October 31, 2014

Gun laws won’t stop violence, but do infringe the 2nd Amendment [KSL]

The following is an opinion piece I authored for KSL on January 11, 2013.

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SALT LAKE CITY — With the Sandy Hook shooting painfully heavy on our minds, the American public and policymakers are in a frenzy over guns.

Record-sized crowds are attending gun shows, firearms manufacturers can’t produce inventory fast enough to keep up with demand, and gun sellers are sold out of everything from rifles to handguns.

Meanwhile, politicians are in a tizzy, too. Bill Clinton, invited to speak by Samsung at the prestigious tech conference CES, turned a speech on bridging the tech gap between the rich and the poor into a rant against 30-round gun clips. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor and a presumed aspirant for the Democratic nomination for president, after musing about gun confiscation earlier in the week, said he would “(e)nact the toughest assault weapon ban in the nation, period!” To cap it all, Vice President Joe Biden is hinting that President Barack Obama will use an executive order to impose new gun controls. “There are executive orders,” the vice president said, “executive action that can be taken.”

On one side of the debate are a lot of Americans concerned that agents of the government will show up at their door to confiscate their rightfully owned guns. On the other side are politicians who are eager to be seen doing something, anything, to show their voters, or perhaps just each other, that they will keepmass shootings from happening again. To keep Sandy Hook from happening again. Or Aurora. Or Virginia Tech. Or Columbine.

It’s a legitimate concern. Not even the most hardened soul can watch a tragedy like Sandy Hook unfold and not wonder why and wish that something could be done.

But does more gun regulation actually diminish gun violence? In a speech where he called for the toughest gun laws in the country, Gov. Cuomo seemed to think that tough laws would protect the public, even while allowing hunters to retain firearms for hunting.

Just to remind everyone what we are talking about here, it’s the Second Amendment, not some out-of-date federal regulation, and the Second Amendment was not designed for hunters.

The second in the Bill of Rights, it says that “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.”

Arguments for limiting the extent of the Second Amendment — or infringement — are often made by referencing how many bullets are necessary for hunting. “No one hunts with an assault rifle,” said Mr. Cuomo. “We respect hunters and sportsmen. This is not taking away peoples’ guns. I own a gun. I own a Remington shotgun. I’ve hunted. I’ve shot. That’s not what this is about.”

While the Second Amendment is often closely tied to hunting and self-defense in our minds, the Second Amendment is not about hunting, and maybe not even self-defense, for that matter. At least not self-defense from criminals.

In United States v. Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to own guns that could be used for the “common defense.” Specifically, the Supreme Court said that “ordinarily when called for service (men in the militia) were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at the time.”

Common for infantry at the time were muskets. Common for infantry in our time is the AR-15, a civilian version of the Army’s M-16.

Later references to the case — there are seven, according to Mitch Felling, who provides a more thorough history of the Second Amendment at Publius Online — have upheld the right of the people to possess guns that would be used by infantrymen to provide for the “common defense.” District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 provided the first thorough review of the Second Amendment since Miller and protected the right of individuals to keep guns for self-defense, too.

But does anyone really need to have an assault rifle? Do we need rifles that can fire 30 rounds without reloading?

The Second Amendment’s original purpose was to provide for states a protection against the threat of invasion, by foreign power or by the federal government. I hope that such a time never arrives that we need, as everyday citizens, to take up arms to defend our homes and our states against such a threat, but the examples of history have shown that when the people are armed, government is more measured and respectful.

Perhaps we should ask the question a different way. Would taking away the right to own assault rifles stop or diminish gun violence?

The researchers at PoliticIt compared murder by firearm rates across the country with the strictness of state gun regulations. Their ranking of states by the strictness of gun regulations gives California the strictest gun laws, while Utah ranks 50th because it has the least-restrictive regulations on gun ownership.

A graph by PoliticIt shows the correlation between gun regulations in each state with the reduction of homicide by firearms. The correlation is so low, they said, that it can reasonably be concluded that gun laws have “little to no effect on the reduction of murders by firearms.”

In other words, gun laws don’t have a measurable effect on gun violence.

In contrast, graphics from zachmortensen.net seem to show a negative correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates. Based on a 2001 survey of 201,881 households by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the correlation seems to indicate that gun ownership accounts for 35 percent of the variance in the homicide rate, while other factors (high poverty rates, high unemployment, poor public education) accounts for the other 65 percent of the variability.

In other words, having more gun ownership may actually encourage greater security, but a greater impact on homicide rates could be made by decreasing poverty, increasing employment, and strengthening education.

