Token Dissonance

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


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They Are Who We Said They Were

“The aim of an arbitrary system to destroy the civil rights of the whole population, who ultimately become just as outlawed in their own country as the stateless and homeless. The destruction of a man’s rights, the killing of the juridical person in him, is a prerequisite for dominating him entirely.” –Hannah Arendt

NYT confiscate guns editorial 2015 - White House flag

Will they lower the flags when they murder our liberty?

The New York Times did an amazing thing in running a front page editorial to prominently express its long known view on guns.

Before we go further, we can agree upfront that the editorial is much more likely to fuel ideological polarization than change any minds. As Callum Borchers aptly notes in The Washington Post:

Put plainly, the New York Times is the New York Times. Swing voters in Middle America aren’t its subscribers, and the swing voters in Congress don’t have to appeal to voters who care much about what the New York Times thinks. In fact, you could make a pretty convincing case that this would have the opposite of the intended effect by overreaching on something most Americans simply don’t think will do much to prevent mass shootings.

But never mind all that; it is hardly news that the Times’ target audience is a distant echo chamber of urbane progressives high on self-regard and short on sociopolitical heft or self-awareness. So bracket that point for a moment.

Finally, after so many years, debates, invective, and political wrangling, the media elites of Manhattan at last put their cards on the table on a topic that apparently matters more to them than all the great crises and struggles of the last century. In garnering public endorsements from like-minded liberals, including Democrats who covet the White House, the New Yorkers have also summoned their supporters out of the shadows into the daylight of near-honest dealing.

The anti-gun Left that dominates and consumes The New York Times has finally admitted they want to ban and confiscate guns. Gun rights proponents have known and argued this for years, but anti-gun leftists used to regurgitate unconvincing platitudes to pretend they support gun rights and would never confiscate guns. They would even go so far as to ridicule sincere concern about confiscation with derisive references to comments about “jack-booted thugs” and “black helicopters” (a favorite of Rachel Maddow).

All of that is behind us now. With this editorial, and its prolific concordance on social media, the anti-gun Left is dispensing with the lie no reasonable gun-rights advocate even pretended to believe in the first place. They want to empower government agents to take millions of guns they decide should be illegal (an ever expansive category) from American households. They want to enable government agents to infringe upon or outright destroy the right to bear arms, even if it would not prevent violent tragedies.

They are who we said they were. They want what we said they wanted. And now we can deal with some semblance of honesty in the political debate about guns.

I say “semblance” of honesty, of course, because the now-admitted gun-grabbers are still dissembling elsewhere. Under the guise of disarming terrorists, the anti-gun Left, including the Manhattan editorial cabal, united behind a terrifying measure that would have enabled federal bureaucrats to deny constitutionally protected civil rights to any citizen they decide, for whatever reasons, to suspect of being dangerous.

I refer, of course, to Democrats’ viciously misguided (or evil) attempt to deny Second Amendment protections to people on the terror watch list. While at first blush, such a proposal may sound obviously reasonable, due diligence shows it to be, well, misguided (at best) or evil. Gabriel Malor of Hot Air makes the point nicely:

As my colleague Taylor has explained, the terrorism watch list was never meant for this purpose. As a mere watch list, it includes thousands of people who have done no wrong and clearly do not represent a threat to anyone. Like, for example, Fox News contributor Stephen F. Hayes, who was added last year for the crime of going on a cruise, or Nelson Mandela, who’s placement on the list should demonstrate for anyone with two working brain cells that it was never intended as a tool to strip citizens of their rights. There are no statutory criteria for inclusion on the terrorism watch list and no statutory mechanism to challenge one’s placement on the list. All of that was left to unelected, anonymous government bureaucrats. That’s probably half the reason Democrats like the idea so much.

In the article Malor cites, Taylor Millard offers this damning observation:

This ignores the fact of how stupid terrorist watch lists are because they don’t do the job the government claims they’re supposed to. The Intercept (which isn’t exactly a conservative or libertarian publication) got hold of the National Counterterrorism Center guidelines for putting people on watch lists last year. Some of these guidelines includes social media and what “walk-ins” say, even if government employees are told not to use hunches.

