Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Gunning for Senate Reform

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“I’ll tell you this—No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.” –Jim Morrison

There’s been a lot in the news this week about violence and the various ways Americans are trying to address its complex manifestations. On the gun violence front, the U.S. Senate voted Wednesday on seven different amendments to reform gun laws in an attempt to produce a bill that would advance beyond the filibuster. For the highlights:

Two amendments were offered and supported almost exclusively by subsets of the Democratic caucus (and Mark Kirk of Illinois). Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) proposed banning magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed banning a list of certain specially identified semiautomatic guns and accessories that comprise what she styles “assault weapons.”

Three amendments were offered by Republicans. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) aimed to add language that would require “judicial authority” to bar veterans and their families from bearing arms. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) intended to allow for a certain degree of reciprocity in concealed carry allowance. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) offered perhaps the most ambitious conservative measure. His proposal was designed to improve the availability of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, address the intersection of mental health and crime, and criminalize straw purchases and gun trafficking.

Only two amendments failed completely. The Democratic bans—on so-called “assault weapons” and “high-capacity” magazines—were each opposed by an outright majority of Senators. Of all the votes, Feinstein’s gun ban fared the worst, garnering merely 40 votes in favor (39 Democrats plus Mark Kirk) to 60 votes opposed (44 Republicans and 16 Democrats).

The other five amendments—Democratic and Republican—each won between 52 and 58 votes. Nevertheless, all failed due to the filibuster threshold of 60 votes.

All of the Republican proposals received outright majority support but were ultimately blocked by Democratic filibusters. For a party with a 10-seat deficit in the upper chamber, that level of relatively bipartisan appeal is a noteworthy feat. The two primarily Democratic measures that attracted majority support were Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (I-Vt.) attempt to make gun trafficking a federal crime (which was backed by the N.R.A.), and the joint venture by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to expand background checks.

For whatever reason, the vote on the Manchin-Toomey amendment is gaining the most attention among the same chattering classes that still haven’t figured out why semiautomatic weapons aren’t assault rifles. But President Obama’s indignation notwithstanding, the background check endeavor was not the only potential law foiled by minority intransigence.

Contrary to what you might hear from much of the media about gun reform and obstructionism, the Democratic Party is at least as much to blame for recent legislative failures as the GOP. Every one of the Republican proposals not only earned more than 50 votes but also presumably stood a decent chance at a fair hearing in the House of Representatives. By contrast, only half of the Democratic bills (if we count the “bipartisan” Manchin-Toomey bill among them) could be so regarded.

Thus, of the five bills that would have passed the Senate in lieu of the filibuster, three were killed by (mostly) Democrats and only two by (mostly) Republicans. Worst still, even The New York Times notes that more liberal Democrats blocked sensible GOP proposals essentially out of spite, despite previous exhortations not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good:

“Mr. Begich said the Senate could have united behind measures with broad support, like strengthening the existing background check system with more data about would-be gun buyers who have been deemed mentally ill, rather than expanding the checks to sales not now covered. Mr. Begich also cited bolstering school safety, criminalizing gun trafficking and improving mental health programs.

“That’s a lot,” he said. “Is it perfect? No. But it’s a lot.”

Those modest steps, however, were sacrificed because other Democrats did not want to see further-reaching provisions fail at the expense of a package that the gun rights lobby wanted, aides said.”

That this travesty of process is a resounding failure on all sides is a burden we all bear with appropriate shame. But the way forward is not through escalating antagonism—if further escalation is even possible at this point.

It is a truism that we will not all agree on the best way forward to address violent crime—or any other issue—in America. (We can’t even all agree that the world isn’t run by lizard people!) Yet at some point, we will need to sustain a certain level of good faith and mutual respect in order to accomplish some semblance of meaningful reform. Pretending that the other side has offered nothing—and I have yet to hear liberal pundits give fair accounting of the popular Republican amendments stymied by Democratic filibuster—simply because you disagree is neither productive nor fair. And it affords no moral righteousness that compels beyond the choir.

But after everything else, standing up in the Rose Garden or on your MSNBC soapbox and disparaging the personal integrity or humanity of the opponents whose earnest input your allies just rejected is, frankly, rude. There is plenty of disgust to go around, but now is the time to be constructive. There is much work yet to be done.


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The End Game on Guns

Update: A modified version of this post was adapted by The Daily Caller to address the recent Cuomo and Obama proposals for gun control. You can find that article here.

“When seconds count, government is minutes away.  This means that in those critical moments when violence sparks, you are on your own.” – Nicholas J. Johnson

“We must stop the madness.” –Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Beware of Government bearing “common sense”

To the shock and horror of (some) people from places where I don’t care to live, gun and ammunition sales are breaking records. While the trend has escalated in wake of the recent tragedy in Newtown, it had been gaining steam ever since President Obama’s reelection inspired many wary Americans to fear for their Second Amendment rights. I can hardly run into a friend in Virginia these days without one mentioning plans to procure their first weapon or expand an existing arsenal. (For my part, I intend to wait for prices to calm down again.)

