More Gun Violence In America

Well, it has happened again, as we all knew it would; another mass shooting in America, this time at a well-secured military facility in the nation’s capital. Twelve people killed this time, not including the gunman, at the Navy Yard in Washington DC. The New York Times reports:

At least 13 people, including one gunman, were killed, and the police were looking for other potential suspects, in a shooting Monday morning at a naval office building not far from Capitol Hill and the White House, police officials said.

One police officer was in surgery after being shot in an exchange of fire with a gunman, said Chief Cathy L. Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department. The shootings took place at the Washington Navy Yard, in the southeast part of the city.

Senior law enforcement officials identified the gunman as Aaron Alexis, 34. He was identified through his fingerprints. As of Monday night, investigators were operating on the belief that Mr. Alexis acted alone, despite earlier statements from Washington law enforcement officials that there were two other gunmen.

Twitter has once again demonstrated that there is virtually nothing of any use to be said in the immediate aftermath of one of these attacks, at least not in 140 characters. The body count was still not yet confirmed before the first accusations and counter-accusations of blame and responsibility were being made. To this we can also add false flag theories and much more ungrounded speculation besides.

One of the few people to speak eloquently on the subject was the chief medical officer of the trauma centre responsible for treating several of the gunshot victims:

 

Something has to change. The tired old response of left-wingers demanding stricter gun control laws and being thwarted by the NRA, and right-wingers rallying behind the second amendment and bemoaning the society while doing nothing to improve it is no longer sufficient. There is a massive failure of imagination and political courage at all levels on the topic of gun violence in the United States.

Fourteen months since Aurora, Colorado. Nine months since Sandy Hook. And here we are again.

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More On Gun Control

Ross Douthat, in his New York Times column, tackles the issue of gun control. Coming from a conservative perspective, he points out that if we frame the gun control debate in terms of a culturally rooted activity versus the negative externalities that it causes, we may end up back on the slippery slope to Prohibition:

The consumption of alcohol, like the ownership and use of firearms, carries all kinds of second-order risks, and it’s easy to run a Foer-style argument against the claim that the happiness people derive from beer and wine and liquor is worth the toll that alcoholic beverages take on life and limb and happiness: (How many of the thousands of Americans killed by drunk drivers every year does your desire for a cold Dogfish Head justify? How many lives ruined by alcoholism? How much spousal abuse? Etc.)

He also makes the valid point that because of the sheer ubiquity of guns in private hands in America today, reducing the numbers to anything close to a level that might make a dent in the gun crime rate would require the use of some very draconian tactics indeed:

47 percent of Americans report having a firearm in the home, and there may be as many as 270 million privately-owned guns in the United States. So if you actually wanted to put a real dent in accidental firearm deaths, you would need not just a ban on large magazines or stiffer background checks for gun purchasers, but an actual Prohibition-style campaign, complete with busts and raids and so forth, whose goal would be not only be a simple policy change but the rooting-out of a very well-entrenched aspect of American culture. And the experience of Prohibition itself suggests plenty of reasons to be dubious that such a campaign would ultimately be worth the cost.

This chimes very closely with my own views. Whether or not you think that stricter gun control laws are a good idea, the unescapable fact remains that there are so many guns in circulation in America today that anyone with sinister intent will likely not have a very difficult time in finding the weapon that they need to commit the offence that they wish to commit.

If a gun amnesty was held, in which people could return firearms that exceeded any future regulations concerning the type or caliber of weapon, only the law-abiding (and least likely to use their weapons for nefarious purposes) would do so, leaving the pool of “hot” weapons that are actually used most often in crime almost untouched.

And if the government were to really tighten gun restrictions and seek to enforce them on the population (not that this would happen in a million years given the power of the pro-gun lobby and American resistance to big government dictums), this would require the type of busts and raids that Douthat talks about in his column. Quite rightly, this would never be allowed to happen in America, or anywhere else.

As defeatist as it may sound at first glance, there really isn’t anything much that can be done to curb gun crime in America from the weapon supply side, aside from obvious measures (nonetheless opposed by the NRA) such as requiring background checks to be made by all vendors including at gun shows, and acknowledging the fact that no hunting, recreational or self-defence purpose can be filled with semi-automatic weapons or armour-piercing ammunition, and banning these.

Any political capital, legislative effort and community work should instead be directed at efforts that can reduce the rate at which people use the guns that are already out there – early intervention with troubled young people, more work to combat gangs and perhaps (shock horror) the legalisation and regulation of many of the drugs whose illegal trade forments so much violence.

Given that none of this is likely to happen, we can all be roundly ashamed that after more than a week since the horrific shootings in Aurora Colorado, after all the many words spoken and written by victims and commentators and policy makers, absolutely nothing is going to change.

I would dearly like to be proven wrong on this one.