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So, yes, you might be on a terrorist watch list if you tweet, Facebook, or use other social media sites to post an article someone doesn’t like. The rules are so vague that even those who might be criticizing or pointing something out for others to see could end up on the list. But the Democrats and their allies in the media are all in favor of passing a law keeping people on watch lists from getting guns.

It is literally the case that a ban on terror watch list “suspects” buying guns would enable the federal government to infringe upon the explicit constitutional rights of its citizens without due process or public accountability. Coupled with progressives’ alarming campaign to curtail the First Amendment, there is an unmistakably totalitarian flavor to the explicit policy agenda of the mainstream American Left.

It should go without saying that these same progressives would cry havoc if Republicans attempted to deny various other constitutional rights to innocent people without due process. And they would be right to do so. But because the civil right in this instance involves things progressives dislike, the ends of undermining gun rights apparently justify authoritarian means, a song we have noted before.

Put simply, progressives hate gun rights more than they love constitutional democracy, and they have declared themselves willing to destroy the foundation of the latter to attack the former.

It is also telling that The New York Times acknowledges upfront that its preferred gun control regime would not prevent mass shootings—as much deadlier attacks in multiple European countries with much stricter gun control has shown. Indeed, some of the worst mass shootings in the U.S. involved standard handguns and Joe-Biden-approved shotguns (Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Navy Yard, etc.). To ban and confiscate even these is to essentially outlaw (read: drive into the black market) the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of guns in America today.

But the government would have to ban and confiscate nearly all American firearms in order to eliminate the civilian means to commit mass murder—or prevent violent crime. There is, of course, no precedent in the developed world for successfully disarming its citizenry of more than 350 million guns. Even the infamous gun-grabbers of Australia only managed to confiscate at most one million guns. While this may have amounted to one-fifth to one-third of that country’s total, it would be less than one-third of one percent of the American arsenal—which is to say a statistical rounding error—to say nothing of how much such a program would cost.

This directly relates to another key wrinkle in the confiscation plot: A great many gun owners would not cooperate with any confiscation regime. We know this because resistance is already evident. When progressive regimes in blue states expanded their “assault weapon” bans and required registration of those currently owned, civilians and even law enforcement officials refused to comply. Otherwise law-abiding residents of Washington, D.C., where it is nearly impossible to register a handgun for legal carry, are increasingly ignoring strict gun laws for their own safety. If even New York and Connecticut cannot, even now, successfully register the firearms they dislike in their borders, it is a mystery how they would confiscate them.

Unless, of course, Democrats were willing and able to empower confiscators to violate due process and kick in people’s doors to violently force compliance. Unless, of course, Democrats are willing to enable government operatives to kill or ruin once-lawful American gun owners in order to forcibly disarm them. Lest you think this unlikely, it is already happening in California. (Yes, that state with San Bernardino.)

And thus the insidious “terror watch list” farce reveals itself for what it is: a truly terrifying early salvo in the assault on the civil liberties that, for now, protect ordinary citizens from the machinations of a hostile government. If Democrats also managed to implement their preferred rewrite of the First Amendment (and other elements of the Bill of Rights), they would even be able to undermine the ability of engaged citizens to speak out against the abuses progressives are itching to inflict.

As they say, all oppression is connected.

In the final analysis, “assault weapon” remains an arbitrary political fiction, gun violence is at historic lows and declining, homicide rates show no correlation with gun ownership, violent crime is falling as gun sales are rising, and mass shootings are neither unique to nor especially deadly in the U.S. when compared to Europe. But none of that matters in a world where open appeals to rank despotism are now the rallying cry of one side of a binary political sphere. This is no longer, if it ever was, just a political dispute but an existential one about the very maintenance of American republicanism.

These are the stakes.

