Our Guns

No one was surprised. President Obama went to Florida and did the obvious:

President Barack Obama tore into opponents of gun control on a visit to Orlando on Thursday, saying they should meet with the victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre and “explain” their positions.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spent the day in Orlando meeting with survivors, the families of victims and first responders there, after the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history and the deadliest attack in the United States since 9/11.

He’d had enough:

The president again spoke of his frustration over the ability of the shooter to easily and legally obtain an assault weapon, saying family members pleaded with him to “do more” to stop such killings.

“The notion that the answer to this tragedy would be to make sure that more people in a nightclub are similarly armed to the killer defies common sense,” Obama said. “Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families and explain why that makes sense.”

That’s a simple question, and of course those family members pleaded with him to do something about unhinged people with assault weapons, or if not him, for someone to do something even vaguely useful, and maybe that will happen. CNN offers a bit of background on the changing landscape:

Democrats, long worried about protecting conservative lawmakers and being viewed as soft on crime, have reversed course and now see an electoral advantage in moving to the left on guns. During the Democratic primary, for instance, Hillary Clinton routinely criticized Bernie Sanders for siding with the National Rifle Association, leading the Vermont senator to modify some of his positions.

And in a break with his party, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump has scrambled the right-left divide with an apparent openness to some new gun measures directly aimed at terror suspects.

Of course no one knows what Donald Trump is up to here. Maybe he doesn’t know himself, but Obama knows himself:

President Barack Obama, who visited with the families of the Orlando victims on Thursday afternoon, has said the failure of gun control legislation is among his biggest frustrations. He has wiped away tears in the East Room as he talked about dead kindergartners and sang Amazing Grace during the eulogy of a minister killed in church.

He does that sort of thing a lot, but this time things could be different:

“I truly hope that senators rise to the moment and do the right thing. I hope that senators who voted no on background checks after Newtown have a change of heart,” he said in Orlando. “And then I hope the House does the right thing, and helps end the plague of violence that these weapons of war inflict on so many young lives.”

A filibuster this week from Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, forced a vote on a series of amendments that will take place as early as Monday. A bill favored by Democrats would prevent people on the FBI’s terror watch list from purchasing guns – a similar bill stalled last year in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting that left nine people dead.

A Republican measure would give federal prosecutors three days to try and prevent someone on the list from purchasing a firearm.

Either would do, but it’s likely neither will pass, even given public opinion:

According to Gallup, 71% of Americans think banning gun sales to people on the “no fly” list would be effective way to combat terrorism. A majority of Americans also think that passing new laws to make it harder to buy assault-style weapons would also be effective.

“This issue has come to a tipping point over the last year, we have seen the American people engage and push back on this issue in a way we haven’t seen before,” said Brendan Kelly, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “This is a center stage issue now when it used to be a third-rail issue.”

Others disagree:

Bill Clinton publicly credited the NRA lobby with helping Republicans take control of both houses of Congress in 1994, the year the assault weapons ban became law. And eight years later, [NRA head] Wayne LaPierre told his members that that cost Al Gore the presidency.

For years, those losses made Democrats reluctant to go up against the NRA, particularly in rural districts. Trump, for instance, has wrongly suggested that Clinton, who backs a bill that would leave gun manufacturers open to lawsuits, would “abolish the second amendment” if she won the White House.

The NRA says this is still a third-rail issue. Don’t touch that third rail, the power rail – you’ll get electrocuted. It’s a New York City subway reference, or a reference to all urban mass transit, but curiously, all the action has been at the state level:

California lawmakers are pushing a raft of new gun measures in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting that left nine people dead. The bills would ban the possession of high capacity magazine clips and further restrict the sale of assault-style weapons.

Come November, voters in Nevada and Maine will decide on whether to expand background check joining six other states that have done so since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But just as gun control advocates count victories, the gun lobby has seen an expansion of gun rights in states across the country as well. In Nevada, it is now easier for the NRA and other groups to sue local governments over regulating firearms. And in Wisconsin, the state’s 48-waiting period on handgun purchases was repealed in 2015. North Carolina and Michigan have seen a similar easing in gun restrictions.

