Santa Fe School Shooting: Does Gun Control Gridlock Undermine Conservative Pro-Life Claims?

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Could a more expansive view of liberty and pro-life advocacy countenance more gun control restrictions than conservatives are traditionally willing to concede?

Satirical news site The Onion has taken to republishing the same weary article each time that a mass shooting incident rips a deadly path through schools and communities, extinguishing innocent lives while politicians and activists strike poses rather than forging an overdue compromise addressing gun violence.

The article has already appeared numerous times in 2018, most recently today in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in which ten people were killed and ten more injured at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens“, reads the headline:

In the hours following a violent rampage in Florida in which a lone attacker killed 17 individuals and seriously injured over a dozen others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Wednesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Indiana resident Harold Turner, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this individual from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

The increasingly regular reposting of the article only serves to underline its point.

One cannot help but agree with The Onion’s sense of frustration. Nobody can realistically expect any feasible political or policy action to snuff out gun violence of any kind (mass shooting or otherwise) within a short timeframe such as that between the recent Parkland school shooting in Florida and yesterday’s carnage in Santa Fe, Texas. But within a functional democratic country, leaders should at least be able to point toward concrete signs of planning and action. As things stand, there are no such encouraging signs.

Many Democrats would rather engage in silly performative stunts like loaded televised town-hall meetings or congressional sit-ins – the latter particularly risible, with legislators behaving like immature students, effectively petitioning themselves to do their own jobs – than even consider conservative proposals for reducing mass shootings, like the hiring of more armed security officers. Meanwhile, Republicans tend to put far too much faith in last-line-of-defence security measures and consistently thwart the kind of upstream policy solutions which might better tackle mental illness before it manifests in violence, under the banner of their disingenuous commitment to “fiscal responsibility”.

Meanwhile, in this time of pronounced political tribalism, both sides see themselves as victims. The thoughts and prayers for victims of mass shooting incidents are no doubt all very sincere, but it usually takes only a matter of hours for the public discourse to revert to a screaming match as both sides try to label themselves as vicarious victims and their opponents as oppressors. Many conservatives spent the entire Obama presidency hysterically convincing themselves that the government was coming for their guns, making themselves even more partisan in the process, while Democratic and allied leftist organisations increasingly use rhetoric better suited for describing malevolent terrorists to denounce conservatives who simply want to tackle gun crime in a different way. The governor of Connecticut and others have likened the National Rifle Association to a terrorist organisation, for example.

The net result of all this public posturing and cowardly refusal of politicians of both sides to lead (rather than follow) their most strident activists is another deadly school shooting – and the depressing re-emergence of that Onion news article – reliably taking place every couple of months.

To my mind, the fundamental question – as I previously laid out following the Parkland shooting – is this: to what extent should American society allow the defence of an increasingly abstract principle (the right for the citizenry to heavily arm themselves as a safeguard against government tyranny) to take priority over defending very real and non-abstract innocent citizens, often children, from being killed in mass casualty shooting events.

The longstanding political gridlock in America has thus far allowed the abstract defence of liberty to win a total victory by default. But at some point we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to accept this outcome in perpetuity – not least because lax gun controls repeatedly fail to safeguard against government incursions on individual liberty. An armed citizenry did not give the federal government a moment’s pause for thought as Washington D.C. created a vast and largely unaccountable system of domestic surveillance or abused the Constitution to seize ever more power for the centre, let alone successfully dissuaded government from pursuing such illiberal policies. Neither have states with loose gun restrictions successfully prevented their police forces from becoming ever-more militarised and aggressive. So given that loose gun controls have not prevented vast and likely irrevocable encroachments on individual liberty thus far, is conservative faith in a maximalist interpretation of the Second Amendment misplaced?

One can certainly argue that a maximalist interpretation of the Second Amendment still serves as a final insurance policy, but its efficacy is weakened to the point of uselessness by previous concessions to authoritarian government, many of them (including the more draconian provisions of the PATRIOT Act) enthusiastically cheered on by the very same people who cite suspicion of the federal government as sufficient reason to scupper any measures limiting civilian ownership of higher powered weaponry. Putting one’s thumbs on both sides of the scale like this – tolerating an intrusive government while citing the danger of big government as a justification for thwarting gun control – begins to look suspiciously like hypocrisy.

A new article by James Mumford for The American Conservative draws out another interesting hypocrisy in the conservative case against gun control – the conflict with conservatism’s pro-life position. In his piece, Mumford essentially argues that the right to life currently takes second place to defending the present interpretation of the Second Amendment:

Some time later I came across an online comment by a conservative chap talking about the sanctity of life. I was impressed. “So basically [it’s] a life vs. liberty debate. We already recognize in everyday life the fact that human life has more fundamental value than freedom.” Absolutely. I totally agreed. And the chap’s recognition of the essential trade-off was refreshingly realistic. What will it take to prevent another Newtown? Law-abiding gunowners, often in rural areas, sacrificing their freedom to own assault weapons because they realize that “human life has more fundamental value than freedom.” The chap must have been imagining the six-year olds at Sandy Hook cowering behind their teacher when Adam Lanza blasted into their classroom. The blogger was issuing a rallying call. We’ll do what it takes. We’ll give up what we have to. We’ll stop that from happening again.

But again, I’m so thick. I thought he was talking about a high-school massacre. In fact, he was talking about abortion!

[..] Presumably, those who own guns for self-defense wouldn’t accept the claim that they rank freedom over life. They would say the freedom to own guns is precisely a freedom to defend life, their own and other people’s. Yet are more lives saved than lost by people having such easy access to lethal weapons?

This is the rub. There is certainly a risk of government tyranny which must be mitigated against so far as possible, including through remedies such as the Second Amendment. But certain mitigations also come with a cost attached – in this case, a cost which is growing and growing, the ledger filled in with blood red ink. What price are we currently paying for each incremental degree of protection from tyranny? Is the insurance policy starting to cost more than is justified by the catastrophic event it is designed to cover? Should we not at least be open to having this discussion?

