and gun safety. It wasn’t until 1977, that a group of radicals led by activists from the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms took control and changed the direction of the group to one dedicated to making the Second Amendment into a “fundamental right.”

What had been a fringe ideology was then systematically mainstreamed by the NRA, a program that prompted the retired arch conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger to say that the Second Amendment:

“Has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime”

The results are clear to see. Mass shootings are just the tip of the iceberg. Today we have people brandishing guns in public, daring people to try to stop them in the wake of new laws legalizing open carry law even in churches, bars and schools. People “bearing arms” show up at political events, silently intimidating their opponents, making it a physical risk to express one’s opinion in public. They are shooting people with impunity under loose “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” legal theories, which essentially allow gun owners to kill people solely on the ground that they “felt threatened.” Gun accidents are epidemic. And this, the gun proliferation activists insist, is “liberty.”

Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice (at NYU School of Law) has thoroughly documented all this history in his book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” a bit of which was excerpted in Politico magazine. He recommends that progressives who care about this issue think long and hard about how the right was able to turn this around, making a specific case for taking constitutional arguments seriously and using their “totemic” stature to advance the cause. He suggests that they adopt a similarly systematic approach, keeping this foremost in mind:

Molding public opinion is the most important factor. Abraham Lincoln, debating slavery, said in 1858, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.” The triumph of gun rights reminds us today: If you want to win in the court of law, first win in the court of public opinion.

In his book, Justice John Paul Stevens suggest a modest tweak to the Second Amendment to finally make clear what the founders obviously intended:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”

Emotional claims that the right to possess deadly weapons is so important that it is protected by the federal Constitution distort intelligent debate about the wisdom of particular aspects of proposed legislation designed to minimize the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands. Those emotional arguments would be nullified by the adoption of my proposed amendment. The amendment certainly would not silence the powerful voice of the gun lobby; it would merely eliminate its ability to advance one mistaken argument.

This is important. As Waldman notes, where the NRA Headquarters once featured words about safety on the facade of its building, it  is now festooned with the words of the Second amendment. Well, some of them anyway:

Visitors might not notice that the text is incomplete. It reads: “.. the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The first half—the part about the well regulated militia—has been edited out.

If they truly believed the 2nd Amendment was absolute and totally clear, you’d think they’d show all the language, wouldn’t you? One can only conclude that they are trying to hide something: its real meaning.

 

By: Heather Digby Parton, Contributing Writer, Salon, June 2, 2014

June 3, 2014 Posted by | Constitution, Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The NRA Game Plan”: Blame Violence On Anything But Guns

The NRA will let one week go by and then they’ll issue a statement about the Elliot Rodger shootings in Santa Barbara. Actually, they’ll issue two statements which they always have ready to go. First they’ll say that the slaughter shows that the mental health system is ‘broken’ and needs to be ‘fixed.’ Then they’ll say that a ‘good guy’ with a gun would have stopped the ‘bad guy,’ and they’ll remind everyone that Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) legislation is impossible to get in California so there are no ‘good guys’ walking around in Isla Vista anyway.

The truth is that neither statement is true and or ever been true. But they sound like they’re true, which gets the NRA off the hook. They can promote gun sales all they want but also come down on the side of safety and responsibility because it’s the mental health system that needs to be fixed, right?

Last week Dr. Richard Friedman, a professor of psychiatry, explained that the link between mental illness and violence is tenuous at best and accounts for less than 5% of overall violence at worst. Which means that if every nut lost his guns, the 10,000+ gun homicides we endure each year would drop by a whole, big 500 or so. Wow — talk about ending gun violence by ‘fixing’ the mental health system. Some fix.

As for all those ‘good guys’ walking around with guns, the FBI says there are roughly 300 justifiable homicides each year, a number that hasn’t changed even with the CCW upsurge in the past year. Yeah, yeah, every year armed citizens ‘prevent’ millions of crimes just by waving their guns around in the air. I also know that Martians actually did land in Parrump.

The self-satisfied folks who really believe that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’ simply refuse to accept the fact that if you pick up a gun, point it at someone else and pull the trigger, that the result is going to be very serious injuries or loss of life. There is no other way, including running over someone with a car, that has such a devastating effect. The NRA gets around that problem by promoting, with an almost mystical reverence, the notion of using guns for self defense. John Lott’s nonsense to the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence which proves that guns save more lives than they destroy.

Now don’t get me wrong. If you’re already sending a comment about how Mike The Gun Guy is really Mike The Anti-Gun Guy, why don’t you save the HP comment screeners a little time and at least wait until you read this entire blog? Because believe it or not, I’m not anti-gun. I have said again and again that 99.9% of all gun owners are safe and responsible with their guns. I have also said, but it bears repeating, that we should be able to figure out how to end gun violence without making lawful and careful gun owners jump through more legal hoops, including expanded background checks.

This morning I received an email from one of the largest internet gun-sellers who is dumping new, name-brand AR-15s for under 600 bucks. These are guns that were selling for twice that much a year ago and, as the email warned, “any sudden media attention to political situations, restrictive laws and regulations can drive prices through the roof again overnight.”

The gun industry sits on the horns of a dilemma. They can moan and groan all they want about gun control but it is high-profile shootings that ignite the debate which then leads to stronger sales. The NRA claims that it’s all about safe gun ownership but let’s not make it too safe. Because if we do, it will be more than just a couple of Tea Party politicians giving away free AR-15s.

 

By: Mike Weisser, The Huffington Post Blog, June 2, 2014

June 3, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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