There is no national consensus. Everyone should be fully armed at all times. That makes everyone safe. No one has the right to walk around with fully loaded heavy weapons, pointing them at people and daring them to disrespect them. That’s nuts. But which is it? That depends on where you live.

That filibuster tried to take the issue national:

Senate Democrats ended a nearly 15-hour filibuster early Thursday after Republican Party leaders reportedly agreed to allow votes on two proposed gun control measures.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said that a compromise had been reached. Votes would be held on whether to ban people on the government’s terrorist watch list from obtaining gun licenses and whether to expand background checks to gun shows and internet sales, he added.

“We did not have that commitment when we started today,” Murphy said.

The nonstop series of speeches stretched 14 hours and 50 minutes.

So there will be a national vote, which Murphy framed as a necessary vote:

He began the filibuster three days after a gunman who had been investigated by the FBI – the agency says it found no credible threat – opened fire at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, killing 49 people in the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

The weapons carried by the gunman, Omar Mateen, were legally purchased. He bought the Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a handgun in the week before the massacre, officials said.

“What unites all of these shootings, from Littleton to Aurora, to Newtown, to Blacksburg to Orlando, is that the weapon of choice in every case is a gun – often a very powerful gun, an AR-15 or an AR-15-style gun that was designed for the military, for law enforcement to kill as many people as quickly as possible,” Murphy said.

So this was not local to one state, although he has a personal gripe:

Murphy’s state of Connecticut saw the mass killing of 20 school children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012.

He closed the filibuster by saying: “I have been furious since those days following Sandy Hook. I have been so angry that this Congress has mustered absolutely no response to mass shooting after mass shooting, in city after city that is plagued by gun violence.”

Fine, he’ll get his vote, but a Washington Post “Deep Dive” item explains that he really won’t get much:

The Senate is expected to vote Monday on a series of competing gun-control measures that will highlight the continuing divide between Democrats and Republicans over how Congress should respond to mass shootings.

All are likely to fail as the two parties largely retreat to their respective corners on gun control after attempts to craft a compromise frayed almost as soon as they began.

Senators are expected to vote on four proposals, according to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). Two of them, backed by Democrats, would seek to prevent suspected terrorists from acquiring guns and explosives and impose mandatory background checks for firearms sold at gun shows and through online dealers.

Republicans are expected to offer two competing proposals, including one that would keep guns away from suspected terrorists if authorities can prove they have probable cause to do so within three business days of the attempted sale, said Cornyn, the author of that legislation.

None of it matters:

Those measures have all failed to pass the Senate before, a point that frustrated many senators Thursday.

“Instead of trying to find a solution that would work and still protect people’s constitutional rights, we’re going to battle to a draw on Monday night,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said. The votes, he continued are “an intentional way to keep this as an issue; it’s not a way to solve this problem.”

Then add this:

Even if the Senate were to strike a deal, it’s unclear such a proposal would be able to get through the House. Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) was non-committal on the issue Thursday.

“We want to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again” he told reporters. “Everybody wants that. But as we look at how to proceed, we also want to make sure that we’re not infringing upon people’s legitimate constitutional rights. That’s important.”

The same thing happened with that nifty comprehensive fully bipartisan immigration reform bill three years ago, brokered by Marco Rubio. A lot of work went into that bill and the House wouldn’t even take it up – no discussion, no nothing – and this is about the Second Amendment right to bear arms, a bigger deal. John Boehner couldn’t get the Tea Party folks in his party to even discuss immigration reform, even as a concept. Paul Ryan would have even less luck with them on this gun stuff. He knows that. He’s a realist. He’s also honest. Expect nothing from his side.

But there have been some shifts:

There are signs Republicans are growing uncomfortable with the Cornyn alternative.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is not up for reelection until 2020, on Wednesday criticized the measure – which she supported last year – saying it isn’t strong enough and “doesn’t do the job.”