Mumford concludes:

[..] no possible reading of the Second Amendment can possibly excuse the fundamental hypocrisy here. Just because you’re free to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Conservatives like me who care deeply about family values typically forego their freedom to sleep around.

Plus, a right is never absolute anyway. In 2008 Justice Scalia, writing the majority opinion in Heller, recognized that even the individual rights reading allows for a raft of gun-control measures—prohibitions on carrying weapons in public, extension of background checks, etc., etc. So there’s a lot for consistent pro-lifers to be campaigning for with as much vigor as they’re trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

Mass shootings by monsters armed with AR-15s, like the one in San Bernardino last December, constitute a fraction of gun violence in America. That’s the final argument I’ve heard bandied about a lot. But again it seems weird. For why should it matter that it’s a fraction of gun violence? Don’t fractions matter? Doesn’t a pro-lifer believe that “he who saves one life saves the world entire”?

This is by no means to argue for the repeal of the Second Amendment or the abolition of all gun rights. It is simply an argument for conservatives to take a more expansive view of the pro-life case than the current laser focus on their preferred pet issue of abortion, and to at least entertain the possibility that a new balance might be struck between safeguarding liberty – perhaps more proactively, rather than lazily relying on the nuclear option of armed insurrection – and defending life.

It may well be the case, following such a conversation, that conservatives decide that the balance between liberty and life is already correctly struck and that no changes are needed – though I find this to be increasingly implausible. But a conversation needs to take place, and conservatives increasingly need to be able to justify their stance given the fact that large-scale school massacres do not take place with this regularity anywhere else on Earth.

For conservatives to maintain the moral high ground, the principle worth defending at such a terrible, ongoing cost must be both incredibly valuable and consistently defended on all fronts over a long period of time. I do not believe that most mainstream conservatives can demonstrate this track record or appear willing to publicly make this argument, and to the extent that conservatives are unwilling to fully defend their own position on gun control, their position cannot command full public respect.

 

Update: Another thoughtful reflection on the pro-life / pro-gun (potential) dichotomy here, by an Evangelical preacher.

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The Left Will Not Achieve Gun Reform By Using Divisive Culture War Tactics

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Going on a moralistic crusade against the NRA and gun rights supporters may be cathartic for the Left, but folding the gun control debate into the ongoing toxic culture war only guarantees bitter polarisation and more deadly inaction

A worrying (but perhaps predictable) new development following the horrific Parkland school shooting has been a concerted effort by many on the anti-gun Left to fold the issue of gun rights and restrictions into the broader, toxic ongoing culture war, in which Americans hunker down within their respective ideological bunkers and instinctively assume the worst of those who disagree.

This trend reached depressing new heights last night during CNN’s town hall on gun control, held in Broward County, Florida, where the shooting took place. This was less a serious debate conducted in the spirit of seeking compromise than it was an inquisition, designed not to foster understanding or brainstorm solutions but rather to provide a cathartic opportunity for gun-control advocates to scream at gun rights supporters and accuse them of complicity in the mass murder of innocent schoolchildren.

Even if there were a shred of truth in these monstrous accusations – and there isn’t – it would remain absolutely terrible politics. Constantly fuming that the other side is selfish and evil only encourages alienation and division, a fact which was true when some Republicans implied that President Obama didn’t “love America” and which applies equally now when some Democrats imply that conservatives don’t care about murdered kids. And it really should be a cause of deep shame for CNN that President Trump of all people was able to moderate a calmer, more respectful and productive listening session on gun control at the White House than Jake Tapper, with all his experience, managed on live television.

(Of course, the US media being the uncritically self-regarding entity that it is, Tapper is receiving praise from all corners for permitting what was effectively open season on Republican senator Marco Rubio and NRA representative Dana Loesch while letting the political activist local sheriff whose department failed to take action against the killer before he struck completely off the hook).

The irony to all of this is that there have actually been some genuinely hopeful signs of movement from gun rights proponents after this latest shooting. Whether it is increased fatigue from even hardened gun-rights activists at witnessing the funerals of more young children or (perhaps more likely) the loud and insistent activism of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students themselves, concessions are now being mooted and offered on areas from bump stocks (though no such device was used in this particular shooting) to increased criminal background and mental health checks.

This much, however, was foreseeable. What seems to be new this time is that efforts are now underway to make gun rights supporters pariahs in the wider American culture and society. We see this most notably with swarms of activists on social media browbeating corporations into disassociating themselves with the National Rifle Association – and gunowners in general, by extension:

 

This, of course, is precisely the same tactic used by the illiberal leftist British organisation Stop Funding Hate, which channels the efforts of a few thousand shrill voices on Twitter to intimidate companies into pulling their advertisements from certain publications or certain publications from their places of business.

Stop Funding Hate has had great success in surgically removing the spines of various corporations in Britain and then bending them to conform to whatever happens to be their moral outrage of the week, nearly always involving the Daily Mail. One does not have to approve of the Daily Mail’s editorial positions or reporting standards to be concerned that leftist efforts to make the personal political are creating dozens of new wedge issues to divide British people from one another rather than uniting us around common values, and co-opting big business in their efforts to do so.

In America, it seems to corporate capitulations are going to be every bit as swift as they have been here in the United Kingdom, with car hire giant Enterprise Rent-A-Car swiftly terminating a deal with the NRA in which offered rental discounts to their members:

 

Note the specific language used here, too. The business relationship was between Enterprise and the NRA, so the spineless amoebas who run the company’s social media accounts could simply have said that they terminated their relationship with the NRA. But they went one step further and specifically pointed out that they were withdrawing their discount for “NRA members”, as though innocent NRA members (none of whom have ever committed one of these mass shootings) are themselves deserving of opprobrium and social sanction.