Progressive agitators and their political enablers are perfectly willing, as The New York Times editorial board reminded us as loudly as it can, to destroy the most basic safeguards of constitutional democracy to extirpate civil rights they deem antiquated. They explicitly demand that we enable government operatives to suppress political speech and confiscate basic means of self-defense to forcibly disarm millions of innocent Americans. We do not have to read between the lies anymore to argue this state of affairs; they announce their authoritarianism openly and with unblinking moral and political conviction.

To imagine good faith and the possibility of a satisfactory, enduring compromise between the defenders of civil liberties and the avowed enemies of the Bill of Rights is a fool’s errand. The New York Times and its supporters do not want reasoned discourse or “common-sense solutions,” they want our compliance and subjugation. As Achilles long ago rebuked Hector before their epic last fight in the shadow of Ilium, so progressives rebuke us now as they demand an end to our civil rights:

There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall.

They are who we said they are. They want what we said they want.


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The Probes of Castamere

“I was going to start off tonight with an Obama joke, but I don’t want to get audited by the IRS. So forget that.” –Jay Leno

“Why would you trust the bureaucracy with your health if you can’t trust the bureaucracy with your politics?” –Former Speaker Newt Gingrich

What exactly is so paranoid about distrusting government?

In science, there are two distinct terms for the twin pillars of truth. First, there are the facts. They are those basic events, reactions, and relationships that are shown to have obtained in the past or to necessarily describe facets of our view of space-time. Second, there are the theories. Contrary to what many laypeople tend to think, a theory is not less than a fact. Rather, it is the underlying narrative that makes a portrait out of puzzle pieces in the dark. It is the hand that builds a complex, stable world from raw elements of chaos, such that sapience might be possible and reflection will have foundation.

So what are the facts?

We know the IRS has admitted to improperly targeting conservative groups from 2010 to 2012. We know the first public resignation derived from with this occurrence came from a man who was not in charge during the targeting and was due to retire in weeks anyway. We know the woman who actually held his job when it mattered has since been promoted to the IRS office overseeing Obamacare. We know that, among other things, Obamacare’s financial burden is a tax on our all houses if we are not compliant. We are told that we should trust that there will be nothing improper in all this.

We know the Department of Justice invaded the privacy of the Associated Press during a broad search for leaks in the government. We know at least two months of phone records were seized in an informational grab that may have caught over a hundred reporters in its web. We know the AP had cooperated with the administration but was not informed of this surveillance until well after it occurred.

We know the government subpoenaed the email and phone records of James Rosen, a reporter from Fox News—the same Fox News that, just a few years ago, the White House memorably attacked for its critical coverage—by naming him part of a criminal conspiracy for performing the normal newsgathering duties of a journalist. We know DOJ investigators also targeted Rosen’s parents and Fox News coworkers. We know the Obama administration has pursued more leak investigations under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. We know there is supposed to be a free press in the United States of America. We are told that Obama administration, which apparently regrets nothing, will not prosecute journalists.

So what are the plausible theories?

We can launch into a conversation about how a culture of cultural division, political antagonism, moral condescension, and general incivility permeated like secondhand smoke from the president’s speeches down to subordinate bureaucrats whom he probably never even met, let alone knew existed. We can ruminate on shifts in overarching political and sociocultural narratives, as Alexander Burns and John F. Harris did last week in Politico:

“The narrative is personal. The uproars over alleged politicization of the IRS and far-reaching attempts to monitor journalists and their sources have not been linked directly to Obama. But it does not strain credulity to suggest that Obama’s well-known intolerance for leaks, and his regular condemnations of conservative dark-money groups, could have filtered down to subordinates.

The narrative is ideological. For five years, this president has been making the case that a growing and activist government has good intentions and can carry these intentions out with competence. Conservatives have warned that government is dangerous, and even good intentions get bungled in the execution. In different ways, the IRS uproar, the Justice Department leak investigations, the Benghazi tragedy and the misleading attempts to explain it, and the growing problems with implementation of health care reform all bolster the conservative worldview.