SEMI-PARTISAN SUMMARY

CULTURE

In an interesting piece from Slate Magazine, Hanna Rosin delves into the deeper meaning behind the fact that the men strived to protect the women as the horror of the Aurora Colorado shooting unfolded. In an interesting and poignant article, noting the various ways that traditional “manhood” is being eroded by economic and social forces, she concludes: “Throwing your body in front of your girlfriend when people all around you are getting shot is an instinct that’s basic, and deeper. It’s the same reason these Batman and Spider-Man franchises endure: Because whatever else is fading away, women still seem to want their superhero, and men still seem to want to be him.”

Through the prism of astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s memoirs and a recent Soyuz rocket launch, Atlantic magazine takes an interesting look at the intertwining of human spaceflight endeavours (perhaps the pinnacle of our scientific accomplishment) with religion and the sacred world. As well as the obvious example of Aldrin taking communion while on the surface of the moon, the author also considers other examples: “here is a priest, outfitted in the finery of a centuries-old church, shaking holy water over the engines, invoking God’s protection for a journey to near-earth orbit. That these two spheres of human creation co-exist is remarkable. That they interact, space agencies courting the sanction of Russian Orthodox Christianity, is strange”. A long article, but well worth a read.

Mike Huckabee thinks that Chick-fil-A’s decision to come out in opposition to gay marriage equality is just super, and is proposing that Americans make this Wednesday “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” in recognition of their “principled” (some might say irrelevant, because a corporation is harmed by gay marriage even less than a heterosexual human being) stance.

NPR reports in depth on the Vatican’s decision to send a crack team of Bishops to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious – an organisation representing the majority of nuns in the United States – due to concerns that they are promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith”. Sister Pat Farrell, whose interview forms the basis of this article, sees things rather differently, and while she says that the LCWR will do its utmost to engage with the Vatican in good faith, there may be some elements of the mandate with which they cannot comply. Money quote from Sister Pat: “The question is, ‘Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?’ That’s what we’re asking … I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we’re in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where church leaders along with rank-and-file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there. And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue.”

A British couple holidaying in British Columbia caught a big fish. A really, really big fish. A really, really, really really big fish. The creature weighs nearly half a metric tonne, is 4 metres long and is estimated to be at least 100 years old. Makes for some good bragging rights back at the local pub when they go home…

 

BRITISH POLITICS

Minister of the Bleeding Obvious states the bleeding obvious in this story from The Telegraph. Treasury minister David Gauke informs us that it is “morally wrong” to pay tradesmen (plumbers, builders, electricians etc.) with cash in hand, as this makes it easier for them to evade VAT or income tax. Aside from the fact that every cabinet member from Cameron on downwards needs to quit the moral preaching (why can’t you just say “illegal” or “wrong”?), his basic point is right. Until he goes on to say: “Getting a discount with your plumber by paying cash in hand is something that is a big cost to the Revenue and means others have to pay more in tax”. Seriously, Mr. Gauke? You expect us to believe that the black economy makes our taxes higher? You would tax us just as much as you already do even if you could get your hands on this missing slice of revenue, you would just find new ways to fritter it away on pointless, undeserving goals. So let’s not pretend that the cash-in-hand job that your local plumber does on the sly is the one thing standing between us and an actual competitive tax code. You must think we’re all really dumb.

The Commons Culture Committee has reported that they believe the UK’s current gambling laws are outdated and have not kept pace sufficiently with technological innovations such as online gaming. Overall, this appears to be a liberalisation of the market, which is good news. However, the proposed bill has been somewhat watered down in an attempt to assuage the concerns of detractors who worry about potential negative externalities.

It’s starting to get real. The BBC reports that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided to charge eight individuals with a total of 19 charges relating to the “phone hacking scandal”. Included in those facing charges are Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. So now the Long-Winded Leveson will not be the only thing keeping this dull story in the news. Hooray.

 

AMERICAN POLITICS

Inspired by the movie “Legally Blonde”, 22-year-old US State Senate candidate Mindy Meyer has blinged up her website with a lot of bright pink, bad MIDI sound files and other bells and whistles. If you ever wanted to know what you would get if you crossed a political website with MySpace at the peak of its popularity, here is your answer. She would clearly make a great state senator, because according to her homepage, she is against corruption. Says Meyer: “This is how politics has to change. There is always corruption, but I have the intention to follow my values and ensure that none of what happens in my district is corrupt.” Well, that’s sorted, then.

Commentary magazine takes a hatchet to President Obama’s reputation for being a brilliant orator. Alana Goodman calls Obama out for his recent speech in Roanoke, Virginia, not because of his “you didn’t make that” line but for dull, flat words and delivery when he goes off the autocue. She takes the line where Obama says “There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires” as a particularly egregious example of pedestrian speech-giving. She concludes: “For the past four years, liberals have tried to sell us on the idea that Obama is one of the greatest speakers of all time. Now they’re complaining that conservatives are taking his words literally and not cutting him enough slack. Which one is it?”.