An intersectional social justice warrior might say that this has the effect of “othering” the large minority of Americans who own guns, but of course such terms are only conferred on designated victim groups, a label which conservative gun-owners will never attract. Those of us who do not wallow 24/7 in victimhood culture might simply point out that appearing to repudiate law-abiding NRA members

Are firms like Enterprise free to advertise or offer affinity partnerships with whatever organisations they please? Of course. Is it necessarily good business to allow a handful of Twitter activists to effectively dictate corporate strategy? It’s arguable, but I have very strong doubts. But is it good for the country for corporations to so clearly take sides on divisive social issues, coming perilously close to suggesting that those who hold more conservative views are effectively personae non gratae? I think it is unambiguously bad and counterproductive to do so.

We have already been through this dismal dance with the media. The mainstream, prestige media’s often soft but near-universal leftward bias on all issues did not have the desired effect of “reprogramming” conservatives into adopting progressive positions; rather, it simply forced conservative news consumers into the arms of right wing talk radio, Fox News and a slew of independent right-wing websites whose journalistic standards and commitment to objectivity are often questionable at best. And freed from the need to cater to that side of the market, the remaining prestige media has had every social and commercial incentive to pander to progressive dogma and groupthink to the extent that many journalists genuinely believe themselves to be objective while displaying degrees of selection bias and epistemic closure which beggar belief.

Has this division been good for American society? Who can argue that it has been anything other than a monumental failure? More than anything, this is what gave the country President Trump. When the legacy news outlets which generally still come closest to reporting objective truth make it plainly clearly that conservative ideas are unwelcome and will be treated with more scepticism than progressive ideas, the very idea of objectivity is poisoned.

Do we really want to replicate this polarisation across all aspects of American life? Do we want to live in a society where the car rental company you use, the airline you fly, the grocery store you shop at or the high-tech goods you buy become an expression of your stance on every hot-button social issue, a flag planted to declare your allegiance in the culture wars?

Nothing good can come of this. Nothing. Have conservatives historically shown far too little sense of urgency in proposing and implementing policy changes in an attempt to reduce the frequency and deadliness of mass shootings, or at least been content to see efforts stall so long as their rights were not threatened? Absolutely. But now they are actually coming to the table, the Left’s response cannot be to paint every gun-owning American as a pariah and refuse to frequent the same places of business.

The Left have a history of achieving social changes – often welcome, sometimes less so – and responding to these victories not with magnanimity toward the conservatives they routed but rather with an unbecoming, snarling vengefulness. It would be a real catastrophe if they now repeat this destructive behaviour as they fight for greater gun control.

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After The Parkland School Shooting We Need To Rethink The Trade-off Between Liberty And Public Safety

Mass Shooting - Marjory Stoneman Douglas High - Parkland Florida - Gun Control

Conservatives and gun rights activists don’t like to talk about it, but at the heart of their opposition to increased gun control is an unspoken trade-off between defending against possible future tyranny and trying to reduce or prevent otherwise inevitable future deadly mass shootings. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, we need to drag this debate out into the open and re-examine the trade-offs which we are willing to tolerate

At what point is the promise of the Second Amendment and the assurance it offers Americans as the final firewall against government tyranny outweighed by the monthly carnage in American schools? Or is it wrong to even conceptualise such a tipping point, gut-wrenchingly tragic and outrageous though these endless mass shootings may be?

Are we right to focus on high profile mass shootings when so many more murders take place, in no way less tragic, during shootings involving only one victim? Is it appropriate to even contemplate reviewing something so fundamental to the American culture and precepts of government as the Second Amendment based purely on high profile massacres, when they form such a small percentage of the total yearly gun homicides?

Even if it were possible to outlaw the kind of weapons often used in high profile mass shootings, would it ever be politically or logistically possible to enforce a ban and/or seek to recall these weapons from lawful owners while providing appropriate monetary compensation, or would this simply leave the citizenry more at the mercy of criminals, or even provoke armed insurrection by those unwilling to comply?

All of these thoughts and more have been going through my mind as I learned of the latest deadly school shooting, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where seventeen young people are known to have been killed.

I have long supported gun ownership rights, albeit with some caveats. Part of this is a function of growing up in the United Kingdom, where not only are most of the police unarmed, but where the law often ends up penalising those who try to engage in legitimate self-defence. If the government will not quickly and reliably come to one’s aid in a life-threatening situation, particularly given the rising Islamist terror threat, then what right has the government to demand that citizens forego even non-lethal methods of personal self-defence such as tasers or pepper spray?

I am not yet constitutional scholar enough to be able to adequately dissect the Second Amendment and the myriad existing gun control laws, but clearly there are existing limits on the right to bear arms, set both by the definition of the word “arms” and by state and federal law. One cannot construct a homemade nuclear weapon or dirty bomb in one’s garage or laboratory as an insurance policy against government tyranny, for example, and even the most conservative Republicans and the NRA don’t seem to register any objection to that.

As with free speech and the First Amendment, a line has been drawn. In the case of free speech, the line has rightly been set at the point of incitement or “fighting words”, the credible threat of harm to another individual. In the case of gun ownership and the Second Amendment, the line is both blurrier and more jagged, with various carve-outs and inconsistent application among the various states. But over the passage of time it was decided that certain semi-automatic weapons should be legal while others designated “assault weapons” are not, and yet nowhere is this spelled out in the Constitution.

Since there is then precedent for wide-ranging interpretation, it does not seem unreasonable to demand one of two things – either that the Second Amendment is revisited and its language tightened up to elucidate precisely what constitutes “arms” and precisely what infringements upon the right to bear such arms are now tolerable, or that the line in the sand (whose presence we all tacitly tolerate anyway) is redrawn in a way that restricts the type of weapon repeatedly used in these mass shooting incidents.

