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February 27, 2009

Nancy Pelosi opposes assault weapons ban


Yellow Shoe, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Go figure... [The Hill]

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A measure of the NRA's clout. I don't get it either and I live and work in rural Redneckville, USA. I know people, and not just a few of them, who are genuinely convinced that “gun rights” is THE civil rights issue of our lifetime. As their NRA supplied bumper stickers put it: “ The second amendment is the first civil right”. The NRA somehow manages to convince its members that The Democrats are hell bent on sending government goons to break down your front door in order to seize your guns as a first step towards a Nazi/Stalinist terror state. Many of these folks base their votes on two issues: “gun rights” and abortion, period. They parrot the NRA nonsense that the the Nazi government seized private citizen's guns as its first and most critical act on the road to WW II and the holocaust. They read their NRA magazines, listen to ”gun talk” radio, discuss how to hide their weapons from the government (Seal them in PVC pipe buried vertically and deep so that they're difficult to detect with metal detectors.) and pen letters to their elected representatives while sipping NRA wine club chardonnay. My neighbors are NRA members, and the very fact that I live around here is apparently justification enough for the NRA to put me on their phone solicitation list.

What the hell all this has to do with getting your goose/duck/deer/elk bag limits in the fall I have no idea.

What the hell all this has to do with getting your goose/duck/deer/elk bag limits in the fall I have no idea.

The arguments in favor of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment I've seen don't frequently identify hunting as the sole reason for owning weapons. They do stress, as your post indicates, the idea that a well-armed citizenry provides a bulwark against repressive government and that firearms are a crucial defense for individuals threatened by criminals. I don't find the arguments particularly persuasive, but I think it's useful to acknowledge them in any debate about gun control, rather than pretending that hunting or sport shooting are the only reasons one might want to own weapons.

If the US bans the sale of assault weapons, where will all those Mexican drug cartels tool up? Why, they'll just go to the competition!

The idea that a well-armed citizenry provides a bulwark against repressive government might have worked in the 18th century, but it doesn't hold up to scrutiny now - even an assault rifle is of little use against armoured vehicles with close air support. If you want to use that argument, you need the citizenry to be armed with tactical nuclear weapons.

Further gun control in this country is just dead.

The idea that a well-armed citizenry provides a bulwark against repressive government might have worked in the 18th century, but it doesn't hold up to scrutiny now - even an assault rifle is of little use against armoured vehicles with close air support.

Yes, that's why the U.S. intervention in Iraq was a cakewalk. Short of tactical nuclear weapons, there's nothing an armed indigenous population could do to resist a force with armoured vehicles with close air support. Another example of the same principle is the stunning success of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The IED is the poor man's air force. Are you suggesting that the citizenry should be stockpiling plastic explosives as a bulwark against tyranny? Roadside bombs have been the leading cause of American deaths in the Iraq war, accounting for 40% of the fatalities, according to a 2008 analysis by AFP:

Around 40 percent of those killed were struck by roadside bombs, according to the website, making these weapons the main cause of fatalities.

Others died variously in car bombings, small arms fire, helicopter crashes, ambushes, rocket attacks and suicide bombings.

Small arms fire was the second most common single cause of death, but notice that "car bombings" and "suicide bombings" are counted as separate causes of death and also make the list. Explosive attacks of various kinds are the leading cause of coalition deaths in Afghanistan, too.

For perspective, check out the statistics on how many Iraqis were murdered, raped, and kidnapped by their armed neighbors after civil order broke down. This despite the fact that most households in Iraq had an AK-47. So much for an armed society being a polite society.

This despite the fact that most households in Iraq had an AK-47. So much for an armed society being a polite society.

And they'd accumulated all those assault rifles long before the Baathist regime fell. So much for an armed society being a bulwark against tyranny.

The IED is the poor man's air force. Are you suggesting that the citizenry should be stockpiling plastic explosives as a bulwark against tyranny?