Politicians may moderate their rhetoric by saying they want to leave guns for hunters, or even for self-defense. But the Second Amendment wasn’t designed for hunters — like the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, it was designed as a check on the power of the power of the federal government. It was written and ratified by a people with recent memories of an oppressive, overbearing central government fresh on their minds. It was a central government that taxed without representation, quartered troops in their homes, denied them the rights of association and speech, and had denied them representation in the constitutional government that they, as Englishmen, felt was their right.

It’s easy to see that time as a different age, but the fact remains: the Second Amendment’s original purpose was to provide for states a protection against the threat of invasion, by foreign power or by the federal government. I hope that such a time never arrives that we need, as everyday citizens, to take up arms to defend our homes and our states against such a threat, but the examples of history have shown that when the people are armed, government is more measured and respectful.

Changing the number of rounds legally held in a gun clip, though, is a moot point. It won’t reduce crime, decrease homicides, or end gun violence, in my opinion. All it does it let certain politicians look tough on crime and responsive to grieving families, while at the same time infringing the Second Amendment, one of the first checks on the power of the federal government.

If politicians are serious about ending violence, perhaps it is time for a frank conversation about the root causes of violence and what, beyond the use of a firearm, mass shooters have in common. We cannot prevent evil people from trying to do evil, but our response to evil should not perpetuate a greater threat.

Two take-aways from the Biden and Ryan debate

If you watched the VP debate on Thursday night, you saw a contentious and heated, policy heavy discussion.  It was, for all intents and purposes, a draw, with neither candidate successfully walking away with the win, and by next week’s presidential debate, it will have already been forgotten.

When we look back, though, I think two things will stick out:

  1. Joe Biden righted the ship for the Obama campaign. In last weeks  debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, voters for the first time were able to make a side-by-side comparison of the candidates, resulting in a slide in the polls for the Democratic ticket. Where Obama was almost prosaic, Biden  was energetic and combative, disagreeing with Ryan on almost every point, drawing distinctions, and interrupting almost constantly (while reports vary, counters noted at least 82 times Biden interrupted Paul Ryan, while some counted more).  The confrontational and occasionally condescending attitude won’t win him a lot of undecided votes, but it will play well with the base, firing up supporters, and bringing in some fundraising dollars.  Expectations for Biden weren’t  high, but he avoided any gaffes and held his ground against Ryan.  As a result, it’ll be enough for Democratic partisans to claim they are satisfied.
  2. Paul Ryan presented a more clear and more attractive vision for America. While Ryan could be said to have effectively held his ground against the more experienced Biden, managed to work in a few zingers and bring more laughs from the audience, his performance will be more notable for the vision he presented to America, especially as encapsulated in his closing statement.

The choice is clear: a stagnant economy that promotes more government dependency or a dynamic, growing economy that promotes opportunity and jobs. Mitt Romney and I will not duck the tough issues, and we will not blame others for the next four years. We will take responsibility. And we will not try to replace our founding principles. We will reapply our founding principles.

The choice is clear, and the choice rests with you. And we ask you for your vote. Thank you.

Delivered while looking directly into the camera and in the calm, measured voice–in contrast to the often sarcastic, rude, and condescending tone adopted by Biden throughout the night–Ryan’s invitation to vote for the Romney/Ryan vision spoke of hope, not just as a campaign slogan, but with measurable effect,  and it captured what elections are about: the future.  In contrast, Biden’s combative nature only revealed the Democratic campaign to be mired in negative attacks, not a vision of the future that Americans can trust.

At the end of the day, the debate won’t have a significant impact on the race. Ryan reassured voters, provided vision, and demonstrated command of the issues. Biden provided the image of a fighter for his running mate and for his party. Neither moved a lot of votes, but neither did any harm, either. When you’re the VP, whose sole constitutional responsibility is to replace the President if, heaven forbid, he should die in office, that’s about the best you can expect.

Random observation. CNN shows a meter on the screen as the candidates are speaking that shows how a test group of undecided voters are responding to what is happening at the moment. Almost every time Ryan started to speak, the line representing women spiked, regardless of the topic. The next day, the “hey, girl” meme adopted Paul Ryan, making Ryan, essentially, the “new Ryan Gosling.”

Round-up: Newsweek turns on Obama, and Romney’s Mormonism to play in the Convention?

This is a bird’s eye view of the race for the White House in the week before the Republican convention. First off, polling:

Today’s update matches the president’s lowest level of support since May. Yesterday was the lowest level of support for Romney since March. On a combined basis, today shows the lowest level of combined support for the two major party candidates since January 27.

In other words, enthusiasm might be dragging, and people are a little weary of the negative campaign ads running in swing states, and polling in swing states (Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, etc) is going to matter more than nationwide polling (which the Rasmussen poll is).  With conventions coming next week for the GOP and the week there after for the Dems, both are hoping for a bump (though perhaps more to Romney than Obama).