I believe that principles are important. In the Brexit debate here in Britain, I maintain that the principles of democracy and self-determination are sacrosanct and in themselves worth voting to leave the European Union, which is a deeply antidemocratic supranational government in gestation. I hold this view despite the fact that Remainers can point to many potential short and medium-term costs (albeit some of them invented or far-fetched) because democracy, though not quantifiable, is priceless.

And so it is with liberty and the right to fend off a tyrannical government, I suppose. America’s history is rooted in having to fend off a colonial power and fight to remain independent. American government is further predicated on the noble idea that the government and institutions of the day exist at the sufferance of the people, from whom they are temporarily given certain powers of governance, unlike most other countries where rights flow from the government to the individual. Given that the arc of history does not inevitably bend towards progress, and that tyranny can re-emerge unexpectedly at any time, a plausible and coherent (if distasteful) argument can be made that no matter how grim the death tolls and murder rates, the fundamental, universal liberty which the Second Amendment protects is yet more precious even than the lives taken every day by the bullet.

And yet. And yet we do not live in a world of pure political theory. We live in the real world, a fallen world where at some point the body count, the sheer mass of lost human potential will eventually outweigh (if it hasn’t done so already) any benefit that the Second Amendment offers in its current form.

For the past decade I have been a project and program manager by trade, and one of the key things we do in my job is assess and mitigate risk. In order to do so, one needs to determine both the likelihood of an adverse event happening and the severity of the consequences if it does so. Assigning a numeric value to each, one can then multiply the two variables to arrive at a unique risk rating for any eventuality, and use that rating to determine whether the risk can be mitigated and whether it is worth the cost of doing so based on the probability and severity of any potential fallout.

The Second Amendment is essentially a risk mitigation strategy against the re-emergence of tyrannical government. The result of true tyranny (though such things always exist on a sliding scale) can inevitably be measured in countless human lives, as borne out by every dictatorship which has ever existed. The probability of tyranny re-emerging, however, fluctuates all the time according to societal trends and political developments – at this time, some might say that the probability has spiked somewhat, while others would say that such an assessment is overblown.

We then need to compare the price of our current risk mitigation strategy against government tyranny – the Second Amendment in its current form – against the price of such a tyranny re-emerging in the event that we either cease to mitigate the risk (by abolishing the Second Amendment and attempting a recall or seizure of guns in legal circulation) or reduce our mitigation efforts (by imposing additional limits and restrictions on Second Amendment rights).

I’m sure that some person far cleverer (and more clinically, dispassionately calculating) than I could input thousands of societal and political variables into a huge Excel spreadsheet, work some pivot table magic and come up with a theoretical crossover point in terms of lives currently being lost versus lives potentially saved by fending off government tyranny (to the extent that current levels of gun ownership are any true defence against such tyranny). However, I am not that person. All I can do is go by my gut feeling and confess that much as I believe in gun ownership and support the Second Amendment in principle, it seems evident to me that we are way past the tipping point and that something needs to change.

A reasonable trade-off at this point, I believe, would be the banning of the sale of semi-automatic, gas-operated weapons and potentially compulsory buy-backs and amnesties to remove as many as possible currently in private ownership, given the capacity of such weapons to rapidly inflict mass casualties and their current popularity with mentally disturbed or evil people for whom such firearms are their weapon of choice.

I arrive at this position based on an honest and realistic assessment of both the risk of government tyranny (the ultimate reason that supporters of such weapons invoke in their defence) and the ability of such weapons in the public domain to deter against tyranny. I would not go further and propose the banning of non auto-loading firearms because there is a legitimate self-defence and recreational interest in keeping them, while they also provide a continued (if reduced) protection against the emergence of government tyranny, with the reduction in deterrence more equal to the potential lives saved through a successfully-enforced ban of semi-automatic weapons.

As Salon (hardly an unbiased source, but instructive in this instance) wrote in the aftermath of last year’s Las Vegas shootings:

The problem with gas operated weapons is that they are very, very dangerous. They are inherently dangerous, of course, because they are capable of killing people. But they are also dangerous because of the design of their rapid fire mechanisms and because of the nature of the humans who use them. In order for one of these weapons to be safe when it is loaded with a magazine full of bullets, two things must happen: the safety must be on, and it must not have a live cartridge in the chamber. But even if these safety precautions are taken, it’s still dangerous because dropping the weapon might chamber a round and knock the safety off, causing it to fire. The United States Military considers the gas operated weapons it issues to soldiers to be so dangerous that loaded firearms are not permitted on military bases here in this country, or even on bases in combat zones abroad. When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan, every time we entered an Army basecamp, our convoys had to pull over to the side of the road short of the camp entrance, soldiers had to dismount and walk over to barrels full of sand, and pointing the barrels of their M-16’s or M-4’s into the barrels, they had to remove loaded magazines from their rifles and clear the chamber of live rounds. Only when their weapons were completely unloaded and the bullets were put away were they safe.

[..] That’s all the Congress needs to know in order to write legislation that will make it far more difficult for mass killings to be carried out in the future. Ban the sale of gas operated weapons. Ban the importation and manufacture in the United States of new gas operated weapons except those for military or police use, and ban the sale or resale of currently existing gas operated weapons. The Las Vegas shooter apparently bought all of his weapons in contemplation of using them to shoot up the concert on Sunday night. If he had been unable to legally purchase his arsenal of gas-operated rifles, he would have been unable to kill 59 and wound over 500. Nor would the shooters in Orlando, or Newtown, or Virginia Tech, or Aurora Colorado have been able to so easily carry out their mass murders. If each of those shooters had to cock his weapon every time he fired it, far fewer people would have died.