No--as you will notice, I mentioned I didn't find the argument that touted private gun ownership as a bulwark against an oppressive government particularly persuasive. But my objection to it is not, as Dunc suggested, that such weapons wouldn't be of much use against a modern army. I think, as you suggest Lindsay, that widespread gun ownership has a corrosive effect on society that outweighs the benefits of creating a civil resistance to government oppression.

Politically it's just not a big winner. Gun control advocates will never bring the same level of of overall intensity to the issue as the anti-gun-control crowd and the NRA. Which means that there is always going to be a big chunk of Congress that looks at the lay of the land and decides to side against gun control.
Look at it this way: depending on your district, you can win a Democratic primary without supporting gun control. In some cases the issue won't even come up, with people preferring to focus on more important things like education, health care and so on. But on the flip side, do you think you can win a Republican primary without opposing gun control? I'm sure it happens, but in general the answer is no.
Finally, it's not clear that Pelosi actually opposes the ban. She could be irritated at being asked to spend time on this when the economy is falling apart, or that the administration started this initiative without consulting her.

It doesn't help the gun control cause that the last assault weapons ban was pretty stupid. Guns were scored as assault weapons based on things like having a pistol grip or a bayonet mount, which are essentially ergonomic or even cosmetic issues. Also, the guns that were banned had never been used in a large percentage of crimes. And in the crimes where they were used, there was little if any evidence that they had been chosen for their assault weapon properties.

The assault weapons ban was a little like trying to reduce highway speeding by banning red cars because people who drive red cars account for a disproportionate share of speeding tickets.

One thing I've brought up on occassion, and to which I've never really gotten a satisfactory answer (or perhaps I did get a satisfactory answer and forgot it) is this: let us suppose that an armed citizenry can beat military and police forces.

That means that if the government were tyrannical, and there were an armed democratic movement, then an armed group of rebels could overthrow tyranny and restore democracy.

Doesn't it also mean, though, that if the government were democratic, and there were an armed authoritarian movement, that an armed group of rebels could overthrow democracy and institute their own brand of tyranny?

What reason is there for supposing that the first scenario is more probable than the second?

Politically, abandoning gun control is the smartest thing that the Demos can do, since, for single issue voters, gun control persuades these people to vote against their economic interests, and hence, against the Demos.

Myself, I think the issue of gun control should be secondary to a revamping of the war on drugs. We have created a prohibition in heroin and cocaine similar to the prohibition in alcohol. That prohibition produced the same violence we're experiencing now. We're not going to see a different result with the same approach.

What I think is needed is that when a person is diagnosed as addicted, then they can get a maintenance prescription for their cocaine/crack or heroin. This destroys the cash flow to the drug gangs. It eliminates the incentive to get new people addicted (usually young people) because, once addicted, they're off to see the doctor. Quite a while ago, the formerly criminalized alcoholism was deemed to be a medical problem.

In a few years time, I think the violence would decrease substantially. The costs would be dramatically cheaper. We're now seeing Mexico descending into a failed state because of gang warfare over supplying the U.S. with cocaine. Most of the heroin cash flow winds up in the southern provinces of Afghanistan. Three guesses where the Taliban are resurgent. There's nothing more powerful in an impoverished village than men with guns and money.

Once the cash flow is eliminated from the current prohibition, then the actual problem we're facing with guns can be assessed. But in the meantime, I'm not interested in hearing about gun restrictions, because it largely addresses the symptoms, not the root causes. So long as we sustain a black market with a large cash flow, we're going to have gun violence, notwithstanding any amount of regulation.

Cash flow is everything. Of course there is cash flow to the privatized prisons, and politicians lobbied ($$$) to keep that cash flow going. I think it's time to prioritize the old lady who gets knocked down and her hip broken as her purse is seized by some addict. If the addict can see the doctor, that crime stops.

Doesn't it also mean, though, that if the government were democratic, and there were an armed authoritarian movement, that an armed group of rebels could overthrow democracy and institute their own brand of tyranny?

What reason is there for supposing that the first scenario is more probable than the second?