In Obama’s case, the narrative emerging from this tumultuous week goes something like this: None of these messes would have happened under a president less obsessed with politics, less insulated within his own White House and less trusting of government as an institution.”

We can also isolate individual scandals—say, the IRS shenanigans—and point out how Obama has proven to be *gasp* as bad as his predecessors. Of course, there is the notable distinction that it was President Obama, not Presidents Nixon through Bush, who extended to the notoriously unsavory tax bureaucracy the powers of overseeing our healthcare decisions.

Any of those topics would allow for thousands upon thousands of words of commentary, so I will choose to make some simple observations about the future. To start with the obvious: it is difficult to fathom that the Left will be able to credibly dismiss concerns about abusive government for the foreseeable future. That is, the effects of this shift in public perspective on Obama and the intrusion of government will cast a long shadow.

As a pertinent example, consider healthcare reform. The cost of implementing Obamacare is already running as much as 10 times over budget and average healthcare premiums for ordinary Americans have risen—counter to Democratic promises—since the law passed. It is already shady enough that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is hitting up private companies for Obamacare donations. Add to that story the fact that the same IRS bureaucrat who oversaw the discriminatory targeting of the administration’s political enemies will now have a hand in every American’s pocketbook and doctor’s office, and discomfort with “reform” pulsates viscerally across the political spectrum.

A majority of Americans may like Barack Obama personally, and reporters at NPR and The New York Times may still be inclined to shield his administration from the full weight of due criticism. To be sure, there is no hard proof of direct involvement from the president in the rank malfeasance of the IRS or DOJ. But lasting narrative and policy success is not a house built merely on a foundation of pleasant sentiments. More paramount is the expectation of knowledge, control, and competence. In other words, what President Obama will need to push full implementation of and support for Obamacare and the rest of his agenda are credibility and trust. Yet, from drone strikes that killed an innocent American child—beyond presidential control, of course—to balancing the budget, a narrative of competence and control is precisely what the president now lacks.

This kind of miasmic distrust—of the federal government in particular, and this administration in particular—is precisely the kind of debilitating breech of credibility that Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) cited as the ultimate reason for the failure of his bill to expand government control of gun sales. Before Manchin-Toomey failed despite a majority vote, along with three Republican-led attempts at sensible gun reform, conservatives detailed various ways in which the law would allow the federal government to bypass the supposed ban on registration and state governments to  harass law-abiding travelers.

Back then, proponents of the bill shrugged off these criticisms as, among other things, anti-government paranoia. Now, what credible reason can be given to assure the American people that their government will not abuse its power over guns as it has elsewhere? Even staunch supporters of President Obama must seriously wonder if he would even know if such abuses were to occur. After all, his administration’s perpetual defense against misconduct is ignorance and distance from its own internal affairs.

President Obama may emerge from this feast of scandals and media rejection in better shape than the unfortunate victims of the George R.R. Martin’s haunting tune, “The Rains of Castamere.” But there is blood of broken trust in the shifting waters of Washington, and its corruption will not be cleansed by the tired breath of an outraged speech. 


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Right Quick: The Fallen Joe

As many readers may vaguely recall, MSNBC’s Morning Joe was not always a latte-drinking armchair crusader in chummily good standing with urban liberal punditry. Once upon a time, our reconstructed New Yorker was a duly elected Republican congressman from the Florida panhandle. Alongside Georgia’s Newt Gingrich, Scarborough partook in the 90s evolution of the then-Democratic South into a rising GOP stronghold in Congress. In those days, dear Joe was an embodiment of the famed “Contract with America” that unified conservative control in the Capitol for the first time in generations

As he has occasionally mentioned on his show, Morning Joe once opposed some of the gun control measures he now champions as “common sense” and “sensible.” Presumably, he understood easily researched truths including the practical absurdity of banning cosmetically menacing rifles and arbitrarily limiting magazines. In any case, he was quite the fan of the NRA and the constitutionally protected civil rights its millions of members defend (courtesy of The Daily Caller):

But that was back when he was Middle-American Joe, who was accountable to middle-American voters with middle-American views on civil rights, self-defense, and the proper role of law and government. Now that he wine and dines with liberal intelligentsia in Manhattan with a bank account filled by executives at MSNBC, Morning Joe Scarborough freely rambles on about the imminent “extinction” of the GOP over opposition to a gun control law that nobody believed would stop the next tragedy.

