Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Shots fired, courage absent

with 3 comments

Hendrik Hertzberg is the New Yorker:

Within hours of the unspeakable massacre of twenty first graders and six teachers and staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday, December 14th, bookers for the television networks’ Sunday-morning political talk shows hit the phones, trolling for guests. They were seeking, among others, politicians, public officials, and prominent citizens willing to defend the proposition that military-style munitions—high-powered semiautomatic assault rifles and pistols that can fire a round every second, use magazines holding as many as a hundred bullets of a type specially engineered to liquefy the insides of human beings, and be outfitted with accessories like grenade launchers, flash suppressors, bayonet lugs, pistol grips, and collapsible stocks—should continue to be readily available to all comers, with or without minimal background checks or waiting periods. The bookers came up empty.

“We reached out to all thirty-one pro-gun-rights senators in the new Congress to invite them on the program to share their views on this subject this morning,” David Gregory, of NBC, told his “Meet the Press” audience. “We had no takers.” The National Rifle Association, which had instantly deactivated its Facebook page and silenced its Twitter feed, refused all interview invitations and issued a statement explaining—admitting?—that it was shutting its big mouth “as a matter of common decency.” When it finally opened that mouth, a week later, out came a demand for N.R.A.-trained guards in every single American school: a hundred thousand schools, a hundred thousand guards, a hundred thousand guns, a hundred million dollars in new business for the N.R.A.’s “corporate partners” in the gun industry.

It was hard, in the massacre’s immediate aftermath, to find a presentable advocate for the view that the No. 1 cause of gun violence is a shortage of guns. (The No. 2 cause, presumably, is a surplus of people, since people, not guns, kill people.) “Fox News Sunday” and its host, Chris Wallace, had to settle for Representative Louie Gohmert, of Texas. Representative Gohmert, a birther and a climate-change denier, is normally dismissible as an amusing eccentric, a self-lampooning clown. Not this time. His chilling advice for Sandy Hook’s murdered principal—“I wish to God she had 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”—has been widely quoted and widely deplored. What Gohmert said next has received less notice. Wallace pressed him further on why he thinks civilians should possess weapons like the M-4 (the Congressman’s choice) and the AR-15 (the school shooter’s choice and the top-selling rifle in the nation, notably in the past two weeks). “Well,” Gohmert replied,

for the reason George Washington said: a free people should be an armed people. It insures against the tyranny of the government. If they know that the biggest army is the American people, then you don’t have the tyranny that came from King George. That is why it was put in there. That’s why, once you start drawing the line, where do you stop?

After Sandy Hook, as after the Columbine horror, in 1999, and the dozens of mass shootings since, many Americans, gun owners among them, wondered why any sane person would require a rapid-fire killing machine with a foot-long banana clip to feel safe in his or her home or person, let alone to take target practice, shoot skeet, or hunt rabbits. But, for Hobbesian gun nuts of Gohmert’s ilk, the essence of the Second Amendment, when all is said and done, is not about any of that. Its real, irreducible purpose is to enable some self-designated fraction of the American people, in a pinch, to make war against the American government—to overthrow it by force and violence, if that is deemed necessary. If that’s the line you draw, then where, logically, do you stop? In Georgian times, when the amendment was ratified, the most fearsome weapon anyone, soldier or civilian, could carry was a single-shot musket. And today? “Shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles don’t shoot down black helicopters, people with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles shoot down black helicopters”? Gohmert is a fringe figure, but the fringe is as long as an AR-15’s barrel. His seditious fantasies of freelance insurrection are shared by a nontrivial portion of the N.R.A. membership and board, by the N.R.A.’s feral kid brother, the Gun Owners of America, and by a gaggle of locked-and-loaded politicians who, not long ago, were threatening “Second Amendment remedies” for policy offenses like the Affordable Care Act. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2013 at 10:47 am

Posted in Congress, Government, Law

3 Responses

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  1. If we are going to have an intelligent conversation about controlling guns, the first thing we need to do is recognize some facts. Contrary to what the media has said, there were no assault weapons used at Columbine. Not one. In fact, the Intratec 9mm that was so widely talked about was a model specifically designed to meet the requirements of the Assault Weapons Ban. The majority of the killing was, in fact, accomplished with a pair of tired old shotguns- a stevens 311 double and a savage 67f pump gun. All the guns were purchased during the Clinton era ban. The ammunition used wasn’t anything special- in fact it was cheap stuff from K-Mart.

    I make these points not to say that we shouldn’t ban assault rifles, but rather to illustrate that a ban on such weapons is not going to make much of an impact. The prevention measures much go farther and deeper.

    Please understand that I agree gun laws desperately need reform– but I also find the obsession with new weapons bans terrifying, because it will lead to the idea that the problem is solved. Go ahead and institute an assault weapons ban, but we MUST NOT let the conversation end there.

    It’s also worth noting that the worst school massacre in US History occurred in 1927 in Bath, Michigan. It did not involve the use of firearms, beyond a shot into dynamite. 45 were killed, an additional 58 injured.

    Jeff Beyea

    4 January 2013 at 11:12 am

  2. Good points, and of course access to dynamite is heavily restricted and controlled. And the horrible massacre at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City in 1995 also did not involve firearms, but simply ammonium nitrate fertilizer, fuel, and some Tovex. That event did lead to some changes, as noted in Wikipedia:

    In the years since the bombing, scientists, security experts, and the ATF have called on Congress to develop legislation that would require customers to produce identification when purchasing ammonium nitrate fertilizer, and for sellers to maintain records of its sale. Critics argue that farmers lawfully use large quantities of the fertilizer,[195] and as of 2009, only Nevada and South Carolina require identification from purchasers.[195] In June 1995, Congress enacted legislation requiring chemical taggants to be incorporated into dynamite and other explosives so that a bomb could be traced to its manufacturer.[196] In 2008, Honeywell announced that it had developed a nitrogen-based fertilizer that would not detonate when mixed with fuel oil. The company got assistance from the Department of Homeland Security to develop the fertilizer (Sulf-N 26) for commercial use.[197] It uses ammonium sulfate to make the fertilizer less explosive.

    I completely agree that a simple ban (combined with buyback) of certain weapons (based on rounds used, magazine capacity, rate of fire, and such) will be an inadequate response. What is needed is a cultural shift. You’ll note that McVeigh and his cohorts totally embraced that citizens should react with violence if they disagree with government policies or actions, the very point so forcefully made in previous comments by Bruce: that the point of the second amendment is to resist tyranny and to take up arms against the Federal (and, presumably, state) government if you strongly disagree with its actions—that is, if in your eyes it is a tyranny. The reliance on this idea naturally enough leads to people following through, and there is no doubt that McVeigh thought he was fighting tyranny. We need to change that dialogue and suggest that perhaps a better process would be a non-violent one that does not involve the use of explosives and weaponry.


    4 January 2013 at 11:40 am

  3. One thought that just occurred to me: One approach would be to discontinue drug prohibition and treat drug addiction as a medical rather than criminal problem. Obviously, drugs can be controlled either quite rigorously (as with prescription drugs) or somewhat rigorously (as with alcohol), but their use would be legal subject to the usual age restrictions and the like.

    That would free up vast amounts of law enforcement resources to tackle violent crime and gun offenses.

    The thought came as I read that in 2011, only eight percent of federal prisoners were sentenced for violent crimes. Nearly half were in prison for drug related crimes.


    4 January 2013 at 1:14 pm

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