I think that many opponents of gun control believe that an armed citizenry is a defense against tyranny, whether from the government or an armed group of rebels. So that in your second example, the resistance would expect armed resistance not only from the government itself, but from the other citizens as well.

Firstly let me say that the thoughtful consideration of the issue is refreshing to see. Let me comment on the "Expansive" view of the 2nd amendment. The view comes from research into the writings of the constitutional framers, constitutions of the various states, and other commentators American and British at the time of the founding. Some of this research can be found in the documentary "In search of the Second Amendment".

The expansive view can best be stated as "The people have a right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes such as defense of self, family, property, community, nation, and the people's system of laws." Indeed it was violation of the latter that was the justification used in the Declaration of Independance as reason for separation from the British crown.

As you can see, hunting really isn't part of the conversation, though most RKBA supporters will give a nod to hunters rights to keep and bear arms under the general framework.

Now in terms of "Defense against tyranny" what we are really talking about is preservation of the people's laws, in particular the U.S. Constitution, and the rights protected therein. A party using force against those rights does so unlawfully, and would likely be opposed by many citizens and the U.S. Military. If federal agencies however were to suppress constitutional rights by force, the people, under this view, have a right to resist that force, and indeed, members of the U.S. military having sworn an oath to uphold and defend the constitution, would have a duty to oppose the action as well.

The people of the United States no longer can offer a credible deterance against tyranny as envisioned in the federalist papers by Hamilton (part of his argument against the need for a 2nd amendment was that the people, armed more widely and just as well as the Army, could overwhelm an Army employed to impose tyranny). Closure of the NFA registry list for new automatic weapons in 1986 by Ronald Regan offered a heavy blow to the rights of the people to keep arms releveant to defense of community, nation and the constiution. As such, the people's only hope for defense against tyranny is the oaths and moral character of those in the U.S. military, and the hope that they would honor their oath to uphold liberty before honoring orders to suppress liberty. Not to in any way discredit the quality of persons in uniform though, given human nature and world history, this is a risky place to bet the farm.

One of the great concerns in the whole debate is the distain that is shown by efforts to disarm the people. They are effectively declared guilty of "possibly" commiting crimes without ever actually committing them, or having their due process of law. This isn't very consistent with other protections of civil rights, especially in terms of free speech and search and seizure.

Democrats are often held as hypocritical for in one breath claiming to "Defend the constitution" but in the next breath, often doing everything possible to restrict or do away with 2nd amendment civil rights entirely (or make vague assertions of protecting hunting and heritage).

When Democrats find a way to come out in favor of protecting the civil rights of the people to lawfully keep and bear such arms as are relevant to defense of self, family, property, community, nation and our laws, (something even few Republicans really stand for) they will win the 2nd amendment civil rights debate, hands down. So long as they equivocate on these civil rights however, they undermine their entire position on being defenders of civil rights and the constitution, and leave themselves wide open to political attacks on these grounds.

Just my view.

The "well-regulated militia" part of the 2nd Amendment is usually ignored by defenders of private gun rights. That's central to the intent of the Amendment. The Framers were imagining a society where the People would retain real military capacity as a disciplined force separate from the government-controlled military.

The 2nd Amendment speaks to a question that every would-be revolutionary should keep in mind: If you're going to lead a military uprising to overthrow the government, what are you going to do with all your armed supporters once you are the government? Some revolutionaries choose to disband and disarm their supporters and re-consolidate a monopoly on deadly force for the state. The 2nd Amendment vision is to keep that revolutionary force alive as an ongoing check on state power.

If that's what the framers were talking about, it seems unlikely that their vision has much bearing on whether I, a lone civilian, should be allowed to wander around Washington, DC with a handgun.

The "well-regulated militia" part of the 2nd Amendment is usually ignored by defenders of private gun rights. That's central to the intent of the Amendment. The Framers were imagining a society where the People would retain real military capacity as a disciplined force separate from the government-controlled military.

I think the Supreme Court ruled exactly the opposite in Heller. One can certainly argue that the Court came to the wrong decision, but if you are going to continue to hold this position in light of the Heller ruling, I think it's fair to ask you to say where you think the court got it wrong.