In the meantime, mainstream America has already moved on. Unfathomably to Morning Joe (although Middle-American Joe could have predicted it), many Americans are even relieved the whole mess is done. It is amazing how out of touch we get while chattering away inside our echo-chambered bubbles. But in any case, this walk down memory lane merely serves as the latest reminder of what has, in truth, long been evident. Joe Scarborough is no longer a mainstream Republican in any meaningful sense, and this fact should be obvious to everybody by now.

So as we look back on the glory days of pre-MSNBC Middle-American Joe and reflect on the philosophical atrophy of years passing, let us ask the nagging question that Morning Joe will never hear:

How art thou fallen from God’s Country, O Joe, wind of the morning?


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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 convoluted politics of gun control

“Gun control has emerged as an unusually clarifying test case for how Congress really works.” –Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas

“Will I have to get a background check for skeet shooting?”

It was not all that long ago when many American cities and neighborhoods were cesspools of fear, drugs, and death. As the 20th Century waned in this period of societal entropy, people started to act. The federal government twice reformed gun laws—President Reagan effectively banned assault rifles; President Clinton later outlawed certain specified models of semi-automatic weapons and ammunition magazines. The D.C. basketball team evolved from Bullets to Wizards (the capital of the Free World doubling as Murder Capital, U.S.A. might have been a bit awkward). There was a bipartisan focus on being tough on crime, which produced everything from the war on drugs to mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.

The results of these policies have ranged from beneficial to symbolic to insidiously disastrous.

In 2013, one of the most disturbing communal ills being debated in the public sphere is the ongoing epidemic of gun violence. There are no easy answers, but a defining feature of this debate—like so many others—is the difficulty in producing consensus policy even where there is general agreement. Not only do Americans nigh unanimously favor universal background checks, but several conservative Republicans went on record with their support back in January. Nevertheless, the devil is always in the legislative details, and the newly emerging Manchin-Toomey proposal for reform faces hostility from left and right.

Aside from the NRA and Michael Bloomberg, the problem with reforming gun policy comes down, in part, to deep-seated, ongoing distrust between opposing camps. Hardcore proponents of the Second Amendment suspect a long-term push against their civil rights—including gun confiscation by expansive government—and are unwilling to yield an inch to that agenda. Meanwhile, influential gun control enthusiasts chalk up the popularity of certain “military-style” semi-automatic weapons and “high-capacity” magazines to evidence of their opponents’ hysterical paranoia.

Overall, the political rhetoric of the loudest and most agitated proliferate at the notable expense of the arguably more sensible concerns of the disengaged and uninterested majority. For these and other reasons, public opinion and the bully pulpit have long ago lost the power to compel Congress. But in considering the now reliable disconnect between what is popular—with the public or the elite—and what proves politically feasible, it may also be worth acknowledging the gap between what is popular and what is effective.

Support for specific gun control proposals varies widely, with most being at least somewhat popular. Yet the estimation of how effective the enacted measures would be diverges profoundly from what could be described as elite consensus on best practice.

Proponents of banning certain semi-automatic firearms and magazines argue that if the Newtown shooter had been required to reload more than six times in five minutes, more children might have survived his 154-bullet rampage. The truth of this claim is impossible to know, but “rapid-fire” ability is not new. In 1862—nearly a century before the first AR-15—someone could fire 120 bullets from a lever-action repeating rifle (a design much less efficient than modern semi-automatic weapons) after reloading at least 13 times in under six minutes.