In an excellent, frank op-ed in the New York Times, David Blankenhorn charts his evolution from opposing to supporting the idea of gay marriage. Though disappointed that society no longer thinks of marriage primarily in terms of providing the optimal environment in which to raise children, but instead as an official sanctioning of private relationships, he concedes that given this is how marriage is now viewed by most, the best thing to do is to try to strengthen the institution under its new definition, by welcoming committed gay and lesbian couples into the fold. He eventually comes to the conclusion: “So my intention is to try something new. Instead of fighting gay marriage, I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same”.

A good long-form article from The Daily Beast explaining some of the underlying factors and influences behind the GOP’s sinister anti-Muslim hysteria. I thought I had heard pretty much everything when it comes to crazy quotes uttered by Republican lawmakers and “intellectuals” on this topic, but this article introduced me to a few more sad examples.

Aurora, Colorado, And The Right To Keep And Bear Arms

I have now had the time to read and digest a lot of the immediate responses to the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado.

Some people (President Obama, Mitt Romney) have sought to explain, unify or heal.

Some people (Louie Gohmert, Brian Ross) have sought to make political hay out of the events.

Yet others have urged everyone to reserve their words and judgments while so many details of this terrible story remain unknown, and while the wounds and bereavements are so raw.

But I have yet to hear anyone – supporters of gun rights, or the interpretation of the Second Amendment that permits them – utter a statement such as this:

“Guns are an integral part of American history and culture, and the right to bear arms freely is enshrined in our nation’s constitution. On occasions, people who legally and legitimately own weapons will tragically misuse them, either through mental illness or malicious thought, and turn those weapons on themselves or on others. The twelve people who died in Aurora, Colorado yesterday were irreplaceable and will be missed, but they also represent a part of the sad, heavy price that we pay to live in a free society that upholds the right of individuals to own and carry firearms.”

If you do support the right to bear arms, surely this is what you actually think? Massacres and individual shootings are awful, but taking away the right of 300 million Americans to defend themselves against aggressors or a potential future tyrannical government is more awful still? No?

If you support a policy that has potentially negative adverse effects (such as removing benefits or subsidies from certain groups – family farms, long-term unemployed, those on sick leave) you should have the courage to own the bad as well as the good and have the guts to explain why the human benefits outweigh the human costs. As a conservative-leaning voter living in the UK, I have to do this all the time at the moment in today’s supposed “age of austerity” and government spending cuts. Supporters of individual gun ownership should do the same. No more mealy-mouthed phrases about “guns not killing people, criminals killing people”. No. Own the consequences of your policy position. Wait until the dead from Aurora have been buried, and then prominently proclaim something to the effect of the paragraph that I wrote above.

Some people say that the aftermath of civilian massacres or other high-profile gun crimes is an inopportune time to discuss the laws controlling the ownership and use of firearms. I say that taking that view is the height of cowardly avoidance – when else to discuss gun laws, regardless of the position you hold, than when their consequences are being felt most deeply?

I’ll nail my colours to the mast right here and now: I believe that individuals should be allowed to own guns suitable for recreational hunting or self-defence. That means shotguns, handguns, pistols, revolvers, tasers and nothing much more. No grenades, no semi-automatic weapons, no armour-piercing bullets.

However, I also believe that the second amendment, properly interpreted, does not currently permit gun ownership at all – a “well regulated militia” no longer being “necessary to the security of a free state” in any sensible modern worldview. Therefore I believe that a constitutional amendment is both necessary and desirable in order to enshrine the right to own firearms for the strictly limited purposes that I have outlined above.

Yes, I recognise that this position probably puts me at odds with everyone – strict gun control advocates and gun rights supporters alike, for different reasons. But at least I have put on record what I think about gun ownership, and why (not just cheap soundbites about liberty, the constitution and so on).

Let’s see the NRA and other advocates for even looser restrictions on gun ownership do the same.

Romney Gets It Right

I think that Mitt Romney struck exactly the right tone in this speech, given in the aftermath of the horrifying shootings in Aurora, Colorado. NPR reports:

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney who was in Bow, New Hampshire for a campaign event addressed the mass shooting in Colorado, during a speech this afternoon.

Romney said he was addressing the nation, not as “political candidate,” but as “a father, a grandfather, a husband, an American.” Now, he said, “is the time to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another and how much we love and how much we care for our great country.”

The report continues:

He said that as the days go by, we’ll learn of the brilliant futures that were lost due to this “hateful act.” And that “there will be justice.”

“But that’s a matter for another day. Today is a moment to grieve,” he said. It’s a moment to remember that hate is overcome by the outpouring of support that the victims of the shooting were shown today.

Romney echoed the president’s earlier speech saying that tonight we’ll hold “each other closer.”

“We pray that the wounded will recover and that those who are grieving will know the nearness of God,” Romney said.

Amen.