In his inaugural address, Obama promised “not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.” He promised to “build the roads and bridges, the electric grids, and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.” He promised to “restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.” And he promised to “transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.” Unfortunately the president’s scorecard on every single one of those bold pledges is pitiful.

What’s striking is not so much that Ferguson (who was a McCain adviser four years ago) is making the call,  but that the article is in Newsweek. Four years ago, Newsweek was squarely in favor of the hope and change that Obama was selling.

This year, the cover is clear: the GOP is America’s Obi Wan Kanobi:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/Newsweek/statuses/237343836936994817"]

Don’t miss the reply comments to that posting. They’re priceless (and oh, so articulate). (Also, don’t miss my review of Ferguson’s book “Civilization: The West and the Rest.”)

  • I’m surrounded by idiots:  While Missouri Republican Senate candidate Congressman Todd Akin is taking heat (and justifiably so) for suggesting that a “female body has ways to try to shut” down a pregnancy in the case of rape, Peggy Noonan notes that if Vice-President Bidenhad been a Republican, people would be asking if he was stupid.Really. That’s what she said:

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Noonan said, “If it had been a Republican vice presidential candidate who had made those gaffes…the subject today of the panel would be how stupid is this person, can this person possibly govern?”

Apparently, no party has the corner on idiots and dumb comments. However, I’d take Paul Ryan as VP over Joe Biden every day. Biden’s White House would be an exercise in keeping the President away from an open mic or anyone with a Twitter account.

Also, in case you were wondering, the Romney camp condemned Akin’s comments soundly.

  • That’s so five minutes ago.Obama 2012 prefers Rep. Paul Ryan circa 2011. So much so, that the campaign is still criticizing Ryan’s now out-of-date budget on terms that have been accounted for in the Ryan’s 2012 budget.
The president’s accusations largely refer to Ryan’s 2011 plan, ignoring the fact that the House Budget Committee chairman rolled out a different version in 2012 — taking into account Democratic critiques. Though the 2012 plan is more moderate, Obama and his surrogates have all but ignored the newer version as they amp up their accusations against the Romney-Ryan ticket.
  • Competitive, much? A new e-book reveals that, typical of a lot of campaigns, there are a lot of egos involved in the Obama campaign. Also typical of many campaigns, there is a lot of internal conflict as those egos jostle for position and media appearances.  Will it result in a one-term presidency?
  • Also, the President has no problem with negative attacks on his opponents and surrogates:

Obama’s trash-talking competitiveness, a trait that has defined him since his days on the court as a basketball-obsessed teenager in Hawaii, was on display one night last February, when the president spotted a woman he knew was close to Sen. Marco Rubio in a Florida hotel lobby. “Is your boy going to go for [vice president]?” the president asked her. Maybe, she replied.

“Well,” he said, chuckling, according to a person who witnessed the encounter. “Tell your boy to watch it. He might get his ass kicked.”

Obama really doesn’t like, admire or even grudgingly respect Romney. It’s a level of contempt, say aides, he doesn’t even feel for the conservative, combative House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Hill Republican he disliked the most. “There was a baseline of respect for John McCain. The president always thought he was an honorable man and a war hero,” a longtime Obama adviser said. “That doesn’t hold true for Romney. He was no goddamned war hero.”

Time and again Obama has told the people around him that Romney stood for “nothing.” The word he would use to describe Romney was “weak,” too weak to stand up to his own moneymen, too weak to defend his own moderate record as the man who signed into law the first health insurance mandate as Massachusetts governor in 2006, too weak to admit Obama had done a single thing right as president.

  • Last from the ebook: Obama’s quite afraid of losing. He won on a wave of young support, and just last week polls show that the under-40 crowd is starting to swing for Romney:

During secret Sunday Roosevelt Room meetings with his top political and White House advisers, Obama has expressed concerns that the enthusiasm gap between his 2008 and 2012 support could cost him the election. He often peppers participants with pointed questions about campaign metrics — he’s especially interested in gauges of base enthusiasm, including the latest reports on volunteer enrollment in swing states and college campuses.

  • “Like a fire is burning…” Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for further review of Romney’s Mormon faith in the coming weeks.  The New York Times is reporting that a Mormon will give the invocation at the Republican Convention next week and McKay Coppins, a Mormon himself, went to church with Romney as part of the rotating press pool.  He gives an account of what sounds like, at least to other Mormons, a pretty average and routine Sunday service, complete with fidgeting kids and a desperate choir director trying to wrest members of the congregation into singing with the choir. Also, is that J. Willard Marriott walking in with Romney?
  • The focus on Romney’s faith at the convention is likely to turn much of the attention to the role of his faith in building him, including Romney’s time as a lay bishop in the LDS Church. The Telegraph, out of the UK, relates one experience (among others) from this period: 

Sandy Catalano had a very different experience, however. A former Roman Catholic, she converted to Mormonism in the early 1980s, but her husband Ron viewed her new faith as a cult and the strain almost destroyed their marriage. Then she fell ill, and as Mr Catalano struggled to care for their two children, Mr Romney took time off work and arranged for Church members to help the couple.

