Monday, December 17, 2012

The Enemies of Gun Control

As my last post made pretty clear, I think the road to an America with sensible, effective gun laws will eventually run through the Supreme Court. I am not optimistic the current court will uphold any law that effects substantial change for the better—the conservative majority likes to make decisions that seem detached from the reality in which the rest of us live.

A few pundits seem more hopeful in spite of the horrific Heller decision. David Frum tweeted yesterday, "Reading DC v Heller this morning. Almost all leading gun control proposals easily meet court's definition of the 2nd amendment right." In response, some of his followers observed that Scalia gave an interview in July in which he acknowledged limitations on guns were conceivable even after Heller and the 2010 case McDonald v. Chicago (another defeat for gun control in a 5-4 decision).

Um, maybe... but here's what Scalia actually said:
Obviously, the [second] amendment does not apply to arms that cannot be hand-carried. It's to keep and bear. So, it doesn't apply to cannons. But I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes that will have to be (looked at) ... it will have to be decided.
Yeah, we'll have to decide on the rocket launchers. One wonders how Scalia would rule on civilian drone use? Sure, I can't actually hold a drone in my hands (yet), but I could probably hold the remote that controls the drone, right? We'll have to decide on that one too, I guess.

Yet Scalia is hardly the most rabid opponent to common sense gun legislation or jurisprudence. I've seen a few contenders for that role in the wake of Sandy Hook. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, had this to say about the shooting: "We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"

Classic Huckabee, offensively off-topic evangelical schlock delivered in a mild-mannered desperate-to-sound-like-Reagan tone of voice. Still, he's not a patch on Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. The opening of Pratt's written statement on the massacre at Sandy Hook reads:
In addition to the gunman, blood is on the hands of members of Congress and the Connecticut legislators who voted to ban guns from all schools in Connecticut (and most other states).  They are the ones who made it illegal to defend oneself with a gun in a school when that is the only effective way of resisting a gunman.
But it's not just the pro-gun-control legislators who are guilty. In a statement to the press, Pratt took on the pro-gun-control voters who elected them as well:
Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.
There it is, and we've heard it before: the gun rights solution. Forget gun control; we need guns everywhere. Louie Gohmert, Congressman from Texas, made the same case on Fox News, saying of the principal at Sandy Hook:
I wish to God she had an M-4 in her office locked up — so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands. But she takes him out, takes his head off, before he can kill those precious kids.
Who are these guys? Conspiracy theorists, fire-eaters, and Republican clowns... all true. But they aren't crazy. They are deep believers. We let ourselves off the hook when we dismiss them as crazy. I think that accusation carries with it a kind of civic inertia, where we sit back and wait for reasonable minds to displace the nuts that have somehow found their way into public office. And it can blind us to the same absurd sentiments when they masquerade as rational discourse. Consider, for instance, The Wall St. Journal's editorial response to Sandy Hook written by James Taranto. He finds the cause not in the Second Amendment, but in the First, arguing that mass murderers do what they do for public recognition, a crime that is only made possible by freedom of the press:
Our point here is that the medium is the motive: If these killers seek recognition, it is available to them because the mass media can be counted on give extensive attention to their horrific deeds. They are, after all, newsworthy, and they do raise important questions of public concern, not only about the availability of weapons and the vulnerability of "gun-free zones" but also about the treatment of mental illness.

We journalists often proclaim high-mindedly that the public has a right to know--and we're right. But as in the Garden of Eden, knowledge is dangerous. An industry devoted to serving the public's right to know gives twisted and evil men the means of becoming known.

This problem is not obviously amenable to a solution, and it certainly is not amenable to a legal one. A regime of media regulation that would be both effective at preventing mass shootings and consistent with the American Constitution is no easier to imagine than a regime of gun regulation that would meet the same criteria.
This is a revolting and ignorant argument, one I find far more offensive than the drivel spun by Pratt and Gohmert. It is, first and foremost, utterly false. It is incredibly easy to imagine "a regime of gun regulation" that would "be effective at preventing mass shootings" because many nations have already done so, and with tremendous success. Moreover, such measures would only fail to be "consistent with the American Constitution" if we all took a similarly flawed viewed of constitutional history as Antonin Scalia.

Second, the premise of this opinion rests on the notion that the Second Amendment provides the same essential foundation to a free society as the First Amendment. Taranto would have us believe that putting limitations on the former, which might seem reasonable (because it is), is the same as restricting freedoms to the latter. On what planet? If the government takes away my ability to write this blog, I am less free, and so too would everyone else be less free. Such is the manifest importance of civic debate and outspoken dissent. But if the government takes away everyone's assault rifles, our grand republican experiment moves forward without a hitch. We're still free... we just don't have assault rifles. That reality, that maybe all constitutional rights might not be equal, cannot be acknowledged, though. All Taranto has to offer are the same uncritical platitudes for the sanctity of the Second Amendment:
Many of the voices demanding stricter gun control, like [David] Frum, openly scoff at the Second Amendment. Others simply ignore it. Very few acknowledge the need to respect Americans' constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Yes, because it's a bullshit right. Did you not know?

These, then, are some of the enemies of gun control. It is to be hoped that they can be defeated. We cannot in our outrage call out for Obama to do it alone. This has to be a broader and more democratic fight. I was trying to think of a prescription or plan of action to write about, but nothing I came up with could match the diagnostic precision or the eloquence of Sheyda Jahanbani of the University of Kansas, who wrote this (and please click and read the whole thing) on her blog Withering Speeches:
We must summon the collective will to defend the very idea of society in word and deed. For, when we venerate “rugged individualism” as the preeminent American virtue, when we allow fabulist politicians to equate school teachers and garbage truck drivers with the Leviathan, when we reify anti-social values in our political economy, we do a different kind of violence to our children. We plant a seed of suspicion in their minds that the society of their fellow human beings is a source of oppression rather than a sacred and mutually advantageous bond. We communicate to them that they are, in some very real and terrifying sense, on their own.
 Well said... we are not, and should not be, alienated from one another. We are a Union.

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