The 2nd Amendment speaks to a question that every would-be revolutionary should keep in mind: If you're going to lead a military uprising to overthrow the government, what are you going to do with all your armed supporters once you are the government?


Some would say: just the time for a gathering of old friends.

A poignant but obvious truth about those latter-day militias (and most extremist groups) is that, whatever their rhetoric, they are themselves infested with authoritarian personalities. Like the Islamic fundamentalists who wage war against secular dictators in Egypt and Syria, their battle is probably less, at the end of the day, against the principle of tyranny than the particular flavor of it on offer. The point when such people achieve "a monopoly on violence" is for many of them just when the fun begins.

Lindsay:
"If that's what the framers were talking about, it seems unlikely that their vision has much bearing on whether I, a lone civilian, should be allowed to wander around Washington, DC with a handgun"

A survey of the writings from the founding era make it eminantly clear that personal use of arms for the purposes of defnese of self, family, and property, were absolutely considered protected individual rights.

Parse:
"I think it's fair to ask you to say where you think the court got it wrong"
The Heller ruling only addressed personal, family, home defense, and in some measure community defense (right to aid others) and left open the question of national defense by civillians. A more complete ruling would have ideally recognied the rights of individuals to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes relevant to defense of self, family, property, community, nation and our laws.

Cass:
"A poignant but obvious truth about those latter-day militias (and most extremist groups) is that, whatever their rhetoric, they are themselves infested with authoritarian personalities. "
Cass you point out a very valid concern. By equivocating on constitutional protection for 2nd amendment rights, such groups have a sounding board to promote violence, and often have just the character you suggest. Where there is a right to repel unconstitutional / unlawful use of force by individuals, groups, or governments, that does not mean an automatic right to use force if you disagree with the constitutionally appointed process. Our laws, derived from the constitution, form the foundation of a social contract, that must be upheld. As Lindsay pointed out, illegal "militia" groups (really just armed gangs) very rarely present any meaningful picture of what comes after their violence other than "it's all better". Certainly this is not beneficial for the nation, nor is it aligned with upholding and defending the constitutional system of laws. The difficulty is this crowd is dominated, by the ideological extremists, who are only disarmed by removing their key issues. Further suppression of 2nd amendment rights only strenghtens their cause, while greater embracing of 2nd amendment liberties difuses their power. We saw this in the 90s under Clinton when regressive 2nd amendment policies gave a sharp rise to just such groups. My prediction is that if a more progressive stance toward 2nd amendment rights embracing the concepts I've mentioned were adopted, we would see firearms become a relative non-issue in elections. Specifically, upholding rights to possess arms for lawful purposes by those who have not been found by law to be likely to use arms to infringe the rights of others, or behave irresponsibly with them, to keep and bear such arms as are relevant to defense of self, family, property, community, the nation, and our laws. Adoption of this view would completely undermine the ability of "Revolutionaries" (read: anarchists) to garner any support for their destructive agendas using this issue, thereby enhancing domestic safety.

Async, the militia movement's rise doesn't track gun restrictions well. It tracks liberalism in general, regardless of the second amendment attitudes of the government in power. For instance, the KKK formed twice, once after the Civil War and once again in the 1920s, well before the first comprehensive gun control laws were passed. The KKK, as well as many of the modern militia people as investigated by David Neiwert and Sara Robinson, very explicitly targeted minorities more than gun laws. Usually such militias pay lip service to the second amendment, and consider gun control laws passed by their opponents to be evidence that their opponents are fascists, but their main targets are always minorities, and people with the wrong (i.e. urban) values.

The people who trumpet self-reliance are semi-related to the militia tendency. Some do it as a way of subtly dissing urban multiculturalism, but for most it's an honest old-fashioned romanticization of rural life. This is largely a result of the success of the New Deal: the rural aid programs passed by Roosevelt, paid for with urban money, are now invisible enough that most people who live in rural America just think of them as natural. When you drive on roads, use electricity that comes from a New Deal-era dam, or get a hurricane warning from the National Weather Service, you don't think of it as a government service that is paid for elsewhere.