Could such a ban be enforced by a mere Act of Congress? Again, I am not yet lawyer enough to proffer a deeply informed opinion. It may well be that such a ban could only be achieved through a Constitutional amendment – and given the current lack of clarity in the Second Amendment, the latter course of action would probably be preferable. Far better to have a clear and unambiguous limit on the power of the government to infringe on the private right to bear arms than the current situation where we have a very maximalist clause in the Constitution which is interpreted and curtailed in all manner of ways and thus made a mockery of in real life. And since so many decent and law-abiding citizens view their right to own such weapons as rooted in the Constitution, only a Constitutional amendment would give any future ban real weight and legitimacy.

But would such a measure do anything to significantly reduce the carnage which has long been a part of daily life in America? Much would depend on the method and timescale of any recall effort after an applicable law or Constitutional amendment was passed, and one can look to the Australian gun amnesties and buy-back schemes for guidance, but it should be acknowledged that any effect would be marginal at best in the short term.

Many weapons would inevitably not be handed in and would continue to be stored insecurely or accessible to those who should not have them, while psychopaths could continue to inflict mass casualties using smaller weapons. And while in time there would almost certainly be a decrease in the deadliness of mass shooting incidents (if not in the number of incidents themselves) as more guns were handed in and the inevitable smuggling routes disrupted, opponents of the ban could always disingenuously point to any mass shooting involving a semi-automatic weapon which slipped through the net as “proof” that the whole exercise was a futile exchange of liberty for no additional safety. The benefits would be marginal, and one cannot disprove a counterfactual.

And yet clearly something must be done. America stands alone among prosperous, developed countries in terms of gun violence and mass shootings in particular, and freedom enjoyed is not so vastly greater in the United States than it is in other peer countries such as Britain to justify the carnage (though again, America’s “insurance policy” against tyranny is somewhat greater than other countries).

If not this moderate additional restriction on gas-operated semi-automatic weapons, what is the alternative? Many Second Amendment defenders rightly point to a litany of other factors which contribute toward mass shootings, from the degenerate culture and lack of accessible mental healthcare services to the ubiquity of antidepressants and other prescription medications, and more. And they are right to highlight these issues – after all, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

But we are now faced with a choice between trying to change society and human nature, which is incredibly difficult, time consuming and unpredictable in its results, or taking steps which accept the world and human nature as they are (surely the correct conservative approach) and enact physical constraints on the ability to purchase or acquire semi-automatic or gas operated weapons, or doing both.

At this point, we need to embrace an “all of the above” solution. We should absolutely do what we can to identify instances where the lack of mental healthcare or the prescription or illegal acquisition of certain pharmaceutical drugs can impact someone’s mental equanimity to the point where they become a potential mass murderer, and thenmake sensible reforms in this sphere. We should examine our culture of violence and any role that this plays in mass shootings, and also continue to take steps to change the way that the media reports such incidents (such as by focusing less on the killer, depriving them of the posthumous fame they crave and so acting as a deterrent to potential future killersthough others disagree that this makes any difference).

But this alone is not enough. We need to take practical measures too, steps rooted in the physical world to make it harder to acquire particularly lethal weapons. And for Second Amendment advocates (of whom I still consider myself one, albeit a reformist) it might be suggested that a small tactical retreat on this issue, if exchanged for cast-iron guarantees that no further infringement will take place, is infinitely preferable to inaction and the slow build-up of public outrage which might one day boil over and result in far more draconian gun control laws.

It may sound heartless so soon after another unspeakable tragedy to consider the issue of gun control in the clinical terms of risk mitigation. But at its heart, this is the purpose of the Second Amendment – to provide an insurance policy against encroaching government tyranny. And it does no good arguing the issue from a purely emotional angle or even from the self-defence angle, when both of these approaches skirt the real Constitutional issue at stake.

At its heart, the Constitutionally-rooted argument for the right to bear arms is not about hunting, recreation or self-defence; it is about the preservation of liberty and the right of the people to protect themselves from a government which no longer serves their interests. One can argue that this is an anachronism made hopelessly out of date by advancing weapons and surveillance technology, but American founding history vindicates the right to bear arms, and the wider arc of history warns us repeatedly against allowing ourselves to believe that Western democracies have entered some permanently benign state where the interests of the people and those in power will never again be irreconcilably opposed.

This is the battleground on which the issue must be fought if we are to have any resolution to the gun control debate, because this is the only line of argument seen as valid by gun ownership advocates, and because the Constitution demands that it be so. What, in 2018, would be a more acceptable, legal and politically/logistically feasible balance between safeguarding against the low probability of encroaching government tyranny versusprotecting the presently-imperilled public interest?

That is the question we must answer.

 

Note: I am no constitutional scholar or expert in how existing gun control measures have been reconciled with the Second Amendment. If anybody has any corrections, additions or counter-arguments to what I have written, I would be grateful to hear them in the Comments.

 

Shooting At High School In Parkland, Florida Injures Multiple People

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President Obama Actively Mocks Republicans While Campaigning For Hillary Clinton – And They Deserve It

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If Barack Obama seems like he is savouring the discomfort of Republican politicians struggling to save their seats as Donald Trump drags them down in the polls, it is no less than many of them deserve

As President Obama prepares to leave office, America’s guns have still not been confiscated, citizens have not been sent to FEMA re-education camps and the “world’s greatest healthcare system” (ha!), though certainly tampered with, remains broadly intact. And given the alarmism and sheer cynical scaremongering bandied about by Republican politicians happy to trawl for votes by playing to peoples’ base prejudices, one can understand Barack Obama’s decision to spend his presidential swansong reminding us of all the crazy things that intemperate Republicans predicted he would do in his two terms of office.