“Ronnie started to realise that the Church was full of kind people, although he was still sceptical about some of the tenets,” she said.

“Then he lost his photography business and Mitt came up with maintenance jobs for him do around the church. He went out of his way to help Ronnie find work and maintain his integrity.”

What’s your take on the race this week? Is there a story you think should have been posted here?

[Politico][Rasmussen][Washington Examiner][News Busters][The Hill][Fox News][The Daily Beast][Buzzfeed][The Telegraph]

Thoughts on “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward

Cover of "Obama's Wars"

Cover of Obama's Wars

I just finished “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward. I don’t know that I feel ready to review a book by Woodward, but I do have some thoughts after reading it. [Read more...]

Never mind wise: is war on Libya even constitutional?

We’ve been at war with Libya for about a week. The question here is not whether we should be at war with Libya, but rather, does the President have the right to take us to war with Libya absent a provocation against the United States?

Giving the power to go to war to Congress, the U.S. Constitution states under Article I, section 8 that “Congress shall have the power … to declare war…” While the President is the Commander-in-Chief, the Constitution does not give him the right to use the armed forces at will. Does that, as CATO scholar John Samples and others have asked, make the acts of war in Libya unconstitutional?

Some members of Congress think so. Rep. Scott Ringell, a freshman from Virginia, said that the Libya hostilities “should trigger a debate within Congress and [among] the American people about proper interpretation and application of [the] Constitution. [...]” Some Democrats have spoken out questioning the validity of the action. In the past, Senators Obama and Biden both said the president lacks the authority to do what President Obama has done.

Kind of reminds me of the old saying that “[w]here you stand on an issue depends on where you sit.” Now that he’s in the Oval Office, and after pressure to “do something,” the Barack Obama the President’s position is the opposite of Barack Obama the Senator from Illinois and candidate for President. Same for the Veep.

Flip-flops aside, does the President have the right bomb Libya? Does the Constitution support his unilateral action against Libya without the consent of Congress?

Perhaps Vice-President Biden can offer the President some guidance on the topic. As Samples notes, Biden has spoken on the original meaning of Art.1, Section 8 of the Constitution before:

Vice President (then Senator) Joseph Biden recalled that meaning in a speech on the Senate floor on July 30, 1998. He noted that the original draft of the Constitution would have empowered Congress to “make war.” James Madison and Elbridge Gerry moved that the language be changed to “declare war” so that the president would have the power “to repel sudden attacks.” Biden pointed out that only one framer, Pierce Butler of South Carolina, thought the president should have the power to initiate war.

Biden concluded that under the Constitution, the president could not use force without prior authorization unless it was necessary to “repel a sudden attack.” Presidential candidate Barack Obama agreed in 2007: “the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

In the opinion of the Veep, then, the President is acting outside of his Constitutional powers. Biden went on:

The rationale for vesting the power to launch war in Congress was simple. The Framers’ views were dominated by their experience with the British King, who had unfettered power to start wars. Such powers the Framers were determined to deny the President.

Don’t for a minute think that it is only the conservatives in Congress that are questioning the President’s authority, either. Rick Warnick questions the rationale, too.

And so, once again America has attacked an oil-rich Arab country. This time by order of a Democratic commander-in-chief. Next time somebody tells me, “Elections have consequences,” I think I’ll ask for proof. When you look at it substantively, there is just too much bipartisanship in Washington.

It’s not just bipartisanship, Rick; it’s corruption. Power corrupts, on both sides of the aisle. All too often, that has nothing to do with the party, and everything to do with the system. As long as the White House is held by an individual more interested in “doing something” than in “doing the right thing,” then we will have the kind of lawless and dangerous actions that we’re seeing now in Libya.

Congress has to step up to the President if we’re to see a check to his little war in Libya. But I’m not optimistic. Pigs will fly before we see leadership necessary out of the House or Senate. While there have been a few speeches criticizing or condemning the action, we are unlikely to see anything more. The President has little to lose from Congress, and he knows that Congress will fold if backed against the wall.

Poll: Did you watch the State of the Union?

What did you think? Please take a moment and vote below.

VP Biden snoozing? Or checking his iPhone? And is that a tear in Rep. Boehner's eye?

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