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said he thought “the Cornyn approach doesn’t give the AG the opportunity that an AG needs to make a case against someone who is actually a terrorist.”

Neither was ready to support anything those weak and girly Democrats are offering, but they know the nation is now watching them, so there’s this:

Collins said Thursday that she was working with “a group of Republican senators” on a measure that would give the attorney general full authority to deny the right to buy a gun to anyone on the No Fly or Selectee lists – subsets of the FBI’s consolidated terrorist watchlist of 800,000 names.

It would also include a five-year look-back provision ensuring that the FBI would be alerted whenever someone who used to be on one of those lists, like the Orlando shooter, purchased a gun.

Someone like Mateen “wouldn’t be denied the ability to buy a gun because he’s no longer on the list, but the FBI would be pinged that he had purchased a gun,” Collins explained, concluding that sequence of events “would undoubtedly put him back on the list.”

Toomey was also in talks Wednesday with a gun-control advocacy organization backed by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to craft a measure that Republicans could live with to prevent terrorists from obtaining firearms.

They have to do something, as the Democratic senator had slapped them around a bit:

Democrats say the time frame in Cornyn’s bill is too narrow and would make it functionally impossible to prevent anyone, even a terrorist, from getting a gun.

“It’s a way for them to say they’re doing something when they are doing nothing,” [Senator Chuck] Schumer said.

But something is better that nothing:

Gun-control advocates are braced for another policy defeat in the Senate, but they are also claiming a victory of sorts.

“After Sandy Hook it took four months for the U.S. Senate to vote. After Orlando it took four days,” said Everytown spokeswoman Erika Soto Lamb. “Make no mistake that this is another sign of the sea change in gun politics.”

It is? Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick sees no sea change here. She sees this:

Sunday night, when my son asked me why we shoot each other dead almost every day in America, I got to tell him that it’s because we are “free.” We are free to get a .223 caliber AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm handgun. And we are free to sell those weapons to someone who might shoot and kill 49 people in a nightclub because of whom they choose to love. We are free to arm ourselves against any potentially tyrannical federal government and also free to watch our children bleed to death in our schools, and churches, and clubs.

And we are free to do it all again tomorrow and the day after that. We are free to feel paralyzed and trapped in a system that is literally killing us.

Freedom in America also means that we are free to wake up every morning hoping that it’s not our kid who gets shot with a weapon of war, and free to wake up hoping it’s not our kid who shoots someone, and free to wake up praying it’s not our kid, or our spouse, or our neighbor who shoots herself. In this freest country on earth, we also happen to be in a perpetual hostage situation, in which one false move – or merely the choice to go to class, or to dance with friends – means you may wind up dead.

How did it come to this? The answer is simple:

The document that promises and protects our freedom has been interpreted to say that we are all condemned to live out our days in terror, hostage to powerful interests who urge us to become ever more free by purchasing and stockpiling ever more lethal weapons of war. Perhaps nobody so perfectly captured this twisted definition of freedom as former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who in the wake of yet another round of futile debates about gun rights last fall said this: “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” Indeed.

This is where I tell you that the current interpretation of the Second Amendment – the one held onto by Carson, and Donald Trump, and practically the entire Republican Party – is a hoax. Outside of the GOP, this is widely understood. But what we fail to comprehend, as we bury more of our dead in the name of freedom, is that it is a triple-decker hoax: A lie wrapped in a fabrication, lacquered over with a falsehood. That we chose to wrap it around our necks as a symbol of our own liberty is our own fault and shame.

We should know better:

The Second Amendment to the Constitution says this: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” For most of U.S. history, that was understood to mean that the freedom guaranteed by the Second Amendment was precisely what it said: the right of the people of each state to maintain a well-regulated militia.

So clearly and unequivocally held was this worldview that no less a liberal squish than Richard Nixon Supreme Court appointee Warren Burger said after his retirement in 1991 that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word ‘fraud’ – on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” This reading was based on precedent. The Supreme Court had clearly agreed with Burger’s interpretation and not that of the special interest groups he chastised, perhaps most famously in a 1939 case called U.S. v. Miller. That ruling said that since the possession or use of a “shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length” had no reasonable relationship to the “preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia,” the court simply could not find that the Second Amendment guaranteed “the right to keep and bear such an instrument.” Period, full stop. And that was the viewpoint adopted by the courts for years.