This blog has been no great fan of the Obama presidency, though I certainly found him preferable to the McCain/Palin ticket in 2008. True, coming from far more socialist Britain I bring a vantage point and sense of perspective which I think is often lacking in American conservative commentators who are quick to cry “communism!” without really thinking through just how much worse things could be (socialised medicine? I’ll show ya socialised medicine!) But overall this blog has been disappointed with the failure of what was billed as a transformational presidency to really do much transforming for the good.

Yet much of that failure and stasis has been the result of Republican obstructionism rather than the personal failings of Barack Obama – and often unreasonable obstructionism at that. Mitch McConnell’s pledge that the Senate’s top priority should be to make Obama a one term president is emblematic of the party-before-country cynicism which often motivated Republicans to take bold and sometimes extreme stances in support of “liberty” which ultimately only had the effect of preserving the status quo – a state of affairs which harmed many of their own supporters (one of the main reasons for Donald Trump’s rise).

On issue after issue, Republicans succeeded in fighting the Obama administration to a draw. Even Obamacare borrowed heavily from the Massachusetts healthcare reforms of GOP grandee and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, its unbearably socialist individual mandate lifted from the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

And yet to listen to Republicans talk, one would sometimes think that Obama had actually succeeded in his Evil Marxist Kenyan plan to turn America into North Korea. Of course, this involves turning a blind eye toward all the fiscal excesses of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush – but Republicans are generally happy to do just that, and pretend that fiscal profligacy began on Obama’s watch.

Given all of this context, one can understand President Obama’s temptation to have a little fun at the expense of those Republicans who fought much of his agenda to a standstill yet still dared to suggest that he was successfully imposing “socialism” on America. And as Tim Murphy outlines at Mother Jones in a piece entitled “Barack Obama’s Sweet Revenge Tour”, the president has frequently succumbed to that temptation in recent days.

Murphy writes:

President Barack Obama’s approval rating is the highest it has been in 45 months, and Republicans have taken note. In Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman is running an ad boasting of his work with the Democratic commander in chief “to break the grip of heroin addiction.” In California, Rep. Darrell Issa—who once called Obama “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times”—is sending out mailers with Obama’s face on them, touting his work with the president “to protect victims of sexual assault.”

There is a problem with that strategy, though, which is that Obama seems determined to spend the last two weeks of the election laying waste to every Republican who ever crossed him. Though Obama was a liability to Democrats in the 2014 midterms, his renewed popularity has made him the most sought-after advocate for Hillary Clinton and down-ballot Democrats this fall. At rallies and in fundraisers in battleground states and swing districts, Obama has ripped into Republican lawmakers with a mix of exasperation and disdain, mocking their belated rejection (or continued support) of Donald Trump and casting the GOP presidential nominee as the logical endpoint of eight years of toxic hostility.

Issa, who is facing his most competitive race in years, was the most recent Republican to feel his wrath. At a fundraiser in La Jolla on Sunday, Obama trashed the California Republican for his mailer. “Issa’s primary contribution to the United States Congress has been to obstruct and to waste taxpayer dollars on trumped-up investigations that have led nowhere,” he said. “This is now a guy who, because poll numbers are bad, has sent out brochures with my picture on them touting his cooperation on issues with me. Now that is the definition of chutzpah.”

First off, I’m not quite sure what the SJW cultural appropriation police would have to say about an African American using the Yiddish word “chutzpah”. Actually, I think we all know what they would say – “people of color” sit higher in the hierarchy of victimhood, while any attack on Jews (always conflated with Israel and Israelis) is perfectly legitimate in SJW world. But I digress…

It is galling indeed to see Republican establishment cronies like Darrell Issa – politicians who literally made a career suggesting that Obama was incompetent at best and anti-American at worst – suddenly try to wrap their arms around the outgoing president simply because the man at the top of their own party’s ticket is immensely divisive, offputting to whole swathes of the electorate and likely sinking to inglorious defeat on November 8.

But this is the part of Obama’s campaign speech which really cuts to the core in its incisive criticism of Republican failings and strategic/moral missteps since 2008:

Here’s the thing. For years, Republican politicians and the far-right media outlets have pumped up all kinds of crazy stuff about me. About Hillary. About Harry. They said I wasn’t born here. They said climate change is a hoax. They said that I was going to take everybody’s guns away! They said that while we were doing military exercises that we’ve been doing forever, suddenly this was a plot to impose martial law. This is what they’ve been saying for years now! So people have been hearing it they start thinking well maybe it’s true! And if the world they’ve been seeing is I’m powerful enough to cause hurricanes on my own and to steal everybody’s guns in the middle of the night and impose martial law—even though I can’t talk without a ‘prompter—then is it any wonder that they end up nominating somebody like Donald Trump?

And the fact is that there are a lot of politicians who knew better. There are a lot of senators who knew better but they went along with these stories because they figured you know what this’ll help rile up the base, it’ll give us an excuse to obstruct what we’re trying to do, we won’t be able to appoint judges, we’ll gum up the works, we’ll create gridlock, it’ll give us a political advantage. So they just stood by and said nothing and their base began to actually believe this stuff. So Donald Trump did not start this. Donald Trump didn’t start it, he just did what he always did which is slap his name on it, take credit for it, and promote it. That’s what he always does. And so now, when suddenly it’s not working and people are saying wow this guy’s kind of out of line, all of a sudden these Republican politicians who were okay with all this crazy stuff up to a point suddenly they’re all walking away. Oh, this is too much. So when you finally get him on tape bragging about actions that qualify as sexual assault and his poll numbers go down, suddenly that’s a deal-breaker. Well what took you so long! What the heck! What took you so long! All these years!

Well, that is probably just about the most incisive piece of commentary on the failings of the Republican Party you’ll read in the media, and it came from none other than the target of the GOP’s efforts, the current president of the United States.