Within cities, this self-reliance movement just doesn't exist. People take precautions, but they don't expect to defend themselves with guns any more than they expect to fight fires themselves. By and large, this works: not only are cities with fewer guns, like New York and Boston, safer than cities with more guns and less gun control, like Philadelphia, but also cities without guns tend to be safer than rural areas with guns. In the mainland US every city has some illegal guns, but Hawaii, which is close to gun-free, has the lowest murder rate of all states. In Canada, where handgun ownership is very limited, the Eastern cities have low murder rates as well, especially by US standards, whereas Western Canada, which is more rural and has more guns, has a higher murder rate.

“The "well-regulated militia" part of the 2nd Amendment is usually ignored by defenders of private gun rights. That's central to the intent of the Amendment.”

Hate to have to say it, but on June 27, 2008, the Supreme Court (5-4) concluded that the 2nd Amendment and its famous right “to keep and bear arms” protects the gun rights of individuals, rather than just a state’s right to maintain a militia.

Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking for the court, said the history of the 2nd Amendment shows its authors intended to protect the “right of the people” as individuals to have weapons, both to defend themselves and their community.

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jun/27/nation/na-scotus27

So, going forward, we need to look at the underlying factors leading to the gun violence we experience in society today.

I'm not a fan of the 2nd amendment, but I do recognize that if we don't treat the constitution as being superior to legislation, then we risk workarounds to our constitutional rights, not only with the 2nd, but with the 1st, 4th, and now the 5th.
http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-10172866-38.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

The key to dealing with the gun violence is dealing with the prohibition that is creating the violence, as I pointed out previously.

The underlying factors are pretty simple. Developed countries with more private gun ownership, like Finland, Switzerland, and especially the US, have higher murder rates. Within the US, cities with more guns, like Philadelphia and Washington, have higher murder rates than cities with fewer guns, like New York, Boston, and especially Honolulu.

The CNet story you link to mentions an infringement of privacy. Such restrictions of civil liberties in the US have happened on and off since independence, and predate gun control. For examples, we have John Adams' Alien and Sedition Act, Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, and Wilson's jailing of Eugene Debs. In fact, in the post-New Deal era the US federal government has violated civil liberties less than it did in the pre-New Deal era, despite the increased restrictions on gun ownership. Nor does the US violate free speech, privacy, and other civil liberties significantly less than other democracies with more stringent gun control; on issues of encryption, it violates civil liberties more than almost all other countries.

The notion that gun control reduces other civil liberties is a serious empirical argument. If true, it's a strong argument for more gun rights. The problem is that there isn't much evidence for it.

Okay -- so I suppose that in cases of rebellion (whether a democratic rebellion against an authoritarian government, an authoritarian rebellion against a democratic government, an authoritarian rebellion against an authoritarian government, or even a democratic rebellion against a democratic government), having people be armed means that they can fight effectively without being a soldier, police officer, etc, whether they're fighting on the side of the rebels or the government.

The net result of this seems to me that more people are fighting, and more people are getting killed. I still see no net benefit for society as a whole in terms of maintaining democracy or liberty and preventing the rise of authoritarianism.

I'm not arguing against gun rights in general. It's just that I don't see logic behind this particular rationale for them.

Alon:
"The people who trumpet self-reliance are semi-related to the militia tendency. Some do it as a way of subtly dissing urban multiculturalism, but for most it's an honest old-fashioned romanticization of rural life"

I really can't see 2nd amendment rights in any way as a racial or cultural issue. Indeed it was inflitration of local government by KKK after the civil war that pushed measures infringing the civil rights of liberated slaves, including prohibition of gun ownership. Their rights were restored with the 14th amendment, and rightly so. Liberated slaves had a right to use force to defend themselves against infringement of their rights.