And then it wasn’t:

As Cass Sunstein and others have explained, what changed things was a decades-long effort by exceptionally well-organized, well-funded interest groups that included the National Rifle Association – all of whom “embarked on an extraordinary campaign to convince the public, and eventually the courts, to understand the Second Amendment in their preferred way.”

It’s rather miraculous, if you stop to think about it: In a few short decades the NRA’s view of the Second Amendment became the law of the land. By 2008, writing the majority opinion for the Supreme Court in District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, Antonin Scalia enshrined this view for first time that: “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

That the Heller court itself qualified that right in multiple ways – and that in the years since Heller, the court has declined one important gun case after another – doesn’t change the fact that the hoax is now the law. On top of everything, most Americans believe by rather huge margins that the concededly ambiguous wording of the Second Amendment means that individuals have the constitutional right to bear arms, even if they don’t want it. According to a recent NRA poll, when asked if “every American has a fundamental right to self-defense and a right to choose the home defense firearm that is best for them,” 76 percent of respondents said “yes.”

But there’s more:

The larger fabrication is the idea that the Second Amendment – unlike other provisions of the Constitution- cannot be subject to any reasonable restriction.

Here she cites Sonja West:

We have the constitutionally protected right to peaceably assemble, but not to block traffic. We are protected from unreasonable and unwarranted searches, unless there is probable cause, exigent circumstances, or a hot pursuit. If charged with a crime we have the right to a speedy trial (but not if the prosecution is hunting down witnesses) and also a public one (but not if you want your trial televised). We also have the right to a trial by jury (unless the crime carries a sentence of six months or less).

Lithwick adds this:

Constitutional rights are subject to every sort of condition and limitation, and as Scalia himself noted in Heller, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” He even went on to list some reasonable limits.

The second hoax – that the right to bear arms is not merely an individual right but also that it is the only constitutional right subject to zero regulation – makes no sense on its face, until and unless you are willing to fall prey to the third fraud.

Hoax number three: Obama, Clinton, Democrats, liberals, the media, whoever, are coming for your guns. They are Coming! For your Guns!!! This is the crunchy candy shell that makes the other two lies seem almost reasonable. Of course you should have an inviolate individual right to defend yourself against a tyrannical federal government if you have persuaded yourself that the federal government is indeed tyrannical. This is the big lie that continues to be broadcast and pushed out ad nauseam, and no amount of fact-checking or direct confrontation with accusers makes a whit of difference. The NRA wanted us to feel that only our guns would make us free, and they have prevailed.

Of course that makes no sense, but we’re stuck:

We are in thrall to a fib of epic proportions that itself relies on two other lies. And because we are captive to all these lies, we are also captive to the notion that as much as we wish someone would do something about all the innocent dead people, our hands are tied by the freedom-affording gift that is the Second Amendment. It is a sick joke of our democracy that after every mass shooting we must tell our children that the Framers gave us this precious gift of liberty, more valuable than their lives, and that we are stuck with it. This is the opposite of freedom.

That seems to be the problem here. Many would feel a bit freer, free to go about living their lives, if the only folks who were armed were the military, to keep the nation safe, and the police, to keep the local neighborhood safe, not every insecure jerk with an anger problem. That’s the situation in almost every other nation on earth. The state having a monopoly on violence makes a modern safe nation possible, as in the UK and Japan and so forth. If the police screw up, fire them. If elected officials screw up, vote in new ones. There’s that freedom – but being told that you would suddenly feel amazingly free if you too were fully armed, to keep those insecure jerks with an anger problem at bay, doesn’t feel like freedom. That seems an additional burden. Others say that’s real freedom. Who needs government? Free men don’t.

Tell that to the families in Orlando.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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