In actual fact, Obama’s complaints about Republican willingness to flirt with the crazy element echo charges that this blog has been making for some time, notably here:

It was the tri-cornered hat brigade whose admirable devotion to fiscal responsibility only materialised once Barack Obama took office, and then failed to force any meaningful change in Washington despite many of their number being elected to Congress in the 2010 midterms which, who have a case to answer. They were the Great White Hope whose inevitable failure formed the third strike against the political class.

It was not the Democratic Party which fanned the flames of birtherism (and then considered a nominee for president who was born in Canada) and refused to stand up to angry constituents demanding to see a birth certificate. That was all on the Republicans. Donald Trump led that effort, and nearly the entire GOP sat back with a tub of popcorn, thinking that the circus would benefit them politically. And so it did, until their attack dog finally broke the leash and turned on its handlers.

Has Barack Obama been a decidedly left-wing and in some (though by no means all) ways unimpressive president? Yes, he has. But is he a closet Communist, a secret Muslim planning to enforce hardline Islamism on America or a hopelessly incompetent buffoon? Absolutely not. He is a centre-left politician with undeniable skills, twice elected on a centre-left platform and governing according to a centre-left approach. But in their greed to quickly win back power without doing the hard work of making their own pitch to the voters more appealing, too many Republicans were willing to tolerate and sometimes actively participate in the anti-Obama hysteria for short term political gain.

And here:

Remember, this is a political party which urged Americans in all seriousness to vote for Sarah Palin as vice president back in 2008. Sarah Palin. The Republicans have been dabbling in crazy and courting the proudly ignorant vote for decades. Donald Trump is nothing but the GOP’s longstanding approach taken to its logical extreme.

And if decent conservatives want to ensure that they never again find themselves in a position of seeing their movement taken over by an ignorant, populist demagogue then they might want to stop blaming Democrats for their own self-inflicted misfortune and instead re-examine their behaviour both in government and opposition.

Was it wise, for example, to pretend to be super tough on immigration, yet ultimately do nothing to stem the flow of illegal immigrants or otherwise reform the system, simply because Republican donors had no interest in changing the status quo, with its plentiful cheap labour for corporations and affordable illegal domestic service for households?

Was it wise to continually shriek not just that Democrats wanted to impose stricter gun control but that they were actively seeking to abolish the Second Amendment? (The big push to completely outlaw guns trumpeted in GOP propaganda has been just weeks away for the past eight years now – is Obama waiting until his very last day in office to take America’s guns?)

Was it smart to prance around as the party of national security while consistently involving America in foreign conflagrations which increased anti-American sentiment, or to pose as the party of civil liberties while loudly cheerleading for the surveillance state?

Was it really such a genius move to talk endlessly about the benefits of tax cuts for ordinary Americans while focusing them overwhelmingly on the wealthy, or to cynically pretend that America’s lost manufacturing jobs could be easily brought back home in the age of globalisation and international supply chains?

At nearly every election going back to the Bill Clinton administration and probably earlier, the Republican Party has been writing rhetorical cheques that its politicians cannot or will not cash when they are either in office or a position of influential opposition, at a national or statewide level.

The Republican Party’s more excitable members need to learn that you can’t go on shrieking that the Bad Democrat is coming to take away your guns and your liberty – and then seamlessly make the transition to accusing their successor of the same sinister motivations when the Day of Tyranny never materialises – without eventually losing a degree of credibility. If I started predicting that the world is going to end at the coming weekend, and then just roll my prediction forward by seven days each weekend that I am proven wrong, pretty soon people will stop listening to me.

When Barack Obama took office the Democratic Party  enjoyed two years controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, and yet the nation’s guns remained un-confiscated then, and are still un-confiscated now. And eventually these panicked claims start to look more and more like the cynical politicking that they are.

Republicans should take note when it comes to their incessant scaremongering about the Second Amendment. At this rate, if and when gun rights are under real imminent danger, we will have been warned so many times before that we will not take the threat seriously.

But this is much bigger than any one issue. Unfortunately, one gets the nasty feeling that the Republicans are not learning anything from the Trumpian calamity which they have brought down upon themselves. This blog can quite easily picture another four years of the same hysterical End Times opposition to a President Hillary Clinton – “She’s coming for your guns! I mean it, I’m serious this time!” – and the wholehearted embrace of any conspiracy theory or fringe movement so long as it delivers short term political gain and/or helps to sell more gold coins to paranoid seniors. And what fresh horror will be conjured next, after VP candidate Sarah Palin and presidential candidate Donald Trump?

Depressing? Certainly – America has never needed principled, true conservative leadership more than at this time. But the tragedy is entirely self-inflicted. The Republican Party summoned some viscerally unpleasant forces in its effort to torment the outgoing president and thwart his agenda. Now that they are being consumed by the very forces that they unleashed, can anyone really begrudge Barack Obama his moment of sweet schadenfreude?

 

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No, Donald Trump Did Not Call For Hillary Clinton’s Assassination (This Time…)

Donald Trump already provides ample evidence that he is temperamentally unsuitable to be US president without the biased, pro-Hillary American media putting words in his mouth

There is a particularly pernicious story making the rounds at the moment that Donald Trump supposedly called for the assassination of Hillary Clinton (again).

From the New York Times:

Donald J. Trump once again raised the specter of violence against Hillary Clinton, suggesting Friday that the Secret Service agents who guard her voluntarily disarm to “see what happens to her” without their protection.

“I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Miami, to loud applause. “I think they should disarm. Immediately.”

He went on: “Let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, O.K. It’ll be very dangerous.”

In justifying his remarks, Mr. Trump falsely claimed that Mrs. Clinton wants to “destroy your Second Amendment,” apparently a reference to her gun control policies.

[..] On Friday night, breaking from his prepared remarks and turning his gaze from the teleprompters, Mr. Trump looked straight into the crowd as he made the insinuation about Mrs. Clinton’s safety. He gestured emphatically with his hands as he spoke, at one time pointing to a member in the crowd to find agreement.