In 2013, gun owners—who are more familiar with common weapons—mostly oppose assault weapon bans. Curiously enough, younger Americans are less supportive of bans on weapons and magazines than older people. In any event, there are several hundred million semi-automatic weapons in the U.S., and any of them may be used for good or ill—the deadliest school shooting in American history was perpetrated with handguns and standard 10- and 15-round magazines.

While outright opposition to universal background checks may occupy the polling fringe, a majority of Americans do not believe such protections will be an effective deterrent to violent crime. Likewise, a plurality of those charged with enforcing our laws agree that even universal mental health checks would not help reduce—let alone stop—mass shootings.

According to a comprehensive study of officials around the country, more than 80 percent reported that proposed gun control measures would not improve officer safety. More than 90 percent believed banning certain semi-automatic firearms, or “assault weapons,” would have either a negative effect or none at all on reducing violent crime. By contrast, most officers indicated the best crime deterrents are stiffer punishments, concealed carry laws, and a better armed citizenry. These findings might shed some light on the ongoing resistance from law enforcement to aggressive gun control.

But whatever the efficacy of background checks (when enforced) or bans in substantially reducing violent crime—which overwhelmingly involves neither any kind of rifle nor 10-bullet attacks—it will be worthwhile to better understand how criminals procure their weapons. Whether or not current proposals to address straw purchasing and gun trafficking will be effective remains to be seen.

The battle against violence and other ills in America is ongoing and fraught with difficulty, confusion, frustration, and, perhaps, occasional glimmers of progress. Whatever policy emerges—or not—from Washington this time around, the fight will continue.


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Right Quick: The Gun Bills

In the midst of the many hot-button issues facing America right now, the gun control debate is still producing its fair share of interesting developments. We’ve had Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s disturbing attempt to publically infringe upon the rights of private corporations that refused to bow to the liberal political agenda. We’ve also had freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s winning response against government bullying. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden has tripled and quadrupled down on his peculiar insistence on shotguns being more easily handled than more popular AR-15s.

The last few months have seen much left-of-center focus on having fewer guns forms and a right-of-center focus on the many problems with “reasonable, common sense” fixes that fix little or nothing. As I’ve already written quite a bit on this topic, I won’t rehash old arguments. Rather, as more liberal-leaning media outlets take pains to highlight protests for gun control, it seems expedient to note a development unlikely to receive much attention in the mainstream media. Namely, victims of gun violence—like law enforcement officers—do not uniformly back the full package of the Obama-Feinstein proposals.

Since witnessing her parents’ death in a Texas mass shooting in 1991, Dr. Suzanna Hupp has been advocating for gun rights around the country. She considers herself a victim not of “gun violence” but of legislative malpractice. In Connecticut, grieving Newtown father Mark Mattioli testified that new gun laws are not the answer to the kind of tragedies his family suffered. Most recently, Columbine survivor Evan M. Todd penned an open letter to President Obama rejecting the administration’s gun control push.

He argues in part:

“Gun ownership is at an all time high. And although tragedies like Columbine and Newtown are exploited by ideologues and special-interest lobbying groups, crime is at an all time low. The people have spoken. Gun store shelves have been emptied. Gun shows are breaking attendance records. Gun manufacturers are sold out and back ordered. Shortages on ammo and firearms are countrywide. The American people have spoken and are telling you that our Second Amendment shall not be infringed.

Virginia Tech was the site of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Seung-Hui Cho used two of the smallest caliber hand guns manufactured and a handful of ten round magazines. There are no substantial facts that prove that limited magazines would make any difference at all.

Mr. President, in theory, your initiatives and proposals sound warm and fuzzy — but in reality they are far from what we need. Your initiatives seem to punish law-abiding American citizens and enable the murderers, thugs, and other lowlifes who wish to do harm to others.

Let me be clear: These ideas are the worst possible initiatives if you seriously care about saving lives and also upholding your oath of office.”

Whether you agree with everything these different people have to say, it would certainly add some useful substance to the gun control debate to hear more from the inconvenient holders of perspectives unfashionable in various “mainstream” quarters. As the Senate opts to split its key proposals into separate bills for separate votes, let’s hope sound policy and good governance prevail in the end.