As the much-maligned NRA gains 100,000 new members in 18 days—expected to reach 5 million during this debate—Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors against Illegal Guns has seen its membership skyrocket as well. So the cultural divide yawns between worlds adrift.

Liberals are ruefully engaged in mocking perspectives they appear unable to understand from people they seem unwilling to take seriously. Nevertheless, Piers “Rambling Asininity Never Sounded So Posh” Morgan, there are many compelling reasons why ordinary people would want to own so-called “assault weapons”, which are not actual military-grade assault rifles. While we’re at it, semiautomatic firing capacity isn’t terribly new:

“Consider this from an 1862 report assessing Winchester’s lever-action Henry rifle:

‘187 shots were fired in three minutes and thirty seconds and one full fifteen shot magazine was fired in only 10.8 seconds. A total of 1,040 shots were fired and hits were made from as far away as 348 feet at an 18 inch square target with a 44 caliber 216 grain bullet [compare the 22 caliber 55 grain AR-15 round].’

This was common nineteenth century technology when the Fourteenth Amendment trumped state laws that denied citizens of United States the constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.”

Vice President Biden has indicated that he will present his proposals for gun control to President Obama on Tuesday, more than two weeks ahead of the deadline. Sen. Feinstein’s push for an “assault weapons” ban is expected to be among them, along with strengthened mental health and background checks for all firearm purchases. I understand that gun control advocates see proposed bans as about gun violence, and they aim to better the world. But the seeds of antagonism are sown, not in the hearts of recalcitrant conservatives, but in the essence of the argument for the bans. Nicholas J. Johnson elucidates nicely:

“Supply controls are no answer to this problem unless you eliminate virtually all guns.  Only when you fully acknowledge that it is impossible to get rid of guns in America (and that the failed attempt would make things worse by sending a hundred million guns fully into the black market) do you see the substantive emptiness and folly of Feinstein’s plan.

And this actually reveals a crucial sticking point.  Some of us genuinely appreciate that it is impossible to ban guns in America.  Others of us (and I believe Feinstein must be one of them)  still, deep down, imagine that we might someday fulfill the supply control dreams hatched in the 1970’s and actually get rid of guns.

Indeed, if you don’t deep down believe that this is possible, the Feinstein plan is just nonsense. Because it cannot be true that the Senator is saying we want to stop mass shootings against innocents using certain semiautomatic rifles, but shootings using other semiautomatics, pumps, lever actions, revolvers, double barrels or bolt actions are ok. If your tool is supply controls, you must ban those guns too. (Gun people know this. So they will fight this proposal like it is the last battle.)”

The reason my fellow gun rights proponents respond to bans as though the government desires to take our guns is precisely because the bans could only properly “work” if they do so. This—along with the facts that “assault weapons” is a political invention and more people die from barehanded (or –footed) assault than from all rifles—is the real reason the last ban failed and why this one would, too. Guns are all deadly and there are many “civilian” weapons (e.g. for hunting deer) more powerful than and as semiautomatic as “assault weapons”.

To understand the profound lack of seriousness of any “assault” ban, consider the laws in question (courtesy of Reason):

The New York Times reports that what Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday described as “the toughest assault weapons ban in the country” would copy California’s definition of forbidden firearms. In addition to a list of specific models, California’s law covers guns that meet certain criteria. Any one of these six features, for example, makes a rifle with a detachable magazine illegal in California (unless it was legally owned prior to June 1, 1989, in which case it has to be registered): 1) a flash suppressor, 2) a grenade launcher or flare launcher, 3) a thumbhole stock, 4) a folding or telescoping stock, 5) a forward pistol grip, or 6) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon. If you are wondering why a mass murderer needs any of these features to kill schoolchildren or moviegoers, you have already put more thought into this issue than the average legislator. [My emphasis]”

If the Vice President’s anodyne proposals pass, we would be remiss not to wonder what gun control enthusiasts will want after the next disaster. After all, they will have done nothing of substance to prevent that problem beyond the placebos of a poll-tested echo chamber of “common sense”. If overall violence—including gun violence—continues falling even as gun sales rise, perhaps we will finally get around to pondering a more holistic consideration of our culture and how to ameliorate its flaws. Then again, Diane Feinstein and her enablers might just find even more guns to ban and restrictions to pass in the name of “common sense”.

So to be clear: there is no such thing as an “assault weapon”. The weapons so labeled are not used in or intended for the military (sorry, Gen. McChrystal), nor are they particularly powerful, nor do they have much of anything to do with overall violence, armed or otherwise. That many ordinary people think otherwise is a testimony to our regrettably exaggerated trust in the competence and integrity of our media and political elite. Few in the chattering classes seem either willing to admit or capable of understanding easily demonstrable reality.

That should tell you plenty about how serious our leaders are about guns and violence.