And the US Guardian:

In a sometimes bizarre 45-minute speech on Friday night, which opened with the unfurling of a new “Les Deplorables” battlefield flag backdrop, the Republican nominee went off-script to call for his opponent’s bodyguards to “disarm immediately” – adding, “Let’s see what happens to her.”

“Take their guns away!” Trump demanded to loud cheers during a section of the speech in which he said his rival wanted to “destroy your second amendment” and he accused Clinton of “arrogance and entitlement”.

In a statement, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook denounced Trump’s comments: “Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President, has a pattern of inciting people to violence. Whether this is done to provoke protesters at a rally or casually or even as a joke, it is an unacceptable quality in anyone seeking the job of Commander in Chief.”

“But we’ve seen again and again that no amount of failed resets can change who Donald Trump is.”

The call to leave the Democratic nominee protected by unarmed secret service agents, first made by Trump in May, raised eyebrows as a reversion to the undisciplined candidate of the primaries rather than the more scripted one of recent weeks. Trump also suggested in August that if Clinton was elected president, “the second amendment people” might be able to stop her from appointing judges. That statement was widely interpreted as a veiled assassination threat as well at the time.

The tone and inference of both of these articles are shockingly misleading.

The point that Donald Trump was making was that it is rather hypocritical of Hillary Clinton to advocate for stronger gun control laws which potentially limit the ability of the citizenry to defend itself when she herself is surrounded by the best trained and equipped armed guards in the world, and does not have to worry for her own safety. Trump was suggesting that were Clinton’s Secret Service protection revoked, forcing her to provide for her own personal security, she might not be so keen to limit the types of weapons available to private citizens.

Now, one can disagree with the premise of Trump’s point and poke all kinds of holes in the logic (though this blog considers the basic thrust of the argument to be quite sound), but by no stretch of the imagination does this amount to a snide assassination threat. It does not even amount to a charge of inciting his supporters to imagine the horrific scenario of an assassination. It is merely a reductio ad absurdum argument intended to make the point that well-protected senior members of the US government should perhaps refrain from dictating to ordinary Americans the manner in which they can defend themselves.

John Hinderaker of the Powerline blog makes the same point:

Trump obviously was making the point that he and countless others have made many times before: liberals like Hillary Clinton, who are protected 24/7 by armed guards, are deeply hypocritical when they try to disarm millions of Americans who don’t have taxpayer-funded protection and rely on their own firearms for self-defense. The point is a powerful one, which is why liberal reporters don’t want to acknowledge it. Instead, they absurdly pretend that Trump was hinting that Hillary should be assassinated.

This kind of thing fools no one. Millions of Americans are quietly fuming over the press’s overreach, going over the top, day after day, to defeat Donald Trump. The blowback is building, and will continue building until election day.

At one point, when I was opposing Trump during the GOP primaries, I said to the press: Stop attacking Trump! Liberal reporters often began with a valid point, but their hysterical hatred for Trump caused them to go too far, making arguments that were patently unfair and unsustainable. Therefore, the more they attacked Trump the more his support grew. The same thing is happening now: most Americans have a pretty good sense of fair play, and they know that Trump is being treated badly by the establishment–a group for whom most Americans have no great affection.

But the media, always on the lookout for the next Trumpian outrage, refused to see reality in these terms. Rather than reporting Trump’s rather simplistic but sound argument – one which was worthy of discussion and a response – many media outlets instead chose to claim, with no evidence, that Trump had done something far worse.

This blog has no problem calling out Donald Trump’s extreme and unacceptable language when he actually says something bad – the infamous “second amendment remedies” comment in August being of another order altogether. But on this occasion, Trump was not making an extremist or reckless point, though the media chose to report the two stories with the same level of outrage.

And it is this behaviour, right here, which erodes public trust in the mainstream media. It is tawdry, opportunistic media overreaches like this, so clearly betraying a seething partisan agenda, which drive decent but concerned citizens into the arms of the extremist fringe and the conspiracy theorists.

Sometimes, to watch the American media openly campaign for Hillary Clinton, one wonders if everybody else inhabits a slightly different universe. We all witnessed disturbing footage of Clinton’s lifeless body being dragged into the back of her waiting secret service van on the occasion of the 9/11 memorial in New York City, yet the chirpy presenter on MSNBC that afternoon casually announced that she merely “stumbled” a little – the definition of “stumbled” having been temporarily extended to include loss of motor control and even consciousness. What we see with our own eyes and what the media choose to report are increasingly two very different things.

And while Donald Trump has a treasure trove of past incendiary statements positively bulging with potential scandal, that is apparently not enough for the media – they must also twist Trump’s words and breathlessly and falsely report to the public that the Republican presidential nominee just called for the assassination of his rival.

You don’t need to admire or support Donald Trump to be outraged at the lazy, biased journalism on display here. This blog is certainly no Trump fan. But if someone does happen to support Trump then these unnecessary extra efforts by the media to demonise the candidate and his supporters will only harden their support and erode what little trust is left in the media.

Those perpetually outraged American liberals in the media, on the hunt for their next anti-Trump scandal, should bear in mind that hysterical and obviously-inflated charges will not have the effect of somehow “bringing Trump supporters to their senses”. On the contrary, it will simply drive Trump loyalists and even wavering voters to alternative, less scrupulous sources which echo rather than castigate their beliefs.

Lying to the American public and pretending that Donald Trump’s remarks were a de facto call for Hillary Clinton’s assassination will not cause a single person to flip from supporting Trump to supporting Clinton. But it will ensure that a number of readers wave goodbye to the New York Times and the Guardian, instead placing their trust in pro-Trump outlets like InfoWars or Mike Cernovich.

Now, is the catharsis of manufactured outrage and liberal media grandstanding really worth the potential risk of shoring up Trump’s base?

 

Donald Trump Rally

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