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Speed of Change

“You’re never as clever as you think you are.” –Mom

I was impatient as a kid. As has become archetypical of my generation, I wanted everything immediately and perfectly, and I read injustice in the heavens at my every frustration. You see, entitlement, particularly of the sloppy, Digital-Age variety, is an intensely emotional commitment. Whether it manifests in idle resentment or exhibitionist rage, a debt denied is an existential offense to the moral order that happens to linger in your orbit. So when I wanted snacks, I deserved them now. When I finished my homework, I assumed it was eo ipso done right—who has time to check their work when the universe beckons with dodgeball and moon pies, hide-and-seek and fireflies?

Fortunately, the many responsible adults in my young life disagreed with my less-than-adorable assessment of universal truths. I was required to wait for my turn or the appropriate time or the rightful owner’s consent in order to do things. I was made to double-check my math, proofread my writing, defend my assertions, and right my wrongs. In short, I was made to check my work. Moreover, I was taught the world would expect such things of me because those who run the world expect such things of themselves, and that is how good men behave. You get ahead by being on point, and thus you earn your keep.

What happens when you check your work. Stay in school, kids.

It seems the world didn’t get my upbringing.

As the recent Manti Te’o scandal marinates in memes, a recurring wonder reaches crescendo: why didn’t any of these reporters bother to check their work? From Sports Illustrated to CBS to The Chicago Tribune to Salon to the Associated Press, a story got reprinted over and over again with hardly anybody confirming anything. How was this possible? How often does such a thing happen without our knowing it? Perhaps the most chilling insight into this ridiculous affair comes courtesy of NPR:

“The truth is that much of the time, reporters are just like everyone else: They largely believe what they read in the papers and see on TV. So each successive journalist unconsciously relied on the last for confidence in what he or she was presenting to the public. And this story was one they wanted to believe.”

As disturbing as that might sound, something about it rings true. We are, after all, a culture fond of propagating frequently misattributed quotes—often from Shakespeare or Morgan Freeman—and jumping on celebrity causes—from Kony 2012 to It Gets Better—with devils for entrails. Speaking of videos, doctored accounts have led our federal executives to fire people in embarrassingly hurried error and our trustworthy pundits to double down on discredited network lines. While we’re at it, how many people, news anchors, and governments have been fooled by satire to date?

In our current debates over violence, there has been much appeal to raw emotion to blunt the sobering checks of reason. From the offset, the rhetorical issues surrounding so-called “assault weapons” has degenerated so far that Wikipedia is now more credible on this matter than The New York Times. Beyond that, there has been the bizarre notion that feel-good, do-something bans on rifle cosmetics and rare-in-crime magazines is a “sensible” way to credibly reduce any kind of violence. But notwithstanding all that confusion, we still have partisans like Andrew Cuomo and Rachel Maddow calling for “moving fast” on “sensible” gun laws and “common-sense” restrictions, even as Vice President Biden notes the established ease of getting around bans.

There were many practical lessons I learned growing up an impatient, quick-tempered brat in the singular nexus of ethnic and cultural diversity that is the U.S. Army. One key understanding was that “fast” and “sensible” are competing goods, and there is nothing common about “common sense” (another way of saying, be wary of groupthink). Sometimes, the situation demands immediate decision and you cannot afford to “overthink”. Deliberation does have costs, after all. The other side of that coin, however, is the old adage: there’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over. Enter: New York.

In wake of the tragedy and outrage of Newtown and the ubiquitous desire to do something about it, Andrew Cuomo set out to push the “toughest gun control legislation in the country” before anyone could stop and think too much about what it was they were passing. And so they did. It is illegal to have unfashionable rifles and old magazines with eight or more clips in New York. There are no exceptions to this law. Now, as every police officer in the Empire State prepares to become a gun criminal, Governor Cuomo and the nation’s gun-control enthusiasts are learning that hallmark lesson of my childhood: always check your work.