I live in a city of a million people, and I'm really not clear what you mean by values of "urban multiculturalism". I do see in many cities criminal gangs involved in drug and human smuggling running rampant in entire neighborhoods, arguably a primary source of gun violence. I'm not clear if that is part of these values you speak of. Persons not involved in these activities however are almost never involved in gun violence. Just because we've moved into cities and are trying to get people to live along together, does that abridge ANY of their constitutionally protected rights? No. Ultimately self defense is a basic human right, as well as the right to participate in the defense of others, and it has nothing to do with race or culture. This means that protection of the right to bear arms relevant to these purposes, held for lawful purposes by lawful people, must be upheld.


Alon:
"cities without guns tend to be safer than rural areas with guns"
I have to take issue with this, from my research the majority of large cities with the highest levels of gun control, DC and Chicago as two examples, have far higher rates of gun violence than many cities with more progressive stances toward 2nd amendment rights. Gun Violence is undesiriable, but so the secret operation of persons in terrorism, or other activities, who end up being protected by the 4th amendment, disallowing search and seizure. Think of how many criminals could be caught if we lifted those restrictions as well? And yet, we fiercly defend the 4th amendment despite it's social costs. We defend it because we view right to privacy is a basic human right. Likewise, the founders and many people today view the right to keep and bear arms as a basic human right. Shall we treat these constitutionally protected rights the same, or arbitrarily?

Nobuddy:
"The key to dealing with the gun violence is dealing with the prohibition that is creating the violence, as I pointed out previously. "

I think this really is the place we have to look. History has repeated itself from alchohol prohibition and the gangs that exploited it violently. For all our expenditure on the "Drug war", we've gotten precious little value and tremendous social costs. What school child can't get ahold of whatever drug if they want it? I absoultely don't like the prospect of wide spread drug usage, but all of our efforts haven't prevented it. I'm certainly open minded to hearing alternate approaches for dealing with the problem.


Julian
"The net result of this seems to me that more people are fighting, and more people are getting killed. I still see no net benefit for society as a whole in terms of maintaining democracy or liberty and preventing the rise of authoritarianism."
I agree, in an armed society it would be likely that there would be more people fighting and dying. What you appear to be discounting is the general character of the society. If the society generaly valued constitutional principles it wanted to see upheld, then the people would be a helpful curb against authoritarianism. If they were predisposed to accept authoritarianism in contravention of constitutional values, then they might be a liability to freedom. This leads to a question, do we trust "The people"? I thought that was the entire point of a Democratic society.

DC doesn't have strong gun control laws. Its gun control is determined by Congress, whose views of gun control are more conservative than those of big cities. At any rate, district-wide gun control would do little to curb gun proliferation when it's easy to get a gun in Virginia. A similar thing happens in Philadelphia, where Pennsylvania state law requires relatively easy gun licensing.

I'm less sure about gun control issues in Chicago. But since much of the Chicago metro area lies in Indiana, if Indiana has little gun control then it doesn't really matter how stringent Illinois is. This compares with New York, which is surrounded by states with ample gun control; Boston, whose nearest state with high private gun ownership is Vermont; and the cities of California, which are far away from any gun-rights state. None of these cities is really gun-free because one can always drive a few hundred miles to a state with no gun control, but it does provide some evidence that partial gun control partially reduces the murder rate. And of course, Honolulu's example shows that complete gun control drastically reduces the murder rate.

The other arguments you make are just empirically false. There's no correlation between a developed country's level of privacy and its crime rate; there is a strong correlation between gun ownership and murder, though. The drug war has failed to reduce drug use, but national gun control has done tremendous good in making guns inaccessible to all but the most determined criminals. And when a mature democratic government bans private gun ownership, authoritarianism doesn't follow; the government easily remains true to liberal constitutional principles, without indulging every survivalist or vigilante.

And of course, Honolulu's example shows that complete gun control drastically reduces the murder rate.

Really--there's been a study done that controls for all other variables?

The drug war has failed to reduce drug use, but national gun control has done tremendous good in making guns inaccessible to all but the most determined criminals.

I don't think making guns inaccessible to all but the most determined criminals has even been proposed. Where in the United States is there a gun control law that strips police officers of their weapons?

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